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W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. XXXI, No. 3 (Mar 1870)
pp. 240-246.

240 Captain Darrell's Ward.

. . . .



      I am, in this instance, telling a story, not making one; in fact, I am trying to repeat one, as it was told to me. My townsman and neighbor, Captain Darrell, is now an elderly man, in comfortable circumstances, of the strictest integrity, and not at all given to romancing. The Jessie Cameron of the story, the happy matron who presides over his household – ask her, if you will, whether Priam's word is to be relied on.

      Thirty years ago, I was second mate of the Warsaw, lying in the port of Auckland, New Zealand. As we were bound on Japan the next season, touching at the Sandwich Islands, we received on board as passengers, a Scotchman, who had been for several years a resident of the colonies, and his only child, a little girl of twelve.

      David Cameron had recently lost his wife, who had long been in delicate health; and closing up all his affairs, determined upon a change of residence, with a view of pushing his fortunes elsewhere. He had been a seaman in his youth, and was, of course, able to adapt himself easily to such accommodations as we could offer him in a whaler. He was tenderly attached to his daughter, who soon became a favorite with every one on board.

      It needed not the assurance of the stricken widower to satisfy us that Jessie had been in the hands of an excellent mother. She was an interesting and intelligent child, and had made the most of her opportunities, in a situation where educational advantages were necessarily very limited.

      Thrown into daily contact with her, as I

Captain Darrell's Ward. 241

was, it was not strange that I found a strong attraction drawing me to her. She was a study to me; for I could not help contrasting her, every hour in the day, with a little sister of mine, about the same age, whom I had left at home. It is true, Maria was a bright and pretty child, and so proud and fond of me, her sailor-brother! She believed that Priam Darrell was the incarnation of all that was grand and noble in manhood. But she had nothing of the quiet self-reliance to be observed in this child, who had been thrown so much upon her own resources. In book knowledge, as well as in the thousand little graces and arts acquired in society, she was, of course, the superior of Jessie Cameron; but in strength and force of character, she might well have been several years the younger.

      When near French Rock, we encountered a gale of wind, which exceeded in violence anything which I have ever experienced, before or since, in the Pacific. But our little passenger was quite at home on shipboard, and appeared to have little fear or uneasiness. She remained on deck nearly all the time, until the wind and sea increased to such a degree that her father was compelled, by fears for her safety, to order her to keep close in the cabin.

      The old Warsaw, owing to her stiffness, was a very ugly sea-boat in a gale. And on the second day of the blow, all her storm canvas having been torn from the bolt-ropes, she lay wallowing at the mercy of the elements. It was found quite impossible to bend and set any new sails, and our situation became really dangerous.

      We lay thus for several hours, occasionally shipping the top of a sea, but no material damage had been done. Towards night, we were favored with a lull, and advantage was taken of it to set a new mizzen-staysail, that we might have something to keep her head up to the sea.

      All hands were above deck at the time; and I myself was on the mizzen-stay, half way up the mainmast, doing the last work of bending the sail to its hanks. The halyards and sheet were strongly manned, and every one in readiness waiting for the word to "hoist away."

      I was just about to slide down from my perch, when a great wall of water came roaring down on us, and I knew, by the feel of the ship under me, that she would not rise clear of it. On it came. I clung involuntarily to the stay, hearing confused cries of "Hold on!" "Look out!" It met us with a shock that seemed to have driven in the whole broadside of our stout craft.

      It combed in nearly the whole length of the ship, fore and aft, giving no one time to escape, or to do anything but cling instinctively to the nearest support. All below me was a raging gulf of water, in which men and inanimate objects were promiscuously dashed about. I had enough to do to retain my hold where I was, looking down upon the dreadful sight. I felt that my fate would be decided in another minute or two. It must be the same as that of my shipmates, who were vainly stretching their hands towards me for succor, while here and there a cry rang in my ears, breaking the ceaseless roar of sea and wind. We were all to die together, unheard of; the simple record attached to our names, "Probably foundered at sea."

      But, shuddering in every timber of her ancient fabric, the Warsaw rose again triumphant from what seemed her death-struggle with the elements. Her bare deck came into view as she shook herself free of the burden; for nearly all the bulwarks were swept away on both sides, as well as everything of a movable nature. But not a human being was to be seen, as, still clinging in my elevated position, I looked about me. All had been swallowed up and gone to their final account.

      I had no time for sentiment; indeed I think the leading emotion in my mind was one of astonishment at feeling the ship still buoyant for I had had no idea that she could ever rise again. I slid down to the deck, and, watching my opportunity, darted below into the cabin. Everything was afloat there; for the companion-way had been dashed into splinters, and the sea had poured down in a cataract. I stood in the doorway leading into the after-cabin, drenched and shivering, looking up at the now open hatchway, and wondering how long it might be ere I should be engulfed; for the next sea that boarded us would, probably, fill and water-log the already shattered hull.

      "Where's father? " said a tremulous. little voice, behind me.

      Until then I had not thought of the child. I turned at the sound, and saw the bright head protruding from the narrow opening of a state-room door. The blue eyes were unnaturally expanded with wonder and anxiety; but there was none of the childish weakness

242 Captain Darrell's Ward.

of fear that might be looked for under the circumstances.

      "Mr. Darrell, where's father?" she repeated.

      How could I answer the question? Only by a sign to her to keep close within her room, as I moved forward out of her range of vision, that my telltale face might be hidden.

      Powerless, as regarded any effort I could make for safety against the storm, I awaited the moment when the ship should be engulfed, with little Jessie and myself. But, as if the demon of wrath had been satiated, she now appeared to make better weather of it than she had done for hours before. Hope again revived, and I hastened to explain our position to the orphaned girl.

      I knew not how to begin, rough seaman that I was, to break the sad intelligence to her. But I found it unnecessary to speak; she had already guessed the truth, in part, and a single look in my face was sufficient for her quick comprehension to take in the rest.

      After the first burst of grief, which I suffered her to indulge unchecked, she became calm, wonderfully so, and was prepared to look the matter squarely in the face with a coolness and resolution far beyond her years.

      "Do you think we shall be drowned, Mr. Darrell?" she asked.

      "No," I answered. "At least, I have strong hopes that we may be saved. I think the worst of the gale is over; and if we only don't happen to ship an unfortunate sea like that which –"

      "My dear father! He was all that I had!" she moaned; and once more her miraculous fortitude gave way, and she broke down again.

      The gale abated at midnight, and though the ship labored terribly in the tumbling swell, for want of canvas to steady her, we shipped no more heavy seas. I stayed near my young charge all through the night; for, of course, neither of us could sleep. I promised her that I would ever be as a father to her, and that, come what would, she should share my fortunes, and be to me as a sacred legacy.

      Of course, no such idea as marriage with her had anything to do with what I said or felt at that time. I was twenty-five years old, and Jennie a child. Besides, I was under promise of marriage to a young lady of suitable age. She jilted me for another, during my absence – but that has nothing to do with my story.

      With the morning light came the necessity for effort, and a sense of responsibility new and strange to me. I sounded the well, and found only two feet of water in the ship, this having worked down from above. I did not attempt, alone, to pump her out; but rejoiced in the assurance that I still had a tight craft under me; for, had she sunk, I should have had no dependence beyond such a raft as I could have extemporized. Every boat had been swept away.

      I loosed and let fall the foresail, and succeeded in setting it, with the child's assistance and the power of the windlass. The spanker I could easily manage with the brails; and these, with the lower staysails, were all the canvas that I intended to make use of. I could do nothing with the loftier sails without more help.

      The sun had come out brightly after the storm, and the aspect of the skies indicated a continuance of fine weather. I took observations, and shaped my course towards the Hervey Islands, hoping to make Mangea or Raratonga. I had a good general knowledge of navigation, though I had little practice, and was unused to anything like responsible control of that department.

      Of course, I was obliged to be at the helm most of the time. But I soon taught Jessie, so that she could steer well enough in fair weather, which gave me time to attend to many other matters. But as we could not steer all day and all night, the ship was necessarily left to her own guidance some part of the time.

      I soon discovered that my knowledge of navigation, though it might tell me where I was, would not enable me to go where I wished. The winds and currents headed me off, so that we were making a drift to the westward; and it was impossible to remedy this, unless the ship were manned so as to be well steered and enabled to carry all sail. Spite of all that the child and I could do, she must go nearly where the elements might carry her. We should be more likely to make land somewhere among the Tongas or Feejees than in the direction I had hoped at first.

      There was no fear of our running short of provisions or water, as we had more on board than we two could consume for years. The weather continued fine, and we were daily drifting into milder latitudes; but no sail

Captain Darrell's Ward. 243

could be seen. A dozen times every day I climbed to the masthead, in the vain hope of descrying a ship; and as often descended to cheer up my little shipmate with the hope of seeing one to-morrow. Thus week after week wore away monotonously, while Jessie and I were all the world to each other, and every hour served to fasten the tendrils more firmly about my heart, as she leaned in her childish dependence upon me. I thought how miserable I might have been if entirely alone in a similar situation; and in return, clung to her, and gave thanks as for a blessing, Heaven-sent, to become a part of my whole future life and being. I do not think I could have entertained the thought of parting with her.

      My observations satisfied me that we had passed beyond the latitude of the Tonga and Feejee groups without having seen them. This knowledge was rather a relief to me; for we should, most likely, have fallen into the power of savage cannibals, who would have shown us no mercy. We could hardly fare worse by drifting on towards the equator; while there was still the possibility of meeting a ship with civilized men on board.

      At length, on going aloft as usual, one beautiful morning, the horizon line along under our lee presented the irregular, broken appearance which I had often seen before, and knew so well. The bunches or tufts of cocoanut trees growing upon very low land were the first objects that came into view; so that, as we neared them, the slender stems seemed to be rooted in the ocean, and to shoot up directly from its watery bed.

      We were setting, by the force of a current, directly towards the island, and there was no possibility of propelling the ship away from it. But there was a chance that it might be uninhabited. If so, we could not land upon it, for we had no boat, and it was out of the question to think of managing a raft in the intricate channels of a coral reef.

      But we had been seen, as it appeared, even before we discovered the land. For within an hour, the triangular sails of half a dozen large canoes rose into view, coming rapidly up towards us. To escape with the ship was simply impossible. But it occurred to me that the savages could know nothing of our defenceless condition, though the appearance of the ship, under so little canvas in fine weather, must be strange and suspicious to them. They would not attempt any foul play with us, if they believed the vessel to be fully manned and armed. They had come off to drive a barter trade with the white men, as was their usual custom.

      I at once set to work, with the help of the child, who showed a ready comprehension of the situation, to manufacture a crew for the vessel. Seamen's clothes were abundant, and in a short time, every handspike was rigged up in a motley suit. These were all stuffed out into shape, and topped with hate or caps. I disposed them in the most natural positions about decks, in various parte of the ship, so as to give the whole the most lifelike appearance.

      I loaded all the firearms we had on board, which amounted to only three muskets; and then went aloft to loose the mainsail, which had never been set since the gale in which the crew were swept overboard. I had felt unable, alone, to control such an immense sheet of canvas. But I must have it ready for use now, in case I should want to give the vessel more headway.

      While on the mainyard, engaged in loosing it, a sail appeared in sight over the point of the island. Not a canoe – one could not be seen at that distance in range of the trees – but a ship! My heart leaped at the thought that help and deliverance were within a few miles of me.

      "Bring up the ensign from the cabin, Jessie!" I shouted, as I let fall the bunt of the mainsail, and hurried down on deck. I caught it from her eager little arms, bent it to the halyards, and ran it up – half-mast, as a signal of distress.

      I brailed the spanker, while the child put the helm up, and by the power of the foresail wore the ship round so as to be on the same tack with the strange vessel. I could not steer directly at her, without running the ship ashore; nor could she work to windward much against the force of the current. But my hope lay in her sending boats, as soon as those on board should see my flag of distress, and the strange trim of my sails.

      I managed to swing the headyards round, and set the foresail, after a fashion. But, meanwhile, the savages were fast closing with me, and I had not sufficient confidence in my sham seamen to believe that I could long deceive their sharp eyes. I might gain a little time; but the trick must be discovered, and I feared this would be before succor could reach me from the strange ship.

      I kept Jessie at the wheel, steering as much off the wind as I dared; but I was fearful of

244 Captain Darrell's Ward.

getting embayed, and not having room to clear the point. I let fall the mainsail, and gave it a kind of flying set, as well as I could. The ship felt this added power at once, and gathered headway, which I determined she should not lose; for if the barbarians once succeeded in getting on board, it would be too late for any attempt of boats to rescue us, even if we were not instantly put to death. It was no time, now, to think of the question whether I could ever get the sails in again. I must have the use of them now, at once; and I sprung aloft to loose the topsails.

      I had only time to do this and let go the gear, so that they filled and bagged out in mid air; for, of course, I could not hoist the yards up. The leading canoe was now drawing very near me; and the ugly-looking wretches stood staring in silent bewilderment, as the ship drove past them. I saw by their gestures as they pointed at the handspike men, that they were already suspicious; probably from having noticed that they did not move about. But they rested on their paddles to confer with the next comers, and I had thus gained so much time, while I was doing what I could to push the Warsaw ahead.

      I knew these people well enough to be sure that they would never attack, unless all the circumstances were overwhelmingly in their favor. They would move warily in reconnoitering; but, as soon as certain of the true state of things, they would make a dashing attempt to board the ship by force.

      I had thus shaken off the first canoes, and left them in the wake. A stern chase is proverbially a long one, though their canoes would sail much faster than the ship could, under her bags and festoons. But other pursuers were fore-reaching upon me, and fresh reinforcements putting out from the shore as we neared the land obliquely. None seemed to care to visit the other ship; but all were attracted by the manoeuvres of mine.

      A large canoe, which contained one whom I judged to be a leading chief, placed herself in my track. I was obliged, necessarily, to pass her so closely, that their suspicions, already aroused by telegraphic signals from their baffled comrades, were rendered certainty. Our real weakness was now understood, and almost instantly communicated through the whole flotilla. All those which had been left in the rear, gave chase under full power of sails and paddles; while five or six late arrivals, who had the advantage of position, disposed themselves for boarding the ship on both bows at once.

      There was no alternative for me but to stand boldly on my course; and I had time, before closing with the enemy, to run up in the main rigging, and cast an anxious glance towards the ship, which was hugging the wind under all sail, in the endeavor to come to my relief. Better than all, I could see that two boats had left her side, and were pulling towards me.

      But a crisis must come before they could arrive on the stage. I sprang on deck again, seized a boarding-knife, a terrible, two-edged weapon, which would be far more effective at close quarters than any firearms, and took my stand on the fore-hatches, where I could jump quickly to either side. The bulwarks, as before said, had been nearly all swept away by the sea that boarded us. But this circumstance was quite as much in my favor as in that of the assailants.

      I watched the approach of two canoes, which were nearly abreast the fore-chains, one each side. It seemed that they would both attack at the same instant. If so, I might be overwhelmed by one party boarding in my rear, while I was upsetting the other. I dropped the boarding-knife, and, seizing a musket, the only reliable one I had, I took a hasty aim at the man in the head of one of the canoes and fired. He dropped his paddle, struck, as I suppose, in the arm. I was safe on that side, at present, as the confusion and loss of headway would be sufficient to cause her to lose her chance of grasping the chain-plates.

      I rushed across the deck just in time to meet the other canoe as she fell alongside. One of my Quaker mariners with a hickory backbone stood conveniently near at hand. I lifted it and dashed it full upon the heads of the savages, felling two of them. They also lost their hold and drifted astern. But, by this time, a third and fourth were almost upon me. I was ready, with weapons on both sides; and, now that I was fairly in for it, felt far less anxiety than when the fight was only in anticipation.

      One of them made clumsy work of it, dashing her prow violently against the ship's side, and being thrown adrift on the rebound. But while I was observing this, the other, on the starboard side, had secured a firm hold, and two grinning warriors had made good their footing on the plankshear. A rush, with the thought that I was striking for my own life

Captain Darrell's Ward. 245

and the child's, a single sweep of the keen boarding-knife, and the two mangled barbarians fell backwards upon their comrades. I was clear of that crew, by a single cut dividing their warp of cocoanut cordage. I had received a wound in the side from a spear thrown at me – a ragged cut by a series of shark's teeth – but I hardly felt it then.

      Meanwhile, the brave little girl had stood at the helm, steering the ship as well as I could have done it myself, and carefully noting my orders, conveyed to her by a wave of my hand. There were still two more canoes ahead; but I led one of them into a trap by directing Jessie to make a broad yaw, and then suddenly bringing the ship back to her former course. Taken by surprise, he had no time to get clear from under our bows. The canoe was crushed and sunk instantly, though it was quite impossible to drown her amphibious navigators. Her consort kept out of reach, and fell in abeam of us at a safe distance, not daring to make an attack unsupported.

      I felt now comparatively safe; for, although all the canoes astern were steadily gaining upon us, they must approach at great disadvantage; and, besides, they had lost confidence and prestige; for, with savages, the first surprise is everything. I could now take my stand aft, near my little companion; and could use firearms with deliberation.

      But, while doing so, with deadly effect upon the man whom I supposed to be the high chief, as before mentioned, I was startled by a cry from Jessie; and turning, beheld the shocky head of a stalwart savage rising into view on the other quarter. He had poised his spear for the act of darting at me, when, quick as thought, the little girl, who had let go the helm, slung a small billet of wood directly in his face. He was thrown off bis balance and fell backwards, while the spear dropped harmlessly in on deck. I was on the spot before another man could climb up, and the danger was over. The breeze was freshening a little, and the two boats were now plainly in view and fast nearing us. I directed Jessie to keep a little more off, so as to head directly for them; for I had more sea-room now, and felt that I could afford to laugh at the whole bloodthirsty pack, who, now in full cry, were hovering in our wake.

      The warps of the two fully-manned whaleboats were skillfully thrown up to me, and with those twelve resolute seamen on her deck, the Warsaw might bid defiance to any number of piratical canoes. The topsails were hoisted at once, and everything trimmed. We closed rapidly with the other ship, and I soon had the pleasure of shaking by the hand my former shipmate, Baylies, now in command of the Calypso, and of presenting my heroic little lieutenant, Jessie.

      A gang of men were spared sufficient to work the Warsaw, and together the two ships bore away for Sydney. Here the damages were repaired, a crew shipped, and the consul put me in charge of her to take her home.

      The little Scotch girl, thus left upon the world, became a member of our family. My mother and Maria would have assented to any arrangement, if I had suggested it; but their whole hearts were enlisted in the orphan's welfare, when they learned the whole story of the adventure which she had shared with me. The small sum of money found among her father's effects, was carefully applied towards her clothing and education; and, bidding her a tender farewell, I left her, to follow up my profession.

      I made two long voyages after this, and at each return I found Jessie all that the fondest and most careful guardian could desire. In all respects she was equal, in some, superior to my sister; and, had they been twins, they could not have loved each other better.

      Jessie was twenty years old at the time I arrived home in command of the Greenwich. I know not at what particular time during that voyage I began to think it possible that she and I might love each other. I think this feeling came upon me very gradually. Perhaps it may have been something in the tone of her letters; for she always wrote to me, much as a sister might write to an elder brother; but her letters, on this voyage, were not quite as affectionate as at first. There was a little embarrassment in the manner and style.

      Yet this was but natural, when I reflected upon it. But it must have been this very change that put me in the way of reflecting. There was, after all, nothing very awkward or anomalous in our position towards each other. She was simply a member of our family; an adopted daughter, as it were, of my mother. But, wishing to support herself, she had found employment as a teacher, and insisted upon paying her board. This I had learned from the various letters received; and, of course, I admired her independent spirit.

      I kept pondering upon this matter until it formed the chief subject of my thoughts

246 Sweet Sleep.

through many a long night-watch. I did not know of any other woman whom I could love so well – I was only thirty-three, even though I had been a bearded second mate when she was a wee sprite of a child. After all, the disparity of age was not so very great, and, perhaps –

      But I could not bear the thought of having her marry me – as perhaps she might, if I asked her – from any feeling of gratitude or obligation. Though I am satisfied since that I wronged her, even in thinking that she might do so.

      She had developed into a beautiful woman when we next met. She was evidently as fond of me as ever, for the tears came into her eyes at sight of me. But she did not, of course, rush into my arms and kiss me with the old, childish abandon. All of which was natural enough, when I came to consider upon it.

      I took occasion, very soon after my arrival, to speak to my sister, alone, about Jessie. I think I asked if she had any suitor. And, perhaps, I was transparent enough to betray a little of the interest that I felt in Maria's answer. At any rate, she looked at me very roguishly.

      "No," said she, "none that I know of. I wish she might have – that is, an accepted or acceptable one. I didn't mean to say that no suitors had applied – only that she has none now."

      "Is she so hard to suit, then?" I asked.

      "Very," said Maria. "Yet I think I know a man whom she would not refuse."

      "Indeed! Who is the favored one?"

      "You are the last person who ought to ask that question. Go look in the glass," she added, as she rose to leave me.

      "But I am too old, Maria." This in spite of having long ago argued myself into the belief that I was not.

      "Too old to look in the glass, do you mean?" asked my sister, innocently. "She doesn't think so," mischievously, again.

      "Stay! " said I, detaining her, and becoming very imperative and serious all at once. "I am your brother, Maria. Do not jest or trifle with my feelings."

      "Not for worlds!" she returned, even more seriously than I myself had spoken. "Neither with yours, Priam, nor with hers, for is she not as my twin sister?"

      "But how do you know all this?"

      "O, the unreasonable inquisitiveness of man! To ask a woman how she knows, in a case like this! There, let me go, now. But, Priam," added the dear girl, turning back and striking a tragic attitude, "thou canst not say I did it!"

      Of course I couldn't; but I thought I might do it myself, on this hint. And I think I was hardly happier myself than were Maria and our mother, when they learned that Jessie and I were to sail the voyage of life together. She doesn't know, any better than I do on the other hand, at what particular time she found out that she loved her old guardian. But we both agree that it is of no great consequence.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Captain Darrell's Ward.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 31, No. 3 (Mar 1870)
Pages: 240-246