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   Chapter 4 COUNTER-CURRENTS

The Honorable Percival By Alice Caldwell Hegan Rice Characters: 13450

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Day after day the steamship Saluria sailed the most amiable of seas. So clear was the atmosphere at times that a glimpse could be had of the planet Venus disporting herself in the heavens at high noon. Life on shipboard became permeated with that spirit of fellowship which is apt to make itself felt the moment the restraints of convention are lifted. Even the Honorable Percival succumbed in a measure to the insidious charm of the long, lazy days that were punctuated only by the ship's bells.

He was still an apparently indifferent spectator of all that was going on, but the fact that he was a spectator showed that he was relaxing the rigid rules he had laid down for himself. The only person who addressed him during the day was Bobby Boynton, who gave him a free and easy greeting when they met in the morning, and then seemed to forget his existence. His fear that she would follow up the conversation begun in the companionway was apparently groundless, for she seemed ridiculously engrossed in other things.

Among the half-dozen young people on board who were perpetually organizing tournaments, dances, card-parties, and concerts, she was the most indefatigable. Not being responsible to any one for her actions, and possessing a creative imagination, she indulged in escapades that provided the older people with their chief topic of conversation. Her sternest critics, however, smiled as they shook their heads.

The captain from the first had treated her very much as he treated the other passengers. The parental r?le was not a familiar one, and he shirked it. The only time that he rose to a sense of duty was when he found her in the writing-room, her head bent over a desk. Then rumor said authority was bruskly asserted, letters were confiscated, and tears flowed instead of ink.

About the time the Honorable Percival was congratulating himself on having put her in her proper place, and having kept her there, his confidence received a shock. Coming on deck one day, he found her again seated in his steamer-chair. This time she made no pretense of rising, but obligingly made a place for him on the foot-rest. The invitation was loftily declined.

"I've been waiting a coon's age for you," she said, with an audacious upward glance. "I wanted to tell you that I've put you on the program for a song at the concert to-morrow night."

"Quite impossible; I shouldn't think of such a thing for a moment," he began; then curiosity got the better of his annoyance. "But if I may ask, how on earth did you know that I sang?"

Bobby's eyes danced, and her submerged dimple came to the surface.

"I didn't," she said; "but they dared me to ask you, and I wouldn't take a dare, would you?"

"I am afraid I don't quite follow you," said Percival.

"Well, you see," explained Bobby, "they dared me to ask you, and I didn't mind, because I was dead sure you sang. A person ought to be able to do anything with a voice like yours."

Percival stroked his small mustache meditatively.

"As a matter of fact, you know," he said in a tone from which the chill had vanished, "I suppose an English voice is rather conspicuous among Americans, isn't it?"

"Yours is," said Bobby; "that is, what I've heard of it."

And then she was gone like a flash, leaving the Honorable Percival to cogitate upon the extraordinary manners of American girls, and a certain cleverness they at times displayed. Lady Hortense Vevay, for instance, had had four uninterrupted weeks in which to discover anything unusual in his voice, and he must confess she had been rather stupid about it. But why had that impossible young American ruined a pretty compliment by her parting shot? Did she feel that she had any claim upon him? Did she expect him to pay her any attention? Preposterous!

The first break in the lazy routine of the voyage came when the dim outline of the Hawaiian Islands gradually took definite shape in the form of old Diamond Head which loomed strangely out of the water. Sea-gulls came out to meet the steamer, circling on white wings against the blue, and the air grew soft and fragrant with the odors of flowers and tropical fruits.

As the Saluria slowly swung into the harbor and dropped anchor, the promenade-deck was full of lively, chattering people, all arrayed in white, and all eager for the first glimpse of the strange land. Dozens of naked native boys were swimming about the steamer, causing general merriment by their dexterity in diving for coins. One saucy brown imp who had just come up with a silver piece in his mouth, caught sight of the Englishman in the crowd above, and with a shrewdness born of experience called out: "Hi there, English Johnny! Me no 'Merican boy; me Johnny Bull boy. Me no want dime; want shilling! Here you are! Aw right!"

The invitation met no response. The Honorable Percival greeted with calm disdain the laugh that followed it. He was not in the least interested in impertinent young Hawaiians. A matter of much greater importance occupied his attention. He had just been informed by the purser that, owing to the crowded condition of the steamer, he would be compelled to share his stateroom with another passenger during the remainder of the voyage. This catastrophe darkened even the tropical sun. He was indignant with the company in San Francisco that had failed to explain this contingency; he was angry with the purser for not being able to change the disagreeable order of things; but most of all he was furious with the unknown stranger, whom in the blackness of his mood he pictured as either a fat German or a chattering American.

So perturbed was he over this circumstance that he could not refrain from venting his ill humor on somebody, and his valet being unavailable at the time, he took it out upon himself.

"No, I am not going ashore," he said somewhat curtly to Bobby Boynton, who had organized a party with sufficient diversions to last two days instead of one.

"You'd better come along," said Bobby. "We are going to shoot up the town of Honolulu."

"I don't know that I should particularly care for that," said Percival, coldly.

She looked at him with frank curiosity.

"Say, why don't you ever let yourself have a good time?" she asked. "Everybody else is going except the captain. He's got the gout. Says he's carrying his grandfather's cocktails around in his starboard toe."

She waited for a response, but none came.

"It's going to be awfully stupid here with everybody gone," she persisted. "Why won't you come?"

She was dressed in a short white serge and the Panama hat, which as yet was innocent of autographs. It was astonishing what a difference the absence of conflicting colors ma

de in her appearance.

For a moment Percival's decision wavered before those pleading tones, but the next he caught sight of Mrs. Weston and Elise evidently watching with amused interest the result of Bobby's bold move.

"Another dare, as I think you call it?" he asked. "You'll have to excuse me, Miss Boynton. Sight-seeing is quite out of my line."

He watched the gay party board the launch, Mrs. Weston, the two girls, and the college boys whose raucous voices and offhand manners had grated upon him ever since leaving San Francisco. As the small boat got away from the steamer, one white-clad figure separated itself suddenly from the rest, and waved a friendly hand to him. He started, then, lifting his cap stiffly, moved away from the rail. The little minx was pretty; in fact, he acknowledged for the first time that she was distractingly pretty. But she was also presuming, and presumption was a thing he would permit in no one.

For the next few hours Percival found life not worth living. He sat on the hot deck in solitary state, gloved in white chamois, with a newspaper over his white-clad knees, engaged in the forlorn hope of trying to keep clean while the ship was coaling. Finding this an impossibility, he took refuge in the deserted-writing-room, where all the port-holes were closed and the air as dead as that of an Egyptian tomb.

Satirical letters home were Percival's chief diversion. In them he expressed his unqualified disapproval of the Western Hemisphere. The assurance that they would be read by an adoring group of feminine relatives gave wing to an imagination that was not wont to soar. Today, however, inspiration was lacking. On opening the drawer of the first desk he came to, he found a letter half begun which had evidently been thrust there suddenly and forgotten. Across the top of the page was written:

"My darling H---"

Percival closed the drawer hurriedly. The conjunction of the letter H with that particular adjective started echoes. He circled the room in search of a desk not haunted by epistolatory ghosts.

"Particularly asinine brand of pen!" he exclaimed in disgust. "Must have been used for a corkscrew!"

Corkscrews changed the current of his thought into a more pleasant channel. But even the mild consolation thus suggested was denied him. The smoking-room was closed. He wandered disconsolately to his state-room and, flinging himself on the narrow sofa, stared at the ceiling. Every fiber of his being shrieked for England and for the revivifying warmth of adulation.

His mind dwelt longingly upon Hascombe Hall and the acres of parkland, moorland, and farmland that were its inheritance. Then he thought bitterly upon that paragon of perfection who had caused his banishment. How completely she would have filled the r?le of mistress of that noble hall! He pictured her in irreproachable toilets, pouring tea in the east drawing-room, and receiving her guests with the exact shade of warmth that their social positions demanded.

As he recalled her manner of cool distinction and her polished, impersonal phrases, another feminine figure dared to flit between him and this lady of manifold merit. No sooner would he indignantly banish her image than she would come dancing back, a gay little figure, with too much color in her checks and too much daring in her eyes.

"Why don't you let yourself have a good time?" she had asked, and the question repeated itself now with maddening insistence. Was he, who had always had everything, now missing something-something that other people had?

When two bells sounded he reluctantly went below for lunch. The prospect of a tête-à-tête with the captain was anything but pleasant. He understood about half that the officer said, and with that half he usually disagreed. His first remark was unfortunate:

"All this dirt means more washing down of the decks, I suppose. Beastly racket it makes. Is there any earthly reason why it should always be done at dawn?"

"Most one-sidedly," said the captain; "it gives the sailors a chance to see the sunrise."

There was a short silence, then Percival asked:

"What's the name of that young South American who went ashore with your daughter?"

"South American?" repeated the captain. "I pass."

"The blatant youth who sits at your left."

"Oh, you mean Vaughn. He's no South American. He hails from Virginia."

"Thought he said he was a Southerner. May I trouble you for the mustard?"

"Did the Daughter of the Revolution go along?" asked the captain.

"Beg pardon?"

"Mrs. Weston. She's a D.A.R. She has told me so five times; that's how I know."

"Really, why was she chosen to be the Daughter of the Regiment?"

"The Revolution, not the regiment. You remember that little skirmish that took place in '75?"

Percival considered this thrust beneath his notice. His simmering antagonism for the captain was nearing the boiling-point.

"I say," he said, "will you kindly arrange for a bit of air to enter this room? It's ghastly, perfectly ghastly."

"Sure," said the captain, dexterously mixing a salad of alligator pears. "Ah Foo, open some of those ports and let in the coal-dust. Have some of this tropical mess?"

"Thanks, no. I'm not specially fit today. Had a beastly night of it. Fancy having to keep one's umbrella up in the berth to keep the light from the passage out of one's eyes! I don't believe such a thing could happen on a British steamer. Can't you manage to give me another state-room?"

"That's the purser's job; he's the room-clerk," said the captain. "I'm only the skipper."

Percival glanced quickly at the weather-beaten face, but found no guiding expression.

"I can't say I found your purser over-civil," he went on. "He insists on putting another passenger in my state-room. Nothing was said about it in San Francisco, nothing whatever. I shall report the matter at my first opportunity."

"I bet you've drawn that Chinese bigwig that's booked from here," said the captain, grinning.

Percival pushed back his plate. A German or an American had appalled him, but a Chinaman!

"I say, this is a bit thick, you know. What time does the next launch go ashore?" he demanded, with, a fierce determination to find the purser and demand satisfaction.

"About to start now," said the captain, adding, with a twinkle: "Better think twice about that Chinaman. If he takes the upper berth, his queue'd come in mighty handy to hang your umbrella on."

Percival dashed up the stairs. He had been seeking an excuse for going ashore for the last four hours, and now he felt that he had one. It was of the utmost importance, he assured himself, that he see the purser without further delay.

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