For five days The Tigress chugged her way across the burnished South China, grumpily, as if she resented this meddling with her destiny. She had been built for canvas and oil-lamps, and this new thingumajig that kept her nose snoring at eight knots when normally she was able to boil along at ten, and these unblinking things they called lamps (that neither smoked nor smelled), irked and threatened to ruin her temper.
On the sixth day, however, they made the strong southwest trade, and broke out the canvas, stout if dirty; and The Tigress answered as a bird released. Taking the wind was her business in life. She creaked, groaned, and rattled; but that was only her way of yawning when she awoke.
The sun-canvas was stowed; and Spurlock’s chair was set forward the foremast, where the bulging jib cast a sliding blue shadow over him. Rather a hazardous spot for a convalescent, and McClintock had been doubtful at first; but Spurlock declared that he was a good sailor, which was true. He loved the sea, and could give a good account of himself in any weather. And this was an adventure of which he had dreamed from boyhood: aboard a windjammer on the South Seas.
There were mysterious sounds, all of them musical. There were swift actions, too: a Kanaka crawled out upon the bowsprit to make taut a slack stay, while two others with pulley-blocks swarmed aloft. Occasionally the canvas snapped as the wind veered slightly. The sea was no longer rolling brass; it was bluer than anything he had ever seen. Every so often a wall of water, thin and jade-coloured, would rise up over the port bow, hesitate, and fall smacking amidships. Once the ship faltered, and the tip of this jade wall broke into a million gems and splashed him liberally. Ruth, standing by, heard his true laughter for the first time.
This laughter released something that had been striving for expression—her own natural buoyancy. She became as The Tigress, a free thing. She dropped beside the chair, sat cross-legged, and laughed at the futile jade-coloured wall. There was no past, no future, only this exhilarating present. Yesterday!—who cared? To-morrow!—who knew?
“Porpoise,” she said, touching his hand.
“Fox-terriers of the sea; friends with every ship that comes along. Funny codgers, aren’t they?” he said.
“When you are stronger we’ll go up to the cutwater and watch them from there.”
“I have . . . from many ships.”
A shadow, which was not cast by the jib, fell upon them both. His voice had changed, the joy had gone out of it; and she understood that something from the past had rolled up to spoil this hour. But she did not know what he knew, that it would always be rolling up, enlivened by suggestion, no matter how trifling.
What had actually beaten him was not to have known if someone had picked up his trail. The acid of this incertitude had disintegrated his nerve; and in Canton had come the smash. But that was all over. Nobody could possibly find him now. The doctor would never betray him. He might spend the rest of his days at McClintock’s in perfect security.