Part 9 out of 10
ever, and the lower extremity slipped outward, not astern, as had
been apprehended, letting the wreck slowly settle to the bottom
again. One piercing shriek arose from the narrow cavity within; then
the gurgling of water into the aperture was heard, when naught of
sound could be distinguished but the sullen and steady wash of the
waves of the gulf over the rocks of the reef.
The impression made by this accident was most profound. A fatality
appeared to attend the brig; and most of the men connected the sad
occurrence of this night with the strange appearance of the previous
evening. Even the Seņor Montefalderon was disposed to abandon the
doubloons, and he urged Spike to make the best of his way for
Yucatan, to seek a friendly harbour. The captain wavered, but
avarice was too strong a passion in him to be easily diverted from
its object, and he refused to give up his purpose.
As the wreck was entirely free from the brig when it went down for
the third time, no injury was sustained by the last on this
occasion. By renewing the lashings, everything would be ready to
begin the work anew--and this, Spike was resolved to attempt in the
morning. The men were too much fatigued, and it was too dark to
think of pushing matters any further that night; and it was very
questionable whether they could have been got to work. Orders were
consequently given for all hands to turn in, the captain, relieved
by Don Juan and Jack Tier, having arranged to keep the watches of
"This is a sad accident, Don Esteban," observed the Mexican, as he
and Spike paced the quarter-deck together, just before the last
turned in; "a sad accident! My miserable schooner seems to be
deserted by its patron saint. Then your poor carpenter!"
"Yes, he was a good fellow enough with a saw, or an adze," answered
Spike, yawning. "But we get used to such things at sea. It's neither
more nor less than a carpenter expended. Good night, Seņor Don Wan;
in the morning we'll be at that gold ag'in."
She's in a scene of nature's war,
The winds and waters are at strife;
And both with her contending for
The brittle thread of human life.
Spike was sleeping hard in his berth, quite early on the following
morning, before the return of light, indeed, when he suddenly
started up, rubbed his eyes, and sprang upon deck like a man
alarmed. He had heard, or fancied he had heard, a cry. A voice once
well known and listened to, seemed to call him in the very portals
of his ear. At first he had listened to its words in wonder,
entranced like the bird by the snake, the tones recalling scenes and
persons that had once possessed a strong control over his rude
feelings. Presently the voice became harsher in its utterance, and
"Stephen Spike, awake! The hour is getting late, and you have
enemies nearer to you than you imagine. Awake, Stephen, awake!"
When the captain was on his feet, and had plunged his head into a
basin of water that stood ready for him in the state-room, he could
not have told, for his life, whether he had been dreaming or waking,
whether what he had heard was the result of a feverish imagination,
or of the laws of nature. The call haunted him all that morning, or
until events of importance so pressed upon him as to draw his
undivided attention to them alone.
It was not yet day. The men were still in heavy sleep, lying about
the decks, for they avoided the small and crowded forecastle in that
warm climate, and the night was apparently at its deepest hour.
Spike walked forward to look for the man charged with the
anchor-watch. It proved to be Jack Tier, who was standing near the
galley, his arms folded as usual, apparently watching the few signs
of approaching day that were beginning to be apparent in the western
sky. The captain was in none of the best humours with the steward's
assistant; but Jack had unaccountably got an ascendency over his
commander, which it was certainly very unusual for any subordinate
in the Swash to obtain. Spike had deferred more to Mulford than to
any mate he had ever before employed; but this was the deference due
to superior information, manners, and origin. It was common-place,
if not vulgar; whereas, the ascendency obtained by little Jack Tier
was, even to its subject, entirely inexplicable. He was unwilling to
admit it to himself in the most secret manner, though he had begun
to feel it on all occasions which brought them in contact, and to
submit to it as a thing not to be averted.
"Jack Tier," demanded the captain, now that he found himself once
more alone with the other, desirous of obtaining his opinion on a
point that harassed him, though he knew not why; "Jack Tier, answer
me one thing. Do you believe that we saw the form of a dead or of a
living man at the foot of the light-house?"
"The dead are never seen leaning against walls in that manner,
Stephen Spike," answered Jack, coolly, not even taking the trouble
to uncoil his arms. "What you saw was a living man; and you would do
well to be on your guard against him. Harry Mulford is not your
friend--and there is reason for it."
"Harry Mulford, and living! How can that be, Jack? You know the port
in which he chose to run."
"I know the rock on which you chose to abandon him, Captain Spike."
"If so, how could he be living and at the Dry Tortugas. The thing is
"The thing is so. You saw Harry Mulford, living and well, and ready
to hunt you to the gallows. Beware of him, then; and beware of his
"Wife! the fellow has no wife--he has always professed to be a
"The man is married--and I bid you beware of his handsome wife. She,
too, will be a witness ag'in you."
"This will be news, then, for Rose Budd. I shall delight in telling
it to _her,_ at least."
"'T will be _no_ news to Rose Budd. She was present at the wedding,
and will not be taken by surprise. Rose loves Harry too well to let
him marry, and she not present at the wedding."
"Jack, you talk strangely! What is the meaning of all this? I am
captain of this craft, and will not be trifled with--tell me at once
your meaning, fellow."
"My meaning is simple enough, and easily told. Rose Budd is the wife
of Harry Mulford."
"You're dreaming, fellow, or are wishing to trifle with me!"
"It may be a dream, but it is one that will turn out to be true. If
they have found the Poughkeepsie sloop-of-war, as I make no doubt
they have by this time, Mulford and Rose are man and wife."
"Fool! you know not what you say! Rose is at this moment in her
berth, sick at heart on account of the young gentleman who preferred
to live on the Florida Reef rather than to sail in the Molly!"
"Rose is _not_ in her berth, sick or well; neither is she on board
this brig at all. She went off in the light-house boat to deliver
her lover from the naked rock--and well did she succeed in so doing.
God was of her side, Stephen Spike; and a body seldom fails with
such a friend to support one."
Spike was astounded at these words, and not less so at the cool and
confident manner with which they were pronounced. Jack spoke in a
certain dogmatical, oracular manner, it is true, one that might have
lessened his authority with a person over whom he had less
influence; but this in no degree diminished its effect on Spike. On
the contrary, it even disposed the captain to yield an implicit
faith to what he heard, and all so much the more because the facts
he was told appeared of themselves to be nearly impossible. It was
half a minute before he had sufficiently recovered from his surprise
to continue the discourse.
"The light-house boat!" Spike then slowly repeated. "Why, fellow,
you told me the light-house boat went adrift from your own hands!"
"So it did," answered Jack, coolly, "since I cast off the
painter--and what is more, went in it."
"You! This is impossible. You are telling me a fabricated lie. If
you had gone away in that boat, how could you now be here? No,
no--it is a miserable lie, and Rose is below!"
"Go and look into her state-room, and satisfy yourself with your own
Spike did as was suggested. He went below, took a lamp that was
always suspended, lighted in the main cabin, and, without ceremony,
proceeded to Rose's state-room, where he soon found that the bird
had really flown. A direful execration followed this discovery, one
so loud as to awaken Mrs. Budd and Biddy. Determined not to do
things by halves, he broke open the door of the widow's state-room,
and ascertained that the person he sought was not there. A fierce
explosion of oaths and denunciations followed, which produced an
answer in the customary screams. In the midst of this violent scene,
however, questions were put, and answers obtained, that not only
served to let the captain know that Jack had told him nothing but
truth, but to put an end to everything like amicable relations
between himself and the relict of his old commander. Until this
explosion, appearances had been observed between them; but, from
that moment, there must necessarily be an end of all professions of
even civility. Spike was never particularly refined in his
intercourse with females, but he now threw aside even its
pretension. His rage was so great that he totally forgot his
manhood, and lavished on both Mrs. Budd and Biddy epithets that were
altogether inexcusable, and many of which it will not do to repeat.
Weak and silly as was the widow, she was not without spirit; and on
this occasion she was indisposed to submit to all this unmerited
abuse in silence. Biddy, as usual, took her cue from her mistress,
and between the two, their part of the wordy conflict was kept up
with a very respectable degree of animation.
"I know you--I know you, now!" screamed the widow, at the tope of
her voice; "and you can no longer deceive me, unworthy son of
Neptune as you are! You are unfit to be a lubber, and would be
log-booked for an or'nary by every gentleman on board ship. You, a
full-jiggered sea-man! No, you are not even half-jiggered, sir; and
I tell you so to your face."
"Yes, and it is n't _half_ that might be tould the likes of yees!"
put in Biddy, as her mistress stopped to breathe. "And it's Miss
Rose you'd have for a wife, when Biddy Noon would be too good for
ye! We knows ye, and all about ye, and can give yer history as
complate from the day ye was born down to the prisent moment; and
not find a good word to say in yer favour in all that time--and a
precious time it is, too, for a gentleman that would marry pretthy,
_young_ Miss Rose! Och! I scorn to look at ye, yer so ugly!"
"And trying to persuade me you were a friend of my poor, dear Mr.
Budd, whose shoe you are unworthy to touch, and who had the heart
and soul for the noble profession you disgrace," cut in the widow,
the moment Biddy gave her a chance, by pausing to make a wry face as
she pronounced the word "ugly." "I now believe you capasided them
poor Mexicans, in order to get their money; and the moment we cast
anchor in a road-side, I'll go ashore, and complain of you for
murder, I will."
"Do, missus, dear, and I'll be your bail, will I, and swear to all
that happened, and more too. Och! yer a wretch, to wish to be the
husband of Miss Rose, and she so young and pretthy, and you so ould
"Come away--come away, Stephen Spike, and do not stand wrangling
with women, when you and your brig, and all that belongs to you, are
in danger," called out Jack Tier from the companion-way. "Day is
come; and what is much worse for you, your most dangerous enemy is
coming with it."
Spike was almost livid with rage, and ready to burst out in awful
maledictions; but at this summons he sprang to the ladder, and was
on deck in a moment. At first, he felt a strong disposition to wreak
his vengeance on Tier, but, fortunately for the latter, as the
captain's foot touched the quarter-deck, his eye fell on the
Poughkeepsie, then within half a league of the Swash, standing in
toward the reef, though fully half a mile to leeward. This spectre
drove all other subjects from his mind, leaving the captain of the
Swash in the only character in which he could be said to be
respectable, or that of a seaman. Almost instinctively he called all
hands, then he gave one brief minute to a survey of his situation.
It was, indeed, time for the Swash to be moving. There she lay, with
three anchors down, including that of the schooner, all she had, in
fact, with the exception of her best bower, and one kedge, with the
purchases aloft, in readiness for hooking on to the wreck, and all
the extra securities up that had been given to the masts. As for the
sloop-of-war, she was under the very same canvas as that with which
she had come out from the Dry Tortugas, or her three top-sails,
spanker, and jib; but most of her other sails were loose, even to
her royals and flying-jibs; though closely gathered into their spars
by means of the running gear. In a word, every sailor would know, at
a glance, that the ship was merely waiting for the proper moment to
spread her wings, when she would be flying through the water at the
top of her speed. The weather looked dirty, and the wind was
gradually increasing, threatening to blow heavily as the day
"Unshackle, unshackle!" shouted Spike to the boat-swain, who was the
first man that appeared on deck. "The bloody sloop-of-war is upon
us, and there is not a moment to lose. We must get the brig clear of
the ground in the shortest way we can, and abandon everything.
Unshackle, and cast off for'ard and aft, men."
A few minutes of almost desperate exertion succeeded. No men work
like sailors, when the last are in a hurry, their efforts being
directed to counteracting squalls, and avoiding emergencies of the
most pressing character. Thus was it now with the crew of the Swash.
The clanking of chains lasted but a minute, when the parts attached
to the anchors were thrust through the hawse-holes, or were dropped
into the water from other parts of the brig. This at once released
the vessel, though a great deal remained to be done to clear her for
working, and to put her in the best trim.
"Away with this out-hauler!" again shouted Spike, casting loose the
main-brails as he did so; "loose the jibs!"
All went on at once, and the Swash moved away from the grave of the
poor carpenter with the ease and facility of motion that marked all
her evolutions. Then the top-sail was let fall, and presently all
the upper square-sails were sheeted home, and hoisted, and the
fore-tack was hauled aboard. The Molly was soon alive, and jumping
into the seas that met her with more power than was common, as she
drew out from under the shelter of the reef into rough water. From
the time when Spike gave his first order, to that when all his
canvas was spread, was just seven minutes.
The Poughkeepsie, with her vastly superior crew, was not idle the
while. Although the watch below was not disturbed, she tacked
beautifully, and stood off the reef, in a line parallel to the
course of the brig, and distant from her about half a mile. Then
sail was made, her tacks having been boarded in stays. Spike knew
the play of his craft was short legs, for she was so nimble in her
movements that he believed she could go about in half the time that
would be required for a vessel of the Poughkeepsie's length. "Ready
about," was his cry, therefore, when less than a mile distant from
the reef--"ready about, and let her go round." Round the Molly did
go, like a top, being full on the other tack in just fifty-six
seconds. The movement of the corvette was more stately, and somewhat
more deliberate. Still, she stayed beautifully, and both Spike and
the boatswain shook their heads, as they saw her coming into the
wind with her sails all lifting and the sheets flowing.
"That fellow will fore-reach a cable's length before he gets about!"
exclaimed Spike. "He will prove too much for us at this sport! Keep
her away, my man--keep the brig away for the passage. We must run
through the reef, instead of trusting ourselves to our heels in open
The brig was kept away accordingly, and sheets were eased off, and
braces just touched, to meet the new line of sailing. As the wind
stood, it was possible to lay through the passage on an easy
bowline, though the breeze, which was getting to be fresher than
Spike wished it to be, promised to haul more to the southward of
east, as the day advanced. Nevertheless, this was the Swash's best
point of sailing, and all on board of her had strong hopes of her
being too much for her pursuer, could she maintain it. Until this
feeling began to diffuse itself in the brig, not a countenance was
to be seen on her decks that did not betray intense anxiety; but now
something like grim smiles passed among the crew, as their craft
seemed rather to fly than force her way through the water, toward
the entrance of the passage so often adverted to in this narrative.
On the other hand, the Poughkeepsie was admirably sailed and
handled. Everybody was now on deck, and the first lieutenant had
taken the trumpet. Captain Mull was a man of method, and a thorough
man-of-war's man. Whatever he did was done according to rule, and
with great system. Just as the Swash was about to enter the passage,
the drum of the Poughkeepsie beat to quarters. No sooner were the
men mustered, in the leeward, or the starboard batteries, than
orders were sent to cast loose the guns, and to get them ready for
service. Owing to the more leeward position of his vessel, and to
the fact that she always head-reached so much in stays, Captain Mull
knew that she would not lose much by luffing into the wind, or by
making half-boards, while he might gain everything by one
The strife commenced by the sloop-of-war, firing her weather
bow-gun, single-shotted, at the Swash. No damage was done, though
the fore-yard of the brig had a very narrow escape. This experiment
was repeated three times, without even a rope-yarn being carried
away, though the gun was pointed by Wallace himself, and well
pointed, too. But it is possible for a shot to come very near its
object and still to do no injury. Such was the fact on this
occasion, though the "ship's gentleman" was a good deal mortified by
the result. Men look so much at success as the test of merit, that
few pause to inquire into the reasons of failures, though it
frequently happens that adventures prosper by means of their very
blunders. Captain Mull now determined on a half-board, for his ship
was more to leeward than he desired. Directions were given to the
officers in the batteries to be deliberate, and the helm was put
down. As the ship shot into the wind, each gun was fired, as it
could be brought to bear, until the last of them all was discharged.
Then the course of the vessel was changed, the helm being righted
before the ship had lost her way, and the sloop-of-war fell off
again to her course.
All this was done in such a short period of time as scarcely to
cause the Poughkeepsie to lose anything, while it did the Swash the
most serious injury. The guns had been directed at the brig's spars
and sails, Captain Mull desiring no more than to capture his chase,
and the destruction they produced aloft was such as to induce Spike
and his men, at first, to imagine that the whole hamper above their
heads was about to come clattering down on deck. One shot carried
away all the weather fore-top-mast rigging of the brig, and would no
doubt have brought about the loss of the mast, if another, that
almost instantly succeeded it, had not cut the spar itself in two,
bringing down, as a matter of course, everything above it. Nearly
half of the main-mast was gouged out of that spar, and the gaff was
taken fairly out of its jaws. The fore-yard was cut in the slings,
and various important ropes were carried away in different parts of
Flight, under such circumstances, was impossible, unless some
extraordinary external assistance was to be obtained. This Spike saw
at once, and he had recourse to the only expedient that remained;
which might possibly yet save him. The guns were still belching
forth their smoke and flames, when he shouted out the order to put
the helm hard up. The width of the passage in which the vessels were
was not so great but that he might hope to pass across it, and to
enter a channel among the rocks, which was favourably placed for
such a purpose, ere the sloop-of-war could overtake him. Whither
that channel led, what water it possessed, or whether it were not a
shallow _cul de sac,_ were all facts of which Spike was ignorant.
The circumstances, however, would not admit of an alternative.
Happily for the execution of Spike's present design, nothing from
aloft had fallen into the water, to impede the brig's way. Forward,
in particular, she seemed all wreck; her fore-yard having come down
altogether, so as to encumber the forecastle, while her top-mast,
with its dependent spars and gear, was suspended but a short
distance above. Still, nothing had gone over the side, so as
actually to touch the water, and the craft obeyed her helm as usual.
Away she went, then, for the lateral opening in the reef just
mentioned, driven ahead by the pressure of a strong breeze on her
sails, which still offered large surfaces to the wind, at a rapid
rate. Instead of keeping away to follow, the Poughkeepsie maintained
her luff, and just as the Swash entered the unknown passage, into
which she was blindly plunging, the sloop-of-war was about a quarter
of a mile to windward, and standing directly across her stern.
Nothing would have been easier, now, than for Captain Mull to
destroy his chase; but humanity prevented his firing. He knew that
her career must be short, and he fully expected to see her anchor;
when it would be easy for him to take possession with his boats.
With this expectation, indeed, he shortened sail, furling
top-gallant-sails, and hauling up his courage. By this time, the
wind had so much freshened, as to induce him to think of putting in
a reef, and the step now taken had a double object in view.
To the surprise of all on board the man-of-war, the brig continued
on, until she was fully a mile distant, finding her way deeper and
deeper among the mazes of the reef without meeting with any
impediment! This fact induced Captain Mull to order his Paixhans to
throw their shells beyond her, by way of a hint to anchor. While the
guns were getting ready, Spike stood on boldly, knowing it was neck
or nothing, and beginning to feel a faint revival of hope, as he
found himself getting further and further from his pursuers, and the
rocks not fetching him up. Even the men, who had begun to murmur at
what seemed to them to be risking too much, partook, in a slight
degree, of the same feeling, and began to execute the order they had
received to try to get the launch into the water, with some
appearance of an intention to succeed. Previously, the work could
scarcely be said to go on at all; but two or three of the older
seamen now bestirred themselves, and suggestions were made and
attended to, that promised results. But it was no easy thing to get
the launch out of a half-rigged brig, that had lost her fore-yard,
and which carried nothing square abaft. A derrick was used in
common, to lift the stern of the boat, but a derrick would now be
useless aft, without an assistant forward. While these things were
in discussion, under the superintendence of the boatswain, and Spike
was standing between the knight-heads, conning the craft, the
sloop-of-war let fly the first of her hollow shot. Down came the
hurtling mass upon the Swash, keeping every head elevated and all
eyes looking for the dark object, as it went booming through the air
above their heads. The shot passed fully a mile to leeward, where it
exploded. This great range had been given to the first shot, with a
view to admonish the captain how long he must continue under the
guns of the ship, and as advice to come to. The second gun followed
immediately. Its shot was seem to ricochet, directly in a line with
the brig, making leaps of about half a mile in length. It struck the
water about fifty yards astern of the vessel, bounded directly over
her decks, passing through the main-sail and some of the fallen
hamper forward, and exploded about a hundred yards ahead. As usually
happens with such projectiles, most of the fragments were either
scattered laterally, or went on, impelled by the original momentum.
The effect of this last gun on the crew of the Swash was
instantaneous and deep. The faint gleamings of hope vanished at
once, and a lively consciousness of the desperate nature of their
condition succeeded in every mind. The launch was forgotten, and,
after conferring together for a moment, the men went in a body, with
the boatswain at their head, to the forecastle, and offered a
remonstrance to their commander, on the subject of holding out any
longer, under circumstances so very hazardous, and which menaced
their lives in so many different ways. Spike listened to them with
eyes that fairly glared with fury. He ordered them back to their
duty in a voice of thunder, tapping the breast of his jacket, where
he was known to carry revolvers, with a significance that could
convey but one meaning.
It is wonderful the ascendency that men sometimes obtain over their
fellows, by means of character, the habits of command, and
obedience, and intimidation. Spike was a stern disciplinarian,
relying on that and ample pay for the unlimited control he often
found it necessary to exercise over his crew. On the present
occasion, his people were profoundly alarmed, but habitual deference
and submission to their leader counteracted the feeling, and held
them in suspense. They were fully aware of the nature of the
position they occupied in a legal sense, and were deeply reluctant
to increase the appearances of crime; but most of them had been
extricated from so many grave difficulties in former instances, by
the coolness, nerve and readiness of the captain, that a latent ray
of hope was perhaps dimly shining in the rude breast of every old
sea-dog among them. As a consequence of these several causes, they
abandoned their remonstrance, for the moment at least, and made a
show of returning to their duty; though it was in a sullen and moody
It was easier, however, to make a show of hoisting out the launch,
than to effect the object. This was soon made apparent on trial, and
Spike himself gave the matter up. He ordered the yawl to be lowered,
got alongside, and to be prepared for the reception of the crew, by
putting into it a small provision of food and water. All this time
the brig was rushing madly to leeward, among rocks and breakers,
without any other guide than that which the visible dangers
afforded. Spike knew no more where he was going than the meanest man
in his vessel. His sole aim was to get away from his pursuers, and
to save his neck from the rope. He magnified the danger of
punishment that he really ran, for he best knew the extent and
nature of his crimes, of which the few that have been laid before
the reader, while they might have been amongst the most prominent,
as viewed through the statutes and international law, were far from
the gravest he had committed in the eyes of morals.
About this time the Seņor Montefalderon went forward to confer with
Spike. The calmness of this gentleman's demeanour, the simplicity
and coolness of his movements, denoted a conscience that saw no
particular ground for alarm. He wished to escape captivity, that he
might continue to serve his country, but no other apprehension
"Do you intend to trust yourself in the yawl, Don Esteban?" demanded
the Mexican quietly. "If so, is she not too small to contain so many
as we shall make altogether?"
Spike's answer was given in a low voice; and it evidently came from
a very husky throat.
"Speak lower, Don Wan," he said. "The boat would be greatly
overloaded with all hands in it, especially among the breakers, and
blowing as it does; but we may leave some of the party behind."
"The brig _must_ go on the rocks, sooner or later, Don Esteban; when
she does, she will go to pieces in an hour.
"I expect to hear her strike every minute, seņor; the moment she
does, we must be off. I have had my eye on that ship for some time,
expecting to see her lower her cutters and gigs to board us. _You_
will not be out of the way, Don Wan; but there is no need of being
talkative on the subject of our escape."
Spike now turned his back on the Mexican, looking anxiously ahead,
with the desire to get as far into the reef as possible with his
brig, which he conned with great skill and coolness. The Seņor
Montefalderon left him. With the chivalry and consideration of a man
and a gentleman, he went in quest of Mrs. Budd and Biddy. A hint
sufficed for them, and gathering together a few necessaries they
were in the yawl in the next three minutes. This movement was unseen
by Spike, or he might have prevented it. His eyes were now riveted
on the channel ahead. It had been fully his original intention to
make off in the boat, the instant the brig struck, abandoning not
only Don Juan, with Mrs. Budd and Biddy to their fates, but most of
the crew. A private order had been given to the boatswain, and three
of the ablest-bodied among the seamen, each and all of whom kept the
secret with religious fidelity, as it was believed their own
personal safety might be connected with the success of this plan.
Nothing is so contagious as alarm. It requires not only great
natural steadiness of nerve, but much acquired firmness to remain
unmoved when sudden terror has seized on the minds of those around
us. Habitual respect had prevented the crew from interfering with
the movements of the Mexican, who not only descended into the boat
with his female companions uninterrupted, but also took with him the
little bag of doubloons which fell to his share from the first
raising of the schooner. Josh and Jack Tier assisted in getting Mrs.
Budd and Biddy over the side, and both took their own places in the
yawl, as soon as this pious duty was discharged. This served as a
hint to others near at hand; and man after man left his work to
steal into the yawl, until every living being had disappeared from
the deck of the Swash, Spike himself excepted. The man at the wheel
had been the last to desert his post, nor would he have done so
then, but for a signal from the boatswain, with whom he was a
It is certain there was a secret desire among the people of the
Swash, who were now crowded into a boat not large enough to contain
more than half their number with safety, to push off from the brig's
side, and abandon her commander and owner to his fate. All had
passed so soon, however, and events succeeded each other with so
much rapidity, that little time was given for consultation. Habit
kept them in their places, though the appearances around them were
strong motives for taking care of themselves.
Notwithstanding the time necessary to relate the foregoing events, a
quarter of an hour had not elapsed, from the moment when the Swash
entered this unknown channel among the rocks, ere she struck. No
sooner was her helm deserted than she broached-to, and Spike was in
the act of denouncing the steerage, ignorant of its cause, when the
brig was thrown, broadside-to, on a sharp, angular bed of rocks. It
was fortunate for the boat, and all in it, that it was brought to
leeward by the broaching-to of the vessel, and that the water was
still sufficiently deep around them to prevent the waves from
breaking. Breakers there were, however, in thousands, on every side;
and the seamen understood that their situation was almost
desperately perilous, without shipwreck coming to increase the
The storm itself was scarcely more noisy and boisterous than was
Spike, when he ascertained the manner in which his people had
behaved. At first, he believed it was their plan to abandon him to
his fate; but, on rushing to the lee-gangway, Don Juan Montefalderon
assured him that no such intention existed, and that he would not
allow the boat to be cast off until the captain was received on
board. This brief respite gave Spike a moment to care for his
portion of the doubloons; and he rushed to his state-room to secure
them, together with his quadrant.
The grinding of the brig's bottom on the coral, announced a speedy
breaking up of the craft, while her commander was thus employed. So
violent were some of the shocks with which she came down on the hard
bed in which she was now cradled, that Spike expected to see her
burst asunder, while he was yet on her decks. The cracking of
timbers told him that all was over with the Swash, nor had he got
back as far as the gangway with his prize, before he saw plainly
that the vessel had broken her back, as it is termed, and that her
plank-sheer was opening in a way that threatened to permit a
separation of the craft into two sections, one forward and the other
aft. Notwithstanding all these portentous proofs that the minutes of
the Molly were numbered, and the danger that existed of his being
abandoned by his crew, Spike paused a moment, ere he went over the
vessel's side, to take a hasty survey of the reef. His object was to
get a general idea of the position of the breakers, with a view to
avoid them. As much of the interest of that which is to succeed is
connected with these particular dangers, it may be well to explain
their character, along with a few other points of a similar bearing.
The brig had gone ashore fully two miles within the passage she had
entered, and which, indeed, terminated at the very spot where she
had struck. The Poughkeepsie was standing off and on, in the main
channel, with her boats in the water, evidently preparing to carry
the brig in that mode. As for the breakers, they whitened the
surface of the ocean in all directions around the wreck, far as the
eye could reach, but in two. The passage in which the Poughkeepsie
was standing to and fro was clear of them, of course; and about a
mile and a half to the northward, Spike saw that he should be in
open water, or altogether on the northern side of the reef, could he
only get there. The gravest dangers would exist in the passage,
which led among breakers on all sides, and very possibly among rocks
so near the surface as absolutely to obstruct the way. In one sense,
however, the breakers were useful. By avoiding them as much as
possible, and by keeping in the unbroken water, the boat would be
running in the channels of the reef, and consequently would be the
safer. The result of the survey, short as it was, and it did not
last a minute, was to give Spike something like a plan; and when he
went over the side, and got into the boat, it was with a
determination to work his way out of the reef to its northern edge,
as soon as possible, and then to skirt it as near as he could, in
his flight toward the Dry Tortugas.
The screams of rage, the groan, the strife,
The blow, the grasp, the horrid cry,
The panting, throttled prayer for life,
The dying's heaving sigh,
The murderer's curse, the dead man's fixed, still glare,
And fear's and death's cold sweat--they all are there.
It was high time that Captain Spike should arrive when his foot
touched the bottom of the yawl. The men were getting impatient and
anxious to the last degree, and the power of Seņor Montefalderon to
control them was lessening each instant. They heard the rending of
timber, and the grinding on the coral, even more distinctly than the
captain himself, and feared that the brig would break up while they
lay alongside of her, and crush them amid the ruins. Then the spray
of the seas that broke over the weather side of the brig, fell like
rain upon them; and everybody in the boat was already as wet as if
exposed to a violent shower. It was well, therefore, for Spike that
he descended into the boat as he did, for another minute's delay
might have brought about his own destruction.
Spike felt a chill at his heart when he looked about him and saw the
condition of the yawl. So crowded were the stern-sheets into which
he had descended, that it was with difficulty he found room to place
his feet; it being his intention to steer, Jack was ordered to get
into the eyes of the boat, in order to give him a seat. The thwarts
were crowded, and three or four of the people had placed themselves
in the very bottom of the little craft, in order to be as much as
possible out of the way, as well as in readiness to bail out water.
So seriously, indeed, were all the seamen impressed with the gravity
of this last duty, that nearly every man had taken with him some
vessel fit for such a purpose. Rowing was entirely out of the
question, there being no space for the movement of the arms. The
yawl was too low in the water, moreover, for such an operation in so
heavy a sea. In all, eighteen persons were squeezed into a little
craft that would have been sufficiently loaded, for moderate weather
at sea, with its four oarsmen and as many sitters in the
stern-sheets, with, perhaps, one in the eyes to bring her more on an
even keel. In other words, she had twice the weight in her, in
living freight, that it would have been thought prudent to receive
in so small a craft, in an ordinary time, in or out of a port. In
addition to the human beings enumerated, there was a good deal of
baggage, nearly every individual having had the forethought to
provide a few clothes for a change. The food and water did not
amount to much, no more having been provided than enough for the
purposes of the captain, together with the four men with whom it had
been his intention to abandon the brig. The effect of all this cargo
was to bring the yawl quite low in the water; and every sea-faring
man in her had the greatest apprehensions about her being able to
float at all when she got out from under the lee of the Swash, or
into the troubled water. Try it she must, however, and Spike, in a
reluctant and hesitating manner, gave the final order to "Shove
The yawl carried a lugg, as is usually the case with boats at sea,
and the first blast of the breeze upon it satisfied Spike that his
present enterprise was one of the most dangerous of any in which he
had ever been engaged. The puffs of wind were quite as much as the
boat would bear; but this he did not mind, as he was running off
before it, and there was little danger of the yawl capsizing with
such a weight in her. It was also an advantage to have swift way on,
to prevent the combing waves from shooting into the boat, though the
wind itself scarce outstrips the send of the sea in a stiff blow. As
the yawl cleared the brig and began to feel the united power of the
wind and waves, the following short dialogue occurred between the
boatswain and Spike.
"I dare not keep my eyes off the breakers ahead," the captain
commenced, "and must trust to you, Strand, to report what is going
on among the man-of-war's men. What is the ship about?"
"Reefing her top-sails just now, sir. All three are on the caps, and
the vessel is laying-to, in a manner."
"And her boats?"
"I see none, sir--ay, ay, there they come from alongside of her in a
little fleet! There are four of them, sir, and all are coming down
before the wind, wing and wing, carrying their luggs reefed."
"Ours ought to be reefed by rights, too, but we dare not stop to do
it; and these infernal combing seas seem ready to glance aboard us
with all the way we can gather. Stand by to bail, men; we must pass
through a strip of white water--there is no help for it. God send
that we go clear of the rocks!"
All this was fearfully true. The adventurers were not yet more than
a cable's length from the brig, and they found themselves so
completely environed with the breakers as to be compelled to go
through them. No man in his senses would ever have come into such a
place at all, except in the most unavoidable circumstances; and it
was with a species of despair that the seamen of the yawl now saw
their little craft go plunging into the foam.
But Spike neglected no precaution that experience or skill could
suggest. He had chosen his spot with coolness and judgment. As the
boat rose on the seas he looked eagerly ahead, and by giving it a
timely sheer, he hit a sort of channel, where there was sufficient
water to carry them clear of the rock, and where the breakers were
less dangerous than in the shoaler places. The passage lasted about
a minute; and so serious was it, that scarce an individual breathed
until it was effected. No human skill could prevent the water from
combing in over the gunwales; and when the danger was passed, the
yawl was a third filled with water. There was no time or place to
pause, but on the little craft was dragged almost gunwale to, the
breeze coming against the lugg in puffs that threatened to take the
mast out of her. All hands were bailing; and even Biddy used her
hands to aid in throwing out the water.
"This is no time to hesitate, men," said Spike, sternly. "Everything
must go overboard but the food and water. Away with them at once,
and with a will."
It was a proof how completely all hands were alarmed by this, the
first experiment in the breakers, that not a man stayed his hand a
single moment, but each threw into the sea, without an instant of
hesitation, every article he had brought with him and had hoped to
save. Biddy parted with the carpet-bag, and Seņor Montefalderon,
feeling the importance of example, committed to the deep a small
writing-desk that he had placed on his knees. The doubloons alone
remained, safe in a little locker where Spike had deposited them
along with his own.
"What news astern, boatswain?" demanded the captain, as soon as this
imminent danger was passed, absolutely afraid to turn his eyes off
the dangers ahead for a single instant. "How come on the
"They are running down in a body toward the wreck, though one of
their boats does seem to be sheering out of the line, as if getting
into our wake. It is hard to say, sir, for they are still a good bit
to windward of the wreck."
"And the Molly, Strand?"
"Why, sir, the Molly seems to be breaking up fast; as well as I can
see, she has broke in two just abaft the forechains, and cannot hold
together in any shape at all many minutes longer."
This information drew a deep groan from Spike, and the eye of every
seaman in the boat was turned in melancholy on the object they were
so fast leaving behind them. The yawl could not be said to be
sailing very rapidly, considering the power of the wind, which was a
little gale, for she was much too deep for that, but she left the
wreck so fast as already to render objects on board her indistinct.
Everybody saw that, like an overburthened steed, she had more to get
along with than she could well bear; and, dependent as seamen
usually are on the judgment and orders of their superiors, even in
the direst emergencies, the least experienced man in her saw that
their chances of final escape from drowning were of the most
doubtful nature. The men looked at each other in a way to express
their feelings; and the moment seemed favourable to Spike to confer
with his confidential sea-dogs in private; but more white water was
also ahead, and it was necessary to pass through it, since no
opening was visible by which to avoid it. He deferred his purpose,
consequently, until this danger was escaped.
On this occasion Spike saw but little opportunity to select a place
to get through the breakers, though the spot, as a whole, was not of
the most dangerous kind. The reader will understand that the
preservation of the boat at all, in white water, was owing to the
circumstance that the rocks all around it lay so near the surface of
the sea as to prevent the possibility of agitating the element very
seriously, and to the fact that she was near the lee side of the
reef. Had the breakers been of the magnitude of those which are seen
where the deep rolling billows of the ocean first meet the weather
side of shoals or rocks, a craft of that size, and so loaded, could
not possibly have passed the first line of white water without
filling. As it was, however, the breakers she had to contend with
were sufficiently formidable, and they brought with them the
certainty that the boat was in imminent danger of striking the
bottom at any moment. Places like those in which Mulford had waded
on the reef, while it was calm, would now have proved fatal to the
strongest frame, since human powers were insufficient long to
withstand the force of such waves as did glance over even these
"Look out!" cried Spike, as the boat again plunged in among the
white water. "Keep bailing, men--keep bailing."
The men did bail, and the danger was over almost as soon as
encountered. Something like a cheer burst out of the chest of Spike,
when he saw deeper water around him, and fancied he could now trace
a channel that would carry him quite beyond the extent of the reef.
It was arrested, only half uttered, however, by a communication from
the boatswain, who sat on a midship thwart, his arms folded, and his
eye on the brig and the boats.
"There goes the Molly's masts, sir! Both have gone together; and as
good sticks was they, before them bomb-shells passed through our
rigging, as was ever stepped in a keelson."
The cheer was changed to something like a groan, while a murmur of
regret passed through the boat.
"What news from the man-of-war's men, boatswain? Do they still stand
down on a mere wreck?"
"No, sir; they seem to give it up, and are getting out their oars to
pull back to their ship. A pretty time they'll have of it, too. The
cutter that gets to windward half a mile in an hour, ag'in such a
sea, and such a breeze, must be well pulled and better steered. One
chap, however, sir, seems to hold on."
Spike now ventured to look behind him, commanding an experienced
hand to take the helm. In order to do this he was obliged to change
places with the man he had selected to come aft, which brought him
on a thwart alongside of the boatswain and one or two other of his
confidants. Here a whispered conference took place, which lasted
several minutes, Spike appearing to be giving instructions to the
By this time the yawl was more than a mile from the wreck, all the
man-of-war boats but one had lowered their sails, and were pulling
slowly and with great labour back toward the ship, the cutter that
kept on, evidently laying her course after the yawl, instead of
standing on toward the wreck. The brig was breaking up fast, with
every probability that nothing would be left of her in a few more
minutes. As for the yawl, while clear of the white water, it got
along without receiving many seas aboard, though the men in its
bottom were kept bailing without intermission. It appeared to Spike
that so long as they remained on the reef, and could keep clear of
breakers--a most difficult thing, however--they should fare better
than if in deeper water, where the swell of the sea, and the combing
of the waves, menaced so small and so deep-loaded a craft with
serious danger. As it was, two or three men could barely keep the
boat clear, working incessantly, and much of the time with a foot or
two of water in her.
Josh and Simon had taken their seats, side by side, with that sort
of dependence and submission that causes the American black to
abstain from mingling with the whites more than might appear seemly.
They were squeezed on to one end of the thwart by a couple of robust
old sea-dogs, who were two of the very men with whom Spike had been
in consultation. Beneath that very thwart was stowed another
confidant, to whom communications had also been made. These men had
sailed long in the Swash, and having been picked up in various
ports, from time to time, as the brig had wanted hands, they were of
nearly as many different nations as they were persons. Spike had
obtained a great ascendency over them by habit and authority, and
his suggestions were now received as a sort of law. As soon as the
conference was ended, the captain returned to the helm.
A minute more passed, during which the captain was anxiously
surveying the reef ahead, and the state of things astern. Ahead was
more white water--the last before they should get clear of the reef;
and astern it was now settled that the cutter that held on through
the dangers of the place, was in chase of the yawl. That Mulford was
in her Spike made no doubt; and the thought embittered even his
present calamities. But the moment had arrived for something
decided. The white water ahead was much more formidable than any
they had passed; and the boldest seamen there gazed at it with
dread. Spike made a sign to the boatswain, and commenced the
execution of his dire project.
"I say, you Josh," called out the captain, in the authoritative
tones that are so familiar to all on board a ship, "pull in that
fender that is dragging alongside."
Josh leaned over the gunwale, and reported that there was no fender
out. A malediction followed, also so familiar to those acquainted
with ships, and the black was told to look again. This time, as had
been expected, the negro leaned with his head and body far over the
side of the yawl, to look for that which had no existence, when two
of the men beneath the thwart shoved his legs after them. Josh
screamed, as he found himself going into the water, with a sort of
confused consciousness of the truth; and Spike called out to Simon
to "catch hold of his brother-nigger." The cook bent forward to
obey, when a similar assault on _his_ legs from beneath the thwart,
sent him headlong after Josh. One of the younger seamen, who was not
in the secret, sprang up to rescue Simon, who grasped his extended
hand, when the too generous fellow was pitched headlong from the
All this occurred in less than ten seconds of time, and so
unexpectedly and naturally, that not a soul beyond those who were in
the secret, had the least suspicion it was anything but an accident.
Some water was shipped, of necessity, but the boat was soon bailed
free. As for the victims of this vile conspiracy, they disappeared
amid the troubled waters of the reef, struggling with each other.
Each and all met the common fate so much the sooner, from the manner
in which they impeded their own efforts.
The yawl was now relieved from about five hundred pounds of the
weight it had carried--Simon weighing two hundred alone, and the
youngish seaman being large and full. So intense does human
selfishness get to be, in moments of great emergency, that it is to
be feared most of those who remained, secretly rejoiced that they
were so far benefited by the loss of their fellows. The Seņor
Montefalderon was seated on the aftermost thwart, with his legs in
the stern-sheets, and consequently with his back toward the negroes,
and he fully believed that what had happened was purely accidental.
"Let us lower our sail, Don Esteban," he cried, eagerly, "and save
the poor fellows."
Something very like a sneer gleamed on the dark countenance of the
captain, but it suddenly changed to a look of assent.
"Good!" he said, hastily--"spring forward, Don Wan, and lower the
sail--stand by the oars, men!"
Without pausing to reflect, the generous-hearted Mexican stepped on
a thwart, and began to walk rapidly forward, steadying himself by
placing his hands on the heads of the men. He was suffered to get as
far as the second thwart or past most of the conspirators, when his
legs were seized from behind. The truth now flashed on him, and
grasping two of the men in his front, who knew nothing of Spike's
dire scheme, he endeavoured to save himself by holding to their
jackets. Thus assailed, those men seized others with like intent,
and an awful struggle filled all that part of the craft. At this
dread instant the boat glanced into the white water, shipping so
much of the element as nearly to swamp her, and taking so wild a
sheer as nearly to broach-to. This last circumstance probably saved
her, fearful as was the danger for the moment. Everybody in the
middle of the yawl was rendered desperate by the amount and nature
of the danger incurred, and the men from the bottom rose in their
might, underneath the combatants, when a common plunge was made by
all who stood erect, one dragging overboard another, each a good
deal hastened by the assault from beneath, until no less than five
were gone. Spike got his helm up, the boat fell off, and away from
the spot it flew, clearing the breakers, and reaching the northern
wall-like margin of the reef at the next instant. There was now a
moment when those who remained could breathe, and dared to look
The great plunge had been made in water so shoal, that the boat had
barely escaped being dashed to pieces on the coral. Had it not been
so suddenly relieved from the pressure of near a thousand pounds in
weight, it is probable that this calamity would have befallen it,
the water received on board contributing so much to weight it down.
The struggle between these victims ceased, however, the moment they
went over. Finding bottom for their feet, they released each other,
in a desperate hope of prolonging life by wading. Two or three held
out their arms, and shouted to Spike to return and pick them up.
This dreadful scene lasted but a single instant, for the waves
dashed one after another from his feet, continually forcing them
all, as they occasionally regained their footing, toward the margin
of the reef, and finally washing them off it into deep water. No
human power could enable a man to swim back to the rocks, once to
leeward of them, in the face of such seas, and so heavy a blow; and
the miserable wretches disappeared in succession, as their strength
became exhausted, in the depths of the Gulf.
Not a word had been uttered while this terrific scene was in the
course of occurrence; not a word was uttered for some time
afterward. Gleams of grim satisfaction had been seen on the
countenances of the boatswain and his associates, when the success
of their nefarious project was first assured; but they soon
disappeared in looks of horror, as they witnessed the struggles of
the drowning men. Nevertheless, human selfishness was strong within
them all, and none there was so ignorant as not to perceive how much
better were the chances of the yawl now than it had been on quitting
the wreck. The weight of a large ox had been taken from it, counting
that of all the eight men drowned; and as for the water shipped, it
was soon bailed back again into the sea. Not only, therefore, was
the yawl in a better condition to resist the waves, but it sailed
materially faster than it had done before. Ten persons still
remained in it, however, which brought it down in the water below
its proper load-line; and the speed of a craft so small was
necessarily a good deal lessened by the least deviation from its
best sailing, or rowing trim. But Spike's projects were not yet
All this time the man-of-war's cutter had been rushing as madly
through the breakers, in chase, as the yawl had done in the attempt
to escape. Mulford was, in fact, on board it; and his now fast
friend, Wallace, was in command. The latter wished to seize a
traitor, the former to save the aunt of his weeping bride. Both
believed that they might follow wherever Spike dared to lead. This
reasoning was more bold than judicious notwithstanding, since the
cutter was much larger, and drew twice as much water as the yawl. On
it came, nevertheless, faring much better in the white water than
the little craft it pursued, but necessarily running a much more
considerable risk of hitting the coral, over which it was glancing
almost as swiftly as the waves themselves; still it had thus far
escaped--and little did any in it think of the danger. This cutter
pulled ten oars; was an excellent sea boat; had four armed marines
in it, in addition to its crew, but carried all through the
breakers, receiving scarcely a drop of water on board, on account of
the height of its wash-boards, and the general qualities of the
craft. It may be well to add here, that the Poughkeepsie had shaken
out her reefs, and was betraying the impatience of Captain Mull to
make sail in chase, by firing signal-guns to his boats to bear a
hand and return. These signals the three boats under their oars were
endeavouring to obey, but Wallace had got so far to leeward as now
to render the course he was pursuing the wisest.
Mrs. Budd and Biddy had seen the struggle in which the Seņor
Montefalderon had been lost, in a sort of stupid horror. Both had
screamed, as was their wont, though neither probably suspected the
truth. But the fell designs of Spike extended to them, as well as to
those whom he had already destroyed. Now the boat was in deep water,
running along the margin of the reef, the waves were much increased
in magnitude, and the comb of the sea was far more menacing to the
boat. This would not have been the case had the rocks formed a lee;
but they did not, running too near the direction of the trades to
prevent the billows that got up a mile or so in the offing, from
sending their swell quite home to the reef. It was this swell,
indeed, which caused the line of white water along the northern
margin of the coral, washing on the rocks by a sort of lateral
effort, and breaking, as a matter of course. In many places, no boat
could have lived to pass through it.
Another consideration influenced Spike to persevere. The cutter had
been overhauling him, hand over hand, but since the yawl was
relieved of the weight of no less than eight men, the difference in
the rate of sailing was manifestly diminished. The man-of-war's boat
drew nearer, but by no means as fast as it had previously done. A
point was now reached in the trim of the yawl, when a very few
hundreds in weight might make the most important change in her
favour; and this change the captain was determined to produce. By
this time the cutter was in deep water, as well as himself, safe
through all the dangers of the reef, and she was less than a quarter
of a mile astern. On the whole, she was gaining, though so slowly as
to require the most experienced eye to ascertain the fact.
"Madame Budd," said Spike, in a hypocritical tone, "we are in great
danger, and I shall have to ask you to change your seat. The boat is
too much by the starn, now we've got into deep water, and your
weight amidships would be a great relief to us. Just give your hand
to the boatswain, and he will help you to step from thwart to
thwart, until you reach the right place, when Biddy shall follow."
Now Mrs. Budd had witnessed the tremendous struggle in which so many
had gone overboard, but so dull was she of apprehension, and so
little disposed to suspect anything one-half so monstrous as the
truth, that she did not hesitate to comply. She was profoundly awed
by the horrors of the scene through which she was passing, the
raging billows of the Gulf, as seen from so small a craft, producing
a deep impression on her; still a lingering of her most inveterate
affectation was to be found in her air and language, which presented
a strange medley of besetting weakness, and strong, natural, womanly
"Certainly, Captain Spike," she answered, rising. "A craft should
never go astern, and I am quite willing to ballast the boat. We have
seen such terrible accidents today, that all should lend their aid
in endeavouring to get under way, and in averting all possible
hamper. Only take me to my poor, dear Rosy, Captain Spike, and
everything shall be forgotten that has passed between us. This is
not a moment to bear malice; and I freely pardon you all and
everything. The fate of our unfortunate friend, Mr. Montefalderon,
should teach us charity, and cause us to prepare for untimely ends."
All the time the good widow was making this speech, which she
uttered in a solemn and oracular sort of manner, she was moving
slowly toward the seat the men had prepared for her, in the middle
of the boat, assisted with the greatest care and attention by the
boatswain and another of Spike's confidants. When on the second
thwart from aft, and about to take her seat, the boatswain cast a
look behind him, and Spike put the helm down. The boat luffed and
lurched, of course, and Mrs. Budd would probably have gone overboard
to leeward, by so sudden and violent a change, had not the impetus
thus received been aided by the arms of the men who held her two
hands. The plunge she made into the water was deep, for she was a
woman of great weight for her stature. Still, she was not
immediately gotten rid of. Even at that dread instant, it is
probable that the miserable woman did not suspect the truth, for she
grasped the hand of the boatswain with the tenacity of a vice, and,
thus dragged on the surface of the boiling surges, she screamed
aloud for Spike to save her. Of all who had yet been sacrificed to
the captain's selfish wish to save himself, this was the first
instance in which any had been heard to utter a sound, after falling
into the sea. The appeal shocked even the rude beings around her,
and Biddy chiming in with a powerful appeal to "save the missus!"
added to the piteous nature of the scene.
"Cast off her hand," said Spike reproachfully, "she'll swamp the
boat by her struggles--get rid of her at once! Cut her fingers off,
if she wont let go!"
The instant these brutal orders were given, and that in a fierce,
impatient tone, the voice of Biddy was heard no more. The truth
forced itself on her dull imagination, and she sat a witness of the
terrible scene, in mute despair. The struggle did not last long. The
boatswain drew his knife across the wrist of the hand that grasped
his own, one shriek was heard, and the boat plunged into the trough
of a sea, leaving the form of poor Mrs. Budd struggling with the
wave on its summit, and amid the foam of its crest. This was the
last that was ever seen of the unfortunate relict.
"The boat has gained a good deal by that last discharge of cargo,"
said Spike to the boatswain, a minute after they had gotten rid of
the struggling woman--"she is much more lively, and is getting
nearer to her load-line. If we can bring her to _that,_ I shall have
no fear of the man-of-war's men; for this yawl is one of the fastest
boats that ever floated."
"A very little _now,_ sir, would bring us to our true trim."
"Ay, we must get rid of more cargo. Come, good woman," turning to
Biddy, with whom he did not think it worth his while to use much
circumlocution, "_your_ turn is next. It's the maid's duty to follow
"I know'd it _must_ come," said Biddy, meekly. "If there was no
mercy for the missus, little could I look for. But ye'll not take
the life of a Christian woman widout giving her so much as one
minute to say her prayers?"
"Ay, pray away," answered Spike, his throat becoming dry and husky,
for, strange to say, the submissive quiet of the Irish woman, so
different from the struggle he had anticipated with _her,_ rendered
him more reluctant to proceed than he had hitherto been in all of
that terrible day. As Biddy kneeled in the bottom of the
stern-sheets, Spike looked behind him, for the double purpose of
escaping the painful spectacle at his feet, and that of ascertaining
how his pursuers came on. The last still gained, though very slowly,
and doubts began to come over the captain's mind whether he could
escape such enemies at all. He was too deeply committed, however, to
recede, and it was most desirable to get rid of poor Biddy, if it
were for no other motive than to shut her mouth. Spike even fancied
that some idea of what had passed was entertained by those in the
cutter. There was evidently a stir in that boat, and two forms that
he had no difficulty, now, in recognizing as those of Wallace and
Mulford, were standing on the grating in the eyes of the cutter, or
forward of the foresail. The former appeared to have a musket in his
hand, and the other a glass. The last circumstance admonished him
that all that was now done would be done before dangerous witnesses.
It was too late to draw back, however, and the captain turned to
look for the Irish woman.
Biddy arose from her knees, just as Spike withdrew his eyes from his
pursuers. The boatswain and another confidant were in readiness to
cast the poor creature into the sea, the moment their leader gave
the signal. The intended victim saw and understood the arrangement,
and she spoke earnestly and piteously to her murderers.
"It's not wanting will be violence!" said Biddy, in a quiet tone,
but with a saddened countenance. "I know it's my turn, and I will
save yer sowls from a part of the burden of this great sin. God, and
His Divine Son, and the Blessed Mother of Jesus have mercy on me if
it be wrong; but I would far radder jump into the saa widout having
the rude hands of man on me, than have the dreadful sight of the
missus done over ag'in. It's a fearful thing is wather, and
sometimes we have too little of it, and sometimes more than we
"Bear a hand, bear a hand, good woman," interrupted the boatswain,
impatiently. "We must clear the boat of you, and the sooner it is
done the better it will be for all of us."
"Don't grudge a poor morthal half a minute of life, at the last
moment," answered Biddy. "It's not long that I'll throuble ye, and
so no more need be said."
The poor creature then got on the quarter of the boat, without any
one's touching her; there she placed herself with her legs outboard,
while she sat on the gunwale. She gave one moment to the thought of
arranging her clothes with womanly decency, and then she paused to
gaze with a fixed eye, and pallid cheek, on the foaming wake that
marked the rapid course of the boat. The troughs of the sea seemed
less terrible to her than their combing crests, and she waited for
the boat to descend into the next.
"God forgive ye all, this deed, as I do!" said Biddy, earnestly, and
bending her person forward, she fell, as it might be "without
hands," into the gulf of eternity. Though all strained their eyes,
none of the men, Jack Tier excepted, ever saw more of Biddy Noon.
Nor did Jack see much. He got a frightful glimpse of an arm,
however, on the summit of a wave, but the motion of the boat was too
swift, and the water of the ocean too troubled, to admit of aught
A long pause succeeded this event. Biddy's quiet submission to her
fate had produced more impression on her murderers than the
desperate, but unavailing, struggles of those who had preceded her.
Thus it is ever with men. When opposed, the demon within blinds them
to consequences as well as to their duties; but, unresisted, the
silent influence of the image of God makes itself felt, and a better
spirit begins to prevail. There was not one in that boat who did
not, for a brief space, wish that poor Biddy had been spared. With
most, that feeling, the last of human kindness they ever knew,
lingered until the occurrence of the dread catastrophe which, so
shortly after, closed the scene of this state of being on their
"Jack Tier," called out Spike, some five minutes after Biddy was
drowned, but not until another observation had made it plainly
apparent to him that the man-of-war's men still continued to draw
nearer, being now not more than fair musket-shot astern.
"Ay, ay, sir," answered Jack, coming quietly out of his hole, from
forward of the mast, and moving aft as if indifferent to the danger,
by stepping lightly from thwart to thwart, until he reached the
"It is your turn, little Jack," said Spike, as if in a sort of
sorrowful submission to a necessity that knew no law, "we cannot
spare you the room."
"I have expected this, and am ready. Let me have my own way, and I
will cause you no trouble. Poor Biddy has taught me how to die.
Before I go, however, Stephen Spike, I must leave you this letter.
It is written by myself, and addressed to you. When I am gone, read
it, and think well of what it contains. And now, may a merciful God
pardon the sins of both, through love for His Divine Son. I forgive
you, Stephen; and should you live to escape from those who are now
bent on hunting you to the death, let this day cause you no grief on
my account. Give me but a moment of time, and I will cause you no
Jack now stood upon the seat of the stern-sheets, balancing himself
with one foot on the stern of the boat. He waited until the yawl had
risen to the summit of a wave, when he looked eagerly for the
man-of-war's cutter. At that moment she was lost to view in the
trough of the sea. Instead of springing overboard, as all expected,
he asked another instant of delay. The yawl sank into the trough
itself, and rose on the succeeding billow. Then he saw the cutter,
and Wallace and Mulford standing in its bows. He waved his hat to
them, and sprang high into the air, with the intent to make himself
seen; when he came down the boat had shot her length away from the
place, leaving him to buffet with the waves. Jack now managed
admirably, swimming lightly and easily, but keeping his eyes on the
crests of the waves, with a view to meet the cutter. Spike now saw
this well-planned project to avoid death, and regretted his own
remissness in not making sure of Jack. Everybody in the yawl was
eagerly looking after the form of Tier.
"There he is on the comb of that sea, rolling over like a keg!"
cried the boatswain.
"He 's through it," answered Spike, "and swimming with great
strength and coolness."
Several of the men started up involuntarily and simultaneously to
look, hitting their shoulders and bodies together. Distrust was at
its most painful height; and bull-dogs do not spring at the ox's
muzzle more fiercely than those six men throttled each other. Oaths,
curses, and appeals for help, succeeded; each man endeavouring, in
his frenzied efforts, to throw all the others overboard, as the only
means of saving himself. Plunge succeeded plunge; and when that
combat of demons ended, no one remained of them all but the
boatswain. Spike had taken no share in the struggle, looking on in
grim satisfaction, as the Father of Lies may be supposed to regard
all human strife, hoping good to himself, let the result be what it
might to others. Of the five men who thus went overboard, not one
escaped. They drowned each other by continuing their maddened
conflict in an element unsuited to their natures.
Not so with Jack Tier. His leap had been seen, and a dozen eyes in
the cutter watched for his person, as that boat came foaming down
before the wind. A shout of "There he is!" from Mulford succeeded;
and the little fellow was caught by the hair, secured, and then
hauled into the boat by the second lieutenant of the Poughkeepsie
and our young mate.
Others in the cutter had noted the incident of the hellish fight.
The fact was communicated to Wallace, and Mulford said, "That yawl
will outsail this loaded cutter, with only two men in it."
"Then it is time to try what virtue there is in lead," answered
Wallace. "Marines, come forward, and give the rascal a volley."
The volley was fired; one ball passed through the head of the
boatswain, killing him dead on the spot. Another went through the
body of Spike. The captain fell in the stern-sheets, and the boat
The water that came on board apprised Spike fully of the state in
which he was now placed, and by a desperate effort, he clutched the
tiller, and got the yawl again before the wind. This could not last,
however. Little by little, his hold relaxed, until his hand
relinquished its grasp altogether, and the wounded man sank into the
bottom of the stern-sheets, unable to raise even his head. Again the
boat broached-to. Every sea now sent its water aboard, and the yawl
would soon have filled, had not the cutter come glancing down past
it, and rounding-to under its lee, secured the prize.
Man hath a weary pilgrimage,
As through the world he wends;
On every stage, from youth to age,
Still discontent attends;
With heaviness he casts his eye,
Upon the road before,
And still remembers with a sigh
The days that are no more.
It has now become necessary to advance the time three entire days,
and to change the scene to Key West. As this latter place may not be
known to the world at large, it may be well to explain that it is a
small seaport, situate on one of the largest of the many low islands
that dot the Florida Reef, that has risen into notice, or indeed
into existence as a town, since the acquisition of the Floridas by
the American Republic. For many years it was the resort of few
besides wreckers, and those who live by the business dependent on
the rescuing and repairing of stranded vessels, not forgetting the
salvages. When it is remembered that the greater portion of the
vessels that enter the Gulf of Mexico stand close along this reef,
before the trades, for a distance varying from one to two hundred
miles, and that nearly everything which quits it, is obliged to beat
down its rocky coast in the Gulf Stream for the same distance, one
is not to be surprised that the wrecks, which so constantly occur,
can supply the wants of a considerable population. To live at Key
West is the next thing to being at sea. The place has sea air, no
other water than such as is preserved in cisterns, and no soil, or
so little as to render even a head of lettuce a rarity. Turtle is
abundant, and the business of "turtling" forms an occupation
additional to that of wrecking. As might be expected, in such
circumstances, a potato is a far more precious thing than a turtle's
egg, and a sack of the tubers would probably be deemed a sufficient
remuneration for enough of the materials of callipash and callipee
to feed all the aldermen extant.
Of late years, the government of the United States has turned its
attention to the capabilities of the Florida Reef, as an advanced
naval station; a sort of Downs, or St. Helen's Roads, for the West
Indian seas. As yet little has been done beyond making the
preliminary surveys, but the day is not probably very distant when
fleets will lie at anchor among the islets described in our earlier
chapters, or garnish the fine waters of Key West. For a long time it
was thought that even frigates would have a difficulty in entering
and quitting the port of the latter, but it is said that recent
explorations have discovered channels capable of admitting anything
that floats. Still Key West is a town yet in its chrysalis state,
possessing the promise rather than the fruition of the prosperous
days which are in reserve. It may be well to add, that it lies a
very little north of the 24th degree of latitude, and in a longitude
quite five degrees west from Washington. Until the recent conquests
in Mexico it was the most southern possession of the American
government, on the eastern side of the continent; Cape St. Lucas, at
the extremity of Lower California, however, being two degrees
It will give the foreign reader a more accurate notion of the
character of Key West, if we mention a fact of quite recent
occurrence. A very few weeks after the closing scenes of this tale,
the town in question was, in a great measure, washed away! A
hurricane brought in the sea upon all these islands and reefs, water
running in swift currents over places that within the memory of man
were never before submerged. The lower part of Key West was
converted into a raging sea, and everything in that quarter of the
place disappeared. The foundation being of rock, however, when the
ocean retired the island came into view again, and industry and
enterprise set to work to repair the injuries.
The government has established a small hospital for seamen at Key
West. Into one of the rooms of the building thus appropriated our
narrative must now conduct the reader. It contained but a single
patient, and that was Spike. He was on his narrow bed, which was to
be but the pucursor of a still narrower tenement, the grave. In the
room with the dying man were two females, in one of whom our readers
will at once recognize the person of Rose Budd, dressed in deep
mourning for her aunt. At first sight, it is probable that a casual
spectator would mistake the second female for one of the ordinary
nurses of the place. Her attire was well enough, though worn
awkwardly, and as if its owner were not exactly at ease in it. She
had the air of one in her best attire, who was unaccustomed to be
dressed above the most common mode. What added to the singularity of
her appearance, was the fact, that while she wore no cap, her hair
had been cut into short, gray bristles, instead of being long, and
turned up, as is usual with females. To give a sort of climax to
this uncouth appearance, this strange-looking creature chewed
The woman in question, equivocal as might be her exterior, was
employed in one of the commonest avocations of her sex--that of
sewing. She held in her hand a coarse garment, one of Spike's, in
fact, which she seemed to be intently busy in mending; although the
work was of a quality that invited the use of the palm and
sail-needle, rather than that of the thimble and the smaller
implement known to seamstresses, the woman appeared awkward in her
business, as if her coarse-looking and dark hands refused to lend
themselves to an occupation so feminine. Nevertheless, there were
touches of a purely womanly character about this extraordinary
person, and touches that particularly attracted the attention, and
awakened the sympathy of the gentle Rose, her companion. Tears
occasionally struggled out from beneath her eyelids, crossed her
dark, sun-burnt cheek, and fell on the coarse canvas garment that
lay in her lap. It was after one of these sudden and strong
exhibitions of feeling that Rose approached her, laid her own
little, fair hand, in a friendly way, though unheeded, on the
other's shoulder, and spoke to her in her kindest and softest tones.
"I do really think he is reviving, Jack," said Rose, "and that you
may yet hope to have an intelligent conversation with him."
"They all agree he _must_ die," answered Jack Tier--for it was _he,_
appearing in the garb of his proper sex, after a disguise that had
now lasted fully twenty years--"and he will never know who I am, and
that I forgive him. He must think of me in another world, though he
is n't able to do it in this; but it would be a great relief to his
soul to know that I forgive him."
"To be sure, a man must like to take a kind leave of his own wife
before he closes his eyes for ever; and I dare say it would be a
great relief to you to tell him that you have forgotten his
desertion of you, and all the hardships it has brought upon you in
searching for him, and in earning your own livelihood as a common
"I shall not tell him I've _forgotten_ it, Miss Rose; that would be
untrue--and there shall be no more deception between us; but I shall
tell him that I _forgive_ him, as I hope God will one day forgive me
all _my_ sins."
"It is, certainly, not a light offence to desert a wife in a foreign
land, and then to seek to deceive another woman," quietly observed
"He's a willian!" muttered the wife--"but--but--"
"You forgive him, Jack--yes, I'm sure you do. You are too good a
Christian to refuse to forgive him."
"I'm a woman a'ter all, Miss Rose; and that, I believe, is the truth
of it. I suppose I ought to do as you say, for the reason you
mention; but I'm his wife--and once he loved me, though that has
long been over. When I first knew Stephen, I'd the sort of feelin's
you speak of, and was a very different creatur' from what you see me
to-day. Change comes over us all with years and sufferin'."
Rose did not answer, but she stood looking intently at the speaker
more than a minute. Change had, indeed, come over her, if she had
ever possessed the power to please the fancy of any living man. Her
features had always seemed diminutive and mean for her assumed sex,
as her voice was small and cracked; but, making every allowance for
the probabilities, Rose found it difficult to imagine that Jack Tier
had ever possessed, even under the high advantages of youth and
innocence, the attractions so common to her sex. Her skin had
acquired the tanning of the sea; the expression of her face had
become hard and worldly; and her habits contributed to render those
natural consequences of exposure and toil even more than usually
marked and decided. By saying "habits," however, we do not mean that
Jack had ever drunk to excess, as happens with so many seamen, for
this would have been doing her injustice, but she smoked and
chewed--practices that intoxicate in another form, and lead nearly
as many to the grave as excess in drinking. Thus all the accessories
about this singular being, partook of the character of her recent
life and duties. Her walk was between a waddle and a seaman's roll,
her hands were discoloured with tar, and had got to be full of
knuckles, and even her feet had degenerated into that flat,
broad-toed form that, perhaps, sooner distinguishes caste, in
connection with outward appearances, than any one other physical
peculiarity. Yet this being _had_ once been young--had once been
even _fair;_ and had once possessed that feminine air and lightness
of form, that as often belongs to the youthful American of her sex,
perhaps, as to the girl of any other nation on earth. Rose continued
to gaze at her companion for some time, when she walked musingly to
a window that looked out upon the port.
"I am not certain whether it would do him good or not to see this
sight," she said, addressing the wife kindly, doubtful of the effect
of her words even on the latter. "But here are the sloop-of-war, and
several other vessels."
"Ay, she is _there;_ but never will his foot be put on board the
Swash ag'in. When he bought that brig I was still young, and
agreeable to him; and he gave her my maiden name, which was Mary, or
Molly Swash. But that is all changed; I wonder he did not change the
name with his change of feelin's."
"Then you did really sail in the brig in former times, and knew the
seaman whose name you assumed?"
"Many years. Tier, with whose name I made free, on account of his
size, and some resemblance to me in form, died under my care; and
his protection fell into my hands, which first put the notion into
my head of hailing as his representative. Yes, I knew Tier in the
brig, and we were left ashore at the same time; I, intentionally, I
make no question; he, because Stephen Spike was in a hurry, and did
not choose to wait for a man. The poor fellow caught the yellow
fever the very next day, and did not live eight-and-forty hours. So
the world goes; them that wish to live, die; and them that wants to
"You have had a hard time for one of your sex, poor Jack--quite
twenty years a sailor, did you not tell me?"
"Every day of it, Miss Rose--and bitter years have they been; for
the whole of that time have I been in chase of my husband, keeping
my own secret, and slaving like a horse for a livelihood."
"You could not have been old when he left--that is--when you
"Call it by its true name, and say at once, when he desarted me. I
was under thirty by two or three years, and was still like my own
sex to look at. All _that_ is changed since; but I _was_ comely
"_Why_ did Captain Spike abandon you, Jack; you have never told me
"Because he fancied another. And ever since that time he has been
fancying others, instead of remembering me. Had he got _you,_ Miss
Rose, I think he would have been content for the rest of his days."
"Be certain, Jack, I should never have consented to marry Captain
"You're well out of his hands," answered Jack, sighing heavily,
which was the most feminine thing she had done during the whole
conversation, "well out of his hands--and God be praised it is so.
He should have died, before I would let him carry you off the
island--husband or no husband."
"It might have exceeded your power to prevent it under other
Rose now continued looking out of the window in silence. Her
thoughts reverted to her aunt and Biddy, and tears rolled down her
cheeks as she remembered the love of one, and the fidelity of the
other. Their horrible fate had given her a shock that, at first,
menaced her with a severe fit of illness; but her strong, good
sense, and excellent constitution, both sustained by her piety and
Harry's manly tenderness, had brought her through the danger, and
left her, as the reader now sees her, struggling with her own
griefs, in order to be of use to the still more unhappy woman who
had so singularly become her friend and companion.
The reader will readily have anticipated that Jack Tier had early
made the females on board the Swash her confidants. Rose had known
the outlines of her history from the first few days they were at sea
together, which is the explanation of the visible intimacy that had
caused Mulford so much surprise. Jack's motive in making his
revelations might possibly have been tinctured with jealousy, but a
desire to save one as young and innocent as Rose was at its bottom.
Few persons but a wife would have supposed our heroine could have
been in any danger from a lover like Spike; but Jack saw him with
the eyes of her own youth, and of past recollections, rather than
with those of truth. A movement of the wounded man first drew Rose
from the window. Drying her eyes hastily, she turned toward him,
fancying she might prove the better nurse of the two,
notwithstanding Jack's greater interest in the patient.
"What place is this--and why am I here?" demanded Spike, with more
strength of voice than could have been expected, after all that had
passed. "This is not a cabin--not the Swash--it looks like a
"It is a hospital, Captain Spike," said Rose, gently drawing near
the bed; "you have been hurt, and have been brought to Key West, and
placed in the hospital. I hope you feel better, and that you suffer
"My head is n't right--I do n't know--everything seems turned round
with me--perhaps it will all come out as it should. I begin to
remember--where is my brig?"
"She is lost on the rocks. The seas have broken her into fragments."
"That's melancholy news, at any rate. Ah! Miss Rose! God bless
you--I've had terrible dreams. Well, it's pleasant to be among
friends--what creature is that--where does _she_ come from?"
"That is Jack Tier," answered Rose, steadily. "She turns out to be a
woman, and has put on her proper dress, in order to attend on you
during your illness. Jack has never left your bedside since we have
A long silence succeeded this revelation. Jack's eyes twinkled, and
she hitched her body half aside, as if to conceal her features,
where emotions that were unusual were at work with the muscles. Rose
thought it might be well to leave the man and wife alone--and she
managed to get out of the room unobserved.
Spike continued to gaze at the strange-looking female, who was now
his sole companion. Gradually his recollection returned, and with it
the full consciousness of his situation. He might not have been
fully aware of the absolute certainty of his approaching death, but
he must have known that his wound was of a very grave character, and
that the result might early prove fatal. Still that strange and
unknown figure haunted him; a figure that was so different from any
he had ever seen before, and which, in spite of its present dress,
seemed to belong quite as much to one sex as to the other. As for
Jack, we call Molly, or Mary Swash by her masculine appellation, not
only because it is more familiar, but because the other name seems
really out of place, as applied to such a person--as for Jack, then,
she sat with her face half averted, thumbing the canvas, and
endeavouring to ply the needle, but perfectly mute. She was
conscious that Spike's eyes were on her; and a lingering feeling of
her sex told her how much time, exposure, and circumstances, had
changed her person--and she would gladly have hidden the defects in
Mary Swash was the daughter as well as the wife of a ship-master. In
her youth, as has been said before, she had even been pretty, and
down to the day when her husband deserted her, she would have been
thought a female of a comely appearance rather than the reverse. Her
hair in particular, though slightly coarse, perhaps, had been rich
and abundant; and the change from the long, dark, shining, flowing
locks which she still possessed in her thirtieth year, to the short,
grey bristles that now stood exposed without a cap, or covering of
any sort, was one very likely to destroy all identity of appearance.
Then Jack had passed from what might be called youth to the verge of
old age, in the interval that she had been separated from her
husband. Her shape had changed entirely; her complexion was utterly
gone; and her features, always unmeaning, though feminine, and
suitable to her sex, had become hard and slightly coarse. Still
there was something of her former self about Jack that bewildered
Spike; and his eyes continued fastened on her for quite a quarter of
an hour in profound silence.
"Give me some water," said the wounded man, "I wish some water to
Jack arose, filled a tumbler and brought it to the side of the bed.
Spike took the glass and drank, but the whole time his eyes were
riveted on the strange nurse. When his thirst was appeased, he
"Who are you? How came you here?"
"I am your nurse. It is common to place nurses at the bedsides of
"Are you man or woman?"
"That is a question I hardly know how to answer. Sometimes I think
myself each; sometimes neither."
"Did I ever see you before?"
"Often, and quite lately. I sailed with you in your last voyage."
"You! That cannot be. If so, what is your name?"
A long pause succeeded this announcement, which induced Spike to
muse as intently as his condition would allow, though the truth did
not yet flash on his understanding. At length the bewildered man
"Are _you_ Jack Tier?" he said slowly, like one who doubted. "Yes--I
now see the resemblance, and it was _that_ which puzzled me. Are
they so rigid in this hospital that you have been obliged to put on
woman's clothes in order to lend me a helping hand?"
"I am dressed as you see, and for good reasons."
"But Jack Tier run, like that rascal Mulford--ay, I remember now;
you were in the boat when I overhauled you all on the reef."
"Very true; I was in the boat. But I never run, Stephen Spike. It
was _you_ who abandoned _me,_ on the islet in the Gulf, and that
makes the second time in your life that you left me ashore, when it
was your duty to carry me to sea."
"The first time I was in a hurry, and could not wait for you; this
last time you took sides with the women. But for your interference,
I should have got Rose, and married her, and all would now have been
well with me."
This was an awkward announcement for a man to make to his legal
wife. But after all Jack had endured, and all Jack had seen during
the late voyage, she was not to be overcome by this avowal. Her
self-command extended so far as to prevent any open manifestation of
emotion, however much her feelings were excited.
"I took sides with the women, because I am a woman myself," she
answered, speaking at length with decision, as if determined to
bring matters to a head at once. "It is natural for us all to take
sides with our kind."
"You a woman, Jack! That is very remarkable. Since when have you
hailed for a woman? You have shipped with me twice, and each time as
a man--though I've never thought you able to do seaman's duty."
"Nevertheless, I am what you see; a woman born and edicated; one
that never had on man's dress until I knew you. _You_ supposed me to
be a man, when I came off to you in the skiff to the eastward of
Riker's Island, but I was then what you now see."
"I begin to understand matters," rejoined the invalid, musingly.
"Ay, ay, it opens on me; and I now see how it was you made such fair
weather with Madam Budd and pretty, pretty Rose. Rose _is_ pretty,
Jack; you _must_ admit _that,_ though you be a woman."
"Rose _is_ pretty--I do admit it; and what is better, Rose is
_good."_ It required a heavy draft on Jack's justice and
magnanimity, however, to make this concession.
"And you told Rose and Madam Budd about your sex; and that was the
reason they took to you so on the v'y'ge?"
"I told them who I was, and why I went abroad as a man. They know my
"Did Rose approve of your sailing under false colours, Jack?"
"You must ask that of Rose herself. My story made her my friend; but
she never said anything for or against my disguise."
"It was no great disguise a'ter all, Jack. Now you're fitted out in
your own clothes, you've a sort of half-rigged look; one would be as
likely to set you down for a man under jury-canvas, as for a woman."
Jack made no answer to this, but she sighed very heavily. As for
Spike himself, he was silent for some little time, not only from
exhaustion, but because he suffered pain from his wound. The needle
was diligently but awkwardly plied in this pause.
Spike's ideas were still a little confused; but a silence and rest
of a quarter of an hour cleared them materially. At the end of that
time he again asked for water. When he had drunk, and Jack was once
more seated, with his side-face toward him, at work with the needle,
the captain gazed long and intently at this strange woman. It
happened that the profile of Jack preserved more of the resemblance
to her former self, than the full face; and it was this resemblance
that now attracted Spike's attention, though not the smallest
suspicion of the truth yet gleamed upon him. He saw something that
was familiar, though he could not even tell what that something was,
much less to what or whom it bore any resemblance. At length he
"I was told that Jack Tier was dead," he said; "that he took the
fever, and was in his grave within eight-and-forty hours after we
sailed. That was what they told me of _him_."
"And what did they tell you of your own wife, Stephen Spike. She
that you left ashore at the time Jack was left?"
"They said she did not die for three years later. I heard of her
death at New Or_leens,_ three years later."
"And how could you leave her ashore--she, your true and lawful
"It was a bad thing," answered Spike, who, like all other mortals,
regarded his own past career, now that he stood on the edge of the
grave, very differently from what he had regarded it in the hour of
his health and strength. "Yes, it _was_ a very bad thing; and I wish
it was ondone. But it is too late now. She died of the fever,
too--that's some comfort; had she died of a broken heart, I could
not have forgiven myself. Molly was not without her faults--great
faults, I considered them; but, on the whole, Molly was a good
"You liked her, then, Stephen Spike?"
"I can truly say that when I married Molly, and old Captain Swash
put his da'ghter's hand into mine, that the woman was n't living who
was better in my judgment, or handsomer in my eyes."
"Ay, ay--when you _married_ her; but how was it a'terwards?--when
you was tired of her, and saw another that was fairer in your eyes?"
"I desarted her; and God has punished me for the sin! Do you know,
Jack, that luck has never been with me since that day. Often and
often have I bethought me of it; and sartain as you sit there, no
great luck has ever been with me, or my craft, since I went off,
leaving my wife ashore. What was made in one v'y'ge, was lost in the
next. Up and down, up and down the whole time, for so many, many
long years, that grey hairs set in, and old age was beginning to get
close aboard--and I as poor as ever. It has been rub and go with me
ever since; and I have had as much as I could do to keep the brig in
motion, as the only means that was left to make the two ends meet."
"And did not all this make you think of your poor wife--she whom you
had so wronged?"
"I thought of little else, until I heard of her death at New
Or_leens_--and then I gave it up as useless. Could I have fallen in
with Molly at any time a'ter the first six months of my desartion,
she and I would have come together again, and everything would have
been forgotten. I knowed her very nature, which was all forgiveness
to me at the bottom, though seemingly so spiteful and hard."
"Yet you wanted to have this Rose Budd, who is only too young, and
handsome, and good for you."
"I was tired of being a widower, Jack; and Rose _is_ wonderful
pretty. She has money, too, and might make the evening of my days
comfortable. The brig was old, as you must know, and has long been
off of all the Insurance Offices' books; and she could n't hold
together much longer. But for this sloop-of-war, I should have put
her off on the Mexicans; and they would have lost her to our people
in a month."
"And was it an honest thing to sell an old and worn-out craft to any
one, Stephen Spike?"
Spike had a conscience that had become hard as iron by means of
trade. He who traffics much, most especially if his dealings be on
so small a scale as to render constant investigations of the minor
qualities of things necessary, must be a very fortunate man, if he
preserve his conscience in any better condition. When Jack made this
allusion, therefore, the dying man--for death was much nearer to
Spike that even be supposed, though he no longer hoped for his own
recovery--when Jack made this allusion, then, the dying man was a
good deal at a loss to comprehend it. He saw no particular harm in
making the best bargain he could; nor was it easy for him to
understand why he might not dispose of anything he possessed for the
highest price that was to be had. Still he answered in an apologetic
sort of way.
"The brig was old, I acknowledge," he said, "but she was strong, and
_might_ have run a long time. I only spoke of her capture as a thing
likely to take place soon, if the Mexicans got her; so that her
qualities were of no great account, unless it might be her
speed--and that you know was excellent, Jack."
"And you regret that brig, Stephen Spike, lying as you do on your
death-bed, more than anything else."
"Not as much as I do pretty Rose Budd, Jack; Rosy is so delightful
to look at!"
The muscles of Jack's face twitched a little, and she looked deeply
mortified; for, to own the truth, she hoped that the conversation
had so far turned her delinquent husband's thoughts to the past, as
to have revived in him some of his former interest in herself. It is
true, he still believed her dead; but this was a circumstance Jack
overlooked--so hard is it to hear the praises of a rival, and be
just. She felt the necessity of being more explicit, and determined
at once to come to the point.
"Stephen Spike," she said, steadily, drawing near to the bed-side,
"you should be told the truth, when you are heard thus extolling the
good looks of Rose Budd, with less than eight-and-forty hours of
life remaining. Mary Swash did not die, as you have supposed, three
years a'ter you desarted her, but is living at this moment. Had you
read the letter I gave you in the boat, just before you made me jump
into the sea, _that_ would have told you where she is to be found."
Spike stared at the speaker intently; and when her cracked voice
ceased, his look was that of a man who was terrified as well as
bewildered. This did not arise still from any gleamings of the real
state of the case, but from the soreness with which his conscience
pricked him, when he heard that his much-wronged wife was alive. He
fancied, with a vivid and rapid glance at the probabilities, all
that a woman abandoned would be likely to endure in the course of so
many long and suffering years.
"Are you sure of what you say, Jack? You would n't take advantage of
my situation to tell me an untruth?"
"As certain of it as of my own existence. I have seen her quite
lately--talked with her of _you_--in short, she is now at Key West,
knows your state, and has a wife's feelin's to come to your
Notwithstanding all this, and the many gleamings he had had of the
facts during their late intercourse on board the brig, Spike did not
guess at the truth. He appeared astounded, and his terror seemed to
"I have another thing to tell you," continued Jack, pausing but a
moment to collect her own thoughts. "Jack Tier--the real Jack
Tier--he who sailed with you of old, and whom you left ashore at the
same time you desarted your wife, _did_ die of the fever, as you was
told, in eight-and-forty hours a'ter the brig went to sea."
"Then who, in the name of Heaven, are you? How came you to hail by
another's name as well as by another sex?"
"What could a woman do, whose husband had desarted her in a strange
"That is remarkable! So _you_'ve been married? I should not have
thought _that_ possible; and your husband desarted you, too. Well,
such things _do_ happen."
Jack now felt a severe pang. She could not but see that her
ungainly--we had almost said her unearthly appearance--prevented the
captain from even yet suspecting the truth; and the meaning of his
language was not easily to be mistaken. That any one should have
married _her,_ seemed to her husband as improbable as it was
probable he would run away from her as soon as it was in his power
after the ceremony.
"Stephen Spike," resumed Jack, solemnly, "_I_ am Mary Swash--_I_ am
Spike started in his bed; then he buried his face in the
coverlet--and he actually groaned. In bitterness of spirit the woman
turned away and wept. Her feelings had been blunted by misfortune
and the collisions of a selfish world; but enough of former self
remained to make this the hardest of all the blows she had ever
received. Her husband, dying as he was, as he must and did know
himself to be, shrunk from one of her appearance, unsexed as she had
become by habits, and changed by years and suffering.
The trusting heart's repose, the paradise
Of home, with all its loves, doth fate allow
The crown of glory unto woman's brow.
It has again become necessary to advance the time; and we shall take
the occasion thus offered to make a few explanations touching
certain events which have been passed over without notice.
The reason why Captain Mull did not chase the yawl of the brig in
the Poughkeepsie herself, was the necessity of waiting for his own
boats that were endeavouring to regain the sloop-of-war. It would
not have done to abandon them, inasmuch as the men were so much
exhausted by the pull to windward, that when they reached the vessel
all were relieved from duty for the rest of the day. As soon,
however, as the other boats were hoisted in, or run up, the ship
filled away, stood out of the passage and ran down to join the
cutter of Wallace, which was endeavouring to keep its position, as
much as possible, by making short tacks under close-reefed luggs.
Spike had been received on board the sloop-of-war, sent into her
sick bay, and put under the care of the surgeon and his assistants.
From the first, these gentlemen pronounced the hurt mortal. The
wounded man was insensible most of the time, until the ship had beat
up and gone into Key West, where he was transferred to the regular
hospital, as has already been mentioned.
The wreckers went out the moment the news of the calamity of the
Swash reached their ears. Some went in quest of the doubloons of the
schooner, and others to pick up anything valuable that might be
discovered in the neighbourhood of the stranded brig. It may be
mentioned here, that not much was ever obtained from the brigantine,
with the exception of a few spars, the sails, and a little rigging;
but, in the end, the schooner was raised, by means of the chain
Spike had placed around her, the cabin was ransacked, and the
doubloons were recovered. As there was no one to claim the money, it
was quietly divided among the conscientious citizens present at its
re-visiting "the glimpses of the moon," making gold plenty.
The doubloons in the yawl would have been lost but for the sagacity
of Mulford. He too well knew the character of Spike to believe he
would quit the brig without taking the doubloons with him.
Acquainted with the boat, he examined the little locker in the
stern-sheets, and found the two bags, one of which was probably the
lawful property of Captain Spike, while the other, in truth,
belonged to the Mexican government. The last contained the most
gold, but the first amounted to a sum that our young mate knew to be
very considerable. Rose had made him acquainted with the sex of Jack
Tier since their own marriage; and he at once saw that the claims of
this uncouth wife, who was so soon to be a widow, to the gold in
question, might prove to be as good in law, as they unquestionably
were in morals. On representing the facts of the case to Captain
Mull and the legal functionaries at Key West, it was determined to
relinquish this money to the heirs of Spike, as, indeed, they must
have done under process, there being no other claimant. These
doubloons, however, did not amount to the full price of the flour
and powder that composed the cargo of the Swash. The cargo had been
purchased with Mexican funds; and all that Spike or his heirs could
claim, was the high freight for which he had undertaken the delicate
office of transporting those forbidden articles, contraband of war,
to the Dry Tortugas.
Mulford by this time was high in the confidence and esteem of all on
board the Poughkeepsie. He had frankly explained his whole connexion
with Spike, not even attempting to conceal the reluctance he had
felt to betray the brig after he had fully ascertained the fact of
his commander's treason. The manly gentlemen with whom he was now
brought in contact entered into his feelings, and admitted that it
was an office no one could desire, to turn against the craft in
which he sailed. It is true, they could not and would not be
traitors, but Mulford had stopped far short of this; and the
distinction between such a character and that of an informer was
wide enough to satisfy all their scruples.
Then Rose had the greatest success with the gentlemen of the
Poughkeepsie. Her youth, beauty, and modesty, told largely in her
favour; and the simple, womanly affection she unconsciously betrayed
in behalf of Harry, touched the heart of every observer. When the
intelligence of her aunt's fate reached her, the sorrow she
manifested was so profound and natural, that every one sympathized
with her grief. Nor would she be satisfied unless Mulford would