NORMAN REILLY RAINE
IT WAS not an attractive window. It was small, and dimmed with years of dust and soot and greasy London fog, and the view from it was of a blank brick wall, a corner of slate roof, and a patch of sky which sometimes was blue, but to-day was pale with rain. Yet it was a significant window, for as well as looking outward, it looked inward, upon the heart of Simon Mantle, and what it saw there was disturbing, yet pleasant.
Simon was of rather less than middle height, with the stooped shoulders and indeterminate features of the office worker. His rather nice blue eyes behind thick spectacles, held a certain wistfulness, and his thin lips a quirk, which in a more robust man, or in different circumstances might have indicated humor. But what concern with humor has a colorless mouse of a man, who has spent twenty-seven of his forty-one years between the same four dingy office walls— a term of confinement which has laid upon his skin and—yes, his soul, a pallor which only embarrassment can tinge?
Simon curled his bony legs more closely about his high stool, and bent again, near-sightedly, to the ledger, trying hard to keep his mind on the affairs of Noel & Rooker, Ltd., Importers, and his eyes from the drab square of window. The clock ticked, the rain splashed on the sill and Simon held to his task, halting now and again to replenish the fire in the small grate.
Hours passed. The square of light darkened and Simon switched on the bulb, the ancient firm’s one concession to progress, and continued at his task. Six wheezy strokes of the clock. He finished the entry he was on, wiped his pen, laid it carefully on the rack, and from a corner took down a dun-colored coat, a woollen muffler and an umbrella. He donned goloshes and then, with the muffler well about his throat, its ends tucked primly in his coat, he set forth for home, through the roaring tide of evening traffic, wet and glistening under the lights.
SIMON alighted from the bus at Lewisham, crossed the bridge, and walked down an obscure side street to his house, a modest cottage, indistinguishable both in and outside, from a score of its neighbors. He avoided the tabooed front door and entered by way of the scullery, past a board which read “Tradesmen’s Entrance.” Even the poor have their little pretensions, and Mrs. Mantle was proud of that sign. It was genteel.
As Simon opened the scullery door his wife shrilled unnecessary warning.
“Take off them goloshes before you come in.”
Mrs. Mantle was faded, without even the memory of youthful prettiness. What had been the magnetism which had united these two sixteen years before? Simon could not tell you, and as for Mrs. Mantle—“If I’d had me senses—”
Over the tea table, Simon, who should have known better, attempted conversation. There was a formula. “And how have you been to-day, my dear?”
“. . . my dear?”
“What’s the good of askin’ that. There’s always work to be done, ain’t there? Not like you, what can get out in the world and see something! My pore back—”
Mrs. Mantle lived with her pore back, and the petty misdemeanors of her neighbors.
“Mr. Noel was in this morning. He’s been to Brussels.” “Spendin’ what you earn him, I suppose. An’ you, with your four pound ten a week after twenty-seven years,” she commented bitterly, thus resuming old strife. Simon lodged feeble protest.
“But my dear, times are not—”
“Eat your tripe. I want to get cleared away.”
In the tiny parlor after tea, Simon, in slippers and an easy jacket, sat before the fire, his wife nearby, and shared with her the evening paper. There were two high
Being the story of a certain Simon who hungered after strange cities and foreign oceans and discovered that there are more ways of starving a soul than that of chaining the body to an office stool.
spots in Simon Mantle’s day. One was in the morning when, arrived at the office and perched upon his stool, he allowed himself five minutes intense contemplation, through the window, of that irregular patch of sky. The other was now, and he approached it as a rite.
Taking the pages of newsprint as his wife finished with them he read the local items, scanned world events about which he occasionally delivered disregarded and inaccurate opinions, skimmed over the sporting pages, absorbed police reports and other choice paragraphs and then—■
“May I see that bit when you’ve done with it, my dear? Thank you.”
Simon’s mild eyes gleamed, his pinched face grew strangely eager as he settled deeper in his chair with a sigh of content. He was intent on:
Perim . . S.S. City of Cawnpore, Johnson, for Bombay.
Cape Town.S.S. Wanganui, Sparks, for Auckland.
Port Said . H.M.S. Cornflower, Campbell, for Red Sea Station.
Halifax . . S.S. Canadian Pioneer, Robertson, from Tahiti.
And so on, down the long column, reporting the movements of vessels over all the surf-embroidered fringes of the globe. Simon dropped his paper and mused. The cold rain pattered on the roof, and occasionally hissing drops fell down the chimney. Mrs. Mantle’s paper rustled.
Simon gazed long into the fire, and could you have taken his dull, grey head and squeezed it like a pod it would have scattered brilliant-colored fragments, wrought of years of fruitless dreams; ships, and ports with strange exotic names; wiry brown men in gorgeous turbans; wheeling vultures over the changeless desert; deep-water ships surging through the purple of a tropic seamahogany-tanned sailors, bare of foot, standing on lookout under foreign stars; parakeets flaming across the gloom of a dripping jungle; temple bells and strange gods. Aden, the Golden Gate, Singapore, the Persian Gulf, Cocos Island—each name was a bead on his rosary of longing. He stirred restlessly in his chair, and opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it and closed it again. But the inner urge, many times rebuffed, to share his thoughts, would not be denied.
“I sometimes think, my dear,” he commenced diffidently, “that I wish I’d been sent to sea when I was a lad.’
Regardless of his wife’s tightening lips he went on. “It would be wonderful to travel. The open ocean; long days from port to port—”
“With a girl in every one of ’em. I know what sailors
are. A godless lot,” interjected Mrs. Mantle.
“Not all, I think, my dear,” he ventured. “Fancy seeing strange lands and customs, and ships—always ships—and queer, outlandish natives in bright clothes—”
“Or none at all, more like. They ain’t decent, the heathen ain’t,” commented his spouse, indignation in voice and look.
“Still, I’d like to have been a sailor.” ‘‘With your specs, and narrow chest and skinny legs and arms like— like matches, they are. Fine sailor you’d make, I must say. Sailors has to be men,notsparrers. Sailor! Hmm\ Time you was going to bed.”
Her husband sighed and relapsed into silence.
The fire settled with a little stir.
“I think I will go to bed, my dear,” said Mr. Mantle after a bit, and later lay beside his sleeping wife, staring into the dark. The rain had stopped, and he caught his breath with a happy little thrill, sensing that to-morrow would be fine, and that through his office window, across that irregular patch of sky, great clouds would sail, outward bound across the world.
A WARM, sweet air of spring blew across the south of England. Riding high above the dust of the metropolis, it swooped suddenly down between narrow streets and drummed for admittance upon the office window of Simon Mantle. Simon, engrossed in his work, looked up, and then, with considerable difficulty, parted the stiffened sashes. The visitor breezed in and tumbled its gifts under Simon’s thin nostrils; a breath of plow-turned earth, a hint of wild flowers pushing through the winter moss, the clear, far echo of a mountain brook, a spice of fresh salt air plucked from the sparkling Dover straits. Then the imp of the wanderjahr, ceasing its idle play with the loose papers upon the desk, raised one of the thinning locks on Simon’s head and whispered a message into his ear. Simon’s head lifted. His lungs drew in a deep unaccustomed breath and upon him swept a powerful nostalgia —a poignant yearning for all the wide, free things of which life had cheated him. His knuckles whitened in the grip of an emotion so tense, so alien to his peaceful rut that it frightened him. Swept off his feet he clutched wildly for some physical holdfast, which would explain and justify his mental flux. He found it. “It’s that open window,” he muttered, and closed it for fear of a chill. But the visitor’s work was done.
Try as he would Simon could not again concentrate upon his task. Thought rioted rebelliously through his brain, and mated with ancient desires. An idea was born which, developing apace, came forth and astonished Simon with its daring and strength. He would spend that afternoon playing truant, down along the docks.
Fortunately the day was Saturday, but it is to be conceived that even had it been otherwise Simon still would have gone. He was no longer an agent of his will, but of a master who had slumbered long, and who now was awake. Three o’clock found him, an insignificant, slightly apprehensive figure, wandering like a lost atom amid the din and bustle and moving life of the great waterside. Giant cranes swung and dipped ceaselessly as they transferred the cargoes of deep-water ships to the freight sheds. Dock winches clattered deafeningly as they lifted heavily laden slings from yawning holds. Men shouted. Horses, drays and lorries bumped and screeched over the street cobbles. The deep-throated chorus of moving shipping added to the din. Steam pipes jetted white vapor, and the quickening breeze strummed through rigging and funnel stays. The river lapped against the black and slimy wharf piles and sea birds wheeled and piped in the wake of busy water traffic. Tall ships from all the seven seas came to pile their hard won treasures into the lap of the mother of ships. On the decks of Orient traders groups of shivering natives huddled under voluminous wrappings, or layers of sarongs, or even bright-colored
quilts, against the raw Thames air, and white men, some of them grimy, and bare to the waist, appeared from mysterious caverns, and after pausing for a spit and a glance overside, disappeared again.
To Simon it was all new, and fascinating, like an unbelievable dream. He picked his way, a respectful distance back from the string piece, for the near proximity of the water made him dizzy, his mind a blotter upon which was splashed the colors of romance. He paused frequently, enthralled, yet anxious not to be in the way of the shouting, sweating stevedores, while out of the belly of some deep-laded ship were taken hides, or eucalyptus oil in casks, and his nostrils stung with the acrid smell of a rime-stained Norwegian tramp fresh in with a cargo of copra from the South Seas.
Here was the essence of his years of suppressed imagining, made crystallate, brought to understandable terms of flesh and blood, wood, and iron, and steel, yet losing none of its allure. As he gazed his fascination was heightened by occasional mild pricks of conscience. Mrs. Mantle — conventional little soul. What would she think of her husband roaming the river like a waterfront roustabout? But she would never know. Never? Already the awakened spirit of Simon Mantle, charmed by this first step, was planning similar excursions.
Simon’s progress was blocked by a number of cargo stages crossing the dock from warehouse to the flush decks of a trim fruit carrier, so he dodged through the door of the shed, down its gloomy length, and emerging by the far door came upon a stretch of wharf into which a ship was being warped. And such a ship. Her graceful bows flared like a pirate’s jack boots, the sun glittered on polished brass work and dazzling paint; uniformed figures on bridge and poop and forecastle-head shouted directions to the hands on the wharf. The coolie crew, their nondescript covering flecked here and there with a spot of color, moved like monkeys at the muttered words of the “Number One” or native overseer, and slowly the intervening water narrowed. Whistles shrilled, and the raised arms of the officers signalled.
The captain on the bridge—in Simon’s eyes a demi-god in brass buttons and gold-peaked cap—leaned over the side and looked keenly along her length, then turned to greet the agent who climbed swiftly aboard.
Simon noted, with a quick intake of breath, her name painted in golden Chinese characters on her bows. He walked slowly aft, following the slender band of gold that ran along the black hull, until it terminated in the graceful curve of her counter, whereon was set, in English, the words, Mandarin—Hongkong. Here was the ship of his dreams.
For an hour he stood by, watching the rat guards being attached to the mooring lines, noting the preparation to discharge cargo. Hatches were uncovered, stages run out, cargo booms swung. The stevedore’s crowd swarmed aboard, noisy and profane, and set to work. Privileged figures came and went up and down the lowered gangway.
The mate, a burly figure, with a weather-beaten face, pipe in mouth, leaned over the rail at the head of the gangway, and spat contemplatively at a mooring bollard on the wharf.
Him, Mr. Mantle eyed with vivid interest. The captain, in mufti, and carrying a brief case stamped with ship’s name, came down from the bridge. He seemed strangely shrunken, out of uniform, until Simon glimpsed his hard blue eyes, and straight lips between grey moustache and square chin.
“Working cargo to-night, Mister.
Have the cluster lights rigged for’ard and aft,” he said to the mate. “Going home now. Back after breakfast.”
The mate nodded, and as the captain descended the gangway, spat again with a touch of derision. Then, quite deliberately, he winked into the wide blue gaze of Simon Mantle.
That gentleman replied with an uncertain smile.
“Master’s privileges,” commented the mate, jerking a thumb at the captain’s disappearing back. “Off home as soon as we make fast. ‘Working cargo to-night, Mister.’ That means ‘stop aboard, Mister.’ Don’t it, eh?”
Mr. Mantle smiled again, ingra-
smiling “Number One,” they had pushed past the deferential coolie crew into the forecastle which smelled, to Mr. Mantle, like all Asia, but which the mate referred to in less euphonious terms. From there they visited the chart-room and the wheelhouse, unlocked by a white quartermaster who called Simon “sir.” He had been allowed to finger the big wheel. And now, his mouth full of toast, and his eyes on a gaily indecorous -Japanese calendar pinned on the bulkhead, these wonders were being surpassed.
“I’ll tell you what it is,” the mate was saying. “If you really Irani to go to sea—though why a man with a home, and a wife to keep his feet warm, and a good job ashore, and every night in his bunk, should be fool enough for that I can’t see—however, if you want to, I don’t say as it can’t be done. I’ve took a liking to you. You’re a clerical man in the import way, you say, handy with figures and all that. Well, our supercargo’s being paid off this trip. Got in a jam with a Malay half-caste at Singapore, and flashed a pistol on him, and got the ship fined two hundred dollars, so the Old Man’s giving him the push. Now if you want his berth— a matter of ten pound a month and all found, I daresay I can get the Old Man to sign you on. But, of course, you won’t be such a ass—”
Of course Simon Mantle would not be such an ass, and yet—
“I’d like to think it over, sir,” he said timidly, and gulped on his toast. “I’d like to think it over if—if you don’t mind.”
The mate, whose name was Blunt, did not mind.
“We’ll be here for four days discharging, then over to Lime’us for a day, and then drop down to Tilbury Docks to complete loading for Indo-China and Shanghai. I’ll have to know before we leave here. There’s a friend of my wife’s would like the job, but I don’t hold with having close members of the family along aboard ship with you. They’re too fond of telling tales when they gets home. To-day’s Saturday. I’ll hold it open until, say, Tuesday afternoon. That ought to be time enough for you to decide if you want to make a fool of yourself or not, eh? If you do, why you can sign on then. But take my advice, my friend,” and here the mate poked Mr. Mantle’s chest with a hard but well-meaning forefinger, “you stop home along of your old woman. It’s too hard a life for the likes of you.”
“And where are we—I mean, where are you going next trip?”
“Stop at Aden, Aden to Colombo, Soerabaya—in the Dutch East Indies you know—Saigon, and China coast ports to Shanghai and load for home. Six months, say.”
Simon Mantle’s eyes followed his thoughts, but the mate brought him back.
“I’ve got to get ’em started rigging those lights now, Mister,” he said, “so I’ll bid you adoo. Finished your tea? That’s right. Well, good luck, and I’ll look for you Tuesday,”— and disclaiming Simon’s incoherent gratitude he shook him by the hand and escorted him over the gangway.
“Hongkong -— Mandarin" — the magic words danced in Simon’s brain as he rode home on the top of a bus, oblivious to the roar of traffic. The night wind blew, cold and refreshing. Stars were out, and he leaned back in his seat and watched them, and thought. This—this was England; these smooth, smug streets, brick, and mortar, and class inhibitions, and a weary grinding of men of his type between the stones of poverty and wealth. This was England, plodding, prosaic, while out there, beyond the stars—
WITHOUT conscious volition his course was determined for him. He was sailing on the Mandarin. The thought did not resolve itself into so many words, but it lay like a rock in the stream of his mind, and reflection eddied, backed, and flowed over it but it did not move. Lightly he touched upon details he would have to clear up. He would not give notice to his employers. Let them wonder. He owed them nothing. With a smile he thought of his bondage at four pound ten a week.
There was Martha, of course. She Continued on page 66
tiatingly. He had not the faintest idea what the mate was ' driving at, but that did not matter. What did matter was that he, Simon Mantle, was actually holding converse with the mate of a ship fresh in from the Orient. The thought lent him courage.
“Might I—that is—er—could I come up there, sir?” he asked in a thin voice.
The mate glanced about facetiously.
“Nothing to stop you, so far as I can see,” he said.
Mr. Mantle’s trembling legs would hardly carry him up the gangway. He tripped over the top step and landed on the iron deck. Up again almost before he was down, his avid eyes drank in the strange jungle of masts, and stays and funnel, samson posts, boats and loose gear, and the long, smooth stretches of deck space.
“Live hereabouts?” questioned the mate, affably.
For a minute Simon could not find tongue. Was it real? Was he actually standing on the deck of a vessel just in from Suez and the Far East? Eut the bluff, goodhumored mate was used to the queer vagaries of landsmen. Ele was not without a certain kindly shrewdness, too, and drew conclusions from the meagre figure, the white face and hungrily roaming eyes of his visitor. In their simplicity, seamen have a way of coming at things.
“Not a bad old hooker, the Mandarin ain’t,” he said, with sudden inspiration. “Care to look about her a bit? Mind that wire rope there—”
A half hour later, Simon Mantle, dazed with delight, sat on the settee in the mate’s cabin, with a cup of tea and a plate of toast brought by a Chinese steward. Lis mind strove ineffectively to pigeon-hole what he had seen, and to record with calmness the extraordinary speech the mate was now in process of making. His hands were soiled from the rail cf the engine-rocm ladder. They had descended to a mechanical inferno, hot and shining, and held converse with a dungaree-clad troglodyte whom the Mate called the “Doucer,” otherwise the second engineer. After that, preceded by the bland and
Continued from page 19
would have to be told—and instinctively he shrank from consideration of this. Let it wait. He would make all preparations first; then, when it was too late to withdraw, he would tell her. The inevitableness of his preparations would strengthen him against her anger. Futile anger, it would be. They had upwards of two hundred pounds in the bank. He would send her money, too, and shining presents from Asia. Here his thoughts wandered again, but he curbed them back. After the first shock, the first amazement at his daring—madness, she would call it—the soured, contemptuous little woman would be glad to be rid of him. He had no illusions on that score. Later, perhaps, on return from one of his voyages, he might visit her, quiet, bronzed, breathing the strength of the salt sea. The legal consequences of his act did not occur to him, who had passed his eventless days far within the deadline of the law. As he neared home, and the lights of the Crystal Palace showed through a gap in the houses, they seemed to him the harbor lights of a far port, to which he was reaching, over the dark rim of the sea.
Treading the pavement to his home, though, the customs of years reached out with unyielding fingers and trepidation shook him. He was long past the meal hour. Mrs. Mantle seemed set in a fit of strange abstraction, however, and hardly commented. They ate in silence, each enveloped in thought. Simon was not hungry, and pecked at his food, but this too passed unnoticed, and he inwardly congratulated himself, without seeking the cause.
“And how is your poor back to-day, my dear?” he asked after a while.
“Lot it matters to you, what stays out —” his wife began, and Simon thought, “Here it comes.” But his wife let the matter hang there, and added irrevelantly a moment later, “Old Cobbler’s died.”
Simon was interested. Old Cobbler was the neighborhood drunkard—a besotted beast who had led his motherless child a hell upon earth for a period of years. Mrs. Mantle went on.
“He was after his kid, Mary Ellen, again. You know-—’er what he crippled a year ago. He near killed ’er. The polis came and he fought ’em. One of ’em clouted him and knocked him down the stair. He was dead when they picked ’im up. The copper thought he’d killed ’im, but doctor said it was his heart. Brandy and wicked livin’. That’s what done it. What the kiddie’ll do now, ’eaven knows, although she couldn’t be worse off than she was.”
Silence again fell between them, and Simon, engrossed in his thoughts, was glad when the meal ended. Seated before the fire after tea, Simon took up the shipping report, and one line flared out in letters of gold. “S.S. Mandarin, Cowper, from Tsing-tao.” He went early to bed, propelled perhaps by the fact that twice, looking up from his paper, he found his wife’s eyes upon him; although instead of meeting his glance she dropped them and said nothing.
NEXT afternoon, saying no word to his wife of where he was going, Simon set forth for the docks again. The waterside drew him like a magnet, and although halted by a policeman at the dock gates, his obvious harmlessness gained him goodnatured entry. The Mandarin, wrapped in a Sunday calm, was almost deserted. Mr. Blunt was not in sight, and Simon lacked courage to board uninvited. So he sat on a pile, and passed two happy hours, visualizing in glowing pictures the vessel’s voyage, and recollecting the mate’s vivid description of a blow in the Mediterranean on the homeward passage.
On Monday he electrified his employer by a request for a half day off, and three o’clock found him, his heart thumping against his ribs, climbing the gangway of the Si andarín. Amid the rattle of winches he sought the mate, who was engaged in violent altercation with the boss stevedore. His choler was professional only, however, for his smile was bland as he turned to Simon in response to a diffident pull at his sleeve.
“Ho, its you again, is it?” he asked amiably. “What’s to do?”
“I just happened—that is, I dropped
in to tell you—I mean I’ve made up my mind—” Simon began.
“Oh, you have, have you?” interrupted the Mate. “Then I’ll speak to the Old Man about it. He’s aboard for a wonder, and I’ll see what he says. Wait here—or, no! Better wait in my room.”
Once again Simon absorbed the enchanted atmosphere of the mate’s cabin. Before long came a rap at the door, and a Chinese steward entered.
“Captain makee talk you blong topside, chop chop,” he announced.
Mr. Mantle stared. It was his first experience of the pidgin English of the China coast. He gathered its meaning, however, and followed the man up the companion to the captain’s cabin. In after moments Simon was not able to make coherent his recollection of that interview. He was conscious, mainly, of a pair of extraordinarily keen and vivid blue eyes, a jutting chin under a grim moustache and of questions, brusk and to the point, which he answered as best he could. But the Captain’s parting words, spoken to the mate as they left the room stuck in his mind without difficulty.
“He may do, Mr. Blunt,” the Old Man said. “Not much guts to him, perhaps, but then his job don’t call for that. Tell him to send his gear aboard and I’ll sign him on day after to-morrow at Limehouse.”
“—So you’d better make all clear ashore,” the Mate supplemented, in his cabin, a cup of tea in his huge fist. “Your cabin’s on the starboard side, off the saloon. Come along and I’ll show it you.”
Simon was shown the small but comfortable accommodation that was to be his sea-going home for so many adventurous months. The portals of romance swung wide, and he was reluctant to tear .himself away.
WHEN he reached home that night the house was in darkness. Simon was perplexed, then uneasy. He could not remember that his wife had ever failed, except for infrequent illness, to have the evening meal prepared against his coming. He put on the kettle and set the table, his mind divided between jubilant anticipation and fear. What if she had suspected from his unexplained absence of yesterday and had followed him? What if she already knew? The thought was absurd, and he dismissed it, yet it recurred with an intensity that was painful. Why should he care? She must know in the end— and yet he shrank from it.
Mrs. Mantle’s manner when she returned did nothing to reassure him. She was taciturn and sulky. There was conscious suspicion between them, which heightened to suspense, tense as that which follows the lightning’s flash. Covertly they eyed each other, and a dozen times each was on the verge of speech, yet each held off. The meal passed in silence, and Simon again went early to bed. In the night he awakened, suddenly, feeling that someone had been peering in his face. His wife lay, motionless, yet he was instantly aware that she was not asleep. What thoughts moved behind those still, closed lids?
At breakfast the strain was eased, but as the day progressed, Simon, at the office, dividing his time between putting his affairs in order, and staring through the little square of window, became aware of a steadily mounting excitement. He found it difficult to marshal his thoughts. It had been his intention to leave at noon, lock the door for the last time, make his purchases and after sending them to his ship go home and tell Martha. He would have to spend the night at a hotel, he supposed, for he would not care to stay after she knew, and he thought she would not wish it either. These were his plans— but there was much to do, to leave things “ship-shape” as he mentally expressed it in deference to his new calling, and it was even later than usual when he alighted from the Lewisham bus. In spite of himself his stomach trembled as he walked down the familiar street, and he fought for determination and a brave front.
His wife met him as he rasped his feet across the scraper at the scullery door. Simon’s heart beat in his throat. She
had never done that before—not intentionally. How much did she guess? A moment before he had steeled himself to tell her that he was leaving her; now, at thought that she knew and was about to accuse him, his courage fled and he was ready to deny.
“Simon,” she began, “I want—”
She stopped, her manner strange, stilted. Her eyes, in the uncertain light, looked red and swollen as though—incredible thought—she had been crying. Simon’s uneasiness grew. He could not meet her gaze.
“Come in,” she muttered. “I want to talk to you.”
Simon followed her thin, upright figure through the scullery to the kitchen. The little parlor beyond was in darkness, but through the open door he could see the pattern of a cheerful fire moving on the carpet before the hearth.
She faced him. He drew in his breath and waited. What was the matter? Why did she not break out—upbraid him with those ugly, bitter words she so cuttingly could use?
“Simon,” she said, at last, and there was nothing strident in her voice. “We been man and wife for a good many years,
“We haven’t had much in this world, but what we did get we got together, you and me and 1 haven’t asked for more ' than you could give, have I, Simon?”
Dumbly, he shook his head. There was a quality of humbleness in her tone. Her lip was quivering and her eyes suffused.
“\\ ill you do something for me, now?”
Simon's lips tightened. So that was her game? She was foxy —more so than he had anticipated. She knew, mysteriously, what was about to do, and had foreread his plan of action; seen that a wordy tempe:! would not avail, and thought to disarm him this way. She was pleading with him lie must be firm.
“It’s no good talking, Martha,” he said unsteadily. “It's no good talking about it.”
The wall clock ticked like a pulse beat. The woman's toil-hardened hands rasped together. Then her body tensed, and the wistfulness in her tired eyes leaped to a cat-like ferocity that amazed and frightened him.
“You will give in!” she said, voice low , and tremendous with emotion, and glared i at him like a mother animal at bay. “I Î been starved starved! do you understand I - all these years, and I wi’l ’ave her. You ¡ won't stop me! You ivon't! You won't!” i
Had she gone mad? What did she j mean? It was not the other, then, after all. But how had she been starved?
“You want—want who?” he asked, bewildered.
Swiftly the flame went from her eyes as she searched his face. Then, with shaking hands, she drew him to the parlor door. In his deep chair before the fire slumbered the little crippled daughter of Old Cobbler.
A lifetime of thwarted motherhood showed in Martha’s yearning gaze. “Mary Ellen—I want ’er,” she said huskily, and Simon’s head bent under a hot, quick wave of shame.
THREE months later Simon Mantle sat before the parlor fire, with the early summer rains drumming on the roof. At his feet sat Mary Ellen, her eyes following the dancing flames as he read aloud from the shipping report.
“Here it is,” said he. “ ‘Manila. S.S. Mandarin, Cowper, from Singapore.’ We followed her all the way, didn’t we? Gibraltar, Malta, Port Said, Perim, Dondra Head—that’s Ceylon, you know —Soerabaya, Saigon, then Shanghai, and now she’s coming home.”
Mary Ellen hugged his knees.
“Tell me some more,” she said.
Mrs. Mantle, coming from the kitchen after clearing up the tea things, paused for a moment in the doorway to watch them, an enigmatic smile upon her lips.
“Was it a very big wave?” Mary Ellen was asking, her brown eyes big with interest and admiration, looking into his. Simon nodded solemnly.
“I never saw such a big wave in all my life,” he answered with perfect truth.