Nils had no genius for the abstract, and no more satisfaction was to be got out of him. But at the same time he had been shocked, and went down shortly after without saying a word.
Salve still remained aloft, the dull consciousness of Elizabeth’s engagement with the captain’s son alternating with a more active desire for revenge upon the captain himself for the manner in which he had conveyed the information; and the result of his brooding up there upon the yard was a determination to desert as soon as the Juno arrived at Rio. He would never go back to Arendal; and he would no longer tread the same deck with the father of Carl Beck.
Later on in the night, when the moon had risen, Nils, who had not been able to sleep in his hammock, came up to Salve again, and drew him aside behind the round-house, as if for a private conversation.
“What would I have done? you asked. I’ll tell you,” he said, after a short pause, and his honest face seemed to express a vivid realisation of the whole misery of the situation. “I would have died upon the doorstep!”
Salve stood and looked at him for a moment. There came a strange pallor over his face in the moonlight.
“Look you,” he said, ironically, laying his hand upon the other’s shoulder, “I have never a wife; but all the same, I am dead upon the doorstep—” Then, in the next breath, and with a sudden change of tone, he said, “Of course I am only joking, you know,” and left him, with a hard, forced laugh.
Nils remained where he was, and pondered, not knowing exactly how to take it. It was possible Salve had only been making fun of him. But another feeling eventually predominated. It told him that he had had a glimpse into a despairing soul; and he was profoundly moved.
They stood slowly away to the north-east along the coast of Brazil. Every morning, towards the end of the dog-watch, when the sun rose in its gorgeous majesty from the sea, there came a refreshing breeze off the land, bringing with it the perfume of a thousand aromatic herbs; albatrosses and sea-gulls circled round the ship; flying-fish were to be seen in shoals; and all nature, animate and inanimate, seemed to be freshened for the time into activity and life. But gradually the breeze would become warmer and lighter, and then die away altogether, so that before noon the sails would hang flapping against the mast. They scarcely made five knots in the watch, and the heat during the greater part of the day was unbearable—as unbearable almost as the captain’s temper, which showed no signs of improvement, and which vented itself in a systematic grinding of the crew, who, Captain Beck declared, were getting into intolerable habits of idleness.