Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins (Chapter 18)
Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins , Chapter 18
Hypertext formatting by Joanne E. Gates
When Mrs. Blumpitty found herself being taken below that first evening, she revived sufficiently to protest, and so frustrated the giant's amiable design of carrying her off to bed. The invalid stayed on deck day and night, and instead of dying as the captain and all the passengers confidently expected, she got well and "lived happy ever after" on that voyage upon Miss Mar's supplies, sharing even the fresh eggs which the giant, by some means, acquired daily from the Nome-bound hens. Hildegarde was sorry she lacked courage to share Mrs. Blumpitty's new quarters. But the "queerness" of sleeping out of your bed--in the public eye, too!--almost the immodesty of it (in the passenger mind), if unpalliated, as in Mrs. Blumpitty's case, by threatened dissolution--no, it was too daunting. Since Mrs. Locke could "stand it" in the cabin, Hildegarde must. Even Mrs. Locke's seamanship had gone down before the Roumelia's roll, but she was getting better. She made fitful appearance on deck. But there was something odd about her. You never knew whether it was sea-sickness or distrust of her kind that would carry her suddenly below when a fellow-passenger stopped to speak to her.
Fresh from a raid upon the provision-box, Hildegarde
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 337
coming on deck one evening, found Mrs. Locke in an hour of clearing weather between showers. There was even a strip of ruddy sunset to gladden the voyager's heart.
Hildegarde looked round for her chair.
"It rained two drops a little while ago," observed Mrs. Locke, "and the man you call the giant moved your things."
"Oh, did he?" Hildegarde stood at the ship's side, looking at the fading red.
By and by, "Sit on half my stool," suggested Mrs. Locke.
"Thank you," said Hildegarde, feeling that coming from such a source this invitation was immensely cordial. "It 's very kind of you."
"No, that is n't it."
"What do you mean?"
"You 're the sort of person everybody wants to do things for." She seemed to point it out as a fault on Miss Mar's part.
Hildegarde looked at her curiously. "I should have thought you were more that kind of person, except for--" The cameo-like face must have been beautiful before it grew so white and set. You felt that a touch of color even now, a little happiness, would make it irresistible.
"Except?" Mrs. Locke echoed.
"Well, you know you do-- Shall I say it?"
You do receive friendliness a good deal at the point of the sword."
"I 've learnt my lesson." As Hildegarde said noth-
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 338
ing, "Wait till you are--" But any inclination to be more explicit vanished.
Hildegarde thought she had intended to say, "Wait till you 're as old as I." "I have a feeling you know immensely more than I do," said the girl, "but I don't believe you 're much older."
"I 'm thirty-two."
"Well, I 'm twenty-six."
"You don't look that much."
"I suppose it 's having eyes so wide apart."
"No, I think it 's your childish chin and your air of believing everything. But, anyhow, my thirty-two counts double." Then, as if again to turn the conversation away from herself, "You 're an infant, but rather a wise infant, after all," she added, relenting a little. "Only what takes you to Nome?"
Hildegarde told her. "And what are you going for?"
"Not beach gold," said the girl smiling.
"I 've been sent for. I shall be bookkeeper to one of the large companies."
"Oh-h." Hildegarde's big eyes were so obviously uncongratulatory that Mrs. Locke said firmly, "It 's work I 'm used to."
"But--up there, won't it be very rough and difficult for--for any one like you--all alone?"
"They pay three times what I 've been getting. I 'm very lucky to have the offer, at least as I count luck now. I used to think--to have ambitions."
"I don't wonder," said Hildegarde, betraying a flattering confidence in the other's powers.
"I know my measure now. I 'm a failure." And still
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 339
there was no weakness, no repining in her tone. Level and courageous, but without comfort, wholly without anticipation.
"What shall you do with the money you make"
"Buy freedom." Was she thinking of divorce? Apparently not, for she went on, "No woman 's free who has n't enough to live on without asking anybody for it. So I 'm going to Nome to avoid slavery."
"Your husband does n't mind?"
"He 's dead." No trace of emotion in the low voice. But yielding to the invitation in the girl's eyes, she told in brief outline of a hard life. The last six years of it alone. "But as to that, I was alone before. Only people did n't know it, and so things were easier."
"There are always people to help the women who don't need help" --and then something of the disillusion that followed upon her husband's death; of difficult bread-winning; of inforced close relations with men through her work, and what she thought of them. "Exceptions? Well, I suppose so. I 've once or twice thought the exception had come my way."
"And were you wrong-- always wrong?"
"You see the kind of men a bookkeeper in a western town is thrown with--oh, you have to walk very warily, to hold yourself down, to seem to misunderstand--not to let your disgust cost you your bread and butter." Hildegarde looked at the pure outline of the profile again. It was all very well to talk of having learnt lessons and of being over thirty, thought the girl. Mrs. Locke's troubles are n't over yet.
But perhaps she would find something better than
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 340
money on this journey, a real friend, or even-- Several of the passengers were disposed to be conspicuously civil. There was that lawyer with the clever face. He was walking the deck now in the giant's company, and every time he passed he looked at Mrs. Locke.
"I 'm sure that man wants to come and talk to you," said Hildegarde.
"If you get up, I shall go below."
"Why don't you like Mr. Meyer?"
"Why should I like Mr. Meyer?"
"Well, he likes you. Does n't that a little--just a little-- No? Well, then, there 's another reason. He told me he thought you were so plucky that you ought to be helped." As even this generous sentiment seemed not to melt the lady, "You 'd better be nice to him," said Hildegarde lightly, smiling in her effort to make her companion a little cheerfuller. "He told me he could get you a Nome lot that you could sell by and by for $2000."
"Did he say what I was to pay for it?"
"You don't pay anything, that 's what 's so beautiful."
"Really! Why does n't he get it for himself?"
"He 'll have one, too. Everybody will who knows--as he does--which are the forfeited ones. The thing is, you must live on the lot. Then you acquire squatter's sovereignty, and you can sell it for $2000."
"I see; and how much am I to give Mr. Meyer?"
"Oh, you are suspicious! He takes a real interst. He wants to 'put you on to' some unrecorded mining property he knows about."
"Has he told you?"
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 341
"He did n't tell me why a busy man like Meyer should stop to think of me."
"Do you think men never help women?"
"Yes, when they see some advantage for themselves." And then dark histories. The general effect of her experience, the sum total of that knowledge she had brought out of commerce with men, and which was always ready to rise up and menace her--it seemed almost incredible to the sheltered woman. But it was not all narrow, personal repining. Mrs. Locke had theories. She had lived once in a state where women voted. She told stories of going to the polls. In spite of the opposition of male politicians she had once herself held office.
"Well, how did you like being a notary public?"
"I hated it, but it taught me things."
"Unless my life 's a failure," she said, with an unconscious loftiness, "I don't expect to have time to bother about politics."
You 'd feel differently if you did n't belong to the privileged class."
"Oh, but I don't. I belong to quite plain people. And we 've been very poor."
"Have you ever worked for your living?"
"Exactly. Intelligent and able-bodied, and yet you 've--"
"I 've helped at home."
"You may have saved the wages of a housekeeper or a sewing woman, but you 've taken what was given you as a dole; and you have 'n't a notion what you 'd do if the men of your family died or cast you off. Or-- have you?"
"I never thought about it."
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 342
"That 's what I mean. You belong to what they call the privileged class. The 'privilege' is to know as little of life as a pet canary."
Hildegarde only laughed.
"Oh, yes, you sing very sweetly, and the song says you 've got all the rights you want. All it means is that through some man living or dead the singer has what material comforts she needs. And the burden of the song is, 'Look how contented and feminine I am. I 'm all right. With the mass of womankind it 's different, but I shan't bother.'"
"You think it 's different with the mass?"
"You know it is. Never mind"--she made a little impatient move of the head as though to free her brain from some thorny contact--"I 've had my time of trying to help the rest. From this on I have just one object. I 've made up my mind to put up with any and everything till I 've bought my freedom. That 's why I 'm here."
"How long will it take you to buy freedom?" asked Hildegarde.
Mrs. Locke clasped one hand over the other on the railing of the ship and leaned her chin down on the whitened knuckles. She fixed her steady eyes upon the wave-fretted, glaucous-looking waste, less like water than like vast fields of molten lead, falling into furrows, forever shifting and forever shaped anew. "I say to myself that if I slave and rough it for five years more, I shall be able to buy a little home in the country and know some peace before I die."
It seemed a gray existence, and Hildegarde, with the hopeful self-sufficiency of happy youth, felt in her heart
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 343
that the woman must somehow be to blame. Men were not always or usually what Mrs. Locke gave out. Even in the crush at the wharf, though the rougher people had pushed and jostled and sworn, nobody had tried to break Hildegarde's arm. Mrs. Blumpitty had roughed it, but she did n't complain of men, though Blumpitty must be a trial. No, poor Mis' Bumble Bee, on her pallet of straw in the corner of the deck, was by the side of this other woman an enviable object even in the worst weather, and the statement may stand although it lack its true significance to that portion of mankind which happened not to be in the North Pacific or the Bering Sea in the first June of this century. Even when the weather was not doing anything spectacular, the dank chill was of the sort that searched the marrow. The fogs penetrated tweed and mackinaw and even leather, till people's apparel wilted, and conducing less to warmth than shivering, clung to their figures as clammily as a half-dried bathing dress. The rugs and "robes" and wraps weighed each a ton--the very bedclothes seemed never to be dry. Day and night the fog-horn hooted, or, when the all-enveloping grayness lifted for a little, it was only to loosen the great rains, as if most mighty Jupiter Pluvius, thinking to use the ship for his tub, had pulled the shower-bath string just above it, discharging a water-spout over the Los Angeles. And after that, sleet, mist drizzle, and fog again.
Every man on board began to suffer visibly and audibly from the national complaint. In vain they hawked and spat and trumpeted; the great American Cold had them by the nose. All they could do in their misery was to reduce companionway and deck to a condition best
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 344
left undescribed. But it was this more than any other thing that made the heart of the unhappy Hildegarde to falter and grow faint.
There were moments when, too chilled to sit still, worn out with tramping up and down, wet, and yet more miserable by reason of certain sights and sounds, she, nevertheless, rather than face the greater horror below, would stay on deck all day, wondering a little sometimes that she could suffer so much acute physical misery and yet not rue her coming. For even now, the moment she envisaged a possible escape--a passing yacht that should take her luxuriously home, or any pleasant miracle of rescue--she discovered that come what would, she was not only bound to keep on, but as determined to see it through as she had been that night of Louis's return, when, innocent of most that it implied, she had said she would go and bring her father home.
In the carrying out of her resolution there was nothing, as yet, to bet afraid of in the sense she vaguely had supposed her brothers and Louis Cheviot to mean, but of sheer physical wretchedness and soul-sickness, enough and to spare for the chastening of any spirit.
There had been a good deal of heavy drinking in the last day or two. As for Curlyhead's father, he seemed never to be sober, and yet he had wits enough left, as well as cash, to bear a hand in endless games of poker. At first there had been little card-playing. But now, as people began to grow used to the motion, they crawled out of their berths to look at the world from the upper-deck, shiver and go below. Down there, what was there to do but the one thing? If you played once, you played every day, and all day, and more than half the night.
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 345
People who could n't as yet sit at the table to eat, sat there between meals breakfasting, dining, supping off "chips" and bits of pasteboard--not missing fleshpots, since always a jackpot graced the board. There were those who grudged the meal hours. Glowering upon the people who used the tables for mere eating, they stood about impatient till a place was cleared and the real business of poker might begin.
The same thing went on straight through the ship. According to the giant, they were as hard at it in the second-class as they were in the first, and on down as far as the horrible berths went, wherever men could get a board or a barrel-head, there they were with cards in their hands.
Not men only. And not only the woman with the sealskin jacket and the diamond ear-rings (did she sleep as well as eat and play in these adornments?); other women, too, sat at the absorbing game.
"Are they really gambling?" Hildegarde had asked the giant, the first time he found her in a group looking on.
The giant had laughed and said, "Don't they look it?"
"No. They are so--so quiet."
"That 's when they 're plunging worst."
"You mean they 're making large sums of money here now, and take it like that?"
"Yes, and losing, too, and take it just the same. It 's only in books that gamblers gurgle and gasp."
But even the cheerful giant had seemed to feel this was no place for Miss Mar. "Are n't you coming upstairs?" As she still lingered fascinated, "I 've been getting some oranges for you."
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 346
"Out of a crate that 's bust."
Hildegarde laughed. He was so exactly like a great school-boy proposing a raid on an orchard. "I've got oranges of my own," she said.
"Yes, but these are tangerines," and he led the way.
Very few people up there in comparison with the crowds in the saloon and smoking-room. Mrs. Blumpitty asleep under sodden blankets; a group of men, tarpaulin over their knees, crouched in a sheltered corner smoking pipes and talking plans; a furry apparition sitting near the edge of the deck on a bollard--Ruth Sears in a long wolfskin coat, barely out of reach of the rain, a very solitary little figure bent over a book. Hildegarde went by unsteadily, and as the ship lurched Ford O'Gorman caught and saved her from falling. He kept hold of her till he had anchored her safely aft among the crates of fruit.
"I 'm very glad you did n't, but how was it," said Hildegarde, stripping off the loose jacket of a purloined tangerine, "how was it you did n't go by the Congress, after all?"
To her astonishment the red of the sunburnt cheek above her shoulder deepened and spread all over O'Gorman's face, but he spoke quite naturally, and even off-hand. "Oh, I was afraid I was n't going to get all my freight on board the Congress."
But that sudden red in so stalwart a visage lit a danger signal. It was ridiculous to suppose, and yet, was this going to be the trouble Louis Cheviot had dreaded
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 347
for her? She had up till then suffered no check in the comfort of the giant's cheerful companionship; but was she being too much with him? She recalled Ruth Sears' gentle but speculative eyes, raised a moment from "The Little Minister," to follow the pair as they passed.
"I 'm going to talk with Mrs. Blumpitty's niece awhile," Miss Mar announced suddenly. The giant stared. With a conscious effort and a letting down of spirits, Hildegarde turned from him, encountering Mr. Matt Gedge, the sharp-faced young man who had been in the crowd on the Seattle wharf and had satirized her "bright idear" of looking after her baggage.
"Is O'Gorman," he began, and then looking past her, " --thought if the lady was here you would n't be far. Say!" he arrested Miss Mar. "Has he told you there 's robbers aboard this ship?"
"Robbers? No! What makes you think--"
"There 's a woman down in the second saloon--all she 's got in the world 's been swiped."
"But they 've started a collection for her," said O'Gorman.
"Yep, we 've fixed up the collection and we 've fixed up a Vigilance Committee. Come along, it was your idear, so let 's go and give her the money."
"Oh, you can do that," said O'Gorman. "But hold on a minute. Make it sixty-six for luck." He fished in his pocket. "I guess she 's spent more than a dollar's worth of worry."
Hildegarde stopped by the immobile figure still reading. "That 's a good warm coat you 've got," she said.
"Yes"--Ruth looked up with absent eyes--"but it 's too long."
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 348
"Is it! I should think it kept your ankles good and warm."
"Y-yes." She looked at the unspeakably filthy deck, and tucked the skirts of her coat tighter round her.
"I see the good of a short skirt here," Hildegarde's eyes followed hers, "and it looks very nice on you, too."
"I 'm glad," said the girl, "if you don't think it 's too short." Then she told Hildegarde about her life up in Alaska, how she had traveled, and cooked, and nursed, and hunted, and cured skins, and followed the trail; and did each and everything the better for wearing a skirt to the knee.
"But it 's hard after we 've worked so, my aunt and me, to see men looking at us in that way as if they thought we were--were, you know, the wrong kind. Just becasue we try to adapt ourselves. to the life."
"Some people might not understand; but surely these men--"
With her head Ruth Sears made a little motion of negative. Slight as it was, it admitted no supposition of there being any doubt about the matter. "They 'd rather we all wore trailing skirts and diamond ear-rings."
"It 's reall rather nice of them, in a way," said Miss Mar.
But the one who had had the experience was less free to discover in the charge a survival of the starved spirit of romance. "That Mr. Tod," Ruth went on, "he was up there last year. I 've cooked him many a dinner. Only yesterday I heard him agreeing with a lot of men that he would n't like to see his daughter going about in
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 349
such a short dress, and all the while he was talking he was spitting on the deck."
More here for the eye that could see than a base-mannered churl discussing feminine attire. He, in his way, was dealing with one of the important questions of the age. Also he had on his side many a learned and fastidious critic of society, for all that the great current of the future was set the other way. Some inkling of this last reached Hildegarde, and it reached her through a dawning sense of her own unfitness. She would never be in the vanguard with skirts kilted high for action. She was one of those who would cling to the outworn modes. For all that, she would for the rest of her life understand some things better because of these strange days in the microcosm of the ship.
While the third dinner was being cleared away, Hildegarde looked into the music-room. A dilapidated younger woman, at the dilapidated piano, singing a comic song, and the cross-eyed man accompanying on the flute. A number of people sat about on the few rickety chairs and the many boxes and bundles, listening in a kind of painful trance, or passing back and forth over the wooden lattice of the raised flooring between which and the boards below escaped bilge-water slopped about with the motion of the ship and too frequently came to the surface.
Mrs. Locke was not there at all events. As Hildegarde turned away from the noisome-smelling place a well-dressed woman of about forty, who had been leaning on the piano (undisturbed, apparently, by the highly abnormal sounds it gave forth), followed Miss Mar to ask: "How is the sick lady in your room?" Miss Mar knew
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 350
her interlocutor to be Mrs. David M. Jones, but they had not spoken before.
"There are two still sick," Hildegarde answered.
"I mean the one they 're afraid 's got smallpox?"
Miss Mar opened her wide eyes very wide indeed. Even Louis had never thought of that chance. "I had n't heard about it," she said. And presently, "Do you know where Mrs. Locke is?"
"I think she 's gone to get the doctor," answered the ex-governor's wife. "I had meant to be in the room you and she are in. Pretty satisfied now to be out of it." With which she returned to the festive scene.
Even Hildegarde, who was so little nervous, would ordinarily have found her self-possession shaken by the news that she had been sleeping for nearly a week within two feet of so contagious and foul a disease; but she took the information more quietly than can well be credited by any one who has never cut the ties that bind us to resourceful yet care-filled civilized life.
Those who have once severed the thousand threads find not only some hardship and heartsoreness, but certain natures find, too, the larger calm that only perfect acquiescence gives. It is not all loss to be unable to run from danger. You gain a curious new sense of the inevitableness that lies at the roots of life, a sense smothered in the country and forgotten in the town. And this calm that walks the perilous places of our earth with its front of untroubled dignity and its steadfast eyes, this gain amongst many losses was not denied the girl faring North for knowledge and for old devotion's sake.
"Yes," the steward said, Mrs. Locke was in her cabin. As she went toward it, Hildegarde wondered if it were
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 351
written among the things to be that she herself should die there, and would Louis be hearing one day how they 'd buried her in Bering Sea. She opened the door, and there was the object of her quest looking on at a strange and sufficiently horrible spectacle. Stretched full length upon the floor, in her nightgown, lay the Dutch woman speechless, with a face swollen and scarlet. The ship's doctor, standing astride of her huge hulk, bent over and peering under the heavy eyelid, which he had forced back with his thumb, looked into the rolled-up eye. Hildegarde, with noiseless lips, made the question, "Smallpox?" Mrs. Locke answered in a low voice, "Smallpox! No. Lack of self-control." How this worked out Hildegarde did not wait to inquire. It was too ugly to see that big woman lying there under such conditions, and the place smelt of alcohol.
But outside it was hardly better. The card players had gathered like flies settling down upon the remains of a feast, and at the end of the saloon three men were quarreling. Through an atmosphere thick, horrible, rose the angry voices. Was there going to be a fight? One might face death, even from smallpox, and yet not know quite how to accept life among sights and sounds like these.
"What 's the matter? said Mrs. Locke, catching Hildegarde just outside their door. "You 're not afraid! I tell you it is n't smallpox."
"I know. That 's not it." The girl leaned against the wall. Two of the angry men had combined against the third. His chief means of defense seemed to be blasphemy. They hurt the ears, those words. She felt an inward twist of humiliation as she remembered that
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 352
Louis had said rather than see a sister of his go to Nome with the gold rush he 'd see her--
"Then what is the matter?" asked the woman at her side, watching her with an odd intentness. "I suppose this is n't the first time you 've heart a man swear."
"The matter is-- I feel as if what I 'd seen and heard here would leave some sort of lasting stain. As if I 'd gone through filth and some of it would stick to me for ever."
"No, you don't. You 're only thinking of what some man might think." Hildegarde caught her breath with the surprise of guilty recognition, as Mrs. Locke's soft voice insisted: "Knowing does n't hurt a woman. Not the right sort of woman. But it does change us. You 'll find life will always look a little different to you after this."
Bella had said something like that!
"It 's curious," the woman went on, "how hard we struggle to live up to men's standard of our ignorance. After all, their instinct about it is quite right."
"Instinct about what?"
"That if we knew the truth, the truth would make us free."
"The truth might make frightened slaves of some of us."
"Only of the meanest."
"And you think men don't want us free?" Hildegarde asked wearily.
"A very few may. There are more of the other sort."
"Well, I know one man," said the girl, cleansing consciousness with the vision, "one man who is the kind you 'd say was an exception. I 'm sure his not wanting
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 353
me to come on this journey was just a natural shrinking from seeing any girl face hardships."
Mrs. Locke set her fine little face like marble. "This entire ship might have been full of girls facing hardships, and it would n't have cost him a pang. But I can well believe your coming did."
"Ah, you see, you don't know him."
The other shook her head. "Even the best men have n't got so far as to want to respect all women. Their good-will, their helpfulness, are kept in water-tight compartments, reserved for particular women. The rest may go to the everlasting bonfire."
"No, no, no."
"Yes, it seems even to help them in being specially nice to some--"
"What helps them?"
To have been brutes to others." Mrs. Locke turned to go back into the horrible little cabin. "The best fellow I ever met told me that no man knew how to treat a woman who had n't stood over the grave of one he 'd loved."
"Well, I say again, you don't know the sort of man I-- Why, even that dreadful Matt Gedge--even he goes and collects money for the poor woman in the second class."
"I never said they would n't show kindness when the notion took them. It 's justice they don't understand." And with that she went back to the woman who was having a fit on the floor.
Up on deck Hildegarde found a gale blowing. Where was the giant? The chicken-merchant, joining Miss Mar at the door, held on to his slouch hat while he inquired
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 354
significantly after the health of the purser. Miss Mar had not heard he was indisposed? "Oh, yes, you ought to go and see him. It 's nothin' catchin'--calls it bronchitis. Reckon it 's heart trouble," and he cackled like the most elated of his hens.
Again she came down-stairs, wandering aimlessly about, and then stopping by a little knot of lookers-on at the eternal game. In that childish mood, that may once in a while fall upon even a reasonable girl, she thought vaguely that if she stood long enough before this spectacle held to be unfit for feminine eyes, the giant would certainly come again and take her away. But the giant did nothing of the kind, and presently she forgot him. She usually forgot things when she watched this particular group of players. She had been arrested just here, unbeknown to the giant, a couple of nights before on her way to bed. In front of where Hildegarde stood, Governor Reinhart was giving up his seat to an eagerly waiting claimant. "They are beginning to play too high for me," his Excellency observed affably to Miss Mar.
"Who is winning?"
"That woman over there. She 's a holy terror."
"Not that one with the gentle face and the pointed chin?"
"Yes. Very pleasant and soft-spoken, too. Wife of the man next--playing with the professional gambler gang. They don't tackle her. She 's a corker with the cards!"
It was incredible that he should be speaking of the singularly modest and well-bred-looking woman, who followed the game with eyes that never lifted but once all
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 355
the while Hildegarde stood there. It was when the last of her husband's shrinking pile of chips was swept from him by the man opposite, that the woman, playing her own stiff game, not looking right nor left, must still have been acutely conscious of the full extent of the disaster at her side. The loser's only comment was "My deal!" as he picked up the cards afresh. Then it was that she turned the white wedge on her pointed face, laid a hand on the dealer's arm, and quite low, "Don't Jim!" she said, as though she hoped to influence him with her own hand full of cards. Naturally, he paid no heed, and each in the death-like silence, each went on with the game. There was something almost unnerving to the on-looker in the strained quiet of the woman. Was she wining or losing now? No hint of which in the pointed white mask, while she sat a little droop-shouldered, her arms lying on the table as if paralyzed, moving only her long supple fingers, gathering in or throwing out--unless she dealt, and even then moving about a tenth as much as any one else on either side up or down the long board. After what Governor Reinhart had said, each night on her way to bed, Hildegarde had paused a fascinated instant watching this woman; or by a group lower down where Curlyhead's father was, often with his little boy on his knee. While the elders played, the five-year-old would sit quiet as a mouse staring wisely at his father's cards, seeing in them his first picture book, learning them for his earliest lesson.
Hildegarde had watched it all before, but on this particular wet evening the spectacle assailed an unpanoplied spirit. It was horrible. She would never get the picture out of her head. Even when she should be at home again,
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 356
doing delightful things with dear and happy people, she would remember this and and light would go out of the day. For it would be going on still. Somewhere, there would be people like these wasting and besmirching the flying, irrecoverable hours. Women, too, women! Something choked in her throat. She felt that she must strike the table and cry out: "Listen, listen! You have n't ever heard. Life is beautiful and good, and you 've never known that--poor, poor people. But I have come to tell you. Stop playing with those pieces of painted paper and listen to my good news!"
But of course they 'd only think she was mad. Oh, why had she come! With a tension as of tears, crowding, straining the muscles of her throat, she turned away to face again the wind-driven sleet of the deck. She dragged her steps to the dirty companionway. From the smoking-room above came the giant's great laugh, punctuating some one's story, and what so melancholy to certain moods as the sound of distant merriment! It becomes for us the symbol of all that greater gladness out of our reach, attainable to happier men. No light as yet except in the saloon behind her. All the rest of the ship shrouded in the early-gathering shadows of a stormy evening. A passion of loneliness swept over her. As her foot touched the first step, some one came close behind.
"Is that you?" said a voice she did not recognize. A touch, a whisky breath blowing foul in her face, and without lifting her eyes or even uttering a sound she fled up the stair, meaning to make straight for Mrs. Blumpitty's rain-soaked pallet. Half-way up she saw in the gloom above her the blaze of a match, and there was the
Come and Find Me, Chapter 18 page 357
Arctic Cap, his back turned to her, holding up the lighted match to read the run on the notice board. As Hildegarde's eyes fell in that vivid instant on the square shoulders, something in outline or attitude set her heart to beating so wildly, that, still flying on, she stumbled. With a little cry she put out a hand and felt herself steadied as the match fell to darkness. In a turmoil of wonder and wild hope her cheek had brushed the coat sleeve one lightning instant before she recovered firm footing and stood erect with apology on her lips.
The ship's doctor and the purser came hurriedly out of the smoking-room. But the Arctic Cap was turned away when the sudden light streamed out. A banging door, hurrying steps, and Hildegarde was peering in the dark after an indistinguishable face, hoping things she knew both impossible and mad, only to find herself standing there alone, with thumping pulses.
Available on the web since August 2000