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W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. XLIII, No. 1 (Jan 1876)
pp. 37-41.

Monteith Brothers. 37

. . . .



      When I was in the old barque Danube, bound to Cronstadt, we had a young fellow among our crew named Joe Archibald, who had hailed from somewhere up in New York State. Joe was a steady, willing chap enough, but slow in his movements, and sometimes rather dull of comprehension.

      One night, in the British Channel, we were aloft, reeling the main-topsoil, and I don’t know how it happened, but Joe was out on the weather-yardarm, at the earing. He didn’t get there very often in reefing, but there he was, in this particular case, and he made very slow work of hauling his earing out. We all got impatient, and raised quite a clamor about it, until at last the second mate, who was in the bunt or slings of the yard directing the work, thought it was time to look up the matter. He passed out across our backs, and seizing the lift, jumped up on the yard, striding the neck of Hans the Swede, who was at the "dogs-ear," helping Archibald. The second mate, who was an old English salt, at once began to bully Joe, and some high words passed between them. The last words I heard were from the officer, to the effect that Joe was a condemned lazy offspring of a female dog, though this was not the precise form in which the speaker put it. The Yankee blood of Joe Archibald rose up at this language, and he, in person, rose up too, and clinched with his tyrannical superior. A fierce struggle ensued, the details of which could not be seen by us in the darkness, but Hans had to "lay in," and crowd the rest of us up towards the mast, to give the combatants room. After a minute of fearful suspense, during which no word was spoken, the two men were seen falling, locked together, down into the dark void below! "Man overboard!" roared old Hans, and other voices took up the chorus as we hurried down on deck, not stopping to secure the slatting canvas. The mate had seen, indistinctly, what was going on,

38 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

and saw the men fall into the sea, for the ship was on the weather-roll at the moment, and they both went clear of the side. The life-buoy was cut away from the stern, the hencoop thrown overboard, and an attempt made to lower away a boat. But nothing was ready, and the small boat on the quarter, from neglect, was hardly in a condition to float, even in smooth water. We could not back under short sail, so we put the helm up and wore round, which used up some time, and brought us well to leeward of the spot where the men went down. Finally, it was decided to be useless, considering all the circumstances, to put our boat into the water, and after manoeuvering a little in the neighborhood of the place, we gave the men up, and proceeded on our course.

      We got the topsail reefed, but it was a sad time with us, and we made bungling work. We were very shorthanded after the loss of our two shipmates, and the mate was forced to go aloft himself with the rest. After all was snug for the night the tragedy was talked over, and both ends of the ship compared notes about it. The mate said that there were two splashes in the water some feet apart, though both at the same instant of time. He saw nothing of either of the men afterwards, but the captain, who had rushed out of his berth at the sound of the alarm, and cut away the buoy, thought he saw one of them rise on a sea astern. But he was not sure of this, and it might have been only his imagination. The phlegmatic Hans, who was the nearest witness to the death-struggle of the two men, could tell little more than what the rest of us already knew; and he was so overwhelmed with astonishment when he saw Joe Archibald, without speaking a word, straighten himself up and grapple with the stout Englishman, that he could hardly be said to have his wits about him. So, as in all such cases, the matter was a nine days’ wonder, and then ceased to be the topic of conversation. In due time we arrived at our port, where other men were shipped to fill the vacancies, and the sad circumstances were seldom alluded to on the return voyage.

      It was more than a year after this that I was in Liverpool, belonging then to the packet ship "Fidelia," of New York. We were nearly ready to sail on our return, when among the passengers who came on board to cross the ocean with us to America, were two ladies, evidently mother and daughter, as the family resemblance was strong between them. While I was busy aloft a neatly-dressed young man came off in another boat, and I observed that he was very attentive to the younger lady, and their farewells seemed to be of a prolonged and tender character. I thought the figure and attitudes of this man had something strangely familiar to me; and as I came down from my work, I had a fair view of his face as he was going over the gangway into his boat. Spite of his spruce longshore togs, it could be no other than my lost shipmate Joe Archibald!

      "Joe!" said I, extending my hand. "How are you, old fellow?"

      The young man regarded me with a polite stare, but did not meet my hand with his own. It was Joe Archibald, and no one else; but he evidently did not mean to recognize me.

      "You have the advantage of me, sir," he said.

      "Well, perhaps you have forgotten the voyage in the old Danube, but I don’t believe you have, or the way you went overboard, locking yards with that bully of a second mate. Look ’ee here, Joe; you needn’t be afraid of the consequences from that affair, and slight an old shipmate who is really glad to meet you, and would like to know by what strange miracle you were saved, and wouldn’t bring you into any trouble for – "

      "You are evidently mistaken in the person, sir," he interrupted. "You will excuse me, sir, if you please, as I fear I have already overstayed my time. Good-day, sir." And with a last glance of admiration at the young lady passenger, who seemed an amused spectator of this scene, he went down the side into his wherry, and was pulled away towards the pier. An order summoned me away to duty just then, but I determined to make the acquaintance of the ladies on the passage, and find out all I could about their friend. I was quite indignant that Joe should thus cut an old crony, and could not believe it could result from pride or any feeling growing out of bettered circumstances. Such conduct did not seem at all like my shipmate as I had known and remembered him; and I decided that my first theory must be correct; he was afraid of trouble on account of the scrape in which he had sacrificed the officer’s

Monteith Brothers. 39

life, and so nearly lost his own. For this reason he had changed his name, and did not care to be known.

      We proceeded on our voyage to New York, and it was several days before I got a good opportunity to speak to the ladies; though I found out that they bore the names of Mrs. and Miss Joy. and also that they were Americans returning to their native country, after having resided for some time in Liverpool. They were still in half-mourning, the husband and father having died a few months before.

      One fine evening I was at the wheel, and the officer of the deck out of hearing, when Mrs. Joy came on deck and stood near me, looking out upon the ocean. Now was my time to get some light upon the mystery of Joe Archibald.

      "Excuse me, madam," said I, putting on the best airs I knew how, "but I would like to make an inquiry of you."

      "Indeed," said she, with a little surprise, but pleasantly enough. "What may it be, sir?" '

      "There was a young man on board the day we left Liverpool," said I, "who appeared to be acquainted with you, or perhaps I should say with the younger lady, your companion."

      "My daughter, I presume you mean," she interrupted with a smile.

      "Yes – or at least I supposed her to be such. May I ask you the name of the young gentleman? I assure you this is no idle talk on my part, but, for certain reasons, I have a special interest in the question and its answer."

      "Why, sir, that is Mr. Monteith. confidential clerk of Butler Brothers. He is – as perhaps you may have guessed from what you observed – quite attentive to Susie, and has been so indeed for some time."

      "Monteith, did you say his name was?" I asked.

      "Yes sir, Thomas Monteith. Why, did you ever know him? He has the reputation of being a most worthy young man."

      "No doubt of that," said I. "Yes, madam, I knew him, and I am sure I know no ill of him, except it be that he cuts an old shipmate; but he may have had good reasons for that, or, at least, what he thought good reasons."

      "I cannot believe from what I know of Thomas Monteith that he would act thus without good reasons," returned Mrs. Joy, bridling up.

      "Probably not, as Thomas Monteith; but when I was shipmate with him his name was Joe Archibald."

      "Mystery!" said the lady. ago was this?"

      "Something more than a year now. May I ask, madam, how long you have known him?"

      "Well, I must admit that it is rather less than one year, and I have heard him speak of having followed the sea before we knew him. But tell me, if you please, what you know about this gentleman, or about Mr. Archibald – for I cannot believe they are one and the same person."

      "He sailed with me in the barque Danube," I answered, cautiously. "But I don’t think I care to talk about how we parted company. He left us suddenly in the middle of the voyage, under remarkable circumstances, which I think may be connected with this secrecy and change of name."

      "I see you are not to be drawn out on this subject," she said, with a slight tone of vexation. "But I may ask one question, whether the circumstances to which you allude were such as to be any stain upon his character? I am anxious on this point."

      "No, madam," said I. "At least I don't think they were."

      "And still they were such as might cause a man to change his name and cut his old acquaintances?"

      "Yes. That is, he might feel it necessary to do so for his personal safety, though his own conscience might be clear enough."

      At this moment the approach of the officer of the watch cut short the conversation, and the lady passed below to her cabin, with her curiosity now thoroughly aroused, and completely on the rack.

      The next day, when I was again at the helm, the daughter sought an interview with me; but I was satisfied I could gain nothing from the ladies in the way of information, they having only known Monteith for a few months, as a clerk in a certain store, and being quite in the dark as to his antecedents. I could not do otherwise than be civil and polite to Susie Joy, with her youth, beauty and modesty, but I also tried to be reticent. Her persuasive powers drew little more from me than I had already said to her mother, which Susie of course already knew in detail. She had seen, rather than heard, what passed between me and

40 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

her admirer at the gangway the day she came on board, and her interest and curiosity were even greater than those of her mother. I had no word to say against Mr. Monteith, and finally admitted that it was possible I might be mistaken in the matter of identity. I drew from her that her Thomas also called himself an American, that he had spoken incidentally of having been a seaman, and that he was expected to follow them across the water the succeeding summer. She did not say for what purpose he was coming, but there was a significance in her tone and manner which I was shrewd enough to understand.

      Thus matters stood when we arrived at New York and landed our passengers. I did not lose track of the Joys, but learned that their home was in the city, though well "up town." I made three successive voyages in the Fidelia to Liverpool and back to New York, and still kept the run of the family, living in the same spot. I looked up the place of business of Butler Brothers, in Liverpool, and once through a window saw the young clerk. The more I looked at him the more I was satisfied he was no other than my lost shipmate; but as he did not choose to acknowledge himself as such, why should I intrude myself upon him?

      Summer came, and the time when Monteith was to have his vacation arrived. Susie Joy had told me that he would probably take passage over in our ship, and I looked carefully into the face of every new arrival on board, intending if I gain met my mysterious ex-shipmate, to try him again as Joe Archibald. But the Fidelia was ready for sea, and the last boat had left us for the shore; Mr. Monteith had not come, and how the faithful girl would be disappointed!

      It occurred to me, however, that ours was by no means the only packet ship of the summer. The Garrick had sailed a few days before, and it was possible that he might have secured an earlier passage, to surprise his lady-love. The Manhattan was "up" for New York to follow us the next week, and he might have waited for that ship. Our trip was a short one, and I lost no time, as soon as I could be spared from duty, in calling at the home of the Joys.

      I found the young lady in a melancholy mood, and she burst into tears at sight of me, as if my appearance had served to call up unpleasant thoughts. She tried to be reticent as to the cause of her emotion, but I drew from her the confession that Thomas Monteith had proved false and unworthy of her constancy. She had met him on Broadway walking in company with another lady, had looked him full in the face without receiving any answering glance of recognition. She had even demeaned herself so far as to address him by his Christian name, but was rewarded with a careless stare, and then an intimation, rather impatiently thrown out, that there must be some mistake. Mortified, and, as she thought, insulted, the poor girl had returned home to nurse her sorrows, or to combat them with her pride, as best she could. She was sure of the identity of Thomas Monteith – who should know him if she did not? As I could testify that he was not a passenger in our ship, it was plain that he must have come over in the Garrick.

      I went to the office of the line to which that ship belonged, and thoroughly examined the passenger list. But no such name as either Monteith or Archibald was to be found. I made particular inquiries of some of the Garrick‘s crew with whom I was acquainted, but she had brought over no young man, either in cabin or steerage, at all answering the description. The whole matter was more deeply involved than ever in mystery.

      Becoming now quite excited on the subject, and having spare time on my hands, I instituted a systematic search for Archibald, or Monteith, whoever he might be. I visited all the boarding-houses for seamen that I had any knowledge of, for if Joe were still following the sea, in some one of these he would probably be found. I was coming out of one where I had examined all the names on the list without being any the wiser, when I saw my man approaching. I rushed into the street to meet him, the landlord crying out after me:

      "Is that the man you want? Why, that’s Jack Smith!"

      "Joe!" said I, with outstretched hand. "How are you, old crony?"

      "Ben Warren!" he exclaimed, in a tone of glad surprise. "But hush! don’t call me Archibald. I’m Jack Smith here. I’ve had half a dozen names since that unlucky tumble from the Danube’s main-topsail-yard, and to tell the truth, I was sailing under a purser’s name even then."

      "So I suppose," I answered. "If your

Monteith Brothers. 41

name isn’t Archibald, it may be Monteith."

      Joe looked at me in some surprise, and led the way into his own lodging-room, closing the door.

      "I don’t know how you guessed this, but Monteith is my real name, and I’ve no cause to be ashamed of it. I followed the example of many other fools, and went to sea under false colors, and now, on account of the tragedy where I so nearly lost my own life, I fight shy of the name of Archibald, and never answer to it."

      "I don’t think you need to have any fear on that score. I suppose you were picked up by one of those chances that may be called miracles. And was the English second mate saved too? Tell us your story – but hold on, first answer one question – have you a twin brother?"

      "Now, I'm all out of breath with your questions. Well, yes, I was picked up, and by a miracle, too, in the literal sense of the word, for it was the brig Miracle, of Baltimore, that fell in with me, at daylight the next morning, astride of the Danube’s lifebuoy, and nearly ready to drop off from exhaustion, No, the second mate was not saved, too – at least not to my knowledge. And yes, I have a twin brother – or had one a few years go. He went to sea before I did, and the last I heard of him was in Liverpool. He had worked into some employment there ashore. Why did you ask?"

      "Because I have seen your brother, Thomas Monteith, and he will probably be here in a day or two, in the Manhattan, if indeed he has not already arrived. And the mystery that has haunted me these last six months is all clear to me. But come, I want you to go with me to see a certain young lady up town."

      "O," said Joe, or Richard Monteith, as he should now be called, "I don’t know how to visit young ladies. It isn’t in my line of business."

      "That’s what she thought when she met you the other day on Broadway and called you 'Thomas.' And yet you had a lady in tow at that time."

      "Ah! that’s the lady, is it?" 'he asked. "Now I remember; but I was taken by surprise, and perhaps was rather abrupt in telling her she was mistaken in the person. Well, I had a young woman in tow at the time – or perhaps I should say she had me in tow. She was an old acquaintance, daughter of one of my former landladies. But if you and the other lady are both acquainted with my brother Tom, I suppose I must go with you, and we can talk as we go."

      Our conference was a highly interesting one, and was cut short by our arrival at Mrs. Joy’s door. Being shown in, we found Susie Joy and Thomas Monteith seated side by side on the sofa, but both wearing a slight expression of constraint, as if there were some matter between them not quite satisfactorily explained.

      I saluted the young lady, gave a cool nod to the gentleman, and then introduced his double as a friend and former shipmate of mine, Mr. Smith.

      But the name only bewildered Thomas for a moment, sufficient to add more effect to the amusing tableau, for the brothers were not long in recognizing each other. But Miss Joy’s bewilderment was certainly greater than that of any one else, unless it might be her mother, who had followed us into the room. The two ladies looked from one to the other of the twins, and back again, then at each other, comparing notes, and talking mostly in interjections. I offered to wager Susie that if I took them both out of the room, and made some little alteration in their dress to bring them both alike, she could not identify her own lover. She looked again and again at them both, and declined to take the risk. Indeed, the resemblance between the brothers was so perfect, that how their own parents could have distinguished them seemed a mystery to us all.

      They had been orphaned a few years before, and had separated each to seek his own fortune. Leading the wandering lives of seamen, they had lost all trace of each other, until they were thus somewhat strangely brought together.

      A happy wedding party was that held at the home of the Joys a few evenings later. Dick Monteith went with the newly-married couple in the Fidelia on her next voyage to Liverpool, where he also entered the employ of Butler Brothers. My wanderings took me in a different direction after that voyage, and I have never seen either of them since. But I have heard that those doing business with the present firm of Monteith Brothers have great difficulty in distinguishing the members of it one from the other; and that many ludicrous mistakes arise in consequence, making the career of the twins a complete Comedy of Errors.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Monteith Brothers.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 43, No. 1 (Jan 1876)
Pages: 37-41