Mate of the Daylight Contents
The Atlantic Text
THE MATE OF THE DAYLIGHT.
Sarah Orne Jewett
Three ancient seafaring men were sitting together in the doorway of a building that looked as if it might once have been the warehouse of a fisherman, but was now entirely out of repair, even for a fish-house. A short, thin old fellow, who looked more active than the rest, was perched on the top of a shaky barrel, swinging his feet; but his two companions, mindful, perhaps, of their rheumatic joints, were enthroned on bait-tubs. Out-doors it was almost raining, the Scotch mist was coming in so thick from sea; and the men were taking all the comfort they could in smoking such strong black tobacco, in dingy clay pipes with no stem to speak of, that the spiders overhead thought it might be best to go out from their shelter, and brave the inclemency of the weather.
"I don't see no prospect of a change," said Captain Joseph Ryder, the man on the barrel. "The wind backed in yisterday, and the clouds has been a-looking greasy for a week past. I told Dan'l, yisterday, he was a blamed fool to go out; but young fellers, they do set an awful sight by their own opinion."
"What was he a-saying?" asked one of the other men, leaning toward his companion, and putting his hand to his ear. He looked very cross, but he was really good-natured; it seemed as if he thought he ought to wear a look of disapproval at the behavior of men in general. His clothes were made of thick, stiff cloth, and his very skin was so seasoned by long exposure to the weather that it looked like the hide of a very fair-complexioned alligator, or of some other creature that is covered with most durable material.
Captain Joseph Ryder's remarks were reported with some accuracy to Captain Jabez Ryder, and he nodded his head once or twice in approval. "That was all you observed, wa'n't it?" he asked in a grumbling, rusty voice, as if he thought his friend might have defrauded him in the repetition. "Well, young folks is fools, so they is. It ain't what I call good seamanship, and I like to see good seamanship aboard of a dory as well as aboard of a nine-hunderd-ton East Indiaman, so I do. Ef a man's good for anything whatever aboard a vessel, he can turn his hand to one as well as another. In my day young folks used to have ambition about 'em to rise; but some o' these fellers goes out to the fishing year in and year out, and never leaves off no better than they begun, so they don't."
"Times ain't what they used to be," mourned Captain Peter; and as old Jabez looked at him inquiringly, he repeated his remark at the top of his voice, which was somewhat feeble at best.
"No more they ain't," said Jabez, with satisfaction, and they all puffed silently at their pipes. They were like some worn old driftwood at the harbor-side, and they bore a queer family likeness to the worm-eaten pieces of ship timber and the small rusty anchor with a broken fluke which were stored away near them.
The fish-house fronted on a narrow alley-way, which led from the main street of the town down to a wharf. It was standing a little askew, having been built at a time when perfectly straight streets were not thought necessary. In fact, the whole town had a strange, disorderly look, as if its buildings had been brought all at once and set down wherever there was room, but the inhabitants had never thought it worth while to take the trouble to arrange them better. It gave one a feeling of gratitude that some of the little houses had not been carelessly dumped on their sides, or upside down, which would have made house-keeping in them even more inconvenient than it was. As one went along the streets, some of the
buildings stood cornerwise, and some had their back doors where the front should have been; the whole little town was like a company of soldiers which had broken ranks, and it was altogether picturesque and charming, with its unexpected lilac bushes and bits of garden, and its windowed roofs and narrow, cobble-stoned streets.
Opposite the fish-house was the gray and lichened, rough-shingled wall of a deserted warehouse, and as the three captains sat looking solemnly at this, and past the corner of it toward the water, there suddenly appeared the figure of a young girl against the dull background. She had been walking fast, and her face was flushed with the damp fog and her eagerness. "I've been hunting all round for you, grandfather," she said. "I suppose you forgot about that fish for the chowder? Aunt Melinda said I had better come right out and look you up, else we shouldn't get much of a dinner to-day."
Captain Ryder looked very sorry for this omission, and got down quickly from his barrel, while Captain Jabez put his hand to his ear, and demanded an explanation of the sudden summons. He was a little disappointed at finding it was only that his crony had forgotten to buy a fish; it seemed to him that an unexpected guest must have arrived, or that some one was taken suddenly ill, or had died, for Susan was in such a hurry. But if he had stopped to think he might have been sufficiently surprised: it was seldom that a retired shipmaster in that port forgot to order his dinner; it was too often the only real business which interfered with his idleness all day long.
"Cap'n Joe," as his friends called him, hurried off by the way of the wharves, apologizing to himself as he went; but Susan lingered behind a moment. "Do you know whether Dan Lewis is out or not to-day?" she asked Captain Downs softly, as if afraid of being overheard by her retreating grandfather; and she was answered that the fishing-smack had gone out, in spite of repeated warnings, late the night before.
"I'm afraid Dan'l will get hisself into mischief," the old sailor said, while Susan's cheeks grew brighter than ever, and old Captain Jabez looked curiously from one face to the other, and was fairly shaking with impatience. Susan had nothing more to say, but turned quickly, as if much disturbed, and went away, slipping a little on the wet round stones of the paving; and when she had turned the corner from the alley-way into the main street, she walked as fast as she could toward home. When she reached the house she shut the door so angrily that the old brass knocker clacked, and the hanging-lamp, which the captain had brought in his young days from over seas, rattled its chains and jarred and jingled. It was not the custom of the family to come in at the front door, and Miss Melinda Downs appeared suddenly at the head of the crooked little staircase to see what the matter was. She was not dressed for visitors, and she looked relieved when she found it was her niece. "I was afraid you was an agent or somebody," she said. "Did you find father?"
"Yes, I did," said Susan, who was very much excited; her eyes were shining, and she looked as if she could hardly keep from crying. "And what's more, I found that Dan has gone off fishing, just as I supposed he would; and Heaven knows if anybody will ever see him again! Just like him, and of course he found plenty of fools ready to go with him. There's an awful storm coming, and the schooner wasn't half ready for sea; he told me so last night, and they sailed before morning."
"They can't have got far," said Miss Melinda, not without some anxiety. "I guess you'd find they was laying off here in the harbor, if the fog lifted. There ain't been a breath of wind all the morning; it's dreadful close. I dare say they'll put into some other port to fit themselves out, if it's so they don't come right in here again. Just like Dan's nonsense, all fire and tow! I s'pose he thought 't would sound smart. I hope he split up a few kindlin's for his poor, feeble old mother before he went. I see her, when I come by yisterday, hacking away in the wood-house with a dull axe. I should think he'd be ashamed to go strutting round the way he does. Father went right off to see about the fish, I s'pose? I don't know what time he'll get his dinner. I never knew him to forgit before," she added, prudently trying to change the subject, for she saw how Susan's eyes flashed.
"I guess they ain't laying off in the harbor," rejoined the younger woman, stamping her foot with rage. "It's a mercy if they ain't gone to pieces on the rocks, before now. It blew dreadful hard along towards morning. And I'll just tell you one thing: I don't blame Dan Lewis one mite for being mad, and I ain't going to live here no longer, like a toad under a harrow. I'm just going to do as I'm a mind to, quick 's ever I'm out of my time; and I'm going to marry Dan Lewis, whether anybody says I can or not. No fellow would stand what was said to him last night."
"There, there," said aunt Melinda, soothingly; "don't get so worked up, Susan. Your gran'ther means to do well by you; I'm sure he always has, and he's all for your good. His bark's worse than his bite, you know 's well as I do."
"Nobody wants to hear him bark as I know on," said Susan, scornfully; and Melinda escaped with the excuse of the captain's coming in at the kitchen door, fish in hand.
"Let her alone," whispered the elder woman, to her father, who had an anxious look, as if he half expected a battle. ["]She's dreadful worked up about Dan's going off, but she'll get over it if you don't say nothing to set her going."
Nothing was farther from the captain's mind than to wish for an encounter with Susan. She did not meet him until dinner was ready, when she came down to take her seat at the table like a sulky and displeased guest. She always helped to get dinner, and that day she had told herself several times, during the hour that she spent in her own room, that she would not go down to share the noonday meal; but the chowder's savory odor was wafted up the stairs, and proved irresistible, for she was a young person of good appetite, and she was, for some reason or other, hungrier than usual. The captain made awkward attempts at keeping up a brisk and unconscious talk, but Susan's expression was that of grim stolidity. She made herself look very ugly when it please her to feel so; she was at other times a pretty girl, with a fine color, as we have already seen, and bright black eyes, that took quick, sharp glances at the world. She was generally good-humored and merry, but when a cloud went over her sky it was very bad weather indeed. After dinner Captain Ryder went to sleep in his chair, as usual, and his injured granddaughter helped clear away the table and wiped the dishes, as if it ought not to have been expected of her under the circumstances. Then she withdrew again to her bedroom, and her aunt Melinda, who never took afternoon naps, after a suitable interval put on her second-best bonnet and shawl, and went out, closing the door gently after her. The house was still, and the captain slept later than usual. When he waked it was half-past three, and he had promised to be on one of the tumble-down wharves at three, to measure some firewood. His neck was stiff, and he had an uneasy sense of guilt as he wondered what had become of the women-folks, and especially of Susan.
After Susan had left the fish-house, that morning, the two captains had waited for a few minutes, to be sure she was out of hearing, and then Captain Jabez had edged his overturned bait-tub as close as possible to his companion's, and asked to hear what had been said. "I guess they must ha' had some trouble amongst 'em last night," he said, not without contempt. "I seen him a-settin' by the fore-room window, as I was a-passin' by, near about eight o'clock, if I don't disremember. Cap'n Joe, he was out somewhere; likely he went over to inquire for Mis' Cap'n Stark. I met him a-goin' home, and it may be he turned Dan'l out o' the house, and he's made off. I couldn't get no sight at what drove him out to sea this miser'ble weather. And didn't it bear on your mind that Cap'n Joe was some out o' sperits? Acted like he'd lost his reck'nin', so he did!"
"He wa'n't out o' sperits 's I know on," said Captain Peter. "I see him coming out o' Tarbell's shop. just afore ten, and I guess he had his nipper aboard. 'T ain't often he forgits it; but I did think he was airlier than common to-day. P'raps he'd mistook the hour, but most like he wanted it to stay him."
"'T ain't never well to change hours, so it ain't," said Captain Jabez, after some reflection. "And ten's too airly; you lose all the good on 't by dinner time. I don't blame Joe; he's been a saving man, and it ain't his natur' to want Dan Lewis to make ducks and drakes of his property. I suppose he must have as much as nine or ten thousand, ain't he?"
"He's got that, sure," acknowledged Captain Downs. But they had too often settled the amount of money which belonged to every man of their acquaintance to make the subject an absorbing one, if there were any other at hand. "Dan Lewis is a high-strung fellow, and I never set no great by him," he went on; "but young folks will have their way, and old folks has to stand back. I should ha' thought Susan would ha' looked higher. Dan ain't got nothing to look to from his folks; it's been all his mother could do to scratch along; and to be sure, he's got the berth o' second mate o' the Daylight, but with the plight navigation 's in now it's lucky if she goes out o' her dock for a year to come. His uncle only give him the place because poor old Mis' Lewis beseeched him so. Dan's lazy as a flounder, naterally. He never 'd 'a' undertook to carry on fishing if he hadn't wanted to stand well in Cap'n Joe's books. Susan's distressed to get him, ain't she, 's if he was an East Indiaman loaded to the water's edge? Talk about love! I should think a gal like her would have sense enough to look ahead and provide for herself accordin' to. All the Ryder girls, her father's sisters, married cap'ns, and I sh'd think she'd have some ambition. But I s'pose she's lookin' for'ard to having means enough o' her own, when Joe's done with it. I'd like to see who'll beat, though, her or Joe! They ain't neither one on 'em liable to change their minds. Susan's a reg'lar chip o' the old block."
Captain Jabez was having an unusually pleasant morning. He could hear the voice of this friend easily, and Captain Peter Downs was a good-natured, sociable old fellow, who was willing to gossip with this deafest and dullest of his neighbors rather than not gossip at all. Captain Jabez had heard this long discourse with great satisfaction. He did not often find people willing to tell him secrets; but there was a good opportunity in that secluded spot, and voices could be raised to shouting pitch, and subjects discussed without fear of outside listeners.
"I s'pose she's got the right to suit herself; she's the one that's going to marry the fellow," said Captain Downs, in conclusion.
But this sentiment did not find favor with Captain Jabez, who prided himself on nothing more than his experience of life and his knowledge of human nature. "I don't agree with ye, so I don't," he remarked, looking at a great silver watch, and making ready to start for home.
"Whoever a gal picks out, all her folks has to marry him as much as she does; and a gal ought to consider whether her folks wants to take a man in for better and worse as a relation. You're a sight more beholden to relations by marriage than you be to your own folks."
"I do' know but what you're right," meekly observed Captain Downs, and the two old salts went .stiffly away together in search of their dinners.
It happened that the story, in some mysterious way, found wings and flew about town that Captain Joe Ryder and Dan Lewis had had some hard words, and Susan's frame of mind was indescribable in consequence. Captain Jabez's wife, a person of great activity, met him at the door at noon with the news, and was very pleased to find that he had seen both Susan and her grandfather, and was wiser in the matter than she. He had often failed in his duty of bringing home the news since he had grown deplorably deaf. Mrs. Ryder treated him with unusual attention; she even delayed dinner a little, while she made a pudding-sauce of which her partner for life was very fond, and which he usually had served him only when there was company. "I do' know but if you feel like it we'll go round to Joseph's to-night, after supper," she ventured, when dinner was nearly over, and the captain was unmistakably serene. "He's all the cousin you've got, and we ain't been there of an evening all through the summer. I've got some things I want to consult Melindy about, and like 's not they'll be glad to have us drop in if they ain't feelin' comfortable among themselves."
Captain Jabez was usually much averse to paying ceremonious visits. He was some years older than his wife, and he was generally unable to join in the conversation to any satisfactory extent; he liked to smoke his pipe and read the newspaper in peace at home. But he consented to this plan with unwonted willingness, though he felt that he must grumble at it a little at first. "I can't go to work a-rigging up just as I'm getting off to bed," he growled mildly. But his wife took a good look at him, and said that she didn't know as there would be any need of his putting on a clean shirt; it wasn't as if it was daytime. Besides, it was different, just dropping in to see your own folks; she shouldn't like to appear as if they made much of it.
So after Mrs. Ryder had stowed away the tea things, and had brought the captain his coat and helped him into it, they started out. It was very late in the summer, and the evenings were growing long; the fog was coming in thicker than ever from sea, and it was already dark. The captain, whose eyes were not much better than his ears, always refused to go forth after night-fall without his lantern. The old couple steered slowly down the uneven sidewalk toward their cousin's house. The captain walked with a solemn rolling gait, learned in his many long years at sea, and his wife, who was also short and stout, had caught the habit from him. If they kept step, all went well; but on this occasion, as sometimes happened, they did not take the first step out into the world together, so they swayed apart, and then bumped against each other, as they went along. To see the lantern coming through the mist, you might have thought it the light of a small craft at sea in heavy weather.
"I'm most sorry we come out, it's such a bad night, and your rheumatism, too!" said Mrs. Ryder regretfully in the captain's best ear, which luckily happened to be next her. And the captain rejoined that anybody would think they must be put to it; but it was none o' his doing.
"I'll say to Joseph that I want to look over some papers that he keeps, and him and me's concerned in; that'll explain it, and they won't think we come a-spyin' round."
Mrs. Ryder's heart had begun to fail her; she would have turned toward home again just before this, if she could have mustered courage. She thought it was very handsome of the captain, and said to herself that she would not forget it.
Miss Melinda Ryder and the old captain, her father, had passed a very dull day, and the evening had closed in with uncommon gloom. Susan had maintained a dignified silence at supper time, and had returned to her room afterward, and shut its door in such a manner that it was plain to see that she had not forgiven the sins of her family against her. For some reason or other the captain had failed to receive his evening paper, and he had nothing to do but look at the small, unwilling fire which his daughter had lighted in the Franklin stove in the dining-room, the evening being chilly. She had forgotten herself, and before she stopped to think had lighted the sticks that topped the careful structure made ready for the fire. They were nice-looking round sticks of white birch, and she regretted their loss very much. She was much attached to them, beside; she had taken them off and laid them by a great many times. Everything seemed to be awry, and neither she nor the captain would have grieved if they had been sure that Dan Lewis had taken himself off with the determination never to darken their doors again.
The knock at the door which they heard presently was most startling, and they could have confessed that they were afraid that the young man had come back and meant to "have it out," and decide his right to Susan. The guests, however, did not wait for an answer to their summons with the knocker, but opened the door at once, and were pleased with the look of delight and relief on the faces of their host and hostess.
"Step up and speak to Susan, will you?" said Captain Joe to his daughter. "Tell her who's here." Melinda obeyed, with much fear and trembling. Susan had forgotten to take a light up-stairs with her. She was not at all sleepy, and she was very tired, to tell the truth, of sitting in the dark. Her manner had a little loftiness, but she was very gracious, and the rest of the company took heart and were cheerful. Captain Jabez explained the object of his visit to his cousin, and the papers were at once brought out from a hiding-place in the old secretary in the dining-room, which stood in the stead of an office and counting-room to Captain Joe. He was ship's husband to a small craft in which the cousins were part owners. They talked for some time over the affairs of the Adeline in language intelligible only at times to the unenlightened listener, and in the mean time the three women chatted together softly, at the other side of the room.
Captain Jabez was in high spirits, and made himself most agreeable. He had always been called good company before his deafness had isolated him in the midst of society; in his young days he had been a good deal of a beau and gallant, and his wife was proud of him yet, and always said that nobody knew so well as he how to carry things off well. She refused, on this ground, to grant him permission to absent himself from her tea-parties or sewing-society suppers, which were the main features of the town festivities. He had grown very heavy and stupid of late, -- at least, it seemed so to most of his neighbors, -- but this evening call had awakened much of his ancient vivacity.
It was an awful moment to all the rest when he turned, with apparent innocence, to Susan, and said, "Cap'n Peter said you was inquiring about Dan Lewis and them that was out fishing?"
"Yes!" shouted Susan, with great bravery, her cheeks growing scarlet.
"I s'pose you've heard by this time that they've got in? I chanced to be down on Sand's wharf when they come ashore, and a more miser'ble-looking set o' drownded rats I never see; but they was fools to have put out in such weather, so they was, and I told 'em so. Dan'l, he said that they got outside and set their trawls in the night; but there was an old sea a-running, and their trawls parted and caught, so they lost two thirds o' one on 'em. I don't see how they got in. They said they never see no such a fog as there is outside. They worked toward the shore somehow or 'nother, and after a while they heard the town bell ringing at one o'clock, and they steered by that. 'T was about four o'clock when they come in. Dan'l said if it had come on to blow, 't would 'a' been all day with 'em. He said he was a fool to go out. The airs seemed to be took out o' him a little for once."
"Glad of it," said Captain Joe, chuckling with delight, while the three women grew more and more uneasy. "Dan'l al'ays was all talk and no cider."
Susan looked very black. She had borne with Captain Jabez patiently; there was no knowing that he had heard the town gossip. But deaf people hear more things that are worth listening to than people with better ears; one likes to have something worth telling in talking to a person who misses most of the world's talk.
"I'm sorry you forget yourself so as to say such a thing as that," Susan said scornfully to her grandfather; and she spoke loud enough for Captain Jabez to hear. "I won't stand by and hear Dan abused. I may as well tell all of you now that I am going to marry him."
"There, there, Susan! Don't be hasty," whispered Miss Melinda Ryder appealingly. The girl looked for a minute as if she could hardly keep from crying. She had been very anxious about her lover, and she was glad enough to hear of his safety; but she said, after an awful pause of a few minutes, that she couldn't see why everybody made such a touse about his going out fishing, any way. It had happened times enough before that men had gone out in the night and been caught by the fog.
"We won't talk no more about it now, Susan," commanded Captain Joe, with an air of offended dignity, and Susan feared that she had gone too far. It was all very well to hold her own, and she had taken pride all day in her ability to make her grandfather uncomfortable; but it would not do to provoke him altogether, since he might leave his money in a way that she would regret. And he had always been very kind to her until lately, when she had been calling him a tyrant, and had pleased herself with considering him her enemy.
The proverb with which Captain Joe had roused this battle about his ears had left a suggestion in his mind, and he rose from his chair, while the rest of the company were trying to collect the stray bits of conversation which were left in their shocked minds; and, taking the small hand-lamp from the secretary and a pitcher from the closet, he went down cellar, and drew some of the ale which the mention of talk and cider had made him remember.
"It's out of a little kag that Aleck Jones sent me for a present last week," he explained, as he came puffing up the stairs. "Git some glasses, will you, Melinda?"
Captain Jabez coughed gravely, and the ale proved very good, and all seemed fair weather again. Susan looked shyly up at her grandfather's face as he gave her a tumbler. She was not fond of ale, but she did not like to refuse this. She could not help noticing that the old man's hand shook, and that he looked hurt and tired. He took no notice of her, apparently; he had grown very old this last year, she thought, and she was sorry she had been so angry with him. But she would teach folks to let Dan Lewis and herself alone.
Captain Jabez and his wife set sail on their homeward voyage at an early hour. They expressed a fear that the fog might turn to rain, and the lantern went bobbing and swaying up the street. "What possessed you to get going about Dan Lewis?" asked Mrs. Jabez, reproachfully. "You spoilt everything, and we was having such a pleasant talk, all of us."
"I wanted to stir her up," answered the captain, composedly. "I never did like that girl over well. I don't think she's got no sort o' gratitude, after all that's been done for her. She got a piece o' my mind about that fellow's going on, so she did."
"It don't do no good," said his wife, "and you've got no more sense than a boy. Why didn't you tell me they'd come in?" To which the captain made no answer, taking refuge in his deafness, though he could always hear what his wife said, being so well used to her voice.
Captain Joe Ryder came back to the dining-room, after bolting and locking the fore-door behind his visitors. "I guess I'll make for bed," he said. "And, Susan, I've got one thing I want to say to you: I've treated you as well as I knew how, and I've done for your good ever since you was left a baby; and if I don't want you to fling yourself away on a worthless fellow that can't call a dollar his own, I don't know as I'm to blame for it. And I think you've let yourself down, speaking so smart to me afore folks; it hurt my feelin's."
Susan began to cry. "I'm sure you're always hurtin' mine," said she. "I can't help it if I do like him; and there's lots of fellows that start without any means, and get rich soon enough."
The captain turned back as he heard this. "He don't come of a good stock, and I should rather he showed me five thousand dollars in his hand than have him promise he was going make it. I and my father before me lived single till we owned that much money, and if you'd seen as much of this world as I have you'd think we done right. You wait till you're as old as I be, and you'll look at most things different from what you do now. I always have calc'lated on seeing you well married and settled afore I'm laid away, and I hope to yet; but there's no sense in marrying a fellow just because he's good-lookin' and has a smart way with him," and the captain shut his bedroom door behind him, and said no more.
Susan considered herself to be in a position of great misery, and she sat by the window and cried as long as she could, after she went up-stairs. She pitied herself very much, and yet she had a great respect for herself as the heroine of an unhappy love affair.
But in the morning affairs wore a different aspect. Dan Lewis came in soon after breakfast, looking excited and pleased, and as if he had something to say that would make him welcome. Captain Joe spoke to him civilly, and the women bade him good-morning, and looked at him curiously, for they were sure he had important news.
"I came to tell you that I got a letter from my uncle last night, sir," he told the captain, "and he says that the Daylight is going to sail as quick as they can fit her out, and he wants me aboard right away. I'm going on to New York this afternoon."
"Oh, Dan'!" cried Susan, with real distress. "Can't you put it off until to-morrow?" But Dan went on talking to the captain.
"My uncle says she's going to Liverpool in ballast, but the owners are sure of getting a freight there for the East Indies. They're going to send her along, anyhow, for there's nothing doing in freights in New York, and" --
"Right they are, too," interrupted the captain. "I was reading the other day how freights were looking up on the other side, and they was short of ships, for a wonder. It was betwixt hay and grass with 'em, and bad head-winds had delayed a good many vessels bound for English ports. And you'll have a quick run across; it's a first-rate time o' year. Well, I wish you a good v'y'ge, my boy, and a safe return," said the captain, heartily, feeling the kinship of sailor with sailor, and forgetting his dislike for the man himself.
Dan took courage from the captain's cordiality, and with a glance at Susan, who stood listening, with her eyes full of tears, he said, "If I do well, I hope you've no objections to my asking Susan" --
The old man's face looked black for a minute, but he quickly recovered himself. "Not if you do well, I haven't, Dan; but a second mate's berth ain't much of a business in the state navigation's in now. But if you show you mean to do well, and I hear a good report of you, I sha'n't have anything to say against it, if so be that you keep of the same mind, both of you. You've got just as good a chance as the next one, if you're willing to put right to; and there's money to be earnt yet followin' the sea, bad as times is. You young folks thinks that love's the main p'int, and I don't say but what it is; but there's a good deal more chance for it to hold out when there's means to make things comfortable. And you ought to want Susan to have a good home full as much as I do."
"I do set everything by her," said the young sailor; but he looked humbled at this announcement of what would be expected of him as to material comforts.
"I've only got one thing more to say to you," the captain added. "If I do hear good accounts of you, and have reason to think you've done well, I'll help you out any way I can. I know you haven't got any folks of your own to look to. It ain't as if your uncle hadn't met with bad luck of late years."
"He's doing very well this past year," said Dan, with as much pride as he dared show; "and he says he means to push me ahead as fast as he can."
"Better look to yourself for that," said Captain Joe, gravely. "Talk's cheap;" and Miss Melinda having been called to the door by some one who had come with an errand, he went out to the garden, which lay behind the house, and left the lovers to themselves. Susan cried, but the mate of the Daylight was not moved to grief; he consoled her as best he could, and with great kindness, and showed her that he carried her picture in his waistcoat pocket, and told her that he should kiss it every day. And then he kissed her several times, and promised to write and to think of her; and altogether they were very sad and affectionate, being much in love, and feeling that they were hardly used by fortune, since, if Captain Joe had ever said the word, they would have been married, and Dan would have willingly taken up his residence in the home of Susan's childhood. He meant to settle down into the business and idleness of fishing and coasting, and of doing great things with Captain Joe's savings by and by, when he had the opportunity. And he certainly was the handsomest young man in town. Susan watched him proudly through her tears, as he hurried away at last. His mind was full of going down the street to tell his acquaintances of his prospects and his long voyage; and afterward he must go home to toss his belongings into his sea-chest, and say good-by to his mother. She was old and in ill-health, and the thought struck him sharply that he might not find her there to welcome him when the voyage was over and he came home again.
By noon of that day he had gone. The people of the town were used to their neighbors going away to sea, and so Dan's departure did not make a great excitement. The subject of his relations with the Ryder family was discussed for a while, but it was decided that he was not engaged to Susan, and that affairs were left in the state they had been in for some time before.
Many months afterward, in the middle of a pleasant September afternoon, Miss Melinda Ryder took a solitary walk to the old burying-ground on the hill. As we have heard, all her sisters had married captains, and Melinda herself had been promised to a young man, who was unfortunately drowned on his first voyage as master. She had never replaced him in her affection; her love and loyalty grew stronger and stronger instead of fading away. She had been expecting to marry him in a few weeks, when his homeward voyage should have ended, and on high days and holidays ever since she had looked sadly through the old sea-chest of her father's, that held many of the treasures that her lover had given her, and what was left of her now quaint and old-fashioned wedding outfit. And once in a while, through the summer weather, she went to this burying-ground, where a stone had been raised in the family lot to his memory, and felt herself at such times, and in fact at many others, to be a widow indeed. It always seemed to her as if that were his grave; at any rate, she felt a greater nearness to him in that spot than in any other. His family, with great consideration, had asked her advice in the choice of the head-stone, and though she liked marble best, she had chosen a tall, broad slab of slate, on which was cut the familiar figure of a mourner beneath a willow-tree. She identified this figure with herself always, and it was a matter of great sorrow to her that it would be out of the question for her to be buried at the side of this untenanted grave. She would have been glad if she could have been sure that she would be buried there, but she never dared to express such a wish; it would sound very strange, she thought, and yet it seemed to her to be her proper resting-place.
On this day it was very pleasant in the burying-ground. The wind was blowing in from the sea, and the tall, uncared-for grass waved this way and that; and she read the name of one old acquaintance after another, as she went along a crooked path that wound among the graves. Miss Ryder was already an old woman, and she was tired with her walk, and was glad to stop to rest, as she read for the hundredth time the name of Captain Joseph Sewall: Lost at Sea. There was no one in sight, and she gently stroked the slate head-stone with her hand, and picked off a gray lichen that had fastened its tenacious roots into the crevice of one of the letters, while the face of her sailor lover came clearly to her mind. She did not know why, but she felt very lonely that day. She and Susan had never been very dear to each other; it was an affection bred of attachment and kinship and long association, rather than an instinctive drawing together of their natures, and she knew that Susan's home was not likely to be hers, and that in all probability her father could not live many years longer; at his death she would he left alone. Her married sisters were all dead, and Susan's father, her only brother, had died many years before. "It's the common lot of all," she told herself, "and I ought to be thankful that it is likely father will leave me very comfortable."
Susan had been anxious of late about her lover. The letters had not come often at best, for the mate of the Daylight did not hold the pen of a ready writer, and the long voyages from port to port had caused long silences that were nobody's fault. The last report from the ship, had been that the next move was undecided; she might sail for the East Indies again before coming back to the States. There had been heavy gales at sea, and Miss Melinda had felt great sympathy for her niece when she asked the old captain so eagerly every day if there were any letters, and was disappointed by his answer.
She never had pitied the girl so much as she did when the thought came to her that the ship might be lost and that Susan would have to bear a sorrow like her own.
And Miss Ryder seated herself on the grass, and sat looking off to sea. How many times she had sat there, and how dark the world used to seem to her when she came there first to show respect for her lover and her tenderness for his memory! Yet the years had worn away one by one, and this faithful soul had in later days wondered as much about the meeting, at some not far distant time, as she had dwelt in thought over the sad farewell of many years before.
Miss Ryder made a call or two on her way home, and it was almost tea-time when she reached the house, and heard an unusual noise of voices as she hurried in. What a surprise it was to see young Lewis, grown older and broad-shouldered, with his face browned and reddened by the sea winds! Susan was beaming with happiness, and Captain Joe looked very pleased and interested, and was listening to a long story of the voyage. Miss Ryder had not prepared her mind for being kissed, but kissed she was, and her father laughed and rubbed his hands together; she thought he looked older than ever as he sat by the side of this bronzed, eager young man.
"Why, when did you get in?" she asked the sailor. And he told his story again, that the ship had reached New York only the day before, and he wished to come home to surprise them, and so had sent no message.
"He is going back early in the morning," said the captain. "He tells us he has been made master of the ship;" and if young Lewis had been the old man's only son he could not have looked happier or prouder; while Susan tossed her head a little, as if she were not surprised, and had always been sure of this triumph from the beginning.
It proved that the captain of the Daylight had been washed overboard in a gale the third day out, and the first mate had been ill during the homeward voyage, and had been forced to give up his position altogether. So Susan's lover had brought the ship across, and had handled her well, too. He had taken the first mate's duties for several weeks before they had reached Bristol, and had won great respect for his knowledge of seamanship: this and his relationship to one of the owners had secured him the position of captain. More than this, he had carried away some money which his mother had given him from her little hoard, and he had traded with it, and brought her home more than three hundred dollars, while he had something of his own beside his pay, in his pocket. The elder captain was ready to hear of his future projects, and a more cheerful company never sat down to drink tea together.
The first Sunday he spent at home, he and Susan walked up the broad aisle of the church side by side to Captain Ryder's pew, and she wore triumphantly a wide red India scarf folded about her shoulders. And on week days she was proud to show the young women of her acquaintance other timely gifts from her handsome and promising lover. So the mate of the Daylight returned to his unbelieving friends a shipmaster, and when he sailed on his next voyage, having gained the owners' permission to carry her, he had his wife for company.
But old Captain Jabez, who had been made to hear all these things with difficulty, on account of his increasing deafness, grumbled out one day, as he sat on one of the wharves in the sunshine, like an old fly who had just crawled out of a crack in the spring, "It's the next v'y'ge that'll show what stuff he's made of. You might say this was his luck, but the next'll have to be his earning. There's plenty of able shipmasters, lying idle, I should think they'd ha' took afore they did him. But I wish Dan well, so I do. I'm one that likes to see young folks prosper and have their day. I've had mine!"
"The Mate of the Daylight" originally appeared in Atlantic Monthly (50:82-93) in July 1882, and was collected in The Mate of the Daylight, from which this text is taken. Errors have been corrected and indicated with brackets. If you find errors or items needing annotation, please contact the site manager.
[ Back ]
Scotch mist: The Oxford English Dictionary says a Scotch mist is a very wet drizzle, and that the phrase is sometimes used jokingly to refer to a soaking rain.
[ Back ]
East Indiaman: A ship engaged in the East India trade.
[ Back ]
afraid you was an agent: A door-to-door salesman or bill collector.
[ Back ]
all fire and tow: "tow" may refer to the coarse fibers of flax, left over after the finer fibers have been separated out for spinning. The phrase would suggest that Dan is hot-tempered and not worth much.
[ Back ]
out of my time: For a young man, this would mean the completion of an apprenticeship. For Susan this seems to mean coming of legal adult age.
[ Back ]
Franklin stove: type of wood-burning stove, invented by Benjamin Franklin (c. 1740). The Franklin stove burned wood on a grate and had sliding doors that could be used to control the draft (flow of air) through it. Because the stove was relatively small, it could be installed in a large fireplace or used free-standing in the middle of a room by connecting it to a flue. Its design influenced the potbellied stove. (Source: Britannica Online; research, Barbara Martens)
[ Back ]
ship's husband: Nautical references define a ship's husband as the person in charge of repairs when a ship is put into dry dock. However, in Canadian maritime law, the ship's husband is spoken of as a manager in place of the owner or owners. This comes close to fitting this situation. Since Captain Joe and Captain Jabez are part-owners of the Adeline, Jabez's being husband to the ship would suggest that he is financially responsible for it.
[ Back ]
Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College
Mate of the Daylight Contents
The Atlantic Text