MoboReader> Literature > Plane and Plank; or, The Mishaps of a Mechanic

   Chapter 15 IN WHICH PHIL PRODUCES THE RELICS OF HIS CHILDHOOD.

Plane and Plank; or, The Mishaps of a Mechanic By Oliver Optic Characters: 11294

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Having seated my party in my chamber, I told the last part of my story first. I began by saying that I had been brought up on the upper Missouri, by Matt Rockwood, relating all my experience down to the present moment, including the history of the Gracewoods.

"That's all very well, Phil; but where were you born?" asked Mr. Gray. "You left that part out, and told us everything except that which we wished to know."

"I don't know where I was born. You must ask my father?"

"Do you still persist in saying that Farringford is your father?"

"I still persist."

"But he has no children."

"I had one child," interposed Farringford, trembling with emotion, as well as from the effects of inebriation.

"I remember," said Mr. Lamar. "You lost that child when the Farringford was burned."

"Yes," replied my father, with a shudder.

"Will you state precisely how that child was lost, sir?" I continued. "I would not ask you to do so if it were not necessary, for I know the narrative is painful."

"I suppose you claim to be this child, which, if I remember rightly, was a girl," added Mr. Lamar.

"No; it was a boy," responded Mr. Farringford.

"Gentlemen, I shall leave you to draw your own conclusions, after you have heard the rest of the story."

"Can it be possible that you are my lost child, Philip?" said my father.

"Let us see the evidence before we decide," I replied. "Now, how was the child lost?"

"My wife's brother, Lieutenant Collingsby, was stationed at a fort on the upper Missouri. My wife was anxious to see him, and we started in one of the steamers I owned then, with our little boy two years old," Mr. Farringford began. "The boat had our family name, and was the finest one I owned. We enjoyed the trip very much. I didn't drink very hard at that time, gentlemen, though I occasionally took too much in the evening, or on a festive occasion. On the night the steamer was burned, we were within thirty miles of the fort to which we were going, and where we intended to remain till the Farringford returned from her trip to the mouth of the Yellowstone. I know my wife did not undress the child, because we hoped to reach the fort, and spend the night at the barracks.

"Expecting to part with the passengers that evening, we had a merry time; and I drank till I was, in a word, intoxicated. I supplied whiskey and champagne for everybody on board, not excepting the officers, crew, and firemen, who would drink them. Even the two or three ladies who were on board partook of the sparkling beverage. Wishing to reach the fort as early as possible, I told the firemen and engineers to hurry up when I gave them their whiskey. They obeyed me to the letter, and the furnaces were heated red hot. I do not know to this day how the boat took fire; but I do know that a barrel of camphene, belonging to some army stores on board, was stove, and its contents ran all over the forward deck.

"All hands worked hard to save the boat; but they worked in vain. The pilot finally ran her ashore. I pulled down a door, and carried it to the main deck aft, while my wife conveyed the child to the same point. The fire was forward, so that we could not leave the boat by the bow, which had been run on shore. I placed my little one upon the door, wrapped in a shawl, with a pillow on each side to keep it from rolling into the water. The captain was to help my wife, while I swam behind the door, holding it with my hands. In this position, partially supported by the raft, I expected to be able to propel it to the shore. My plan was good, and would have been successful, without a doubt, if I had not been intoxicated.

"When I was about to drop into the water, the stern of the boat suddenly swung around, and I lost my hold upon the raft. I had been lying upon the edge of the deck, with my leg around a stanchion, my head hanging over the water; and I think my position, in addition to the fumes of the liquor I had drank, made me dizzy. I lost the door, and I think I partially lost my senses at the same time. The steamer, as she swung around, slipped from the abrupt shore which held her. This movement created a tremendous excitement, amounting to almost despair, among the passengers and crew. The door was carried away from the steamer, and I lost sight of it. When I was able again to realize my situation, I tried to discover the door, but in vain. I threw a box, which the captain had prepared to support my wife, into the water, and leaped in myself.

"The current swept the steamer down the river. I paddled my box to the shore, and landed."

"On which side did you land?" I asked.

"On the north side. I ran on the bank of the river, looking for my child. The glare from the burning steamer lighted up the water, but I could see nothing floating on the surface. I was the only person who had left the boat so far, and I followed her till, two or three miles below the point where I had landed, one of her boilers exploded, and she became a wreck. About one half of the passengers and crew were saved on boxes, barrels, and doors. By the aid of the captain my wife was brought to the shore. I shall never forget her agony when I told her that our child was lost. She sank senseless upon the ground; but she came to herself after a time. I wished that I had perished in the flood when I realized the anguish of losing my only child. I could not comfort her; I needed comfort myself. I spent the long night in walking up and down the banks of the river, looking for my lost little boy. Below the place where most of the passengers landed I found many doors and other parts of the boa

t; but I could not find my child.

"I reasoned that the current would carry the raft which bore up my child to the same points where other floating articles were found, and I was forced to the conclusion that my darling had rolled from the door and perished in the cold waters. I shuddered to think of it. Before daylight in the morning another steamer appeared, coming down the river. We hailed her, and were taken on board. She proved to be one of my boats, and I caused the most diligent search to be made for my lost little one. About a mile below the point where the Farringford had been run ashore we found a door, with one pillow upon it, aground on the upper end of an island. This discovery was the knell of my last hope. Of course the child had rolled from the door and perished. I wept bitterly, and my wife fainted, though we only realized what seemed inevitable from the first. We discovered this door about daylight, and it was useless to prolong the search. The evidence that my child was lost was too painfully conclusive.

"My wife wished to return home. We were going on a pleasure excursion, but it had terminated in a burden of woe which can never be lifted from my wife or from me. I drank whiskey to drown my misery. I was seldom sober after this, and I lost all my property in reckless speculations. I became what I am now. My wife never would taste even champagne after that terrible night. She in some measure recovered her spirits, though she can never be what she was before. After I had lost everything, and could no longer provide a home for her, she returned to her father. I have not seen her for five years; but I do not blame her. She was a beautiful woman, and worthy of a better husband than I was. You know the whole story now, Philip. These gentlemen knew it before."

"Not all of it," added Mr. Lamar. "And now we can pity and sympathize with you as we could not before."

"No; I deserve neither pity nor sympathy," groaned my poor father, trembling violently. "If I had not been drunk I should have saved my child."

"Perhaps it is all for the best, since the child was saved," said I.

"It is impossible!" exclaimed Farringford. "I cannot believe it. There was no one in that lonely region; and, if my child had reached the shore, it must have perished more miserably of starvation than in the water."

"You say your wife did not undress the child, because you expected to reach the fort that evening," I continued. "Do you know what clothes it had on?"

"I ought to know, for I have tearfully recalled the occasion when I last pressed it to my heart, after supper that awful night. It wore a little white cambric dress, with bracelets of coral on the shoulders."

"Anything on the neck?"

"Yes; a coral necklace, to which was attached a locket containing a miniature of my wife."

"In what kind of a shawl was it wrapped when you placed it on the door?" I asked, as I unlocked the bureau drawer in which I had placed the precious relics of my childhood.

While he was describing it I took the shawl from the drawer.

"Is this it?"

Farringford trembled in every fibre of his frame as he glanced at the article.

"It looks like it. I do not know whether it is the same one or not."

I trembled almost as much as the poor inebriate in the excitement of the moment.

"I should hardly consider that sufficient evidence," said Mr. Gray. "There are thousands of shawls just like that."

"I intend to furnish more evidence," I replied, producing the stained and mildewed dress I had brought from the settlement. "Do you know that dress, Mr. Farringford?"

"It certainly looks like the one my child wore."

It was examined by the gentlemen; but they thought the evidence was not yet conclusive, and I took the bracelets from the drawer.

"Did you ever see these before?" I asked, handing them to the palsied drunkard. "You will see the initials P.F. on the clasps."

"I have seen these, and I know them well. They were given to my child by my brother Philip," replied he, with increasing emotion.

"There may be some mistake," suggested Mr. Lamar. "Hundreds and thousands of just such trinkets have been sold in St. Louis."

"But these have the initials of my child upon them."

"P.F. may stand for Peter Fungus, or a dozen other names," replied Mr. Gray. "The evidence is certainly good as far as it goes, but not conclusive."

"What should you regard as conclusive, sir?" I asked, rather annoyed at his scepticism, which I regarded as slightly unreasonable.

"Evidence, to be entirely conclusive, must be susceptible of only one meaning," added Mr. Lamar. "The articles you have produced may have belonged to some other person, though it is not probable."

"I don't know that I shall be able to satisfy you, but I will try once more," I replied, taking the locket from the drawer.

I handed the locket to Farringford. He grasped it with his shaking hands, and turned it over and over. He examined the necklace with great care, and then tried to open the locket. He trembled so that he could not succeed, and I opened it for him. He glanced at the beautiful face upon which I had so often gazed by the hour together.

"My wife!" exclaimed he, sinking into his chair, and covering his face with his hands, sobbing convulsively like a child. "You are my son!"

"Perhaps not," interposed Mr. Lamar, very much to my disgust.

But my poor father was satisfied, and sprang forward to embrace me. The excitement was too much for his shattered nerves, and he dropped fainting into my arms. We placed him upon the bed, and I went for Mrs. Greenough.

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