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- Jack Tier or The Florida Reef - 6/93 -
particularly when we were together and talking. Oh, he used to delight in hearing me converse, especially about vessels, and never failed to get me at it when he had company. I see his good-natured, excellent-hearted countenance at this moment, with the tears running down his fat, manly cheeks, as he shook his very sides with laughter. I may live a hundred years, Rosy, before I meet again with your uncle's equal."
This was a subject that invariably silenced Rose. She remembered her uncle, herself, and remembered his affectionate manner of laughing at her aunt, and she always wished the latter to get through her eulogiums on her married happiness, as soon as possible, whenever the subject was introduced.
All this time the Molly Swash kept in motion. Spike never took a pilot when he could avoid it, and his mind was too much occupied with his duty, in that critical navigation, to share at all in the conversation of his passengers, though he did endeavour to make himself agreeable to Rose, by an occasional remark, when a favourable opportunity offered.
As soon as he had worked his brig over into the south or weather passage of Blackwell's, however, there remained little for him to do, until she had drifted through it, a distance of a mile or more; and this gave him leisure to do the honours. He pointed out the castellated edifice on Blackwell's as the new penitentiary, and the hamlet of villas, on the other shore, as Ravenswood, though there is neither wood nor ravens to authorize the name. But the "Sunswick," which satisfied the Delafields and Gibbses of the olden, time, and which distinguished their lofty halls and broad lawns, was not elegant enough for the cockney tastes of these latter days, so "wood" must be made to usurp the place of cherries and apples, and "ravens" that of gulls, in order to satisfy its cravings. But all this was lost on Spike. He remembered the shore as it had been twenty years before, and he saw what it was now, but little did he care for the change. On the whole, he rather preferred the Grecian Temples, over which the ravens would have been compelled to fly, had there been any ravens in that neighbourhood, to the old-fashioned and highly respectable residence that once alone occupied the spot. The point he did understand, however, and on the merits of which he had something to say, was a little farther ahead. That, too, had been re-christened--the Hallet's Cove of the mariner being converted into Astoria--not that bloody-minded place at the mouth of the Oregon, which has come so near bringing us to blows with our "ancestors in England," as the worthy denizens of that quarter choose to consider themselves still, if one can judge by their language. This Astoria was a very different place, and is one of the many suburban villages that are shooting up, like mushrooms in a night, around the great Commercial Emporium. This spot Spike understood perfectly, and it was not likely that he should pass it without communicating a portion of his knowledge to Rose.
"There, Miss Rose," he said, with a didactic sort of air, pointing with his short, thick finger at the little bay which was just opening to their view; "there's as neat a cove as a craft need bring up in. That used to be a capital place to lie in, to wait for a wind to pass the Gate; but it has got to be most too public for my taste. I'm rural, I tell Mulford, and love to get in out-of-the-way berths with my brig, where she can see salt-meadows, and smell the clover. You never catch me down in any of the crowded slips, around the markets, or anywhere in that part of the town, for I do love country air. That's Hallet's Cove, Miss Rose, and a pretty anchorage it would be for us, if the wind and tide didn't sarve to take us through the Gate."
"Are we near the Gate, Capt. Spike?" asked Rose, the fine bloom on her cheek lessening a little, under the apprehension that formidable name is apt to awaken in the breasts of the inexperienced.
"Half a mile, or so. It begins just at the other end of this island on our larboard hand, and will be all over in about another half mile, or so. It's no such bad place, a'ter all, is Hell-Gate, to them that's used to it. I call myself a pilot in Hell-Gate, though I have no branch."
"I wish, Capt. Spike, I could teach you to give that place its proper and polite name. We call it Whirl-Gate altogether now," said the relict.
"Well, that's new to me," cried Spike. "I have heard some chicken-mouthed folk say Hurl-Gate, but this is the first time I ever heard it called Whirl-Gate--they'll get it to Whirligig-Gate next. I do n't think that my old commander, Capt. Budd, called the passage anything but honest up and down Hell-Gate."
"That he did--that he did--and all my arguments and reading could not teach him any better. I proved to him that it was Whirl-Gate, as any one can see that it ought to be. It is full of whirlpools, they say, and that shows what Nature meant the name to be."
"But, aunty," put in Rose, half reluctantly, half anxious to speak, "what has gate to do with whirlpools? You will remember it is called a gate--the gate to that wicked place I suppose is meant."
"Rose, you amaze me! How can you, a young woman of only nineteen, stand up for so vulgar a name as Hell-Gate!"
"Do you think it as vulgar as Hurl-Gate, aunty?" To me it always seems the most vulgar to be straining at gnats."
"Yes," said Spike sentimentally, "I'm quite of Miss Rose's way of thinking--straining at gnats is very ill-manners, especially at table. I once knew a man who strained in this way, until I thought he would have choked, though it was with a fly to be sure; but gnats are nothing but small flies, you know, Miss Rose. Yes, I'm quite of your way of thinking, Miss Rose; it is very vulgar to be straining at gnats and flies, more particularly at table. But you'll find no flies or gnats aboard here, to be straining at, or brushing away, or to annoy you. Stand by there, my hearties, and see all clear to run through Hell-Gate. Do n't let me catch you straining at anything, though it should be the fin of a whale!"
The people forward looked at each other, as they listened to this novel admonition, though they called out the customary "ay, ay, sir," as they went to the sheets, braces and bowlines. To them the passage of no Hell-Gate conveyed the idea of any particular terror, and with the one they were about to enter, they were much too familiar to care anything about it.
The brig was now floating fast, with the tide, up abreast of the east end of Blackwell's, and in two or three more minutes she would be fairly in the Gate. Spike was aft, where he could command a view of everything forward, and Mulford stood on the quarter-deck, to look after the head-braces. An old and trustworthy seaman, who acted as a sort of boatswain, had the charge on the forecastle, and was to tend the sheets and tack. His name was Rove.
"See all clear," called out Spike. "D'ye hear there, for'ard! I shall make a half-board in the Gate, if the wind favour us, and the tide prove strong enough to hawse us to wind'ard sufficiently to clear the Pot--so mind your--"
The captain breaking off in the middle of this harangue, Mulford turned his head, in order to see what might be the matter. There was Spike, levelling a spy-glass at a boat that was pulling swiftly out of the north channel, and shooting like an arrow directly athwart the brig's bows into the main passage of the Gate. He stepped to the captain's elbow.
"Just take a look at them chaps, Mr. Mulford," said Spike, handing his mate the glass.
"They seem in a hurry," answered Harry, as he adjusted the glass to his eye, "and will go through the Gate in less time than it will take to mention the circumstance."
"What do you make of them, sir?"
"The little man who called himself Jack Tier is in the stern-sheets of the boat, for one," answered Mulford.
"And the other, Harry--what do you make of the other?"
"It seems to be the chap who hailed to know if we had a pilot. He means to board us at Riker's Island, and make us pay pilotage, whether we want his services or not."
"Blast him and his pilotage too! Give me the glass"--taking another long look at the boat, which by this time was glancing, rather than pulling, nearly at right angles across his bows. "I want no such pilot aboard here, Mr. Mulford. Take another look at him--here, you can see him, away on our weather bow, already."
Mulford did take another look at him, and this time his examination was longer and more scrutinizing than before.
"It is not easy to cover him with the glass," observed the young man--"the boat seems fairly to fly."
"We're forereaching too near the Hog's Back, Capt. Spike," roared the boatswain, from forward.
"Ready about--hard a lee," shouted Spike. "Let all fly, for'ard--help her round, boys, all you can, and wait for no orders! Bestir yourselves--bestir yourselves."
It was time the crew should be in earnest. While Spike's attention had been thus diverted by the boat, the brig had got into the strongest of the current, which, by setting her fast to windward, had trebled the power of the air, and this was shooting her over toward one of the greatest dangers of the passage on a flood tide. As everybody bestirred themselves, however, she was got round and filled on the opposite tack, just in time to clear the rocks. Spike breathed again, but his head was still full of the boat. The danger he had just escaped as Scylla met him as Charybdis. The boatswain again roared to go about. The order was given as the vessel began to pitch in a heavy swell. At the next instant she rolled until the water came on deck, whirled with her stern down the tide, and her bows rose as if she were about to leap out of water. The Swash had hit the Pot Rock.
"Watch. If we know him to be a thief, shall we not lay hands on him?
Dogb. Truly, by your office, you may; but I think they that touch pitch will be defiled; the most peaceable way for you, if you do take a thief, is, to let him show himself what he is, and steal out of your company."
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