THE British tramp steamer, Sumbawa, had been signaled as off the Heads. Day rushed down for Clunie and the boat, for it was altogether desirable that he should meet her before the customs officers came aboard. She was consigned to the Bradshaws, from Hong-Kong, with a chowchow cargo (which is Chinese for mixed, but not mixed pickles), and she had fifteen hundred coolies between decks.
There were points in maritime law on which the coolie-trade in those days considered itself forced to jibe a little. The law, it was claimed, having been made for the Western Ocean, did not fit the Asiatic. A coolie-ship’s bunks were put in athwart ships, which is a thing no customs officer must see. “ But the heathen likes to sleep that way,” argued the trade. “ He battens on bad air, and he does n’t mind how close he stows if he can get his passage cheaper.”
Day took the second pair of sculls and they pulled out beyond Point Lobos where he met his steamer and climbed aboard of her. While he was below, watching the carpenters knock out the bunks, a case of smallpox was uncovered, which the heathen had been hiding, hoping to smuggle it ashore, and so keep the patient out of the clutches of the foreign devils’ doctors.
Day was overside like a shot. He discussed the matter at long range with the captain, who had known nothing of it, of course, and was wild.
But the Sumbawa got her sixty days in quarantine, with seventeen hundred persons, white, brown, and yellow, on board. And the cost of that case of smallpox to the consignees was fiftyeight thousand dollars.
Every day the two young men rowed out to quarantine grounds to inquire after the ship’s health, and superintend the unloading of fresh cases for the pesthouse. They would pull to windward of her, dropping astern under her cabin ports, to heave a bundle of newspapers aboard and condole with the raging captain. He was one of the old stripe, with little by way of education, but such as is got at a rope’s end, aboard of a “ hot ” ship ; but Heaven had sent him a good little wife, — a pretty one, too, — and she was the only woman on board. Often her little white face would look down from a porthole next the one that framed the captain’s red chaps. Their two heads, against the ship’s black, blistered side, were a curious contrast, — the extremes of a union made of spirit and flesh. Her eyebrows and eyelashes were as black as a bayadere’s, but her eyes were true Northern gray.
She grew pinched in the face and paler, day by day, for the foul sickness was spreading, and that ship was a floating hell. The coolies forward were in open mutiny, as far as uproar and intention went, resisting vaccination and fighting like demons when they were carried off the ship.
The captain became confidential, and sounded the young men, when his wife was not by, on a scheme for smuggling her ashore, in which he was frankly counting on their assistance. He was not delicate of speech, but in his rough way he felt her situation keenly.
“ She’s a countrywoman of yours, boys,” he began diplomatically. “ She’s an American. I found her in HongKong teaching.”
“ I’m not an American! ” sang out Clunie from the boat.
The captain changed his quid and touched his cap to Clunie. " I thought ye were born under the old rag. The less you cares for the laws of a foreign port, eh?”
“ Quarantine laws are the laws of civilization,” Day warned him.
“ Grant you that! Ain’t we a-keeping them ? But my wife don’t come into this case. What has she got to do with them pigtails down below ? ’Ere she is in a home port, the first time in seven years, and caught in this infernal plague-trap. . . . And every day,” he lowered his voice, “ brings her nearer to her time, when a woman needs a woman’s help. Whoever comes aboard of us stays in hell with us to the end. Where’s the female who ’ll do that, I ask you ? The wife’s sister might, but she ain’t here. She’s up in one o’ the Puget Sound ports. And I would n’t allow it, anyhow. It ain’t justifiable. But something, I say, has got to be done. You ’re not family men yourselves, but you may be. And every man is the woman’s brother in a case like this. Come, boys, for the sake of the mother that was, — for the sake of the wife that will be ! ”
It was strong talk, and the tone of the captain’s eloquence was very strong of whiskey. The combined effect, with other considerations, was decidedly repellent to Day. They were not the men for the emergency, he told the captain ; it was work for their betters.
The captain recognized the excuse, and it angered him. “ Where are your betters ? The best man for me is him that ’elps me now! She can’t afford to wait, if you was to charter us an angel.”
“ Had he spoken to the doctors ? ” Day asked. “ To the devil with doctors ! Did they know by chance what a coolie-ship doctor would be? ”
The quarantine doctor ? He cursed him as well. He was a part of their blankety-blanked political machine. “ ’E would n’t risk ’is job to save every life on board. ’E farms us out, — so many vaccinations at a dollar the ’ead, — and a sweet time they ’as with some of us! You ’ear those devils now? ”
The coolies were confined behind the iron bulkheads forward; they were banging on their prison walls and howling like the damned.
Clunie dipped his oars softly, to keep the boat off her proper length from the ship. The ten feet of water that divided them was the Gulf of Common Sense. Day, for his part, had no mission to cross it.
The captain’s angry, troubled eye fixed itself suddenly on a point behind Day’s head. Turning, the latter caught a lightning wink pass from Clunie to Captain Speke, who dropped his eyes and pretended that some one had called him.
Clunie gave his partner a forcible hint in the back, for just then the quarantine watch strolled over to the side, and warned them not to come too near.
Nothing was said in the boat going home. Clunie knew that Day must know of his tacit offer to the captain. He also knew that Day would neither argue with him nor interfere.
When the misty August nights grew darker by the absence of a moon, Clunie informed his partner that he need not look for him on his beat for a day or two — or three. He brought him the Missus, and requested him to care for her, with obliging particulars as to the diet best suited to the period of canine dentition.
“ Have you found your second man ? ” asked Day.
“ I shall have to make it alone,” said Clunie. “Too many in the secret now. Speke has fixed it up with Black Jake, one of the stevedores, for a place on shore. A shady outfit they are. The house has been empty a year. It is up Petaluma Creek, a little this side of Vallejo.”
“ Forty miles, if it’s one ! ” said Day. “ And you will have to start with the tide against you, or you won’t get high water in the creek; and you can’t get up it without. It is full of nasty shoals and eelgrass. You need another man, Clunie.”
“ Dare say I do. I need a steam launch ! But it’s this way : the sort of help you could hire for a job like this might sell you out to the harbor police. Blest if I know any man we could trust. Why won’t you come, yourself ? ’Fraid of the smallpox?”
“Well, yes,” said Day, though Clunie knew this was not his reason. “ Are n’t you ? But I’m a good deal more afraid of the pesthouse. If you catch it, old man, shoot yourself, — drop yourself into the bay, but don’t go there ! ”
“ It’s no barge picnic,” Clunie admitted. “ But they will do the proper thing about disinfecting, of course. That’s understood.”
“ They think they will. But who ever does, — unless it’s done under orders ? You can’t persuade a woman to burn her clothes. She will make some doting exception, and that will fix you.”
“Hang it! There is the bay, then ! If I turn up missing, you needn’t inquire for me at the bourn whence no traveler returns.”
Missing he was, and still absent, when, four days later, Day rowed out alone to quarantine for a quiet word with the captain. In the interval he had avoided speech with him, not feeling entitled to seek his confidence, having refused him his help.
The captain was on deck, pacing back and forth against the one low strip of color in the west. The quarantine flag was at half-mast. He did not perceive Day — the surface of the water being muffled in light fog — until the customary signal had been given. Then he stopped, looked toward the boat without replying to her hail, and went below. Directly his head appeared at the more confidential level of his cabin windows.
Outwardly the man was changed for the worse in the brief interval since Day had seen him near. His unshaven dewlap hung over a soiled collar; his flesh looked flabby and old. Yet there was an effect of dumb dignity about him which Day, out of an uneasy consciousness, mistook at first for resentment.
He began to question him cautiously.
“ Have you seen anything of Robert, captain ? He has n’t been around lately.”
The captain cleared his throat. “ ’Ave n’t you ’eard, then ? Bad news, they say, travels fast.”
“Not a word, captain. Sorry it’s bad news.” Day was thinking only of Clunie, persuaded that he had made a mess of his heroics, somehow.
“ Come in closer — fetch ’er in ! You’ve no more to fear from us. We’ve ’ad our last case. It takes the best you’ve got, and then it quits.”
“ Captain, you don’t mean — your wife, she has n’t got it ? ” The sickness they always spoke of as “ it.”
“ Naw, naw ! ” the captain groaned. “ She’s past all that. It’s all in the same bill o’ goods, though. A piece o’ foul mismanagement from the start. I’ve no wish to be ’ard on Robert. ’E’s pretty much a fool ; but ’e done the work, — ’e got her there, Lord knows how ! Forty mile inside of eight hours. You can tell ’em that when you ’ears ’em throwin’ off on Clunie.”
“ Captain, it’s impossible ! ” said Day. And though the outside man has told this story in select company many times since, he invariably balks at the distance when he tells it to any one who happens to know that course : the tide rip off Alcatraz and the eight or ten miles of heavy work above. Then, when you have reached your bottom reserve, when you have settled to your stroke and can just hold it, if nothing jars you or throws you out, — when every change of course, or slightest motion in the boat, is pure, utter agony, — then to wash into the weeds and shoals and maddening windings of the creek! The perspiration started as he thought of it.
“ Captain, why did he make it a race ? Were they chased ? ”
“ A race it was — for the life of thechild. Her time was come, — unexpected, mind. I would n’t ’ave played that trick on no man. But it was more than nature could bear, what we undertook to do, with such ’elp as the Lord allowed us. You may say it was work for our betters !
“ If we 'ad rigged a bo’sun’s chair and sent her down comfortable an’ handy — The watch would ’ave seen her, you say ! They ’re men : they ’ad to wink at the job as it was; they might ’ave winked a little ’arder. But we lowered her — damn fools ! — from one o’ the lumber ports, away aft. We ’ad to put her in the sling, and she was frightened going overside.”
“ Don’t talk of it, captain.” Day tried to spare him. But he went on, like a man transfixed, tugging at the shaft in his breast. His speech was hot with pain.
“ Talk ! What’s left but talk ? She ’ad the bearin’ of it! If you ’re too damn delicate to listen, why sheer off, in God’s name ! I know the sort you are! ” he raved. “You left ’er to Providence and the doctors ! If you ’ad a stood by Clunie as he stood by her — as he tried to — she might be a livin’, ’appy mother now. Arsk Clunie! It has taken his blood down.
“ The house was back, a cable’s length from the creek, and up a hill. ’E ’ad to carry her, and ’e said ’e could n’t ’ardly see. His underlip was draggin’ in the sand. But ’e fetched her in. Then he lay down in the porch, for there was no more in him. He remembers the black woman telling him he must up and go for help, and ’e says, ‘ Give me a drink, — anything at all, — and maybe I can start.’ He gives her the credit for denying him, but ’ave it ’e would, and more than ’e needed. And that night, that next night — all that time, and yet for want of help ! But the woman could n’t leave her ; and she was ignorant as a horse. She was n’t for that work. And Clunie sleepin’ off his liquor !
“ He’s doin’ now what the law won’t let me do for my own flesh and blood. Did I tell you she left me a fine boy ? But I don’t wish to see his face nor ’ave ’im come anigh this cursed ship. We ’ave sent for the little sister, and if she’s true to the breed she ’ll do. I want to find a berth for her here in the city, if she ’ll bide and keep the child and bring him up right and proper, as his mother would. But everything is out o’ my reach. I ’m chained up ’ere like a house dog. I can bark till I burst; it won’t help nor hinder.
“ Well, give a grip of my ’and to Robert, and bid him quit calling of himself a beast, — the more as I count on him now to take my place ashore. He says the black woman has froze onto that baby : let ’er tie up, then, alongside the little sister. But you look her up, and see what sort she is.”
Day accepted this humble trust as a proof of the captain’s forgiveness, and silently pulled off from the ship. A night of fog cloaked the water; he rowed home slowly, piloted by red and green lanterns that pricked through the murk from invisible docks and ferry slips alongshore and from ghostly vessels in the harbor. The city’s crown of lights arched upward in the distance like an announcement of moonrise in some dream country where mists take the shape of mountains and the mountains are like brooding mists.
He thought of that house up Petaluma Creek, where the young mother lay among strangers; and he thought of Clunie, sleeping his brutish sleep at the door of the holy of holies, while the great angels of Life and Death fairly brushed him with their wings. His absence, his reticence when he did appear, his loss of flesh and averted eye seemed to promise some approach to seriousness in the Prodigal; but whether the change in him would outlast the shock of his failure, the shame of it in the very hour of triumph, there were none who knew him or his forbears well enough to prophesy.
The Sumbawa had cleared for HongKong, and the captain’s son was left in charge of the maiden aunt. She had come up to everybody’s expectations of her in all possible ways, Day learned — from hearsay ; he was offered no opportunity of judging for himself. Clunie appeared to be taking full and jealous advantage of the responsibility magnanimously conferred upon him by the captain, and was by no means as generous in sharing it.
“ About what age is she ? ” Day inquired. “ Is she a suitable age for an aunt ? ”
That question Clunie put beneath his feet.
“ Is she pretty ? ”
This also was ignored ; but the boy’s face answered for him, chiefly in a forced stolidity which did not deceive. Day pleaded with him to introduce him — to the baby, at least.
“ It’s a house of mourning, you blasphemer ! Do you think I go there to amuse myself? I am their striker. When she is ready to make acquaintances — if you want to know how old she is — she is old enough to choose them for herself.”
About this time it became evident that Clunie was “ making a deal with himself ” on the question of drink. Naturally, his best friends were incredulous that it would come to anything. Bets were exchanged as to the issue. But, seeing him tested on one or two occasions, with no sign of his weakening, Day challenged an explanation, “ Whence and how is this ? ”
Clunie turned a fighting red on the instant, — a color that showed the heart of his endeavor, for which he blushed before the eyes of men. That it had a heart was all Day asked to know.
One evening he met him again at Lotta’s Fountain, and again the flower sellers were besieging him, but he was not standing them off, as before. Morton waylaid him, and the friends walked uptown together, Clunie ostentatiously explaining that his violets were for the captain’s baby. At Marteau’s he stopped for a box of confectionery ordered, evidently, and waiting for him.
“ Also for the baby? ” Day inquired. He gave a short laugh, an irrepressible crow, as if the question had touched him under the short ribs of recollection or pleased reminiscence. “ These for the baby ! ” he chuckled. “ She thinks that sweet stuff for that infant is the sum of all earthly wickedness.”
“ And eats it herself to save him the temptation, I suppose ? ”
“ You are to remember that she takes these things seriously. It’s quite the greatest thing out to hear them argue.”
“ Them ! Does that boy argue with his aunt already ? ”
“ She argues with old — Egypt, the nurse, whatever her shady title is.”
“ Is ‘ she ’ carrying the gospel into Egypt ? ”
“ Quite so ! ” said Clunie. “ She has the latest advices on the food question. Remarkably sound she is, too. But the old mammy kicks like a steer. ‘ Honey knows what he wants,’ she says, ' an’ he knows when he wants it. Talk ’bout hours ! All hours is his hours, and he ought to have it, too.’
“ But he does n’t get it, all the same. She has him down to the fraction of a minute, and he does n’t get it any sooner by howling. What am I talking about ? His bottle, of course ! ”
Day said that he blushed for him, but Clunie, insensible to the obligation, continued to revel in details the most ignoble, declaring it was his own doctrine long ago applied in the training of thoroughbred pups.
“‘Just little creatures of habit,’ she says they are ; and they might as well be learning good habits as bad. You educate their stomachs first because that is the seat of their ideas ; that’s where the tussle between will and appetite begins. She claims that a four - months babe can be taught self-control. He can learn to have faith that his grub basket’s going to be filled when the time comes, and it won’t come a minute sooner for his yelling.
“ It’s great to see them when feedtime is almost up ! He gets nasty in his temper; he stuffs his fists into his mouth ; he breaks out into howls. He digs his gums into her cheek — he bites, by Jove! And she hauls him around where she can look him in the eye, and she appeals to his higher faculties. She shows him things ; she interests him. He forgets the old Adam in his belly.”
“ Ethics of the Nursing Bottle ! ” said Day, in high derision. “ The doctrine may be sound, but it has chosen a weird mouthpiece.”
“ I’m telling you a thing which you ought to respect. If you don’t, so much the worse for you. I was brought up on the plan of give him whatever he howls for. I can appreciate what she is doing for him ! ”
“ Just give me the key to that feminine pronoun, once for all, will you ? Does ‘ she ’ invariably stand for Miss Dunstan ? ”
“ Oh, be blowed ! ” said Clunie parenthetically. “ The method you might get out of books,” he went on, infatuated with his subject, or with some train of associations born of it; “ but the practice, mind you, is another thing. The patience, the cleverness, the jolly little dodges by way of passing the time, and the downright, on-the-square way she treats him, when the time won’t pass and all the dodges fail.
“ ‘ Now, hold on to yourself, sonny,’ she says when he’s raging mad for his bottle, and the old darky waltzes round as if she’d like to kill anybody that kept it from him. ‘ Hold on to yourself ! ’ she says. And she shows him how to do it! She is building up his digestion and his manners and his character generally on the basis of that bottle.”
“ You ought to go on the lecture tour, you and your Bottle ; with lantern views of the subject Being Educated to Wait: his appearance and behavior during the first hour ; the second, — second and a half. Perhaps Miss Dunstan would consent to accompany you, and furnish illustrations with a living subject.”
“ Have you heard of a certain kind of person that came to scoff and stayed to pray ? You ’ll get there if you keep on ! ” Clunie retorted, not altogether displeased with this badinage. “You see she has to fight against old Egypt all the time. The old girl tries to undermine his morals with poking things into him between meals. She seduces him with forbidden goodies that make him wink his eyes and look thoughtful.
“ ‘ I don’ know noffin’ ’bout books,’ she says, ‘ an’ I don’ b’liebe much in doctahs, but I ’se had ten chillen, and buried seben of ’em ! Books can’t larn me noffin’.’
“ Then — a — Miss Dunstan lets down her eyelashes, for fear she’d smile. She’s awfully nice to that old beast, on account of her saving the boy’s life at the start, perhaps. It’s well she saved something! ”
“ Has ‘ she ’ got eyelashes, too ? ” Day inquired.
“ Has she got what ? ”
“ Do you remember what wonderful eyelashes the sister had ? ”
“ Do you want me to chuck you out of that window ? You ’ll be good enough to listen to what I’m saying, or keep your unsightly thoughts to yourself.”
“ You have told me all I want to know,” laughed Day, rising, “and more than I ever expected to know, without seeing the lady herself. She ’ll have a bib tucked under your chin, my son, and be teaching you to wait, before you know it!”
“By the Lord, I wish she could!” said Clunie devoutly.
But, profane jesting aside, Day was immensely interested to see how simply the Prodigal — of a civilization both older and younger than ours — took himself in this phase of what might have been called driveling innocency. He longed to have Mr. Felix hear Clunie hold forth. That he should set up as a gospeler of the nursery, and preach sermons on the Bottle, as unembarrassed as the day he related his adventures at the Cape ! His moral naïveté was delicious.
So the irrepressible conflict went on between the powers of light and of darkness ; and Day learned from that awestruck disciple, Clunie, that “ she ” was now reaping her reward. The proof of the pudding had come, and the fourmonths babe was a Christian philosopher wonderful to see. The hour for refreshment arrived on wings of balmy expectation. He never lost hold of himself now. He had succumbed to the law, and was safe in the arms of a faith that had never yet deceived him.
“ I don’t believe she has forgotten him once ! ” said Clunie, as if speaking of miracles. “ She keeps the watches herself. Old Fgypt has no sense of time or anything else.”
Day had observed the insulting harshness with which Clunie invariably spoke of his former associate in a certain dark night’s work of distressful memory. The sore spot had not healed with time and the compensations time had brought. It might also imply that he was sensitive in a new quarter ; as well he might be, for the negress held his reputation, such as it was, at the mercy of her coarse and rambling tongue. And Miss Dunstan was no doubt a frequent if an unwilling listener.
Clunie remarked, one day, with an absent half smile on his features, that “she” had a will “as fine and soft as steel ; but there’s no let go.”
And Day, being in a mood to spare him, merely added that “ she ” seemed to be on the whole a good deal of a person,— to have come out of “ one of the Puget Sound ports.”
Clunie sat up at that. “ The captain’s boy will have reason to think so ! It’s the safest port he ’ll ever make. Luckiest little beggar I know! ”
“ One would hardly have said so four months ago ! ” Day reminded him. It struck them both, in silence, the awful and condign way life has of getting on without us, — any one of us, the most necessary and dear. Nature has always a stopgap ready. She gets her work done at any cost, and out of destruction and waste new issues are framed which she adopts as calmly as if they had been part of the original plan.
Poor little Mrs. Speke, wiped out of existence at the moment it would seem of her supreme usefulness, had bequeathed to that tropical infant, Clunie Robert, his one effective spiritual opportunity, — while her own child had never missed her, was better off perhaps without her ; and her husband was consoling himself, after the manner of his species, in a foreign port.
The fool had rushed in, but the angels were not far behind him.
“ What is the young gentleman’s schedule at present ? Is he on for dogwatches still ? ” Morton asked one day.
“ I believe he has to go three hours now,” said Clunie gravely. He was so perfect in their “ nursery patter,” as Day called it, that it was “ sickening ” to hear him.
“ Then what do you say ; if ‘ she ’ can be off duty three hours at a stretch, suppose we get tickets for A Scrap of Paper ? ”
“ Scrap of your aunt! ” said Clunie roughly.
“ Be careful, my son! There is an aunt whose name may not be taken in vain. Such, at least, was my impression. It might do ' your aunt ’ good to have a little change from the society of infants and — What is the old colored female’s name ? Has she got a name ? ”
“ Dare say she has, but it does n’t matter. Miss Dunstan would n’t go, anyhow, on account of her mourning.”
“ Of course.” Day admitted he should have remembered that. He then proposed that they take the boat and the “ whole outfit,” — baby, bottle, and all, and go up — Here he came near to making a second blunder on his friend’s account.
“ No, thanks,” said Clunie. “ No barge picnics for me — in that direction.”
“ Well, what will you do ? You ought to celebrate Washington’s Birthday in some way, you off-sided alien ! ”
“ She has an engagement on for G. W.’s Birthday,” said Clunie, looking almost too indifferent.
“ Well, you and I, then. What do you say to Ingleside ? ”
“I — a— I shall be busy part of the day.”
“ You — sinner ! ”
Clunie met the laughter in his friend’s eyes, and then he fell upon him and hurled him all over the place. When he was through with him, temporarily, Day rose and dusted himself off. “ You — sinner ! ” he repeated. Clunie looked down at him through narrowed eyelids, breathing short. He was flushed and white about the mouth and nostrils with the clearness of his ridiculous health, and those unexceptionable habits which he was acquiring through association with the higher ethical training for infants.
“ I wish,” he said simply, dropping his guard, “ I wish I had never been more of a sinner than I hope to be next Thursday come Washington’s Birthday.”
“ Our institutions are having their effect,” Day remarked, not to take advantage.
On the morning before the legal holiday, Mr. Bradshaw had requested that Day get word to Clunie that he was wanted at the office. He reported himself the same afternoon with Missus treading on his shadow as usual. But Missus was not invited, like her master, to step into the private office ; she sat on her heels outside with her keen little head on a slue. When chairs were moved within, and her master appeared, she executed the double manœuvre of throwing herself at his feet and avoiding their advancing stride.
He came down the long room, neither seeing nor hearing. All the clerical rank and file knew that that tingling half hour with the chief meant no less than the sword touch on the shoulder for the late vagabond. He was one of them, now.
It might be said that the firm had its tricks, like others of the trade; it had its code as well. Its house flag was known in the ends of the earth ; and the lowest and latest incumbent, the office boy hired the day before, used the commercial “ we,” and thought the more of himself for being able to do so.
In front of Morton’s desk Clunie halted. “ How long is it since the morning I stood here, and you asked me, ‘ What can I do for you ? ’ and I wanted to kick you for the way you said it ? ”
“Two years ago last August,” Day answered, on reflection.
“ Well, Mort, you have done several things for me : one thing you have left me alone. I am to have Weeks’s place,” he added. “ Do you know how he lost it?”
Day could have guessed, and so could Clunie.
“ Well, shall we sell the Lassie ? ”
Day said that he was in no particular hurry. Was it best to burn their bridges ?
“You think I won’t stick,” said Clunie. “I say that we sell her. I want some clothes, and I want them now ! ”
So they sold the Salvation Lassie, and Clunie bought what he called a “rattling good suit ” and accessories with his and Day’s share of the proceeds, intimating that it was the last time he intended to honor their friendship in that way.
On Thursday, the holiday, Morton dined early with friends at Oakland, and crossed the ferry, coming home, at the hour when suburban trains discharge their loads of excursionists, — not the cream of the cream, but just Nobodies and their wives and sweethearts. Nobody is a lucky dog, sometimes. Day caught sight of Clunie, half a head above the procession, with a light in his face as if Happiness had made him her colorbearer. Day knew, as well as if he had seen her, whom it was that his comrade was convoying through the press. He looked suffused with pride and consciousness, as a man looks who feels for the first time on his arm the thrill of a little hand, — the hand that can lead him, or send him, to the world’s end; that will quietly bind him to his proper work in life and make the yoke easy and the burden light, or gall and chafe and fetter him to his grave.
As the crowd dispersed in search of seats, there was the truant pair with every appearance of the surfeited picnicker ; and behind them rolled the transport, mother Egypt, with the captain’s boy asleep in her arms.
Day was surprised to see that the paragon who had worked such a change in Clunie was but a small, plain-faced woman, older than he, apparently; with no adventitious charm of coloring or coquetry likely to catch the fancy of a south sea prodigal.
It is the real thing this time, thought Day ; and conscience rebuked him for his many and flippant allusions to the maiden aunt in his intercourse with Clunie.
The nurse had dropped into her seat with a sigh, and began wagging her knees to hush the stirring sleeper. They piled their lunch basket and their faded wild flowers into the vacant place beside her, while Clunie helped Miss Dunstan with her jacket. Sleeves were tight, as well as skirts, in those days ; she slid into hers, and hurriedly busied herself with the buttons, and he gave her the ends of her boa to cross beneath her chin. Then, with one swift look into each other’s eyes —which she disclaimed by looking away again severely — they walked forward to the bow.
Clunie’s hands were in his pockets, his knees were braced against the rail; but she leaned in a plastic attitude, her fingers loosely clasped, her eyes fixed on the boat’s progress in the dark. Morton hastily revised his first judgment on her appearance, for a sweeter side face no woman ever owned. She had her sister’s low feminine forehead and deep black lashes, but a stronger, finer mouth and chin.
Now, why does n’t the idiot speak, he wondered. Perhaps he had spoken; but no, there was as yet no definite understanding between them, — only a nebulous consciousness on her part; and Clunie was holding on to himself as he never had done in his life before. He knew his reasons best.
Mary Hallock Foote.