Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins (Chapter 17)
Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins
Hypertext formatting by Joanne E. Gates
When she waked the next morning it was to a sensation of strange silence and gentle motion. Why, they had got off, then, after all !
She was on her way to Nome.
She sat up and looked about at the wreck of wardrobe and the prostrate bodies of women. One made a noise like a half-suppressed moan. After a moment the owner of the little sound of misery got up and tried to put on a pink flannel jacket. For some reason that simple operation appeared to be painful. She was about to abandon it. Hildegarde, half-way down from her berth, said, "I 'll help you." But the other shrank away. "No, no." She leaned her forehead against the upper berth.
"You aren't sick already, are you?"
"No, it 's only - they nearly broke my arm in the crush last night."
"I think it 's just strained, that 's all."
As she turned round to sit on the edge of her berth, there, hanging outside the nightgown's split sleeve, was the injured arm, bare to the shoulder, swollen, discolored.
"Oh! What have you been doing for it?"
"I was thinking of going out to get some cold water."
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"Is the water here hot?" Hildegarde asked, bewildered.
The woman did nut trouble to answer.
Hildegarde was investigating. "Why, there 's no water at all!"
After more looking about, "Have you discovered where the bell is?"
The woman lifted sleepless eyes and gave her an odd look. "I don't expect bells on this ship."
"Oh, I did n't know." Hildegarde put on her dressing-gown, took the tin ewer and sallied forth. After a variety of adventures she came back. The woman lifted her face out of the pillow when she heard the sound of water splashing into the tin basin. "Oh, they got it for you."
"No, I got it for myself. Come and hold your arm over, won t you? I 'II bathe it."
A little surprised - a little doubtful, the woman got up, saying, "Thank you." What a nice voice said it! But this fine-skinned, delicate-faced traveler was disposed to be reserved. Hildegarde could feel that for some reason she was suspicious of such ready friendliness.
"It's most dreadfully bruised. How did you do it?"
"I did n't do it."
"Oh, a man."
"How in the world -?"
"Against the barrier. He was trying to get in front of me. I told him he was breaking my arm, but he-" She left the sentence unfinished.
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Hildegarde 's eyes followed the last trickle of cool water over the vivid purple and yellow and green of the swollen bruise. No doubt the hurt showed the ghastlier for the natural whiteness of the skin. "Well, whoever did it would be sorry, I think, if he saw your arm this morning."
"Sorry?" She moistened the end of a towel and Hildegarde helped her to arrange a loose compress.
"Yes; sorry and ashamed."
"You don't know them as I do."
"Men." Then, as Hildegarde made no instant rejoinder, "I was alone," the woman added, so pointedly that Hildegarde hastened to say, "I 'm alone, too."
But the other seemed not to believe this, or, at least, to take no account of it. "Last night was n't my first battle," she said; "I 've been in the wars all my life," and with a weary superiority she went back to her berth.
Ah, she was one of those women with a standing grievance! Hildegarde felt for her the cheerful forbearance of the person who unconsciously takes his own immunity from rancor as a tribute to his nice disposition or his balanced judgment.
Up on deck a flood of sunshine, a dazzling sea, a green shore not yet very far away, a distant background of snowcapped mountains.
On board the Los Angeles few people yet afoot. There was Curlyhead dashing about, responding to Hildegarde's good-morning with a cheerful oath. She took hold of him. "Listen to me," she said, "you are not to say such horrible things."
"Shut up!" and more of the same sort. She dropped
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the child with precipitation and walked to the ship's side. Those two men just there by the life-boat, had they heard the dreadful words? She was hot at the thought. They seemed to be talking about the boy now, that spectacled man and his friend. The friend must have a cold or something wrong with him, for even on this glorious morning he kept his arctic cap pulled down over his neck, and his overcoat "storm collar" turned up above his ears. Instead of taking a constitutional before breakfast, there he was lounging behind the life-boat. The spectacled man got tired of so sluggish a companion. He left the muffled-up figure and began to tramp about by himself. Hildegarde passed him with "good-morning." There was her steamer-chair in the corner. She ought to get it out and place it before the deck overflowed.
The spectacled man lent a hand. "Well, we did get off," he said. "Yes. When was it?"
"About half past four, they say."
"Then this is Puget Sound?"
"Yes. Those are the Cascade Mountains on that side. The Olympics on the other."
Just then the giant came swinging down the breezy deck.
"Oh, do you know," Hildegarde asked him, "if Mr and Mrs. Blumpitty got on hoard all right?"
"Well," said the smiling Hercules, "they got on board." He waited a moment. When the spectacled gentleman had taken himself off. "Got your scat?" he asked.
"Won't this be a good place?"
"I mean for meals."
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"Must I see about that?"
"If you don 't want to eat scraps at the second table or the third."
"My ticket is first-class."
"That 's got nothing to do with it. Shall I go and see they keep you a place?"
"Oh, will you?"
When she went down to breakfast she was bidden to a vacant seat on the giant's left. The other belonged to one of the two ex-governors on board. But this particular excellency was not up yet. Beyond the place reserved was a lean lathe of a man, with a voracious appetite. Opposite, sat a big, shy individual, to whom people spoke deferentially as "Senator Cochrane." Next him a slim, attractive-looking woman, with fair hair, too young, you would have said, to be the mother of the girl beside her; but this pretty little person in her teens was Mrs. L'Estrange's daughter, so said the giant. What on earth could be taking people like that? The giant did n't know. Neither did the person next him, a gentleman with a white "goatee," who told the company that, as for himself, though, like everybody else, he expected to get a claim, he was taking sixty dozen chickens to Nome, and was "dead sure to make a good thing of it." He longed to talk more about chickens, and was obviously disturbed by his stout friend further down, who would keep shouting remarks to the chicken-merchant about thirty-eight horses he had on board, and whose conveyance to Nome was costing the fat gentleman $100 apiece; and he did n't grudge it. Indeed, the horses' quarters were so superior to the fat gentleman's own, that he 'd "been thinkin'." There wus one o'
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them horses - a daisy lot they were - but there wus one of 'em he 'd taken a dislike to. Did n't know why, quite groundless - but the fat man was like that. His wife said he was notional. Perhaps she was right. He never contradicted a lady. But, anyways, he was goin' to give up his own first-class accommodation. In future he would bunk with the horses. And the one he had a "pick on," the mare with one white stocking and a star on her forehead, she should have berth 147. If you had a quite groundless but deadly spite against any one, that was a sure way to fix her, just put her in berth 147. "Anyways - ladies first," he wound up, handing to the pretty mother of the young girl a vast dish, in which slabs of fat bacon floated in an inch of grease.
Not only the horse-dealer and the giant were attentive to the supposed wants of the three women who appeared at breakfast. Two of the roughest-looking of the men had stood aside on Hildegarde 's entrance to let her go first, and there were those who warmly recommended the cold bully-beef, and yet others who urged upon her the excellence of the hot buckwheats. Could these be the wild animals who had roared and ravened outside the night before?
At Hildegarde's end of the table sat a group of three who seemed to have interests in common. "Mining men," the giant said. They talked of the difficulty in getting all their machinery on board. They and the giant had stayed up till the Los Angeles left the port of Seattle, mounting guard over their "stuff." They aired their views about the ship. Plenty of white paint on her (or had been before so much of it came off on the passengers) - but the Los Angeles was a whited sepulchre.
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"Has n't she just been an army transport?" ventured Hildegarde, with the average American's unquestioning respect for anything indorsed by the Government.
"Oh, yes, pressed into the service during the Spanish-American war. But the Los Angeles is nothing more nor less than an antiquated Cunarder from 'way back,' known to our grandfathers in the sixties as the rolling Roumelia. She got such a bad name even in those days of primitive ocean travel, that she had to clear out of the Atlantic. They rechristened her, brought her round the Horn and turned her on to the Japan trade. Except for taking those Johnnies to Manila, she had n't carried passengers for thirty years until this company got hold of her, crowded in ten berths where there 'd been two before, or none at all, and lied about the number of people they 'd sold tickets to."
In the act of shoveling in Boston beans with his knife, the lean individual next Hildegarde paused to remark: "If a man had committed the worst crime in the calendar, it 'd be a brutal punishment to make him sleep in the suffocatin' black hole they 've put me in."
"Exactly -" began one of the three financiers, assuming the lean one to be agreeing with him.
"But," interrupted the bean-feaster, "when they says t' me they wus n't no more room, I says, 'Lookee here, it 's worth anywheres from fifty to sixty thousand dollars to me to be among the first to git there. You can put me in anywheres,' I says. 'Y' can do anything in hell,' I says, 'except leave me behind.' An' b' gosh they done it." He champed his beans with a look that betokened renewed relish at having given the conversation an unexpected turn. Accomplished as this person was, he, with
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a plate full of Boston beans and a knife, could do nothing as original with his food as the passenger on the other side of the table next to the pretty girl. After one fascinated stare in his direction, Hildegarde felt it wiser to look away. It was not, however, that moment's astonishing vision that prevented her from eating her own breakfast. The giant was charitably concerned. Try this, and that. But Hildegarde disposed of a little of the sticky gray porridge and condensed milk, a sip of the muddy coffee, and then she played with the sour bread while she listened to the conversation. Suddenly, whirling round her pivoted chair, she returned with ardor to the sunshine-flooded upper regions.
It looked as though every soul who was n't at the first breakfast must be on deck. In this clear and searching light Miss Mar's traveling companions stood revealed - a strange, an unexampled crew. Scraps of German, of Swedish, of French, and of tongues to which she had no key, floated past her ear. In this new world of the Los Angeles, no color line discoverable, no alien labor law in force. Her eye fell upon the cryptic faces of the Japanese, and on familiar types of negro and mulatto, cheek by jowl with lawyers, clergymen, and senators. There were raw red Irishmen, and overdone brown Hebrews. The captain went by talking broad Scotch to the English doctor, and the pig-tailed crew pulled at the cordage in unison to an uncouth Chinese chant.
And never was such sunshine, never shores so green, never before mountain ranges so ethereal, so softly touched with snow or wreathed in cloud.
But the people - the people!
The girl wandered about, all eyes, or sat in her long
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chair, for which there was hardly room now on the swarming deck. She held in one hand a little volume in which never a page was turned, for here, moving up and down before her, was matter more wonderful than any history written in any book. The thought she found coming up oftenest: What on earth takes him - or her - to Nome? For Louis, it seems, was in one thing right. Here was no Klondike company of sturdy pioneers, all men of brawn, or Amazonian women. Some such were in the throng, but the majority, weedy clerks and dyspeptic nondescripts. There went a man with only one arm to dig his gold. Several smartly dressed ladies flashed by with an air of being on their way to a garden party. Here was a hollow-chested youth with a corpselike face, crawling painfully about with the aid of a cane. There were other children besides Curlyhead, and a number of quite old men - one grizzled creature with both feet "club." What are they going to do in such a place as Nome? Hildegarde seemed to be the only one to wonder. Every face shining, every heart seemed lifted up. One and all were well-assured they had only to see Nome to "obtain joy and gladness." "Nome is the place," their faces said, "where sorrow and sighing shall flee away."
Here were the Blumpittys, looking a good deal battered, but he, at least, no gloomier than common, and she beaming like all the rest. Hildegarde got up to greet them. "I looked for you at breakfast."
"We are having ours later," quoth Mrs. Blumpitty, as one admitting habits luxurious. But since the second table had been summoned some time before it was patent that to be of the Blumpitty party meant you must eat at the third.
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"Are you comfortable where you are?" inquired the rusty solicitously.
"Oh, yes, quite, thank you," said Hildegarde, a little ashamed at being so infinitely better off than poor Mrs. Blumpitty. But that lady, with an air of subdued pride, was presenting, "One of our party, Dr. Daly," an important-looking man of thirty or so, with a highly impressive manner. "Ruth, Ruth, please come here! My niece, Miss Sears." "My niece" was little and shy and brown. Hildegarde felt instantly that she was a nice niece. "And this is Mr. Tobin. Dr. Merton" - about nineteen this last gentleman, with the complexion of a lucky girl. "And Dr. Thomas." Why, it rained doctors! Which was the dentist? Hildegarde on reflection decided they were all dentists. "Oh, and here comes Miss Leroy Schermerhorn!" Mrs. Blumpitty spoke in the tone of a chamberlain announcing "Her Majesty the Queen!" Through the crowd advanced the heralded "business woman to Blumpitty & Co.," a lady of twenty-eight or thirty, with a somewhat defiant face under the shadow of a fuzzy black bang, and a ruthless eye. When it had pierced Miss Mar in many a vital spot, it fell upon the only deck-chair on the ship, with its "robe" and scarlet cushion. "Well, you 're making yourself pretty comfortable," said Miss Leroy Schermerhorn. "Like your room?"
Hildegarde was in no haste to reply.
Mrs. Blumpitty bridged the chasm. "I was so glad when I heard you 'd got a berth up-stairs."
"I guess it cost you a lot," said Miss Schermerhorn, with a snap of her eyes.
"No," said Hildegarde. "It was a piece of luck."
"Well, I 'm that glad and relieved," said Mrs. Blum-
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pitty, as the haughty Schermerhorn retired a few paces to whisper conclusions in Dr. Thomas' ear, while surreptitiously both pursued their study of Miss Mar. But Mrs. Blumpitty 's eye still angled among the sea creatures that swarmed upon the waters of Puget Sound. With a little jerk of satisfaction she landed yet another big fish.
"Miss Estelle Maris."
Oh, yes, the lady with the languid air, the rakish hat and red velveteen blouse; this was the one who "said" she could cook.
"Any more of our party up yet!" Mrs. Blumpitty asked her.
"Guess the rest 's asleep," answered Miss Estelle Maris.
"Guess so, too," said Mr. Blumpitty, with benevolence. "We wus all pretty tired." And that was the sole reference to the battle of the night before. Neither then nor later from any member of Blumpitty 's staunch party a syllable of complaint at their quarters on the ship.
Mr. Blumpitty himself, during these amenities and some further conversation, had stood by the ship 's side, looking sadly toward Vancouver Island.
"There goes our breakfast horn," said his wife at last, as one who offers substantial cheer.
The Blumpitty party melted away; only the leader remained. "Guess everybody that ain't on deck 's either eatin' or asleep." He offered it as a general comment upon existence.
"I suppose so," said Miss Mar.
"And the smokin'-room 'll be empty. Will you step in there a minute!"
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"Yes." (What on earth - ?)
"Little matter o' business," he said, leading the way.
Two men in one corner puffed bad cigars while they bent over a glazed paper, whereon a certain property was outlined in red ink. No one else there. Hildegarde and Mr. Blumpitty took the opposite corner.
"I got t' give y' $25," said Blumpitty, as one who has studied every alternative.
"What in the world for?" asked the young lady.
"Bonus on the Congress ticket." He had pulled a roll of bills out of his pocket, and the breeze in the transit from open porthole to open door paused on its way to toy with greenbacks of a goodly denomination.
"I did n't know there was a bonus," said Hildegarde.
"Naw," said Blumpitty vaguely, as he handed her the money. He got up murmuring "breakfast." But when he found himself on his feet he glanced with slow caution at the absorbed faces opposite, still bent over the map of a mining district, and lowering his voice, "Did Mrs. Mar say anything to you touchin' the Mother Lode?"
"Well, don 't mention it, will yer?"
As Hildegarde looked up to say, "Oh, no, indeed," there was the spectacled man's friend at the porthole. At least it looked like his cap and his high collar, for that was all of him that any one could see. Even that much vanished the moment Hildegarde raised her eyes. When she and Mr. Blumpitty reached the deck the arctic cap was nowhere to be seen. How had he disappeared so quickly in such a crowd?
Mr. Blumpitty paused a moment before going below, muttering to himself, "I jest been talkin' to a gentle-
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man" - the yellow-gray eyes went over the heads of the throng - "a gentleman that thinks he knows where it is."
"The Mother Lode ?"
Blumpitty 's pale visage relaxed to something remotely like a smile as he answered, "But he don't."
"I suppose," said Hildegarde, "all these people in one way or another hope to find it - the Mother Lode, you know."
Blumpitty 's vague eyes came back from the snow-capped range of the Cascades, and dwelt with a ruminant sympathy upon the passing faces. "Ya-as, they think they 're headin' straight fur it. But they ain't."
"Nobody on all this ship, or on all the other ships is really heading straight but you."
"Wa-al" - he seemed to wish to be strictly, punctiliously accurate - "I got to go to Snow Gulch first."
"But after that?"
"Ya-as. After that!" And Blumpitty went to the third breakfast-table on his way to millionairedom and the Mother Lode.
The girl lay back in her long chair and stared at the crowd, thinking how strange it was that Hildegarde Mar should be among them, and even while she wondered the sense of strangeness was wearing away.
And these purblind, trustful creatures, filled with their pathetic hopes, was it of them she had been afraid! She smiled at the absurdity. They were rough and crude, but not in the least alarming - except at a distance. She pondered this, catching glimpses of a truth of wider application. When the motley throng had stood without the gate struggling and crying to be allowed on
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board this enchanted ship, when Hildegarde had stood apart from them, not enlightened by sharing in their lot, she had had her moments of misgiving, or rather she had been seized by a quite childish panic.
And, after all, what harm can they do me? Poor little Curlyhead, they might teach him a few more bad words (though even that was open to doubt) - one or two ignorant girls in their teens, they might suffer. But Hildegarde Mar - how could they hurt a person twenty-six years old, who is among them for a few days out of a lifetime. What 's the good of me and my better advantages if I can be injured by this sort of thing?
It was something to get back her courage to be alone among these people. Last night she had been under an illusion about them. Yes, she had had some bad moments, but they had come chiefly because she had so set her heart on seeing - yet no, let her be honest. Louis's neglect had put her out of tune, disheartened her quite unaccountably, but the worser moments had come through positive fear. And the fear had come - oh, it was clear now - it had come through having her mind filled with foreboding by the people who cared most for her. There was always that potency in evil prophecy - it went a long way toward bringing about its own fulfilment. If good were foretold you were afraid to believe it. If evil you were afraid not to believe.
There was that much truth in the fabled power of the Evil Eye. Her expedition had been so frowned on, eyed so askance; small wonder she had failed to keep her courage quite untarnished. Well, she had found out one thing on the threshold of the journey. It is the fear felt for us by the men who love us that makes cowards of
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womankind; it is others' shrinking that goes far to make us quail.
She took a sheet of folded note-paper out of her little Tennyson and her pencil traced the words: "On board the Los Angeles, May 31, 1900. My dear Louis -" Yes, she would write him a long, long letter, and tell him how little ground there was for fear. But she would write very gently, even humbly, and get him to understand and to forgive her, She would show him how much better his fellow-men were than he had given out.
She remembered with an instant's loss of enthusiasm her room-mate 's account of the matter. But she decided that lady was of a carping and a gloomy nature - she looked on the dark side. Perhaps Hildegarde would feel less cheerful herself if she 'd had her arm nearly broken - but an accident could happen anywhere.
"And the stoop-shouldered man is the father." It was Mrs. Locke, Hildegarde 's room-mate, who said the words, her eyes on Curlyhead. That person, in a towering rage, stood in a group of laughing men. They were plaguing him just to hear him swear. Mrs. Locke was still very white, her arm in a sling. But what a nice face she had!
" Do sit here," Hildegarde urged, and finally prevailed. The new-comer said very little. Others stopped in passing and talked to Hildegarde. Mrs. Locke sat and looked at the sea. Before one o'clock a stiff breeze sprang up. It cleared the deck as if the people had been so many mosquitoes, for the Los Angeles began to roll. "I am a fair sailor," said Mrs. Locke. "I shan't mind."
"Oh, this is where you are!" some one was saying familiarly just behind them, Hildegarde thought to Mrs.
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Locke. But on looking round she met the purser's fascinating smile. Mrs. Locke got up instantly, murmuring something about feeling the need of a walk. The purser dropped comfortably into the vacant chair.
"Well, my dear, and how do you find yourself this morning?" As Miss Mar did not instantly respond, "Goin' to be a good sailor?" he said, with a great display of teeth.
Hildegarde looked at him and decided he was a little idiotic, but that she must have dreamed the "dear." She answered him upon that supposition. Still he talked rather queerly, she thought, till the first horn sounded for dinner.
"I 've got a place for you at my table," he said, getting up.
"Oh, thank you, but I have a seat already."
"That don 't matter, it won 't go beggin'. I 'm lookin' out for you all right," he assured her, as though he had heard himself accused of neglect. "I was up till five this mornin', so I slept late, or I 'd been around before."
"It is very good of you, but I 've got quite a good place. I won't change, thank you."
"Oh, come now, don't be huffy. How could I tell you 'd be up at breakfast? Come along, my dear."
Hildegarde stared at him, and then she said quite gently "I 'm not the least huffy, but I 'll keep the seat I have, thank you."
"Oh, very well! Very well!" and he took himself off in a state that might, perhaps, be described in his own words as "huffy" - oh, but very huffy indeed.
Before Vancouver's Island faded out of sight every-body was greatly intrigued to see the men of the British
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post there signaling the passing ship. What were they doing that for? People ran about the decks ask jug one another, "What 's happened?" It was an exciting moment, for this communication, whatever it was, would be the last the Los Angeles' passengers would know for many a day of the great world's happenings. A boom of cannon came across the water. The news filtered down from the bridge: "Lord Roberts has entered Pretoria!"
"And that 's the last human sign," said ex-Governor Reinhart, "till we sight the ships at Nome."
"Or, better still," amended one of the first table financiers, "the last till we signal to the Nomites: The fleet 's behind! We 've won the race. 'Rah! for the Los Angeles!" The betting had already begun. The run was to be anything from a week to a month.
LOSING sight of land meant losing sunshine and calm seas, almost, it would appear, losing the vast majority of the passengers.
The next few days saw a surprisingly deserted deck. The Los Angeles, however antiquated, had lost none of her pristine capacity for rolling. At least ninety per cent. of the people were laid low. Most of the stewards (all green hands working their passage to Nome), instead of ministering to others on the way, were making the voyage on their backs.
Hildegarde, the only one of her cabin to leave it, dragged herself on deck early every morning to find fortitude by dint of staying out in the air. It was not solely the awful pitching of the ship, not even the added discomfort of the dank, cold weather, that made up the
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sum of her discomfort. The purser had got on her nerves. Still she did n't like snubbing him any more than was strictly necessary - not from fear of reprisals (though, beyond a doubt, he was a power in this tiny kingdom), but because it was hideous to her even to see any one's self-respect hurt, let alone be the one to deal the wound. Nor could she help sympathizing with him. He must be under a ludicrous and rather pathetic illusion about himself to "go on" like this. Whenever he could be spared from his duties, there, wherever Miss Mar turned, was the fat purser, practising his most killing smiles, and proffering aid and companionship. In these gray and dripping days of nearly abandoned decks, her sole refuge was in the society of the giant, who discoursed pleasantly of sea-birds, and in any moment 's lifting of the fog pointed out more whales. And he piloted Hildegarde 's see-sawing steps fore and aft till she found her sea-legs. She was vaguely conscious that at a pinch she might count on the spectacled man.
Three days now since she had had a sign from the Blumpittys or any of their party except Dr. Daly. He had laughed and said: "They 're all very busy. Guess they don 't want to be disturbed."
It was a relief when in the middle of a rainy afternoon Ruth Sears came to the surface. She was very wan and looked pathetic, childish, and attractive, too, in a skirt to her knees, stout boots and long gaiters. And she had come to ask Miss. Mar for a little meat extract for Mrs. Blumpitty.
Hildegarde had not waited for that moment to be glad she had disregarded the warm recommendation not to bother with ship supplies of her own, but to help herself
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out of the Blumpittys' and pay at the end of the voyage.
Ruth said sadly: "There 's been some mistake. Our grocery box can't be found." Down the two girls and the giant went to the regions behind the dining-saloon to open the provision-box whose contents had been Miss Mar's daily solace. There, in the swaying dingy murk, where the figures of Chinamen flitted, they opened the padlocked box and drew forth jars of Liebig, crackers, cheese, and silver packets of tea.
"Oh, it is kind of you!" Ruth's gentle eyes were shining. "She has n't had anything for forty-eight hours, but she 'll be able to eat now."
Poor Mis' Bumble Bee!
"I 'll lend you my alcohol lamp," said Hildegarde. "I make tea every afternoon when it is n't too rough. Won't you come and have some?"
The wan little niece going off with her hands full, paused an instant. "If - if I 'm able, thank you."
"You ought to be more on deck. Of course you 're ill if you stay down there."
"I could n't take care of them if I did n't," and she was gone.
The next day the fat purser was so all-pervading that Hildegarde felt herself making up her mind that really something must be done. She had scant patience with girls who complained at this order of infliction. Her firm conviction, "It 's their own fault"; though just how the purser's foolishness was hers she could not determine.
The afternoon was wild and rough, the smoking-room, packed and noisy. The overflow of men, with a few very subdued-looking women, sat below in the "Ladies'
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Saloon" - a feebly-lit, ill-smelling little room, where an aged upright piano kept company with a hurly-burly of freight and three rickety chairs. Hildegarde 's fortitude threatened to give way after two minutes of the foul, close air. But up on deck the purser! and not a soul beside, except the bean-feaster, Mr. Isaiah Joslin, trudging up and down in oilskins, and the arctic cap driven off the bridge by the inclement weather. He sat in the most sheltered corner of the upper deck, obviously asleep, with arms folded and head withdrawn into his collar. The wind rose and the rain swept down upon the place where Hildegarde and the giant (with intervals of purser) had spent the morning. Oh, where was that giant now? She moved her chair to the better shelter near the arctic cap. At least, the purser did it for her, and was altogether so oppressive with his poor little gallantries and what the giant called his "toothsome smile," that Hildegarde felt, whatever the penalty of his worst displeasure, in another moment she would be doing something more drastic than throwing out broad hints which he either disregarded or affected to consider humorous. She wished now that before moving she had said something even he could n't misunderstand. With another man by it would make the purser mad with fury. In any case, hardly fair to subject him publicly to a snubbing as effectual as she saw was going to be necessary. The arctic cap, for all the seeming blindness and deafness of his hidden face, might be listening. So Miss Mar merely drew her tartan plaid lip about her shoulders and observed with some gravity that she was going to sleep. The purser took up a romantic attitude at her feet, saying, "Good-night." Hil-
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degarde jumped up. "I 'll go and see how Mrs. Blumpitty is."
Getting rid of the purser lent a rapture even to going below. And as she went she smiled, remembering how her mother was comforting herself with the thought of the Blumpittys ("splendid sailors" both of them!) pledged to watch over Miss Mar, and if she were laid low to bring her sustenance on deck out of their private supplies. Four days and no glimpse of either of her guardian angels till this moment, when, rolling through the second saloon on her way to smooth Mrs. Blumpitty 's pillow, Hildegarde, pitching from side to side, clutching at anything within reach to steady herself, caught sight of her stand-by, her protector, the man who was going to minister to her and "see her through," Blumpitty, with ghastly visage, clinging to the knob of a cabin door like a shipwrecked mariner to a spar. In these days of seclusion poor Mr. Blumpitty had sadly altered, wearing now a yellow-gray beard of some five days' growth, bristling upon a countenance pea-green and pitiful.
"Oh, is that you?" says the young lady, holding on to the rough board that covered with newspapers at meal time, did duty down here for a dining-table. "How do you do?"
"How--" Blumpitty stopped at that and devoted his entire attention to keeping hold of the knob. Hildegarde did n't quite like to go away and leave him to his fate, at a moment so abject in the Blumpitty history, nor did she quite know how to conduct a conversation under these conditions. She decided frank-ness was best. So, as her friend still clutched and tried
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to steady himself, she gave way a little to smiling. "I thought you were a seasoned old salt, Mr. Blumpitty."
He only rolled his yellow eyes - but no, that statement is misleading, for Blumpitty rolled his entire economy. Yet never a word rolled out. Hildegarde, wishing to spare his feelings, added, as she turned to go, "A great many people seem to have been bowled over by the pitching of this ship."
"No ship," said Blumpitty in a sepulchral whisper, "no ship could make a man feel like this."
Hildegarde was alarmed. Was Mr. Blumpitty about to be snatched from them by some fell disease?
"Wh-what do you think it is?" she inquired, with another lurch, but much sympathy.
He clung now with both hands to his savior-nob, while the rolling Roumelia worked her own wild will upon Mr. Blumpitty 's contorted frame. "It 's the cook," he groaned.
"The cook!" This was indeed terrible! His brain was giving way!
"Yes," he went on hoarsely in an interval of comparative steadiness, "I know these fellows. If a sea-cook thinks he 's got too many people to feed - he - oh, Gawd -he puts stuff in the coffee, or soap in the bread - and - people don't want to eat any more."
Roumelia resented this aspersion upon her son. She shot Mr. Blumpitty forward with extreme violence, and he, entirely without volition, found himself going on deck. But perhaps the same force that took him up brought him down and put him to bed, for Hildegarde saw him no more.
Over her further descent into that part of the ship she
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had been intended to occupy, it is considerate to draw a veil.
She reappeared like a mourner at a funeral, following at Ruth's side in the wake of a figure borne on a mattress between a steward and the giant. The prostrate form of poor Mis' Bumble Bee, speechless, blind, deaf, was laid in the one sheltered corner of the deck. Ruth, very weak and unsteady, went back to that fetid under-world that beggared description, ministering to miserable men and women lying helpless on shelves, tier above tier to the ceiling. Even to be down there for five minutes was a thing to be remembered shuddering as long as one lived.
After putting her cushion under Mrs. Blumpitty 's head, Hildegarde glanced round.
"Lookin' fur the purser?" said Mr. Isaiah Joslin, grinning and holding on to a stanchion.
"No," said Hildegarde, with some dignity.
Mr. Joslin accepted a graver view of life's possibilities. "That feller 'll get a thrashin' if he don't look out."
"Why - who will - ?"
"That man up there 'll be attendin' to it." Mr. Joslin nodded toward the bridge. The Arctic Cap was scanning the misty world through Captain Gillies' glass.
"Why should he? Besides, I thought he was an invalid."
"Wa-al, maybe that 's it. P'raps he thinks it 'd be good fur his health."
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"W 'y wallopin' the purser."
"What 's he got against the purser?"
"Says he don't like the color of his hair. But as the purser ain 't got no hair, it 's my private opinion the gentleman up there don 't like his fascinatin' ways." He looked significantly at the tall girl. Hildegarde bent down to tuck the tartan round Mrs. Blumpitty. Now, why on earth should the Arctic Cap care how the purser behaved to - other people?
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