Part 4 out of 4
impatience beneath his darker calm. Her philosophy was again torn in
shreds by sharp feminine emotions. She was filled with jealousy and
hatred and hurt pride. The clearest expression of his possible discontent
had marked his face when he had suddenly come into their room and saw her
rising from a prayer for his father. Gerrit's lips had been compressed,
almost disdainful; at that moment, she knew unerringly, he found her
ugly. Of course it had been the hideous garments of mourning.
She must wear the unhemmed sackcloth and dull slippers, bind her
headdress and cover her pins with paste, for a hundred days; and then
a second mourning of black or dark blue, and no flowers, for three
years. It might well be that by then Gerrit, blind to these
proprieties, would find her unendurable. Suddenly, in the tremendous
difficulty of holding him against an entire world, his own and of
which she was supremely ignorant, it seemed to her that she needed
every possible means, every coral blossom and gold filament and finger
of paint, the cunning intoxication of subtle dress and color and
perfume. With a leaden sense of guilt, but in a fever of impatience,
of haste, she stripped off the coarse hemp for her most elaborate
satins, her santal and clover and carmine.
When Gerrit came in it had grown dark with night, and he explained that
he had been busy inspecting the _Nautilus'_ spars. She lighted a lamp,
then another, all she could find, and studied him unobtrusively. She was
shocked at the worn expression of his face; it seemed as if he had aged
in the few hours since he had left the library. He was uneasy, silent;
and, secretly dismayed, she saw that he was indifferent to her changed
appearance, too. Taou Yuen debated the wisdom of telling him about the
painful scene with Edward Dunsack; against her original intent she
decided in the negative. She informed herself that the reason for this
was a wish to preserve him, now that they were practically at the day of
departure, from an unpleasant duty. But there was an underlying dimly
apprehended and far different motive: she was afraid that it would blow
into flame a situation that might otherwise be avoided, bring to life a
past naturally dying or dead.
She saw that he was scarcely aware of her presence in the room, perhaps
in his life. A period of resentment followed. "You are dull," she
declared, "and I am going down to the garden for entertainment." Gerrit
nodded. He would, he told her, be along shortly. Below she found Roger
Brevard, with the oldest Ammidon girl and her mother.
Roger Brevard, she had discovered, was in love with Sidsall. The latter,
it developed, was to leave shortly for a party; Mr. Brevard was not
going; and, when Gerrit's sister-in-law walked across the grass with her
daughter the man dropped into an easy conversation with Taou Yuen. She
had a feeling, which she had tried in vain to lose, of the vulgarity, the
impropriety of this. Yet she recognized that there was none of the former
in Roger Brevard; he resembled quite a little her dead husband,
Sié-Ngan-kwán; and for that reason she was more at ease with him--in
spite of such unaccustomed familiarity--than with anyone else in Salem
He was, she admitted condescendingly, almost as cultivated as the
ordinary Chinese gentleman. Many of his thoughts, where she could
understand their expression, might have come from a study of the sacred
kings. At the same time her feminine perception realized that he had a
genuine liking for her.
"You'll be delighted to leave Salem," he said, leaning forward and
"That would not be polite," she answered formally. "You have been so
good. But it will give me pleasure to see Shanghai again. Anyone is
happier with customs he understands."
"And prefers," he added. "Indeed, I'd choose some of your manners rather
than ours. You see, you have been at the business of civilization so much
longer than the rest of us."
"Our history begins two thousand years before your Christ," she told him;
"our language has been spoken without change for thirty-three centuries,
as you call them. But such facts are nothing. I would rather hear your
non--nonsense," she stumbled over the word.
"Do you mean that what we call nonsense is really the most important?"
"Perhaps," she replied. "Devotion to the old and dead is greatly
necessary yet you smile at it. I didn't mean that, but moons and lovers
and music." He cried in protest, "We're terribly serious about those!"
"I hear nothing but talk about cargoes and sales and money."
"We keep the other under our hats," he instructed her. She was completely
mystified, and he explained.
"In China," she remarked tentatively, "it is possible for a man to love
two women at once, maybe one a little more than the other, but he can be
kind and just and affectionate to them both. Tell me, is--is that
possible with an American?"
"No!" he spoke emphatically. "We can love, in the way you mean, only one,
perhaps only once. I wouldn't swear to that, but there are simply no
exceptions to the first. Men are unfaithful, yes; but at a cost to
themselves, or because they are incapable of restraint. To be unfaithful
in anything is to fail, isn't it? You can lie to yourself as effectively
as to anybody else."
She fixed a painful attention upon him, but lost at least a half of his
meaning. However, one fact was clearer than ever--that Edward Dunsack had
said an evil thing about her husband. "It seems," he went on, "that even
spiritual concerns can be the result of long custom." If he was trying to
find an excuse for Chinese habit she immediately disposed of it. "No,"
she said, "you are upside down. The spirit is first, the eternal Tao,
everywhere alike, but the personal spirit is different in you and in us."
A sudden dejection seized her--now the difference seemed vaster than
anything she had in common with Gerrit. A wave of oppressive nostalgia,
of confusion and dread, submerged her in a faintly thunderous darkness.
She felt everywhere about her the presence of evil and threatening
shades. The approach of her husband, his heavy settling into a chair, did
nothing to lighten her apprehension.
"How soon do we go?" she asked faintly.
"In two weeks, with nothing unexpected," he responded without interest or
pleasure. It flashed through her mind that he was depressed at leaving
Salem, that other woman. His present indifference was very far from the
manner in which he had first discussed their leaving. Yet, even that, she
recalled in the light of her present sensitiveness, had been unnaturally
abrupt and clothed in a great many loud-sounding words. She told herself
arbitrarily that Edward Dunsack had lied--for the purpose which his
conduct afterward made clear--but her very feeling was proof that she
believed he had spoken the truth.
She was a victim of an uneasy curiosity to see... she made a violent
mental effort and recaptured the name--Nettie Vollar. Of course the
latter had been the deliberate cause of whatever wickedness had
threatened at the return of Gerrit with her, Taou Yuen. She had however
no doubt of the extent of this: Gerrit was upright, faithful to the
necessity Roger Brevard had explained; all that assaulted her happiness
was on an incorporate plane, or, anyhow, in a procession of consequences
extending far back and forward of their present lives.
But, she recognized, she had no excuse nor opportunity to see Nettie
Vollar. Mrs. Ammidon, when she heard of the accident, had at once
declared her intention of going to the Dunsacks' house; still that
promised no chance of satisfying her own desire. The least politeness in
the world prohibited her from going baldly in and demanding to see the
woman. She couldn't, all at once, make convincing a sympathy or
impersonal interest entirely contradictory to her insistent indifference.
The best she could hope was for them to sail away as quickly as possible;
when on the other side of the seas Gerrit would probably return to the
simplicity of being she had adored.
Then a trivial and yet serious fear occurred to her--perhaps here, among
all these dead-white women, he no longer held her beautiful. The word was
his own, or it had been his; he had not repeated it, she realized, twice
since they had been in Salem. Personally, she found the American women
entirely undistinguished and dressed in grotesquely ugly and cheap
clothes--not unlike paper lanterns bobbing along the ground. Their faces
were shamelessly bare of paint and their manners would have disgraced the
lowest servant in a Chinese courtyard. This was natural, from any
consideration of the hideous or inappropriate things that surrounded
them, and from the complete lack of what she could distinguish as either
discipline or reverence. Yet Gerrit, a part of this, would be unable to
share her attitude; she had heard him praise the appearance of women so
insipid that she had turned expecting vainly an ironic smile.
Roger Brevard rose and made his bow, the only satisfactory approach to a
courteous gesture she had met outside Gerrit's occasional half-humorous
effort since leaving Shanghai. He stirred, muttered a perfunctory phrase,
and sank back into obscurity.
Little quirks of unfamiliar disturbing feeling ran through Taou Yuen; her
mind, it seemed, had become a thing of no importance; all that at one
time had so largely ordered her life was superseded by these illogical
emotions spreading apparently from her heart. The truth was, she told
herself, that--with all her reading and philosophy--she had had little or
no experience of actuality: the injury to her hip and quiet life in the
gray garden at Canton, her protected existence in the women's apartments,
whatever she might have learned from them neglected because of the
general silliness of their chatter, the formal early marriage, had all
combined for the preservation of her ignorance.
She regarded herself now with distrust; nothing could have been more
unpleasant than the failure of her will, this swamping of her equanimity.
She never lost for a moment the image of superiority that should be her
perfect example, the non-assertion that was the way of heaven; but her
comprehension was like a figure ruthlessly dragged about by an
overpowering unreflective force. A sharp hatred of Nettie Vollar seared
her mind and perished in a miserable sense of weakness.
Against the dark, charged with a confusion of the ten thousand things,
she stared wearily and wakeful. She reminded herself again that Gerrit
would soon be gone from Salem, alone with her on the long voyage to
China; but he'd return to America, come back to Salem; and she knew that
he would never bring her westward again. A period of depression followed
which seemed to have no immediate connection with Gerrit; she had an
indefinable feeling of struggling in vain against adversity, of
opposition to an implacable power.
For a short while after she rose in the morning it appeared that she had
regained her self-control, her reason; and a consequent happy relief
irradiated her. But when Gerrit came up after she had finished her toilet
and she saw, from his haggard face, that he too must have been awake,
tormented, through the night, a passion of bitterness enveloped her at
which all that had gone before turned pale. She could scarcely restrain
herself from a noisy wailing accusation, and stood regarding him with a
tense unnatural grimace, the result of her effort to preserve propriety.
She told herself, at the tempest of vulgar phrases storming through her
consciousness, that what Edward Dunsack had said about her being no
better than the tea house girls was true, and she was aghast at the inner
treachery capable of such self-betrayal. Not a quivering word, however,
escaped; she managed a commonplace phrase and turned aside in a trivial
pretext of occupation.
"I am going into Boston with Captain Dunsack on business connected with
his schooners." The girl's grandfather! "Very well." She spoke placidly,
and with a tempestuous heart watched him stride quickly about the park.
She settled herself in a long motionless contemplation, fastening her
mind upon the most elevated and revered ideas conceivable. She saw the
eternal Tao flowing like a great green river of souls, smooth and mighty
and resistless; and she willed that she too might become a part of that
desirable self-effacement, safe in surrender. Men striving to create a
Tao for personal ends beat out their lives in vain. It was the figure of
the river developing, like floating on a deliberate all-powerful tide or
struggling impotently against it.
Later a message came up from Mrs. Ammidon--she hoped that Taou Yuen would
drive with her that afternoon. She dressed with the most particular care,
in blue and dark greens, her shoulders thick with embroidered garlands
and silver _shou_, her piled hair ornamented in glittering silver leaves
She went down when she heard the horses on the street below but the
barouche was empty except for the coachman. "Mrs. Ammidon left a half
hour ago," a servant told her; "and sent the carriage back for you." They
moved forward, going, she saw, into a part of the town where they seldom
drove--the narrow crowded way by the wharves--and, turning shortly into a
street that ended abruptly at the water, drew up before a dingy house on
The door was open, and they waited, confident that Mrs. Ammidon would
hear the clatter of hoofs and come out; but a far different appeared. She
gazed for a silent space at Taou Yuen seated above her, as if confused by
the glittering magnificence. It was probable that Gerrit's brother's wife
had come there on an errand of charity for the woman was poor, dingy like
the house, with a face drawn by suffering and material struggle.
"Of course you're Captain Ammidon's wife," she said; "and you are here
after Mrs. William Ammidon. Well, she's gone; but she left a message for
you. She will be at Henry Whipple's, the bookseller. After she saw Nettie
she went right off to send her some things; wouldn't wait for the
carriage. A kind-hearted determined body."
Taou Yuen leaned out to command the coachman to drive on; but the other,
plainly bent on making the most of a rare opportunity for such a
conversation, continued talking in her low resigned way.
"I was glad to have her too; Nettie gets pretty fretful up there with
nobody but me, really. She hasn't been so well, either, since--" here she
stopped abruptly, recommenced. "I like to see a person myself of Mrs.
Ammidon's kind. I've been alone all day; father's gone to Boston and
Edward away I don't know where."
Taou Yuen's curiosity to see Nettie Vollar returned infinitely
multiplied; here, miraculously, was an opportunity for her to study the
woman who was beyond any doubt an important part of Gerrit's past,
present--it might be, his future. The men were gone. ... She got
resolutely down from the barouche. "Take me up to your daughter," she
"Why, that's very kind, but I don't know--Yes, certainly. Mind
these stairs with your satin skirt; I don't always get around to
the whole house."
Taou Yuen saw at once that Nettie Vollar was far sicker than she had
realized: her head lay on the pillow absolutely spent, her brow damply
plastered with hair and her eyes enlarged and dull. Taou Yuen drew a
chair forward and sat beside a table with a glass bowl of small dark
pills which from a just perceptible odor she recognized as opium. She
looked intently, coldly, at the prostrate figure. A flush like match
flames burned in Nettie Vollar's cheeks, and she said in a voice at once
weak and sharp:
Taou Yuen nodded slowly, disdainfully.
"Oh, how could he!" the other exclaimed in what sounded like the thin
echo of a passionate cry. "I knew you were Chinese, but I never realized
it till this minute."
As Gerrit Ammidon's wife had feared she was totally unable to judge a
single quality or feature of the girl before her. She looked exactly like
all the others she had seen in Salem: in order to realize her she needed
Gerrit's eyes, Gerrit's birth. Then one fact crept insidiously into her
consciousness--here, in a way, was another being who had Gerrit Ammidon's
childlike simplicity. That was the most terrifying discovery she could
have made. Taou Yuen felt the return of the hateful irresistible emotions
which had destroyed her self-control. She wanted to hurt Nettie Vollar in
every possible way, to mock her with the fact that she had lost Gerrit
perhaps never to see him again; she wanted to tell her that she, Taou
Yuen, entirely understood her hopes, efforts, and that they were vain.
An utter self-loathing possessed her at the same time, a feeling of
imminent danger as if she were walking with willfully shut eyes on the
edge of a precipice above a black fatal void. Not a trace of this
appeared on her schooled countenance; and once more she completely
restrained any defiling speech. She deliberately shifted her point of
view to another possible aspect of all that confronted her--it might be
that this woman was a specter, a _kwei_, bent on Gerrit's destruction.
Such a thing often happened. How much better if Nettie Vollar had been
killed! She studied her with a renewed interest--a fresh question.
Perhaps the other would die as it was. She was extremely weak; her
spirit, Taou Yuen saw, lay listlessly in a listless body. Nettie Vollar
slightly moved her injured arm, and that little effort exhausted her for
a moment; her eyes closed, her face was as white as salt.
A further, almost philosophical, consideration engaged Taou Yuen's
mind--this extraordinary occasion, her being with the other alone, Nettie
Vollar's fragility, were, it might be, all a part of the working of the
righteous _Yang_. In the light of this, then, she had been brought here
for a purpose ... the ending of a menace to her husband. She hesitated
for a breath--if it were the opposite malignant _Yin_ there was no bottom
to the infamy into which she might fall. It was a tremendous question.
The actual execution of the practical suggestion, from either source, was
extremely easy; she had but to lean forward, draw her heavy sleeve across
the strained face, hold it there for a little, and Nettie Vollar would
have died of--of any one of a number of reasonable causes. She, Taou
Yuen, would call, politely distressed, for the mother ... very
She had no shrinking from the act itself, nothing that might have been
called pity, a few more or less years in a single life were beneath
serious consideration; it was the lives to come, the lingering doubt of
which power led her on, which restrained and filled her mind. A flicker
of rage darted through her calm questioning; her mental processes again
faded. With her right arm across the supine body and enveloping the face
in her left sleeve a single twist and Nettie Vollar would choke in a
cloud of thick satin made gay with unfading flowers and the embroidered
symbol of long life. She felt her body grow rigid with purpose when the
sound of a footfall below held her motionless in an unreasoning dread.
It was not heavy, yet she was certain that it was not the woman's. A blur
of voices drifted up to her, the dejected feminine tone and a thin
querulous demand, surprise. Taou Yuen turned cold as stone: the sensation
of oppressive danger increased until it seemed as if she, and not Nettie
Vollar, were strangling. There was a profound stillness, then a shuffling
tread on the stair, and Edward Dunsack entered, entered but stood without
advancing, his back against a closed door.
Even since yesterday he had noticeably wasted, there were muscles of his
face that twitched continuously; his hands, it seemed to her, writhed
like worms. He said nothing, but stared at her with a fixed glittering
vision; all his one time worship--it had been so much--was devoured in
the hatred born in the Ammidon library. Frozen with apprehension she sat
without movement; her face, she felt, as still as a lacquered mask.
To her astonishment--she had forgotten Nettie Vollar's existence--a
shaken voice from the bed demanded:
"Uncle Edward, what's come over you! Don't you see Mrs. Ammidon! Oh--"
her speech rose in a choked exclamation. Edward Dunsack had turned the
key and was crossing the room with a dark twisted face, his eyes stark
and demented. Taou Yuen, swung round toward the advancing figure, heard a
long fluttering breath behind her. Perhaps Nettie Vollar had died of
fright. The terror in her own brain dried up before an overwhelming
realization--she had betrayed herself to the principle of evil. She was
lost. Her thoughts were at once incredibly rapid and entirely vivid,
logical: Edward Dunsack, ruined, in China; herself blinded, confused,
destroyed in America. Yesterday she had held him powerless with the mere
potency of her righteousness; but now she had no strength.
There was a loathsome murmur from his dusty lips. He intended to kill
her, to mar and spoil her throat, a degradation forbidden by Confucius,
an eternal disfigurement. This filled her with a renewed energy of
horror.... Here there was none but a feeble woman to hear her if she
called. She rose mechanically, a hand on the table; Taou Yuen saw Nettie
Vollar's deathly pallid face rolled awkwardly from the pillow, and the
bowl of opium. There were twenty or more pills. Without hesitation, even
with a sense of relief, she swept the contents of the bowl into her palm.
The effort of swallowing so many hard particles was almost convulsive and
followed with a nauseous spasm.
Exhausted by mental effort she sank into a chair and a dullness like
smoke settled over her. The figure of Edward Dunsack retreated to an
infinite distance. The smoke moved in a great steady volume--the eternal
and changeless Tao, without labor or desires, without.... Hatred requited
with virtue ... attracting all honor--mounting higher and higher from the
consuming passions, the seething black lives of her immeasurable fall.
Although the late afternoon was at an hour when Derby Street should have
been filled by a half-idle throng in the slackening of the day's
waterside employments Roger Brevard found it noticeably empty. In this he
suddenly recognized that the street was like the countingroom of the
Mongolian Marine Insurance Company, the heart of Salem's greatness--they
were weaker, stilled in a decline that yet was not evident in the
impressive body of the town.
When he had first taken charge of this branch both Salem and it had been
of sufficient moment to attract him from New York; the company was
insuring Boston and New York vessels; the captains had thronged its broad
window commanding St. Peters and Essex Streets. Now only an occasional
shipmaster, holding the old traditions and habits or else retired, sat in
the comfortable armchairs with leather cushions drawn up at the coal
hearth or expansive in white through the summer.
His mind shifted to a consideration of these facts in relation to
himself--whether the same thing overtaking the place and marine insurance
had not settled upon him too--as he made his way from Central Wharf,
where he had vainly gone for prospective business. His inquiry was
reaching a depressing certainty when, passing and gazing down Hardy
Street, he saw the Ammidon barouche standing in front of the Dunsacks'.
Roger Brevard stopped: the Ammidon men, he knew, seldom drove about
Salem. He had heard of Nettie Vollar's accident and came to the
conclusion that Rhoda was within. If this were so, her visit, limited to
a charitable impulse, would be short; and thinking of the pleasure of
driving with her he turned into the side way. As he approached, the
coachman met him with an evident impatience.
"No, sir," he replied to Brevard's inquiry. "But we were to get Mrs.
Ammidon at the bookstore. Mrs. Captain Gerrit called here for her, but
she went inside unexpected. All of an hour ago. I don't like to ask for
the lady, but what may be said later I can't think."
He had scarcely finished speaking when a woman whom Brevard recognized
as Kate Vollar appeared at the door. "Oh, Mr. Brevard!" she exclaimed
with an unnaturally pallid and apprehensive face. "I'm glad to find
you. Please come upstairs with me. Why I don't know but I'm all in a
tremble. Mrs. Ammidon went to see Nettie, then Edward came in, and when
he heard who was there he acted as if he were struck dumb and went up
like a person afflicted. I waited the longest while and then followed
them and knocked. Why the door was shut I'd never tell you. But they
didn't answer, any of them," she declared with clasped straining hands.
"Three in the room and not a sound. Please--" her voice was suddenly
suffocated by dread.
"Certainly. Quarles," he addressed the coachman, "I'll get you to come
along. If there is a lock to break it will need a heavier shoulder
Mounting the narrow somber stair, followed by the man and Kate Vollar, he
wondered vainly what might have happened. Obscurely some of the woman's
fear was communicated to him. Brevard knocked abruptly on the door
indicated but there was no answering voice or movement. He tried the
latch: as Nettie's mother had found, it was fastened.
"Quarles," Roger Brevard said curtly.
The coachman stepped forward, braced himself for the shove he directed
against the wooden barrier, and the door swept splintering inward. Roger
advanced first and a grim confusion touched him with cold horror. Taou
Yuen was half seated and half lying across a table beside the bed; he
couldn't see her face, but her body was utterly lax. Nettie Vollar, too,
was in a dreadful waxen similitude of death, with lead colored lips and
fixed sightless eyes. A slight extraordinary sound rose behind him, and
whirling, Brevard discovered that it was Edward Dunsack giggling. He was
silent immediately under the other's scrutiny, and an expression of
stubborn and malicious caution pinched his wasted sardonic countenance.
Brevard turned to the greater necessity of the women, and moved Taou Yuen
so that he could see her features. It was evident that she was not, as he
had first thought, dead; her breathing was slow and deep and harsh, her
pulse deliberate and full; she was warm, too, but her face was suffused
by an unnatural blueness and the pupils of her inert eyes were barely
discernible. He shook her with an unceremonious vigor, but there was no
answering energy; she fell across his arm in a sheer weight of
satin-covered body. He moved back in a momentary uncontrollable repulsion
when Kate Vollar threw herself past him onto the bed. "Nettie!" she
cried, "Nettie! Nettie!" Brevard was chilled by the possibility of an
unutterable tragedy, when with a faint suffusion of color the girl gave a
gasping sigh. Her voice stirred in a terror shaken whisper:
"Uncle Edward, don't! Why--don't. Oh!" She pressed her face with a long
shudder into the pillow. "Whatever was it--?" her mother began wildly.
Brevard caught her shoulder. "Not now," he directed; "you'll come
downstairs with me. We must have help at once and your daughter quiet."
However he was in a quandary--he couldn't trust the woman here, he would
have to go immediately for assistance, and yet it was impossible to leave
Nettie Vollar and Gerrit's wife alone. "You will have to wait in the
room," he decided, turning to Quarles.
Edward Dunsack was wavering against a wall; Brevard went swiftly up to
him. "We'll need you," he said shortly. Dunsack maintained his silence
and air of stubborn cunning; but, when the other man clasped his
incredibly thin arm, he went willingly followed by Kate Vollar below.
There he sat obediently, his judicious detachment broken by a repetition
of the thin shocking snigger.
"You must be responsible for your brother," Roger Brevard told the
quivering woman. "I'll be back immediately. Now that you know Nettie's
safe you must control yourself. No one should go up--keep everybody
out--till you hear from me or the doctor or Captain Ammidon."
What an inexplicable accident or crime, he thought, hurriedly approaching
the countinghouse of Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone, the first and
nearest of the places to which he must go. He could remember no mark of
what had overcome Taou Yuen. How was Dunsack, who was now clearly
demented, implicated? What racking thing had Nettie Vollar seen?
In the subsequent exclamatory rush, even on the following morning when
Roger Brevard learned that--poisoned by opium undoubtedly taken by
herself--Gerrit Ammidon's wife had died without regaining consciousness,
the greater part of the tragedy became little clearer. No statement could
be had from Edward Dunsack other than a meaningless array of
precautionary phrases; and returning in a sliding gait toward Hardy
Street he was put under a temporary restraint.
Nettie Vollar, Brevard heard, had relapsed from her injury into a second
critical collapse. Yet, he told himself, entering the room that was his
home in Mrs. Cane's large square house on Chestnut Street, that the
Manchu still absorbed his speculations.
It was a pleasant room and a pleasant house with a dignified portico; and
his tall windows, back on the right of the second floor, opened on the
length of the Napiers' garden. Brevard sat looking out over a dim
leafiness of evening and tried to discipline his thoughts into order and
coherence. Any dignity of death had been soiled by the ugly mystery of
the aspects surrounding the end of Taou Yuen.
He had liked her extremely well, agreeing with Rhoda Ammidon that,
probably, they had never been permitted to know a more aristocratic
breeding or greater degrees of purely worldly and mental and personal
charm than those of Gerrit's wife.
His mind grew more philosophical and a perception, yet without base in
facts, convinced him that Taou Yuen had been killed by America. It was a
fantastic thought, and he attempted to dismiss it, waiting for more
secure knowledge, but it persisted. She had been killed by unfamiliar
circumstances, tradition, emotions. In some manner, but how he was unable
to disentangle from the pressures of mere curiosity and conjecture,
Nettie Vollar--or rather Gerrit's old passing affair with Nettie--had
entered into the unhappy occurrence. After an hour's vain search he gave
up all effort to pierce the darkness until he had actual knowledge--if he
ever had, he was forced to add silently. It was possible that the secret
might be entirely guarded from the public, even from the closer part he
had played and his familiarity with the Ammidon family.
He was an inmate of their inner garden with its lilac trees and hedged
roses in season, the pungent beds of flowers and box, the moonshade of
the poplars. Roger Brevard turned from the consideration of Taou Yuen to
the even more insistent claim of his increasing affection for Sidsall. He
stopped again both to lament and delight in her youth--another year and
he would have unhesitatingly announced his feeling as love to them all.
It was that, he admitted to himself almost shyly. The obvious thing was
for him to wait through the year or more until the Ammidons would hear of
a proposal and then urge his desire.... He could see her quite often
Yes, that was the sensible course, even in the face of his own
multiplying years. They were twenty-five more than Sidsall's; yet, he
added in self-extenuation, he was not definitely snared in middle age; he
was still elastic in body and youthful, but for graying hair, in
appearance. His birth was eligible from every social consideration; and,
though he was not rich, he had enough independently to assure the safety
of his wife's future. This did not come entirely, or now even in the
larger part, from the Mongolian Marine Insurance Company, but took the
form of a comparatively small but secure private income.
He paused to wonder if it had not been that latter fact which had
prevented his being successful--successful, that was, in William
Ammidon's meaning of the word. He had not made money nor a position of
importance among men of affairs. Such safety, he decided, was a dangerous
possession judged by the standards he was now considering. A few thousand
a year for life struck at the root of activity. It induced a critical
detached attitude toward life, overemphasized the importance of the cut
of a trouser and the validity of pedigree. It was a mistake to dance
Drifting, together with almost everyone else, he had reached his
present position, past forty, by imperceptible degrees, obscurely
influenced by the play of what he intrinsically was on circumstances or
accident or fate.
Although he had never done so before, he compared himself with Gerrit
Ammidon. The other's refusal to accept a partnership in the family firm
or command a California clipper was known. Gerrit and himself were
alike in that they apprehended the values of life more clearly than did
the ordinary mind or heart. But, in retaliation, the world they
differed from curtly brushed them aside. Roger Brevard could not see
that they had made the least mark on the callous normal cruelty or the
aesthetic and spiritual blindness of the existence they shared. But it
was always possible that something bigger than their grasp of justice
or beauty was afoot.
He turned from the darkened prospect of the window and his thoughts to
the room. Without a light he removed his formal street clothes, hanging
the coat and waistcoat, folding the trousers in a drawer, with exact
care; changing his light boots for fiber slippers he set the former in
the row of footgear drawn up like a military review against the wall.
Though it was quite obscure now, and no one would see him, he paused to
brush his slightly disarranged hair, before--tying the cord of his
chamber robe--he resumed his seat.
The year, he reverted to Sidsall, would pass; but, try as he might, he
had no feeling of security in the future, however near. It was the
present, this Sidsall, that filled him with a tyrannical and bitter
longing. She was unbelievably beautiful now. Against the faintness of his
hope, his patience, he saw the whole slow process of the disintegration
of marine insurance, and with it his own fatuous insensibility to the
decline: that decline with its exact counterpart in himself. Salem and he
were getting dusty together.
He straightened up vigorously in his chair--this would never do. He must
wind up his affairs here and return to New York. The tranquil backwater
had overpowered him for a time; but, again awake, he would strike out
strongly... with Sidsall. Endless doubt and hope fluctuated within him.
Voices rose from the Napier garden, and from a tree sounded the whirring
of the first locust he had noticed that summer.
On a noon following he saw the passage of the three or four carriages
that constituted the funeral cortège of Taou Yuen's entirely private
interment. She would be buried of course by Christian service: here were
none of the elaborate Confucian rites and ceremonial; yet--from what Taou
Yuen had occasionally indicated--Confucius, Lao-tze, the Buddha, were all
more alike than different; they all vainly preached humility, purity, the
subjugation of the flesh. He stopped later in the Charter Street cemetery
and found her grave, the headstone marked:
A MANCHURIAN LADY
GERRIT AMMIDON, ESQ.
and the dates.
He saw, naturally, but little of the Ammidons--a glimpse of Rhoda in the
carriage and William on Charter Street; the _Nautilus_, ready for sea,
continued in her berth at Phillips' Wharf. Fragments of news came to him
quoted and re-quoted, grotesquely exaggerated and even malicious reports
of the tragedy at the Dunsacks'. Standing at his high desk in the
countingroom of the Mongolian Marine Insurance Company, Taou Yuen's
glittering passage through Salem already seemed to him a fable, a dream.
Even Sidsall, robustly near by, had an aspect of unreality in the tender
fabric of his visions. Captain Rendell, his spade beard at the verge of
filmed old eyes, who was seated at the window, rose with difficulty. For
a moment he swayed on insecure legs, then, barely gathering the necessary
power, moved out into the street.
Later, when Roger Brevard was turning the key on the insurance company
for the day, Lacy Saltonstone stopped to speak in her charming slow
manner: "Mother of course is in a whirl, with Captain Ammidon about to
marry that Nettie Vollar, since she is recovering after all, and our
moving to Boston.... You see I'm there so often it will make really very
little difference to me. Sidsall is the lucky one, though you'd never
know it from seeing her.... I thought you'd have heard--why, to Lausanne,
a tremendously impressive school for a year. They have promised her
London afterward. I would call that a promise, but actually, Sidsall--."
"Doesn't she want to go?" he asked mechanically, all the emotions that
had chimed through his being suddenly clashing in a discordant misery. He
bowed absently, and hastening to his room softly closed the door and sat
without supper, late into the evening, lost in a bitterness that
continually poisoned the resolutions formed out of his overwhelming need.
He was aghast at the inner violence that destroyed the long tranquility
of his existence, the clenched hands and spoken words lost in the shadows
over the Napiers' garden. He wanted Sidsall with a breathless tyranny
infinitely sharper than any pang of youth: she was life itself.
She didn't want to go, Lacy had made that clear; and he told himself that
her reluctance could only, must, proceed from one cause--that she cared
for him. As he dwelt on this, the one alleviating possibility, he became
certain of its truth. He would find her at once and in spite of Rhoda and
William Ammidon explain that his whole hope lay in marrying her. With an
utter contempt at all the small orderly habits which, he now saw, were
the expression of a confirmed dry preciseness, he left his clothes in a
disorderly heap. Such a feeling as Sidsall's and his, he repeated from
the oppressive expanse of his black walnut bed, was above ordinary
precautions and observance. Then, unable to dismiss the thought of how
crumpled his trousers would be in the morning, oppressed by the picture
of the tumbled garments, he finally rose and, in the dark, relaid them in
the familiar smooth array.
In the morning his disturbance resolved into what seemed a very decided
and reasonable attitude: He would see Rhoda that day and explain his
feeling and establish what rights and agreement he could. He was willing
to admit that Sidsall was, perhaps, too young for an immediate decision
so wide in results. The ache, the hunger for happiness sharpened by vague
premonitions of mischance, began again to pound in his heart.
At the Ammidons' it was clear immediately that Rhoda's manner toward him
had changed: it had become more social, even voluble, and restrained. She
conversed brightly about trivial happenings, while he sat listening,
gravely silent. But it was evident that she soon became aware of his
difference, and her voice grew sharper, almost antagonistic. They were in
the formal parlor, a significant detail in itself, and Roger Brevard saw
William pass the door. Well, he would soon have to go, he must speak
about Sidsall now. It promised to be unexpectedly difficult; but the
words were forming when she came into the room.
There were faint shadows under her eyes, the unmistakable marks of tears.
An overwhelming passion for her choked at his throat. She came directly
up to him, ignoring her mother. "Did you hear that they want me to go
away?" she asked. He nodded, "It's that I came to see your mother about."
"They know I don't want to," she continued; "I've explained it to them
"My dear Sidsall," Rhoda Ammidon cut in; "we can't have this. What Roger
has to say must be for me and your father." The girl smiled at her and
turned again to Roger Brevard. "Do you want me to go?"
"No!" he cried, all his planning lost in uncontrollable rebellion.
"Then I don't think I shall."
William entered and stood at his wife's shoulder. "You won't insist,"
Sidsall faced them quietly. "Ridiculous," her father replied. Brevard
realized that he must support the girl's bravery of spirit. How
adorable she was! But, before the overwhelming superior position of the
elder Ammidons, their weight of propriety and authority, his
"To be quite frank," the other man proceeded, "since it has been forced
on us, Sidsall imagines herself in love with you, Brevard. I don't need
to remind you how unsuitable and preposterous that is. She's too young to
know the meaning of love. Besides, my dear fellow, you're a quarter
century her elder. We want Sidsall to go to London like her mother, have
her cotillions, before she settles into marriage."
"They can't understand, Roger," Sidsall touched his hand. "We're sorry to
"You ought to be made to leave the room," William fumed.
"That isn't necessary," Rhoda told him. "I am sure Roger understands
perfectly how impossible it is. You mustn't be hurt," she turned to him,
"if I admit that we have very different plans... at least a man nearer
The girl lifted a confident face to him. "You want to marry me, don't
you?" she asked. More than any other conceivable joy. But he said this
silently. His courage slowly ebbed before the parental displeasure
viewing him coldly. "Then--" Sidsall paused expectantly, a touch of
impatience even invaded her manner. "Please tell them, Roger."
"Why I have to put up with this is beyond me," William Ammidon
expostulated with his wife. "It's shameless."
Roger Brevard winced. He tried to say something about hope and the
future, but it was so weak, a palpable retreat, leaving Sidsall alone and
unsupported, that the words perished unfinished. The girl studied him,
suddenly startled, and her confidence ebbed. He turned away, crushed by
convention, filled with shame and a sense of self-betrayal.
A stillness followed of unendurable length, in which he found his
attention resting on the diversified shapes of the East India money in a
corner cabinet. It was Sidsall who finally spoke, slowly and clearly:
He recognized that she was addressing her mother and father. From a
whisper of skirts he realized that she was leaving the room. Without the
will necessary for a last glimpse he stood with his head bowed by an
appalling sensation of weariness and years.
In a flash of self-comprehension, Roger Brevard knew that he would never,
as he had hoped, leave Salem. He was an abstemious man, one of a family
of long lives, and he would linger here, increasingly unimportant, for a
great while, an old man in new epochs, isolated among strange people and
prejudices. Whatever the cause--the small safety or an inward flaw--he
had never been part of the corporate sweating humanity where, in the war
of spirit and flesh, the vital rewards and accomplishments were found.
Soon after he passed Gerrit and Nettie Vollar driving in the direction of
the harbor; she was lying back wanly in the Ammidon barouche, but her
companion's face was set directly ahead, his expression of general
disdain strongly marked. A vigorous hand, Roger noted, was clasped about
Nettie's supine palm. She saw him standing on the sidewalk and bowed
slightly, but the shipmaster plainly overlooked him together with the
rest of Salem.
The end of summer was imminent in a whirl of yellow leaves and chill gray
wind. There was a ringing of bugles through the morning, the strains of
military quicksteps, rhythmic tramping feet and the irregular fulmination
of salutes. That it was already the day of the annual Fall Review seemed
incredible to Roger Brevard. He was indifferent to the activities of the
Common; but when he heard that the _Nautilus_ was sailing in the middle
of the afternoon he left his inconsequential affairs for Phillips' Wharf.
A small number were waiting on the solid rock-filled reach, the
wharfinger's office at its head and a stone warehouse blocking the end,
where the _Nautilus_ lay with her high-steeved bowsprit pointing outward.
The harbor was slaty, cold, and there was a continuous slapping of small
waves on the shore. Darkening clouds hung low in the west, out of which
the wind cut in flaws across the open. The town, so lately folded in lush
greenery, showed a dun lift of roofs and stripping branches tossing
against an ashy sky.
Close beside Roger stood Barzil Dunsack, his beard blowing, with Kate
Vollar in a bright red shawl, her skirts whipping uneasily against her
father's legs. Beyond were the Ammidons--William, and Rhoda in a deep
furred wrap, and their daughters. Rhoda waved for him to join them, but
he declined with a gesture of acknowledgment.
The deck of the _Nautilus_ was above his vision but he could see most of
the stir of departure. The peremptory voice of the mate rose from the
bow, minor directions were issued by the second mate aft, a seaman was
aloft on the main-royal yard and another stood at the stage rising
sharply from the wharf. Gerrit and his wife had not yet arrived, and the
pilot, making a leisurely appearance, stopped to exchange remarks with
the Ammidons. He climbed on board the ship and Roger could see his head
and shoulders moving toward the poop and mounting the ladder.
The wind grew higher, shriller, every moment; it was thrashing among the
stays and braces; the man aloft, a small movement against the clouds,
swayed in its force. There was a faint clatter of hoofs from Derby
Street, Brevard had a fleeting glimpse of an arriving carriage, and
Gerrit, supporting Nettie Ammidon, advanced over the wharf. The
shipmaster walked slowly, the woman clinging, almost dragging, at his
erect strength. They went close by Roger: Nettie's pale face, her large
shining dark eyes, were filled with placid surrender. Her companion spoke
in a low grave tone, and she looked up at him in a tired and happy
The two families joined, and there was a confused determined gayety of
farewell and good wishes. Out of it finally emerged the captain of the
_Nautilus_ and the slight figure upon his arm. He wore a beaver hat, and,
as they mounted the stage, he was forced to hold it on with his free
hand. When the quarter-deck was reached they disappeared into the cabin.
"Mr. Broadrick," the pilot called, "you can get in those bow fasts. Send
a hawser to the end of the wharf; I'm going to warp out." There was a
harsh answering clatter as the mooring chain that held the bow of the
_Nautilus_ was secured, and a group of sailors went smartly forward with
a hemp cable to the end of the wharf's seaward thrust. The _Nautilus_ lay
on the eastern side, with the wind beating over the starboard quarter,
and there was little difficulty in getting under way. Strain was kept on
the stern and breast fasts while the mate directed:
"Ship your capstan bars."
The capstan turned and the _Nautilus_ moved forward to the beat of song.
"Low lands, low lands, hurrah, my John,
I thought I heard the old man say.
Low lands, low lands, hurrah, my John,
We'll get some rum ...
... Hurrah, my John.
Then shake her--"
"Vast heaving," Mr. Broadrick shouted.
The intimate spectators on Phillips' Wharf moved
out with the ship. Gerrit Ammidon was now visible on the quarter-deck
with the pilot. He walked to the port railing aft and stood gazing
somberly back at Salem. The stovepipe hat was not yet discarded, and the
hand firmly holding its brim resembled a final gesture of contempt. The
pilot approached him, there was a brief exchange of words, and the former
"Stand by to run up your jib and fore-topmast staysail, Mr. Broadrick.
Put two good men at the sheets and see that those sails don't slat to
"On the wharf there--take that stern fast out to the last ringbolt. Mr.
Second Mate... get your fenders aboard." The wind increased in a violence
tipped with stinging rain. "Give her the jib and stay-sail." She heeled
slightly and gathered steerage way. Roger Brevard involuntarily waved a
parting salutation. An extraordinary emotion swept over him: a ship bound
to the East always stirred his imagination and sense of beauty, but the
departure of the _Nautilus_ had a special significance. It was the
beginning, yes, and the end, of almost the whole sweep of human suffering
and despair, of longing and hope and passion, and a reward.
"Let go the stern fast. Steady your helm there."
A mere gust of song was distinguishable against the blast of storm. Under
the lee of the stone warehouse, on the solidity of the wharf, the land,
Roger Brevard watched the _Nautilus_ while one by one the topsails were
sheeted home and the yards mastheaded. "A gale by night," somebody
said. The ship, driving with surprising speed toward the open sea, was
now apparently no more than a fragile shell on the immensity of the stark
The light faded: the days were growing shorter. Alone Brevard followed
the others moving away. Kate Vollar's red shawl suddenly streamed out and
was secured by a wasted hand. Just that way, he thought, the color and
vividness of his existence had been withdrawn.