[Transcriber's note: It appears that the author may have used ' and " interchangeably throughout this text to mean "minutes" whereas traditionally, ' is used to mean minutes and " seconds. Not knowing the author's intent, I have left these characters as they were in the original.]
THE SEA LIONS;
or, The Lost Sealers.
By J. Fenimore Cooper.
Daughter of Faith, awake, arise, illume The dread unknown, the chaos of the tomb Melt, and dispel, ye spectre doubts that roll Cimmerian darkness o'er the parting soul
Complete in One Volume.
If any thing connected with the hardness of the human heart could surprise us, it surely would be the indifference with which men live on, engrossed by their worldly objects, amid the sublime natural phenomena that so eloquently and unceasingly speak to their imaginations, affections, and judgments. So completely is the existence of the individual concentrated in self, and so regardless does he get to be of all without that contracted circle, that it does not probably happen to one man in ten, that his thoughts are drawn aside from this intense study of his own immediate wants, wishes, and plans, even once in the twenty-four hours, to contemplate the majesty, mercy, truth, and justice, of the Divine Being that has set him, as an atom, amid the myriads of the hosts of heaven and earth.
The physical marvels of the universe produce little more reflection than the profoundest moral truths. A million of eyes shall pass over the firmament, on a cloudless night, and not a hundred minds shall be filled with a proper sense of the power of the dread Being that created all that is there—not a hundred hearts glow with the adoration that such an appeal to the senses and understanding ought naturally to produce. This indifference, in a great measure, comes of familiarity; the things that we so constantly have before us, becoming as a part of the air we breathe, and as little regarded.
One of the consequences of this disposition to disregard the Almighty Hand, as it is so plainly visible in all around us, is that of substituting our own powers in its stead. In this period of the world, in enlightened countries, and in the absence of direct idolatry, few men are so hardy as to deny the existence and might of a Supreme Being; but, this fact admitted, how few really feel that profound reverence for him that the nature of our relations justly demands! It is the want of a due sense of humility, and a sad misconception of what we are, and for what we were created, that misleads us in the due estimate of our own insignificance, as Compared with the majesty of God.
Very few men attain enough of human knowledge to be fully aware how much remains to be learned, and of that which they never can hope to acquire. We hear a great deal of god-like minds, and of the far-reaching faculties we possess; and it may all be worthy of our eulogiums, until we compare ourselves in these, as in other particulars, with Him who produced them. Then, indeed, the utter insignificance of our means becomes too apparent to admit of a cavil. We know that we are born, and that we die; science has been able to grapple with all the phenomena of these two great physical facts, with the exception of the most material of all—those which should tell us what is life, and what is death. Something that we cannot comprehend lies at the root of every distinct division of natural phenomena. Thus far shalt thou go and no farther, seems to be imprinted on every great fact of creation. There is a point attained in each and all of our acquisitions, where a mystery that no human mind can scan takes the place of demonstration and conjecture. This point may lie more remote with some intellects than with others; but it exists for all, arrests the inductions of all, conceals all.
We are aware that the more learned among those who disbelieve in the divinity of Christ suppose themselves to be sustained by written authority, contending for errors of translation, mistakes and misapprehensions in the ancient texts. Nevertheless, we are inclined to think that nine-tenths of those who refuse the old and accept the new opinion, do so for a motive no better than a disinclination to believe that which they cannot comprehend. This pride of reason is one of the most insinuating of our foibles, and is to be watched as a most potent enemy.
How completely and philosophically does the venerable Christian creed embrace and modify all these workings of the heart! We say philosophically, for it were not possible for mind to give a juster analysis of the whole subject than St. Paul's most comprehensive but brief definition of Faith. It is this Faith which forms the mighty feature of the church on earth. It equalizes capacities, conditions, means, and ends, holding out the same encouragement and hope to the least, as to the most gifted of the race; counting gifts in their ordinary and more secular points of view.
It is when health, or the usual means of success abandon us, that we are made to feel how totally we are insufficient for the achievement of even our own purposes, much less to qualify us to reason on the deep mysteries that conceal the beginning and the end. It has often been said that the most successful leaders of their fellow men have had the clearest views of their own insufficiency to attain their own objects. If Napoleon ever said, as has been attributed to him, "Je propose et je dispose," it must have been in one of those fleeting moments in which success blinded him to the fact of his own insufficiency. No man had a deeper reliance on fortune, cast the result of great events on the decrees of fate, or more anxiously watched the rising and setting of what he called his "star." This was a faith that could lead to no good; but it clearly denoted how far the boldest designs, the most ample means, and the most vaulting ambition, fall short of giving that sublime consciousness of power and its fruits that distinguish the reign of Omnipotence.
In this book the design has been to pourtray man on a novel field of action, and to exhibit his dependence on the hand that does not suffer a sparrow to fall unheeded. The recent attempts of science, which employed the seamen of the four greatest maritime states of Christendom, made discoveries that have rendered the polar circles much more familiar to this age, than to any that has preceded it, so far as existing records show. We say "existing records;" for there is much reason for believing that the ancients had a knowledge of our hemisphere, though less for supposing that they ever braved the dangers of the high latitudes. Many are, just at this moment, much disposed to believe that "Ophir" was on this continent; though for a reason no better than the circumstance of the recent discoveries of much gold. Such savans should remember that 'peacocks' came from ancient Ophir. If this be in truth that land, the adventurers of Israel caused it to be denuded of that bird of beautiful plumage.
Such names as those of Parry, Sabine, Ross, Franklin, Wilkes, Hudson, Ringgold, &c., &c., with those of divers gallant Frenchmen and Russians, command our most profound respect; for no battles or victories can redound more to the credit of seamen than the dangers they all encountered, and the conquests they have all achieved. One of those named, a resolute and experienced seaman, it is thought must, at this moment, be locked in the frosts of the arctic circle, after having passed half a life in the endeavour to push his discoveries into those remote and frozen regions. He bears the name of the most distinguished of the philosophers of this country; and nature has stamped on his features—by one of those secret laws which just as much baffle our means of comprehension, as the greatest of all our mysteries, the incarnation of the Son of God—a resemblance that, of itself, would go to show that they are of the same race. Any one who has ever seen this emprisoned navigator, and who is familiar with the countenances of the men of the same name who are to be found in numbers amongst ourselves, must be struck with a likeness that lies as much beyond the grasp of that reason of which we are so proud, as the sublimest facts taught by induction, science, or revelation. Parties are, at this moment, out in search of him and his followers; and it is to be hoped that the Providence which has so singularly attempered the different circles and zones of our globe, placing this under a burning sun, and that beneath enduring frosts, will have included in its divine forethought a sufficient care for these bold wanderers to restore them, unharmed, to their friends and country. In a contrary event, their names must be transmitted to posterity as the victims to a laudable desire to enlarge the circle of human knowledge, and with it, we trust, to increase the glory due to God.
The Sea Lions.
——"When that's gone He shall drink naught but brine."
While there is less of that high polish in America that is obtained by long intercourse with the great world, than is to be found in nearly every European country, there is much less positive rusticity also. There, the extremes of society are widely separated, repelling rather than attracting each other; while among ourselves, the tendency is to gravitate towards a common centre. Thus it is, that all things in America become subject to a mean law that is productive of a mediocrity which is probably much above the average of that of most nations; possibly of all, England excepted; but which is only a mediocrity, after all. In this way, excellence in nothing is justly appreciated, nor is it often recognised; and the suffrages of the nation are pretty uniformly bestowed on qualities of a secondary class. Numbers have sway, and it is as impossible to resist them in deciding on merit, as it is to deny their power in the ballot-boxes; time alone, with its great curative influence, supplying the remedy that is to restore the public mind to a healthful state, and give equally to the pretender and to him who is worthy of renown, his proper place in the pages of history.
The activity of American life, the rapidity and cheapness of intercourse, and the migratory habits both have induced, leave little of rusticity and local character in any particular sections of the country. Distinctions, that an acute observer may detect, do certainly exist between the eastern and the western man, between the northerner and the southerner, the Yankee and middle states' man; the Bostonian, Manhattanese and Philadelphian; the Tuckahoe and the Cracker; the Buckeye or Wolverine, and the Jersey Blue. Nevertheless, the World cannot probably produce another instance of a people who are derived from so many different races, and who occupy so large an extent of country, who are so homogeneous in appearance, characters and opinions. There is no question that the institutions have had a material influence in producing this uniformity, while they have unquestionably lowered the standard to which opinion is submitted, by referring the decisions to the many, instead of making the appeal to the few, as is elsewhere done. Still, the direction is onward, and though it may take time to carve on the social column of America that graceful and ornamental capital which it forms the just boast of Europe to possess, when the task shall be achieved, the work will stand on a base so broad as to secure its upright attitude for ages.
Notwithstanding the general character of identity and homogenity that so strongly marks the picture of American society, exceptions are to be met with, in particular districts, that are not only distinct and incontrovertible, but which are so peculiar as to be worthy of more than a passing remark in our delineations of national customs. Our present purpose leads us into one of these secluded districts, and it may be well to commence the narrative of certain deeply interesting incidents that it is our intention to attempt to portray, by first referring to the place and people where and from whom the principal actors in our legend had their origin.
Every one at all familiar with the map of America knows the position and general form of the two islands that shelter the well-known harbour of the great emporium of the commerce of the country. These islands obtained their names from the Dutch, who called them Nassau and Staten; but the English, with little respect for the ancient house whence the first of these appellations is derived, and consulting only the homely taste which leads them to a practical rather then to a poetical nomenclature in all things, have since virtually dropped the name of Nassau, altogether substituting that of Long Island in its stead.
Long Island, or the island of Nassau, extends from the mouth of the Hudson to the eastern line of Connecticut; forming a sort of sea-wall to protect the whole coast of the latter little territory against the waves of the broad Atlantic. Three of the oldest New York counties, as their names would imply, Kings, Queens, and Suffolk, are on this island. Kings was originally peopled by the Dutch, and still possesses as many names derived from Holland as from England, if its towns, which are of recent origin, be taken from the account, Queens is more of a mixture, having been early invaded and occupied by adventurers from the other side of the Sound; but Suffolk, which contains nearly, if not quite, two-thirds of the surface of the whole island, is and ever has been in possession of a people derived originally from the puritans of New England. Of these three counties, Kings is much the smallest, though next to New York itself, the most populous county in the state; a circumstance that is owing to the fact that two suburban offsets of the great emporium, Brooklyn and Williamsburg, happen to stand, within its limits, on the waters of what is improperly called the East River; an arm of the sea that has obtained this appellation, in contradistinction to the Hudson, which, as all Manhattanese well know, is as often called the North River, as by its proper name. In consequence of these two towns, or suburbs of New York, one of which contains nearly a hundred thousand souls, while the other must be drawing on towards twenty thousand, Kings county has lost all it ever had of peculiar, or local character. The same is true of Queens, though in a diminished degree; but Suffolk remains Suffolk still, and it is with Suffolk alone that our present legend requires us to deal. Of Suffolk, then, we purpose to say a few words by way of preparatory explanation.
Although it has actually more sea-coast than all the rest of New York united, Suffolk has but one sea-port that is ever mentioned beyond the limits of the county itself. Nor is this port one of general commerce, its shipping being principally employed in the hardy and manly occupation of whaling. As a whaling town, Sag Harbour is the third or fourth port in the country, and maintains something like that rank in importance. A whaling haven is nothing without a whaling community. Without the last, it is almost hopeless to look for success. New York can, and has often fitted whalers for sea, having sought officers in the regular whaling ports; but it has been seldom that the enterprises have been rewarded with such returns as to induce a second voyage by the same parties.
It is as indispensable that a whaler should possess a certain esprit de corps, as that a regiment, or a ship of war, should be animated by its proper spirit. In the whaling communities, this spirit exists to an extent, and in a degree that is wonderful, when one remembers the great expansion of this particular branch of trade within the last five-and-twenty years. It may be a little lessened of late, but at the time of which we are writing, or about the year 1820, there was scarcely an individual who followed this particular calling out of the port of Sag Harbour, whose general standing on board ship was not as well known to all the women and girls of the place, as it was to his shipmates. Success in taking the whale was a thing that made itself felt in every fibre of the prosperity of the town; and it was just as natural that the single-minded population of that part of Suffolk should regard the bold and skilful harpooner, or lancer, with favour, as it is for the belle at a watering-place to bestow her smiles on one of the young heroes of Contreras or Churubusco. His peculiar merit, whether with the oar, lance, or harpoon, is bruited about, as well as the number of whales he may have succeeded in "making fast to," or those which he caused to "spout blood." It is true, that the great extension of the trade within the last twenty years, by drawing so many from a distance into its pursuits, has in a degree lessened this local interest and local knowledge of character; but at the time of which we are about to write, both were at their height, and Nantucket itself had not more of this "intelligence office" propensity, or more of the true whaling esprit de corps, than were to be found in the district of country that surrounded Sag Harbour.
Long Island forks at its eastern end, and may be said to have two extremities. One of these, which is much the shortest of the two legs thus formed, goes by the name of Oyster Pond Point; while the other, that stretches much farther in the direction of Blok Island, is the well-known cape called Montauk. Within the fork lies Shelter Island, so named from the snug berth it occupies. Between Shelter Island and the longest or southern prong of the fork, are the waters which compose the haven of Sag Harbour, an estuary of some extent; while a narrow but deep arm of the sea separates this island from the northern prong, that terminates at Oyster Pond.
The name of Oyster Pond Point was formerly applied to a long, low, fertile and pleasant reach of land, that extended several miles from the point itself, westward, towards the spot where the two prongs of the fork united. It was not easy, during the first quarter of the present century, to find a more secluded spot on the whole island, than Oyster Pond. Recent enterprises have since converted it into the terminus of a railroad; and Green Port, once called Sterling, is a name well known to travellers between New York and Boston; but in the earlier part of the present century it seemed just as likely that the Santa Casa of Loretto should take a new flight and descend on the point, as that the improvement that has actually been made should in truth occur at that out-of-the-way place. It required, indeed, the keen eye of a railroad projector to bring this spot in connection with anything; nor could it be done without having recourse to the water by which it is almost surrounded. Using the last, it is true, means have been found to place it in a line between two of the great marts of the country, and thus to put an end to all its seclusion, its simplicity, its peculiarities, and we had almost said, its happiness.
It is to us ever a painful sight to see the rustic virtues rudely thrown aside by the intrusion of what are termed improvements. A railroad is certainly a capital invention for the traveller, but it may be questioned if it is of any other benefit than that of pecuniary convenience to the places through which it passes. How many delightful hamlets, pleasant villages, and even tranquil county towns, are losing their primitive characters for simplicity and contentment, by the passage of these fiery trains, that drag after them a sort of bastard elegance, a pretension that is destructive of peace of mind, and an uneasy desire in all who dwell by the way-side, to pry into the mysteries of the whole length and breadth of the region it traverses!
We are writing of the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and nineteen. In that day, Oyster Pond was, in one of the best acceptations of the word, a rural district. It is true that its inhabitants were accustomed to the water, and to the sight of vessels, from the two-decker to the little shabby-looking craft that brought ashes from town, to meliorate the sandy lands of Suffolk. Only five years before, an English squadron had lain in Gardiner's Bay, here pronounced 'Gar'ner's,' watching the Race, or eastern outlet of the Sound, with a view to cut off the trade and annoy their enemy. That game is up, for ever. No hostile squadron, English, French, Dutch, or all united, will ever again blockade an American port for any serious length of time, the young Hercules passing too rapidly from the gristle into the bone, any longer to suffer antics of this nature to be played in front of his cradle. But such was not his condition in the war of 1812, and the good people of Oyster Pond had become familiar with the checkered sides of two-deck ships, and the venerable and beautiful ensign of Old England, as it floated above them.
Nor was it only by these distant views, and by means of hostilities, that the good folk on Oyster Pond were acquainted with vessels. New York is necessary to all on the coast, both as a market and as a place to procure supplies; and every creek, or inlet, or basin, of any sort, within a hundred leagues of it, is sure to possess one or more craft that ply between the favourite haven and the particular spot in question. Thus was it with Oyster Pond. There is scarce a better harbour on the whole American coast, than that which the narrow arm of the sea that divides the Point from Shelter Island presents; and even in the simple times of which we are writing, Sterling had its two or three coasters, such as they were. But the true maritime character of Oyster Pond, as well as that of all Suffolk, was derived from the whalers, and its proper nucleus was across the estuary, at Sag Harbour. Thither the youths of the whole region resorted for employment, and to advance their fortunes, and generally with such success as is apt to attend enterprise, industry and daring, when exercised with energy in a pursuit of moderate gains. None became rich, in the strict signification of the term, though a few got to be in reasonably affluent circumstances; many were placed altogether at their ease, and more were made humbly comfortable. A farm in America is well enough for the foundation of family support, but it rarely suffices for all the growing wants of these days of indulgence, and of a desire to enjoy so much of that which was formerly left to the undisputed possession of the unquestionably rich. A farm, with a few hundreds per annum, derived from other sources, makes a good base of comfort and if the hundreds are converted into thousands, your farmer, or agriculturalist, becomes a man not only at his ease, but a proprietor of some importance. The farms on Oyster Pond were neither very extensive, nor had they owners of large incomes to support them; on the contrary, most of them were made to support their owners; a thing that is possible, even in America, with industry, frugality and judgment. In order, however, that the names of places we may have occasion to use shall be understood, it may be well to be a little more particular in our preliminary explanations.
The reader knows that we are now writing of Suffolk County, Long Island, New York. He also knows that our opening scene is to be on the shorter, or most northern of the two prongs of that fork, which divides the eastern end of this island, giving it what are properly two capes. The smallest territorial division that is known to the laws of New York, in rural districts, is the 'township,' as it is called. These townships are usually larger than the English parish, corresponding more properly with the French canton. They vary, however, greatly in size, some containing as much as a hundred square miles, which is the largest size, while others do not contain more than a tenth of that surface.
The township in which the northern prong, or point of Long Island, lies, is named Southold, and includes not only all of the long, low, narrow land that then went by the common names of Oyster Pond, Sterling, &c., but several islands, also, which stretch off in the Sound, as well as a broader piece of territory, near Riverhead. Oyster Pond, which is the portion of the township that lies on the 'point,' is, or was, for we write of a remote period in the galloping history of the state, only a part of Southold, and probably was not then a name known in the laws, at all.
We have a wish, also, that this name should be pronounced properly. It is not called Oyster Pond, as the uninitiated would be very apt to get it, but Oyster Pund, the last word having a sound similar to that of the cockney's 'pound,' in his "two pund two." This discrepancy between the spelling and the pronunciation of proper names is agreeable to us, for it shows that a people are not put in leading strings by pedagogues, and that they make use of their own, in their own way. We remember how great was our satisfaction once, on entering Holmes' Hole, a well-known bay in this very vicinity, in our youth, to hear a boatman call the port, 'Hum'ses Hull.' It is getting to be so rare to meet with an American, below the higher classes, who will consent to cast this species of veil before his school-day acquisitions, that we acknowledge it gives us pleasure to hear such good, homely, old-fashioned English as "Gar'ner's Island," "Hum'ses Hull," and "Oyster Pund."
This plainness of speech was not the only proof of the simplicity of former days that was to be found in Suffolk, in the first quarter of the century. The eastern end of Long Island lies so much out of the track of the rest of the world, that even the new railroad cannot make much impression on its inhabitants, who get their pigs and poultry, butter and eggs, a little earlier to market, than in the days of the stage-wagons, it is true, but they fortunately, as yet, bring little back except it be the dross that sets every thing in motion, whether it be by rail, or through the sands, in the former toilsome mode.
The season, at the precise moment when we desire to take the reader with us to Oyster Pond, was in the delightful month of September, when the earlier promises of the year are fast maturing into performance. Although Suffolk, as a whole, can scarcely be deemed a productive county, being generally of a thin, light soil, and still covered with a growth of small wood, it possesses, nevertheless, spots of exceeding fertility. A considerable portion of the northern prong of the fork has this latter character, and Oyster Pond is a sort of garden compared with much of the sterility that prevails around it. Plain, but respectable dwellings, with numerous out-buildings, orchards and fruit-trees, fences carefully preserved, a pains-taking tillage, good roads, and here and there a "meeting-house," gave the fork an air of rural and moral beauty that, aided by the water by which it was so nearly surrounded, contributed greatly to relieve the monotony of so dead a level. There were heights in view, on Shelter Island, and bluffs towards Riverhead, which, if they would not attract much attention in Switzerland, were by no means overlooked in Suffolk. In a word, both the season and the place were charming, though most of the flowers had already faded; and the apple, and the pear, and the peach, were taking the places of the inviting cherry. Fruit abounded, notwithstanding the close vicinity of the district to salt water, the airs from the sea being broken, or somewhat tempered, by the land that lay to the southward.
We have spoken of the coasters that ply between the emporium and all the creeks and bays of the Sound, as well as of the numberless rivers that find an outlet for their waters between Sandy Hook and Rockaway. Wharves were constructed, at favourable points, inside the prong, and occasionally a sloop was seen at them loading its truck, or discharging its ashes or street manure, the latter being a very common return cargo for a Long Island coaster. At one wharf, however, now lay a vessel of a different mould, and one which, though of no great size, was manifastly intended to go outside. This was a schooner that had been recently launched, and which had advanced no farther in its first equipment than to get in its two principal spars, the rigging of which hung suspended over the mast-heads, in readiness to be "set up" for the first time. The day being Sunday, work was suspended, and this so much the more, because the owner of the vessel was a certain Deacon Pratt, who dwelt in a house within half a mile of the wharf, and who was also the proprietor of three several parcels of land in that neighbourhood, each of which had its own buildings and conveniences, and was properly enough dignified with the name of a farm. To be sure, neither of these farms was very large, their acres united amounting to but little more than two hundred; but, owing to their condition, the native richness of the soil, and the mode of turning them to account, they had made Deacon Pratt a warm man, for Suffolk.
There are two great species of deacons; for we suppose they must all be referred to the same genera. One species belong to the priesthood, and become priests and bishops; passing away, as priests and bishops are apt to do, with more or less of the savour of godliness. The other species are purely laymen, and are sui generis. They are, ex officio, the most pious men in a neighbourhood, as they sometimes are, as it would seem to us, ex officio, also the most grasping and mercenary. As we are not in the secrets of the sects to which these lay deacons belong, we shall not presume to pronounce whether the individual is elevated to the deaconate because he is prosperous, in a worldly sense, or whether the prosperity is a consequence of the deaconate; but, that the two usually go together is quite certain: which being the cause, and which the effect, we leave to wiser heads to determine.
Deacon Pratt was no exception to the rule. A tighter fisted sinner did not exist in the county than this pious soul, who certainly not only wore, but wore out the "form of godliness," while he was devoted, heart and hand, to the daily increase of worldly gear. No one spoke disparagingly of the deacon, notwithstanding. So completely had he got to be interwoven with the church—'meeting,' we ought to say—in that vicinity, that speaking disparagingly of him would have appeared like assailing Christianity. It is true, that many an unfortunate fellow-citizen in Suffolk had been made to feel how close was the gripe of his hand, when he found himself in its grasp; but there is a way of practising the most ruthless extortion, that serves not only to deceive the world, but which would really seem to mislead the extortioner himself. Phrases take the place of deeds, sentiments those of facts, and grimaces those of benevolent looks, so ingeniously and so impudently, that the wronged often fancy that they are the victims of a severe dispensation of Providence, when the truth would have shown that they were simply robbed.
We do not mean, however, that Deacon Pratt was a robber. He was merely a hard man in the management of his affairs; never cheating, in a direct sense, but seldom conceding a cent to generous impulses, or to the duties of kind. He was a widower, and childless, circumstances that rendered his love of gain still less pardonable; for many a man who is indifferent to money on his own account, will toil and save to lay up hoards for those who are to come after him. The deacon had only a niece to inherit his effects, unless he might choose to step beyond that degree of consanguinity, and bestow a portion of his means on cousins. The church—or, to be more literal, the 'meeting'—had an eye on his resources, however; and it was whispered it had actually succeeded, by means known to itself, in squeezing out of his tight grasp no less a sum than one hundred dollars, as a donation to a certain theological college. It was conjectured by some persons that this was only the beginning of a religious liberality, and that the excellent and godly-minded deacon would bestow most of his property in a similar way, when the moment should come that it could be no longer of any use to himself. This opinion was much in favour with divers devout females of the deacon's congregation, who had daughters of their own, and who seldom failed to conclude their observations on this interesting subject with some such remark as, "Well, in that case, and it seems to me that every thing points that way, Mary Pratt will get no more than any other poor man's daughter."
Little did Mary, the only child of Israel Pratt, an elder brother of the deacon, think of all this. She had been left an orphan in her tenth year, both parents dying within a few months of each other, and had lived beneath her uncle's roof for nearly ten more years, until use, and natural affection, and the customs of the country, had made her feel absolutely at home there. A less interested, or less selfish being than Mary Pratt, never existed. In this respect she was the very antipodes of her uncle, who often stealthily rebuked her for her charities and acts of neighbourly kindness, which he was wont to term waste. But Mary kept the even tenor of her way, seemingly not hearing such remarks, and doing her duty quietly, and in all humility.
Suffolk was settled originally by emigrants from New England, and the character of its people is, to this hour, of modified New England habits and notions. Now, one of the marked peculiarities of Connecticut is an indisposition to part with anything without a quid pro quo. Those little services, offerings, and conveniences that are elsewhere parted with without a thought of remuneration, go regularly upon the day-book, and often reappear on a 'settlement,' years after they have been forgotten by those who received the favours. Even the man who keeps a carriage will let it out for hire; and the manner in which money is accepted, and even asked for by persons in easy circumstances, and for things that would be gratuitous in the Middle States, often causes disappointment, and sometimes disgust. In this particular, Scottish and Swiss thrift, both notorious, and the latter particularly so, are nearly equalled by New England thrift; more especially in the close estimate of the value of services rendered. So marked, indeed, is this practice of looking for requitals, that even the language is infected with it. Thus, should a person pass a few months by invitation with a friend, his visit is termed 'boarding;' it being regarded as a matter of course that he pays his way. It would scarcely be safe, indeed, without the precaution of "passing receipts" on quitting, for one to stay any time in a New England dwelling, unless prepared to pay for his board. The free and frank habits that prevail among relatives and friends elsewhere, are nearly unknown there, every service having its price. These customs are exceedingly repugnant to all who have been educated in different notions; yet are they not without their redeeming qualities, that might be pointed out to advantage, though our limits will not permit us, at this moment, so to do.
Little did Mary Pratt suspect the truth; but habit, or covetousness, or some vague expectation that the girl might yet contract a marriage that would enable him to claim all his advances, had induced the deacon never to bestow a cent on her education, or dress, or pleasures of any sort, that the money was not regularly charged against her, in that nefarious work that he called his "day-book." As for the self-respect, and the feelings of caste, which prevent a gentleman from practising any of these tradesmen's tricks, the deacon knew nothing of them. He would have set the man down as a fool who deferred to any notions so unprofitable. With him, not only every man, but every thing "had its price," and usually it was a good price, too. At the very moment when our tale opens there stood charged in his book, against his unsuspecting and affectionate niece, items in the way of schooling, dress, board, and pocket-money, that amounted to the considerable sum of one thousand dollars, money fairly expended. The deacon was only intensely mean and avaricious, while he was as honest as the day. Not a cent was overcharged; and to own the truth, Mary was so great a favourite with him, that most of his charges against her were rather of a reasonable rate than otherwise.
"Marry, I saw your niece do more favours To the count's serving-man, than ever she bestowed Upon me; I saw it i' the orchard."
On the Sunday in question, Deacon Pratt went to meeting as usual, the building in which divine service was held that day, standing less than two miles from his residence; but, instead of remaining for the afternoon's preaching, as was his wont, he got into his one-horse chaise, the vehicle then in universal use among the middle classes, though now so seldom seen, and skirred away homeward as fast as an active, well-fed and powerful switch-tailed mare could draw him; the animal being accompanied in her rapid progress by a colt of some three months' existence. The residence of the deacon was unusually inviting for a man of his narrow habits. It stood on the edge of a fine apple-orchard, having a door-yard of nearly two acres in its front. This door-yard, which had been twice mown that summer, was prettily embellished with flowers, and was shaded by four rows of noble cherry-trees. The house itself was of wood, as is almost uniformly the case in Suffolk, where little stone is to be found, and where brick constructions are apt to be thought damp: but, it was a respectable edifice, with five windows in front, and of two stories. The siding was of unpainted cedar-shingles; and, although the house had been erected long previously to the revolution, the siding had been renewed but once, about ten years before the opening of our tale, and the whole building was in a perfect state of repair. The thrift of the deacon rendered him careful, and he was thoroughly convinced of the truth of the familiar adage which tells us that "a stitch in time, saves nine." All around the house and farm was in perfect order, proving the application of the saying. As for the view, it was sufficiently pleasant, the house having its front towards the east, while its end windows looked, the one set in the direction of the Sound, and the other in that of the arm of the sea, which belongs properly to Peconic Bay, we believe. All this water, some of which was visible over points and among islands, together with a smiling and fertile, though narrow stretch of foreground, could not fail of making an agreeable landscape.
It was little, however, that Deacon Pratt thought of views, or beauty of any sort, as the mare reached the open gate of his own abode. Mary was standing in the stoop, or porch of the house, and appeared to be anxiously awaiting her uncle's return. The latter gave the reins to a black, one who was no longer a slave, but who was a descendant of some of the ancient slaves of the Pratts, and in that character consented still to dawdle about the place, working for half price. On alighting, the uncle approached the niece with somewhat of interest in his mariner.
"Well, Mary," said the former, "how does he get on, now?"
"Oh! my dear sir he cannot possibly live, I think, and I do most earnestly entreat that you will let me send across to the Harbour for Dr. Sage."
By the Harbour was meant Sag's, and the physician named was one of merited celebrity in old Suffolk. So healthy was the country in general, and so simple were the habits of the people, that neither lawyer nor physician was to be found in every hamlet, as is the case to-day. Both were to be had at Riverhead, as well as at Sag Harbour; but, if a man called out "Squire," or "Doctor," in the highways of Suffolk, sixteen men did not turn round to reply, as is said to be the case in other regions; one half answering to the one appellation, and the second half to the other. The deacon had two objections to yielding to his niece's earnest request; the expense being one, though it was not, in this instance, the greatest; there was another reason that he kept to himself, but which will appear as our narrative proceeds.
A few weeks previously to the Sunday in question, a sea-going vessel, inward bound, had brought up in Gardiner's Bay, which is a usual anchorage for all sorts of craft. A worn-out and battered seaman had been put ashore on Oyster Pond, by a boat from this vessel, which sailed to the westward soon after, proceeding most probably to New York. The stranger was not only well advanced in life, but he was obviously wasting away with disease.
The account given of himself by this seaman was sufficiently explicit. He was born on Martha's Vineyard, but, as is customary with the boys of that island, he had left home in his twelfth year, and had now been absent from the place of his birth a little more than half a century. Conscious of the decay which beset him, and fully convinced that his days were few and numbered, the seaman, who called himself Tom Daggett, had felt a desire to close his eyes in the place where they had first been opened to the light of day. He had persuaded the commander of the craft mentioned, to bring him from the West Indies, and to put him ashore as related, the Vineyard being only a hundred miles or so to the eastward of Oyster Pond Point. He trusted to luck to give him the necessary opportunity of overcoming these last hundred miles.
Daggett was poor, as he admitted, as well as friendless and unknown. He had with him, nevertheless, a substantial sea-chest, one of those that the sailors of that day uniformly used in merchant-vessels, a man-of-war compelling them to carry their clothes in bags, for the convenience of compact stowage. The chest of Daggett, however, was a regular inmate of the forecastle, and, from its appearance, had made almost as many voyages as its owner. The last, indeed, was heard to say that he had succeeded in saving it from no less than three shipwrecks. It was a reasonably heavy chest, though its contents, when opened, did not seem to be of any very great value.
A few hours after landing, this man had made a bargain with a middle-aged widow, in very humble circumstances, and who dwelt quite near to the residence of Deacon Pratt, to receive him as a temporary inmate; or, until he could get a "chance across to the Vineyard." At first, Daggett kept about, and was much in the open air. While able to walk, he met the deacon, and singular, nay, unaccountable as it seemed to the niece, the uncle soon contracted a species of friendship for, not to say intimacy with, this stranger. In the first place, the deacon was a little particular in not having intimates among the necessitous, and the Widow White soon let it be known that her guest had not even a "red cent." He had chattels, however, that were of some estimation among seamen; and Roswell Gardiner, or "Gar'ner," as he was called, the young seaman par excellence of the Point, one who had been not only a whaling, but who had also been a sealing, and who at that moment was on board the deacon's schooner, in the capacity of master, had been applied to for advice and assistance. By the agency of Mr. Gar'ner, as the young mate was then termed, sundry palms, sets of sail-needles, a fid or two, and various other similar articles, that obviously could no longer be of any use to Daggett, were sent across to the 'Harbour,' and disposed of there, to advantage, among the many seamen of the port. By these means the stranger was, for a few weeks, enabled to pay his way, the board he got being both poor and cheap.
A much better result attended this intercourse with Gardiner, than that of raising the worn-out seaman's immediate ways and means. Between Mary Pratt and Roswell Gardiner there existed an intimacy of long standing for their years, as well as of some peculiar features, to which there will be occasion to advert hereafter. Mary was the very soul of charity in all its significations, and this Gardiner knew. When, therefore, Daggett became really necessitous, in the way of comforts that even money could not command beneath the roof of the Widow White, the young man let the fact be known to the deacon's niece, who immediately provided sundry delicacies that were acceptable to the palate of even disease. As for her uncle, nothing was at first said to him on the subject. Although his intimacy with Daggett went on increasing, and they were daily more and more together, in long and secret conference, not a suggestion was ever made by the deacon in the way of contributing to his new friend's comforts. To own the truth, to give was the last idea that ever occurred to this man's thoughts.
Mary Pratt was observant, and of a mind so constituted, that its observations usually led her to safe and accurate deductions. Great was the surprise of all on the Point when it became known that Deacon Pratt had purchased and put into the water, the new sea-going craft that was building on speculation, at Southold. Not only had he done this, but he had actually bought some half-worn copper, and had it placed on the schooner's bottom, as high as the bends, ere he had her launched. While the whole neighbourhood was "exercised" with conjectures on the motive which could induce the deacon to become a ship-owner in his age, Mary did not fail to impute it to some secret but powerful influence, that the sick stranger had obtained over him. He now spent nearly half his time in private communications with Daggett; and, on more than one occasion, when the niece had taken some light article of food over for the use of the last, she found him and her uncle examining one or two dirty and well-worn charts of the ocean. As she entered, the conversation invariably was changed; nor was Mrs. White ever permitted to be present at one of these secret conferences.
Not only was the schooner purchased, and coppered, and launched, and preparations made to fit her for sea, but "Young Gar'ner" was appointed to command her! As respects Roswell Gardiner, or "Gar'ner," as it would be almost thought a breach of decorum, in Suffolk, not to call him, there was no mystery. Six-and-twenty years before the opening of our legend, he had been born on Oyster Pond itself, and of one of its best families. Indeed, he was known to be a descendant of Lyon Gardiner, that engineer who had been sent to the settlement of the lords Saye and Seal, and Brook, since called Saybrook, near two centuries before, to lay out a town and a fort. This Lyon Gardiner had purchased of the Indians the island in that neighbourhood, which still bears his name. This establishment on the island was made in 1639; and now, at an interval of two hundred and nine years, it is in possession of its ninth owner, all having been of the name and blood of its original patentee. This is great antiquity for America, which, while it has produced many families of greater wealth, and renown, and importance, than that of the Gardiners, has seldom produced any of more permanent local respectability. This is a feature in society that we so much love to see, and which is so much endangered by the uncertain and migratory habits of the people, that we pause a moment to record this instance of stability, so pleasing and so commendable, in an age and country of changes.
The descendants of any family of two centuries standing, will, as a matter of course, be numerous. There are exceptions, certainly; but such is the rule. Thus is it with Lyon Gardiner, and his progeny, who are now to be numbered in scores, including persons in all classes of life, though it carries with it a stamp of caste to be known in Suffolk as having come direct from the loins of old Lyon Gardiner. Roswell, of that name, if not of that Ilk, the island then being the sole property of David Johnson Gardiner, the predecessor and brother of its present proprietor, was allowed to have this claim, though it would exceed our genealogical knowledge to point out the precise line by which this descent was claimed. Young Roswell was of respectable blood on both sides, without being very brilliantly connected, or rich. On the contrary, early left an orphan, fatherless and motherless, as was the case with Mary Pratt, he had been taken from a country academy when only fifteen, and sent to sea, that he might make his own way in the world. Hitherto, his success had not been of a very flattering character. He had risen, notwithstanding, to be the chief mate of a whaler, and bore an excellent reputation among the people of Suffolk. Had it only been a year or two later, when speculation took hold of the whaling business in a larger way, he would not have had the least difficulty in obtaining a ship. As it was, however, great was his delight when Deacon Pratt engaged him as master of the new schooner, which had been already named the "Sea Lion"—or "Sea Lyon," as Roswell sometimes affected to spell the word, in honour of his old progenitor, the engineer.
Mary Pratt had noted all these proceedings, partly with pain, partly with pleasure, but always with great interest. It pained her to find her uncle, in the decline of life, engaging in a business about which he knew nothing. It pained her, still more, to see one whom she loved from habit, if not from moral sympathies, wasting the few hours that remained for preparing for the last great change, in attempts to increase possessions that were already much more than sufficient for his wants. This consideration, in particular, deeply grieved Mary Pratt; for she was profoundly pious, with a conscience that was so sensitive as materially to interfere with her happiness, as will presently be shown, while her uncle was merely a deacon. It is one thing to be a deacon, and another to be devoted to the love of God, and to that love of our species which we are told is the consequence of a love of the Deity. The two are not incompatible; neither are they identical. This Mary had been made to see, in spite of all her wishes to be blind as respects the particular subject from whom she had learned the unpleasant lesson. The pleasure felt by our heroine, for such we now announce Mary Pratt to be, was derived from the preferment bestowed on Roswell Gardiner. She had many a palpitation of the heart when she heard of his good conduct as a seaman, as she always did whenever she heard his professional career alluded to at all. On this point, Roswell was without spot, as all Suffolk knew and confessed. On Oyster Pond, he was regarded as a species of sea lion himself, so numerous and so exciting were the incidents that were related of his prowess among the whales But, there was a dark cloud before all these glories, in the eyes of Mary Pratt, which for two years had disinclined her to listen to the young man's tale of love, which had induced her to decline accepting a hand that had now been offered to her, with a seaman's ardour, a seaman's frankness, and a seaman's sincerity, some twenty times at least, which had induced her to struggle severely with her own heart, which she had long found to be a powerful ally of her suitor. That cloud came from a species of infidelity that is getting to be so widely spread in America as no longer to work in secret, but which lifts its head boldly among us, claiming openly to belong to one of the numerous sects of the land. Mary had reason to think that Roswell Gardiner denied the divinity of Christ, while he professed to honour and defer to him as a man far elevated above all other men, and as one whose blood had purchased the redemption of his race!
We will take this occasion to say that our legend is not polemical in any sense, and that we have no intention to enter into discussions or arguments connected with this subject, beyond those that we may conceive to be necessary to illustrate the picture which it is our real aim to draw—that of a confiding, affectionate, nay, devoted woman's heart, in conflict with a deep sense of religious duty.
Still, Mary rejoiced that Roswell Gardiner was to command the Sea Lion. Whither this little vessel, a schooner of about one hundred and forty tons measurement, was to sail, she had not the slightest notion; but, go where it might, her thoughts and prayers were certain to accompany it. These are woman's means of exerting influence, and who shall presume to say that they are without results, and useless? On the contrary, we believe them to be most efficacious; and thrice happy is the man who, as he treads the mazes and wiles of the world, goes accompanied by the petitions of such gentle and pure-minded being's at home, as seldom think of approaching the throne of Grace without also thinking of him and of his necessities. The Romanists say, and say it rightly too, could one only believe in their efficacy, that the prayers they offer up in behalf of departed friends, are of the most endearing nature; but it would be difficult to prove that petitions for the souls of the dead can demonstrate greater interest, or bind the parties more closely together in the unity of love, than those that are constantly offered up in behalf of the living.
The interest that Mary Pratt felt in Roswell's success needs little explanation. In all things he was most agreeable to her, but in the one just mentioned. Their ages, their social positions, their habits, their orphan condition, even their prejudices—and who that dwells aside from the world is without them, when most of those who encounter its collisions still cherish them so strongly?—all united to render them of interest to each other. Nor was Deacon Pratt at all opposed to the connection; on the contrary, he appeared rather to favour it.
The objections came solely from Mary, whose heart was nearly ready to break each time that she was required to urge them. As for the uncle, it is not easy to say what could induce him to acquiesce in, to favour indeed, the addresses to his niece and nearest relative, of one who was known not to possess five hundred dollars in the world. As his opinions on this subject were well known to all on Oyster Pond, they had excited a good deal of speculation; "exercising" the whole neighbourhood, as was very apt to be the case whenever anything occurred in the least out of the ordinary track. The several modes of reasoning were something like these:—
Some were of opinion that the deacon foresaw a successful career to, and eventual prosperity in the habits and enterprise of, the young mate, and that he was willing to commit to his keeping, not only his niece, but the three farms, his "money at use," and certain shares he was known to own in a whaler and no less than three coasters, as well as an interest in a store at Southold; that is to say, to commit them all to the keeping of "young Gar'ner" when he was himself dead; for no one believed he would part with more than Mary, in his own lifetime.
Others fancied he was desirous of getting the orphan off his hands, in the easiest possible way, that he might make a bequest of his whole estate to the Theological Institution that had been coquetting with him now, for several years, through its recognised agents, and to which he had already made the liberal donation of one hundred dollars. It was well ascertained that the agents of that Institution openly talked of getting Deacon Pratt to sit for his portrait, in order that it might be suspended among those of others of its benefactors.
A third set reasoned differently from both the foregoing. The "Gar'ners" were a better family than the Pratts, and the deacon being so "well to do," it was believed by these persons that he was disposed to unite money with name, and thus give to his family consideration, from a source that was somewhat novel in its history. This class of reasoners was quite small, however, and mainly consisted of those who had rarely been off of Oyster Pond, and who passed their days with "Gar'ner's Island" directly before their eyes. A few of the gossips of this class pretended to say that their own young sailor stood next in succession after the immediate family actually in possession should run out, of which there was then some prospect; and that the deacon, sly fellow, knew all about it! For this surmise, to prevent useless expectations in the reader, it may be well to say at once, there was no foundation whatever, Roswell's connection with the owner of the island being much too remote to give him any chance of succeeding to that estate, or to anything else that belonged to him.
There was a fourth and last set, among those who speculated on the deacon's favour towards "young Gar'ner," and these were they who fancied that the old man had opened his heart towards the young couple, and was disposed to render a deserving youth and a beloved niece happy. This was the smallest class of all; and, what is a little remarkable, it contained only the most reckless and least virtuous of all those who dwelt on Oyster Pond. The parson of the parish, or the Pastor as he was usually termed, belonged to the second category, that good man being firmly impressed that most, if not all of Deacon Pratt's worldly effects would eventually go to help propagate the gospel.
Such was the state of things when the deacon returned from meeting, as related in the opening chapter. At his niece's suggestion of sending to the Harbour for Dr. Sage, he had demurred, not only on account of the expense, but for a still more cogent reason. To tell the truth, he was exceedingly distrustful of any one's being admitted to a communication with Daggett, who had revealed to him matters that he deemed to be of great importance, but who still retained the key to his most material mystery. Nevertheless, decency, to say nothing of the influence of what "folks would say," the Archimedean lever of all society of puritanical origin, exhorted him to consent to his niece's proposal.
"It is such a round-about road to get to the Harbour, Mary," the uncle slowly objected, after a pause.
"Boats often go there, and return in a few hours."
"Yes, yes—boats; but I'm not certain it is lawful to work boats of a Sabbath, child."
"I believe, sir, it was deemed lawful to do good on the Lord's day."
"Yes, if a body was certain it would do any good. To be sure, Sage is a capital doctor—as good as any going in these parts—but, half the time, money paid for doctor's stuff is thrown away."
"Still, I think it our duty to try to serve a fellow-creature that is in distress; and Daggett, I fear, will not go through the week, if indeed he go through the night."
"I should be sorry to have him die!" exclaimed the deacon, looking really distressed at this intelligence. "Right sorry should I be, to have him die—just yet."
The last two words were uttered unconsciously, and in a way to cause the niece to regret that they had been uttered at all. But they had come, notwithstanding, and the deacon saw that he had been too frank. The fault could not now be remedied, and he was fain to allow his words to produce their own effect.
"Die he will, I fear, uncle," returned Mary, after a short pause; "and sorry should I be to have it so without our feeling the consolation of knowing we had done all in our power to save him, or to serve him."
"It is so far to the Harbour, that no good might come of a messenger; and the money paid him would be thrown away, too."
"I dare say Roswell Gardner would be glad to go to help a fellow-creature who is suffering. He would not think of demanding any pay."
"Yes, that is true. I will say this for Gar'ner, that he is as reasonable a young man, when he does an odd job, as any one I know. I like to employ him."
Mary understood this very well. It amounted to neither more nor less, than the deacon's perfect consciousness that the youth had, again and again, given him his time and his services gratuitously; and that too, more than once, under circumstances when it would have been quite proper that he should look for a remuneration. A slight colour stole over the face of the niece, as memory recalled to her mind these different occasions. Was that sensitive blush owing to her perceiving the besetting weakness of one who stood in the light of a parent to her, and towards whom she endeavoured to feel the affection of a child? We shall not gainsay this, so far as a portion of the feeling which produced that blush was concerned; but, certain it is, that the thought that Roswell had exerted himself to oblige her uncle, obtruded itself somewhat vividly among her other recollections.
"Well, sir," the niece resumed, after another brief pause, "we can send for Roswell, if you think it best, and ask him to do the poor man this act of kindness."
"Your messengers after doctors are always in such a hurry! I dare say, Gar'ner would think it necessary to hire a horse to cross Shelter Island, and then perhaps a boat to get across to the Harbour. If no boat was to be found, it might be another horse to gallop away round the head of the Bay. Why, five dollars would scarce meet the cost of such a race!"
"If five dollars were needed, Roswell would pay them out of his own pocket, rather than ask another to assist him in doing an act of charity. But, no horse will be necessary; the whale-boat is at the wharf, and is ready for use, at any moment."
"True, I had forgotten the whale-boat. If that is home, the doctor might be brought across at a reasonable rate; especially if Gar'ner will volunteer. I dare say Daggett's effects will pay the bill for attendance, since they have answered, as yet, to meet the Widow White's charges. As I live, here comes Gar'ner, at this moment, and just as we want him."
"I knew of no other to ask to cross the bays, sir, and sent for Roswell before you returned. Had you not got back, as you did, I should have taken on myself the duty of sending for the doctor."
"In which case, girl, you would have made yourself liable. I have too many demands on my means, to be scattering dollars broadcast. But, here is Gar'ner, and I dare say all will be made right."
Gardiner now joined the uncle and niece, who had held this conversation in the porch, having hastened up from the schooner the instant he received Mary's summons. He was rewarded by a kind look and a friendly shake of the hand, each of which was slightly more cordial than those that prudent and thoughtful young woman was accustomed to bestow on him. He saw that Mary was a little earnest in her manner, and looked curious, as well as interested, to learn why he had been summoned at all. Sunday was kept so rigidly at the deacon's, that the young man did not dare visit the house until after the sun had set; the New England practice of commencing the Sabbath of a Saturday evening, and bringing it to a close at the succeeding sunset, prevailing among most of the people of Suffolk, the Episcopalians, forming nearly all the exceptions to the usage. Sunday evening, consequently, was in great request for visits, it being the favourite time for the young people to meet, as they were not only certain to be unemployed, but to be in their best. Roswell Gardiner was in the practice of visiting Mary Pratt on Sunday evenings; but he would almost as soon think of desecrating a church, as think of entering the deacon's abode, on the Sabbath, until after sunset, or "sundown," to use the familiar Americanism that is commonly applied to this hour of the day. Here he was, now, however, wondering, and anxious to learn why he had been sent for.
"Roswell," said Mary, earnestly, slightly colouring again as she spoke, "we have a great favour to ask. You know the poor old sailor who has been, staying at the Widow While's, this month or more—he is now very low; so low, we think he ought to have better advice than can be found on Oyster Pond, and we wish to get Dr. Sage over from the Harbour. How to do it has been the question, when I thought of you. If you could take the whale-boat and go across, the poor man might have the benefit of the doctor's advice in the course of a few hours."
"Yes," put in the uncle, "and I shall charge nothing for the use of the boat; so that, if you volunteer, Gar'ner, it will leave so much towards settling up the man's accounts, when settling day comes."
Roswell Gardiner understood both uncle and niece perfectly. The intense selfishness of the first was no more a secret to him than was the entire disinterestedness of the last. He gazed a moment, in fervent admiration, at Mary; then he turned to the deacon, and professed his readiness to "volunteer." Knowing the man so well, he took care distinctly to express the word, so as to put the mind of this votary of Mammon at ease.
"Gar'ner will volunteer, then," rejoined the uncle, "and I shall charge nothing for the use of the boat. This is 'doing as we would be done by,' and is all right, considering that Daggett is sick and among strangers. The wind is fair, or nearly fair, to go and to come back, and you'll make a short trip of it. Yes, it will cost nothing, and may do the poor man good."
"Now, go at once, Roswell," said Mary, in an entreating manner; "and show the same skill in managing the boat that you did the day you won the race against the Harbour oarsmen."
"I will do all a man can, to oblige you, Mary, as well as to serve the sick. If Dr. Sage should not be at home, am I to look for another physician, Mr. Pratt?"
"Sage must be at home—we can employ no other. Your old, long-established physicians understand how to consider practice, and don't make mistakes—by the way, Gar'ner, you needn't mention my name in the business, at all. Just say that a sick man, at the Widow White's, needs his services, and that you had volunteered to take him across. That will bring him—I know the man."
Again Gardiner understood what the deacon meant. He was just as desirous of not paying the physician as of not paying the messenger. Mary understood him, too and, with a face still more sad than anxiety had previously made it, she walked into the house, leaving her uncle and lover in the porch. After a few more injunctions from the former, in the way of prudent precaution, the latter departed, hurrying down to the water-side, in order to take to the boat.
"All that glisters is not gold, Often have you heard that told; Many a man his life hath sold, But my outside to behold."
Merchant of Venice.
No sooner was Deacon Pratt left alone, than he hastened to the humble dwelling of the Widow White. The disease of Daggett was a general decay that was not attended with much suffering. He was now seated in a homely armchair, and was able to converse. He was not aware, indeed, of the real danger of his case, and still had hopes of surviving many years. The deacon came in at the door, just as the widow had passed through it, on her way to visit another crone, who lived hard by, and with whom she was in the constant habit of consulting. She had seen the deacon in the distance, and took that occasion to run across the road, having a sort of instinctive notion that her presence was not required when the two men conferred together. What was the subject of their frequent private communications, the Widow White did not exactly know; but what she imagined, will in part appear in her discourse with her neighbour, the Widow Stone.
"Here's the deacon, ag'in!" cried the Widow White, as she bolted hurriedly into her friend's presence. "This makes the third time he has been at my house since yesterday morning. What can he mean?"
"Oh! I dare say, Betsy, he means no more than to visit the sick, as he pretends is the reason of his many visits."
"You forget it is Sabba' day!" added the Widow White, with emphasis.
"The better day, the better deed, Betsy."
"I know that; but it's dreadful often for a man to visit the sick—three times in twenty-four hours!"
"Yes; 't would have been more nat'ral for a woman, a body must own," returned the Widow Stone, a little drily. "Had the deacon been a woman, I dare say, Betsy, you would not have thought so much of his visits."
"I should think nothing of them at all," rejoined the sister widow, innocently enough. "But it is dreadful odd in a man to be visiting about among the sick so much—and he a deacon of the meeting!"
"Yes, it is not as common as it might be, particularly among deacons. But, come in, Betsy, and I will show you the text from which minister preached this morning. It's well worth attending to, for it touches on our forlorn state." Hereupon, the two relicts entered an inner room, where we shall leave them to discuss the merits of the sermon, interrupted by many protestations on the part of the Widow White, concerning the "dreadful" character of Deacon Pratt's many visits to her cottage, "Sabba' days" as well as week days.
In the meanwhile, the interview between the deacon, himself, and the sick mariner, had its course. After the first salutations, and the usual inquiries, the visiter, with some parade of manner, alluded to the fact that he had sent for a physician for the other's benefit.
"I did it of my own head," added the deacon; "or, I might better say, of my own heart. It was unpleasant to me to witness your sufferings, without doing something to alleviate them. To alleviate sorrow, and pain, and the throes of conscience, is one of the most pleasant of all the Christian offices. Yes, I have sent young Gar'ner across the bays, to the Harbour; and three or four hours hence we may look for him back, with Dr. Sage in his boat."
"I only hope I shall have the means to pay for all this expense and trouble, deacon," returned Daggett, in a sort of doubting way, that, for a moment, rendered his friend exceedingly uncomfortable. "Go, I know I must, sooner or later; but could I only live to get to the Vineyard, twould be found that my share of the old homestead would make up for all my wants. I may live to see the end of the other business."
Among the other tales of Daggett, was one which said that he had never yet received his share of his father's property; an account that was true enough, though the truth might have shown that the old man had left nothing worth dividing. He had been a common mariner, like the son, and had left behind him a common mariner's estate. The deacon mused a moment, and then he took an occasion to advert to the subject that had now been uppermost in his thoughts ever since he had been in the habit of holding secret conferences with the sick man. What that subject was, will appear in the course of the conversation that ensued.
"Have you thought of the chart, Daggett," asked the deacon, "and given an eye to that journal?"
"Both, sir. Your kindness to me has been so great, that I am not a man apt to forget it."
"I wish you would show me, yourself, the precise places on the chart, where them islands are to be found. There is nothing like seeing a thing with one's own eyes."
"You forget my oath, deacon Pratt. Every man on us took his bible oath not to point out the position of the islands, until a'ter the year 1820. Then, each and all on us is at liberty to do as he pleases. But, the chart is in my chest, and not only the islands, but the key, is so plainly laid down, that any mariner could find 'em. With that chest, however, I cannot part so long as I live. Get me well, and I will sail in the Sea Lion, and tell your captain Gar'ner all he will have occasion to know. The man's fortune will be made who first gets to either of them places."
"Yes, I can imagine that, easy enough, from your accounts, Daggett—but, how am I to be certain that some other vessel will not get the start of me?"
"Because the secret is now my own. There was but seven on us, in that brig, all told. Of them seven, four died at the islands of the fever, homeward bound; and of the other three, the captain was drowned in the squall I told you of, when he was washed overboard. That left only Jack Thompson and me; and Jack, I think, must be the very man whose death I see'd, six months since, as being killed by a whale on the False Banks."
"Jack Thompson is so common a name, a body never knows. Besides, if he was killed by that whale, he may have told the secret to a dozen before the accident."
"There's his oath ag'in it. Jack was sworn, as well as all on us, and he was a man likely to stand by what he swore to. This was none of your custom-house oaths, of which a chap might take a dozen of a morning, and all should be false; but it was an oath that put a seaman on his honour, since it was a good-fellowship affair, all round."
Deacon Pratt did not tell Daggett that Thompson might have as good reasons for disregarding the oath as he had himself; but he thought it. These are things that no wise man utters on such occasions; and this opinion touching the equality of the obligation of that oath was one of them.
"There is another hold upon Jack," continued Daggrett, after reflecting a moment. "He never could make any fist of latitude and longitude at all, and he kept no journal. Now, should he get it wrong, he and his friends might hunt a year without finding either of the places."
"You think there was no mistake in the pirate's account of that key, and of the buried treasure?" asked the deacon, anxiously.
"I would swear to the truth of what he said, as freely as if I had seen the box myself. They was necessitated, as you may suppose, or they never would have left so much gold, in sich an uninhabited place; but leave it they did, on the word of a dying man."
"Dying?—You mean the pirate, I suppose?"
"To be sure I do. We was shut up in the same prison, and we talked the matter over at least twenty times, before he was swung off. When they was satisfied I had nothing to do with the pirates, I was cleared; and I was on my way to the Vineyard, to get some craft or other, to go a'ter these two treasures (for one is just as much a treasure as t'other) when I was put ashore here. It's much the same to me, whether the craft sails from Oyster Pond or from the Vineyard."
"Of course. Well, as much to oblige you, and to put your mind at rest, as anything else, I've bought this Sea Lion, and engaged young Roswell Gar'ner to go out in her, as her master. She'll be ready to sail in a fortnight, and, if things turn out as you say, a good voyage will she make. All interested in her will have reason to rejoice. I see but one thing needful just now, and that is that you should give me the chart at once, in order that I may study it well, before the schooner sails."
"Do you mean to make the v'y'ge yourself, deacon?" asked Daggett, in some surprise.
"Not in person, certainly," was the answer. "I'm getting somewhat too old to leave home for so long a time; and, though born and brought up in sight of salt-water, I've never tried it beyond a trip to York, or one to Boston. Still, I shall have my property in the adventure, and it's nat'ral to keep an eye on that. Now, the chart well studied before-hand would be much more useful, it seems to me, than it can possibly be, if taken up at a late hour."
"There will be time enough for captain Gar'ner to overhaul his chart well, afore he reaches either of his ports," returned the mariner, evasively. "If I sail with him, as I suppose I must, nothing will be easier than for me to give all the courses and distances."
This reply produced a long and brooding silence. By this time, the reader will have got a clue to the nature of the secret that was discussed so much, and so often, between these two men. Daggett, finding himself sick, poor, and friendless, among strangers, had early cast about him for the means of obtaining an interest with those who might serve him. He had soon got an insight into the character of Deacon Pratt, from the passing remarks of the Widow White, who was induced to allude to the uncle, in consequence of the charitable visits of the niece. One day, when matters appeared to be at a very low ebb with him, and shortly after he had been put ashore, the sick mariner requested an interview with the deacon himself. The request had been reluctantly granted; but, during the visit, Daggett had managed so well to whet his visiter's appetite for gain, that henceforth there was no trouble in procuring the deacon's company. Little by little had Daggett let out his facts, always keeping enough in reserve to render himself necessary, until he had got his new acquaintance in the highest state of feverish excitement. The schooner was purchased, and all the arrangements necessary to her outfit were pressed forward as fast as prudence would at all allow. The chart, and the latitude and longitude, were the circumstances over which Daggett retained the control. These he kept to himself, though he averred that he had laid down on the charts that were in his chest the two important points which had been the subjects of his communications.
Although this man had been wily in making his revelations, and had chosen his confidant with caution and sagacity, most of that which he related was true. He had belonged to a sealer that had been in a very high southern latitude, where it had made some very important discoveries, touching the animals that formed the objects of its search. It was possible to fill a vessel in those islands in a few weeks; and the master of the sealer, Daggett having been his mate, had made all his people swear on their "bible oaths" not to reveal the facts, except under prescribed circumstances. His own vessel was full when he made the discoveries, but misfortune befel her on her homeward-bound passage, until she was herself totally lost in the West Indies, and that in a part of the ocean where she had no business to be.
In consequence of these several calamities, Daggett and one more man were the sole living depositories of the important information. These men separated, and, as stated, Daggett had reason to think that his former shipmate had been recently killed by a whale. The life and movements of a sailor are usually as eccentric as the career of a comet. After the loss of the sealing-vessel, Daggett remained in the West Indies and on the Spanish Main for some time, until falling into evil company he was imprisoned on a charge of piracy, in company with one who better deserved the imputation. While in the same cell, the pirate had made a relation to Daggett of all the incidents of a very eventful life. Among other things revealed was the fact that, on a certain occasion, he and two others had deposited a very considerable amount of treasure on a key that he described very minutely, and which he now bestowed on Daggett as some compensation for his present unmerited sufferings, his companions having both been drowned by the upsetting of their boat on the return from the key in question. Subsequently, this pirate had been executed, and Daggett liberated. He was not able to get to the key without making friends and confidants on whom he could rely, and he was actually making the best of his way to Martha's Vineyard with that intent, when put ashore on Oyster Pond. In most of that which this man had related to the deacon, therefore, he had told the truth, though it was the truth embellished, as is so apt to be the case with men of vulgar minds. He might have been misled by the narrative of the pirate, but it was his own opinion that he had not been. The man was a Scot, prudent, wary, and sagacious; and in the revelations he made he appeared to be governed by a conviction that his own course was run, and that it was best that his secret should not die with him. Daggett had rendered him certain services, too, and gratitude might have had some influence.
"My mind has been much exercised with this matter of the hidden gold," resumed the deacon, after the long pause already mentioned. "You will remember that there may be lawful owners of that money, should Gar'ner even succeed in finding it."
"'T would be hard for 'em to prove their claims, sir, if what McGosh told me was true. Accordin' to his account, the gold came from all sides—starboard and larboard, as a body might say—and it was jumbled together, and so mixed, that a young girl could not pick out her lover's keepsake from among the other pieces. 'T was the 'arnin's of three years cruisin', as I understood him to say; and much of the stuff had been exchanged in port, especially to get the custom-house officers and king's officers out of its wake. There's king's officers among them bloody Spaniards, Deacon Pratt, all the same as among the English."
"Be temperate in your language, friend; a rough speech is unseemly, particularly of the Lord's day."
Daggett rolled the tobacco over his tongue, and his eyes twinkled with a sort of leer, which indicated that the fellow was not without some humour. He submitted patiently to the rebuke, however, making no remonstrance against its reception.
"No, no," he added presently, "a starn chase, they say, is a long chase; and the owners of them doubloons, if owners they can now be called, must be out of sight, long before this. Accordin' to McGosh, some of the gold r'aally captured had passed back through the hands of them that sent it to sea, and they did not know their own children!"
"It is certainly hard to identify coin, and it would be a bold man who should stand up, in open court, and make oath to its being the same he had once held. I have heard of the same gold's having answered the purposes of twenty banks, one piece being so like another."
"Ay, ay, sir, gold is gold; and any of it is good enough for me, though doubloons is my favourites. When a fellow has got half-a-dozen doubloons alongside of his ribs, he can look the landlord full in the eye; and no one thinks of saying to sich as he, 'it's time to think of shipping ag'in.'"
From the nature of this discourse, it will not be easy for the reader to imagine the real condition of Daggett. At the very moment he was thus conversing of money, and incidentally manifesting his expectations of accompanying Roswell Gardiner in the expedition that was about to sail, the man had not actually four-and-twenty hours of life in him. Mary Pratt had foreseen his true state, accustomed as she was to administer to the wants of the dying; but no one else appeared to be aware of it, not even the deacon. It was true that the fellow spoke, as it might be, from his throat only, and that his voice was hollow, and sometimes reduced to a whisper; but he ascribed this, himself, to the circumstance that he had taken a cold. Whether the deacon believed this account or not, it might be difficult to say; but he appeared to give it full credit. Perhaps his mind was so much occupied with the subject of his discussions with Daggett, that it did not sufficiently advert to the real condition of the man.
Twice, that afternoon, did Deacon Pratt go between the cottage of the Widow White and his own dwelling. As often did the relict fly across the way to express her wonder to the Widow Stone, at the frequency of the rich man's visits. The second time that he came was when he saw the whale-boat rounding the end of Shelter Island, and he perceived, by means of his glass, that Dr. Sage was in it. At this sight the deacon hurried off to the cottage again, having something to say to Daggett that could no longer be delayed.
"The whale-boat will soon be in," he observed, as soon as he had taken his seat, "and we shall shortly have the doctor here. That young Gar'ner does what he has to do, always, with a jerk! There was no such haste, but he seems to be ever in a hurry!"
"Do what is to be done at once, and then lie by, is the sailor's rule, deacon," rejoined the mariner. "Squalls, and gusts, and reefin', and brailin' up, and haulin' down, won't wait for the seaman's leisure. His work must be done at once, or it will not be done at all. I'm not afeard of the doctor; so let him come as soon as he pleases. Medicine can't hurt a body, if he don't take it."
"There's one thing I wish to say to you, Daggett, before Dr. Sage comes in. Talking too much may excite you, especially talking of matters that are of interest; and you may give him a false impression of your state, should you get the pulse up, and the cheek flushed, by over-talking."
"I understand you, deacon. My secret is my secret, and no doctor shall get it out of me as long as I know what I say. I'm not so friendly with them, as to seek counsel among doctors."
"Then it's the Lord's day," added the Pharisee, "and it is not seemly to dwell too much on worldly interests, on the Sabbath."
A novice might have been surprised, after what had passed, at the exceeding coolness with which the deacon uttered this sentiment. Daggett was not so in the least, however; for he had taken the measure of his new confidant's conscience, and had lived long enough to know how marked was the difference between professions and practice. Nothing, indeed, is more common than to meet with those who denounce that in others, which is of constant occurrence with themselves; and who rail at vices that are so interwoven with their own moral being, as to compose integral portions of their existence. As for the deacon, he really thought it would be unseemly, and of evil example, for Daggett to converse with Dr. Sage, touching these doubloons, of the Lord's day: while he had felt no scruples himself, a short hour before, to make them the theme of a long and interesting discussion, in his own person. It might not repay us for the trouble, to look for the salve that the worthy man applied to his own conscience, by way of reconciling the apparent contradiction; though it probably was connected with some fancied and especial duty on his part, of taking care of the sick man's secrets. Sickness, it is well known, forms the apology for many an error, both of omission and commission.
Dr. Sage now arrived; a shrewd, observant, intelligent man, who had formerly represented the district in which he lived, in Congress. He was skilful in his profession, and soon made up his mind concerning the state of his patient. As the deacon never left him for a moment, to him he first communicated his opinion, after the visit, as the two walked back towards the well-known dwelling of the Pratts.
"This poor man is in the last stages of a decline," said the physician, coolly, "and medicine can do him no good. He may live a month; though it would not surprise me to hear of his death in an hour."
"Do you think his time so short!" exclaimed the deacon. "I was in hopes he might last until the Sea Lion goes out, and that a voyage might help to set him up."
"Nothing will ever set him up again, deacon, you may depend, on that. No sea-voyage will do him any good; and it is better that he should remain on shore, on account of the greater comforts he will get. Does he belong on Oyster Pond?"
"He comes from somewhere east," answered the deacon, careful not to let the doctor know the place whence the stranger had come, though to little purpose, as will presently be seen. "He has neither friend nor acquaintance, here; though I should think his effects sufficient to meet all charges."
"Should they not be, he is welcome to my visit," answered the doctor, promptly; for he well understood the deacon's motive in making the remark. "I have enjoyed a pleasant sail across the bays with young Gar'ner, who has promised to take me back again. I like boating, and am always better for one of these sailing excursions. Could I carry my patients along, half of them would be benefited by the pure air and the exercise."
"It's a grateful thing to meet with one of your temperament, doctor—but Daggett—"
"Is this man named Daggett?" interrupted the physician.
"I believe that is what he calls himself, though a body never is certain of what such people say."
"That's true, deacon; your rambling, houseless sailor is commonly a great liar—at least so have I always found him. Most of their log-books will not do to read; or, for that matter, to be written out, in full. But if this man's name is really Daggett, he must come from the Vineyard. There are Daggetts there in scores; yes, he must be a Vineyard man."
"There are Daggetts in Connecticut, as I know, of a certainty—"
"We all know that, for it is a name of weight there; but the Vineyard is the cradle of the breed. The man has a Vineyard look about him, too. I dare say, now, he has not been home for many a day."
The deacon was in an agony. He was menaced with the very thing he was in the hope of staving off, or a discussion on the subject of the sick man's previous life. The doctor was so mercurial and quick of apprehension, that, once fairly on the scent, he was nearly certain he would extract every thing from the patient. This was the principal reason why the deacon did not wish to send for him; the expense, though a serious objection to one so niggardly, being of secondary consideration when so many doubloons were at stake. It was necessary, however, to talk on boldly, as any appearance of hesitation might excite the doctor's distrust. The answers, therefore, came instantaneously.
"It may be as you say, doctor," returned the deacon; "for them Vineyard folks (Anglice folk) are great wanderers."
"That are they. I had occasion to pass a day there, a few years since, on my way to Boston, and I found five women on the island to one man. It must be a particularly conscientious person who could pass a week there, and escape committing the crime of bigamy. As for your bachelors, I have heard that a poor wretch of that description, who unluckily found himself cast ashore there, was married three times the same morning."
As the doctor was a little of a wag, deacon Pratt did not deem it necessary religiously to believe all that now escaped him; but he was glad to keep him in this vein, in order to prevent his getting again on the track of Daggett's early life. The device succeeded, Martha's Vineyard being a standing joke for all in that quarter of the world, on the subject of the ladies.
Mary was in the porch to receive her uncle and the physician. It was unnecessary for her to ask any questions, for her speaking countenance said all that was required, in order to obtain an answer.
"He's in a bad way, certainly, young lady," observed the doctor, taking a seat on one of the benches, "and I can give no hope. How long he may live, is another matter. If he has friends whom he wishes to see, or if he has any affairs to settle, the truth should be told him at once, and no time lost."
"He knows nothing of his friends," interrupted the deacon, quite thrown off his guard by his own eagerness, and unconscious, at the moment, of the manner in which he was committing himself on the subject of a knowledge of the sick man's birth-place, "not having been on the Vineyard, or heard from there, since he first left home, quite fifty years since."
The doctor saw the contradiction, and it set him thinking, and conjecturing, but he was too discreet to betray himself. An explanation there probably was, and he trusted to time to ascertain it.
"What has become of captain Gar'ner?" he asked, looking curiously around, as if he expected to find him tied to the niece's apron-string.
Mary blushed, but she was too innocent to betray any real confusion.
"He has gone back to the schooner, in order to have the boat ready for your return."
"And that return must take place, young lady, as soon as I have drunk two cups of your tea. I have patients at the Harbour who must yet be visited this evening, and the wind goes down with the sun. Let the poor man take the draughts I have left for him—they will soothe him, and help his breathing—more than this my skill can do nothing for him. Deacon, you need say nothing of this visit—I am sufficiently repaid by the air, the sail, and Miss Mary's welcome. I perceive that she is glad to see me, and that is something, between so young a woman and so old a man. And now for the two cups of tea."
The tea was drunk, and the doctor took his leave, shaking his head as he repeated to the niece, that the medical science could do nothing for the sick man.
"Let his friends know his situation at once, deacon," he said, as they walked towards the wharf, where the whale-boat was all ready for a start. "There is not an hour to lose. Now I think of it, the Flash, captain Smith, is to take a cargo of oil to Boston, and sails to-morrow. I can write a line by her, as it is ten to one she will go into the Hole. All our craft get into that Hole, or into Tarpaulin Cove, before they venture across the Shoals; and a letter addressed to any person of the name of Daggett might find the right man. I'll write it this very evening."
The announcement of this intention threw the deacon into a cold-sweat, but he did not think it prudent to say aught against it. He had bought the Sea Lion, engaged Roswell Gardiner, and otherwise expended a large sum of money, in the expectation of handling those doubloons, to say nothing of the furs; and here was a chance of all his calculations being defeated by the interference of impertinent and greedy relatives! There was no remedy but patience, and this the deacon endeavoured to exercise.
Deacon Pratt did not accompany the doctor beyond the limits of his own orchard. It was not deemed seemly for a member of the meeting to be seen walking out on the Sabbath, and this was remembered in season to prevent neighbourly comments. It is true, the doctor might furnish an apology; but, your strictly religious people, when they undertake the care of other people's consciences, do not often descend to these particulars.
No sooner had Gardiner and the physician re-embarked than the deacon returned to the cottage of the Widow White. Here he had another long and searching discourse with the sick mariner. Poor Daggett was wearied with the subject; but Dr. Sage's predictions of an early termination of the case, and the possibility that kinsmen might cross over from the 'Vineyard,' in order to learn what the long absent man had in his possession, acted on him as keen incentives. By learning the most material facts now, the Sea Lion might get so far ahead of all competitors as to secure the prizes, even should Daggett let others into the secret, and start another vessel on the same expedition. His own schooner was nearly ready for sea, whereas time would be needed in order to make an entire outfit.
But Daggett did not appear to be disposed to be more communicative than heretofore. He went over the narrative of the discovery of the sealing-island, and gave a graphic account of the number and tame condition of the animals who frequented it. A man might walk in their midst without giving the smallest alarm. In a word, all that a gang of good hands would have to do, would be to kill, and skin, and secure the oil. It would be like picking up dollars on a sea-beach. Sadly! sadly! indeed, was the deacon's cupidity excited by this account; a vivid picture of whales, or seals, having some such effect on the imagination of a true Suffolk county man, or more properly on that of an East-ender, as those who live beyond Riverhead are termed, as a glowing account of a prairie covered with wheat has on that of a Wolverine or a Buck eye; or an enumeration of cent per cent. has on the feelings of a Wall-street broker. Never before had Deacon Pratt been so much "exercised" with a love of Mammon. The pirate's tale, which was also recapitulated with much gusto, scarce excited him as much as Daggett's glowing account of the number, condition, and size of the seals.
Nothing was withheld but the latitudes and longitudes. No art of the deacon's, and he practised many, could extort from the mariner these most material facts, without which all the rest were useless; and the old man worked himself into a fever almost as high as that which soon came over Daggett, in the effort to come at these facts—but all in vain.