Woven with the Ship: A Novel of 1865

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

CHAPTER X
Facing World-Old Problems

When the lights in the house were all out, and they had all gone to their rest or their restlessness, to their dreams or their oblivion, the sailor returned to his ship. Lighting his lantern, that hung in the sheltered corner aft where he slung his hammock, he pulled from the breast of his shirt a little bundle of water-stained papers. One was a long, official-looking envelope, bearing the stamp of the Navy Department, and evidently containing an order or an important communication. Barry had often seen such envelopes addressed to the admiral. The others, if he could judge from the outside, were private letters, and the envelopes bore, he thought, a woman's handwriting. He arrived at this last conclusion instinctively, for he was without familiarity with such things; he had scarcely ever received a letter in his fifty years of life.

He had found them that morning on the shore by the landing, where they had fallen from the pocket of Revere's coat the night before. Instead of handing them to the young man, he had retained them; moved by what idea that they might be of value to him some day, who could say?

The envelopes had all been opened, and nothing prevented him from examining the contents. He was but a rude sailor; the niceties and refinements of other ranks of life were not for him, yet he hesitated to read the documents. Two or three times he half drew one of the letters from its envelope only to thrust it resolutely back. Miss Emily would not have read them, nor the admiral either; that he knew. Finally he gathered up the handful, put them in the locker near where he stood, and turned the key. He would not read them, but he would not return them, either.

Ah, Barry, 'tis not alone hesitant woman who loses!

He had won a partial advantage, the first skirmish in a battle which was to be renewed with increasing force with every passing hour. He would have given the world to have examined those documents and papers. They would tell him something of the errand of the man, perhaps; but he had not reached the breaking point, – not yet, although, under the influence of his furious jealousy and consequent animosity, he was not far from it. Unconsciously he contrasted Revere with himself, and suffered keenly in the ever-growing realization of his disadvantage. Old, common, rude, lonely, faithful, that was all, – and it was not enough.

As for Revere, the loss of the letters, which he had discovered when he put on his own uniform, annoyed him somewhat, although he did not consider it serious. That afternoon he had written to the Navy Department detailing his accident and asking that new orders be made out for him. He had also written to his mother, lightly mentioning his adventure and his lost baggage, and directing that other clothing be sent him immediately by his man. In this letter he had enclosed a short note for Josephine. In neither of them did he dwell much upon Emily Sanford.

Of the trio in the house he was one to whom oblivion did not come readily that night. He was facing a very serious crisis in his life. He had been betrothed to Josephine Remington, a far-off connection of his mother, since his graduation, and the betrothal was only the carrying out of a plan which had long been agreed upon between the respective families. The engagement was a matter of general notoriety, and was an accepted fact among their many friends. In the absence of any other affection, he had never realized that he had not loved Josephine as he should, and never suspected, until he had felt the touch of genuine passion, and had become thereby an authority upon the subject, that she did not love him either.

But what was to be done was a grave question. Was it right for him to make love to Emily Sanford, which he had certainly done, by implication at least, and which he certainly wanted to do directly and unequivocally, under the circumstances? or, was it right to allow Emily Sanford to fall in love with him, which, without vanity, he felt she might do, and which he fervently hoped with all his soul she would do, while he was engaged to Josephine? It certainly was not right. That was a conclusion about which there could be no other opinion.

He finally resolved that he would treat Emily Sanford with proper reserve, and circumspectly watch his conduct toward her for the present. Perhaps it would be best, after all, to try to put her out of his heart and keep to his engagement his mind suggested faintly. That was impossible he felt in his heart. It was Emily or nothing. No, he could not and he would not. He must at once secure a release from the one so that he could have the right to woo the other honorably and openly.

Yet, how to be free? Could he ask Josephine to release him? What would his mother think of such a demand, and how would his conduct in the affair be regarded by his friends? And yet he could not carry out his engagement. That was final. In one moment the delusion of years which he had accepted – nay, even encouraged – with a youth's indifference had been swept away. Love had smitten him; his eyes, too, had been opened. Whatever betided, there was but one woman in the world for him. Yet he must conceal his feeling and make no avowal until he was free. Poor Richard! He did not realize that the man does not live who can conceal from the woman he loves the fact that he loves her. It is in the very air, and nature has a thousand ways to tell the tale, with each one of which the most untutored woman suddenly grows familiar at the right moment.

They were puzzling and annoying questions, but, with a conduct quite what would be expected from so gallant a sailor, he at last made up his mind. Of one thing he was certain, – that he loved Emily, and that she was the only woman in the world for him. And he would be free. So Revere, like Barry, hesitated and was lost!

Even the situation with regard to the old ship was a puzzling one. There would be no evading the orders of the government. The ship must be sold to the best advantage and broken up. Yet to destroy the ship was to write the admiral's death-warrant. He had to obey his orders. No sentimental considerations would be allowed to interfere with the command of the department. Still, how could he do it? He did not dare tell the news to the admiral, he could not mention it to Emily, he would not even like to declare it to the old sailor.

The more he considered the situation the more unfortunate the position in which he found himself. As a lover, – of Emily, that is, – he was pledged to another woman. As a guest of the admiral, he was there to take away the ship. And, although he entered little into his calculations, he might have added, had he known it, that on both counts, ship and maiden, he was about to break the heart of the man who had saved his life. And all of this had been brought about in the most innocent and unwitting way. He felt himself, in some strange manner, the sport of a hard and malignant fortune.

The night was still and calm to the admiral, sleeping dreamlessly without foreboding; but to his granddaughter – ah, she was the dreamer. This young hero, this demigod from over the sea, how he had looked at her, how he had listened to her, how his eyes had seemed to pierce the very depths of her maiden soul! He had not complimented her upon her singing; he had only asked for more and still more. And how beautifully his voice had blended with hers! Was he, indeed, the fairy prince come at last to awaken the sleeping beauty of her passion, – to kiss into life the too long dormant feeling in her heart?

There are songs without words in maidens' hearts, and one of them rippled through the innocence of her girlish soul in the still watches of that heavenly night.

And they all forgot old Barry alone on the ship.

CHAPTER XI
Blows at the Heart

Revere spent the next morning in a thorough inspection of the ship. It was a duty enjoined upon him in the carrying out of his orders, and he had felt somewhat guilty in having neglected it the day before. His Naval Academy course had included instruction in wooden ship-building, – iron ships were only just beginning to be at that date, – and he therefore viewed the Susquehanna with the eyes of an expert. At his own request, he had been attended in this survey by the sailor Barry, although it is more than probable that, in any case, the old man would have insisted upon accompanying him.

With what jealous pain the veteran seaman dogged the footsteps of the young sailor and watched him examine his beloved ship! Nothing escaped Revere's rigid scrutiny. Barry himself, after his years of familiarity with the old hulk, could not have made a more exhaustive investigation. There was but one spot which Revere did not view. That was the private locker which the old seaman had made for himself in the one habitable portion of the ship.

"What's this?" Revere had asked, pausing before the closed, locked door. "Your traps, eh? Well, I guess we have no need to inspect them," he continued, smiling, and passing on.

Yet, had he known it, behind that closed door lay his fate, for the lost letters and papers – which Barry had not yet read – were there.

The keen, critical examination of the old ship by the young lieutenant enhanced the growing animosity of the sailor. His cool comments seemed like a profanation. Barry felt as if his enemy were appraising the virtues of his wife; as if, examining her in her old age, he were disappointed and surprised at not finding in her the qualities and excellencies of her youth. Every prying finger touch, crumbling the rotting wood, was a desecration. Every blow struck upon the timbers to test their soundness was an added insult.

Had the young man been less intent upon that task he would have seen in the clouded brow, the closed lips, the stern expression upon his companion's face something of the older man's exacerbated feelings; but, engrossed by his inspection, he noticed nothing. Indeed, like many very young naval officers of the time, he thought but little of the sailor at best. He was a part – and a very essential part – of the vast naval machine, of course, but otherwise nothing. When Revere grew older he would learn to estimate the value of the man upon the yard-arm, the man behind the gun, and to rate him more highly; but at present his attitude was more or less one of indifference.

 

It was true that Barry, equally with Emily, had saved his life; but by a perfectly natural trick of the mind – or heart, rather – all the heroism of that splendid achievement had focussed itself about the woman, and to Revere the man became an incident rather than a cause, – merely a detail. Just as the captain who leads the forlorn hope gets the mention in the despatches and enrolls his name upon the pages of history, to the exclusion of those other men, perhaps no less brave than he, who followed him, so Emily stood to the fore, and Barry's part was already half forgotten. This carelessly oblivious attitude of mind, which he divined even in the absence of any very specific outward evidence of it, added to the exasperation of the sailor, and he fairly hated the officer.

"There are certain categories of the mind which must be true, else would reason reel and totter on its throne." As an illustration, we cannot think of love without thinking of hate, and perhaps the capacity for one may be measured by the ability for the other. The man who loves high things, burns with corresponding hatred for the base, – or else something is lacking in his love; and, as is the case with all other antitheses of sentiment, both feelings find lodgment in the normal mind.

Barry had loved through years. He had loved the admiral, he had loved the ship, and, above all, he had loved the girl. The peaceful, quiet, even tenor of his life had offered no lodgment for antagonisms. To love, to serve, – that had been his happy existence. Living alone on Ship House Point, attending to his simple duties, wrapped up in his devotion, he had found neither cause nor reason for hatred, and when that awful passion found a lodgment in his bosom, it came so suddenly, so violently, that it destroyed the mental and spiritual balance of the man. The faculty of hating had years of disuse to make up for, and the feeling swept over him like a tidal wave, uncontrollable, appalling. The swiftness with which it developed had but added to his confusion. There is love at first sight, but there is antipathy as well. He was a living illustration of the latter fact.

So perverted had become the sailor's mind, under the influence of this rising feeling, that in his bewilderment he sometimes fancied that his antipathy was universal, – that he hated the admiral, the ship, Emily, himself! Yet this could not be; and in calmer moments, although without the power of analysis, he realized dumbly that these griping emotions were but the concomitants of his obsession.

Of all this the lieutenant was yet blithely unconscious. It is said that but a single object can engross the mind at one time, and that concepts of other objects, even if simultaneous therewith, are merely auxiliary thereto. Emily filled Revere's mental horizon to the exclusion of everything else. It was with difficulty he kept his mind away from her when, in pursuance of his duty, he inspected the ship. To Barry he paid but little attention, noticing him, if at all, in the most perfunctory way. Disassociated from Emily, the sailor counted for nothing.

To his relief and Barry's, presently the long task was over. The duty discharged, the two men scrambled down the battens which Barry had nailed to the side of the hulk to enable him to pass to and from the deck, and stood on the grass in the shadow of the ship.

"Well," said Revere, "she has been a fine ship in her day, Barry."

"Ay, sir; none better."

"See how sharp she is in the lines of her bow; look at the graceful swell forward. See how she fines down in her run aft, yonder. She should have been a good goer. The ship was built for speed as well as strength; and probably she was laid out by the rule-of-thumb, too," he continued, reflectively. "We don't build better to-day, with all our boasted science. Yes, she was a fine ship. I should like to have commanded her; but she is worthless now."

"Worthless!" exploded the old sailor, darkly; "worthless!"

"Absolutely. There is hardly a sound plank in her. The iron bolts, even, are rusted. I wonder how she holds together. The habit of years, perhaps; nothing else, surely. She's a positive danger. Some day she'll fall to pieces, and, if I were you, I'd sleep elsewhere."

"My God, sir!" exclaimed the old man, wrathfully, his face changing; "you don't know what you're sayin'! You can't mean it! Me leave the ship! I've slept on her for twenty-five years. You're wrong, sir! She's good for many a year yet. Some of the planks is rottin', I grant you, but most of the frames is good yet, an' she's sound at the heart. She'll weather many a storm, you'll see. Sound at the heart! Leave her! I'll leave her when she falls, and the admiral, too. He's an old man. My father sailed with him; he was a man when I was a boy; yet he's alive still, an' he'll live as long as she does, too."

"Nonsense, man!" said Revere; "you are dreaming! The ship ought to be broken up. She might be worth something as stove-wood of inferior quality," he continued, carelessly, and ruthlessly, too; "but I tell you she's a menace to every one who comes here."

"Broken up, sir!" gasped the man, forgetting duty, courtesy, everything, in his anger; "by heaven, I'd rather set fire to her with my own hands an' burn her down! Burn the life out of the admiral, an' out of me, too, than a timber on her should be touched! I tell you, I've lived on her. I know her. I love her! Don't dare to – "

"Look here, Barry," said the young man, quickly, but with great firmness, "you are rated a boatswain's mate in the United States navy, I believe, and as such I will have to caution you not to address me in this imperious way. There, man, hang it all, I oughtn't to have said that, perhaps," he continued, as he saw the man's face working with grief and rage. "You saved my life, you know, and the ship, I suppose, is dear to you, and I can well understand it. We'll say no more about it."

"I wish to God I hadn't," muttered the sailor, entirely unmollified.

"Well, now, that's rather ungracious of you; but, never mind, you did, and I can forgive an old salt a good deal; only there is one thing I must say: Miss Emily must not go aboard the ship any more. You can risk your life if you want to, but I won't have her risk hers; it's dangerous."

The old man noted the cool, proprietary note in the voice, and broke into fury; difference of rank and station quite obliterated from his perturbed mind.

"Mustn't, sir! Mustn't! I may be a bo's'n's mate, sir, an' you can command me, but you've got no call to say 'mustn't' to Miss Emily."

"Of course not; but I shall speak to the admiral. There, now, that will do. Keep cool. No harm's done. I have inspected the ship and shall report on her."

"What are you goin' to report, sir?"

"Well, by George! If you are not the most extraordinary blue-jacket I ever saw! What I report will be sent to the Secretary of the Navy. I do not publish it to the ship's crew. What's the matter with you, man? Pull yourself together. You seem to be in a dreadful state."

"What are you goin' to do with the ship?" insisted Barry, savagely.

"I'm not going to do anything with her. I have been sent here to report on her, and I shall report."

The situation had become tense. The young officer felt that he had humored the sailor long enough; indeed, that he had allowed him far more freedom in his address than he would had given any one else. Ignorant of the mainspring of the man's apparent antipathy to him, possessing no clew to the cause of it, unable to divine Barry's mental condition, he had been greatly surprised by his insolent and insulting conduct. It seemed to the lieutenant that his forbearance had reached its limit, and that something would have to give way. In another second there would have been trouble.

The state of affairs was relieved by the cause of it, for Emily appeared on the brow of the hill at that moment and called to the sailor. The old man instantly turned on his heel and, without deigning to notice the young man, walked toward her. Revere followed him promptly, and both men arrived at the top of the hill before her at the same moment.

By a violent effort the sailor had smoothed some of the passion out of his face, though he still looked white and angry.

"What's the matter, Captain Barry?" she asked, noticing his altered visage.

The man stood silent before her, not trusting himself to speak, especially as it would have been difficult to assign a tangible cause for his feelings, real though they were.

"I think I can tell you, Miss Emily," said Revere, pleasantly. "I have been inspecting the ship, and the man has not liked my opinion of her, I fancy."

"Captain Barry is very fond of the old ship, Mr. Revere," said Emily, quietly, "and I doubt not that any inspection of her hurts him."

The sailor looked at the girl gratefully, as a dog might have done. The young man's heart went out to her, too, for her kindly championship of the older man. He was glad, indeed, that she had found a way to dispel his anger, for the lieutenant was a kind-hearted young fellow, and would have all others about him happy, especially in this beginning of his romance.

"Well," he said, generously, "perhaps I did speak rather harshly of the ship. You see I hardly realized how you all love the old thing, and indeed 'tis a fine, melancholy old picture."

"It always reminds me of grandfather and Captain Barry – old on the one hand, strong on the other," responded Emily, divining the instinct of consideration in his heart that had prompted Revere's words, and smiling graciously at him.

It was reward enough for him, he thought, as he returned her approving glance with interest.

"You called me, Miss Emily," said the uncompromising Barry, speaking at last. "Do you want me?"

"Yes; I am going over to the village, and I wish you to row me across the harbor."

"By no means, Miss Emily," broke in Revere, promptly. "I claim that honor for myself."

"Do you think you are quite strong enough to do it?"

"Strong enough!" he exclaimed. "Certainly I am! I should like nothing better. Besides, I have business in the town myself: I expect answers to some letters and my man with a portmanteau and some other clothes. I should be delighted to row you to the village or anywhere."

"Well," said Emily, hesitating, "Captain Barry always rows me and – "

"All the more reason for giving him a rest; he is old and will be glad of this relief. Let the duty be performed by younger hands. Come, then, if you will allow me."

Barry stood silent during this little colloquy. His face, when Emily glanced at it, was as impassive as if he had been a stone image. He was putting great constraint upon himself, determined not to betray his feeling. If she could choose Revere, the acquaintance of a moment, and disregard him, the servant of years, let her do so. He would see. Not by word or look would he try to influence her. If he had ever heard of the Spartan with the wolf at his vitals, he would have realized what the story meant then.

Now, Emily much preferred to have Revere row her; he was a much more congenial companion than the grim, silent sailor. There was a sympathy, already an affection, developing between them which made her greatly enjoy his society. She would not have hesitated a moment, therefore, but for a certain understanding of the feeling entertained for her by the sailor. Not a sufficient comprehension, however, to amount to an assurance, but a deep enough realization to give her pause. What woman is there without that much comprehension? But when she saw Barry standing before her, impassive, stern, apparently indifferent, her hesitation left her for the moment, and, bidding the sailor inform her grandfather of her departure, she turned and descended the hill, followed by the lieutenant.

As the two walked away the tension on the man was released or broken. He stood trembling, looking after them. A flower which Emily had been wearing had fallen upon the walk. In other days he would have picked it up and carried it carefully to the ship as a priceless treasure. Now he ground it brutally under his heavy heel and stared at them, almost unconscious of his action, quivering with voiceless rage. Presently he went up to the old admiral, sitting dreaming on the porch, and, having mastered himself somewhat again, delivered his message.

 

Out in the harbor the little skiff, the same by means of which Revere's life had been saved, danced merrily along.

"I like to see the young people together, Barry," said the old man, gazing after them. "'Twas a fortunate gale that wrecked him at our door. We shall be going soon, you and I and the ship, and who will take care of Emily then? Perhaps – "

He spoke slowly and he did not finish the sentence, yet the concluding thought was perfectly plain to the sailor.

He raged over it as he returned to the ship.

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