When Jeremy Ammidon sent his granddaughter home alone, and turned toward Captain Dunsack's, on Hardy Street, he stopped for a moment to approve the diminishing sturdy figure. All William's children, though they were girls, were remarkably handsome, with glowing red cheeks and clear eyes, tumbling masses of hair and a generous vigor of body. He sighed at Laurel's superabundant youth, and moved carefully forward; he was very heavy, and his progress was uncertain. His thoughts were divided between the present and the past—Barzil Dunsack, aged and ill and unfortunate, and the happening long ago that had resulted in a separation of years after a close youthful companionship.
It had occurred while Barzil was master of the brig Luna, owned by Billy Gray, and he, Jeremy, was first mate. In the exactness with which he recalled every detail of his life in ships he remembered that at the time they were off Bourbon Island, about a hundred and ten miles southwest of the lie de France. The Luna was close hauled, and, while Barzil was giving an order at the wheel, she fetched a bad lee lurch and sent him in a heap across the deck, striking his head against the bumkin bitts. He had got up dazed but not apparently seriously injured; and after his head had been swabbed and bound by the steward he returned to the poop. There, however, his conduct had been so peculiar—among other things sending down the watch to put on Sunday rig against a possible hail by the Lord—that, after a long consultation with Mr. Patterson, the second mate and the boatswain, and a brief announcement to the crew, he, Jeremy Ammidon, had taken command in their interest and that of the owner.
Barzil had made difficulties: Mr. Patterson struck up a leveled pistol in the master's hand just as it exploded. They had confined him, in charge of the unhappy steward, to his cabin; where, after he had completely recovered from the effects of the blow, and Jeremy had been upheld by the authorities at Table Bay, he stubbornly remained until the Luna had been warped into Salem.
From the moment of their landing they had not exchanged a word. Jeremy was surprised to find himself at present bound toward the other's house. He was not certain that Barzil would even see him; but, he muttered, the thing had lasted long enough, they were too old for such foolishness; and the other had come into adverse winds, now, when he should be lying quietly in a snug harbor.
He had never paid serious attention to the threatened complication two or three years before, when Gerrit had been seen repeatedly with Kate Dunsack's irregularly born daughter. He was sorry for the two women. It was his opinion that the man had been shipped drunk by some boarding house runner; anyhow, only the second day out Vollar had been lost overboard from the main-royal yard, and Kate's child born outside the law. It was hard, he told himself again, walking down Orange Street, past the Custom House to Derby.
The girl, Nettie Vollar—they had adopted the father's name—was attractive in a decided French way, with crisp black hair, a pert nose and dimple, and, why, good heavens, twenty-one or two years old if she was a week! How time did run. It was nothing extraordinary if Gerrit had been seen a time or two with her on the street, or even if he had called at the Dunsacks'. Barzil's and his quarrel didn't extend to all the members of their families; and as for the Dunsacks being common—that was nonsense. Barzil was as good as he any day; only where he had prospered, and moved up into a showy place on the Common, the other had had the head winds. Through no fault of his own the reputation had fastened on him of being unlucky in his cargoes: if he carried tea and colonial exports to, say, Antwerp, they would have been declared contraband while he was at sea, and seized on the docks; he had been blown, in an impenetrable fog, ashore on Tierra del Fuego, and, barely making Cape Pembroke, had been obliged to beach his ship, a total loss. Then there was Kate's trouble. Barzil was a rigorously moral and religious man and his pain at that last must have been heavy.
Jeremy Ammidon's mind turned to Gerrit, his son; this interest in Nettie Vollar, if it had existed, was characteristic of the boy, who had a quick heart and an honest disdain for the muddling narrow ways of the land. He would have sought her out simply from the instinct to protest against the smugness of Salem opinion. A fine sailor, and a master at twenty-two. A great one to carry sail; yet in the sixteen years of his commands he had had no more serious accident than the loss of a fore-topgallant mast or splitting a couple of courses. It was Gerrit's ability, the splendid qualities of his ship, that made Jeremy hope he would still come sailing into the harbor with some narration of delay and danger overcome.
He was now on Derby Street, in a region of rigging and sail lofts, block and pump makers, ships' stores, spar yards, gilders, carvers and workers in metal. There was a strong smell of tar and new canvas and the flat odor that rose at low water. Sailors passed, yellow powerful Scandinavians and dark men with earrings from southern latitudes, in red or checked shirts, blue dungarees and glazed black hats with trailing ribbons, or in cheap and clumsy shore clothes. There was a scraping of fiddle from an upper window, the sound of heavy capering feet and the stale laughter of harborside women.
On Hardy Street he continued to the last house at the right, the farther side of which gave across a yard of uneven bricks, straggling bushes and aged splitting apple trees and an expanse of lush grass ending abruptly in a wooden embankment and the water. A short fence turned in from the sidewalk to the front door, where Jeremy knocked. A long pause followed, in which he became first impatient and then irritable; and he was lifting his hand for a second summons when the door suddenly opened and he was facing Kate Vollar. There was only a faint trace of surprise on her apathetic—Jeremy Ammidon called it moonlike—countenance; as if her overwhelming mischance had robbed her features of all further expressions of interest or concern.
"I heard," Jeremy said in a voice pitched loud enough to conceal any inward uncertainty, "that your father had been sick. Met Captain Rendell on Essex Street and he said Barzil had lung fever. Thought I'd see if there was any truth in it."
"He just managed to stay alive," Kate Vollar replied, gazing at him with her stilled gray eyes. "But he's better now, though he's not up and about yet. Shall I tell him that—that you are here?"
"Yes. Just say Jeremy Ammidon's below, and would like to pass a greeting with him."
He followed the woman in, and entered a large gloomy chamber while she mounted the stair leading directly from the front. The blackened fireplace gaping uncovered for the summer, the woodwork, painted yellow with an artificial graining, and a stiff set of ebonized chairs, their dingy crimson plush backs protected by elaborate thread antimacassars, seemed to hold and reflect the misfortunes of their owner. Jeremy picked up an ostrich egg, painted with a clump of viciously green coconut palms and a cottony surf; he put it down with an absent smile and impatiently fingered a volume of "The Life of Harriet Atwood Newell." She was one of the missionaries who had gone out on the Caravan, with Augustine Heard, to India, but forbidden to land there had died not long after on the Île de France.
"Houqua was a damned good heathen," he said aloud: "and so was Nasservanjee." He left the table and proceeded to a window opening upon the harbor, here fretted with wharves. A barque was fast in a small stone-bound dock, newly in, his practiced glance saw, from a blue water voyage, Africa probably. Her standing gear was in a perfection and beauty of order that spoke of long tranquil days in the trades, and that no mere harbor riggers could hope to accomplish. The deck was burdened with the ugly confusion of unloading. Jeremy studied the jibs stowed in harbor covers, the raking masts and tapering royal poles over the stolid roofs. Ordinarily seeing no more he could not only name a vessel trading out of Salem, but from her rig recognize anyone of a score of masters who, otherwise unheralded, might be in command.
However, here he was at a loss, and he thought again of the change, the decline, that had overtaken Salem shipping, the celebrated merchants; the pennants of William Gray, he reflected, had flown from the main truck of fifteen ships, seven barques, thirteen brigs and schooners. Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone, in spite of his vehement protests, the counsel of the oldest member of the firm, were moving shipment by shipment all their business to Boston, listening to the promptings of State Street and Central Wharf.
To the right was the sagging landing from which Barzil's schooners sailed trading with the West Indies; and back of it, and of his house, stood the small office. His mind had turned to this inconsiderable commerce when Kate Vollar entered and told him that her father would see him.
Barzil Dunsack was propped up in bed in a room above that in which Jeremy had been waiting. He, totally different from the other, showed his age in sunken dry cheeks, a forehead like an arch of bone, and a thick short gray beard. A long faded lock of hair had been hastily brushed forward and an incongruously bright knitted scarf drawn about his shoulders.
Jeremy Ammidon concealed his dismay not only at Barzil's wrecked being but at the dismal aspect of the interior, the worn rugs with their pieces of once bright material frayed and loose, the splitting veneer of an old chest of drawers and blistered mirror above a dusty iron grate. "You have got in among the rocks!" he exclaimed. "Still they tell me you've weathered the worst. Copper bound and oak ribs. Don't build them like that to-day."
Barzil Dunsack's eyes were bright and searching behind steel-rimmed spectacles, and he studied Jeremy without replying. "Well, isn't there a salute in you?" the latter demanded, incensed. "I'm not a Malay proa."
The grim shadow of a smile dawned on Barzil's countenance. "I mind one hanging on our quarter by Formosa," he returned; "I trained a cannon aft and fired a shot, when she sheered off. That was in the Flora in 'ninety-seven."
A long silence enveloped them. Jeremy's mind was thronged with memories of ports and storms, mates and ships and logged days. "Remember Oahu like it was when we first made it," he queried, "and the Kanaka girls swimming out to the ship with hybiscus flowers in their hair? Yes, and the anchorage at Tahiti with the swells pounding on the coral reef and Papeete under the mountain? It was nice there in the afternoon, lying off the beach with the white cottages among the palms and orange trees and the band playing in the grove by Government House."
Captain Dunsack frowned at the trivial character of these memories. He muttered something about the weight of the Lord, and the carnal hearts of the men in ships. Jeremy declared, "Stuff! He'll wink at a sailor man with hardly a free day on shore. It wasn't bad at Calcutta, either, with an awning on the quarter-deck, watching the carriages and syces in the Maidan and maybe a corpse or two floating about the gangway from the burning ghauts."
"A mean entrance," Barzil Dunsack asserted. "I don't know a worse with the southwest monsoon in the Bay of Bengal and the pilot brigs gone from the Sand Heads. That's where Heard got pounded with the Emerald drawing nineteen feet, and eighteen on the bar. Shook the reefs out of his topsails, laid her on her beam ends, and with some inches saved scraped in."
"Pick up the three Juggernaut Pagodas of Ganjam," Jeremy remarked absently.
"'Thou shalt have no other God—'"
Jeremy, with a glint in his eye, asked, "Wasn't your last consignment of
West India molasses marked Medford?"
"You always were a scoffer," the other replied, unmoved.
"How's Nettie?" Jeremy Ammidon inquired with a deliberate show of interest.
Barzil's lips tightened. "I haven't seen her for a little," he replied. "She's been visiting at Ipswich." Jeremy added, "A good girl," but the man in bed made no further comment. His undimmed gaze was fastened upon a wall, his mouth folded in a hard line on a harsh and deeply seamed countenance. An able man pursued by bad luck.
"Nothing's been heard from Gerrit," Jeremy said after a little. Still the other kept silent. His face darkened: by God, if Barzil hadn't a decent word for the fact that Gerrit was seven months overdue, perhaps lost, this was not a house for him. "I say that we've had nothing from my son since he lay in the Lye-ee-Moon Pass off Hong Kong," he repeated sharply.
A spasm of suffering, instantly controlled, passed over Barzil's face. "Gerrit called once and again before he last sailed for Montevideo," he finally pronounced. "I stopped it and he left in a temper. I—I won't have another mortal sin here like Kate's."
"Do you mean that Gerrit's loose?" Jeremy hotly demanded, rising. "A more honorable boy never breathed." Barzil was cold. "I told him not to come back," he repeated; "it would only lead to—to shamefulness." Jeremy shook his cane toward the bed. "I may be a scoffer," he cried, "but I wouldn't hold a judgment over a child of mine! I'm not so damned holy that I can look down on a misfortunate girl. If Gerrit did come to see Nettie and the boy had a liking for her, why you drove away a cursed good husband. And if you think for a minute I wouldn't welcome her because that Vollar fell off a yard before he could find a preacher you're an old fool!"
"Nettie must bear her burden: far better be dead than a stumbling block."
"Well, I'd rather be a drunken pierhead jumper on the Waterloo Road than any such pious blue nose. I'll tell you this, too—I'd hate to ship afore the mast under you for all you'd have the ensign on the booby hatch with prayers read Sunday morning. I don't wonder you got into weather; I'd have no word for a Creator who didn't blow in your eye."
"I'll listen to no blasphemy, Captain Ammidon," Barzil Dunsack said sternly.
"And I'll speak my mind, Captain Dunsack; it's this—your girls are a long sight too good for you or for any other judgmatical, psalm-singing devil dodger." He stood fuming at the door. "Good afternoon to you."
Barzil Dunsack reclined with his gaunt bearded head sunk forward on his thin chest swathed in the gay worsted wrap, his wasted hands, the tendons corded with pale violet veins, clenched outside the checkered quilt beneath which his body made scarcely a mark.
Outside, in the soft glow of beginning dusk, Jeremy blamed himself bitterly for his anger at the sick man. He had gone to see him in a spirit friendly with old memories, forgetful of their long quarrel in the stirred emotions of the past days of youth and first manhood; and he had shouted at Barzil as if he were a lubber at the masthead.
He realized that in order to be in time for supper he must turn toward the Common and home; but his gaze caught the spars of the strange barque; and, mechanically, he made his way over a narrow grassy passage to the wharf. She was the Cora Sellers of Marblehead, and he recognized from a glance at the cargo that she had been out to the East Coast of Africa—Mozambique and Zanzibar, Aden and Muscat. A matted frail of dates swung ponderously in air, there were baled goatskins and sacks of Mocha coffee, sagging baskets of reddish unwashed gum copal carried in bulk, and a sun-blackened mate smoking a rat-tail Dutch cigar was supervising the moving of elephant tusks in a milky glimmer of ivory ashore.
There was a vague murmur of the rising tide, beyond the wharves and warehouses the water was faintly rippled in silver and rose, and a ship was standing into the harbor with all her canvas spread to the light wind. He turned away with a sigh and walked slowly up toward the elms of Pleasant Street. At his front door he stopped to regard the polished brass plate where in place of his name he had caused to be engraved the words Java Head. They held for him, coming into this pleasant dwelling after so many tumultuous years at sea, the symbol of the safe and happy end of an arduous voyage; just as the high black rock of Java Head thrusting up over the horizon promised the placidity and accomplishment of the Sunda Strait. Whenever he noticed the plate he felt again the relief of coasting that northerly shore:
He saw the mate forward with the crew passing the chains through the hawse pipes and shackling them to the anchors. The island rose from level groves of shore palms to lofty blue peaks terraced with rice and red-massed kina plantations, with shining streams and green kananga flowers and tamarinds. The land breeze, fragrant with clove buds and cinnamon, came off to the ship in the vaporous dusk; and, in the blazing sunlight of morning, the Anjer sampans swarmed out with a shrill chatter of brilliant birds, monkeys and naked brown humanity, piled with dark green oranges and limes and purple mangosteen.
In the last few years, particularly with Gerrit away, he had turned more and more from the surroundings of his house—rather it had become William's house—to an inner life of memories. His own active life seemed to him to have been infinitely fuller, more purposeful and various, than that of present existence at Java Head. All Salem had been different: he had a certain contempt for the existence of his son William and the latter's associates and friends. He had said that the trading now done in ships was like dealing at a Boston store, and the merchants reminded him of storekeepers. The old days, when a voyage was a public affair, and a ship's manifest posted in the Custom House on which anyone might write himself down for a varying part of the responsibility and profit, had given place to closed capital; the passages from port to port with the captain, as often as not, his own supercargo and a figure of importance, had become scheduled affairs in which a master was subjected to any countinghouse clerk with an order from the firm: the ships themselves were fast being ruined.
He was in his room, after supper, seated momentarily on a day bed with a covering of white Siberian fox skins, and he pronounced aloud, in a tone of satirical contempt, the single word, "Clipper." Nearly everyone in the shipping business seemed to have been touched by this madness for the ridiculous ideas of an experimental Griffiths and his model of a ship with the bows turned inside out, the greatest beam aft and a dead rise like an inverted roof. That the Rainbow, the initial result of this insanity, hadn't capsized at her launching had been due to some freak of chance; just as her miraculous preservation through a voyage or so to China could have been made possible only by continuously mild weather.
Even if the Rainbow had been fast—her run was called ninety-two days out to Canton and home in eighty-eight—it was absurd to suppose that there had been the usual monsoon. And if she did come in a little ahead of vessels built on a solid full-bodied model, why her hold had no cargo capacity worth the name.
Things on the seas were going to the devil! He moved down to the library, where he lighted a cheroot and addressed himself to the Gazette; but his restlessness increased: the paper drooped and his thoughts turned to Gerrit as a small boy. He saw him leaving home, for the first time, to go to the school at Andover, in a cloth cap with a glazed peak, striped long pantaloons and blue coat and waistcoat; later at the high desk in the counting-rooms of Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone; then sailing as supercargo on one of the Company's ships to Russia and Liverpool. He had soon dropped such clerking for seamen's duties, and his rise to mastership had been rapid.
Rhoda, William's wife, entered and stood before him accusingly. "You are worrying again," she declared; "in here all by yourself. It really seems as if you didn't believe in our interest or affection. I have a feeling, and you know they are always right, that Gerrit will sail into the harbor any day now."
He had always liked Rhoda, a large handsome woman with rich coloring—her countenance somehow reminded him of an apricot—and fine clothes. She paused, studied him for a moment, and then asked, "Was your call on Captain Dunsack pleasant?"
"It ought to have been," he confided, "but I got mad and talked like a
Dutch uncle, and Barzil went off on a holy tack."
"About Nettie Vollar?"
Jeremy nodded. "Look here, Rhoda," he demanded, "did Gerrit ever say anything to you about her?"
"Yes," she told him; "Gerrit was very frank."
"Did he like the girl?"
"I couldn't make that out. But if there hadn't been, well—something unusual in her circumstances I think he would never have noticed her. Gerrit is a curious mixture, a very impressionable heart and a contrary stubborn will. He was sorry for Nettie, and, at the way a great many people treated her, threw himself into opposition. Nettie's father made him very mad, and Gerrit pretty well damned all Salem before he left in the Nautilus. He was excruciatingly funny: you know Gerrit can be, particularly when he imitates anybody. I think being away at sea a great deal, and having absolute command of everything, give men a different view of things from ours. What is terribly important to Salem hardly touches Gerrit; it's all silly pretense, or worse, to him.
"I wouldn't mind that if it weren't for the sense of humor that leads him into the wildest extravagances, and the fact that he'll act on his feelings. You know I'm devoted to him but I give a sigh of relief whenever he gets away on his ship without doing any one of the hundred insanities he threatens."
"Gerrit's like me," he said.
"More than William," she agreed. "William is never impetuous, and he's often impatient with his brother. He's a splendid husband, but Gerrit would make a wonderful lover. I'm thankful I never fell into his affections … too wearing for an indolent woman."
"You've been a great comfort and pleasure, Rhoda," he told her. "I only wish Gerrit could marry someone like you—"
"But who would give him sons," she interrupted.
"It's just as you say about him, and I've always been uneasy. God knows what he won't do—on land. William's a great deal happier, for all his brother's humor. I joke William, but he's very satisfactory and solid. He'll make port if he doesn't get tied up with newfangled notions. Why, it stands to reason that a ship built like a knife would double up in the seas off the Falklands."
"He has a lot of confidence in Mr. McKay."
"McKay is a good man unsettled. The May Broughton is a fine barque, and his packet ships are as seaworthy as any, but—" his indignation increased so that he sputtered, and Rhoda laughed. "Now your girls," he added, "fine models, all of them, plenty of beam, work in any kind of weather."
"That's very complimentary," she assured him, rising. "You mustn't worry about Gerrit. Remember, my predictions never fail."
When she had gone his mind returned to storms he had safely weathered—the gray gales of Cape Horn, black hurricanes and the explosive tempests in eastern straits and seas. He took from the drawer of a bookcase with glass doors set in geometrical pattern a thin volume bound in black boards. A paper label was inscribed in a small, carefully formed script, "Journal of my intended voyage from Salem to the East Indies in the Ship Woodbine." He opened at random:
"Comes in with strong wind from SSE with rain squalls. Very ugly sea on. Double reefed the Topsails, reefed the courses and furled the mainsail. At six p.m. shipped a very heavy sea that carried away the bulwarks on the larboard quarter and stove those on the starboard quarter and amidships … upper cabin filled with water. Through the night strong gales…. Lightning at all points of the compass."
The memory of this night, six days out from Manilla to Hong Kong, was clearer than the actuality of the room in which he sat, an old man with his activity, his strength, his manhood, far behind him, a hulk.
"At ten split the mainsail in pieces. Close reefed the fore and double reefed the main-topsails. Rising gales and heavy head sea. Shipping a great quantity of water and leaking considerable. Bent a new mainsail and set it. Reefed and set the jib. Pumping near two thousand strokes an hour.
"October seventh, Sunday. Comes in with strong gales and a heavy head sea. Both officers crippled and man laid up. Through the night the same. Leaking badly. A great number of junks in sight … and so at five p.m. come to anchor."
He had been a good man then, sixteen days on the quarter-deck without going below; insensible to ice or fever or weariness. He had been autocratic, too; and had his boy servant carrying areca nuts, chunam and tobacco in two silk bags, another with a fan and a third holding an umbrella. Such things were all over now, he understood, in this driving age.
His mind continually returned to Gerrit, to dwell on the vast number of perils held in store by the sea; there was always the possibility of scurvy, an entire crew rotting alive in the forecastle and the ship broached to, dismasted; of mutiny; the sheer smothering finality of volcanic waves. He had never realized until now, in the misery of uncertainty, the hellish loneliness of a shipmaster at sea; the pride of duty, the necessity of discipline, that put him beyond all counsel, all assistance and human interdependence. Jeremy, who had arrogantly accepted this responsibility without a question, through so many long years and voyages, now dreaded it, found it an inhuman burden, for his son.
William couldn't be expected to appreciate the difficulties of his brother's position: all the former's experience had been got when, with James Saltonstone and a party of Salem merchants, he ventured to the lighthouse at the entrance of the harbor, had a cold collation, and returned with the pilot or in the Custom House sloop. These occasions of huzzas and salutes and speeches were supplemented with a hasty inspection, now and then, of a vessel lying still at the wharf with sails harbor furled. William guessed little of the long effort through which a ship won from the first of those moments to the last. He was solely concerned with the returns of the cargo.
However, Rhoda was right, and this mooning wouldn't bring Gerrit into port. He turned to the bookcase, where a squat bottle of Medford rum rested beside a tumbler; after a drink he lighted a cheroot and smoking vigorously, with hands clasped behind him, paced back and forth in an undeviating line between the door to the hall and a dark polished secretary he had bought in London.
While he was walking Camilla came into the room and sedately took a seat on one of the formal chairs against the wall. "I guess you think that's the deck of a ship," she said conversationally. He regarded her with a faint threatening glint of humor. Camilla's dignity was stupendous; particularly now, when, he observed, her skirts stood out in a thoroughly grown manner. He liked Laurel best of William's children; she had, in spite of her confusion in regard to outports, a surprising grasp upon many of the details of life on shipboard, and a largeness of manner and expression entertaining in a little girl. Sidsall was the most ingratiating—she had Gerrit's direct kindling gaze; Janet showed no individuality yet beyond an entire willingness to conform to outward circumstance while pursuing deeply secret speculations within. But Camilla impressed the entire family by the rigidity of her correctness in personal and social niceties. At times, he felt, she would be a nuisance but for the firm hand of her mother and his own contribution to their well-being by an occasional sly sally.
"It might be that," he admitted; "if it weren't for the facts that it's a house and library, and I'm an old man, and you're not at all like the second mate."
"I should hope not," she replied decidedly. "A second mate isn't anything, and I am a—a young lady anyhow."
"You'll soon be out at dances."
"I go to parties now; that is, mother let me stay at the Coggswells' on
Thursday until the men came at nine for sangaree. And I'm at all the
He made a gesture of pretended surprise and admiration. "I don't suppose they ever have a good chantey with the stuff they play?" he queried. "Dear me, no. Mr. Dempster sings The Indian's Lament, and The May Queen: that's a cantata and it's in three parts."
Jeremy began to hum, and in a moment was intoning in a loud monotonous voice, sweeping a hand up and down:
"To my hero, Bangedero, Singing hey for a gay Hash girl."
"I don't think that's very nice," she said primly.
"What do you mean—not very nice?" he demanded, incensed. "There's nothing finer with a rousing chanteyman leading it and the watch hauling on the braces. You'd never hear the like at any Ballad Soirée. And:
"Sweet William, he married a wife,
'Gentle Jenny,' cried Rose Marie,
To be the sweet comfort of his life,
As the dew flies over the mulberry tree."
"There isn't much sense to it," she observed.
For a little, indignant at her disparagement of such noble fragments, he tramped silently back and forth, followed by a cloud of smoke from the cheroot. No one on land could understand the absorbing significance of every detail of a ship's life…. Only Gerrit, of all his family, knew the chanteys and watches, the anxiety and beauty of landfalls—the blue Falklands or Teneriffe rising above the clouds, the hurried making and taking of sail in the squalls of the Doldrums.
"In India," he told her, stopping in his measured course, "female children are given to the crocodiles."
Her mouth parted at this, her eyes became dilated, and she slipped from the chair. "That's perfectly awfully appalling," she breathed. "The little brown girl babies. Oh, father," she cried, as William Ammidon came into the library, "what do you suppose grandfather says, that in India female children are…crocodiles." Words failed her.
"What's the sense in frightening the child, father?" William remonstrated. "I wish you would keep those horrors for the old heathen of the Marine Society."
Jeremy had a lively sense of guilt; he had been betrayed by Camilla's confounded airs and pretensions. He ought to be ashamed of himself, telling the girl such things. "The British Government is putting a stop to that," he added hastily, "and to suttees—"
"What are they?" she inquired.
"Never mind, Camilla," her father interposed; "go up with your mother and sisters.
"I suppose it's no good speaking to you," William continued; "but my family is not a crew and this house isn't the Two Capes. You might make some effort to realize you're on land."
"I know I'm on land, William; tell that any day from a sight of you. You can afford to listen a little now and then about the sea. That's where all you have came from; it's the same with near everybody in Salem. Vessels brought them and vessels kept them going; and, with the wharves as empty as they were this afternoon, soon there won't be any Salem to talk about."
"The tide's turned from here," the other replied; "with the increase in tonnage and the importance of time we need the railway and docking facility of the larger cities—Boston and New York."
"It's running out fast enough," Jeremy agreed; "and there's a lot going out with it you'll never see again—like the men who put a reef in England in 'twelve."
"You are always sounding the same strings; we're at peace with the world now, and a good thing for shipping."
"Peace!" the elder declared hotly; "you and the Democrats may call it that, but it's a damned swindle, with the British to windward of you and hardly a sail now drawing in your ropes. What did Edmund Burke tell Parliament in 'seventy-five about our whalers, hey! Why, that from Davis Strait to the Antipodes, from the Falklands to Africa, we outdrove Holland, France and England. After the laws and bounties Congress passed in 'eighty-nine what could you see—something like a half million tonnage gained in three years or so. In the war of 'twelve your land soldiers were a pretty show, with the Capitol burning; but when it was finished the privateers had sunk over nine million dollars of British shipping to their sixty thousand. The Chesapeake luggers have gone out with the tide, too. And then, by God, by God, what then: the treaty of Ghent, with England impressing our seamen and tying our ships up in what ports she chose under a right of search! On top of this your commissioners repeal the ship laws and the British allow you to carry only native cargoes to the United Kingdom with a part of the customs and harbor dues off.
"But in spite of Congress and political sharks we went out to India and China direct, with The George home from Calcutta in ninety-five days, and the East Indiamen six or seven months on the shorter run to England. I can show you what the London Times said about that, it's in my desk: 'Twelve years of peace, and…the shipping interest…is half ruined…thousands of our manufactures are seeking redemption in foreign lands.' It goes on to tell that American seamen already controlled an important part of the British carrying trade to the East Indies. Yet your precious lawmakers open our West India trade to Great Britain, but they wouldn't ask the privilege to carry a cargo from British India to Liverpool or Canada."
"Now, father," William put in, "you are getting excited again. It isn't good for you. We are not all such fools to-day as you make out."
"Look at the masters themselves," Jeremy continued explosively; "gentlemen like Gerrit, from Harvard University, and not lime-juicers beating their way aft with a belaying pin. They could sail a ship with two-thirds the crew of a Britisher with her clumsy yellow hemp sails and belly you could lose a dinghy in. Mind, I don't say the English aren't handy in a ship and that they wouldn't clew up a topsail clean at the edge of hell. What we are on the seas came over from them. But we bettered it, William, and they knew it; and, naturally enough, laid out to sail around us. I don't blame England, but I do our God damn—"
"Father," the other firmly interrupted, "you are shouting as if you were on the quarter-deck in a gale. I must insist on your quieting down; you'll burst a blood vessel."
"Maybe I am," Jeremy muttered; "and it wouldn't matter much if I did. When I see a nation with shipmasters who would set their royals when others hove too, and get there, all snarled up with shore lines and political duffel, I'm nigh ready to burst something."
"Rhoda said that you were at the Dunsacks' this afternoon; I saw Edward in Boston yesterday."
"I don't care if you saw the Flying Dutchman," the other asserted, breathing stormily.
"It's curious about the China service," William went on; "anyone out there for a number of years gets to look Chinese. Edward is as yellow as a lemon, but nothing like as pleasant a color. Thin, too, and nervous; hands crawling all over themselves, never still for a moment. He didn't say why he had left Heard and Company, and I didn't quite like to ask. Edward came on from England in the Queen of the West, the Swallow Tail Line. I did ask him if he were going to settle in Salem, but he couldn't say; there was something about a Boston house. It seems that Gerrit carried his chest and things from Canton in the Nautilus as an accommodation."
Suddenly Jeremy felt very insecure, his body heavy and knees weak, failing. He stumbled back into the chair by the fireplace, William at his side. "You must pay some attention to what you're told, father," the latter said anxiously. "How are you now?"
"I'm all right," he declared testily, trying to brush away the dimness floating before his eyes.
"Shall I help you up to bed?"
"I'll go to bed when I've a mind to," Jeremy retorted. "I am not under cover yet by a long reach." To establish his well-being he rose and moved to the secretary, where he got a fresh cheroot, and lighted it with slightly trembling fingers. He grumbled inarticulately, remembering his own exploits in the carrying of sail and record runs under the bluff bows of the Honorable John Company itself. The ebb tide, he thought, returning to William's figure and its amplification by himself. So much that had been good sweeping out to sea never to return….Gerrit long overdue.
Once more he shook himself free of numbing dread; automatically he had fallen back into the passage from the secretary to the hall door. He saw that he had worn threadbare a narrow strip where his feet had so often pressed. It would be necessary for him to see about a fresh case of cheroots soon, primes, too; they needn't try to put him off with the second quality. He was put off a great deal lately; people pretended to be listening to him, and all the time their thoughts were somewhere else, either that or they were merely politely concealing the opinion that he was out of date, of no importance.
His family were always providing against his fatigue or excitement; at the countinghouse the gravest problems, he was certain, were withheld from him. At the occurrence of this possibility a fresh indignation poured through his brain. Fuming and tramping up and down he determined that to-morrow he would show any of the clerks who didn't attend to his wishes or counsel that he was still senior partner of Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone.