ASTOUNDING NEWS FROM THE SHORE
“This is most astounding news!” exclaimed Captain Horatio Passford.
It was on the deck of the magnificent steam-yacht Bellevite, of which he was the owner; and with the newspaper, in which he had read only a few of the many head-lines, still in his hand, he rushed furiously across the deck, in a state of the most intense agitation.
It would take more than one figure to indicate the number of millions by which his vast wealth was measured, in the estimation of those who knew most about his affairs; and he was just returning from a winter cruise in his yacht.
His wife and son were on board; but his daughter had spent the winter at the South with her 14uncle, preferring this to a voyage at sea, being in rather delicate health, and the doctors thought a quiet residence in a genial climate was better for her.
The Bellevite had been among the islands of the Atlantic, visiting the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands, and was now coming from Bermuda. She had just taken a pilot fifty miles from Sandy Hook, and was bound to New York, for the captain’s beautiful estate, Bonnydale, was located on the Hudson.
As usual, the pilot had brought on board with him the latest New-York papers, and one of them contained the startling news which appeared to have thrown the owner of the Bellevite entirely off his balance; and it was quite astounding enough to produce this effect upon any American.
“What is it, sir?” demanded Christopher Passford, his son, a remarkably bright-looking young fellow of sixteen, as he followed his father across the deck.
“What is it, Horatio?” inquired Mrs. Passford, who had been seated with a book on the deck, as she also followed her husband.
The captain was usually very cool and self-possessed, 15and neither the wife nor the son had ever before seen him so shaken by agitation. He seemed to be unable to speak a word for the time, and took no notice whatever of his wife and son when they addressed him.
For several minutes he continued to rush back and forth across the deck of the steamer, like a vessel which had suddenly caught a heavy flaw of wind, and had not yet come to her bearings.
“What is the matter, Horatio?” asked Mrs. Passford, when he came near her. “What in the world has happened to overcome you in this manner, for I never saw you so moved before?”
But her husband did not reply even to this earnest interrogatory, but again darted across the deck, and his lips moved as though he were muttering something to himself. He did not look at the paper in his hands again; and whatever the startling intelligence it contained, he seemed to have taken it all in at a glance.
Christy, as the remarkably good-looking young man was called by all in the family and on board of the Bellevite, appeared to be even more astonished than his mother at the singular conduct of his father; but he saw how intense was 16his agitation, and he did not follow him in his impulsive flights across the deck.
Though his father had always treated him with great consideration, and seldom if ever had occasion to exercise any of his paternal authority over him, the young man never took advantage of the familiarity existing between them. His father was certainly in a most extraordinary mood for him, and he could not venture to speak a word to him.
He stood near the companion way, not far from his mother, and he observed the movements of his father with the utmost interest, not unmingled with anxiety; and Mrs. Passford fully shared with him the solicitude of the moment.
The steamer was going at full speed in the direction of Sandy Hook. Captain Passford gave no heed to the movement of the vessel, but for several minutes planked the deck as though he were unable to realize the truth or the force of the news he had hastily gathered from the head-lines of the newspaper.
At last he halted in the waist, at some distance from the other members of his family, raised his paper, and fixed his gaze upon the staring 17announcement at the head of one of its columns. No one ventured to approach him; for he was the magnate of the vessel, and, whatever his humor, he was entitled to the full benefit of it.
He only glanced at the head-lines as he had done before, and then dropped the paper, as though the announcement he had read was all he desired to know.
“Beeks,” said he, as a quartermaster passed near him.
The man addressed promptly halted, raised his hand to his cap, and waited the pleasure of the owner of the steamer.
“Tell Captain Breaker that I wish to see him, if you please,” added Captain Passford.
The man repeated the name of the person he was to call, and hastened away to obey the order. The owner resumed his march across the deck, though it was evident to the anxious observers that he had in a great measure recovered his self-possession, for his movements were less nervous, and the usual placid calm was restored to his face.
In another minute, Captain Breaker, who was the actual commander of the vessel, appeared in the waist, and walked up to his owner. 18Though not more than forty-five years old, his hair and full beard were heavily tinted with gray; and an artist who wished for an ideal shipmaster, who was both a gentleman and a sailor, could not have found a better representative of this type in the merchant or naval service, or on the deck of the finest steam-yacht in the world.
“You sent for me, Captain Passford,” said the commander, in respectful but not subservient tones.
“You will take the steamer to some point off Fire Island, and come to anchor there,” replied the owner, as, without any explanation, he walked away from the spot.
“Off Fire Island,” added Captain Breaker, simply repeating the name of the locality to which his order related, but not in a tone that required an exclamation-point to express his surprise.
Whatever the captain of the Bellevite thought or felt, it was an extraordinary order which he received. It was in the month of April, and the vessel had been absent about five months on her winter pleasure cruise.
In a few hours more the yacht could easily be at her moorings off Bonnydale on the Hudson; 19but when almost in sight of New York, the captain had been ordered to anchor, as though the owner had no intention of returning to his elegant home.
If he was surprised, as doubtless he was, he did not manifest it in the slightest degree; for he was a sailor, and it was a part of his gospel to obey the orders of his owner without asking any questions.
No doubt he thought of his wife and children as he walked forward to the pilot-house to execute his order, for he had been away from them for a long time. The three papers brought on board by the pilot had all been given to the owner, and he had no hint of the startling news they contained.
The course of the Bellevite was promptly changed more to the northward; and if the pilot wished to be informed in regard to this strange alteration in the immediate destination of the vessel, Captain Breaker was unable to give him any explanation.
Captain Passford was evidently himself again; and he did not rush across the deck as he had done before, but seated himself in an armchair he 20had occupied before the pilot came on board, and proceeded to read something more than the headlines in the paper.
He hardly moved or looked up for half an hour, so intensely was he absorbed in the narrative before him. Mrs. Passford and Christy, though even more excited by the singular conduct of the owner, and the change in the course of the steamer, did not venture to interrupt him.
The owner took the other two papers from his pocket, and had soon possessed himself of all the details of the astounding news; and it was plain enough to those who so eagerly observed his expression as he read, that he was impressed as he had never been before in his life.
Before the owner had finished the reading of the papers, the Bellevite had reached the anchorage chosen by the pilot, and the vessel was soon fast to the bottom in a quiet sea.
“The tide is just right for going up to the city,” said the pilot, who had left his place in the pilot-house, and addressed himself to the owner in the waist.
“But we shall not go up to the city,” replied Captain Passford, in a very decided tone. “But 21that shall make no difference in your pilot’s fees.—Captain Breaker.”
The captain of the steamer, who had also come out of the pilot-house, had stationed himself within call of the owner to receive the next order, which might throw some light on the reason for anchoring the steamer so near her destination on a full sea. He presented himself before the magnate of the yacht, and indicated that he was ready to take his further orders.
“You will see that the pilot is paid his full fee for taking the vessel to a wharf,” continued Captain Passford.
The captain bowed, and started towards the companionway; but the owner called him back.
“I see what looks like a tug to the westward of us. You will set the signal to bring her alongside,” the magnate proceeded.
This order was even more strange than that under which the vessel had come to anchor so near home after her long cruise; but the captain asked no questions, and made no sign. Calling Beeks, he went aft with the pilot, and paid him his fees.
When the American flag was displayed in the 22fore-rigging for the tug, Captain Passford, with his gaze fixed on the planks of the deck, walked slowly to the place where his wife was seated, and halted in front of her without speaking a word. But there was a quivering of the lip which assured the lady and her son that he was still struggling to suppress his agitation.
“What is the matter, Horatio?” asked the wife, in the tenderest of tones, while her expression assured those who saw her face that the anxiety of the husband had been communicated to the wife.
“I need hardly tell you, Julia, that I am disturbed as I never was before in all my life,” replied he, maintaining his calmness only with a struggle.
“I can see that something momentous has happened in our country,” she added, hardly able to contain herself, for she felt that she was in the presence of an unexplained calamity.
“Something has happened, my dear; something terrible,—something that I did not expect, though many others were sure that it would come,” he continued, seating himself at the side of his wife.
“But you do not tell me what it is,” said the 23lady, with a look which indicated that her worst fears were confirmed. “Is Florry worse? Is she”—
“So far as I know, Florry is as well as usual,” interposed the husband. “But a state of war exists at the present moment between the North and the South.”
Categories: English Literature