Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/The iceberg - Part 2
BY A. STEWART HARRISON.
(Concluded from p. 414.)
“I don’t know how it was, but I never could feel to dislike him—not when I knew all about it; and I don’t believe, now, he meant to act the villain, and leave her. As he said, if it hadn’t been for the drink, he might have been alive and happy now. It’s a bad thing for a man not to be able to regulate his drink; causes him lots of misfortunes. Chaps like him ought to leave it off altogether; still it’s a hard thing to see fellows jolly, and not join; makes a fellow feel like a wet blanket to his mates—they’re so jolly and merry, and he drinking his lemonade or water. It’s rather hard, I should think.
“The boy, he kept on saying, ‘A sail! A sail!’ He was gone cranky, you see—didn’t know where he was, and weak as an infant—couldn’t eat: so I was obliged to boil the seal-beef and give him the gravy by spoonfuls. Just like a child he was, and, when he hadn’t got the spoon to his lips, kept saying, ‘A sail! A sail!’ as if he hadn’t said it five hundred times before.
“It was hard work, for I was getting weak, and so sore round the waist, ankles, and neck, I could hardly bear to move; and you see I couldn’t let Sands lie there right in the boy’s sight, so I took him round to the other side. It took me about three hours to get him there. I might have thrown him off altogether, but I didn’t want any suspicion of foul-play, and there might have been if he’d been missing when we were found.
“This I carried on for some five days or so,—eating and feeding the boy was all I could do.
“I let the lamps alone, for I was too bad to get to trim them, and lay all day in a sort of stupid fit, half-asleep—half not.
“It kept getting hotter over head all the time, and it was enough to frighten one to see how the ice melted, pouring down in streams like a waterfall all day and all night. I could almost tell the time of day by the sound of the falling water. Mid-day it was a regular roar, and then about three or four o’clock in the morning it was almost still. You could almost see it melt. Two or three days after this the boy still kept muttering, ‘A sail!—a sail!’ I began to get dizzy and queer like—couldn’t see now and then. I thought it would soon be all up with me.
“At last I seemed to grow blind—couldn’t open my eyes nor move at all. Still I could tell it was getting towards evening, for the sound of the fall was less; but I couldn’t move to give the boy anything nor to get anything myself; indeed I didn’t seem to care about it, nor about him neither, for that matter.
“I wasn’t in pain—rather the other; very pleasant sort of feeling, for I was lying on Sands’ coat and my own. Then I fell asleep.
“I don’t know any more till I came to, as the women call it.
“I was in a bunk of a small barque, I could tell that by the short pitch she made. Long ships always pitch slower. I heard somebody say: ‘He’s all right, doctor.’
“So I was in a little while—sat up and asked for food. Lord bless you, sir, how good it was; I never tasted anything half as sweet as that beef-tea the doctor gave me. Nice!—I can’t tell how nice it was. You see I’d been getting up an appetite for it. Whether I should like to go to the same school again to learn how nice beef-tea could be, I don’t know—rather think not.
“In a few days I was well—rather thin and pale, I think, to what I am now—and then I asked them how they found me.
“‘Mate’ll tell you,’ says the Captain, ‘give you his log, you can copy it if you like.’
“I did, and here it is, a fair copy—it looks nice, you see, by the side of these others, cause they were written when the paper was soaked with water and my fingers were numbed with cold, and written with pencil, too. This I wrote in the Captain’s cabin with a pen. I kept it in the same book, tho’ the paper was bad, so as to have it altogether.
“I took the book, and with Mr. Stevens’ permission, copied the log again:
“Barque Esmeralda, June 21st.—Wind S.W.S.,—rather heavy; got sun long. 42° 10′ lat. 44°, 15′. Wind steady—twelve o’clock—sighted a sail three points starboard-bow—couldn’t see name—carpenter finished new spanker-boom—opened hatches, took up 3 casks beef and 1 bottle porter. About two o’clock sighted an iceberg right a-head—passenger wanted to see it nearer—Captain ordered to steer accordingly. About four could make out shape. Mr. Burton said he could see two black and white birds on it with the glass—was quite sure; half-past four saw that they were a man and a boy—lowered quarter-boat starboard, and went to fetch them off; they lay on a shelf about six feet out of the water—some difficulty to get at them—sent up three men and lowered them into the boat. They seemed dead—went round and found another man—lowered him into the boat—took off three seal-skulls with black wicks in them; been used as lamps; clothing, and also three guns. Brought all aboard. Doctor said one man—the one found alone—was quite dead; the others not dead. Had baths in the Captain’s cabin. Boy came to and said, ‘A sail! a sail!’ and kept on saying it: the man seemed nearly dead. After four hours—about half-past eight—he came to, and said, ‘Where’s the boy?’ Told him he was all right—Took in stun-sails—Wind shifted two points—Iceberg hull down at ten—lost sight of it at twelve.
“June 22nd.—Wind S.S.W.—Heavy rain—man better—boy still keeps saying, ‘A sail! a sail!’ Doctor says he’s quite mad—man not allowed to talk—buried the dead man—marks on clothing, ‘J. Sands;’ clothing good, but much worn and sodden.
“‘Esther’ marked on the arm in blue points with red capitals. Two flags and a half moon under, with a part of a head on it—may be the picture of half a coin of some kind—no other marks on the body. Doctor read prayers.
“Wind shifted, and blew rather heavy from S.W. Took in the main royal.
“June 23rd. Man better; boy still muttering when not being fed; can’t eat yet; man got up at four o’clock and came on deck; said his name was Stevens; that they got on the berg in May from the Belle of Aberdeen. Out twenty-nine days when he went off. We found him next day, the 30th out we expect. Doctor says another day would have killed them both. The man, Sands, died the 24th day out, at night.
“‘There, that’s the log,’ said Ben, ‘and now I can tell you the rest, for I was well on the fourth day; though not strong—could walk about the deck. The doctor gave me some ointment for my throat and waist, and I was all right in about a week.
“The boy, too, got better, and left off muttering. Doctor read to him, made him work about the ship, and tried all sorts of ways to make him think of something else.
“In another fortnight I said good-bye to the Esmeralda’s people, and started for the north in a steamer, taking the boy with me.
“We saw the owner, and found that the Captain of the Belle of Aberdeen had written home, and that they’d given us up for lost. Sleepy Sam reached the ship the day after he left us.
“The owner was so pleased with me that he gave me 500l. for taking care of his son. I said I’d only done my duty, but he would have me take it, so at last I did.
“‘And,’ says he, ‘Ben, my boy’ (they always call us boys), ‘Ben, my boy,’ says he, ‘if ever you want a friend, you know where to come for one. I should have been a broken-hearted man, Ben, if it hadn’t been for you taking care of him. God bless you, Ben. But you must come and see his mother before you go.’
“Well, I went up to the house, and saw a fine, handsomely-dressed old lady. You see they weren’t likely to have any more, and that made them all the fonder of the boy.
“‘Mr. Stevens, my dear,’ says he to her.
“You’d hardly think it, but it’s as true as I stand here—the old lady went down on her knees to me and kissed my hand, and cried fit to break her heart.
“‘God bless you, Mr. Stevens,’ says she, ‘God bless you, for your kindness to my poor boy. I’ll never forget you. You must take this to think of me sometimes. I shall always pray for you.’
“It was a ring. That’s it,” said Ben, showing me a solid-looking gold ring with a large diamond in it.
“Well, I took it, for I was getting quite uncomfortable at her taking on so; but, Lord bless you, it seemed to do her good to have her cry out, and the owner, he looked on and wiped his eyes now and then. Last of all, I was obliged to say I’d only done my duty by the boy. But she wouldn’t listen, but kept saying, ‘God bless you,’ and crying over my hand, and then she seemed to go off faint, so I got away then. Of course, as soon as I could, I came home.
“I found mother all right. ‘How’s Esther?’ says I, as jaunty as if I didn’t care a button about her. Mother looked pretty hard at me.
“‘Oh, she’s well enough.’
“‘Fitzjames come back?’ says I.
“‘No, he’ll never come back—a villain!’ says mother. She was always down on him when she had a chance. Of course I knew he’d never come back better than she did.
“I went to see Esther next day. She shook hands and kissed me, said I looked ill, then says, ‘Have you got anything to tell me?’ I don’t know how it was she asked this—sort of what you call presentiment, or instinct, same as dogs have. Lord, sir, a woman or a dog can always tell what you mean before you speak—in things about the feelings. Some children, too, have this kind of thing very strong. Perhaps, after all, I looked as if I knew something.
“‘Have you seen him?’—‘him,’ you know, as if there wasn’t other hims—and asking me, too, just as if I cared as much about it as she did; but Lord, sir, they don’t think anybody’s a right to think of anybody but their ‘him.’
“‘Yes,’ says I, ‘I have seen him, Esther.’
“‘Where is he? Take me to him!’ She looked at me a minute. ‘No, Ben,’ says she, ‘he’s dead! I know he is! I see he is! Oh, my God! my own Fitzjames is dead!’ And she gripped my hand so hard, and sank back in the chair, and shut her eyes.
“After a little she says, ‘Ben, tell me all about it. Poor fellow! dead!’
“I told her as much as I could about it; and then I told her about the sixpence.
“‘Give it me,’ she said, ‘give it me, Ben. It’s the last thing I gave him before—give it me.’
“I gave it her, and she kissed it quite solemn like, just as tho’ it had been his dead forehead.
“Then I told her what he said about his not meaning to leave her.
“‘Did he say that?’
“‘He did Esther—he swore it; and I believe it.’
“She looked hard at me for a little, and then said,
“‘Thank you, Ben, for that; I’m so glad you believe it. I knew he didn’t mean to leave me;’ and she got up and called her father, and says,
“‘Father, he didn’t mean to leave me. Ask Ben here; he said so with his dying breath. He swore it, Ben, didn’t he? and Ben believes it himself, don’t you, Ben? Tell father, do.’
“I told the old man.
“‘Ah,’ says he, ‘poor fellow! Dead too! He’s rightly punished.’
“‘But,’ says she, ‘he told Ben he didn’t mean to wrong me—he did;’ and she seemed as if she was quite glad. ‘I knew he never did.’
“‘Don’t see,’ said the father, ‘it makes much difference whether he did or not. He did it, and you’ve lost your good name,—and ours too, for that matter, Esther.’
“‘I know it, I know it; but still he told Ben that he didn’t mean to leave me. God bless him!’ And she fell to kissing the bit of sixpence like mad.
“I saw she was going off into hysterics, so I called her mother, and left; for it’s no use a man’s fussing about at them times; you can’t do any good, and get in the way a good deal.
“Next day she came down to mother’s.
“‘Ben,’ says she, ‘here’s the pound I owe you; it’s the first I’ve saved out of the shirts. The curate’s been very good to me, and so has his wife. She always shakes hands with me; and one day I was crying when she came, for baby was so ill, and she kissed me, Ben, on the forehead, and said, “Poor child.” I feel just like as if she was my mother, Ben, she’s been so good to me.’
“I took the pound, and gave her the paper, and I didn’t see any more of her for some week or so.
“One day I had a letter from the owner’s wife, asking me if she could do anything for Sands’ relations; for the boy, you see, had told her about Sands. So I went down to Esther, and showed her the letter, and asked her what I should say.
“‘Did the young gentleman see much of him, Ben?’
“‘Of course,’ says I, ‘was there all the time—took his turn of lighting the lamps when Sands was bad.’
“‘Was “Sands” his real name, not Fitzjames?’
“‘I should like, Ben, to go and live with the lady, so as to be near this young gentleman who’s seen so much of him.’
“You see, she might have lived with me, only I couldn’t say that, and she didn’t seem to think of it.
“‘I don’t know that she’d like that, either. If you’d been his wife, you see, it would have been different.’
“‘But he did mean that I should be, didn’t he, Ben?’
“‘That’s true, but then you’re not; but still, I’ll write and ask her.’
“‘And you’ll try and get me to go, Ben?’
“‘Esther,’ says I, ‘I’d lay down my life to serve you any time, and I promised Sands I’d do anything I could for you, with this hand in both his.’
“She took my hand into both hers, and kissed it hard, but I could see it was ’cause it had touched his. She’d ’a kissed anything that had touched him, she would; and though she was kissing my hand I couldn’t have told her I loved her then, anyhow. I should have choked if I’d tried.
“Well, I wrote and told the lady all about it, and she sent for her and the baby, and called her ‘Mrs. Sands.’
“Esther wouldn’t give me back the letter with that in it, though it was written for me; but I didn’t care so long as she was happy.
“I took her down there, and all the way down, she did nothing but cry and talk about Sands. I took her to the owner’s house, and she saw the lady and the boy, and I left her there, and went another voyage—not north though, you may guess, I’d had enough of ice for some time. I had money enough to stop ashore, but I never felt quite easy about it, so I settled some of the money upon mother, and the rest upon Esther, without her knowing it, and went off.
“I got a letter from—the owner’s son—I suppose I ought to call him now, instead of ‘the boy,’ seeing he was quite the gentleman in the counting-house now.
“It’s here in the pocket of this book.”
He took the letter, old, creased, and yellow, from the pocket, handed it me, and with his leave I copied it afterwards. It ran thus:
Glasgow, —— Street, Aug.—, 18—.
Dr. Ben,—I told you I’d write soon, so I’m now going to fulfil my promise. I’m in the counting-house,—got the drudgery to go through. Governor says that no boy’s fit for anything as a clerk until he’s done the lowest work of the office. You and he think alike: I recollect tarring down that back-stay by your orders now. I don’t get much pocket-money, still enough, you know, Ben; and Aunt Nelly has given me a couple of pistols. I can hit a card six times out of ten,—at twenty paces.
I haven’t got much more to say. My neck has got all right, except a scar, and there’s a scar on the left leg where I hit it that day I fell on the blocks.
That puts me in mind of Mrs. Sands. I say, Ben, was she Mrs. Sands, after all? You know what I mean. “The boy,” as you used to call me, is quite out of mother’s good books, and Mrs. Sands’, too, because he won’t tell for the ten thousandth time the story of being on the ice.
I’ve had to tell so many people, I’m sick of it, and mother wants me to tell it over and over again; and as for Mrs. Sands, she’s always bothering me to know how he died. I liked Sands well enough, you know, but I didn’t see him die, and was stupid after I saw the sail, so I could tell her very little. She’s marked in her prayer-book the prayer the doctor read over him when he was buried.
Everybody says you’re next door to a fool for going to sea again, but I suppose you know best. Mrs. Sands is, after all, a nice woman, and mother takes to her uncommonly,—treats her more like a daughter than a servant, and she’s more like one, too. I know many girls that aint half as ladylike as she is, spite of their silks. I’ve got my clothes under her, and I haven’t had a button off for weeks. I used always to go about with a bit of string or cotton somewhere for a button. I say, Ben, if you were to stick up to her, she’d have you, I know. I saw her cry over your last letter, in her room.
“I’d mentioned Sands in it,” said Ben, by way of explanation.
She’s only a widow, after all, and any one might be proud of that young Sands, he’s such a jolly little chap—strong as possible—we’re quite friends. He seems to like me, and Mrs. Sands is never happier than when I’m nursing him. She says I’ve been near him, and he would have nursed him. She means Sands.
Good bye, old fellow. Thanks for feeding me with a bone spoon. Mother keeps it in her pocket, I think. If you want a friend, Ben, or money, or anything, you know where to find your own boy. He aint a boy now, though.
“I had one or two more letters that voyage, but nothing in them that’s about my story. He used to write about himself; boys mostly do I think. Sometimes he mentioned Esther—not often much about her, just said she was well, sent her love, or something of that kind.
“I was gone about a twelvemonth; and, of course, when I got back I went to see them at Glasgow.
“The owner’s wife, she shook my hand, and Esther kissed me as cool as could be, just as if I’d been her brother, while I could have held her, and never let her go, if I’d not been careful of myself. She was going away from there to take care of the old people at home, so we went together; and all the time she talked of Sands, till I was nigh sick of it; still I didn’t show it, because I liked to hear her talk; she’d got a pleasant way with her that made you feel happy, no matter what she said, and you never would have made her see that Sands wasn’t the pleasantest subject to talk to me about.
“We got home—I lived with mother, and she with the old folks. I got a berth at a shipyard, as foreman rigger, and I didn’t care to go to sea again.
“I went to see her every day and nursed the youngster, he soon got to know me, and called me ‘Pa.’ She didn’t mind a bit,—rather liked it, I think.
“One day, after I’d been at home about six months, mother says to me.
“‘Ben, you might as well go and ask Esther to live with you, you spend so much of your time there, that people talk about it.’
“‘I wish to God,’ says I—quite red, I know I was—‘that people would mind their own concerns.’
“‘Ah, well!’ says she, ‘they won’t, and never will.’
“That evening I went down to Esther, and I said to her:—
“‘Esther, I can’t live like this much longer—Esther, I’m getting ill, and the river looks too pleasant in the moonlight to make me feel safe. I shall do something desperate: I’m not quite my own master at times. Esther, I want you to be my wife.’
“‘I couldn’t make you happy if I was, Ben—I can never forget poor John.’
“‘Esther,’ says I, ‘if you’ll marry me I shall be happier than I am now. I want a companion, and I’m always up here after you and people talk about it—not men, you know,’ says I, ‘for I’d soon find a way to stop their mouths’”—(Ben’s clenched fist certainly looked at this moment a very effectual remedy for a fast tongue in an unwise head). “‘But it’s the women, Esther, and I can’t stop them saying what they like. They’re so kind always to one of their own sex, too, that’s had a misfortune.’
“‘So they talk, do they, Ben?’
“‘Yes, they do; and it’s better, unless I’m to go to sea, or away again, that we should be married.’
“‘Ben,’ says she, ‘it isn’t every man that would make that offer to a woman like me with no good name, and a baby.’
“‘I do though, Esther.’
“‘Well, then, Ben, I will be your wife. I can’t give you the same kind of love that poor John had, but I’ll do my duty to you as a good wife, and I’m sure you’ll be a father to my boy, Ben, dear.’
“She said this as calm as if I’d asked her to take a walk, or anything else as simple.
“I went down home, and told mother: she seemed glad of it: I suppose she saw it must be anyhow.
“Next night, as I was leaving, Esther put a letter in my hand, ‘Read that when you get home,’ says she; ‘it may alter your mind, Ben, about this.’
“I recollect well the feeling it gave me when I took it.
“When I got home I read it—there it is—leastways, that’s a copy of it.”
Dear Ben,—When I was at Manchester, when little Johnny was born, the doctor told me I should never be a mother again. I don’t understand these things, but that’s what he said. I couldn’t tell you this, because it’s not the sort of thing I could talk about to you; but I didn’t think it right to marry you without letting you know it.
Yours very affectionately,
“Now you know it was rather damping to me, ’cause I’m fond of children; it makes you feel good to have the little ones crawling about you, and going to sleep in your arms. Them French women wouldn’t be half as bad if they nursed their own babies, to my mind. But still I didn’t feel like giving it up, ’cause of that, but I thought it was what many women wouldn’t have done in her case, and I thought all the more of her for it.
“Well, we were married by the curate, and his wife came to the wedding and kissed her. There are some good Christian women in the world, and that grey-eyed wife of the curate was one.
“We took this little house near the old people, and there we lived as happy as could be. She did her duty if ever woman did. I never had to speak twice about anything—the moment I expressed a wish for anything, she seemed to do her best to get it for me. My way was always best, at least for her, she said; but I don’t know how it was, I wasn’t quite satisfied. Seemed as if there was something more wanted to make me quite happy. She did all I wanted, and yet, somehow, it wasn’t quite what I wanted. I’m sure she loved me, but not, as she told me at first, with the same love she had felt for Sands.
“We used to talk about him, and it made me nigh mad at times to see her eyes sparkle and her face glow when I praised him. She was always more fond of me after I’d been talking of Sands.
“She couldn’t see a fault in him. I’ve heard a good deal in my time about first love and second love, and that sort of thing, but my opinion is this, that a woman can only love once with that kind of love that sees no faults—that kind of love that takes up all his opinions, his views—so that if you know his you know hers.
“Well, if they do get married in this state of mind, they don’t wake out of it for a long time—mostly they don’t, for that kind of love isn’t found much after twenty; it’s like a fever, they have it, and they’re safe then. Other things weigh with them—a man’s position, his means, and so on. They get more set then, criticise (don’t you call it?) a man, know his faults, admit them to others, but then they do their duty almost better in one case than the other; still a man feels somehow which kind of love he’s got, and he’s never quite satisfied without the first kind—at least I think so. I remember one night, about three months after we were married, I’d been talking of Sands a good deal to somebody who’d been to supper with us, and she was quite alive I could see—made me describe him, and listened as though she’d never heard it all before. We locked up the house and went to bed—that room, right over your head, was our bed-room—she fell asleep almost directly with one hand under my neck, and her face to me. I was awake, for, you see, I’d been talking and got excited a little. It was a moonlight night, and the light came in between the blind, and the side of the window right on her face.
“I was looking at her, as I said, half on my back, and half on my side—presently she put her other hand to my face, and stroked it as tender as if I’d been a baby, and murmured ‘John, dear John,’ and then drew my face to hers, and kissed me. She was dead asleep, too,—but, by G—d, sir, it was a thing I shall never forget! How I felt then! It was an awful thing to hear her say ‘John, dearest John,’ and my name Ben. She was dreaming of him, and he was dead, but I didn’t get over that for some time. Next morning, she told me she’d been dreaming of him, and that she had kissed him. I didn’t tell her I knew it before, though, for she was always as kind as could be to me when awake; still, you know, it goes to prove that she hadn’t the kind of love for me that I wanted, and I couldn’t make her feel any different if I spoke ever so much, so I never told her.
“After this, it happened once or twice; but I used to wake her up by touching her, or some way or another. I couldn’t bear it, you see. By G—d, I couldn’t, sir! You fancy your wife whispering, ‘John, dearest John,’ and your name Ben all the while.
“So we lived on for about ten years; she’s been dead fifteen years come next Michaelmas; 23rd September she died, in that room where I sleep now. I don’t know what she died of; but she kept getting paler and thinner, and more dreamy in the day-time, for years; then took to her bed, and was there nigh upon six months. Just before she died she made me tell her all about how Sands died, and what he said; and she took the two bits of the sixpence in her right hand, and shut it fast, and told me she’d like to be buried with ’em there.
“‘There’s one thing,’ she says, ‘I should like, too, Ben dear, if you don’t mind; you won’t be angry with me.’ ‘Angry with her,’ and she lay dying. I told her I’d do anything that she asked me.
“‘Can’t you put poor John’s name on the tombstone, Ben?’
“‘I don’t know how, Esther; it ain’t as if you’d been his wife.’
“I didn’t mean this unkind, and she knew it, for we always talked that way about it.
“‘But he meant to make me his wife, didn’t he, Ben?’
“‘He did, Esther, I’m sure.’
“‘Can’t you say that, then, on it?’
“‘I don’t see how. I’ll speak to the curate about it, so as to make it look proper.
“‘Thank you, Ben. You’ve been a good husband to me, Ben, better than I deserved; but I didn’t deceive you, did I, Ben? I told you at first I couldn’t feel for you like I did for poor John, didn’t I, Ben?’
“‘You did, Esther, and I know it, and I have felt it; but you’ve been a good wife to me, you’ve done your duty to me, and thank you for it.’ You see I never could say much, if I felt ever so.
“The curate’s wife came in just then, and Esther’s eyes looked bright; that little grey-eyed woman made everybody look better for being with her.
“‘Esther, can I do anything for you?’
“‘My boy will want a mother; be one to him, will you?’
“‘That I will, Esther;’ and she came round to the bedside, and kissed her.
“‘Ben, take my hand, and hold it in yours, dear.’
“I took her hand, and held it till she died. Just before she died, she said,
“‘God bless you, Ben. I’m sorry to leave you, dear, but I’m going to him. I’ll tell him you kept your promise. Be as kind to his boy as you’ve been to me, Ben. God bless you.’
“She never spoke again, but lay quite still for an hour or more with her eyes shut, and I only knew she was dead when her hand felt cold.
“‘Come, Ben,’ says the curate’s wife, ‘you mustn’t stay here now, it will do you no good. Come, Ben.’
“She took my hand, and I took hers, and she led me downstairs to this room, and put me in the chair you’re sitting in. She gave her orders to the servant about getting somebody to come. I couldn’t let go her hand, it seemed to keep me alive; and she let it stay there. I seemed to fancy that Esther was not dead when I held that hand. I don’t know how long she stayed. Esther died at eight; and they told me afterwards that the curate had been, and seen me holding his wife’s hand, and left her there till I fell asleep, about two o’clock; so that six mortal hours did she sit beside me. It was the kindest thing I ever knew even a woman do. Some people might think it foolish. I think it saved me my reason, for I felt as if I was out of my mind when I found Esther’s hand get cold.
“I went to the funeral, and we had a stone put up; and you can see it in the churchyard there. We had put on it,
“‘Sacred to the memory of Esther, the intended wife of John Sands, and wife of Benjamin Stevens.’
“It would make no difference to her whether I put it on or not, but I always keep my word, you know; can’t feel it right to break it to any but mad people, when you’ve made them a promise to keep them quiet. I don’t know that it’s right even then.”
“And the son?”
“O, he’s captain of the ‘Clara,’ now gone to Melbourne. He was away when she died. He didn’t want to go to sea; but, as I told him, his mother’s story would be sure to leak out, and he’d find ashore that he’d have hard lines on account of it; so he went to sea, and he’s been captain this last three years, and a thoro’ good seaman too.”
“I see you don’t wear your wife’s wedding-ring.”
“No; I couldn’t get it over any of my fingers, it’s so small; but it’s not colder now than it was when she had it on her finger.”
“Well, Ben, yours is a strange story.”
“Perhaps it is; but there’s many a stranger stowed away in some men’s hearts; aye, and many a log that, overhauled, would make men stare a little.”
“Perhaps you’ll let me look at what you call your ‘land-logs’ some day.”
“O, yes. It’s no use living if you don’t do some good; and perhaps somebody might be happier for knowing what Ben Stevens had seen in his sixty years’ voyage.”
I went through the churchyard home, and looked at the tombstone, and felt a respect for the old sailor who goes about with his wife’s wedding-ring on his heart—not the less either because his fingers had been made too large by toil for the ring to fit them. I began to think it possible that a hard hand and a soft heart may exist together. I feel satisfied that they are united in my friend Ben Stevens.