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- Jack Tier or The Florida Reef - 20/93 -
his own state-room; the open door and window of which, however, gave him every facility he could desire to relieve his mathematics, by gazing at the sweet countenance of his charming neighbor. Jack Tier and Josh were both passing to and fro, as is the wont of stewards, between the camboose and the cabin, the breakfast table being just then in the course of preparation. In all other respects, always excepting the man at the wheel, who stood within a fathom of Rose, Spike had the quarter-deck to himself, and did not fail to pace its weather-side with an air that denoted the master and owner. After exhibiting his sturdy, but short, person in this manner, to the admiring eyes of all beholders, for some time, the captain suddenly took a seat at the side of the relict, and dropped into the following discourse.
"The weather is moderate, Madam Budd; quite moderate," observed Spike, a sentimental turn coming over him at the moment. "What I call moderate and agreeable."
"So much the better for us; the ladies are fond of moderation, sir."
"Not in admiration, Madam Budd--ha! ha! ha! no, not in admiration. Immoderation is what they like when it comes to that. I'm a single man, but I know that the ladies like admiration--mind where you're sheering to," the captain said, interrupting himself a little fiercely, considering the nature of the subject, in consequence of Jack Tier's having trodden on his toe in passing--"or I'll teach you the navigation of the quarter-deck, Mr. Burgoo!"
"Moderation--moderation, my good captain," said the simpering relict. "As to admiration, I confess that it is agreeable to us ladies; more especially when it comes from gentlemen of sense, and intelligence, and experience."
Rose fidgeted, having heard every word that was said, and her face flushed; for she doubted not that Harry's ears were as good as her own. As for the man at the wheel, he turned the tobacco over in his mouth, hitched up his trousers, and appeared interested, though somewhat mystified--the conversation was what he would have termed "talking dictionary," and he had some curiosity to learn how the captain would work his way out of it. It is probable that Spike himself had some similar gleamings of the difficulties of his position, for he looked a little troubled, though still resolute. It was the first time he had ever lain yard-arm and yard-arm with a widow, and he had long entertained a fancy that such a situation was trying to the best of men.
"Yes, Madam Budd, yes," he said, "exper'ence and sense carry weight with 'em, wherever they go. I'm glad to find that you entertain these just notions of us gentlemen, and make a difference between boys and them that's seen and known exper'ence. For my part, I count youngsters under forty as so much lumber about decks, as to any comfort and calculations in keepin' a family, as a family ought to be kept."
Mrs. Budd looked interested, but she remained silent on hearing this remark, as became her sex.
"Every man ought to settle in life, some time or other, Madam Budd, accordin' to my notion, though no man ought to be in a boyish haste about it," continued the captain. "Now, in my own case, I've been so busy all my youth--not that I'm very old now, but I'm no boy--but all my younger days have been passed in trying to make things meet, in a way to put any lady who might take a fancy to me--"
"Oh! captain--that is too strong! The ladies do not take fancies for gentlemen, but the gentlemen take fancies for ladies!"
"Well, well, you know what I mean, Madam Budd; and so long as the parties understand each other, a word dropped, or a word put into a charter-party, makes it neither stronger nor weaker. There's a time, howsomever, in every man's life, when he begins to think of settling down, and of considerin' himself as a sort of mooring-chain, for children and the likes of them to make fast to. Such is my natur', I will own; and ever since I've got to be intimate in your family, Madam Budd, that sentiment has grown stronger and stronger in me, till it has got to be uppermost in all my idees. Bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh, as a body might say."
Mrs. Budd now looked more than interested, for she looked a little confused, and Rose began to tremble for her aunt. It was evident that the parties most conspicuous in this scene were not at all conscious that they were overheard, the intensity of their attention being too much concentrated on what was passing to allow of any observation without their own narrow circle. What may be thought still more extraordinary, but what in truth was the most natural of all, each of the parties was so intently bent on his, or her, own train of thought, that neither in the least suspected any mistake.
"Grown with your growth, and strengthened with your strength," rejoined the relict, smiling kindly enough on the captain to have encouraged a much more modest man than he happened to be.
"Yes, Madam Budd--very just that remark; grown with my strength, and strengthened with my growth, as one might say; though I've not done much at growing for a good many years. Your late husband, Captain Budd, often remarked how very early I got my growth; and rated me as an `able-bodied' hand, when most lads think it an honour to be placed among the `or'naries.'"
The relict looked grave; and she wondered at any man's being so singular as to allude to a first husband, at the very moment he was thinking of offering himself for a second. As for herself, she had not uttered as many words in the last four years, as she had uttered in that very conversation, without making some allusion to her "poor dear Mr. Budd." The reader is not to do injustice to the captain's widow, however, by supposing for a moment that she was actually so weak as to feel any tenderness for a man like Spike, which would be doing a great wrong to both her taste and her judgment, as Rose well knew, even while most annoyed by the conversation she could not but overhear. All that influenced the good relict was that besetting weakness of her sex, which renders admiration so universally acceptable; and predisposes a female, as it might be, to listen to a suitor with indulgence, and some little show of kindness, even when resolute to reject him. As for Rose, to own the truth, her aunt did not give her a thought, as yet, notwithstanding Spike was getting to be so sentimental.
"Yes, your late excellent and honourable consort always said that I got my growth sooner than any youngster he ever fell in with," resumed the captain, after a short pause; exciting fresh wonder in his companion, that he would persist in lugging in the "dear departed" so very unseasonably. "I am a great admirer of all the Budd family, my good lady, and only wish my connection with it had never tarminated; if tarminated it can be called."
"It need not be terminated, Captain Spike, so long as friendship exists in the human heart."
"Ay, so it is always with you ladies; when a man is bent on suthin' closer and more interestin' like, you're for putting it off on friendship. Now friendship is good enough in its way, Madam Budd, but friendship is n't love."
"Love!" echoed the widow, fairly starting, though she looked down at her netting, and looked as confused as she knew how. "That is a very decided word, Captain Spike, and should never be mentioned to a woman's ear lightly."
So the captain now appeared to think, too, for no sooner had he delivered himself of the important monosyllable, than he left the widow's side, and began to pace the deck, as it might be to moderate his own ardour. As for Rose, she blushed, if her more practised aunt did not; while Harry Mulford laughed heartily, taking good care, however, not to be heard. The man at the wheel turned the tobacco again, gave his trousers another hitch, and wondered anew whither the skipper was bound. But the drollest manifestation of surprise came from Josh, the steward, who was passing along the lee-side of the quarter-deck, with a tea-pot in his hand, when the energetic manner of the captain sent the words "friendship is n't love" to his ears. This induced him to stop for a single instant, and to cast a wondering glance behind him; after which he moved on toward the galley, mumbling as he went--"Lub! what he want of lub, or what lub want of him! Well, I do t'ink Captain Spike bowse his jib out pretty 'arly dis mornin'."
Captain Spike soon got over the effects of his effort, and the confusion of the relict did not last any material length of time. As the former had gone so far, however, he thought the present an occasion as good as another to bring matters to a crisis.
"Our sentiments sometimes get to be so strong, Madam Budd," resumed the lover, as he took his seat again on the trunk, "that they run away with us. Men is liable to be run away with as well as ladies. I once had a ship run away with me, and a pretty time we had of it. Did you ever hear of a ship's running away with her people, Madam Budd, just as your horse ran away with your buggy?"
"I suppose I must have heard of such things, sir, my education having been so maritime, though just at this moment I cannot recall an instance. When my horse ran away, the buggy was cap-asided. Did your vessel cap-aside on the occasion you mention?"
"No, Madam Budd, no. The ship was off the wind at the time I mean, and vessels do not capsize when off the wind. I'll tell you how it happened. We was a scuddin' under a goose-wing foresail--"
"Yes, yes," interrupted the relict, eagerly. "I've often heard of that sail, which is small, and used only in tempests."
"Heavy weather, Madam Budd--only in heavy weather."
"It is amazing to me, captain, how you seamen manage to weigh the weather. I have often heard of light weather and heavy weather, but never fairly understood the manner of weighing it."
"Why we do make out to ascertain the difference," replied the captain, a little puzzled for an answer; "and I suppose it must be by means of the barometer, which goes up and down like a pair of scales. But the time I mean, we was a scuddin' under a goose-wing foresail--"
"A sail made of goose's wings, and a beautiful object it must be; like some of the caps and cloaks that come from the islands, which are all of feathers, and charming objects are they. I beg pardon--you had your goose's wings spread--"
"Yes, Madam Budd, yes; we was steering for a Mediterranean port, intending to clear a mole-head, when a sea took us under the larboard-quarter, gave us such a sheer to-port as sent our cat-head ag'in a spile, and raked away the chain-plates of the top-mast
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