The wife of the admiral, to whom he had brought the flags of the two British ships on that memorable cruise, had long since departed this life. Her daughter, too, who had married somewhat late in life, had died in giving birth to a girl, and this little maiden, Emily Sanford by name, in default of other haven or nearer relationship, had been brought, when still an infant in arms, to the white house on the hill, to be taken care of by the old admiral. In the hearts of both the old men she divided affection with the ship.
With the assistance of one of the admiral's distant connections, a faithful old woman, also passed to the enjoyment of her reward long since, Emily Sanford had been carried through the troubles and trials incident to early childhood. At first she had gone with other little children to the quaint red school-house in the village. She had been a regular attendant until she had exhausted its limited capacity for imparting knowledge. After that the admiral, a man of keen intelligence, of world-wide observation, and of a deeply reflective habit of mind, had completed her education himself, upon such old-fashioned lines as his experience suggested. She had been an apt pupil indeed, and the results reflected great credit upon his sound, if somewhat unusual, methods of training, or would have reflected had there been any one to see.
In all her life Emily Sanford had never been away from her grandfather for a single day; she had actually never left that little town, and, except in school-time, she had not often left the Point. Although just out of her teens, she was not old enough to have become discontented – not yet. She was as childlike, as innocent, as unworldly and unsophisticated a maiden as ever lived, – and beautiful as well. It was Prospero and Miranda translated to the present. The old admiral adored his granddaughter. If the ship was his Nemesis, Emily was his fortune.
As for Barry the sailor, – and it were injustice to the brave old seaman to think of him as Caliban, – he worshipped the ground the girl walked on. He was in love with her. A rude old man of fifty in love with a girl of twenty; a girl immeasurably above him in birth, station, education – in everything! It was surprising! Had any one known it, however, it would not have seemed grotesque, – only pitiful. Barry himself did not know it. He was too humble and too ignorant for self-examination, for subtle analysis. He loved, and he did not comprehend the meaning of the word! Even the wisest fail to solve the mysteries of the heart.
Although the veteran seaman was too ignorant of love rightly to characterize his passion, it was nevertheless a true one. It was not the feeling of a father, nor of a companion, nor yet that of a servant, though it partook in some measure of all three. That was an evidence of the genuineness of his feeling. Nothing noble, no feeling that is high, self-sacrificing, devoted, is foreign to love that is true, and love is the most comprehensive of the passions – it is a complete obsession. Captain Barry would have given his soul for Emily Sanford's happiness, and rejoiced in the bestowal.
He cherished no hopes, held no aspirations, dreamed no dreams concerning any future relationship. He was just possessed with an inexplicable feeling for her. A feeling that expected nothing, that asked nothing, that hoped for nothing but the steady happiness of being near her. To be in sight, in sound, in touch, that was all, that was enough. The sea in calmer mood gives no suggestion of potential storms. Barry's love was the acme of self-abnegation. If he had ever reached the covetous point he would have realized that she was not for him. He never did.
He loved her with a love beside which even his devotion to the old admiral, the passionate affection he bore for the old ship, were trifles. The girl had grown into his heart. Many a time he had carried her about in his arms when she was a baby. He had played with her as a child; she could always call a smile to his lips; he had cared for her as a young girl, he had served her as a woman.
He, too, had been happy to contribute to her education as he had been able. There was a full-rigged model of the Susquehanna in her room in the white house. He had made it for her. It was a perfect replica, complete, finished in every detail; so the ship might have looked if she had ever been put in commission. Emily knew every rope, every sheet, line, and brace upon it. She could knot and splice, box the compass, and every sailor's weather rhyme was familiar to her. She could handle a sail-boat as well as he, and with her strong young arms pulled a beautiful man-o'-war stroke. He had taught her all these things. When study hours were over and play-time began, the two together had explored the coast-line for miles in every direction.
So far as possible he had gratified every wish that she expressed. If a flower grew upon the face of an inaccessible cliff and she looked at it with a carelessly covetous glance, he got it for her, even at the risk of his life. He followed her about, when she permitted, as a great Newfoundland dog might have done, and was ever ready at her beck and call. His feeling towards her was of so exalted a character that he never ventured upon the slightest familiarity; he would have recoiled from such an idea; yet had there been any to mark, they might have seen him fondle the hem of her dress, lay his bronzed cheek upon her footprint in the sands, when he could do so without her knowing it.
There was no man in the village with whom Emily could associate on terms of equality. The admiral had come from a proud old family, and all its pride of birth and station was concentrated in his last descendant. Simply as she had been reared, she could not stoop to association with any beneath the best; it was part of her grandfather's training. He was of a day when democratic iconoclasm was confined to state papers, and aristocracy still ruled the land by right divine, even though the forms of government were ostensibly republican. There were some quaint old novels in the library, which the girl had read and re-read, however, and, as she was a woman, she had dreamed of love and lovers from over the sea, and waited.
Her life, too, had been bound up with the ship. Not that she feared an end when it ended, but she often wondered what would happen to her when it fell. What would she do when the admiral was gone? And Captain Barry also? Who would take care of her then? What would her life be in that great world of which she dreamed beyond that sparkling wave-lit circle of the horizon? Who would care for her then? That lover who was coming? Ah, well, time would bring him. Somewhere he lived, some day he would appear. With the light-heartedness of youth she put the future by and lived happily, if expectantly, in the present.
One early autumn evening in 1865 the sun sank dull and coppery behind banks of black clouds which held ominous portent of a coming storm. The old admiral sat in a large arm-chair on the porch leaning his chin upon his cane, peering out toward the horizon where the distant waters already began to crisp and curl in white froth against the blackness beyond. Emily, a neglected book in her lap, sat on the steps of the porch at his feet, idly gazing seaward. The sharp report of the sunset gun on the little platform on the brow of the hill had just broken the oppressive stillness which preceded the outburst of the tempest.
Having carefully secured the piece with the thoroughness of a seaman to whom a loose gun is a potential engine of terrible destruction, Barry ran rapidly down the hill, clambered up on the high poop of the ship, and hauled down the colors. As the flag, looking unusually bright and brave against the dark background of the cloud-shrouded sky, came floating down, the admiral rose painfully to his feet and bared his gray hairs in reverent salute. Emily had been trained like the rest, and, following the admiral's example, she laid aside her book and stood gracefully erect, buoyant, and strong by her grandfather's side.
Old age and bright youth, the past with its history, memories, and associations, the future with all its possibilities and dreams, alike saluted the flag.
They made a pretty picture, thought Captain Barry, as he unbent the flag, belayed the halliards, and gathered up the folds of bunting upon the deck, rolling the colors into a small bundle which he placed in a chest standing against the rail at the foot of the staff. It was a nightly ceremony which had not been intermitted since the two came to the Point. Sometimes the admiral was unable to be present when the flag was formally hoisted in the morning, but it was rare indeed that night, however inclement the weather, did not find him on the porch at evening colors.
The smoke of the discharge and the faint acrid smell of the powder – both pleasant to the veterans – yet lingered in the still air as Barry came up the hill. He stopped before the foot of the porch, stood with his legs far apart, as if balancing to the roll of a ship, knuckled his forehead in true sailor-like fashion, and solemnly reported that the colors were down. The admiral acknowledged the salute and, in a voice still strong in spite of his great age, followed it with his nightly comment and question:
"Ay, Barry, and handsomely done. How is the ship?"
"She's all right, your honor."
"Nothing more gone?"
"I thought I heard a crash last night in the gale."
"Not last night, sir. Everything's all ship-shape, leastways just as it was since that last piece of the to'gallant fo'k'sl was carried away last week."
"That's good, Barry. I suppose she's rotting though, still rotting."
"Ay, ay, sir, she is; an' some of the timbers you can stick your finger into."
"But she's sound at the heart, Captain Barry," broke in Emily, cheerily.
"Sound at the heart, Miss Emily, and always will be, I trust."
"Ay, lassie," said the old admiral, "we be all sound at the heart, we three; but when the dry rot gets into the timber, sooner or later the heart is bound to go. Now, to-night, see yonder, the storm is approaching. How the wind will rack the old timbers! I lie awake o' nights and hear it howling around the corners of the house and wait for the sound of the crashing of the old ship. I've heard the singing of the breeze through the top-hamper many a time, and have gone to sleep under it when a boy; but the wind here, blowing through the trees and about the ship, gets into my very vitals. Some of it will go to-night, and I shall be nearer the snug harbor aloft in the morning."
"Oh, don't say that, grandfather! Sound at the heart, the old ship will brave many a tempest, and you will, as well."
"Ay, girl, but not many like yonder brewing storm. Old things are for still days, not for tempests. What think ye of the prospect, Barry?"
"It's got an ugly look, your honor, in the nor'west. There's wind a plenty in them black clouds. I wish we'd a good frigate under us and plenty o' sea room. I lies on the old ship sometimes an' feels her shiver in the gale as if she was ashamed to be on shore. That'll be a hard blow, sir."
"Ay," said the admiral, "I remember it was just such a night as this once when I commanded the Columbus. She was a ship-of-the-line, Emily, pierced for one hundred guns, and when we came into the Mediterranean Admiral Dacres told me that he had never seen such a splendid ship. I was uneasy and could not sleep, – good captains sleep lightly, child, – so I came on deck about two bells in the mid-watch. Young Farragut, God bless him! was officer of the watch. The night was calm and quiet but very dark. It was black as pitch off to starboard. There was not a star to be seen. 'Mr. Farragut,' I said, 'you'd better get the canvas off the ship.' Just then a little puff struck me in the cheek, and there was a sort of a deep sigh in the still night. Barry, your father, old John, was at the wheel, and a better hand at steering a ship I never saw. 'Call all hands, sir,' I said, sharply, 'we've no time to spare,' and by gad, – excuse me, Emily, – we'd no more than settled away the halliards when the squall struck us. If it hadn't been for the quick handling and ready seamanship of that youngster, and I saw that he was master of the thing and let him have his own way, we'd have gone down with all standing. As it was – "
The speech of the old man was interrupted by a vivid flash of lightning, followed by a distant clap of thunder. In another moment the black water of the lake was churned into foam, and the wind swept upon them with the violence of a hurricane. As soon as the storm burst forth, Barry sprang upon the porch to assist the old admiral into the house.
"No," he said; "I'm feeling rather well this evening. Let me face the storm awhile. Fetch me my heavy cloak. That's well. Now pull the chair forward where I can get it full and strong. How good it feels! 'Tis like old times, man. Ah, if there were only a touch of salt in the gale!"
Closely wrapped in a heavy old-fashioned boat cloak which Barry brought him, he sat down near the railing of the porch, threw up his old head, and drank in the fresh gale with long breaths which brought with them pleasant recollections. The sailor stood on one side of the veteran, Emily on the other; youth and strength, man and woman, at the service of feeble age.
"See the ship!" muttered the old man; "how she sways, yet she rides it out! Up with the helm!" he cried, suddenly, as if she were in a seaway with the canvas on her. "Force your head around to it, ye old witch! Drive into it! You're good for many a storm yet. Bless me," he added, presently, "I forgot; yet 'tis still staunch. Ha, ha! Sound at the heart, and will weather many a tempest yet!"
"Oh, grandfather, what's that?" cried the girl; "look yonder!"
She left the side of the admiral, sprang to the edge of the porch, and pointed far out over the lake. A little sloop, its mainsail close reefed, was beating in toward the harbor. The twilight had so far faded in the storm that at the distance from them the boat then was they could scarcely distinguish more than a slight blur of white upon the water. But, flying toward them before the storm, she was fast rising into view.
"Where is it, child?" asked the old man, looking out into the growing darkness.
"There! Let your eye range across the ship; there, beyond the Point. She's running straight upon the sunken rocks."
"I sees it, Miss Emily," cried Barry, shading his eyes with his hand; "'tis a yacht, the mains'l's close reefed. She looks like a toy. There's a man in it. He's on the port tack, thinkin' to make the harbor without goin' about."
"He'll never do it," cried the girl, her voice shrill with apprehension. "He can't see the sunken ledge running out from the Point. He's a stranger to these waters, evidently."
"I see him, too," said the admiral. "God, what a storm! How he handles that boat! The man's a sailor, every inch of him!"
The cutter was nearer now, so near that the man could easily be seen. She was coming in with racing speed in spite of her small spread of canvas. The lake was roaring all about her and the wind threatened to rip the mast out of the little boat, but the man held her up to it with consummate skill, evidently expecting to gain an entrance to the harbor, where safety lay, on his present tack. This he could easily have done had it not been for a long, dangerous ledge of sunken rocks which extended out beyond Ship House Point. Being under water, it gave little sign of its presence to a mariner until one was right upon it. In his excitement the admiral scrambled to his feet, stepped to the rail of the porch, and stood leaning over it. Presently he hollowed his hand and shouted with a voice of astonishing power for so old a man:
"Down with your helm, boy! Hard down!"
But the stranger, of course, could not hear him, and the veteran stood looking with a grave frown upon his face as that human life, down on the waters beneath him, struggled for existence. It was not the first time he had watched life trembling in the balance – no; nor seen it go in the end. Emily's voice broke in murmurs of prayer, while Barry stared like the admiral.
Presently the man in the boat glanced up and caught sight of the party. He was very near now and coming on gallantly. He waved his hand, and was astonished to see them frantically gesture back at him. A warning! What could their movements mean?
He peered ahead into the growing darkness; the way seemed to be clear, yet something was evidently wrong. What could it be? Ah! He could not weather the Point. With a seaman's quick decision, he jammed the helm over.
"Oh, grandfather!" screamed Emily in the old man's ear; "can't something be done?"
"Nothing, child; nothing! He can't hear, he can't see, he does not know."
"It's awful to see him rush smilingly down to certain death!" exclaimed the girl, wringing her hands. "Captain Barry, can't you do something?"
"There goes his helm," said the admiral; "he realizes it at last. About he goes! Too late! too late!"
"Oh, Captain Barry, you must do something!" cried Emily.
"There's nothin' to do, Miss Emily."
"Yes, there is. We'll get the boat," she answered, springing from the steps as she spoke and running down the hill like a young fawn. The sailor instantly followed her, and in a moment they disappeared under the lee of the ship.
As the practised eye of the admiral had seen, the tiny yacht was too near the rocks to go about and escape them. She was caught in the trough of the sea before she had gathered way on the other tack, and flung upon the sunken ledge, broadside on. The mast snapped like a pipe-stem. After a few violent shocks she was hurled over on her beam ends, lodged securely on the rocks, and began to break up under the beating of the angry sea. A few moments and she would be beaten to pieces. The man was still there, however, the water breaking over him. He seemed to have been hurt, but clung tenaciously to the wreck of the boat until he recovered himself a little, and then rose slowly and stood gazing upon the tossing waters, seething and whirling about the wreck of his boat.
There was, during high winds, a dangerous whirlpool right in front of the reefs and extending between them and the smooth waters of the harbor. The water was beating over the rocks and fairly boiling before him. A man could not swim through it; could, indeed, scarcely enter it and live – even a boat would find it difficult, if not impossible. Things looked black to the shipwrecked man. He stood in hopeless hesitation, doom reaching for him on either hand. He could neither go nor stay with safety. Yet he apparently made up his mind at last to go and die, if need be, struggling.
"Don't try the whirlpool, boy," said the admiral softly to himself, as he looked down upon the scene. "You could never make it in this sea. Say a prayer, lad; 'tis all that is left you. By heaven! A noble girl, my own child! And a brave oar, too! Steady, Barry, steady! Don't come too near! Your skiff can't live in such a sea. Merciful God! can they do it?" continued the veteran, as the light skiff shot out from the lee of the Point and, with Barry at the oars and Emily at the helm, cautiously made its way toward the whirlpool.
The instant they got out from the lee of the Point the full force of the storm struck them, although they were still within the shelter of the harbor. But they struggled through it, for a stronger pair of arms never pulled oars and more skilful hands than those on that little skiff never guided a boat. Barry's strokes were as steady and powerful as if he had been a steam propeller, and not even the admiral himself could have steered the boat with greater dexterity than did the girl.
The man on the wrecked cutter saw them when the admiral did. Evidently he was a sailor, too, for he knew exactly what they intended to do. The two on the boat brought the skiff as near the rocks where the wreck of the cutter lay as they dared, – they were almost in the whirlpool, in fact, – and then Emily, gathering the yoke-lines in her left hand, with the other signalled him to jump. Nodding his head, he leaped far out over the whirling waves toward the boat. It was his only chance.
"A gallant lad, a brave boy!" exclaimed the admiral, as he saw the man spring from the wreck. "I believe they'll save him yet. No, by heavens! he's struck on one of the reefs! Is he gone? He rises! He's in the whirlpool! He strikes out feebly; the waves go over his head! No, he rises again! They have him! Well done, Emily; well pulled, Barry!"
Taking a desperate chance, the girl, seeing that the man was practically helpless, for he was swimming feebly and apparently scarcely able to keep his head up, boldly sheered the boat into the whirlpool and then turned her about. The man, retaining his self-possession, seized the stern with his uninjured hand. Emily leaned down and caught him by the coat collar, and then Barry pulled his strongest to escape from the twisting grip of the little maelstrom.
Emily steered the boat with one hand and with the other held on to the stranger. It was, of course, impossible to get him into the boat. Presently he fainted and hung a dead weight on her arm. The admiral watched them, praying fervently for their success. It was a terrible pull for the old sailor and a terrible strain on the young woman. Again and again she thought she would have to release the man dragging astern. Her arm was almost jerked from her body, yet she held on with grim determination, steering the boat as best she could with her single hand.
Barry pulled until the sweat beaded his forehead. His muscles stood out like whipcords. For a few moments he feared that he could not do it; but he looked at the resolute figure in the stern-sheets, the girl he loved, and that nerved his arms. Presently – and it seemed hours to both – he got the boat out of the whirlpool and into the comparatively smooth water under the lee of the Point. After a few weary strokes the keel grated upon the shore.
The sailor stepped out, made fast the painter, waded back to where the man lay in the water, lifted him up with the assistance of Emily, and slowly made his way up the hill, carrying him in his arms.