IN those days ocean-steamers belonged to the dream-world. And when, in vision they came from some fog, and then lost shape in a few moments, they became strange sea-monsters with a whale's body and enormous fins, like the wheels of an old style of grist mill. It looked as if Neptune had exchanged his trident for a pipe, and was blowing smoke into dirt-colored clouds. The waters were yet in partner ship with the winds; and sail-makers were as necessary for voyagers as the sooty Cyclops of an iron-workery. Voyages then consumed days and weeks; we went not in those times by hours, but by leagues.
By the aid of poles and cables, and tides and yo-
heave-ohs! with plenty of scolding and no little
swearing, packets moved like big snails away from
wharves, as from fast and firm friends; and, after
remaining in sight a day or two, in river or bay, they little by little contrived to sink under the horizon; and in the course of a few weeks or months, or some time, went into a port three or four hundred miles off, slow and cross.
But now-a-days, a little tinkle of a silver-alloyed bell, a strong cry of "all aboard!" a hoarse cough of steam, as if some big body had a particularly bad cold, and meant to be rid of it—tide high or tide low —wind here or wind there, or no wind at all, nothing but air or atmosphere being now necessary—and the wharf recedes towards the wharehouses! Then people shake adieus with hats and shawls; and in 12, or 20, or 30 hours, folks are—there!
Sea, at best, is a punishment; but in old times, when the Wade-Hampton and Georgia Packet used to transport the prisoners!—faugh! it makes us sick to think about it!—why then, we solemnly resolved every time we went to sea it should be the last! And once, we were so conscientious as to keep our word, and came from Savannah all the way to Philadelphia on land, (mud, water and swamp included,) and by the lower roads! But, oh! frying-pan and fire! old packets were Elysiums to that!
Folks at sea, however, used to amuse themselves—
after the cascades, of course; and people on land,
well strapped and laced to the intercourse point of
polite life, would unbuckle and unbend, and ease off
then. Old packets were sad places for ladies gentlemen of severe dignity.
Once upon a time the Wade-Hampton had nearly an hundred passengers. An intimate acquaintance who had made haste to reach Philadelphia, from the interior, arrived, as was usual in whip-lash times, too late for a berth, but just in the nick of time for a mattrass and blanket. He chose, of necessity, the bed and—board. Hence, in pleasant nights he slept on deck, where the air was well salted, and in stormy nights, on the cabin floor, where the air needed salt or some chemical purifier.
In time, all ordinary recreations and quizzings being exhausted, and the passengers sinking into the typhoid state, discontent on every brow, and languor in all looks, and murmur and growl in all tones; and when nothing was left to exhilarate but an unexpected ducking of some half-sick dandy holding on to a rope near the gunwale, or some happy lurch of the ship that would upset the gravy at dinner, or pitch somebody attached to a chicken wing or drum-stick against the state-rooms—then our friend, with great magnanimity, and from pure philanthropy, resolved to try—ventriloquism.
His mat was over a covered hatch, down which
one might leap towards the bilge-water. Around, in
all berths, single and double, passengers were packed
for the night, as animals in a barge going to market;
some asleep, some afraid they were going to wake, some pretending to sleep, and all turning over every few moments to make things more comfortable, when—
"Meyeow!" went a cat somewhere.
"Steward!" cried a crusty old gentleman, pretending to have been waked, but looking through his little window with his spectacles on, "turn that cat out of the cabin, will you?"
"Cat?" cried that most unthanked and over-wrought officer; "there is no cat—"
"Meyeow!" answered the phantom.
"Why, so there is!—but where?"
"Well, how she got here I don't know," said the steward, trying to be in both places at once.
"Me-yee-ow!"—with better accents.
"'Long here!—'long there!—there she is!"—came from all quarters, folks now being all awake and very anxious to see a cat.
The worthy and bepuzzled steward (a half-darkee
man) went now, stooping and peering along the floor
near the berths, while grimalkin, (by courtesy,) kept
just one berth ahead, till the last was reached, when
puss mysteriously crossed the cabin, and the search
was carefully pursued on the other side and with
equal success—cat was not found! Our hero had
never before made trial on a company of strangers, having confined his practice to his friends; and succeeding now better than his expectations, he at last became a little unguarded, when of a sudden the steward, running towards his mat, cried out with satisfaction and pity:
"Ah! poor cat!—she is down the hold, right under this here gentleman's bed! Poor thing! she must be half-starved—'tis four days since we left the wharf!"
"Poor creature!" exclaimed all the ladies; "get her out, steward—that's a good fellow!"
"In a minute, ladies! Will the gentleman please get up?"
"Certainly, steward," answered Mr. Makebelieve. The hatch was instantly uncovered; and sure enough, as all anticipated, a decidedly louder and more articulate cat-cry came forth. But then, alarmed at the sudden light and the sudden jump-down of the steward, the silly cat retreated to some remote and dark corner! Vain! the coaxing—"puss! puss! puss!—poor pussy!—po-o-or pus-see!" in the steward's blandest tones and most piteous intonations! The silly creature would not appear—nor even answer!
"I will get a lantern," said the half-vexed steward.
Of course the fears of the cat abated, and the calls
for aid and food were louder and more importunate;
but alas! the performer's mouth coming unexpectedly against a fellow-passenger along side, that gentleman said in a low voice:—"Ah! ha! is it you!—keep on!—keep on!"
Of course, the benevolent performer did keep on; and much to the steward's bewilderment, who, after a most scrutinizing hunt with his lantern, at last popped his head out of the hatch, and declared solemnly, on his word and honor, no cat was down there! At which, the truth flashing into some intelligent passenger's thoughts, he cried out:
"Good!—first-rate!—we have a ventriloquist on board!"
After that, the cat-ghost was laid! for our hero had no ambition to become a professor of the fine arts. This he says was his first, his last, his only public performance; and that was for the good of the people.
But, reader, Edward Leamington was not driven to these ridiculous expedients; for happily, and as a wonder, a voyage that often took twelve days, was now only six! The author was once sixteen days about the same thing, and in the same ship!
The wind and weather, so constantly favorable,
could not make joyous hearts going to a house of
mourning; yet they did so favorably affect her
husband's health and spirits, that Mrs. L. found her
forebodings vanishing, and she looked and smiled as
in the days of her early marriage life. And this again so exhilarated Mr. L., that for a while he almost forgot the insidious foe, that none the less surely, if more slowly, was ever, amidst smiles and caresses as in darkness and sorrow, mining towards life's citadel.
Mr. L. went so far now as to say within himself—"Some, they say, have recovered—and when farther gone than myself—and why is this incurable? I never felt better in my life, at least for some years. I know the day of miracles is passed; but the days of providence are not. His power is infinite, and so is his goodness—perhaps we may, after all, live together till old age! Merciful Father! spare me for her sake!"
The very day before Boston harbor was in sight, Mr. L. casting his eyes towards a shelf not yet noticed, and that held some books, thought he would while away an hour in running over a few pages of fiction, which the captain had said, were in that part, somewhere, of his library. He was alone; Mrs. L. having gone to her state-room to change a dress, and the children being among the seamen on deck, and in charge of the servants.
Among the books he discovered a Bible,—a
strange and yet familiar look being about it! He
seized it with a trembling hand—he turned pale!
He staggered to a seat—was he ill? He was,
reader. A rude blow that moment dispelled all hope and forever of a long life!—that Bible was his own gift to the false one! On a blank leaf were these words, and written by his own hand—"A husband's best gift to his wife!" How long Edward sat in a stupor he knew not; but he was aroused by the voice of Frank—
"Oh! my dear, kind master!"
"Hush, Frank! Hand me some water! I fear I am not so well as I thought. But help me on deck, Frank, and ask the captain if he can come to the quarter deck for a few moments."
Frank did all that was ordered; and soon the captain appeared on the quarter, where, on noticing the Bible in Mr. L.'s hand, he said—
"Oh! that's the very Bible! I mislaid it—I am glad to see it again."
"Why?" Mr. L. could ask no more.
"A lady, last voyage, left it in her state-room."
"Ain't you well, Mr. L.?" kindly asked the captain. "Allow me to bring a little brandy and water?"
Mr. L. did not wish the seaman's cordial; but it would gain time, and he suffered the captain to go after the beverage. Meanwhile he so far recovered his presence of mind as to say, on the captain's return—
"Thank you, my kind sir, for this trouble."
"No trouble, sir—come, take a hearty drink—take a good hearty drink—'twill make you feel better."
Captain Seagrass was a sailor of the olden times— a navigator—a veteran—a man. He did not dress, nor play cards, nor lie a-bed, committing his cargo and passengers to dandy clerks and drunken engineers and pilots; he took care of everything himself; but, like folks in those days, he thought brandy and water superior, and for all complaints, to all the quack medicines in the universe.
Mr. L. sipped a little, and then asked as indifferently as possible:
"A lady forgot this?"
"Yes, sir. She was not in very good health, and spent much of her time, I believe, in reading that Bible. She came on deck sometimes, however, with her father!"
"Her father, sir, Mr. William Henderson, of Mobile; a man quite as fit for a parson, sir, as for a planter. Why, sir, he preached to the sailors on Sunday like a bishop."
"His daughter was married?"
"I am not sure, sir. Mr. H. simply called her daughter."
"She was taking a voyage, I suppose, for health?"
"I think so. Indeed, Mr. H. said he wished his
daughter to try a sea-voyage, and to spend the summer in the cool bracing air of New England. But—"
"Oh! only from her looks I should think it most likely her father will not carry her home again. Mr. L., had you not better try a little more of your brandy and water, sir? You certainly are not very well! Let me have some cushions brought up."
"I am much obliged to you, captain; but if you will allow me I will go below."
Mr. L., retaining the Bible and declining the captain's offer of assistance, descended into the cabin, and on tapping gently at the state room, the door was instantly opened by his wife. Struck with the sudden alteration in her husband's appearance and manner, she would have spoken; but Edward putting his arm affectionately around her and kissing her cheek, said—
"Sit down, my Mary, with me, on this sofa."
"What is the matter, dear Edward?" asked his wife, alarmed and wondering.
"You will not hate me, Mary?"
Mrs. L. surprised and a little grieved, simply echoed—
"Oh, forgive me! I wrong you. No! no! you
cannot hate—I would rather die than imagine that possible!" exclaimed the husband.
"Edward! you greatly alarm me. Oh! what can this mean?"
"This will explain all;" he answered. "This is her Bible! Helen is not dead."
"That is she! Did I name her? Oh! name I once uttered, as I utter yours, Mary! I buried the name with her; but the name rushes into life with herself."
Mrs. Leamington, although not comprehending how her husband had learned from that Bible that his former wife still lived; yet, knowing that he had been legally and righteously at liberty to marry again, and well understanding what was now innocently passing through his mind, with a woman's tact, said, in a soothing voice—
"Be composed, dearest Edward! Need I assure you of it?—no! Edward! Edward! if anything, I love you more tenderly and proudly, now, than ever. Yes! the more because you cannot forget her!"
"Dear, admirable, incomparable woman! Oh! rebuke me not, let me praise you! I do from my deepest soul love you, now, as I ever have done; as I will, till my heart ceases its beatings! Perhaps I do not (for man loves so but once) love even you so idolatrously—but may I tell you all?"
"Edward, pour your full heart into mine!"
"May the Holy One bless you, Mary! I will tell you, then, all the past; and then, why I think she may yet be living; but the Captain thinks she will never live to return to her home! (Spite of all her secret rebukings, Mrs. L. felt something like relief from fear! At all events, she felt that now jealousy could never have the smallest lodgment in her breast.) I will begin with our childhood.
"We were school-mates and companions in childhood—nay, we were always lovers. She was then beautiful, and, as she approached maturity, her beauty increased. I loved, as they say one can love but once. An image of purity and loveliness, she was my thought by day, my dream at night. Her voice, to me like a seraph's, would thrill me into tears or smiles—I lived, indeed, almost for her only. I know I could then have easily died for her. In some things we were alike, in others, very different. She was much gayer and livelier than myself; certainly she was more impulsive, and she often did what she soon was sorry for. She may have loved as ardently, but not so deeply." Mr. L. paused a moment, and then added—"No! no! not so deeply!" Then, as if correcting himself, he said, tenderly—
"Oh! Mary! Mary! I forget myself."
"The good, and the honest, and the generous,
must have loved so, Edward!" answered Mrs. L., while she pressed his hand against her breast.
"The past is before me! If I go on it will move me more than it should," continued he.
"Never!—oh! how unworthy of your love, Edward, should I be, if I even wished you not to feel! For my sake, Edward, go on."
"I will, Mary. We were engaged to be married long before our maturity; and not long after reaching adult age, we were married. But Helen had another lover—nay, she had many; for to see her was to love her. This one, if never beloved in turn, was not disagreeable to her. Never had she played with any the coquette, only now and then, before our marriage, she would playfully say, 'Edward, had I never known you, I believe I would run away with Charles,—yet grandmother says she does not like Charles.' As far as exterior was concerned none could have blamed Helen's choice; he was then my superior—and even you, Mary, must think so—"
"Edward," interrupted his wife, "that miscreant Somerville has no comeliness in my eyes."
"He was, however," resumed Mr. L., "more
accomplished, (Mrs. L. thought differently,) and like
Helen, he was fond of gayety and amusement. I
am naturally a little reserved, and, perhaps, not
naturally sprightly; but, shortly after our marriage,
and during a revival of religion at Hopeful, I expe-
rienced, as I fain would believe, that great moral change that constitutes the Christian. I soon resolved to abandon the law and study divinity.
"No change of this kind took place in Helen's views and feelings, and my determination was very disagreeable to her; it not only precluded, as she thought, all hope of worldly advanceent, but my seriousness and change of profession would debar her from the innocent amusements of life. Alas! my early Christian friends and advisers, through mistake, did themselves assume, and caused me to assume, a demeanor too cold and forbidding;—some even proscribing all music, except psalms and hymns! They thought it a sin to be merry and light-hearted.
"A temporary estrangement on Helen's part now was evident. Yet I did now redouble my exertions to make her happy—poor dear thing! (Here our two friends both shed tears)—yes, poor dear Helen! But this distressed her; because I made an effort;—she wished no effort necessary. I meant well—but we both felt that a change in her was the only thing that had power to make us as we were! Oh! God! a dream of life had ended!—A gulf was between us!
"Meanwhile Somerville came as usual to our
house—oh! if villains were always hateful in
appearance! But whatever he may be now,
rarely—indeed never was there a man that could so win
confidence and even fascinate so quickly. Was it so wonderful that Helen should just then feel his company a relief from what she deemed and even called the gloom and sadness of Methodism! Nay, by my own acquiescence, he became her escort to such parties and places as were frequented by the moral and respectable of the world; and that I feared to forbid lest I might provoke her to wrath, although entreaty and kindness were used to win her away.
"Somerville, I feared, indeed, was perhaps sceptical on religious matters; yet he was a gentleman and regarded as a man of high honor and I did not then—I could not think of him as I do now. Whether from the first he meditated and planned all, or whether it was all sudden and unpremeditated, I know not—but he betrayed his trust! He murdered her!—if she be, indeed, dead! Oh! forgive me, Mary, this Bible, the gift of my early love, brings all back—"
"At last we were invited to a fashionable party,
more for Helen's sake than mine, I being regarded
by the entertainers with no favorable eye. With
my present views I might have acted differently; but
then I declined the invitation myself and entreated
her, for my sake, to decline, thinking at that time
separation from the world implied utter seclusion,
except in official and religious intercourse. No
doubt my request was pressed with arguments, to gay people always distasteful, and now the more, from the vehemence of a new convert; perhaps my manner was unhappy. For Helen, for the first time, answered scornfully:—alas! her disdainful countenance I yet see! She said she would go, if she went alone; that if I had resolved to live without pleasure, she had not.
"Kindly replying, for I felt I had been too earnest, and wishing to atone, I answered that Mr. Somerville would be her escort to the party; and that I would, for once, break my resolution and call for her at any hour she would name. A very late hour was named; and, at my special request, Charles Somerville, who was a distant cousin, attended her to the party.
"On his part was some evident uneasiness, now, in my presence, although on hers was nothing remarkable, save the displeasure yet lingering on her beautiful face. That he at that time had some plan I must now believe; for he had learned early that day that he was to escort her; but I can never believe she had, till the moment of leaving our house, any intention of leaving it—alas! alas!—forever!
"Between eleven and twelve that night, I proceeded
in a carriage to Mr. Leveridge's, intending to enter
the house, but all was so noisy and extravagant, that
I ordered a servant to be called, on whose appear-
ance, desiring to be shown into the gentlemen's dressing-room, I bade him inform Mrs. L. her carriage was waiting. In a few moments the waiter returned, and with the information that the lady had not been at the party to-night, nor had she sent any explanation!
"Greatly alarmed, I drove to Somerville's lodgings, where, to my utter surprise and horror, I learned that early in the afternoon he had sent several trunks and packages to the stage-office; and driving thither I further learned that he, in company with a lady, had started in the Express exactly at eight o'clock that very evening!
"'Accursed villain!'" I exclaimed to myself,
"would to God I had my heel on your traitor's
heart!"—Alas! I raved worse than this that most
awful night! Oh! night of unutterable anguish! I
am altered since then, Mary! I have bowed down
to the Divine will!—but that night was past in
alternate cursing and praying! I know what the
heart feels when it imprecates wrath on a human
being! and then looks up with the rushing of the
past, and prays for the betrayed and lost! I was
not myself then!—his blood that night, had we met,
would now have been on my conscience!—(Mrs. L.
shuddered, but did not interrupt; she, for the first,
knew the despair of a noble and wronged heart,
when this man of benevolence could have dashed
down the betrayer and trampled him to death.) But long since have passed all feelings of vengeance, Mary! I leave him to his Maker. Self-reproach, however, mingled with the wild storm of that horrible night. Had I not exposed her to temptation! Why had I not yielded in comparatively innocent matters? What was my religion worth if it could not save me in the world where I should have been to protect my lamb? And then would I call on her to come back—and be to me again what she had been!"
"The morning at length came; and pursuit was advised. But it would be unavailing I knew; and that, in no long time, was beyond doubt: for on that very morning the two had sailed from New Haven for the South. But that was all I learned.
In two days I received a letter—(Mr. L. rose and went to his portable desk, and returned with a letter in his hand)—yes, here it is, Mary, read it for yourself."
His wife took the letter. But greatly affected and blinded with tears she could scarcely read. Indeed, the letter was nearly illegible, the hand of the writer having evidently shaken as with palsy, and the words here and there being nearly blotted out. This was the letter:
"Edward! oh, Edward!—I would—but, no! no!
you never can believe me now! I call God to witness —I never, no never, loved any but you—I love none other now! By the unutterable agony of my frenzied soul, do not for God's sake, oh! do not curse me! . . . . Good God! can it be possible! I did not mean it! I know not why I did it! I have not—I have not! I will not! Oh! say, Edward! is it not a dream?—wake me from it! Forgive, forgive, forgive me! Bid me come and lie down at your feet and die! Call me only once by the dear name—and then kill me! Oh! why, why did you not command me to stay ever near you! You were to blame—no! no! how dare I reproach? One trial, Edward—but one! I would give the universe—I would give my life—God knows I would—to stand where I did for a moment . . . . Vain! I cannot—cannot!—I am going mad! . . . . But I am not—I am not so fallen! I will not so fall! I will leap into the sea first! . . . . Stay! don't curse me! Pray for me! Yes, yes, I that laughed at prayer, now with deep groanings of my soul, and with my face in the dust call on you, Edward! my wronged husband, and as a minister of Christ, to pray for me. I am penitent—I have not sinned—I will die rather! I will plunge into the ocean. Oh! dear Edward!—husband, dear husband! and for the last, I write those sacred words—farewell, farewell!"
Our friends for a while sat without speaking, when Mrs. Leamington, with a triumphant, and joyous and proud look and expression, said:
"Edward! Helen was guilty of the elopement, and the elopement only. That miscreant, Tibbets, or Somerville, failed in his worst intentions—I am confident of this. But how did you come to suppose her dead?"
"Hearing nothing of her," replied Mr. L., "for two years, a formal divorce was advised. Still I delayed, secretly hoping she might yet return, and innocent. Oh! do not despise me, Mary; time was I could have married her again. She was my boyhood's love—my manhood's love—my first love! Aye! had I not aided the tempter? And why? oh, why? shall not the poor penitent woman sometimes be restored? But not long after the divorce, I read among the deaths by fever, that of Mrs. Helen Leamington, a widow lady, from the North, at the plantation of Mr. William Henderson. A few words alluded to Mr. Henderson's disinterestedness, who had received the lady into his family; her husband having perished in a shipwreck somewhere on the southern coast some two years before."
"And why, Edward, do you now think Helen is living?"
"Captain Seagrass says this Bible was found in
the state-room, where it had been left by a lady the last voyage."
"When was that?"
"About two months; or maybe six weeks ago."
"Was she alone?"
"No; Mr. William Henderson, the very person named in the notice of her death, was with her."
"That lady was, perhaps, the gentleman's wife: or daughter. Did the captain say what was her name!"
"He did not. He only said Mr. H. called her his daughter."
"After all, Edward, the lady may be his daughter. The Bible has been given to her by Helen previous to her death."
"It may be so: let us examine the Bible."
In examining the book, it had manifestly been repeatedly read. Whole passages and many single texts were marked; and in places the pages were blistered as if a tear had dried on the paper. Upon a close inspection, under the words—"A husband's best gift to his wife," was visible in pencil marks— "And from the best of men!—oh, God! I shall be a jewel in his crown!"
"She is saved!—my prayers were heard!" exclaimed Mr. L., with deep emotion.
"It is so! it must be so!" responded the wife. No
clue could be found, however, in the book to make
it certain who was the lady that had forgotten the Bible, on leaving the packet ship; but Mrs. L., at her husband's request, sought the captain, who could give no other information than the reader already has. On her stating that her husband thought he knew the lady and could restore her the book, or if he failed to see her,. that he would bring it back to the ship, the captain readily consented to his taking it away, adding, as he supposed facetiously, that Parson Leamington loved a Bible too well to steal one!"
To-morrow the family will stand on free soil, and our story is in the North.