By Shore and Sedge

A Ship of ’49


Bret Harte

WITH AN exclamation and a hurried glance around him, De Ferrières threw himself before the intruder. But slowly lifting his large hand, and placing it on his lodger’s breast, he quietly overbore the sick man’s feeble resistance with an impact of power that seemed almost as moral as it was physical. He did not appear to take any notice of the room or its miserable surroundings; indeed, scarcely of the occupant. Still pushing him, with abstracted eyes and immobile face, to the chair that Rosey had just quitted, he made him sit down, and then took up his own position on the pile of cushions opposite. His usually underdone complexion was of watery blueness; but his dull, abstracted glance appeared to exercise a certain dumb, narcotic fascination on his lodger.

“I mout,” said Nott, slowly, “hev laid ye out here on sight, without enny warnin’, or dropped ye in yer tracks in Montgomery Street, wherever there was room to work a six-shooter in comf’ably? Johnson, of Petaluny—him, ye know, ez hed a game eye—fetched Flynn comin’ outer meetin’ one Sunday, and it was only on account of his wife, and she a second-hand one, so to speak. There was Walker, of Contra Costa, plugged that young Sacramento chap, whose name I disremember, full o’ holes jest ez he was sayin’ ‘Good-by’ to his darter. I mout hev done all this if it had settled things to please me. For while you and Flynn and that Sacramento chap ez all about the same sort o’ men, Rosey’s a different kind from their sort o’ women.”

“Mademoiselle is an angel!” said De Ferrières, suddenly rising, with an excess of extravagance. “A saint! Look! I cram the lie, ha! down his throat who challenges it.”

“Ef by mam’selle ye mean my Rosey,” said Nott, quietly laying his powerful hands on De Ferrières’ shoulders, and slowly pinning him down again upon his chair, “ye’re about right, though she ain’t mam’selle yet. Ez I was sayin’, I might hev killed you off-hand ef I hed thought it would hev been a good thing for Rosey.”

“For, her? Ah, well! Look, I am ready,” interrupted De Ferrières, again springing to his feet, and throwing open his coat with both hands. “See! here at my heart—fire!”

“Ez I was sayin’,” continued Nott, once more pressing the excited man down in his chair, “I might hev wiped ye out—and mebbee ye wouldn’t hev keered—or you might hev wiped me out, and I mout hev said. ‘Thank’ee,’ but I reckon this ain’t a case for what’s comfable for you and me. It’s what’s good for Rosey. And the thing to kalkilate is, what’s to be done.”

His small round eyes for the first time rested on De Ferrières’ face, and were quickly withdrawn. It was evident that this abstracted look, which had fascinated his lodger, was merely a resolute avoidance of De Ferrières’ glance, and it became apparent later that this avoidance was due to a ludicrous appreciation of De Ferrières’ attractions.

“And after we’ve done that we must kalkilate what Rosey is, and what Rosey wants. P’r’aps, ye allow, you know what Rosey is? P’r’aps you’ve seen her prance round in velvet bonnets and white satin slippers, and sich. P’r’aps you’ve seen her readin’ tracks and v’yages, without waitin’ to spell a word, or catch her breath. But that ain’t the Rosey ez I knows. It’s a little child ez uster crawl in and out the tail-board of a Mizzouri wagon on the alcali-pizoned plains, where there wasn’t another bit of God’s mercy on yearth to be seen for miles and miles. It’s a little gal as uster hunger and thirst ez quiet and mannerly ez she now eats and drinks in plenty; whose voice was ez steady with Injins yellin’ round yer nest in the leaves on Sweetwater ez in her purty cabin up yonder. That’s the gal ez I knows! That’s the Rosey ez my ole woman puts into my arms one night arter we left Laramie when the fever was high, and sez, ‘Abner,’ sez she, ‘the chariot is swingin’ low for me to-night, but thar ain’t room in it for her or you to git in or hitch on. Take her and rare her, so we kin all jine on the other shore,’ sez she. And I’d knowed the other shore wasn’t no Kaliforny. And that night, p’r’aps, the chariot swung lower than ever before, and my ole woman stepped into it, and left me and Rosey to creep on in the old wagon alone. It’s them kind o’ things,” added Mr. Nott thoughtfully, “that seem to pint to my killin’ you on sight ez the best thing to be done. And yet Rosey mightn’t like it.”

He had slipped one of his feet out of his huge carpet slippers, and, as he reached down to put it on again, he added calmly: “And ez to yer marrying her it ain’t to be done.”

The utterly bewildered expression which transfigured De Ferrières’ face at this announcement was unobserved by Nott’s averted eyes, nor did he perceive that his listener the next moment straightened his erect figure and adjusted his cravat.

“Ef Rosey,” he continued, “hez read in v’yages and tracks in Eyetalian and French countries of such chaps ez you and kalkilates you’re the right kind to tie to, mebbee it mout hev done if you’d been livin’ over thar in a pallis, but somehow it don’t jibe in over here and agree with a ship—and that ship lying comf’able ashore in San Francisco. You don’t seem to suit the climate, you see, and your general gait is likely to stampede the other cattle. Agin,” said Nott, with an ostentation of looking at his companion but really gazing on vacancy, “this fixed-up, antique style of yours goes better with them ivy-kivered ruins in Rome and Palmyry that Rosey’s mixed you up with, than it would yere. I ain’t sayin’,” he added as De Ferrières was about to speak, “I ain’t sayin’ ez that child ain’t smitten with ye. It ain’t no use to lie and say she don’t prefer you to her old father, or young chaps of her own age and kind. I’ve seed it afor now. I suspicioned it afor I seed her slip out o’ this place to-night. Thar! keep your hair on, such ez it is!” he added, as De Ferrières attempted a quick deprecatory gesture. “I ain’t askin’ yer how often she comes here, nor what she sez to you nor you to her. I ain’t asked her and I don’t ask you. I’ll allow ez you’ve settled all the preliminaries and bought her the ring and sich; I’m only askin’ you now, kalkilatin’ you’ve got all the keerds in your own hand, what you’ll take to step out and leave the board?”

The dazed look of De Ferrières might have forced itself even upon Nott’s one-idead fatuity, had it not been a part of that gentleman’s system delicately to look another way at that moment so as not to embarrass his adversary’s calculation. “Pardon,” stammered De Ferrières, “but I do not comprehend!” He raised his hand to his head. “I am not well—I am stupid. Ah, mon Dieu!”

“I ain’t sayin’,” added Nott more gently, “ez you don’t feel bad. It’s nat’ral. But it ain’t business. I’m asking you,” he continued, taking from his breast-pocket a large wallet, “how much you’ll take in cash now, and the rest next steamer day, to give up Rosey and leave the ship.”

De Ferrières staggered to his feet despite Nott’s restraining hand. “To leave Mademoiselle and leave the ship?” he said huskily, “is it not?”

“In course. Yer can leave things yer just ez you found ’em when you came, you know,” continued Nott, for the first time looking round the miserable apartment. “It’s a business job. I’ll take the bales back agin, and you kin reckon up what you’re out, countin’ Rosey and loss o’ time.”

“He wishes me to go—he has said,” repeated De Ferrières to himself thickly.

“Ef you mean me when you say him, and ez thar ain’t any other man around, I reckon you do—‘yes!’”

“And he asks me—he—this man of the feet and the daughter—asks me—De Ferrières—what I will take,” continued De Ferrières, buttoning his coat. “No! it is a dream!” He walked stiffly to the corner where his portmanteau lay, lifted it, and going to the outer door, a cut through the ship’s side that communicated with the alley, unlocked it and flung it open to the night. A thick mist like the breath of the ocean flowed into the room.

“You ask me what I shall take to go,” he said as he stood on the threshold. “I shall take what you cannot give, Monsieur, but what I would not keep if I stood here another moment. I take my Honor, Monsieur, and—I take my leave!”

For a moment his grotesque figure was outlined in the opening, and then disappeared as if he had dropped into an invisible ocean below. Stupefied and disconcerted a this complete success of his overtures, Abner Nott remained speechless, gazing at the vacant space until a cold influx of the mist recalled him. Then he rose and shuffled quickly to the door.

“Hi! Ferrers! Look yer—Say! Wot’s your hurry, pardner?”

But there was no response. The thick mist, which hid the surrounding objects, seemed to deaden all sound also. After a moment’s pause he closed the door, but did not lock it, and retreating to the center of the room remained blinking at the two candles and plucking some perplexing problem from his beard. Suddenly an idea seized him. Rosey! Where was she? Perhaps it had been a preconcerted plan, and she had fled with him. Putting out the lights he stumbled hurriedly through the passage to the gangway above. The cabin—door was open; there was the sound of voices—Renshaw’s and Rosey’s. Mr. Nott felt relieved but not unembarrassed. He would have avoided his daughter’s presence that evening. But even while making this resolution with characteristic infelicity he blundered into the room. Rosey looked up with a slight start; Renshaw’s animated face was changed to its former expression of inward discontent.

“You came in so like a ghost, father,” said Rosey with a slight peevishness that was new to her. “And I thought you were in town. Don’t go, Mr. Renshaw.”

But Mr. Renshaw intimated that he had already trespassed upon Miss Nott’s time, and that no doubt her father wanted to talk with her. To his surprise and annoyance, however, Mr. Nott insisted on accompanying him to his room, and without heeding Renshaw’s cold “Goodnight,” entered and closed the door behind him.

“P’raps,” said Mr. Nott with a troubled air, “you disremember that when you first kem here you asked me if you could hev that ’er loft that the Frenchman had downstairs.”

“No, I don’t remember it,” said Renshaw almost rudely. “But,” he added, after a pause, with the air of a man obliged to revive a stale and unpleasant memory, “if I did—what about it?”

“Nuthin’, only that you kin hev it to-morrow, ez that ’ere Frenchman is movin’ out,” responded Nott. “I thought you was sorter keen about it when you first kem.”

“Umph! we’ll talk about it to-morrow.” Something in the look of wearied perplexity with which Mr. Nott was beginning to regard his own mal à propos presence, arrested the young man’s attention. “What’s the reason you didn’t sell this old ship long ago, take a decent house in the town, and bring up your daughter like a lady?” he asked, with a sudden blunt good-humor. But even this implied blasphemy against the habitation he worshiped did not prevent Mr. Nott from his usual misconstruction of the question.

“I reckon, now, Rosey’s got high-flown ideas of livin’ in a castle with ruins, eh?” he said cunningly.

“Haven’t heard her say,” returned Renshaw abruptly. “Good-night.”

Firmly convinced that Rosey had been unable to conceal from Mr. Renshaw the influence of her dreams of a castellated future with De Ferrières, he regained the cabin. Satisfying himself that his daughter had retired, he sought his own couch. But not to sleep. The figure of De Ferrières, standing in the ship side and melting into the outer darkness, haunted him, and compelled him in dreams to rise and follow him through the alleys and byways of the crowded city. Again, it was a part of his morbid suspicion that he now invested the absent man with a potential significance and an unknown power.

What deep-laid plans might he not form to possess himself of Rosey, of which he, Abner Nott, would be ignorant? Unchecked by the restraint of a father’s roof, he would now give full license to his power. “Said he’d take his Honor with him,” muttered Abner to himself in the dim watches of the night; “lookin’ at that sayin’ in its right light, it looks bad.”

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