Woven with the Ship: A Novel of 1865

Brady Cyrus Townsend
Woven with the Ship: A Novel of 1865

CHAPTER VI
The Water-Witch

We have a deeper sense of proprietorship in a thing we have earned by hard labor or gained by the exercise of our abilities than in that which has been given to us, has cost us nothing.

As Emily, walking close by Barry's side, giving him such assistance as was possible, looked with mingled pity and anxiety upon the white face of the man hanging limply back over the arms of the sailor, she was conscious that in her soul had arisen a new and curious sense of ownership in humanity, – the most satisfactory, yet disappointing, of our possessions. A strange and indefinable feeling surged in her breast as she thought hurriedly of the situation. A budding relationship – the deep relationship of services rendered, in fact – attached her inevitably to this stranger – if he were yet alive.

She flushed at the feeling, as if her privacy had been invaded, as she gazed upon him. Her thoughts ran riot in her bosom, her soul turning toward him, helpless, unconscious, water dripping from his torn, sodden clothing. Perhaps he was dead or dying. The thought gave her a sudden constriction of the heart. That would be untoward fate surely. It could not be.

She had saved him. The weak woman had been strong. Her heart leaped exultingly at that. He was hers by the divine right of service. The strange relationship had suddenly become a fact to her. Her arm still ached with the strain of holding him, yet she was glad of the pain. It was the inward and spiritual evidence of her ownership in that she had found and brought to shore. If he would only live!

As they walked she prayed.

She was not in love with him, of course, – not yet, – and yet she could scarcely analyze – hardly comprehend – her feelings. Her mind was in a whirl. Faint, exhausted physically, she did not yet see clearly. But he was there. She had brought him. This human bit of flotsam was hers – but for her he would have gone down forever in the dark waters. If he lived, what things might be? What might come? She admitted nothing, even to herself.

It was some distance from the landing-place to the top of the hill, and although the man they had rescued, albeit tall, was a slender young fellow, yet as the sailor toiled up the well-worn path he felt the weight of the inert body growing greater with every ascending step. Perhaps it would not have been so had he not previously exhausted himself in the desperate pull to gain the shore; but when at last he reached the porch, he felt that it would have been impossible for him to have carried his burden another pace. Indeed, had it not been for the assistance Emily had given him, he could not have managed it without a stop or two for rest. But he had plunged blindly on, something – an instinct of the future, perhaps – bidding him rid himself without delay of the growing oppression of his incubus. Not Sindbad had been more anxious to throw off his old man of the sea than he to cast down the man.

And Barry and Emily began to play at cross-purposes from that hour.

The man saved so hardly had as yet given no sign of life. When the three reached the porch, the sailor laid him down at the admiral's feet and stood panting, sweat beading on his bronzed brow. The old man, still wrapped in his cloak, stood on the steps, careless alike of the rising wind or the rain which had begun to fall.

"Well done!" he cried, extending his hand to them, as the sailor deposited his burden. "I never saw a boat better handled, girl! 'Twas a gallant rescue, Barry!"

"Oh, grandfather!" cried Emily, too anxious to heed approval, even from such a source; "is he dead, do you think?"

"I hope not; but we'll soon see. Call the servants, Emily. Barry, lift him up again and take him into my room."

"No, mine," exclaimed Emily, as she ran to call assistance. "I won't have you disturbed, and mine is right off the hall here."

"Very well. Lay him on the floor, Barry. And, Emily, bring me my flask. Bear a hand, all."

Presently the man was stretched out upon a blanket thrown upon the floor of Emily's room, and the admiral knelt down by his side. He felt over him with his practised fingers, murmuring the while:

"No bones broken apparently. I guess he'll be all right. Have you the flask there, daughter? This will bring him around, I trust," he added, as he poured the restoring liquid down the man's throat. "Barry, go you for Dr. Wilcox as quick as you can. Present my compliments to him, and ask him to come here at once. Shake a leg, man! Emily, loosen the man's collar – your fingers are younger than mine – and give him another swallow. He's worth a dozen dead men yet, I'm sure."

As he spoke the admiral rose to his feet and gave place to Emily. Very gently the girl did as the old man bade her, and presently the man extended before her opened his eyes and stared up at her vacantly, wonderingly, for a few moments at first, and then, with a dawning light of recognition in his eyes, he smiled faintly as he remembered. His first words might have been considered flippant, unworthy of the situation, but to the girl they seemed not inappropriate.

"The blue-eyed water-witch!" he murmured. "To be saved by you," he continued, half jestingly, – it was a brave heart which could find place for pleasantry then, she thought, – "and then to find you smiling above me."

At these whispered words what he still lacked in color flickered into Emily's face, and as he gazed steadily upon her, the flicker became a flame which suffused her cheeks. He had noticed her even in those death-fronting moments on the wreck.

"Are you better now?" she asked him in her confusion.

"Better, miss?" he answered, softly, yet not striving to rise; "I am well again. I came down to – "

"Silence, lad, silence fore and aft! Belay all until the surgeon comes, and you shall tell us all about it then," interrupted the admiral. "He'll be here in a moment now, I think, if Barry have good luck. Will you have another swallow of whiskey?"

"No, sir, thank you; I've had enough."

At that moment the sailor entered the hall, fairly dragging the fat little doctor in his wake.

"I fell foul of him just outside of the yard, your honor," said Barry, as he appeared in the door-way.

"'Fell foul of me!' I should think you did! You fell on me like a storm," cried the doctor, dropping his wet cloak in the passage-way and bustling into the room. "What is it, admiral? Are you – ?"

"I'm all right, doctor."

"It's not Miss Emily?"

"No, sir; I'm all right, too; but – "

"Oho!" said the doctor, his glance at last falling to the man extended on the floor; "this is the patient, is it? Well, young man, you look rather damp, I am sure. What's up?"

"Nothing seems to be up, sir," answered the man, smilingly, amusedly. "I seem to be down, though."

"I guess you're in pretty good shape, sir," said the doctor, laughingly, "if you can joke about it; and if you are down now, we'll soon have you up."

As he spoke, the physician knelt and examined his patient carefully.

"How did it happen, Miss Emily?" he asked, as he proceeded with his investigations.

"Why, doctor, we picked him up out of the water."

"We?"

"Yes, sir. Captain Barry and I."

"My sloop was wrecked on the rocks beyond the old ship," said the young man; "and when this young lady came along in a boat I jumped, and as I am not quite recovered from a wound I got at Mobile Bay, I suppose I lost consciousness from the shock. I'm all right now, though."

"I think so, too," said the doctor; "we'll get these wet clothes off you in a jiffy, and then I'll give you something, and in the morning you'll hardly know you've been in danger."

"I shall never forget that I was in danger this time, sir," said the young man, addressing the doctor, but looking fixedly at the young girl.

"No, of course not; but why particularly at this time?"

"Because I was saved by – "

"Oh, that's it, is it? Faith, I'd be willing to be half drowned myself to be saved in that way. Meanwhile, do you withdraw, Miss Emily, and we'll get him ready for bed. Where is he to lie?"

"Here," said the girl.

"In your room?"

"Certainly."

"I protest, sir," said the man, sitting up with astonishing access of vigor.

"Nobody protests when Miss Emily commands anything. Here you'll stay, sir!" said Barry, gruffly, as the girl left the room.

The doctor and the sailor soon tucked him away in bed, the admiral looking on. As they undressed him they noticed a long scar across his breast where a shell from Fort Morgan had keeled him over. The doctor examined it critically.

"That was a bad one," he said, touching the wound deftly with his pudgy yet knowing finger. "That'll be the one you spoke of, I take it?"

"Yes, sir," answered the young man; "it's been a long time in healing. I feel the effect of it yet sometimes."

"But you'll get over it in time, young man, I'm thinking," said the kindly little country doctor.

"I hope so, sir."

The patient was thin and pale from the effects of the wound, which, as he said, had been a long time healing. It was evident that he had not yet recovered his strength or his weight, either, or the burden on Captain Barry would have been heavier than it was.

"Did you say," said the admiral, as they prepared to leave him, "that you had been at Mobile Bay?"

"Yes, sir."

"What ship were you on?"

"The Hartford, sir."

"Bless me!" exclaimed the old man; "with Dave Farragut?"

"Yes, sir; I had that honor."

"Why, I knew that boy when he was a midshipman. I – "

"Now, admiral, excuse me for giving commands in your presence, but you know there are times when the doctor rules the ship. This young man must be left alone, and, after the excitement, I think you had better go to bed – excuse me, I mean turn in – yourself," interposed the physician, peremptorily.

 

"Hark to the storm!" said the old man, turning to the window, his thoughts diverted for the moment from the accident and his guest – it needed but little to turn his mind to the ship at any time or under any circumstances. "Mark the flash of the lightning, hear the thunder, doctor! She'll be sore racked to-night!"

He peered anxiously out into the darkness over the Point.

"Come, come, admiral."

"Nay, sir. I must wait for another flash to see whether the old ship still stands. Ay, there she is! Well, 'twill not be long; and were it not for Emily, I'd say, thank God! Good-night, lad. A boy with Farragut, and he a boy with me! Well, well! Good-night; sleep well, sir."

Long time the veteran lay awake listening to the wind and waiting for the crash of the ship. And in the room above, where the servants had made a bed for Emily, another kept sleepless watch, though she thought but little of the storm; or, if she did, it was with thankfulness for what it had brought her.

How handsome he had looked, even with that death-like pallor upon his brown sunburnt cheek, as she had knelt beside him! Had the waves of the tempest indeed brought the long-expected, long-dreamed-of lover to her feet? And he was a sailor; he had been with Farragut; he had been wounded in the service of his country – a hero! And what had he said? "Saved by a blue-eyed water-witch!" How delightful to think on! And he would never forget the rescue because she had done it! He jested, surely; yet could the words be true?

How different he was from the young men of the village! Even the few officers of the different detachments of volunteers which had successively garrisoned the fort were not as he. How different from Captain Barry, too – alas, poor old sailor! Her grandfather, now, might have been like him when he was younger.

What a storm it was! How the wind howled around the corners of the house! What had he come there for? Strangers rarely visited the quiet little town. What business or pleasure had brought him to the village? Was the ship braving the storm? If the ship went down, her grandfather would go, too, and perhaps Captain Barry. Who would care for her then? What was that young man's name? Pity he had not mentioned it. "A blue-eyed water-witch!"

She drifted off to sleep.

Down upon the deck of the old ship, heedless of the storm, Captain Barry paced restlessly up and down. What had he done it for? What fool's impulse had made him obey her sharp command? 'Twas his arm that had held the boat under iron control; 'twas his powerful stroke that had brought it near enough to enable the man to make the leap with the chance of safety; and he had carried him up the hill. The increasing weight of the incumbrance but typified the growing heaviness of his heart. The man was one of the admiral's class, – a gentleman, an officer, a man who had been wounded in the service of his country, a hero. How he had stared at Emily when his senses came back to him! He, Barry, was only a common sailor, a blue-jacket, the admiral's servitor, Miss Emily's dog, old enough to be her father, – a fool!

He stood up in the darkness and stretched out his arms to heaven, – what voiceless, wordless prayer in his lonely old heart? The storm beat full upon him. His mind was filled with foreboding, regret, jealousy, anguish. Why had the man come there? Was it for Emily? What should any man come there for if not for her?

But, stay; he was a sailor. Perhaps he had come for the ship! The war was over, retrenchment the cry. Poor Barry had heard strange rumors. There was no sleep for him that night.

CHAPTER VII
The Home of the Sea-Maiden

Mr. Richard Revere was a young lieutenant in the navy of the United States. He came of an ancient and honorable family, possessed of wealth and station. He had graduated from the Naval Academy in 1863, and, by an act of daring gallantry in cutting out a blockade-runner, had easily won a lieutenant's commission. When Farragut sailed into Mobile Bay on that hot August morning in 1864, the young man stood on the deck by his side. A Blakely shell from Fort Morgan had seriously wounded him, and this wound, coupled with a long siege of fever subsequently, had almost done for him.

Although over a year had elapsed since that eventful day, he had by no means regained his strength, although he seemed now on the fair road to recovery. Anxious to be on duty again after this long period of enforced idleness, he had recently applied for orders, and had been detailed to proceed to Lake Ontario and make arrangements for the sale, or other disposal, of the Susquehanna. His mother owned a cottage on one of the Thousand Isles, and the distance was, therefore, inconsiderable. When the orders had reached him there, he determined to sail down to Sewell's Harbor in a little yacht which he had chartered for lake cruising, instead of taking the longer and more tedious journey by land.

He had reached his destination in the way which has been told. It was imprudent in him to have attempted to make the mouth of an unknown harbor in such a storm, and he had nearly paid the penalty for his folly with his life. Exhausted by his adventure, he fell speedily into a sound and refreshing slumber, his last thought being of the radiant face bowed over him when he had opened his eyes in the very room in which he now sought rest.

He awoke in the morning feeling very much better. On a chair opposite the bed lay a suit of clothes. He glanced at the garments curiously and observed that they were the different articles of a blue-jacket's uniform. They evidently belonged to that sailor-man who had assisted in his rescue. They were new and spotlessly neat; certainly his best suit. His own uniform was nowhere to be seen. It must have been badly torn and, of course, thoroughly soaked by his adventure. His clothes, probably, were not yet fit to put on. If he were to get up at all he must make use of these. Well, it would not be the first time that he had worn a seaman's clothes. They reminded him of his cadet days, and so he arose, somewhat painfully be it known, and dressed himself, curiously surveying the room as he did so.

It was a strange room, he thought, for a young girl, as he remembered that it belonged to her. Her? How indefinite that was! He wished he knew her name. He wondered whether it were beautiful enough to be appropriate. He hoped so. The chamber was not at all like that of a young woman. For instance, there was a deadly looking harpoon standing in the corner. He picked up the sinister weapon and examined it.

"Queer toy, that thing, for a girl," he murmured; "quite a proper weapon for a whaler, though."

Its barbs were as sharp and keen as a razor. On the wooden staff the letters "J. B." were roughly carved. Were those her initials? Pshaw, of course not! But whose? He experienced quite a thrill of – it could not be jealousy! That was absurd.

"What's this? A model of a ship. By Jove! I believe it's the old Susquehanna herself, – the ship I am come to sell! And here's a shark's tooth rudely carved. Oars in the other corner, too. And a fish-net and lines! This bunch of wild flowers, though, and the contents of this bureau mark the woman; but I'm blessed if there isn't a boatswain's call, laniard and all! That's about the prettiest laniard I ever saw," he continued, critically examining the knots and strands and Turk's heads. "Have I stumbled into Master Jack's quarters by mistake, or – oh, I see how it is. I suppose that old sailor has loaded her with these treasures. He probably adores her – who could help it? And the admiral, too. Now, what's this, I wonder? What a queer-looking sword!"

He lifted up the weapon, which lay on a wooden shelf between the windows, crossed pistols of ancient make hanging above it beneath a fine old painting of a handsome young naval officer, in the uniform of a captain of the 1812 period. The leather scabbard was richly and artistically mounted in silver, but the hilt was a rough piece of unpolished, hammered iron. He drew the weapon from the sheath. The blade was of the most exquisite quality, beautifully chased, a rare bit of Toledo steel, handsome enough to throw a connoisseur into ecstasy. He tested it, cautiously at first, and then boldly; it was a magnificent weapon, tempered to perfection. Such a blade as a king or conqueror might have wielded, – and yet, that coarse iron hilt! What could it mean? He thrust it back reverently into its scabbard and laid it down, and then completed his toilet.

When he was dressed, he took a long look at himself in the little, old-fashioned mirror swinging between two lyre-shaped standards on the dresser, and smiled at the picture. In height he was, perhaps, as tall as the sailor, but in bulk there was no comparison. He laughed at the way the clothes hung about him. Yet the dashing, jaunty uniform was not ill adapted to set off his handsome face. It was complete, even to sheath-knife and belt. On the chair lay the flat cap, bearing on its ribbon, in letters of gold, the name Susquehanna. He put the cap on and went out on the porch.

Captain Barry was standing at the foot of the steps leading from the porch, looking at the ship. It was early morning.

"My man," said the young officer, meaning to be entirely friendly and cordial, as he was profoundly grateful, yet unable entirely to keep the difference of rank and station out of his voice and manner, – a condescension which irritated the sailor beyond expression. They were both dressed exactly alike, and certainly physically the older was the better man. He had lived long enough in the society of the girl and the old man to have developed some of the finer feelings of his nature, too. He shook himself angrily, therefore, as the other spoke.

"My man, you lay me under double obligation. You and your golden-haired mistress presented me with my life last night, and now you 'paint the lily' – gad, that's a good simile, isn't it?" he chuckled to himself – "by giving me your clothes. How am I to acquit myself of all I owe you?"

"Sir," said the old man, grimly, knuckling his forehead, with a sea-scrape of his foot, more as a matter of habit than as a token of respect, "you owe me nothing."

He turned abruptly, and went around the house without looking back.

"Queer duck, that," soliloquized the young man, staring after him in amazement; "seems to be mad about something. Mad at me, perhaps. I wonder why? Well, those old shellbacks are apt to take quaint notions. Never mind; let him do what he likes. Where would you be, Mr. Dick Revere, if it had not been for him and the girl? How funny I must look, though! I wonder whether the apparel becomes the man? I flatter myself I have given the proper hitch to the tie. It is 'a touch of wild civility that doth bewitch me,'" he quoted. "I wish I had brought that bo's'n's whistle out. I'd like to sound a call or two."

He drifted off into a brown study, thinking hard in this manner.

"I wonder what Josephine would say if she could see me now? Is all our difference of rank but a matter of uniform? By Jove! I forgot all about her. I don't believe I've thought of her since I left them; yet, if the novels are right, I should have been thinking of her when I stood on the deck of the yacht expecting every moment would be my last. I was thinking of that girl in the boat, though. Wasn't she splendid? Plucky, pretty – well! Gracious me, Richard Revere, at the age of twenty-four you are surely not going to fall in love with the first woman you see, especially since you have been engaged to Josephine Remington pretty much ever since you were born, – or ever since she was born, which was four years later. But I swear I'd give a year of Josephine's cold, classic, beautiful regularity for a minute of – pshaw, don't be a fool! I'll go and look at the yacht. I wonder whether anything's left of her? Nobody would think there had been a storm of any kind to look at the lake to-day. What a lovely morning!"

Indeed, the wind had gone down to a gentle breeze, and the surface of the lake was tossing in thousands of merry little waves, their white crests sparkling in the sunlight.

"The old ship is still standing," he continued, soliloquizing again, as he walked toward the bluff. "I suppose it will come awfully hard on the old man when he finds out that the government is going to sell her. What did they tell me his name was? Somebody or other distinguished; I forget who. Must have been a fine old chap in his day. What was it he said when he looked out of the window before he bade me good-night? This is going to be rather a tough sort of a job, I'm afraid, and I don't half like it."

 

He had reached the hill by this time, and, feeling a little tired, he sat down on the steps overlooking the sea. There, below him on the Point, stood the ship-of-the-line. An imposing picture, indeed. He had been too busy the night before to notice it. He stared at it with growing interest, and a feeling of pity, for whom, for what, he could scarcely say, slowly rose in his heart.

"Poor old ship!" he murmured.

A ragged mass of fallen timber on the lee side proclaimed that some portion of her had been carried away during the storm of the night, – and she had little left to spare. There, too, on the reef beyond, were the remains of the Josephine, battered into a shapeless ruin.

"Well, that was a close shave; the Josephine will never carry sail again. What melancholy pictures!" he said, thoughtfully; "poor little boat, too! I've had many a good time on her, and now I – But I'd cheerfully give a dozen yachts," he continued, with the reckless hyperbole of youth, "to be rescued by – "

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