As yet, I have not particularly spoken of these two girls, the eldest of whom was named Grace, and the youngest Lucy. At that time, the first was just fifteen, while her sister was two years younger. By a singular coincidence, Grace resembled the women of my family most; while the latter, the dear, ingenuous, frank, pretty little thing, had so much likeness to her mother, when at the same time of life, that I often caught her in my arms, and kissed her, as she uttered some honest sentiment, or laughed joyously and melodiously, as had been the practice of her who bore her, twenty years before. On those occasions, Lucy would smile, and sometimes a slight blush would suffuse her face; for I could see she well understood the impulse which would so suddenly carry me off to the days of my boyhood and boyish affection.
On the present solemn occasion both the girls were in the cabin, struggling to be calm, and doing all that lay in their power to solace the dying man. Grace, the oldest, was the most active and efficient, of course, her tender years inducing diffidence in her sister; still, that little image of her mother could not be kept entirely in the back-ground, when the heart and the desire to be useful were urging her to come out of herself, in order to share in her sister's duties.
I found Marble quite sensible, and the anxious manner in which he slowly examined all the interested faces that were now gathered about his bed, proved how accurately he noted the present and the absent. Twice did he go over us all, ere he spoke in the husky tones that usually precede death—
"Call Neb," he said—"took leave of my mates, and of all the rest of the men, yesterday; but I consider Neb as one of the family, Miles, and left him for the last."
This I knew to be true, though I purposely absented myself from a scene that I well understood would have to be repeated in my case. Neb was summoned accordingly, not a syllable being uttered among us, until the black stood just without the circle of my own wife and children. Moses watched the arrangement jealously, and it seems he was dissatisfied at seeing his old shipmate keeping so much aloof at that solemn and absorbing moment.
"You are but a nigger, I know, Neb," the old seaman got out, "but your heart would do honour to a king. It's next to Miles's, and that's as much as can be said of any man's. Come nearer, boy; none here will grudge you the liberty."
Little Lucy drew back in an instant, and fairly pulled Neb into the place she herself had just before occupied.
"Bless you for that, young 'un," said Marble. "I didn't know your mother when she was of your age, but I can see that one cat-block is not more like another than you are like what she was at your age; keep that likeness up, my dear, and then your father will be as happy and fortunate in his darter as he has been in his wife. Well, nobody desarves his luck better than Miles—Providential luck, I mean, my dear madam Wallingford," interpreting a sorrowful expression of Lucy's eyes aright; "for, thanks to your teaching, I now understand there is a divine director of all our fortins, whether ashore, or afloat, black or white."
"There is not a sparrow falls, Captain Marble," said the gentle, earnest voice of my wife, "that he does not note it."
"Yes, so I understand it, now, though once I thought little of such things. Thus, when we were wracked in the Dawn, Neb, it was by God's will, and with a design, like, to bring us three all on to our present fortin, and present frame of mind; should I ever use the word luck, ag'in, which I may be likely enough to do from habit, you are all to understand I mean what I call Providential luck. Yes, madam Wallingford, I comprehend it parfectly, and shall never forget your kindness, which has been to me the best turn of Providential luck that has ever happened. I've sent for you, Neb, to have a parting word, and to give you the advice of an old man before I quit this world altogether."
Neb began to twist his fingers, and I could see tears glistening in his eyes; for his attachment to Marble was of very long standing and of proof. When men have gone through, together, as much as we three had experienced in company, indeed, the most trifling griefs of everyday life get to appear so insignificant, that our connection seems to be one of a nature altogether stronger than the commoner ties.
"Yes, sah, Cap'in Marble, sah; what please to be your wish, sah?" asked the negro, struggling to subdue his grief.
"To say a few words of advice, Neb, to take leave of my friends, and then to be struck off the shipping articles of life. Old age and hard sarvice, Neb, has made me veer cable to the better end. The stopper is working loose, and a few more surges will leave the hulk adrift. The case is different with you, who are in your prime,—and a prime chap be you, on a yard or at the wheel. My parting advice to you, Neb, is, to hold out as you've begun. I don't say you're without failin's, (what nigger is?) but you're a good fellow, and as sartain to be found in your place as the pumps. In the first place, you're a married man; and, though your wife is only a negress, she's your wife, and you must stick to her through thick and thin. Take your master as an example, and obsarve how he loves and cherishes your mistress," [here Lucy pressed, gently, closer to my side;] "and then, as to your children, bring 'em up according' to the advice of Madam Wallingford. You can never sail under better instructions than hern, as I know, by experience. Be particular to make that Hector of yours knock off from swearing: he's begun, and what's begun in sin is pretty sartain to have an indin'. Talk to him, first, and, if that won't do, rope's-end it out of him. There's great vartue in ratlin stuff, among boys. As for yourself, Neb, hold on as you have begun, and the Lord will have marcy on you, before the v'y'ge is up."
Here Marble ceased from exhaustion; though he made a sign to Neb not to move, as he had more to say. After resting a little, he felt under his pillow, whence he produced a very old tobacco-box, fumbled about until he had opened it, took a small bite, and shut the box again. All this was done very slowly, and with the uncertain, feeble movements of a dying man. When the lid was replaced, Marble held the box towards Neb, and resumed his address.
"Use that for my sake, Neb," he said. "It is full of excellent tobacco, and the box has the scent of thirty years in it—that being the time it has sailed in my company. That box has been in nine fights, seven wracks, and has seen more boat-sarvice than most London watermen, or any Whitehaller of 'em all. Among other explites, it has been round the world four times, besides having run the Straits of Magellan in the dark, as might be; as your master and you know as well as I do. Take that box, therefore, lad, and be particular, always, to put none but the best of pig-tail in it—for it's used to that only. And now, Neb, a word about a little duty you're to do for me, when you get in. Ask your master, first, for leave, and then go up to Willow Cove, and carry my blessin' to Kitty and her children. It's easy done, if a man sets about it in the right spirit. All you have to do is to go up to the Cove, and say that I prayed to God to bless 'em all, before I died. Do you think you can remember that?"
"I try, Cap'in Marble, sah—yes, sah, I try all I can, dough I'm no scholar."
"Perhaps you had better confide this office to me," said the musical voice of my wife.
Marble was pleased, and he seemed every way disposed to accept the offer.
"I didn't like to trouble you so much," he answered, "though I feel grateful for the offer. Well, then, Neb, you may leave the blessin' unsaid, as your mistress is so kind—hold on a bit: you can give it to Chloe and her little family; all but Hector, I mean—but not to him, unless he knocks off swearing! As soon as he does that, why let him have his share. Now, Neb, give me your hand. Good bye, boy: you've been true to me, and God bless you for it. You are but a nigger, I know; but there's One in whose eyes your soul is as precious as that of many a prince and priest."
Neb shook hands with his old commander, broke out of the circle, rushed into the steerage, and blubbered like a baby. In the meantime Marble paused to recover his own self-possession, which had been a little disturbed by the feeling manifested by the black. As soon as he felt himself a little composed, he hunted about his cot until he found two small paper boxes, each of which contained a very pretty ring, that it seemed he had purchased for this express purpose when last in port. These rings he gave to my daughters, who received the presents sobbing, though with strong natural exhibitions of the friendly sentiments they entertained for him.
"Your father and I have gone through many hardships and trials together," he said, "and I love you all even more than I love my own relations. I hope this is not wrong, madam Wallingford, for it's out of my power to help it. I've already given my keep-sakes to the boys, and to your parents, and I hope all of you will sometimes remember the poor old sea-dog that God, in his wisdom, threw like a waif in your way, that he might be benefited by your society. There's your polar star, young 'uns," pointing to my wife. "Keep God in mind always, and give to this righteous woman the second place in your hearts; not that I say a word, or think anything ag'in your father, who's a glorious fellow in his way, but, a'ter all, young women should copy a'ter their mothers, when they've such a mother as your'n, the best of fathers fallin' far astern, in gentleness and other vartues."
The girls wept freely, and Marble, after waiting a few minutes took a solemn leave of all my children, desiring everybody but Lucy and myself to quit the cabin. An hour passed in discourse with us two, during which Moses frequently exhorted me to give ear to the pious counsels of my wife, for he manifested much anxiety for the future welfare of my soul.
"I've generalized a great deal over that affair of Smudge, the whole of this v'y'ge," he continued, "and I've had sore misgivings consarning the explite. Madam Wallingford, however, has eased my mind on that score, by showing me how to lay the burthen of this, with all the rest of the load of my sins, on the love of Christ. I am resigned to go, Miles, for it is time, and I'm getting to be useless. It's wicked to wish to run a ship after her frame has worked loose, and nothing now fastens me to life but you. I own it's hard to part, and my mind has had some weakness on the matter. However, Miles, my dear boy, for boy you are still in my eyes, there is comfort in looking ahead. Go by your wife's rules, and when the v'y'ge is up, we shall all find ourselves in the same haven."
"It gives me much happiness, Moses, to find you in this frame of mind," I answered. "Since you must quit us, you will not leave one behind of the name of Wallingford, that will not rejoice at this prospect for the future. As for your sins, God has both the power and the will to lighten you of their weight, when he finds you disposed to penitence, and to make use of the mediation of his blessed Son. If there is anything you desire to have done, hereafter, this is a very proper time to let me know it."
"I've made a will, Miles, and you'll find it in my desk. There are some trifles given to you and yourn, but you want not gold, and the rest all goes to Kitty and her children. There is a p'int, however, on which my mind is very ondetarmined, and I will now lay it before you. Don't you think it more becoming for a seaman to be buried in blue water, than to be tuck'd up in a church-yard? I do not like tombstones, having had too much of them in 'arly youth, and feel as if I want sea-room. What is your opinion, Miles?"
"Decide for yourself. Your wishes will be our law."
"Then roll me up in my cot, and launch me overboard, in the old way. I have sometimes thought it might be well to lie at my mother's side; but she'll excuse an old tar for preferring blue water to one of your country church-yards."
After this, I had several interviews with the old man, though he said nothing more on the subject of his interment, that of his property, or that of his departure. Lucy read the bible to him, two or three times every day, and she prayed with him often. On one occasion, I heard a low, sweet voice, near his cot, and taking a look, ascertained it was my little pet, my daughter Lucy, then only thirteen, reading a second time a chapter that her mother had gone through, only an hour before, with some of her own remarks. The comments were wanting now, but the voice had the same gentle earnestness, the same sweet modulations, and the same impressive distinctness as that of the mother!
Marble lived until we had passed within the Gulf-Stream, dying easily and without a groan, with all my family, Neb and the first-mate, assembled near his cot. The only thing that marked his end was a look of singular significance that he cast on my wife, not a minute before he breathed his last. There he lay, the mere vestige of the robust hardy seaman I had once known, a child in physical powers, and about to make the last great change. Material as were the alterations in the man, from what he had been when in his pride, I thought the spiritual or intellectual part of his being was less to be recognised than the bodily. Certainly that look was full of resignation and hope; and we had reason to believe that this rude but honest creature was spared long enough to complete the primary object of his existence.
In obedience to his own earnest request, though sorely against the feelings of my wife and daughters, I buried the body of my old friend in the ocean, six days before we made the land.
And now it remains only to speak of Lucy. I have deferred this agreeable duty to the last, passing over long years that were pregnant with many changes, in order to conclude with this delightful theme.
The first few years of my married life were years of bliss to me. I lived under a constant sense of happiness; a happiness that man can derive only from a union with a woman of whom his reason and principles as much approve, as his tastes and passion cherish. I do not mean to be understood that the years which have succeeded were a whit less happy; for, in a certain sense, they have been more so, and have gone on increasing in happiness down to the present hour, but because time and use finally so far accustomed me to this intimate connection with purity, virtue, female disinterestedness and feminine delicacy, that I should have missed them, as things incorporated with my very existence, had I been suddenly deprived of my wife, quite as much as in the first years of my married life, I enjoyed them as things hitherto unknown to me.
As I ride over the fields of Clawbonny, even at this day, I recall with tranquil delight, and I trust with humble gratitude, the manner in which those blessed early years of our marriage passed. That was the period when every thought of mine was truly shared by Lucy. She accompanied me in my daily rides or drives, and listened to every suggestion that fell from my lips, with kind interest and the most indulgent attention, rendering me back thought for thought, feeling for feeling, laugh for laugh; and, occasionally, tear for tear. Not an emotion could become aroused in my breast that it did not meet with its reflection in her's; or a sense of the ludicrous be awakened, that her keen but chastened humour did not increase its effect by sympathy. Those were the years in which were planned and executed the largest improvements for the buildings, pleasure-grounds, and fields of Clawbonny. We built extensively, not only out-houses and stables better suited to our present means, and more enlarged mode of living, than those which existed in my father's time, but, as has been stated before, we added to the dwelling, preserving its pleasing confusion and irregularity of architecture. After passing the first summer which succeeded our marriage in this manner, I told Lucy it was time to stop building and improving my own place, in order that some attention might be bestowed on that she had inherited from Mrs. Bradfort, and which was also old family property.
"Do not think of it, Miles," she said. "Keep Riversedge in good order, and no more. Rupert," who was then living, and in possession, "will see that nothing goes to waste; but Clawbonny, dear Clawbonny, is the true home of a Wallingford—and I am now a Wallingford, you will remember. Should this precious boy of ours live to become a man, and marry, the old West-Chester property can be used by him, until we are ready to give him up possession, here."
This plan has not been literally carried out; for Miles, my eldest son, lives with us at Clawbonny, in the summer; and his noisy boys are at this moment playing a game of ball in a field that has been expressly devoted to their amusements.
The period which succeeded the first half-dozen years of my union with Lucy, was not less happy than the first had been; though it assumed a new character. Our children then came into the account, not as mere playthings, and little beings to be most tenderly loved and cared for, but as creatures that possess the image of God in their souls, and whose future characters, in a measure, depended on our instruction. The manner in which Lucy governed her children, and led them by gentle means to virtue and truth, has always been a subject of the deepest admiration and gratitude with me. Her rule has been truly one of love. I do not know that I ever heard her voice raised in anger, to any human being, much less to her own offspring; but whenever reproof has come, it has come in the language of interest and affection, more or less qualified by severity, as circumstances may have required. The result has been all that our fondest hopes could have led us to anticipate.
When we travelled, it was with all our young people, and a new era of happiness, heightened by the strongest domestic affection, opened on us. All who have seen the world have experienced the manner in which our intellectual existences, as it might be, expand; but no one, who has not experienced it, can tell the deep, heartfelt satisfaction there is, in receiving this enlargement of the moral creature, in close association with those we love most on earth. The manner in which Lucy enjoyed all she saw and learned, on our first visit to the other hemisphere; her youngest child—all four of our children were born within the first eight years of our marriage—her youngest child was then long past its infancy, and she had leisure to enjoy herself, in increasing the happiness of her offspring. She had improved her mind by reading; and her historical lore, in particular, was always ready to be produced for the common advantage. There was no ostentation in this; but everything was produced just as if each had a right to its use. Then it was, I felt the immense importance of having a companion, in an intellectual sense, in a wife. Lucy had always been intelligent; but I never fully understood her superiority in this respect, until we travelled together, amid the teeming recollections and scenes of the old world. That America is the greatest country of ancient or modern times, I shall not deny. Everybody says it; and what everybody says, must be true. Nevertheless, I will venture to hint, that, caeteris paribus, and where there is the disposition to think at all, the intellectual existence of every American who goes to Europe, is more than doubled in its intensity. This is the country of action, not of thought, or speculation. Men follow out their facts to results, instead of reasoning them out. Then, the multiplicity of objects and events that exist in the old countries to quicken the powers of the mind, has no parallel here. It is owing to this want of the present and the past, which causes the American, the moment he becomes speculative, to run into the future. That future promises much, and, in a degree, may justify the weakness. Let us take heed, however, that it do not lead to disappointment.
After all, I have found Lucy the most dear to me, and the most valuable companion, since we have both passed the age of fifty. Air is not more transparent, than her pure mind, and I ever turn to it for counsel, sympathy, and support, with a confidence and reliance that experience could alone justify. As we draw nearer to the close of life, I find my wife gradually loosening the ties of this world, her love for her husband and children excepted, and fastening her looks on a future world. In thus accomplishing, with a truth and nature that are unerringly accurate, the great end of her being, nothing repulsive, nothing that is in the least tinctured with bigotry, and nothing that is even alienated from the affections, or her duties in life, is mingled with her devotion. My family, like its female head, has ever been deeply impressed by religion; but it is religion in its most pleasing aspect; religion that has no taint of puritanism, and in which sin and innocent gaiety are never confounded It is the most cheerful family of my acquaintance; and this, I must implicitly believe, solely because, in addition to the bounties it enjoys, under the blessing of God, it draws the just distinction between those things that the word of God has prohibited, and those which come from the excited and exaggerated feelings of a class of theologians, who, constantly preaching the doctrine of faith, have regulated their moral discipline solely, as if, in their hearts, they placed all their reliance on the efficacy of a school of good works that has had its existence in their own diseased imaginations. I feel the deepest gratitude to Lucy for having enstilled the most profound sense of their duties into our children, while they remain totally free from cant, and from those exaggerations and professions which so many mistake for piety of purer emanation.
Some of my readers may feel a curiosity to know how time has treated us elderly people, for elderly we have certainly become. As for myself, I enjoy a green old age, and I believe look at least ten years younger than I am. This, I attribute to temperance and exercise. Lucy was positively an attractive woman until turned of fifty, retaining even a good deal of her bloom down to that period of life. I think her handsome still; and old Neb, when in a flattering humour, is apt to speak of either of my daughters as his "handsome young missus," and of my wife as his "handsome ole missus."
And why should not Lucy Hardinge continue to retain many vestiges of those charms which rendered her so lovely in youth? Ingenuous, pure of mind, sincere, truthful, placid and just, the soul could scarcely fail to communicate some of its blessed properties to that countenance which even now so sensitively reflects its best impulses. I repeat, Lucy is still handsome, and in my eyes even her charming daughters are less fair. That she has so long been, and is still my wife, forms not only the delight but the pride of my life. It is a blessing, for which, I am not ashamed to say, I daily render thanks to God, on my knees.