Read CHAPTER XX - THE UNDERTOW of The Tides of Barnegat, free online book, by F. Hopkinson Smith, on

Within the month a second letter was handed to the captain by Tod, now regularly installed as postman.  It was in answer to one of Captain Holt’s which he had directed to the expected steamer and which had met the exile on his arrival.  It was dated “Amboy,” began “My dear father,” and was signed “Your affectionate son, Barton.”

This conveyed the welcome intelligence ­welcome to the father ­that the writer would be detained a few days in Amboy inspecting the new machinery, after which he would take passage for Barnegat by the Polly Walters, Farguson’s weekly packet.  Then these lines followed:  “It will be the happiest day of my life when I can come into the inlet at high tide and see my home in the distance.”

Again the captain sought Jane.

She was still at the hospital, nursing some shipwrecked men ­three with internal injuries ­who had been brought in from Forked River Station, the crew having rescued them the week before.  Two of the regular attendants were worn out with the constant nursing, and so Jane continued her vigils.

She had kept at her work ­turning neither to the right nor to the left, doing her duty with the bravery and patience of a soldier on the firing-line, knowing that any moment some stray bullet might end her usefulness.  She would not dodge, nor would she cower; the danger was no greater than others she had faced, and no precaution, she knew, could save her.  Her lips were still sealed, and would be to the end; some tongue other than her own must betray her sister and her trust.  In the meantime she would wait and bear bravely whatever was sent to her.

Jane was alone when the captain entered, the doctor having left the room to begin his morning inspection.  She was in her gray-cotton nursing-dress, her head bound about with a white kerchief.  The pathos of her face and the limp, tired movement of her figure would have been instantly apparent to a man less absorbed in his own affairs than the captain.

“He’ll be here to-morrow or next day!” he cried, as he advanced to where she sat at her desk in the doctor’s office, the same light in his eyes and the same buoyant tone in his voice, his ruddy face aglow with his walk from the station.

“You have another letter then?” she said in a resigned tone, as if she had expected it and was prepared to meet its consequences.  In her suffering she had even forgotten her customary welcome of him ­for whatever his attitude and however gruff he might be, she never forgot the warm heart beneath.

“Yes, from Amboy,” panted the captain, out of breath with his quick walk, dragging a chair beside Jane’s desk as he spoke.  “He got mine when the steamer come in.  He’s goin’ to take the packet so he kin bring his things ­got a lot o’ them, he says.  And he loves the old home, too ­he says so ­you kin read it for yourself.”  As he spoke he unbuttoned his jacket, and taking Bart’s letter from its inside pocket, laid his finger on the paragraph and held it before her face.

“Have you talked about it to anybody?” Jane asked calmly; she hardly glanced at the letter.

“Only to the men; but it’s all over Barnegat.  A thing like that’s nothin’ but a cask o’ oil overboard and the bung out ­runs everywhere ­no use tryin’ to stop it.”  He was in the chair now, his arms on the edge of the desk.

“But you’ve said nothing to anybody about Archie and Lucy, and what Bart intends to do when he comes, have you?” Jane inquired in some alarm.

“Not a word, and won’t till ye see him.  She’s more your sister than she is his wife, and you got most to say ’bout Archie, and should.  You been everything to him.  When you’ve got through I’ll take a hand, but not before.”  The captain always spoke the truth, and meant it; his word settled at once any anxieties she might have had on that score.

“What have you decided to do?” She was not looking at him as she spoke; she was toying with a penholder that lay before her on the desk, apparently intent on its construction.

“I’m goin’ to meet him at Farguson’s ship-yard when the Polly comes in,” rejoined the captain in a positive tone, as if his mind had long since been made up regarding details, and he was reciting them for her guidance ­“and take him straight to my house, and then come for you.  You kin have it out together.  Only one thing, Miss Jane” ­here his voice changed and something of his old quarter-deck manner showed itself in his face and gestures ­“if he’s laid his course and wants to keep hold of the tiller I ain’t goin’ to block his way and he shall make his harbor, don’t make no difference who or what gits in the channel.  Ain’t neither of us earned any extry pay for the way we’ve run this thing.  You’ve got Lucy ashore flounderin’ ’round in the fog, and I had no business to send him off without grub or compass.  If he wants to steer now he’ll steer.  I don’t want you to make no mistake ’bout this, and you’ll excuse me if I put it plain.”

Jane put her hand to her head and looked out of the window toward the sea.  All her life seemed to be narrowing to one small converging path which grew smaller and smaller as she looked down its perspective.

“I understand, captain,” she sighed.  All the fight was out of her; she was like one limping across a battlefield, shield and spear gone, the roads unknown.

The door opened and the doctor entered.  His quick, sensitive eye instantly caught the look of despair on Jane’s face and the air of determination on the captain’s.  What had happened he did not know, but something to hurt Jane; of that he was positive.  He stepped quickly past the captain without accosting him, rested his hand on Jane’s shoulder, and said in a tender, pleading tone: 

“You are tired and worn out; get your cloak and hat and I’ll drive you home.”  Then he turned to the captain:  “Miss Jane’s been up for three nights.  I hope you haven’t been worrying her with anything you could have spared her from ­at least until she got rested,” and he frowned at the captain.

“No, I ain’t and wouldn’t.  I been a-tellin’ her of Bart’s comin’ home.  That ain’t nothin’ to worry over ­that’s something to be glad of.  You heard about it, of course?”

“Yes, Morgan told me.  Twenty years will make a great difference in Bart.  It must have been a great surprise to you, captain.”

Both Jane and the captain tried to read the doctor’s face, and both failed.  Doctor John might have been commenting on the weather or some equally unimportant topic, so light and casual was his tone.

He turned to Jane again.

“Come, dear ­please,” he begged.  It was only when he was anxious about her physical condition or over some mental trouble that engrossed her that he spoke thus.  The words lay always on the tip of his tongue, but he never let them fall unless someone was present to overhear.

“You are wrong, John,” she answered, bridling her shoulders as if to reassure him.  “I am not tired ­I have a little headache, that’s all.”  With the words she pressed both hands to her temples and smoothed back her hair ­a favorite gesture when her brain fluttered against her skull like a caged pigeon.  “I will go home, but not now ­this afternoon, perhaps.  Come for me then, please,” she added, looking up into his face with a grateful expression.

The captain picked up his cap and rose from his seat.  One of his dreams was the marriage of these two.  Episodes like this only showed him the clearer what lay in their hearts.  The doctor’s anxiety and Jane’s struggle to bear her burdens outside of his touch and help only confirmed the old sea-dog in his determination.  When Bart had his way, he said to himself, all this would cease.

“I’ll be goin’ along,” he said, looking from one to the other and putting on his cap.  “See you later, Miss Jane.  Morgan’s back ag’in to work, thanks to you, doctor.  That was a pretty bad sprain he had ­he’s all right now, though; went on practice yesterday.  I’m glad of it ­equinox is comin’ on and we can’t spare a man, or half a one, these days.  May be blowin’ a livin’ gale ’fore the week’s out.  Good-by, Miss Jane; good-by, doctor.”  And he shut the door behind him.

With the closing of the door the sound of wheels was heard ­a crisp, crunching sound ­and then the stamping of horses’ feet.  Max Feilding’s drag, drawn by the two grays and attended by the diminutive Bones, had driven up and now stood beside the stone steps of the front door of the hospital.  The coats of the horses shone like satin and every hub and plate glistened in the sunshine.  On the seat, the reins in one pretty gloved hand, a gold-mounted whip in the other, sat Lucy.  She was dressed in her smartest driving toilette ­a short yellow-gray jacket fastened with big pearl buttons and a hat bound about with the breast of a tropical bird.  Her eyes were dancing, her cheeks like ripe peaches with all the bloom belonging to them in evidence, and something more, and her mouth all curves and dimples.

When the doctor reached her side ­he had heard the sound of the wheels, and looking through the window had caught sight of the drag ­she had risen from her perch and was about to spring clear of the equipage without waiting for the helping hand of either Bones or himself.  She was still a girl in her suppleness.

“No, wait until I can give you my hand,” he said, hurrying toward her.

“No ­I don’t want your hand, Sir Esculapius.  Get out of the way, please ­I’m going to jump!  There ­wasn’t that lovely?” And she landed beside him.  “Where’s sister?  I’ve been all the way to Yardley, and Martha tells me she has been here almost all the week.  Oh, what a dreadful, gloomy-looking place!  How many people have you got here anyhow, cooped up in this awful ­ Why, it’s like an almshouse,” she added, looking about her.  “Where did you say sister was?”

“I’ll go and call her,” interpolated the doctor when he could get a chance to speak.

“No, you won’t do anything of the kind; I’ll go myself.  You’ve had her all the week, and now it’s my turn.”

Jane had by this time closed the lid of her desk, had moved out into the hall, and now stood on the top step of the entrance awaiting Lucy’s ascent.  In her gray gown, simple head-dress, and resigned face, the whole framed in the doorway with its connecting background of dull stone, she looked like one of Correggio’s Madonnas illumining some old cloister wall.

“Oh, you dear, dear sister!” Lucy cried, running up the short steps to meet her.  “I’m so glad I’ve found you; I was afraid you were tying up somebody’s broken head or rocking a red-flannelled baby.”  With this she put her arms around Jane’s neck and kissed her rapturously.

“Where can we talk?  Oh, I’ve got such a lot of things to tell you!  You needn’t come, you dear, good doctor.  Please take yourself off, sir ­this way, and out the gate, and don’t you dare come back until I’m gone.”

My Lady of Paris was very happy this morning; bubbling over with merriment ­a condition that set the doctor to thinking.  Indeed, he had been thinking most intently about my lady ever since he had heard of Bart’s resurrection.  He had also been thinking of Jane and Archie.  These last thoughts tightened his throat; they had also kept him awake the past few nights.

The doctor bowed with one of his Sir Roger bows, lifted his hat first to Jane in all dignity and reverence, and then to Lucy with a flourish ­keeping up outwardly the gayety of the occasion and seconding her play of humor ­walked to the shed where his horse was tied and drove off.  He knew these moods of Lucy’s; knew they were generally assumed and that they always concealed some purpose ­one which neither a frown nor a cutting word nor an outbreak of temper would accomplish; but that fact rarely disturbed him.  Then, again, he was never anything but courteous to her ­always remembering Jane’s sacrifice and her pride in her.

“And now, you dear, let us go somewhere where we can be quiet,” Lucy cried, slipping her arm around Jane’s slender waist and moving toward the hall.

With the entering of the bare room lined with bottles and cases of instruments her enthusiasm began to cool.  Up to this time she had done all the talking.  Was Jane tired out nursing? she asked herself; or did she still feel hurt over her refusal to take Ellen with her for the summer?  She had remembered for days afterward the expression on her face when she told of her plans for the summer and of her leaving Ellen at Yardley; but she knew this had all passed out of her sister’s mind.  This was confirmed by Jane’s continued devotion to Ellen and her many kindnesses to the child.  It was true that whenever she referred to her separation from Ellen, which she never failed to do as a sort of probe to be assured of the condition of Jane’s mind, there was no direct reply ­merely a changing of the topic, but this had only proved Jane’s devotion in avoiding a subject which might give her beautiful sister pain.  What, then, was disturbing her to-day? she asked herself with a slight chill at her heart.  Then she raised her head and assumed a certain defiant air.  Better not notice anything Jane said or did; if she was tired she would get rested and if she was provoked with her she would get pleased again.  It was through her affections and her conscience that she could hold and mould her sister Jane ­never through opposition or fault-finding.  Besides, the sun was too bright and the air too delicious, and she herself too blissfully happy to worry over anything.  In time all these adverse moods would pass out of Jane’s heart as they had done a thousand times before.

“Oh, you dear, precious thing!” Lucy began again, all these matters having been reviewed, settled, and dismissed from her mind in the time it took her to cross the room.  “I’m so sorry for you when I think of you shut up here with these dreadful people; but I know you wouldn’t be happy anywhere else,” she laughed in a meaning way. (The bringing in of the doctor even by implication was always a good move.) “And Martha looks so desolate.  Dear, you really ought to be more with her; but for my darling Ellen I don’t know what Martha would do.  I miss the child so, and yet I couldn’t bear to take her from the dear old woman.”

Jane made no answer.  Lucy had found a chair now and had laid her gloves, parasol, and handkerchief on another beside her.  Jane had resumed her seat; her slender neck and sloping shoulders and sparely modelled head with its simply dressed hair ­she had removed the kerchief ­in silhouette against the white light of the window.

“What is it all about, Lucy?” she asked in a grave tone after a slight pause in Lucy’s talk.

“I have a great secret to tell you ­one you mustn’t breathe until I give you leave.”

She was leaning back in her chair now, her eyes trying to read Jane’s thoughts.  Her bare hands were resting in her lap, the jewels flashing from her fingers; about her dainty mouth there hovered, like a butterfly, a triumphant smile; whether this would alight and spread its wings into radiant laughter, or disappear, frightened by a gathering frown, depended on what would drop from her sister’s lips.

Jane looked up.  The strong light from the window threw her head into shadow; only the slight fluff of her hair glistened in the light.  This made an aureole which framed the Madonna’s face.

“Well, Lucy, what is it?” she asked again simply.

“Max is going to be married.”

“When?” rejoined Jane in the same quiet tone.  Her mind was not on Max or on anything connected with him.  It was on the shadow slowly settling upon all she loved.

“In December,” replied Lucy, a note of triumph in her voice, her smile broadening.

“Who to?”


With the single word a light ripple escaped from her lips.

Jane straightened herself in her chair.  A sudden faintness passed over her ­as if she had received a blow in the chest, stopping her breath.

“You mean ­you mean ­that you have promised to marry Max Feilding!” she gasped.

“That’s exactly what I do mean.”

The butterfly smile about Lucy’s mouth had vanished.  That straightening of the lips and slow contraction of the brow which Jane knew so well was taking its place.  Then she added nervously, unclasping her hands and picking up her gloves: 

“Aren’t you pleased?”

“I don’t know,” answered Jane, gazing about the room with a dazed look, as if seeking for a succor she could not find.  “I must think.  And so you have promised to marry Max!” she repeated, as if to herself.  “And in December.”  For a brief moment she paused, her eyes again downcast; then she raised her voice quickly and in a more positive tone asked, “And what do you mean to do with Ellen?”

“That’s what I want to talk to you about, you dear thing.”  Lucy had come prepared to ignore any unfavorable criticisms Jane might make and to give her only sisterly affection in return.  “I want to give her to you for a few months more,” she added blandly, “and then we will take her abroad with us and send her to school either in Paris or Geneva, where her grandmother can be near her.  In a year or two she will come to us in Paris.”

Jane made no answer.

Lucy moved uncomfortably in her chair.  She had never, in all her life, seen her sister in any such mood.  She was not so much astonished over her lack of enthusiasm regarding the engagement; that she had expected ­at least for the first few days, until she could win her over to her own view.  It was the deadly poise ­the icy reserve that disturbed her.  This was new.

“Lucy!” Again Jane stopped and looked out of the window.  “You remember the letter I wrote you some years ago, in which I begged you to tell Ellen’s father about Archie and Barton Holt?”

Lucy’s eyes flashed.

“Yes, and you remember my answer, don’t you?” she answered sharply.  “What a fool I would have been, dear, to have followed your advice!”

Jane went straight on without heeding the interruption or noticing Lucy’s changed tone.

“Do you intend to tell Max?”

“I tell Max!  My dear, good sister, are you crazy!  What should I tell Max for?  All that is dead and buried long ago!  Why do you want to dig up all these graves?  Tell Max ­that aristocrat!  He’s a dear, sweet fellow, but you don’t know him.  He’d sooner cut his hand off than marry me if he knew!”

“I’m afraid you will have to ­and this very day,” rejoined Jane in a calm, measured tone.

Lucy moved uneasily in her chair; her anxiety had given way to a certain ill-defined terror.  Jane’s voice frightened her.

“Why?” she asked in a trembling voice.

“Because Captain Holt or someone else will, if you don’t.”

“What right has he or anybody else to meddle with my affairs?” Lucy retorted in an indignant tone.

“Because he cannot help it.  I intended to keep the news from you for a time, but from what you have just told me you had best hear it now.  Barton Holt is alive.  He has been in Brazil all these years, in the mines.  He has written to his father that he is coming home.”

All the color faded from Lucy’s cheeks.

“Bart!  Alive!  Coming home!  When?”

“He will be here day after to-morrow; he is at Amboy, and will come by the weekly packet.  What I can do I will.  I have worked all my life to save you, and I may yet, but it seems now as if I had reached the end of my rope.”

“Who said so?  Where did you hear it?  It can’t be true!”

Jane shook her head.  “I wish it was not true ­but it is ­every word of it.  I have read his letter.”

Lucy sank back in her chair, her cheeks livid, a cold perspiration moistening her forehead.  Little lines that Jane had never noticed began to gather about the corners of her mouth; her eyes were wide open, with a strained, staring expression.  What she saw was Max’s eyes looking into her own, that same cold, cynical expression on his face she had sometimes seen when speaking of other women he had known.

“What’s he coming for?” Her voice was thick and barely audible.

“To claim his son.”

“He ­says ­he’ll ­claim ­Archie ­as ­his ­son!” she gasped.  “I’d like to see any man living dare to ­”

“But he can try, Lucy ­no one can prevent that, and in the trying the world will know.”

Lucy sprang from her seat and stood over her sister: 

“I’ll deny it!” she cried in a shrill voice; “and face him down.  He can’t prove it!  No one about here can!”

“He may have proofs that you couldn’t deny, and that I would not if I could.  Captain Holt knows everything, remember,” Jane replied in her same calm voice.

“But nobody else does but you and Martha!” The thought gave her renewed hope ­the only ray she saw.

“True; but the captain is enough.  His heart is set on Archie’s name being cleared, and nothing that I can do or say will turn him from his purpose.  Do you know what he means to do?”

“No,” she replied faintly, more terror than curiosity in her voice.

“He means that you shall marry Barton, and that Archie shall be baptized as Archibald Holt.  Barton will then take you both back to South America.  A totally impossible plan, but ­”

“I marry Barton Holt!  Why, I wouldn’t marry him if he got down on his knees.  Why, I don’t even remember what he looks like!  Did you ever hear of such impudence!  What is he to me?” The outburst carried with it a certain relief.

“What he is to you is not the question.  It is what you are to Archie!  Your sin has been your refusal to acknowledge him.  Now you are brought face to face with the consequences.  The world will forgive a woman all the rest, but never for deserting her child, and that, my dear sister, is precisely what you did to Archie.”

Jane’s gaze was riveted on Lucy.  She had never dared to put this fact clearly before ­not even to herself.  Now that she was confronted with the calamity she had dreaded all these years, truth was the only thing that would win.  Everything now must be laid bare.

Lucy lifted her terrified face, burst into tears, and reached out her hands to Jane.

“Oh, sister, ­sister!” she moaned.  “What shall I do?  Oh, if I had never come home!  Can’t you think of some way?  You have always been so good ­Oh, please! please!”

Jane drew Lucy toward her.

“I will do all I can, dear.  If I fail there is only one resource left.  That is the truth, and all of it.  Max can save you, and he will if he loves you.  Tell, him everything!”