English Literature

Brave Old Salt or, Life on The Quarter Deck by Oliver Optic

Brave Old Salt or, Life on The Quarter Deck by Oliver Optic.jpg



“Well, Prodigy, I congratulate you on your promotion. I even agree with your enthusiastic admirers, who say that no young man better deserves his advancement than you,” said Miss Kate Portington, standing in the entry of her father’s house at Newport, holding Mr. Ensign John Somers by the hand.

“Thank you, Miss Portington,” replied the young officer, with a blush caused as much by the excitement of that happy moment, as by the handsome compliment paid by the fair girl, who, we are compelled to acknowledge, had formed no inconsiderable portion of the young man’s thoughts, hopes, and aspirations during the preceding year.[12]

John Somers had been examined by the board of naval officers appointed for the purpose, had been triumphantly passed, and promoted to the rank he now held. A short furlough had been granted to him, and he had just come from Pinchbrook, where he had spent a week. A visit to Newport was now almost as indispensable as one to the home of his childhood, and on his way to join the ship to which he had been ordered, he paused to discharge this pleasing duty.

Ensign Somers was dressed in a new uniform, and a certain boyish look, for which he was partly indebted to the short jacket he had worn as a midshipman, had vanished. Perhaps Miss Portington felt that the pertness, not to say impudence, with which she had formerly treated him, though allowable, under a liberal toleration, towards a boy, would hardly be justifiable in her intercourse with a young man. Though, from the force of habit, she called him “Prodigy,” there was a certain maidenly reserve in her manner, which rather puzzled Somers, and he could not help asking himself what he had done to cause this slight chill in her tones and actions.

Undoubtedly it was the frock coat which produced this refrigerating effect; but it was a very elegant and well-fashioned garment, having the shoulder straps on which glistened the “foul anchor,” indicating his new rank, and each sleeve being adorned with a single gold band on[13] the cuff, also indicative of his new position. The cap, which he now held in his hand, was decorated with a band of gold lace, and bore on its front the appropriate naval emblem. In strict accordance with the traditions of the navy, he wore kid gloves, without which a naval officer, on a ceremonial occasion, would be as incomplete as a ship without a rudder.

We have no means of knowing what Mr. Ensign Somers thought of himself in his “new rig,” which certainly fitted with admirable nicety, and gave him an appearance of maturity which he did not possess when we last saw him on the quarter deck of the Rosalie. We will venture to assert, however, that he felt like a man, and fully believed that he was one—a commendable sentiment in a person of his years, inasmuch as, if he feels like a man, he is the more likely to act like one. As we can hardly suppose he soared above all the vanities of his impressible period of life, it is more than probable that he regarded himself as a very good looking young fellow; which brilliant suggestion was, no doubt, wholly or in part due to the new uniform he wore.

If not wholly above the weakness of a young man of twenty, possibly he had a great deal of confidence in his own knowledge and ability, regarded some of the veterans of the navy as “old fogies,” and looked upon his own father as “a slow coach.” But we must do Mr. Somers the justice to say that he tried to be humble in[14] his estimate of himself, and to bear the honors he had won with meekness; that he endeavored to crush down and mortify that overweening self-sufficiency which distorts and disfigures the character of many estimable young men. His native bashfulness had, in some measure, been overcome by his intercourse with the world, and the humility of his nature, though occasionally assaulted by the accident of a new coat and an extra supply of gold lace, or by the hearty commendations of his superiors, was genuine, and, in the main, saved him from the besetting sin of his years.

Standing in the presence of Miss Kate Portington, after an absence of several months, wearing a new coat glittering with the laurels he had won on the bloodstained decks of the nation’s ships, he would have been more than human if he had not felt proud of what he was, and what he had done—proud, not vain. He was happy, holding the hand of her who had occupied so large a place in his thoughts, and whose image had fringed with roseate hues his brightest hopes and strongest aspirations.

Kate was not so free with him as she had been, and her reserve annoyed and perplexed him. He had anticipated a much warmer welcome than that which greeted him on his arrival. He was slightly disappointed, though there was nothing in her manner for which he could have reproached her, even if their relations had[15] been more intimate than they were. She was less stormy, but still gentle and kind; a little more distant in manner, though her looks and words assured him she regarded him with undiminished interest. Had he known that the elegant frock coat he wore produced the chill in the lady which so vexed and disconcerted him, he would willingly have exchanged it for the short jacket in which he had won his promotion.

They were standing in the entry. When the servant admitted Mr. Somers, Kate had heard his voice, and perhaps from prudential motives—for there was a visitor in the parlor—she had preferred to meet him in the hall.

“You have been very fortunate, Mr. Somers,” added she, gently releasing her hand from that of the ensign.

Mr. Somers, instead of “Prodigy”!

“I have. I don’t deserve my promotion, I know; but I could not help taking it when it was within my reach,” replied Somers; and her words, though so slightly chilled that the frigid tone could not have been noticed by any one who did not expect an unreasonable warmth, took half the conceit out of him, and let him down a long reach from the high hopes and brilliant expectations with which he had looked forward to this meeting.

“On the contrary, Mr. Somers, I think you deserve even more than you have received.”

“Thank you, Miss Portington; you were always more lavish of kind words than I deserved.”[16]

“Why, Prodigy—”

She suddenly checked herself. It was evident to Somers that she intended to say something pert or saucy. Perhaps she choked down the impertinent words from the fear that the honorable secretary of the navy, if such wild and wayward young ladies as herself were permitted to contaminate the plushy air of Newport society, would remove the Naval Academy back to Annapolis, where it is better to be “proper” than to be loyal.

“You were about to say something, Miss Portington,” said Somers.

“I was, but it was saucy.”

“I am sorry you did not say it.”

“I am glad I did not, for you must know, Mr. Somers, that mother has scolded me so much for being saucy, that I have solemnly resolved to be proper in all things henceforth and forevermore.”

“I am sorry for it,” answered Somers, with unaffected earnestness.

“Sorry, you wretch?”

Somers laughed.

“There’s another slip. I have done my best to reform my life. I am afraid I shall never succeed. Now, Prodigy—”

Somers laughed again.

“Again!” exclaimed Kate.

“I wish to ask one favor of you, Miss Portington.”[17]

“It would afford me more pleasure to grant it, than it does you to ask it. Name it.”

“That you will never call me Prodigy again.”

“I had firmly resolved before you came never to do it,” laughed she.

“Well, I only asked it in order to help along your good resolutions.”

“Then you are making fun of me?”

“Like yourself, I am very serious.”

“But I am in earnest, Mr. Somers; I mean to reform. Now, father and mother will be very glad to see you, Mr. Somers.”

“Your father?”

“He was temporarily relieved to attend a court martial. He is going away again to-morrow.”

“You have other visitors?”

“Only Lieutenant Pillgrim.”

“I have not the pleasure of his acquaintance.”

“He is a Virginian, I believe; at any rate he is from the South, and has just been restored to his rank in the navy.”

Kate led the way into the parlor, where he was first welcomed by her mother.

“Mr. Somers, I am glad to see you, and to congratulate you on your promotion,” said the commodore, as he grasped the hand of the young officer.

“Thank you, sir,” replied Somers. “The only ungratified[18] wish I had was that I might be appointed to your ship.”

“My ship!”

“I should have been glad to serve under so able and distinguished a commander.”

“I wouldn’t have you in my ship,” promptly returned the commodore, shaking his head energetically.

Somers looked abashed, and Kate wore a troubled expression.

“I should endeavor to do my duty,” he added.

“I have no doubt of it, but I wouldn’t have you in my ship.”

“Your remark is not very complimentary,” said Somers, his face beginning to flush with indignation at what seemed to be an assault upon his professional character.

“It is the most complimentary thing I could say to you. And I mean what I say: I wouldn’t have you in my ship.”

“Why not, father?” demanded Kate.

“Because I like the young dog, and because I believe in discipline. I never indulge in partiality on board my ship, and it is better to keep out of temptation. I am under obligations to you, Mr. Somers; I am happy to acknowledge them, but they must not come between me and duty. Mr. Somers, Lieutenant Pillgrim,” continued Commodore Portington, turning to the visitor.

Somers looked at the officer thus indicated, and as his[19] eyes rested upon him, he started back with a momentary astonishment, for the face had a strange look of familiarity to him.

“Mr. Somers, I am happy to meet and to know you. Your name and reputation are already familiar to me.”

“I am glad to know you, sir,” replied Somers, with some confusion. “Your face looks so familiar to me, that I think we must have met before.”

“Never, to my knowledge,” answered the lieutenant, with easy self-possession.

“I was quite sure I had seen you before.”

“Possibly; I do not remember it, however.”

“If I had met you without the favor of an introduction, I should certainly have claimed the honor of your acquaintance.”

“I should have been proud to be so claimed, but I must confess you would have had the advantage of me.”

“Of course, I must be mistaken, as you suggest.”

“It is not unlikely that we have met in some ante-room where we were dancing attendance on the powers that be, in search of employment; but I am quite sure, Mr. Somers, that I should have been proud and happy to number you among my friends.”

“It is not too late now,” said the commodore.

“Certainly not. I should be but too happy to have as my friend one who has served his country so faithfully,” added Mr. Pillgrim, as he bowed gracefully to[20] Somers, “especially as I understand we are appointed to the same ship.”


“I am ordered to the Chatauqua.”

“So am I.”

“Then, Mr. Pillgrim, you will take care of our Prodigy; you will be excellent friends, I trust,” said Kate, beginning very impulsively in her old way, and suddenly checking herself when her resolution to be “proper” interposed itself.

“What is the matter, Kate? Have you and Mr. Somers had a falling out?” demanded the commodore.

“O, no, father.”

“You talk as though you had had a quarrel, and for a moment had forgotten to be savage.”

“We have had no quarrel, pa,” replied Kate, blushing. “I was going to be saucy, but ma says I must not be saucy, and I shall not be saucy any more. I only hoped the two gentlemen who are going to live together in the same ship would be good friends.”

“Of course they will. Officers never quarrel.”

“Perhaps they don’t; but they are not always as good friends as I hope these gentlemen will be,” laughed Kate.

“Perhaps he will be my friend for your sake, if he is not for mine,” added Pillgrim.

“I do not wish that. I don’t like to have anybody do anything for my sake, unless it be to take paregoric when I am sick.”[21]

“I trust I shall not be paregoric to him,” said Pillgrim.

“Then he will not take you for my sake.”

“As Lieutenant Pillgrim is my superior officer, I should be likely to court his good will, and prize his friendship very highly. If we are not friends, I am sure it will not be my fault.”

At this moment the dinner bell rang; and although Somers did not feel intimate enough with the family to invite himself to dine, he was easily prevailed upon to remain, and gallantly gave his arm to Mrs. Portington, as Kate, for some wayward reason of her own, had already seized upon that of Lieutenant Pillgrim.

At the table Somers sat opposite the lieutenant, and he found it impossible to avoid looking upon him with a strange and undefinable interest. Since his first glance at the commodore’s visitor, who seemed to be on the best of terms with the family, he had been perplexed by some strange misgivings. He could not banish from his mind an assurance that he had seen him before; that he had talked with him, and even been, to some extent, intimate with him.

The thought that Kate was somewhat changed in her demeanor towards him did not contribute to increase his satisfaction. She had contrived to take the lieutenant’s arm instead of his own, and perhaps he had come as the successor of Phil Kennedy, who had been reputed to[22] be high in her good graces. But Mr. Pillgrim was a gentleman of thirty-five, at least, and this was not probable, in his view of the matter. Somers, being disinterested, was more worried to know when, where, and under what circumstances he had met the lieutenant.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s