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- Jack Tier or The Florida Reef - 2/93 -
"Well, that's as people fancy. You must know, Mr. Mulford, they've got all sorts of diseases now-a-days, and all sorts of cures for'em. One sort of a cure for consumption is what they tarm the Hyder-Ally--"
"I think you must mean hydropathy, sir--"
"Well it's something of the sort, no matter what--but cold water is at the bottom of it, and they do say it's a good remedy. Now Rose's aunt thinks if cold water is what is wanted, there is no place where it can be so plenty as out on the ocean. Sea-air is good, too, and by taking a v'y'ge her niece will get both requisites together, and cheap."
"Does Rose Budd think herself consumptive, Capt. Spike?" asked Mulford, with interest.
"Not she--you know it will never do to alarm a pulmonary, so Mrs. Budd has held her tongue carefully on the subject before the young woman. Rose fancies that her aunt is out of sorts, and that the v'y'ge is tried on her account--but the aunt, the cunning thing, knows all about it."
Mulford almost nauseated the expression of his commander's countenance while Spike uttered the last words. At no time was that countenance very inviting, the features being coarse and vulgar, while the color of the entire face was of an ambiguous red, in which liquor and the seasons would seem to be blended in very equal quantities. Such a countenance, lighted up by a gleam of successful management, not to say with hopes and wishes that it will hardly do to dwell on, could not but be revolting to a youth of Harry Mulford's generous feelings, and most of all to one who entertained the sentiments which he was quite conscious of entertaining for Rose Budd. The young man made no reply, but turned his face toward the water, in order to conceal the expression of disgust that he was sensible must be strongly depicted on it.
The river, as the well-known arm of the sea in which the Swash was lying is erroneously termed, was just at that moment unusually clear of craft, and not a sail, larger than that of a boat, was to be seen between the end of Blackwell's Island and Corlaer's Hook, a distance of about a league. This stagnation in the movement of the port, at that particular point, was owing to the state of wind and tide. Of the first, there was little more than a southerly air, while the last was about two-thirds ebb. Nearly everything that was expected on that tide, coast-wise, and by the way of the Sound, had already arrived, and nothing could go eastward, with that light breeze and under canvas, until the flood made. Of course it was different with the steamers, who were paddling about like so many ducks, steering in all directions, though mostly crossing and re-crossing at the ferries. Just as Mulford turned away from his commander, however, a large vessel of that class shoved her bows into the view, doubling the Hook, and going eastward. The first glance at this vessel sufficed to drive even Rose Budd momentarily out of the minds of both master and mate, and to give a new current to their thoughts. Spike had been on the point of walking up the wharf, but he now so far changed his purpose as actually to jump on board of the brig and spring up alongside of his mate, on the taffrail, in order to get a better look at the steamer. Mulford, who loathed so much in his commander, was actually glad of this, Spike's rare merit as a seaman forming a sort of attraction that held him, as it might be against his own will, bound to his service.
"What will they do next, Harry?" exclaimed the master, his manner and voice actually humanized, in air and sound at least, by this unexpected view of something new in his calling--"What will they do next?"
"I see no wheels, sir, nor any movement in the water astern, as if she were a propeller," returned the young man.
"She's an out-of-the-way sort of a hussy! She's a man-of-war, too--one of Uncle Sam's new efforts."
"That can hardly be, sir. Uncle Sam has but three steamers, of any size or force, now the Missouri is burned; and yonder is one of them, lying at the Navy Yard, while another is, or was lately, laid up at Boston. The third is in the Gulf. This must be an entirely new vessel, if she belong to Uncle Sam."
"New! She's as new as a Governor, and they tell me they've got so now that they choose five or six of them, up at Albany, every fall. That craft is sea-going, Mr. Mulford, as any one can tell at a glance. She's none of your passenger-hoys."
"That's plain enough, sir--and she's armed. Perhaps she's English, and they've brought her here into this open spot to try some new machinery. Ay, ay! she's about to set her ensign to the navy men at the yard, and we shall see to whom she belongs."
A long, low, expressive whistle from Spike succeeded this remark, the colours of the steamer going up to the end of a gaff on the sternmost of her schooner-rigged masts, just as Mulford ceased speaking. There was just air enough, aided by the steamer's motion, to open the bunting, and let the spectators see the design. There were the stars and stripes, as usual, but the last ran perpendicularly, instead of in a horizontal direction.
"Revenue, by George!" exclaimed the master, as soon as his breath was exhausted in the whistle. "Who would have believed they could screw themselves up to doing such a thing in that bloody service?"
"I now remember to have heard that Uncle Sam was building some large steamers for the revenue service, and, if I mistake not, with some new invention to get along with, that is neither wheel nor propeller. This must be one of these new craft, brought out here, into open water, just to try her, sir."
"You're right, sir, you're right. As to the natur' of the beast, you see her buntin', and no honest man can want more. If there's anything I do hate, it is that flag, with its unnat'ral stripes, up and down, instead of running in the true old way. I have heard a lawyer say, that the revenue flag of this country is onconstitutional, and that a vessel carrying it on the high seas might be sent in for piracy."
Although Harry Mulford was neither Puffendorf, nor Grotius, he had too much common sense, and too little prejudice in favour of even his own vocation, to swallow such a theory, had fifty Cherry Street lawyers sworn to its justice. A smile crossed his fine, firm-looking mouth, and something very like a reflection of that smile, if smiles can be reflected in one's own countenance, gleamed in his fine, large, dark eye.
"It would be somewhat singular, Capt, Spike," he said, "if a vessel belonging to any nation should be seized as a pirate. The fact that she is national in character would clear her."
"Then let her carry a national flag, and be d--d to her," answered Spike fiercely. "I can show you law for what I say, Mr. Mulford. The American flag has its stripes fore and aft by law, and this chap carries his stripes parpendic'lar. If I commanded a cruiser, and fell in with one of these up and down gentry, blast me if I wouldn't just send him into port, and try the question in the old Alms-House."
Mulford probably did not think it worth while to argue the point any further, understanding the dogmatism and stolidity of his commander too well to deem it necessary. He preferred to turn to the consideration of the qualities of the steamer in sight, a subject on which, as seamen, they might better sympathize.
"That's a droll-looking revenue cutter, after all, Capt. Spike," he said--"a craft better fitted to go in a fleet, as a look-out vessel, than to chase a smuggler in-shore."
"And no goer in the bargain! I do not see how she gets along, for she keeps all snug under water; but, unless she can travel faster than she does just now, the Molly Swash would soon lend her the Mother Carey's Chickens of her own wake to amuse her."
"She has the tide against her, just here, sir; no doubt she would do better in still water."
Spike muttered something between his teeth, and jumped down on deck, seemingly dismissing the subject of the revenue entirely from his mind. His old, coarse, authoritative manner returned, and he again spoke to his mate about Rose Budd, her aunt, the "ladies' cabin," the "young flood," and "casting off," as soon as the last made. Mulford listened respectfully, though with a manifest distaste for the instructions he was receiving. He knew his man, and a feeling of dark distrust came over him, as he listened to his orders concerning the famous accommodations he intended to give to Rose Budd and that "capital old lady, her aunt;" his opinion of "the immense deal of good sea-air and a v'y'ge would do Rose," and how "comfortable they both would be on board the Molly Swash."
"I honour and respect, Mrs. Budd, as my captain's lady, you see, Mr. Mulford, and intend to treat her accordin'ly. She knows it--and Rose knows it--and they both declare they'd rather sail with me, since sail they must, than with any other ship-master out of America."
"You sailed once with Capt. Budd yourself, I think I have heard you say, sir?"
"The old fellow brought me up. I was with him from my tenth to my twentieth year, and then broke adrift to see fashions. We all do that, you know, Mr. Mulford, when we are young and ambitious, and my turn came as well as another's."
"Capt. Budd must have been a good deal older than his wife, sir, if you sailed with him when a boy," Mulford observed a little drily.
"Yes; I own to forty-eight, though no one would think me more than five or six-and-thirty, to look at me. There was a great difference between old Dick Budd and his wife, as you say, he being about fifty, when he married, and she less than twenty. Fifty is a good age for matrimony, in a man, Mulford; as is twenty in a young woman."
"Rose Budd is not yet nineteen, I have heard her say," returned the mate, with emphasis.
"Youngish, I will own, but that's a fault a liberal-minded man can overlook. Every day, too, will lessen it. Well, look to the cabins, and see all clear for a start. Josh will be down presently with a cart-load of stores, and you'll take 'em aboard without delay."
As Spike uttered this order, his foot was on the plank-sheer of the bulwarks, in the act of passing to the wharf again. On reaching the
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