“That he did—that he did—and all my arguments and reading could not teach him any better. I proved to him that it was Whirl-Gate, as any one can see that it ought to be. It is full of whirlpools, they say, and that shows what Nature meant the name to be.”
“But, aunty,” put in Rose, half reluctantly, half anxious to speak, “what has gate to do with whirlpools? You will remember it is called a gate—the gate to that wicked place I suppose is meant.”
“Rose, you amaze me! How can you, a young woman of only nineteen, stand up for so vulgar a name as Hell-Gate!”
“Do you think it as vulgar as Hurl-Gate, aunty?” To me it always seems the most vulgar to be straining at gnats.”
“Yes,” said Spike sentimentally, “I’m quite of Miss Rose’s way of thinking—straining at gnats is very ill-manners, especially at table. I once knew a man who strained in this way, until I thought he would have choked, though it was with a fly to be sure; but gnats are nothing but small flies, you know, Miss Rose. Yes, I’m quite of your way of thinking, Miss Rose; it is very vulgar to be straining at gnats and flies, more particularly at table. But you’ll find no flies or gnats aboard here, to be straining at, or brushing away, or to annoy you. Stand by there, my hearties, and see all clear to run through Hell-Gate. Do n’t let me catch you straining at anything, though it should be the fin of a whale!”
The people forward looked at each other, as they listened to this novel admonition, though they called out the customary “ay, ay, sir,” as they went to the sheets, braces and bowlines. To them the passage of no Hell-Gate conveyed the idea of any particular terror, and with the one they were about to enter, they were much too familiar to care anything about it.
The brig was now floating fast, with the tide, up abreast of the east end of Blackwell’s, and in two or three more minutes she would be fairly in the Gate. Spike was aft, where he could command a view of everything forward, and Mulford stood on the quarter-deck, to look after the head-braces. An old and trustworthy seaman, who acted as a sort of boatswain, had the charge on the forecastle, and was to tend the sheets and tack. His name was Rove.
“See all clear,” called out Spike. “D’ye hear there, for’ard! I shall make a half-board in the Gate, if the wind favour us, and the tide prove strong enough to hawse us to wind’ard sufficiently to clear the Pot—so mind your—”
The captain breaking off in the middle of this harangue, Mulford turned his head, in order to see what might be the matter. There was Spike, levelling a spy-glass at a boat that was pulling swiftly out of the north channel, and shooting like an arrow directly athwart the brig’s bows into the main passage of the Gate. He stepped to the captain’s elbow.
“Just take a look at them chaps, Mr. Mulford,” said Spike, handing his mate the glass.