Spike hemmed, and he looked a little foolish, but Clench, the boatswain, coming aft to say something to him in confidence, just at that moment, he was enabled to avoid the awkwardness of attempting to explain. This man Clench, or Clinch, as the name was pronounced, was deep in the captain’s secrets; far more so than was his mate, and would have been filling Mulford’s station at that very time, had he not been hopelessly ignorant of navigation. On the present occasion, his business was to point out to the captain, two or three lines of smoke, that were visible above the water of the Sound, in the eastern board; one of which he was apprehensive might turn out to be the smoke of the revenue craft, from which they had so recently escaped.
“Steamers are no rarities in Long Island Sound, Clench,” observed the captain, levelling his glass at the most suspected of the smokes. “That must be a Providence, or Stonington chap, coming west with the Boston train.”
“Either of them would have been further west, by this time, Captain Spike,” returned the doubting, but watchful boatswain. “It’s a large smoke, and I fear it is the revenue fellow coming back, after having had a look well to the eastward, and satisfying himself that we are not to be had in that quarter.”
Spike growled out his assent to the possibility of such a conjecture, and promised vigilance. This satisfied his subordinate for the moment, and he walked forward, or to the place where he belonged. In the mean time, the widow came on deck, smiling, and snuffing the salt air, and ready to be delighted with anything that was maritime.
“Good morning, Captain Spike,” she cried—“Are we in the offing, yet?—you know I desired to be told when we are in the offing, for I intend to write a letter to my poor Mr. Budd’s sister, Mrs. Sprague, as soon as we get to the offing.”
“What is the offing, aunt?” inquired the handsome niece.
“Why you have hardly been at sea long enough to understand me, child, should I attempt to explain. The offing, however, is the place where the last letters are always written to the owners, and to friends ashore. The term comes, I suppose, from the circumstance that the vessel is about to be off, and it is natural to think of those we leave behind, at such a moment. I intend to write to your aunt Sprague, my dear, the instant I hear we are in the offing; and what is more, I intend to make you my amanuensis.”
“But how will the letter be sent, aunty?—I have no more objections to writing than any one else, but I do not see how the letter is to be sent. Really, the sea is a curious region, with its stopping-places for the night, and its offings to write letters at!”
“Yes, it’s all as you say, Rose—a most remarkable region is the sea! You’ll admire it, as I admire it, when you come to know it better; and as your poor uncle admired it, and as Captain Spike admires it, too. As for the letters, they can be sent ashore by the pilot, as letters are always sent.”