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White as a white sail on a dusky sea,
Is Hope's last gleam in man's extremity. The Island. The night was black and tempestuous. The winter wind roamed in all its fury over land and sea ; now roaring like a mad beast ; now whistling and shrieking, as it rushed along over hilltop, headland, and vale ; now tilting with the withered shrub; now wrestiing with the sturdy oak; bowing, like green rushes, the giant limbs of the forest, and leveling, at one fell swoop, the high and the low.
The sea, as well as the land, felt the fury of the wind on that bitter night. From far away over leagues and leagues of ocean it hastened ; summoning with its clarion peal, the reluctant waters to a heavy conflict ; struggling in savage might, with many a gallant bark, and, with long and piercing shriek, burying, in the unfathomed tomb of ocean, the vestiges of that which once had proudly swept, a monarch, over its waters.
In the city the hum of busy life was hushed. The deserted streets were free to the career of the storm which, without scruple, was thundering admittance at the barred casements of the rich and the defenseless tenements of the poor. Within, around its cheerful firesides, were many anxious thoughts of the mariner who, in his misfortune, was doomed to buffet the anger of the wintry gale. Without, the flickering street lamps burnt an uncertain flame; the shivering watchman nestled in his cover; and anon, some late goer hurried homeward, stoutly breasting the driving snow that, sent forth upon the chill breath of the gale, was burying land and sea in a mantle of storms. VOL XIV.
Upon the steps of a large granate edifice, in the commercial vicinity of the city, stood a young man buttoning tight his heavy coat in preparation to sally forth into the storm.
Bowing his head to the wind he hastened up the street, occasionally muttering thoughts that seemed to prey upon his mind, and lengthen his rapid steps as he turned corner after corner, and threaded street after street, wending his way to that part of the city called the South Cove.
The deep-toned notes of the old South rolled forth the hour of ten, as the young man turned down a narrow lane, and passing through a court yard, entered a neat two story dwelling standing at its head.
“Oh, George! I am so glad you have come !”—was the greeting which met the young man as he entered the little parlor of his home. • Do you bring any news of the ship ? You have been gone so long that I thought you surely had heard of her.”
“ No, mother, there are no news of the ship, yet. A brig came up, this afternoon, that spoke her yesterday in the Bay; and so I waited a long time at the Exchange, to see if any more report of her would be given. But there is none yet.”
" Do you think the ship is near ?"
“ Yes, mother, she must be near; and I am afraid she is on the coast, to-night !”
There was something in the tone of his response that alarmed the mother.
“ Oh-no !_not on the coast to-night! Poor husband! God grant it may not be! He would be lost-surely, he would be lost-it is such a dreadful night, and you know how often he has told us of the dangers of a Northeast storm in the Bay !"
“ The ship may not be on the coast. Perhaps she stood off to sea again, before the storm came on; and”
“But,” interrupted the mother, “ what do the newsmen say ? Don't they think it a terrible night, and don't they think it impossible for a ship to out-ride such a storm in the Bay, and so dark and cold ?"
“Oh, they don't know, mother. But, hark! What was that !-and that!-a gun?-did you hear it ?"
“I hear it-I hear it—it is a gun! A ship in distress! Oh, Heaven grant it may not be my husband; so near his home and in distress! Oh, no!-no!--no !"—and overcome by her emotion, she sank back in her chair, exhausted.
“But, dear mother, do not be distressed,” said the young man, as if to soothe her extreme emotion. "I do not think it could be father. How could we hear a gun from his ship, so far ?"--and then, as if in doubt, he added, “ But the wind blows right this way, and we might hear a gun, to-night, several miles.”
Again, while he was yet speaking, came to their ears the same solitary report, even above the howling of the elements. It aroused the mother. “ That gun!- Did I hear it ?-Oh, it is agony !-Poor hus, band !-Heaven succor whoever struggles for life to-night!"
No more was spoken. The young man, drawing his chair nearer to his mother, supported her agitated frame,
· They sat in solemn and unbroken silence. There was a meaning in that distress gun. Its sullen report, booming from far distance, through darkness and tempest, told the peril of some noble ship; and to whom more distinctly than to those whose hearts were on the ocean, with the mariner in the storm.
The furniture of the little parlor, wherein they sat, was, by no means, sumptuous ; but plain and comely, and arranged with that taste which bespoke frugality and care in her who presided over the domesuic concerns of the house. In the middle of the room stood a covered table, over-scattered with books, and a bright astral burnt sociably upon it. A glass ship, brought from France, was sheltered by a transparent case upon the mantel-piece, where, also, were arranged a few sea-shells, and rare marine curiosities. A wood fire was crackling in the chimney place, and its cheersul glow lighted the sad features of mother and son, as they sat revolving in silence the occurrences of the past hour.
The mother was fair in feature Her countenance spoke of much kind feeling and womanly worth ; but there lurked the melancholy shade of anxious thought; and here and there, a sportive wrinkle told that care had not been a stranger to her path.
While young, she had been left an orphan ; and at an early age was wedded to Henry L~ , who, in childhood her first playmate, had possessed such sympathies as to endear him early to her heart. He, from his younger days, had followed the seas ; first, from inclination, excited by alluring dreams of its romance, and its wild free life ; but eventually compelled, by circumstances, to adhere to it as a profession.
Enterprising, ardent and skillful, he soon arose from subordination to command ; and now, at thirty-five, had been for ten years master of an Indiaman. This was to be his last voyage, for he was intending, at its termination, to give up his ship, and spend his remaining days in the quiet of his own family, whom the sweat of his brow had thus far supported, and for whom it had accumulated a little income for the future.
The youth who was sitting beside his mother, was hardly fifteen. Yet his frank and manly countenance, the firm and decided curve of his lip, the quick and searching expression of his eye, told that his short life had been marked with the responsibility and charge becoming one of older years. And so it had been. For, during the long absences of his father, it had been his duty and care to attend to the wants, and protect the affairs of his mother, with a younger brother and sister; a task as dear to his generous heart as to that of a father him
It was now a long time that the mother and son had been sitting in silence. Moments were flying unconsciously to each. The church clocks of the city struck-Eleven-Twelve. The boy, turning to his mother, aroused her from her reverie.
“ Mother, I would not sit up longer. It is late, and you need sleep, for you are weary and sick by watching; and father cannot come to. night, even if his ship should be near."
“No, George, he will not come to-night, if ever he comes! But that gún! oh, I know it came from his ship!-Poor man ! no one near to aid him/here, by his own fireside, I hear his cry for help! and yet no help!-oh, Heaven aid him !-aid him !”-and again she sank back exhausted upon the arm of her son.
“But no, mother, that gun may not come from father's ship; so, do cheer up. At all events, we cannot know to-night, and you will be very sick if you watch longer.”
"Well, if it is not he, it is some poor sufferer who has a family as dear as his own. We will pray our Heavenly Father to answer that distress gun; then we will leave all with Him."
Their white tops, flashing through the night,
A wild and shifting light.
Lighten the ship!—The devil rode that blast!"
Towards the close of the same day upon which our tale opens, a stately ship, under a heavy press of canvas, was standing into Boston Bay. As she neared the land, she continued to crowd on sail, apparently eager to make a harbor, ere the storm, which had long been brewing in the Northeast, should break forth. · The inauspicious appearances seaward, had not been unnoticed by those on board the ship. Carefully had they watched the weather, which, thick and murky, was setiling down into hard and frowning masses upon the Eastern board, gradually rendering the outlines of the horizon obscure, save where the comb that whitened continually around, betokening the coming gale, lit up the crests of the billows, for an instant, with its frosty glare. The barometer and storm glass had been often consulted ; and each varying degree was warning the homeward-bound navigator to hasten to some sheltered anchorage, nor hazard a struggle with a Northeaster in the Bay.
The ship was an Indiaman. Her long and tapering spars, the genteel cut of her jib, the neatness of her trim, and the symmetry of her rig, all advantageously displayed as she yielded to the freshening breeze, showed that he who trod her quarter deck was master of his profession.
The ship had been a long line at sea. For months the Ocean's sun had arisen, and gone down upon her homeward path. She had come a dangerous and devious course ; now grappling with the fierce typhoons of the Indian seas ; now nodding defiance to ihe frowning icebergs of the Cape ; now sleeping upon the waters of the burning Line ; now toying with the light airs of the Tropics ; ploughing the boisterous billows of the Atlantic; and now, seeming to scent the fresh breezes of her native land, she was urging her wings in eager haste for homo.
Darkness began to settle upon the surface of the sea, and the long impending gale began to pipe from out the Northeast, driving before it squalls of sleet and snow; yel the ship stood to her course, momentarily expecting to get a glimpse of the Light House, or a pilot into some sheltered anchorage.
Night and storm had fallen heavily upon the Ocean; the gale was increasing in wildness and fury ; but the ship, under continually shortened sail, still pressed on, as if confident in the direct course she was pursuing; and heeded little the threatening aspect of the waters, that were now upraising themselves, far and near, in “ seas of fluctuating fire."
“Do you make nothing out ahead ?”—anxiously inquired the mas. ter, as one of the look-ouis descended from the sore topsail yard, where he had been long endeavoring to penetrate the dense darkness into which the ship was driving.
"Nothing at all, sir !—it's thicker than mustard ahead!” A shadow of disappointment crossed the features of the master.
“How does she go along, there ?” he cried, turning suddenly to the man at the wheel.
“West-no’-west b'no'th, sir !"
The master paused in thought. For a moment he was in doubt what to do.
“It will never do to stand on in this way,” he muttered, “and a fierce Northeaster roaring at our heels.”
" Call 'em up there to shorten sail !” he shouted to the officer of the deck. Then, pushing aside the companion hatch, he hastened below, while the hoarse shouts of “ Call the watch !"-" All hands, ahoy! shorten sail!”-echoing along the decks, told the prompt execution of his orders.
Spreading on the cabin table, a well-thumbed chart of the Bay, upon which fell the flickering rays of the lantern swinging overhead ; and without staying to remove his heavy storm clothing, wbich was copiously shedding big drops upon the sheet, ne carefully measured the space that the ship must have run towards the land, since the storm set in. Now he was anxiously calculating the remaining distance ahead, when there came from aloft, and was echoed at the companion hatch, the hoarse crv,
“ Light, ho !”
" On the weather bow ! did you say ?"--and he bent forward, eager to catch the reply of the seaman on the yard.
“ Aye, aye, sir!-on the weather bow!" was faintly returned through the gale.
“ Heavens, that will never do !" then above the full fury of the storm, he rang the loud cry,
“ Stand by to 'bout ship!"