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Chapter 4


Lydia did not know when the captain came on board. Once, talking in the cabin made itself felt through her dreams, but the dense sleep of weary youth closed over her again, and she did not fairly wake till morning. Then she thought she heard the crowing of a cock and the cackle of hens, and fancied herself in her room at home; the illusion passed with a pang. The ship was moving, with a tug at her side, the violent respirations of which were mingled with the sound of the swift rush of the vessels through the water, the noise of feet on the deck, and of orders hoarsely shouted.

The girl came out into the cabin, where Thomas was already busy with the breakfast table, and climbed to the deck. It was four o'clock of the summer's morning; the sun had not yet reddened the east, but the stars were extinct, or glimmered faint points immeasurably withdrawn in the vast gray of the sky. At that hour there is a hovering dimness over all, but the light on things near at hand is wonderfully keen and clear, and the air has an intense yet delicate freshness that seems to breathe from the remotest spaces of the universe,—a waft from distances beyond the sun. On the land the leaves and grass are soaked with dew; the densely interwoven songs of the birds are like a fabric that you might see and touch. But here, save for the immediate noises on the ship, which had already left her anchorage far behind, the shouting of the tug's escape-pipes, and the huge, swirling gushes from her powerful wheel, a sort of spectacular silence prevailed, and the sounds were like a part of this silence. Here and there a small fishing schooner came lagging slowly in, as if belated, with scarce wind enough to fill her sails; now and then they met a steamboat, towering white and high, a many-latticed bulk, with no one to be seen on board but the pilot at his wheel, and a few sleepy passengers on the forward promenade. The city, so beautiful and stately from the bay, was dropping, and sinking away behind. They passed green islands, some of which were fortified: the black guns looked out over the neatly shaven glacis; the sentinel paced the rampart.

"Well, well!" shouted Captain Jenness, catching sight of Lydia where she lingered at the cabin door. "You are an early bird. Glad to see you up! Hope you rested well! Saw your grandfather off all right, and kept him from taking the wrong train with my own hand. He's terribly excitable. Well, I suppose I shall be just so, at his age. Here!" The captain caught up a stool and set it near the bulwark for her. "There! You make yourself comfortable wherever you like. You're at home, you know." He was off again in a moment. Lydia cast her eye over at the tug. On the deck, near the pilot-house, stood the young man who had stopped the afternoon before, while she sat at the warehouse door, and asked her grandfather if she were not ill. At his feet was a substantial valise, and over his arm hung a shawl. He was smoking, and seated near him, on another valise, was his companion of the day before, also smoking. In the instant that Lydia caught sight of them, she perceived that they both recognized her and exchanged, as it were, a start of surprise. But they remained as before, except that he who was seated drew out a fresh cigarette, and without looking up reached to the other for a light. They were both men of good height, and they looked fresh and strong, with something very alert in their slight movements,—sudden turns of the head and brisk nods, which were not nervously quick. Lydia wondered at their presence there in an ignorance which could not even conjecture. She knew too little to know that they could not have any destination on the tug, and that they would not be making a pleasure-excursion at that hour in the morning. Their having their valises with them deepened the mystery, which was not solved till the tug's engines fell silent, and at an unnoticed order a space in the bulwark not far from Lydia was opened and steps were let down the side of the ship. Then the young men, who had remained, to all appearance, perfectly unconcerned, caught up their valises and climbed to the deck of the Aroostook. They did not give her more than a glance out of the corners of their eyes, but the surprise of their coming on board was so great a shock that she did not observe that the tug, casting loose from the ship, was describing a curt and foamy semicircle for her return to the city, and that the Aroostook, with a cloud of snowy canvas filling overhead, was moving over the level sea with the light ease of a bird that half swims, half flies, along the water. A sudden dismay, which was somehow not fear so much as an overpowering sense of isolation, fell upon the girl. She caught at Thomas, going forward with some dishes in his hand, with a pathetic appeal.

"Where are you going, Thomas?"

"I'm going to the cook's galley to help dish up the breakfast."

"What's the cook's galley?"

"Don't you know? The kitchen."

"Let me go with you. I should like to see the kitchen." She trembled with eagerness. Arrived at the door of the narrow passage that ran across the deck aft of the forecastle, she looked in and saw, amid a haze of frying and broiling, the short, stocky figure of a negro, bow-legged, and unnaturally erect from the waist up. At sight of Lydia, he made a respectful duck forward with his uncouth body. "Why, are you the cook?" she almost screamed in response to this obeisance.

"Yes, miss," said the man, humbly, with a turn of the pleading black eyes of the negro.

Lydia grew more peremptory: "Why—why—I thought the cook was a woman!"

"Very sorry, miss," began the negro, with a deprecatory smile, in a slow, mild voice.

Thomas burst into a boy's yelling laugh: "Well, if that ain't the best joke on Gabriel! He'll never hear the last of it when I tell it to the second officer!"

"Thomas!" cried Lydia, terribly, "you shall not!" She stamped her foot. "Do you hear me?"

The boy checked his laugh abruptly. "Yes, ma'am," he said submissively.

"Well, then!" returned Lydia. She stalked proudly back to the cabin gangway, and descending shut herself into her state-room.

William Dean Howells

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