And yet, the gentlest marker of time must mark. It may mark very softly those passing moments of life’s lessening span; but when we come to look again, the shadow has moved on. Nor can childish interference avail. Spread your rebellious hands upon the dial; you shall only see the shadow come stealing through your fingers. Stand defiantly in the path of the sunlight, and blot out the telltale dial shadow with your own; it but waits until you step aside, then leaps across the moments you have wasted. Not for you shall the boon to the sick and penitent King of Judah be repeated; not for you shall the shadow turn backward on the sun-dial of Ahaz.
AN UNDERGROUND MYSTERY AND A DUCKING-STOOL
For a day or two Gadabout lay out in the James in front of Westover. One evening it turned cold and a strong wind set in, coming straight at us across the river. As usual, when Gadabout was anchored on a stormy night near a lee shore, we cast a lead out ahead, so as to be able to tell (after it should become too dark to see the land) whether or not we were dragging anchor.
That is, we called it casting a lead, though in reality the process consisted in throwing out into the river (as far ahead of us as we could) a piece of old iron with a string tied to it. Then, at any time, by gathering up the loose end of the string that lay in the cockpit, one could detect by the outgo of the line any tendency on the part of Gadabout to run away with her anchor. It was a very simple device and not exactly original, having doubtless been used a little earlier by Christopher Columbus and Noah and those people. But we never permitted any question of priority to dampen our interest in the thing.
As the evening wore on the storm held steadily; steadily and rapidly the barometer kept counting backward; and we took the river’s width in wind and sea for half the night. We could not sleep, and sat bolstered up in our chairs. The Commodore quite likely did breathe audibly now and then; but Nautica was wide awake, as shown by her announcing with feeling and frequency that “she knew we were dragging anchor and were just about to be horribly wrecked upon rocks or ‘stobs’ or something or other.”
The Commodore arose and busied himself about cockpit and cabin mysteriously. When he finished his labours, the string from the piece of iron out in the river came into the cabin through a hole in the wall made for an engine bell cord. It ran along the ceiling to the after end of the cabin, where a weight kept it taut. A handkerchief that could be plainly seen even in the dim light, was fastened to the string just where it passed above Nautica’s head. By this time, the Commodore’s mystery was a mystery no longer; and Nautica was laughing.
“So that is to put an end to all my anxieties, is it?”
“Just so,” said the Commodore. “When that anxious feeling comes, watch the handkerchief. If it is moving toward the door, you may know that your fears are better grounded than the anchors; but if it is not, try to get a wink of sleep.”