"Frarnie might have that India shawl that I never undid, to appear out in," said Mrs. Maurice, pensively, continuing her own reflections rather than directly replying. "And I suppose we needn't lose her really, for she could make her home with us."
And so the conspiracy advanced, its simple victims undreaming of its approach—Louie sighing faintly to think she saw so little of Andrew now, but content, since she was sure it was for his best interest to make the friendship of the Sabrina's owner; Andrew fretting to see how all this necessary submission to superiors kept him from Louie, but more than half compensated with the dazzling visions that danced before his eyes of the Sabrina in her new rig—of the barque coming down for her masts and sails from her launching.
The Sabrina had been so badly injured by her disasters that it took much more time to repair her than had at first been thought. "I'm going to stand by the old brig," said Andrew to some one—by accident it was in Mr. Maurice's hearing. "But if I'd known it was going to take so long to have her whole again, I should have made a penny in taking a run down the bay, for I had an offer to go second mate on the Tartar."
"I'll go one better than that," said Mr. Maurice then. "Here's the Frarnie, nearly ready to clear for New Orleans and Liverpool, with your old captain. You shall go mate of her. That'll show if you can handle a ship. The Sabrina won't be at the wharf till the round voyage is over and the Frarnie coming up the stream again. What say you?"
Of course what Andrew said was modest thanks—what he felt was a rhapsody of delight; and when he told Louie that night, what she said was a sob, and what she felt was a blank of fright and foreboding. Oh what should she do? cried the selfish little thing—what should she do in the long, long, weary days with Andrew gone? But then in a moment she remembered that this was the first step toward going master of that craft in which her bridal voyage was to be taken. "And what a long step it is, Andrew!" she cried. "Was the like of it ever known before? What a long, long step it would be but for that bitter apprenticeship when you and the captain brought the wreck home!"
"Ay," said Andrew, proudly: "I served my time before the mast then, if ever any did."
"And I suppose with the next step you will be master of the Sabrina? Oh, I should so like it!"
"I don't know," said Andrew, more doubtfully than he had used to speak. "I'm afraid the owners will think this is enough. This is a great lift. I'll do my best to satisfy them, though; for I'd rather sail master of the Sabrina than of the biggest man-of-war afloat."
"We used to play round her when we were children," said Louie, encouragingly. "Don't you remember leading me down once to admire the lady on her stern?—like a water-witch just gilded in the rays of some sunrise she had come up to see, you said."
"Yes; and we used to climb her shrouds, we boys, and get through the lubber-hole, before we could spell her name out. She's made of heart of oak: she'll float still when the Frarnie is nothing but sawdust. We used to watch for her in the newspapers—we used to know just as much about her goings and comings as the owner did. Somehow—I don't know why—I've always felt as if my fate and fortune hung upon her. It used to be the top of my ambition to go master of her. It is now. I couldn't make up my mind to leave her when the others did that cruel morning after the wreck; and when the captain said he should stay by her, my heart sprang up as if she had been a living thing, and I stayed too. And I'd rather sail her than a European steamer to-day—that I would, by George!"
"Oh, of course you will," said the sympathizing voice beside him.
"I don't know," said Andrew again, more slowly and reflectively. "I've the idea—and I can't say how I got it—that there's some condition or other attached to my promotion—that there's something Mr. Maurice means that I shall do, and if I don't do it I don't get my lift. It can't be anything about wages: I don't know what it is!"
"Perhaps," said Louie, innocently, and without a glimpse of the train her thoughtless words fired—"perhaps he means for you to marry Frarnie!" laughing a little laugh at the absurd impossibility.
And Andrew started as if a bee had stung him, and saw it all. But in a moment he only drew Louie closer, and kissed her more passionately, and sat there caressing her the more tenderly while they listened to a thrush that had built in the garden thicket, mistaking it for the wood, so near the town's edge was it, and so still and sunny was the garden all day long with its odors of southernwood and mint and balm; and he delayed there longer, holding her as if now at least she was his own, whatever she might be thereafter.
As he walked home that night, and went and sat upon the wharf and watched the starlit tide come in, he saw it all again, but with thoughts like a procession of phantoms, as if they had no part even in the possible things of life, and were indeed nothing to him. How could they have any meaning to him—to him, Louie's lover? What would the whole world be to him, what the sailing of the Sabrina, without Louie? And then a shiver ran across him: what would Louie be to him without the sailing of the Sabrina! for that, indeed, as he had said, was the top of his ambition, and that being his ambition, perhaps ambition, was as strong with him as love.
But with this new discovery on Andrew's part of Mr. Maurice's desires, Andrew could only recall circumstances, words, looks, hints: he could not shape to himself any line of duty or its consequences: enough to see that Mr. Maurice fancied his simple and thoughtless attentions to Frarnie to be lover-like, and, approving him, looked kindly on them and made his plans accordingly; enough to see that if he should reject this tacit proffer of the daughter's hand, then the Sabrina was scarcely likely to be his; and that in spite of such probability, the first and requisite thing in honor for him to do was to tell Mr. Maurice of his marriage engagement with Louie, and then, if the man had neither gratitude nor sense enough to reward him for his assistance in saving the brig, to trust to fortune and to time, that at last makes all things even. As he sat there listening to the lapping of the water and idly watching the reflected stars peer up and shatter in a hundred splinters with every wash of the dark tide, he could not so instantaneously decide as to whether he should make this confession or not. "What business is it of Maurice's?" he said to himself. "Does he think every one that looks at his scarecrow of a daughter—" But there he had need to acknowledge to himself his injustice to Miss Frarnie, a modest maiden who had more cause to complain of him than he of her, since he had done his best to please her, and her only fault lay in being pleased so easily. She was pleased with him: he understood that now, though his endeavors to enlist her had been for a very different manifestation of interest. Perhaps it flattered him a little: he paused long enough to consider what sort of a lot it would be if he really had been plighted to Frarnie instead of Louie. Love and all that nonsense, he had heard say, changed presently into a quiet sort of contentment; and if that were so, it would be all the same at the end of a few years which one he took. He felt that Frarnie was not very sympathetic, that her large white face seldom sparkled with much intelligence, that she would make but a dull companion; but, for all that, she would be, he knew, an excellent housewife: she would bring a house with her too; and when a man is married, and has half a dozen children tumbling round him, there is entertainment enough for him, and it is another bond between him and the wife he did not love too well at first; and if she were his, his would be the Sabrina also, and when the Sabrina's days were over perhaps a great East Indiaman, and with that the respect and deference of all his townsmen: court would be paid to him, his words would be words of weight, he would have a voice in the selection of town-officers, he would roll up money in the bank, and some day he should be master of the great Maurice mansion and the gardens and grapehouses. It was a brilliant picture to him, doubtless, but in some way the recollection of two barelegged little children digging clams down on the flats when the tide was out, with the great white lighthouse watching them across the deserted stretches of the long bent eel-grass, rose suddenly and wiped the other picture out, and he saw the wind blowing in Louie's brown and silken hair and kissing the color on her cheeks; he saw the shy sparkle of her downcast eyes, lovely and brown then as they were now; and as he stood erect at last, snapping his fingers defiantly, he felt that he had bidden Mr. Maurice's ships and stocks and houses and daughter go hang, and had made his choice rather to walk with Louie on his arm than as master of the Sabrina.
It was a good resolution; and if he had but sealed it by speaking next day to Mr. Maurice of his engagement, there would not have been a word to say. But, though he valiantly meant to do it, it was not so easy, after all, as he had thought, and so he put it off for a more convenient season, and the season did not come, and the day of sailing did. And the outfit that went on board the Frarnie was made and packed by the hands of Mrs. Maurice and her daughter—such an outfit as he had never dreamed of; such warm woolens for the storms, such soft linens for the heats, such finery for port, such dainties and delicacies as only the first mate of the Frarnie could think to have. And as for Louie, it was no outfit, no costly gift of gold or trouble either, that she could give him: she had nothing for him but a long, fine chain woven of her own hair, and she hung it round his neck with tears and embraces and words that could not be uttered and sighs that changed to sobs, and then came lingering delay upon delay, and passionate parting at the last. But when the crew had weighed anchor and the sails were swelling and the waves beyond the bar crying out for them, Miss Frarnie and her mother could still be seen waving their handkerchiefs from an upper window; and half blind with the sorrow and the pain he choked away from sight, and mad with shame to think he had found no way but to accept their favors, Andrew felt that their signal must be answered, and sullenly waved his own in reply; and then the pilot was leaving the barque, and presently the shore and all its complications, and Louie crying herself sick, were forgotten in the excitement of the moment and its new duties.
"Didn't say a word of love to Frarnie, eh?" remarked Mr. Maurice in answer to his wife's communications that evening. "A noble lad, then! I like him all the better for it. He shall have her all the sooner. He won't abuse our confidence: that's it. He'll wait till he's bridged over the gap between them. The first mate of a successful voyage is a better match for my daughter than the boy who stayed by the Sabrina, brave as he was. He's fond of her? Don't you think so? There's no doubt about that? None at all! All in good time—all in good time. I'll speak to him myself. They're going to write to each other? I thought so."
Short as the trip was that the Frarnie made in that favorable season, it seemed to Louie an interminable period; but from the cheerful, hopeful smile upon her lips no one would ever have known how her heart was longing for her lover as she went about her work; for the little housekeeper had quite too much to do in keeping the cottage clean, the garden weedless, the nets mended, to be able to neglect one duty for any love-sick fancies it might be pleasant to indulge. From morning till night her days were full in bringing happiness to others: there was her father to make comfortable; there were the sick old women, of whom her aunt brought word, to concoct some delicacy for—a cup of custard, to wit, a dish of the water-jelly she had learned how to make from the sea-moss she gathered on the beach, a broiled and buttered mushroom from the garden; there were the canaries and the cat to be cared for, and the dog that Andrew left with her to feed and shower caresses on; and there was the parrot's toilet to be made and her lesson to be taught, and the single jars of preserves and pickles and ketchups to be put up for winter, and the herbs to be dried: there were not, you may see, many minutes to be wasted out of that busy little life in castle-building or in crying. One day there came a letter with Victoria's head and the Liverpool stamp upon it: she knew it by heart presently, and wore it next her heart by night and day; and even if she had known that Miss Frarnie Maurice received one in the same handwriting by the same mail, it would hardly have made much difference to her; and one day the Sabrina, all freshly coppered and painted and repaired, with new masts and sails, and so much else that it was not easy to say what part of her now represented the old brig, came round to her old wharf and began to take in cargo. Louie ran down one evening with her father, and went all over her from stem to stern, only one old sailor being aboard; and she could have told you then every rope from clew to ear-ring; and, as if it were all the realization of a dream, a thousand happy, daring thoughts of herself and Andrew then filled her fancy like birds in a nest; and so swiftly after that did one day flow into another for Louie that the Frarnie lay in the mid-stream once more before she had more than begun to count the days to that on which her Liverpool letter had promised that she should see its writer come walking into her father's cottage again.
But she never did see him come walking into her father's cottage again. That promised day passed and the night, and another—a long, long day that seemed as if it would never quench its flame in sunset, and a night that seemed as if it would never know the dawning; but the threshold of the fisherman's cottage Andrew Traverse crossed no more.
For Mr. Maurice, on his notable errand of circumventing Heaven, had been ahead of Fate, and had gone down on the pilot-boat to meet the Frarnie—with no settled designs of course, but in his own impatient pleasure; and, delighted with the shipmaster's report and with the financial promise of the voyage, the cargo, the freights, and ventures and all, had greeted Andrew with a large-hearted warmth and after a manner that no churl could withstand; and unwilling to listen to any refusal, had taken Andrew up to the mansion-house with him the moment the ship had touched the wharf.
"You don't ask after her?" said Mr. Maurice when they were alone in the chaise together. And knowing well enough what he meant, Andrew blushed through all his bronze—knowing well enough, for had he not gone below in a mighty hurry and tricked himself out in his best toggery so soon as he understood there was no escape from the visit? Louie would have been glad enough to see him in his red shirt and tarpaulin!
"Oh, you scamp!" said Mr. Maurice, quickly then detecting the blush. "Don't say a word! I've been there myself: I know how you're longing to see her; and she's been at the window looking through the glass every half hour, the puss!"
"Mr. Maurice," began Andrew, half trembling, but wholly resolved, he thought—although it must be confessed that with time, and distance, and Frarnie's effusive letters and flattering prospects on the other hand, Louie's image was not so bright at that moment as it had been at others, and for that very reason Andrew was taking great credit to himself for his upright intentions—credit enough to tide him over a good deal of baseness if need were,—"Mr. Maurice—" he began; and there he paused to frame his sentence more suitably, for it was no easy thing to tell a man that he was throwing his child at one who did not care for her, and that man the disposer of his fortunes.
But Mr. Maurice saved him any such trouble. "I know all you're going to say," he exclaimed. "I understand your hesitation, and I honor you for it. But I'm no fool, and there's no need to have you tell me that you want my Frarnie, for I've known that long ago."
"Yes, I have," answered the impulsive gentleman. "Mrs. Maurice and I talked it over as soon as we saw which way the wind lay; but of course we decided to say nothing till we were sure, quite sure, that it was Frarnie and not her prospects—"
"Oh, sir, you—"
"Tush, tush! I know all about it now. But it becomes a father to be wary," continued the other, taking the words from Andrew's lips in spite of himself, and quite wary enough not to mention that in Frarnie's easily-excited favor a young scapegrace was very likely to supplant Mr. Andrew if things were not brought to a point at once. "It was my duty to look at all sides," he said, without stopping for breath. "Now I know you, and I see you'd rather give the girl the go-by for ever than have her think you wanted her because she was her father's daughter, and not some poor fisherman's."
"Indeed, indeed—" began Andrew again, leaning forward, his cheeks crimson, his very hands shaking.
"Of course, my boy," interrupted his companion as before—"of course. Don't say a word: you're welcome to her at last. I never thought I'd surrender her to any one so freely; but if I were choosing from all the world, Andrew, I don't know any one I'd choose sooner for my son. She's a sensible girl, my Frarnie is, at bottom. We know her heart: it's a good heart—only the froth of all young girls' fancies to be blown off. And the Sabrina always was a pet of mine, and, though I've said nothing of it, I've meant her for Frarnie's husband this many a day." And before Andrew, in his flurry and embarrassment and bewilderment, could enunciate any distinct denial of anything or avowal of anything else, the chaise was at the door, and Mrs. Maurice was waiting for him with extended hands, and Frarnie was standing and smiling behind, half turned to run away. And Mr. Maurice cried out: "Captain Traverse of the Sabrina, my dear! Here, Frarnie, Frarnie! none of your airs and graces! Come and give your sweetheart an honest kiss!" And Andrew, doubting if the minister were not behind the door and he should not find himself married out of hand, irresolute, cowardly, too weak to give up the Sabrina and that sweet new title just ringing in his ears, was pushed along by Mr. Maurice's foolish, hearty hand till he found himself bending over Frarnie with his arm around her waist, his lips upon her cheek, and without, as it seemed to him, either choice or volition on his part. But as he looked up and saw the portraits of the girl's grandfathers, where they appeared to be looking down at him stern and questioning, a guilty shame over the wrong he was doing their child smote him sorely: he saw that he had allowed the one instant of choice to slip away; the sense came over him that he had sealed his own doom, while a vision of Louie's face, full of desolation and horror, was scorching in upon his soul; and there, in the moment of betrothal, his punishment began. He stole down to the Sabrina's wharf that evening, after the moon had set, and looking round to see that it was quite forsaken at that hour, he took from his neck a long, slender hair-chain to drop over into the deep water there; but as he held the thing it seemed suddenly to coil round his hand with a caress, as if it were still a part of Louie's self. He stamped his foot and ground his heel into the earth there with a cry and an oath, and put the chain back again whence he had taken it, and swore he would wear it till they laid his bones under ground. And he looked up at the dark lines of the brig looming like the black skeleton of an evil thing against the darkness of the night, and he cursed himself for a traitor to both women—for a hypocrite, a craven, a man sold to the highest bidder. Well, well, Captain Traverse, there are curses that cling! And Louie sat in the gloom at the window of the fisherman's cottage down below the town, and sighed and wondered and longed and waited, but Captain Traverse went back to the Maurices' mansion.
* * * * *
It is one of the enigmas of this existence how women forgive the wrong of such hours as came to Louie now—hours of suspense and suffering—hours of a misery worse than the worm's misery in blindness and pain before it finds its wings.
At first she expected her lover, and speculated as to his delay, and fretted to think anything might detain him from her; and now she was amazed, and now vexed, and now she was forgiving the neglect, accusing herself and making countless excuses for him; and now imagining a thousand dire mishaps. But as the third day came and he was still away—he who had been always wont to seek her as soon as the craft was made fast to wharf—then she felt her worst forebodings taking bodily shape: he was ill, he had fallen overboard, he had left the vessel at Liverpool and shipped upon another, and a letter would come directly to say so; or else he had been waylaid and robbed and made away with: not once did she dream that he was false to her—to her, a portion of his own life!
How it was with him there were numberless ways in which she might have discovered, for every soul of her acquaintance knew Andrew, and must be aware of the fact if he were missing or ailing, or if any other ill chance had befallen him. But as often as she tried to address one or another passing by the window, her voice failed her and her heart, and she asked no questions, and only waited on. A life of suspense, exclaims some one, a life of a spider! And when we are in suspense, says another, all our aids are in suspense with us. Day after day she stayed continually in the house, looking for him to come, never stirring out even into the garden, lest coming she might miss him. Night after night she sat alone at her window till the distant town-clocks struck midnight—now picturing to herself the glad minute of his coming, the quick explaining words, the bursting tears of relief, the joy of that warm embrace, the touch of those strong arms—now convinced that he would never come, and her heart sinking into a bitter loneliness of despair.
It grew worse with her when she knew that he was really in the town, alive and well; for, from the scuttle in the roof, by the aid of her father's glass, she could see the Sabrina, and one day she was sure that a form whose familiar outlines made her pulses leap was Andrew himself giving orders on the deck there; and after that she tortured herself with conjectures till her brain was wild—chained hand and foot, unable to write him or to seek him in any maidenly modesty, heart and soul in a ferment. Still she waited in that shuddering suspense, with every nerve so tightly strung, that voice or footfall vibrated on them into pain. If Andrew, in the midst of the gayeties by which he found himself accepted of the Maurices' friends, was never haunted by any thought of all this, his heart had grown stouter in one year's time than twenty years had found and left it previously.
But Louie's suspense was of no long duration, as time goes, though to her it was a lifetime. A week covered it—a week full of stings and fevered restlessness—when her father came in one day and said bitterly, thinking it best to make an end of all at once: "So I hear that a friend of ours has been paid off at last. Captain Andrew Traverse of the Sabrina is going to marry his owner's daughter Frarnie. Luck will take passage on that brig!" And when Louie rose from the bed on which she lay down that night, the Sabrina had been a fortnight gone on her long voyage—a voyage where the captain had sailed alone, postponing the evil day perhaps, and at any rate pleading too much inexperience, for all his dazzling promotion, to be trusted with so precious thing as a wife on board during the first trip. He had not felt that hesitation once when portraying the possibilities of the voyage to another.
It was not a long illness, Louie's, though it had been severe enough to destroy for her consciousness both of pain and pleasure. Her aunt had left other work and had nursed her through it; but when, strong and well once more, she went about her old duties, it seemed to her that that consciousness had never returned: she took up life with utter listlessness and indifference, and she fancied that her love for Andrew was as dead as all the rest. The poor little thing, laying this flattering unction to heart, did not call much reason to her aid, or she would have known that there was some meaning in it when she cried all day on coming across an old daguerreotype of Andrew. "It isn't for love of him," she sobbed. "It's for the loss of all that love out of my life that was heaven to me. Oh no, no! I love him no longer: I can't, I can't love him: he is all the same as another woman's husband." But, despite this stout assertion, she could not bring herself to part with that picture: he was not in reality quite the husband of another woman, and till he was indeed she meant to keep it. "He is only promised to her yet, and he was promised first to me," she said for salve to conscience; and meanwhile the picture grew so blurred with conscious tears, and perhaps with unconscious kisses, that it might have been his or another's: Miss Frarnie herself, had she seen it, could not have told whose it was.
Notwithstanding all the elasticity of youth, life became an inexpressibly dull thing to Louie as the year wore into the next—dull, with neither aim nor object, the past a pain to remember, the future a blank to consider. She could live only from day to day, one day like another, till they grew so wearisome she wondered her hair was not gray—the pretty hair that, shorn from her head in her illness, had grown again in a short fleece of silky curls—for it seemed to her that she had lived a hundred years. And because troubles never come alone, and one perhaps makes the other seem lighter and better to be borne, in the thick of a long winter's storm they brought home her father, the old fisherman, drowned and dead.
Captain Traverse knew of the old fisherman's death through the newspapers that found him in his foreign ports—not through Miss Frarnie's letters, for she knew almost nothing of the existence or non-existence of such low people; and therefore, conjecture as he needs must concerning Louie's means of livelihood now, there was no intelligence to relieve any anxiety he might have felt, or to inform him of the sale of the cottage to pay the debt of the mortgage under which it was bought, or of the support that Louie earned in helping her aunt watch with the sick and lay out the dead: he could only be pricked with knowledge of the fact that he had no right to his anxiety, or to the mention of her name even in his prayers—if he said them.
Poor little Louie! A sad end to such a joyous youth as hers had been, you would have said; but, in truth, her new work was soothing to her: her heart was simply in harmony with suffering, with death and desolation, and by degrees she found that comfort from her double sorrows in doing her best to bring comfort to others which it may be she could never have found had she been the pampered darling of some wealthy house. Often, when she forgot what she was doing, Louie made surmises concerning Frarnie Maurice, wondering if she were the noble thing that Andrew needed to ennoble him—if she were really so strong and beautiful that the mere sight of her had killed all thought or memory of an older love; trying to believe her all that his guardian angel might wish his wife to be, and to acknowledge that she herself was so low and small and ignorant that she could only have injured him—to be convinced that it was neither weakness, nor covetousness, nor perjury in Andrew, having met the sun, to forget the shadows; wondering then if Frarnie cared for him as she herself had done, and crying out aloud that that could never be, until the sound of her own sobs woke her from her forbidden dream. But at other times a calm came to Louie that was more pathetic than her wildest grief: it was the acquiescence in what Providence had chosen for Andrew, cost herself what it might—it was the submission of the atom beneath the wheels of the great engine.
It is true that as, late in the night, when all the town was asleep and only silence and she abroad, she walked home by herself from some deathbed whose occupant she had composed decently for the last sleep, she used to wish it were herself lying there on that moveless pillow, and soon to be sheltered from the cruel light by the bosom of the kindly earth. For now, as she passed the birches softly rustling in the night wind, and hurried by, she remembered other times when she had passed them, and had stopped to listen, cared for, protected, with Andrew's arm about her; and now, as the clocks, one after another, remotely chimed the hour, the sound smote her with a familiar sweetness full of pain; and now, as she came along the sea-wall and saw the dark river glimmering widely and ever the same, while its mysterious tide flowed to meet the far-off spark of the lighthouse lantern, she recalled a hundred happy hours when she and Andrew in the boat together had rocked there in soft summer nights, with sunset melting in the stream and wrapping them about with rosy twilight; or those when whispers of the September gales swelled the sail, and the boat flew like a gull from crest to crest of the bar; or those when misty sea-turns crept up stream and folded them, and drowned the sparkle of the lighthouse and the emerald and ruby ray of the channel lights, and left them shut away from the world, alone with each other on the great gray current silently sweeping to the sea—times when she knew no fear, trusting in the strong arm and stout heart beside her, before the river had brought death to her door; when the whole of life seemed radiant and rich—times that made this solitary night walk trodden now seem colder and drearier and darker than the grave—that made her wish it ended in a grave.
And so at length the year slipped by, and spring had come again, and the sap had leaped up the bough and burst into blossom there, and the blood had bubbled freshly in the veins of youth, and hope had once more gladdened all the world but Louie. With her only a dull patience stayed that tried to call itself content, until she heard it rumored among the harbor-people that the Sabrina was nearly due again, and with that her heart beat so turbulently that she had to crush it down again with the thought that, though Andrew every day drew nearer, came up the happy climates of southern latitudes and spread his sails on favoring gales for home, he only hastened to his wedding-day. And one day, at last, she rose to see a craft anchored in the middle channel down below the piers, unpainted and uncleaned by any crew eager to show their best to shore—a black and blistered brig, with furled sails and silent deck; and some men called it the fever-ship, and some men called it the Sabrina.
As the news of the brig's return and of her terrible companion spread through the town, a panic followed it, and the feeling with which she was regarded all along the shore during that day and the next would hardly be believed by any but those who have once been in the neighborhood of a pestilence themselves. Exaggerated accounts of a swift, strange illness, by many believed to be the ancient plague revived again and cast loose through the land from Asiatic ships had reached the old port; and aware that they were peculiarly exposed by reason of their trade, small as it was, the people there had already died a thousand deaths through expectation of the present coming of the fever already raging in other parts. Hitherto, the health-officers, boarding everything that appeared, had found no occasion to give anything but clean papers, and the town had breathed again. But now, when at last it spread from lip to lip that the fever lay at anchor in mid-channel, knees shook and cheeks grew white, and health-officer and port-physician, in spite of the almost instantaneous brevity of their visit to the infected vessel, were avoided as though they were the pestilence themselves, and not a soul in all the town was found to carry a cup of cold water to the gasping, burning men cared for only by those in less desperate strait than themselves, and who, having buried two-thirds of their number in deep-sea soundings, were likely to be denied as much as a grave on shore themselves; while to Mr. Maurice, half wild with perplexity and foreboding and amazement at Miss Frarnie's yet wilder terror,—to him the red lantern hung out by the brig at nightfall magnified itself in the mist into a crimson cloud where with wide wings lurked the very demon of Fever himself.
Not a soul to carry the cup of cold water, did I say? Yes, one timid little soul there was, waiting in a fever of longing herself—waiting that those who had a right to go might do so if they would—waiting till assured that neither Frarnie Maurice nor her parents had the first intention of going, though affianced husband and chosen son lay dying there—waiting in agony of impatience, since every delay might possibly mean death,—one little brave and timid soul there was who ventured forth on her errand of mercy alone. The fisherman's old boat still lay rocking in the cove, and the oars stood in the shed: Louie knew how to use them well, and making her preparations by daylight, and leaving the rest till nightfall, lest she should be hindered by the authorities, she found means to impress the little cow-boy into her service; and after dark a keg of sweet water was trundled down and stored amidships of the boat, with an enormous block of ice rolled in an old blanket; a basket of lemons and oranges was added, a roll of fresh bed-linen, a little box of such medicines as her last year's practice had taught her might be of use; and extorting a promise from the boy that he would leave another block of ice on the bank every night after dark for her to come and fetch, Louie quickly stepped into the boat, lifted the oars, and slipt away into the darkness of the great and quiet river.
When, three days afterward, Captain Traverse unclosed his eyes from a dream of Gehenna and the place the smoke of whose torment goes up for ever, a strange confusion crept like a haze across his mind, tired out and tortured with delirium, and he dropped the aching lids and fell away into slumber again; for he had thought himself vexed with the creak of cordage and noise of feet, stived in his dark and narrow cabin, on a filthy bed in a foul air, if any air at all were in that noisome place, reeking with heat and the ferment of bilge-water and fever-smell; and here, unless a new delirium chained him, a mattress lay upon the deck with the awning of an old sail stretched above it and making soft shadow out of searching sun, a gentle wind was blowing over him, a land-breeze full of sweet scents from the gardens on the shore, from the meadows and the marshes. Silence broken only by a soft wash of water surrounded him; a flake of ice lay between his lips, that had lately been parched and withering, and delicious coolness swathed his head, that had seemed to be a ball of burning fire. The last that he remembered had been a hot, dry, aching agony, and this was bliss: the sleep into which he fell when waking from the stupor that had benumbed his power of suffering—a power that had rioted till no more could be suffered—lasted during all the spell of that fervid noon sun that hung above the harbor and the town like the unbroken seal of the expected pestilence. A strange still town, fear and heat keeping its streets deserted, its people longing for an east wind that should kill the fever, yet dreading lest it should blow the fever in on them; a strange still harbor, its great peaceful river darkened only by that blot where the sun-soaked craft swung at her anchor; a strange still craft, where nothing stirred but one slender form, one little being that went about laying wet cloths upon this rude sailor's head, broken ice between the lips of that one, moistening dry palms, measuring out cooling draughts, and only resting now and then to watch one sleeper sleep, to hang and hear if in that deep dream there were any breathing and it were not the last sleep of all. And in Louie's heart there was something just as strange and still as in all other things throughout that wearing, blinding day; but with her the calm was not of fear, only of unspeakable joy; for if Andrew lived it was she that had saved him, and though he died, his delirium had told her that his heart was hers. "If he dies, he is mine!" she cried triumphantly, forgetting all the long struggle of scruple and doubt, "and if he lives, he shall never be hers!" she cried softly and with that inner voice that no one hears.
And so the heat slipped down with the sun to other horizons, coolness crept in upon the running river's breast with the dusk, dew gathered and lay darkly glittering on rail and spar and shroud as star by star stole out to sparkle in it; and Andrew raised his eyes at length, and they rested long and unwaveringly on the little figure sitting not far away with hands crossed about the knees and eyes looking out into the last light—the tranquil, happy face from which a white handkerchief kept back the flying hair while giving it the likeness of a nun's. Was it a dream? Was it Louie? Or was it only some one of the tormenting phantoms that for so many burning days had haunted him? He tried in vain to ask: his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth; he seemed to be in the power of one of those fierce nightmares where life depends on a word and the word is not to be spoken. Only a vision, then: he closed his lids thinking it would be gone when he lifted them, but he did not want it to be gone, and looked again to find it as before. And by and by it seemed to him that long since, in a far-off dream, he had gathered strength and uttered the one thought of his fever, "Louie, what do you do now?" and she had answered him, as though she thought aloud, "I stroke the dead;" and he had cried out, "Then presently me too, me too! And let the shroud be shotted heavily to bury me out of your sight!" And he was crying it out again, but while he spoke a mouth was laid on his—a warm, sweet mouth that seemed to breathe fresh spirit through his frame—his head was lifted and pillowed on a breast where he could hear the heart beneath flutter like a happy bird, and he was wrapped once more in slumber, but this time slumber sweet as it was deep.
Morning was dawning over the vessel's side, a dream of rosy lustre sifting through the purple and pearly mist, behind which the stars grew large and lost while it moved away to the west in one great cloud, and out of which the river gleamed as if just newly rolled from its everlasting fountains,—morning was dawning with the sweet freshness of its fragrant airs stealing from warm low fields, when Andrew once more lifted his eyes only to find that tranquil face above him still, that happy heart still beating beneath his pillowed head. "Oh, Louie," he sighed, "speak to me—say—have I died?—am I forgiven?—is this heaven?"
"To me, dear—oh to me!" answered she with the old radiant smile that used to make his pulse quicken, and that, ill as he yet was, reassured him as to his earthly latitude and longitude.
"And it was all a dream, then?" he murmured. "And I have not lost you?" He raised his wasted hand and drew from his breast the little hair chain that he had hidden there so long ago. "It was a fetter I could not break," he whispered. "I wrote her all about it long ago. I wrote her father that he should have his vessel back again—and I would take my freedom—and not a dollar's wages for the voyage would I ever draw of him. But I should never have dared see you—for—oh, Louie—how can you ever—"
"Hush, hush, dear!" she breathed. "What odds is all that now? We have our life before us."
"Only just help me live it, Louie."
"God will help us," she answered. And as she spoke a sudden rainbow leaped into the western heaven as if to seal her promise, and as it slowly faded there came a wild salt smell, an air that tingled like a tonic through the veins: the east wind was singing in from sea, bringing the music of breaker and shore, and the fever was blasted by its breath throughout the little Sabrina.
HARRIET PRESCOTT SPOFFORD.
Old Sadler's Resurrection:
A Yarn of the Mexican Gulf.
"Talking about ghosts," said the captain, "listen while I spin you a bit of a yarn which dates back some twenty-five years ago, when, but a wee bit of a midshipman, I was the youngster of the starboard steerage mess on board the old frigate Macedonian, then flag-ship of the West India squadron, and bearing the broad pennant of Commodore Jesse Wilkinson.
"It would hardly interest you to tell what a clever set of lieutenants and ward-room officers we had, and how the twenty-three reefers in the two steerage messes kept up a racket and a row all the time, in spite of the taut rein which the first lieutenant, Mr. Bispham, kept over us. He wore gold-rimmed spectacles; and I can see him now, with the flat eagle-and-anchor buttons shining on his blue coat, as he would pace the quarter-deck, eyeing us young gentlemen of the watch, as demurely we planked up and down the lee side, tired enough, and waiting for eight bells to strike to rush below and call our relief. He was an austere man, and, unlike the brave old commodore, made no allowance for our pranks and skylarking.
"Among our crew, made up of some really splendid fellows, but with an odd mixture of 'Mahonese,' 'Dagos,' 'Rock-Scorpions,' and other countrymen, there was an old man-of-war's man named Sadler—a little, dried-up old chap of some sixty years, who had fought under Nelson at Trafalgar, so he said, and had been up and down, all around and criss-cross the world so often that he had actually forgotten where he had been, and so had all his geography lessons, learned by cruising experience, sadly mixed up in his head; which, although small, with a little old, weazened frontispiece, was full of odds and ends of yarns, with which he used to delight us young aspirants for naval honors, as he would spin them to us on the booms on moonlight nights, after the hammocks had been piped down. How well do I remember the old fellow's appearance!—his neat white frock and trowsers, his low-quarter purser's shoes, with a bit of a ribbon for a bow; no socks, save the natural, flesh-tinted ones, a blue star, done in India ink, gleaming on his instep; his broad blue collar, decorated with stars and two rows of white tape, falling gracefully from a neck which, as we youngsters asserted, had received its odd-looking twist from hanging too long by a grape vine, with which the Isle of Pines' pirates had strung him up when he was chasing them under old Commodore Kearney's command. Anyhow, old, sharp-faced, wrinkled and tanned to the color of a sole-leather trunk, the whole cut of his jib told you at once that he was a regular man-of-war's man—one of a class whose faults I can hardly recall while remembering their sense of duty, their utter disregard of danger, and the reliance with which you can lead them on to attack anything, from a hornet's nest to an iron-clad.
"Well, it so happened, one hot day, while cruising in the Gulf of Mexico, that the news came to us that old Sadler was dead; and sure enough it was so, for the old fellow had quietly slipped his moorings, and, as we all hoped, had at last gone to where the sweet little cherub sits up aloft who looks out for the soul of poor Jack. Then, after the doctors had had a shy at him, to see why he had cleared out so suddenly, his remains were taken in charge by his messmates, who rigged the old man out in his muster clothes, sewed him up in his clean white hammock, with an eighteen pound shot at his feet, and reported to the officer of the deck that the body was ready for burial. So, about six bells in the afternoon watch, the weather being very hot, and not a breath of air to ripple the glassy surface of the water, the lieutenant of the watch directed one of the young gentlemen to tell the boatswain to call 'All hands to bury the dead;' and soon fore and aft the shrill whistles were heard, followed by that saddest of all calls to a sailor at sea—'All hands bury the dead!'
"Our good old boatswain, Wilmuth, seemed to linger on the words with a feeling akin to grief at parting with an old shipmate, and as the last man reached the deck, he touched his hat and in a sad sort of way reported, 'All up, sir,' to the first lieutenant, who in his turn reported, 'Officers and men all on deck, sir,' to the commodore, who thereupon gave an order to the chaplain to go on with the services.
"The courses were hauled up, main-topsail to the mast, band on the quarter-deck, colors half-mast, and all hands, officers and men, stood uncovered, looking silently and sadly upon the body as it lay upon the gang-boards in its white hammock, ready for the last rites. Solemnly and most impressively were the services read, and at the words, 'We commit his body to the deep,' a heavy splash was heard, and poor old Sadler had gone to his long home for ever. Some of us youngsters ran up in the lee main rigging to see him go down, and as we watched him go glimmering and glimmering down to a mere speck, we wondered where he was bound, and how long it would take him to fetch Davy Jones' locker on that tack.
"'Pipe down, sir,' says the commodore to Mr. Bispham; 'Pipe down, sir,' says Mr. Bispham to Mr. Alphabetical Gray, who was officer of the deck; 'Pipe down, sir,' says Mr. Gray to the gentleman of the watch; 'Pipe down, sir,' says this youngster to the boatswain; and then such a twitter of pipes followed this order, and all hands were piped down, while poor old Sadler was still off soundings, and going down as fast as the eighteen-pound shot would take him.
"Now, you know that people coming from a funeral on shore always have a gay sort of air, suppressed it may be, but still cropping out; and just so is it with sailors at sea; for, Sadler's body committed to the deep, all hands felt better: the fore and main tacks were hauled aboard, the main yard was filled away, and the jib sheet hauled aft, and we all settled down into every-day life, which, after all, is not half so monotonous on board a man-of-war as you might suppose.
"Well, as I have said, the weather was very hot, the surface of the water was as smooth as a mill-pond, the wind was all up and down the mast, and so the old ship was boxing the compass all to herself, and not making a foot of headway.
"At one bell in the first dog watch, Boyle, the ship's cook, reported the tea-water ready, and after this came the inevitable evening-quarters—and some old man-of-war's men would think the country was going to 'Jemmy Square-toes' stern first if they didn't have quarters—then down hammocks for the night at six bells, and after that just as much of fun, frolic, dance, song and yarn spinning as all hands wanted until eight bells, when the watch was called.
"John Moffitt, the sailing master, the best fellow in the ward-room mess, and a great favorite with the youngsters, was officer of the deck from six to eight o'clock; and my messmate, Perry Buckner, of Scott county, Kentucky, the most dare-devil midshipman of us all, was master's mate of the forecastle; Hammond, Marshall, Smith and I were the gentlemen of the Watch; Rodney Barlow was quartermaster at the 'con;' the lookouts had just been stationed; the men were singing, dancing, spinning yarns and otherwise amusing themselves about the decks, while the old ship was turning lazily around in the splendid moonlight as if admiring herself.
"Discipline, you know, is the very life of a man-of-war, and this must account for what now took place. Tom Edwards, a young foretopman, had the lee lookout, and as seven bells struck he sang out, 'Lee cat-head;' but the last syllable died away on his lips as his eyes rested upon an object—a white object—standing bolt upright in the water before him, about a hundred yards distant and broad off on the lee bow. Suppressing a strong desire to shriek, and recovering himself, he touched his hat and said, 'Mr. Buckner, will you step up here, sir, if you please?'
"'What is she, Edwards?' said Buckner, as he quickly mounted the hammock-rail.
"One look, a dip down, a shiver, and, O Lord! what did he see but old Sadler standing straight as a ramrod, and heading right for the ship!
"It took Buck a full minute to recover himself, and then, with one eye on the lee bow and the other on the quarter-deck, he walked aft and deliberately touching his cap, reported to Moffitt, 'Old Sadler broad off on the lee bow, sir.'
"'The d—— he is!' exclaimed Moffitt; but, checking himself, he said, 'Mr. Hammond, report Sadler's arrival to the commodore; and you, Mr. M——, report it to the first lieutenant, sir.'
"My eyes were as big as saucers as I rushed down the steerage ladder and into the ward-room, where I found the first lieutenant quietly seated reading over the black list; and when, with my heart in my throat, I said, 'Mr. Bispham, old Sadler is on the lee bow, sir,' he serenely replied, 'Very well, Mr. M—— I'll be on deck directly.'
"'O Lord!' said I to myself—'to take a ghost as easily as all that!' Bolting up the ladder on my way back to the deck, and trembling lest I should see the ghost popping his head in through one of the gun-deck ports, I ran into Hammond, who dodged me like a shot.
"When I got on deck the news was all out, for Tom Edwards couldn't stand it any longer, but had just yelled out, 'Ghost ho! ghost ho! Look out! stand from under! here he comes!' and bolted aft, scared out of his wits.
"In ten seconds all hands were on deck—ship's cook, yeoman, 'Jemmy Legs,' 'Jemmy Ducks,' 'Bungs,' Loblolly boy,' captain of the hold, and, by this time, all the officers too, with the midshipmen scuttling up the ladders as fast as their legs and hands could carry them.
"Moffitt had hauled up the courses and squared the main yard, as much to make a diversion as anything else, although the men thought it was to keep old Sadler from boarding us; and as they rushed up on deck they filled the booms; lee rigging, hammock—netting and every available spot from which a sight of the old fellow could be had.
"Very soon they saw that he was not approaching the ship: the old sinner was just turning and turning around in the water, like a fishing-cork, dancing away all to himself, while the moonlight, first on one side, and then on the other, in light and shadow, gave a queer sort of look to his features, sometimes sad and sometimes funny.
"After watching him for a few minutes, Bill Ellis, the second captain of the foretop, hailed him thus: 'Sadler, ahoy! What do you want?'
"No answer being received, one of the mizzentop boys suggested that the old man had come back for his bag and hammock, and that they ought to be thrown overboard to him; but all this was cut short by the appearance of the commodore on the quarter-deck, and upon him all eyes were turned as he stepped upon the port horseblock, where a good view could be had.
"Now, old Jess was as brave an old fellow as ever sailed a ship, but he did not fancy ghosts, and the knowledge that all hands were looking at him to see how he took it made him feel a little nervous; but with a firm voice he called for his night-glass, and when the quartermaster, with a touch of his hat, handed it to him, he quietly arranged the focus, and, as we all supposed, was about to point it at Sadler, who was still dancing away for dear life all to himself. But old Jess was too smart for that: he quietly directed his glass to another quarter, to gain a little time, and, gradually sweeping the horizon, brought it at last, with a tremor of mortal dread, to bear dead upon the ghost. Bless my soul! how the old gentleman shook! But recovering himself, with a big gulp in his throat he turned to the chaplain and said, 'Did you read the full service over him to-day, Mr. T——?'
"'I did, sir, as well as I can remember,' replied Mr. T.
"'Then, sir,' said the commodore, turning to Mr. Bispham and speaking in an authoritative tone, 'we must send a boat and bring him on board.'
"'O Lord! O Lord!—bring a ghost on board!' groaned the men.
"'Silence, fore and aft!' said Mr. Bispham, 'and call away the second cutter.'
"'Away there, you second cutters, away!' sung out the boatswain's mate. But they didn't 'away' one step, and we youngsters could hear the men growling out, 'What does the commodore want with old Sadler? This isn't his place: let the old man rip: he is dead and buried all right. We didn't ship to go cruising after ghosts: we shipped to reef topsails and work the big guns; and if old Jess wants old Sadler on board, he had better go after him himself.' Some said he had come back after his bag and hammock, and the best way was to let him have them, and then he would top his boom and clear out. Others said the purser had not squared off his account; and one of the afterguard was seen to tickle the mainmast and whistle for a breeze, to give the old fellow a wide berth. But it wouldn't do: discipline is discipline; and after a free use of the colt and a good deal of hazing, the boat's crew came aft, the cutter was lowered, and the men, with their oars up and eyes upon the ghost, were waiting the order to shove off, the bow oarsman having provided himself with a boarding-pike to 'fend off,' as he said, if the old man should fight.
"We youngsters knew that somebody else was needed in that boat, and that somebody was a midshipman with his side-arms; but not a boy of us said a word about it, and we were afraid even to catch the first lieutenant's eye, lest he should be reminded that no young officer had, as usual, been ordered to go; but the order came at last. When Moffitt asked the first lieutenant, 'What officer, sir, shall I send in that boat?' we scattered like a flock of birds, but all too late; for Mr. Bispham referred the matter to the commodore, who, with a twinkle in his eye, said, 'Who discovered the ghost, sir?'
"'Midshipman Buckner reported him, sir,' was the reply.
"'Then,' said the commodore, 'by priority of discovery he belongs to Mr. Buckner, who will take charge of the cutter and bring him on board.'
"I heard all this from my place behind the mizzen mast, and you may guess how glad I was not to have been selected; but a groan, a chattering of the teeth, a trembling and shaking of bones close by my side, caused me to look around, and there was poor Buck, with his priority honors thick upon him.
"'Get your side-arms, sir,' said Moffitt: 'take charge of the cutter and carry out the commodore's order.'
"'Ay, ay, sir!' said Buck, but oh with what a change in his voice! As he buckled on his sword I could see what a struggle he was making to feel brave. As he went over the gangway to get into the boat I caught his eye, and if you could have seen that forlorn look you would have pitied him; for there was old Sadler turning and turning in the water, looking first this way, and then the other, and, as Buck thought, just ready to hook on to him and carry him down among the dead men.
"It is no light matter to go up to a ghost, front face, full face, and look him in the eye; but what must it be when you have to go up to him backward, as that cutter's crew had to do while pulling their oars, leaving only Buck and the cox-swain to face him? They just couldn't do it, and at every stroke they would suddenly slew around on their thwarts and look at the old fellow, who seemed to them as big as an elephant, and just ready to clap on to them, boat and all, as soon as they turned to give another stroke. Poor fellows! they made but little headway, and what with catching crabs, fouling their oars, blasting old Sadler's eyes, and denouncing him generally (one fellow fairly yelled outright when the bow oarsman accidentally touched him), they had a hard pull of it; but still they made some progress, and when Buck sang out, 'Way enough,' every oar flew inboard, every man faced suddenly around, and with this the cutter keeled over, and, her bow touching old Sadler on his shoulder, ducked him out of sight for a second, at which all hands shouted, thinking that he had gone for ever; but in a moment more up he popped, fresh as a lark, higher than ever before, and this time right abreast of the stern-sheets, where he bobbed and bowed to Buck, at which, with a yell of terror, all hands went overboard, and, floundering in the water, begged for mercy. The cutter had some little headway, and this of course brought Sadler astern on the other quarter, and then there was a wild rush to get back into the boat, for fear the old fellow was doubling on them to make a grab.
"The commodore, hearing the row and fearing disaster, ordered another boat to the rescue, but ere it reached the spot, Buck had, in some manner, quieted his men, who, seeing the ghost still standing bolt upright in the water and dancing away as if nothing had happened to scare him, manned their oars again and pulled cautiously toward him; while he, with that changeable moonlight grin on his face, was bobbing up and down to the boat's crew, as if Buck were the commodore himself coming to pay him a visit.
"'Stand by, there in the bow, to hook on to him,' sang out Buck.
"'Ay, ay, sir! I'll fix him;' and with that, and a heavy expletive in regard to the old fellow's eyes, the bow oarsman slammed his boarding-pike right into the ghost, just abaft his left leg, and as the sharp steel touched the body, a whizzing sound, like the escape of steam, was heard, and without a word old Sadler vanished from sight for ever."
"But, captain, tell us what really brought the old gentleman back," said one of the auditors.
"Well, just think of that tight white hammock, the light weight of the shot, and the very hot weather—think, too, how easily a fishing-cork is balanced in the water by a very small sinker, and lastly how confined air will buoy up anything—and you have the whole secret of his coming back. Let that air suddenly escape, and you have the secret of his disappearance.
"Buck used to say that 'priority of discovery' was a good thing in the days of Columbus, but if it was to be continued in force in the United States navy, hang him if he should ever report another ghost, even if he should see him walking the quarter-deck with the speaking-trumpet under his arm."
R. D. MINOR.