ON BOARD THE Empress
It was the second day out and the passengers on the Empress had already settled down to their week’s trip.
The sea was calm, with just that pleasant, lazy swell which the Atlantic never really loses. The decks were thronged with a happy company of men and women determined not to lose one single moment of the bodily ease which the clemency of the weather vouchsafed to them.
Bull Sternford was amongst them. Engulfed in a heavy fur overcoat, he stood lounging against the lee rail of the wide promenade deck, contemplating the oily swell of the waters. His great stature was somewhat magnified by his voluminous coat, with its deep, upturned storm-collar. There was that about him to attract considerable attention. But he remained unconscious of it, and his aloofness was by no means studied.
Deep emotion was stirring. A man of iron nerve and purpose, a man of cool deliberation under the harshest circumstances, just now Bull was afflicted like the veriest weakling with alternating hope and doubt, and something approaching indecision. The youth in him was plunged in that agony of desire which maddens with delight and drives headlong to despair. His whole horizon of life had changed. Old scenes, old dreams, had been suddenly blotted out. And in their place was the wonderful vision of a girl with vivid hair and gentle eyes. Nancy—Nancy McDonald. The name was always with him now, unspoken, unwhispered even; but occupying every waking thought.
It was a time of reckless resolve, of hot-headed planning. He knew in his sober moments how almost impossible was the position. But these were not sober moments. He told himself, in his headlong way, that if Nancy was chained in the heart of Hell he would seek her out, and claim her. She should be his even though every infernal power were arrayed against him. His eyes were alight with a fierce smile, as he contemplated the grey waters. It was a smile of conscious strength, of reckless purpose. Well, he was ready. He was—
“Guess we’ll git this sort of stuff all the way.”
Bull started and swung around. A fur-coated man with a dark close-cropped beard was leaning over the rail beside him. He was expensively clad. His astrachan collar was turned up about his neck to shut out something of the biting winter air; and a cap of similar fur was pressed low down over his dark head. Bull noted the man’s appearance, and his reply was promptly forthcoming.
“Maybe,” he admitted without interest.
“Sure we will. It’s always that way with the Empress’s last trip of the season from Quebec. I most generally make it for that reason. Your first trip?”
“It’s my nineteenth. You see,” the stranger went on, “I can’t spare summer time. I’m too full gettin’ orders out. I’m in the lumber business. It’s only with the freeze up I can quit my mills. Have a cigar?”