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Cain and Abel

Newspaper: 
Year: 
1888
Month: 
6
Day: 
28
Article Title: 
Cain and Abel
Author: 
Rebecca Harding Davis
Page Number: 
4
Article Type: 
Language: 
Article Contents: 

CAIN AND ABEL

John Mandum was the son, the grandson, the great-grandson of Gloucester fishermen. From childhood he had been destined for their calling, and had already made more than one trip to “the Banks” as “odd boy.” Last year he had gone as cook. Now, at nineteen, he had a sudden rise in life. Capt. Salter had accepted him as one of the regular crew of the Harkaway to go “on shares” like any other full-fledged fisherman, and John felt that he was a man.

He packed his kit and started to cross the harbor, in order to take a stroll about the Point. Christy Muller lived on the Point. In a sail-boat which served as a ferry he found little Christy going home.

John grew suddenly stiff in the joints from his backbone to his nose. He bowed with a jerk, seated himself as far from her as possible by the old ferryman, Godfrey, and talked to him very fast and thick, while Christy sat at the bow watching the foamy track of the boat through the water, now red in the setting son.

Yet John had long ago determined that he would plan an accidental meeting with Christy before he started for the banks. Here was his chance, and he was neglecting it. But when they landed John found himself beside her, and they walked along together. Christy was quite at her case, and disposed to be very friendly with the young fisherman.

“I heard you was going a-fishing with Captain Salter, Mr. Mandum,” she said, pleasantly, as John walked silently by her side.

“Yes,” he replied with a flush on his face that was not called for by Christy’s innocent remark.

“And so you’ll be off to-night, I suppose?”

“Yes.”

Another pause.

“It’s a good beginning,” he broke out, after clearing his throat. “I’m goin’ in now to be a fisherman. I’ve give up the idea of schoolin’; Leonard he always beats me at that. You know he’s always been head of the class, an’ me-foot. Len always has been ahead of me, cripple and sickly as he is. I did think of taking up a land trade, but they all need some bend for figgers, and I have none. Len’s firstrate at his slate. Well he can’t get ahead of me at sea,” with a long-drawn breath.

“You certainly have a good start. The Harkaway is as good a vessel as sails out of the harbor. Father said so to-day,” said Christy.

John walked along in silence, glancing at her furtively now and then.

“It is a good beginning,” said John, at last. “The crew have half the profit. If we have a good haul this run, my share ought to be more’n a hundred dollars. I’d be sure of two or three more trips in the Harkaway this year, if I do well this time, and I will.”

They had stopped now, and stood facing the harbor. His sentences came out with gulps, as if each needed a separate effort.

“I-I’m goin’ to be a fisherman now, regular. I can count on a good, steady income.”

No answer. Christy was very intent on a brigantine that was making its way past the inner light to harbor.

“I’ll have as good an income as meat men when they rent a house and-and put a wife in it.”

Christy’s very neck grew rose-pink. “I must go home,” she said, in a scared, fluttering voice. “Supper’s a’most ready.”

John made no objection to her going. But he did not now walk by her side; he followed her a step or two behind. A word of discouragement was always enough to drive John to despair. He doubted himself now, and life prospects seemed not to brilliant as they had looked but a moment before.

“Of course,” he gasped out, “we mayn’t have a good haul, and if Captain Salter isn’t satisfied with me, I’ll not be in the crew next run. That’s so; but I mean to try. I’m goin’ to do my best, Christy.”

Christy was on her own doorstep now, and quite herself again. “No doubt you will, Mr. Mandum,” she said, saucily. “But you haven’t said a word about your brother Leonard. You know he’s going in the Harkaway, too. I suppose he’ll do his best, too. I wonder which of you will come out ahead? Well, good by, and good luck to both of you. I must go in now to supper. Good by!”

She nodded to him, and, with a laugh and a look which John did not understand she went in and shut the door.

John turned from the house and went stumbling down the street. Christy had told him a bit of news. His brother Leonard was going with the Harkaway, too, and had not let him know. What did the fellow mean? Was he trying to beat him at everything, Len was on the wharf when John reached it.

“What were you so close-mouthed about goin’ in the Harkaway for?” said John, angrily, to his brother.

“Only one of the tricks, Johnny. Keep your temper.”

The lads, or men, for they were the size of men, now went aboard together. There had been an unusual and singular affection between the brothers when they were children; but Len was made a little conceited by his successes at school, while John was discouraged and dulled by his failures. Len, too, had a habit of teasing, common to most boys of nervous temperament, but John regarded it as a sign of contempt for himself. It often stung him to the quick.

The Harkaway set sail. Both of the Mandums had grown up, like other Gloucester boys, in familiarity with everything that concerns a fishing vessel. They were expect enough in their work to satisfy, after a day or two, even old Captain Salter. In spite of his jealousy, John was proud of Len’s agility and skill.

“He gets about wonderful for a cripple,” the captain said one evening when the wind was rising and a storm was evidently brewing, to some of the men, as he stood on deck, watching Len furl a call.

“Your father told me as how he thought of settlin’ down to fishin’ and getting’ married. You Mandums always marry young.”

Marry? Len marry? John drew back into the darkness behind the forecastle. His brain staggered for a minute, but why should it not be true? Len was two years older than he. His own plan had been to settle down to fishing, so as to be sure of yearly wages. What girl did Len know? None. He was a shy fellow. Except, of course, Christy.

It was all clear now. He crouched down behind a hogshead. The light of a lantern shown in the face of Len, who had finished his task and now stood leaning over the rail, joking with some of the men. It was a fine, clear cut face.

“He’s allays in my way. I wish he-was out of it!”

Did he speak the words, or only think them? He was sick, blind with his sudden rage and misery. He thought he heard his name shouted, but crouched down behind the hogshead. The night was falling, a wet wind driving. He stayed there he did not know how long, brooding over this new misery.

He was roused by a kick and an oath from the mate.

“What are you skulking here for? Capin’ tole ‘Mandum’ to go aloft and the cripple’s gone. He meant you to go.”

John, staggering up, saw the small, black figure clinging to the foremast. A heavy flaw came. The schooner lurched, and the boy somehow lost his footing and was shaken from the spar, as a spider is dislodged from a shaken tree, and fell into the sea.

With one mad leap, John followed him over the rail.

“Man overboard!”

The schooner was put about, boats were lowered, and the crew picked up John. They threw barrels and bags overboards, in hopes that Len might cling to them. But the sight was dark and the sea was heavy. Capt. Salter gave up the search at last and the vessel moved on her way.

He greeted John with rough words as soon as the young man recovered consciousness, and realized that Len was lost.

“Whar was you? I meant you, when I said ‘Mandum,’ not that cripple boy.”

“I was wishing that he was dead. I murdered him.”

“Bah! You talk like an idiot. Didn’t you jump into the water after him? Turn in. This thing’s gone to his head,” he said, nodding gravely to the man as John left him.

The Harkaway brought back an enormous fare. She made the harbor of Gloucester one Sunday afternoon, three months after the day she sailed. The cargo was not to be unloaded until Monday, and the crew scattered to their homes. As Captain Salter was standing on the pier, a man touched him on the shoulder.

“What is it, Mandum?”

“Will you?-Father and mother have to be told. I-I can’t do it, captain.”

“I’ll go, John. God help us all! I’d rather go on a twelve months’ voyage. No, no, my lad, stay here; I’ll do it. You’ve bore enough. You look ten year older than when you shipped.”

The captain bent his woe to Rocky Neck where the Mandums lived.

John wandered away in an opposite direction, through the steep, crooked streets leading up from the wharves. He met some of his mass-mates, already dressed in their best store-suits, on their way to see their sweethearts or their wives. He passed an open church and out from it came the sound of the old sweet hymns, familiar to him since his childhood.

Years ago he had planned how he should come home from his first successful voyage, his pocket full of money. How he would buy a silk dress his mother had always talked of, a silver headed cane for his father, and books for Len-and then to the Point and Christy-

Now-

There was not one of those wharves where he and Len had not played when they were little chaps and friends. Len was dead, and he-

He had tried through the whole voyage to convince himself that he was not to blame for his brother’s death, but in vain.

“I wished him dead and God heard me,” he repeated to himself at the end of all his arguments. He had prayed as one whose hands are wet with blood and who fears to come near to his God. He went into the little church now, and dropped into the back pew. It so happened that the old pastor was at that very moment reading the Commandments.

‘Thou shalt not kill.’ It was only old Dr. Brosyer’s feeble voice, but it sounded like thunder in John’s ears. He heard, and rising ran from the church down to the docks. Yet his brain was clear. He knew just when they hate had begun to creep into his heart for his brother. When Len had tripped him up in school, and when, instead of feeling pride in the poor cripple’s cleverness, he had envied him. Since then it had seemed to him that Len was always his rival and ways always beating him, and then laughing at him.

He sat down among the fish-flakes on the wharves. Some of his old friends passed, looked at him but did not recognize him. He was thin and haggard,-no longer a boy. Presently the ferry sail-boat came up. There was old Godfrey, who used to bring Len over to meet him when he would be kept late at school. That was years ago-when they were friends. He used to hear the boy shouting, ”Hello, Jack!” long before the boat touched the wharf.

For the first time the tears came to his eyes. Nobody had ever called him Jack but Len.

“The poor fellow! The poor little fellow!” he muttered.

What was that?

There was somebody in the boat with Godfrey-a man-lame. He tried to go towards him, but his legs gave way. The other ran.

“Jack! Here I am, Jack! You thought I went under, eh? Why, what’s the matter, old man!” Len put his arm about his shoulder, trembling himself and half crying, man as he was. Old Godfrey had hobbled up.

“Len got hold of a bar’l, you see,” he said, “’n’ floated till he was picked up by a bark. The Harkaway wasn’t fur from George’s Banks when he fell. That was plenty of vessels about.”

But as they walked home, John told the whole story. He felt that the blood was yet on his hands and he must confess to his brother all that had been in his heart.

“I thought you wanted to marry Christine Muller, and I wished you were dead, Len. Just then you fell from the mast.” Len did not speak for a minute or two.

“It all grew out of my conceit and my teasing, Jack. We’ll go back to our old ways. What do you say?” stopping and looking his brother straight in the eye.

John said nothing, but the men understood each other for their whole lives.

“As for Christy,” said Len, as they walked on together, “I never had a thought of her or any other girl. That was all father’s notion. I wanted to earn some money fishing to give me a year of schooling. Come on faster, Jack. Mother’s waitin’ to see you. And after supper you must dress up and go to the Point. Christy’s waitin’, too.

John struck into a brisk walk and hummed a tune to himself as he went. The firelight shone through the windows of his home on the cliff, and the red sunset dyed the water of sea and harbor. But there was no light, nor warmth anywhere on sea or heaven like that which burned in his heart as he walked home side by side with his brother.

Rebecca Harding Davis, in Youth’s Companion.