No one was abroad but an occasional policeman, twirling his night-stick. On the wharves the daylight confusion was dispelled; there was no clatter of teaming, no sound but the water fingering dank piles, and the little noises aboard sleeping vessels. But the Celestine was awake. Lights gleamed aboard her, men were stirring, the great mass of her canvas blotted half the stars. She was sailing, that night, for Rio de Janeiro.
Ken slipped into the shadow of a pile-head, waiting his chance. His heart beat suffocatingly; his hands were very cold. Quietly he stepped under the gang-plank, swung a leg over it, drew himself aboard, and lay flat on deck beside the rail of the Celestine in a pool of shade. A man tripped over him and stumbled back with an oath. The next instant Ken was hauled up into the light of a lantern.
“Stowaway, eh?” growled a squat man in dungaree. “Chuck him overboard, Sam, an’ let him swim home to his mamma.”
In that moment, Ken knew that he could never have sailed with the Celestine, that he would have slipped back to the wharf before she cast loose her hawsers. He looked around him as if he had just awakened from sleep-walking and did not know where he found himself. He gazed up at the gaunt mainmast, black against the green night sky, at the main topsail, shaking still as the men hauled it taut.
“I’m not a stowaway,” he said; “I’m going ashore now.”
He walked down the gang-plank with all the dignity he could muster, and never looked behind him as he left the wharf. He could hear the rattle of the Celestine’s tackle, and the boom, boom of the sails. Once clear of the docks he ran, blindly.
“Fool!” he whispered. “Oh, what a fool! what a senseless idiot!”
The house was dark as he turned in at the gate. He stopped for an instant to look at its black bulk, with Orion setting behind the chimney-pots.
“I was going to leave them—all alone!” he whispered fiercely. “Good Heavens!”
He removed the letter silently from Felicia’s door,—he was reassured by seeing its white square before he reached it,—and crept to his own room. There a shadowy figure was curled up on the floor, and it was crying.
“Kirk! What’s up?” Ken lifted him and held him rather close.
“You weren’t here,” Kirk sniffed; “I got sort of rather l-lonely, so I thought I’d come in with you—and the b-bed was perfectly empty, and I couldn’t find you. I t-thought you were teasing me.”
“I was taking a little walk,” Ken said. “Here, curl up in bed—you’re frozen. No, I’m not going away again—never any more, ducky. It was nice in the garden,” he added.
“The garden?” Kirk repeated, still clinging to him. “But you smell of—of—oh, rope, and sawdust, and—and, Ken, your face is wet!”
* * * * *
Mrs. Sturgis protested bitterly against going away. She felt quite able to stay at home. To be sure, she couldn’t sleep at all, and her head ached all the time, and she couldn’t help crying over almost everything—but it was impossible that she should leave the children. In spite of her half-hysterical protests, the next week saw her ready to depart for Hilltop with Miss McClough, who was to take the journey with her.