“I shall take my passage in her in case of the worst,” he wrote; “and if I cannot see Marian and persuade her to come on shore with me, I must go with her to New York. Heaven knows what power her father may use against me in the brief opportunity I shall have for seeing her before the vessel starts; but he can’t prevent my being their fellow-passenger, and once afloat it shall go hard with me if I cannot make my dear girl hear reason. Do not be uneasy about my health, dear old friend; you see how well I am keeping up under all this strain upon body and mind. You will see me come back from America a new man, strong enough to prove my gratitude for your devotion, in some shape or other, I trust in God.”
The bustle of departure was at its culminating point when John Saltram went on board the Oronoco, captain and officers scudding hither and thither, giving orders and answering inquiries at every point, with a sharp, short, decisive air, as of commanding powers in the last half-hour before a great battle; steward and his underlings ubiquitous; passengers roaming vaguely to and fro, in quest of nothing particular, and in a state of semi-distraction.
In this scene of confusion there was no one to answer Mr. Saltram’s eager inquires about those travellers whom he had pursued to this point. He did contrive, just about ten minutes before the vessel sailed, to capture the ubiquitous steward by the button-hole, and to ask for tidings of Mr. Nowell, before that excited functionary could wrench himself away.
“Mr. Nowell, sir; upon my word, sir, I can’t say. Yes, there is a gentleman of that name on board; state-rooms number 5 and 7; got a daughter with him—tall dark gentleman, with a moustache and beard. Yes, sir, he was on deck just now, on the bridge; but I don’t see him, I suppose he’s gone below. Better look for him in the saloon, sir.”
The ten minutes were over before John Saltram had seen half the faces on board the crowded vessel; but in his hurried wanderings to and fro, eager to see that one face which he so ardently desired to behold once wore, he had met nothing but strangers. There was no help for it: the vessel would steam out seaward presently, and he must needs go with her. At the best, he had expected this. It was not likely that, even if he could have obtained speech with his wife, she could have been prevailed upon immediately to desert the father whose fortunes she had elected to follow, and return to shore with the husband she had abandoned. Her mind must have been poisoned, her judgment perverted, before she could have left him thus of her own free will; and it would need the light of calm reason to set things right again. No; John Saltram could scarcely hope to carry her off by a coup-de-main, in the face of the artful schemer who had evidently obtained so strong an influence over her. That she could for a moment contemplate this voyage to America with her father, was enough to demonstrate the revolution that must have taken place in her feelings towards her husband.