“I thought of little else, until I heard of her death at New Or_leens_—and then I gave it up as useless. Could I have fallen in with Molly at any time a’ter the first six months of my desartion, she and I would have come together again, and everything would have been forgotten. I knowed her very nature, which was all forgiveness to me at the bottom, though seemingly so spiteful and hard.”
“Yet you wanted to have this Rose Budd, who is only too young, and handsome, and good for you.”
“I was tired of being a widower, Jack; and Rose is wonderful pretty. She has money, too, and might make the evening of my days comfortable. The brig was old, as you must know, and has long been off of all the Insurance Offices’ books; and she could n’t hold together much longer. But for this sloop-of-war, I should have put her off on the Mexicans; and they would have lost her to our people in a month.”
“And was it an honest thing to sell an old and worn-out craft to any one, Stephen Spike?”
Spike had a conscience that had become hard as iron by means of trade. He who traffics much, most especially if his dealings be on so small a scale as to render constant investigations of the minor qualities of things necessary, must be a very fortunate man, if he preserve his conscience in any better condition. When Jack made this allusion, therefore, the dying man—for death was much nearer to Spike that even be supposed, though he no longer hoped for his own recovery—when Jack made this allusion, then, the dying man was a good deal at a loss to comprehend it. He saw no particular harm in making the best bargain he could; nor was it easy for him to understand why he might not dispose of anything he possessed for the highest price that was to be had. Still he answered in an apologetic sort of way.
“The brig was old, I acknowledge,” he said, “but she was strong, and might have run a long time. I only spoke of her capture as a thing likely to take place soon, if the Mexicans got her; so that her qualities were of no great account, unless it might be her speed—and that you know was excellent, Jack.”
“And you regret that brig, Stephen Spike, lying as you do on your death-bed, more than anything else.”
“Not as much as I do pretty Rose Budd, Jack; Rosy is so delightful to look at!”
The muscles of Jack’s face twitched a little, and she looked deeply mortified; for, to own the truth, she hoped that the conversation had so far turned her delinquent husband’s thoughts to the past, as to have revived in him some of his former interest in herself. It is true, he still believed her dead; but this was a circumstance Jack overlooked—so hard is it to hear the praises of a rival, and be just. She felt the necessity of being more explicit, and determined at once to come to the point.
“Stephen Spike,” she said, steadily, drawing near to the bed-side, “you should be told the truth, when you are heard thus extolling the good looks of Rose Budd, with less than eight-and-forty hours of life remaining. Mary Swash did not die, as you have supposed, three years a’ter you desarted her, but is living at this moment. Had you read the letter I gave you in the boat, just before you made me jump into the sea, that would have told you where she is to be found.”