The Blue Star
Chapter 14: The Eastern Sea; the Captain's Story

Public Domain

A frond of white had spread across the sky as they talked. Lalette went to her room in the round covered-house that rose from the deck, and applied herself to the needle. Making the new dress right was a problem, since she had done little but broidery before, and she became so taken with fitting and clipping as not to note the tick of time; then felt drowsy, and lay down to be roused by a knock at the door.

It was Tegval, third mate. “May I lead you to supper?” The ship had no motion when they reached air; here they were in the middle of a brown-blue tide, with flat shores stretching to green-blue on either flank. Tegval helped her graciously down the stair, and was this time prompt enough so that all of them were waiting when Captain Mülvedo came in. This officer was now at ease, cracking his face into a smile for Lalette and trying to converse with her about people a demoiselle of condition might be expected to know. Some of them she did know, but was forced to avoid the issue lest he learn the falsity of her name.

Tegval offered her his arm after the meal, and showed her around the deck as far forward as the tri-mast, his discourse being of the parts of the ship and the beauty of the sea. He would answer little when she asked him about Brog, the Captain and other personalities, and as evening was now beginning to grow shadowy, with a hint of chill, she announced an early return to her cabin. He leaned close as he handed her in the door and said in a low voice that he would knock at the fourth glass of night with a book, then tipped a finger to his lips to prevent questions (and she realized that even on a ship trading to Mancherei, it was not too well to be an Amorosian).

With no desire for sleep, she stretched out on the bed and tried to solve her riddles—how it was that her mind should turn to the seldom-felt nearness of Rodvard. There had been about him the faintest trace of some odor like that of old leather, masculine and comforting. She was a little irritated at herself for feeling the lack of it, and her mind drifted off through other angers till she lay there in the dark, simmering with wordless fury over many things; the ship began to move. The change in circumstance made her conscient of what she was doing; she began to weep for her own troubles, the tears trickling into the hard pillow where her face was buried, thinking that after all Rodvard had perhaps been right to slip away from a witch with so vile a temper.

There was a lamp hanging from a kind of pivoted chandelier. She swung out of the bed to light it, but had to strike more than once to obtain a good spark. By this time there was the queerest feeling in her stomach as though it were turning; she lay down again, not sure whether this was the over-robust supper she had eaten or the veritable malady of the sea. Orderly stampings and the sound of shouts drifted through the cabin’s small window as her illness declared itself more firmly; she was miserable, her mind going round like a rat in a slat trap until a whistle was blown four times and someone knocked at the door.

Tegval, of course, with an overjacket on that swung as he stood balancing to the motion of the ship on widespread feet. “We sail on a fair and rising wind,” said he, in a lilt. “Good fortune. Are you troubled by the sea, demoiselle?”

“I am—ill.” (Hating to confess it.)

“No matter. Give me your hand.”

It was taken in both his in a manner curiously impersonal, the eyes were closed and his lips moved. They opened pale blue. “You will be well,” said he and sat down on the chair which, for the first time, she noted as bolted to the floor. She did not believe him and the swing of the lamp made her dizzy (and now she could feel his personality reaching out toward her with an effort almost physical, and was enough ashamed of her former angers to put into her tone some of the kindness now felt toward the race of man):

“You are most good. I was told you would have a book for me.”

He undid his lacings and produced from beneath the jacket a volume, large, flat and all bound in blue leather with the royal coat of arms of Dossola on it to indicate who was the author. “You should not let it be seen,” he said. “Our cargo-overseer takes the law’s letter so seriously that he would denounce his best friend—which I am not.”

“You may count on me.” Their fingers touched as he handed it to her, no longer impersonal, and she let the contact linger for a brief second, before leafing over the pages. They were printed in heavy-letter with red initials. “What a beautiful book!” she said.

“It is the word of love,” he said. “A true word, a good word—” chopping off suddenly as though there were more it would be imprudent to tell.

“I will read it.” She did not want him to go quite yet and sought for words. “God knows, I need some help in the tangle of my life.”

Said he: “We make a distinction between the god of evil and the God of love, in whose arms we may lie secure from the savagery that infests the world. Ah, inhumanity! Today a plover lit in the rigging, and what must they do but net that bird to be eaten by the captain. I could barely consume my supper for thinking of it.”

Lalette stirred. “I do not understand this feature of your doctrine. One must often go hungry by thinking so, it seems to me. Do we not all live by the death of other beings, and even a plant suffer when it is devoured?”

Tegval stood up. “In true love, as you will learn, all are parts of one body, and must give whatever another needs for sustenance. Read the book and sleep well, demoiselle.”

He was gone, and to Lalette’s surprise, so was her illness.

II

It was a strange book, cast in the form of a marvellous tale about a young man whose troubles were manifold, and only because he sought at each step to control his actions by reason, as he had been taught; it seemed that reason forever deceived him, because something would arise that was not comprehended in his philosophy, but was born from the natural constitution of an imperfect world. Thus reason always led him into doing evil, from which he would only be rescued by rejecting reason for affection to his fellow-men. Lest the reader should miss any part of the thought, he who had set this down abandoned his romance from time to time to draw a moral, as: “None can turn from vileness to virtue but those unbound by the teaching of the academies that consistency is a virtue.”

Lalette found such interjections an annoyance, but forgave many of them for the beauty of the words, which were like a music; and the great glory of the descriptions of clouds, trees, brilliant night, and all the things that one person may share with all others, but were polluted (said the author) when the one would hold them to himself. Yet the type of the volume made it hard reading, the swing of the lamp made it flicker, so after a time she turned out the light and drifted to sleep.

By morning the ship was leaning through long surges under a grey sky with all her sails booming. It was hard to keep food on the table; at breakfast Captain Mülvedo rallied Lalette hilariously, saying she was so good a sailor he must send her to the masthead to run ropes. Brog smiled at her paternally; the first mate, whose ears moved at the end of a long jaw as he chewed, laughed aloud at the Captain’s light jest, and offered to teach her to direct the steering-yoke. On the deck she felt like a princess (that this adventure would succeed after all, glad that she had done with tortured Rodvard), with her hair blowing round her face and salt spray sweet on her lips. The waters set forth an entrancing portrait of sameness and change; she turned from the rail to see Tegval all jaunty, with his eye fixed bow-ward, balancing lightly.

Said Lalette; “I would be glad to know what witchcraft it was you used to cure me so quickly.”

“No witchcraft, demoiselle,” said he, not turning his head, “but the specific power of love, which wipes out misery in joy. And now no more of this.”

The ship heaved; she would have lost her balance but that he put out a hand to sustain her, and the Captain’s voice bellowed: “Tegval! I will thank you to remember that an officer’s duty is to watch his ship and not the pretty ladies. You will do better in the forward head.”

He had come unobserved upon them; now as the third mate made a croak of assent, he touched his cap to the girl. “No disrespect to you, demoiselle. You know the legend old seamen have, ha, ha, of sea-witches with green hair that speak to the spirit of a ship and witch her to a doom that is yet ecstasy for her crew? Be careful how you handle the people of my ship; for at sea I have the rights of justice and can diet you on bread and water.” He shook a finger and ruffled like a cock, laughing till all the loose muscles of his face pulled in loops.

“But my hair is not green,” said she, falling into the spirit of his words for very joy of the morning (but thinking with the back of her mind—what if he knew I am a witch? and—this one can do nothing for me; why am I here?).

“There was a mate with me once,” he said, “in the old Quìnada at the time of the Tritulaccan war, which you are too young to remember, demoiselle.” He ducked his head in a kind of bow to emphasize the compliment. “Yeh, what a time of it we had in those days, always dodging from one port to another, and afraid we’d be caught by a rebel cruiser or one of those Tritulaccans and finish our years pulling an oar under the lash in the galleys of an inshore squadron. A dangerous time and a heavy time; you cannot imagine the laziness of some of these sailors, demoiselle, who will see their own lives sacrificed rather than keep a sharp watch. I do remember now how we were making into the Green Islands in broad daylight, when I found one of them sound asleep, cradled in the capon-beam forward, where he had been set as a lookout—and in the Green Islands, mind you, where armed vessels would lie in among the branches to pounce on you.

 
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