By Shore and Sedge

A Ship of ’49


Bret Harte

THE HEAVY tread of Abner Nott echoed in the passage. Confused and embarrassed, Renshaw remained standing at the door that had closed upon Rosey as her father entered the cabin. Providence, which always fostered Mr. Nott’s characteristic misconceptions, left that perspicacious parent but one interpretation of the situation. Rosey had evidently just informed Mr. Renshaw that she loved another!

“I was just saying good-by to Miss Nott,” said Renshaw, hastily regaining his composure with an effort. “I am going to Sacramento to-night, and will not return. I”—

“In course, in course,” interrupted Nott, soothingly; “that’s wot you say now, and that’s wot you allow to do. That’s wot they allus do.”

“I mean,” said Renshaw, reddening at what he conceived to be an allusion to the absconding propensities of Nott’s previous tenants,—“I mean that you shall keep the advance to cover any loss you might suffer through my giving up the rooms.”

“Certingly,” said Nott, laying his hand with a large sympathy on Renshaw’s shoulder; “but we’ll drop that just now. We won’t swap hosses in the middle of the river. We’ll square up accounts in your room,” he added, raising his voice that Rosey might overhear him, after a preliminary wink at the young man. “Yes, sir, we’ll just square up and settle in there. Come along, Mr. Renshaw.” Pushing him with paternal gentleness from the cabin, with his hand still upon his shoulder, he followed him into the passage. Half annoyed at his familiarity, yet not altogether displeased by this illustration of Rosey’s belief of his preference, Renshaw wonderingly accompanied him. Nott closed the door, and pushing the young man into a chair, deliberately seated himself at the table opposite. “It’s jist as well that Rosey reckons that you and me is settlin’ our accounts,” he began, cunningly, “and mebbee it’s just ez well ez she should reckon you’re goin’ away.”

“But I am going,” interrupted Renshaw, impatiently. “I leave to-night.”

“Surely, surely,” said Nott, gently, “that’s wot you kalkilate to do; that’s just nat’ral in a young feller. That’s about what I reckon I’d hev done to her mother if anythin’ like this hed ever cropped up, which it didn’t. Not but what Almiry Jane had young fellers enough round her, but, ’cept ole Judge Peter, ez was lamed in the War of 1812, there ain’t no similarity ez I kin see,” he added, musingly.

“I am afraid I can’t see any similarity either, Mr. Nott,” said Renshaw, struggling between a dawning sense of some impending absurdity and his growing passion for Rosey. “For Heaven’s sake, speak out if you’ve got anything to say.”

Mr. Nott leaned forward and placed his large hand on the young man’s shoulder. “That’s it. That’s what I sed to myself when I seed how things were pintin’. ‘Speak out,’ sez I, ‘Abner! Speak out if you’ve got anything to say. You kin trust this yer Mr. Renshaw. He ain’t the kind of man to creep into the bosom of a man’s ship for pupposes of his own. He ain’t a man that would hunt round until he discovered a poor man’s treasure, and then try to rob’”—

“Stop!” said Renshaw, with a set face and darkening eyes. “What treasure? what man are you speaking of?”

“Why Rosey and Mr. Ferrers,” returned Nott, simply.

Renshaw sank into his seat again. But the expression of relief which here passed swiftly over his face gave way to one of uneasy interest as Nott went on.

“P’r’aps it’s a little high-falutin’ talkin’ of Rosey ez a treasure. But, considerin’, Mr. Renshaw, ez she’s the only prop’ty I’ve kept by me for seventeen years ez hez paid interest and increased in valoo, it ain’t sayin’ too much to call her so. And ez Ferrers knows this, he oughter been content with gougin’ me in that horse-hair spec, without goin’ for Rosey. P’r’aps yer surprised at hearing me speak o’ my own flesh and blood ez if I was talkin’ hoss-trade, but you and me is bus’ness men, Mr. Renshaw, and we discusses ez such. We ain’t goin’ to slosh round and slop over in po’try and sentiment,” continued Nott, with a tremulous voice, and a hand that slightly shook on Renshaw’s shoulder. “We ain’t goin’ to git up and sing, ‘Thou ’st lamed to love another thou ’st broken every vow we’ve parted from each other and my bozom’s lonely now oh is it well to sever such hearts as ourn forever kin I forget thee never farewell farewell farewell.’ Ye never happen’d to hear Jim Baker sing that at the moosic hall on Dupont Street, Mr. Renshaw,” continued Mr. Nott, enthusiastically, when he had recovered from that complete absence of punctuation which alone suggested verse to his intellect. “He sorter struck water down here,” indicating his heart, “every time.”

“But what has Miss Nott to do with M. de Ferrières?” asked Renshaw, with a faint smile.

Mr. Nott regarded him with, dumb, round, astonished eyes. “Hezn’t she told yer?”

“Certainly not.”

“And she didn’t let on anythin’ about him?” he continued, feebly.

“She said she’d like to know where”—He stopped, with the reflection that he was betraying her confidences.

A dim foreboding of some new form of deceit, to which even the man before him was a consenting party, almost paralyzed Nott’s faculties. “Then she didn’t tell yer that she and Ferrers was sparkin’ and keepin’ kimpany together; that she and him was engaged, and was kalkilatin’ to run away to furrin parts; that she cottoned to him more than to the ship or her father?”

“She certainly did not, and I shouldn’t believe it,” said Renshaw, quickly.

Nott smiled. He was amused; he astutely recognized the usual trustfulness of love and youth. There was clearly no deceit here! Renshaw’s attentive eyes saw the smile, and his brow darkened.

“I like to hear yer say that, Mr. Renshaw,” said Nott, “and it’s no more than Rosey deserves, ez it’s suthing onnat’ral and spell-like that’s come over her through Ferrers. It ain’t my Rosey. But it’s Gospel truth, whether she’s bewitched or not; whether it’s them damn fool stories she reads—and it’s like ez not he’s just the kind o’ snipe to write ’em hisself, and sorter advertise hisself, don’t yer see—she’s allus stuck up for him. They’ve had clandesent interviews, and when I taxed him with it he ez much ez allowed it was so, and reckoned he must leave, so ez he could run her off, you know—kinder stampede her with ‘honor.’ Them’s his very words.”

“But that is all past; he is gone, and Miss Nott does not even know where he is!” said Renshaw, with a laugh, which, however, concealed a vague uneasiness.

Mr. Nott rose and opened the door carefully. When he had satisfied himself that no one was listening, he came back and said in a whisper, “That’s a lie. Not ez Rosey means to lie, but it’s a trick he’s put upon that poor child. That man, Mr. Renshaw, hez been hangin’ round the Pontiac ever since. I’ve seed him twice with my own eyes pass the cabin windys. More than that, I’ve heard strange noises at night, and seen strange faces in the alley over yer. And only jist now ez I kem in I ketched sight of a furrin-lookin’ Chinee nigger slinking round the back door of what useter be Ferrers’ loft.”

“Did he look like a sailor?” asked Renshaw quickly, with a return of his former suspicion.

“Not more than I do,” said Nott, glancing complacently at his pea-jacket. “He had rings on his yeers like a wench.”

Mr. Renshaw started. But seeing Nott’s eyes fixed on him, he said lightly, “But what have these strange faces and this strange man—probably only a Lascar sailor out of a job—to do with Ferrières?”

“Friends o’ his—feller furrin citizens—spies on Rosey, don’t you see? But they can’t play the old man, Mr. Renshaw. I’ve told Rosey she must make a visit to the old Ranch. Once I’ve got her thar safe, I reckon I kin manage Mr. Ferrers and any number of Chinee niggers he kin bring along.”

Renshaw remained for a few moments lost in thought. Then rising suddenly, he grasped Mr. Nott’s hand with a frank smile but determined eyes. “I haven’t got the hang of this, Mr. Nott—the whole thing gets me! I only know that I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to Sacramento. I shall stay here, old man, until I see you safe through the business, or my name’s not Dick Renshaw. There’s my hand on it! Don’t say a word. Maybe it is no more than I ought to do—perhaps not half enough. Only remember, not a word of this to your daughter. She must believe that I leave to-night. And the sooner you get her out of this cursed ship the better.”

“Deacon Flint’s girls are goin’ up in to-night’s boat. I’ll send Rosey with them,” said Nott, with a cunning twinkle. Renshaw nodded. Nott seized his hand with a wink of unutterable significance.

Left to himself, Renshaw tried to review more calmly the circumstances in these strange revelations that had impelled him to change his resolution so suddenly. That the ship was under the surveillance of unknown parties, and that the description of them tallied with his own knowledge of a certain Lascar sailor, who was one of Sleight’s informants—seemed to be more than probable. That this seemed to point to Sleight’s disloyalty to himself while he was acting as his agent, or a double treachery on the part of Sleight’s informants, was in either case a reason and an excuse for his own interference. But the connection of the absurd Frenchman with the case, which at first seemed a characteristic imbecility of his landlord, bewildered him the more he thought of it. Rejecting any hypothesis of the girl’s affection for the antiquated figure whose sanity was a question of public criticism, he was forced to the equally alarming theory that Ferrières was cognizant of the treasure, and that his attentions to Rosey were to gain possession of it by marrying her. Might she not be dazzled by a picture of this wealth? Was it not possible that she was already in part possession of the secret, and her strange attraction to the ship, and what he had deemed her innocent craving for information concerning it, a consequence? Why had he not thought of this before? Perhaps she had detected his purpose from the first, and had deliberately checkmated him. The thought did not increase his complacency as Nott softly returned:

“It’s all right,” he began with a certain satisfaction in this rare opportunity for Machiavellian diplomacy, “it’s all fixed now. Rosey tumbled to it at once, partiklerly when I said you was bound to go. ‘But wot makes Mr. Renshaw go, father,’ sez she; ‘wot makes everybody run away from the ship?’ sez she, rather peart-like and sassy for her. ‘Mr. Renshaw hez contractin’ business,’ sez I; ‘got a big thing up in Sacramento that’ll make his fortun’,’sez I—for I wasn’t goin’ to give yer away, don’t ye see? ‘He had some business to talk to you about the ship,’ sez she, lookin’ at me under the corner of her pocket-handkerchief. ‘Lots o’ business,’ sez I. ‘Then I reckon he don’t care to hev me write to him,’ sez she. ‘Not a bit,’ sez I; ‘he wouldn’t answer ye if ye did. Ye’ll never hear from that chap agin.’”

“But what the devil”—interrupted the young man impetuously.

“Keep yer hair on!” remonstrated the old man with dark intelligence. “Ef you’d seen the way she flounced into her state-room!—she, Rosey, ez allus moves ez softly ez a spirit—you’d hev wished I’d hev unloaded a little more. No sir, gals is gals in some things all the time.”

Renshaw rose and paced the room rapidly. “Perhaps I’d better speak to her again before she goes,” he said, impulsively.

“P’r’aps you’d better not,” replied the imperturbable Nott.

Irritated as he was, Renshaw could not avoid the reflection that the old man was right. What, indeed, could he say to her with his present imperfect knowledge? How could she write to him if that knowledge was correct?

“Ef,” said Nott, kindly, with a laying on of large benedictory and paternal hands, “ef ye’re willin’ to see Rosey agin, without speakin? to her, I reckon I ken fix it for yer. I’m goin’ to take her down to the boat in half an hour. Ef yer should happen—mind, ef yer should happen to be down there, seein’ some friends off and sorter promenadin’ up and down the wharf like them high-toned chaps on Montgomery Street—ye might ketch her eye unconscious like. Or, ye might do this!” He rose after a moment’s cogitation and with a face of profound mystery opened the door and beckoned Renshaw to follow him. Leading the way cautiously, he brought the young man into an open unpartitioned recess beside her state-room. It seemed to be used as a store-room, and Renshaw’s eye was caught by a trunk the size and shape of the one that had provided Rosey with the materials of her masquerade. Pointing to it, Mr. Nott said in a grave whisper: “This yer trunk is the companion trunk to Rosey’s. She’s got the things them opery women wears; this yer contains the he things, the duds and fixins o’ the men o’ the same stripe.” Throwing it open he continued: “Now, Mr, Renshaw, gals is gals; it’s nat’ral they should be took by fancy dress and store clothes on young chaps as on theirselves. That man Ferrers hez got the dead wood on all of ye in this sort of thing, and hez been playing, so to speak, a lone hand all along. And ef thar’s anythin’ in thar,” he added, lifting part of a theatrical wardrobe, “that you think you’d fancy—anythin’ you’d like to put on when ye promenade the wharf down yonder—it’s yours. Don’t ye be bashful, but help yourself.”

It was fully a minute before Renshaw fairly grasped the old man’s meaning. But when he did—when the suggested spectacle of himself arrayed à la Ferrières, gravely promenading the wharf as a last gorgeous appeal to the affections of Rosey, rose before his fancy, he gave way to a fit of genuine laughter. The nervous tension of the past few hours relaxed; he laughed until the tears came into his eyes; he was still laughing when the door of the cabin suddenly opened and Rosey appeared cold and distant on the threshold.

“I—beg your pardon,” stammered Renshaw hastily. “I didn’t mean—to disturb you—I”—

Without looking at him Rosey turned to her father. “I am ready,” she said coldly, and closed the door again.

A glance of artful intelligence came into Nott’s eyes, which had remained blankly staring at Renshaw’s apparently causeless hilarity. Turning to him he winked solemnly. “That keerless kind o’ hoss-laff jist fetched her,” he whispered, and vanished before his chagrined companion could reply.

When Mr. Nott and his daughter departed, Renshaw was not in the ship, neither did he make a spectacular appearance on the wharf as Mr. Nott had fondly expected, nor did he turn up again until after nine o’clock, when he found the old man in the cabin awaiting his return with some agitation. “A minit ago,” he said, mysteriously closing the door behind Renshaw, “I heard a voice in the passage, and goin’ out, who should I see agin but that darned furrin nigger ez I told yer ’bout, kinder hidin’ in the dark, his eyes shinin’ like a catamount. I was jist reachin’ for my weppins when he riz up with a grin and handed me this yer letter. I told him I reckoned you’d gone to Sacramento, but he said he wez sure you was in your room, and to prove it I went thar. But when I kem back the d——d skunk had vamosed—got frightened I reckon—and wasn’t nowhar to be seen.”

Renshaw took the letter hastily. It contained only a line in Sleight’s hand. “If you change your mind, the bearer may be of service to you.”

He turned abruptly to Nott. “You say it was the same Lascar you saw before?”

“It was.”

“Then all I can say is, he is no agent of De Ferrières’,” said Renshaw, turning away with a disappointed air. Mr. Nott would have asked another question, but with an abrupt “Good-night” the young man entered his room, locked the door, and threw himself on his bed to reflect without interruption.

But if he was in no mood to stand Nott’s fatuous conjectures, he was less inclined to be satisfied with his own. Had he been again carried away through his impulses evoked by the caprices of a pretty coquette and the absurd theories of her half imbecile father? Had he broken faith with Sleight and remained in the ship for nothing, and would not his change of resolution appear to be the result of Sleight’s note? But why had the Lascar been haunting the ship before? In the midst of these conjectures he fell asleep.

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