At sunset the Veiled Ladye was well on her way to New York, and the Hydrographer was plugging past Hog Island light with her cumbersome tows plunging astern.
It came to be a wild night. The tumbling blue-black clouds of late afternoon fulfilled their promise of evil things for the dark. There were fierce pounding hours when the wrath of the sea seemed centred upon the Hydrographer and her lumbering barges, when the towing-lines hummed like the harp strings of Aeolus.
It was man’s work the crew of the Hydrographer performed that night; when the dawn came and the wind departed with a farewell shriek, and the seas began to fall, Dan Merrithew sat quiet for a while, gazing vacantly out over the gray waters, wrestling with the realization that through all the viewless turmoil the face of a girl he did not know—never would know, probably—had not been absent from his mind; that the sound of her voice had lingered in his ears rising out of the elemental confusion, as the notes of a violin, freeing themselves from orchestral harmony, suddenly rise clear, dominating the motif in piercing obligato.
When he arose it was with the conviction that this meant something which eventually would prove of interest to him. One evening some three months before, he had visited the little sailors’ church which floats in the East River at the foot of Pike Street in New York, and listened to a preacher who was speaking in terms as simple as he could make them, with Fate as his text.
Fate, he said, works, in mysterious ways and does queer things with its instruments. It may sear a soul, or alter the course of a life in seeming jest; but the end proves no jest at all, and if we live long enough and grow wise with our years, we learn that at the bottom, ever and always, in everything, was a guiding hand, a sure intent, and a serious purpose.
It was a good, plain, simple talk such as longshoremen, dock-rats, tugmen, and seamen often hear in this place, but it impressed young Merrithew; for, although he had never accepted his misfortunes, nor reasoned away the things that tried his soul in this philosophical manner, yet he had always had a vague conviction that everything that happened was for his good and would work out in the end.
The words of the preacher seemed to give him clearer understanding in this regard, taught him to weigh carefully things which, as they appeared to him, were on the face insignificant. This had led him into strange trends of thought, had encouraged, in a way, superstitious fancies not altogether good for him. He knew that, and he had cursed his folly, and yet on this morning after the storm, on the after-deck of a throbbing tugboat he nodded his head sharply, outward acquiescence to an inward conviction that somehow, somewhere, he was going to see that face again and hear that voice. That was as certain as that he lived. And when this took place he would not be a tugboat mate. That was all.