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W. H. Macy

The Flag of our Union.
Vol. 24, No. 52 (Dec 25, 1869)
pp. 819-820

[Written for The Flag of our Union.]



      I had many a time wondered what there could have been in the past history of my watchmate, Robert Kendall, that had made him the strange being that he was. There were occasional gleams of sunshine which showed how genial a companion he could be; but he was, for the most part, morose and taciturn, going aside by himself even when the song, laugh and jest were at the highest. He would commune with himself for an hour together, "In Galilee," as Jack Sanford used to express it (meaning under the lee of the galley,) and, when spoken to, would start and give answers quite foreign to the purpose, as if be had been brooding upon some secret which gnawed at his heart. Still there was that about Kendall which attracted me, and made me hold him in high regard.

      He was eight-and-twenty by his own statement, which I had no reason to discredit, though he looked thirty-five, at least. He had seen much of the world, and was intelligent, and well-informed upon many subjects, as no one know so well as I; for he gave more of his confidence to me than to any other of his comrades. So far as his professional duty went, we had no better man in the Falmouth's forecastle – or cabin, either.

      We were running through the Gilbert group of islands, and orders having been given to double the lookout on the bow, it fell to Kendall and myself to pass two hours together, somewhat isolated from the rest of the watch. He was more than usually cheerful the first half hour of our vigil, and while he attended to his duty, kept up a running fire of remarks upon various subjects. But a sudden and astonishing change came over the whole man at a remark of mine, which was made without the least thought of probing his heart or conscience.

      I had been reading "Eugene Aram" during my watch below, and full of thoughts naturally suggested by its perusal, I asked Kendall if he remembered the circumstances of the tale.

      "Remember? Yes!" be exclaimed, fiercely. "The whole story is burnt into my memory in letters of fire." Then, as if fearful that his emotion had been observed by his shipmates, he cast a glance aft, and lowering his voice, "You mustn't mind my giving way to my feelings at times, when this chord is struck. I suppose you have wondered many times at what you considered strange conduct on my part; but – if you knew all, your wonder would only be that I bear up so well as I do."

      "I have, indeed, thought much upon this subject, and could attribute your actions only to remorse for some act in your past life. It is friendly interest, rather than curiosity, that prompts me to ask what the act may have been. Perhaps it may not be as bad as you think, and I may be of service to you. At all events, be it what it may, your confidence shall not be abused, if you should see fit to share the secret with me."

      He covered his face with his hands, without reply, and for some minutes I did lookout duty for both, without interrupting his thoughts. When he raised his head again, be seemed to have made his mind up to trust me, and spoke clearly and firmly, save a slight quiver of emotion.

      "You expressed a hope just now, that the matter which preys upon my mind day and night might not be so serious as I suppose it. There is little room for such a hope. The case is bad enough, as you shall have an opportunity to judge for yourself; for I am going to give you the whole story now without reservation."

      It is five years, now, since I was shipped as second mate of the barque Kathleen, bound to Cape Town. I had worked my way thus far in one employ, had made two voyages in the same vessel, and had the promise of a mate's berth on the next voyage.

      I had formed an attachment for a country girl, who lived with her parents in one of the little suburban towns, a few miles from Boston. I am not going to attempt a description of Jennie Leavitt. It is enough to say that she was, at that time, the embodiment of perfection in my eyes; for I believed her as true as she was fair.

      We were not formally engaged to each other when I came up to the city to join the Kathleen. The most that I had been able to extort from Jennie, was a promise not to marry any one else for at least one year. As the voyage was not expected to occupy more than eight or nine months, I was obliged to be content with this.

      We hauled the barque off into the stream after I joined, and lay two or three days waiting for a mate. One had been shipped, but had changed his mind at the eleventh hour, and taken up with a better offer elsewhere. At last, the captain came off, accompanied by a young man named James Armstrong, whom he introduced as his first officer, and we set about lifting our anchor at once. I was slightly acquainted with Armstrong, who belonged in the little town where Jennie lived. But I knew not that he had any particular interest in, or acquaintance with, the girl. He was a smart, efficient young officer, and took charge of the duty with a firm hand.

      On the second day out, when we were in the Gulf Stream, I went below for some purpose in the dogwatch. Mr. Armstrong was overhauling his chest, and had a number of articles spread round in his little room and on the transoms. "See here! Mr. Kendall," said he, proudly, handing me an open miniature-case, "how do you like the looks of this girl?"

      I took the case carelessly, held it up to the light, and saw the well-known features of Jennie Leavitt! I controlled myself, and remarked, quietly:

      "A very pretty girl, I think. Is she any relation of yours?"

      "O no," he replied. "Not yet – though I hope she may be very near to me, in time."

      When did you see this young lady last?" I asked, with a seriousness that must have surprised my companion.

      "The night before we sailed. I passed the evening with her."

      "And she gave you this picture?"

      "Certainly. Why do you ask? Do you know the girl?"

      "Yes – no," said I, in confusion. "I thought I know her – but it seems I did not." And I hastened on deck, pushing the miniature hastily into the hands of its owner.

      I went about my duties like a person partially insane, giving contradictory and blundering orders to the men, in my preoccupation of mind. I had no miniature of Jennie Leavitt; all my eloquence had failed to get one from her. She had pleaded that, as there was no binding engagement between us, such a gift would be a little indelicate. And I had honored and loved her the more for this feeling. But she had given me distinctly to understand, over and again, that I alone possessed her heart. I had rested my hopes upon her truth, as upon a rock. Doubtless Armstrong was doing the same; for both of us, as I now believe, were bewitched, infatuated by a heartless coquette who never cared a ropeyarn for either.

      My feelings of indignation were not at all soothed by a remark of the mate when he relieved me at eight bells. He spoke with a good-natured laugh, but still with a taunting, boastful air.

      "Guess you tried to shine with Jennie, and didn't succeed – eh, Mr. Kendall?"

      I made him no reply, but went below and lay awake the whole four hours, thinking. Once or twice I thought I had made up my mind that she was unworthy and deceitful; and I would try to forget her. But it was very hard for me to take her down from the pedestal where I had placed her in my heart. There must be some mistake; something that would yet be explained.

      The matter was not referred to again between Mr. Armstrong and myself during the outward run. We conversed amicably upon all other subjects, and treated each other as brother officers should. We had a long passage to Cape Town; and, on our arrival found letters awaiting us which had come out by the English mail. I was a little surprised to see a superscription in Jennie's well-known hand, for she had expressed grave doubts as to the propriety of corresponding with me. But the mate received one from the same source.

      I was in doubt after having read mine, whether she were the most innocent, artless girl in the world, or the most artful. No lover, hopeful but unassured, could have asked more; while no affianced husband could have been satisfied with less.

      "How'll you swap letters?" said the mate, in a bantering way, making use of a very common joke among shipmates.

      "Even," I answered, offering mine.

      "No," said he, regarding his with a fond look.

      "Why not?" I asked, bitterly. "They are both from the same correspondent." And I held up the superscription to his astonished gaze.

      "Done!" said he, as if by a sudden impulse. We interchanged letters, and each read the other's from beginning to end. So far as their general style and meaning went, they might have been copies of a circular.

      Neither of us spoke for some minutes after we had finished reading. The mate was the first to break silence.

      "I may as well keep yours as my own," he said, dryly. "Or we'll toss a copper to see who shall have both. We're a couple or soft-headed marines, and I wonder how many more she has in tow."

      Had I been as easily cured of my infatuation as Armstrong, I should not have had the dreadful sequel to relate to you to-night. But, fool that I was, I was still held by a spell that I could not shake off. I sat for an hour, brooding over it; by which time my brother-officer had regained all his old cheerfulness.

      "Mr. Kendall," said he, "I propose that for the sake of old friendship, we club together and make her a present of a copying-press. If she has to issue a large edition of such precious epistles, it would be a great saving of labor." But I was not in a humor to laugh at his joke, and the subject was again dropped by tacit consent.

      The voyage was finished, and the Kathleen again lay at her pier in Boston when another letter was brought to me, post-marked that morning, after the barque was in sight below. It was very much like the one I had received at Cape Town. The writer was impatient to see me, and hoped I would be able to come out to her house that evening, as she was going away the next day on a visit to some relatives further "up country."

      The old witchery held full possession of me again; the more so, as I learned that there was no letter for Armstrong. I was, it seemed, the favored one; and doubtless all which seemed so strange would be explained to my satisfaction.

      I took the train that evening for her residence, resolving to have the explanation in full. But, if you have ever been as madly in love as I was, you will believe that I forgot all about it, as soon as I came within the influence of her fascinations. Never had Jennie Leavitt been so lovely as on that night. She held me, a willing captive, in her toils; and before we parted, she had given me a shy promise to be my wife – soon.

      She was going away next morning, for a week, she said. Secure, as I thought, in the possession of her undivided love, I returned to the city to settle up my voyage, and make preparations for our union. At the boarding-house, I found Mr. Armstrong with an open letter before him. It had reached him by the same train that bore me and my happiness.

      "I've heard from our little flirt," said he; "she wants to see me this evening."

      His words fell upon my ear like a thunderbolt. It could not be; there was some misunderstanding.

      "Do you mean – Jennie Leavitt?" I gasped.

      "Of course. Who else should I mean?"

      "And do you intend to meet her?"

      "Yes. Not that I care anything about her now; but it would be ungallant to refuse. And besides, I shall have a fair chance to speak my mind of her conduct. I expect I shall state the case like a boatswain's mate before I part company with her."

      "Where is she? In the city?" I asked.

      "No; at her own house. Says she will meet me under the elm at the foot of the lane, where we sat the last night before the Kathleen sailed. Romantic, isn't it?"

      I had no feeling towards my promised wife from that moment, but one of stern, unrelenting hatred. I brooded upon it until I was no longer an accountable being. There was just method enough in my madness to make it more dangerous; with no reason sufficient to act as a restraining force. I went to the depot with Armstrong, to see him off, as he thought; but after saying good-by to him, I stepped from his car into another, and was borne away on the same train.

      I easily dodged him when we arrived at our destination, and took my way directly to the vicinity of the appointed trysting-place. It was early evening when I arrived, and the young moon, low in the heavens, dimly illuminated the trunk of the old tree, and the sward around it. I had learned from Armstrong that he intended to go first to his own parents' house before he met Jennie. I meant, therefore, if she was early at the rendezvous, to have the first meeting with her. I had no idea, now, of remonstrating or asking explanations; revenge for her duplicity was the sole thought that possessed my whole being.

      I had provided myself with a heavy sapling, and trimmed it to fit my grasp – I shudder whenever I think that I could have deliberately prepared and used that murderous weapon – and upon a woman, too! But I was mad, to all intents and purposes.

      All the powers of temptation had conspired to urge me on; for the girl was already on the spot, to keep her appointment. I saw the white dress flutter from behind the tree; the ends of the jaunty hat-ribbons, that I so well knew, were but signals of her falsehood to inflame my hatred. I stole nearer and nearer; she did not hear my stealthy steps. My club was raised in air, and still she gave no sign of any knowledge of my presence. Blinded by frenzy, I threw all my strength into a crushing blow. I heard it descend with terrific force upon the beautiful head; and, without cry or struggle, she fell lifeless at the foot of the elm. To the blindness of revenge succeeded that of terror and remorse; I throw away my sapling, and fled out into the highway with the speed of a deer!

      Here my shipmate paused, overcome by his emotions. I made no comments upon his story; for what could I say? He recovered himself after a minute or two, and went on.

      I came into the city on foot, travelling all night, for I dared not take the cars. I took the earliest train for New Bedford, and arrived just in time to ship in the Ionia, which was lying at anchor down the bay, waiting for men. Before another sun set, I was on the broad Atlantic.

      I left the ship at one of the Society Islands, and joining another, I have cruised ever since in this ocean, never daring to double Cape Horn. But no intervening continents or seas can shut out that girl in white, lying lifeless under the elm, felled by my murderous arm. Sleeping or waking, still it pursues and haunts me. I have sought risk and danger with the recklessness of a desperate man; but have not the courage to end my life by my own direct act.

      I tried to say what I could in the way of consolation to my companion; but this was not much, at best. He had never heard anything further about the matter; had left the country before the news of the murder had spread, and had never since seen any newspapers of that date. Nor had be ever heard from Armstrong, whom he supposed, if alive, to be still voyaging somewhere, in the merchant service.

      I thought it somewhat strange that I had never heard of the affair, having been at home at the time of which he spoke. A homicide of so strange a character, and such startling circumstances, must have excited much comment from the press throughout the State.

      I felt nearer than ever before to Kendall, after he had made me this revelation. I kept his confidence sacred, giving no hint to any third person of my knowledge of his heart-secret. I resolved, on my return home, to learn all that was to be known of the after-circumstances; and arranged with my friend to what places I should forward letters so as to reach him in the Pacific.

      At the end of long cruise in the Okhotsk Sea, we anchored at Honolulu, and while on shore, a boat came in from a large ship in the outer harbor, reported to be the Pathfinder from San Francisco, bound to China. A fine-looking man of thirty, evidently the captain of the ship, was seated in the stern of the boat. At the first view of this man, while yet at some distance, Kendall's attention became fixed upon him. As the boat drew nearer, he clutched my arm with the grip of a vice; his breath came hot and quick. "It's Armstrong!" he whispered, "but I dare not meet him!"

      "Go aside, and keep out of the way a few minutes," said I. "Let me manage the matter, and I'll find out the facts."

      I saluted the captain as he stepped from his boat to the pier. "Captain Armstrong?" I said, inquiringly.

      "Yes sir, that is my name. But you have the advantage of me."

      "I have often heard of you from a former shipmate, Robert Kendall. You recollect him, perhaps?"

      "Kendall? Of course I do. He was second mate with us in the Kathleen – and a fine young man he was, too. Is he here in this port?"

      "You know, sir," said I without directly answering his question, "that he was obliged to leave the country suddenly, in consequence of a suspicious affair in which a young lady was concerned."

      "I know that he disappeared from Boston very mysteriously; and I never knew where he shipped, though I meant to have had him to sail with me another voyage. Suspicions affair, you say? Young lady?"

      "A Miss – Leavitt, I think her name was."

      "I see!" said the captain, as if now light had suddenly broken upon him. "I want to know if has been making a castaway of himself on her account, It was Bob's weak point that he was entirely bewitched with that little jade. But where is the man? Or where did you see him last?"

      I answered his question by another.

      "Is Miss Leavitt living?"

      "Living? Yes. Miss Leavitt that was; she is Mrs. Webber now, and leads her fatherly old husband a perfect dog's life."

      "Here! Bob Kendall!" I shouted. "Come here and got the rest of this explanation yourself."

      He was met more than half way by Captain Armstrong with outstretched hand.

      "What are you doing here, Bob?" he demanded. "And why did you run away without a word to say where you were bound?"

      "Did I hear you say that Jennie Leavitt was still alive? That I had not – murdered her?"

      "Murdered her? Why, man what do you mean?"

      He looked a moment into the face distorted with emotion and full of anxiety, as Kendall awaited his answer. He seemed to revolve the whole thing in his mind, and as he comprehended all its details, he burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. I was obliged to join him from very sympathy; and even my shipmate's face shortened somewhat, before a word had been spoken.

      "Come!" said the captain, at last. "Come up to the 'National!' We must come to anchor, and pick this joke all to pieces to enjoy it as it deserves. It's the best thing I ever heard of! Don't worry about the girl, Bob; she bears a charmed life." And off he went again, at a tangent.

      "You never told me," said he, after we were comfortably seated at the table with a bottle between as, "that you had seen Jennie the evening before I got the note from her. It is hardly to be believed that a girl would act as she did; but women are strange enigmas. I don't know, though," he added, reflectively, "as they are any more so than some men. The little minx, it seems, had had her fun with you, and had prepared a trick for me, by making an appointment to meet me, and dressing up an effigy in her clothes to mount guard at the rendezvous under the tree. But it seems you got ahead of me, and had the pleasure of the first salute, while I thought you were miles away, in the city. Am I right?"

      Bob Kendall, I venture to say, enjoyed the first hearty laugh that had shaken him for year's, little better than I did. I hardly knew my shipmate, who had grown five years younger in as many minutes.

      "After I had been home and seen the old folks," continued the captain, "I walked leisurely down to the place where I was to meet her, thinking how I should open the campaign, for I was not at all spooney, as you were, and meant to make her ashamed of her double-dealing, if that were possible. As I approached the spot, you may well believe, I was horror-struck at seeing, as I thought, a female form in white, lifeless on the sward. With my heart in my mouth, I rushed to lift her up; and, of course, discovered the deception at the first touch. Of course you understand it was a lay figure dressed in Jennie's clothes. I can't say I felt much surprise at the discovery, for I was not unprepared for anything from such a mischievous minx; but I never thought but that the figure had fallen or been thrown down accidentally. I went straight to her house, and walked in upon her unawares."

      "She told me," interrupted Kendall, "that she should be a hundred miles away in the country."

      That's not strange. She wouldn't be likely to tell the truth, unless by mistake. She met me with a laugh; but I opened fire on her at once, without giving her a chance to bring any blandishments to bear. I painted her conduct in its true colors; and when I bade her good-night, she flared up and said she didn't want anything of me but a little amusement, for she could marry Bob Kendall at any moment, If she chose, though she hadn't fully made up her mind yet whether she wanted him or not. She told me herself that you had seen her the night before.

      "When I got back to Boston I could find no trace of you, and have never been able to, from that day to this. I made another voyage in the Kathleen, and then came out to California, My second mate is sick and wants to be discharged here, and I came ashore now to see about supplying his place. So if you will go with me to Hong Kong in the Pathfinder, the berth is open for you."

      "Of course I will, if I can get my discharge from the Falmouth; and I think that can be easily managed. And so Jennie Leavitt is married, you say?"

      "Yes; and is as much of a coquette as ever. She was married about a year ago to a man with some property, old enough to be her father. But you needn't envy him his happiness, Bob, I assure you."

      I parted company with Kendall the next day, on board the Pathfinder; but we have often met since, and our friendship has never waned. He now commands his own ship, and is united to a woman worthy of him. But he often laughs at the mad infatuation of his youth which led him to commit the Bloodless Murder.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: A Bloodless Murder.
Publication: The Flag of our Union.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 24, No. 52 (Dec 25, 1869)
Pages: 819-820