IT was windy, white-cloud weather, high tides, and a full moon. The Parthenia lay at Mission Dock loading with wheat for Liverpool. She was one of Ward and McAlpine’s steamers.
A week or so before she sailed, Day was down at her agents’ office, engaging a stateroom aboard of her for the wife and sister of one of the firm’s correspondents in Honolulu.
The ladies had just arrived, on their way to England, and were visiting friends in the city. It happened, as we say, — not knowing whether anything ever does happen, — that Clunie Robert was with him. They were kept waiting while a round little pony-built Mexican woman was taking passage on the same ship for herself and child. Her back was toward them, but there was no mistaking her accent, or her hair, — or her hat, with its artless reds and greens. Her voice was low, and she laughed continually over her efforts to translate her business into English. Fred Dowd, the shipping clerk, did his gallant best to meet her halfway in Spanish, and by his civility and the giddy way in which he wasted his time — and theirs — the young men concluded there would be one pretty woman, at least, on the Parthenia that trip.
Strictly speaking, it was Day who made these reflections, for Clunie had retired, according to a habit of his, noticeable of late, whenever he caught the Mexican-Spanish inflection. One of the rudimentary lessons of a lifetime had been bitten into him in that tongue ; and some lessons, like vaccination, do not “ take ” at once. He had waited by the door and was watching the woman’s child, for he was always interested in the young of any species. The little one had slipped down from a chair where its mother had left it, and was playing with the pattern of the cane seat, exploring the meshes as pitfalls for a tiny forefinger no bigger than the stump of a lead pencil. Presently the finger slipped through too far and stuck by reason of its fatness. Day made a step forward expecting a howl, but Clunie said : “ Let him be. He’s game.”
It was a baby in frocks, but Clunie had dubbed him a boy by the way in which he conducted that affair of the finger. He tugged and twisted and hung on by it, till it was rasped crimson ; he set his brows, casting indignant glances at the strange spectators who smiled and offered no help.
“ Hey,” said Clunie, much diverted, “ his cap is over his starboard peeper, and his face is as red as a beet. He ’ll yell directly.” And he did. The mother turned with a flash in her big, dark eyes, and the young men drew off rather guiltily.
The child threw itself with sobs upon her bosom. Its cap slipped off, and showed a fine, broad-topped head, pink with rage, and shining all over with curls no longer than a lamb’s fleece and yellow as seed grass.
Day turned, with some remark about the handsome little hybrid ; but Clunie looked at him as if he had been the wall, and walked out of the place. They were on their way further to keep an appointment, which was Clunie’s more than Day’s. Morton followed his friend as far as the sidewalk, and saw him standing on the corner below, staring straight before him with a fixed, expressionless face, the external consciousness knocked apparently clean out of him. The matter looked too serious for jocular meddling. Day did not hail him, but let him go, and finished their joint business alone and not in the best of spirits.
He met the mother and child face to face again as he was returning to McAlpine’s office. She was a rather handsome young woman, chiefly eyes, the grave, soft, animal-like eyes of her race, — the Indian half of it Her natural suppleness was spoiled by stays, and of course she could not wear the hat of civilization, — but she did, with the effect of its making her look bold and hard. She was a pretty piece of degeneracy, a child of Nature in the fatal transition stage.
On the shadow of a hint, Fred Dowd would have satisfied his curiosity concerning her ; but Day had a strong disinclination to know more than he could avoid knowing, in this case. If Madam Nemesis had looked at Clunie out of that woman’s dark eyes, what she had to say to him was a matter for them to settle. A year ago, Clunie would hardly have paid her the tribute of a pale face and a hasty retreat. Conscience had never made a coward of him before.
Day rebuked himself duly for assuming that it was conscience, but having yielded to suspicion, little confirmatory suggestions were not wanting. He found himself a trifle constrained with his friend when they met next day. But Clunie was indifferent and preoccupied.
The Bradshaws’ outside man was down about the docks a good deal while the Parthenia was loading. He noticed that her people seemed to be taking big chances on getting her to sea. A few days before she was to sail, he said to Clunie : “ Do you know what I have done ? Persuaded those ladies to wait over for the Roscommon. I took their names off the Parthenia’s list to-day.”
“ What for ? ”
“Well, she is a new ship in the Pacific trade. Grannis has never taken her out from the Heads before. And he is one of these banner freight-captains, — almost too clever about getting ahead of the inspectors. They have pumped out her water ballast, and are loading her, light as she is, down to her plimsoll mark. She is a very long, highsided vessel, — top-heavy as she lies; and, to cap all, they are getting a deck load of extra coal aboard of her. Some of her coal bunkers have been used for wheat, the stevedores say. If she happens to strike it rough, going over the Bar, she will turn turtle before they can get the water ballast back into her compartments.”
“ Are you the only one who says so?”
“I am not the only one who thinks so. But Grannis knows it all! And, of course, the trick has not been tried — with that vessel. She may go out all right.”
“ But the general opinion on the water front is that she won’t ? ”
“ The water front does n’t know nor care.”
“ If you believe this, great Scott, you ought to care! Why don’t you set the law on her ? Talk it up where it will do some good.”
“ These things are not done in a corner,” Day retorted. “ The law, or the public, is at liberty to use its eyes. I have no inside evidence ; and I may be mistaken. Go and see for yourself.”
“ What is it to me ! ” Clunie answered, with a goaded look. “ If you can wash your hands of it ” —
“ I did n’t wash my hands till I had used what influence I have, in the only quarter where I ’m likely to have any. Sometimes I believe it, and then again I don’t. I give you — or any friends of yours,” Day added deliberately, “ the benefit of my doubts.”
Clunie did not thank him. He flushed as if stung. “ If you have gone the length of warning those women,” he said huskily, “you’ve no right to stop there.”
“ What would you have me do ? ”
“ Go to the Board of Underwriters. Wake up the water front, somehow.”
“You are welcome to the job,” said Day. “ Go, and inform against the Parthenia, and get her unloaded. Who can tell she would n’t have gone out all right ? Every one will say it was done out of meanness, at the instigation of our bosses, and the Old Man will jump on us for getting the house into trouble with a rival line.”
Clunie got up with a furious look. “ This whole business of going to sea in ships is rotten ! ” he swore ; “ and your trade etiquette is the rottenest part of it.”
“ It is all that keeps us from flying at one another’s throats,” said Day.
“ Oh, well ! Whip the devil around the stump! You ’ll get on, my son.”
As he spoke, Clunie’s face turned red and rigid. A girl’s voice could be heard asking, at the wrong desk, for Mr. Day ; and Morton went forward to speak to Annie Dunstan.
She had come for her monthly draft on the balance Captain Speke had left with the firm in her name. Usually they dispensed with the forms, and Clunie had saved her the trouble of coming. Day fancied that she glanced about her rather wistfully; she must have seen Clunie where he stood, but he did not move. He remained as if paralyzed until she was gone, when he rushed out, and Day saw him go tearing off in an opposite direction, with no excuse for leaving the office, and no apology on his return.
The Parthenia was advertised to sail on a Thursday. On Tuesday evening Clunie came to his friend’s room and took his favorite seat on the table with his foot on the nearest chair, tilting it back and forth in a manner most objectionable. But there was that in his face which cried for mercy.
“ I cannot find her in the city,” he said. “ There are forty of the name in the Spanish quarter.”
Day made no pretense of asking to whom he referred.
“You could get the address from Dowd,” he said, without looking up.
“ I won’t go near the brute! ” said Clunie. “ You know the style of his inferences. Will you get it for me, old man ? You are superior to inferences, you know.”
Neither of the two smiled at this familiar sarcasm. “ I am the author of the scare,” said Day. “ Suppose you let me peddle it about ? ”
“ You have taken care of your friends ; these are my crowd. It’s on me, this time,” answered Clunie.
His wretched willingness to meet the issue Day had raised made it impossible not to relent.
“ You should know best,” he said. After a pause he added : —
“ Did you notice how she was dressed, Clunie ? And they don’t travel, as a rule. Somebody is taking care of her. I don’t want to be a cynic, or discourage anybody’s good intentions, but I don’t see where you propose to come in — on the present arrangement. As a question of taking chances on that ship, it is simple enough. I can see that she is warned.”
“You are simplifying things rather late, it strikes me. Why did n’t you think of this before ? Are you getting alarmed about me ? ”
“ I don’t know why I should n’t be,” Day replied. “Have you looked in the glass lately ? You are looking very sick, Clunie — as you ought to look, for you are throwing away the greatest thing on earth ! Heaven does n’t stoop to a man twice in his lifetime.”
“ If I had a heaven,” said Clunie bitterly, “ I should n’t want it to stoop. It is possible that I know what I have missed, and why I missed it.”
“But if you had n’t missed it? If you had won it, God knows how ! and could have it for the asking, would n’t you rate your responsibilities a little differently ? You can’t take in fresh cargo with the old stuff rotting in your hold. Unload, man, unload ! Tell her the truth. You never knew you had a conscience till she found it out for you. Go to her, and she will teach you how to use it.”
“ Go to her — with that story ! The girl a man could tell that to, and not forfeit his right to know her — she would n’t be the kind to help him much.”
“ That is a matter of opinion,” said Day. “ I have known some good women, but I never knew a really good one who would want to spare herself the truth about a friend, if she could help him by knowing it.”
“ Assuming that she cared one way or the other ! ”
“She does care ; you know that perfectly well.”
“ So much the worse for me, then.”
They sat in silence after that, but for the infuriating bumping of the chair which Clunie kept up unconsciously. The owner pulled it away from him, and his foot came down heavily on the floor. Day was angry with his friend, doubly angry because he had put the test before him and could not save him from its logic, or prevent his headlong acceptance of its issues.
“ Go to the devil your own way, then, but you shall not jog that chair ! ” he said roughly.
Clunie laughed, and sat swinging his foot in the air. “ If I don’t go to the devil, it won’t be your fault, old man. I suppose you know whose side you are on! Those arguments — don’t I know ’em all by heart ? Been over them a thousand times.
“ Did you see me that day I struck their trail ? Did n’t I cut and run, by the fine instinct you advise me to follow ? And what came of it ? What comes when you ’re called up for a caning and you duck? You get it worse, that’s all.”
After a moment he said more gently, “ I don’t know what I shall do, Mort; don’t know what there is to do. Seems some mistake about ‘ Never too late to mend.’ But we don’t duck this time, and we don’t pass ’em by on the other side.
“ Come, Missus ! ” he rose, and Missus came forth from beneath the sofa where she had been investigating a hole in the wainscot. “ We have explained ourselves to our friends, and our friends don’t approve of us.”
44 It’s your fight, old man,” said Morton, “ but I wish — I wish I had n’t stumped you to it ! What name shall I ask for beside ‘ Concha ’ ? ”
The change in Clunie’s face was not pleasant to see. Day opened the door for him, with an impulse to bid him farewell. A high, pure hope was dead. What remained was the letter of the law, — a lie to be lived for life. This was another man’s way of seeing it. Men of the English race are not happy in living a lie, or in seeing one fastened upon a fellow man, though it were the clog of a righteous punishment.
At Ward and McAlpine’s, Day searched the Parthenia’s passenger list. The name he looked for was not found. There was no Mexican or Spanish name on that list.
He sang Hallelujahs to himself, and Dowd, perceiving he was happy, asked if he had recognized the name of a healthy creditor among the outward bound. But his information seemed to afford neither comfort nor relief to Clunie.
“ It gives us less time,” he said. “ We shall have trouble stopping her now. She has taken another name.”
“ What’s the matter with her taking her husband’s name ? She is married, or she is n’t going.”
Clunie shook his head. “ You saw her take her passage. And if she had married he’d be a Mexican. You don’t know the place. Nothing stops there but the Pacific Mail, and no one goes ashore but the purser. I know every purser on the line.”
The palpable aspects of life are hard to gainsay. On the dock next morning, amidst the stir of the steamer’s departure, Day lost the clue to his previous fears. The Parthenia herself was such a huge, convincing reality. Where was there any suggestion of tragedy about her, or her crew getting in the lines, or her cool-eyed officers directing them! Her freight was all on board ; only the passengers’ trunks remained to be handled.
He saw Clunie walking fast toward him up the pier. He was pale, freshshaven, and soberly aware of himself. There was that in his look which made one think of a conscript who has just got his number. For whatever he was about to do, Day felt himself deeply responsible.
Clunie looked at him strangely. “ They are on board,” he said.
“For God’s sake let them stay there ! We have been stirring up a mare’s nest. Wake up,” said Day, “and look about you. Are all these people mad ? ”
Clunie passed his hand back of his friend’s arm and let it rest a moment on his shoulder. “ You are nervous, Mort. It is all done now. But ten to one if I can fetch them off! ”
“ You never can in the world. You can’t make those people decide. ‘ Poco tiempo,’ she will say.”
A light came into his face. “hen it is ‘ poco tiempo ’ for me. If they go, I go with them.”
“ You don’t, if I can help it! ”
“But the ship’s going out all right; you have just said so.”
“ Not with you on board.”
“ Wake up yourself, Mort. You don’t want to make a scene here ! But if you want to help me there is a thing ” — Clunie lowered his voice and looked away. “ If she should ever — Well, don’t — don’t let her think it was what I wanted. Tell her it came hard; tell her why. Hands off, now ! You ’ll see me again. Good Lord, if this were the end of it ! ”
He shook himself free, and Morton watched his tweed shoulders and the fair, boyish back of his head disappear in the press around the gang plank.
The voice of Black Jake hailed him as, steering a loaded wheelbarrow, the big stevedore lurched past.
“ Say, boss, ain’t that Mist’ Robert goin’ aboard ? Old man send for him after all ? ”
“ He was sent for,” said Morton grimly, “ and he went.”
“ Let those trunks be. They belong ashore. That’s what I said! You leave those boxes where they are! ”
It was the voice of Clunie, close beside him. Morton turned, and there stood the late penitent, offensively alive and safe, with the woman and child he had chosen. He had come back to boast of his choice, apparently, for his face was ablaze with happiness. So amazing was the transformation that Day could not at first take in its full import ; then he wanted to strike the shameless front of him so lately pretending renunciation and self-sacrifice. He thought of an unquotable text about the dog that returns — as is the nature of dogs to do, but should not be the nature of men.
That poor girl in her childish finery, with her big, black, sensuous eyes — what a judgment day for Clunie! And the fool was content! — nay, triumphant, with a countenance of solemn, almost holy joy.
“ Day,” he said distinctly, with a studied deliberation as if forced to think of every word, “ please be presented to Mrs. — the Señora Reynolds. She is going to Liverpool to meet her husband who is steward on the new Australian line, between Liverpool and Sydney. I have persuaded her to wait for the Roscommon, as you advised.” (As he advised !) Then to her in Spanish he explained that his friend, naming Day, would have the honor to escort her to her train, while he himself would see that her luggage was detained ashore and sent after her with the utmost expedition. And what might be the señora’s address ?
She gave it, and with all grace and gravity assured him that her husband and her father and all her male relations were his servants for life. She was then transferred with her child and numerous portables to the dazed Morton’s care. He made a scattering retreat with her across the tracks to a safe corner, where she entered into an animated exposition concerning her child, in answer to some obvious question of his, explaining that he was muy grande for his age. And he could walk — see ! She put him down upon his cushiony feet to prove it, where he rocked perilously and clung to her skirts. Then she held up four fingers and tapped her own white teeth, laughing, to show how advanced he was in dentition also. And was it not most horrible to think of those so many persons devoted to the deep — in that perfidious ship ? Did the señor also believe it? She think some time she must be dreaming ! Don Clunio had spoken with the face of conviction absolute. Would she not leave the ship ? Then would he take passage with her to England, or to — She rolled her great eyes expressively. They would be drowned all together. Because of that obligation since two years which he owe to the house of her father. She did not seek to be drowned. Ah God ! Neither did she wish to be followed to England. She was between fire and water. Here she laughed hysterically. Don Clunio — he was the whirlwind. When the whirlwind take you, you go !
The car arrived, and Morton, helping her to mount the step, had the satisfaction to see upon her ungloved hand the authentic wedding ring. So the fortuitous Reynolds was no myth.
Clunie was still in the thick of the battle of the trunks. Bad language was flying about his ears ; every man belonging to the ship was angry with him, but he was superior to abuse. Also he was using a little money in subordinate quarters. At last, the señora’s boxes were cut out and delivered to a grinning expressman. Clunie turned to his friend ; he was wet with perspiration and pale about the mouth. The hand he held out was shaking. Day grasped it, and he raised his hat. The damp sea wind blew in his face and cooled his hot brow and dripping hair.
“ Commuted ! ” He spoke low, with an awed look.
“ It was Concha, then ? ”
“ Concha, by all that’s merciful ! Don’t you remember Reynolds ? He was steward on the Colomba. I had forgotten that the stewards go ashore at Cape St. Lucas. They go ashore to buy green turtle.”
Here was a blow to tragedy ! So did Ariadne, after Theseus deserted her, turn to the good things of this world, and marry Bacchus.
But Day wisely refrained from calling attention to this parallel. His friend was no cynic, and at times he lacked a sense of humor.
In those days there were no trolley lines running from the ferries to the Cliff House. The young men were reduced to horse hire in order to compass the distance in time, scant time, for a last look at the Parthenia. As they were hastening to the nearest livery stable, a large female with a market basket held them up, and fixed her rolling eyeballs upon Clunie. It was mother Egypt, awakened from her calm. Her manner to him was a mixture of the truculent and caressing.
“ Go ’way, go ’way f’om heah ! Dat ain’ you ! Youse on the Partheny, goin’ off ’thout sayin’ good-by ! ”
“ Where did you get that yarn ? ” asked Clunie, without a change of feature.
“ ’T ain’t no ya’n. I knows when niggah lyin’. Jake say he seen you, an’ I b’liebe him.”
“ Jake has got a head on him this morning,” said Clunie; “ and you are blocking the road. Make way.”
“ Ain’t you goin’ on the Partheny, fo’ sure ? Way is you goin’, then ? ”
“ Is that any business of yours ? ” Clunie stood with his hands in his pockets resignedly.
“ Mist’ Clunie ! You scare me to deaf! You ghos’ was walkin’ up dat gang plang, fo’ a wa’nin’. Youse goin’ on dat ship some day, an’ youse gwine be drown’! ”
“All right,” said Day. “It was his ghost! I saw it myself.”
“ Anyhow, you make me tell a big lie amongst you, an’ somebody gwine feel bad. Black Jake tell me, an’ I tell Miss Annie, an’ she don’ say nothin’. Her face tu’n gray like a li’l’ stone image, an’ she git her hat an’ go out de house, an’ I ain’t seen her; an’ I got to go back to dat chile right now. I lef’ him ’ith that fool gal ’cross de street. Mist’ Clunie — no foolin’ now ! Don’ you ever in you’ bo’n life set foot abo’d dat ship — dat Partheny. She ain’t right, somehow. You been wa’ned! ”
“ I was warned, all right, and I took the warning,” said Clunie. “Now get out of the road.”
She wagged her head at him solemnly. “ What fo’ you ain’ been neah us fo’ two whole weeks ? What you been doin’ roun’ town ? Look like you been raisin’ Cain wid you’se’f somehow.”
“ I ’ll raise Cain with you if you don’t step on.”
She whacked him archly with her basket. Some loose paper fell out, which he made into a wad and tossed after her.
“That’s how a thing flies in this world,” he groaned. “ God knows why I have to meet that old fiend at every turn ! ”
“ There is a side to it that’s not all bad,” said Day, slightly embarrassed. They were urging their horse up Sutter Street, and talking against the noise of the wheels.
“ What is that ? ” asked Clunie.
“ Well, supposing you should ever feel the need of confessing yourself to — in a certain quarter ” —
“ I 'm not likely to be taken that way very soon,” said Clunie dryly.
“I’m supposing a case. I think our colored friend has probably saved you the necessity. Yet the lady is still your friend ! Putting it in the case of another person — say myself — how would you argue from that ? ”
“ How often must I tell you, Mort, that I don’t consider myself in a position to argue, or to think, or to speculate in that quarter. So drop it, if you please! ”
“ All in good time,” said the irrepressible young wiseacre. “ What will you bet the Parthenia goes out all right, after all ? ”
“ I’m not betting on human lives this morning,” said Clunie. And the conversation dropped.
It was the old Cliff House, then, and the old cliff walk, before the pleasure dome of Sutro was decreed. It is well we should all be happy in our own way, — the democratic way, — but the happiness of crowds is a fatal thing in nature. There were no board fences then, cutting one off from following the old sea paths deep bitten into the wind-sheared turf.
They put their horse up at the hotel, and tramped out toward the Golden Gate, — the Gate of Eternity to many souls that day! The wind boomed in their ears, and laid the wild lilies flat in their beds on the seaward slopes. In an instant they saw that every sign was against the ship: wind and tide opposing, and a strong tide running out; and the whitecaps as it looked from shore were great combers on the Bar.
Already the Parthenia was far out beyond help. Her passengers were thinking of their luncheons. The two spectators watched her come nosing around the cliff. They marked how she wallowed and settled by her stern quarter. They were letting the air out of her, then ; she was part in air and part in water ballast when she met the Bar. A beast of a Bar it was that morning. It clapped paw upon her, rolled her to larboard, let her recover once, then rolled her to starboard, as a cat tumbles a mouse, and the play was over. Her stern went under sideways, her staggering bow shot up, and she sank, like a coffin, with all on board.
So sudden and silent and prepared it was, she might have walked out there, a deliberate suicide, and made away with herself. And so strong was the ship’s personality that it was quite a moment before the two witnesses of her fate could gather the sense that she was not perishing alone, but was digging the grave of living men and women.
Then they tore away for the life-saving station.
At some distance ahead of them on the narrow cliff path they saw a little figure running with arms outspread, — a girl, bareheaded, dressed in black. As they closed upon her, they saw her wild face turned to the empty sea. It was Annie Dunstan, white as the surf, sobbing against the wind, her skirts stroked back, the dark hair whipped across her forehead. She forced her way against the blast as if pulled onward straight for the spot where the ship went down. As Clunie called to her she looked back, swerved, and almost fell. He could not stop ; he could not leave her. Hand in hand, he seized her, and half carrying her they ran on, all three, without question, as if bound by invisible cords to the sinking ship. The girl’s strength gave out soon. “ Go on ! ” she gasped. “ Don’t wait for me.”
“ There is no hope ! ” Clunie knelled in her ear.
“ Go on ! There must be hope ! ” Day was now ahead of them.
“ Will you wait, — Annie ? Will you wait here for me ? ”
She motioned him onward; she flung him with her whole might, as it were, toward the spot where succor was needed. It was her own pure soul of helpfulness that she offered up in him, and he felt it through and through him. He knew he should save lives that day. Her strength in him should not be wasted.
Weeks had passed. The Parthenia’s dead were buried, — all that the sea gave up, — the friendless and the stranger at company charges. For the Catholic seamen church rites and a place in consecrated ground had been purchased of the Fathers, at so many dollars per soul; the souls being many the price was somewhat abated. The Fathers had no wish to take advantage.
On a day about this time, Clunie was called into the private office and informed with considerable impressiveness, by his chief, that the London uncles had sent for him. No barks or brigs this time, but a first-class cabin passage on a famous greyhound line, and a handsome balance to his credit to cover all contingent expenses.
Clunie stood considering. There was less than the expected satisfaction in his face. “Would this money be mine?” he inquired, referring to the deposit. “ Does it come out of my father’s estate ? ”
“ I think it would be safe to put it that way,” the chief replied, with his customary caution. “ Your uncles are evidently prepared to recognize your claim.”
“ Which I never made — on them,” Clunie reminded him.
“ Quite true. But the intention is, I fancy, to make it very pleasant for you over there. My brother,” Mr. Bradshaw added kindly, “ has been able to give a good account of you since you have been with us.”
“ I am very glad to hear it, and I thank you, sir. I could find use for that money, now,” said Clunie, brightening, “but not to go to London.”
Mr. Bradshaw looked the youngster over in amazement. “ It is a fair wind ; better take it while it holds.”
“ There is a fairer wind for me ” — Clunie turned his ardent eyes away. “ I am not ready to go to London.”
Not ready to go — where an English family welcome awaited him, not ready to step into a fortune in trust! “ I hope
this has nothing to do with pride, or pique? ” the old chief protested solemnly. “ Your uncles are not young men.”
“ No, sir; and my father is not a young man. If he had sent for me I should go at once. But they say it is too late for that. The uncles have been in no haste to see me. Why should I be in such a hurry to go ? ”
“Will you tell me if you have any special reason for delay, — any claim upon you here ? ”
“ I have,” answered Clunie. “ When I do go I wish to take my wife with me.” He spoke fast; Mr. Bradshaw did not quite follow.
“ Your wife ! ” he repeated dazedly. “ Are you married, Robert ? When in the world did you do that ? ”
“ I am not married yet,” Clunie explained, with his flashing smile ; “ but I hope to be by the time I start for London.”
“ Well, well! ” said Mr. Bradshaw, his disgust plainly visible. “ This puts a new face on the matter. I wish I could congratulate you. But why be in such a hurry ? You are only a boy. You’ve a long life before you.”
“ I need a long life,” said Clunie, “ and it can’t begin too soon. We are booked for the voyage; it’s a straight course, this time. There is nothing between us now — nothing but a trifle of money — between us and the stars of home.”
Mr. Bradshaw coughed his dismay. “ But where — where do you call ‘ home ’ ? Not Auckland ? ”
“ Rather ! ” laughed Clunie. His nostrils widened ; his eye was far-fixed; he dreamed awake, and saw beyond the dingy maps on the office walls, beyond the fog in the street outside. The wash of sunlit seas was in his ear.
“ Home first, London after, — if my father is still there. But I’ve a notion that I shall find him when we go home.”
“ When we go home ! ” So it was all settled. Mr. Bradshaw could not help his distrust of Clunie’s wisdom in the direction of that confident “ we.” His fading smile expressed discreet but not unfriendly incredulity. “Well,” he concluded sadly, “you ought to know which way is home by this time, — you have tried all the roads. But I would write to the uncles first, by all means. Write at once. And while you are about it, why not send a few words to your father through them. Just a line or two, quite simply — what you are doing — that sort of thing.”
Clunie flushed, hesitating. Then he confessed, looking his chief in the eye, “ I have been writing to my father — on the chance, you know — regularly, for the past six months. Can’t say what they did with my letters.”
“ Why, they read them to him, of course. The very best thing you could have done. No doubt it has had an excellent effect upon your prospects ” —
“ Do you think I did it for that?”
“ Certainly not! But it was a good thing all around. It may have had something to do with the improvement they speak of in your father’s condition of late. But whether it helped him or not it has helped you.” The old chief’s gaze dwelt mistily on the face he had learned to love: the rich dark coloring, the blue eyes, the mouth steady and stern. “ Something has helped you,” he pronounced, “ and God knows you needed help when I saw you first! ”
Hand clasped in hand, the two men confronted each other. “ It’s a sad pity your father cannot see you, Robert. On my soul, I believe it would finish his cure ! It would make him young again. Don’t wait too long, my boy. Find him, wherever he is. It is never safe to say, in this world, ‘ The time has gone by; it is too late.’ ”
Mr. Bradshaw touched a bell. To the office boy who answered it, he said : “ Ask Mr. Wayland to make out a check to Mr. Clunie Robert. How much shall you want, Mr. Robert ? ”
Mary Hallock Foote.