The author consistently used a convention in which a long dash, used to indicate trailed off speech, follows the closing speech mark, rather than being enclosed within the speech mark. This convention has been retained throughout.
F. J. STIMSON (J. S. of Dale)
Boston and New York Houghton, Mifflin and Company The Riverside Press, Cambridge 1896
Copyright, 1895 and 1896, by Houghton, Mifflin & Co.
Copyright, 1896, by F. J. Stimson. All rights reserved.
The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A. Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Co.
PART ONE: DISCOVERY 1
PART TWO: ROBBERY 75
PART THREE: RECOVERY 137
PART ONE: DISCOVERY.
It consisted of a few hundred new American eagles and a few times as many Spanish doubloons; for pirates like good broad pieces, fit to skim flat-spun across the waves, or play pitch-and-toss with for men's lives or women's loves; they give five-dollar pieces or thin British guineas to the boy who brings them drink, and silver to their bootblacks, priests, or beggars.
It was contained—the gold—in an old canvas bag, a little rotten and very brown and mouldy, but tied at the neck by a piece of stout and tarnished braid of gold. It had no name or card upon it nor letters on its side, and it lay for nearly thirty years high on a shelf, in an old chest, behind three tiers of tins of papers, in the deepest corner of the vault of the old building of the Old Colony Bank.
Yet this money was passed to no one's credit on the bank's books, nor was it carried as part of the bank's reserve. When the old concern took out its national charter, in 1863, it did not venture or did not remember to claim this specie as part of the reality behind its greenback circulation. It was never merged in other funds, nor converted, nor put at interest. The bag lay there intact, with one brown stain of blood upon it, where Romolo de Soto had grasped it while a cutlass gash was fresh across his hand. And so it was carried, in specie, in its original package: "Four hundred and twenty-three American eagles, and fifteen hundred and fifty-six Spanish doubloons; deposited by —— De Soto, June twenty-fourth, eighteen hundred and twenty-nine; for the benefit of whom it may concern."
And it concerned very much two people with whom our narration has to do,—one, James McMurtagh, our hero; the other, Mr. James Bowdoin, then called Mr. James, member of the firm of James Bowdoin's Sons. For De Soto, having escaped with his neck, took good pains never to call for his money.
A very real pirate was De Soto. None of your Captain Kidds, who make one voyage or so before they are hanged, and even then find time to bury kegs of gold in every marshy and uncomfortable spot from Maine to Florida. No, no. De Soto had better uses for his gold than that. Commonly he traveled with it; and thus he even brought it to Boston with him on that unlucky voyage in 1829, when Mr. James Bowdoin was kind enough to take charge of it for him. One wonders what he meant to do with a bag of gold in Boston in 1829.
This happened on Thursday, the 24th of June. It was the day after Mr. James Bowdoin's (or Mr. James's, as Jamie McMurtagh and others in the bank always called him; it was his father who was properly Mr. James Bowdoin, and his grandfather who was Mr. Bowdoin)—after Mr. James's Commencement Day; and it was the day after Mr. James's engagement as junior clerk in the counting-room; and it was the day after Mr. James's engagement to be married; and it was the day but one after Mr. James's class's supper at Mr. Porter's tavern in North Cambridge. Ah, they did things quickly in those days; ils savoient vivre.
They had made him a Bachelor of Arts, and a Master of Arts he had made himself by paying for that dignity, and all this while the class punch was fresher in his memory than Latin quantities; for these parchment honors were a bit overwhelming to one who had gone through his college course non clam, sed vi et precario, as his tutor courteously phrased it. And then he had gotten out of his college gown into a beautiful blue frock coat and white duck trousers, and driven into town and sought for other favors, more of flesh and blood, carried his other degree with a rush—and Miss Abigail Dowse off to drive with him. And that evening Mr. James Bowdoin had said to him, "James!"
"Yes, sir," said Mr. James.
"Now you've had your four years at college, and I think it's time you should be learning something."
"Yes, sir," said Mr. James.
"So I wish you to come down to the counting-room at nine o'clock and sort the letters."
"Yes, sir," said Mr. James.
Mr. James Bowdoin looked at him suspiciously over his spectacles. "At eight o'clock; do you hear?"
"I hear, sir," said Mr. James.
Mr. James Bowdoin lost his temper at once. "Oh, you do, do you?" said he. "You don't want to go to Paris, to Rome,—to make the grand tour like a gentleman, in short, as I did long before I was your age?"
"No, sir," said Mr. James.
"Then, sir, by gad," said Mr. James Bowdoin, "you may come down at half past seven—and—and—sweep out the office!"
So it happened that Mr. James was in the counting-room that day; but that he happened also to be alone requires further explanation. Two glasses of the old Governor Bowdoin white port had been left untasted on the dinner-table the night before,—the one, that meant for Mr. James Bowdoin, who had himself swept out of the room as he made that last remark about sweeping out the office; the other, that of his son, Mr. James, who had instantly gone out by the other door, and betaken himself for sympathy to the home of Miss Abigail Dowse, which stood on Fort Hill, close by, where the sea breezes blew fresh through the white June roses, and Mr. James found her walking in the garden path.
"You must tell him," said Miss Dowse, when Mr. James had recounted his late conversation to her, after such preliminary ceremonies as were proper—under the circumstances.
So Mr. James walked down to the head of India Wharf the next morning, determined to make a clean breast of his engagement. The ocean air came straight in from the clear, blue bay, spice-laden as it swept along the great rows of warehouses, and a big white ship, topgallant sails still set, came bulging up the harbor, not sixty minutes from deep water. Mr. James found McMurtagh already in the office and the mail well sorted, but he insisted on McMurtagh finding him a broom, and, wielding that implement on the second pair of stairs (for the counting-room of James Bowdoin's Sons was really a loft, two flights up in the old granite building), was discovered there shortly after by Mr. James Bowdoin. The staircase had not been swept in some years, and the young man's father made his way up through a cloud of aromatic dust that Mr. James had raised. He could with difficulty see the door of his counting-room. This slammed behind him as he entered; and a few seconds after, Mr. James received a summons through McMurtagh that Mr. James Bowdoin wished to see him.
"An' don't ye mind if Mr. James Bowdoin is a bit sharp-set the morn," said Jamie McMurtagh.
Mr. James nodded; then he went in to his father.
"So, sir, it was you kicking up that devil of a dust outside there, was it?"
"Yes, sir," says Mr. James. (I have this story from McMurtagh.) "You told me to sweep out the counting-room."
"Precisely so, sir. I am glad your memory is better than your intelligence. I told you to sweep it out, and not all outdoors in."
Mr. James bowed, and wondered how he was to speak of Miss Dowse at this moment. The old gentleman chuckled for some minutes; then he said, "And now, James, it's time you got married."
Mr. James started. "I—I only graduated yesterday, sir," says he.
"Well, sir," answers the old gentleman testily, "you may consider yourself devilish lucky that you weren't married before! I have got a house for you"—
"Perhaps, sir, you have even got me a wife?"
"Of course I have; and a devilish fine girl she is, too, I can tell you!"
"But, sir," says Mr. James, "I—I have made other arrangements."
"The devil you have! Then damme, sir, not a house shall you have from me,—not a house, sir, not a shingle,—nor the girl, either, by gad! I'll—I'll"—
"Perhaps, sir," says Mr. James, "you'll wait and marry her yourself?"
"Perhaps I will, sir; and if I do, what of it? Older men than I have married, I take it! Insolent young dog!"
"May I tell my mother, sir?"
Now, Mrs. James Bowdoin was an august person; and here McMurtagh's anxiety led him to interfere at any cost. An ill-favored, slight man was he, stooping of habit; and he came in rubbing his hands and looking anxiously, one eye on the father, the other on the son, as his oddly protuberant eyes almost enabled him to do.
"There is a ship coming up the harbor, sir, full-laden, and I think she flies the signal of James Bowdoin's Sons."
"Damn James Bowdoin's Sons, sir!" says Mr. James Bowdoin. "And as for you, sir, not a stick or shingle shall you have"—
"If you'll only take the girl, you're welcome to the house, sir," says Mr. James.
"Oh, I am, am I? Then, by gad, sir, I'll take both houses, and Sam Dowse's daughter'll live in one, and your mother and I in the other!"
"Sam Dowse's daughter?"
"Yes, sir, Miss Abby Dowse. Have you any objections?"
"Why, she—she's the other arrangement," says Mr. James.
"Oh, she is, is she?"
Mr. James Bowdoin hesitated a moment, as if in search of some withering reply, but failed to find it.
"Humph! I thought it was time you came to your senses. Now, here's the keys, d'ye see? And the house was old Judge Allerton's; it's too large for his daughter, and, now that you'll marry the girl I've got for you, I'll let you have it."
"I shall marry what girl I like," says Mr. James; "and as for the house, damme if I'll take it,—not a stick, sir, not a shingle!"
Mr. James Bowdoin looked at his son for one moment, speechless; then he slammed out of the room. Mr. James put his foot on the desk and whistled. McMurtagh rubbed his hands.
The office in which Mr. James found himself was a small, square, sunny corner room with four windows, in the third story of the upper angle of the long block of granite warehouses that lined the wharf. Below him was the then principal commercial street of the city, full of bustle, noisy with drays; at the side was the slip of the dock itself, with its warm, green, swaying water, upon which a jostled crowd of various craft was rocking sleepily in the summer morning. The floor of the room was bare. Between the windows, on one side, was an open, empty stove; on the other were two high desks, with stools. An eight-day clock ticked comfortably upon the wall, and on either side of it were two pictures, wood-cuts, eked out with rude splashes of red and blue by some primitive process of lithography: the one represented the "Take of a Right Whale in Behring's Sea by the Good Adventure Barque out of New Bedford;" the other, the "Landing of H. M. Troops in Boston, His Majesty's Province of Massachusetts Bay in New England, 1766." In the latter picture, the vanes on the town steeples and the ships in the bay were represented very big, and the town itself very small; and the dull black and white of the wood-cut was relieved by one long stream of red, which was H. M. troops landing and marching up the Long Wharf, and by several splotches of the same, where the troops were standing, drawn up in line, upon each frigate, and waiting to be ferried.
A quiet little place the office would have seemed to us; and yet there was not a sea on earth, probably, that did not bear its bounding ship sent out from that small office. And if it was still, in there, it had a cosmopolitan, aromatic smell; for every strange letter or foreign sample with which the place was littered bespoke the business of the bright, blue world outside. From the street below came noise enough, and loud voices of sailors and shipmen in many a foreign tongue. For in those days we had freedom of the sea and dealings with the world, and had not yet been taught to cabin all our energies within the spindle-rooms of cotton-mills. As Mr. James looked out of the window he saw a full-rigged ship, whose generous lines and clipper rig bespoke the long-voyage liner, warping slowly up toward the dock, her fair white lower sails, still wet from the sea, hanging at the yards, the stiff salt sparkling in the sunlight.
Mr. James Bowdoin was already standing at the pier-head (for it was indeed their ship of which McMurtagh had been speaking), and Mr. James made bold to turn the key upon the counting-room and go to join his father. Here he was standing, side by side with him, swaying his body, with his thumbs in his waistcoat pocket, in some unconscious imitation of ownership, when his father caught sight of him and ordered him sharply back. "Yes, sir," said Mr. James, and moved to the other angle of the wharf, for he had caught the word "pirates;" and now, for some reason, the ship had cast her anchor, a hundred yards outside the dock, while to it from her side a double-manned yawl was rowing. And amid the blue jackets, above a dark mass of men that seemed to be bound together by an iron chain, was some strange rippling of long yellow hair, that the young man had been first to see. Yet not quite the first, for Jamie McMurtagh was beside him.
Then word was passed rapidly down the pier how this ship of pirates had been captured, red-handed, her own captain still on board,—the good ship Alarm having seen a redness in the sky, and heard some firing in the night before; and how Captain How had put it to his crew, Would they fight or not? And they had fought, rushing in before the pirate's long-range guns could get to work, in the early dawn, and boarding; so now there was talk of prize money.
Young James Bowdoin and McMurtagh were all eyes. The boat rowed up to the slippery wharf steps; in the bow were the two ringleaders and the ship's captain, in the waist of the boat the rowers, and in the stern the rank and file of the pirates, some eight or ten ill-looking fellows chained together. (The rest of them, the captain remarked casually, had been shot or lost in the battle; and not much was said about it.)
The boat was made fast, and the two leaders got up, with Captain How. The pirate captain, as Mr. James remarked, was a splendid-looking fellow. Captain How said something to him as the boat stopped, and he looked up and caught Mr. James's eye; and Bowdoin had time to remark that it was blue and very keen to look upon. Young Bowdoin and McMurtagh were standing on the very verge of the wharf, and the crowd around had made a little space for them, as the owners of the ship; Mr. James Bowdoin was standing farther back with the captain of a file of soldiers. But the second of the pirates was a swarthy Spaniard, with as evil-flashing eyes as you would care to see. And it was he who held in his arms a little girl, almost a baby, whose long yellow hair had made that note of color in the boat.
They were marched up the steps matted with seaweed; for it was low tide, and only the barnacles made footing for them. And as the pirate captain passed young Bowdoin he said, in very good English, "You look like a gentleman," and rapidly drew from his breast, and placed in Bowdoin's hands, the bag of gold. So quickly was this done that the captain had passed and was closely surrounded by the file of soldiers before Bowdoin could reply; nor had he sought to do so, for, on looking to McMurtagh for advice, he saw him holding, and in awkward yet tender manner trying to caress and soothe, the little lady with the yellow hair. The second pirate had sought to hand her, too, to Bowdoin, but some caprice had made the little maiden shy, and she had run and buried her face in the arms of the young-old clerk.
While young Bowdoin's father, with the file of soldiers, marched up State Street to a magistrate's office, Mr. James and clerk McMurtagh retired with their spoils to the counting-room. Here these novel consignments to the old house of James Bowdoin's Sons were safely deposited on the floor; and the clerk and the young master, eased of their burdens, but not disembarrassed, looked at one another. The old clock ticked with unruffled composure; the bag of gold lay gaping on the wooden floor, where young Bowdoin had untied its mouth to see; and the little maid had climbed upon McMurtagh's stool, and was playing with the leaves of the big ledger familiarly, as if pirates' maids and pirates' treasure were entered on the debit side of every page.
"What shall I do with the money?" asked Bowdoin.
"Count it," said McMurtagh, with a gasp, as if the words were wrung from him by force of habit.
"And when counted?"
"Enter it in the ledger, Mr. James," said McMurtagh, with another gasp.
"To whose account?"
"For account—of whom it may concern."
Bowdoin began to count it, and the clock went on ticking; one piece for each tick of the clock. He did not know many of the pieces; and McMurtagh, as they were held up to him, broke the silence only to answer arithmetically, "Doubloon,—value eight dollars two shillings, New England;" or, "Pistole,—value the half, free of agio." When they were all counted, McMurtagh opened a new page in the ledger, and a new account for the house: "June 24, 1829. To credit of Pirates, or Whom it may concern, sixteen thousand eight hundred and ninety-seven dollars."
"Pirates!" he muttered; "it's a new account for us to carry. I'll not be sorry the day we write it off."
Bowdoin, in the frivolity of youth, laughed.
"And now," said McMurtagh, "you must tie up the bag again and seal it, and I must take it up and put it in the vault of the bank."
"And the little girl?" asked Bowdoin. "We can hardly carry her upon the books."
"For the benefit of whom it may concern," said the clerk absently.
Bowdoin laughed again.
McMurtagh looked at her and gasped, but this time silently. She had clambered down from the stool, and was gazing with delight at the old pictures of the ships; but, as if she understood that she was being talked about, she turned around and looked at them with large round eyes.
"What is your name?" said he; and then, "Como se llama V.?" (for we all knew a little Spanish in those days.)
"Mercedes," said the child.
"I suppose," ventured Bowdoin, "there is some asylum"—
McMurtagh looked dubious; and the little maid, divining that the discussion of her was unfavorable, fell to tears, and then ran up and dried them on McMurtagh's business waistcoat.
"You take the gold," said he dryly; "I'll carry the child myself."
"Where?" inquired young Bowdoin, astonished.
"Home," said McMurtagh sharply.
McMurtagh was known to have an old mother and a bedridden father (a retired drayman, run over in the service of the firm), whom he lived with, and with some difficulty supported. Yet little could be said against the plan, as a temporary arrangement, if they were willing to assume the burden. At all events, before Mr. James could find speech for objection, McMurtagh was off with the child in his arms, seeking to soothe her with uncouth words of endearment as he bore her carefully down the narrow stairs.
James Bowdoin laughed a little, and then grew silent. Finally, his glance falling on the yellow piles still lying on the floor, he shoveled them into the bag again and shouldered it up to the bank. There the deposit of specie was duly made, the money put in the old chest and sealed, and he learned that the pirates had been committed to stand their trial. And he and his father talked it over, and decided that the child might as well stay with McMurtagh, for the present at any rate.
But that "present" was long in passing; for the pirates were duly tried, and all but one of them found guilty, sentenced to be hanged, and duly executed on an island in the harbor. There were no sentimentalists about in those days; and their gibbets were erected in the sand of that harbor island, and their bodies swung for many days (as these same sentimentalists might now put it) near the sea they had loved so well; being a due encouragement to other pirates to leave Boston ships alone. Pity the town has not kept up those tactics with its railways!
All the common seamen were executed, that is, and Manuel Silva, the second in command, who had left the little girl with McMurtagh. The captain, it was proved, had been polite to his two lady captives: the men safely disposed of, he had placed the best cabin at their command, and had even gone so far out of his way as to head the ship toward Boston, on their behalf; promising to place them on board some fishing-smack, not too far out. Silva had not agreed to this, and it had led to something like a mutiny on the part of the crew. It was owing to this, doubtless, that they were captured. De Soto, it was known, was a married man; moreover, he was new in command, and not used to pirate ways.
However, this conduct was deemed courteous by the administration at Washington, and, feminine influence being always potent with Andrew Jackson, De Soto's sentence was commuted to imprisonment for life; and shortly after, being taken to a quiet little country prison, he made interest with the jailer and escaped. It was reported that he shipped upon an African trader; and, going down the harbor past the figure of Manuel Silva elegantly outlined against the sky, he bowed sardonically to the swaying schema of his ancient messmate. It excited some little comment on the African trader at the time; but the usual professional esprit de corps keeps sailors from asking too many questions about the intimate professional conduct of their messmates in earlier voyages.
But that is why De Soto made no draft upon the credit side of his account at the Old Colony Bank; and James Bowdoin's Sons continued to carry the deposit on their books "for the benefit of whom it may concern." And so McMurtagh, who had taken little Mercedes Silva home that day, continued to make a home for her there, his old mother and his father aiding and abetting him in the task; and he carried her young life, in addition to his other burdens, "for the benefit of whom it may concern."
"Whom it may concern" is too old a story, in such cases, ever to be thought of by the actors in them.
James McMurtagh was one of that vast majority of men who live, function, work, in their appointed way, and are never heard from, like a good digestion. This is the grand division which separates them from those who, be it for good or evil, or weakness even, will be protagonists. Countless multitudes of such men as Jamie must there be, to hold the fabric together and make possible the daring spins of you, my lords Lovelace, and you, Launcelots and Tristrams, and Miss Vivien here; who weave your paradoxical cross-purposes of tinsel evil in the sober woof of good.
No one knew, or if he knew remembered, what was Jamie's age. When he was first taken in by the house, he described himself as a "lad;" but others had not so described him, or else had taken the word as the Scotch, not for English youth, but for male humanity,—wide enough to include a sober under-clerk of doubtful age. Jamie's father had been a drayman, in the employ of the house, as we have said, until his middle was bisected by that three-inch tire weighted with six puncheons of Jamaica rum.
Jamie had been brought over from Scotland when veritably young,—some months or so; had then been finished in the new-fangled American free schools, and had come up in the counting-room, the day of the accident, equipped to feed his broken-backed father, with knowledge enough to be a bookkeeper, and little enough pride to be a messenger. Only, he had no spirit of adventure to fit him for a supercargo,—even that brushed too close upon the protagonist for him; and so he stayed upon his office stool. While other clerks went away promoted, he ticked off his life in alternation from the counting-room to the bank; trustworthy on that well-taught street with any forms of other people's fortunes, only not to make his own, and even trustworthy, as we have seen it go unquestioned, with this little Spanish girl.
Jamie took her home to his parents, and for his sake they fell down and worshiped; with them she lived. The father had had too much rum upon him to care much for the things remaining in this life; after such excessive external application, who could blame him for using it internally more than most? The mother's marital affection, naturally, was moderated by long practice of mixing him hot tumblers with two lumps of sugar, and of seeing the thing administered more dear to her spouse than the ministering angel. But the mother worshiped Jamie, and Jamie worshiped the little girl; and the years went by.
It was pretty to see Jamie and his mother and the little girl walking to church of a Sunday, and funny to hear Jamie's excuses for it afterward.
"'Tis the women bodies need it," said he to Mr. James Bowdoin, who rallied him thereupon.
"But surely, Jamie," said Mr. James, "you, who have read Hume until you've half convinced us all to be free-thinkers,—you'd have your daughter as well educated as yourself?"
"Hersel'," said Jamie, meaning himself,—"hersel' may go to ta deevil if he wull; ta little lassie sall be a lady." (Jamie's Scotch always grew more Gaelic as he got excited.) It was evident that he regarded religion as a sort of ornament of superior breeding, that Mercedes must have, though he could do without it. And Mr. James Bowdoin looked in Jamie's eye, and held his peace. In those days deference was rigidly exacted in the divers relations of life: a disrespectful word would have caused McMurtagh's quick dismissal, and the Bowdoins, father and son, would have been made miserable thereby.
"The lad must have his way with the little girl," said Mr. Bowdoin (now promoted to that title by his father's recent death).
"It seems so," said Mr. James Bowdoin (our Mr. James), who by this time had his own little girls to look after.
"Bring the poor child down to Nahant next time you come to spend the day, and give her a chance to play with the children."
James McMurtagh, with "the old man" and "the mother," lived in a curious little house on Salem Street, at the North End. Probably they liked it because it might have been a little house in some provincial town at home. To its growing defects of neighborhood they were oblivious. It was a square two-story brick box: on the right of the entry, the parlor, never used before, but now set apart for Mercedes; behind, a larger square room, which was dining-room and kitchen combined, and where the McMurtaghs, father and son, were wont to sit in their shirt-sleeves after supper and smoke their pipes; above were four tiny bedrooms.
Within the parlor the little lady, as Jamie already called her, was given undisputed sway; and a strange transmogrification there she made. The pink shells were collected from the mantel, and piled, with others she had got, to represent a grotto, in one corner of the room; the worked samplers were thought ugly, and banished upstairs. In another corner was a sort of bower, made of bright-colored pieces of stuff the child had begged from the neighbors, and called by her the "Witch's Cave;" here little Mercedes loved to sit and tell the fortunes of her friends. These were mostly Jamie's horny-handed friends; the women neighbors took no part in all these doings, and gave it out loudly that the child was being spoiled. She went, with other boys and girls, to a small dame-school on the other side of Bowdoin Square; for Jamie would not hear of a public school. Here she learned quickly to read, write, and do a little embroidering, and gained much knowledge of human nature.
One thing that they would not allow the child was her outlandish name: Mercy she was called,—Mercy McMurtagh. Perhaps we may venture still to call her Mercedes. The child's hair and eyes were getting darker, but it was easy to see she would be a blonde d'Espagne. Jamie secretly believed she had a strain of noble blood, though openly he would not have granted such a thing's existence. We, with our wider racial knowledge, might have recognized points that came from Gothic Spain,—the deep eyes of starlight blue, so near to black, and hair that was a brown with dust of gold. But her feet and hands were all of Andalusia. Jamie had hardly spoken to a woman in his life,—he used to think of himself as deformed. And now this little girl was all his own!
So for a year or two the child was happy. Then came that day, never to be forgotten by her, of the visit to old Mr. Bowdoin at Nahant. They went down in a steamboat together,—two little Bowdoin girls, younger than Mercedes, a boy, Harley, and a cousin, who was Dorothea Dowse. At first Mercedes did not think much of the Bowdoin children; they wore plain dresses, alike in color, while our heroine had on every ribbon that was hers. They went down under care of Jamie McMurtagh, dismissed at the wharf by Mr. James Bowdoin, who had a stick of candy for each. Business was doing even then; but old Mr. Bowdoin was not too busy to spend a summer's day at home with the children. His favorite son, James, had married to his mind; and money came so easy in those times!
Miss Dowse was fifteen, and she called her uncle's clerk Jamie; so she elevated her look when she came to our Mercedes. She wore gloves, and satin slippers with ribbons crossed at the ankle, and silk stockings. Mercedes had no silk stockings and no gloves. Miss Dowse had rejected the proffered stick of candy, and Mercedes sought a chance to give hers away, one end unsucked. There was this boy in the party,—Harleston Bowdoin,—so she made a favor of it and gave it to him.
They were playing on the rail of the steamboat, and Jamie was sitting respectfully apart inside. The little Bowdoin girls were sucking at their candy contentedly; Mercedes was climbing with the Bowdoin boy upon the rail, and he called his cousin Dolly to join them.
"I can't; the sun would make my hands so brown if I took off my gloves," said that young lady. "Besides, it's so common, playing with the passengers."
There was a double sting in this; for Mercedes was not just "a passenger," but of their party. She walked into the cabin with what dignity she could maintain, and then burst out weeping angrily in Jamie's arms. That is, he sought to comfort her; but she pressed him aside rudely. "Oh, Jamie," she sobbed (she was suffered to call him Jamie), "why didn't you give me gloves?"
Poor Jamie scratched his head. He had not thought of them; and that was all. He tried to caress the child, with a clumsy tenderness, but she stamped her little foot. Outside, they heard the voices of the other children. Miss Dowse was talking to Master Bowdoin of sights in the harbor; but—how early is a boy sensible to a child's prettiness!—he was asking after Mercedes. It was now Miss Dolly's turn to bite her lip. "She's in the cabin, crying because she has no gloves."
Jamie felt Mercedes quiver; her sobs stopped, panting; in a moment she put her hand to her hair and went to the deck unconcernedly.
But no one ever made Mercedes cry again.
Poor Jamie went to a window where he could hear them talking. He took off his white straw hat, and rubbed his eyes with a red silk handkerchief; the tears were almost in them, too. He had wild thoughts of trying to buy gloves at Nahant. He listened to hear if his child was merry again. She was laughing loudly, and pointing out the white column of Boston Light. "That is the way to sea!" she cried. "I came in that way from sea."
The other children had crept about her, interested. Even Miss Dowse had come over, and was standing with them.
"Did your father take you to sea?"
"I was at sea in my father's ship," said Mercedes proudly.
"Ah, I didn't know Jamie McMurtagh owned a ship," said Miss Dolly. Jamie leaned closer to the window.
"Jamie McMurtagh is not my father," said Mercedes. She said it almost scornfully, and McMurtagh slunk back into the cabin.
Perhaps it was the first time he had ever cried himself.... He felt so sorry that he had not thought of gloves!
When they came to the wharf, several carriages were waiting. Some were handsome equipages with silver-mounted harnesses (for nabobs then were in Nahant); others were the familiar New England carryalls. Mercedes looked for Mr. Bowdoin, hoping he had come to meet her in one of the former, but was disappointed, for that gentleman was seen running down the hill as if too late, his blue dress-coat tails streaming in the wind, his Panama hat in one hand, and a large brown-paper bag, bursting with oranges, in the other. By accident or design, as he neared the wharf, the bag did burst, and all the oranges went rolling down the road.
"Pick 'em up, children, pick 'em up!" gasped Mr. Bowdoin. "Findings keepings, you know." And he broke into a chuckle as the two smaller girls precipitated themselves upon the rolling orange-spheres as if they were footballs, and Master Harley, in his anxiety to stop one that was rolling over the wharf, tripped upon the hawser, and was grabbed by a friendly sailor just as he himself was rolling after it into the sea.
"You don't seem to care for oranges, Miss Dolly," said Mr. Bowdoin, as Miss Dowse stood haughtily aloof; and he looked then at Mercedes, who was left quite alone, yet followed Miss Dowse's example of dignity; Jamie standing behind, not beside her, hat in hand.
"Ah, Ja— Mr. McMurtagh," said Mr. Bowdoin, doffing his own. "And so this is our Miss Mercy again? Why don't you chase the oranges, my dear?"
Mercedes looked at the old gentleman a moment, then ran after the oranges.
Dolly still made excuses. "It is so hot, and I have clean gloves on."
Mr. Bowdoin cast a quick glance at the envied gloves, and then at Mercedes' brown hands. "Here, Dolly, chuck those gloves in the carriage there: they're not allowed down here. McMurtagh, I'm glad to see your Mercy has more sense. Can't stay to luncheon? Well, remember me to Mr. James!"
Ah, the marvelous power of kindliness that will give even an old merchant the perception of a woman, the tact of a diplomat! McMurtagh went back with a light heart, and Mercedes jumped with delight into the very finest of the carriages, and was given a seat ("as the greatest stranger") behind with Mr. Bowdoin, while the other three girls filled the seat in front, and Harley held the reins upon the box, a process Mr. Bowdoin affected not to see.
They drove through the little village in the train of other carriages; and Mercedes sat erect and answered artlessly to Mr. Bowdoin's questions. He asked her whether she was happy in her home, and she said she was. (In his kindness the simple-hearted old gentleman still knew no other way to make a woman tell the truth than by asking her questions!) Jamie was very good to her, she said, and grandpa most of all; grandma was cross sometimes. ("Jamie"! "grandpa"! Old Mr. Bowdoin made a mental note.) But she was very lonely: she had no children to play with.
Mr. Bowdoin's heart warmed at once. "You must come down here often, my dear!" he cried; thus again laying up a wigging from his auguster spouse. But "Jamie"! "Why don't you call your kind friend father, since you call old McMurtagh grandpa?"
The child shook her head. "He has never asked me to," she said. "Besides, he is not my father. My father wore gold trimmings and a sword."
This sounded more like De Soto than Silva.
"Do you remember him?"
"Not much, sir."
"What was his name?"
The child shook her head again. "I do not know, sir. He only called me Mercedes."
Mr. Bowdoin was fain to rummage in his pocket, either for a handkerchief or for a lump of Salem "Gibraltars:" both came out together in a state of happy union. Mercedes took hers simply. Only Miss Dolly was too proud to eat candy in the carriage. The Salem Gibraltar is a hard and mouth-filling dainty; and by its administration little Ann and Jane, who had been chattering in front, were suddenly reduced to silence.
By this time they had come through to the outer cliff, and were driving on a turf road high above the sea. The old gentleman was watching the breakers far below, and Mercedes had a chance to look about her at the houses. They passed by a great hotel, and she saw many gayly dressed people on the piazza; she hoped they were going to stop there, but they drove on to a smallish house upon the very farthest point. It was not a pretentious place; but Mercedes was pleased with a fine stone terrace that was built into the very last reef of the sea, and with the pretty little lawn and the flowers.
As the children rushed into the hall, Ann and Jane struggling to keep on Mr. Bowdoin's shoulders, they were stopped by a maid, who told them Mrs. Bowdoin was taking a nap and must not be disturbed. So they were carried through to the back veranda, where Mr. Bowdoin dumped the little girls over the railing upon a steep grass slope, down which they rolled with shrieks of laughter that must have been most damaging to Mrs. Bowdoin's nerves. Dolly and Mercedes followed after; and the old gentleman settled himself on a roomy cane chair, his feet on the rail of the back piazza, a huge spy-glass at his side, and the "Boston Daily Advertiser" in his hand.
At the foot of the lawn was the cliff; and below, a lovely little pebble beach covered with the most wonderful shells. Never were such shells as abounded upon that beach!—tropical, exotic varieties, such as were found nowhere else. And then—most ideal place of all for a child—there was a fascinating rocky island in the sea, connected by a neck of twenty yards of pebble covered hardly at high water; and on one side of this pebble isthmus was the full surf of the sea, and on the other the quiet ripple of the waters of the bay. But such an island! All their own to colonize and govern, and separated from home by just a breadth of danger.
All good children have some pirate blood; and I doubt if Mercedes enjoyed it more than Ann and Jane and even haughty Dolly did. And to the right was the wide Massachusetts Bay, and beyond it far blue mountains, hazy in the southern sun. Then there were bath-houses, and little swimming-suits ready for each, into which the other children quickly got, Mercedes following their example; and they waded on the quiet side; Mercedes rather timidly, the other children, who could swim a little, boldly. Old Mr. Bowdoin (who was looking on from above) shouted to them to know "if they had captured the island."
"Grapes grow on the island," said Ann and Jane.
Dolly was silent; Mercedes would have believed any fairy tale by now. And they started for it, Harley leading; but the tide was too high, and at the farther end of the little pebble isthmus the higher breakers actually came across and poured their foam into the clear stillness. Ann and Jane were afraid; even Dolly hesitated; as for Harley, he was stopped by discovering a beautiful new peg-top which had been cast up by the sea and was rolling around upon the outer beach.
"Discoverers must be brave!" shouted Mr. Bowdoin from above. And Mercedes shut her eyes and made a dash through the yard of deeper water as the breaker on the other side receded. She grasped the rock by the seaweed and pulled herself up to where it was hot in the sun, and sat to look about her. There were numerous lovely little pink shells; and in the crevices above, some beautiful rock crystals, pink or white. Mercedes touched one, and found it came off easily. She put it to her lips.
"Why, it's rock candy!" she exclaimed.
There was an explosive chuckle from the old gentleman across the chasm, and the others swarmed across like Cabot and Pizarro after Columbus.
"Remember, children, she's queen of the island to-day,—she got there first!" shouted Mr. Bowdoin, and went back to his spy-glass and his armchair.
So that day Mercedes was queen; and her realm a real island, bounded by the real Atlantic, and Harley, at least, was her faithful subject. At the water's edge was great kelp, and barnacles, and jellyfish, all pink and purple; and on the summit was a little grove of juniper and savin bushes, with some wild flowers; and on the cedar branches grew most beautiful bunches of hothouse grapes. To be sure, they were tied on by a string.
"'Tis grandpa's put them there," said Dolly, of superior knowledge already in the world's ways.
"Sh! how mean to tell!" cried Harley.
"And he puts rare shells upon the beach, and tops!"
But Mercedes only thought how nice it was to have such a gentleman for grandfather; and when she got back to the little house on Salem Street she acted out all the play to an admiring audience. Jamie met her at the wharf and walked home with her. It was hot and stuffy in the city streets, but the flush of pleasure lasted well after she got home. And she told what soft linen they had had at dinner, and pink bowls to rinse their hands, and a man in a red waistcoat to wait upon them.
"Isn't she wonderful! Just like a lady born," said Jamie.
John Hughson, a neighbor, took his pipe from his mouth and nodded open-mouth assent.
"And she talks a little Spanish, and can dance!"
"It's time such little tots were in bed," said Mrs. Hughson, a large Yankee person, mother to John.
"Just one dance first, Mercy; show the lady," said old Mrs. McMurtagh.
But Mercedes was offended at being called a little tot, and pouted her lip.
"Come here, dearie," said Jamie.
She went to him; and while he held her with his left hand awkwardly, he pulled a tiny pair of gloves from his pocket. Mercedes seized them quickly, and kissed him for it.
"Well, I never! Jamie, ye'll spoil the lassie," said his mother.
But Jamie heeded not. "Now, dearie, dance that little Spanish dance for me, and you can wear the gloves next Sunday."
But Mercedes looked up at Mrs. Hughson sullenly; then broke away from Jamie's arms and ran upstairs. And the laugh was at poor Jamie's expense.
Perhaps of all divisions of humanity the most fundamental would be that into the class which demands and the class which serves. The English-speaking race, despite all its desire to "better its condition," seems able to bear enlightenment as to all this world may give its fortunate ones, and yet continue contentedly to serve. Upon the Latin races such training acts like heady wine: loath to acquire new ideas, supine in intellectual inquiry, yet give them once the virus of knowledge and no distance blocks their immediate demand. Mercedes, who was thus given a high-school education and some few of the lonely luxuries of life, passed quickly beyond the circulating libraries in her demands for more. Given through her intellect the knowledge, her nature was quick to grasp. For kingdoms may be overthrown, declarations of independence be declared, legislatures legislate equality, and still—up to this time, at least—the children of democracy be educated, in free common schools, upon much the same plan that had been adopted by some Hannah More in bygone centuries for the only class that then was educated, daughters of the gentry, young ladies who aspired to be countesses, and to do it gracefully. Mercedes learned with her writing and reading, which are but edged tools, little of the art of using them. She was taught some figuring, which she never used in life; some English history, of which she assimilated but the meaning of titles and coronets; some mental philosophy, which her common sense rejected as inanely inapposite to the life at hand; some moral philosophy, which her very soul spewed forth; a little embroidery, music, and dancing; and a competent knowledge of reading French.
When we consider what education and training her life required, the White Knight in Wonderland's collection of curiosities at his saddle-bow becomes by comparison a practical equipment.
For guides in the practical conduct of life, she had been told to read two novels, "Mansfield Park" and "Clarissa." Then there were Mrs. Susannah Rawson's tales, Miss Catherine Sedgwick's, and "The Coquette." She had further privately endeavored to read the "Nouvelle Heloise" in French; but this bored her, and—one regrets to say—the unambitious though immoral heroine impressed her as an idiot. As a more up-to-date romance, she had acquired from a corner bookstore a lavishly pictured novel in octavo, entitled "The Ballet Girl's Revenge." She could not sew, nor wash, nor cook, nor keep house or even accounts. Not one faint notion had she of supporting herself. Domestic service she thought degrading, and she looked with a lofty scorn upon shop-girls. There were some dreadful women in a house close by; if Mercedes was conscious of their existence, it was as of women who were failures in that they played the right cards badly. She held her own pretty head the higher. For she soon discarded the ballet girl's biography. By the time she was fourteen, had made another visit to Nahant, and had once been asked to a Christmas party at the Boston house, she saw that aristocratic life could offer better things. She had an intense appreciation of the advantages so imperfectly exploited by these rich Bowdoins, her high acquaintance. And was it perhaps a justification of her way of education, after all, that little Harleston Bowdoin, like every male creature that she met, was fascinated, first by her face, then more by her manners, and most of all by what she said?
Miss Mercy was sent to the girls' high school, and brought up in all ways after the manner of New England. Her looks were not of New England, however; and her dresses would show an edge of trimming or a ribbon that had a Spanish color, despite all Jamie's mother's Presbyterian repression. Then, a few years after, the old drayman died; and a beautiful piano appeared in the McMurtaghs' modest lodging. Mr. James discovered that the expensive Signor Rotoli, who was instructor to his own daughters, went afterwards to give lessons to Miss Mercy. Father and son wagged their heads together at the wisdom of this step; and Mr. James was deputed a committee of one to suggest the subject to Jamie McMurtagh. Old Mr. Bowdoin had ideas of his own about educating young women above their station, but he was considerably more afraid of Jamie than was Mr. James.
The latter deemed it most politic to put the question on a basis of expense; but this was met by Jamie's allegation of a considerable saving in the family budget caused by old McMurtagh's decease and consequent total abstinence. Mr. James was mildly incredulous that the old drayman could have drunk enough to pay for a grand piano, and Jamie grew rusty.
"Your father's stipeend is leeberal, young man, and I trust ye've deescovered nothing wrong in my accounts."
Mr. James fled: had the familiar address been overheard by the old gentleman, Jamie's discharge had followed instantly.
McMurtagh mopped his reddened face, and tried to enjoy his victory; but the ill-natured thrust about the accuracy of the accounts embittered many a sleepless night of his in after-years.
Jamie McMurtagh still continued his rather sidelong gait as he walked twice daily up State Street to the Old Colony Bank, bearing in a rusty leathern wallet anything, from nothing to a hundred thousand dollars, the daily notes and discounts of James Bowdoin's Sons. James Bowdoin and his father used to watch him occasionally from the window. There were certain pensioners, mostly undeserving, who knew old Mr. Bowdoin's hours better than he did himself. It was funny to see old McMurtagh elbow these aside as he sidelonged up the street. There was an old drunken longshoreman; and a wood-chopper who never chopped wood; and a retired choreman discharged for cause by Mr. Bowdoin's wife; and another shady party, suspected by Mr. James, not without cause, of keeping in his more prosperous moments a modest farobank,—all of whom were sure enough of their shilling could they catch old Mr. Bowdoin in the office alone. If they waylaid him in the street, it annoyed him a little, and he would give them only ninepence. It was currently believed by Mr. James and Jamie that there was a combination among these gentry not to give away the source whence they derived this modest but assured income. Once there had been Homeric strife and outcry on the dusty wooden stairs; and Mr. James had rushed out only in time to see the longshoreman, in a moment of sober strength, ejecting with some violence a newcomer of appearance more needy than himself. It was suggested to Jamie by this that a similar but mutual exclusion might be effected, at least against the weaker couple of the primal four; but there was an honorable sense of property among these beggars, and they refused to fail in respect for each other's vested rights. But Jamie was most impatient of them, and would sometimes attempt to hold the counting-room by fraudulent devices, even after the old gentleman would get down town. It was after an attempt of this sort, ending in something like a row between Jamie and his master, that the two Bowdoins, father and son, stood now watching the clerk's progress up the street. A touch of sulkiness, left by his late down-putting, affected his gait, which was more crablike than usual.
"An invaluable fellow, after all," said Mr. Bowdoin; "a very Caleb."
"How Dickensy he is!" answered Mr. James, more familiar with the recent light literature just appearing.
"A perfect bookkeeper! Not an error in twenty years!"
"Do you notice he's rather looking younger?"
"'Tis that little child he's adopted," said the old gentleman. "The poor fellow's got something to love. All men need that—and even a few women," he chuckled. Mr. Bowdoin was addicted to portentous cynicism against the sex, which he wholly disbelieved in.
"The little child—yes," said Mr. James, more thoughtfully. "Do you know what he wants?"
"She wants, I mean. Old Jamie came halting up to me yesterday, and ventured to suggest his Mercy might be invited to the dancing-class Mrs. Bowdoin is having for the children."
"Whew!" said Mr. Bowdoin. "The old lady'll never stand it."
"Never in the world," said Mr. James.
"Upon my word, I don't know why not, though!"
"I'm afraid she does, though!"
"I'll ask her, anyhow. And, James, if I don't get to the office to-morrow, I'll write you her answer."
"And have me tell poor Jamie," laughed Mr. James.
"Well," said Mr. Bowdoin hastily, "you can say it's my letter—I'm late at the bank"—
The old gentleman hurried off; but his prediction proved well founded. Whether Mrs. Bowdoin had noticed the effect of pretty Mercedes upon young Harley, her grandson, or whether the claims of the pirate's daughter to social equality with the descendants of Salem privateersmen were to be negatived, she promptly replied that questions of social consideration rested with her alone. Mr. Bowdoin accepted the decision with no surprise; what pretty Miss Mercy said is unknown; but Jamie actually treated his employers for some weeks with an exaggerated deference in which there was almost a touch of sarcasm.
"Poor old Jamie!" said Mr. James to his father. "How he adores the child!"
McMurtagh was not five years older than himself,—he may have been forty at this period; but his little rosy face was prematurely wrinkled, and his gait was always so odd, and he had no young friends about town, nor seemed ever to have had any youth.
Meantime Miss Mercy went on with her piano. She was graduated from the high school the next year, and then had nothing else to do. The same year, Master Harley went to college. And there occurred a thing which gave rise to much secret consultation among the Bowdoins.
For every morning, upon the appearance of Mr. James, or more usually upon the later advent of Mr. Bowdoin, old Jamie would get off his high stool, where for many minutes he had made no entries upon the books (indeed, the entries already were growing fewer every year), and come with visible determination into the main office. There, upon being asked by Mr. Bowdoin what he wanted, he would portentously clear his throat; then, on being asked a second time, he would suddenly fall to poking the fire, and finally respond with some business question, an obvious and laborious invention of the moment.
"It's either Mercy or his accounts," said Mr. James to his father.
"His accounts—are sure to be all right," said the old gentleman. "Try him on the little lady."
So the next day, to Jamie, Mr. James, just as his mouth was open about the last shipment from Bordeaux:—
"Well, what is it, Jamie? Something about Miss Mercedes?"
"It's na aboot the lassie, but I'm thinkin' young Master Harleston is aye coming to tha hoose abune his needs," said Jamie, taken off his guard, in broadest Scotch. And he mopped his face; the conflict between love and loyalty had been exhausting.
"Harley Bowdoin? Dear me!" cried Mr. James. "How far has it gone?"
"It canna go too far for the gude o' the young man," said Jamie testily. "But I was bound to tell ye, and I ha' done so."
"Does he go to your house,—Salem Street?"
Jamie nodded. "He's aye there tha Fridays."
"Dancing-class nights," muttered Mr. James. Then he remembered that Abby, his wife, had spoken of their nephew's absence. He was studying so hard, it had been said. "Thank you, Jamie. I'll see to it. Thank you very much, Jamie."
Jamie turned to go.
"Has Miss Mercy—has Miss McMurtagh encouraged him?"
Jamie turned back angrily. "She'll forbid the lad tha hoose, an ye say so."
Mr. James seized his hat and fled precipitately, leaving Jamie glowering at the grate. On his way up the street he met his father, and took him into the old Ship tavern to have a glass of flip; and then he told the story.
Mr. Bowdoin took his hat off to rub his forehead with his old bandanna, thereby setting fluttering a pair of twenty-thousand-dollar notes he had just discounted. "Dear me! I'll tell Harley not to go there any more. Poor old Jamie!"
"Better ship the rascal to Bordeaux," said Mr. James, picking up the notes.
"And have him lose his course in college?"
"What good did that do us? We were rusticated most of the time, as he has just been"—
"Speak for yourself, young man!" cried Mr. Bowdoin.
"Haven't I a copy of the verses you addressed to Miss Sally White when you were rusticated under Parson White at Clapboardtrees?"
An allusion to Miss White always tickled the old gentleman; and father and son parted in high good humor. Only, Mr. James thought wise to inform Mrs. Harleston Bowdoin of what had happened. And some days after, Mr. James, coming to the office, found fair Miss Mercedes in full possession. The old gentleman was visibly embarrassed. The lady was quite at her ease.
"I've been telling this young lady she must not take to breaking hearts so soon," he explained. "Haven't I, my dear?"
"Yes, sir," said Miss Mercedes demurely.
"And he doesn't know his own mind—and he hasn't been to see her for—how long was it, Mercy?"
"A week, sir."
"For a week. And she'll not see him again—not until"—
"Not at all, if it's displeasing to you, sir."
"Displeasing to me? Dear me! you're a nice girl, I'm sure. Wasn't it fair and square in the child to come down here? I wonder you weren't afraid!"
"I'm not afraid of anything, Mr. Bowdoin!"
"Dear me! not afraid of anything!" Mr. Bowdoin chuckled. "Now I'm afraid of Mrs. Harleston Bowdoin! Do you mean to say you'd walk into—into a bank all alone?"
"Yes, sir, if I had business there."
"Business! here's business for you!" and the old gentleman, still chuckling, scratched off a check. "Here, take this up to the Old Colony Bank,—you know, where your father goes every day,—and if you'll dare go in and present it for the money, it is yours! You've got some music or fal-lals to buy, I'll be bound. Does old Jamie give you an allowance? He ought to make a big allowance for your eyes! Now get off, my dear, before he sees you here." And Mercedes escaped, with one quick glance at Mr. James, who sank into a chair and looked at his father quizzically.
"Upon my word," said the old gentleman, rubbing his spectacles nervously, "she's a nice, well-mannered girl. I don't know why it wouldn't do."
"I guess Mrs. Harleston does," laughed Mr. James.
"We were all journeymen or countrymen a hundred years ago."
But when Mr. Harleston's mamma heard of these revolutionary sentiments she put her foot down. And Master Harley (who had conveniently been dropped a year from Harvard) was sent to learn French bookkeeping in the simpler civilization of Bordeaux.
There were friends about Miss Mercy none too sorry to witness the discomfiture of this lofty aspirant. Poor Jamie, I fear, got some cross looks for his share in the matter; and tears, which were harder still to bear. John Hughson, who was a prosperous young teamster, began to come in again, and take his pipe of an evening with Jamie. He no longer sat in his shirt-sleeves, and was in other ways much improved. Mercedes was gracious to him evenings; indeed, it was her nature to be gracious to all men. She had a way of looking straight at them with kind eyes, her lips slightly parted, her smile just showing the edges of both upper and under teeth; so that you knew not whether it was sweeter to look at her eyes or her lips, and were lost in the effort to decide. So one day Hughson felt emboldened to ask if he might bear her company to church on Sunday. And Miss Sadie,—as now they called her, for she objected to the name of Mercy, and nothing but Sadie could her friends make out of Mercedes,—Sadie, to please McMurtagh, consented.
But when the Sunday came, poor Hughson, who looked well enough in week-day clothes, became, to her quick eye, impossible in black.
"You see, Sadie, I am bright and early, to be your beau."
There is a fine directness about courtship in Hughson's class,—it puts the dots upon the i's; but Sadie must have preferred them dotless, for she said, "My name is not Sadie."
"Nor Mercedes alone."
"Well, Miss McMurtagh, though I've known you from a child."
A shrug of Mercedes' pretty shoulders implied that this might be the last passport to her acquaintance as a woman. "Mr. McMurtagh is not my father. My name is Silva."
"Oho! all the Italian fruit-dealers are named Silva!"
"If you're rude, I'll not go to church with you," said Miss Silva demurely.
Hughson was clumsily repentant. But the young lady would not go to the King's Chapel (where she had lately affected an interest; it was the Bowdoins' church), but led him to still older Christ Church, at the northern end of the town. Here, in those ante-Episcopalian days, were scarce a dozen worshipers; and you might have a square, dock-like pew all to yourself, turn your back upon the minister, and gaze upon the painted angels blowing gilded trumpets in the gallery.
It must be confessed that Hughson had little conversation; and as they walked back, through Hanover Street, among crowds of young women, none so neatly dressed as she, and men less respectable than honest Hughson, Mercedes was conscious of a void within her life. In the afternoon she shut herself in her room and had a crying spell; at least so Jamie feared, as he tiptoed by her door, in apprehension of her sobs. Her piano had grown silent of late. What use was a piano among such as Hughson? So Jamie and the rising teamster sat in the kitchen and discussed the situation over pipes.
"The poor child ought to have some company," said Jamie.
Hughson felt this a reflection upon him, and answered but with harder puffs. "What she wants," said he at last, "is society. A good nice dancing-party, now?"
Jamie shook his head. "We've no acquaintance among gay people."
"Gay people?" Hughson elevated his brow. The phrase, with him, was synonymous with impropriety. "No; but there's my training-company ball, now; it's given in Union Street hall; gentlemen a dollar, ladies fifty cents. Each gentleman can bring two ladies. Why not let me take her there?"
"I'm sure it's very kind of you, John," said Jamie. He felt a pang that he, too, could not take Mercedes to balls.
"It's not like one o' them Tremont Street balls, you know," said Hughson proudly. Secretly he thought it a very fine affair. The governor was to be there, and his aides-de-camp, in gold lace.
Mercedes went to the ball when the night came, but only stayed an hour. She knew very few of the other girls. Her dress was a yellow muslin, modestly open at the throat, and she could see them eying it. None of the other women wore low-necked gowns, but they wore more pretentious dresses, with more of ornament, and Mercedes felt they did not even know in how much better taste was she. But John Hughson was in a most impossible blue swallow-tail with brass buttons,—the sort of thing, indeed, that Webster had worn a few years before, only Hughson was not fitted for it. She suspected he had hired it for the evening, in the hope of pleasing her, for she saw that he had to bear some chaff about it from his friends. One of the colonels of the staff, with plumed hat and a sword, came and was introduced to her. In a sense she made a conquest of him, for he tried clumsily to pay his court to her, but not seriously. Nothing that yet had happened in her little life had enraged Miss Mercedes as did this. She inly vowed that some day she would remember the man, to cut him. And so she had Hughson take her home.
Poor Hughson felt that his evening had been a failure, and rashly ventured on some chances of rebuff from her as the two walked home,—chances of which Miss Mercedes was cruel enough to avail herself to the full. The honest fellow was puzzled by it, for even he knew that Mercedes' only desire in going to the ball was to be admired, and admiration she had had. John was too simple to make fine discriminations in male deference, but he judged more rightly the feminine opinion of her looks and manners than did Miss Mercedes herself. They had thought her too fine for them—as she had wished.
After all her democratic education, social consideration was the one ambition that had formed in pretty Mercedes' mind. Her desire for this was as real in the form it took with men as in the form it took with other women; as clear the outcome of the books and reading given her as of the training given any upper servant in a London suburb, patterned on a lady mistress. Mercedes had no affections; she was as careless of religion as a Yankee boy; this desire alone she had of self-esteem above her fellow-creatures, especially those of her own sex and age. Her education had not gone to the point of giving her higher enjoyment,—poetry, art, happiness of thought. Even her piano-playing was but an adornment. She never played for her own pleasure; and what was the use of practicing now?
This New World life has got reduced to about three motives, like the three primary colors; one is rather surprised that so few can blend in so many shades of people. Money-getting, love of self, love,—is not that quite all? Yet poor Jamie and Mercedes, who was nearest to him, did not happen in the same division. Hughson, perhaps, made even the third. Yet a woman who holds herself too fine for her world will get recognition, commonly, from it. To honest Hughson, lying unwontedly awake and thinking of the evening's chances and mischances, now in a hot fit, now in a cold fit, of something like to love, such a creature as Mercedes, as she lightly hung upon his arm that evening, had never yet appeared. She was an angel, a being apart, a fairy,—any crude simile that occurs to honest plodding men of such young girls. John took the distrait look for dreamy thought; her irresponsiveness for ethereal purity; her moodiness for superiority of soul. She imposed herself on him now, as she had done before on Jamie, as deserving a higher life than he could give her. This is what a man terms being in love, and then would wish, quand meme, to drag his own life into hers!
One day, some weeks after this, Mr. James Bowdoin, on coming down to the little office on the wharf rather later than usual, went up the stairs, more than ever choky with that spicy dust that was the mummy-like odor of departed trade, and divined that the cause thereof was in the counting-room itself, whence issued sounds of much bumping and falling, as if a dozen children were playing leap-frog on the floor. Jamie McMurtagh was seated on the stool in the outer den that was called the bookkeeper's, biting his pen, with even a sourer face than usual.
"Good-morning, Jamie," said he cheerily.
"Good-morning, Mr. James." Jamie always greeted glumly, but there was a touch of tragedy in him this morning that was more than manner. James Bowdoin looked at him sharply.
"Can I—has anything"—He was interrupted by a series of tremendous poundings that issued from the counting-room within. The entrance door was closed. Young Mr. Bowdoin cocked his thumb at it. "How many children has the governor got in there to-day?"
"One, sir," grunted Jamie.
"One child? Great heavens! who makes all that noise?"
"Mr. Bowdoin do the most of it, sir," said Jamie solemnly. "I have been waiting, sir, to see him mysel' since"—Jamie looked gravely at his watch—"since the half after twal'. But he does not suffer being interrupted."
James Bowdoin threw himself on a chair and laughed. "Who is it?"
"It'll be your Miss Abby, I'm thinkin'."
"The imp! I stopped her week's money for losing her hat this morning, and she's got ahead of me and come down to get it of the governor."
There was a sudden and mysterious silence in the inner room. James Bowdoin looked at Jamie, and noted again his expression. "What's the matter, Jamie? Have you anything to tell me?"
"It's for Mr. Bowdoin's private ear, Mr. James," said Jamie testily.
"Oh, ah! in that case I'll go in and see." James threw the door open. Old Mr. Bowdoin was standing, still puffing, in front of the fire, evidently quite breathless. In the corner by the window, too rapt to notice her father's entrance, sat Miss Abby, intently gazing into a round glass crystal that, with a carved ebony frame, formed one of the Oriental ornaments of the counting-room.
"I trust we are not disturbing important business, sir?" said Mr. James the younger dryly.
"Sh, sh! Abby, my dear, don't take your eyes out of it for twenty minutes, and you'll see the soldiers." And the old gentleman winked at James and Jamie, and became still purpler with laughter that was struggling to be heard.
"As for that child of mine"—
"Psst! h'sh!" and Mr. Bowdoin snapped his fingers in desperation at his uncomprehending son. "Never mind them, dear!" he cried to the child. "Only look steady; don't take your eyes out of it for twenty minutes, and you're sure to see the armies fighting! The most marvelous idea, and all my own," he said, as he slammed the door behind him. "Crystal-gazing, for keeping children quiet,—nothing beats it!"
"I thought, sir, you were both in need of it. But Jamie here has something to say to you."
"What is it—Jamie? No more trouble about that ship Maine Lady? D—n the British collier tramps! and she as fine a clipper as ever left Bath Bay. Well, send her back in ballast; chessmen and India shawls, I suppose, as usual"—
"It's about Mercedes, sir."
"Oh, ah!" Mr. Bowdoin's brow grew grave.
"She will not marry John Hughson, sir."
"Now, Jamie, how the devil am I to make her?"
John Hughson took his rejection rather sullenly, and Mercedes was more than ever alone in the old house. She never had had intimate companions among the young women of the neighborhood, and now they put the stigma of exclusion upon her. They envied her rejection of a serious suitor such as John. It was rumored the latter was taking to liquor, and she was blamed for it. Women often like to have others say yes to the first man who comes, and not leave old love affairs to cumber the ground. And girls, however loving to their friends, have but a cold sympathy for their sex in general.
One person profited by it, and that was old Jamie. He urged Mercedes nearly every day to alter her decision, and she seemed to like him for it. Always, now, one saw her walking with him; he became her ally against a disapproving world.
The next thing that happened was, Jamie's mother fell very ill. He had to sit with her of nights; and she would look at him fondly (she was too old and weak to speak much), as if he had been any handsome heir. Mercedes would sit with them sometimes, and then go into her parlor, where she would try to play a little, and then, as they supposed, would read. But books, before these realities of life, failed her. What she really did I hardly know. She wrote one letter to young Harleston Bowdoin, and he answered it; and then a second, which was still unanswered.
One night "the mother" spoke to Jamie of the girl: "'Tis a comely lass. I suppose you're proud you were adopting her?"
Old Jamie's face was always red as a winter apple, but his eyes blushed. "Anybody'd 'a' done that, mither,—such a lady as she is!"
"What'll ye be doin' of her after I'm gone? The pirate father'll come a-claimin' of her."
Jamie looked as if the pirate captain then might meet his match.
"Jamie, my son—have ye never thought o' marryin' her your own sel'? I'd like to see you with a wife before I go."
There was no doubt that Jamie was blushing now.
"Do ye no love the lass enough?"
"I"—Jamie stopped himself. "I am too old, mither, and—and too queer."
"Too old! too queer! There's not a better son than my Jamie in all the town. I'd like to see a better, braver boy make claim! And if you seem old, it's through tending of your old forbears. Whatever would the lassie want, indeed!"
"Good heavens! I've never asked her, mither," said Jamie.
The old woman looked fondly at her boy. "Ask her, then, Jamie; ask her, and give her the chance. She's a daft creature, but bonny; and you love her, I see."
Jamie pinched up his rosy features and squirmed upon his chair. "Can I do anything for ye, mither? Then I think I'll go out and take a bit o' pipe in the streets with John Hughson."
"John Hughson, indeed!" snorted the old woman, and set her face to the wall.
But Jamie did not go near John Hughson. He rambled alone about the city streets, and it was late at night before he came back. Late as it was, there was a light behind Mercedes' window-shade, and he walked across the street and watched it, until a policeman, coming by, stopped and asked him who he was.—But the virus took possession of him and spread.
The Bowdoins, father and son, noted that their old clerk's dress was sprucer. He was more than ever seen with Miss Mercedes, and she seemed to like him better than before. Women who are to all men fascinating must have a subtle instinct for perceiving it, a half-conscious liking for it. Else why do not they stop it sooner?
But Jamie had never admitted it to himself. Perhaps because he loved her better than himself. He judged his own pretensions solely from her interest. Marriages were fewer did all men so.
Still a year went by, and no other man seemed near Mercedes. Then the old mother died. To Mercedes, life seemed always going into mourning for elderly people. They went on living, she and Jamie, as before. He had got to be so completely accepted as her adoptive father that to no one, not even the Bowdoins, had the situation raised a question; to Mercedes least of all. With such natures as hers, there also goes instinctive knowledge of how far male natures, most widely different, may be trusted. But Jamie had thought it over many times.
Until one morning, James Bowdoin and his father, coming to the counting-room, found Jamie with a face of circumstance. He had on his newest clothes; his boots were polished; and his hair, already somewhat gray, was carefully brushed.
"What is it, Jamie? Have you come for a vacation?" said Mr. Bowdoin.
"Vacation!" sniffed Jamie. Once, many years before, he had been given a week off, and had gone to Nantasket; but his principal diversion had been to take the morning steamboat thence to the city, and gaze into the office windows from the wharf.
"It is something about pretty Miss Sadie, I'll be bound."
"You are always right, sir," said Jamie quietly. His eyes were very bright; he was almost young-looking; and his manner had a certain dignity. "And I beg you, sir, for leave to ask your judgment."
Mr. Bowdoin motioned Jamie to a chair. And it marked his curious sense that he was treating as man to man that for the first and only time within that office Jamie took it.
"Mercedes." Jamie lingered lovingly over the name. "I have tried my best, sir. I have made her—nay, she was one—like a lady. You would not let her marry Master Harley."
"I never"—the old gentleman interrupted. Jamie waved his hand.
"They would not, I mean, sir. She will not marry John Hughson. You are a gentleman, sir, and could tell me if I—would be taking an unfair advantage—if I asked her—to marry—me. I am sure—I love her enough."
Jamie dropped his voice quickly on the last words, so that they were inaudible to Mr. James Bowdoin, who had suddenly laughed.
Old Mr. Bowdoin turned angrily upon his son.
But Jamie's face had turned to white. He rose respectfully. "Don't say anything, sir. I have had my answer."
"Forgive me, Mr. McMurtagh," said James Bowdoin the younger. "I'm sure she could not have a kinder husband. But"—
"Don't explain, Mr. James."
"But—after all, why not ask her?"
"Nay, nay," said Jamie, "I'll not ask the child. I would not have her make a mistake, as I see it would be."
"But, Jamie," said Mr. James kindly, "what will you do? She can hardly go on living in your home."
"Not in my home? Where else has the child a home?"
There are certain male natures that fight crying. An enemy who looks straight at you with tears in his eyes is not to be contended with. And Jamie stood there, blushing fiery red, with flashing eyes, and tears streaming down his cheeks.
"James Bowdoin, you're a d——d fool!" sputtered his irate sire. "You talk as your wife might talk. This is an affair of men. Jamie," he added very gently, "you are quite right. My boy's an ass." He put his hand on Jamie's shoulder. "You'll find some fine young fellow to marry her yet, and she'll bring you—grandchildren."
"I may—I need hardly ask you to forget this?" said Jamie timidly, and making hastily for the door.
"Of course; and she shall stay in her old home where she was bred from a child, and, d——n 'em, my grandchildren shall go to see her there"—But the door had closed.
"James Bowdoin, if my son, with his d——d snicker, were one half so good a gentleman as that old clerk, I'd trust him with—with an earl's daughter," said the old gentleman inconsequently, and violently rubbing a tingling nose.
"I think you're right, governor," said James Bowdoin. "Did you notice how spruced up and young the poor fellow was? I wish to goodness I hadn't laughed, though. He might have married the girl. Why not? How old is he?"
"Why not? Ask her. He may be forty, more or less."
"What a strange thing to have come into the old fellow's life! And we thought it would give him something to care for! I never fancied he loved her that way."
"I don't believe now he loves her so much that way—as—as he loves her," said old Mr. Bowdoin, as if vaguely. "She isn't worth him."
"She's really quite beautiful. I never saw a Spanish girl before with hair of gold."
"Pirate gold," said old Mr. Bowdoin.
PART TWO: ROBBERY.
No plummet ever sank so deep as Jamie sank the thoughts of those few months. No oblivion more vast than where he buried it. No human will so strong as that he bent upon it, bound it down with. No sin absolved was ever so forgotten. One wonders if Jamie, at the day of judgment even, will remember it. Perhaps 'twill then be no more the sin he thought it. For Jamie's nature, like that of spiny plants, was sensitive, delicate within, as his outer side was bent and rough; and he fancied it, first, a selfishness; then, as his lonely fancy got to brooding on it, an actual sin. James Bowdoin's unlucky laugh had taught him how it seemed to others; and was not inordinate affection, to the manifest injury of the object loved, a sin? Jamie felt it so; and he had the Prayer Book's authority therefor. "Inordinate and sinful affections,"—that is the phrase; both are condemned.
But he kept it all the closer from Mercedes. It did not grow less; he had no heart to cease loving. Manlike, he was willing to face his God with the sin, but not her. He sought to change the nature of his love; perhaps, in time, succeeded. But all love has a mystic triple root; you cannot unravel the web, on earth at least. Religious, sexual, spiritual,—all are intertwined.
Jamie and Mercedes lived on in the little brick house, as he had promised. Only one thing the Bowdoins noticed: he now dressed and talked and acted like a man grown very old. His coats were different again; his manner was more eccentric than ever. His hair helped him a little, for it really grew quite white. He asked Mercedes now to call him father.
"Jamie is posing as a patriarch," said Mr. Bowdoin; he smiled, and then he sighed.
Old Mr. Bowdoin did not forget his promise to have his granddaughters call upon Mercedes. Now and then they sent her tickets for church fairs. But it takes more love than most women have for each other to give the tact, the self-abnegation, that such unequal relations, to be permanent, require. The momentary gush of sympathy that the Bowdoin girls felt, upon their grandfather's account of Sadie's loneliness, was chilled at the first haughty word Mercedes gave them. It takes an older nature, more humbled by living than is an American young lady's, to meet the poor in money without patronizing, and the proud at heart without seeming rude. So this attempted intimacy faded.
Jamie gave his life to her. His manner at the office altered: he became proud and reserved. More wonderful still, he shortened his time of attendance; not that he was inattentive while there, but he no longer observed unnecessary hours, as he had been wont to do, after the bank closed; as soon as Mr. James Bowdoin left, he would lock up the office and go himself. His life was but waiting upon Mercedes.
When he was in the office he would sit twiddling his thumbs. The pretense at bookkeeping, unreal bookkeeping, he abandoned. The last old ship, the Maine Lady, had served him in good stead for many years; he had double-entered, ledgered, and balanced her simple debits and credits like a stage procession. But now he made no fiction about the vanished business.
It was characteristic of Jamie that still he did not hanker for more money. He recognized his adopted daughter's need for sympathy, for emotions, even for love, if you will; but yet it did not occur to him that he might earn more money. His salary was ample, and out of it he had made some savings. And Mercedes had that impatience of details, that ennui of money matters, that even worldly women show, who care for results, not processes.
It had always been the custom of the McMurtagh family to pass the summers, like the winters, in the little house on Salem Street; but this year Jamie rented a cottage at Nantasket. He told the Bowdoins nothing of this move until they asked him about it, observing that he regularly took the boat. To Jamie it was the next thing to Nahant, which was of course out of the question. But the queer old clerk was not fitted to shine in any society, and Mercedes found it hard to make her way alone. They wandered about the beach, and occasionally to the great hotel when there was a hop, of evenings, and listened to the bands; but Mercedes' beauty was too striking and her manners were too independent to inspire quick confidence in the Nantasket matrons; while Jamie missed his pipe and shirt-sleeves after supper. He had asked, and been forbidden, to invite John Hughson down to stay. Still less would Sadie have her girl acquaintances; and all Salem Street's kindliest feelings were soured in consequence. There was an invitation from Nahant that summer, but it seemed, to Mercedes' quick sense, formal, and she would not go.
She had had her piano moved down "to the beach," at much expense; and for a week she played in the afternoons. But even this accomplishment brought her no notice. People would look at her in passing, and then, more curiously, at her foster-father: that was all. Mercedes, in her youth, could not realize how social confidence is a plant of slow growth. The young girls of the place were content with saying she "was not in their set;" the young men who desired her acquaintance must seek it surreptitiously, and this Mercedes would not have. The people of the great hotel were a more mixed set, and among them our couple was much discussed. Something got to be known of Jamie,—that he was confidential clerk to the well-known firm of Boston's older ship-owners, and that she was his adopted daughter. Soon the rumor grew that he was miserly and rich.
Poor Jamie! He thought more of all these things than Mercedes ever supposed. What could he do to give her friends of her own age? What could he do to find her lovers, a husband? McMurtagh slept not nights for thinking on these things. John Hughson he now saw to be impossible; Harley Bowdoin was out of the question; but were there not still genteel youths, clerks like himself, but younger, some class of life for his petted little lady? Jamie had half-thoughts of training some nice lad to be fit for her,—Jamie earned money amply; of training him, too, to take his place and earn his salary. Every discontented look in Mercedes' lovely face went to Jamie's heartstrings.
One day, going home by the usual boat, he saw his dear girl waiting for him on the wharf. It always lightened Jamie's heart when she did this, and he hurried down to the gangplank, to be among the first ashore and save her waiting. But as he stepped upon it he saw that she was talking to a gentleman. There was a little heightened color in her cheeks; she was not watching the passengers in the boat. Jamie turned aside through the crowd to walk up the road alone. He looked over his shoulder, and saw that they were following. When nearly at their cottage, he turned about irresolutely and met them. Mercedes, with a word of reproach for walking home alone (at which Jamie's old eyes opened), introduced him: "Mr. David St. Clair—my father."
"I made Miss McMurtagh's acquaintance at the Rockland House last night,—she plays so beautifully." Then Jamie remembered that he had gone out to smoke his pipe upon the piazza.
He looked at the newcomer. St. Clair was dressed expensively, in what Jamie thought the highest fashion. He wore kid gloves and a high silk hat; he had a white waistcoat and a very black mustache. Mercedes had blushed again when she presented him, and suddenly there was a burst of envy in poor Jamie's heart.
No girl, before she came to love, ever scrutinized a suitor so closely as old Jamie did St. Clair. The little old Scotch clerk was quicker far to see the first blossoms of love in her heart than Mercedes herself, than any mother could have been, for each one bore a pang for him; and he, who had renounced, and then set his heart to share each feeling with her, who had wanted but her confidence, wanted but to share with her as some girl might her heart histories, now found himself far outstripping her in conscious knowledge. He did not realize the impossibility of the sympathy he dreamed. He had fondly thought his man's love a justification for that intimacy from which, in natures like Mercedes', even a mother's love is excluded.
All Jamie's judgment was against the man, and yet his heart was in touch with hers to feel its stirring for him. The one told him he was not respectable; the other that he was romantic. His career was shadowy, like his hair. In those days still a mustache bore with it some audacity, and gave a man who frankly lived outside the reputable callings something of the buccaneer. St. Clair called himself a gentleman, but did not pretend to be a clerk, and frankly avowed that he was not in trade. Jamie could not make him out at all. He hoped, indeed, he was a gentleman. Had he been in the old country, he could have credited it better; but gentlemen without visible means of support were, in those days, unusual in Boston.
Poor Jamie watched his daughter like any dowager, that summer. But the consciousness of his own sin (for so now he always thought of it) troubled him terribly. How could he urge his lady to repel the advances of this man without being open to the charge of selfishness, of jealousy? Jamie forgot that the girl had never known he loved her.
He made feeble attempts to egg on Hughson. The honest teamster was but a lukewarm lover. His point of view was that the girl looked down upon him, and this chilled his passion. He had come to own his teams now. He never drove them. He was a capitalist, an employer of labor; and, at Jamie's request, he came down one night, in black broadcloth and red-handed, to pass the night. But it did not work. When Mr. St. Clair called in the evening, he adopted a tone of treating both Jamie and Hughson as elderly pals, so that the latter lost his temper, and, as Mercedes claimed, insulted his elegant rival.
Then Jamie bade Hughson to come no more, for his love for Mercedes was so true that he felt in his heart why St. Clair appealed more to hers.
But the summer was a long and anxious one, and he was glad when it was over and they were back in Salem Street. They had made no other acquaintance at Nantasket. "Society" to Jamie remained a sealed book. Clever Mercedes was not clever enough to see he knew she blamed him for it. St. Clair only laughed. "These people are nobody," said he; and he talked of fashionable and equipaged friends he had known in other places. Where? Jamie suspected, race-courses; his stories of them bore usually an equine flavor. But he was not a horse-dealer; his hands were too white for that.
Poor old Mr. Bowdoin had had a hangdog feeling with old Jamie ever since that day his son had laughed. He had dared criticise nothing he noticed at the office, and Jamie grew more crusty and eccentric every day. James Bowdoin was less indulgent, and soon saw that something new was in the wind. But the last thing that both expected was a demand on Jamie's part for an increased salary. Jamie made it respectfully, with his hat off, twirling in his hand, and the Bowdoins eyed him.