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- Gaut Gurley - 59/59 -


alternatives, stood, with knitted brows and fire-arms cocked and levelled, silently awaiting the onset. It came. With the shock of the partial collision as the assailing craft raked along the sides of their ship, and the sudden jerk as she was brought up by the quickly-thrown grapples, the pirate captain, with a fierce shout of defiance, cleared, at a single bound, the intervening rails, and landed, with brandished sword, upon their fore-deck. A dozen more, with a wild yell, were in the act of following, when they were met by a full volley from the guns of the defenders, poured into their very faces. There was a pause,--a lurch,--a crack of breaking fixtures; and the next moment the schooner, torn away from her fastenings by the force of a monstrous upheaving wave, and thrown around at right angles to the unharmed prey so nearly within her clutches, was seen rolling and reeling on the top of a billow, fifty yards distant. At that instant, twenty jets of blinding flame fiercely burst from the edge of the fog-cloud, almost within pistol-shot to the windward, and, with the startling flash, rent sky and ocean leaped as with the concussion of a closely-breaking volley of linked thunder-peals. There was another and still more awful pause; when, through the cloud of sulphurous smoke that was rolling over them, the astounded defenders heard the gurgling rush, as of waters breaking into newly opened chasms, in the direction of the enemy; and they comprehended all. The frigate, unperceived by the eager pirates, had dropped down, rounded to, and sent a whole broadside directly into the uprolled hull of the devoted craft, which had been reduced to a sinking wreck by that one tremendously heavy discharge of terrible missiles. Within two minutes the lifting smoke disclosed her, reeling and lurching for the final plunge. Within one more, she rose upright, like some mortally-smitten giant, quivered an instant, and, with all her grim and hideously-screeching crew, went down, stern foremost, amid the parting waves of the boiling deep.

These startling scenes had transpired so rapidly that the amazed crew of the merchantman had taken no thought of the pirate captain whom they had seen leaping on their deck; but they now turned to look for him, and, whether dead or alive, to take charge of him, to crown the fortunate result of this fearful encounter. There he stood at bay, with back turned to the foremast, facing his virtual captors, with a brandished sword in one hand and a pistol in the other, as if daring them to approach or fire on him. But they were spared the necessity of attempting either. A boat's crew of armed men from the frigate were already mounting the deck, to claim whoever of the pirates they found alive, as their trophies. The formidable desperado was pointed out to them; when, firing a volley over his head, to confuse without killing him, they rushed forward in the smoke, disarmed, bound, and dragged him along, to pass him down to their boat. As he was being urged across the deck, his eyes met those of Elwood. The recognition was mutual. It was Gaut Gurley!

It was morning, and the bright sun was looking down upon an ocean as calm and peaceful as if its passive bosom had never been disturbed by the ensanguined tumults of warring men, or the commotions of battling elements.

A youthful couple were standing by the rail, on the deck of the still anchored merchantman, and glancing up admiringly at the towering masts of the ship-of-war, which had also anchored for the night on the very spot from which she had dealt such destruction to the pirates, whose awful fate and the connected circumstances had been with them the topic of conversation.

"This has been such a fearful ordeal to you, dear Fluella," said the young man, smilingly, "that I shall probably never be able again to induce you to leave home to cross the ocean, either for health or pleasure, shall I?"

"For pleasure, no, my dear husband," affectionately responded the other; "no, with my happy New England home, never, for pleasure, Claud."

"But this was for _health_," rejoined Elwood. "I have never told you how much I was concerned about you last summer, or that your physician warned me, as cold weather approached, he could not answer for your life through another winter at the North. It was this only that led me to urge you to accompany me to Cuba, to remain there till I came back for you in the spring, as I have now done. And, to say nothing of the gains which my two trips will add to the estate of which I am heir in expectation,--or rather, as my good uncle will have it, in possession with him,--to say nothing of this, I shall always be thankful for your coming, for it has so evidently restored you, I had almost said, to more of health and beauty than I have seen you exhibiting for the whole two and a half happy years of our married life."

"Thank you, Claud, for the beautiful part of it," said the happy wife, snapping her handkerchief in his face, with an air of mock resentment; "but I am thinking of home. When shall we reach there?"

"Well, let us calculate," replied the husband, beginning to catch the affectionate animation of the other: "this is the 22d of April; and I think I can promise you the enjoyment of a May-day in New England."

"I hold you to that, sir," playfully rejoined the wife, "for I wish to be preparing for our summer residence at your cottage on my native lakes. My illness deprived me of that pleasure last summer, you know, husband mine."

"Yes," said he, with kindling enthusiasm, "we will go, Fluella. I want to see the good old chief; I want to enjoy the visit I have promised me from my friend Carvil; I want to hear Phillips discourse on woodcraft, and Chanticleer Codman wake the echoes of the lakes by his marvellous crowing. Yes, yes, we will go, and make uncle and mother go with us, this time."

"Uncle and mother!" cried Fluella, laughingly; "how odd that is getting to sound, Suppose I call your mother aunt? Have they not now been married long enough to be both entitled to the more endearing names of father and mother? and are they not happy enough and good enough to merit the dearest names?"

"Yes," answered Elwood, "I will correct the habit, if you really wish it. Yes, yes; the once-styled crusty old bachelor, Arthur Elwood, and my mother, are indeed a happy couple. Did you ever know a happier?"

"Yes, one," replied the hesitating, blushing wife, drawing down her husband's head, and slyly imprinting a kiss on his cheek.

The conversation between the happy pair was here interrupted by the appearance of a boat putting off from the frigate, under the charge of a midshipman; who, having come on board and inquired out Elwood, now approached and presented him a letter, saying, as he departed, it was from the pirate prisoner, and would doubtless require no answer.

The greatly surprised young man tore open the letter, and, in company with his wife, read, with mingled emotions of pain and indignation, the following singular but characteristic compound of malicious vaunt and shameless confession:

"To CLAUD ELWOOD:--My career is ended, at last. Well, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have been nobody's fool nor nobody's tool. Early perceiving that nine out of ten were only the stupid instruments of the tenth man, the world over, I resolved to go into the system, and did, and improved on it so as to make _nineteen_ out of _twenty_ tools to _me_,--that is all. I have no great fault to find with men generally, though I always despised the whole herd; for I knew that, if they used me well, it was only because they dared not do otherwise. I don't write this, however, to preach upon that, but to let you know another thing, to chew upon.

"You call me a murderer; and I want to tell you that _you_ are the _son_ of a murderer, and therefore stand on a par with my family, even at that. Your father, when we used to operate together in smuggling, being once hard chased, on an out-of-the-way road, by one of the custom-house crew, knocked him down with a club, and finished with the blow, to save a thousand dollars' worth of silk. But I sacredly kept his secret; yes, even to this day, besides making one good fortune for him, and being on the point of making him another. And yet he betrayed and turned against me. Yes, in that affair about the missing peltries, he betrayed me, out and out, and spoilt every thing. That was his unpardonable sin, with me. I resolved he should die for it; and he _did_. I didn't want to kill you, but couldn't suffer you to become a witness. No, I never had any thing against you, except for allowing matters to take the turn that drove my daughter to anticipate you in breaking off the match. But it was just as well, as it turned out. Avis, in the position of _lady abbess_ of a convent in one of your eastern cities, which it is settled she will have, will stand quite as high, I guess, as in the position of lady Elwood.

"I have done, now, except to ask one favor,--the only one I will ever ask of _any_ man,--and that is, that you won't publish my name, and couple it with the unlucky miss-go of last night; so that my wife and daughter, who know I am in this region, but not my business, may never learn that the captain of the _Black Rover_ and I are one. As my brave boys are all gone down, and as _I_ shall have no trial to bring it out, it rests with you to say whether it is ever to be known or not; for, as I have said, I have no notion of being either tried or hung, any more than I had at the North. GAUT."

On finishing this singular and remorseless missive, with its strange, painful, but as he feared too true disclosure of the secret of that fatal influence which had proved the ruin and final destruction of his father, Claud Elwood was too much troubled and overcome to utter a word of comment; and, with his pained and shuddering wife, he stood mute and thoughtful, until aroused by the stir on board, in preparations for weighing anchor, and the cheering announcement of the captain that a favoring breeze was springing up, and that within twenty minutes they would be, under the fairest of auspices, on their rejoicing way to their own beloved New England.

But the cheering thought was not to be enjoyed without the drawback of being compelled to witness one more and a concluding horror.

As Elwood and his beautiful companion were on the point of retiring from deck, their attention was suddenly arrested by a light, crashing sound, high up the tall side of the frigate. They looked, and caught sight of broken pieces of board or panelling flying out, as if beat or kicked from what appeared to have been a closed port-hole. Presently the body of a man, whom they at once recognized, was protruded through the ample aperture he had evidently thus effected, till he brought himself to a balance on the outer edge. Then came the sharp cry from some one of the frigate's officers:

"Look out, there, for the pirate prisoner!"

There was at once a lively stir on board, but too late. The next moment the heavily-manacled object of the alarm descended, like a swiftly-falling weight, to the water; and, with a dull plunge, the recoiling waves rolled back, forever closing over the _traitor_, the _robber_, the _murderer_, and the _pirate_, GAUT GURLEY!


Gaut Gurley - 59/59

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