Part 3 out of 4
shimmered under the full flood of afternoon; she was gazing at the
distance in an aimless manner that had lately fastened on her when she
heard a stirring of the grass behind her and Edward Dunsack approached.
He was livid in the pitiless light, and seemed terribly fragile, a thing
that a mere clap of thunder might crumble to nothing; she felt that she
could sweep him away with a broom; yet at the same time there were
startling gleams of inner violence, a bitter energy, an effect of
deepness, that appalled her.
"If you should ask me," he declared, "if my opinion is of any value, I'd
say that Ammidon owed you considerable. He led you to expect something
better than his running away without a word; I'd have an explanation out
of him. Of course, if he had come back married--this affair with a
Chinese woman isn't that--it would be all over. But, somehow, with things
as they are, I can't believe that it is."
"Do you expect me to go to their house, like you did?" she replied
He turned such a malicious face on her that instinctively she moved back.
For a moment he was silent, his meager leaden lips drawn tight over dark
teeth in a dry grin, his fingers like curved wires; then, relaxing, he
cursed the entire house of Ammidon. "The truth is," he ended, "that you
were a little fool; you had everything, everything, in your hand and
threw it away." His gaze strayed from her to the surface of the water, a
short distance from the land. "Threw it away," he repeated; "it can't be
got in this country either."
He was, she thought, crazy. However, all that he said about Gerrit
lingered in her mind; it fanned to new life the embers of her rebellion.
If a chance should come she would let Gerrit Ammidon know something of
the wrong he had done her. As her uncle had pointed out, the Chinese
woman was different from an American, a white woman. Their entire
position, Gerrit's and her own, was peculiar, outside ordinary judgments.
She saw him occasionally from a distance, as she must continue to do
while he was in Salem, since no opportunity had been made for them to
exchange words. That must come from Gerrit.
Her mother called her, and she went in, finding the elder in the kitchen.
"I can't get enough heat to bake," she worried; "you can bear your hand
right in the oven. Your grandfather won't have his sponge biscuit for
supper." Nettie declared, "I certainly wouldn't let it bother me. Just
tell him and let him say what he likes." Her mother turned palpably
startled. "But--", she began weakly.
"I know exactly what you're going to say," Nettie cut in, "he has it
every night and he'll expect it. How much, I'd like to ask, have you
been expecting all your life and getting nothing? And now I am the
same. I don't believe we're as wicked as grandfather lets on, and I'm
certain he's not so good as he thinks. I don't admit we are going to
hell, either; if I did I can tell you I'd be different. I'd have a good
time like some other girls I see. I guess it would be good, anyhow,
with silk flounces four yards around. I'm what I am because I don't
listen to him; I don't pay any attention to the pious old women who
make long faces at us."
"You mustn't talk like that, Nettie," her mother protested anxiously. "It
has a right hard sound. Your grandfather is a very upright religious man.
It's proper for those who sin to suffer in this world that they may be
humble for the next."
"I don't want to be humble," Nettie told her. "The Ammidons aren't
humble. Mrs. Saltonstone isn't." A pain deepened visibly on the elder's
pale countenance. "You mustn't think it doesn't hurt me, Nettie, to--to
see you away from all the pleasure. It tears at my heart dreadful. That
is part of the punishment." The girl made a vivid gesture, "But you sit
back and take it!" she cried. "You talk of it as punishment. I won't! I
won't! I'm going to do something different."
"What?" her mother demanded, terrified.
"I don't know," Nettie admitted. "But if I had it to do over I'd kiss
Gerrit Ammidon as soon as he looked for it."
"Nettie, do you--do you think he wanted to marry you?"
"Yes," she answered shortly. "He's like that. Whatever you might say
against him he's honest."
Her mother began to cry, large slow tears that rolled out of her eyes
without a sound. She sat with lax hopeless hands in her lap of cheap worn
dress stuff. Nettie Vollar felt no impulse toward crying; she was bright
with anger--anger at what Barzil Dunsack had done with her mother, at the
harm he had worked in her. "You are a saint compared to Uncle Edward,"
she asserted. "I don't know what's wrong with him, but there is
"I've noticed it too: times his eyes are glazed like, and then his
staring at you like a cat. It's a fact he doesn't eat right, and he
forgets what's said as soon as a body speaks. Might he have some Chinese
disease, do you think?"
"It's not like a real sickness...."
The evening in the dreary sitting room with only the reddish illumination
of one lamp was almost unendurable. Her grandfather sat with broad wasted
hands gripping his shrunken knees, his eyes gazing stonily out above a
nose netted with fine blue veins and harsh mouth almost concealed by the
curtain of beard. Edward rose uneasily and returned, casting a swelling
and diminishing shadow--obscurely unnatural like himself--over the faded
and weather-stained wall paper. Her mother was bowed, speechless. Nettie
wanted to scream, to horrify them all with some outrageous remark. She
would have liked to knock the lamp from the table, send it crashing over
the floor, and see the flames spread out, consume the house, consume...
she stopped, horrified at her thoughts.
She didn't want things like that in her mind, she continued, but the echo
of dancing, of music, of the Salem Band marching up Essex Street with Mr.
Morse playing his celebrated silvery fanfare on the bugle. She wanted to
laugh, to talk, yes--to love. Why, she was young, barely twenty-one; and
here she was in a house like the old cemetery on Charter Street. Before
they went to bed her grandfather would read out from the Bible, but
always the Old Testament. Finally he rose and secured the volume, bound
in dusty calf, its pages brown along the edges. His voice rang in a slow
"'Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, in that thou hast forsaken
the Lord, thy God, when he led thee by the way?
"'And now what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink the waters
of Sihor? or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria, to drink the
waters of the river?
"'Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall
reprove thee; know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter,
that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in
thee, saith the Lord God of hosts.
"'For of old I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy bonds; and thou
saidst, I will not transgress; when upon every high hill and under every
green tree thou wanderest, playing the harlot.
"'Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art
thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?
"'For though thou wash thee with nitre--'"
Nettie was impressed, intimidated, in spite of the contrary resolution in
the kitchen: the words seemed to burn into her mother, herself, like
boiling fat from a pan; and a great relief flooded her when she could
escape again to the temporary relief of her room. It was hot, the windows
were up, and she made no light that might attract mosquitoes or force her
to draw the close shades. She stood undressed luxuriating in the sense of
freedom of body. She was richly white in the gloom: her full young beauty
gave her a feeling of contentment and strength, and, equally, a great
loneliness. It wasn't corrupt, a "degenerate plant," she thought with a
passionate conviction like a cry.
She determined to say no prayer to such a ruthless Being; yet, soon
after, in her coarse nightgown, she found herself kneeling by the bed
with hard-clasped hands. It was a prayer for which Barzil Dunsack would
have had nothing but condemnation: she implored the dark, the mystery of
Augustness, for carnal and light things, yes--for waltzes and quadrilles
and songs and pleasure, young pleasure, all the aching desires of her
health and spirit and nature and years; but most for love. She said the
last blindly, in an instinct without definition, with the feeling that it
was the key, the door, to everything else; and in her mind rose the image
of Gerrit Ammidon. She saw his firm direct countenance, the frosty blue
eyes and human warmth. He needn't have come at all, she added, if it had
been only to double the dreariness of her existence.
She wondered a little, her emotion subsiding, at the interest her uncle
showed in her affairs. It wasn't like what else she had gathered of him;
and she searched, but without success, for any hidden reason he might
have. He actively blackened the name of Ammidon while he was lost in too
great an indifference to be moved by any but extraordinary pressures.
Everything left his mind, as her mother had said, almost immediately.
Suddenly weary, she gave up all effort at understanding.
A wind moved in from the sea, fluttering the light curtains, and brought
her a sense of coolness and release. It came from the immense free sweep
of ocean to which her sinking consciousness turned in peaceful
recognition and surrender.
Altogether, in the days that followed, she realized a greater degree of
mental freedom than before her revolt. She had removed herself, it
appeared, a little outside the family, almost as if she were studying
them calmly through a window: a large part of the terror her grandfather
had possessed for her had disappeared, leaving for her recognition a
very old and worn man; she was sorry for her mother with a deep
affection mixed with impatience. At first she had tried to put something
of her own revived spirit in the older woman but it was like pouring
water into a cracked glass: her mother was too utterly broken to hold
any resolution whatever.
Nettie's feeling for Edward Dunsack became an instinctive deep distrust.
It was almost impossible for her to remain when--as he so often did
now--he approached her to talk about the injustice of her mode of life
and the debt Gerrit Ammidon owed her. He would stand with his fingers
twitching, talking in a rapid sharp voice, blinking continuously against
any light brighter than that of a shaded room or dusk. He seldom left the
office or went out through the day; his place at the dinner table was far
more often empty than not. But after their early supper, in the long late
June twilights, he had an inexhaustible desire for her to stroll with
him. She occasionally agreed for the reason that they invariably passed
in the vicinity of Washington Square and Pleasant Street, and saw the
impressive block of the Ammidon mansion. However, they never met any of
its inmates. Once they had walked directly by the entrance; some girls,
perhaps a woman, certainly two men, were grouped in the doorway: it was
growing dark and Nettie couldn't be certain.
Edward Dunsack clearly hesitated before the bricks leading in between the
high white fence posts topped with carved twisting flames; and, in a
sudden agony at the possibility of his stopping, Nettie hurried on, her
cheeks flaming and her heart, she thought, thumping in her throat.
Her uncle followed her. There was a trail of intimate merriment from the
portico, a man's voice mingling gayly with those of the girls. "That was
the Brevard who's in the Mongolian Marine Insurance Company," Edward
Dunsack informed her. "I hear he's a great hand for leading cotillions
and balls--the balls you ought to take part in." On and on he went with
the familiar recital of her wrongs. It carried them all the way over
Pleasant and Essex and Derby Streets home. The next day, however, he was
forced to go about the town, and returned for dinner in a state of
excitement evident to anyone.
He ate without attention whatever was before him, and extravagantly
pleasant, related how he had conversed with Mrs. Gerrit Ammidon in the
family carriage in front of the countinghouse of Ammidon, Ammidon and
Saltonstone on Liberty Street. Nettie was surprised that his concern was
caused by such a commonplace event. "The women of China--." Words failing
him, he waved a thin dry hand. His father frowned heavily. Then,
abruptly, as if he had been snatched out of his chair by an invisible
powerful clutch, he started up and disappeared.
The afternoon passed the full and Nettie, bound in preparation for supper
for Redmond's, the Virginia Oysterman's at Derby Wharf, stood waiting for
some money. "I can't think where I left my reticule," her mother called,
"unless it's in Edward's room where I cleaned this morning. Just run up
and see.... He'll be at the office."
Above, Nettie found the door closed, but it opened readily as she turned
the knob: she went in without hesitation. The interior she naturally
thought was empty; and then, with an unreasoning cold fear, she saw that
Edward Dunsack was lying on the bed. Some of his clothes were tumbled on
the floor, and he wore his black Chinese gown. The room was permeated
with a heavy smooth odor; on a stand at her uncle's hand was a curious
collection of strange objects--a little brass lamp with a flickering
bluish flame, a black and silver object like a swollen unnatural pipe,
stained bodkins, a lump of what she took to be tar--
Her attention was caught by Edward Dunsack's face: it had fallen back
with his pinched chin pointing toward the ceiling, it was the color of
yellow clay, and through his half-opened eyelids was an empty glimmer of
gray-white. She shrank away involuntarily, and the word "Dead" formed
just audibly on her trembling lips. In an instant she was in the hall,
calling in a panic-stricken voice, her icy hands at her throat; and her
grandfather mounted the stair with surprising agility, followed by his
"Uncle Edward," Nettie articulated, waving toward the room from which she
had fled. The two women followed the rigid advance of Barzil Dunsack. As
he saw the figure of his son there was a stabbing gasp of his breath. He
halted for a moment, and it seemed to Nettie Vollar that suddenly his
determined carriage crumbled, his shoulders sagged; then he went forward.
The bed had high slender posts that at one time supported a canopy, but
now they were bare, and an old hand held to one as he bent over.
"Is he dead?" the older woman asked.
Barzil Dunsack made no immediate reply; his gaze turned from his son to
the stand, the fluttering lamp and its accessories. His head moved slowly
in the act of sniffing the pungent haze swimming in the interior. Nettie
could see his face, and she was appalled by an, expression grimmer than
any she remembered; it was both harsh, implacable, and stricken, as empty
of blood as the countenance on the bed. The hand on the post tightened
until it, too, was linen white. She drew close to her mother's side,
putting a supporting arm about the soft shaking shoulders.
"No," said Barzil Dunsack, in a booming voice, "not dead, and yet dead
forever. Go downstairs," he commanded. They backed confused to the door.
"If Edward is sick--" Kate Vollar began. The old man's face blazed with
intolerable pain and anger.
"Woman," he demanded, "can you cure what God has smitten?" His eyes
alone, hard and bright in the seamed and hairy face, drove them out into
the hall. Below in the sitting room Nettie exclaimed, "He might have told
"Whatever it is," her mother returned, "it's dreadful bad. I've felt that
all along about Edward; he's never been himself this last time."
Mechanically she found her reticule beside the painted ostrich egg from
Africa. "You'll have to get the oysters anyhow," she told her daughter,
maintaining the inevitable pressure of small necessities that defied all
tragedy and death.
Nettie escaped with an enormous relief into the sunny normal tranquility
of the afternoon. The house had become too horrible to bear; and even on
the thronged length of Derby Wharf, like a street robbed of its supports
and thrust out into the harbor, she was followed by the vision of Edward
Dunsack's peaked clayey face.
She got the oysters, and in an overwhelming reluctance to return walked
out to the end of the wharf, where a ship was discharging her
cargo--heavy plaited mats of cassia with a delicate scent, red and blue
slabs of marble, baskets of granular cakes of gray camphor, rough brown
logs of teak, smooth dull yellow rolls of gamboge, bags with sharp
conflicting odors, baled silks and half chests of tea wrapped in bamboos
and matting painted with the ship's name, _Rose and Rosalie_.
There Nettie found herself beside a little girl clasping the hand of a
bulky old gentleman in pongee and a palm leaf hat and following every
operation with a grave critical regard. "I guess," she said to her
companion, "it's only the cheap sort of tea, a late picking, or it would
be in canisters." She was, Nettie realized, the youngest Ammidon child
with her grand-father. The latter looked round and recognized Nettie
Vollar. "How's Barzil Dunsack?" he asked immediately.
She was at a loss for an answer, since she could not describe the subject
of the inquiry as all right nor explain their unhappy condition. "Intend
to stop in," Jeremy Ammidon continued; "last time I was there I went up
like a rocket." Laurel--that was the child's name, she remembered--gazed
at her intently. "I was saying to grandfather," she repeated precisely,
"that this wasn't really much of a cargo. Nothing like the one Uncle
Gerrit brought back in the Nautilus. We were having an argument about
Salem too. But, of course, all the big cargoes are going into Boston,"
she sturdily confronted the flushed old man.
"You're William all over again," he asserted, almost annoyed. Both their
expressions grew stubborn in a manner that, in view of their great
difference in age and experience, Nettie thought quite absurd. What a
beautiful dress the child had on--Porto Rico drawn work, with pale yellow
ribbons to her bonnet. "I wish you'd stay here a minute with Nettie
Vollar," Jeremy told her, "while I see the wharfinger." He went unhurried
along the wharf, and Laurel Ammidon drew closer to her.
"She's not much of a ship either," Laurel said, indicating the _Rose and
Rosalie_. "She's built like--like grandfather. They're different now. I
went to New York to see the _Sea Witch_ launched, and she's the tallest
vessel afloat, with three standing skysail yards and, ringtail and water
sails. She's black and has a gilded dragon for a figurehead; and,
although she went out in a gale, got to Rio in twenty-five days. I talked
to Captain Waterman, too; he commanded the _Natchez_, you know."
How the child ran on! "You've studied a lot on, ships," Nettie commented.
"I know the main truck from a jewel block," Laurel replied complacently.
"But Camilla's a frightful lubber. I should think she'd make Uncle Gerrit
sick. She does me." Nettie Vollar was seized by the temptation to
question Laurel about Gerrit Ammidon, about his wife--anything that
touched or concerned him. A wave of emotion swept over her, a loneliness
and a desire the cause of which she would not face. She wanted to take
Laurel's hand in hers, and with the old ponderous comfortable gentleman
go up to the serenity of their gardens and wide happy house. She wanted
Gerrit Ammidon to smile at her with his eyes blue like a fair sea... His
father was returning.
Laurel again grasped the large hand and they turned to leave. Jeremy
Ammidon nodded to Nettie. Nothing remained for her but the place on Hardy
Street; then she saw that the others had stopped and were signaling for
her. "Captain Dunsack... old friend," the elder said abruptly. "Stubborn
as the devil. No worse than me, though, no worse than me. Confounded
proud, too. You let me know if there is anything, that is, if you need--"
he paused, breathing stormily, glaring at her in an assumed angry
"Thank you," she answered, "but there's nothing."
What most shocked her on the return home was the manner in which their
life callously continued when she felt it should have been shattered by
their suffering in Edward Dunsack's room; yet not so much theirs as her
grandfather's. He took his place at the head of the table, the grace went
up as loudly as ever above their heads; but in spite of that she saw that
the old man suddenly looked infinitely spent. His knife slipped
insecurely and scraped against the plate in fumbling and palsied hands.
All at once she had a feeling of gazing straight into his heart, and
finding--like a burning ruby hidden in earth--such an agony beneath his
schooled exterior that she choked thinking about it.
Nettie wondered what he would do if she put an affectionate arm about his
neck and told him of their sympathy. She knew now that her Uncle Edward
had been smoking opium, and that it was a worse vice, more hopeless and
destructive, than drink. But she was certain that he'd repel her; he
looked on them all, Edward Dunsack, her mother and herself, as sinful,
"degenerate plants." Even now, she realized, there was no weakening of
his spiritual fibers such as had plainly overtaken his physical being. He
had a blasting contempt for the unrighteous flesh.
When they had risen from the table, Edward Dunsack appeared and sinking
weakly into a chair demanded a cup of tea. He knew nothing of their
discovery, of the fact that they had stood above his revolting
insensibility. After the tea he seemed to revive; he lighted a cheroot
and said something about going out. It wasn't possible, however; his
knees sagged walking the length of the floor; in the sitting room he fell
into a leaden apathy. Nettie Vollar's gaze rested on the volume of the
life of the missionary who had died at such an early age on the Île de
France. The lamplight spread over the depressing mustard yellow paint of
the woodwork with its obviously false graining and deepened the blackness
of the fireplace. Throughout the reading of the Scripture Edward Dunsack
never shifted his slumped position; his face, with smudged closed eyes,
seemed fixed in a skeptical smile. The hollows of his temples were green.
The reading finished, old Barzil said:
"I wish to speak to Edward alone."
The latter straightened up. "Eh!" he exclaimed. "What?" He resettled his
stock and crossed a knee with a show of ease. Nettie followed her mother
from the room. Her last impression was that of a startling resemblance
between the young man and old--her uncle's face was as ruined as the
other's--between father and son. "I wish he'd go away," her mother
surprisingly asserted; "I won't sleep for thinking of him lying there
like a corpse."
"He'll not," Nettie replied, musing; "something is holding him we still
don't know of."
She had lately begun to realize a great many things of which only a month
before she had not been aware--that sudden illuminating grasp of old
Barzil's inner pain, of her mother's wasted spirit, and the sense that
some unguessed potent motive was at the back of her Uncle Edward's
apparently erratic strolling and reiterations. Nettie stopped to wonder a
little at the change in herself: she was more alive, more included. There
were no reasons that she could see why this should be so; never had the
present, the entire future, been darker. With her deeper consciousness,
too, came an increased shrinking from life, a greater capacity for
injury; and there could be no doubt that it was an older Nettie Vollar
who, in her mirror, returned the questioning in the resentful black eyes.
No further mention was made of the opium, no hint escaped from the two
men of what Barzil Dunsack had said to his son after the evening
reading of the Bible. An evidence of the miserable episode was visible
for a while in the difficulty of any attempted general conversation;
then that died away and everything was seemingly as it had been before.
But the rising gayety and widespread public preparations at the
approach of the Fourth of July made her existence drabber than ever.
There was, too, unusual planning, for later in the month President Polk
was to be in Salem.
The various military organizations drilled incessantly: the Salem Light
Infantry, the Mechanic Light Infantry, the Salem Cadets and Independents
and a squad of the Salem Artillery might be seen at any hour of the
morning or early evening smartly marching and countermarching, led by
Flag's or the Salem Band. Strange constructions of light wood climbed in
Washington Square--the set pieces of the celebrated pyrotechnist secured
at a "staggering expense." Preliminary strings of firecrackers were
exploded by impatient boys and the dawn of the holiday was greeted with a
sustained uproar of powder.
All this was communicated to Nettie in the form of a determination to
forget the dreariness of home and for once anyhow be a part of the
careless holiday town. Edward Dunsack opened the day by deprecating what
fireworks Salem could show and recalling the extravagant art of China in
that particular. No one, he said, of the least moment would be abroad in
the rabble; and he intended to spend the day over the invoice of a
schooner returned from Curaçao. She was glad of this, for it left her
free to get an uninterrupted pleasure from the morning parade, the floats
and fantasies, the afternoon drilling in Washington Square, and see the
last colored disk of the fireworks. Maybe, she told herself, tying the
becoming ribbon of her bonnet beneath a round chin with a lurking dimple,
maybe she wouldn't come back home once during the entire day! She
ignored, in the rush of her spirits, even her mother's lonely labors: for
once they'd have to do without her. Nettie took a scarlet merino shawl
for the cooler evening, shook forward the little black curls about her
face, and hurried away from Hardy Street.
She was swept along in the crowd on Essex Street until, before the office
of the Salem _Register_, she found a place that commanded the parade.
There Nettie lost all memory of the dreariness that pressed upon her; she
became one of the throng, applauding the members of the East India Marine
Society carrying the palanquin from the Museum in native dress, or stood
with sentimental tears blurring her vision. The parade ended, and
currents of people swept toward dinner; but she stopped at a baker's and
got a paper of seed cakes, made in the shape of oak leaves and sat
contentedly eating them in the Common.
The thought of Gerritt Ammidon, with all the other deeper aspects of her
life, was thrust into the back of her consciousness; she was existing as
she breathed--without will; the instinctive lighter qualities had her in
full possession. She felt that her cheeks were glowing and hummed the
refrains of the music she had heard. One by one the military companies
marched into the Square. She was fascinated by the tall leather helmets
and silver straps under severe young lips. The Newburyport men were in a
new scarlet uniform, that was the Boston Brass Band--it was painted on
the bass drum--with the Independents; there were the Beverly Taylor
Guards. The massed onlookers filled the broad plain.
The drilling and countermarching proceeded and the afternoon waned. At
the disposal of the spectacle, when for an hour or two Washington Square
was comparatively deserted, when the sun sank lower and lower over the
roofs of Brown Street and the gold haze thickened, turning to blue,
Nettie became quieter but no less happy. The time sped; never was she
conscious of being lonely, by herself in a multitude composed of grouped
families and friends. It was all such a beautiful relief to the other
constant dwelling on somber and hopeless facts! Already people were
streaming in under the wooden arched gates for the evening display;
already she could see a star in the clear-shining green east.
The fireworks, the papers said, were to be in two parts, ending with a
bombardment of Vera Cruz, five hundred feet long, and a series of
triumphant arches with full-length portraits in colored lights of
celebrated Americans. There was a sudden salute of artillery, and a
flight of rockets soared upward in long flaming curves, dissolving in
showers of liquid emerald and ruby and silver against the night. Bengola
lights casting a blue glare over the standing mob and farther house
fronts were followed by a great Peruvian Cross, a silvery fountain of
water and Grand Representation of Bunker Hill Monument.
With this the first came all too soon to an end, and Nettie was folding
the shawl about her shoulders when almost the entire Ammidon family were
upon her.... In an instinctive confusion she saw William Ammidon and his
wife with their daughters, the old man, Jeremy, and Gerrit.
They stopped before her in an assured, not unkindly inquisitiveness, the
girls fresh and bright-faced, with crisp lovely clothes; their mother, in
a smart mantle and little bonnet with knots of French flowers, greeted
her with a direct question tempered by a smile. William Ammidon, smoking,
was unconcerned; while Gerrit stayed obscured outside the group. "Whom
are you with, Nettie?" Rhoda Ammidon asked; and when she admitted that
she was alone the elder, with visible disapproval, asserted:
"That won't do at all in this rough assembly. I must see that you are
taken care of." She hesitated, with a slight frown on her handsome brow.
"But you will want to see the rest of the fireworks. Yes, what you must
do is to come over to our steps, the view from there is fairly good, and
then some one can walk home with you."
They moved resolutely forward, giving Nettie Vollar no opportunity for
protest, the expression of what she might prefer; and, with so many
determined minds, she dropped silently into their progress. She was
beside Rhoda Ammidon, the girls trooped on before, and the men--Gerrit
Ammidon--followed. Her peace of mind had been broken into a hundred
half-formed doubts and acute questions. She wished that she had declined
to go with them: the invitation, no, command, had been a criticism,
really. Now, after so long, it wasn't necessary for them to become
suddenly responsible for her.
The happiness of the day sank a little, thoughts of her mother and
grandfather and Uncle Edward returned. But, at the same time, she
realized that she was near Gerrit once more. This made a confusion of her
emotions that hid what she most felt about him. It wasn't a proximity
that meant anything, however; it had been utterly different when he came
to see her before his marriage. Yet, just the fact of his being close
behind her, and that she would be on the steps at the Ammidons' with him,
undoubtedly had a power to stir her heart.
It brought, like her carefree excursion, a certain momentary glow, a
warmth, without relation to what had gone before or might follow; there
was the same quality of momentary rest, refreshment, complete and
isolated as a jewel in a ring. She didn't analyze it further; but drifted
with the vigorous chattering tide of the Ammidons.
They arrived at the impressive entrance open on a high dim interior.
Jeremy and William Ammidon went in, Rhoda lingered while a chair was
brought for her, and Sidsall and Camilla, Laurel and Janet ranged
themselves facing the Square. Gerrit hung silent in the doorway.
"Perhaps Taou Yuen will come down," Rhoda Ammidon suggested, and Nettie's
throat was pinched at the possibility of seeing Gerrit's Chinese wife.
But he answered shortly in the negative. Taou Yuen preferred to stay in
her room; the view from her window was better than this. The latter was
easily possible, for here the set pieces were almost unintelligible: an
impressive beehive could be seen surrounded by swarming golden bees, a
pyramid of Roman candles discharged their rushes of colored balls and
streamers; but the bombardment of Vera Cruz was a cause of bitter
complaint to the children.
The fireworks had ceased to have the slightest significance for Nettie;
she was luxuriating in the suavity of the Ammidon steps and company. It
seemed to her that an actual air of ease rolled out over her from within.
Seen from her place of vantage the great throng in the Square was without
feature, the passersby on Pleasant Street--as Edward Dunsack and herself
had been--were unimportant. The massive portico and dignified fence, the
sense of spaciousness and gardens and lofty formal ceilings, the feeling
of fine silks and round clear direct voices, of servants for everything,
everyone, transcended in force all her speculations. She was
familiar--who wasn't in Salem?--with the meaning of the house's name,
Java Head. It was more, quite heaven.
Thoughts of Gerrit winged in and out of her mind like wayward birds. She
turned with studied caution and glanced swiftly but intently at as much
of his countenance as she could see. Her memory vividly supplied the
rest. There wasn't another like it--one so clear and compelling to
read--in the world.
The past in which he had had a part seemed like an impossibly happy
dream. She was hardly able to believe that he had been in their sitting
room, walked with her in the evening to the grassy edge of the harbor,
or held her fingers in his hard cool grasp. Now she wondered if he were
contented. She couldn't quite decide from glimpses of his face; but
something that had nothing to do with vision disturbed her with the
certainty that he was troubled. It might mean unhappiness, but she
"Now there go the arches!" a young voice exclaimed, "and I just can't see
anything. You'd never know at all it was a temple of eight columns. Oh,
look--there's a number coming out, 'July fourth, seventeen seventy-six.'"
A tide of hand clapping swept over the dark masses. "No," Laurel
continued, "that's Salem.... It's Washington, no, General Taylor."
The amazing day, Nettie realized, was over, the people flowed back
through the gates like a lake breaking in streams from its bank; there
was a stir on the steps. Looking up she saw that the stars were obscured,
and a low rumble of thunder sounded from a distance, a flash lit the
horizon. Now she must go back, return to Hardy Street, to her bitter
grandfather like an iron statue eaten by rust and storms, to Edward
Dunsack following her with his dragging feet and thin insinuating voice,
to her hopeless mother.
"It's the powder," she heard, about what she had no conception. Rhoda
Ammidon turned decidedly to her. "It was nice to have you, Nettie," she
declared; "but we must see about getting you safely home. The carriage
would be best since it's threatening rain." She didn't, she replied, want
to give them so much bother, she often went on errands after supper,
she'd, be all right--
"Nonsense," Mrs. Ammidon interrupted impatiently. Then Gerrit advanced
from the doorway. "I'll walk down with her," he said almost roughly. "No
need to take the horses out so late." Nettie Vollar thought that his
sister-in-law's mouth tightened in protest, but he gave them no chance
for further argument. He descended the steps with a quick grinding tread,
and she was forced to hurry through her acknowledgments in order to
The night at once absorbed them.
The air, charged with the fumes of gunpowder and rumbling with low
intermittent thunder, was oppressive and disturbing. Gerrit's head was
exactly opposite her own, and she could see his profile, pale and still,
moving on a changing dark background. He walked with the short firm
stride men acquire on the unsteady decks of vessels, swinging his arms
but slightly. Neither spoke. The rain, Nettie saw, was hanging off;
probably it would not reach Salem, Washington Square was already empty
except for a small obscure stir by the scaffolding for the fireworks. A
murmur of young voices came from a door on Bath Street. Such minute
observations filled her mind; beneath their surface she was conscious of
a deep, a fathomless, turmoil. It was a curious sensation, curious
because she couldn't tell whether it was happiness or misery. One now
exactly resembled the other to Nettie Vollar.
She grasped, however, one difference--it was happiness now, the misery
belonged to tomorrow. But suddenly that last unrealized fact--at once
immaterial and the most leaden reality of all--lost its weight. The
greater freedom she had lately grown into became an absolute
indifference, a half willful and half automatic shutting of her eyes to
everything but the present, the actuality of Gerrit Ammidon walking by
her side. She wanted him to speak, so that she could discover his
thoughts, feelings; yet she was reluctant to have their companionship of
silence broken: words, almost all the possible terms she could imagine,
would only emphasize the distance between them.
She was thinking of one now--a word he had never pronounced, but which
she felt had been, however obscurely, at the back of the attention he
had paid her: love. It was a queer thing. It seemed to be--everyone
agreed that it was--of the greatest, perhaps the first, importance; and
yet all sorts of other considerations, some insignificant and others
mean and more, yes--cowardly, held it in check, drove it back out of
sight, as you might hurriedly shut some shabby object into a closet at
the arrival of visitors.
"How have you been?" he demanded in the abrupt voice of the expression of
his determination to see her home. Well enough, she assured him, if he
meant her health. He glanced at her with somber eyes. "Not altogether,"
he admitted; "it included your family, things generally."
"They are as bad as possible," she told him. She admitted this frankly, a
part of her entire surrender to the moment, careless of how it might
affect him. "They would be," he muttered savagely. "It's a habit ...
here." The "here," she knew, referred to life on shore; his gloomy
attitude toward the management and affairs of the land had caused her a
great deal of precious laughter. He had revealed a most astonishing
ignorance of necessities that she had understood instinctively when
hardly more than a child; and this simplicity had, as much as anything,
brought her affection for him to life. At the same time she in particular
had felt the justice of a great many of his charges. But no one could
reasonably hope for the sort of world--a world as orderly and trim as
that of a narrow ship--he thought should be brought about by a mere
command. Nettie wished that it could! She sighed, gazing at him.
"Then it's no better than before?" he asked, adding, with a descriptive
gesture: "the town and people?"
"I hardly speak to ten in a year, outside the stores and like that. Of
course they nod going into church, or a lady, I mean really, your
sister-in-law, will say something nice, even do what you saw to-night.
Though it's the first time anything like that has happened."
She caught a repressed bitter oath.
"I suppose I'll get used to it," she continued. "No, I won't," she added
differently; "never, never, never."
"If you were a man now--" he said with an incredible stupidity.
She wondered angrily if he'd rather have her a man; there had been a
time, Nettie reflected, when such a possibility would have stirred him to
violent protest. And this brought out the reflection that, while at one
time he might have cared for her, now perhaps he was merely sorry for her
unhappiness. Yes, this must be it. She had a momentary fatal impulse to
throw back at him scornfully any such small kindness. She didn't, she
told herself, want condescending sympathy. What silenced her was the
sudden knowledge that she did; she wanted anything whatsoever from Gerrit
Ammidon. The fact that he had a Chinese wife was powerless to alter her
feeling in the smallest degree. On the contrary, she was shocked to find
that it had increased immensely, it was growing with every minute.
She wondered drearily if her stubborn love--the term took its place
without remark in the procession of her thoughts--for Gerrit didn't, in
spite of her protest to the contrary, stamp her as quite bad. Perhaps
her grandfather was right about them all--her mother and Uncle Edward
and herself, and they were wicked, lost! The energy with which she had
combated this charge now faced by the circumstance of her realized
affection for a man married to some one else, even Chinese, wavered.
All the cheerful influences of the day, rising to the supreme tranquil
hour on the Ammidon porch, sank to dejection; it was like the flight of
She walked listlessly, her brain was numb; she was terribly tired. Gerrit
Ammidon's head was bent and she was unable to see his expression. He
might even have forgotten, by the token of his self-absorbed progress,
that she was at his side.
"There's going to be a stir in Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone," he said
presently, "when my father hears of the new program. Everything is
turning to the fastest California runs possible. William and James
Saltonstone want me to take command of a clipper. But I find I'm like my
father, Nettie; all my experience has been in the East and the China
service. I'm used to it. I'd never get on navigating a passenger boat, a
packet ship, from Boston to San Francisco and San Francisco to Boston.
The other's in my blood, too--running the northeast trades to Brazil and
coming up into the southwest passage winds for the Cape of Good Hope. A
long reach nearly to Australia and then north again to the Indian Ocean
and southeast trades.
"I'm fit for that, for long voyages, a blue-water sailor and all it
means; but battering back and forward round the Horn with my deck
cluttered up by prospectors and shore crews the mates would have to slam
into the rigging--!" His exclamation refused every face of such a
possibility. She understood his necessity completely; and the brief
account of such far happy journeys, safe from everything that Salem had
come to mean for her, filled her with longing.
"I'm beginning to see," he took up again the self-examination, "that I am
to blame for a good deal that I've found fault with in others. I mean
that I'm a different variety of animal, and, naturally, no judge of the
kinds of holes they live in or the way their affairs are managed."
"You are worlds better!" she cried.
He turned to her, obviously startled, and she held for a long breath his
unguarded intense gaze. "Not very useful, I am afraid," he replied at
last; "not today, anyhow. I belong to a life that is dying, Nettie; mark
my words, dying if not already dead. And I'm newfangled to my father. It
goes as quickly as that."
This was a fresh mood to all her knowledge of his impatient arrogance,
and one that sent her to him in a passionate unperceived emotion. They
had arrived at her home and were waiting aimless and silent. Beyond, the
gate to the yard was standing open, and Nettie saw that his discovery of
the fact had occurred at the identical moment of her own. She made an
involuntary movement forward and he followed her through to the blurred
tangle of bushes and bare trodden earth. Mutely they turned to the sod
spread at the harbor.
The thunder had died away, but pale sheets of reflected lightning hovered
at short intervals low in the sky. Directly above them stars shone again.
The window of the sitting room still bore the illumination of the lamp
within; and Nettie could picture her mother, with stained and rough hands
loose on their wrists, opposite Barzil Dunsack's gaunt set countenance.
"You said something about things as bad as possible."
In a level voice she told him about her discovery of Edward Dunsack
unconscious in his black wrap on the bed. "I thought he had died," she
repeated almost monotonously; "he had such a yellow gone look."
"But that can't be allowed!" he cried. "You mustn't see it. Indecent,
worse. The beast will have to be removed. No one will hear of his staying
about with two women and a fanatical old man." She was afraid that he
would go into the house at once and appear with her uncle, very much in
the manner of a dog with a rat. Her sense of a worldly knowledge, a
philosophy of realization, far deeper than his own returned. Things
couldn't be disposed of in that easy manner; it was probable that they
couldn't be disposed of, righted, at all. Her mother, with her help, must
continue to keep Barzil's home: there was no other place for Edward
Dunsack to go. "He won't hurt us," she said vaguely. "It's principally
bad for him. Then, at first, I didn't know. You get used to so much."
He, Gerrit Ammidon, wouldn't have it, he asserted in a heated return of
his familiar dictatorial manner. The fellow would be out of there
to-morrow. It was a damned unendurable outrage!
She smiled softly and laid a momentary hand on his sleeve. "That's
nothing, Gerrit; nothing compared to the rest, to me." He frowned down at
her out of the gloom.
"What am I to do?" she asked.
He again cursed Salem and the world with which he had proclaimed himself
out of date and sympathy. This, while it communicated to her a certain
warm comfort, resolved nothing, made no reply to her question. To-morrow
offered precisely the same hopeless outlook of yesterday. No answer from
Gerrit, Gerrit married, was possible. She saw that.
"I'm not fit to go around on land blubbering and setting tongues to
clapping," he declared. "I ought to be locked in my cabin when the ship's
in port, and let out only after sail's made again."
She heard a slight movement in the grass; and turning sharply caught the
vague outline of a man, the thin unsubstantial shape of Edward Dunsack.
He vanished immediately; Gerrit, absorbed in bitter thought, had missed
him. Strangely her uncle only filled her mind with the image of China,
the China that had ruined him, and which, too, in the form of a woman, a
Manchu, had destroyed the hope of any acceptable existence of her own.
"Great pretensions and idiotic results," he went on; "no ballast. Take
what your grandfather said to me--nothing in that unexpected or to drive
a man off. Yet off I go and--" he halted oddly, just as her breath was
suspended at the admittance which she was certain must follow. But he
fell into another glooming silence.
After all, she couldn't expect him to continue that development. A
different man might; and Nettie wasn't sure of her refusal to
listen...to the end. But she was familiar with Gerrit's unbending
conception of the necessity of truth alone. If he married a woman,
yellow, black, anything, he would perform, the obligation to the entire
boundary of his promise. Good and bad seemed equally united against her.
Little flashes of resentment struck through her leaden, conviction that
all this was useless.
"I must be of some use to you."
But, Nettie realized, there was only one way in which he could help her;
only one thing she wanted--could take--from him. She was terrified at the
completeness with which love had possessed her, making every other fact
and consideration of little interest or importance. Suddenly it seemed as
if she were being swept by an overwhelming current farther and farther
out from safety into a bottomless immensity that would claim her life.
"Yet," he cried, "if I lift a hand, here, in Salem, if I as much as cross
the street to speak to you--the clapping tongues! I can do you nothing
but harm. Though Rhoda might--"
"I don't want your Rhoda!" she interrupted passionately. "I've managed
without them all up to now." He raised his arms in a hopeless gesture.
"Nothing's to be done," she concluded. "I saw that all along; that is,
this last time."
"It's late," he muttered absently; "you have had a day." He turned
mechanically and moved away from the indefinite black rim of the harbor.
The lamp in the sitting room had been extinguished, the house was dark. A
brief embarrassment seized her as he stood trying vainly to find
something confident, even adequate, to say for farewell. And as the stir
of his footfalls died away up Hardy Street the memory of his last futile
words mocked her laboring heart.
She turned and faced Edward Dunsack, advancing from an obscurity deeper
than the rest. He murmured approvingly, she caught words of commendation
and unspeakable reassurance. She hurried away blindly, sick to the inmost
depths of her being. The morning, when she had tied her gay bonnet
ribbons and started out with the scarlet merino shawl on her arm, seemed
to belong to a long, long time ago, to a girl.... The popping of a final
string of firecrackers died outside.
The dejection, the sense of a difference that held from him any
comprehension of the vast maze of shore life, persisted as Gerrit Ammidon
walked toward home. It was such an unusual feeling that he was conscious
of it; he examined and speculated upon his despondency as if it had been
something actually before him. The result of this was a still increased
disturbance. He didn't like such strange qualities arbitrarily forcing
their way into his being--he had the navigator's necessity for a clear
understanding of the combined elements within and without which resulted
in a harmonious, or at least predictable, movement. He distrusted all
fogs. In a manner the course before him was plain--married to Taou Yuen,
shipmaster in his family's firm, he had simple duties to perform, no part
of which included sailing in strange or dangerous waters; yet though this
was beyond argument he was still troubled by a great number of unpleasant
conditions of mind and obscure pressures.
Gradually, however, his normal indignation returned, the contempt for a
society without perceptible justice, centered principally in what Nettie
Vollar had had from life. This, he assured himself, wasn't because he was
in any way involved with her; but because it was such a flagrant case.
She was a very nice girl. It was entirely allowable that he should admit
that. As a fact, he warmly felt that he was her friend; the past
justified, no, insisted on, that at least. He wondered exactly how fond
he had been of her--in other words, how near he had come to marrying her.
It had been an obvious possibility, decidedly; but the desire had never
become actual. No, his feeling for her had never broken the bounds of a
natural liking and a desire to secure decent treatment for her. The last
had been vain.
If his mental searching had ended there it would have presented no
difficulties, created no fog; but, unfortunately, there was another
element which he admitted with great reluctance, an inborn discomfort.
Although he had been clear about what had actually happened with Nettie
there was reasonable doubt that the same limitations had operated with
her. Briefly she had missed him more than he had realized. He explained
this to his sense of innate masculine diffidence by the loneliness of her
days. She had missed him....something within whispered that she still
did. Women, he remembered hearing, were like that.
In the light, the possibility, of this he saw that he had done her a
It had been his damned headlong ignorance of the dangerous quality of
life, the irresponsibility of a child with gunpowder. With all this in
his mind it seemed doubly imperative that he should do something for her;
he owed her, he was forced to admit, more than a mere impersonal
consideration. His thoughts returned unbidden to the fact that she--she
had liked him. He insisted almost angrily on the past tense, but it
surprised him and gave him a perceptible warm glow. Nettie was very
pleasing: he inferred that she was a creature of deep emotions,
At this he shook himself abruptly--such things were not permissible.
Gerrit felt a swift sense of shame; they injured Nettie. His mind shifted
to Taou Yuen. He found her asleep on the day bed she preferred, her
elaborate headdress resting above the narrow pillow of black wicker. He
could distinguish her face, pallid in the blue gloom, and a delicate,
half-shut hand. He was flooded with the intense admiration which
increasingly formed his chief thought of her; this, with the obvious
racial difference, put her, as it were, on an elevation--a beautifully
lacquered vase above his own blundering person. She was calm, serious and
good, in the absolute Western definitions of those terms; she had her
emotions under faultless control. Taou Yuen should be an ideal wife for
any man; she was, he corrected the form sharply. All that he knew of her
was admirable; the part which constantly baffled him didn't touch their
It was reasonable to expect small differences between her and Salem: at
times her calm chilled him by a swift glimpse of utter coldness, at times
he would have liked her gravity to melt into something less than ivory
perfection; even her goodness had oppressed him. The last hadn't the
human quality of, for example, Nettie Vollar's goodness, colored by
rebellion, torn by doubt, and yet triumphing.
If he only understood the three religions of China, if he were an
intellectual man, Gerrit realized, he could have grasped his wife more
fully. He was completely ignorant of Chinese history, of all the forces
that had united to form Taou Yuen. For instance: he was unable to
reconcile her elevated spirit with the "absurd superstitions" that
influenced almost her every act--the enormous number of lucky and unlucky
days, the coin hung on his bed, the yellow charm against sickness and red
against evil spirits; only yesterday she had burnt a paper form
representing thunder and drunk its ashes in a cup of tea. She was
tremendously in earnest about the evil spirits--they were, she
maintained, lurking everywhere, in all shapes and degrees of harm. Edward
Dunsack was possessed, she declared; but he had pointed out that opium
was a sufficient explanation of anything evil in him, and that it was
unnecessary to look for a more fantastic reason.
He lay awake for a comparatively long while, as he had several times
lately, divided between his consciousness and the regular breathing of
his wife. If the past had brought Nettie Vollar to depend on him in
some slight degree Taou Yuen did so absolutely: except for him she was
lost in a strange world. Yet Taou Yuen didn't seem helpless in the
manner of Nettie. He had once before thought of the former as finely
tempered metal. Her transcendent resignation, with its consequent lack
of sympathetic contact with the imperfect humanity of--well, Nettie,
gave Taou Yuen a dangerous freedom from all that bound Salem in
He dressed first, as usual, in the morning, while she stirred only enough
to get her pipe and tobacco, on the floor at her side. Outside, the elms
were losing their fresh greenness in the dusty film of midsummer; the
Square held an ugly litter from the fireworks of last evening. William,
too, was about, but he was uncommunicative, his brow scored in a frown.
Their father, always down before the others, had returned from the
inspection of his trees, and was tramping back and forth in the library.
The elder seemed unrested by the night, his skin, as Rhoda had pointed
out, was baggy.
"Now that the _Nautilus_ is afloat again," Jeremy Ammidon said, "you'll
want to be at sea." Examining this natural conclusion, Gerrit was
surprised, startled, to find that it was no longer true. For the first
time in his memory he was not anxious to be under sail. This of course
was caused by a natural perplexity about Taou Yuen's comfort and
"I don't know what the firm's plans are for me," he answered cautiously.
"There is some talk of taking me out of the China trade for the
California runs. I shouldn't like that."
Jeremy was turning at his secretary, and he stopped to pound his fist on
its narrow ledge. "It's that damned Griffiths again and his cursed
jackknife hull!" he exclaimed. The dark tide suffused his countenance.
Gerrit studied him thoughtfully: he didn't know just how much William had
yet told their father about the sweeping changes taking place in Ammidon,
Ammidon and Saltonstone. He did see, however, that it was unwise to
excite the old gentleman unduly.
"I was saying only yesterday," he put in pacifically, "that you and
myself are getting to be old models--" he broke off as William entered
the library. The latter evidently grasped at once the subject of their
discussion, for he went on in a firm voice somewhat contradicted by a
restrained but palpable anxiety:
"Now, father, this was bound to come up and you must sit down and listen
quietly." The elder, on the verge of a tempestuous reply, constrained
himself to a painful attention. "It's useless to point out to you the
beneficial changes in sea carrying, for you are certain to deny their
good and drag out the past. So I am simply forced to tell you that after
careful consideration we have decided to line the firm with the events of
the day and hold our place in the growing pressure of competition. This
may sound brutal, but it was forced on us by the attitude you have
adopted. Shortly, this is what we intend, in fact are doing:
"Orders have been placed with George Raynes at Portsmouth and Jackson up
in Boston for clippers of a thousand and twelve hundred tons and another
is almost ready to be launched from Curtis' Chelsea shipyard. It oughtn't
to be necessary to call your attention again to the fact that the _Sea
Witch_ has brought the passage from Hong Kong to something like three
months. The profits of the California trade will be enormous and depend
entirely on speed.
"I'll admit that this is a big thing, it will cut sharply into our
funds--something like a quarter of a million dollars. But, if you will be
patient for a little only, I can promise that you'll see astonishing
returns. At the same time we have no intention of giving up China and
India, but we'll limit ourselves more closely in the nature of the
cargoes, practically nothing but tea unbroken from Canton to Boston. I'll
be glad to go into all this in detail at the countinghouse, where we have
the statistics and specifications."
To Gerrit's surprise Jeremy Ammidon sat quietly at the end of William's
speech; he wasn't even looking at them, but had his gaze bent upon the
floor. There was a commanding, even impressive, quality in his silence
that forced the respect of both his sons. More--it made Gerrit
overwhelmingly conscious of his affection, his deep admiration, for his
father. He recalled the latter's memorable voyage in the little _Two
Capes_--the barque of two hundred and nine tons--into the dangers, so
imminent to a master, of uncomprehended waters and thousands of miles
with, for the most part, only the sheerest dead reckoning. Jeremy Ammidon
"If it's done it's done. I used to think there were two Ammidons in the
firm, not to mention Gerrit; but it seems there's only one. A man who has
never been to sea." He rose and marched, slower and more ponderous than
ever before, to the cupboard where he kept the square bottle of Medford
rum; there, with trembling hands, he poured himself out a measure. He
shut the glass door, but stood for an oppressive space with his back to
the room, seeing that old vision of struggle or accomplishment.
"I suppose I've been a damned nuisance about the countinghouse for a long
time," he pronounced, turning. William rose. "You made it," he said;
"it's you. God forgive me if I have been impatient or forgetful of all we
owe you." There was a stir of skirts in the doorway, and Rhoda entered.
"Breakfast--" she stopped, and with a quick glance at her husband and
Gerrit went at once to Jeremy Ammidon. "They've been bothering you
again," she declared, and turned an expression of bright anger on the
younger men. "Ah, how hard and hateful and blind you are!" she cried.
William, with a hopeless gesture, walked from the room. Gerrit moved to a
window facing the Square; but he saw nothing of its sultry yellow-green
expanse--he was remembering how as a child, his mother already dead, a
nurse had held him up on Derby Wharf to see his father sweep into port
from the long voyage to the East. He caught again the resonant voice, as
if sounding from a hold of ribbed oak, the tremendous vigor of the arm
that swept him up to a bearded face. He couldn't bring himself to move
now and see an old haggard man clinging with tremulous emotion and tears
to the sympathy, the strength, of a woman.
Later in the morning, to his immense relief, Jeremy Ammidon regained a
surprising amount of composure. At first determined never to return to
Liberty Street, toward noon Gerrit found him in the hall with his broad
hat and wanghee. "I'll just have a slant at those specifications," he
remarked. "Like as not they've left off the hatch coamings." Gerrit
suggested, "Since it's so hot why don't you have the carriage round?" The
other voiced his customary disparagement of that vehicle. "If I see that
I'm going to be late for dinner," he added, "I'll get one of the young
men to fetch me something. I don't want to give Rhoda any trouble."
Still, on the steps, he lingered, gazing pridefully up at the bulk of the
house he had built; his eyes rested on the brass plate, engraved with the
words Java Head, on the dignified white door. "A lot of talk when I had
that done," he commented; "people said they'd never heard of it, ought to
have my name there for convenience if nothing else. They didn't know. It
would take a sailor for that. Don't forget to tell Rhoda not to wait if
I'm late. All those girls of hers get hungry. I expect William consulted
Laurel about this new move," he ended with a gleam of humor. "She's a
great hand for a clipper since she talked to Captain Waterman." He was
down the steps, starting deliberately across the street. There was a last
mutter of doubt. The bulky slow figure in yellow Chinese silk moved away
and Gerrit returned to the shadowed tranquillity of the library.
More than any other place in the house it bore the impression of his
father. He wandered about the room, lost in its associations, stopped
in front of the tall narrow walnut bookcase and took out one of the
small company of Jeremy Ammidon's logs, reading disconnectedly in the
"Tuesday, December 24. 132 days out. All this day gentle breezes and
cloudy. Saw kelp, birds, etc.
"Tacked ship to the eastward under short sail. At daylight made all sail
to SW. Gentle breezes and clear pleasant weather. Saw huge shoals of
"May 19, 11 days out. Hainan in sight, bearing from W by N to NNW. At
sunset the breeze died away and hauled off the land. All night light
breezes. Made all possible sail to the SSW. At the same time set the
extremity of Hainan which bore NW by N to N. Past three Chinese
vessels steering NNE. Saw much scum on the water and at 11 A.M. lost
sight of land."
"November 14, 65 days out. These twenty-four hours commences with
variable breezes at west and smooth sea. Saw brig steering to the
Eastward. The land of Sumatra bearing SW by W to SE by S. Tied rips."
He returned the log to its resting place with a quiet smile at the last
period. It was all incredibly simple--a lost simplicity of navigation and
a lost innocent wonder at the Mare Atlanticum of old fable.
Neither William nor Jeremy Ammidon was present for dinner. They were,
Gerrit concluded, submerged in the effort to bring the changing
activities of the firm into the latter's comprehension. His foot was on
the stair leading up to his wife, when there was a violent knocking on
the front door. It sounded with a startling abruptness in the shut hall,
and Gerrit instinctively answered without waiting for a servant. The
flushed and breathless young man before him was evidently perturbed by
his appearance. He stammered:
"Captain Ammidon, you--you must come down to the countinghouse. At
His thoughts, directed upon his father, gathered into a chilling
certainty. "Captain Jeremy is sick?" he demanded instantly. The
hesitation of the other seemed to confirm an infinitely greater
calamity. "Dead?" he asked again, in a flooding misery of apprehension.
The clerk nodded:
"In a second, like," he continued. "All we know they were talking in Mr.
William Ammidon's room--one of the boys was out that minute getting the
old gentleman some lunch--when we heard a fall, it was quite plain, and
"That will do," Gerrit cut him short. He turned into the house, rapidly
considering what must follow. He'd go, certainly; but first he must warn
Rhoda, she would have the girls to prepare.... Rhoda had always been
exceptionally considerate and fond of Jeremy Ammidon. He found her at the
entrance to her room, and said, "My father is dead." Her warm color sank
and tears filled her eyes.
Hurrying over Bath Street to Liberty his grief was held in check by the
pressing actualities of the moment. He had time, however, to feel glad
that he had spent the morning largely in warm thoughts of the dead man.
He passed rapidly into the entrance of the establishment of Ammidon,
Ammidon and Saltonstone. Immediately on the right there was an open
railed enclosure of desks in the center of which a group of clerks
watched him with mingled respect and curiosity as he continued to the
inner shut space. It was a large light room with windows on Charter
Street. William's expansive flat-topped desk with its inked green baize
was on the left, and, under a number of framed sere ships' letters and
privateersmen's Bonds of the War of 1812, Gerrit saw the heavy body
extended on a broad wooden bench, a familiar orange Bombay handkerchief
spread over the face.
Never in all the memory of his brother had William Ammidon been so
stricken. As he entered James Saltonstone left studying a list hastily
scribbled on a half sheet of the firm's writing paper. He nodded silently
to Gerrit, who advanced to the covered face and lifted the handkerchief.
There were still traces of congestion, but a marblelike pallor had taken
the place of the familiar ruddy color. Something of the heaviness of his
old age, the blurring thickness of long inactivity, had vanished, giving
his still countenance an expression of vigor, resolution, contradicted by
an arm trailing like the loose end of a heavy rope on the floor. William,
with a clenched hand on his desk, spoke with difficulty:
"You must know this, Gerrit; and then I'll ask you never to allude to it
again. It might be argued that--that James and I killed him, but
absolutely without intention, by accident. Gerrit, I loved him more than
I took time to know. Well, you may or may not have heard that we own two
topsail schooners in the opium trade, between India, Ningpo and Amoy, but
you do know how father detested anything to do with the drug. We said
nothing to him about this; it seemed necessary, no--permissible. But
to-day when we were coming to a peaceable understanding about the new
contracts he stumbled over one of the schooner's manifests. Mislaid, you
see--a clerk! It swept him to his feet in a rage, he couldn't speak,
and--and he had walked, it was hot...."
Gerrit Ammidon made no answer; there was nothing to be said. He was
shaken by a burning anger at the cupidity, the ugly commercial grasping,
to which his father had been sacrificed. A gulf opened between him and
his brother and James Saltonstone; he was as different from them as the
sea was from the land, as the wind-swept deck of the _Nautilus_ was from
this dry building with its stifling papers and greed. He might be in the
service of the firm--Gerrit was not incorporated in the partnership--he
might carry their cargoes for the multiplication of the profit, but his
essential service and responsibility, his life, were addressed to another
and infinitely higher and more difficult consummation than the stowed
kegs of Spanish dollars, the bills of sale. This was composed of the
struggle with the immeasurable elements of the seas and winds, the safety
of lives, the endless trying of his endurance and will and luck.
"Now," he spoke with a perceptible bitterness, "you can have your way
without interference, without his mixing up your papers or making the
blunders of a slow sort of honesty."
"I am under no obligation to your judgment or opinion," William
replied stiffly. "There are always complications you will never
penetrate nor carry. At present your assistance is more necessary than
any display of temper."
The funeral gathered and ebbed in a long procession of carriages through
a sultry noon, the services at the grave concluded by the symbolic
dropping of the earth on Jeremy Ammidon's coffin lowered into the deep
narrow clay pit. The large varied throng lingered for a breath, as if
unable to take their attention from the raw opening that had absorbed the
shipmaster, and then there was a determined and reassuring commonplace
murmur, a hurrying away into the vital warmth of the day.
The evening was the loveliest summer and the garden of Java Head could
afford: a slow moon disentangled itself from the indigo foliage at the
back of the stable and soared with an increasing brilliancy, bathing the
sod and summerhouse and poplars, the metallic box borders and spiked
flower beds, in a crystal clearness. The Ammidons sat about the willow,
Rhoda with a hand affectionately on her husband's arm, the
children--Laurel and Janet staying without remark long past their
accustomed hours for bed--still and white under the blanching moon.
Gerrit intently studied his wife, Taou Yuen, in a concentrated manner.
She, too, was in white, the Chinese mark of sorrow.
Suddenly in the face of his suffering and memories she had appeared
startlingly remote, as if, from standing close beside him, she were
moving farther and farther away. The image was made profoundly
disconcerting by the fact that they acted without their own accord; it
took the aspect of a purely arbitrary phenomenon over which they had no
control. At the same time Nettie Vollar was surprisingly near, actual--he
could see every line and shading of her vivid face; he felt the warm
impact of her instant sympathy. He had caught a glimpse of Barzil Dunsack
at the funeral; but the other was immediately hidden by the crowd, and
Gerrit had been unable to discover whether his son and daughter or Nettie
had accompanied him.
His thoughts turned in a score of associations and questions to Nettie;
but when he found himself trying to picture her exact employment at the
present moment he was angrily aroused. He had, he realized, considered
nothing else for the past hour, and his preoccupation was growing more
intense, personal. He stirred abruptly, and fixed his mind on the
imminent changes from his father's death. First the possibility would
develop of his becoming a member of the firm; but to this, he silently
declared, he would not agree. His gaze rested with a faint underlying
animosity on William, seated upright in a somber absorption, and a
disparagement of the latter's activities and scale of values. Gerrit saw
that there must be a pacific legal knot to untangle; the division of
Jeremy's estate would require time--he had somewhere heard that such
affairs often dragged on for a year; and now he was again in a fever of
impatience to be away, safe, at sea. He added the more portentous word
with the vague self-assurance that it was only the customary expression
of his notable ignorance of land; but it echoed with an ominous special
insistence in his mind.
The _Nautilus_, he recalled, was once more afloat, repaired; and a plan
occurred to him that seemed to dispose of all his difficulties, even of
the distasteful possibility of the California clipper service. He could
take the ship as part of his inheritance; and, though ostensibly sailing
her in the interest of the firm, make such voyages and ports, carry such
cargoes, as his independence dictated. The _Nautilus_, with a cargo out
of tin and dyes and cotton manufactures, and forty or fifty thousand
trade dollars, would represent a sum of nearly two hundred thousand; but
as a family they were very rich; he'd have more than that; and bank the
remainder intact to the credit of his wife.
There were many practical aspects of his marriage that he had not stopped
to weigh in its precipitant consummation. The problem, pointed out by
Rhoda, of his absence from Taou Yuen on cruise could not be solved with
the facility he had taken for granted. It was as impossible to leave her
happily here--he was aware of her growing impatience with Western
habit--as it would be for him to become a contented part of Chinese home
life; and not only was she uncomfortably cramped and sick on shipboard,
but he doubted whether he could persuade his crews to sail with her.
Superstitious able seamen balked at the presence of even a normal wife
aft; and a Chinese would be regarded as a sign of certain disaster.
He would have to establish her somewhere in the East Indies; and he
viewed with a new dislike all such tropical settings. His entire life
threatened to become an affair of damnable palm trees and Oriental
stenches. Gerrit Ammidon broke into a cold sweat at the realization of
the far more direct implication that had taken substance in his mind. The
thing was going entirely too far! He wondered irritably at the obscure
cause for such violent inner agitations.
Rhoda Ammidon with a dim smile rose, gathering her daughters about her,
and departed in a pale cloud of muslin. Taou Yuen, with her murmuring
formal politeness, moved away too, leaving the brothers together.
Whatever sympathetic intercourse they might otherwise have had, whatever
shared memories of their boyhood and their father, were made impossible
by William's admission of the immediate cause of the elder's death.
"The Saltonstones are going into Boston this fall," William said
abruptly. "It is necessary for one of us to live there; and Caroline has
always had a hankering for wider society. Rhoda, I was surprised to
learn, wishes to remain here at Java Head for a year or so anyway. She
has a very real affection for the place. But I tell her when the girls
are older Boston, or perhaps New York, will give them far greater
opportunities. Sidsall, stranger still, was in tears at the whole thing;
she seemed ridiculously upset about leaving."
The vision of Nettie Vollar persisted, bright and disturbing. Once he was
at sea, Gerrit told himself, on the circumscribed freedom of his
quarter-deck, he would lose the unsettling fever burning at that instant
in his veins. But the memory of long solitary passages with nothing to
distract his mind through week upon week after the ship took the trades,
when hour upon hour his thoughts turned inward on themselves and reviewed
every past act and feeling, made doubtful even that old release. The
trouble was that he instinctively avoided any square facing of the
difficulty that had multiplied with such amazing rapidity--like a banyan
tree--about the present and the shadowed future. This he was forced to
admit, but grimly added that there could be only one answer to whatever
he might lay bare--the adherence to the single fundamental duty of which
he never lost sight. No port was gained by changing blindly from course
to course, that way lay the reefs; a man could but keep steadily by the
compass. That, at least, was all he could see, propose, for himself,
being rather limited and lacking the resources which others of greater
knowledge so confidently explored.
After breakfast on the following morning he mounted the dignified
staircase, with the sweeping railing of red narra wood and high Palladian
window at the turn, to his wife. In their room he was bathed in a cold
sweat of dismay at a sudden detached view of Taou Yuen in her complete
Manchu mourning for his father. An unhemmed garment of coarse white hemp
hung in ravelings about slippers of sackcloth; what had been an elaborate
headdress was hidden under a binding of the bleached hemp; she wore no
paint nor flowers; her pins and earrings were pasted with dough, and her
expression was drugged with the contemplative fervor of what had
evidently been a religious ceremonial.
"For the wise old man, for your father," she said. She was exhausted and
sank onto the day bed; but almost immediately her hand reached out in the
direction of her pipe, and she smiled faintly at him. He clenched his
sinewy hands, the muscles of his jaw knotted, as he gazed steadily at the
woman, the Manchu woman, he had of his own free accord married. It
sickened him that, for the drawing of a breath, he had regarded Taou Yuen
with such appalling injustice--injustice, the evil he hated and condemned
more than any other. What, in the name of God, was he made of that he
could sink so low!
"We'll leave here soon," he declared abruptly; "the _Nautilus_ will be
ready for sea almost any time."
He could recognize, from his slight knowledge of her, that Taou Yuen
welcomed the news. "Shanghai?" she asked. He nodded. It came over him
that he was no longer young. His father had retired from the sea within a
few years of his own present age and built Java Head, the house that was
to be a final harbor of unalloyed happiness. No such prospect awaited
him; he had one of the premonitions that were more certain than the most
solid realities--as long as he lived he must sail in ships, struggling
with winds and calms, with currents and cockling and placid seas. Well,
that was natural, inevitable, what he would have chosen. At the same time
he dwelt, with a sensation of loneliness, on the green garden and
drawing-room filled in June with the scent of lilacs, on Rhoda surrounded
by her girls.
When the question of the division of Jeremy Amnudon's estate came up, he
was, as he had foreseen, urged to become a partner of the firm; and, when
that failed, told that it was his vested duty to continue in his present
capacity as a shipmaster in all their interests. He was seated with
Saltonstone and William in the countinghouse and he could tell from his
brother's ill-restrained impatience that the other considered him hardly
more than a clumsy-witted, stubborn fool before the mast of the facts of
His gaze, above their heads, rested on the framed pass of the ship
_Mocha_, one of his father's last commands, over the bench where he had
lain dead. It was given by the President, James Monroe, in 1818, its
white paper seal embossed on the stained parchment. It had an engraving
of a lighthouse and spired town on the dark water's edge, and above, a
picture of a ship with everything drawing in a fair wind, the upper
sails torn off on a dotted wavering line for the purpose of
identification with its stub.
"No," he told them quietly, "I'll go my own way as I said; with the
_Nautilus_, if that can be arranged." He rose with a nod of finality, and
James Saltonstone remarked, "Jeremy to the life." Gerrit replied, "I'd
not ask anything better."
Through the evening he heard little but the discussion of Mr. Folk's
approaching visit to Salem. The President was to leave the train at the
Beverly Depot at three P.M. and be fetched with Secretary Buchanan and
Marshal Barnes in a barouche with six horses and met at the outskirts of
Salem by the city authorities.
There would be a Beverly cavalcade, the city guard was ordered to muster
at the armory; while an evening parade at five o'clock and the military
ball in Franklin Hall were to follow.
But when the day and occasion actually arrived it was spoiled by a
succession of unforeseen mishaps. The train was late and the presidential
party in a fever of haste--the procession, hurrying through the massed
public-school children and throngs of Chestnut Street, gave a perfunctory
attention to the salutes and short address of the mayor. The President's
reply, hardly more than a few introductory phrases, cut short, the
barouche was sent plunging over its route with the Secretary crying,
"Drive on! Drive on!" and Marshal Barnes swearing and expectorating in
Some of the crowd, the Ammidons heard, had been knocked down and injured
in the pell-mell of the rush. Gerrit's countenance showed his contempt of
what he held to be a characteristically ludicrous farce. After all, his
wishes in regard to the _Nautilus_ had been easy of execution, the ship
was now his; he was already contracting for a cargo. He had been to see
Mr. Broadrick, his first mate, and the latter was assembling the chief
members of the crew. As always at the prospect of sailing he was
unsettled, concerned with countless details of departure--like a vessel
straining at her last anchor.
Seated in the library with Taou Yuen--he had called her aside from her
fixed passage to their room from the garden--he was recounting his main
plans for the near future, when he became aware of an arrival on the
steps outside. He heard a servant's voice, and, immediately after, the
woman appeared in the doorway; but she was forced aside by Edward
Dunsack. Gerrit's quick resentment flared at such an unmannered
intrusion, and he moved ungraciously forward. The servant explained
impotently, "I told him I would see--"
"Yes?" Gerrit Ammidon demanded.
Dunsack bowed ceremoniously to Taou Yuen, then he faced the other. On the
verge of speech he hesitated, as if an unexpected development made
inadequate whatever he had been prepared to say; then, with a sudden
decision, he hurried into an emotional jumble of words. "I can tell you
in a breath--Nettie was badly hurt in that cursed rabble yesterday. It
looks as if she was actually struck by one of the horses. She was
unconscious, and then delirious; now she is in her right mind but very
weak; and, since she wished to see you, I volunteered to put our pride in
my pocket and carry her message."
An instant numbing pain compressed Gerrit's heart; he felt that, in an
involuntary exclamation, he had clearly shown the depth of his dismay.
Damn the fellow, why had he burst out in this public indecent manner! The
situation he had plausibly created, the thing he managed to insinuate,
was an insult to them all--to his wife, Taou Yuen, coldly composed
beyond, himself and to Nettie. He stood with his level gaze fixed in an
enraged perplexity on Edward Dunsack's sallow countenance, deep sunk on
its bony structure, conscious that there was no possibility of a
satisfactory or even coherent reply.
"Something was said about this afternoon," the other added. That period,
Gerrit realized, was nearly over. But above every other consideration
rose the knowledge that he would have to see Nettie Vollar, badly
injured, as she desired. The common humanity of that necessity left him
He turned to Taou Yuen with a brief formal explanation. A friend, their
families had been associated for years, had been hurt and sent for
him.... Return immediately. He paused, in the act of leaving, at the door
of the library, waiting for Edward Dunsack to join him; but the other had
resolutely turned his back upon Gerrit. He showed no indication of
departure. Gerrit Ammidon was at the point of an exasperated direction;
but that, in the light of Dunsack's purpose there, appeared ridiculously
abrupt; and confident of his wife's supreme ability to control any
situation he continued without further hesitation to the street, hurrying
in a mounting anxiety toward the Dunsacks'.
Dwelling on his conduct in the library, at the sudden announcement of
Nettie's accident, he felt that he had acted in a precipitant if not
actually confused way. As a fact, it had all been largely mechanical; his
oppression, his dread for Nettie, had made everything else dim to see and
faint to hear. Dunsack's grimacing face, the immobile figure of his wife,
the familiar sweep of the room, had been things of no more substance than
a cloud between him and the only other reality existing. He had no
memory, for instance, of having stopped to secure his hat, but he found
it swinging characteristically in a hand. And now even the semblance of
reasonable speech and conduct he had managed to command vanished before a
panic that all but forced him into a run.
The main door of Barzil Dunsack's house was open on the narrow somber
region within; he knocked sharply against the wood at the side and was
immediately answered by the appearance of Kate Vollar.
"This is a great kindness, Captain Ammidon," she told him in her negative
voice; "come in here, please." He looked hastily about the formal space
into which she led him, expecting to see Nettie prostrate, but she was
not there. "How is she?" he demanded impatiently.
"Nettie?" her mother turned as if surprised by an unexpected twist of the
situation. "Oh, why she'll mend all right, the doctor says; but it will
be slow. Her arm had an ugly slithering break, and she suffers with it
all the time." A pause followed, in which she met his interrogation with
a growing mystification. "I suppose Edward told you," she ventured
finally. The sense of being at a loss was swiftly communicated to him.
"Your brother said Nettie wanted to see me," he returned bluntly.
"Now, however could Edward do a thing like that!" she cried in deep
distress. "Why, there's no truth to it. I asked him myself to see if
you'd kindly stop and give me some advice. What put it in my head was
that once your father offered--he told Nettie to let him know if there
was anything to be done. Edward Dunsack isn't just right in his head."
Gerrit was filled with a mingling sense of disappointment, relief that
Nettie was no worse, and the uncomfortable conviction that he had behaved
like an hysterical fool. He, too, but angrily, wondered why Dunsack had
invented such an apparently pointless lie. Probably Kate Vollar was
right, and her brother's wits, soaked in opium, had wandered into a realm
of insane fabrications. He composed himself--the first feeling blotting
out his other emotions--to meet the deprecating interrogation before him.
"I should be glad to do what I could in my father's place."
"In a way," she continued, "it's about Edward. When he came back from
China and decided to stay in Salem his father turned all the books over
to him; he was to tend to everything in the way of accounts and
shipments; and, he said, he would make us all rich in a year or so. But,
instead, he has neglected the clerking until we can't tell what's going
or coming. Edward hasn't--hasn't quite been himself lately," she paused
and Gerrit nodded shortly. "Now we're not wealthy, Captain Ammidon, we
never got more than just enough from our West India trade; but in the
last couple of months, with Edward like he is and father too old for
columns of figuring--he's dreadful forgetful now--not a dollar was made.
The schooners are slow, behind the times I guess, we've had to scrape;
yet it's been something.... They're both awful hard to do with," she
"You must get a reliable man in charge. Some one who knows the West India
shipping should go over your entire property, decide what is necessary,
then borrow the money. We can find that without trouble. I'll make only
one condition: That is the complete restraint of your brother. It is
known that he has the opium habit, he is a dangerous--"
He stopped at the echo of a thin persistent tapping from above. "That's
Nettie," Kate Vollar said; "the way she calls me. I'll ask you to excuse
me for a minute." When she returned her face bore an unaccustomed flush.
"Nettie heard you in the hall or through the stovepipe." She spoke
doubtfully: "She'd like to see you, but I don't know if it would be right
with her in bed. Still, I promised I'd tell you."
He rose promptly. The woman stood aside at the upper door and he at once
saw Nettie lying with her vigorous black hair sprawling in a thick twist
across the pillow. Her face was pinched, it seemed thin, and the
brilliancy and size of her eyes were exaggerated. One arm, clumsy and
inanimate in splints, was extended over the cotton spread; but with the
other hand she was feverishly busy with her appearance. She smiled, a wan
tremulous movement that again shut the pain like a leaden casket about
"Do go away, mother!" Nettie directed Kate Vollar hovering behind them.
"Your fidgeting will make me scream." With an incoherent murmur she
vanished from the room. The girl motioned toward a chair, and Gerrit drew
it forward to a table that bore water and a small glass bowl partly
covered by a sheet of paper, holding a number of symmetrical
reddish-black pills. "Opium," Nettie told him, following his gaze; "I
cried dreadfully with the hurt at first. It's dear, and Edward made those
from some he had. You know, I watched him roll them right here; it was
wonderful how quickly he did it, each exactly alike, two grains." She
told him the circumstances of her accident while he sat with his eyes
steadily on her face, his hands folded.
He was quiet, without visible emotion or speech; but there was an utter
tumult, a tumult like the spiral of a hurricane, within him. Rebellious
feelings, tyrannical desires and thoughts, swept through him in waves of
heat and cold. Nettie's voice grew weak, the shadows deepened under her
eyes, for a little they closed; and but for the faint stir of the
coverlet over her heart she was so pallid, so still, that she might have
been dead. Moved by an uncontrollable fear he bent toward her and touched
her hand. Her gaze slowly widened, and, turning over her palm, she weakly
grasped his fingers. A great sigh of contentment fluttered from her dry
lips. "Gerrit," she whispered, barely audible. He leaned forward, blinded
by his passion for her.
He admitted this in an honest self-knowledge that he had refused
recognition until now. Tender and reassuring words, wild declarations and
plans for the future, crowded for expression; nothing else before the
immensity of desire that possessed him was of the slightest concern; but
not a syllable was spoken. A sharp line was ploughed between his brows;
his breath came in short choked gusts, he was utterly the vessel of his
longing, and yet an ultimate basic consideration, lost in the pounding of
his veins, still restrained him.
"I love you, Gerrit," Nettie said; "I'll never stop till I die." Her face
and voice were almost tranquil; she seemed to speak from a plane above
the ordinary necessities of common existence, as if her pain, burning out
her color and vigor and emotions, had given her the privilege of truth.
Curiously enough when it seemed to him that she had expressed what should
have sent him into a single consuming flame he grew at once completely
calm. He, too, for the moment, reached her state of freedom from earth
"I love you, Nettie," he replied simply.
However, he speedily dropped back into the sphere of actual
responsibilities. He saw all the difficulties and hovering insidious
shadows in which they might be lost. This, in turn, was pushed aside by
the incredulous realization that Nettie's life and his had been spoiled
by a thing no more important than a momentary flare of temper. If, as
might have happened, he had overlooked Barzil Dunsack's ridiculous
tirade, if he had turned into the yard where Nettie was standing instead
of tramping away up Hardy Street, everything would have been well.
It was unjust, he cried inwardly, for such infinite consequences to
proceed from unthinking anger! A great or tragic result should spring
from great or tragic causes, the suffering and price measured by the
error. He could see that Nettie was patiently waiting for him to solve
the whole miserable problem of their future; she had an expression of
relief which seemed to take a happy issue for granted. None was possible.
A baffled rage cut his speech into quick brutal words flung like shot
against her hope.
"I love you," he repeated, "yes. But what can that do for us now? I had
my chance and I let it go. To-day I'm married, I'll be married to-morrow,
probably till I die. Perhaps that wouldn't stop a man more
intelligent--it might be just that--than I am; perhaps he'd go right
after his love or happiness wherever or however it offered. There are
men, too, who have the habit of a number of women. That is understood to
be a custom with sailors. It has never been with me; as I say, maybe I am
"What in the name of all the heavens would I do with Taou Yuen?" he
demanded. "I can't desert her here, in America, leave her with William. I
brought her thousands of miles away from her home, from all she knows and
is. If I took her back and dropped her in China it would be murder."
An expression of unalloyed dreariness overspread Nettie's features. "I
wish I had been killed right out," she said. The starkness of the words,
of the reality they spoke, flowed over him like icy water; he felt that
he was sinking, strangling, in a sea grimmer than any about Cape Horn. He
was continually appalled by the realization that there was no escape, no
smallest glimmer, leading from the pit into which they had stumbled. He
had the sensation of wanting enormously to go with Nettie but was fast in
chains that were locked on him by a power greater than his will.
"It's no good," his voice was flat.
"I don't believe I'll see you again," Nettie articulated; "now the
_Nautilus_ is near ready to sail. I can't stand it," she sobbed; "that
last time you went out the harbor just about ended me, but this is worse,
worse, worse. I'll--I'll take all the opium."
"No, you won't," he asserted, standing, confident that her spirit was too
normal, too vitally healthy, for that. His gaze wandered about the room:
her clothes were neatly piled and covered by a skirt on a chair; the
mirror on her chest of drawers was broken, a corner missing; there was a
total absence of the delicate toilet adjuncts of Rhoda and Taou
Yuen--only a small paper of powder, a comb and brush, and the washstand
with a couple of coarse towels. What dresses she had were hung behind a
ridiculously inadequate drapery. She had so little with which to
accomplish what, for a girl, was so much.
His emotion had retreated, leaving him dull-eyed, heavy of movement. The
moment had come for his departure. Gerrit stood by the bed. Nettie turned
away from him, her face was buried in the pillow, the uppermost free
shoulder shook. "Good-by," he said. There was no answer and he patiently
repeated the short tragic phrase. Still there was no sound from Nettie.
There would be none. Even the impulse to touch her had died--died, he
thought, with a great many feelings and hopes he once had. A fleet
surprise invaded him at the absence of any impulse now to protest or
indulge in wild passionate terms; he was surprised, too, at the fact that
he was about to leave Nettie. The whole termination of the affair was
bathed in an atmosphere of stale calm, like the air in a ship's hold.
Gerrit Ammidon gazed steadily at her averted head, at the generous line
of her body under the coverlet; then, neither hasty nor hesitating in his
walk, he left the room. Kate Vollar met him at the foot of the stair.
"You understood," she said, "that I only bothered you because your
father... because I was so put on?"
"You were quite right," he replied in a measured voice; "it will all be
attended to. With the agreement I mentioned."
"How they'll take it I don't know."
"In some positions," he told her, "certain persons are without any
choice. The facts are too great for them. I said nothing to Nettie of
Edward Dunsack's reason for my coming," he added significantly. Out in
the street he stopped, facing toward Java Head and evening; but, with a
quiver of his lips, the vertical bitter line between his drawn brows,
he turned and marched slowly, his head sunk, to where the _Nautilus_
Seated in the library, placidly waiting for Edward Dunsack to go, Taou
Yuen studied him briefly. A long or thoughtful survey was unnecessary:
the opium was rapidly mastering him. That fact absorbed all the rest. She
had an immeasurable contempt for such physical and moral weakness; all
the three religions fused in her overwhelmingly condemned
self-indulgence; her philosophy, the practical side of Lao-tze's
teaching, emphasized the utter futility of surrender to the five senses.
At the same time he was the subject of some interest: he was an American
who had lived in China, and not only on the fringe of the treaty
ports--he had penetrated to some extent into the spirit, the life, of
things Chinese; while she, Taou Yuen, was amazingly married to Gerrit
Ammidon, was a Manchu here, in America.
Absolutely immobile, her hands folded in her lap, she considered these
facts, each in relation to the other: there was wisdom hidden in them for
her. If Mr. Dunsack had retained the ordinary blustering Western
commercial mind, his knowledge of China confined to the tea houses and
streets, he would probably be prosperous and strong to-day. The wisdom
lay in this--that here she must remain Manchu, Chinese; any attempt to
become a part of this incomprehensible country, any effort to involve
herself in its mysterious acts or thought, would be disastrous. She must
remain calm, unassertive, let the eternal Tao take its way.
Edward Dunsack looked actually comic: he was staring rudely, with a
foolish air of flattery, and breathing in labored gasps--like a coolie
who had run miles with a heavy palanquin. Then her mind, hardly reacting
from immediate objects, returned to the contemplation of the deeper
significance of her presence here. Bent in on itself her thought twisted
like a moonflower vine about the solid fact of Gerrit. She realized, of
course, that he must have had the past of any healthy honorable man of
his age, and that it would have included at least one woman. However,
when even the present was an almost complete puzzle his past had been so
lost to her that she had not considered it until now.
"You must overlook my unceremonious speech," Edward Dunsack proceeded in
creditable Chinese. "It was clumsy, but I was deeply affected. It is my
niece, you see, who was hurt, and who has a very sad history. Then there
are some special circumstances. I'd have to explain a great deal before
you could understand why she sent for your husband and why he left so
"There is nothing you need tell me," Taou Yuen replied in her slow
careful English. "Manchu eyes can see as well as American."
"A thousand times better." He, too, returned to his native speech. "It is
delightful to talk to a truly civilized being. All that would have to be
shouted at the women of Salem is unnecessary now. You see--you understand
the heart of a man."
"I understand you," she said impersonally.
"I wonder if you do," he speculated. "You ought to see what--how much--I
think of you. My brain holds nothing else," he declared in a low intense
voice, drawing nearer to her.
She had a momentary, purely feminine shrinking from his emaciated shaking
frame, the burning eyes in a face dead like a citron; then her placidity
returned, the assurance that it was all ordained, that his gestures, the
pumping of his diseased heart, had no more individual significance than
the movements of a mechanical figure operated by strings, here the
strings of supreme Fate. She even smiled slightly, a smile not the mark
of approval or humor, but an expression of absolute composure. It drove
him at once into febrile excitement.
"At least I understand you," he cried; "far more than you suppose! You
can't impress me with your air of a Gautama. I know the freedom of your
country. It doesn't shock you to realize that your husband has gone to
see a woman he loved, perhaps loves still, and you are not disturbed at
my speaking like this."
Here, she knew, regarding him no more than a shrilling locust, was the
center about which for a moment blindly her thoughts of Gerrit and
herself had revolved. His past--"a woman he loved." But it didn't in the
least upset her present peace of mind, her confidence in Gerrit. There
was a sharp distinction between the eternal, the divine, Tao, that which
is and must prevail, and the personal Tao, subject to rebellion and all
the evil of Yin; and she felt that her husband's Tao was good. Out of
this she remarked negligently:
"After all, you are more ignorant of China than I thought. But, of
course, you saw only the common and low side. You have not heard of the
books girls are taught from--'The Sacred Edict' and 'Mirror of the
Heart.' You don't know even the first rule of 'The Book of Rites,' 'Let
your face and attitude be grave and thoughtful,' and the second, 'Let
your steps be deliberate and regular.'" She paused, conveying by her
manner that he was already vanishing and that she was relieved.
"That would do well enough if you were a scholar, or a bonze," he
retorted; "but such innocence in a fashionable woman is a pretense. If
you are so pure how can you explain your gold and bracelets and pins,
all the marks of your worldly rank? Lao-tze taught, 'Rich and high but
proud brings about its own misfortune.'" He was so close to her now that
she caught a faint sickly reek from his body. It seemed to her that she
could see his identity, his reason, vanish, replaced by madness in his
"I worship you," he murmured.
"Opium," she spoke disdainfully.
"Your own tobacco is drugged," he asserted. "But that's not important. I
tell you I worship you, the most beautiful person in the world. These
fools in Salem, even your husband, can't realize one-tenth of your
perfection; they can't venerate you as I do. And now that Ammidon has
gone back to the first, we are free too."
"You are a liar," she said with an unexpected colloquial ease.
A darker color stained his dry cheeks. "You saw him," he replied. "Did
he get pale or didn't he? And did he or not rush from the room like a
man in a fever? I tell you it's no use pretending with me; say what you
please I know how delicate your senses are. I'll tell you this too: It's
written in our progression that we should meet here, yes, and be a great
deal to each other. It was written in the beginning, and we had been
drawing together through a million cycles before Gerrit Ammidon stumbled
Taou Yuen was surprised by a sudden conviction that a part of this, at
least, was so. No living thing, however minute, escaped from the
weariness of movement, either ending in final and blessed suspension or
condemned to struggle on and on through countless lives of tormenting
passion. All had this dignity of hope or despair; all she encountered
were humble, impressive or debased in the working of the mighty law. She
had been guilty, as this American had pointed out, of dangerous and wrong
pride, and she accepted her lesson willingly. There was, however, an
annoying conflict between Edward Dunsack, the example, the impersonal,
and Edward Dunsack making violent profession of his unspeakable desire
for her. Even the word seemed to soil her; but there was no other. He
went recklessly on, trying to increase his advantage:
"We're made to be together."
"If we are it is because of some great wickedness of mine. If we are,
then perhaps I am lost. But it is allowed to resist evil, at least, as
far as staying out of its touch is resistance."
"Nothing can keep you from me," he declared. Another short step and his
knees would be brushing her gown. A stronger wave of dislike, shrinking,
anger, drowned her logical and higher resignation. "It is time for you to
go," she said, her voice still even.
It seemed to her that she could feel his hot quivering touch and, all her
philosophy dropping from her, she rose quickly. "If this were China," she
told him, in a cold fury, "you'd be cut up with knives, in the court-yard
where I could look on. But even here I can ring for a servant; and when
Captain Ammidon comes back he'll know what to say to you."
She could see that the last affected him; he hesitated, drew back, his
hanging fingers clasping and unclasping. That, she thought, relieved,
would dispose of him. Then it was clear that his insanity persisted
even in the face of the considerable threat of Gerrit's hot pride and
"It's our destiny," he repeated firmly in his borrowed faith, at once a
little terrifying and a little ridiculous in the alien mold. His lips
twitched and his bony forehead glistened in a fine sweat. Now, thoroughly
roused, she laughed at him in open contempt.
"Diseased," she cried, "take your sores away! Dog licked by dogs. Bowl
of filth," she was speaking in Chinese, in words of one syllable like
the biting of a hair whip. Edward Dunsack gasped, as if actual blows
cut him; he stood with one hand half raised, appalled at the sudden
vicious rush of her anger. A leaden pallor took the place of his normal
sallow coloring, and it was evident that he had difficulty in
withstanding the pressure of his laboring heart. He stood between her
and the door and she had a premonition that it would be useless to
attempt to avoid him or escape. She could, however, call, and some one,
there were a score of people about the house, must certainly appear. At
that moment she saw a deep change sweep over his countenance, taking
place in his every fiber. There was an inner wrenching of Edward
Dunsack's being, a blurring and infusion of blood in his eyes, a breath
longer and more agonized than any before, and she was looking closely
into the face of an overwhelming hatred.
For a moment, she realized, he had even considered killing her with his
flickering hands. Then that impulse subsided before a sidelong expression
of cunning. "With all your Manchu attitudes," he mocked her, "yes, your
aristocratic pretense of mourning and marks of rank, you are no different
from the little pleasure girls. Your vocabulary and mind are the same. I
was a fool for a while; I saw nothing but your satins and painted face. I
forgot you were yellow, I had forgotten that all China's yellow. It's
yellow, yellow, yellow and never can be white. I shut my eyes to it and
it dragged me down into its slime." His voice was hysterical with an
agony of rending spiritual torment and hopeless grief. "It poisoned me
little by little, with the smell of its rivers and the cursed smell of
its pleasures. Then the opium. A year after I had lost my position,
everything; and when I came over here it followed me ... in my own blood.
Even then I might have broken away, I almost had, when Gerrit Ammidon
brought you to Salem. You came at a time when I was fighting hardest to
throw it all off. You see--you fascinated me. You were all that was most
alluring of China, and I wanted you so badly, it all came back so, that I
went to the opium to find you."
"Progression," she said ironically.
"Perhaps," he muttered. "Who knows? I'm finished for this life anyhow.
You did that. I can't even keep the books for my father's penny trade."
His hands crept rigidly toward her. If they touched her she would be
degraded for ever. Yet she was incapable of flight, her throat refused
the cry which she had been debating; alternate waves of revulsion and
stoical resignation passed over her with chills of acute terror. Yet she
managed to preserve an unstirred exterior; and that, she observed, began
to influence him. His loathing was as great as ever; but his vision, that
had been fixed in a blaze of fury, broke, avoided her direct scrutiny,
her appearance of statue-like unconcern.
There was a sound of quick light feet in the hall, the bright voice of
one of Gerrit's nieces. Edward Dunsack fell into a profound abstraction:
he turned and walked away from her, standing with his back to the room at
a window that opened upon the broad green park. He was so weak that he
was forced to support himself with a hand on the wall.
Taou Yuen was motionless for a perceptible space, and then moved toward
the door in a dignified composure. All this had come from the utter
impropriety of the life in America. Dunsack glanced at her as she
withdrew, and for a moment she saw his fine profile sharp and dark
against the light-flooded window. His lips stirred but she heard no
sound. Then she was on the stair mounting to her room.
There mechanically she filled her pipe; but doing this she noticed that
her hands were trembling. How lamentably she had failed in the
preservation, the assertion, of her superiority, not as a Manchu, but in
the deeper, the only true sense of the word--in submission.
"Requite hatred with virtue."
She spoke Lao-tze's admonition aloud and, in the customary devious
channel of her mental processes, her thoughts returned to her early life,
her girlhood, so marred by sickness that the Emperor had surrendered his
customary proprietary right in the daughters of Manchu nobles.
Surrounding the fact of her early suffering, which had kept her out of
the active gayety of brothers and sisters, she remembered in the clearest
detail her father's house in the north; the later residences in Canton
and Shanghai, even the delightful river gardens of the summer place at
Soochow, were less vivid. Inside the massive tiled stone wall the
rooms--there were a hundred at least--faced in squares on the inner
courtyard, and were connected by glass enclosed verandas. The reception
houses of the front court, the deeply carved wooden platform with its
scarlet covering, were of the greatest elegance; they were always astir
with the numerous secretaries, the Chinese writers and messengers, the
_mafoos_ and chair coolies, the servants and blind musicians with the old
songs, _The Millet's in Flower_ and _Kuan Kuan Go to the Ospreys_. The
side door to the women's apartments, however, opened into a retreat,
where her father's concubine, he had but one, trailed like a bird of
paradise, and there was the constant musical drip of a fountain in an old
granite basin. There, during the years when she was lame, Taou Yuen
She had been dropped from a palanquin in her sixth year; sharp
pains soon after burned in her hip, and the corresponding leg had
perceptibly shortened. A great many remedies were tried in vain--burning
with charcoal, the application of black plasters, sweating,
acupuncture--sticking long needles into the afflicted part. The doctors
declared that the five elements of her body--the metal, wood, water, fire
and earth, were hopelessly out of equilibrium. Her mother had then called
necromancers and devil charmers; lucky and unlucky days were explored;
strange rites were conducted before her terrified eyes screwed into the
determination to show no alarm.
A year, perhaps, after they had become resigned to her injury, her
father, always a man of the most liberal ideas, had suddenly brought into
the garden to see her an English doctor passing through China. Against
the wailing protests of the women the Englishman had been given authority
to treat her; and he had caused to be made a thin steel brace, clasping
Taou Yuen's waist and extending in a rigid band down the length of her
injured leg. After putting a high shoe on her other foot he had commanded
them to keep the brace on her for two years.
It was through that period of comparative inactivity that she acquired a
habit of reading and thought, a certain grasp of philosophical attitude,
common to the higher masculine Chinese mind but rare among their women.
She had, for instance, later, read Laotze's Tao-teh-king, and been
impressed by his tranquil elevation above the petty ills and concerns of
life and the flesh. Her father, like all the ruling class, regarded
Taoism--which had, indeed, degenerated into a mass of nonsense about the
transmutation of base metals into gold and the elixir of life--with
contempt. But this seemed to her no depreciation of the Greatly Eminent
One or his philosophy of the two Taoes.
The household, or at least the family, worshipped in the form of
Confucius; his precepts and admonitions, the sacred _hiao_ or filial
submission, the tablets and ancestral piety, were a part of her blood; as
was the infinitely fainter infusion of Buddhism; yet in her intellectual
brooding it was to the Tao-teh-king that she returned. She paused to
recall that, the brace at last removed, she was practically completely
recovered; but the bent, the bracing, given her mind had remained.
The colorful pageant of her first marriage, the smaller but splendidly
appointed house of her husband--he was extremely intelligent and had
honorably passed the examination for licentiate, one of only two hundred
successful bachelors out of twenty thousand--and the period following his
accidental drowning wheeled quickly through her brain....
Only Gerrit Ammidon was left.
She loved him, Taou Yuen realized, for a quality entirely independent of
race: he had more than anyone else she knew the virtues of simplicity and
purity announced by Chwang-Tze as the marks of the True Man. "We must
become like little children," the Old Master had written. She had seen
this at once in the amazing interview sanctioned by her father-in-law.
Most women of her class, even widows, would have perished with shame at
being exposed to a foreigner. But Lu Kikwang had expressed her difference
from them in the terms of his proposal. His words had been "finely
better" although the truth was that her curiosity had always mastered the
other and more prudent instincts. Yet that alone would not have
prostrated her before Gerrit Ammidon--death was not unthinkable--nor
carried her into his strange terrifying ship and stranger life. The love
had been born almost simultaneously with her first recognition of his
character. Now her passion for him was close and jealous. A constant
shifting between such humanity and the calm detachment which prefigured
heaven was what most convinced her of the truths of Lao-tze.
All this took body at the announcement of Edward Dunsack about Gerrit and
his niece. Certainly he might have had an affair; that she dismissed; but
the insinuated permanence of this other affection was serious. She would
not have believed Mr. Dunsack for an instant, but, as he had pointed out,
Gerrit had undoubtedly been upset; he had turned pale and hurried away
impolitely. It was by such apparently slight indications that the great
inner currents of life were discovered. The fact that Chinese officials
had more than one wife, or, to speak correctly, concubines in addition,
had no bearing with Gerrit; such was not the custom with American men. It
represented for him, yes--dishonor.
She laboriously recalled his every attitude since they had landed in
America, and was obliged to admit that he had changed--he was less gay
and though his manner was always considerate she recognized a growing