The Project Gutenberg ebook of Java Head, by Joseph Hergesheimer



Download 0.55 Mb.
Page1/11
Date conversion29.04.2016
Size0.55 Mb.
  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11
The Project Gutenberg EBook of Java Head, by Joseph Hergesheimer

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net

Title: Java Head

Author: Joseph Hergesheimer

Posting Date: November 17, 2011 [EBook #9865] Release Date: February, 2006 First Posted: October 25, 2003

Language: English

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK JAVA HEAD ***

Produced by Suzanne Shell, Mary Meehan, and PG Distributed Proofreaders



JAVA HEAD

By Joseph Hergesheimer

1918

It is only the path of pure simplicity which guards and preserves the spirit. CHWANG-TZE



TO HAZLETON MIRKIL, JR.

from Dorothy and Joseph Hergesheimer

I

Very late indeed in May, but early in the morning, Laurel Ammidon lay in bed considering two widely different aspects of chairs. The day before she had been eleven, and the comparative maturity of that age had filled her with a moving disdain for certain fanciful thoughts which had given her extreme youth a decidedly novel if not an actually adventurous setting. Until yesterday, almost, she had regarded the various chairs of the house as beings endowed with life and character; she had held conversations with some, and, with a careless exterior not warranted by an inner dread, avoided others in gloomy dusks. All this, now, she contemptuously discarded. Chairs were—chairs, things to sit on, wood and stuffed cushions.

Yet she was slightly melancholy at losing such a satisfactory lot of reliable familiars: unlike older people, victims of the most disconcerting moods and mysterious changes, chairs could always be counted on to remain secure in their individual peculiarities.

She could see by her fireplace the elaborately carved teakwood chair that her grandfather had brought home from China, which had never varied from the state of a brown and rather benevolent dragon; its claws were always claws, the grinning fretted mouth was perpetually fixed for a cloud of smoke and a mild rumble of complaint. The severe waxed hickory beyond with the broad arm for writing, a source of special pride, had been an accommodating and precise old gentleman. The spindling gold chairs in the drawingroom were supercilious creatures at a king's ball; the graceful impressive formality of the Heppelwhites in the dining room belonged to the loveliest of Boston ladies. Those with difficult haircloth seats in the parlor were deacons; others in the breakfast room talkative and unpretentious; while the deep easy-chair before the library fire was a ship. There were mahogany stools, dwarfs of dark tricks; angry high-backed things in the hall below; and a terrifying shape of gleaming red that, without question, stirred hatefully and reached out curved and dripping hands.

Anyhow, such they had all seemed. But lately she had felt a growing secrecy about it, an increasing dread of being laughed at; and now, definitely eleven, she recognized the necessity of dropping such pretense even with herself. They were just chairs, she rerepeated; there was an end of that.

The tall clock with the brass face outside her door, after a premonitory whirring, loudly and firmly struck seven, and Laurel wondered whether her sisters, in the room open from hers, were awake. She listened attentively but there was no sound of movement. She made a noise in her throat, that might at once have appeared accidental and been successful in its purpose of arousing them; but there was no response. She would have gone in and frankly waked Janet, who was not yet thirteen and reasonable; but experience had shown her that Camilla, reposing in the eminence and security of two years more, would permit no such light freedom with her slumbers.

Sidsall, who had been given a big room for herself on the other side of their parents, would greet anyone cheerfully no matter how tightly she might have been asleep. And Sidsall, the oldest of them all, was nearly sixteen and had stayed for part of their cousin Lucy Saltonstone's dance, where no less a person than Roger Brevard had asked her for a quadrille.

Laurel's thoughts grew so active that she was unable to remain any longer in bed; she freed herself from the enveloping linen and crossed the room to a window through which the sun was pouring in a sharp bright angle. She had never known the world to smell so delightful—it was one of the notable Mays in which the lilacs blossomed—and she stood responding with a sparkling life to the brilliant scented morning, the honey-sweet perfume of the lilacs mingled with the faintly pungent odor of box wet with dew.

She could see, looking back across a smooth green corner of the Wibirds' lawn next door, the enclosure of their own back yard, divided from the garden by a white lattice fence and row of prim grayish poplars. At the farther wall her grandfather, in a wide palm leaf hat, was stirring about his pear trees, tapping the ground and poking among the branches with his ivory headed cane.

Laurel exuberantly performed her morning toilet, half careless, in her soaring spirits, of the possible effect of numerous small ringings of pitcher on basin, the clatter of drawers, upon Camilla. Yesterday she had worn a dress of light wool delaine; but this morning, she decided largely, summer had practically come; and, on her own authority, she got an affair of thin pineapple cloth out of the yellow camphorwood chest. She hurriedly finished weaving her heavy chestnut hair into two gleaming plaits, fastened a muslin guimpe at the back, and slipped into her dress. Here, however, she twisted her face into an expression of annoyance—her years were affronted by the length of pantalets that hung below her skirt. Such a show of their narrow ruffles might do for a very small girl, but not for one of eleven; and she caught them up until only the merest fulled edge was visible. Then she made a buoyant descent to the lower hall, left the house by a side door to the bricked walk and an arched gate into the yard, and joined her grandfather.

"Six bells in the morning watch," he announced, consulting a thick gold timepiece. "Head pump rigged and deck swabbed down?" Secure in her knowledge of the correct answers for these sudden interrogations Laurel impatiently replied, "Yes, sir."

"Scuttle butt filled?"

"Yes, sir." She frowned and dug a heel in the soft ground.

"Then splice the keel and heave the galley overboard."

This last she recognized as a sally of humor, and contrived a fleeting perfunctory smile. Her grandfather turned once more to the pears. "See the buds on those Ashton Towns," he commented. Laurel gazed critically: the varnished red buds were bursting with white blossom, the new leaves unrolling, tender green and sticky. "But the jargonelles—" he drew in his lips doubtfully. She studied him with the profound interest his sheer being always invoked: she was absorbed in his surprising large roundness of body, like an enormous pudding; in the deliberate care with which he moved and planted his feet; but most of all by the fact that when he was angry his face got quite purple, the color of her mother's paletot or a Hamburg grape.

They crossed the yard to where the vines of the latter, and of white Chasselas—Laurel was familiar with these names from frequent horticultural questionings—had been laid down in cold frames for later transplanting; and from them the old man, her palm tightly held in his, trod ponderously to the currant bushes massed against the closed arcade of the stables, the wood and coal and store houses, across the rear of the place.

At last, with frequent disconcerting mutterings and explosive breaths, he finished his inspection and turned toward the house. Laurel, conscious of her own superiority of apparel, surveyed her companion in a frowning attitude exactly caught from her mother. He had on that mussy suit of yellow Chinese silk, and there was a spot on the waistcoat straining at its pearl buttons. She wondered, maintaining the silent mimicry of elder remonstrance, why he would wear those untidy old things when his chests were heaped with snowy white linen and English broadcloths. It was very improper in an Ammidon, particularly in one who had been captain of so many big ships, and in court dress with a cocked hat met the Emperor of Russia.

They did not retrace Laurel's steps, but passed through a narrow wicket to the garden that lay directly behind the house. The enclosure was full of robin-song and pouring sunlight; the lilac trees on either side of the summer-house against the gallery of the stable were blurred with their new lavender flowering; the thorned glossy foliage of the hedge of June roses on Briggs Street glittered with diamonds of water; and the rockery in the far corner showed a quiver of arbutus among its strange and lacy ferns and mosses.

Laurel sniffed the fragrant air, filled with a tumult of energy; every instinct longed to skip; she thought of jouncing as high as the poplars, right over the house and into Washington Square beyond. "Miss Fidget!" her grandfather exclaimed, exasperated, releasing her hand. "You're like holding on to a stormy petrel."

"I don't think that's very nice," she replied.

"God bless me," he said, turning upon her his steady blue gaze; "what have we got here, all dressed up to go ashore?" She sharply elevated a shoulder and retorted, "Well, I'm eleven." His look, which had seemed quite fierce, grew kindly again. "Eleven," he echoed with a satisfactory amazement; "that will need some cumshaws and kisses." The first, she knew, was a word of pleasant import, brought from the East, and meant gifts; and, realizing that the second was unavoidably connected with it, she philosophically held up her face. Lifting her over his expanse of stomach he kissed her loudly. She didn't object, really, or rather she wouldn't at all but for a strong odor of Manilla cheroots and the Medford rum he took at stated periods.

After this they moved on, through the bay window of the drawing-room that opened on the garden, where a woman was brushing with a nodding feather duster, under the white arch that framed the main stairway, and turned aside to where breakfast was being laid. Laurel saw that her father was already seated at the table, intent upon the tall, thickly printed sheet of the Salem Register. He paused to meet her dutiful lips; then with a "Good morning, father," returned to his reading. Camilla entered at Laurel's heels; and the latter, in a delight slightly tempered by doubt, saw that she had been before her sister in a suitable dress for such a warm day. Camilla still wore her dark merino; and she gazed with mingled surprise and annoyance at Laurel's airy garb.

"Did mother say you might put that on?" she demanded. "Because if she didn't I expect you will have to go right up from breakfast and change. It isn't a dress at all for so early in the morning. Why, I believe it's one of your very best." The look of critical disapproval suddenly became doubly accusing.

"Laurel Ammidon, wherever are your pantalets?"

"I'm too big to have pantalets hanging down over my shoetops," she replied defiantly, "and so I just hitched them up. You can still see the frill." Janet had come into the room, and stood behind her. "Don't you notice Camilla," she advised; "she's not really grown up." They turned at the appearance of their mother. "Dear me, Camilla," the latter observed, "you are getting too particular for any comfort. What has upset you now?"

"Look at Laurel," Camilla replied; "that's all you need to do. You'd think she went to dances instead of Sidsall"

Laurel painfully avoided her mother's comprehensive glance. "Very beautiful," the elder said in a tone of palpable pleasure. Laurel advanced her lower lip ever so slightly in the direction of Camilla. "But you have taken a great deal into your own hands." She shifted apparently to another topic. "There will be no lessons to-day for I have to send Miss Gomes into Boston." At this announcement Laurel was flooded with a joy that obviously belonged to her former, less dignified state. "However," her mother continued addressing her, "since you have dressed yourself like a lady I shall expect you to behave appropriately; no soiled or torn skirts, and an hour at your piano scales instead of a half."

Laurel's anticipation of pleasure ebbed as quickly as it had come—she would have to move with the greatest caution all day, and spend a whole hour at the piano. It was the room to which she objected rather than the practicing; a depressing sort of place where she was careful not to move anything out of the stiff and threatening order in which it belonged. The chairdeacons in particular were severely watchful; but that, now, she had determined to ignore.

She turned to johnnycakes, honey and milk, only half hearing, in her preoccupation with the injustice that had overtaken her, the conversation about the table. Her gaze strayed over the walls of the breakfast room, where water color drawings of vessels, half models of ships on teakwood or Spanish mahogany boards, filled every possible space. Some her grandfather had sailed in as second and then first mate, of others he had been master, and the rest, she knew, were owned by Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone, her grandfather, father and uncle.

Just opposite her was the Two Capes at anchor in Table Bay, the sails all furled except the fore-topsail which hung in the gear. A gig manned by six sailors in tarpaulin hats with an officer in the stern sheets swung with dripping oars across the dark water of the foreground; on the left an inky ship was standing in close hauled on the port tack with all her canvas set. It was lighter about the Two Capes, and at the back a mountain with a flat top—showing at once why it was called Table Bay—rose against an overcast sky. Laurel knew a great deal about the Two Capes—for instance that she had been a barque of two hundred and nine tons—because it had been her grandfather's first command, and he never tired of narrating every detail of that memorable voyage.

Laurel could repeat most of these particulars: They sailed on the tenth of April in 'ninety-three, and were four and a half months to the Cape of Good Hope; twenty days later, on the rocky island of St. Paul, grandfather had a fight with a monster seal; a sailor took the scurvy, and, dosed with niter and vinegar, was stowed in the longboat, but he died and was buried at sea in the Doldrums. Then, with a cargo of Sumatra pepper, they made Corregidor Island and Manilla Bay where the old Spanish fort stood at the mouth of the Pasig. The barque, the final cargo of hemp and indigo and sugar in the hold, set sail again for the Cape of Good Hope, and returned, by way of Falmouth in England and Rotterdam, home.

The other drawings were hardly less familiar; ships, barques, brigs and topsail schooners, the skillful work of Salmon, Anton Roux and Chinnery. There was the Celestina becalmed off Marseilles, her sails hanging idly from the yards and stays, her hull with painted ports and carved bow and stern mirrored in the level sea. There was the Albacore running through the northeast trades with royals and all her weather studding sails set. Farther along the Pallas Athena, in heavy weather off the Cape of Good Hope, was being driven hard across the Agulhas Bank under double-reefed topsails, reefed courses, the fore-topmast staysail and spanker, with the westerly current breaking in an ugly cross sea, but, as her grandfather always explained, setting the ship thirty or forty miles to windward in a day. She lingered, finally, over the Metacom, running her easting down far to the southward with square yards under a close-reefed maintop sail, double-reefed foresail and forestaysail, dead before a gale and gigantic long seas hurling the ship on in the bleak watery desolation.

Laurel was closely concerned in all these. One cause for this was the fact that her grandfather so often selected her as the audience for his memories and stories, during which his manner was completely that of one navigator to another; and a second flourished in the knowledge that Camilla affected to disdain the sea and any of its connections.

Sidsall appeared and took her place with a collective greeting; while Laurel, coming out of her abstraction, realized that they were discussing the subject in which nearly every conversation now began or ended—the solemn speculation of why her Uncle Gerrit Ammidon, master of the ship Nautilus, was so long overdue from China. Laurel heard this from two angles, or, otherwise, when her grandfather was or was not present, the tone of the first far more encouraging than that of the latter. Her father was speaking:

"My opinion is that he was unexpectedly held up at Shanghai. It's a new port for us, and, Captain Verney tells me, very difficult to make: after Woosung you have to get hold of two bamboo poles stuck up on the bank a hundred feet apart as a leading mark, and, with these in range, steer for the bar. The channel is very narrow, and he says the Nautilus would have to wait for high water, perhaps for the spring tide. She may have got ashore, strained and sprung a leak, and had to discharge her cargo for repairs."

"That's never Gerrit," the elder replied positively. "There isn't a better master afloat. He can smell shoal water. I was certain we'd hear from him when the Sorsogon was back from Calcutta. Do you suppose, William, that he took the Nautilus about the Horn and—?" Laurel wondered at the unmannerly way in which he gulped his coffee. "He might have driven into the Antarctic winter," he proceeded. "My deck was swept and all the boats stove off the Falklands in April."

"Gerrit's got a ship," the other asserted, "not a hermaphrodite brig built like a butter box. You'll find that I am right and that he has been tied up in port."

"I made eight hundred per cent on a first cargo for my owners," the elder retorted. "Then there was trading, yes, and sailing, too. No chronometers with confounded rates of variation and other fancy parlor instruments to read your position from. When I first navigated it was with an astrolabe and the moon. A master knew his lead, latitude and lookout then.

"Eight hundred barrels of flour and pine boards to Rio and back with coffee and hides for Salem," he continued; "then out to Gibraltar and Brazil with wine and on in ballast for Calcutta. Tahiti and Morea, the Sandwich Islands and the Feejees. Sandalwood and tortoise shell and beche de mer; sea horses' teeth, and saltpeter for the Chinese Government. I don't want to hear about your bills of exchange and kegs of Spanish dollars and solid cargoes of tea run back direct. Why, with your Canton and India agents and sight drafts the China service is like dealing with a Boston store."

Laurel saw that her father was assuming the expression of restrained annoyance habitual when the elder contrasted old shipping ways with new. "Unfortunately," he said, "the patient Chinaman will no longer exchange silks and lacquer and teas for boiled sea slugs. He has learned to demand something of value."

"Why, damn it, William," the other exploded, "nothing's more valuable to a Chinese than his belly. They'll give eighteen hundred dollars a pecul for birds' nests any day. As for your insinuation that we used to diddle them—I never ran opium up from India to rot their souls. And when the Chinese Government tried to stop it there's the British commercial interests forcing it on them with cannon in 'forty-two.

"Look at the pepper we brought into Salem—" he was, Laurel realized with intense interest, growing beautifully empurpled; "—lay right off the beach at Mukka and did business with the Dato himself. We forded the bags on the crew's backs across a river with muskets served in case the bloody heathen drew their creeses. When we made sail everything was running over with pepper—the boats and forecastle and cabins and between decks."

"Well, father, the heroic times are done, of course; I can't say that I'm sorry. I shouldn't like to finance a voyage that reached out to three years and depended on the captain's picking up six or seven cargoes."

The old man rose; and, muttering a plainly uncomplimentary period about the resemblance of modern ship owners to clerks, walked with his heavy careful tread from the room.

"You are so foolish to argue and excite him," William's wife told him.

Laurel regarded her with a passionate admiration for the shining hair turning smoothly about her brow and drawn over her ears to the low coil in the back, for her brown barége dress with velvet leaves and blue forget-me-nots and tightest of long sleeves and high collar, and because generally she was a mother to be owned and viewed with pride. She met Laurel's gaze with a little friendly nod and said:

"Don't forget about your clothes, and I think you ought to finish the practicing before dinner, so you'll be free for a walk with your grandfather in the afternoon."

Soon after, Laurel stood in the hall viewing with disfavor the light dress she had put on so gayly at rising. In spite of her sense of increasing age she had a strong desire to play in the yard and climb about in the woodhouse. Already the business of being grown up began to pall upon her, the outlook dreary that included nothing but a whole hour at the piano, an endless care of her skirts, and the slowest kind of walk through Washington Square and down to Derby Wharf, where—no matter in which direction and for what purpose they started forth—her grandfather's way invariably led.

Janet joined her, and they stood irresolutely balancing on alternate slippers. "Did you notice," the former volunteered, "mother is letting Camilla have lots of starch in her petticoats, so that they stand right out like crinoline? Wasn't she hateful this morning!" Laurel heard a slight sound at her back, and, wheeling, saw her grandfather looking out from the library door. A swift premonition of possible additional misfortune seized her. Moving toward the side entrance she said to Janet, "We'd better be going right away."

It was, however, too late. "Well, little girls," he remarked benevolently, "since Miss Gomes has left for the day it would be as well if I heard your geography lesson."

"I don't think mother intended for us to study today," Laurel replied, making a face of appeal for Janet's support. But the latter remained solidly and silently neutral.

"What, what," the elder mildly exploded; "mutiny in the forecastle! Get right up here in the break of the quarter-deck or I'll harry you." He stood aside while Laurel and Janet filed into the library. Geography was the only subject their grandfather proposed for his instruction, and the lesson, she knew, might take any one of several directions. He sometimes heard it with the precision of Miss Gomes herself; he might substitute for the regular questions such queries, drawn from his wide voyages, as he thought to be of infinitely greater use and interest; or, better still, he frequently gave them the benefit of long reminiscences, through which they sat blinking in a mechanical attention or slightly wriggling with minds far away from the old man's periods, full of outlandish names and places, and, when he got excited, shocking swears.

He turned the easy-chair—the one which Laurel had thought of as a ship—away from the fireplace, now covered with a green slatted blind for the summer; and they drew forward two of the heavy chairs with shining claw feet that stood against the wall. Smiley's Geography, a book no larger than the shipmaster's hand, was found and opened to Hindoostan, or India within the Ganges. There was a dark surprising picture of Hindoos doing Penance under the Banyan tree, and a confusing view of the Himaleh Mountains.

"Stuff," he proceeded, gazing with disfavor at the illustrations. "This ought to be written by men who have seen the world and know its tides and landmarks. Do you suppose," he demanded heatedly of Janet, "that the fellow who put this together ever took a ship through the Formosa Channel against the northeast monsoon?"

"No, sir," Janet replied hastily.

"Here are Climate and Face of the country and Religion," he located these items with a blunt finger, "but I can't find exports. I'll lay he won't know a Bengal chintz from a bundle handkerchief."

"I don't think it says anything about exports," Laurel volunteered. "We have the boundaries and—"

"Bilge," he interrupted sharply. "I didn't fetch boundaries back in the Two Capes, did I?" He thrust the offending volume into a crevice of his chair. "Laurel," he added, "what is the outport of St. Petersburg?"

"Cronstadt," she answered, after a violent searching of her memory.

"And for Manilla?" he turned to Janet.

"I can't think," she admitted.

"Laurel?"

"Cavite," the latter pronounced out of a racking mental effort.

"Just so, and—" he looked up at the ceiling, "the port for Boston?"

"I don't believe we've had that," she said firmly. His gaze fastened on her so intently that she blushed into her lap. "Don't believe we've had it," he echoed.

"Why, confound it—" he paused and regarded her with a new doubt.


"Laurel," he demanded, "what is an outport?"

She had a distinct feeling of justifiable injury. A recognized part of the present system of examination was its strict limitation to questions made familiar by constant repetition; and this last was entirely new. She was sure of several kinds of ports—one they had after dinner, another indicated a certain side of a vessel, and still a third was Salem. But an outport—Cronstadt, Cavite, what it really meant, what they were, had escaped her. She decided to risk an opinion.

"An outport," she said slowly, "is a—a part of a ship," that much seemed safe—"I expect it's the place where they throw things like potato peels through."

"You suppose what!" he cried, breathing quite hard. "A place where they—" he broke off. "And you're Jeremy Ammidon's granddaughter! By heaven, it would make a coolie laugh. It's like William, who never would go to sea, to have four daughters in place of a son. I'm done with you; go tinker on the piano." They got down from their chairs and departed with an only half concealed eagerness. "Do you think he means it," Janet asked hopefully, "and he'll never have any geography again?"

"No, I don't," Laurel told her shortly. She was inwardly ruffled, and further annoyed at Janet's placid acceptance of whatever the day brought along. Janet was a stick! She turned away and found herself facing the parlor and the memory of the impending hour of practice. Well, it had to be done before dinner, and she went forward with dragging feet.

Within the formal shaded space of the chamber she stopped to speculate on the varied and colorful pictures of the wall paper reaching from the white paneling above her waist to the deep white carving at the ceiling. The scene which absorbed her most showed, elevated above a smooth stream, a marble pavilion with sweeping steps and a polite company about a reclining gentleman with bare arms and a wreath on his head and a lady in flowing robes playing pipes. To the right, in deep green shadow, a charmer was swinging from ropes of flowers, lovers hid behind a brown mossy trunk; while on the left, against a weeping willow and frowning rock, four serene creatures gathered about a barge with a gilded prow.

Still on her reluctant progress to the piano she stopped to examine the East India money on the lowest shelf of a locked corner cupboard. There was a tiresome string of cash with a rattan twisted through their square holes; silver customs taels, and mace and candareen; Chinese gold leaf and Fukien dollars; coins from Cochin China in the shape of India ink, with raised edges and characters; old Carolus hooked dollars; Sycee silver ingots, smooth and flat above, but roughly oval on the lower surface, not unlike shoes; Japanese obangs, their gold stamped and beaten out almost as broad as a hand's palm; mohurs and pieces from Singapore; Dutch guilders from Java; and the small silver and gold drops of Siam called tical.

She arrived finally at the harplike stool of the piano; but there she had to wait until the clock in the hall above struck some division of the hour for her guidance, and she rattled the brass rings that formed the handles of drawers on either side of the keyboard. Later, her fingers picking a precarious way through bass and treble, she heard Sidsall's voice at the door; the latter was joined by their mother, and they went out to the clatter of hoofs, the thin jingle of harness chains, where the barouche waited for them in the street. Once Camilla obtruded into the room. "I wonder you don't give yourself a headache," she remarked; "I never heard more nerve-racking sounds."

Laurel gathered that Camilla was proud of this expression, which she must have newly caught from some grown person. She considered a reply, but, nothing sufficiently crushing occurring, she ignored the other in a difficult transposition of her hands. Camilla left; the clock above struck a second quarter; the third, while she honestly continued her efforts up until the first actual note of the hour.

"Thank God that's over," she said in the liberal manner of a shipmaster. Now only the walk with her grandfather remained of the actively tiresome duties of the day. After dinner the sun blazed down with almost the heat of midsummer, and Laurel felt unexpectedly indifferent, content to linger in the house. Only too soon she heard inquiries for her; and in her gaiter boots, a silk bonnet with a blue scarf tied under her chin and flowing over a shoulder and palm leaf cashmere shawl, she accompanied the old man across Pleasant Street and over the wide green Square to the arched west gate with its gilt eagle and Essex Street.

"Will we be going on Central Street?" she asked.

"No reason for turning down there," he replied, forgetful of the gingerbread shop with the shaky little bell inside the door, the buttered gingerbread on the upper shelf for three cents and that without on the lower for two. She gathered her hopes now about Webb's Drugstore, where her grandfather sometimes stopped for a talk, and bought her rock candy, Gibraltars or blackjacks. It was too hot for blackjacks, she decided, and, with opportunity, would choose the cooling peppermint flavor of the Gibraltars.

The elms on Essex Street were far enough in leaf to cast a flickering shade in the faintly salt air drifting from the sea; and they progressed so slowly that Laurel was able to study the contents of most of the store windows they passed. Some held crewels and crimped white cakes of wax, gayly colored reticule beads with a wooden spoon for a penny measure, and "strawberry" emery balls. There was a West India store and a place where they sold oil and candles, another had charts for mariners; while across the way stood the East India Marine Hall.

Here her grandfather hesitated, and for a moment it seemed as if he would go over and join the masters always to be found about the Museum. But in the end he continued beyond the Essex House with its iron bow and lamp over the entrance, past Cheapside to Webb's Drugstore, where he purchased a bag of Peristaltic lozenges, and—after pretending to start away as if nothing more were to be secured there—the Gibraltars.

They were returning, in the general direction of Derby Wharf, when Jeremy Ammidon met a companion of past days at sea, and stopped for the inevitable conversational exchange. The latter, who had such a great spreading beard that Laurel couldn't determine whether or not he wore a neck scarf, said:

"Barzil Dunsack all but died."

"Ha!" the other exclaimed. Laurel wondered at the indelicacy in speaking about old Captain Dunsack to her grandfather, when everyone in Salem knew they had quarreled years ago and not spoken to each other since.

"He was bad off," he persisted; "a cold grappled in his chest and went into lung fever. Barzil's looking wasted, what with sickness and the trouble about Edward." At a nod, half encouraging, he added, "It appears Edward left Heard and Company in Canton and took ship back to Boston. He's there now for what I know. Never sent any word to Salem or his father. Looks a little as if he had been turned out of his berth. Then one of Barzil's schooners caught the edge of the last hurricane off the Great Bank and went ashore on Green Turtle Key. Used him near all up."

Laurel saw that her grandfather was frowning heavily and silently moving his lips. The other left them standing and her companion brought his cane down sharply. "Boy and boy," he said. "Barzil was a good man… looking old. So am I, so am I. Feet almost useless. Laurel," he addressed her, "I want you to go right on home. I've got to stop around and see an old friend who has been sick." She left obediently, but paused once to gaze back incredulously at the bulky shape of her grandfather moving toward Barzil Dunsack's. That quarrel was part of their family history, she had been aware of it as long as she had of the solemn clock in the second hall; and not very far back, perhaps when she was eight, it had taken a fresh activity of discussion around the person of her Uncle Gerrit, who, it was feared, might now be drowned at sea. What it had all been about neither she nor her sisters knew, for not only was the subject dropped at the approach of any of them but they were forbidden to mention it.

At home she was unable to communicate her surprising news at once because of the flood of talk that met her from the drawing-room. Olive Wibird and Lacy, her cousin, were engaged with Sidsall in a conversation often a duet and sometimes a trio. Laurel took a seat at the edge of the chatter and followed it comprehensively. She didn't like Olive Wibird who would greet her in a sugary voice; but elsewhere Olive was tremendously admired, there were always men about her, serenades rising from the lawn beneath her window, and Laurel herself had seen Olive's dressing table laden with bouquets in frilly lace paper. She had one now, in a holder of mother-of-pearl, with a gilt chain and ring. Her wide skirt was a mass of over-drapery, knots of moss roses and green gauze ribbons; while a silver cord ending in a tassel fell forward among her curls.

Lacy Saltonstone, almost as plainly dressed as Sidsall, was as usual sitting straighter than anyone else Laurel ever saw; she had a brown face with a finely curved nose and brown eyes, and her voice was cool and decided.

"For me," she said, "he is the most fascinating person in Salem."

Olive Wibird made a swift face of dissent. "He's too stiff and there is gray in his hair. I like my men more like sparkling hock. Dancing with him he holds you as if you were glass."

"I don't seem to remember you and Mr. Brevard together," Lacy commented.

"He hasn't asked me for centuries," the other admitted. "He did Sidsall, though, as we all remember; didn't he, love?"

Sidsall's cheeks turned bright pink. Laurel dispassionately wished that her sister wouldn't make such a show of herself. It was too bad that Sidsall was so—so broad and well looking; she was not in the least pale or interesting, and had neither Lacy's Saltonstone's thin gracefulness nor Olive's popular manner.

"It was very noble of him," Sidsall agreed.

"But he was extremely engaged," Lacy assured her with her wide slow stare. "He told me that you were like apple blossoms."

That might please Sidsall, thought Laurel, but she personally held apple blossoms to be a very common sort of flower. Evidently something of the kind had occurred to Olive, too, for she said: "Heaven only knows what men will admire. It's clear they don't like a prude. I intend to have a good time until I get married—"

"But what if you love in vain?" Sidsall interrupted.

"There isn't any need for that," Olive told her. "When I see a man I want I'm going to get him. It's easy if you know how and make opportunities. I always have one garter a little loose."

"Laurel," her sister turned, "I'm certain your supper is ready. Go along like a nice child."

In her room a woman with a flat worn face and a dusty wisp of hair across her neck was spreading underlinen, ironed into beautiful narrow wisps of pleating, in a drawer. It was Hodie, a Methodist, the only one Laurel knew, and the latter was always entranced by the servant's religious exclamations, doubts and audible prayers. She was saying something now about pits, gauds and vanities; and she ended a short profession of faith with an amen so loud and sudden that Laurel, although she was waiting for it, jumped.

It was past seven, the air was so sweet with lilacs that they seemed to be blooming in her room, and the sunlight died slowly from still space. By leaning out of her window she could see over the Square. The lamplighter was moving along its wooden fence, leaving faint twinkling yellow lights, and there were little gleams from the windows on Bath Street beyond.

The gayety of her morning mood was replaced by a dim kind of wondering, her thoughts became uncertain like the objects in the quivering light outside. The palest possible star shone in the yellow sky; she had to look hard or it was lost. Janet, stirring in the next room, seemed so far away that she might not hear her, Laurel, no matter how loudly she called. "Janet!" she cried, prompted by unreasoning dread. "You needn't to yell," Janet complained, at the door. But already Laurel was oblivious of her: she had seen a familiar figure slowly crossing Washington Square —her grandfather coming home from Captain Dunsack's.

Gracious, how poky he was; she was glad that she wasn't dragging along at his side. He seemed bigger and rounder than usual. She heard the tap of his cane as he left the Common for Pleasant Street; then his feet moved and stopped, moved and stopped, up the steps of their house.

She was sorry now that she hadn't known what an outport was, and determined to ask him to-morrow. She liked his stories, that Camilla disdained, about crews and Hong Kong and the stormy Cape. The thought of Cape Horn brought back the memory of her Uncle Gerrit, absent in the ship Nautilus. Her mental pictures of him were not clear—he was almost always at sea—but she remembered his eyes, which were very confusing to encounter, and his hair parted and carelessly brushing the bottoms of his ears.

Laurel recalled hearing that Gerrit was his father's favorite, and she suddenly understood something of the unhappiness that weighed upon the old man. She hoped desperately that Janet or Camilla wouldn't come in and laugh at her for crying. In bed she saw that the room was rapidly filling with dusk. Only yesterday she would have told herself that the dragon in the teakwood chair was stirring; but now Laurel could see that it never moved. She rocked like the little boats that crossed the harbor or came in from the ships anchored beyond the wharves, and settled into a sleep like a great placid sea flooding the world of her home and the lamplighter and her grandfather sorrowing for Uncle Gerrit.


  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11


The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2016
send message

    Main page