A book from the pen of Jules Verne is its own best advertisement. Mistress Branican shows no falling off in the author's imaginative faculties or vivacity. This is the first of bis books in which a woman has been made the central figure. Perhaps the flying trips around the world made by Miss Bisland and " Nelly Bly"gave him the idea. At any rate, it is a good one. Mistress Branican, however, traveled with a caravan, and not with a small hand-bag. The adventures of this lady on her travels are thrilling and humorous at the same time, and the whole is told with that air of sincerity which is peculiar to the romances of Jules Verne.
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Jules Verne – A Biographical Primer
Chapter I - The Franklin
Chapter Ii - Family Matters
Chapter Iii - Prospect House
Chapter Iv - On Board The Boundary
Chapter V - Three Months Elapse
Chapter Vi - The End Of A Sorrowful Year
Chapter Vii - Various Matters
Chapter Viii - A Difficult Position
Chapter Ix - Revelations
Chapter X - Preparations
Chapter Xi - The First Cruise In Malaysia
Chapter Xii - Another Year
Chapter Xiii - A Cruise In The Timor Sea
Chapter Xiv - Browse Island
Chapter Xv - Living Wreckage
Chapter Xvi - Harry Felton
Chapter Xvii - By “Yes” And “No”
Chapter I - On The Voyage
Chapter Ii - Godfrey
Chapter Iii - A Historic Hat
Chapter Iv - The Train To Adelaide
Chapter V - Across South Australia
Chapter Vi - An Unexpected Meeting
Chapter Vii - Northwards
Chapter Viii - Beyond Alice Springs
Chapter Ix - Mrs. Branican’s Journal
Chapter X - A Few More Extracts
Chapter Xi - Indications And Incidents
Chapter Xii - The Last Efforts
Chapter Xiii - Among The Indas
Chapter Xiv - Len Burker’s Game
Chapter Xv - The Last Encampment
Chapter Xvi - The End
Mistress Branican, J. Verne
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Frontcover: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Angelique
Jules Verne (1828–1905), French author, was born at Nantes on the 8th of February 1828. After completing his studies at the Nantes lycée, he went to Paris to study for the bar. About 1848, in conjunction with Michel Carré, he wrote librettos for two operettas, and in 1850 his verse comedy, Les Pailles rompues, in which Alexandre Dumas fils had some share, was produced at the Gymnase. For some years his interests alternated between the theatre and the bourse, but some travellers’ stories which he wrote for the Musée des Familles seem to have revealed to him the true direction of his talent—the delineation, viz., of delightfully extravagant voyages and adventures to which cleverly prepared scientific and geographical details lent an air of versimilitude. Something of the kind had been done before, after kindred methods, by Cyrano de Bergerac, by Swift and Defoe, and later by Mayne Reid. But in his own particular application of plausible scientific apparatus Verne undoubtedly struck out a department for himself in the wide literary genre of voyages imaginaires. His first success was obtained with Cinq semaines en ballon, which he wrote for Hetzel’s Magazin d’Éducation in 1862, and thenceforward, for a quarter of a century, scarcely a year passed in which Hetzel did not publish one or more of his fantastic stories, illustrated generally by pictures of the most lurid and sensational description.The most successful of these romances include: Voyage au centre de la terre (1864); De la terre à la lune (1865); Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (1869); Les Anglais au pôle nord (1870); and Voyage autour du monde en quatre-vingts jours, which first appeared in Le Temps in 1872.The adaptation of this last (produced with success at the Porte St Martin theatre on the 8th of November 1874) and of another excellent tale, Michael Strogoff (at the Châtelet, 1880), both dramas being written in conjunction with Adolphe d’Ennery, proved the most acceptable of Verne’s theatrical pieces. The novels were translated into the various European languages—and some even into Japanese and Arabic—and had an enormous success in England. But after 1877, when he published Hector Servadac, a romance of existence upon a comet, the writer’s invention began to show signs of fatigue (his kingdom had been invaded in different directions and at different times times by such writers as R. M. Ballantyne, Rider Haggard and H. G. Wells), and he even committed himself, somewhat unguardedly, to very gloomy predictions as to the future of the novel. Jules Verne’s own novels, however, will certainly long continue to delight readers by reason of their sparkling style, their picturesque verve—apparently inherited directly from Dumas—their amusing and good-natured national caricatures, and the ingenuity with which the love element is either subordinated or completely excluded. M. Verne, who was always extremely popular in society, divided his time for the most part between Paris, his home at Amiens and his yacht. He was a member of the Legion of Honour, and several of his romances were crowned by the French Academy, but he was never enrolled among its members. He died at Amiens on the 24th of March 1905. His brother, Paul Verne, contributed to the Transactions of the French Alpine Club, and wrote an Ascension du Mont Blanc for his brother’s collection of Voyages extraordinaires in 1874.
There are two chances of never again seeing the friends we part with when starting on a long voyage; those we leave may not be here on our return, and those who go may never come back. But little heed of these eventualities was taken by the sailors who were preparing for departure on board the Franklin in the morning of the 15th of March, 1875.
On that day the Franklin, Captain John Branican, was about to quit the port of San Diego, in California, on a voyage across the Northern Pacific.
A fine vessel of nine hundred tons was this Franklin—a barquentine fully canvased with gaff sails, jibs and staysails, and with topmast and top-gallant-mast on the fore.
Long and narrow in the bow, finely modeled in the quick-works, and with a good clean run, her masts gently raking and strictly parallel, her standing rigging of galvanized wire as stiff as iron bars, she was of the most modern type of those elegant clippers which the North Americans find so well adapted for their ocean trade and which compete in speed with the best steamers of their Mercantile marine.
The Franklin was so well built and efficiently commanded that not a man of her crew would have shipped on another vessel—even with the assurance of obtaining higher pay. All were preparing to start content in their double confidence in a good ship and a good captain.
The Franklin was to make her first voyage on behalf of William H. Andrew, and Co. of San Diego. She was bound to Calcutta by way of Singapore with a cargo of American goods to return with Indian products to one of the Californian ports.
Captain John Branican was a young man of nine and twenty, with an attractive but resolute face, his features telling of unusual energy; he possessed in the highest degree that moral courage so superior to physical courage—that “two o’clock in the morning courage,” as Napoleon called it—that is to say, the kind that faces the unexpected and is ready for action at any moment. His head had more character than beauty, with his rough hair, his eyes animated with a keen, frank look which flashed like a dart from their black pupils. It would be difficult to imagine a man of his age more robust in body or constitution. That was clear enough in the vigor of his handshakings which indicated the ardor of his blood and the strength of his muscles. But what we have particularly to note is that the spirit contained in this body of iron was a good and noble spirit, ready to sacrifice its life for its kind. John Branican was of the character of those rescuers whose coolness enables them to perform heroic acts without hesitation. He had given proof of this early in life. One day, among the broken ice of the bay on a capsized boat, he had saved children like himself; and later on he had not belied the instincts of self-sacrifice which had marked his youth.
A few years after John Branican had lost his father and his mother, he had married Dolly Starter, an orphan, belonging to one of the best families of San Diego. The girl’s dowry was a modest one, and suitable for the position, equally modest, of the young sailor, then a mate on a merchant vessel. But there was reason to think that Dolly would one day be the heiress of a very rich uncle, Edward Starter, who lived a farmer’s life in the wildest and most out-of-the-way part of Tennessee. Meanwhile it would have to be enough to live on for two, or even for three, for little Walter—Wat, by abbreviation—came into the world in the first year of the marriage. Thus John Branican—and his wife understood it—could not dream of abandoning his profession as a sailor. In the future he would see what he could do, when the fortune came by inheritance, or by his enriching himself in Andrews’ service.
Besides this, the young sailor’s promotion had been unusually rapid. He had advanced quickly, and he had advanced straight. He was a captain at an age when most of his colleagues were only mates. If his abilities justified this promotion, his advance was explained by certain circumstances which had properly drawn attention to him.
In fact, John Branican was popular at San Diego, and at the different ports on the Californian coast. His acts of self-sacrifice had been noted with applause, not only by sailors, but by the merchants and shipowners of the Union.
A few years before, a Peruvian schooner, the Sonora, had come ashore at the entrance to Coronado Beach, and the crew would have been lost if communication had not been established between the ship and the shore. But to take a rope out through the breakers was to risk one’s life a hundred times. John Branican did not hesitate. He threw himself amid the waves which came rolling in with extreme violence on to the reefs and then came beating onto the beach in a terrible surf. In sight of the death which he would have faced without thinking of the danger, the people would have held him back. He resisted; he hurled himself towards the schooner; he succeeded in reaching her, and, thanks to his bravery, the Sonora’s crew were saved.
About a year afterwards, during a storm which broke some five hundred miles out in the Pacific, John Branican had another opportunity of showing what might be expected from him. He was mate on the Washington when the captain was washed overboard by a wave at the same time as half the crew. Remaining on board a disabled ship with half a dozen seamen, most of them injured, he took the command, and although the vessel had lost her rudder, he managed to handle her, and brought her into San Diego under jury masts. This almost unmanageable hulk contained a cargo worth five hundred thousand dollars, and belonged to Andrews.
Great was the young sailor’s reception when the Washington was moored in the port of San Diego. As the chances of the sea had made him captain, there was not a voice among the whole population against confirming him in his rank.
It was under these circumstances that Andrews built the Franklin and offered him the command. He accepted it, for he felt himself equal to the post, and could pick and choose his crew, for people had confidence in him. And that is how it came about that the Franklin was beginning her first voyage under the orders of John Branican.
The departure was an event for the whole town, Andrew’s was justly considered one of the most honorable firms in San Diego. Of the highest character for the security of his business relationships and the strength of his credit was Mr. William Andrew, who directed its affairs with a sure hand. This worthy shipowner was not only esteemed, he was loved. And his behavior towards John Branican was unanimously applauded.
There was thus nothing to be astonished at if during this morning of the 15th of March, a numerous gathering of spectators—in other words a crowd of friends, known and unknown, of the young captain—appeared on the quays of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company to greet him with a last cheer at his departure.
The crew of the Franklin consisted pf twelve men including the boatswain, all, however, good sailors belonging to San Diego and happy to serve under the orders of John Branican. The mate was an excellent officer, named Harry Felton. Although he was five or six years older than his captain he was in no way offended at having to serve under him, nor was he in any way jealous of the position his captain held. He considered that John Branican deserved his position, he had sailed with him before and they mutually appreciated each other. Besides, what Mr. William Andrew did must be well done. Harry Felton and his men were devoted to him body and soul. Most of them had already sailed in some of his ships. It was, as it were, a family of officers and sailors—a numerous family devoted to its chief, which constituted its maritime staff and did not cease to increase with the prosperity of the house.
And it was without apprehension, or rather with ardor, that the crew of the Franklin were entering on this new campaign. Fathers, mothers, relatives, were there to say farewell, but to say it to those whom they would soon see again. “Good-bye, and see you again soon, shall we not?” It was only a six months’ voyage, a simple passage during the fine season between California and India, there and back between San Diego and California, and not one of those expeditions of commerce or discovery which keep a ship for long years on the most dangerous seas of the two hemispheres. The sailors had been many other such voyages, and their families had been present at many more disquieting departures.
The-preparations would soon be complete. The Franklin at her anchor in the middle of the harbor was already clear of the other vessels, whose number bore witness to the importance of San Diego as a port. From the place she occupied she would have no need of a tug to take her out to sea. As soon as her anchor was short apeak, it would be enough for her to fill her sails, and a beautiful breeze would take her rapidly out of the bay without her having to go about. Captain John Branican could not have wished for better weather, nor a more favorable wind, over the sea which glittered under the rays of the sun around the Coronado islands in the offing.
At this time—six o’clock in the morning—it need scarcely be said that all the crew were on board. None of the sailors could return to the shore, and as far as they were concerned the voyage had already begun. A few of the harbor boats were at the starboard gangway waiting for the people who were bidding the last good-bye to their friends and relatives. These boats would take them to the quay as soon as the Franklin hoisted her jibs. Although the tides are not strong in the Pacific, it was quite as well to go out with the ebb which would soon begin.
Among the visitors we must particularly notice Mr. William Andrew and Mrs. Branican, accompanied by the nurse carrying little Wat; they were accompanied by Mr. Len Burker and his wife, Jane Burker, Dolly’s cousin-german. Harry Felton, the mate, having no family, had no one to bid him good-bye. The good wishes of Mr. William Andrew were not wanting on the occasion, and he asked no more than that those of John’s wife should be added to them—of which he was assured in advance.
Harry Felton was on the forecastle where half a dozen of the men were shortening in the cable at the capstan amid the metallic clatter of the pawls. The Franklin had already begun to move as the chain came grinding in through the hawse-hole. The house flag with Andrew’s initials floated at the main-mast head, while the American flag fluttered in the breeze from the peak, and displayed the Stars and Stripes. The square sails were all ready for setting as soon as the ship was under way under jibs and staysails.
On the front of the poop so as to lose nothing of what was being done, John Branican received the final instructions from Mr. William Andrew relative to the manifest, that is, the detailed statement of the goods which constituted the Franklin’s cargo. Then the shipowner gave the young captain the papers, and added,—
“If circumstances oblige you to change your course do the best you can for our interests, and send me news from the first land you touch at. The Franklin may perhaps put in at one of the Philippines, for you have doubtless no intention of going through Torres Straits?”
“No, Mr. Andrew,” said John, “I should not think of taking the Franklin into the dangerous seas to the north of Australia. My road should be to Hawaii, the Ladrones, Mindanao of the Philippines, Celebes, and the Strait of Macassar, so as to reach Singapore by the Java Sea. From there to Calcutta the road is clear enough. I do not think the route will have to be changed on account of the winds we shall meet with in the Western Pacific. If you have anything of importance to telegraph to me send it to Mindanao, where I shall probably put in, or to Singapore, where I certainly shall.”
“That is agreed. On your part let me know as soon as you can the state of the market at Calcutta. It is possible that it may oblige me to change my intentions regarding the return cargo.”
“I shall not fail to do so, Mr. Andrew,” said John Branican.
At this moment Harry Felton approached, and said,—
“The anchor is apeak, sir.”
“And the ebb?”
“Is just beginning to be felt.”
Then addressing Mr. William Andrew, the captain, full of gratitude, repeated,—
“Once more, Mr. Andrew, I thank you for having given me the command of the Franklin. I hope I shall justify your confidence.”
“I have no doubt of it whatever,” said Mr. Andrew; “and I could not leave the business of my house in better hands.”
The shipowner shook hands with him heartily and moved towards the stern.
Mrs. Branican, followed by the nurse and the baby, rejoined her husband with Mr. and Mrs. Burker. The moment of separation had come. Captain Branican had now but to receive the last farewells of his wife and family.
Dolly, as we know, had not been married two years, and her child was hardly nine months old. Although the separation caused her profound grief, yet she would not let anything of it be seen, and restrained the beating of her heart while her cousin Jane, of weak nature and without energy, could not conceal her emotion. She was very fond of Dolly, and in being near her had often found some alleviation of the sorrows caused by the imperious and violent character of her husband. But if Dolly concealed her anxieties, Jane was none the less aware of what she felt in all its reality. Doubtless Captain Branican would be back before six months, but at least it was a separation—the first since their marriage—and if she was strong enough to restrain her tears it could well be said that Jane wept for her. As to Len Burker, the man whose look no tender emotion had ever softened, his eyes were dry, and with his hands in his pockets he moved about inattentive to what was going on, and thinking of one knows not what. Evidently he had no ideas in common with the visitors whom sentiments of affection had brought on board the ship at her departure.
Captain John took his wife’s two hands between his, and drawing her towards him said, in a gentle voice,—
“Dear Dolly, I must go. I shall not be long away. In a few months you will see me again. I will find you again, Dolly, never fear. On my ship with my crew, what have we to fear from the dangers of the sea? Be strong, as a sailor’s wife should be. When I come back our little Wat will be fifteen months old. He will be a big boy. He will be able to talk, and the first word I hear on my return—”
“Will be your name, John!” said Dolly. “Your name shall be the first he will learn. We will both talk of you and always! Dear John, do write to me at every opportunity. And tell me all you have done, and all you think of doing. Let me feel that thoughts of me are in all your thoughts.”
“Yes, dear Dolly, I will write to you. I will keep you posted up in the events of our voyage. My letters shall be like a log, with all my tenderness to the good!”
“Ah! John. I am so jealous of this sea which is taking you away so far. How much I envy those who love and whom nothing in life can separate! But no; I am wrong to think of that.”
“Dear wife, say to yourself that it is for our child that I go—for you also, to give both of you comfort and happiness. If our hopes of the future are one day realized, we shall never again separate.”
Here Len Burker and Jane came near. Captain John turned towards them.
“My dear Len,” he said, “I leave you my wife; I leave you my son. I entrust them to you as being the only relations they have in San Diego.”
“You can depend on us, John,” said Len Burker, endeavoring to soften the harshness of his voice. “Jane and I are here, and we will take care of Dolly.”
“And we will console her,” said Mrs. Burker. “You know how much I love you, my dear Dolly! I will see you often. Every day I will spend a few hours with you. We will talk about John.”
“Yes, Jane,” answered Mrs. Branican, “for I shall not cease to think about him.”
Harry Felton again came to interrupt the conversation.
“Captain,” said he, “it will be time—”
“All right, Harry,” said John. “Up with the inner jib and mizen.”
The mate went off to execute the orders, which meant an immediate departure.
“Mr. Andrew,” said the captain to the owner, “the boat will take you back to the quay with my wife and her relations as soon as you like.”
“Now, John,” answered Mr. Andrew, “and once more—a pleasant voyage!”
“Yes! a pleasant voyage!” said the other visitors as they went down into the boats on the starboard side of the Franklin.”
“Good-bye, Len! Good-bye, Jane!” said John, clasping their hands in his.
“Good-bye! good-bye!” said Mrs. Burker.
“And you, my Dolly, you must go,” added John; “the sails are filling.”
And in fact the sails were giving a slight heel to the Franklin, while the sailors sang,—
“Here goes one, A bouncing one, One will go, she will, oh! But two come home, they will, oh! Here goes two, A bouncing two, Two will go, they will, oh! But three come home, they will, oh! Here goes three—”
And so on.
During this the captain had led his wife to the gangway, and as she put her foot on the ladder, feeling himself as incapable of speaking to her as she was of speaking to him, he could only clasp her tightly in his arms.
And then the baby, which Dolly had just taken from the nurse, stretched out its arms towards its father, shook its little hands as it smiled, and this word escaped from its lips,—
“My John,” exclaimed Dolly, “you have heard his first word before separating from him.”
Self-controlled as was the young captain, he could not restrain the tear which rolled down onto little Wat’s cheek.
“Dolly!” he murmured, “Good-bye! good-bye!”
“Are you clear?” he called in a loud voice, to put an end to this painful scene.
A moment afterwards the boat was offend heading for the wharf where its passengers would immediately land.
Captain Branican was busy getting under way. The anchor began to mount towards the hawse-hole. The Franklin, free from her last fetter, already felt the breeze on her sails, which were shaking violently. The big jib was almost close home, and the guyed mizen caused the ship to luff a little so that she could pass clear of a few vessels moored at the entrance of the bay.
At a new order from Captain Branican the mainsail and foresail went up together with a simultaneous precision that did honor to the arms of the crew. Then the Franklin, coming round on the port tack, stood off out to sea.
From the wharf the numerous spectators could admire these different maneuvers. Nothing could be more graceful than this elegantly shaped vessel when she heeled to the capricious gusts of the wind. During the evolution she approached the end of the wharf where Mr. William Andrew, Dolly, Len and Jane Burker stood within less than half a cable length; and consequently the young captain again had a glimpse of his wife and her relations and friends.
They all replied to his voice which was clearly heard, and to his hand which he stretched out towards those from whom he was going away.
“Good-bye! Good-bye!” said he.
“Hurrah!” shouted the crowd of spectators, while the handkerchiefs waved in hundreds.
Liked by all was Captain John Branican! Was he not the townsman of whom the town was most justifiably proud? Yes! they all would be there on his return when he appeared outside the bay.
The Franklin, which was already at the mouth, had to luff to avoid a long mail boat just coming in. The two ships saluted by dipping their American ensigns.
On the wharf Mrs. Branican stood motionless gazing at the Franklin rapidly sailing away under the fresh breeze from the north-east. She would follow her with her eyes as long as her masts were visible over Island Point.
But the Franklin was soon round the Coronado Islands outside the bay. For a moment the house flag at the masthead was visible through a gap in the cliffs. Then she disappeared.
“Good bye, John. Good-bye!” murmured Dolly.
And why was it that an inexplicable presentiment prevented her from adding, “Au revoir?”
It is necessary to speak in more detail of Mrs. Branican, whom the different events of this history will bring into fuller light. At this time, Dolly—an abbreviation for Dorothy—was one and twenty. She was of American birth. But without going very far back in her pedigree, there could be found the generation which allied her to the Spanish or rather Mexican race, from which the chief families of this country are descended. Her mother, in fact, was born at San Diego, and San Diego was already founded while Lower California still belonged to Mexico. The vast bay discovered about three and a half centuries before by the Spanish navigator, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, was at first named after San Miguel, but received its new name in 1602. In 1846 the province changed its tri-colored flag for the Stars and Stripes and since then it has formed one of the States of the Union.
Of middle height, with a face lighted up by eyes large and deep and black, a warm complexion, abundant hair of rich dark brown, with hands and feet rather strongly made, as is generally the case in the Spanish type, a walk firm and graceful, a physiognomy denoting energy of character and goodness of heart—such was Mrs. Branican. She was one of those women who cannot be looked upon with indifference, and before her marriage Dolly had the reputation among the girls of San Diego—where beauty is not at all rare—of being the one most worthy of attention. She was of a serious, reflective turn of mind, in its larger sense, and was of enlightened views, gifts which marriage would assuredly develop in her.
Yes! under whatever circumstances, grave as they might be, Dolly, now Mrs. Branican, would know how to do her duty. Having frankly looked straight at life and not through the deceitful surfaces of a prism, she possessed a noble spirit and a strong will. The love with which her husband had inspired her rendered her more resolute to accomplish her task. If the case required it—and this is not an empty phrase when applied to Mrs. Branican—she would give her life for John, as John would give his for her, and as both would give for the child born to them in the first year of their union. They adored this baby, which had just lisped the word “papa” at the moment the young captain was separated from him and his mother. The resemblance which little Wat bore to his father was striking—in the features at least, for he had the warm complexion of Dolly. Of vigorous constitution he had nothing to fear from childish ailments. Besides, he was so carefully looked after. Ah! what dreams of the future, the paternal and maternal imagination had already dreamt for this little being whose life had barely begun.
Assuredly Mrs. Branican would have been the happiest of women, if John’s position had allowed him to abandon his trade as a sailor, of which the least of the drawbacks was this necessity of separation from each other. But when the command of the Franklin had been offered to him, how could she even think of keeping him from it? And besides, had she not to think of the necessities of housekeeping, and providing for a family which might not always consist of this one child? Dolly’s dowry was hardly enough for the needs of the house as it was. Evidently John Branican might reckon on the fortune which the uncle would leave to his niece, and very unlikely things would have to occur for this fortune to escape him, for Mr. Edward Starter was almost a sexagenarian and had no other heiress than Dolly. In fact, her cousin, Jane Burker, belonged to the maternal branch of the family, and was in no way related to her uncle. Dolly would be rich—but ten years, twenty years might pass before she came into her inheritance. And so John Branican was obliged to work at present, if he had no reason to be anxious about the future; and he had done well in continuing in Andrews’ service, in addition to the interest which had been given him in the results of the Franklin’s voyages. And as besides being a sailor he was a merchant well acquainted with trading affairs, there was every chance of his acquiring by his work a certain degree of comfort while waiting for the heritage of Mr. Edward Starter.
One word concerning this American—whose “Americanism” was quite original. He was the brother of Dolly’s father and consequently her uncle. It was her father, the elder by five or six years, who had so to speak brought up the younger, for both were orphans; and the younger Starter had always retained for him a lively affection augmented by gratitude. Circumstances favoring the elder he had followed the steady road to fortune, while the younger brother had wandered along the crossroads which rarely lead to anything. He had gone off to engage in lucky speculations in buying and clearing vast extents of land in the State of Tennessee, but he had never broken off communications with his brother, whom business kept in the State of New York. When he had become a widower he had settled at San Diego, the native place of his wife, where he died just after the marriage of Dolly with John Branican had been decided on. The marriage took place when the mourning was over, and the young couple’s entire fortune was the very modest heritage left by Starter senior.
A short time afterwards there had arrived at San Diego a letter addressed to Dolly Branican by Starter junior. It was the first he had written to his niece, and it was to be the last.
In substance this letter said, in a form as concise as it was to the point: although Starter junior was a long way away from her, and although he had never seen her, yet he did not forget that he had a niece, his own brother’s daughter. If he had never seen her it was because Starter senior and Starter junior had never met since Starter senior had taken to himself a wife, and because Starter junior lived near Nashville in the remotest part of Tennessee while she dwelt at San Diego. Between Tennessee, and California there were several hundred miles which it was in no way convenient for Starter junior to travel, and if Starter junior found the journey too fatiguing for him to go and see his niece, he thought it would be no less fatiguing for his niece to come and see him, and he begged her not to think of taking any trouble in the matter.
In reality Starter junior was a regular bear—not one of those American grizzlies with claws and fur, but one of those human bears who are specially fitted to live outside all social relationships. But that was no concern of Dolly’s. She was the niece of a bear—be it so! But this bear possessed an uncle’s heart. He did not forget what was due from Starter junior to the brother’s daughter who would inherit his fortune.
Starter junior said that this fortune was already worth having. It was then worth 500,000 dollars, and could not but increase, for clearing speculations were prospering in the State of Tennessee. As it consisted of land and cattle it would be easy to realize at good prices, and there would be no difficulty in finding buyers.
If this was said in that positive and somewhat brutal fashion which is peculiar to Americans of the old type, it was said all the same. The fortune of Starter junior would go entirely to Mrs. Branican and her children; but in the event of the death of Mrs. Branican, without descendants, this fortune would revert to the State, which would be very happy to accept it.
Two things more.
1. Starter junior was a bachelor. He would remain a bachelor: “the folly he had avoided between the years of twenty and thirty he would avoid at sixty,” so his letter said. There was nothing then to turn aside this fortune, as he desired formally to impress upon her, and she would have it for her household use as certainly as the Mississippi flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
2. Starter junior would use every effort—superhuman, indeed—to enrich his niece at the most distant date possible. He had no intention of dying till he was at least a centenarian, and would use all the obstinacy of which he was capable to prolong his life to the utmost possible limit.
Finally, Starter junior begged Mrs. Branican, and even ordered her, not to reply. There was but little communication between the towns and the forest region in the depths of Tennessee. And for his part he would not write again unless it was to announce his death, when the letter would not be in his own hand.
Such was the singular letter received by Mrs. Branican. That she would be the heiress, the universal legatee of her Uncle Starter, there could be no doubt. She would one day possess a fortune of 500,000 dollars, which would probably be greatly increased by the work of this clever clearer of forests. But as Starter junior clearly expressed his intention of living till he was a hundred—and one knows how tenacious these Americans are—John Branican had wisely decided not to abandon the sea. His intelligence, his courage, and his determination would probably help him to acquire a certain affluence for his wife and child long before Uncle Starter had started for another world.
Such was the position of the household when the Franklin sailed for the Western Pacific, and which it was necessary to explain in order that what follows may be understood. And now for the only relations of Dolly Branican at San Diego, Mr. and Mrs. Burker.
Len Burker, an American by birth, was then in his thirty-second year, and had only during the last few years settled in the capital of Lower California. This New England Yankee, cold in face, hard in feature, strong in body, was very determined, very active, and very close, allowing nothing to be known of his thoughts, and saying nothing of his actions. His was one of those natures which resemble closed houses, the door of which is opened to nobody. However, at San Diego there had been no unfavorable rumors concerning this uncommunicative man, whose marriage with Jane Burker had made him John Branican’s cousin. There is nothing surprising in John’s having entrusted Dolly and his child to the Burkers, for he had no other relations; but in reality it was more particularly to Jane that he entrusted them, knowing that the two cousins had a profound affection for each other.
And it would have been different had John known the truth about Len Burker, if he had known the knavery which he dissimulated behind the impenetrable mask of his physiognomy, or the unceremoniousness with which he treated the social proprieties, respect for himself and the rights of others. Deceived by his somewhat seductive exterior, by a sort of dominating fascination he exercised over her, Jane had married him five months before at Boston, where she was living with her mother, who died a little time after the marriage, the consequences of which were to become so regrettable. Jane’s dowry, and the maternal inheritance, would have sufficed for the young couple to live upon if Len Burker had been a man to follow the usual road and not the by-paths. But he did nothing of the sort. After having run through his wife’s fortune, Len Burker had been bankrupt at Boston, and had to leave that city. On the other side of America, where his dubious reputation had not followed him, the new countries offered him chances he could not have in New England.
Jane, who now knew her husband, readily seconded this plan of departure, happy to get away from Boston, where Len Burker’s position led to disagreeable comments, and glad also to be with the only relative she had left to her. They had come to San Diego where Dolly and Jane became friends again. For three years they had lived in the town, and Len Burker had given rise to no suspicions, owing to his hiding his difficulties with so much ability. Such were the circumstances which had again brought together the two cousins at the time when Dolly was not yet Mrs. Branican. The young wife and the girl became close friends. Although it would seem that Jane should have influenced Dolly, the contrary was the case. Dolly was strong, Jane was weak, and the girl soon became the wife’s support. When the union of John Branican and Dolly was decided on, Jane showed herself very pleased at the match—a marriage which in no way promised to resemble hers! And in the intimacy of this young household what consolation she might not have found if she had told the secret of her troubles. But subdued under her husband’s domination, she had never dared to say a word.
But Len Burker’s position was becoming more and more serious. The little that remained to him of his wife’s fortune when he left Boston had almost entirely gone. This gambler, or rather this reckless speculator, was one of those people who leave everything to chance, and await the event. Such a character, incapable of listening to reason, could not but bring about deplorable results.
On his arrival at San Diego, Len Burker had opened an office in Fleet Street—one of those offices like dens from which every idea, good or bad, is made a starting-point for business. Clever in putting the best appearance on everything, quite unscrupulous as to the means he employed, an adept at treating quibbles as arguments, much inclined to look on the property of others as his own, he launched out into a score of speculations which would gradually end in disaster, but not without leaving him a few pickings. At the opening of this history Len Burker was reduced to many shifts, and discomfort was in his house; but he still enjoyed a certain amount of credit, owing to his keeping his affairs quiet, and this he employed in making new dupes. The position, however, could only end in a catastrophe. The hour could not be distant when the claims would come in. Perhaps this adventurous Yankee, transplanted to Western America, would have no other resource but to leave San Diego as he had left Boston, although in a time of such enlightenment and such powerful commercial activity, the progress of which increased from year to year, an honest and intelligent man would have found a hundred opportunities of success. But Len Barker had neither honorable feelings, just ideas, nor honest intentions.
But it must be understood that neither John Branican nor William Andrew had any suspicion concerning the affairs of Len Burker. In the world of industry and commerce no one knew that this adventurer—and would to heaven he merited that name only—was approaching a disastrous end. And even when the catastrophe came about the world might see in him merely a man little favored by fortune, and not one of those persons without morality, to whom every way of making money must be right. And so, without having taken a great liking to him, John Branican had conceived no mistrust towards him; and it was in all good faith that he reckoned on the kindness of the Burkers to his wife. If anything happened to make Dolly have recourse to them she would not go in vain. Their house was open to her, and she would there find a welcome due not only to a friend but to a sister.
In this respect there was no cause to suspect the sentiments of Jane Burker. The affection she entertained towards her cousin was without restraint or calculation. Far from blaming the sincere friendship which united these two young women, Len Burker had encouraged it, on the contrary, doubtless with a confused notion of the future, and the advantages which this connection might bring. He knew, too, that Jane would never say a word she ought not to say, and that she would maintain a prudent reserve regarding her personal position, that she was ignorant of the blameworthy undertakings on which he had entered, of the difficulties amid which his housekeeping had to struggle on. And Jane was silent, and not a word of recrimination escaped her. She was completely overawed by her husband, and submissive to his absolute influence, although she knew him to be a man without conscience, destitute of any moral sense, and capable of committing the most unpardonable acts. After so many disillusions how could she retain the least respect for him? But—and this is the essential point—she feared him, she was like a child in his hands, and at a sign from him she would follow him, if his safety obliged him to fly to no matter what part of the world. But for her own self-respect she allowed no one to know her misery, not even her cousin Dolly, who perhaps suspected it without being taken into her confidence.
The relative positions of John and Dolly Branican on the one hand, and that of Len and Jane Burker on the other, is thus sufficiently clear for the understanding of the occurrences that followed. In what way would this position be altered by the unexpected which was so soon and so suddenly to happen? No one could have foreseen.
Thirty years ago Lower California—about a third of the State of California—contained only about thirty-five thousand inhabitants. Today its population is one hundred and fifty thousand. At that time the land of the province was almost uncultivated and was deemed only fit for cattle-raising. Who would have divined what the future had in reserve for a region then so abandoned that the only means of communication by land was the roads rutted with cart-wheels, and by sea a solitary line of packet-boats calling at every port on the coast?
But ever since 1769 the embryo of a town existed a few miles in the interior to the north of the Bay of San Diego, which town has the historical claim of being the most ancient settlement on Californian soil.
When the new continent, attached to old Europe by the simple colonial ties which the United Kingdom thought to tighten, had been given a violent shock, these ties were broken, and the union of the States of North America was founded under the flag of independence; but in those days California belonged to the Mexicans, and it continued in their possession until 1846. In that year, after receiving its freedom, the municipality of San Diego, formed eleven years before, became what it should always be—American.
The bay of San Diego is magnificent. It has been compared with the bay of Naples, but the comparison would be more exact if made with the bays of Vigo or Rio Janeiro. Twelve miles long and two miles wide it gives enough space for the anchorage of a merchant fleet as well as for the maneuvers of a squadron, for San Diego is considered to be a military port. Forming a kind of oval, opening to the westward by a narrow mouth between Island Point and Loma or Coronado Point, it is sheltered on all sides. The winds from the open sea respect it, the swell from the Pacific hardly troubles its surface, ships get away from it without difficulty, and come alongside the quays in a minimum of twenty-three feet of water. It is the only port, safe, practicable, suitable for putting in at, south of San Francisco and north of San Quentin.
With so many natural advantages, it was evident that the old town would soon be found too small as at first laid out. Already barracks had been built for the installation of a detachment of cavalry on some adjoining ground which was covered with brushwood. Owing to Mr. Horton’s initiative a suburb to this was begun, and this has now become the city which now stands on the ridges at the north of the bay. The expansion took place with that celerity so familiar to Americans. A million of dollars sown on the ground germinated as private houses, public buildings, offices and villas. In 1885 San Diego contained fifteen thousand inhabitants, today it has thirty-five thousand. Its first railroad dates from 1881. At present the Atlantic and Pacific, the Southern California, and the Southern Pacific put it in communication with the continental network, and the Pacific Coast Steamship Company gives it constant intercourse with San Francisco.
It is a handsome, comfortable town, airy and healthy, with a climate beyond eulogy. In the vicinity the country is of incomparable fertility. The vine, the olive, the orange, the citron grow side by side with the fruits and vegetables of northern climes. We might call it a Normandy combined with a Provence.
The town itself is built with that picturesque freedom of position and private fancy which is conducive to health when there is plenty of space. If progress under all its forms is not to be met with in a modern city, more especially when this city is American, where should we look for it? Gas, telegraph, telephone—the inhabitants have but to make a sign to be lighted, to exchange messages, to speak in each other’s ears between one quarter of the town and another. There are even masts a hundred and fifty feet high which shed the electric light over the streets of the town. If the milk is not yet distributed under pressure by the General Milk Company, if moving footpaths running four miles an hour are not yet working at San Diego, this will certainly be done—eventually.
To these advantages we must add the different institutions in which is controlled the vital movement of these great agglomerations—a custom house, the importance of which increases daily, two banks, a chamber of commerce, an emigration society, vast offices, numerous counting houses, in which an enormous trade is carried on in timber and flour; churches for different denominations, three markets, a theater, a gymnasium; three large schools for poor children, the Russ House, the Masonic and the Odd Fellows’; a number of establishments in which studies are carried on for the gaining of university diplomas—and we can imagine what will be the future of a city, still young and compulsorily careful of its moral and material interests, within which are accumulated so many elements of prosperity. Are newspapers unknown to it? No! It possesses three daily sheets, among others the Herald, and these papers have each a weekly edition. Is there any fear of tourists being unable to find comfortable quarters? Without counting the hotels of inferior order, are there not at their choice the three magnificent establishments—the Horton House, the Florence Hotel, and the Gerard Hotel with its hundred rooms, and on the opposite side of the bay, overlooking the beach at Coronado Point, on an admirable site amid charming villas, a new hotel which has not cost less than five million dollars?
From all the countries of the old continent and from all points of the new, come tourists to visit this young and lively capital of Lower California, where they are hospitably welcomed by its generous inhabitants, and in no way regret the voyage—unless it be that they thought it too short.
San Diego is a town full of animation and well organized in all the confusion of its business like the majority of American cities. If life is shown by movement, one can say its people live in the most intense sense of the word. They have scarcely time enough for their commercial transactions. But if that is so for the people whose instincts and habits throw them into the whirlpool, it is no longer true of those whose existence drags on in interminable leisure. When the movement stops the hours cannot go too slowly!
And thus did Mrs. Branican feel after the departure of the Franklin. Since her marriage she had helped her husband in his work. Although he did not go to sea, his business with Andrews’ gave John a good deal to do. Besides the commercial transactions in which he took part, he had had to superintend the building of the ship to which he was to be appointed. With what zeal, we might almost say with what love, did he look after the smallest details. He gave it all the incessant care of a man building the house in which he is to pass his life. And more so, for the ship is not only a house, or a mere instrument of fortune, but an assemblage of wood and iron to which is confided the lives of so many men. Is it not as it were a detached fragment of the native soil to which it returns to leave it again, and which unfortunately destiny often forbids from finishing its maritime career in the port in which it was born?
Frequently would Dolly accompany Captain John to the shipyard. This framework, which rose on the sloping keel, the curves arranged like the ribs of a gigantic mammifer, the planking which was to go on this hull of complex form, this deck with the large openings in it destined for loading and unloading the cargo; the masts laid on the ground until they are in place, the poop and its cabins, could not all this interest her? It was John’s life and that of his companions that the Franklin would defend from the surges of the Pacific. Could there be a plank, therefore, to which Dolly did not in her thought attach some chance of safety, a hammer stroke, amid the noise of the shipyard, which did not echo in her heart? John explained everything to her, told her the destination of each piece of wood or metal, and showed her how the progress accorded with the working drawings. She loved this ship of which John was to be the soul, the master, after God! And sometimes she would ask, when she did not go with John, why he did not take her with him, why she did not share with him the perils of the journey, why the Franklin did not take her as well as him from San Diego? Yes! She wished never to be separated from her husband. And had not seafaring households, afloat for many years, existed for a long time among the people of the north?
But there was Wat, the baby, and could Dolly abandon him to the cares of a nurse far away from maternal caresses? No! Could she take him to sea, exposing him to the eventualities of a voyage so dangerous for such little creatures? Not at all. Therefore she must stop at San Diego with the child, to preserve the life that had been given him, without leaving him for an instant; surrounding him with affection and tenderness in order that as he blossomed forth in health he might smile when his father returned. And the captain would not be away more than six months. After taking in a new cargo at Calcutta the Franklin would return to her port of registry. And, besides, was it not advisable for a sailor’s wife to become accustomed to these inevitable separations? It was necessary to become resigned to it, and Dolly did resign herself to it. But after John’s departure, as soon as the movement which was life to her had ceased around her, how vacant, monotonous and desolate her life would have been if she had not been absorbed in her child, if she had not concentrated on him all her love.
John Branican’s house was on one of the upper levels of the heights which surround the shore of the bay. It was a sort of chalet, standing in a little garden, planted with orange trees and olive trees, enclosed with a wooden fence. A ground floor with a path along the front, on to which opened the door and the windows of the drawing and dining rooms, a first floor with a balcony the whole length, and above it the graceful gables of the roof—such was this very simple and attractive dwelling. On the ground floor were the drawing and dining rooms, modestly furnished. On the first floor were two rooms occupied by Mrs. Branican and the child, behind the house a small annexe for the kitchen and offices; that was the interior plan of the chalet. Prospect House rejoiced in an exceptionally fine position owing to its southern aspect. The view extended over the entire town, and across the bay to the buildings on Loma Point. It was rather too far away from the business quarter undoubtedly; but this slight disadvantage was amply compensated for by the chalet’s position in a good atmosphere, exposed to the southerly breezes, laden with the saline odors of the Pacific.
It was in this house that the long hours of absence for Dolly were to be passed. The baby’s nurse and a domestic were the only servants. The only persons who visited it were Mr. and Mrs. Burker—Len rarely, Jane frequently. Mr. William Andrew, according to his promise, often called on the young wife to acquaint her with all the news of the Franklin which might reach him directly or indirectly. Before any letters could come the maritime journals would record the vessels spoken with, their arrival in port, and the different shipping news of interest to shipowners. Dolly would thus be kept up to date. As to the people around and her neighbors, she was accustomed to the isolation of Prospect House and had never sought acquaintanceship. One thought occupied her life, and even if visitors had crowded to the chalet, it would have seemed empty to her, for John was not there, and it would remain empty until his return.
The first few days were very sad for her. Dolly never went out of the house when Jane Burker came to see her. They spent their time with little Wat and in speaking of Captain John. Generally, when she was alone, Dolly would spend a part of the day on the balcony, looking out beyond the bay, beyond Island Point, beyond the Coronado Islands, beyond the horizon. The Franklin was far away, but in thought she was on board of her and near her husband. And when a ship came into view and sought the harbor she would say to herself that one day the Franklin would also appear, and grow larger as she neared the land, that John would be on board.
But little Wat’s health would not be improved by rigid seclusion within Prospect House. In the second week after the departure the weather had become very fine and the breezes tempered the growing heat. So Mrs. Branican deemed it necessary to go out. She took with her the nurse to carry the baby. They went for a walk as far as the outskirts of San Diego, as far as the houses of the Old Town. That was of great benefit to the child, who was fresh and rosy, and when the nurse stopped he clapped his little hands and smiled at his mother. Once or twice, for longer excursions a pretty chaise, hired in the neighborhood, took out the three, or rather the four, for Mrs. Burker formed one of the party. One day they went as far as Knob Hill, which rises near the Florence Hotel, from which the view extends beyond the islands to the west. Another day the drive extended to Coronado Beach, on which the furious sea beat like thunder. Then they visited the Mussel Beds, where the high tide covers the superb rocks with its spray. Dolly touched with her foot this ocean, which bore as it were an echo from the distant regions where John was then sailing—this ocean, the waves of which were perhaps dashing against the Franklin thousands of miles away. And she stood there motionless, seeing the young captain’s ship in the flight of her imagination, and murmuring the name of John.
On the 30th of March Mrs. Branican was on the balcony when she perceived Mrs. Burker coming towards Prospect House. Jane was hurrying along, and signaled joyfully with her hand, a proof that she brought no bad news. Dolly immediately went downstairs to meet her at the door.
“What is the matter, Jane?” she asked.
“Dear Dolly,” replied Mrs. Burker, “I have something to tell you which will please you. I have come from Mr. William Andrew to tell you that the Boundary came in this morning and has spoken the Franklin.”
“Yes! Mr. William Andrew had just heard it when he met me in Fleet Street, and as he could not come on here until the afternoon, I hurried on in his place to tell you.”
“And is there any news of John?”
“What? Tell me.”
“Eight days ago the Franklin and the Boundary passed each other on the sea and communicated with each other.”
“Was all well on board?”
“Yes, dear Dolly. The two captains were near enough to shout to each other,and the last word heard on the Boundary was your name.”
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