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- Jack Tier or The Florida Reef - 90/93 -
"Yet you wanted to have this Rose Budd, who is only too young, and handsome, and good for you."
"I was tired of being a widower, Jack; and Rose _is_ wonderful pretty. She has money, too, and might make the evening of my days comfortable. The brig was old, as you must know, and has long been off of all the Insurance Offices' books; and she could n't hold together much longer. But for this sloop-of-war, I should have put her off on the Mexicans; and they would have lost her to our people in a month."
"And was it an honest thing to sell an old and worn-out craft to any one, Stephen Spike?"
Spike had a conscience that had become hard as iron by means of trade. He who traffics much, most especially if his dealings be on so small a scale as to render constant investigations of the minor qualities of things necessary, must be a very fortunate man, if he preserve his conscience in any better condition. When Jack made this allusion, therefore, the dying man--for death was much nearer to Spike that even be supposed, though he no longer hoped for his own recovery--when Jack made this allusion, then, the dying man was a good deal at a loss to comprehend it. He saw no particular harm in making the best bargain he could; nor was it easy for him to understand why he might not dispose of anything he possessed for the highest price that was to be had. Still he answered in an apologetic sort of way.
"The brig was old, I acknowledge," he said, "but she was strong, and _might_ have run a long time. I only spoke of her capture as a thing likely to take place soon, if the Mexicans got her; so that her qualities were of no great account, unless it might be her speed--and that you know was excellent, Jack."
"And you regret that brig, Stephen Spike, lying as you do on your death-bed, more than anything else."
"Not as much as I do pretty Rose Budd, Jack; Rosy is so delightful to look at!"
The muscles of Jack's face twitched a little, and she looked deeply mortified; for, to own the truth, she hoped that the conversation had so far turned her delinquent husband's thoughts to the past, as to have revived in him some of his former interest in herself. It is true, he still believed her dead; but this was a circumstance Jack overlooked--so hard is it to hear the praises of a rival, and be just. She felt the necessity of being more explicit, and determined at once to come to the point.
"Stephen Spike," she said, steadily, drawing near to the bed-side, "you should be told the truth, when you are heard thus extolling the good looks of Rose Budd, with less than eight-and-forty hours of life remaining. Mary Swash did not die, as you have supposed, three years a'ter you desarted her, but is living at this moment. Had you read the letter I gave you in the boat, just before you made me jump into the sea, _that_ would have told you where she is to be found."
Spike stared at the speaker intently; and when her cracked voice ceased, his look was that of a man who was terrified as well as bewildered. This did not arise still from any gleamings of the real state of the case, but from the soreness with which his conscience pricked him, when he heard that his much-wronged wife was alive. He fancied, with a vivid and rapid glance at the probabilities, all that a woman abandoned would be likely to endure in the course of so many long and suffering years.
"Are you sure of what you say, Jack? You would n't take advantage of my situation to tell me an untruth?"
"As certain of it as of my own existence. I have seen her quite lately--talked with her of _you_--in short, she is now at Key West, knows your state, and has a wife's feelin's to come to your bed-side."
Notwithstanding all this, and the many gleamings he had had of the facts during their late intercourse on board the brig, Spike did not guess at the truth. He appeared astounded, and his terror seemed to increase.
"I have another thing to tell you," continued Jack, pausing but a moment to collect her own thoughts. "Jack Tier--the real Jack Tier--he who sailed with you of old, and whom you left ashore at the same time you desarted your wife, _did_ die of the fever, as you was told, in eight-and-forty hours a'ter the brig went to sea."
"Then who, in the name of Heaven, are you? How came you to hail by another's name as well as by another sex?"
"What could a woman do, whose husband had desarted her in a strange land?"
"That is remarkable! So _you_'ve been married? I should not have thought _that_ possible; and your husband desarted you, too. Well, such things _do_ happen."
Jack now felt a severe pang. She could not but see that her ungainly--we had almost said her unearthly appearance--prevented the captain from even yet suspecting the truth; and the meaning of his language was not easily to be mistaken. That any one should have married _her,_ seemed to her husband as improbable as it was probable he would run away from her as soon as it was in his power after the ceremony.
"Stephen Spike," resumed Jack, solemnly, "_I_ am Mary Swash--_I_ am your wife!"
Spike started in his bed; then he buried his face in the coverlet--and he actually groaned. In bitterness of spirit the woman turned away and wept. Her feelings had been blunted by misfortune and the collisions of a selfish world; but enough of former self remained to make this the hardest of all the blows she had ever received. Her husband, dying as he was, as he must and did know himself to be, shrunk from one of her appearance, unsexed as she had become by habits, and changed by years and suffering.
The trusting heart's repose, the paradise Of home, with all its loves, doth fate allow The crown of glory unto woman's brow.
It has again become necessary to advance the time; and we shall take the occasion thus offered to make a few explanations touching certain events which have been passed over without notice.
The reason why Captain Mull did not chase the yawl of the brig in the Poughkeepsie herself, was the necessity of waiting for his own boats that were endeavouring to regain the sloop-of-war. It would not have done to abandon them, inasmuch as the men were so much exhausted by the pull to windward, that when they reached the vessel all were relieved from duty for the rest of the day. As soon, however, as the other boats were hoisted in, or run up, the ship filled away, stood out of the passage and ran down to join the cutter of Wallace, which was endeavouring to keep its position, as much as possible, by making short tacks under close-reefed luggs.
Spike had been received on board the sloop-of-war, sent into her sick bay, and put under the care of the surgeon and his assistants. From the first, these gentlemen pronounced the hurt mortal. The wounded man was insensible most of the time, until the ship had beat up and gone into Key West, where he was transferred to the regular hospital, as has already been mentioned.
The wreckers went out the moment the news of the calamity of the Swash reached their ears. Some went in quest of the doubloons of the schooner, and others to pick up anything valuable that might be discovered in the neighbourhood of the stranded brig. It may be mentioned here, that not much was ever obtained from the brigantine, with the exception of a few spars, the sails, and a little rigging; but, in the end, the schooner was raised, by means of the chain Spike had placed around her, the cabin was ransacked, and the doubloons were recovered. As there was no one to claim the money, it was quietly divided among the conscientious citizens present at its re-visiting "the glimpses of the moon," making gold plenty.
The doubloons in the yawl would have been lost but for the sagacity of Mulford. He too well knew the character of Spike to believe he would quit the brig without taking the doubloons with him. Acquainted with the boat, he examined the little locker in the stern-sheets, and found the two bags, one of which was probably the lawful property of Captain Spike, while the other, in truth, belonged to the Mexican government. The last contained the most gold, but the first amounted to a sum that our young mate knew to be very considerable. Rose had made him acquainted with the sex of Jack Tier since their own marriage; and he at once saw that the claims of this uncouth wife, who was so soon to be a widow, to the gold in question, might prove to be as good in law, as they unquestionably were in morals. On representing the facts of the case to Captain Mull and the legal functionaries at Key West, it was determined to relinquish this money to the heirs of Spike, as, indeed, they must have done under process, there being no other claimant. These doubloons, however, did not amount to the full price of the flour and powder that composed the cargo of the Swash. The cargo had been purchased with Mexican funds; and all that Spike or his heirs could claim, was the high freight for which he had undertaken the delicate office of transporting those forbidden articles, contraband of war, to the Dry Tortugas.
Mulford by this time was high in the confidence and esteem of all on board the Poughkeepsie. He had frankly explained his whole connexion with Spike, not even attempting to conceal the reluctance he had felt to betray the brig after he had fully ascertained the fact of his commander's treason. The manly gentlemen with whom he was now brought in contact entered into his feelings, and admitted that it was an office no one could desire, to turn against the craft in which he sailed. It is true, they could not and would not be traitors, but Mulford had stopped far short of this; and the distinction between such a character and that of an informer was wide enough to satisfy all their scruples.
Then Rose had the greatest success with the gentlemen of the Poughkeepsie. Her youth, beauty, and modesty, told largely in her favour; and the simple, womanly affection she unconsciously betrayed in behalf of Harry, touched the heart of every observer. When the intelligence of her aunt's fate reached her, the sorrow she manifested was so profound and natural, that every one sympathized with her grief. Nor would she be satisfied unless Mulford would
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