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The Young Whalers
THE boys slept that night in clean linen on board the Maisie Adams, Captain Nickerson’s new ship. What a thump Harry’s heart gave when he saw the name on the stern and realized who it was that had come to rescue him! A thought that had been vaguely his for long, a desire that had been but a blush deep down in his heart, grew to a dominant purpose in a moment, then. Maisie’s clear gray eyes shone out of memory with a new light in them, and the thought of homecoming thrilled him with an ecstasy more potent than ever before.
The next day the final papers in the mining deal were passed on board Colonel Lane’s steamer, a splendid vessel, the T. H. Lane, named for himself. It is thus that the pioneer of the present day exploits the far regions of the earth. He comes with an army at his command, with every resource that steam and modern invention and unlimited capital can furnish, and at the nod of his head cities spring up, great industries flourish, almost in a day.
What pleased Captain Nickerson more than anything else in the adventures which Joe and Harry related to him was the story of the finding of the stores of whalebone at the village of Nunaria. His own father had been an officer in the unfortunate fleet, and the finding of the bone seemed to come to him as a fitting inheritance. But before he sailed north to make the discovery good he turned the vessel’s prow toward Nome, and there transferred the boys to one of the numerous steamers ready to sail for Seattle. The two should bear home the news of their own good fortune, — home to the waiting, anxious mothers in the east. And so they parted, and the boys, steaming south on a staunch vessel, gazed with tears in their eyes on the smoke of the Maisie Adams, which bore resolutely north again toward the straits and the fascinating, mysterious, dangerous region where they had been the captives of the frost for two long, eventful years. It may as well be said here that Captain Nickerson found the long lost bone without difficulty, and on his way south stopped at the little village of Point Lay, where he found Harluk and Kroo living frugally and contentedly. Before he sailed away he rewarded the gentle friends of the two boys with stores and supplies that made them far richer than they had ever dreamed of being.
Seattle and civilization in very truth came next. How the city had grown, and what a pleasure there was in its bustle, the roar of traffic, and the throngs of well-dressed, busy men and women in its streets. Here they stopped only long enough to replenish their wardrobes, bettered already somewhat by the “slop chest “of the Maisie Adams, but still far from what they should be, and to send two telegrams to the people at home. They followed the messages on the first train for the east, and now let us leave them, flying across country as fast as steam can carry them, and see how matters stand at Quincy Point.
Like Captain Nickerson, Mr. Desmond had grown grayer in the years that had passed. To take up the débris of a broken fortune and out of it build a new one is no easy task. He had toiled faithfully, yet only a very slender success had thus far rewarded him. There was depression in his line of business, and the limited capital which the downfall of the house had left him made it uphill work. Yet it was not so much the business cares as anxiety as to the fate of his only son that weighed most upon him. He had never for a moment given him up for lost, yet when the first summer passed without news of the absent ones the stoop came into his shoulders again, and the lines of care deepened on his face. More and more he had come to depend on the simple, cheery faith of Mrs. Desmond, whose hope and trust in the watchful care of Divine Providence had never for a moment seemed to waver. What it had cost her to keep up this cheery calm, no one but a wife and mother can tell. It is upon the good women of the world that these burdens come, and right nobly do they bear them.
It was on a bright day at the last of August that Mr. Desmond received that telegram at his office, gave the clerks a half holiday as a slight token of thanksgiving, and came down on the noon train. Mrs. Desmond met him at the door.
“What is it, Frank?” she said. “Aren’t you well?”
“Why, yes,” replied Mr. Desmond, casting about for a way to break the good news to her gently; as if news could be broken, or good news ever needed it! “Why, yes, I’m more than well, I” — And then Mrs. Desmond took him by the shoulders and looked once in his face, and knew.
“Who can deceive a lover?” said one of the wise ones of old, and these two were lovers still and always would be. The father had brought the happy story in his face, and when he clasped his wife in his arms and told it in words, it was the second telling.
I’ve said something in this story about the rapidity with which news travels in Eskimo land, but you ought to see it go in a New England village. It flutters with the pigeons from house-top to house-top. It comes to the doorstep with the morning’s milk, before you are up, and the expressman leaves it with a package at eight at night. You may start the story ahead of you and then follow it down street on a bicycle, but it will leave you a poor second at the far end of the town. Thus it became known before sunset that Harry Desmond, whom everybody thought had been lost in the Arctic, was on his way home, alive and well, and great was the rejoicing thereat. Everybody seemed to take especial pride in the safe return of the young man, and the Adamses were in quite a flutter of excitement about it.
“Isn’t it splendid?” said Mrs. Adams to Maisie. “I feel as if Harry quite belonged to us since he pulled you out of the water that day nearly three years ago. He must be almost a grown man now, and you’ve grown up quite a bit yourself. How the time does fly!”
Maisie had indeed grown up quite a bit. The change from girlhood to young womanhood, which seems to come so suddenly with the lengthening of the skirt and the doing up of the hair, had come to her, and the coupling of her name so intimately with Harry’s sent a swift flush mantling her round cheek. Harry had been her playmate and friend since early childhood, and now he was coming back grown up, and she was grown up too. She felt her cheeks burn under her mother’s kindly scrutiny, and she hastened to change the subject, but the thought of Harry came back now and then, and the color with it.
Harry’s father and Mr. Adams met the two boys in Boston, but Joe left immediately on the train for the Cape. His mother was waiting for him, lie knew, and the thought would brook no delay. Mrs. Desmond waited for Harry at the house. She knew that if she came to the station, she could not help laughing and crying over him at once, and the reticence of the New England blood bade her avoid the chance of a scene. Queer thing, the New England blood, — sensitive, full of pathos and fire and enthusiasm, all masked beneath the cool steel of seeming indifference. All the neighbors saw her meet him at the door quite sedately; none of them saw the passion of mother love revealed after the door was shut, nor would she have had them see it for worlds.
Harry sat for a long time with his strong brown hands clasped tight in his mother’s slender white ones. Now she wondered at his height and manly strength, again flushed with secret pride at the new look of character and decision in his face, and vowed that she had lost her boy after all, — he was a man now. He told them in brief the story of his adventures, but said nothing of the placer mine and the bargain with Colonel Lane. Somehow he wanted to wait on that, to keep it till the last.
“How has the business gone, father,” he asked after a while. “Did you manage without me in the office?”
“Not over well,” replied his father soberly.
“It has been a long hard pull on very little capital. Still, we are getting on.”
Harry noted again the gray in his father’s hair and the lines of patient determination about the mouth that had not been there when he went away, and felt his heart thrill with joy at the thought that he had come back amply able to help him. He knew now that he had not cared for the money for its own sake. He had enjoyed the excitement of getting it. He had been glad that he and Joe could go to college together; they had planned that on the way home, and he felt now that he realized the value of a college education as he had never done before. But here was a better use for money than all that. He could lift the burden that his father had borne so patiently and put the family back where it had been before the business disaster. This was a greater happiness yet in his home-coming.
“Would fifty thousand dollars help you, father?” he asked quietly.
“It would indeed, my boy,” replied his father, smiling rather sadly, “but I don’t see where I am to get it.”
“Well, I do,” said Harry triumphantly. “I’ve some things up my sleeve, as the boys say, that I haven’t said anything about yet. I wanted them for the last. In the first place, though, here’s a little present from the Arctic for you and mother. Wait till I open my grip.”
His hands trembled as he pulled out the bandana handkerchief and opened it, just as they had when he did the same thing for Colonel Lane up at Candle Creek.
“Why, my son,” said his father in astonishment, “what’s this?”
“Gold, daddy, gold!” shouted Harry, dancing round the two in his excitement and delight. “Just a little souvenir that I mined up in the Arctic with my own hands. We got out twelve thousand, Joe and I. That’s only a little of it, but I thought it would make a nice thing for a present when I got home. There’s about a thousand there. I’ve got notes for the rest.”
“Why, Harry!” ejaculated his mother, her eyes gleaming with delight in her son’s success. “Don’t tear around so. The neighbors will think the house is afire.”
“And so it will be in a minute, mother. That isn’t half of it. Look at this, and this.” He threw down two long envelopes filled with documents. “There’s notes of Colonel Lane, the millionaire mining magnate of California, for about seventy thousand dollars, and there’s the papers that show I am a quarter owner in the richest placer mine in all Alaska.”
His father’s eyes gleamed as he looked carefully at these papers, and Harry gave his mother a hug that he must surely have learned of the polar bears up at Point Lay.
“Mother,” he said, “when I was a little fellow” (you would have thought him at least thirty now to hear that, though not to see him),
you used to fry doughnuts for me and make one that was like a man. I want you to fry me two now, big ones, and make ‘em twins. That’s Joe and me up at Candle Creek.”
Harry caught up his mother in his arms and danced a wild whirl about the room, finally seating her breathless and laughing on the sofa, while his father looked on with pride in his face and two tears shining on his cheeks. No one but he knew what a load the tidings of good fortune had lifted from his shoulders. With ample capital he would show the business world what the house of Desmond could do. The stoop was out of his shoulders again and Harry knew it, and would have gone through every hardship of the two years again for the sight.
Supper was announced before they had done talking over this glorious news, and Harry was not so excited but that he did full justice to home cooking. In the evening there came a ring at the doorbell, and Mr. and Mrs. Adams carne in — and Maisie.
“Well,” Mr. Adams said, “you went away a boy and you have come back a man grown. If being lost in the Arctic for two years or so will give people such size and rugged health as that, I should advise it for lots of them.”
Harry blushed and stammered at the sight of Maisie. She had grown up too, he thought, and how lovely she was! As for Maisie, she was cordially glad to see him, but as demure about it as the most proper young lady should be. Only when she went away she glanced up at him shyly and said,
“Did you bring me that aurora borealis that you promised me the last thing when you went away?”
Then indeed Harry found his tongue, though he blushed in the saying. “You are like the aurora yourself. Come sailing with me to-morrow, will you not?”
Maisie blushed too, as who would not at so direct a compliment from a handsome, broad-shouldered young man.
“Why, yes, thank you,” she answered. “I’d like to very much. Shall it be at ten? Your knockabout is down at the boathouse. Goodnight.” And as she tripped daintily down the broad walk to the street, Harry wondered what need there was of street lamps when she was out.
During the evening Mr. Adams asked him if he was ready to make that report concerning the whaling in Bering Sea and the Arctic, and was much pleased when Harry handed him quite a pile of manuscript, some of it written in pencil, and all stained with salt water.
“I’ll put this in better shape in a day or two,” he said. “It contains all I could find out about the subject, and I think is accurate.”
“Well, well,” exclaimed Mr. Adams, “this looks good. The company is already formed and ready to start business. They will be glad to get this;” and he tucked it under his arm just as it was, saying it bore greater evidence of reliability in that shape, and he wanted to show it to the directors without change.
“Let us see,” he said, “you were to have a salary of twenty dollars a month for this work, and you have been gone practically thirty months. I will see that a check for six hundred dollars is made out to you.”
Harry had another thrill of pleasure at this. It was not the money so much, but he felt that to have won Mr. Adams’s approval in this way was worth while. He determined privately that Joe should have half. He had certainly helped him earn it.
The next day was one of those rarely perfect days that often come to New England in early September. The warmth of summer still lingers in the air, but there is with it too the glow and exhilaration of autumn. A faint breeze blew in from the west and lifted the August haze till distant objects stood out clear and sharp in outline, — a glorious day.
It was quite a bit before ten when Harry called for Maisie, but she was all ready, and chatted demurely of many things as they walked down the well-remembered path to the boathouse. There Griggs, the ancient ferryman, greeted Harry with a whoop, much like that he had raised two years and a half before in answer to his shout for assistance.
“W-e-ll, I swanny!” he exclaimed. “But I’m glad to see ye. Allus knew you’d get back somehow. How you have growed, though! Well, well! this is like old times, ain’t it? Ain’t been a day go by but I think how you swum for the young lady here, an’ I pulled you both out. How be ye?”
Harry shook hands with Griggs cordially, and noted that the old man had not changed a particle in the time that had passed.
“Kept the boat all ready for ye ever since,” said Griggs. “S’pected you’d be along some day and want a sail in her. Here she is.”
There she was, indeed, with every line and cleat in place, and Harry felt as if greeting an old friend as he helped Maisie in and hoisted the sail. The little boat glided gently down the river, and out into the wider waters of the bay. As Harry looked about and noted every object in the familiar scene, it seemed to him as if he had hardly been away a day instead of two years and a half, as if the home life only was real, and all the strange things that had happened to him had been but a dream. Yet when he looked at Maisie and found her grown up to the verge of young womanhood, he felt as if he had been away for years and years, and hardly knew the dainty lady who sat on the windward side and trimmed ship as a good sailor should. He was thoughtful and silent until Maisie looked up at him roguishly, and said,
“Well, why don’t you tell me all about it? It must be something very serious that keeps you silent so long. You used to chatter fast enough. Is it an Eskimo young lady?”
Harry laughed. “I’ve seen Eskimo young ladies,” he said, “though I wasn’t thinking of them at just that moment. Some of them are quite pretty, too,” — Maisie pouted a bit at this, — “though they don’t dress in what you would call good taste.”
“Tell me about them, tell me all about everything,” said Maisie, and Harry, nothing loth, launched into stories of his adventures, and the strange sights he had seen, that lasted till it was time they were home for lunch. He was modest in relating his own share in the dangers and excitements, but Maisie saw through this and gave him perhaps a larger share of credit than he deserved. How strong and handsome he was, she thought. Of course he had been brave and noble, and now her eyes filled with sudden tears, and again shone with excitement and admiration, as he told of being lost in the Arctic pack, battling with the highbinders, and being chased by the river ice on the Kowak.
And so this modern Desdemona listened to her sun-bronzed Othello until the boat had swung gently back with the tide almost opposite the cottages at Germantown.
There Harry finished the tale, and Maisie noted that they were almost back again, with a sigh. A sudden impulse seized her.
“Let me take the boat in to the landing,” she said. “There isn’t much wind.”
She slipped quickly to the stern and seated herself the other side of the tiller. The boat was lazing along with the helm amidships and there was no need for Harry to move. Maisie’s hand dropped beside his, and with a sudden masterful impulse he laid his own over it.
And Maisie? She looked up at him with those clear, cool, beautiful eyes, and he said — But I shan’t tell you what he said. It is no affair of ours, and nobody was supposed to know it for a time, except, indeed, their own fathers and mothers, who, of course, vowed that the young people were altogether too young for such plans, and then gave their blessing.
Nobody was supposed to know, but it is funny how news will travel in a New England village, and the fact is, all this occurred right opposite the cottages, and as likely as not some one was using a field-glass at that very moment.
At any rate, the knockabout sailed herself for several minutes right across the place where Harry plunged in to save Maisie once, and only the kindness of fate and a very light wind prevented them from being in danger of another ducking.Griggs, the old ferryman, was not so very far away either, and he looked at them with a very knowing smile as they walked soberly up the path to the house. So perhaps he told, but I am not going to.