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Jack Tier or The Florida Reef by James Fenimore Cooper

Part 10 out of 10

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consent to go in search of the bodies. The latter knew the
hopelessness of such an excursion, but he could not refuse to
comply. He was absent on that melancholy duty, therefore, at the
moment of the scene related in our last chapter, and did not return
until after that which we are now about to lay before the reader.
Mrs. Budd, Biddy, and all of those who perished after the yawl got
clear of the reef, were drowned in deep water, and no more was ever
seen of any of them; or, if wreckers did pass them, they did not
stop to bury the dead. It was different, however, with those, who
were first sacrificed to Spike's selfishness. They were drowned on
the reef, and Harry did actually recover the bodies of the Seņor
Montefalderon, and of Josh, the steward. They had washed upon a rock
that is bare at low water. He took them both to the Dry Tortugas,
and had them interred along with the other dead at that place. Don
Juan was placed side by side with his unfortunate countryman, the
master of his equally unfortunate schooner.

While Harry was absent and thus employed, Rose wept much and prayed
more. She would have felt herself almost alone in the world, but for
the youth to whom she had so recently, less than a week before,
plighted her faith in wedlock. That new tie, it is true, was of
sufficient importance to counteract many of the ordinary feelings of
her situation; and she now turned to it as the one which absorbed
most of the future duties of her life. Still she missed the
kindness, the solicitude, even the weaknesses of her aunt; and the
terrible manner in which Mrs. Budd had perished, made her shudder
with horror whenever she thought of it. Poor Biddy, too, came in for
her share of the regrets. This faithful creature, who had been in
the relict's service ever since Rose's infancy, had become endeared
to her, in spite of her uncouth manners and confused ideas, by the
warmth of her heart, and the singular truth of her feelings. Biddy,
of all her family, had come to America, leaving behind her not only
brothers and sisters, but parents living. Each year did she remit to
the last a moiety of her earnings, and many a half-dollar that had
come from Rose's pretty little hand, had been converted into gold,
and forwarded on the same pious errand to the green island of her
nativity. Ireland, unhappy country! at this moment what are not the
dire necessities of thy poor! Here, from the midst of abundance, in
a land that God has blessed in its productions far beyond the limits
of human wants, a land in which famine was never known, do we at
this moment hear thy groans, and listen to tales of suffering that
to us seem almost incredible. In the midst of these chilling
narratives, our eyes fall on an appeal to the English nation, that
appears in what it is the fashion of some to term the first journal
of Europe (!) in behalf of thy suffering people. A worthy appeal to
the charity of England seldom fails; but it seems to us that one
sentiment of this might have been altered, if not spared. The
English are asked to be "_forgetful_ of the past," and to come
forward to the relief of their suffering fellow-subjects. We should
have written "_mindful_ of the past," in its stead. We say this in
charity, as well as in truth. We come of English blood, and if we
claim to share in all the ancient renown of that warlike and
enlightened people, we are equally bound to share in the reproaches
that original misgovernment has inflicted on thee. In this latter
sense, then, thou hast a right to our sympathies, and they are not

As has been already said, we now advance the time eight-and-forty
hours, and again transfer the scene to that room in the hospital
which was occupied by Spike. The approaches of death, during the
interval just named, had been slow but certain. The surgeons had
announced that the wounded man could not possibly survive the coming
night; and he himself had been made sensible that his end was near.
It is scarcely necessary to add that Stephen Spike, conscious of his
vigour and strength, in command of his brig, and bent on the
pursuits of worldly gains, or of personal gratification, was a very
different person from him who now lay stretched on his pallet in the
hospital of Key West, a dying man. By the side of his bed still sat
his strange nurse, less peculiar in appearance, however, than when
last seen by the reader.

Rose Budd had been ministering to the ungainly externals of Jack
Tier. She now wore a cap, thus concealing the short, grey bristles
of hair, and lending to her countenance a little of that softness
which is a requisite of female character. Some attention had also
been paid to the rest of her attire; and Jack was, altogether, less
repulsive in her exterior than when, unaided, she had attempted to
resume the proper garb of her sex. Use and association, too, had
contributed a little to revive her woman's nature, if we may so
express it, and she had begun, in particular, to feel the sort of
interest in her patient which we all come in time to entertain
toward any object of our especial care. We do not mean that Jack had
absolutely ever ceased to love her husband; strange as it may seem,
such had not literally been the case; on the contrary, her interest
in him and in his welfare had never ceased, even while she saw his
vices and detested his crimes; but all we wish to say here is, that
she was getting, in addition to the long-enduring feelings of a
wife, some of the interest of a nurse.

During the whole time which had elapsed between Jack's revealing her
true character, and the moment of which we are now writing, Spike
had not once spoken to his wife. Often had she caught his eyes
intently riveted on her, when he would turn them away, as she
feared, in distaste; and once or twice he groaned deeply, more like
a man who suffered mental than bodily pain. Still the patient did
not speak once in all the time mentioned. We should be representing
poor Jack as possessing more philosophy, or less feeling, than the
truth would warrant, were we to say that she was not hurt at this
conduct in her husband.

On the contrary, she felt it deeply; and more than once it had so
far subdued her pride, as to cause her bitterly to weep. This
shedding of tears, however, was of service to Jack in one sense, for
it had the effect of renewing old impressions, and in a certain way,
of reviving the nature of her sex within her--a nature which had
been sadly weakened by her past life.

But the hour had at length come when this long and painful silence
was to be broken. Jack and Rose were alone with the patient, when
the last again spoke to his wife.

"Molly--poor Molly!" said the dying man, his voice continuing full
and deep to the last, "what a sad time you must have had of it after
I did you that wrong!"

"It is hard upon a woman, Stephen, to turn her out, helpless, on a
cold and selfish world," answered Jack, simply, much too honest to
affect a reserve she did not feel.

"It was hard, indeed; may God forgive me for it, as I hope ye do,

No answer was made to this appeal; and the invalid looked anxiously
at his wife. The last sat at her work, which had now got to be less
awkward to her, with her eyes bent on her needle,--her countenance
rigid, and, so far as the eye could discern, her feelings unmoved.

"Your husband speaks to you, Jack Tier," said Rose, pointedly.

"May _yours_ never have occasion to speak to you, Rose Budd, in the
same way," was the solemn answer. "I do not flatter myself that I
ever was as comely as you, or that yonder poor dying wretch was a
Harry Mulford in his youth; but we were young and happy, and
respected once, and loved each other, yet you see what it's all come

Rose was silenced, though she had too much tenderness in behalf of
her own youthful and manly bridegroom to dread a fate similar to
that which had overtaken poor Jack. Spike now seemed disposed to say
something, and she went to the side of his bed, followed by her
companion, who kept a little in the back-ground, as if unwilling to
let the emotion she really felt be seen, and, perhaps, conscious
that her ungainly appearance did not aid her in recovering the lost
affections of her husband.

"I have been a very wicked man, I fear," said Spike, earnestly.

"There are none without sin," answered Rose. "Place your reliance on
the mediation of the Son of God, and sins even far deeper than yours
may be pardoned."

The captain stared at the beautiful speaker, but self-indulgence,
the incessant pursuit of worldly and selfish objects for forty
years, and the habits of a life into which the thought of God and
the dread hereafter never entered, had encased his spiritual being
in a sort of brazen armour, through which no ordinary blow of
conscience could penetrate. Still he had fearful glimpses of recent
events, and his soul, hanging as it was over the abyss of eternity,
was troubled.

"What has become of your aunt?" half whispered Spike--"my old
captain's widow. She ought to be here; and Don Wan Montezuma--where
is he?"

Rose turned aside to conceal her tears--but no one answered the
questions of the dying man. Then a gleaming of childhood shot into
the recollection of Spike, and, clasping his hands, he tried to
pray. But, like others who have lived without any communication with
their Creator through long lives of apathy to his existence and
laws, thinking only of the present time, and daily, hourly
sacrificing principles and duty to the narrow interests of the
moment, he now found how hard it is to renew communications with a
being who has been so long neglected. The fault lay in himself,
however, for a gracious ear was open, even over the death-bed of
Stephen Spike, could that rude spirit only bring itself to ask for
mercy in earnestness and truth. As his companions saw his struggles,
they left him for a few minutes to his own thoughts.

"Molly," Spike at length uttered, in a faint tone, the voice of one
conscious of being very near his end, "I hope you will forgive me,
Molly. I know you must have a hard, hard time of it."

"It is hard for a woman to unsex herself, Stephen; to throw off her
very natur', as it might be, and to turn man."

"It has changed you sadly--even your speech is altered. Once your
voice was soft and womanish--more like that of Rose Budd's than it
is now."

"I speak as them speak among whom I've been forced to live. The
forecastle and steward's pantry, Stephen Spike, are poor schools to
send women to l'arn language in."

"Try and forget it all, poor Molly! Say to me, so that I can hear
you, `I forget and forgive, Stephen.' I am afraid God will not
pardon my sins, which begin to seem dreadful to me, if my own wife
refuse to forget and forgive, on my dying bed."

Jack was much mollified by this appeal. Her interest in her
offending husband had never been entirely extinguished. She had
remembered him, and often with woman's kindness, in all her
wanderings and sufferings, as the preceding parts of our narrative
must show; and though resentment had been mingled with the grief and
mortification she felt at finding how much he still submitted to
Rose's superior charms, in a breast as really generous and humane as
that of Jack Tier's, such a feeling was not likely to endure in the
midst of a scene like that she was now called to witness. The
muscles of her countenance twitched, the hard-looking, tanned face
began to lose its sternness, and every way she appeared like one
profoundly disturbed.

"Turn to Him whose goodness and marcy may sarve you, Stephen," she
said, in a milder and more feminine tone than she had used now for
years, making her more like herself than either her husband or Rose
had seen her since the commencement of the late voyage; "my sayin'
that I forget and forgive cannot help a man on his death-bed."

"It will settle my mind, Molly, and leave me freer to turn my
thoughts to God."

Jack was much affected, more by the countenance and manner of the
sufferer, perhaps, than by his words. She drew nearer to the side of
her husband's pallet, knelt, took his hands, and said solemnly,

"Stephen Spike, from the bottom of my heart, I _do_ forgive you; and
I shall pray to God that he will pardon your sins as freely and more
marcifully than I now pardon all, and try to forget all that you
have done to me."

Spike clasped his hands, and again he tried to pray; but the habits
of a whole life are not to be thrown off at will; and he who
endeavours to regain, in his extremity, the moments that have been
lost, will find, in bitter reality, that he has been heaping
mountains on his own soul, by the mere practice of sin, which were
never laid there by the original fall of his race. Jack, however,
had disburthened her spirit of a load that had long oppressed it,
and, burying her face in the rug, she wept.

"I wish, Molly," said the dying man, several minutes later, "I wish
I had never seen the brig. Until I got that craft, no thought of
wronging human being ever crossed my mind."

"It was the Father of Lies that tempts all to do evil, Stephen, and
not the brig which caused the sins."

"I wish I could live a year longer--_only_ one year; that is not
much to ask for a man who is not yet sixty."

"It is hopeless, poor Stephen. The surgeons say you cannot live one

Spike groaned--for the past, blended fearfully with the future,
gleamed on his conscience with a brightness that appalled him. And
what is that future, which is to make us happy or miserable through
an endless vista of time? Is it not composed of an existence, in
which conscience, released from the delusions and weaknesses of the
body, sees all in its true colours, appreciates all, and punishes
all? Such an existence would make every man the keeper of the record
of his own transgressions, even to the most minute exactness. It
would of itself mete out perfect justice, since the sin would be
seen amid its accompanying facts, every aggravating or extenuating
circumstance. Each man would be strictly punished according to his
talents. As no one is without sin, it makes the necessity of an
atonement indispensable, and, in its most rigid interpretation, it
exhibits the truth of the scheme of salvation in the clearest
colours. The soul, or conscience, that can admit the necessary
degree of faith in that atonement, and in admitting, _feels_ its
efficacy, throws the burthen of its own transgressions away, and
remains for ever in the condition of its original existence, pure,
and consequently happy.

We do not presume to lay down a creed on this mighty and mysterious
matter, in which all have so deep an interest, and concerning which
so very small a portion of the human race think much, or think with
any clearness when it does become the subject of their passing
thoughts at all We too well know our own ignorance to venture on
dogmas which it has probably been intended that the mind of man
should not yet grapple with and comprehend. To return to our

Stephen Spike was now made to feel the incubus-load, which
perseverance in sin heaps on the breast of the reckless offender.
What was the most grievous of all, his power to shake off this dead
weight was diminished in precisely the same proportion as the
burthen was increased, the moral force of every man lessening in a
very just ratio to the magnitude of his delinquencies. Bitterly did
this deep offender struggle with his conscience, and little did his
half-unsexed wife know how to console or aid him. Jack had been
superficially instructed in the dogmas of her faith, in childhood
and youth, as most persons are instructed in what are termed
Christian communities--had been made to learn the Catechism, the
Lord's Prayer, and the Creed--and had been left to set up for
herself on this small capital, in the great concern of human
existence, on her marriage and entrance on the active business of
life. When the manner in which she had passed the last twenty years
is remembered, no one can be surprised to learn that Jack was of
little assistance to her husband in his extremity. Rose made an
effort to administer hope and consolation, but the terrible nature
of the struggle she witnessed, induced her to send for the chaplain
of the Poughkeepsie. This divine prayed with the dying man; but even
he, in the last moments of the sufferer, was little more than a
passive but shocked witness of remorse, suspended over the abyss of
eternity in hopeless dread. We shall not enter into the details of
the revolting scene, but simply add that curses, blasphemy,
tremulous cries for mercy, agonized entreaties to be advised, and
sullen defiance, were all strangely and fearfully blended. In the
midst of one of these revolting paroxysms, Spike breathed his last.
A few hours later, his body was interred in the sands of the shore.
It may be well to say in this place, that the hurricane of 1846,
which is known to have occurred only a few months later, swept off
the frail covering, and that the body was washed away to leave its
bones among the wrecks and relics of the Florida Reef.

Mulford did not return from his fruitless expedition in quest of the
remains of Mrs. Budd, until after the death and interment of Spike.
As nothing remained to be done at Key West, he and Rose accompanied
by Jack Tier, took passage for Charleston in the first convenient
vessel that offered. Two days before they sailed, the Poughkeepsie
went out to cruise in the Gulf, agreeably to her general orders. The
evening previously Captain Mull, Wallace, and the chaplain, passed
with the bridegroom and bride, when the matter of the doubloons
found in the boat was discussed. It was agreed that Jack Tier should
have them; and into her hands the bag was now placed. On this
occasion, to oblige the officers, Jack went into a narrative of all
she had seen and suffered, from the moment when abandoned by her
late husband down to that when she found him again. It was a strange
account, and one filled with surprising adventures. In most of the
vessels in which she had served, Jack had acted in the steward's
department, though she had frequently done duty as a fore-mast hand.
In strength and skill she admitted that she had often failed; but in
courage, never. Having been given reason to think her husband was
reduced to serving in a vessel of war, she had shipped on board a
frigate bound to the Mediterranean, and had actually made a whole
cruise as a ward-room boy on that station. While thus employed, she
had met with two of the gentlemen present; Captain Mull and Mr.
Wallace. The former was then first-lieutenant of the frigate, and
the latter a passed-midshipman; and in these capacities both had
been well known to her. As the name she then bore was the same as
that under which she now "hailed," these officers were soon made to
recollect her, though Jack was no longer the light, trim-built lad
he had then appeared to be. Neither of the gentlemen named had made
the whole cruise in the ship, but each had been promoted and
transferred to another craft, after being Jack's shipmate rather
more than a year. This information greatly facilitated the affair of
the doubloons.

From Charleston the travellers came north by rail-road. Harry made
several stops by the way, in order to divert the thoughts of his
beautiful young bride from dwelling too much on the fate of her
aunt. He knew that home would revive all these recollections
painfully, and wished to put off the hour of their return, until
time had a little weakened Rose's regrets. For this reason, he
passed a whole week in Washington, though it was a season of the
year that the place is not in much request. Still, Washington is
scarce a town, at any season. It is much the fashion to deride the
American capital, and to treat it as a place of very humble
performance with very sounding pretensions. Certainly, Washington
has very few of the peculiarities of a great European capital, but
few as these are, they are more than belong to any other place in
this country. We now allude to the _distinctive_ characteristics of
a capital, and not to a mere concentration of houses and shops
within a given space. In this last respect, Washington is much
behind fifty other American towns, even while it is the only place
in the whole republic which possesses specimens of architecture, on
a scale approaching that of the higher classes of the edifices of
the old world. It is totally deficient in churches, and theatres,
and markets; or those it does possess are, in an architectural
sense, not at all above the level of village or countrytown
pretensions, but one or two of its national edifices do approach the
magnificence and grandeur of the old world. The new Treasury
Buildings are unquestionably, on the score of size, embellishments
and finish, _the_ American edifice that comes nearest to first class
architecture on the other side of the Atlantic. The Capitol comes
next, though it can scarce be ranked, relatively, as high. As for
the White House, it is every way sufficient for its purposes and the
institutions; and now that its grounds are finished, and the
shrubbery and trees begin to tell, one sees about it something that
is not unworthy of its high uses and origin. Those grounds, which so
long lay a reproach to the national taste and liberality, are now
fast becoming beautiful, are already exceedingly pretty, and give to
a structure that is destined to become historical, having already
associated with it the names of Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, and
Quincy Adams, together with the _ci polloi_ of the later Presidents,
an _entourage_ that is suitable to its past recollections and its
present purposes. They are not quite on a level with the parks of
London, it is true; or even with the Tuileries, or Luxembourg, or
the Boboli, or the Villa Reale, or fifty more grounds and gardens,
of a similar nature, that might be mentioned; but, seen in the
spring and early summer, they adorn the building they surround, and
lend to the whole neighbourhood a character of high civilization,
that no other place in America can show, in precisely the same form,
or to the same extent.

This much have we said on the subject of the White House and its
precincts, because we took occasion, in a former work, to berate the
narrow-minded parsimony which left the grounds of the White House in
a condition that was discreditable to the republic. How far our
philippic may have hastened the improvements which have been made,
is more than we shall pretend to say; but having made the former
strictures, we are happy to have an occasion to say (though nearly
twenty years have intervened between the expressions of the two
opinions) that they are no longer merited.

And here we will add another word, and that on a subject that is not
sufficiently pressed on the attention of a people, who, by position,
are unavoidably provincial. We invite those whose gorges rise at any
stricture on anything American, and who fancy it is enough to belong
to the great republic to be great in itself, to place themselves in
front of the State Department, as it now stands, and to examine its
dimensions, material and form with critical eyes, then to look along
the adjacent Treasury Buildings, to fancy them completed, by a
junction with new edifices of a similar construction to contain the
department of state; next to fancy similar works completed for the
two opposite departments; after which, to compare the past and
present with the future as thus finished, and remember how recent
has been the partial improvement which even now exists. If this
examination and comparison do not show, directly to the sense of
sight, how much there was and is to criticise, as put in contrast
with other countries, we shall give up the individuals in question,
as too deeply dyed in the provincial wool ever to be whitened. The
present Trinity church, New York, certainly not more than a third
class European church, if as much, compared with its village-like
predecessor, may supply a practical homily of the same degree of
usefulness. There may be those among us, however, who fancy it
patriotism to maintain that the old Treasury Buildings were quite
equal to the new, and of these intense Americans we cry their mercy!

Rose felt keenly on reaching her late aunt's very neat dwelling in
Fourteenth Street, New York. But the manly tenderness of Mulford was
a great support to her, and a little time brought her to think of
that weak-minded, but well-meaning and affectionate relative, with
gentle regret, rather than with grief. Among the connexions of her
young husband, she found several females of a class in life
certainly equal to her own, and somewhat superior to the latter in
education and habits. As for Harry, he very gladly passed the season
with his beautiful bride, though a fine ship was laid down for him,
by means of Rose's fortune, now much increased by her aunt's death,
and he was absent in Europe when his son was born; an event that
occurred only two months since.

The Swash, and the shipment of gunpowder, were thought of no more in
the good town of Manhattan. This great emporium--we beg pardon, this
great _commercial_ emporium--has a trick of forgetting, condensing
all interests into those of the present moment. It is much addicted
to believing that which never had an existence, and of overlooking
that which is occurring directly under its nose. So marked is this
tendency to forgetfulness, we should not be surprised to hear some
of the Manhattanese pretend that our legend is nothing but a
fiction, and deny the existence of the Molly, Captain Spike, and
even of Biddy Noon. But we know them too well to mind what they say,
and shall go on and finish our narrative in our own way, just as if
there were no such raven-throated commentators at all.

Jack Tier, still known by that name, lives in the family of Captain
Mulford. She is fast losing the tan on her face and hands, and every
day is improving in appearance. She now habitually wears her proper
attire, and is dropping gradually into the feelings and habits of
her sex. She never can become what she once was, any more than the
blackamoor can become white, or the leopard change his spots; but
she is no longer revolting. She has left off chewing and smoking,
having found a refuge in snuff. Her hair is permitted to grow, and
is already turned up with a comb, though constantly concealed
beneath a cap. The heart of Jack, alone, seems unaltered. The
strange, tiger-like affection that she bore for Spike, during twenty
years of abandonment, has disappeared in regrets for his end. It is
succeeded by a most sincere attachment for Rose, in which the little
boy, since his appearance on the scene, is becoming a large
participator. This child Jack is beginning to love intensely; and
the doubloons, well invested, placing her above the feeling of
dependence, she is likely to end her life, once so errant and
disturbed, in tranquillity and a home-like happiness.


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