WHEN A YEAR had passed, and still there was no news of the full-rigged ship Graiken, even the most sanguine of my old chum's friends had ceased to hope perchance, somewhere, she might be above water.
Yet Ned Barlow, in his inmost thoughts, I knew, still hugged to himself the hope that she would win home. Poor, dear old fellow, how my heart did go out towards him in his sorrow!
For it was in the Graiken that his sweetheart had sailed on that dull January day some twelve months previously.
The voyage had been taken for the sake of her health; yet since thensave for a distant signal recorded at the Azoresthere had been from all the mystery of ocean no voice; the ship and they within her had vanished utterly.
And still Barlow hoped. He said nothing actually, but at times his deeper thoughts would float up and show through the sea of his usual talk, and thus I would know in an indirect way of the thing that his heart was thinking.
Nor was time a healer.
It was later that my present good fortune came to me. My uncle died, and Ihitherto poorwas now a rich man. In a breath, it seemed, I had become possessor of houses, lands, and money; alsoin my eyes almost more importanta fine fore-and-aft-rigged yacht of some two hundred tons register.
It seemed scarcely believable that the thing was mine, and I was all in a scutter to run away down to Falmouth and get to sea.
In old times, when my uncle had been more than usually gracious, he had invited me to accompany him for a trip round the coast or elsewhere, as the fit might take him; yet never, even in my most hopeful moments, had it occurred to me that ever she might be mine.
And now I was hurrying my preparations for a good long sea tripfor to me the sea is, and always has been, a comrade.
Still, with all the prospects before me, I was by no means completely satisfied, for I wanted Ned Barlow with me, and yet was afraid to ask him.
I had the feeling that, in view of his overwhelming loss, he must positively hate the sea; and yet I could not be happy at the thought of leaving him, and going alone.
He had not been well lately, and a sea voyage would be the very thing for him, if only it were not going to freshen painful memories.
Eventually I decided to suggest it, and this I did a couple of days before the date I had fixed for sailing.
"Ned," I said, "you need a change."
"Yes," he assented wearily.
"Come with me, old chap," I went on, growing bolder. "I'm taking a trip in the yacht. It would be splendid to have"
To my dismay, he jumped to his feet and came towards me excitedly.
"I've upset him now," was my thought. "I am a fool!"
"Go to sea!" he said. "My God! I'd give" He broke off short, and stood suppressed opposite to me, his face all of a quiver with suppressed emotion. He was silent a few seconds, getting himself in hand; then he proceeded more quietly: "Where to?"
"Anywhere," I replied, watching him keenly, for I was greatly puzzled by his manner. "I'm not quite clear yet. Somewhere south of herethe West Indies, I have thought. It's all so new, you knowjust fancy being able to go just where we like. I can hardly realise it yet."
I stopped; for he had turned from me and was staring out of the window.
"You'll come, Ned?" I cried, fearful that he was going to refuse me.
He took a pace away, and came back.
"I'll come," he said, and there was a look of strange excitement in his eyes that set me off on a tack of vague wonder; but I said nothing, just told him how he had pleased me.