ON THE BOAT-DECK
Rising waters and a fine flying scud that whipped stingingly over
the side had driven most of the passengers on the _Atlantic_ to the
shelter of their staterooms or to the warm stuffiness of the
library. It was the fifth evening of the voyage. For five days
and four nights the ship had been racing through a placid ocean
on her way to Sandy Hook: but in the early hours of this
afternoon the wind had shifted to the north, bringing heavy seas.
Darkness had begun to fall now. The sky was a sullen black. The
white crests of the rollers gleamed faintly in the dusk, and the
wind sang in the ropes.
Jimmy and Ann had had the boat-deck to themselves for half an
hour. Jimmy was a good sailor: it exhilarated him to fight the
wind and to walk a deck that heaved and dipped and shuddered
beneath his feet; but he had not expected to have Ann's company
on such an evening. But she had come out of the saloon entrance,
her small face framed in a hood and her slim body shapeless
beneath a great cloak, and joined him in his walk.
Jimmy was in a mood of exaltation. He had passed the last few
days in a condition of intermittent melancholy, consequent on the
discovery that he was not the only man on board the _Atlantic_ who
desired the society of Ann as an alleviation of the tedium of an
ocean voyage. The world, when he embarked on this venture, had
consisted so exclusively of Ann and himself that, until the ship
was well on its way to Queenstown, he had not conceived the
possibility of intrusive males forcing their unwelcome attentions
on her. And it had added bitterness to the bitter awakening that
their attentions did not appear to be at all unwelcome. Almost
immediately after breakfast on the very first day, a creature with
a small black moustache and shining teeth had descended upon Ann
and, vocal with surprise and pleasure at meeting her again--he
claimed, damn him!, to have met her before at Palm Beach, Bar
Harbor, and a dozen other places--had carried her off to play an
idiotic game known as shuffle-board. Nor was this an isolated
case. It began to be borne in upon Jimmy that Ann, whom he had
looked upon purely in the light of an Eve playing opposite his
Adam in an exclusive Garden of Eden, was an extremely well-known
and popular character. The clerk at the shipping-office had lied
absurdly when he had said that very few people were crossing on
the _Atlantic_ this voyage. The vessel was crammed till its sides
bulged, it was loaded down in utter defiance of the Plimsoll law,
with Rollos and Clarences and Dwights and Twombleys who had known
and golfed and ridden and driven and motored and swum and danced
with Ann for years. A ghastly being entitled Edgar Something or
Teddy Something had beaten Jimmy by a short head in the race for
the deck-steward, the prize of which was the placing of his
deck-chair next to Ann's. Jimmy had been driven from the
promenade deck by the spectacle of this beastly creature lying
swathed in rugs reading best-sellers to her.
He had scarcely seen her to speak to since the beginning of the
voyage. When she was not walking with Rolly or playing
shuffle-board with Twombley, she was down below ministering to
the comfort of a chronically sea-sick aunt, referred to in
conversation as "poor aunt Nesta". Sometimes Jimmy saw the little
man--presumably her uncle--in the smoking-room, and once he came
upon the stout boy recovering from the effects of a cigar in a
quiet corner of the boat-deck: but apart from these meetings the
family was as distant from him as if he had never seen Ann at
all--let alone saved her life.
And now she had dropped down on him from heaven. They were alone
together with the good clean wind and the bracing scud. Rollo,
Clarence, Dwight, and Twombley, not to mention Edgar or possibly
Teddy, were down below--he hoped, dying. They had the world to
"I love rough weather," said Ann, lifting her face to the wind.
Her eyes were very bright. She was beyond any doubt or question
the only girl on earth. "Poor aunt Nesta doesn't. She was bad
enough when it was quite calm, but this storm has finished her.
I've just been down below, trying to cheer her up."
Jimmy thrilled at the picture. Always fascinating, Ann seemed to
him at her best in the role of ministering angel. He longed to
tell her so, but found no words. They reached the end of the
deck, and turned. Ann looked up at him.
"I've hardly seen anything of you since we sailed," she said. She
spoke almost reproachfully. "Tell me all about yourself, Mr.
Bayliss. Why are you going to America?"
Jimmy had had an impassioned indictment of the Rollos on his
tongue, but she had closed the opening for it as quickly as she
had made it. In face of her direct demand for information he
could not hark back to it now. After all, what did the Rollos
matter? They had no part in this little wind-swept world: they
were where they belonged, in some nether hell on the C. or D.
deck, moaning for death.
"To make a fortune, I hope," he said.
Ann was pleased at this confirmation of her diagnosis. She had
deduced this from the evidence at Paddington Station.
"How pleased your father will be if you do!"
The slight complexity of Jimmy's affairs caused him to pause for
a moment to sort out his fathers, but an instant's reflection
told him that she must be referring to Bayliss the butler.
"He's a dear old man," said Ann. "I suppose he's very proud of
"I hope so."
"You must do tremendously well in America, so as not to
disappoint him. What are you thinking of doing?"
Jimmy considered for a moment.
"Newspaper work, I think."
"Oh? Why, have you had any experience?"
Ann seemed to grow a little aloof, as if her enthusiasm had been
"Oh, well, I suppose it's a good enough profession. I'm not very
fond of it myself. I've only met one newspaper man in my life,
and I dislike him very much, so I suppose that has prejudiced
"Who was that?"
"You wouldn't have met him. He was on an American paper. A man
A sudden gust of wind drove them back a step, rendering talk
impossible. It covered a gap when Jimmy could not have spoken.
The shock of the information that Ann had met him before made him
dumb. This thing was beyond him. It baffled him.
Her next words supplied a solution. They were under shelter of
one of the boats now and she could make herself heard.
"It was five years ago, and I only met him for a very short
while, but the prejudice has lasted."
Jimmy began to understand. Five years ago! It was not so strange,
then, that they should not recognise each other now. He stirred
up his memory. Nothing came to the surface. Not a gleam of
recollection of that early meeting rewarded him. And yet
something of importance must have happened then, for her to
remember it. Surely his mere personality could not have been so
unpleasant as to have made such a lasting impression on her!
"I wish you could do something better than newspaper work," said
Ann. "I always think the splendid part about America is that it
is such a land of adventure. There are such millions of chances.
It's a place where anything may happen. Haven't you an
adventurous soul, Mr. Bayliss?"
No man lightly submits to a charge, even a hinted charge, of
being deficient in the capacity for adventure.
"Of course I have," said Jimmy indignantly. "I'm game to tackle
anything that comes along."
"I'm glad of that."
Her feeling of comradeship towards this young man deepened. She
loved adventure and based her estimate of any member of the
opposite sex largely on his capacity for it. She moved in a set,
when at home, which was more polite than adventurous, and had
frequently found the atmosphere enervating.
"Adventure," said Jimmy, "is everything."
He paused. "Or a good deal," he concluded weakly.
"Why qualify it like that? It sounds so tame. Adventure is the
biggest thing in life."
It seemed to Jimmy that he had received an excuse for a remark of
a kind that had been waiting for utterance ever since he had met
her. Often and often in the watches of the night, smoking endless
pipes and thinking of her, he had conjured up just such a vision
as this--they two walking the deserted deck alone, and she
innocently giving him an opening for some low-voiced, tender
speech, at which she would start, look at him quickly, and then
ask him haltingly if the words had any particular application.
And after that--oh, well, all sorts of things might happen. And
now the moment had come. It was true that he had always pictured
the scene as taking place by moonlight and at present there was a
half-gale blowing, out of an inky sky; also on the present
occasion anything in the nature of a low-voiced speech was
absolutely out of the question owing to the uproar of the
elements. Still, taking these drawbacks into consideration, the
chance was far too good to miss. Such an opening might never
happen again. He waited till the ship had steadied herself after
an apparently suicidal dive into an enormous roller, then,
staggering back to her side, spoke.
"Love is the biggest thing in life!" he roared.
"What is?" shrieked Ann.
"Love!" bellowed Jimmy.
He wished a moment later that he had postponed this statement of
faith, for their next steps took them into a haven of comparative
calm, where some dimly seen portion of the vessel's anatomy
jutted out and formed a kind of nook where it was possible to
hear the ordinary tones of the human voice. He halted here, and
Ann did the same, though unwillingly. She was conscious of a
feeling of disappointment and of a modification of her mood of
comradeship towards her companion. She held strong views, which
she believed to be unalterable, on the subject under discussion.
"Love!" she said. It was too dark to see her face, but her voice
sounded unpleasantly scornful. "I shouldn't have thought that you
would have been so conventional as that. You seemed different."
"Eh?" said Jimmy blankly.
"I hate all this talk about Love, as if it were something
wonderful that was worth everything else in life put together.
Every book you read and every song that you see in the
shop-windows is all about Love. It's as if the whole world were
in a conspiracy to persuade themselves that there's a wonderful
something just round the corner which they can get if they try
hard enough. And they hypnotise themselves into thinking of
nothing else and miss all the splendid things of life."
"That's Shaw, isn't it?" said Jimmy.
"What is Shaw?"
"What you were saying. It's out of one of Bernard Shaw's things,
"It is not." A note of acidity had crept into Ann's voice. "It is
"I'm certain I've heard it before somewhere."
"If you have, that simply means that you must have associated
with some sensible person."
Jimmy was puzzled.
"But why the grouch?" he asked.
"I don't understand you."
"I mean, why do you feel that way about it?"
Ann was quite certain now that she did not like this young man
nearly as well as she had supposed. It is trying for a
strong-minded, clear-thinking girl to have her philosophy
described as a grouch.
"Because I've had the courage to think about it for myself, and
not let myself be blinded by popular superstition. The whole
world has united in making itself imagine that there is something
called love which is the most wonderful happening in life. The
poets and novelists have simply hounded them on to believe it.
It's a gigantic swindle."
A wave of tender compassion swept over Jimmy. He understood it
all now. Naturally a girl who had associated all her life with
the Rollos, Clarences, Dwights, and Twombleys would come to
despair of the possibility of falling in love with any one.
"You haven't met the right man," he said. She had, of course, but
only recently: and, anyway, he could point that out later.
"There is no such thing as the right man," said Ann resolutely,
"if you are suggesting that there is a type of man in existence
who is capable of inspiring what is called romantic love. I
believe in marriage. . . ."
"Good work!" said Jimmy, well satisfied.
" . . . But not as the result of a sort of delirium. I believe in
it as a sensible partnership between two friends who know each
other well and trust each other. The right way of looking at
marriage is to realise, first of all, that there are no thrills,
no romances, and then to pick out some one who is nice and kind
and amusing and full of life and willing to do things to make you
"Ah!" said Jimmy, straightening his tie, "Well, that's
"How do you mean--that's something? Are you shocked at my views?"
"I don't believe they are your views. You've been reading one of
these stern, soured fellows who analyse things."
Ann stamped. The sound was inaudible, but Jimmy noticed the
"Cold?" he said. "Let's walk on."
Ann's sense of humour reasserted itself. It was not often that it
remained dormant for so long. She laughed.
"I know exactly what you are thinking," she said. "You believe
that I am posing, that those aren't my real opinions."
"They can't be. But I don't think you are posing. It's getting on
for dinner-time, and you've got that wan, sinking feeling that
makes you look upon the world and find it a hollow fraud. The
bugle will be blowing in a few minutes, and half an hour after
that you will be yourself again."
"I'm myself now. I suppose you can't realise that a pretty girl
can hold such views."
Jimmy took her arm.
"Let me help you," he said. "There's a knothole in the deck.
Watch your step. Now, listen to me. I'm glad you've brought up
this subject--I mean the subject of your being the prettiest girl
in the known world--"
"I never said that."
"Your modesty prevented you. But it's a fact, nevertheless. I'm
glad, I say, because I have been thinking a lot along those lines
myself, and I have been anxious to discuss the point with you.
You have the most glorious hair I have ever seen!"
"Do you like red hair?"
"It is nice of you to put it like that. When I was a child all
except a few of the other children called me Carrots."
"They have undoubtedly come to a bad end by this time. If bears
were sent to attend to the children who criticised Elijah, your
little friends were in line for a troupe of tigers. But there
were some of a finer fibre? There were a few who didn't call you
"One or two. They called me Brick-Top."
"They have probably been electrocuted since. Your eyes are
Ann withdrew her arm. An extensive acquaintance of young men told
her that the topic of conversation was now due to be changed.
"You will like America," she said.
"We are not discussing America."
"I am. It is a wonderful country for a man who wants to succeed.
If I were you, I should go out West."
"Do you live out West?"
"Then why suggest my going there? Where do you live?"
"I live in New York."
"I shall stay in New York, then."
Ann was wary, but amused. Proposals of marriage--and Jimmy seemed
to be moving swiftly towards one--were no novelty in her life. In
the course of several seasons at Bar Harbor, Tuxedo, Palm Beach,
and in New York itself, she had spent much of her time foiling
and discouraging the ardour of a series of sentimental youths who
had laid their unwelcome hearts at her feet.
"New York is open for staying in about this time, I believe."
Jimmy was silent. He had done his best to fight a tendency to
become depressed and had striven by means of a light tone to keep
himself resolutely cheerful, but the girl's apparently total
indifference to him was too much for his spirits. One of the
young men who had had to pick up the heart he had flung at Ann's
feet and carry it away for repairs had once confided to an
intimate friend, after the sting had to some extent passed, that
the feelings of a man who made love to Ann might be likened to
the emotions which hot chocolate might be supposed to entertain
on contact with vanilla ice-cream. Jimmy, had the comparison been
presented to him, would have endorsed its perfect accuracy. The
wind from the sea, until now keen and bracing, had become merely
infernally cold. The song of the wind in the rigging, erstwhile
melodious, had turned into a damned depressing howling.
"I used to be as sentimental as any one a few years ago," said
Ann, returning to the dropped subject. "Just after I left
college, I was quite maudlin. I dreamed of moons and Junes and
loves and doves all the time. Then something happened which made
me see what a little fool I was. It wasn't pleasant at the time,
but it had a very bracing effect. I have been quite different
ever since. It was a man, of course, who did it. His method was
quite simple. He just made fun of me, and Nature did the rest."
Jimmy scowled in the darkness. Murderous thoughts towards the
unknown brute flooded his mind.
"I wish I could meet him!" he growled.
"You aren't likely to," said Ann. "He lives in England. His name
is Crocker. Jimmy Crocker. I spoke about him just now."
Through the howling of the wind cut the sharp notes of a bugle.
Ann turned to the saloon entrance.
"Dinner!" she said brightly. "How hungry one gets on board ship!"
She stopped. "Aren't you coming down, Mr. Bayliss?"
"Not just yet," said Jimmy thickly.