She held out her hand.
“I am going to my stateroom now, Captain. Good-night. We are going to be better friends, aren’t we?”
“Thank you,” said Dan; and he watched her tall, white form as it disappeared down the deck. He gazed moodily out at the dark horizon. Friends! He searched himself thoroughly, and he could not deny the truth as formulated in his mind. Friends! How hollow the word sounded! He knew how hollow it would seem all through his life.
Better it should be nothing. Yes, far better, instinct told him that. Miss Howland had come into his existence, radiant, pure, beautiful, and so utterly feminine; as a meteor flashing across the night pauses for a brief instant in the sky before shivering to nothingness. This simile occurred to Dan, who, though no poet, was at least a sailor and as such a student of the heavenly bodies. Yes, a meteor which had illumined his life.
He had never permitted himself to think in this way before. It is doubtful if before to-night he could have felt as he now did. It had all come over him suddenly with a rush. When he talked with her at the hotel in San Blanco he was filled with thoughts of his future, and assumed as granted his footing upon her plane. How absurd, how ridiculous this seemed now!
Why, why was it, he asked himself, that society or convention or whatever it was had drawn the grim chevaux de frise between those who had accomplished, or whose forebears had accomplished for them, and those who were yet to accomplish; with hosts eager to applaud the achievements of finality, but who had no adequate encouragement for those who had yet to achieve their mission, who fought their battles in the dark and won them in the glorious light, or losing, sank back into that oblivion out of which they had striven to emerge?
If fate had been different—yet if fate had been different he would never have seen her, perhaps. Yes, he should be satisfied; he had seen his star. And when it faded, as fade it must, in the vastness of the dark—why, what then? Well, at least he had seen his star; even this much is denied many. So, he would live it out and be thankful he had been permitted to feel the great thrill—to know that at least he had the heart for the greatest passion the world knows. Poor consolation, he told himself with a grim smile. And yet he who hitches his chariot to a star might well be content with less.
THE BURNING OF THE “TAMPICO”
Just an hour later the Tampico lay burning at a point in the Atlantic where if the white lights of Cape Fear and Cape Lookout had converged ninety-two miles farther out to sea they would have rested full on the reeking hull.
Dan had been fearful of the results of Mr. Howland’s policy in loading the Tampico with inflammable cargo. He had been reared with the fear of fire in his heart. From one of his voyages his grandfather, Daniel Merrithew, had never returned. A charred name board had told the grim tale, and so Dan had gone out into the world with a long, red, flaming line across his fate, as in knightly days a man might have included the bar sinister or some other portentous device among his symbols of heraldry.