Part 2 out of 4
She considered this with geranium lips slightly parted on flawless teeth,
and nodded slowly. The westering sun striking through the window
overlooking the Common illuminated her with a flat gold unreality.
"I'll have a day bed brought for you," he continued, realizing that, as
the result of fortunate chance, she understood most of what he said
without an actual command of the individual words. In reply she sank
before him in the deep Manchu gesture with one knee sweeping the floor,
the humility of her posture dignified by grace. He touched the crystal
globe of an earring, pinched her chin, in the half light manner by which
he instinctively expressed his affection for her. She was calm and
pleased. "Taou Yuen," he continued, "you miss Shanghai, with the wall of
ten gates and the river Woosung stuck full of masts. You'll never think
Salem is a paradise like Soochow."
"This is your city," she replied, slowly choosing the words. "Your
ancestors are here." There was not a shade of regret in her voice or
manner. He tried once more, and as vainly as ever, to penetrate the veil
of her perfect serenity. She never, it became apparent, descended from
the most inflexible self-control; small emotions--surface gayety of
mood, curiosity, the faintest possible indication of contempt, he had
learned to distinguish; the fact that she cared enough for him to desert
every familiar circumstance was evident; but beyond these he was
powerless to reach.
His own emotions were hardly less obscured: the dominating feeling was
his admiration for her exquisite worldly wisdom, the perfection of her
bodily beauty, and the philosophy which bore her above the countless
trivialities that destroyed the dignity of western minds. He realized
that her paint and embroidery covered a spirit as cold and tempered as
fine metal. She was totally without the social sentiment of his own
world; but she was equally innocent of its nauseous hypocrisy, the
pretensions of a piety covering commercial dishonesty, obscenity of
thought and spreading scandal. The injustice he saw practiced on shore
had always turned him with a sense of relief to the cleansing challenge
of the sea; always, brought in contact with cunning and self-seeking men
and heartless schemes, with women cheapened by a conviction of the
indecency of life, he was in a state of hot indignation. From all this
Taou Yuen offered a complete escape.
On the purely feminine side she was a constant delight, the last possible
refinement, he told himself, of instinct and effect. She was incapable of
the least vulgarity; never for an instant did she flag from the necessity
of beauty, never had he seen her too weary for an adornment laborious in
a hundred difficult conventions. She was, too, a continuous source of
entertainment, even as his wife she never ceased to be a spectacle; his
consciousness of her as a being outside himself persisted.
"I must go down and see where our things are," he said, rising. In the
hall he stopped before the tall clock whose striking was a part of his
early memories. Below, the house seemed empty; and, instead of turning to
the front door and his purpose, he went into the drawing-room.
The long glass doors to the garden were open, and the interior was filled
with the scent of lilacs. The room itself had always reminded him of
them--it was pale in color, cool gilt and lavender brocade and white
panels. Nothing had been moved or changed: the inlaid cylinder fall desk
with its garlands of painted flowers on the light waxed wood stood at the
left, the pole screen with the embroidered bouquet was before the fire
blind, the girandoles, scrolled in ormolu and hung with crystal lusters,
held the shimmer of golden reflections on the walls.
He had remembered the drawing-room at Java Head as a place of enchanted
perfection; in his childhood its still serenity had seemed a presentment
of what might be hoped for in heaven. The thought of the room as it was
now, open but a little dim to the lilacs and warm afternoon, had haunted
him as the measure of all peace and serenity in moments of extreme
danger, his ship laboring in elemental catastrophes and in remote seas.
Its fragrance had touched him through the miasma of Whampoa Reach,
waiting for the lighters of tea to float down from Canton; standing off
in the thunder squalls of the night for the morning sea breeze to take
him into Rio; over a cognac in the coffee stalls of the French market at
New Orleans, the chanteys ringing from the cotton gangs along the levees:
_"Were you ever down in Mobile Bay?
Aye, aye, pump away."_
As he left the room he saw Laurel, William's youngest child, and he
imprisoned her in an arm. "You haven't asked what I've got for you in my
sea chest," he said. Gerrit was very fond of all four of the rosy-cheeked
vigorous girls, and a sense of injury touched him at Laurel's reserved
manner. She studied him with a wondering uneasy concern. This he realized
was the result of bring home Taou Yuen; and an aggravated impatience, a
growing rebellion, seized him. He wouldn't stay with his wife at Java
Head a day longer than necessary; and if anyone, in his family or
outside, showed the slightest disdain he could retaliate with his
knowledge of local pettiness, the backbiting enmities and secret lapses.
God knew he didn't want trouble, all he asked was a reasonable liberty,
the semblance, anyhow, of a courtesy toward his wife. Whatever might be
said would be of no moment to her--except in the attitude of his
father--and Taou Yuen's indifference furnished a splendid example for
himself. He wondered why the devil he was continually putting his fingers
in affairs that couldn't concern him. No one thanked him for his trouble,
they considered him something of a fool--a good sailor but peculiar. The
damned unexpected twists of his sense of the absurd, too, got him into
His father was standing outside the principal entrance; and, as he joined
him on the steps, he saw two men from the _Nautilus_ carrying his ship's
desk by the beckets let in the ends. The wind was blowing gently up
Pleasant Street; the men, at his gesture, lifted their burden up the
steps, between the direction of the wind and Jeremy Ammidon. The latter
rose instantly into one of his dark rages:
"What do you mean, you damned packetrats--coming up a companionway to the
windward of me! I'll have no whalers' habits here." He repeated
discontentedly that everything on sea and land had fallen into a decline.
Others followed with a number of Korean boxes, strapped and locked with
copper, and wicker baskets. A man in charge said to Gerrit Ammidon:
"The chest was left for Mr. Dunsack at the foot of Hardy Street, sir, as
you ordered. The inspector sent it off complimentary with your personal
things." Gerrit asked, "He didn't stop to get a whiff of it then?" The
other shook his head. "Edward Dunsack asked me to ship it here and
explained that it was only junk he was bringing home, but what it amounts
to is about a case of Patna opium. He's lucky."
They turned inside, William was in the library, and Gerrit instinctively
followed his father into the room. William surveyed him with a moody
discontent. "What I can't understand," he proceeded; "is why you call it
a marriage, why you brought your woman here to us, to Rhoda and the
"It's simple enough," Gerrit replied; "Taou Yuen is my wife, we are
married exactly as Rhoda and you are. She is not my woman in the sense
you mean. I won't allow that, William."
"How can it matter what you will or will not allow when everyone'll think
the other? Shipmasters have had Chinese mistresses before, yes, and
smuggled them into Salem; but this conduct of yours is beyond speech."
Gerrit Ammidon said:
"Don't carry this too far." Anger like a hot cloud oppressed him. "I am
married legally and, if anything, by a ceremony less preposterous than
your own. Taou Yuen is not open to any man or woman's suspicions. I am
overwhelmingly indebted to her."
"But she's not your race," William Ammidon muttered; "she is a Confucian
or Taoist, or some such thing."
"You're Unitarian one day a week, and father is Congregational, Hodie's
a Methodist, and no one knows what I am," Gerrit cried. "Good God, what
does all that matter! Isn't a religion a religion? Do you suppose a
Lord worth the name would be anything but entertained by such spiteful
little dogmas. A sincere greased nigger with his voodoo must be as good
as any of us."
"That is too strong, Gerrit," Jeremy objected. "You'll get nowhere crying
"If I could find it," the younger declared bitterly, "I'd feel
differently. It's right enough in the Bible. ...Well, we'll go on to
"This is your home," his father repeated. "Naturally William, all of us
have been disturbed; but nothing beyond that. I trust we are a loyal
family. What you've done can't be mended with hard words."
"She may become very fashionable," Gerrit mockingly told his
brother. "It'll be a blow to Camilla," Jeremy chuckled. "Some rice
must be cooked."
"Manchus don't live on rice," Gerrit replied. "They don't bind the
feet either nor wear the common Chinese clothes. Rhoda will
Again in his room he found his wife bending over a gorgeous heap of
satins, bright mazarines and ornaments. "We'll go down to supper soon,"
he told her. Already there were signs of her presence about the room:
the chest of drawers was covered with gold and jade and green amber,
painted paper fans set on ivory and tortoise shell, and lacquer fan
boxes; coral hairpins, sandalwood combs, silver rouge pots and rose
quartz perfume bottles with canary silk cords and tassels. On a familiar
table was her pipe, wound in gilt wire, and the flowered satin tobacco
case. An old coin was hanging at the head of the bed, a charm against
evil spirits; and on a stand was the amethyst image of Kuan-Yin _pu
tze_, the Goddess of Mercy.
Taou Yuen sank on the floor with a little embarrassed laugh at the
confusion in which he had surprised her. "Let your attitude be grave," he
quoted from the Book of Rites with a pretended severity. Her amusement
rose in a ripple of mirth. He opened his desk, rearranging the disorder
brought about by its transportation; and, when he turned, she was
prostrate in the last rays of the sun. "_O-me-to-Fuh_," she breathed;
"_O-me-to-Fuh_," the invocation to Buddha. This at an end she announced,
"Now I am grave and respectful for your family."
Supper, Gerrit admitted to himself, promised to be a painful occasion;
conversation rose sporadically and quickly died in glances of
irrepressible curiosity directed at his wife. She, on the contrary,
showed no pointed interest in her surroundings; and, in her hesitating
slurred English, answered Rhoda's few questions without putting any in
return. Camilla preserved a frozen silence; Sidsall was pleasantly
conciliating in her attitude toward the novel situation; Janet, her lips
moving noiselessly, was rapt in amazement; and Laurel smiled, abashed at
meeting Taou Yuen's eyes.
The recounting of his delayed return offered Gerrit a welcome relief from
the pervading strain: "There's no tea to speak of at Shanghai, and I took
on a mixed cargo--pongees and porcelain and matting. I got camphor and
cassia and seven hundred peculs of ginger; then I decided to lay a course
to Manilla for some of the cheroots father likes. The weather was fine, I
had a good cargo, and, well--we pleasured out to Honolulu. I was riding
the island horses and shipping oil when the schooner _Kahemameha_ arrived
from the coast with the news of the gold discovery in California. Every
boat in the harbor was loaded to the trucks, crowded with passengers at
their weight in ginseng, and laid for San Francisco.... Well, I was
caught with the rest.
"Five thousand dollars was offered me to carry a gentleman and his
attendant. Two others would pay three for the same purpose. Stowage was
worth what you asked.... The _Nautilus_ made a good run; then, about a
day from land, Mr. Broadrick told me that there wouldn't be a seaman on
the ship an hour after we anchored. They were all crazy with gold fever,
he said. I could see, too, that they were excited; the watch hung under
the weather rail jabbering like parrots; an uglier crew of sea lawyers
"There was one thing to do and I did it--called them aft and gave them
some hot scouse. They'd shipped for Salem and there they must go. I
didn't anchor, but stood off--the harbor was crowded with deserted
vessels like some hell for ships--and sent the jolly boat in with the
passengers and a couple of men. They didn't come back, you may be sure.
The consignment for San Francisco I carried out that evening, for I made
sail at once."
"You had a pretty time getting a way on her," Jeremy Ammidon remarked.
"I did," Gerrit acknowledged shortly. "The second mate's ear was taken
loose by a belaying pin that flew out of the dark like a gull. Mr.
Broadrick had a bad minute in the port forecastle after he had ordered
all hands on deck a third time. The fine weather left us, though, and
that kept the crew busy; we carried away the fore-royal mast and yard
before we were within a thousand miles of the latitude of the Horn. That
hit us like a cannon ball of ice. You know what it is at its worst," he
told his father; "weeks of snow and hail and fog and gales; and not for
anything can you keep an easting. God knows how a ship lives through the
seas; but she does, she does, and you lose the Magellan clouds astern."
The old man nodded.
Gerrit was relieved, however, when supper ended and his wife formally
departed for her room. Immediately slipping a hand inside Rhoda's arm he
conducted her to the drawing-room. "I'd like you to know more about it,"
he said directly.
"It was very extraordinary. A Lú Kikwáng was a high official of the
Canton Customs, and when Shanghai was declared an open port in forty-two
they made him hoppo there. I remembered him at Canton, a dignified old
duck with eighty or a hundred servants to keep anyone from possibly
speaking to him of business, but there had been some trouble about
foreign vessels selling saltpeter illegally and--he knew some English--we
had quite a friendly little consultation. Yet it hadn't prepared me for
his coming off to the _Nautilus_ at Shanghai with a linguist and an air
of the greatest mystery. His manner was beautiful, of course, absolutely
tranquil and that made what they said, what he hoped, seem even wilder
than it was.
"His son, it appeared, had married and was accidentally drowned in the
Great Canal hardly a month after the ceremony. His widow belonged, then,
to the husband's family, and from that moment her father-in-law had had
nothing but bad luck. He had been robbed, his best stallion died, there
had been a flood in his tea which not only spoiled the crop but filled
the ground with silt--it was impossible to relate his calamities. He
consulted a necromancer at last and learned that it was all caused by the
presence of Taou Yuen.
"This, you see, made the difficulty, as it's a frightful disgrace to
return a married daughter to her own father's home, and Lú had grown very
fond of her. She was extremely clever and virtuous, he said. The other
thing was to kill her or force her to commit suicide. He told me very
calmly that he would like to avoid this.
"Then, in the linguist's most flowery manner, they went on with what Lú
Kikwáng proposed. He had recognized that I was a man of 'superior
propriety' and he wondered if I would take Taou Yuen away to America with
me. Very secretly though--there would be an uproar if it were known that
a Manchu woman had been married to a foreigner. I could see her first in
his garden without her knowing anything about it.
"It's needless to tell you that I went with them that afternoon. A
meeting was arranged for the next day--" he broke off, sitting forward
with elbows on knees, gazing fixedly at his clasped hands.
"You make that very clear, Gerrit," his sister-in-law replied; "I now
understand the past almost as well as yourself; but it's the future I'm
in doubt about. I saw immediately that your wife was not an ordinary
woman; it would be much easier if she were. Certainly you don't intend to
stay here, at Java Head; but that is immaterial. Wherever you go in
America it will not be suitable for her. She'll be no more at home with
your friends than you with hers. I feel terribly sad about it, Gerrit;
you were as selfish as only a man can be."
"You are unjust, Rhoda," he protested. "Taou Yuen was willing to come.
She had read about other countries and saw a great deal of the English
wife of a rich Dutch factor at Shanghai; as Lú Kikwáng said, she's
wonderfully intelligent. I think she is happy, too."
"Rubbish! Of course she loves you; I am not talking about that. How will
she get along while you are away on your long voyages? She couldn't
possibly live in the cabin of a ship, and do you suppose she'd be
contented in Salem with you absent for a year!"
"We have as many chances of success as any other marriage," he asserted.
"The whole business is foolish enough."
"That opinion might do for a single shipmaster, with only a month or two
out of the year on land. When you were free, Gerrit, your impatience with
convention was refreshing and possible. But can't you see that you have
given up your liberty! You have tied your hands. However loudly you may
cry out against society now you are a part of us, foolish or not. You'll
find that your wife has anchored you in Salem, Boston or Singapore, no
matter where you go: people will reach and hurt you through her.
"She is very gorgeous and placid, superior on the surface; but the heart,
Gerrit--that isn't made of jade and ivory and silk."
"I'll bring down your presents to-morrow," he told her, avoiding any
further present discussion of his marriage. "Has father failed, do you
think? His tempers are vigorous as ever."
"He seems baggier about the eyes and throat. He is just as quick, but it
exhausts him more. Things would be much better if he were only content to
let William manage at the countinghouse. Times are shifting so quickly
with these new clipper ships and direct passages and political changes."
"There's no longer any doubt about the clippers," Gerrit declared; "the
California gold rush will attend to that."
In his room he found Taou Yuen, in soft white silk worked with bamboo
leaves, on the day bed, smoking. She rose immediately as he entered; and,
coming close to him, ran her cool fingers through his hair. He stood
gazing out at the dim oil flares that marked the confines of Washington
Square, considering all that Rhoda had said. Strangely enough it led his
thoughts away from his wife; they reverted to Nettie Vollar.
He had been, he realized, very nearly in love with her: what he meant by
that inaccurate term was that if the affair had continued a little longer
he would have insisted on marrying her. Nettie was not indifferent to
him. An impersonal feeling had attracted him to her--a resentment of her
treatment by the larger part of Salem, particularly the oblique
admiration of the men. His supersensitiveness to any form of injustice
had driven him into the protest of calling and accompanying her, with an
exaggerated politeness, about the streets. It had not been difficult; she
was warm-blooded, luxurious, a very vivid woman. Gerrit, however, had
made a point of repressing any response to that aspect of their
intercourse--the sheerest necessity for the preservation of his disdain.
She had cried on his shoulder, in his arms, practically; he had acted in
the purely fraternal manner. But the thing was reaching a natural
conclusion when her grandfather, Barzil Dunsack, had interfered with his
unsupportably frank accusations and command. The _Nautilus_ had been
ready for sea, and his, Gerrit's, imperious resentment had carried him
out of the Dunsacks' house--to Shanghai and Taou Yuen--without another
word to Nettie.
How strangely life progressed, without chart or intelligent observations
or papers! He heard the tap of his wife's pipe; there was a faint
sweetish odor of drugged tobacco and the scent of cloves in which she
saturated herself. Outside was Salem, dim and without perceptible
movement; the clock in the hall struck ten. Taou Yuen didn't approach him
again nor speak; her perceptions were wonderfully acute.
The sense of loneliness that sometimes overtook him on shore deepened, a
feeling of impotence, as if he had suddenly waked, lost and helpless, in
an unfamiliar planet. There was the soft whisper of his wife's passage
across the room. In the lamplight the paint on her cheeks made startling
unnatural patches of--paint. The reflections slid over the liquid black
mass of her hair, died in the lustrous creamy folds of her garment. She
was at once grotesque and impressive, like a figure in a Chinese
pantomime watched from the western auditorium of his inheritance. His
fondness for her, his admiration, had not lessened. He surveyed his
position, the presence here, in his room at Java Head, of Taou Yuen, with
amazement; all the small culminating episodes lost, the result was beyond
credence. His thoughts returned to Rhoda's accusation of selfishness, the
disaster implied in her pity for his wife. He tried again to analyze his
marriage, discover whatever justification, security, it possessed. Was
his admiration for Taou Yuen sufficient provision for his part of their
future together? It was founded largely on her superiority to the world
he had known; and here it was necessary for him to convince himself that
his wedding had not been merely the result of romantic accident. He knew
that the sensual had had almost no part in it, it had been mental; an act
of pity crystallizing his revolt against what he felt to be the impotence
of "Christian" ethics. Yet this was not sufficient; for he, like Rhoda,
had found under his wife's immobility the flux of immemorial woman.
No, it wasn't enough; but more existed, he was certain of that. No one
could expect him, now, to experience the thrill of idealized passion that
was the sole property of youth. What feeling he had had for Nettie--he
was obliged to return to her from the fact that it was the only possible
comparison--had come from very much the same source as the other. The
old impersonal motives!
The danger, Rhoda pointed out, had been admitted when his marriage made
impossible the continuation of that aloof position. He doubted that it
could change him so utterly. The thought of the entertainment his wife
would afford him in Salem expanded. He regretted that the best, the
calling and comments of the women, was necessarily lost to him, but Taou
Yuen would repeat a great deal: she, too, had a sly sense of the
ridiculous. He hoped that his sister-in-law didn't suppose her helpless;
the impenetrable Manchu control gave her a pitiless advantage over any
less absolute civilization. In the darkness before sleep the heavy exotic
scents in the room oppressed him strangely.
He rose early, and quietly dressing went out into the garden: buds on
the June roses against the high blank fence on the street were swelling
into visible crimson; there were the stamping of horses' feet on the
cobbles of the stable inclosure, the heavy breathing and admonitions of
the coachman wielding a currycomb. The sunlight streamed down through
pale green willow and tall lilac bushes, through the octagonal latticed
summerhouse and across the vivid sod to the drawing-room door. Gerrit
turned, and entered the farther yard, where his father was inspecting the
"The _Nautilus_ will need new copper sheathing," Gerrit said: "she's
pretty well stripped forward."
"Take her around to the Salem Marine Railway at the foot of English
Street. A fine ship, Gerrit, with a proper hull. I tell you they'll never
improve on the French lines."
"She won't go into the wind with a clipper," he admitted; "but I'll sail
her on a fair breeze with anything afloat."
"If you come to that," his father asserted; "nothing handsomer will
ever be seen than an East India-man in the northeast trades with the
captain on the quarter-deck in a cocked hat and sword, the shoals of
flying fish and albacore skittering about a transom as high and carved
and gilded as a church, the royal pennant at the mainmast head. Maybe
it would be the _Earl of Balcarras_ with her cannons shining and the
midshipmen running about."
"Yes," the younger man returned, "and taking in her light sails at
sunset, dropping astern like an island. The John Company's ruining
Jeremy Ammidon muttered one of his favorite pessimistic complaints. "What
did you say her name was?" he demanded abruptly.
"Taou Yuen Ammidon," the elder pronounced experimentally. "It doesn't
sound right, the two won't go together."
"But they have," Gerrit declared. He thought impatiently that he must
listen to a repetition of Rhoda's assertions.
"I don't know much about 'em," Jeremy proceeded. "All I saw, when I was
younger, was the little singing-girls playing mora and wailing over their
infernal three-stringed fiddles something about the moon and a bowl of
Taou Yuen did not come down to breakfast, and Gerrit stayed away from
their room until her toilet must be finished. It was Sunday; and with the
customary preparation for church under way William said:
"I suppose you will go down to the ship?"
The hidden question, the purpose of the inquiry, at once stirred into
being all Gerrit's perversity. "No," he replied carelessly; "we'll go
with you this morning."
"That's unheard of," William exclaimed heatedly; "a woman in all her
paint and perfume and outrageous clothes in North Church, with--with my
family! I won't have it, do you understand."
"No worse than what you see there every week," Gerrit retorted calmly;
"corsets and feathers and female gimcracks. Plenty of rouge and cologne
too. It will give them something new to stare at and whisper about."
William Ammidon choked on his anger, and his wife laid a gloved hand on
his arm. "You must make up your mind to it," she told him. "It can't hurt
anyone. She is Gerrit's wife, you see."
Above, the shipmaster said to Taou Yuen: "We are going to church with the
family." He surveyed her clothes with a faint glimmer of amusement. She
had, he saw, made herself especially resplendent as a Manchu. The long
gown was straw-colored satin with black bats--a symbol of
happiness--whirling on thickly embroidered silver clouds, over which she
wore a sleeve coat fastened with white jade and glittering with spangles
of beaten copper. Her slippers were pale rose, and fresh apple blossoms,
which she had had brought from the yard, made a headdress fixed with
long silver and dull red ivory pins.
She smiled obediently at his announcement, and, with a fan of peacock
silks and betel nuts in a pouch like a tea rose hanging by a cord from a
jade button, she signified her readiness to proceed.
William had gone on foot with his girls, Jeremy was seldom in church, and
Rhoda, Taou Yuen beside her with Gerrit facing them, followed in the
barouche. It seemed to the latter that they were almost immediately at
the door of North Church. The leisurely congregation filling the walk
stiffened in incredulous amazement as Gerrit handed his wife to the
pavement. Rhoda went promptly forward, nodding in response to countless
stupefied greetings; while Gerrit Ammidon moved on at Taou Yuen's side.
Prepared, he restrained the latter from a prostration in the hall of the
church. Nothing had changed: the umbrella trough still bore the numbers
of the pews, the stair wound gloomily up to the organ loft. He again
found the subdued interior, the maroon upholstery, the flat Gothic
squares of the ceiling and dark red stone walls, a place of reposeful
charm. The Ammidons had two of the box pews against the right wall: his
brother and children were in the second, and, inside the other small
inclosure, he shut the gate and took his place on a contracted corner
bench. Taou Yuen sat with Rhoda against the back of the pew. The former,
blazing like a gorgeous flower on the shadowed surface of a pool, smiled
serenely at him.
He could hear the hum of subdued comment running like ignited powder
through the church, familiar faces turned blankly toward him or nodded in
patent confusion. The men, he noted, expressed a single rigid
condemnation. The women, in crisp light dresses and ribboned bonnets,
were franker in their curiosity. Taou Yuen was a loadstone for their
glances. As the service progressed her face grew expressionless. Fretted
sandalwood bracelets drooped over her folded hands, and miniature dragon
flies quivered on the gold wires of her earrings; the sharp perfumes of
the East drifted out and mingled with the Western scents of extracts and
powders. He only saw that she was politely chewing betel nut. It wasn't,
he told himself, reverting to his critical attitude toward Salem, that he
was lacking in charity toward his neighbors, or that he felt any
superiority; but the quality that signally roused his antagonism was
precisely the men's present aspect of heavy censure and boundless
propriety, their stolid attitude of justifying the spiritual consummation
promised by the sermon and hymns.
The long night watches, the anxiety of the sea, the profound mysteries of
the wheeling stars and the silence of the ocean at dawns, had given him,
he dimly realized, an inarticulate reverence for the supreme mystery of
creation. He was unable to put it into words or facile prayer but it was
the guarded foundation of most that he was, and it bred in him a contempt
for lesser signs. The religion of his birth, the faith of Taou Yuen, the
fetishism of the Zanzibar Coast, he had regarded as equally important, or
futile--the mere wash of the immensity of beauty, the inexorable destiny,
that had seemed to breathe on him alone at the stern of his ship.
He lost himself now in the keenness of his remembered emotion: the
church faded into a far horizon, he felt the slight heave of the ship
and heard the creaking of the wheel as the steersman shifted his hands;
from aloft came the faint slapping of the bunt lines on rigid canvas,
the loose hemp slippers of the crew sounded across the deck, the water
whispered alongside, the ship's bell was struck and repeated in a
diminished note on the topgallant forecastle. The morning rose from
below the edge of the sea and the pure air freshened.... His thoughts
were recalled to the present by the dogmatic insistence of the
clergyman's voice, promising heaven, threatening hell. His gaze rested
on the chalky debility of Madra Clifford.
The service over, the aisle past the Ammidon pews was filled with a
slow-moving inquisitive throng. Rhoda chose to wait until the greater
part was past, and then she followed with the unmoved Taou Yuen and
Gerrit. "This is my brother's wife," he heard the former say. "Mrs.
Saltonstone, Gerrit's sister, Mrs. Clifford and Miss Vermeil. Yes... from
Shanghai. Overdue. We were worried, of course." Taou Yuen smiled
vigorously and flapped the vivid fan. Against her brilliant colors, the
carved jade and embroideries, silver and apple blossoms, the other women
looked colorless in wide book muslin and barége, with short veils of
tulle illusion hanging from bonnets of rice straw and glazed crêpe.
Palpably shocked by her Oriental face masked in paint, her Chinese
"heathen" origin, yet they fingered the amazing needlework and wondered
over the weight of her satins.
The men he knew gave him, for the most part, a curt greeting. They
glanced more covertly at his wife; he understood exactly what thoughts
brought out this condemnation soiled by private speculation; and his
disdain mounted at their sleek backs and glossy tile, hats supported on
stiffly bent arms.
After dinner he walked through the warm sunny emptiness of the afternoon
to Derby Wharf and the _Nautilus_. Standing on the wharf, smoking a
cheroot, he leaned back upon his cane, studying the ship with a gaze that
missed no detail. There was not a sound from the water; across the harbor
Peach's Point seemed about to dissolve in a faint green haze; a strong
scent of mingled spices came from the warehouses. There was the splash of
oars in the Basin beyond, and the more distant peal of a church bell.
At the sound of footfalls behind him he turned and saw Nettie Vollar and
her uncle, Edward Dunsack. A dark color rose in the girl's cheek, and her
hand pulled involuntarily at Dunsack's arm, as if she wished to retreat.
Gerrit thought that she had aged since he had latest met her: Nettie's
mouth, with its full, slightly drooping lower lip, had lost something of
its fresh arch; her eyes, though they still preserved their black
sparkle, were plainly resentful. Edward Dunsack, medium tall but thin
almost to emaciation, had a riven sallow face with close-cut silvery hair
and agate-brown eyes with contracted pupils.
"Well, Nettie," Gerrit said, moving forward promptly, "it's pleasant to
see you again." Her hand was cold and still. "Dunsack, too."
"I am obliged to you for my chest," the latter told him, unmoved by
Gerrit's quizzical gaze.
"Glad to do it for you," the other replied; "it came ashore with my
personal things, and so, perhaps, saved you something."
"Perhaps," Dunsack agreed levelly.
Looking down at the cob filling of the wharf, Nettie Vollar said, "You
came home married, I hear, and to a Chinese lady."
Gerrit assented. "You'll certainly know her, and like her, too. Taou
Yuen is very wise and without the prejudices--" he stopped, conscious of
the stupidity of his attempted kindness. Nettie looked up defiantly,
biting her lip--a familiar trick, he recalled. Dunsack interposed:
"You will find that the Chinese have none of your little sympathetic
tricks. No foreigner could ever grasp the depth of their indifference to
what you might call humanity. They are born wise, as you say, but weary.
I suppose your wife plays the guitar skillfully and sings the Soochow
Gerrit Ammidon studied him with somber eyes and a gathering temper: it
was, however, impossible to decide whether the implication was
deliberately insulting. He wouldn't have any Canton clerk, probably
saturated with opium, insinuate that his affair was on the plane of
that of a drunken sailor! "My wife," he said deliberately, "is a
Manchu lady. You may know that they don't learn dialect songs nor
ornament tea houses."
"Very remarkable," Dunsack returned imperturbably. "We never see them.
How did you manage a go-between, and did you send the hour of your birth
to the Calculator of Destinies? Then there is so much to remember in a
Chinese wedding--the catties of tea and four silver ingots, the earrings
and red and green silk and Tao priest to consult the gods." Gerrit heard
this with a frowning countenance. If Nettie were not there he would put
Dunsack forward with the hypothetical crew to which he belonged. He felt
as sorry for Nettie, he discovered, as ever. It moved him to see her
vivacity of life, her appealingly warm color, slowly dulled by Salem and
the adventitious circumstance of her birth. What a dreary existence she
led in the harsh atmosphere of her grandfather and the solemn house on
Hardy Street! At one time he had fancied that he might change it... when
now here was Taou Yuen, detached and superior, waiting in his room at
"I stopped for a moment to look at the ship," he said, with the trace of
an ungracious bow, "and must get back." The sunlight flung a warm moted
veil over Nettie Vollar. She gave him a startled uncalculated glance of
almost desperate appeal and his heart responded with a quickened thud.
Edward Dunsack was sallow and enigmatic, with thin pinched lips.
"The stupid bruiser," Edward Dunsack declared in a thin bitterness that
startled the girl at his side. "The low sea bully!" He was gazing at the
resolute back of Captain Ammidon. A surprising hatred filled him at the
memory of the other's intolerant gaze, the careless contempt of his
words. He thought, oddly enough, of the delicate and ingenious tortures
practiced on offenders in China; the pleasant mental picture followed of
Ammidon bowed in a wooden collar, of Gerrit Ammidon bambooed, sliced,
slowly choking.... With an intense sense of horror he caught himself
dwelling on these dripping visions. His hands clasped rigidly, a sweat
stood out on his brow, in a realization that was at once dread and a
About him lay the tranquil Salem water, the still wharves, the familiar
roofs and green tree tops. This wasn't Canton, he told himself, but
America: there was Nettie; only a few streets away was his father's
house, his own home, all solid and safe and reassuring. China was a
thing of the past, its insidious secret hold broken. It was now only a
dream of evil fascination from which he had waked to the reality, the
saving substance, of Derby Wharf. "It's his domineering manner," he
explained the outburst to Nettie; "all shipmasters have it--as if the
world were a vessel they damned from a quarter-deck in the sky. I never
could put up with them."
"He is very kind, really," she replied, looking away over the harbor. "It
is so queer--marrying a Chinese woman like that. How will he ever get
along with her or be happy?"
"He won't," Edward Dunsack asserted. "Leave that to time." He studied her
attentively. "Was it anything to you?" he asked.
"It might have been," she acknowledged listlessly, her gaze still on the
horizon. "He came to see me two or three times, quite differently from
other nice men, and took me to a concert at the Philharmonic Society. He
was getting to like me, I could tell that, when grandfather interfered--"
"I see," Dunsack interrupted, "with the immorality of the supermoral."
"Whatever it was he was past bearing. No one could blame Gerrit for
getting into a fury. The next day I stood almost in this spot, it was
late afternoon too, and watched the _Nautilus_ sail away. All the canvas
was set and I could see her for a long time. When the last trace had
gone it seemed to me that my life had sunk too ... out there."
"The old man's a fool," he said bluntly of his father. "How do you
suppose he got hold of a Manchu?" he shifted his thought, addressing the
stillness about them rather than his companion. "Don't imagine for a
minute that you are superior to her," he told Nettie more directly.
"There is nothing more remarkable. They must be gorgeous," a faint color
stained his long cheeks. "What incredible luck," he murmured.
He was thinking avidly of the women of China--the little gay girls like
toys, the momentary glimpses of enameled faces in hurrying red-flowered
sedan chairs, faces of ivory stained with carmine, in gold-crusted
headdresses. A sudden impatience at Nettie Vollar's obvious person and
clothes expanded to a detestation of an atmosphere he had but a minute or
so before welcomed as an escape from something infinitely worse than
death. Now it seemed impossible to spend a life in Salem. It would have
been better, when he had been released by Heard and Company, to have
taken the position open in the Dutch Hong.
He was in a continual state of such vacillation, as if he were the seat
of two separate and antagonistic personalities; rather, he changed the
figure, in him the East struggled with the West. It was necessary for the
latter to triumph. The difficulty lay in the fact that the first was
represented by an actual circumstance while the other was only a dim
apprehension, a weakened allegiance to ties never strong.
He cursed the extraordinary chance that, against every probability, had
brought the chest of opium safely to him here. Its purchase had been the
result of habit evading his will, he had despatched it--in that seesawing
contest--by a precarious route, half hoping that it would be lost or
seized; and, when he had seen the chest carried down Hardy Street to his
door, a species of terror had fastened upon him, a premonition of an evil
spirit flickering above him in a turning of oily smoke. Why hadn't he
pitched the thing into the water at the foot of their yard! There was
time still: he would take the balls of opium and dispose of them
secretly. A sudden energy, a renewed sense of strength, flooded him. This
distaste for Nettie changed into a pity at the ill luck that had followed
her: she didn't deserve it. Generous emotions expanded his heart. He
dreamed of taking hold of his father's small commerce in rum and sugar
with the West Indies and turning it into a concern as rich and powerful
as Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone.
They, too, would have a big white house on Washington Square or Chestnut
Street, with servants--Chinese servants--and horses and great ships
sailing in, laden with the East. Why not indeed! He, Edward Dunsack, had
more brains than Jeremy Ammidon, that stiff old man with a face the color
of a damask plum. His niece would go to all the balls at Franklin and
Hamilton Halls, the injustice of her position overcome by an impressively
increasing fortune. Abstractly he patted her shoulder with a hand as long
and gaunt and yellow as his face. All this would come as a result of
throwing the opium into the harbor. It was as good as accomplished.
In the face of his prospective well-being he felt already the equal of
anyone in Salem. If Gerrit Ammidon had married a Manchu lady it was his
privilege, no, duty, to call and put his experience in things Chinese at
their command. She would speak only a little if any English; no one here
understood the preparation of her food--her delicate necessity for dishes
not the property of an entire household; a hundred such details of which
the infinitely cruder West must be ignorant. He thought complacently that
he would understand her better than anyone else in Salem, in Boston, in
America; far better than her husband. She would without doubt learn to
depend on him: they would laugh together at the manners and people about
them. Ammidon would be away for long periods on the China service.--
His dreams broke off with a sardonic laugh, a repetition of the tone in
which he had objurgated the ship-master. Such visions were the property
of youth, and he was forty-two, forty-two and nothing more than a
discredited clerk who had fled across the world from a shadow. But he was
right--he had seen white men who had caught the breath of China accepting
just such opportunities as the one offered to him after his dismissal by
Augustine Heard. At the Dutch Hong he'd be expected to talk about his
late employer. Such situations, he had realized in a rarely illuminating
flash, were only temporary, a descending flight.
These men resembled the fate of, say, a brig sailing into the China
Sea in all the perfection of order of the British Marine: at, perhaps,
Hong Kong, sold to a native firm, she would be refitted under an
extravagant flag, and slowly the order would depart until, in a
slovenly tangle of rigging and defilement, she'd be seen yawing on
secret and nauseous errands.
A homely chime of bells was repeated from the town; a ship's fast
strained resinously with the changing tide. "It will be getting on toward
supper," Nettie told him. They walked slowly from the wharf, turned
silently into Derby Street and Hardy on their way home. Beyond the inner
fence of the garden the thick uneven sod reaching to the water was dark
and cool against the luminous flush of evening. A sound of frying and
heavy odor came from the kitchen, and Kate Vollar's voice informed them
that the meal was ready.
Barzil Dunsack bowed his head over the table and pronounced a grace in
startlingly resonant tones, the reverent humility of his words oddly
emphasized by a sort of angry impatience. It seemed as if he at once
subjected himself to his God and expressed a certain dissatisfaction with
His forbearance. Edward Dunsack was plunged in the thought of the
resolution he intended to fulfill that evening.
The throwing away of the opium had lost a part of its symbolic meaning.
It now seemed even a little rash when he could find an immediate highly
profitable market--the opium had cost him seven hundred dollars in China.
But he must, he realized, be firm. Afterwards, in his room facing away
from the street over darkening yards and gables and foliage, he stood
gazing at the chest of mango wood that held the drug. Edward Dunsack
unlocked and lifted the lid. On the tray before him were twenty balls,
each the size of his two fists, wrapped in a hard skin of poppy leaves,
and there was a similar number beneath. It was obvious that he couldn't
carry a tray through the house, and he took out two balls, after which he
secured the remainder.
He walked quickly down the stair and through the close turning of the
lower hall that led through a side door to the yard. A pale rectangle of
lamplight fell from the sitting room window over a brick path and ground
tramped bare of grass; a clinking of dishes sounded in the kitchen. The
sod was damp, and perhaps eight feet below the wooden buttress of the
land the water showed impenetrably black.
Safely there he passed a tense hand over a brow suddenly wet; he was
shaking as if in the grip of a chill. His condition needed drastic
measures. The cold heavy opium gave out its tantalizing odor. In a minute
it would be disposed of and he would go for more. He calculated that this
necessitated twenty trips at the present rate--a bag might serve his
purpose better. He raised an arm with an opium ball, but his hand
remained suspended in air. An inarticulate protest seized him, a
suffocating sense of impending loss. He would never be able to get Patna
opium here; it was a valuable medical property. His nerves shook at the
thought of its delights. Then as if without his volition and against
every intention, his arm described a short arc and his hand was empty.
There was the impact of a solid object striking the water, a faint ripple
on the motionless expanse, and then absolute silence.
He was aghast at his wanton act, the irreparable waste of a precious
substance, and cursed in a low audible Cantonese. Whose concern was it if
he did, very occasionally, smoke a "pistol"? How could it possibly
matter! The dreams about a great foreign commerce, a white house like the
Ammidons', were futile; it was too late. He could expect nothing from
life but the unspeakable monotony of his father's dwelling, the bare
office. He had worked hard, been as full of splendid early resolutions as
anyone, and he wasn't blamable if chance balked his ambition. A soul was
nothing more than a twisting leaf in the wind of fate. There remained
only to take what escape was offered--golden visions, luxury, beauty
beyond all earth.
His contrary determination seemed of less actuality than the imagined
echoing of the splash that still hung in his brain. It was a thing far
away, belonging to another time, another man; like the memory of a period
of charming ignorance. The thought of it wove a strand of melancholy into
his present mature realization like the delicate scent of blossoming
trees borne to him on the evening air, barely perceptible and then lost
in the pungency of the opium. The latter became, mystically, all China,
the irresistible fascination that had gradually possessed his
imagination, dulling the associations of his heredity and birth, calling
him further and further into its secretive heart.
He returned to his room, where he put back the second ball in the tray of
its chest. An extraordinary weariness hung over him, there was a sense
of leaden weight in his arms and feet. Flashes of a different perception
pierced his apathy; a voice, seemingly outside his being, whispered of
danger, evil and danger.... A twisting leaf, he told himself again with
his deep fatalism.
The memory of Gerrit Ammidon's crisp blue gaze, his vigorous gestures and
speech, became an intolerable affront, representing the far lost point of
his own departure. His contrary feelings met and grappled in his mind;
but in the end the past, Salem, was always defeated, weaker, more faintly
perceived. In a great many essentials, he told himself, he had become
Chinese in sympathy and fiber.
The lamp threw a smooth gleam over the mango wood chest, and he bent,
turning the key in the ornamental brass lock. He could reconsider the
disposal of the opium to-morrow; there was no hurry; he had no intention
of becoming a victim to the drug. That would be an inconceivable
stupidity, the negation of all the philosophy he had gained. Very
His thoughts swung to the surprising fact of Ammidon's Chinese wife: if,
as he had first suspected, she were a common woman of the port who had
made a fool of the dull sailor he perceived the making of a very
entertaining comedy. There would be the keenest irony in exposing her to
himself before the complacent ignorance of her husband. He knew such
women: convicted in Chinese, perhaps before the entire Ammidon family,
not a muscle of her face would betray surprise or concern. She might try
to murder him, very ingeniously, but never descend to the intrigue, the
lies, of a Western woman placed in the same position. She'd stoically
accept the situation. These visions ran rapidly, vividly, through his
brain; he was accustomed to them; a greater part of his waking life was
filled with such pictures, infinitely more alluring, persuasive, than the
disappointing actuality. He got out of his clothes, and, in a loose gown
of black silk, sat at his open window, his chin sunk in the palm of a
hand, his face set against the night.
The next morning, at the breakfast table, he listened with a fleering
mouth to his father's long dogmatic grace before meat. His sister sat
opposite their parent, her gaze lowered in a perpetual amazement, her
entire person stamped with a stupid humility. There was nothing humble,
however, in Nettie; the crisp French coloring positively crackled with an
electric energy; her mouth was set in a rebellious red blot. Studying
her, Edward Dunsack saw that she was prettier than he had first realized
on his return to Salem. He speculated over the story she had told him
yesterday about Gerrit Ammidon's attachment. What an incredible idiot
their father had been: Edward would have relished Gerrit as a
brother-in-law; good would have come to them all from such a connection.
If he had been in America at the time no such error would have been
permitted. With his counsel Nettie would have caught Ammidon beyond any
escape. He wondered if the girl had actually cared for the shipmaster or
if the affair had been nothing more than a sop to her wounded pride and
isolation. In a way beyond his present understanding this seemed to be
considerably important. If she had loved him no one could predict what
her attitude might be in any future development of their contact; but if
her pride only had been involved, injured, she might readily be an
instrument for his own obscure purposes.
The office where Barzil Dunsack conducted the limited affairs of his
West India trading was a small one-room building back of the dwelling.
There was a high desk at which a clerk stood, or balanced on a
long-legged stool, a more formal secretary against the length of the
wall, with a careful model of a full ship, the spars and standing
rigging slack and the whole gray with dust, a built-in cupboard
opposite, a dilapidated chair or so and a ten-plate iron stove for wood.
A window looked out across the grass to the harbor and another opened
blankly against a board fence.
There Edward Dunsack made a column of entries in a script fine and
regular but occasionally showing an uncontrollably tremulous line. He
was conscious of this tendency, growing through the past year; and he
surveyed his writing with a feeling of angry dismay. Try as he might,
with a frowning concentration, to pen the words and numerals firmly,
presently his attention would slip, his hand waver ever so slightly, and
a sudden stricken appearance of old age fasten on the characters.... By
heaven, to-night he'd throw all that stinking stuff away!
Outside the day was immaculate, the expanse of the water was like
celestial silk, such sails as he saw resembled white clouds. The early
morning bird song had subsided, but a persistent robin was whistling from
the grass by the open door. The curd-like petals of a magnolia were
slowly shifting obliquely to the ground, he could hear the stir of Derby
Street. He was inexpressibly weary of the struggle always racking his
being: it seemed to him that in the midst of a serene world he was
tormented by some inimicable and fatal power.
He fastened his thoughts on commonplace happier objects, on the page
under his hand, the entries of Medford rum and sugar cane and molasses,
and the infinitely larger affairs of Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone.
There was no reason why he shouldn't call on Jeremy Ammidon's family. The
latter had signified by his visit the desire to end the misunderstanding
between them. He was as well born as Gerrit Ammidon; only ill chance had
made them seem differently situated. Anyhow, unlike Canton, mere exterior
position had comparatively little weight in Salem. The shipmasters, the
more important merchants, arrogated a certain superiority to themselves:
but it broke down before the inborn democracy of the local spirit.
That afternoon, he decided, he'd be in Pleasant Street; and later he
dressed with the most meticulous care. A growing doubt seized him as he
mounted the outside steps of the Ammidons' impressive house; but he
crushed it down and firmly rapped with the polished knocker on the
The family, a servant told him, was in the garden; and he followed
through a large white-paneled hall into a formal drawing-room and green
space beyond. He was again uncertain before the number of people grouped
about a summerhouse and apparently watching his approach with cold
surprise. But Gerrit Ammidon stepped forward and greeted him with an
adequately level civility.
"You know my father," he said, and Jeremy Ammidon, his heavy body in
linen above which his face was dusky, put out an abrupt hand. There was a
Mr. Brevard, a slender unconcerned person in very fashionable but
restrained clothes; William Ammidon's wife, a large woman in India
muslin, handsome enough, Edward Dunsack conceded, in the obvious
American sense; a daughter of William's, a girl blooming into womanhood,
far too vigorous and brightly colored for his taste; and Gerrit's wife.
The latter had been hidden from him at first, and he saw her suddenly,
completely: his surprise caused him to stand in an awkward
suspense--never had he imagined that a woman, even a Manchu, could be so
beautiful! He recognized, in a score of unmistakable details, that she
was of irreproachably high birth; her satins were embroidered with the
symbols of nobility and matrimonial felicity; the gold fingernail guards,
the jade and flowering pearls, her earrings and tasseled tobacco pouch
and ivory fan, were all in the most superlative manner.
A deep pleasurable excitement filled him as he made his greeting in
correct Chinese. The long delicate oval of her face showed no emotion at
the sound of her native speech and she returned his periods in a slowly
chosen mechanical English. Edward Dunsack thought that as he spoke an
expression of distaste stamped Gerrit's features. However, he was left in
no doubt: "My wife," the other instructed him, "prefers to speak English.
That is the only way she has of picking it up."
A contempt filled Dunsack which he was barely able to keep from his voice
and manner. He nodded shortly, and subsided into a study of Taou Yuen so
open that she must have become aware of his interest. Seated on the bench
that circled the interior of the latticed summerhouse she moved so that
he could no longer see her face. Brevard was beside her, talking in a low
amused voice: there was a ringing peal of laughter from Sidsall Ammidon
and a faint infinitely well-bred ripple from Taou Yuen. The brilliant
patch of her gown made an extraordinary effect in the Salem garden.
Edward Dunsack recognized the scents that stirred from her, more Eastern
and disturbing even than opium: there was a subtle natural odor of musk,
the perfumes of henna and clove blossoms and santal.
A curious double feeling possessed him in the split consciousness of
which he was capable--he had the sensation of having come, in the suave
afternoon garden, on overwhelming disaster, and at the same time he was
enraged by the play of Fate that had given such a woman to Gerrit Ammidon
and denied him, with his special appreciation of Oriental charm, the
slightest satisfaction. A more general hatred of Gerrit tightened to a
consuming resentment of the other's blind fortune.
One thing was unmistakably borne upon him--in spite of the courtesy he
was meeting it was clear that he could not hope to become a customary
visitor at the Ammidons'. He was put definitely outside the community of
interests in which Brevard easily entered. William Ammidon joined them,
and something like astonishment at Dunsack's presence was visible on his
He remained, however, in a stubborn resistance to small adverse signs in
the hope of gaining some additional facts about Taou Yuen. She had been,
he learned, a widow and Gerrit had married her with her father-in-law's
consent although the latter was a rich official. He wanted to ask a
thousand questions, but he knew that even if the Ammidons were too dense
to grasp his curiosity, Taou Yuen herself would comprehend his
impoliteness. Nowhere else could be found the wisdom and poise of a
Jeremy Ammidon, in a lawn chair, a smoking cheroot in his fingers, asked
him about affairs of Chinese government and commerce. As the old man
talked he flushed darkly with quick indignation. "The English have made
our political diplomats look like stuffed gulls!" he declared. "Look at
their Orders in Council and the British Prize Courts," he proceeded,
waving his cheroot; "stop an American vessel anywhere and pretend to find
a deserting English sailor. With the Treaty of Ghent and cod-headed
commissioners and a Congress that wouldn't know a ship from a bread barge
the country's going to hell on greased ways! I've said it a thousand
times and any man not a complete ass knows that you can't run a
government without a strong head. Locofocos," he muttered.
Edward Dunsack listened to this tirade with an air of polite attention
which hid completely the fact that he heard or comprehended scarcely a
word. His thoughts were filled by the fragrant vision of Taou Yuen;
already he was deep in the problem of how to see her again, to-morrow. It
would be excessively difficult. Eastern women never, if they could avoid
it, walked; and they were, he knew, entirely without the necessity that
drove the women of Salem into a ceaseless round of calling and gossip. It
was probable that, except to ride, she wouldn't leave the house and
grounds. He cursed the chance quarrel that had set a customary void
between the houses of Dunsack and Ammidon, the unfortunate affair of his
sister and Vollar inescapably adding to the permanency of the breach; he
particularly cursed Nettie. There, however, his mind took up the twisted
thread of the vague possibility that the latter might be useful to him:
he was amazed at the way in which his premonitions fitted into the
pattern of situations yet to be materialized.
Edward Dunsack turned from his contemplation of Taou Yuen to a careful
consideration of Gerrit Ammidon. The latter had a countenance which
showed strong, easily summoned emotions. It was an intolerant face,
Dunsack judged, and yet sentimental; and it was surprisingly young,
guileless. At the same time it was unusually determined--an affair of
uncomplicated surfaces, direct gaze, marked bone.
He questioned sharply, irritably, the length to which his projections had
reached. What were they all about? The answer was presented by the
glittering figure of the Manchu; she had risen and was standing in the
entrance of the summerhouse. He thought, with a jerking pulse, of
Oriental similes; she was a lotus-woman, a green slip of willow, an
ambrosial moon, a mustard flower. Her teeth were white buds, her breasts
His entire life in China had been a preparation for the realization of
the present moment. The sense of danger, of anger at Gerrit Ammidon,
perished before the supreme emotion called up by Taou Yuen. He wanted
to embrace her satin-shod feet, to cling to her odorous hands, such
hands as were never formed out of China, like petals of coral. Not only
her bodily charm intoxicated him, but the thought of her subtle mind
added its attraction, its shadows never to be pierced by the blunted
Western instinct, the knowledge of pleasures like perfumes, the calm
blend of the eight diagrams of Confucius, the stoicism of the
Buddhistic soul revolving perpetually in the urn of Fate, and of the
aloof Tao of Lao-tze.
Brevard left with an easy familiarity, already planning a return, that
filled Edward Dunsack with resentful envy. The sun had disappeared behind
the house; long cool shadows swept down the garden; it was past time for
him to go. A reluctance to move from the magic of Taou Yuen possessed
him: he was unable to think how, when, he would next see her. He raged at
the prohibition against speaking Chinese; that ability should give him an
overwhelming advantage of Gerrit Ammidon. This was, of course, the reason
that he had been virtually commanded to limit himself to English. Many of
the forms of extreme Chinese courtesy were impossible to express in
Finally he rose; in departing he emphasized the importance of Jeremy
Ammidon--Taou Yuen should recognize and applaud that. He saw that she was
watching him obliquely, her lips in repose, her hands still among the
satin draperies. An American would have betrayed something of her
reaction to him, he could have discovered a trace, an indication, of her
thoughts; but the Manchu's face was as inscrutable as porcelain. William
Ammidon nodded, the old man responded to his leave-taking with a degree
of warmness, Gerrit at least smiled in a not unfriendly manner. Edward
Dunsack bowed to Taou Yuen, and she gravely inclined her head. He had a
last glimpse of her glowing in the green light of the inclosure of
rose-bushes and poplars, emerald sod and tangled lilac trees.
At the supper table his sister's appearance in somber untidy black
barége, Nettie's unrestrained gestures and speech, the coarse red cloth
and plain boiled fare, all added to a discontent that he could scarcely
restrain. With the utmost discrimination in delicate shades of beauty and
luxury he was yet condemned to spend his days in surroundings hardly
raised above poverty-stricken squalor. Incongruous as it was he could yet
imagine Taou Yuen moving with a certain appropriateness about the
Ammidons' spacious grounds and house; but he was absolutely unable to
picture her here, on Hardy Street.
All the vivid scenes that continually formed and shifted in his mind
gathered about Gerrit Ammidon's wife. He used this phrase in a
contemptuously satirical manner: it was impossible for Ammidon actually
to marry a Manchu. Such racial mating, he told himself, could not be
consummated; there were too many deep antipathies of flesh and spirit;
the man was too--too stupidly normal. Sooner or later he would swing back
to his own. With him, Edward Dunsack, it was different; he always had an
inner kinship with China; at first sight its streets and sounds, odors
and ways, had seemed familiar, admirable.
The realization of this, when his place with Heard and Company
collapsed, had sent him back to America, in a strange dread. He
remembered how the vague fear had followed him to Derby Wharf. Now he
laughed at it, welcoming every Chinese instinct he had. They seemed to
throw a bridge across enormous difficulties, bringing him finally to
He lingered at the table after supper, his head sunk on his chest,
revolving the various aspects of his position. One thing was definite--he
must have Taou Yuen; it was unthinkable that she should continue with
Gerrit Ammidon. It needed skillful planning, tortuous execution, but in
the end he'd get his desire. He had no doubt of that. It was necessary.
If she opposed him she would discover that he, too, could be subtle,
Oriental, yes--dangerous. None of the stupid inhibitions that, for
example, bound his father interfered with the free exercise of his
personal wishes. He was beyond primitive morality.
An ecstasy of contemplation ravished his senses.
"Goodness, Uncle Edward," Nettie exclaimed, "you scared me, you looked so
like a Chinee."
"There are no such people," he retorted sharply, exasperated by the
vulgar error. She was undismayed; and when, in reply to the question, she
learned that he had been at the Ammidons' her surprise increased his
irritation. He saw from her manner that his calling there had been at
least unexpected. Nettie interrupted the preparation of the table for
breakfast, and dropped into a chair beyond him, her hands--the sleeves
were rolled back to her elbows--clasped before her.
"You must tell me everything," she declared eagerly. "What is she like?
Do they seem happy? Did he hold her hand? Do Chinese women kiss? Is she
"I can't remember a question out of your rattle," he interrupted her. He
was about to give expression to his admiration for Taou Yuen, when he
stopped, with tight lips. Here, perhaps, was the lever by which so much
was to be shifted.
"She's Chinese," he said indifferently, "and that means yellow." Nettie
made a gesture of distaste. "They seem to get along well enough. Of
course, it's ridiculous to call it a marriage, and it seems to me very
questionable to impose it on the Ammidons as that. The thing is--how
long will it last, how soon will he get tired of her and send her back
Nettie Vollar closed her eyes, her hands were rigid. The lamplight,
streaming up over her face, showed him that it was tense and pale and
answered a question. Her feeling for Gerrit Ammidon had been more than a
mere hurt pride. In addition to that he saw beyond any doubt the proof of
its existence still. This complicated his problem: inspired only by a
resentment that he might fan into hatred she would be far more pliable
than in the grip of a genuine affection for Gerrit Ammidon. He understood
the processes of the former, a flexible and useful steel; but no one
could predict the vagaries, the absurd self-sacrifices, of love. Well,
he'd have to work with what offered. That, he realized, was the strength
of his philosophy--he accepted promptly, without vain regret, the means
that lay at his hand.
"Ammidon seems worn," he said generally; "they were in the garden, and I
had a few words privately with him." Nettie glanced swiftly across the
table; her lips moved; but she repressed the obvious question trembling
on them. "He showed, I think," he continued carefully, "a very improper
interest in you."
"He asked if you were well and happy. I most certainly told him, for any
number of reasons, for pride alone, that you were."
"Then you told a lie," she cried in a tone so hard that it surprised him.
"Of course," he went on smoothly, "I know that you are not, almost all
your circumstances prohibit that. But I don't intend to circulate it in
Salem. Opinion here may have forced you into a long loneliness, but I
shan't give anyone the satisfaction of knowing it. And, after all, you
have your grandfather mostly to blame. You would have been married to
Gerrit Ammidon now if he hadn't interfered; you would have been walking
about the Ammidons' garden with your hand on his arm in place of that
"I don't see why you should make me so miserable," she declared. "I don't
care anything about the garden, it isn't that. Why do you suppose he
brought such a woman home?"
"Pique," he told her; "he couldn't care for her in the way he might for,
well--you. As I said, he'll drop her on his next voyage to the East; he
will leave her and probably never come back to Salem again. I hear that
Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone are planning a new policy--bigger ships,
clippers in the China and California trade; and that means removal to
Boston. Their facilities here are no longer suitable."
She moved, her chin fell upon her hands, propped up with her elbows on
the table. Apparently Edward Dunsack was gazing at the wall beyond her.
Her breast gave a single sharp heave. When Nettie looked up her face was
flushed. "I wish that I were really a bad woman," she spoke in a low
"What is bad and what is good?" He still seemed to ignore her,
considering a question that had no personal bearing. "In one country a
thing is thought wrong and in another it is the highest virtue. In one
age this or that is condemned, when, turn the calendar, and everyone is
praising it." He became confidential, the image of kindness. "I'll tell
you what I think is wicked," he pronounced, leaning toward her, "and that
is the way you two were kept apart; unchristian is what I call it."
"Gerrit doesn't care," she said.
"How do you know?" he demanded. "I cannot agree with you. I don't find a
great deal in him to admire, he is too simple and transparent; but
there's no doubt of this, he is faithful. One idea, one affection, is all
his head will hold."
"That's a beautiful trait." A palpable wistfulness settled over her.
"It's greatly admired," he agreed; "although not by me. I believe in
taking what is yours, what you need, from life. I suppose that I have
been away from proprieties so long that they have lost their importance.
They seem to me of no greater weight than barriers of straw. But, of
course, that mightn't suit you; probably, living in Salem as you have,
its opinion is valuable."
"Salem!" she exclaimed bitterly. "What has it ever been to me but an
unfair judgment? I owe Salem no consideration; I can't see that I owe
any to life."
"I don't want to insist on that," he proceeded deliberately. "The tragedy
of your position is that married to Ammidon everything in the past would
have been overlooked, forgotten. Even now--" he stopped with a gesture
indicating the presence still of large possibilities.
God, what a vacillating fool the girl was! He could say no more at
present, and he rose, leaving the room with Nettie staring dully across
the table. He went outside, to the grass fronting on the harbor. Here,
last night, he had thrown the opium into the water. It seemed to him
that he had lived through a complete existence since then: the presence
of Taou Yuen had created a new world. He thought she walked to him
through the gloom; he saw her slender body grow brighter as she
approached; he heard her speak in a low native murmur; their hands
caught in an eager tangle.
He put aside, momentarily, the problem of the difficulties of going again
to the Ammidons' for an easier one--the bringing of Gerrit Ammidon here.
He was confident that, thrown together on the still rim of the water, at
evening, the emotion born between his niece and the shipmaster and
prematurely choked would revive. He had no means of knowing Ammidon's
present exact feeling for Nettie; he was counting only on a general
theory of men and nature at large. He was already convinced, from very
wide knowledge, experience, that the other could not form a permanent
attachment to the Manchu; and Nettie's great difference, together with
the romance of her unhappy position, must have a potent effect on the
fellow's evident sentimentality. A dank air rose from the water, like the
smell of death; and, with an uncontrollable shiver, he turned back toward
In his room Edward Dunsack recalled that he had promised himself to throw
away the remainder of the opium on this and succeeding nights. In view of
that his movements were inexplicable: he got out from a locked chest the
_yen tsiang_, a heavy tube of dark wood inlaid with silver ideograms and
diminutive earthen cup at one end. Then he produced a small brass lamp,
brushes, long needles, and a metal rod. Taking off his clothes, and in
the somber black folds of the silk robe, he made various minutely careful
preparations. Finally, extended on his bed, he dipped the end of the rod
into opium the color of tar, kept it for a bubbling moment near the blaze
of the lamp, and then crowded the drug into the pipe. He held the bowl to
the flame and drew in a long deep inhalation. A second followed and the
pipe was empty. He repeated this until he had smoked a mace.
A vivacious and brilliant state of being flooded him; he felt capable
of profoundly witty conversation, and laughed at the solemn absurdities
of the Ammidons, at his father attempting to call down a blessing out
of the empty sky upon their food, at his sister's lugubrious
countenance, the childish emotions of Nettie. What a nonsensical
strutting business life was.
The confines of his room were lost in an amber radiance that filled all
space; it was at once a light and a perfume and charged with a sense of
impending rapture. A sparkling crimson shape floated down from infinite
skies--Taou Yuen. She wore a bridal costume, cunningly embroidered with
the phoenix, a hood of thin gold plate, and a band of red silk about her
brow bore the eight copper figures of the beings who are immortal. Her
hair was ornamented by the pure green jade pins of summer, her hanging
wrists were heavy with virgin silver, while her face was like the
desirous August moon flushed in low vapors.
He raised his bony arms--the wide silk sleeves falling back--his
emaciated yellow hands. From under his dark eyelids there was a glitter
of vision like the sheen on mica... Taou Yuen floated nearer.
Edward Dunsack woke suddenly, at the darkest ebb of night, and started
hurriedly to his feet. A sickening vertigo, a whirling head, sent him
lurching across the room. He came in contact with a chest of drawers, and
clung to it with the feeling that his legs were shriveling beneath him.
His consciousness slowly returned, and with it a pain like ruthless
tearing fingers searched his body. The rectangle of the open window,
only less dark than the room, promised a relief from the strangled effort
of his breathing, and he fell across the ledge, lifting his face to a
starless and unstirring heat. Waves of complete physical exhaustion
passed over him. An utter horror fastened on his brain.
"Oh, God," he said, with numb lips, "we thank Thee for this, Thy daily
blessing--" He broke off with an effort. That was his father pronouncing
a grace. "Oh God--" he said again, when it seemed to him that in the
darkness he saw the blank placidity of a Buddha carved from gray stone.
Tears ran over his sunken cheeks, salt and warm like blood.
The night was so oppressive, continuing such an unusually sultry period
for the season, that Sidsall, ordinarily impervious to the effects of
weather, was unable to sleep. Although the door between her room and her
parents' was shut, she heard her father--his step, at once quick and
firm, was easily recognizable moving about beyond. Her restlessness
increased and she got up, crossing the floor to the window open on the
garden, where she knelt, the thick plait of her hair across her cheek and
shoulder, with her arms propped on the ledge. The depths of sky were
hidden in a darkness like night made visible; and, in place of moving
air, there were slow waves of perfume, now from the lilacs and now from
the opening hedge of June roses.
Her brain was filled by a multitude of minor images and speculations, but
fixed at their back was the presence of Roger Brevard. She approved of
him absolutely. He had exactly the formal manner that gave her a pleasant
sense of delicate importance, and his clothes were beautiful, a sprig of
rose geranium in a buttonhole and his gloves and boots immaculate. She
liked rather slight graceful men, she thought, with the quiet voices of a
polite ancestry. Naturally Olive Wibird preferred less restrained
companions, although Heaven knew that Olive appeared to make all kinds
welcome. Olive's opinion of Roger Brevard would have been very different
if he had asked her to dance.
Sidsall recalled the quadrille he had led her through at Lacy's party; he
had been a perfect partner, at once light and firm. He had been a
habitual caller at Java Head before that occasion, and had come in the
same manner since. That is, casually viewed, his visits seemed the same;
but in reality there were some small yet significant differences. They
were all held in his attitude of the afternoon when he had stayed talking
exclusively to her on the steps.
She couldn't say just what the change was; when she attempted to examine
it her thoughts became confused and turned to a hundred absurd
considerations, such as--at present--the loveliness of the night. The
scents of the flowers were overwhelming. He got on, too, better than
almost anyone else with her Uncle Gerrit's Manchu wife. She had watched
them together until it had dawned on her that the two had some important
qualities in common--they both appeared to stand a little aside from the
world, as if they were against the wall at a cotillion. She thought this
in spite of the fact that it was precisely what Roger Brevard never did;
it was true in the mysterious way of so much now that came from ideas
over which she had no control.
The subject of Uncle Gerrit's wife--she had not yet been told or decided
for herself what to call her--was inexhaustibly enthralling. But, before
she was again fairly launched in it, she paused to wonder at the presence
of the dreadful Dunsack man on their lawn. His hollow yellow cheeks and
staring brown eyes which somehow made her think of pain, his restless
hands and speech, all repelled her violently. Taou--Taou Yuen hadn't
liked him either: when, after the longest time, he had gone, she replied
to a short comment from her, Sidsall's, father:
"Rotten wood cannot be carved."
Some one else had mentioned opium. She had intended to ask more
particularly about this, but it slipped from her mind. She remembered
that her grandfather made one of his familiar exclamations peppered with
an appalling word. He was really very embarrassing, and she was glad that
Roger Brevard had left. It was a bad example for Laurel, too, who copied
him, and only that morning said "My God" to Miss Gomes. Her mind swung
back to the consideration of the Manchu: The latter was the fact upon
which Camilla was so insistent, that in this case a Manchu was a noble,
almost a princess. Camilla suffered dreadfully from the endless questions
put to her outside their house about Uncle Gerrit's wife. She had more
than once wept at the public blot laid on them. Laurel was frankly
inquisitive and Janet as puzzling as usual.
The clothes of course were enchanting, the richness of the materials and
hand embroidery marvellous; her jewelry was never ending. It didn't seem
quite like clothing, in the sense of her own tarlatan and crinoline, her
waist which Hodie wouldn't properly lace and tulle draping; there was a
certain resemblance to the dressing in Van Amburgh's circus; but--in
spite of Camilla's private laments--every inch of it was distinguished.
The layers of paint upset them, but Uncle Gerrit had explained, a little
impatiently, that it was a Manchu custom, adding that the world couldn't
be all measured and judged by Salem.
Sidsall liked her rather than not, she decided; and determined to make an
effort to know her better. She wanted specially to discover the nature of
the bond that held one to the other, and explore, in safety, the depths
of love. She could not help feeling that her uncle's affair,
extraordinary as it was, must throw light on the whole complicated
business of marriage. ... The clock in the hall struck an indeterminate
half hour, it appeared to grow lighter outside, and there was a
twittering of martins from the stables. From above came the vigorous
harsh cawing of crows. Suddenly sleepy she returned to bed and almost
immediately the room was flooded with sunlight.
It was an accepted fact now that Taou Yuen, the Garden of Peaches, stayed
in her room until long after breakfast; and when Sidsall, rising from the
table, found a servant taking up a pot of hot water for tea, she secured
it and knocked carefully on the door above. The slurring hesitating voice
said "Come in," and she entered with a diffidence covered by a cheerfully
polite morning greeting. She found the other in crêpe de Chine pantaloons
wrapped tightly about her ankles and bound over quilted muslin socks with
gay brocaded ribbons and a short floating gown of gray silk worked with
willow leaves. Her hair was an undisturbed complication of lustrous
black, gold bodkins and flowers massed on either side; and her face,
without paint or powder, was as smooth as ivory and the color of very
pale coffee and cream.
Sidsall saw that she was at her toilet, and she put down the pot of
steaming water, moving toward the door; but Taou Yuen, with a charmingly
shy gesture, begged her to stay. She swiftly drew a cup of tea from
silvery leaves, filled and lighted the minute bowl of her tobacco pipe,
deeply inhaled the smoke; then returned to a mirror.
Fascinated, Sidsall followed every motion.
Taou Yuen polished her face sharply with a hot damp cloth and then dipped
her fingers in a jar that held a sticky amber substance. "Honey," she
said briefly, rubbing it into her cheeks and palms. Next she attacked her
eyebrows, and skillfully wielding a thin silk cord left arches like
pencil markings. At times she interrupted her preparations to turn to
Sidsall with a little smile so engaging that the girl smiled
sympathetically in answer. There were a gilt paper box of rice powder,
with which she drenched her countenance, leaves of carmine transferred to
her cheeks with a wet finger, and a silver pot of rouge from which she
coated her lips. As she gazed approvingly at her reflection Sidsall said:
"It's very beautiful."
Her eyes, drawn up toward her temples, shone gayly; and, close to
Sidsall, she touched the latter affectionately on the cheek. The cold
sharp contact of the long curving finger guard gave the girl an
unpleasant shock. It seemed lifeless, or like the scratching of a beetle.
Suddenly the woman's glittering gaze, her expressionless face stiff with
paint, the blaze of her barbaric colors, filled Sidsall with a shrinking
that was almost dread.
She was even more oppressed by an instinctive feeling of what she could
express to herself only as cruelty hidden under the other's scented
embroidery. At the same time her curiosity persisted, conquered. She was
unable, however, to think of any possible manner of introducing the new
subject of her interest, love, and was forced to be content with an
"We were all quite surprised when Mr. Dunsack called yesterday," she
said. "He isn't in the least a friend of the family. Grandfather went to
sea with his father, but even they didn't speak for years in Salem. The
Dunsacks are a little common."
"I know," Taou Yuen replied. "Mr. Dunsack--a long time in Canton, at the
American agents. China is bad for men like him. Black spirits get in them
and the ten sins."
"He stared at you in the rudest way."
"He never saw a Manchu lady before. In China the dog would not have
passed by the first gate. Here it is nothing to be a Manchu or an
honorable wife; it is all like the tea houses and rice villages. Men walk
up to you with bold eyes. I tell Gerrit and he laughs. I stay in the room
and he brings me shamefully down. This Mr. Dunsack comes and the wise old
man talks to him like a son. He touches your mother's hand. He sees the
young girls like white candles."
"We wouldn't let him really bother us," Sidsall explained; "probably if
he comes again we'll all be out."
Taou Yuen made a comment in Chinese. "A bad thought is a secret knife,"
she continued; "it is more dangerous than the anger of the Emperor, a
sickness that kills with the stink of bodies already dead."
This seemed rather absurd to Sidsall. She considered once more the
introduction of the subject of her new concern; but, in spite of Taou
Yuen's extravagant appearance, there was a quality of being which made
impossible any blunt interrogation. She had a decidedly aloof manner. Her
mother, Sidsall recognized, and the older women they knew, had a trace of
this; but in the Manchu it was carried infinitely further, a most
autocratic disdain. Her feeling for the other shifted rapidly from
attitude to attitude.
She watched, she was certain, these same sensations come over her Aunt
Caroline Saltonstone, Mrs. Clifford and Mrs. Wibird, who called on Gerrit
Ammidon's wife that afternoon. They were sitting with their crinoline
widespread against their chairs, gazing with a concerted battery of
curiosity at Taou Yuen's shimmering figure in the drawing-room screened
against the sun. Mrs. Wibird, Sidsall thought--a woman of fat and faded
prettiness, with wine red splotches beneath her eyes, and a voice that
went on and on in the relating of various petty emotional
disturbances--must have resembled Olive as a girl. It was probable, then,
that Olive would look like her mother when in turn she was middle-aged.
Mrs. Clifford, unseasonably huddled in her perpetual shawl, more than
ever suggested a haggard marble in somberly rich clothes. Aunt Caroline
sat with complacent hands and loud inattentive speech. Taou Yuen smiled
at them placidly.
"Our men," said Mrs. Clifford, "went out to China for years. It never
occurred to them however to marry a Chinese woman; but I dare say they
didn't see the right sort."
"Most of the captains like China," Taou Yuen said. "They are so far away
from their families--" she made a brief philosophical gesture, and Madra
Clifford studied her with a narrowed gaze. "It would be the same," she
continued, "if Chinamen came to America." Mrs. Wibird shuddered. "A
yellow skin," she cried impetuously; "I can't bide the thought."
"I'm sure we'd be tremendously interested," Mrs. Saltonstone hurriedly
put in, "if you'd tell us about your wedding. A Chinese wedding must
be--be very gay, with firecrackers and--"
"My marriage with Captain Ammidon was not beautiful--I was a widow and he
foreign. The Manchu wedding is very nice. First there is the engagement
ceremony. I sit like this," she sank gracefully to the floor,
cross-legged, "on the bed with my eyes shut, and, if I am noble, two
princesses come and put the _ju yi_, it's jade and means all joy, on my
lap. Two little silk bags hang from the buttons of my gown with gold
coins, and two gold rings on my fingers must be marked with _Ta hsi_,
that's great happiness."
"I'm told polygamy is an active practice," Mrs. Wibird remarked with a
"Yes?" Taou Yuen asked.
"One man--a lot of wives."
"The Emperor has a great many and some Manchus take a second and third.
You think that is wrong here. Who knows! The Chinese women are very good,
very modest. The Four Books For Girls teach perfect submission; the five
virtues are benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, sincerity.
Confucius says, 'The root is filial piety.'"
"Very admirable," Mrs. Wibird nodded, agitating the small dyed ostrich
plumes tipped with marabou of her bonnet; but it was clear to Sidsall
that this was not the revelation for which she had hoped. A momentary
silence, the edge of an uneasiness, enveloped the visitors.
"What lovely satins," Mrs. Saltonstone commented.
"Please--I have a box full; you will let me give you some?"
"Indeed yes, and thank you."
Mrs. Wibird, growing resentful, said that a cousin of her aunt's had been
a missionary to China, "and did a very blessed work too."
Taou Yuen smoothly agreed that it was quite possible. "Our poor have a
great many wrong and lustful ideas," she acknowledged; "they tell lies
and beat their wives and gamble. The higher classes too, the mandarins
and princes, use the people for their own security and rob them.
Sometimes the law is not honest, and a man with gold gets free when a
laborer is put in the bamboo cage."
Mrs. Clifford said very vigorously, "Ha!"
The silence returned intensified.
"I remember," the Manchu went on, "this will amuse you. My father-in-law,
who was in the Canton Customs, told me that some boxes of Bibles came out
from America, with other objects, and when they were opened at the
Mission they were the wrong ones and filled with rum."
There was not, however, any marked appreciation of this on the part of
the Salem women. They rose to leave and Taou Yuen sank on her knee. She
gazed without a trace of emotion at the three flooding the door with
their belled skirts. "They are the same everywhere," she told the girl.
The latter moved out into the garden. There she subconsciously picked a
rose and fastened it in her hair; her thoughts turned to Roger Brevard.
In his place her Uncle Gerrit came out through the drawing-room window.
The usual shadow of the house, lengthening with afternoon, was pleasantly
enveloping, and they walked slowly over the grass.
"A flower in your hair," he said, "and by yourself. You have been
thinking about true love." She blushed vividly at this unexpected angle
on her mind and found it impossible to meet his keen blue eyes. "Love
must be a remarkable thing." She raised a swift glance to his face and
discovered that he had not spoken to her at all, but, hat in hand, was
looking away with an expression of abstraction.
"I mean the unreasonable silly divine kind," he specified, now gazing
at her quizzically, as if lost in a mood over which he had no control;
"the sort that is as long as life and stronger. It is entirely
different and ages older than the reasonable logical love, all proper
and suitable and civilized; or the love that is the result of a
determination, the result of a determination," he repeated, frowning
darkly at their feet. Sidsall held her breath, thrilled by the wealth
of what she had heard, fearful of diverting what might be yet revealed.
But he moved away abruptly, in a manner that enforced solitude, and
stood apparently examining the rockery.
Her brain rang with the splendid phrase, "Love as long as life and
stronger." It seemed to clarify and state so much of her lately confused
being. Hodie, artfully drawn into the consideration of earthly affection,
was far less satisfactory than Gerrit Ammidon. She dwelt on the treasure
beyond moth or rust, lost in an ecstasy of contemplation expressed in her
customary explosive amens. At the same time she admitted that lower
unions were blessed of God, and recommended Sidsall to think on "a man
who has seen the light and by no means a sea captain." Sidsall replied
cuttingly, "I think you must forget where you are."
"I forget nothing," Hodie stoutly maintained; "I'll witness before
anyone." She settled the flounces of Sidsall's skirt with a deft hand.
Walking toward the Saltonstones' for tea, with a mulberry silk parasol
casting a shifting glow on her expanse of clear madras, Sidsall
wondered at the sudden change of almost all her interests and
preoccupations. It was very disturbing--she fell into daydreams that
carried her fancy away on a search that was a longing, a soft confusion
of opening her arms to mystery. This varied with a restless melancholy;
the old securities of her life were hidden in a mist of uncertainty in
which her consciousness was troubled by nameless pressures; something
within her held almost desperately back from further adventuring. But
all the time a latent fascination was drawing her on, putting aside the
curtain for her better view.
The Saltonstones' dwelling on Chestnut Street was one of a pair--a large
solid square of brick--with two identical oval white porticoes and rows
of windows keyed in white stone. Within the staircase swept up to a
slender pillared opening, through which Lacy, calmly dressing, waved a
deliberate hand. Mrs. Saltonstone was seated by the tall gilt framed
mirror on a low marble stand between long front windows. "As usual," she
said, in connection with her daughter, "Lacy's as cool as a water monkey;
gets it from James; they wouldn't hurry if--" She searched in vain for an
expression of her family's composure. "Now I am an impetuous woman." She
promptly exhibited this quality in the vigor with which she met the wrong
canister of tea brought by a servant. She didn't intend to serve Padre
Souchong to a lot of people who apparently confused afternoon tea with an
invitation to dinner.
In the small press which followed Sidsall stopped in the dining room with
Lacy and Olive Wibird. Olive was still discussing men. "He sat holding my
hand right on that bench by your hedge, Sidsall, and said that nothing
could keep him from coming back for me, but he died of yellow fever in
Batavia." She left in the company of a beau of fifty anyhow, with a
glistening bald head, a silly smirking bow and flood of compliments. Lacy
moved away and Sidsall found herself facing Roger Brevard.
"That looks remarkably like a garden," he said, waving toward an open
door. The sun had become obscured in a veil of cloud, drooping until it
almost seemed to rest on the bright green foliage; her companion's mood,
too, was shadowed. "I thought you'd be here," he added outside, "and
looked for you at once."
"There was something special you wanted to say?"
"My dear child," he replied, "can't you guess how absolutely refreshing
you are? No, I have nothing special. But you'll soon get used to men
around with no more reason than yourself."
She studied this seriously; and, as its complimentary intent emerged,
a corresponding color stained her cheeks. Her gaze rested on him for
the fleetest moment possible and, to her surprise, she saw that he
"I came here just to see you. No," he corrected his period, "only to see
you." His manner was surprisingly abrupt and disconcerting. "I can quite
realize," he went on, "that I shouldn't say any of this. Yet, on the
other hand, it is the most natural thing in the world. I have been
listening to the conventional babble of teas and cotillions for so long
that you are like a breath of lost youth. Certainly that is appropriate.
I think," he told her, "that you are the youngest thing alive." Then he
laughed, "So young that I have annoyed you."
"I feel a great deal older than I did, well--last month," she said.
"That is a tragedy." She felt that if he were still amused at her she was
furious, but he was even graver than before. "To tell you helps hurry the
charm to an end. That is what might be complained against me. Yet flowers
will open, you know, and it might as well be in an honest sun."
"I don't understand," she admitted, troubled.
"Why, it means, Sidsall, that I am offering you an experienced hand, that
I'm certain I can do you more good than harm--"
"That's silly," she interrupted. "If you mean that we might be friends,
really confidential friends, it would help me awfully. But then it's so
"You'll have to overlook that," he answered; "probably all that I can
give you, experience, isn't worth the smallest of your feelings. Probably
you won't need me for an instant. Certainly the pleasure will be mine."
"You didn't understand," she told him, with dignity; "it's the other way
round. I am not a particle interesting and everyone agrees that I'm too
healthy. But I can't help it if my cheeks are red and mother won't let
me have powder." It was obviously impossible to explain about Hodie and
"I like it," he insisted. "I'll admit that I am unfashionable there. I
think we'll hit on a great deal to share privately." There was a faint
patter among the leaves, and a cold drop of rain fell on Sidsall's arm.
Others struck Roger Brevard but he continued without apparently noticing
them. "You must understand that I am entirely at your service. Sometimes,
although they won't come yet, there are things a--a friend can do better
than one's family. You'll ask me, Sidsall?"
"Yes," she said solemnly. More rain struck her; she could see it now
plainly, falling between them. Roger Brevard's face was dark, the frown
still scarred his forehead. Personally she was happier than she
remembered ever being before and she wondered at his severity of bearing.
"But you must go in at once," he cried, suddenly energetic, his familiar
self; "you are getting wetter every minute."
The clouds dissolved into a late sunlight that streamed in long bars
through the canopies of elms on the streets. From her windows Sidsall saw
a world of flashing greenery and limpid sky. Usually when she was happy
she sang unimportant bits of light song, but her present state was
serious and inarticulate. The indeterminate questions, the disturbing
vague moods, of the past days somehow combined and took on the tangible
shape of Roger Brevard. Her curiosity about love was resolved into a
sudden inner shrinking from its possibilities and meaning.
She was lost in her aloofness from mundane affairs: Taou Yuen in
whispering silk, her grandfather's rotund tones, Laurel and Camilla and
her mother, were distant, immaterial. In the evening she sat on the
front steps, a web of white, dreamily intent on the shimmering sweep of
Washington Square. After a little she was joined by Gerrit Ammidon. He
wore linen trousers and a short blue sea jacket; and the wavering
delicately lavender trail of smoke from his cheroot was like her
"Already," he said, "I am full of getting back on my ship."
She smiled at him absently.
"The land doesn't do for a sailor," he continued. "They are always into
trouble on shore. I can't say why it should be so but it is. If there's
not one kind there is another; rum and such varnish for the able seaman,
and--and complications for a master. I suppose that's because there are
so confounded many unexpected currents and slants of wind, as you might
say. On shipboard everything pretty much is charted; a thing will be
followed more or less by a fixed consequence. The waves break so and so
on coral or rocks or sand; there is usually the sun for an observation;
a good man knows his ship, how many points she'll hold on the wind, how
a cargo must be stowed, when to take in the light canvas. You can give
the man at the wheel a course and turn in or stay on deck and beat your
way through hell. It's exact, you know, but on shore--" he made a
"There are no regulations," he observed moodily; "or else nobody follows
them: collisions all the time, sinkings and derelicts drifting round,
awash and dismasted. But they are everywhere. That fellow, Edward
Dunsack--" he stopped, lost in speculation. Then, "He seems harmless
enough," he resumed, "even pitiful; but he sticks in your head. I wish
I'd never brought his damned chest to Salem. A fool would have known
better. I'm worse--a childish fool. A derelict," he said again. "You are
smashing over a swell at twelve knots or more, everything spread, when,
in a hollow, there it is squarely across your bow. No time to shift the
wheel, and a ship's missing, perhaps in a hundred fathom. It might be the
best ship afloat, the best master and stoutest crew, but in a minute
she's only a salty tangle."
He laughed uneasily at the vividness of his fancy. "If it's hard for us
what must it be for Taou Yuen?" he demanded. "Married to me! Here! That's
courage for you." He tramped down the steps, across Pleasant Street, with
his bare head sunk, and vanished into the obscurity of the Square. She
caught a last glimmer of white trousers, a faint rapid gleam where his
lighted cheroot described the arc of a passionate gesture on the night.
The spring, like the full buds of the hedge roses in the Ammidons'
garden, passed swiftly into early summer. The flowers against the house
showed gay perennial colors, the stocks and larkspur and snapdragons
succeeded the retreating flood of the lilacs. The days were still yellow
pools of heat, or else cooled by the faintly salt sea wind drawing down
the elms and chestnuts, followed by purple-green nights of moonlight.
They seemed to Sidsall to hold everything in a pause. She saw less and
less of Taou Yuen who now scarcely came out of her room except for an
occasional ride in the barouche with Mrs. Ammidon or a contemplative hour
in the garden, usually at dusk. Apparently content with the elaborate
rearrangement of her headdress, she sat for long periods, gazing out over
Washington Square, idle except for the regular tap of her pipe emptying
the ashes of the minute bowl.
Yet Sidsall's first interest in her had almost completely shifted to
Gerrit Ammidon. He evidently preferred her company to that of the other
members of his family, and they often took short largely silent walks,
usually down to the Salem Marine Railway where the _Nautilus_ was
undergoing repairs. His protracted silences were broken by the sudden
vehement protests against the generally muddled aspect of affairs or
longer monologues of inner questioning and search. He almost never
referred to her or made her part of a conversation; she was free to dwell
on her own emotions while he, with a corrugated brow, went on in his
tortuous and solitary course.
On an afternoon when they had walked to the foot of Briggs Street, and
were gazing out over the tranquil water of Collins Cove, Gerrit Ammidon
"Have you seen Nettie Vollar lately?"
Sidsall was unable to remember exactly when that had been. She rather
thought she had caught a glimpse of her in Lawrence Place with books
under her arm which she was probably taking from the Athenaeum for her
grandfather. Anyone, she told herself privately, could see that Nettie
Vollar wouldn't care for books.
Something had occurred, or threatened to occur, between her uncle and
Nettie; what it was she had never been told; but she realized that only
one thing could really happen between a man and a girl--they must have
been in love. In the interest of this she recalled Nettie Vollar's
appearance, but was unable to discover any marked attractions. The elder
had a good figure, rather full for her age, and totally different from
her own square solidity. Her hair was coarse and carelessly arranged, her
clothes noticeable for a love of brightness rather than care in the
spending of a small sum.
Gerrit Ammidon had the strangest tastes!
He was standing immobile, looking across the Cove as if he were on a
quarter-deck searching for a hidden land. His legs were slightly spread,
firmly planted in a manner to defeat any sudden lurching. She grew a
little impatient at him staring like a block at nothing at all; she felt
older than he, superior in the knowledge of life; he seemed hardly more
than an absurd boy. Sidsall had a desire to shake him. He was so--so
impracticable. "Don't you think we'd better be going?" she asked finally.
Gerrit Ammidon turned and followed her obediently.
There were lights in the rope walk on Briggs Street; through a window she
could see a man pacing down the long narrow interior laying a strand of
hemp from the burden on his shoulders. It made her shudder to think of
the monotonous passage forward and back, an eternity of slow-twisting
rope. Yet life was something like that--she took the happenings of each
day and wove them into a strand dark and bright: a strand, she realized,
that grew stronger as it lengthened.... That would be true of
everyone--of her companion and grandfather and Hodie.
They reached the house as the family were gathering in the dining room,
when Sidsall found Roger Brevard unexpectedly staying for supper. She met
his direct greeting and smile with a warm stir of pleasure and sat in a
happy silence listening to the voices about the table. Her uncle had
brought his wife down and the candles glittering among the lusters on the
walls spread their light over the Manchu's strange vivid figure.
Everything about life was so confusing, Sidsall thought. The night flowed
in at the open windows drenched with magic: here were candles but outside
were stars. The port in its engraved glass decanter seemed to burn with a
ruby flame. "Bah!" her grandfather was exclaiming. "I'll put a thousand
dollars on Gerrit and the _Nautilus_ against any clipper built; but mind,
in all weathers."
"Voyage by voyage," William Ammidon insisted, "he would be left in the
harbor. The California gold deposits--."
Later a crowd, slowly collecting, recalled the fact that the Salem Band
was to play that night in the Square. "Oh, mother, look," Laurel cried;
"they've got lamps in their hats." Small wavering flames were being
lighted on the musicians' hats; there were melancholy disconnected hoots
from bassoons and the silver clear scale of a bugle. "Can't I get nearer,
mother?" Laurel implored as usual. "Can't I go and see the little lamps
on their heads?"
"Sidsall and I will look after her," Roger Brevard put in, and almost
immediately the three were entering Washington Square. The throng was
thickest directly behind the band, radiating in thinning numbers to the
wooden boundary fence. Laurel led them to an advantageous position, where
they could watch the curious effects of the ring of lights above intent
faces drawn hollow-cheeked by the vigorous blowing of instruments. The
leader, in the center of the flickering smoky illumination, now beat with
his arms in one direction, now in another.
A second selection followed, and a third, during which, in surprising
pauses, the band shouted a concerted "Hurrah!" Sidsall was infinitely
contented. How splendidly erect and calm and distinguished Roger Brevard
was! She hated younger men, they were only boys, who kept up a senseless
talk about college humor. He saw instantly that the people were crushing
her skirts, and firmly conducted them out of the crowd. It was nicer here
beyond the wavering dark mass: a waltz flowed about her so tender and
gracious that her eyes filled with tears.
But Laurel had to be taken home; and, clasping Mr. Brevard's hand, the
little girl talked volubly as they moved away. "And so," she said, "I
told her to keep her topsails full."
"What?" he demanded.
"She was falling off, you know--losing way. Hell's hatches--"
"Laurel," Sidsall corrected her sharply. "No, you mustn't laugh at her."
Only Gerrit Ammidon was on the steps, the other men were in the library;
her mother had gone up with Janet. Laurel left them, and, without speech,
they walked through the house to the lawn. The stars had apparently
retreated to new infinities of distance and night, there was a throb of
music so faint that it might be only an echoing memory; Roger Brevard's
face was pale and strained. He asked:
"Have you forgotten that we are friends?"
"No," she returned seriously, lifting her look to his. He was very close
to her and her heart beat unsteadily. She had a choking premonition of
what was about to occur, but she stood without the slightest attempt to
prevent his kiss. It affected him even more than herself, for he stepped
back sharply with his hands clenched. Roger was silent for so long that
she said, timidly:
"I didn't mind, so much."
"Thank you," he replied almost harshly. "There's no need for you to
regret it. No need, no need. But if it were only a year more--."
"We all grow older," she told him wisely.
"So we do, Sidsall, and we change. But you should stay exactly as you are
now, white and young and fragrant. Never the fruit but always the
blossom, and always a night in early summer. The afterwards is an
"I don't understand," her voice was shadowed.
"Sidsall for a moment. Don't move--opening petals, shy pure
"I don't understand," she repeated, but the trouble had vanished. She
even smiled at him: she was filled with an absolute security in her
vision of Roger Brevard. Why, she had no need to question; it was an
instinct beyond search and above knowledge; perhaps, she thought as they
turned toward the house, its name was love.
The days, to Nettie Vollar, seemed to be both unutterably dull and
colored by a possibility of excitement like an undercurrent of hardly
perceptible fever. Her mother, it was true, took on herself most of the
duties of Barzil Dunsack's house; but there were still a large number of
little things that returned unvaried with every morning, noon and night
for the girl's attention. The cause of any impending excitement--except
the mere presence of Gerrit Ammidon in Salem, now surely of no moment to
her--she was unable to place. The feeling that pervaded her most was the
heavy conviction that her life was a complete waste, she had the
sensation of being condemned to stay in surroundings, in a service, that
never for a moment represented her desire or true capabilities. Her
family, as she had grown into maturity, seemed strange, her place there
an unhappy accident.
At her brightest periods she pictured being suddenly, arbitrarily,
removed into happier appropriate regions. For a time that vision had
assumed the tangible shape of Gerrit Ammidon; then this comfortable
figure had abruptly left her to an infinitely more seldom return of her
faint indefinite hope.
Through the inordinate number of hours when she was potentially alone she
had developed a strain of almost painful thought out of keeping with the
whole of her naturally unreflective being. In moments such as the
present--she was sitting in her room overlooking Hardy Street on its
landward reach--she followed the slow turnings of her mind in the manner
of a child spelling out a sentence. Two things seemed to her of the first
importance--the existence into which she had been forced by the
circumstance of her birth, and her unknown father himself: unknown, that
is, except for vague promptings and desires which, for need of a better
reason, she traced to his personality. That he was superior, in that he
had had a distinct measure of gentle blood, she was assured by her mother
on one of the rare occasions when the subject was touched between them.
To that she credited the greater part of her obscure dissatisfaction with
conditions which she described as mean.
The latter evidently didn't disturb her mother or grandfather; she
realized that the long-drawn silent severity of the old man had crushed
what spirit her mother may have had. It was clear that the elder woman
had been very pretty, with wide fluttering eyes which made you think of
gray moths, and delicately colored cheeks; but all that had been crushed,
too. She was meek in a way that filled her daughter with determined
resentment and fear. The resentment sprang from the silent assertion that
she wouldn't be worn down like that; the fear followed the realization of
the rigid power of the old man and the weight of all that held her
powerless to escape. Naturally she was rather cheerful than somber, an
involuntary gayety rose from her in the drabbest moments; she even defied
Barzil Dunsack with ribbons and flowers on her bonnet.
The prospect from her window offered no relief from the interior; it was
true that in the other direction she could catch glimpses of the harbor,
by leaning out she could get the comparatively full sweep at the bottom
of the street; but there were usually things ugly and restraining between
her and the freedom of the horizon. Her favorite place had been at the
edge of the grass above the tide; but, since his return, Edward Dunsack
had hit upon it too, and his proximity made her increasingly uneasy. For
one thing he talked to himself out loud, principally in Chinese, and the
sliding unintelligible tongue, accompanied by the sight of his gaunt
yellow face, his inattentive fixed eyes, gave her an icy shiver. It was
almost worse when he conversed with her in a palpable effort at an effect
She rose and wandered finally to the embankment of the garden. The water