Spike stared at the speaker intently; and when her cracked voice ceased, his look was that of a man who was terrified as well as bewildered. This did not arise still from any gleamings of the real state of the case, but from the soreness with which his conscience pricked him, when he heard that his much-wronged wife was alive. He fancied, with a vivid and rapid glance at the probabilities, all that a woman abandoned would be likely to endure in the course of so many long and suffering years.
“Are you sure of what you say, Jack? You would n’t take advantage of my situation to tell me an untruth?”
“As certain of it as of my own existence. I have seen her quite lately—talked with her of you—in short, she is now at Key West, knows your state, and has a wife’s feelin’s to come to your bed-side.”
Notwithstanding all this, and the many gleamings he had had of the facts during their late intercourse on board the brig, Spike did not guess at the truth. He appeared astounded, and his terror seemed to increase.
“I have another thing to tell you,” continued Jack, pausing but a moment to collect her own thoughts. “Jack Tier—the real Jack Tier—he who sailed with you of old, and whom you left ashore at the same time you desarted your wife, did die of the fever, as you was told, in eight-and-forty hours a’ter the brig went to sea.”
“Then who, in the name of Heaven, are you? How came you to hail by another’s name as well as by another sex?”
“What could a woman do, whose husband had desarted her in a strange land?”
“That is remarkable! So you’ve been married? I should not have thought that possible; and your husband desarted you, too. Well, such things do happen.”
Jack now felt a severe pang. She could not but see that her ungainly—we had almost said her unearthly appearance—prevented the captain from even yet suspecting the truth; and the meaning of his language was not easily to be mistaken. That any one should have married her, seemed to her husband as improbable as it was probable he would run away from her as soon as it was in his power after the ceremony.
“Stephen Spike,” resumed Jack, solemnly, “I am Mary Swash—I am your wife!”
Spike started in his bed; then he buried his face in the coverlet—and he actually groaned. In bitterness of spirit the woman turned away and wept. Her feelings had been blunted by misfortune and the collisions of a selfish world; but enough of former self remained to make this the hardest of all the blows she had ever received. Her husband, dying as he was, as he must and did know himself to be, shrunk from one of her appearance, unsexed as she had become by habits, and changed by years and suffering.
The trusting heart’s repose, the
Of home, with all its loves, doth fate allow
The crown of glory unto woman’s brow.