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The Taking Of Captain Ball
by [?]

I.

There was a natural disinclination to the cares of housekeeping in the mind of Captain Ball, and he would have left the sea much earlier in life if he had not liked much better to live on board ship. A man was his own master there, and meddlesome neighbors and parsons and tearful women-folks could be made to keep their distance. But as years went on, and the extremes of weather produced much affliction in the shape of rheumatism, this, and the decline of the merchant service, and the degeneracy of common seamen, forced Captain Ball to come ashore for good. He regretted that he could no longer follow the sea, and, in spite of many alleviations, grumbled at his hard fate. He might have been condemned to an inland town, but in reality his house was within sight of tide-water, and he found plenty of companionship in the decayed seaport where he had been born and bred. There were several retired shipmasters who closely approached his own rank and dignity. They all gave other excuses than that of old age and infirmity for being out of business, took a sober satisfaction in their eleven o’clock bitters, and discussed the shipping list of the morning paper with far more interest than the political or general news of the other columns.

While Captain Asaph Ball was away on his long voyages he had left his house in charge of an elder sister, who was joint owner. She was a grim old person, very stern in matters of sectarian opinion, and the captain recognized in his heart of hearts that she alone was his superior officer. He endeavored to placate her with generous offerings of tea and camel’s-hair scarfs and East Indian sweetmeats, not to speak of unnecessary and sometimes very beautiful china for the parties that she never gave, and handsome dress patterns with which she scorned to decorate her sinful shape of clay. She pinched herself to the verge of want in order to send large sums of money to the missionaries, but she saved the captain’s money for him against the time when his willful lavishness and improvidence might find him a poor man. She was always looking forward to the days when he would be aged and forlorn, that burly seafaring brother of hers. She loved to remind him of his latter end, and in writing her long letters that were to reach him in foreign ports, she told little of the neighborhood news and results of voyages, but bewailed, in page after page, his sad condition of impenitence and the shortness of time. The captain would rather have faced a mutinous crew any day than his sister’s solemn statements of this sort, but he loyally read them through with heavy sighs, and worked himself into his best broadcloth suit, at least once while he lay in port, to go to church on Sunday, out of good New England habit and respect to her opinions. It was not his sister’s principles but her phrases that the captain failed to comprehend. Sometimes when he returned to his ship he took pains to write a letter to dear sister Ann, and to casually mention the fact of his attendance upon public worship, and even to recall the text and purport of the sermon. He was apt to fall asleep in his humble place at the very back of the church, and his report of the services would have puzzled a far less keen theologian than Miss Ann Ball. In fact these poor makeshifts of religious interest did not deceive her, and the captain had an uneasy consciousness that, to use his own expression, the thicker he laid on the words, the quicker she saw through them. And somehow or other that manly straightforwardness and honesty of his, that free-handed generosity, that true unselfishness which made him stick by his ship when the crew had run away from a poor black cook who was taken down with the yellow-fever, which made him nurse the frightened beggar as tenderly as a woman, and bring him back to life, and send him packing afterward with plenty of money in his pocket–all these fine traits that made Captain Ball respected in every port where his loud voice and clumsy figure and bronzed face were known, seemed to count for nothing with the stern sister. At least her younger brother thought so. But when, a few years after he came ashore for good, she died and left him alone in the neat old white house, which his instinctive good taste and his father’s before him had made a museum of East Indian treasures, he found all his letters stored away with loving care after they had been read and reread into tatters, and among her papers such touching expressions of love and pride and longing for his soul’s good, that poor Captain Asaph broke down altogether and cried like a school-boy. She had saved every line of newspaper which even mentioned his ships’ names. She had loved him deeply in the repressed New England fashion, that under a gray and forbidding crust of manner, like a chilled lava bed, hides glowing fires of loyalty and devotion.