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Aunt Chloe said she was good company for any body.
She was a real godsend to our neighborhood, especially at the merry-makings; for she could make fun for a roomful, and tell us what they played at the Boston parties.
Of course, that long ride with her in the snow-storm had given me an advantage over the other young men. It seemed to be taken for granted by them, that, as I brought her to town, I should be the one privileged to wait upon her about. 'T was a privilege I was glad enough to claim, and she never objected. Many would have been glad to be in my place, but they never tried to cut me out. Margaret was sociable enough with them, — sometimes 1 thought too much so. But then I knew 't was only her pleasant way. When we two were walking home together, she dropped her fun, and seemed like another person. I felt pleased that she kept the best part of herself for me.
I was pleased, too, to see that she took to Mary, and Mary to her. The women were hurried with their sewing, and Margaret used to be often at our house helping. Cynthia was glad enough of her help, because she knew the fashions, and told how weddings were carried on in Boston. Thus it happened that she and Mary were brought much together; and before winter was over they were like two sisters.
And before winter was over, what was I? Certainly not the same Joseph who went to Swampsey Village. My eagerness to be on the sea, my pride, my temper, were gone; and all I cared for was to see the face and hear the voice of Margaret Holden.
At first, I would not believe this thing of myself; said it was folly to be so led about by a woman. But the very next moment, her sitting down by my side would set me trembling. I did n't know myself; it seemed as if I were wrong side up, and all my good feelings had come to the top.
Our names were always called together,
but I felt noways sure. I could n't think that a girl every way so desirable as Margaret should take up with a fellow so undesirable as myself. I felt that she was too good for me. I thought then that this was peculiar to our case. But I have since observed, that, as a general thing, all women are too good for all men. I am very sure I have seen something of the kind in print.
Then there was another feeling which worked itself in by degrees, — one which would come back as often as I drove it away. And once admitted, it gained strength. 'T was not a pleasant feeling, and it had to do with Jamie.
I had all along felt sure that he was attached to Mary. I had therefore never thought anything of his being on pretty good terms with Margaret. They were both of a lively turn, and thrown much together. But by degrees the idea got possession of me that there was a secret understanding between them about something. They had long talks and walks together. And, in fact, I observed many little things, trifling in themselves, but much to me after my thoughts were once turned that way.
Sometimes I think, that, if I had never gone to sea, or had never met Jamie, or had not brought him home, my life might have been very different . But then, if we once begin upon the "ifs," we might as well go back to the beginning, and say, "If we had never been born."
Jealousy. And my proud, flashy temper. That was it .
Jamie was like a brother to me. He was a noble fellow, with a pleasant word and smile for everybody. Not a family in the place but was glad to see him enter their doors. It looks strange now that I could have distrusted him so. Still, I must say, there seemed some cause.
But it 's not pleasant dwelling on this. The daily events which stirred me up so then seem too trifling to mention. I don't like to call up all those dead feelings, now I 'm an old man, and ashamed of them.
Jamie and Margaret became a mystery to me. And I was by no means one to puzzle it out, as I would a sum in the rule-of-three. T was not all headwork. However, I said nothing. I was mean enough to watch, and too proud to question.
At last I began to ask myself what I really knew about Jamie. He was only a poor sailor-boy, whom I had picked up and befriended. And, once put upon thought, what did I know of Margaret? What did anybody in the place? Even Mr. Nathaniel only knew her father. Her simple, childish ways might be all put on. For she could act. 1 had seen her, one evening, for our entertainment, imitate the actresses upon the stage. First, she was a little girl, in a white frock, with a string of coral about her neck, and curb hanging over her pretty shoulders. She said a little hymn, . and her voice sounded just like a child's. Afterwards, she was a proud princess, in laces and jewels, a long train, and a bright crown. Dressed in this way, with her head thrown back, her bosom heaving, and reciting something she had heard on the stage, we hardly knew our Margaret .
It was at our house, ons stormy evening. Mother would never allow it again. She said it was countenancing the theatre. Besides, I thought she 'd rather not have me look at Margaret when under the excitement of acting, for the next day she cautioned me against earthly idols. But Margaret was my idol.
It was because she was so bewitching to me that I thought it could not be but that Jamie must be bewitched as well. And it was because he was so taking in his manner that I felt certain she must be taken with him. Thus I puzzled on from day to day, drifting about among my doubts and tears, like a ship in a fog.
I knew that Margaret thought my conduct strange. Sometimes I seemed scarcely to live away from her; then I would change about, and not go near her for days. To Jamie, too, I was often unfriendly, for it maddened me to think he might
be playing a double game. Mary seemed just as she always did. But then she was simple-minded, and would never suspect anything or anybody. It was astonishing, the state of excitement I finally worked myself into. That was my make. Once started upon a road, I would run its whole length.
February and March passed, and still we were not sent for to join our ship. Jamie was getting uneasy, living, as he said, so long upon strangers. Besides, I knew my manner troubled him.
One evening, as we were sitting around our kitchen-Gre, Margaret with the rest, Mr. Nathaniel came in, all of a breeze, scolding away about his fishermen. His schooner was all ready for The Banks, and two of his men had run off, with all their fitting-out.
"Come, you two lazy chaps," said he, "you will just do to fill their places."
"Agreed!" said Jamie. "I 'll go, if . Joseph will."
"I 'll go," said L For I thought in a minute that he would rather not leave me behind, and I knew he needed the chance.
The women all began to exclaim against it,—all but Margaret. She turned pale, and kept silence. That was Friday. The vessel would sail Monday. Mother was greatly troubled, but said, if I would go, she must make me comfortable; and all night I could hear her opening and shutting the bureau-drawers. Margaret stopped with Mary: I think they sewed till near morning.
The next evening the singers met in the vestry, to practise the tunes for the Sabbath. We all sat in the singingseats. I played the small bass-viol. Jamie sang counter, and the girls treble. Margaret had a sweet voice, — not very powerful. She sat in the seats because the other girls did.
I went home with her that night. She seemed so sad, so tender in her manner, that I came near speaking, — came near telling her how much she was to me, and owning my feeling about Jamie. But I did n't quite. Something kept me from it . If there is such a thing as fate, '( was that.
Going home, however, I made a resolution that the next night I would certainly know, from her own lips, whether it was me she liked, or Jamie.
I walked slowly home, and directly upstairs to bed. I lay awake a long time, heard father and mother go to their chamber, then Mary and Sophy to theirs. At last I wondered what had become of Jamie.
I pushed aside the window-curtain and looked out. T was bright moonlight. I •aw Jamie coming over the hill from Mr. Nathaniel's. He came in softly. I pretended sleep. He was still so long that I looked up to see what he could be doing. He was leaning his elbow on the desk, looking straight at the floor, thinking.
All that night I lay awake, staring at .the moonlight on the curtains. I was again on the old track, for I could not possibly imagine what he should have to say to Margaret at that hour.
Towards morning I fell asleep, and never woke till the people were getting ready for meeting. I hurried, for the instruments met before the rest to practise.
Nearly all the young folks sat in the' seats. Jamie stood at the head of the back row, on the men's side. His voice was worth all the rest. Margaret came in late. She looked like a beauty that day. Her place was at the head of the first row of girls. I, with my bass-viol, was behind all.
The minister read the hymn beginning with this verse, —
'. VTe are a garden walled around,
While he was reading it, I saw her write a little note, and band it across the alley to Jamie. He smiled, and wrote another back. After meeting, they had a talk. These things sound small enough
now. But now I am neither young, nor in love, nor jealous.
That night was our last at home. After supper, I strolled off' towards the meeting-house. 'T was about sundown. I walked awhile in the graveyard, and then followed the path into the wood at the back of it.
I see that I have been telling my story in a way to favor myself,—that even now I am unwilling wholly to expose my folly. I could not, if I tried, tell how that night in the wood I was beset at once by jealousy, pride, love, and anger, and so wellnigh driven mad.
I passed from the wood to the open field, and reached the shore. The vessel lay at the wharf. I climbed the rigging, and watched the moon rising over the water. It must have been near midnight when I reached home.
The vessel sailed early in the morning. I did not see Margaret, — never bid her good-bye. After we were under way, and were out of the windings of the channel, Jamie came and leaned with me against the rail. And there in silence we stood until the homes of those we loved so well had faded from our sight.
Poor Jamie V I knew afterwards how troubled he was at the way I treated him that summer. He wanted to be friend- ly, but I stood off. He wanted to speak of the folks at home, but I would never join him. At last he left off trying.
If he had not met with an accident, maybe I should never have spoken another kind word to him. It happened towards the end of the voyage. The schooner had wet her salt, and all hands were thinking of home. I was down in the cabin. I was marking a piece of meat to boil, — for then each fisherman carried his own provisions. All at once I heard something fall upon the deck. Then a great trampling. I hurried up, and saw them lifting up Jamie. He had fallen from the rigging. It was old and rotten. They carried him down, and laid him in his berth. He would n't have known, if they had dropped him into the sea.
When I saw him stretched out there, every unkind feeling left me. My old love for him came back. All I could think of was what he said in our first talk, — " Then I wanted my mother." None of us could say whether he would live or die. We feared for his head, because he took no notice, but seemed inclined to sleep. I wanted to do everything for him myself. I had borne him ill-will, but now my strong feelings all set towards him.
It was in the middle of the night that he first came to himself. 'T was a blowy night, and most of the crew were on deck. A couple of men were sleeping in their berths.
The cabin of a fishing-schooner is a dark, stifled place, with everything crowded into it. The berths were like a double row of shelves along the sides. In one of these, with his face not far from the beams overhead, was stretched my poor, ill-treated Jamie. I was so afraid he would die! I had no pride then.
Ou this night I stood holding by the side of his berth, to steady myself. I turned away a moment to snuff the candle, and when I stepped back he looked up in my face and smiled. I could n't help throwing my arms around his neck and kissing him. I never kissed a man before,— nor since.
"Joseph has come back," said he, with a smile.
I thought he was wandering, and made no answer. After that he frequently roused from his stupor and seemed inclined to talk.
One stormy night, when all hands were upon deck, he seemed like himself, only very sad, and began of his own accord to talk of what was always in my mind. He spoke low, being weak.
"Joseph," said he, " there is one question I want to ask you."
"Hush!" said I,— " you must n't talk, you must be quiet." For I dreaded his coming to the point .
"I can't be quiet," said he, "and I must talk. You 've something against me. What is it?"
I made no answer.
"But I know," he continued. "I have known all along. You 've heard something about my old life. You think Mary is too good for me. And she is. But she is willing to take me just as I am. I 'm not what I was. She has changed me. She will keep me from harm."
"Jamie," said I, "I don't know what you mean. I 've heard nothing. I 'm willing you should have Mary, — want you to."
He looked perplexed.
"Then what is it?" he asked.
I turned my head away, hardly knowing how to begin. At last I said, —
"I was n't sure, Jamie, that you wanted Mary. You know there was some one else you were often with."
He lay for some time without speaking. At last he said, slowly,— " I see,— I see, —I see,"—three times. Then, turning his eyes away from me, he kept on, — "What should you think, Joseph, if I were to tell you that I had seen Margaret before she came to your place?"
"Seen Margaret?" I repeated.
"Yes," he replied;" and I will tell you where. You see, when I found mother was dead, and nobody cared whether I went up or down in the world, that I turned downwards. I got with a bad ,set,—learned to drink and gamble. One night, in the streets of Boston, I got into a quarrel with a young man, a stranger. We were both drunk. I don't remember doing it, but they told me afterwards that I stabbed him. This sobered us both. He was laid on a bed in an upper room in the Lamb Tavern. I was awfully frightened, thinking he would die. That was about two months before I shipped aboard the Eliza Ann.
"After his wound was dressed, he begged me to go for his sister, and gave me the street and number. His name was Arthur Holden. His sister was your Margaret . Our acquaintance began at his bedside. We took turns in the care of him.
"They were a family well off in the world, with nothing to .trouble them but his wickedness. He would not be respectable, would go with bad company.
"After he was well enough to be taken home, l never saw Margaret until that morning after the snow-storm. I was very eager to go for her, for I felt aure, from what Mr. Nathaniel had said during the night, that she was the same.
"Riding along, she told me all about Arthur's course, and the grief he had caused them ever since. It had made her mother ill. He was roaming about the country, always in trouble, and it was on his account that she stayed behind, when her father and mother went South. She said he must have some one to befriend him in case of need.
"And here," continued he, "was where 1 took a wrong step. I begged Margaret not to speak of our former acquaintance. I could not bear to have you all know. I was afraid Mary would despise me, she was so pure.
"Margaret was willing to keep silence about it, for she would rather not have the people know of her brother. He would have been the talk of the neighborhood. Everybody would have been pitying her. She used to like to speak of him to me, because I was the only one who knew the circumstances.
"But don't thiuk," he continued, earnestly, "that I would have married Mary and never told her. We had a long, beautiful talk the last evening. I had never before spoken quite freely of my feelings, though she must have seen what they were. But that night I told everything,— my past life, and all . And she forgave all, because she loved me.
"I meant to tell you as soon as we were off; but you turned the cold shoulder,— you would not talk about home."
Here he stopped. I hoped he would say no more, for every word he spoke made me feel ashamed. But he went on.
"The day before we agreed to go this voyage, Margaret told me that Arthur was concealed somewhere in the neighborhood. She did n't know what he had
done, but only that he was running away from an officer. I found him out, and went every night to carry him something to eat."
"Why did n't she tell me?" I exclaimed. "I would have done the same."
"She would, perhaps," said he, "only that for some time you had acted so strangely. She never said a word, but I knew it troubled her. If I had only known of your feeling so, 1 would have told everything. But I thought yon must see how much I cared for Mary. Everybody else was sure who Margaret loved, if you were not.
"Oh, Joseph," he continued, clasping my hand, "how beautiful it will be, when we get home, now that everything is cleared up! But I have n't quite finished. Sunday, if you remember, Margtret came in late to meeting. While the hymn was being read, she wrote me on a slip of paper that Arthur was gone. I wrote her back, ' Good news.' Afterwards she told me that he came in the night to her bedroom-window to bid her good-bye, — that he had promised her he certainly would do better. Margaret was in better spirits that day than I had seen her for a long while. I thought there had been an explanation between you two. Never fear, Joseph, but that she loves you."
Jamie seemed tired after talking so much, and soon after fell asleep. I crept into the berth underneath him. I felt like creeping somewhere. Sleep was long coming, and no sooner was I unconscious of things about me than I began to dream bad dreams. I thought I was stumbling along in the dark. 'T was over graves. I fell over a heap of earth, and heard the stones drop down into one newly made. As I was trying to walk away, Margaret came to meet me. "You did n't bid me good-bye," said she, smiling; "but it's not too late now." Then she held out her hand. I took it, but the touch waked me. 'T was just like a dead hand.
I kept sleeping and waking; and every time 1 slept, the same dream came to me,