SUSAN PENNELL had been having some difficulty in persuading her usually docile husband to take her brother John as mate. Why was he still so stubborn!
‘But I’ve had Duffy for five years,’ he continued to protest. ‘I’ve always intended if ever I got a better ship to turn this one over to him.’
‘You never promised him, did you? And he does n’t know that you’re going to have the Marr in the spring, does he?’
‘No. But I owe it to him to treat him decent.'
‘I don’t see why you’d do more for him than for Johnny, your own brother-in-law. Mr. Duffy would understand. People always make places for relatives.... I have n’t seen Johnny since he left home. He’s awfully smart, Josiah.’
Josiah Pennell listened.
‘He took out his second mate’s, first mate’s, and captain’s papers all at once the second year he was at sea. Hardly anyone can do that.’
‘He had more education,’ murmured her husband.
‘You know he could n’t have gone as second and first with a thousand papers unless he’d been capable!’
‘Oh, o’ course not.’
‘Oh, Josiah! Could n’t you at least take him for one voyage, and then, if you don’t like him, get Mr. Duffy back again?’
‘ I might lose track of Duffy in the meantime.’ He did not say that the business of discharging his wife’s brother might be painful. He did not say that the very number of vessels John Richmond had sailed in as first or second officer made him dubious.
‘Mr. Duffy’s always wanting to stay home for a trip.’
Josiah smoked placidly.
‘Or he could get another job easily enough.’
‘But not one as promising as this.’
‘Oh, I do think you’re mean! I never, never interfered in your business before, did I? And you know how I feel about Johnny.’ Her voice — the debate had been running for days — quavered and blurred, and Josiah, who loved his wife, weakened fatally.
‘Well, I’ll see what I can do,’ he muttered hastily.
It was arranged. Mr. Duffy, with a hurt look in his blue eyes, shook hands politely with Mrs. Pennell. Resentment tingled in his heart that this ship, faithfully served, should cast him off. He could not miss the brightness of Mrs. Pennell’s face and that of young ’Siah, too, who could hardly wait to see in the flesh an uncle of whom he had often heard. But Louis flung herself upon Mr. Duffy and wept on his vest, threatening to write to him; and he, touched by that demonstration, gave her a carved oak box with an intricate fastening which the carpenter had made him. The exposition of how to open this box by deftly adjusting the little knobs seemed to relieve her grief, though as he looked back forlornly he saw that she still watched by the rail, wiped her bleary face with a rag of handkerchief, and anon waved with it violently. The old man stood beside her, and as often as Louis brandished her handkerchief he too gestured widely with his old felt hat.
Susan induced the steward to clean the mate’s room thoroughly. She asked the carpenter to put up a little shelf for Johnny’s accommodation. For the cheap mattress, flat and hard, she substituted that in the upper berth in young ’Siah’s room; a plump pillow, also, she found. She selected a few blankets, in case, as was quite likely, Johnny brought some of those shoddy things that ship’s officers affected. She laid down a little round braided rug. She was as thrilled as in the old days when Johnny was expected from college for vacation and mother and sisters vied with one another for his comfort.
As she bustled around she chattered incoherently to Josiah, who soberly watched her journeyings to and fro. Did Johnny still have that ring she and Julia and ’Lizabeth had shared in buying him? That was the first money she had ever earned. And the fraternity pin? It had been an expensive thing, considering its size and the length of time Johnny had continued in college. It was a shame Father had been so angry that time, though to this day she was not certain why, for the trouble had not been discussed with her sisters and she herself had been away teaching at the time; it did not seem possible that it could have been about women or drinking. He had always been such a good-natured boy — goodlooking, too, and gay. Anyway, Johnny had run off after Father refused to send him back to college and had shipped on the Katahdin. Sometimes he had written to her; twice when he was in hospital she had sent him some money for the little luxuries that are never lavished in those bleak places on poor broken mariners. His letters were so charming and affectionate — and grammatical. Bill and all the sisters except her had stopped going to school after the eighth grade; it was so long a trip to high school in town every day and the dairy farm needed many hands. That long walk! Fall and winter and spring, in good weather and bad, deep snow and mud and dust, in her horrid clothes and worn-out shoes she had plodded the two miles; she wondered now how she had done it. Well, no; actually she had liked school, and the family felt also that someone must keep an eye on Johnny. He never looked shabby like other country boys; he was naturally neat. She used to swell with an elder sister’s pride when she noticed him in the corridors or classrooms, and she was glad that all the nicer boys and girls talked to him and asked him to parties. Father had been so unreasonably harsh! It was going to be lovely to have him with them, and she must try not to call him ‘Johnny’; ‘John’ was more dignified for his position. John. John. ‘Your uncle John, ’Siah —’
In due season John Richmond arrived, a little shiny, a little pale, bright eyes a little tired, but cheerful. He dropped into the big chair in the after cabin and talked at length to his eager sister, his taciturn brother-in-law, and his hovering niece and nephew. From first to last his career on the sea, it seemed, had been a series of misadventures, in spite of which he had mounted rapidly at first; he had gone only one voyage before the mast, and only four as second officer. But he had spent nine scorching days in an open boat in the China Sea. He had been on the Venture when she took fire and was beached on the west coast of Africa, where he had lived for three months. There had been a mutiny on board the Peter Kelly when he was first mate under Starvation Blaisdell, and the after guard had fought off the mutineers with guns and brought them to Liverpool in irons; he had made another trip with old Blaisdell after that, but left the ship in Sydney. He had had malaria in Aspinwall. The penny-pinching ships that he had sailed in had discharged all hands in port —witness this last time when Cap’n Brown had laid off everybody but the steward.
‘Cap’n Jim Brown?’ said Josiah Pennell. ‘But he keeps his mates by the ship generally.’
‘Well, yes, generally. But I was n’t specially in favor and he wanted a fella he’d had before for several years. That’s the way it always is; they all have some pet they want to boost. At this rate I’ll never get to be skipper.’
‘Oh, but here, Johnny — John, I mean — we —’ From the tail of her eye she saw that Josiah had turned an attentive head in her direction and she bethought herself. ‘We’d do anything for you we could, John; you’re my favorite, anyway!’ She beamed at the young man draped comfortably in Josiah’s big chair.
‘Then I got this last whiff of malaria in Boston and ended again in the hospital. Lost most of my goods and chattels; all I’ve got’s this suit.’ He picked at it frowningly. ‘Somebody stole my sextant. I’ll have to have an advance, I guess,’ — he grinned at Josiah, who nodded pleasantly,—‘to get some duds and blankets and things. Hunt up a secondhand sextant somewhere.’
‘Oh, we’ve plenty of blankets,’ cried Susan, ‘and Josiah’s got an extra sextant. Though maybe it’s not any good?’ She turned questioningly toward her husband.
‘ I can lend you my new one, I guess.’
‘Oh, no, sir. Let me use the old one.’
‘I kind of prize the old one more. Cap’n Delano’s wife gave it to me with his chronometer after the old fellow died.’ Then, ‘Why, I went boy and able seaman and second and first with him until he died that time, and I brought the ship home using his sextant and chronometer. She said that the night he died — it was blowing a gale and I was on deck — he told her he wanted me to have ’em.’
‘Well, it’s kind of you, sir! It’ll save me some money, too.’
‘Don’t call him “sir”!’ exclaimed Susan. ‘It sounds so stiff.’
The young man laughed. ‘Well, it’s been great to talk,’ he yawned. ‘I’ll go out and get settled and have a nap.’ Susan followed him to his room, with Louis and young ’Siah tagging behind, and she pointed with pride to the things she had accomplished in his behalf. She tucked her hand under his arm, where he squeezed it fondly, and everything was just as it used to be when he came home from school; it was simply delightful to see him once more.
By means of an advance on wages he supplemented his wardrobe so that when he walked abroad he less resembled the seaman; his coat fitted him neatly and he had indulged in a velvet vest and even a pair of light gloves, though the latter item he was at some pains to don at a distance from the ship. When in his new elegance he escorted Susan to the theatre she felt like a girl with a lover.
‘I hope we’ll get a long charter,’ Susan said to her husband. ‘We can have such nice times with Johnny— John, I mean — and he’ll enjoy our reading, too. He reads much better than I do,’ she dreamed adoringly.
‘Yeah,’ said Josiah, ‘but I think we’ll take coal from Baltimore to the West Indies.’
‘Oh, I thought there was a prospect of going out to San Francisco?’
‘I don’t favor that one so much.’
‘But i have n’t been to San Francisco for six years!’ Her tone was aggrieved.
Josiah laughed. ‘We don’t pick our charters for pleasure, Susy! This is n’t any yacht.’
‘I bet you’re trying not to get out of reach of Mr. Duffy.’
‘No, really, Susan, I’m not. I may find John is exactly as good — ’
‘Of course he is!’
‘And we ought to be coppered before a winter voyage round the Horn. The longer we can stave it off, the better for us, if the freight is as good.'
They left New York for Baltimore to load coal for Matanzas.
The trip was everything Susan anticipated. She patched John’s clothes, darned his stockings, knitted him two pairs of stout woolen socks, abstracted various articles from Josiah’s wardrobe, cutting them down, when possible, for her slimmer brother. She washed socks and shirts for him. Though twelve years or more had passed since John had basked in that atmosphere of loving-kindness, he readily adapted himself to it.
In dogwatches and parts of his watches below he stretched on the red sofa or in the big chair and was ministered to with cups of tea and entertained. He did not, it developed, care much for the Decline and Fall, so presently Susan laid aside that work for Henry Esmond.
Yet, he was a good-humored chap, John was. When Josiah rebuked him very, very mildly for coming to table without his coat, he laughed and fetched it. ‘First ship I ’ve ever had to wear my coat to meals,’ he remarked. ‘Kind of silly, I think, to wear a coat when it’s so warm. But what you say has to go.’ Susan wished that Josiah had not blurted out such a personal criticism to John, as if John had no manners! If John had n’t been so easygoing he might have been offended. Josiah could have asked her to speak to John and she could have explained tactfully how insistent Josiah had always been on that point and how he had had to speak to every mate about it, and so on and so on; it was much more ticklish to correct a relative about a thing of that sort than just any mere officer.
Louis, meanwhile, whom Susan was trying to bring up to good-housewifery, practised darning on John’s socks — as well as on young ’Siah’s — with a grim countenance. She had to crochet, too, and had evolved a bright green tie for her father that stretched to the proportions of a jumping rope; then she had unwillingly made another for young ’Siah; and now she had been badgered into a similar labor for her uncle. She hated crochet! Always she prefaced the undertaking with dire whispers in her room.
‘I’m going to give this to the carpenter, anyway,’ she said defiantly one day when the hour for neckties was upon her.
‘The carpenter! Really, Louis, what an idea! Don’t you want to do something for Uncle John?’
‘No, I don’t — not much. Anyway, I do; don’t I have to mend his old stockings? The carpenter made me the cradle for Jane and he made me the puzzle and he mended my cart and I never made him nothing.’
‘Anything,’ corrected her mother.
‘Well, anything, then. Uncle John never did nothing for me. Well, anything, then.’ She tightened her wide mouth obstinately, dropped her crochet hook, caught the thread under her foot as she stooped, and raveled out two or three rows of hard-won work. ‘There! ’ she said triumphantly.
‘But you do things for people because you love them, Louis, not because they do something for you.’
’I love the carpenter,’ retorted Louis, ‘and he’s teaching me to carve.’
Susan gazed at Louis in dismay; how could the child at her age be so calculating! She had noticed her selfishness often in the last two years. Louis allowed young ’Siah to play with her little cart only under parental duress, and young ’Siah, and in fact Susan herself, thought that carts were boys’ toys rather than girls’; the little drawing board which a second mate had given her with some crayons, and which was greatly coveted by young ’Siah to do his arithmetic on, Louis did n’t like him to use. Susan could recall numerous incidents where Louis’s selfishness had had to be curbed. Why, even now there was a continual squabble over the carved box! And to have adopted a like grudging attitude toward her uncle John and an outspoken disagreeableness! What did she say only yesterday when, coming in for her lessons, she had found John stretched on the red sofa? She had regarded him as coolly as if he were the ship’s cat.
‘ We always sit on the sofa for school and Mama sits in the big chair.’
John had laughed and tweaked one of the long sleek braids, but Louis had braced herself back, pudgy and fat in her outgrown, made-over purple dress.
‘ Well, we do, and other times Papa sits in the big chair and Mama sits in her rocking-chair.’ As if a mere chair or sofa made any difference!
‘Louis!’ Susan had exclaimed. ‘You can sit on the cushion on the floor just as well. I’m ashamed for you to be so rude. Where’s ’Siah?’
‘He’s out on deck.’
‘Did n’t he hear the bell?’
‘I did,’ observed Louis piously, and her brown, doggy eyes lifted to her mother’s face.
‘Well, he’ll be here presently, I guess. We’ll wait a few minutes.’
‘If you heard me now, then I could go out to the carpenter shop.’ This was Louis’s usual plea, and useless.
‘Louis!’ Louis subsided to blow and flutter idly the pages of her reader. Her mother turned to John. ‘’Siah’s rather inclined to be lazy about his lessons and I find that competition keeps him more interested.’
‘Do they have the same lessons?’
‘Oh, yes. Louis’s very quick. I think girls must develop earlier than boys. Louis helps ’Siah a good deal with his arithmetic; he is n’t patient at all, and it’s good for him and for her, I think, to —’
‘I do the examples,’ volunteered Louis, ‘and then I explain ’em and then he does ’em. And I hear him say tables and things and divide.’ Again her soft eyes flickered toward her mother.
‘Pretty smart, that,’ grinned Uncle John.
‘’Siah just can’t pin himself down to figures. His history and reading are better than Louis’s.’ Louis fluttered the pages of her book and let it slide from her fat knee to crumple face down on the floor. ‘I wonder what he can be doing.’
‘Hear me now, Mama,’ murmured Louis. She propped old Jane, with the chipped arms and the inane white face, against the carved box beside her on the floor; the ship rolled and Jane doubled acrobatically and laid her face on her shoes. Louis erected Jane again tenderly. ‘Hear me now,’ she droned. ‘I want —’
‘Do be patient, Louis. We have to wait for ’Siah.’
‘I’ll get him,’said John, heaving himself up and out of the cabin. In a moment he ushered in the truant, who hurriedly ransacked his bunk for books and sat down on the floor with his back to the sofa, where John reëstablished himself.
Lessons proceeded. Susan did not like visitors; John interrupted with frivolous remarks, welcomed and echoed with loud laughs by ’Siah. ’Siah, thought Susan, never used to be so parroty; perhaps it was a stage small boys passed through, or maybe it was just that he admired John. Louis bolted through her recitations and hopped to her feet, gathering books, Jane, and box in her arms.
‘Now may I go, Mama?’ she urged. ‘I want to carve. I was just cutting with the darling little chisel.’
‘All right, but only for half an hour.’
‘Lemme take the box while you’re gone,’ cried ’Siah. ‘I bet I can open it.’
‘No!’ shouted Louis from her room.
‘Don’t be a pig. Lemme take it. Mr. Duffy only gave it to you because you bawled when he went. He probably was going to give it to me — it’s more for boys.’
‘He would n’t either.’
‘Go on, lemme take it.’
‘I won’t. It’s mine.’ But ’Siah clutched her hurrying skirt.
‘Don’t be a pig. Mama, can’t I take the box while Louis is n’t using it?’
‘Why don’t you let him take it, Louis? ’
‘I don’t want to. He’ll break it.’
‘Break it! I won’t either.’
‘I think you might let him take it, Louis. I don’t like you to be selfish.’
‘Piggy, piggy,’ added ’Siah tactfully. Tears sprang into Louis’s eyes and she looked distressfully cornered.
‘It’s my box,’ she reiterated.
‘Louis, I’m ashamed of you. Let ’Siah play with the box.’
Louis relinquished it, blinked, and ran out of the cabin, Jane’s aged legs kicking under her arm. John looked up from the history he had impounded. ‘What’s the row?’
‘Louis won’t let me look at her box,’ answered ’Siah. ‘She’s a mean old thing.’ He was moving the big knobs round and round, pushing and pulling at them, prying at the unmoving cover, shoving the small knob in the middle across and back, peering at the radiating lines on the knobs for distinctive marks.
‘Let me have a look.’ John took the box in his long brown fingers and puzzled over it. He listened to the faint rubbing of wood on wood as the buttons slid around. ‘Does she know how to open it?’
‘Sure she does. Duffy told her.’
‘Mr. Duffy,’ corrected Susan suddenly. She loved to watch John and young ’Siah together.
‘ Well, Mr. Duffy. Can’t you open it, Uncle John?’
‘Not just yet. Curious thing, this is. Did this carpenter make it?’
‘Um-huh. Let me try now, Uncle John.’
‘He’s German,’ added Susan. ‘He was a cabinetmaker and left home, I gather, to avoid military service. He does beautiful work.’
‘Let me take it, Uncle John.’
‘Just a minute. I thought I had it then.’ Minutes passed.
‘Do let me take it! Louis lent it to me! Nobody ever lets me do anything! Did n’t you say I could take it, Mama? ’
‘Now, ’Siah, in just a minute.’
‘Do your ’rithmetic while you wait,’ said John cheerfully.
Susan could see that ’Siah was getting into a temper. It really was too bad of John to tease him so; she wanted them to be friends and ’Siah did so dislike being thwarted — his cheeks ware growing redder and redder.
‘Oh, let him have it, John,’she interceded.
‘All right. Curious, though.’ He handed the box to the angry boy, who flung it violently on the floor, where a table leg gouged a piece from one of the knobs.
‘There!’ he cried.
‘My, my!’ John pretended to cower.
‘Don’t, John,’ murmured Susan pacifically. ‘Be a good boy, ’Siah, and pick it up, and when Louis comes in I ’ll have her show you how to open it, if it’s not broken.’
Later, after a sulky Louis fumblingly revealed the secret to ’Siah, he in turn demonstrated to John, the steward, his father, the second mate, the man at the wheel, and the carpenter, how nimbly he could operate those screws; most of the recipients of the information then dutifully learned how from him. Louis, it is sad to say, snipped into bits ’Siah’s crocheted tie, though that effort at retaliation was a total loss, for ’Siah asserted loudly that he despised the rubbery old thing anyway, and moreover such wanton destruction brought punishment in its wake — Louis was confined to the cabin and the poop for three days, glimpsing the carpenter only when he came to the forward cabin for meals or brought the binnacle lantern to the poop. It was a bad time; John produced a succession of giant cockroaches for her to tame, offered to get her a rat for a pet, advised her to cut a hole at night through her partition into the pantry and to freedom, and ’Siah repeated these dull jokes maddeningly. Consequently it was a joy when ’Siah himself fell into disgrace.
Susan was reading to the steady deep roll of the bark and Louis was crocheting as slowly and as badly as she possibly could when the skipper, who had just gone out the companionway door, entered by way of the forward door with a hand on young ’Siah’s shoulder; there was apprehension upon that youthful face.
‘But Uncle John went, too,’ he was explaining. Susan glanced at them.
‘What’s the matter?’
‘ ’Siah’s been up aloft.’ He urged the boy toward the bathroom and Susan started erect.
‘Oh, Josiah! But did John go with him?’
‘Yes, he did, Mama. I—’
‘Oh, but — but if John was with him, Josiah!’
‘Disobedience is disobedience.’ The last word was muffled by the firm closing of the door, and immediately the sharp cracks of a strap rang in the still cabin. Susan’s hands clenched in anguish and even Louis’s delight turned to dismay at this dreadful calamity to ’Siah. When John came to intercede for the culprit it was too late; in any case, the skipper stated curtly, ’Siah was quite well aware of the enormity of what he had done. ‘When I was a young man,’ added Josiah, ‘ I saw a boy of sixteen fall from the topsail yard to the deck. Go to your room and stay there till suppertime, ’Siah, and don’t be a baby. Is n’t it your watch on deck, John?’
John flushed and spun on his heel.
Susan, already provoked at Josiah for Whipping the boy, was incensed at the rebuke to John, who had come below only to take the blame for the affair. She moved to a straight chair, better adapted to prolonged indignation. Louis, who could just see ’Siah’s feet, began again to feel pleased. Josiah stalked into his room and sat down, leaning his elbows on the desk and trembling.
During their short stay in Baltimore John borrowed five dollars of Susan, again and yet again; but he took young ’Siah to the zoo, which, Susan explained to Louis, was to make up for ’Siah’s recent punishment. After the third loan had been cordially made, Susan discovered that she was short of cash, that Louis’s summer clothes were utterly outgrown, that ’Siah’s underwear was in need of replenishing, and that she herself needed a thin dress for the hot weather in Matanzas. Well, she and Louis would just have to get along without anything new, unless — Should she speak to Josiah? That twenty-five dollars she had told him would do for their summer clothes. And now she really felt guilty a little, though Josiah always assented to everything and said what was his was hers. Josiah was n’t mean; he would n’t object, she was sure, and yet perhaps it was different from lending Johnny her own money as she used to. Still, in a way this was her money — it was her thin dress, anyway, and Louis’s. Luckily Louis never noticed whether her dresses stopped at her waist or her ankles. But it was n’t respectable for ’Siah to go any longer without new underclothes and shirts, and she had enough money on hand for that. But John should have known better than to ask; it takes money for a family — oh, well, he naturally would n’t know that. It was good-natured of him to take ’Siah to the zoo and the natural history museum and the big market; she must try to find time to do the same for Louis, though the cargo was pouring in very fast. She smoothed Louis’s silky head and hugged her gently.
‘You like ’Siah to have a good time, don’t you, Louis?’
‘I like to have fun, too,’ sulked Louis.
‘Boys, you know, when they grow up have to work all the time, and it’s nice for them to have a good time when they’re small.’ There was, Louis felt, a counter to that somewhere, but as she could n’t grasp what it was she grunted disagreeably. ‘You worked in the carpenter shop all the morning when he was away and we did n’t have any lessons, either.’
They had good dispatch in Baltimore and set out with variable light winds. At sea again Susan forgot her lingering grievances; a pleasant group of three, they began Pendennis.
‘Let’s try something else,’ proposed Josiah unexpectedly one day.
‘Why, I thought you liked it!’ Susan laid the book on her lap and stared at him.
‘Oh, yes, pretty well,’ he nodded. ‘But — ’
‘And John likes this, I think, and I do. Don’t you like it, John?’
‘Sure. It’s great.’ He rolled his head, embedded in a red sofa cushion, to rest a speculative eye on the skipper.
‘Oh, well — I thought John did n’t. I thought he’d gone to sleep over it.’
But John laughed a denial, so Pendennis continued to be their literary fare.
One morning Josiah turned out of bed, gave a casual glance at the compass overhead, started, took a step backward, and stared upward again squintingly. The ship was lunging in a strong swell that rolled up from the southward, and Josiah’s sudden alertness dragged Susan from her drowsiness.
‘Is anything the matter?’ she asked in alarm. West Indian hurricanes flitted across her mind.
‘Oh, no,’ he replied slowly. He dressed without further comment. His deliberation and the recollection that this was not the hurricane season reassured Susan and she dozed again. Remotely she heard Josiah murmur to the steward over the early mug of coffee, dimly she recognized his thuds on the stairs, as if indeed there were no hurry and nothing to fear. She was almost asleep when low familiar voices spoke outside the starboard windows, Josiah talking softly to John. Could something be wrong after all? She rose on her elbow and looked tensely at the closed shutters, but she could distinguish only an occasional word. What was Josiah saying? It sounded like his reprimanding tone.
‘ . . . Changing the course . . . call me . . . master here . . . change the course ... to know . . . ’
If John had changed the ship’s course on his own hook, that would certainly annoy Josiah — men are so difficult, so fussy; what difference would such a trifle make, particularly when it was in the family? She hoped John might not be mad. The voices ceased. Josiah padded down the companionway and a succession of creaks presently proclaimed that he was settling in the big chair; a waft of tobacco and the rustling of stiff paper followed. If he were reading the Masterpieces of Poetry he was really provoked. Susan rolled over cautiously and leaned a dangerous distance beyond the edge of the bed, the board cutting into her waist like a knife — yes, he had his old red-covered treasure in his hands. She rolled back, rubbing her side.
What had she better do? If she were specially nice to John so that he would not harbor resentment — then, when Josiah had soothed himself with rhymes and had his breakfast and maybe his dinner, she might have a talk with him about being more lenient with John. Were n’t men difficult! John should have realized from that other affair that Josiah was inclined to be strict, but John was so amiably competent himself that it would n’t occur to him not to take any necessary measures; and evidently, since Josiah had not changed the course back again, it must have been a suitable manœuvre. A mate should be allowed to exercise some judgment.
Breakfast racketed with Susan’s determined chatter. She insisted that John smoke his after-breakfast pipe in the cabin before turning in, an invitation which Josiah seconded. And the stiffness wore off in an argument as to whether young ’Siah was ready for the high school. Susan held that he knew enough, but was far, far too young; John maintained that age had nothing to do with it, and the younger the better; Josiah listened to one and to the other worriedly, saying nothing, until finally Susan turned to him for reënforcements. ‘Is n’t he too young, Josiah?’
‘What do they do there besides study?’ he said almost shyly. ‘I don’t know anything about high school. In fact, I don’t know about any schools practically. I went to sea, you know, when I was thirteen — I was big for my age, as tall as I am now, but not so heavy, o’ course.’ As he sucked at his pipe his blue eyes probed dreamily into the past; Louis came and pressed against his thigh with athletic Jane hanging head downward between his knees. ‘Why, I almost had no schooling at all; I went to district school four winters. I never even realized I was ignorant, either, till I was seventeen, about; in a fo’c’sle you seem all right. Nobody ever bothered about me until, when I got to be second mate, Cap’n Delano took kind of a fancy to me and he and the old woman used to lend me books until I got so I liked to read. Mrs. Delano used to take me sightseeing in port. She and the Cap’n used to argue like time about those books and it made it exciting. After a while I began to notice she was trying to correct the way I talked, — very carefully, you know, — but I pretended I never guessed what she was doing; she was such a polite woman that she would n’t ever have told me outright where I was wrong even if I asked her to. I was seventeen then, though I was on the articles as twenty-three. They did n’t have to be as good to me as they were. One voyage we had a passenger, a young fella related to the managing owner, who was taking a sea voyage for his health. I was awful shy with him for a while. He was a teacher in some high-class boys’ school round Boston, and we used to talk about this and that; he was older than I in everything but hard knocks — I’d taken all the advanced courses in those myself. Well, he laid out for me a list of the things boys study in high schools and got me the books some place and I studied them for years, dogwatches and fine weather and so on. I got on pretty well except for that Latin. You folks don’t understand, o’ course, how hard Latin is. I was encouraged at the outset because the first word I learned to — learned to — now what was the name of that business?’
‘Decline?’ suggested Susan breathlessly, almost in a whisper. Hardly ever did Josiah talk like this; things had to be extracted from him piecemeal. Something had jarred him from his rut.
‘Yeah, decline. I learned to decline nauta, “sailor” — nauta, nautae, nautae, nautam, nauta. So I concluded that eventually I should get my teeth in nautical affairs.’ He patted Louis’s hand. ‘ But I never ran across anything more maritime than the roses the farmer’s daughter gives the sailor in the garden; I never saw a sailor with roses, either. As a matter of fact, I could n’t make much sense of the sentences generally; I did n’t know grammar, — objects or clauses or predicate nouns or anything, — and at last I hove to. So, o’ course all I know of high schools is some of the plain subjects that they teach there. What else do they do? What has age got to do with it? It seems foolish to me to wait till you’re a certain age before you advance. Still I would like to have my Louis go shipmates with me a couple of years more; if we got short of proper lessons I could teach her navigation.’ Again he smoothed Louis’s hand and sat Jane up primly on his knee. ‘ It’s a great handicap to be ignorant.’
‘Of course Louis is much too young. But so is ’Siah.’
‘If they know just as much, Louis should go to high school along with ’Siah,’ persisted John.
‘But that’s ridiculous! They’d laugh at Louis. She’s only a little girl, two years younger than ’Siah.’
‘I don’t believe,’ John twinkled at Louis, who was listening as if her very life depended on this discussion, ‘ that one should be penalized for being a little girl.’
‘Any more than can be helped,’ muttered Josiah.
‘Well, who’s thinking of such a thing? I just believe they’d both be better off in different classes, considering everything.’
‘I’m better in ’rithmetic than he is,’ offered Louis excitedly. ‘Why could n’t I be ahead, then ?’
All three regarded her and laughed. Louis blushed. ‘I am,’ she repeated, and Josiah gave her a hug.
‘Why not?’ asked John.
‘I would n’t want anybody to waste a year of schooling.’ Josiah’s voice was as anxious as if they were not then a thousand miles from any likely school. At that moment the clap-clap, clapclap of a bell startled John to his feet.
‘To be continued,’ he said. ‘Got to get a little snooze. I did n’t have any idea it was so late.’ He disappeared.
‘We’d better have those lessons,’ said Susan. ‘Where’s’Siah now? I felt almost as if we had to decide this minute whether he should go to high school to-morrow morning.’ They laughed. ‘You had a hard time when you were a boy, Josiah.’ All the awkwardness and temper had been talked away and read away and breakfasted away, she was pleased to see.
In a few days everyone tingled with the thrill of nearing land. Soon they might catch sight of a blur on the horizon or of a dark speck at which to strain excited eyes. Josiah shifted from the big chart to one peppered with the islands and lights and buoys and soundings, and, though their position was still well toward the outside edge, it was much more stimulating to be there than on a plain chart of water, water, water.
Josiah had been on deck continuously from eight till noon and later from eight to midnight. John had not visited the after cabin at all; Susan had seen him only at meals, and he had been rather abrupt. Making port was a delicate piece of work, Josiah explained to Susan when she complained of the indefatigability of her men-folk; she, reflecting on his reply, concluded that making the West Indies must be more perilous than other landfalls. The children had been promised a week’s vacation from lessons in Matanzas to begin the instant the anchor chain clanked out, and their impatience was tiring. The book, Pendennis, had been neglected.
‘Let’s finish it to-night,’ proposed Susan after supper on the day land had been sighted.
‘Well, I dunno,’ demurred Josiah. ‘I’m kind of busy. But why don’t you finish it? I can read it myself another time.’ As it was the second mate’s watch, Josiah was likely to go and come in spite of that reliable young Scot with the three gold teeth.
‘That’s not much fun.’
‘But it’s only a chapter or two.’
‘Well, I’ll see.’ She heard the steward clattering in the pantry. ‘Oh, steward! Would you mind asking Mr. Richmond if he wants to read awhile?’
The steward came to the doorway, bowing and grinning, a privileged character of several trips’ standing; Josiah from time to time was wont to pæan his honesty, his cookery, his faithfulness and general virtues. Now his rolling eyes questioned the skipper, who nodded agreement. The steward bustled back from his errand immediately.
‘He says he’s got a headache, ma’am. He a-lyin’ down.’
‘Headache! A headache! Is he sick? Josiah, you must take a look at him. No, I’ll go myself.’
‘I don’t believe I would,’ remarked her husband. ‘I’ve seen him. He’s all right, and if he’s lying down I should n’t disturb him just now. We’ve had enough sunshine and chart work to make a man’s head ache.’
‘Well,’ hesitated Susan. Poor John. He should have a cold wet towel on his head; a little drink of weak tea, too, would be refreshing. Josiah vanished up the companionway, a black blot against the darkening sky. The steward’s voice came to her faintly. ‘Yessir, he sent me hisself.’ He must be talking to John. ‘Yessir, on deck, sir.’
John lounged to the door, his hair rumpled and his face red. He looked sullen, as if he had not wanted to read, but had felt obliged to come, and he swept a glance about the room before he entered. Susan, remembering the words she had overheard, was hurt.
‘Gracious, you don’t have to be read to if you don’t want to, John! Josiah did n’t order you to come. You do look sickish. If your head aches, Johnny, why don’t you lie down on the sofa and let me make you a cup of tea and read to you? Lie the other way, so the light won’t torment you.’ She hurried into the bathroom, lighted the stove and arranged the kettle, gathered cups and sugar, condensed milk, and the last three crackers; meanwhile John sat on the sofa, rose restlessly, leaned in the bathroom door, tried the big chair, moved back to the sofa. He took the teacup and stirred the sugar moodily, his elbows on his knees. Louis, who was established on the floor with the big dictionary, from which she was copying a flowering plant later to be carved on a cigar-box cover as a present for her mother, had looked up when John entered and was watching him with fascinated round eyes as if she had never seen him before.
‘Don’t stare, Louis,’ rebuked her mother, opening Pendennis. Aroused by her words, John turned his head in time to note the astounded expression on the little girl’s face, and a burning red surged into his forehead. But Louis turned obediently to her drawing, and Susan took up the story. An hour, two hours, drifted by in the quiet hot cabin. The tale ended. Louis had gone up on the poop. John still leaned his elbows on his knees, chin in hand, and Susan too pondered a few minutes on the history of Pendennis.
‘Well,’ said John with a sigh. ‘I guess I am like that.’
‘Why, like Pendennis. Did n’t you ever think that? It occurred to me at first and then I forgot it until that day — you remember? — when Josiah asked why we did n’t read something else. Then I suspected that the old boy thought so, too. I don’t see how you could miss it. When I was a boy — I can see it now, though I was used to it then — Mother and you and ’Lizabeth and Julia waited on me and, when there was any extra money, spent it on me. Why, when we were in high school I used to be ashamed of your clothes! I did n’t see why you wore such looking things!’ A flush at the reminder of a long-past mortification overspread Susan’s face; she had never imagined that anyone but her had minded those clothes. She opened her lips to speak, but John was rushing on. ‘When you taught school you gave me money and presents. And Julia did and so did ’Lizabeth. I always thought I borrowed it, but I never paid back a cent. I got suspended from college for gambling, and now I think I would n’t feel so worthless if it had been for drunkenness; it does n’t cost much to get drunk. I borrowed of you again in New York. If this had been some other ship, do you think I could have got a penny when I’d had a big advance already? I’m a cheap skunk, Susan. All the same, I don’t believe it’s entirely my fault. I notice you indulge young ’Siah at Louis’s expense. So I suppose all women play favorites.’ His voice was dreary.
‘I favor ’Siah!’
‘Gosh, Susan, you don’t mean to! Think, for instance, of—well, of Louis’s box. And I bet you worked Josiah for this berth for me — when I wrote you I thought you might — and made him get rid of Duffy. The steward and everybody liked Duffy and probably you did, too, until I turned up. No wonder Josiah does n’t like me.'
‘But he does, Johnny!’ she wailed. These things could n’t be true that John was saying. ‘He said you were smart.'
‘Smart!’ It was like the bursting of a dam. ‘ Yes, he told me so yesterday at five o’clock in the morning — he said I was too damn smart. He told me exactly what he thought of me. He asked me if the other skippers had fired me, and when I told him yes he said he’d fire me, too, when we got back. Smart! He said I might, if I ever got a chance, be a good master, but I was a damn poor mate, and he would n’t tolerate disobedience or carelessness. He called me a bloodsucker.’ His laugh was harsh and forced.
‘John! What in the world —’
‘Oh, I changed the course again; I’m always doing things like that. I could n’t see that it made any difference at all, and it’s a bother waiting. I’ve been in my room ever since, though we agreed not to tell you because you’d be so troubled. So I’m telling you. To tell the truth,’ the truth was acid in his mouth, ‘I thought I was all right, but I ’d made an error in my sight — I almost never do, Susan, so I hardly ever check it over — and if we’d gone on that course I set another two or three hours we’d have been hard aground. He flayed me alive — and I hit him.’
’Yes, I did. If he’d wanted to he could ha’ killed me, I guess; he’s big enough. I’ve done nothing but mull over things ever since. Anywhere else but here I would have been knocked down and put in irons in the lazaret or somewhere, but you or Mother or Julia or ’Lizabeth have always protected me and you ’re doing it still. I dare say at this very moment you’re thinking that Josiah was too severe.’ He did not lift his eyes to see the quiver that twitched across her white face. ‘ I don’t remember another skipper who led a sinner to a place out of earshot before he ripped the hide off — and I ought to be a judge of that.’ He laughed loudly and rose. ‘I wish I had n’t told you. I wish you would n’t tell Josiah that I did, Susan — please. I intended — If I only had n’t hit him or if he had hit me back — ’
Susan tossed and turned all that interminable hot night.
Matanzas was a fiery furnace. Every afternoon the heat reached a climax in a few minutes’ terrific thunderstorm. Louis was a scarlet spectacle of heat and undiminished energy in her old woolen dress, and — wonderful! — Mama took her to a store and bought her a pongee dress all ready-made that she wore right home; and, getting caught in the shower, the red embroidery ran down in little streaks very prettily, Louis thought, as she made a double chin and cross eyes in the effort to admire the effect on her chest. Moreover, she and ’Siah went ashore every single day with Papa or Mama or both, and every single time they had ices of a different color and flavor. There was no school for a week! And she had a secret with Uncle John, who promised to have her box fixed again another way so that only she and he and the carpenter would know how to open it; she even knew from the carpenter’s explanation and picture how it was going to work, though he had n’t begun on it yet.
But all nice things have to end, alas, and the morning came when only Papa went ashore. He was sorry, he said, but he had a great deal of business about the sugar cargo to attend to, and he would have to go alone this once; it was the day, too, when the lessons were to be resumed, and he advised having them that morning while he was away.
The usual routine was preserved in his absence. Whenever, full of a haunting anxiety, Susan peered out of doors, she saw John idling on the after hatch, whittling and whistling and full of cheerful talk; he had recovered his spirits in the last day or two. The unfortunate sailors had begun this morning to work on the coal along with the gangs of half-naked negroes, but they were very slow in the heat. Louis wanted, of course, to go to the carpenter shop, but John told her the carpenter was busy forward and she would have to stay aft, and he distracted her with a long, long story. ’Siah, who tried to sneak past and even got as far as the galley, was discovered and haled back by a sailor; and John shook him thoroughly in an unexpected white fury and ordered him peremptorily to remain on the poop.
It was dull on the poop; no one came aft to scrub or hose off the black dust and it was quite unfit to sit on. Susan, noticing its condition, wondered if it would have continued like that with Josiah aboard; but, after all, the men were working the coal. Even the second mate was invisible, bossing the gangs down in the hold, John said, where, he added, it was a lot hotter, though not so glaring. Susan herself preferred the hot stuffy gloom of the cabin to the deck.
Josiah returned just before dinner. She heard his voice in low conversation with John outside, and then he came in, very serious, fumbling in his pocket.
‘I’ve brought some bad news, Susan,’ he said directly, handing her a crumpled telegram. ‘Your mother’s very ill, it says, and they want you to come home if you can. So I engaged your passage on that steamer over there that’s sailing at three, you and the children. I thought you’d want to go.’
Susan gazed at the terrible message. Yes, that was what it said. She must go and see her mother before she died. ‘How long will it take?’
‘Three or four days to New York, I suppose, and then a day on the train. I told John to get the big trunk up.’
It was thrilling for the children. Susan packed efficiently and Josiah got underfoot, bringing shoes and things and some presents he had bought for good-bye gifts that very morning — a pretty water color of the Havana Cathedral for Louis, two great old Spanish silver spoons for Susan, and a wicked West Indian cutlass-thing for ’Siah. But Susan was hardly aware of the presents for her busyness and her sad thoughts. Johnny made little visits, would stand around helplessly, assure her foolishly that their mother might be well by the time she arrived, and presently hurry out again to sit on the hatch and smoke nervously. Then it was time to get in the boat. The steward shook hands all round and Louis displayed in his honor her talent for weeping on beloved stomachs, and she made a scene, furthermore, because the carpenter was n’t there and did n’t come to say good-bye to her, and she had to be restrained forcibly from seeking him out. John hugged the children and Susan. The sailors, so covered with coal dust by now that they could be distinguished from the negroes only by the completeness of their raiment, waved from a distance and smiled; Susan, in a dim, hurried way, felt wounded because not one came to shake her hand or the children’s. But the whole affair of departure was very vague and unexpected. At the foot of the gangway bobbed a strange boat with the big trunk perched in the bow and two great black men to row — not even the ship’s boat or sailors. John stood by the ladder waving his hat, and suddenly the crew lined the rail in apparent defiance of discipline and labor, flourishing caps and arms. The carpenter bounded from his shop and Louis sprang up in the tossing boat and waved more wildly still. At the steamer Josiah kissed them all and hugged each one long and tightly, and then he too faded from their sight, standing lonely on the wharf.
Their rooms were directly over the engines, and as the sea was rough, and they were not accustomed to the perpetual jiggle-jiggle-jiggle of machinery or the smell of hot oil, the whole family forthwith fell sick and occupied those shuddering berths the entire way to New York.
With a pale and shaken brood behind her, Susan waited her turn before the doctor at quarantine. The ship’s doctor was there also, chatting with a passenger, an acquaintance evidently, just ahead of her. ‘Yeah,’ he was saying, ‘ we ’re looking them over carefully, particularly in the steerage. Yellow jack had a good start down by the waterfront when we left. There were twothree cases on those ships you could see as we came out. Not likely to be any in this crowd, of course.’ Susan grew slowly cold. On those ships, he said. That opportune telegram. The sailors had n’t come near them. Those presents from Josiah. The earnest way Josiah had said good-bye, which she thought was sympathy. Josiah standing on the wharf alone. . . .
She was going back to Matanzas.
It was her turn. The doctor was not communicative, and neither was Susan. Louis, agog with interest, put her head under her mother’s arm. Yes, they felt all right. They had all three been terribly seasick, though — the engine shook so and they were n’t used to steamers. They had been in Matanzas a couple of weeks. They had stopped at the Reina Hotel. Louis gave a start under Susan’s arm and was strangled mercilessly. The children had no temperatures; they felt all right now. The doctor was forced to grin at the absurd fat Louis, who hung her head when he said Louis was a boy’s name; it always teased her when people were surprised at her name. Susan trembled lest Louis blurt out her whole queer name with its flavor of the far seas — and oh, were n’t the children just dreadfully tanned!
‘You look pretty healthy, Louis,’ said the doctor. ‘How did you like Matanzas?’ Susan held her breath again. Would this man never finish?
Louis raised her bashful eyes and smiled sheepishly. ‘I liked it.’ Then, with enthusiasm, ‘I had a different kind of ice cream every day!’ she announced. The doctor shouted. Susan said a prayer of thanks that that fatal word ‘ashore’ had so fortunately been omitted in Louis’s brief speech. They were through.
Limply Susan escaped from the boat to the dock; she hustled the children into a cab and directed it to 18 Pearl Street, mapping out a swift campaign as they jolted along. She would leave the children at the broker’s, find Cousin Lida, have her take the children down home, buy the three tickets for them, see them off if she had time, catch the next steamer herself. She must n’t forget to reassort the hand baggage. It was no matter about the trunk; it could go down home.
A steamer left that evening with Susan on board.
An accident to the steamer’s vital parts made it a couple of days late in arriving. Susan was frantic. Josiah — who cooked up that scheme to get her and the children out of harm’s way — Josiah would take care of John, but who was taking care of Josiah? Josiah was the kind of man to watch over other people, but — The steward might look after Josiah; but, though he was a faithful, good steward, he was only a poor ignorant colored man. Oh, if only Mr. Duffy were there!
She rushed from the steamer to the familiar landing place. There was the bark; yes, and there was the yellow flag. A negro man was dawdling in a boat; she beckoned him and he came lazily. In a trice she was in his boat. She pointed to the bark. ‘Buque!’ she cried. ‘Pronto, pronto!’ All the Spanish she knew was all she needed. The negro shrugged and commenced a lengthy tale of which she did not understand a word, and she continued to point and ‘pronto’ until at last he shrugged again and began to pull on those sluggish oars. He grinned at her amiably, however, and, tossing his head back over his shoulder toward their goal, ‘Muertos,’ he observed concisely. The stark word, uncluttered with verbs, prepositions, ejaculations, adjectives, and polite phrases, sounded what it was; a white-faced woman impressed a third word forever on her memory. ‘Buque, pronto, muertos ;buque, pronto, muertos; muertos.’ Dead men.
But the coal was still being delicately removed by the glistening negroes; there was not a white face to be seen, not one. As the boat crunched on the gangway she sprang to the grating, dropping a careless bill in the boatman’s palm. Another black face rose above the rail, a face that became a mottled gray at sight of her, a welcome face. She reached him and clutched his shaking arm.
‘ Ma’am! How come — ’
‘The captain, steward! Where is the captain?’
‘Oh, ma’am,’ he gasped. ‘He’s sick. Everybody most’s died here. The mate die, the second mate die, the carpenter, he die too — five men dies; I got four in the hospital now. Them two men gittin’ well,’ he waved an arm at two pallid exhibits on the after hatch.
‘Where is he, steward? I must go to him.’
‘Yes’m. Yes’m. Now you here again you might’s well go. This minute I jus’ make my ’rangements.’ He shouted at the departing boatman to return. He vanished in the cabin, whence he emerged without his apron and with his coat on and his hat in his hand. He locked the cabin door and bade the tottery seamen, who were trying to grin at Susan and still not look at her ghastly face, to keep on the watch like hawks.
‘Like canary birds,’ retorted one, ‘that’s us.’
‘Step careful, ma’am. The cap’n, when he went ashore the last time, he lef’ me in charge. He says, “ I trust you, steward.” I tend to everything. The cap’n — yes’m, very sick, but I think he’s goin’ to git well. He done never lef’ Mr. Richmond, ma’am, all the time Mr. Richmond was sick. He puts him in a clean house — hospital all full — and hires him two nursery men and he never leaves him hardly; he watches them nursery scalawags constant to see they did n’t forgit nothin’ the doctor tol’ ’em. Yes, ma’am. But Mr. Richmond’s only sick three-four days and he — he dies.’ The steward turned his eyes away to the sea hurriedly, but Susan was n’t crying at all, just sitting very erect and pale. ‘Then the cap’n he sees to the buryin’ and he comes off to the ship and he looks round and finds everybody’s gone but me and Frenchy, so he locks up and gives me all the keys; he puts me in charge, he says. He felt very sick then himself and he’s goin’ back ashore to where he tol’ them nurseries to wait for him. He instructed me to cook good cabin food for the men if they comes back from the hospital and then he goes down inter the boat again, ma’am.’ The steward’s voice trembled.
‘I been ashore every day to see him,’ pleaded the steward, as if Susan’s icy composure accused him. ‘I got a friend ashore that speaks English very influential and I puts her in that house to watch them lazy nursery men. The black folks don’t git yellow jack, ma’am. I go ashore when I can leave my responsibilities. I think the cap’n’s goin’ to git well, I do.’ The flood of talk faltered as the boat ground against rickety steps. ‘Here, ma’am, careful.’
‘Will he know me?’
‘I reckon so. He’s awake all the time. It ain’t far now.’
Josiah, recognizing Susan, thought she was a dream; was n’t she in Maine by now? But she would hardly have known him with his sad face and that hideous drawn smile on his mouth. She put her hand against his bristly cheek and said, ‘Josiah,’ and he knew then she was real and miraculously not in Maine at all. The swollen scarlet tongue clogged his whole mouth, but he essayed to whisper thickly, painfully. ‘Th-yon. Th-yon. . . . Yon,’ he achieved, and tears ran from the corners of his eyes back into his hair. ‘ Yes, yes, Josiah,’ she murmured, ‘don’t worry about it, dear.’ There were red specks like blood on the pillow. The room was full of the reek of vomit and of brandy. It needed to be cleaned.
At dusk the steward insisted on fetching Susan back to the ship; and, as Josiah seemed unmistakably better, she docilely resigned herself to the steward’s direction. After supper he showed her the skipper’s gold watch, which he had taken away one day, fearing for its safety; he had locked it in a drawer in the desk. The steward left her fondling the smooth shining thing, but soon he was hovering in the doorway again with a carved wooden box in his hand.
‘Mr. Richmond was took after the carpenter, ma’am. He tol’ me how to open this-here box in case Miss Louis forgot how, and he and the carpenter should n’t git well. He said the carpenter put inside a little gif’ for Louis and he put one in, too. You open thisaway, ma’am. One little turn to here on this one, and a little turn to here on this one, and you pushes the middle one over and uppish. Then she comes off.’ He lifted the cover. They both peered interestedly inside. Within, on top, there was a neat chamois roll containing in pockets a set of marvelous tiny carving tools; a paper pinned to it said, in a slanting foreign handwriting, ‘Louis from her freund the cappinter.’ Under the tools was a very small parcel in a square of white letter paper, inscribed, ‘Louis, from Uncle John’ — a bright new twenty-dollar gold piece. Tears began to crowd Susan’s throat and eyes, and one dripped on to the coin.
‘I heard Mr. Richmond ask the carpenter to carve her name on the box, too. He wrote the letters all out nice for the carpenter, who could n’t spell English very good. See there, ma’am.’ The steward, radiant with his importance, held down the lid; in an oval around the knobs the letters ran — LOUIS MAURITIUS PENNELL, HER BOX.