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´╗┐Title: The Death Ship, Vol. II (of 3) - A Strange Story
Author: Russell, William Clark
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Death Ship, Vol. II (of 3) - A Strange Story" ***

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THE DEATH SHIP



  THE DEATH SHIP

  A STRANGE STORY;

  AN ACCOUNT OF A CRUISE IN "THE FLYING DUTCHMAN," COLLECTED
  FROM THE PAPERS OF THE LATE MR. GEOFFREY FENTON, OF POPLAR,
  MASTER MARINER.

  BY
  W. CLARK RUSSELL,

  AUTHOR OF
  "THE WRECK OF THE GROSVENOR," "THE GOLDEN HOPE," "A SEA QUEEN,"
  ETC., ETC.

  IN THREE VOLUMES
  VOL. II

  LONDON
  HURST AND BLACKETT, LIMITED
  13, GREAT MARLBOROUGH STREET

  1888
  _All Rights Reserved_



  PRINTED BY
  TILLOTSON AND SON, MAWDSLEY STREET
  BOLTON



CONTENTS
OF
THE SECOND VOLUME.


  CHAPTER.                                     PAGE.

     I.--IMOGENE SAYS SHE WILL TRUST ME            1
    II.--VANDERDECKEN EXHIBITS SOME TREASURE      17
   III.--IMOGENE AND I ARE MUCH TOGETHER          37
    IV.--THE GALE BREAKS                          55
     V.--THE DEATH SHIP'S FORECASTLE              80
    VI.--WE SIGHT A SHIP                          99
   VII.--WE WATCH THE SHIP APPROACH US           120
  VIII.--THE CENTAUR FLIES FROM US               138
    IX.--VANDERDECKEN WALKS IN HIS SLEEP         168
     X.--WE SIGHT A DISMASTED WRECK              191
    XI.--THE DEAD HELMSMAN                       204
   XII.--THE DUTCH SAILORS BOARD THE WRECK       213
  XIII.--THE DUTCHMAN OBTAINS REFRESHMENTS       227
   XIV.--MY LIFE IS ATTEMPTED                    239
    XV.--MY SWEETHEART'S JOY                     257



THE DEATH SHIP.



CHAPTER I.

IMOGENE SAYS SHE WILL TRUST ME.


A half-hour passed, and during that time I had sufficiently recovered
from the distressful croak of the parrot to wonder, as any sailor
would, how the ship was navigated; for I could not doubt that the clock
kept pretty close to the true time, since the easting and westing made
by the ship was small, never, perhaps, exceeding ten degrees; and the
circumstance of noon having struck set me wondering in what fashion
the captain and mates navigated the ship, whether they used the
cross-staff or relied on dead reckoning, or were supernaturally conned.

At half-past twelve arrived Prins, to prepare the table for dinner.
I was so dull that his coming was extremely welcome, and I watched
him go about his work with interest, not, perhaps, unmixed with fear.
Out of the great drawer, under the table, he withdrew the cloth,
knives, forks, silver goblets and the like, which had been set out for
breakfast; but his movements were those of a marionette rather than
a man's, he scarcely looked at what he did, putting a goblet here, a
knife and fork there and so on, with the lifeless air of an object
controlled by mechanism. Small wonder that the unhappy wretch should
know his business! He had been at it long enough! Yet it wrung my heart
to watch him and to think that he would still be arranging the cabin
tables for meals, and attending upon Vanderdecken and his mates when
Heaven alone knows how many times the wave of civilisation should have
followed the sun round the globe, and how often our British Islands
should have lapsed into their ancient savageness and emerged again.

Whilst he was at this work, Miss Dudley stepped out of her cabin. She
came to a stand, not instantly recognising me in my own clothes, but
quickly satisfying herself, she advanced with a smile and sat down near
me, with no further sign of timidity than a slight blush which greatly
heightened her beauty.

"Where is Captain Vanderdecken?" said she.

"I left him on deck three-quarters of an hour since," I answered. "We
were talking when he suddenly broke off, and I should have supposed him
in a fit but for his erect posture and the fiery life in his eyes."

"This happens to them all," said she, "as you will find out. I do not
know what it means or why it should be."

"Possibly," I exclaimed, recalling the conjecture I have already
written down, "the death in them grows too strong at periods, for the
power that sustains them, be it demoniac or not, and then follows a
failure of the vitality of the body, which yet leaves the spirit--as
one sees it flashing in Vanderdecken's eyes--strong enough to recover
the corporeal forces from their languor. But how terrible is all this
for you to be living familiarly with!--the sweet, fresh, human life of
the world your beauty would adorn and gladden, hidden from you behind
the melancholy sea-line, and the passage of months, yes, and of years,
finding you still aimlessly beating about these waters, with no better
companions than beings more frightful in their shapes and behaviour as
men than were they phantoms which the hand could not grasp and whose
texture the eye can pierce."

"What can I do, Mr. Fenton? Captain Vanderdecken will not part with
me. How can I escape?" she cried, with her eyes brimming. "If I cast
myself overboard, it would be to drown; if I succeeded in gaining the
shore when we anchored near to the coast, it would be either to perish
upon the broiling sands, or be destroyed by wild beasts, or be seized
by the natives and carried into captivity."

"But if a chance offered to make good your escape without the risks you
name, would you seize it?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Well," said I, speaking with such tenderness and feeling, such a glow
and yearning in my heart that you would say the tiny seed of love in my
breast, watered by her tears, was budding with the swiftness of each
glance at her into flower, "whilst I have been sitting melancholy and
alone I have turned over in my mind how I am to deliver you from this
dreadful situation. No scheme as yet offers, but will you trust me as
an English sailor to find a means to outwit these Dutchmen, ay, though
the Devil himself kept watch when they were abed?... One moment, Miss
Dudley--forgive me, it had not been my intention to touch upon this
matter until time had enabled you to form some judgment of me. But when
two are of the same mind, and the pit that has to be jumped is a deep
one, it would be mere foppery in me to stand on the brink with you,
chattering like a Frenchman about anything else sooner than speak out
and to the point as a plain seaman should."

"Mr. Fenton," she answered, "I will trust you. If you can see a way to
escape from this ship I will aid you to the utmost of my strength and
accompany you. You are a sailor; my father was of that calling, and as
an English seaman you shall have my full faith."

It was not only the words, but her pretty voice, her sparkling eyes,
her earnest gaze, the expression of hope that lighted up her face with
the radiance of a smile rather than of a smile itself, which rendered
what she said delightful to me. I answered, "Depend upon it your faith
will animate me, and it will be strange if you are not in England
before many months, nay, let me say weeks, have passed."

Here leaning her cheek in her hand she looked down into her lap with a
wistful sadness in her eyes.

Not conceiving what was passing in her mind, I said, "Whatever scheme I
hit upon will take time. But what are a few months compared with years
on board this ship--years which only death can end!"

"Oh!" she answered, looking at me fully, but with a darkness of tears
upon those violet lights, "I don't doubt your ability to escape and
rescue me, nor was I thinking of the time you would require or how long
it may be before we see England. What troubles me is to feel that when
in England--if it please God to suffer me to set foot once more upon
that dear soil--I shall have no friend to turn to." I was about to
speak, but she proceeded, her eyes brimming afresh: "It is rare that
a girl finds herself in my situation. Both my father and mother were
only children and orphans when they married, my mother living with a
clergyman and his wife at Rotherhithe as governess to their children
when my father met her. The clergyman and his lady are long since dead.
But were they living, they would not be persons I should apply to for
help and counsel, since my mother often spoke of them as harsh, mean
people. The few relations on my mother's side died off; on my father's
side there was--perhaps there yet is--an uncle who settled in Virginia
and did pretty well there. But I should have to go to that country to
seek him with the chance of finding him dead. Thus you will see how
friendless I am, Mr. Fenton."

"You are not of those who remain friendless in this world," said I,
softly, for can you marvel that a young man's heart will beat quickly
when such a beauty as Imogene Dudley is, tells him to his face that she
is friendless. "I implore you," I added, "not to suffer any reflection
of this sort to sadden or swerve you in your determination to leave
this ship----"

"No, no!" she interrupted, "it will not do that. Better to die of
famine among the green meadows at home than--oh!" she cried, with
hysterical vehemence, "how sweet will be the sight of flowers to me, of
English trees, and hedges blooming with briar roses and honeysuckles.
This dreadful life!" she clasped her hands with a sudden passionate
raising of her eyes, "these roaring seas, the constant screaming of
the wind that bates its tones only to make a desolate moaning, the
company of ghost-like men, the fearful sense of being in a ship upon
which has fallen the wrath of the majesty of God! Oh, indeed, indeed it
must end!" and burying her face in her hands she wept most grievously,
sobbing aloud.

"What will end, mynheer? And what is it that causes thee, Imogene, to
weep?" exclaimed the deep, vibratory voice of Vanderdecken.

I started, and found his great figure erect behind me, a certain
inquisitiveness in the expression of his face, and much of the light
shining in his eyes that I had remarked when he fell into that posture
of trance I have spoken of. I answered as readily as my knowledge of
his tongue permitted, "Miss Dudley weeps, sir, because this gale, as
others have before, retards the passage of your ship to Amsterdam; and
'tis perfectly natural, consistent, indeed, with the wishes of all men
in the Braave, that she should wish the baulking storm at an end."

He came round to his high-backed chair, and seated himself, and,
putting his arm along the table, gently took Imogene's wrist, and
softly pulled her hand away from her face, wet with her tears, saying,
"My dear, your fellow-countryman is right; it is the sorrow of every
creature here that this gale should blow us backwards, and so delay
our return; but what is more capricious than the wind? This storm will
presently pass, and it will be strange," he added, with a sudden scowl
darkening his brow, and letting go Miss Dudley's hand as he spoke,
"if next time we do not thrust the Braave into an ocean where these
north-westers make way for the strong trade wind that blows from the
south-east."

She dried her eyes and forced a smile, acting a part as I did; that is
to say, she did not wish he should suspect her grief went deeper than
I had explained; though I could not help observing that in directing
her wet, sweet, violet eyes, with her mouth shaped to a smile, upon
him, a plaintive gratitude underlay her manner, an admixture of pity
and affection, the exhibition of which made me very sure of the quality
of her heart.

To carry Vanderdecken's thoughts away from the subject he supposed Miss
Dudley and I had been speaking about, I asked her in Dutch what she
had been doing with herself since breakfast. She answered in the same
language that she had been lying down.

"Have you books?" said I.

"A few that belong to the captain. Some are in French and I cannot read
them. The others are in Dutch. There is also a collection of English
poetry, some of which is beautiful, and I know many verses by heart."

"Are these works pretty new?" said I.

She answered, "Of various years; the newest, I think, is dated 1647."

"Ay," said Vanderdecken, "that will be my friend Bloys Van Treslong's
book upon the tulip-madness."

Finding him willing to converse, I was extremely fretted to discover
that, owing to my ignorance of the literature and art of his time, I
could not "bring him out" as the phrase runs, for looking into the
Batavian story since, I find scores of matters he could have told me
about, such as the building of ships at Hoorn, the customs of the
people, the tulip-madness he had mentioned, the great men such as Jan
Six, Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Van Campen who designed the Stadhuis and
others, some of whom--as happened in the case of the great Willem
Schouten--he may have known and haply smoked pipes of tobacco with.

But be this as it may, we had got back again to the gale when Prins
brought in the dinner, and in a few minutes arrived the mate, Van
Vogelaar, whereupon we fell to the meal, Imogene saying very little
and often regarding me with a thoughtful face and earnest eyes as
though, after the maiden's way in such matters, she was searching me; I
taciturn, the mate sullen in expression and silent, as his death-like
face would advertise the beholder to suppose him ever to be, and
Vanderdecken breaking at intervals from the deep musing fit he fell
into to invite me to eat or drink with an air of incomparable dignity,
hardened as it was by his eternal sternness and fierceness.

At this meal I found the food to be much the same as that with which
we had broken our fast. But in addition there was a roasted fowl and
a large ham; and into each silver goblet Prins poured a draught of
sherry--a very soft and mellow wine--which I supposed Vanderdecken had
come by through the same means which enabled him to obtain coats for
his own and his men's backs, and ropes for his masts and sails, and
brandy and gin for his stone jars--that is, by overhauling wrecks and
pillaging derelicts, for certainly strong waters were not to be got by
lying off the coast and going a-hunting.

Yet though the wine put a pleasant warmth into my veins, insomuch that
I could have talked freely but for the depressing influence of the
captain and his mate, them it no more cheered and heartened, it gave
them no more life and spirit than had they been urns filled with dust
into which the generous liquor had been poured. Several times, indeed,
whilst I was on board that ship, have I seen Vanderdecken, Vogelaar,
and Arents swallow such draughts of punch out of bowls, as would
have laid me senseless in five minutes, yet these capacious jorums
gave rise in them to not the least signs of jollity; as, indeed, how
should it have been otherwise, for their brains were dead to all but
the supernatural influence that kept them moving--dead as the works
of a going watch--and what is there in the fumes of wine to disorder
embodied ghosts?



CHAPTER II.

VANDERDECKEN EXHIBITS SOME TREASURE.


When Vogelaar left the cabin to relieve Arents on deck, Vanderdecken
exhibited a disposition to talk. He gently took Imogene's chin in his
hand and chided her very tenderly, yet without the slightest quality
of what we should call pleasantness in his manner. For this would have
brought him to some show of good-humour, whereas never during the time
I was thrown with him did I see the least light of merriment on his
face; I say, he chided her, but very gently, for crying at the delay
caused by the storm, and exclaimed, motioning to me, "Here is a seaman.
He will tell you that this is a stormy part of the ocean, and that at
this season of the year we must look for gales from the north-west;
but he will also know that these tempests are short-lived and that a
breeze from the east, north or south, must carry us round the Cape as
fairly as our helm controls us."

"Oh! that is so indeed, Miss Dudley," said I, quickly, and darting
a meaning glance at her; and wishing to change the subject I went
on: "Mynheer, when I was in your cabin last night shifting myself, I
noticed a cross-staff. 'Twould be of no use to you to-day, the sun
being blotted out. Failing an observation, upon what method do you rely
for knowing your position?"

"What else but the log?" he exclaimed. "I compute entirely by
dead-reckoning. The staff hath often set me wide of the mark. The log
fairly gives me my place on the sea card, and then there is the lead."

I bowed by way of thanking him, for in this direction I gathered by his
rejoinder as much as he could have acquainted me with in an hour's
discourse, besides, the earnest regard of the pair of sweet light
eyes opposite reminded me that I must be very wary in showing myself
inquisitive.

"You have a sharp sight, sir," said Vanderdecken, but speaking without
any fierceness, "to see that fore-staff in my cabin by the faint light
there was. What else did you observe?"

I told him honestly, for I could imagine no challenge to his wrath in
answering, that I had seen a speaking-trumpet, sand-glass, pictures,
and the like. But as though Imogene knew him better and desired to
shield me, she instantly said, "Oh, captain, will not you show Mr.
Fenton the pictures of your wife and children? They will charm him, I
know."

On this he called Prins to bring the pictures. If ever I had doubted
this ship was the veritable Flying Dutchman the portraits would have
settled my misgivings once and for all. The material on which they
were painted was cracked in places, and the darkness of age lay very
gloomy and thick upon them. They were all of a size, about ten inches
long and six inches broad. He put his wife before me first and watched
me with his fierce eyes whilst I pored upon the painting. The picture
was that of a portly lady in a black close-fitting cap, the hair
yellow, the bosoms very large, a square-shouldered heavy woman of the
true Dutch mould, round-faced, not uncomely, and perhaps of five and
forty years of age. How she was dressed I could not tell, but the arms
were bare from the elbows, and they and the hands were, methought, very
delicately painted and exquisitely life-like. The others were those of
girls of different ages. Which of them Captain Vanderdecken imagined
Miss Dudley to resemble I could not conceive; there was nothing in
these darksome likenesses, albeit they represented maidenhood and
infancy, to suggest a resemblance to the English beauty of the
fragile, large-eyed, gold-crowned face of Imogene Dudley.

She that was named Geertruida was of a style that came close to good
looks, eyes merry, dainty mouth, but cheeks too fat. Here was little
Margaretha, for whom the piping swain had been purchased, peering at me
with a half-shy, half-wondering look out of the dusky background.

As I returned them one by one, the captain took them from me, lingering
long upon each and making such comments as "'Tis Johanna to the life!"
meaning his wife. "What art is more wonderful than this of portrait
painting? No age is likely to beat our time, and no nation the Dutch.
How alive is the eye here! Methinks if I spoke angrily to her she
would weep!" or "You will find this girl," meaning Geertruida, "a true
sister, Imogene, homely, honest and innocent, so fond of fun but yet so
dutiful, that there is no woman in all Holland who would make a better
wife," or "Ah! little one, thy father will be with thee ere long,"
stopping to kiss the painting of his daughter Margaretha.

Prins stood by to receive the pictures, but Vanderdecken hung over
this one for some minutes, falling motionless, insomuch that I
thought another one of his strange fits or trances had seized him;
and perfectly still for those moments were Miss Dudley and I, often
glancing at each other as though both of us alike felt the prodigious
significance imported into this spectacle of a father's love, by the
bellowing of the wind, and the long, yearning, sickening, broadside
rushes of the ship, ruthlessly hurled back by the surge and storm into
the deeper solitude of those waters whose confines she was never to
pass.

Now Arents left the table, never having given us, nor our talk, nor the
pictures, the smallest imaginable heed. His going brought Vanderdecken
back to life, so to speak; and he handed the picture of his child to
Prins. I looked at him, expecting, though God knows why, to see a tear.
But whatever sensibility Heaven had permitted this man to retain did
not appear in his face. Had it been cast in brass it could not have
been harder and more impenetrable. His eyes were full of their former
passionate scornful life and light. They made me think, supposing him
to show now as he would have appeared at the time of his death, that he
was one who would have met his end full of impatience, imperious rage,
and savage decrial of the holy ordinances of Nature.

But oh, the sadness, the sadness of the spectacle I had contemplated!
This tender perusal by a husband and father of the beloved lineaments
of those whom he deemed living, ay! and still looking as they looked at
him from the canvas, but who had been dead so many years that time had
perhaps erased the name from the stone that marked the burial-place
of the youngest of them all--the little Margaretha! And how much
longer would these portraits last, I asked myself? 'Twas certain by
the evidences of decay in them that they had not the vitality of the
ship and of those who sailed her. What then? The years would blot them
out. Yet mercy he would surely deserve who loved his wife and children
as this man did. And I still sometimes fondly hope that memory may be
permitted to serve him in lieu of his eyes, so that in gazing upon
the time-blackened canvas he may as truly see with intellectual sight
the faces of his dear ones as though they stood out bright, fresh and
life-like, as at the hour in which they were painted.

All the time I looked at these pictures I would notice Miss Dudley
watching me, quickly averting her gaze when mine met hers. I put down
this scrutiny to her wish to gather my character, though I need not
at this distance expect to be reproached for my vanity if I say that
I thought that was not her only reason for following me with her eyes.
I pray you consider the life she had led since the destruction of
her father's ship and the loss of her parents; how that she was now
grown to be a woman; and how that I was not only a young, but bright,
fair, merry-eyed sailor, her own countryman, of the calling she loved
for her father's sake, and the sweeter to her sight for breaking in
upon her mournful life and offering to snatch her from the frightful
companionship of the Death Ship's crew.

But more of this anon.

Whilst Prins was in the captain's cabin hanging up the pictures, she
exclaimed, "It is a dull and dreary day. How are we to kill the time?"

As she spoke the clock struck, and the parrot, instead of using her
customary expression, laughed out loudly, "Ha! ha! ha!"

"That bird," said I, "seems to know what we are talking about. It is a
pretty notion of hers to laugh at your inquiry when she sees how vainly
old Death in the clock yonder stabs at time."

This I spoke in English.

"What do you say, mynheer?" demanded Vanderdecken.

"Oh, captain!" exclaimed Miss Imogene, as if she was carrying on the
sense of my remarks, "could not we prettily dispatch an hour by looking
at some of the treasure you have below?" She laid her little white hand
on his, and pleaded with her eyes. "It will be a treat to Mr. Fenton to
see the fine things you have, and I am still childish enough to love
the sparkle of precious stones."

He turned to me and said, "Sir, I have no objection, but our countries
are at war, and in case of your being transshipped I have to ask you,
on your honour as a gentleman and a seaman, not to give information of
the objects the lady desires me to show you."

I never before witnessed a finer dignity in any man's air than that
which ennobled him as he spoke. I gave him my assurance, feeling
that I cut but a mean figure in my manner of answering after his own
majestic and haughty aspect and the rich and thrilling tones in which
he had delivered himself, nor will I pretend that I was not moved at
the vanity and idleness of the obligation of silence he imposed upon
me, for whatever treasure he had would be as safe in his ship as on
the sandy bed of the sea, even though on my escaping I should go and
apprise all the admirals in the world of its existence.

He said no more but, calling to Prins, ordered him to clear the table,
bring pipes and tobacco, and then take some seamen with him into--as I
understood--the half-deck and bring up two chests of treasure, those
which were lashed on the starboard side, close against the bulkhead.
The cloth was removed, we lighted our pipes, and after we had waited
some little while, Prins, with several sailors, appeared, bearing among
them two stout, apparently very heavy, chests, which they set down upon
the cabin floor, taking care to secure them by lashings and seizings to
the stanchions, so that they should not slip with the ship's lurches.

The sailors interested me so much that, whilst they were with us,
I looked only at them. It was not that there was anything in their
faces, if I except the dreadful pallor, or in their attire, to fix my
attention; it was that they were a part of the crew of this accurst
ship, participators in the doom that Vanderdecken had brought upon her,
members of a ghostly band the like of which it might never be permitted
to mortal man to behold again. One had very deep-sunk eyes, which
shone in their dark hollows with much of the fire that gave a power of
terrifying to those of the captain. Another had a long, grizzly beard,
over which his nose curved in a hook, his little eyes lay close against
the top of his nose, and his hair, that was wet with spray or rain,
lay like new-gathered seaweed down to pretty near his shoulder-blades.
This man's name, I afterwards heard, was Tjaart Van der Valdt, whilst
he that had the glowing eyes was called Christopher Roostoff.

They all went about in the soulless, mechanical way I was now used
to, and, when they had set down the chests, Prins dismissed them with
an injunction to stand by ready to take them below again. The cases
were about three feet high, and ranging about five feet long; they
were heavily girt with iron bands, and padlocked with massive staples.
Prins opened them and flung back the lids, and then, to be sure, I
looked down upon treasures the like of which in quality, I'll not
say quantity, in one single ship, the holds of the Acapulco galleons
could alone rival, or the caves in which the old buccaneers hid their
booty. Miss Dudley, seeing me rise, left her seat, and came to my side.
Vanderdecken stepped round, and leaned against the table, his arms
folded, and his body moving only with the rolling of the ship.

I should speedily grow tedious were I to be minute in my description
of what I saw, yet I must venture a short way in this direction. In
one box there were fitted four trays, each tray divided into several
compartments, and every compartment was filled with precious stones,
set in rings, bracelets, bangles and the like, and with golden
ornaments, such as birds for the hair, brooches, necklets, chains for
wearing about the waist or neck, and other such things of prodigious
value and beauty of device. I asked leave to examine some of these
objects, and on picking them up noticed that some were of a much more
antique character than others, insomuch that I said to Miss Imogene in
English, "I suspect that much of these splendours our friend will have
collected at different periods."

She answered in our tongue, "He can tell you what he purchased at
Batavia, or what was consigned to him for delivery at Amsterdam, but
his memory after that is a blank, and the last wreck he can recall, in
which he found several quintals of silver and unminted gold, is the
Fryheid that he met--I cannot tell where--in a sinking condition."

"There is more treasure aboard than this! cried I.

"Much more!" she replied. Then turning to Vanderdecken, who had fixed
his eyes on me without moving his head, she said, "I am telling Mr.
Fenton that these chests represent but a handful of the treasure in
this ship."

"I am dazzled by what I see, mynheer, said I, speaking whilst Prins
raised the trays disclosing many hundreds of guineas' worth of
ornaments and stones. "Had I but the value of one of these trays alone
this should be my last voyage."

"Ay," said he, "there is much that is beautiful here. Much that will
yield good sums. But a large number of the articles in that chest
belong to a merchant; there are likewise consignments, and my own share
is but a speculation."

The other chest had but one tray, in which lay many golden crucifixes
of different sizes, goblets, flagons, candlesticks, all gold, whilst
beneath were numbers of a kind of small bricks or bars of pewter, which
Miss Imogene told me were gold that had been originally disguised in
this way as a blind to the pirates. In addition were several great
canvas bags, into which Prins, moving always as an automaton, thrust
his hand, bringing forth different sorts of coins, such as rix-dollars,
ducatoons, ducats, Batavian rupees, Spanish dollars, and even
schillings, worth no more than six stivers apiece.

There is a pleasure in looking at bright and sparkling objects, at the
beauty of gold worked into strange or fantastic shapes, at jewels and
stones in their multitude, gleaming out in twenty colours at once.
And had I been a picaroon or a woman, I could not have surveyed this
collection with sharper delight, though I hope you will not suppose
that I felt the buccaneer's thirst for the things. But when my glance
went to Vanderdecken, all the shining seemed to die out, and the
richest of the jewels to lose its glory.

Not that this was actually so; it was the reflection excited in me that
darkened the radiance of that treasure. There stood the great, majestic
captain, with his arms folded over his beard, and his eyes fixed on
the chest, frightfully symbolising--more wildly and sternly than could
the corpse of a miser lying in a coffin, into which had been poured
all the ducats he had hoarded in his life--the worthlessness of that
wealth of which the desire makes devils of men in secret oppressions
and bitter, hidden cruelties. Had Vanderdecken been veritably
dead--recumbent--a corpse--the sight of him alongside those cases of
costly things would not haply have affected me; 'twas the simulation
of life in him, his unhallowed and monstrous vitality, that rendered
his typification of the uselessness after death of that for which
many among us sell our hearts, nay, diligently toil to extinguish the
last spark of the Heavenly fire which the Creator sends us into this
life radiant with; as who, looking at a babe's face, but sees?--that
rendered, I say, his typification terrible. You could see he took no
joy whatever in the contents of the cases; he eyed them stonily; you
witnessed no pricking up of his ears to the tinkling and jingling
rattle made by the coins as Prins poured them out and back again. Nor,
had the money been shingle and the jewels and gold ornaments pieces
of coal, could Prins have worked with duller eyes or more mechanical
motions.

I said to Miss Imogene, pointing as I spoke to the chests that
Vanderdecken might suppose we talked of the treasure in them, "He does
not appear to care the snap of a finger for what is there. If the sense
of possession is dead in him, why should he take whatever he can find
of jewels, gold or silver, from the ships in which he is fortunate
enough to find such things?"

"If your brain will not help you to such matters, how should mine?" she
replied, with a faint smile. "The idea has never before occurred to me,
but be sure 'tis a part of his punishment. He may feel no pleasure in
the possession of his wealth; yet he knows it is on board, and it may
be intended to render every gale that beats him back more and more
bitter and hard by delaying him from carrying his cargo home."

This was shrewdly imagined, I thought, though it did not satisfy me,
because since 'twas sure that he had lost recollection of preceding
gales, succeeding ones could not gain in bitterness. In truth, we were
afloat in a fearful and astonishing Mystery, from which my eagerness to
deliver the sweet and fragrant girl by my side grew keener with every
look of hers that met mine, and with every glance I directed at the
captain and around the ancient interior that time had sickened to the
complexion of the death which worked this ship in the forms of men.

Having satisfied me with a sight of these treasures, Vanderdecken
ordered Prins to have the chests removed, and we then returned to the
table to smoke out the tobacco that remained in our pipes.



CHAPTER III.

IMOGENE AND I ARE MUCH TOGETHER.


So far I have been minute, accounting for every hour and all things
which happened therein since I was picked up by the mate of the Death
Ship and put aboard her. My first impressions were keen and strong,
and I have sought to lay them before you in the order in which they
occurred. But to pursue this particularity of narrative, to relate
every conversation, to regularly notice the striking of the clock, the
movements of the skeleton, and the hoarse comminatory croak of the
parrot, would be to speedily render this tale tedious. Therefore let me
speak briefly for a little space.

The storm blew with steady fury for six days, driving the tall fabric
to leeward to a distance of many leagues every twenty-four hours, the
course of the drift being as I should suppose--for it was impossible to
put much faith in the compasses--about south-east by east, the larboard
tacks aboard and the ship "ratching" nothing. It was so continuous
and heavy, this gale, that it began to breed a feeling of despair in
me, for I felt that if such weather lasted many weeks it would end in
setting us so far south that we should be greatly out of the road taken
by ships rounding the Cape, and so remote from the land, that should
Vanderdecken desire to careen or water his vessel it would occupy us
months to fetch the coast, so that the prospect of escaping with Miss
Imogene grew small and gloomy. Added to which was the melancholy of the
cell-like cabin in which it was my lot to sleep, the fiery crawlings,
the savage squeakings of great rats, the grinding, groaning and
straining noises of the labouring structure, likewise the sickening,
sweeping, soaring, falling motions of the high light vessel, movements
which, as we drove further south, where the seas were swollen into
mountains by the persistent hardness of the gale and the vastness of
the liquid plain along which they coursed, furious with the fiendish
lashing of the thongs of the storm, grew at times so insupportable
that, sailor as I was and used to the sea in all its moods, I would
often feel faint and reel to a sensation of nausea.

But Imogene was never in the least degree discomposed. She was so used
to the ship that its movements were to her what the steadiness of dry
land is to other women. She seldom came on deck however. Indeed, the
gusts and guns were often so fierce--coming along like thunderbolts
through the gale itself--that any one of them catching her gown might
have carried her light figure overboard. Moreover, twenty-four hours
after the gale set in, it drew up thick as mud; the horizon was brought
within reach of a musket-shot; and out of this thickness blew the rain,
in straight lines, mixed with the showering off the heads of the seas;
the sky hung steady, of the colour of slate--no part lighter or darker
than another, but so low that it appeared as if a man could whip his
hand into it from our masthead whenever those reeling spars came plumb.

As it gave me no pleasure to linger on deck in such weather, you may
suppose that Miss Imogene and I were much together below. Often a whole
morning or afternoon would pass without a soul entering the cabin where
we sate. Whether Vanderdecken was pleased to think that Imogene had a
companion--a fellow-countryman, with whom she could converse, and so
kill the time which he would suspect from her recent fit of weeping
hung heavy on her spirits; or that, having himself long passed those
marks which time sets up as the boundaries of human passions, he was
as incapable of suspecting that Imogene and I should fall in love, as
he clearly was of perceiving the passage of years; 'tis certain he
never exhibited the smallest displeasure when, perchance, he found us
together, albeit once or twice on entering the cabin when we were there
he would ask Imogene abruptly, but never with the sternness his manner
gathered when he addressed others, what our talk was about, as if he
suspected I was inquiring about his ship and cargo; though if, indeed,
this was so, I don't doubt the suspicion was put into his head by Van
Vogelaar, who, I am sure, hated me as much because I was an Englishman
as because our panic-stricken men had fired upon him.

It takes a man but a very short time to fall in love, though the
relation of the thing, if the time be very short, is often questioned
as a possibility, sometimes heartily laughed at as an absurdity, when
deliberately set down in writing. Why this should be I do not know. I
could point to a good many men married to women with whom they fell
in love at a dance, or by seeing them in the street, or by catching
sight of them in church and the like. I have known a man to become
passionately enamoured of a girl by beholding her picture. And what
says Marlowe?

  "Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?"

Depend upon it, when passion is of slow growth and cultivated
painfully, you may suspect a deficiency somewhere. Either the girl is
not delightful of face and shape and her virtues and good qualities are
hard to come at, or she is a tease and a coquette, and, in a manner
of speaking, puts her foot down upon a man's heart and prevents the
emotion there from shooting. There will be something wanting, something
wrong, I say. Association may indeed lengthily induct one into a habit
of affection, but the sort of love I have in my mind springs like a
young god into a man's intelligence from a maiden's eyes.

But whether this swift passion is more lasting than the affection that
is formed by slower mental processes, and which of them is the safer
to trust to, is no riddle for such as I to bother over. And in sober
verity, I am sorry to have been led into these remarks, which certainly
should be omitted if they were not necessary as an apology.

For the truth must be told, and it is this: that the very first morning
I met Imogene I fell in love with her beauty, while the long days of
the storm which threw us greatly together confirmed the first movement
of my heart by acquainting me with the extraordinary sweetness,
innocence, gentleness and purity of her nature. These qualities, unlike
the enchanting hue and brightness of her eyes, the golden falls of her
hair, and her many other fairy graces, were not quickly discoverable,
but they stole out during our many conversations. Who that has been to
sea knows not how speedily character is discovered on shipboard? And
I say that before that gale was ended I was so much in love with this
fair and tender girl that I could have laid down my life to serve her.

This I should not have confessed, nor indeed made any reference to my
love-passage, if it did not concern the influence exercised by the
Death Ship on the lives and fortunes of those who have relations with
her.

In this time our conversation was about all sorts of things--her
parents, her home, her childhood, the loss of her father's ship, the
friendless condition she would be in on her arrival in England should I
manage to deliver her from Vanderdecken. Though when she came to that,
I begged her to dismiss her fears at once and for ever, by assuring
her that my mother would gladly receive her and cherish her as her
own daughter, having but me to love, who was always absent. At which a
faint blush sweetened her cheeks as though she suspected what was in
my mind; but I was careful to hurry away from the subject, since I did
not wish her then to suppose I loved her, for fear that, not having
had time, as I believed, to love me, she might fall into a posture
of mind calculated to baffle my hopes of carrying her away from the
Braave. I told her all about myself, of the famous Fenton from whom I
was descended, of my voyages, of the Saracen, whose passage to India I
feared would have an ill issue now that she had met the Dutchman, and
I talked again of Captain Skevington's amazing, and, as I supposed,
accurate theories touching the living-dead who navigated this ship.

She had much to tell me of Vanderdecken and his ship; of unsuspecting
vessels they had fallen in with, which had sold them tobacco, butter,
cheese, and the like. Of others that had backed their topsails to
speak, then taken fright and sailed away in hot haste.

I asked her if it was true that the captain hailed passing ships for
the purpose of sending letters home. She answered no; it was not true;
that was the general belief as she had heard from her father; but,
as Vanderdecken did not know that he was curst--as he went on year
after year, firmly believing that next time he should be successful
in rounding the Cape--why should he desire to send letters home, more
particularly as he regarded the Braave as one of the swiftest vessels
afloat. She added, "I have never seen him write a letter, and I am
certain he has never endeavoured to send one."

"But if he finds a ship willing to speak, he will send a boat?"

"Yes, always; but merely for necessaries of which he is constantly
in want. Now it is tobacco; another time it will be spirits. Some
few weeks since we met a ship, from which he purchased several cases
of marmalade and some hams, for which Van Vogelaar paid in coin that
scared them, when they put the age of the money and the appearance of
this ship together; for they threw the mate overboard, and instantly
made off."

"I suppose Van Vogelaar could not be drowned?" said I.

"No," said she; "he, like the rest, have no other business in life than
to live. They had put the hams and marmalade into the boat, and when
they threw him in the sea, he swam very quietly to his companions."

"What was the ship?" I asked.

"A Spaniard," she replied. "After they had put the ship before the wind
I saw a number of them on the poop on their knees crossing themselves."

"I cannot understand," said I, "why this ship should be termed
a Phantom. What could be more real than these timbers and the
requirements of the people who navigate her?"

"Besides," exclaimed Imogene, "if she is a Phantom, how could
Vanderdecken write those letters in her which he is supposed to desire
to send home? If you have a real letter, such as a person can put into
his pocket and deliver, you must have real materials to produce it,
ink, pens, paper, wafers, and something hard to sit upon, or kneel
upon, or write upon."

"Certainly!" said I. "Of a Phantom the whole must be phantasmal.
Suppose a ghost dressed, its attire must be as unsubstantial as the
essence it covers."

"The truth about this ship is not known," she continued, "and it never
can be known, because her influence is dreaded. Vessels on finding out
her character fly from her, and those who sell to her unsuspectingly
pass away without giving her further thought."

"Or," said I, gloomily, "perhaps are never more heard of."

In this way would we talk, and you may conceive we were at no loss
for topics. On several occasions she showed me some of the dresses
Vanderdecken had furnished her with; of which I chiefly remember a
chintz gown, spotted with roses, with sleeves swelling out like ruffs
at the elbows; a pink dress, with a girdle to bring the waist close
under the bosom; and a slate-coloured dress, with a red shawl for it,
to be worn like a sash, and a kerchief for the throat; and I also
recollect that she showed me some strange, very dainty caps, one to sit
on the back of the head, another of black velvet and a feather, which
she told me Vanderdecken had said was worn on the side of the head. She
put it on to explain its use, and a man's true darling she looked in it.

Once she came into the cabin dressed in the pink dress with the high
waist; and very sweet did she appear. But I said to her that of
all the apparel she had shown me nothing pleased me better than the
black velvet jacket in which I had first seen her, and thereafter she
constantly wore it.

In short, the clothes Vanderdecken had stocked her cabin with,
including much fine linen, lace, collars, long gloves, shoes of several
colours, and the like, were such as to suggest a costly theatrical
wardrobe by reason of the variety of the styles representing fashions
from the middle of the seventeenth century down to within twenty
years of the time in which happened what I am here relating. It has
been already explained how these things were gotten. You have only to
consider that this ship sailed from Batavia in 1653, with a large stock
of dresses, linen, jewellery, plate and so forth in her hold, besides
her cargo, which stock Vanderdecken, in whom there must still work the
thrifty instincts of the Hollander, just as he is suffered to love his
pipe and bowl, and pine for both when the tobacco and spirits have run
out, had replenished by appropriating such wares, treasure and apparel
as he had a fancy for out of the ships he encountered abandoned at sea
or cast away upon the African coast. You have only to consider this, I
say, and bear in mind the great number of years he has been afloat, and
how many scores of richly-laden merchantmen have passed and repassed
that part of the ocean to which the Curse confines him, to find nothing
to marvel at in any catalogue of the contents of the Braave that could
be offered.

Besides having all these strange and often sumptuous articles of
attire to show me and talk about, Imogene had a great deal to tell me
concerning the weary years she had spent in the vessel, wondering how
her life was to end, how she was ever to get to England or to any other
civilized country if Vanderdecken refused to let her leave him, because
of his fatherly affection for her and his conviction that he was
homeward bound, and only temporarily delayed by the north-west gales
which beat him back. She said that after a time she began to fear that
she would lose her own language and be able to speak no tongue but the
ancient Dutch in which Vanderdecken and his men conversed, to preserve
herself from which calamity she regularly perused the collection of
English poetry that the captain most fortunately had among his books.
Her grief was that the book, instead of poems, was not the Holy
Scriptures, but she knew many prayers and hymns her mother had taught
her, and these she never omitted reciting morning and night.

You would have been touched had you heard her, marked the sadness that
rendered Madonna-like the character of her fragile, delicate beauty,
observed the girlish innocence of the expression that shone with
the moisture of unwept tears in the eyes she fixed on me, and then
considered how she had been bereaved, how frightful for tediousness
and dullness, and for the association of the mysterious beings into
whose society she had been cast, must have been the five years she had
spent on the Death Ship. I remember asking if she knew what religion
Vanderdecken was of; she answered she did not know for certain,
but that she had heard him speak of his wife and family as having
worshipped in the Oude Kerk.

"Indeed, Mr. Fenton," said she, "I don't believe he is or was of any
religion at all. Van Vogelaar is a Calvinist; he told me so one evening
when I was speaking with surprise of Antony Jans being a Catholic, as
it is almost impossible to reconcile the fatness of that man with the
austerities and mortifications of his creed."

"There can be no doubt," said I, "that Vanderdecken was--when human
like you and me, without religion. His shocking defiance, and the
condemnation that followed, proved that he acted out of sheer sin in
his soul, and not out of a passing passion. And yet you would have
supposed that a Dutchman, no matter how secretly impious, would have
behaved with more discretion than this skipper."

"I dare say he would have been more discreet," said Imogene, "had he
imagined what was to follow."

It was in this way, and in such talk, that we killed those six days of
storm; and now I come to other matters.



CHAPTER IV.

THE GALE BREAKS.


On the sixth day, during dinner, Vanderdecken said he believed we had
seen the worst of the storm. There was a small lull in the wind, and a
faintness sifting up, so to speak, from behind the peaks and valleys of
the horizon into the sky all around, like a very dim dawning of fair
weather innumerable leagues distant yet.

"I shall be glad to see the sun again," said Imogene.

"Let us get quit of these waters," exclaimed Vanderdecken, moodily,
and often dropping his knife and fork to take his beard in both hands
and stroke it with a fixed look in his eyes, which would have made
you swear he beheld a vision, "and we shall have so much sun every day
climbing higher and higher until it hangs right over our mastheads like
a flaming shield that the coolness of the Biscayan Sea and the entrance
of the English Channel shall be sweet as drink to a dry man."

"Pray, mynheer," said I, "how far to the eastwards do you suppose this
gale has driven us?"

He looked at me with a sudden temper in his face as if he would crush
me for daring to ask. Nevertheless, he answered, but with a deep thrill
in the rich tremble of his voice, "About one hundred and fifty leagues,
sir; and what of that?"

"Ay, and what of that?" exclaimed Van Vogelaar, who had turned a
scowling eye on me on my asking this question.

"Why, nothing, gentlemen," I answered, warned by the violet eyes that
dwelt upon me to slide out of this matter as quickly as I could. "The
ground to be recovered is not great, and a pretty little south-east
wind should float us, with square yards, round the Cape in three or
four days."

Vanderdecken made no response; his eyes fell away from me to the
table, at which he gazed in the posture of one who dreams waking.
Van Vogelaar, on the other hand, continued to stare at me for a long
minute, which, as he sate on my right hand and consequently had to turn
his head and hold his face full towards me, proved a very severe trial
to my temper, insomuch that I could have beat him for his insolence.
But a very little reflection taught me to consider this steadfast,
surly and abusive regard as meaningless as a dead man's stare would be
if moulded to the expression Van Vogelaar wore; so I waited till he
should have made an end of his scrutiny, and the captain shortly after
rising, I followed him on deck, the weather as yet being too heavy and
wet for Imogene.

It was as Vanderdecken had said. The gale had broke and we might look
for a clear sky presently, yet the sea still ran fearfully high,
and the wash and weltering of it along the sea-line that was now
indifferently clear, suggested a vast sierra whose sides beyond were
in sunshine, whilst over our trucks lay the sombre twilight of the
tempest. There was still a fine rain in the air, though not such as to
cloud the ocean, but I was so fascinated by the picture of the Flying
Dutchman's fight with the mighty combers which rolled at her from the
north and west that I lingered gazing till I was pretty near as soaked
as when I had been fished up and brought aboard.

But a sailor makes no trouble of a wet jacket so long as he has a dry
shirt for his back, which I had, thanks to Vanderdecken, who had been
so good as to lend me several shifts of linen.

I do not know that I ever saw or heard of a ship that threw from her
such bodies of foam as did this vessel. She would rise at the sea
buoyantly enough, yet at every lean-to to windward for a giddy sliding
swoop into the hollow, she hurled an enormous space of seething and
spitting and flashing froth many fathoms from her, into which she would
sink as though it were snow and so squatter, as 'tis termed, and lie
there whilst you might count to ten or fifteen, ere rising out of it to
the irresistible heave of the next leviathan sea. Often had I watched
this picture during the six days, but the light breaking around the
whole circle of the sea, like radiance dully streaming through greased
paper, the decreasing force of the wind, that while leaving the surges
still monstrous, suffered the ship to fall with deader weight to
windward, thus enlarging the snow-like surface she cast from her whilst
rendering it fiercer in its boiling, made this particular example of
the ship's sea-going qualities a marvel in my sight, and I stood for
a long time looking and looking.

If ever a man was to guess the deathless character of this craft it
would be at such a time as this. The giant forces of nature with which
she had warred were languishing. The beaten storm, not indeed yet
breathless, was slowly silencing the desperate roar of its invisible
artillery; the seas, like battering-rams, thundered against her
sides, but with a gradual lessening of their fury, and the victorious
ship, her decks streaming, her bows and sides hound-like with salival
drainings, a fierce music of triumphant shoutings aloft, her reefed
courses swollen as are the cheeks of trumpeters urging to the conflict,
rose and fell, pitched and strained, among those liquid heights and
hollows, every nerve in her ancient fabric strung taut for a battle
that was to be repeated again and again, whilst the faintness round the
horizon waxed into a delicate brightness of sunshine streaming off
the edge of the canopy that still hovered on high, and the wind sank
into whistlings, without admixture of thunderous intervals, and the
surge-slopes drooped out of their savage sharpness.

By seven o'clock that night the gale was spent, and there was then
blowing a quiet breeze from the west-south-west. The swell rolled
slowly from the quarter from which the wind had stormed, and caused the
Braave to wallow most nauseously, but she grew a bit steadier after
they had shaken the reefs out of the courses and made sail on her. I
watched this business with deep interest. Vanderdecken, standing on
the poop, gave his orders to Van Vogelaar on the quarter-deck. The
sailors went to work with true Dutch phlegm and deliberateness, taking
plenty of time to unknot the reef-points, then carrying the fore and
main-jeers to the capstan, and walking round without a song, sullen and
silent. There was no liveliness--none of the springing and jumping
and cheerful heartiness you would expect in a crew who, after battling
through six dismal days of black winds and lashing seas, were now
looked down upon by a Heaven of stars, shining gloriously among a few
slowly-moving clouds.

Ay, you saw how dead were the bodies which the supernatural life in
them kept a-going. They set their topsails, topgallant-sails and
mizzen, which I have elsewhere described as a lateen-shaped sail
secured to a yard, like to the triangular canvas carried by xebecs
and gallies, then hoisted their jib or fore-staysail and let fall the
clews of the spritsail, keeping the sprit-topsail handed. The larboard
tacks were still aboard and the ship heading north, lying up for the
coast that was now about two hundred and fifty to three hundred leagues
from us. She made a wild picture, not wanting in solemnity either, yet
charged with an element of fear. Twilight is but short-lived in those
seas and it was dark--though the sky as I have said was full of radiant
galaxies--some while before they had ended the business of crowding
sail upon the ship. Amid the fury and froth of the gale the phosphoric
gleamings of the timbers had been hidden; but now that peace had come
and there was no other commotion than such as the long cradling swing
of the swell produced, those grave-yard lights glistened out afresh and
they made you think of the eyes of countless worms creeping in and out
of the rottenness of an hundred and fifty years. It was certain that
Vanderdecken and his mates saw these misty, sickly, death-suggestive
glimmerings; for the faint lights trembled along the decks, twinkled
upon the masts, shone with sufficient power on the sides to make--as
I had observed when the ship first drew near to the Saracen--a light
of their own in the black water; they must have been noticeable
things to the crew, even as to Imogene and me; for they saw what we
saw--the sun, the stars, the ocean, the sails, the directions of the
compass--whatever was to be seen.

Why, then, was it that this fluttering, malignant sheen did not catch
their notice? I know not. Maybe the senses permitted to them went so
far only as to impel them to persevere in making the passage of the
Cape. For besides these phosphoric crawlings, the aged condition of the
ship, her antique rig, and a variety of other features illustrating the
passage of time, would have been visible to them, had their perception
not been limited by the Curse to the obligations it imposed.

After a little Vanderdecken went below, and presently returned
bringing Imogene with him. On the poop 'twas all darkness save for the
phosphorescence in the ship and the sea-fire over the side. The captain
and the lady came close before I distinguished them.

"Fair weather at last, Mr. Fenton!" she exclaimed, after peering to
make sure of me, and then stopping so as to oblige Vanderdecken to stop
too, for he had her arm in his, and I think he meant to walk to and fro
the deck with her.

"Yes," I replied, "Heaven is merciful. Such another six days I would
not pass through for the wealth in this ship."

"Pray speak in Dutch, sir, that I may follow you," said Vanderdecken,
with a certain stern and dignified courtesy.

"If I could converse with ease, mynheer," said I, "I should speak in no
other language aboard this vessel. As it is, I fear you do not catch
half my meaning."

"Oh, yes! you are intelligible, sir," he answered, "though you
sometimes use words which sound like Dutch but signify nothing."

"Nothing to you, my friend," thought I; "but I warrant them of good
currency in the Amsterdam of to-day." In short, his language was to
mine, or at least to the smattering I had of the Batavian tongue, what
the speech of a man of the time of Charles II. would be to one of this
century--not very wide asunder; only that one would now and again
introduce an obsolete expression, whilst the other would occasionally
employ a term created years after his colloquist's day.

"But it pleases me, captain, to speak in my own tongue," said Imogene.
"I should not like to forget my language."

"It will be strange if you forget your language in a few months, my
child!" he answered, with a slight surprise.

A sudden roll of the ship causing the great mainsail to flap, he
started, looked around him, and cried out with a sudden anger in his
deep voice, to the steersman, "How is the ship's head?"

"North-by-east," was the answer.

"We want no easting," he cried out again, with the same passion in his
voice, and strode with vehemence to the binnacle where stood Antony
Arents, who had charge of the deck, and who had gone to view the
compass on hearing the skipper call.

"This will not do!" I heard the captain say, his deep tones rumbling
into the ear as though you passed at a distance a church in which an
organ was played. "By the bones of my father, I'll not have her break
off! Sweat your braces, man! Take them to the capstan! If we spring our
masts and yards for it she'll have to head nothing east of north!"

There was a fierce impetuosity in his speech that made the delivery of
it sound like a sustained execration. Arents went forward and raised
some cries. I could see the figure of Vanderdecken black against the
stars, up and down which he slided with the heave of the ship. He was
motionless, close to the binnacle, and I could imagine the stormy rise
and fall of his broad and powerful chest under his folded arms.

The watch came aft to the braces and strained at them. 'Twas a shadowy
scene. There were none of those songs and choruses which seamen used to
keep time in their pulling and hauling and to encourage their spirits
withal. The boatswain, Jans, was on the forecastle attending the fore:
Arents stood on the quarter-deck. Occasionally one or the other shouted
out an order which the dim concavities on high flung down again out
of their hollows, as though there were ghosts aloft mocking at these
labours. You saw the pallid shinings writhing about the feet of the
sailors, and the sharper scintillations of the wood-work wherever it
was chafed by a rope. When they had trimmed, but not yet with the
capstan, Arents called to the captain, who returned an answer implying
that the ship had come up again, and that the trim as it was would
serve. Thereupon the men stole out of sight into the darkness forward,
melting into the blackness as do visions of a slumberer into the void
of deep and dreamless rest; Arents returned to the poop and stood
near the captain, who held his place with the entranced stirlessness
I was now accustomed to see in him. But, no doubt, his eyes were on
the needle, and had I dared approach, I might have beheld a fire in
his eyes keener than the flame of the mesh with which the binnacle was
illuminated.

"You would know him as one not of this world," said I to Imogene, "even
should he pass you quickly in a crowd."

"There are some lines in the book of poetry downstairs which fit him to
perfection," she answered--

  "'Thou hast a grim appearance, and thy face
  Bears a command in it; though thy tackle's torn,
  Thou shew'st a noble vessel.'"

"Ay," said I, "they are wonderfully pat; they might have been made for
him."

"Here are others," she continued--

  "'He has, I know not what,
  Of greatness in his looks and of high fate,
  That almost awes me.'

"And when his moods change these verses are always present--

  'Read'st thou not something in my face that speaks
  Wonderful change and horror from within me?'"

She put a tragic note into her voice as she recited; the starlight was
in her eyes, and they were fixed on me; her face whitened out to the
astral gleaming till you saw her hair throbbing on her forehead to the
blowing of the wind. She continued--

"I could quote a score of passages marvellously true of the captain and
his fellows, serving indeed as revelations to me, so keen are the eyes
of poets. And little wonder," says she, with a sigh, "for what else
have I had to read but that book of poetry!"

"Just now," said I, "he asked if you thought it likely you should lose
your language in a few months. This plainly shows that he supposes he
met with you in his passage from Batavia--that is his last passage.
Now, since his finding you dates nearly five years back, and you tell
me that he has only memory for what happened within the past few
months, how does it fall out that he recollects your story, which he
certainly does, for he asked me if you had related it to me?"

"It must be," she answered, "because he is constantly alluding to it in
speaking of the reception his wife and daughters will give me. It is
also impressed upon him by my presence, by my frequent asking him to
put me on board a homeward-going ship, and so it is kept in his mind as
a thing constantly happening--continually fresh."

"Suppose I should stay in this ship say for six months, never speaking
of the Saracen nor recalling the circumstance of my coming on board,
you believe his memory would drop the fact, and that he would view
me as one who happened to be in the ship, and that's all, his mind
stopping at that?"

"How he would view you I cannot say; but I am certain he would forget
how you came here, unless there was incessant reference to the Saracen
and to her men shooting at Van Vogelaar. But time would bear no part
in this sort of recollection: he would still be living in the year of
God 1653, and sailing home from Batavia; and if he thought at all he'd
imagine it was in that year that you came on board his ship."

Well, here was a piece of metaphysics a touch above my intelligence
and above this sweet creature's too, for she could only speak as she
believed, without being able to account for the miraculous conditions
of this ship's life and of that of her crew. And indeed I should not
have teased her with such questions but for a great craving to obtain
a just conception of the amazing character who has been, and must
ever remain, the terror of all mariners; whilst beyond this again
was a secret dread lest this fair enchanting woman should have been
chosen to play a part in the marine tragedy; which I would have a
right to fear if I found Vanderdecken's relations with her, as regards
his memory for instance, different from what they were in all other
directions. Plainly I mean this: that if she were being used as a
Divine instrument, then it was certain that I should not be suffered
to deliver her from the Death Ship--an insupportable reflection at any
time, but a mortal blow now that I had come to love her.

Meanwhile, the giant figure of the Dutch captain stood motionless near
the binnacle; close to him was the second mate, himself like a statue.
The tiller-tackles, grasped by the helmsman, swayed him with every blow
of the sea upon the rudder, yet even his movements had a lifelessness
in them that was as apparent as though the man had been stricken dead
at his post, and swung there against the dancing stars.

A quick jerk of the ship causing Imogene to lose her balance, she
grasped my arm to steady herself by, and I took care she should not
release me. Indeed, from almost the first hour of our meeting there had
been a yearning towards me, a wistfulness of a mute sort underlying her
demeanour, and this night I found assurance of it by her manner, that
was not indeed clinging, having more of nestling in it, as if I was
her refuge, her one hope. She may have guessed I loved her. I cannot
tell. My eyes may have said much, though I had not spoken. But there
was that in her, as she stood by my side, with her hand under my arm,
that persuaded me her heart was coming to mine, and haply more quickly
because of our sole mortality amid the substantial shadows of the Death
Ship's crew. You felt what that bond meant when you looked around you
and saw the dimly-looming figure of Vanderdecken beside the compass,
the ghostly darkness of the second mate's form, the corpse-like
swaying of the helmsman, as of an hanging body moved by the wind, and
thought of the amazing human mysteries lost in the darkness forward,
or slumbering in the hammocks, if, indeed, sleep was ever permitted to
visit eyes which death was forbidden to approach. 'Twas as if Imogene
stood on one side a grave, I on the other, and clasped hands for the
courage we found in warm and circulating blood, over a pit filled with
a heart-freezing sight.

"We shall escape yet--fear not!" said I, speaking out of the heat of my
own thoughts as though we were conversing on that subject.

"May our Saviour grant it!" she exclaimed. "See how black the white
water around the ship makes her in spite of the strange fires which
glow everywhere!"

I felt her shiver as she cried, "The vessel seems to grow more terrible
to my fancy. It may be because we have talked so much of her, and your
views of Vanderdecken and the crew have raised terrifying speculations
in me."

"We shall escape yet!" I repeated, hotly, for the very sense of our
imprisonment and the helplessness of our condition for the time being,
that might be long in terminating, was a thought so maddening that I
felt in a temper to defy, scorn and spit in the face of the very Devil
himself was he to appear. But I had her right hand pressed to my heart;
'twas sure she felt the comfort of it, and together for some while in
silence we stood viewing the ship, the fabric of whose hull stood out
as though lined with India ink upon the ashen tremble of froth that
seemed to embrace her length like shadowy-white arms, as the wind
blowing mildly into her sails forced her to break the water at her
stern as she slided athwart the swell. She made a sight to shrink from!
The sailor's heart within me sank to this feebly-luminous mystery of
aged yet imperishable hull, holding within her creatures so unnatural
that the eye of man can view the like of them nowhere else, and raising
her structure of ancient sail and masts to the stars which glided in
blue and green and white along the yards with the rolling of her.
Little wonder that she should affright the mariner who meets her amid
the lonely paths of the vast ocean she haunts.

I clasped my brow with bewilderment in my brain.

"Surely," I cried to my companion, "I am dreaming. It cannot be that I
at this moment am standing on the deck of the Death Ship!"

She sought to soothe me, but she was startled by my behaviour, and that
perception enabled me to rally. If she as a weak and lonely maiden
could bravely support five years of life amid this crew, what craven
was I to have my brain confused by only seven days' association, spent
mainly in her company? Heaven forgive me. But methinks I realised
our condition--all that it might hereafter signify--with a keenness
of insight, present and prophetic, which would be impossible in her
whose knowledge of the sea was but a child's when she fell into
Vanderdecken's hands.

"We must have patience, courage and hope, Mr. Fenton," she said,
softly. "Look at that starry jewel yonder," and she turned up her face
to the cross that hung above the mizzen topmast-head, gleaming very
gloriously in a lake of deep indigo betwixt two clouds. "It shines for
me! and often have I looked up at it with full eyes and a prayer in my
heart. It shines for you, too! It is the emblem of our redemption, and
we must drink in faith that God will succour us from it."

She continued to gaze at it, and there was sheen enough to enable me
to see a tender smile upon her upturned face. How sweet did she then
appear, fairer than the "evening air clad in the beauty of a thousand
stars," as the poet wrote. I looked up to that sparkling Cross and
thought how strange it was that the Sentence pronounced upon this ship
should doom her to sail eternally over waters above which there nightly
rises the lustrous symbol of Compassion and Mercy.

"Take my arm, my child; 'tis chilly work standing," said the deep voice
of the captain.

Again had he come upon us unawares, but this time he found us silent,
together gazing at the Cross of stars. She withdrew her hand quickly
from my arm and took his, showing wisdom in her promptness, as I was
quick to see. Then, being alone, I went to the quarter-deck and fell to
walking briskly. For Vanderdecken was right, the wind came bleak.



CHAPTER V.

THE DEATH SHIP'S FORECASTLE.


Next morning was clear and sunny. I was up betimes, being always glad
to get away from my cabin, in the which I needed all my long training
at sea to qualify me to sleep, not only because of the rats and the
noises in the hold, and those mystic fires in the timbers that never
failed to send a shudder through me if I opened my eyes upon them in
the darkness, but because of my bed, which was miserably hard and
wretched in all ways, and in which I would lie down dressed, saving my
boots and jacket, never knowing when I might not be obliged to spring
on deck in a hurry, though I took care to refresh myself o' morn by
going into the head, pulling off my shirt and sousing myself with a
bucketfull of salt water--'twas an old canvas bucket, I remember--no
man of the crew speaking to or noticing me.

This morning being very fine, the first bright day that had broken
since I had been in the ship, I thought, since it was early, an hour to
breakfast, Vanderdecken in his cabin and Arents alone on the poop-deck
with the man who steered, that I would look a little closely into the
vessel, and ascertain if possible where and how the men slept, where
they dressed their food and the like. But first I snatched a glance
around to see if any sail was in sight. No! 'Twas all dark-blue water
meeting the clear sky in an unbroken girdle, that by holding its
sapphire hue against the light azure of the heavens there, stood out
with surprising sharpness. The swell left by the gale was not gone, but
it came with a steady rhythmic flowing of folds from the north-west
that seemed to soothe rather than to vex the ancient ship, and the
heavings made the eastern sea-board a rich and dazzling spectacle, by
catching the brilliant white sunshine on the polish of their rounded
backs, and so carrying their burden of blinding radiance to the verge
of the visible deep.

The ship was under all the canvas she had. That studding-sails have
been for ages in use we know on the authority of Sir Walter Raleigh,
in his writings on the improvements in ships since Henry the Eighth's
days; yet I can answer that this Death Ship had no irons on her yards,
nor could I anywhere see any spars that answered to the booms used for
the spreading of those sails. However, even if she had been furnished
with such canvas, this morning it would have been no use to her;
for the breeze still hung, westerly and she was going close-hauled,
steering something to the west of north and moving through the water at
about three knots.

I spied the corpulent figure of Jans, the boatswain, forward of the
fore-mast. He was standing with his arms folded, staring ahead. His
posture somehow suggested a vacancy of mind, and you thought of him
as looking into God knows what distance, with the unmeaningness you
observe in the fixed gaze of a babe sucking.

I could not say whether the decks had been washed down; they seemed
damp, as if newly swabbed. One whom I supposed to be the ship's
carpenter was sawing wood near the house in which were the live stock.
Two others, hard by him, sat upon a sail, stitching at it. There was
a seaman in the fore-top, but what doing I could not see; little more
than his head showed above the barricade. I walked forward to where
the boatswain stood, and, on observing that he took no notice of me, I
touched him lightly on the shoulder.

He turned his round face, ghastly as death yet as fleshy and plump as
life, and gazed at me. I felt nervous--it was dreadful to accost these
conformations, which were neither men nor devils--but I was resolved
to go through with the business I had on hand, impelled by the thought
that if I was suffered to come off with my life from this experience
there would be that to relate to the world beyond anything which seamen
have told of the ocean life.

I said to him, "Good morning, Herr Jans. Here, to be sure, is a fine
sky with noble promise."

"True, sir," he answered, seeming to step out of the mystery of his
stillness and vacancy without effort. "She looks fairly up: but so
tedious a nor'-wester should be followed by a southerly gale!"

"Heaven grant it!" cried I, gathering courage from his civility. "You
will be glad to see old Amsterdam again, no doubt!"

"Ay," said he, "I warrant you; and my wife, Amana, too, and my
daughter, Tobina. Ha! ha!"

His laugh was like that of the parrot, mirthless; and not a wrinkle
stirred upon his countenance to give reality to his shocking merriment.

To come at what I wanted--for I did not wish Vanderdecken to arrive
and see me forward--I said "Yes, meetings are made sweeter by a little
delay. Pardon me, Heer: I am an Englishman not well acquainted with
the shipboard usages of the Dutch. In the ship of which I was second
mate, we had what is called a topgallant forecastle in which the crew
slept----"

He interrupted with a shake of the head. "I do not understand," said he.

This was not strange, for as I did not know the Dutch words, I called
it topgallant forecastle in English.

"They slept under a deck resembling the poop," said I.

"Ha!" he exclaimed.

"Where do your crew sleep?"

"Down there," he responded, pointing to a hatch answering to the
forescuttle of these times.

"Is it a comfortable cabin?" said I.

He made a face and spat behind his hand, which caused me to see that
sailors in all times have been alike in the capacity of grumbling, and
that even in this man, who by virtue of the age he had attained had
long ceased to be human and was kept alive only by the Curse it was his
lot to share with the skipper, the instincts of the seaman still lived,
a few sparks among blackened embers.

"Judge for yourself if you will," said he. "My last ship was the Maagt
van Eukhuysen, and though her forecastle raised a mutiny among us for
its badness, I tell you, mynheer, 'twas as punch is to stale cold water
compared to this."

He motioned me to descend, but I asked him to go first, for how was I
to guess what would be my reception if the men saw me entering their
abode unaccompanied? "Very good," said he, and catching hold of the
coaming he dropped his great figure through the hatch, and I followed.

We descended by a ladder in perfect correspondence with the rest of
the fittings of this ship--the hand-rails carved, and the steps a sort
of grating--different, indeed, from the pieces of coarse, rough wood
nailed to the bulkhead, which in these days form the road down through
the forescuttle. The light of the heavens fell fair through the hatch,
but seemed powerless to penetrate the gloom that lay around. I was
blinded at first, and stood a moment under the hatch idly blinking and
beholding nothing. Then stepping out of the sphere of the daylight,
there stole upon my sight the details of the place one by one, helped
by the wan, sputtering and smoking flame of a lamp shaped like a
coffee-pot, the waste or mesh coming out of the spout fed by what the
nose readily determined to be slush.

Jans stood beside me. "Can you see, mynheer?" said he.

"Ay, 'tis growing upon me by degrees," I replied.

"Master," exclaimed a hollow voice, proceeding from the darkest part of
this forecastle, "if you could help me fill the bowl of a tobacco-pipe
I should be grateful."

Very luckily I had the remains of what sailors term a prick of tobacco
in my pocket, which Prins when he dried my jacket had very honestly
suffered to remain there. The piece had been so hard pressed in the
making, and rendered so water-proof by the rum in it, that my falling
overboard had left it perfectly sweet and fit for smoking. By a stingy
and cautious use of the knife there was enough of it to give all hands
a smoke. I pulled it out and handed it to Jans to deliver to the man
who had addressed me. Jans smelt it and said "Yes, it was tobacco, but
how was it to be smoked?"

I pulled out my knife, and stepping into the light under the hatch, put
the tobacco upon one of the ladder-steps and fell to slicing or rather
shaving it, and when I had cut enough to fill a pipe bowl I rolled up
the shreds in my hands, and taking a sooty clay pipe from Jans, charged
it, and bade him light it at the lamp. He did so, speedily returning,
smoking heartily, puffing out great clouds, and crying out, "Oh, but
'tis good! 'tis good!"

It is tiring work cutting up this kind of tobacco, and Jans now
understanding how it was done, took the knife and the tobacco and shred
about an inch of it, there being in all between three and four inches.
Whilst this was doing I had leisure to gaze about me.

No sooner had Jans lighted his pipe, so that all could see he was
smoking, than from several parts of that gloomy interior there slided
a number of figures who quickly clustered around the ladder, over one
of whose steps or treads the boatswain leaned, pipe in mouth, whilst
he sliced and shaved. The daylight fell upon some of them, others were
faintly to be seen in the dim illumination which the lustre, passing
through the hatch, feebly spread. From rows of old hammocks, that died
out in the gloom, these men had dropped, and mariners half-perished
with hunger could not have exhibited more delirious eagerness for food
than did these unhappy creatures for a pipeful of the tobacco Jans was
at work upon. A dismaller and wilder, nay, a more affrighting picture
I defy the imagination to body forth. It was not only that many of
these unhappy people were half-naked--most of them still swinging in
their hammocks, when I descended--it was their corpse-like appearance,
as though a grave-yard had disgorged its dead, who had come together
in a group, quickened and urged by some hunger, lust or need common to
the whole, and expressing in many varieties of countenance the same
desire. All about Jans they crowded, fifteen or twenty men; some thin,
with their ribs showing, others with sturdy legs of the Dutch kind,
some nearly bald, some so hairy that their locks and beards flowed down
their backs and chests, some dark with black eyes, others round-faced
and blue-eyed; but every man of them looking as if he was newly risen,
Lazarus-like, from the tomb, as though he had burst the bondage of the
coffin, and come into this forecastle dead yet living, his body formed
of the earth of the grave, and his soul of the Curse that kept him
alive.

I had particularly hoped to see some of them sleeping, wondering what
appearance they presented in slumber; also whether such as they ever
dreamed, and what sort of expressions their faces wore. But the place
was too dark to have yielded this sight even had I been at liberty to
peer into their hammocks. When my eyes grew used to the twilight of the
slush-lamp and I could see plain, I found there was not much to whet
curiosity. Here and there stood a box or sea-chest. Against the aged
sides, hanging by nails or hooks, were coats, trowsers, oilskins, and
the like, most of them differing in fashion, swaying with the heaving
of the ship. Some odds and ends of shoes and boots, a canvas bucket
or two, a tall basket, in which were stowed the dishes and mugs the
men eat and drank with, completed, with the hammocks overhead, all the
furniture that I could distinguish of this melancholy, rat-gnawed, yea,
and noisome forecastle.

By this time Jans was wearied of slicing the tobacco, and the fellow
called Meindert Kryns was at work upon what remained of it. All who
had pipes filled them, and I was surprised to find how well off they
were in this respect, though my wonder ceased when I afterwards heard
that amongst other articles of freight Vanderdecken had met with in
a derelict were cases of long clay pipes. It was both moving and
diverting to watch these half-clad creatures smoking, their manner of
holding the smoke in their mouths for the better tasting of it, the
solemn joy with which they expelled the clouds; some in their hammocks
with their naked legs over the edge; others on the chests, manifestly
insensible to the chilly wind that blew down through the hatch. No man
spoke. If aught of mind there was among them, it seemed to be devoted
to keeping their pipe-bowls burning. Jans stood leaning against the
fore-mast, puffing at his pipe, his eyes directed into the gloom in the
bows. That he had forgotten the errand that brought him below, that
I had no more existence for him than would have been the case had I
never fallen from the rail of the Saracen, was clearly to be gathered
from his strange rapt posture and air. I touched him again on the
shoulder, and he turned his eyes upon me, but without starting. 'Twas
the easiest, nimblest way of slipping out of a condition of trance into
intelligence and life that can be conceived.

I wished to see all I dared ask to look at, and said, "Where do you
cook your food?"

"I will show you," he answered, and walked to some distance abaft the
forescuttle.

I followed him painfully, for I could scarce see; indeed, here would
have been total blackness to one fresh from the sunlight. There was a
bulkhead with an opening on the larboard hand; we passed through it,
and I found myself on a deck pretty well filled up at the after-end
with coils of cable, casks, and so forth; a windward port was open,
and through it came light enough to see by. In the middle of this deck
was a sort of caboose, situated clear of the ropes and casks. 'Twas,
in short, a structure of stout scantling, open on either side, and
fitted with brick-work contrived for a furnace and coppers for boiling.
A man--the cook, or the cook's mate--his feet naked, his shanks
clothed in breeches of a faded blue stuff, and his trunk in a woollen
shirt--was at work boiling a kind of soup for the crew's breakfast.
Another man stood at a dresser, rolling paste. This fellow was a very
short, corpulent person, with a neck so fat that a pillow of flesh lay
under the back of his head. Never in my time had I viewed a completer
figure of a Dutchman than this cook. You would have supposed that into
this homely picture of boiling and pie-making there would have entered
such an element of life and reality as was nowhere else to be found in
that accurst ship. Yet so little was this so, that I do not know that
in all the time I had been in the Braave I had beheld a more ghastly
picture. It was the two men who made it so; the unreality of their
realness, to comprehend which, if this phrase should sound foolishly,
think upon the vision of an insane man, or upon some wondrous picture
painted upon the eyes of the dying or opening upon the gaze of some
enthusiast.

The flames of the furnace shot a crimson glare upon the first of the
two men I have described; he never turned his head to look at me,
but went on stirring what was in the copper. The place had much of
the furniture of one of our present cabooses or galleys. There was a
kind of dresser and there were racks for holding dishes, an old brass
timepiece that was as great a curiosity in its way as the clock in the
cabin, a chair of the last century, a couple of wooden bellows, and
such matters.

I was moving, when the little, fat cook suddenly fell a-sniffing, and
turning to Jans, said, "Is there tobacco at last?"

"No," answered Jans; "this Heer had a piece which he has distributed.
'Tis all gone. But there is a smoke left in this pipe; take it."

He dried the sooty stem upon his sleeve, and handed it to the cook, who
instantly began to puff, uttering one or two exclamations of pleasure,
but with an unmoved countenance.

"Is there no tobacco on board?" said I, following Jans into the
forecastle.

"The skipper has a small quantity, but there is none for the crew," he
answered. "Had your ship supplied us with a little stock 'twould have
been a godsend; welcomer, sir, than the powder and shot you wantonly
bestowed upon our boat."

We were now in the forecastle, and this reference to the action of
the terrified crew of the Saracen, in the hearing of the seamen who
overhung their hammocks, or squatted on their chests, smoking, alarmed
me; so with a quickly uttered "Good-morning" addressed to them all, I
sprang up the ladder and gained the deck.



CHAPTER VI.

WE SIGHT A SHIP.


It was like coming out of a sepulchre to step from that forecastle on
deck where the glorious sun was and the swaying shadows, and where
the blue wind gushed in a soft breathing over the bulwark-rails, with
weight enough in it to hold the canvas stirless, and to raise a gentle
hissing alongside like the seething of champagne. I spied Vanderdecken
on the poop and near him Imogene, so I hastened aft to greet the girl
and salute the great bearded figure that nobly towered beside her.
She looked fragrant and sweet as a white rose in the dewy morn, wore
a straw hat turned up on one side and looped to stay there with a
parti-coloured rosette, and though this riband was faded with age and
the straw yellow and dull through keeping, the gear did suit her beauty
most divinely, and I could have knelt and kissed her hand, so complete
a Princess did she appear in the royal perfections of her countenance
and shape.

To turn from the sparkle of her violet eye, the rosiness of her lip,
the life that teemed in the expression of her face, like a blushing
light shining through fragile porcelain, to turn from her to the great
silent figure near her, with piercing gaze directed over the taffrail,
his beard trembling to the down-rush of air from the mizzen, was to
obtain a proper contrast to enable you to realise in the aspect of
that amazing person the terrible conditions of his existence and the
enormous significance of his sentence.

With a smile of pleasure at the sight of me, Imogene bade me
good-morning, saying, "I am before you for the first time since you
have been in the ship."

"I was out of my cabin half-an-hour ago, perhaps longer," said I.
"What, think you, I have been doing? Exploring the sailors' quarters
and inspecting the kitchen." And I tossed up my hands and turned up
my eyes that she might guess what I thought of those places. Then
meeting Vanderdecken's gaze, which he had brought to bear upon me with
a frowning roll of the eyes, I took off my hat, giving him a bow. He
greeted me in his imperious stormy way, and asked me what I thought of
his ship.

I replied, "She is a very fine vessel, sir."

"Did they lift the hatches to show the cargo to you?" he exclaimed.

I answered smartly, "No," perceiving that he was aware I had been below
in the fore-part.

"How does my forecastle show to your English prejudice?" he said.

"Oh, mynheer!" said I, smiling, with a look at Imogene, whose eyes
were fixed in the quarter over the stern into which Vanderdecken had
been staring, "so far from Englishmen being prejudiced, at all events,
in naval matters, we are continually taking ideas from other nations,
particularly from the French, whose ships of war we imitate and admire.
Perhaps," said I, "that is one of the reasons why we are incessantly
capturing the vessels of that nation."

But the conceit was lost, because this man had flourished before we had
become the terror of the French that our admirals have since made the
English flag to be.

Imogene cried out in Dutch, "Do you know, Mr. Fenton, that there is a
sail in sight?"

My heart gave a bound, and following the indication of her ivory-white
forefinger, which pointed directly astern, I saw the tiny gleam of
what was unquestionably a ship's canvas, resembling the curved tip of
a gull's wing.

"Ay, to be sure, yonder's a sail!" I exclaimed, after keeping my eyes
fixed upon it a while to make sure, and I added in Dutch, "Which way,
madam, does the captain say she is steering?"

"Directly after us," she replied.

"Judge for yourself, sir," said Vanderdecken, motioning with his hand
toward a telescope that stood against the deck-house.

It was the ancient, heavy tube I had observed in his cabin. I picked it
up, rested it upon the rail--it was too weighty for the support of my
left hand--and worked away with it at the sail astern. It was a feeble
old glass, magnifying, I should suppose, to the proportion of a crown
to a groat. In fact I could see as well with the naked eye. It was
Vanderdecken's telescope, however, and a curiosity, and still feigning
to view the sail, I secretly ran my eye over the tubes, noticing, in
very faint letters, the words, "Cornelius Van der Decken, Amsterdam,
1650," graved in flowing characters upon the large tube.

"She is heading after us, you think, mynheer?" said Vanderdecken as I
rose.

"I could not say, sir. Has she grown since you first observed her?"

"Yes."

He took the glass and levelled it very easily, and I met Imogene's gaze
as she glanced from him to me, as though she was sure I could not but
admire the massive, manly figure of that man, drawn to his full height,
and in such a posture as one would love to see him painted in.

"She is certainly steering our course," said he, speaking with his eye
at the tube, "I hope she may not prove an English man-of-war. Who can
tell? If a merchantman, be her nationality what it may, we'll speak her
for tobacco, for that's a commodity we must have."

I looked earnestly and with a face flushed with hope at Imogene; but
she glanced away from me to the sail, signalling to me by this action
in a manner unmistakable, to be wary.

Vanderdecken put down the glass, cast a look aloft at the set of his
canvas and the trim of his yards, and then called to Arents to heave
the log. Some seamen came aft, in response to the second mate's call,
and, bringing out a reel and sand-glass from the deck-house, measured
the speed of the ship through the water, precisely as we at this day
do, so ancient is this simple device of telling a ship's speed of
passage through the water by paying out a line marked with knots to the
running of sand! I heard Arents say that the vessel was going three
knots and a half.

"At that rate," said I to Imogene, whilst Vanderdecken remained aft,
watching in a soulless manner the automaton-like motions of the men
engaged in hauling the line in and reeling it up, "that vessel yonder,
if she be actually heading our way, will soon overhaul us."

"Mr. Fenton," said she, with subdued energy in her soft voice, "I
earnestly pray you, neither by word, look or sign to give Captain
Vanderdecken the least reason to suspect that you mean to escape from
his ship and rescue me whenever the chance shall offer. I will tell
you why I say this: just now he spoke of you to me, and said if an
opportunity offered he should put you on board any vessel that would
receive you, no matter where she was bound to, and then he asked what
you and I chiefly talked about. There was more sternness in his manner
than ever I recollect in him when addressing me."

"If I thought him capable of human emotions," said I, "I should reckon
him jealous."

"But he _has_ human emotions--he loves his wife and children," she
replied.

"Ay, but who is to know that that love is not left to linger in him as
a part of his curse?" said I. "By which I mean, if he was not suffered
to remember his wife and children and love them, he might not show
himself very eager to get round the Cape. Possibly he wants to get rid
of me, not because he is jealous, not because he dislikes me as a man,
but because that malignant baboon, Van Vogelaar, may have been speaking
against me, putting fears into his head touching his treasure, and
working upon his duty as a Hollander--a compatriot of De Ruyter, God
help him--to hate me as an Englishman."

"But he loves me too, Mr. Fenton," said she.

"As a father might," said I, not liking this, yet amused by her sweet
tenaciousness.

"Yes, as a father; but it shows he has capacity for other emotions
outside those which you deem necessary for the duration of the
Sentence."

"I ought to believe so if he hates me," said I, looking his way and
observing that he had turned his back upon us and was watching the
sail astern. "But be all this as it will, you shall find me as careful
as you can desire."

"If," said she, plaintively, "he should become even faintly suspicious
of your intentions, he might set you ashore, should we not meet with a
ship to receive you, and then what would become of you and what would
become of me, Mr. Fenton?"

"Have no fear," said I; "he shall discover nothing in me to make him
suspicious. As to his setting me ashore, that he could do, and whether
I should be able to outwit him in such a manoeuvre, I cannot tell;
but in no other way could he get rid of me, unless by throwing me
overboard."

"He would not do that," she exclaimed, shaking her head; "nor do I
think he would force you from this ship if he could find no ground
for distrust. But something affecting you has worried his mind, I am
certain, or he would not have declared his intention to send you to
another vessel. He believes he is going straight home. Why, then,
should he not be willing to carry you? Maybe he heard from Arents that
you were below exploring the ship. Oh, Mr. Fenton, be cautious! If not
for your own sake, then for mine!"

She involuntarily brought her little hands together into a posture of
prayer with the earnestness of her entreaty, and her warmth flowed
rosily to her cheeks, so that, though she spoke low, her manner was
impassioned, and I saw how her dear heart was set upon my delivering
her, and how great was her terror lest my thoughtlessness should end in
procuring our separation. However, I had no time to then reassure her,
though I resolved henceforth to walk with extraordinary circumspection,
seeing that the people I had fallen amongst were utterly unintelligible
to me, being so composite in their dead-aliveness that it was
impossible to come at their motives and feelings, if they possessed
any resembling ours. I say I had not time to reassure her, for Prins
arrived to report breakfast, which brought Vanderdecken to us.

Little was said at table, but that little was quite enough to make me
understand the wisdom of Imogene's fears, and to perceive that if I did
not check my curiosity to inspect the ship so as to be able to deliver
a true account of this strange and fearful fabric, I stood to lose
Imogene the chance of escape which my presence in the vessel provided
her with. No matter which of the two mates had the watch on deck, Van
Vogelaar always sat down to meals first, Arents following. He was
beside me this morning as usual, coming fresh from his cabin; and when
we were seated, Vanderdecken told him there was a ship astern.

"How heading, skipper?"

"As we go, without doubt. She hath grown swiftly since first sighted,
yet hangs steady in the same quarter."

"Let her hoist any colours but those of this gentleman's country!" said
Van Vogelaar, with an ugly sneer.

"Should that happen, captain, will you fight her?" I asked, quietly.

"If she be a ship of war--no; for what are our defences against the
culverins and demi-culverins of your ships, and how shall we match
perhaps four hundred sailors with our slender company?" replied
Vanderdecken, with an evil glitter in his eyes, and grasping his beard
as his custom was when wrathful thoughts surged in him.

"She may prove a harmless merchantman--perhaps a sturdy Hollander--that
will give you plenty of tobacco for a little of your silver," said
Imogene, striking in with her sweet smile, and melodious voice, like a
sunbeam upon turbulent waters.

"If you are in doubt why not shift your helm, gentlemen?" said I.

"Ah, skipper!" cried Van Vogelaar, sardonically, "we have an adviser
here. It is fit that a Dutch ship should be served by an English pilot!"

I held my peace. At this moment the clock struck, and the parrot, as
though some fiend was inside her green bosom prompting her to breed
trouble, cried out "Wyn Zyn al Verdomd!" with fierce energy, severely
clawing her wires, and exhibiting more agitation than seems possible in
a fowl of naturally dull and leaden motions.

"I believe she speaks the truth," exclaimed Van Vogelaar, turning
his face towards the cage. "The parrot hath been known to possess a
witch-like capacity of forecasting and divining."

"Oh, but you know, Heer, that she had that sentence by heart when the
captain bought her," said Imogene, with a mixed air of distress and
petulance in her face.

"I know, madam," he replied, "that yonder bird never spoke those words
with such energy as she now puts into them before this gentleman
arrived."

Vanderdecken looked at him and then at me, but did not speak.

"What do you suspect from the increased energy of the bird's language?"
said I, fixing my eyes upon the mate.

He would not meet my gaze, but answered with his eyes upon his plate,
"What is your motive in examining this ship, sir?"

"The harmless curiosity of a sailor," I replied.

He was about to speak, but I lifted my hand, meaning to entreat silence
whilst I continued, but he, mistaking the gesture for a threat, shrank
very abjectly from his seat, proving himself a timorous, cowardly
fellow, and the more to be feared, perhaps, for being so. "Captain
Vanderdecken," said I, keeping my hand lifted, that he and his mate
might understand I intended no menace, "I know not what base and
degrading charges Herr Van Vogelaar would insinuate. I am an honest
man and mean well, and, sir, add to that the gratitude of one whose
life you have preserved. You were pleased, on one occasion, to speak
kindly of my countrymen, and regret that feud should ever exist between
two nations whose genius seems to have a common root. I trust that
your sympathy with Britain will cause you to turn a deaf ear to the
unwarrantable hints against my honour as an English seaman, dropped by
your first mate."

To this speech Vanderdecken made no reply; indeed, I would not like
to swear that he had heeded so much as a syllable of it. Van Vogelaar
resumed the posture on his seat from which he had started on my raising
my hand and went on with his meal. Shortly after this Imogene left
the table and entered her cabin, on which, weary of the sullen and
malignant company of the mate, and the ghostly silence and fiery eyes
of Captain Vanderdecken, I rose, bowed to the skipper, and went on deck.

I walked right aft, past the helmsman, and stood gazing with a most
passionate yearning and wistfulness at the sail astern. The stranger
had not greatly grown during the time we had passed below, but her
enlargement was marked enough to make me guess that she was overhauling
us hand over fist, as sailors say, and I reckoned that if the wind
held she would be within gunshot by three or four of the clock this
afternoon. I went for Vanderdecken's glass and examined her again;
the lenses imparted an atmospheric sharpness and pellucidity of
outline which showed plainly enough the royals and topgallant-sails of
apparently a large ship slightly leaning from the wind. I could not
persuade myself that she was "reaching," for though our yards were
as sharply braced as they would lie, the stranger, if she were close
hauled, could have luffed up three or four more points, but as she held
her place it was certain she was making a free wind and coming along
with her yards braced-in somewhat. Therefore she was not bound to the
westwards, and if for the Indian Ocean, what need had she to be heading
due north?

I put down the glass, but the yearning that rose within me at the sight
of the vessel ceased when I thought of Imogene. Suppose that ship
should prove the instrument of separating me from her! I had talked big
for the sake of comforting her, of fearing nothing from Vanderdecken
save being set ashore or tossed overboard, for I counted upon any and
all ships we met refusing to receive me if they found out that this
ancient fabric was the Flying Dutchman. But suppose Vanderdecken should
heave me overboard on nearing a vessel, leaving it to her people to
succour me if they chose?

These were the fancies which subdued in me the eager wistfulness raised
by yonder gleaming wing of canvas, whitening like a mounting star upon
the blue edge of the ocean in the south.

Lost in thought, I continued gazing until presently I grew sensible of
the presence of someone standing close beside me. It was Imogene. On
the weather quarter was Van Vogelaar surveying the sail with folded
arms and stooped head. His face wore a malignant expression, and in his
stirlessness he resembled an effigy, wrought with exquisite skill to a
marvellous imitation of apparel and shape.

"Where is the captain?" I asked.

"He is smoking in the cabin," Imogene answered.

"Yonder rascal is evidently my enemy," said I.

"All will be well if you show no curiosity," she replied, softly. "Do
you not remember that I cautioned you at the very beginning? My belief
is that the mate is mad you should know of the treasure in this ship,
and will be eager to get rid of you lest you should contrive to possess
it."

"But how?"

"By acquainting the master of the ship you are transferred to with the
wealth in this vessel. Add to this fear--for he has a share in all they
recover from wrecks, and in a portion of the cargo--his hatred of you
for your men firing at him."

"I begin to see," said I, "that there are several strokes of human
nature still to be witnessed among these unhappy wretches, spite of
their monstrous age, the frightfulness of the Curse they are under, and
their being men who are alive in death--corpses reflecting vitality
just as the dead moon shines. But needs must where the Devil drives;
speculating will not serve; we must wait."

I watched her whilst she looked at the sail in our wake; emotion
darkened and lightened in the violet of her eyes as the blue folds of
Heaven seem to deepen and brighten with the breathings of the wind;
through her delicate lips her rose-sweet breath came and went swiftly.
She started, looked at Van Vogelaar, aloft at the canvas, round the
deck, with a sharp tremble running through her light form, and cried
out with an hysteric swiftness, and in a voice full of tears, "You will
not leave me to this wretched fate, Mr. Fenton! You will not leave me
in this dreadful ship!"

I grasped her hand. "I swear before the Majesty of that offended God
whose eye is on this ship as we thus stand, that if I am forced to
leave you it will be at the cost of my life!"



CHAPTER VII.

WE WATCH THE SHIP APPROACH US.


We stood in silence for some moments, hand in hand; then finding Van
Vogelaar furtively watching us, I quitted her side; at the same moment
Vanderdecken came on deck.

I went to the foremost end of the poop and there stayed, leaning
against the bulwark, my mind very full of thought. Though I had been
in this vessel a week, yet now, as on many occasions, I found myself
conceiving it to be a thing incredible that this craft should be the
famous Death Ship of tradition, the talk and terror of the mariner's
forecastle; and such a feeling of mystification thickened my brains
that a sudden horror stung me from head to foot with the sensation the
nervous are possessed with, when, in a sudden panic, they fear they are
going out of their minds. But, by keeping my eyes fixed on Imogene,
I succeeded ere long in mastering this terrible emotion, even to the
extent of taking a cheerful view of my situation; first, by considering
that, for all I knew, I had been led by the Divine hand to this ship
for the purpose of rescuing the lovely girl from a fate more dismal and
shocking than tongue could utter or imagination invent; and next, by
reflecting that if God spared my life so that I could relate what I had
seen, I should be famous among sailors as the only seaman that had ever
been on board the Phantom Ship, as she is foolishly styled, eaten with
her commander, mixed with her crew, beheld the discipline of her, and
looked narrowly into all circumstances of her inner or hidden life.

It seemed to me incredible that any vessel could encounter her and
not guess what she was, though, of course, I believed what Imogene
had said, that now and again an unsuspicious ship would traffic with
Vanderdecken in such commodities as the one wanted or the other had.
If her character was expressed at night by the fiery crawlings like
red-hot wire upon her, in the daytime she discovered her nature by
signs not indeed so wild and terrifying, but to the full as significant
in a sailor's eyes. Supposing her to have been built at Hoorn, in
1648--that date, I believe, would represent her birth--there would be
nothing in the mere antiquity of her hull, or even in the shape of it,
to convict her as Vanderdecken's ship; because the difference between
the bodies and forms of ships of the time in which she was built and
those of many vessels yet afloat and actively employed, would not be
so great as to let the mariner know what she was. For instance, there
was a vessel trading in my time between Strangford and Whitehaven
that was an hundred and thirty years old. She was called the Three
Sisters, and the master was one Donnan; she was also known by the name
of the Port-a-Ferry Frigate. Her burthen was thirty-six tons, and 'twas
positively known she was employed at the siege of Londonderry, in 1689.
Now, here was a craft once beheld by me, who am writing this, that
was nearly as ancient as the Flying Dutchman. She was often to be met
coasting, and, in consequence of her having been the first vessel that
ever entered the Old Dock at Liverpool, was ever after made free of all
port charges. Yet, no sailor shrank affrighted from her, no grave-yard
fires lived in her timbers; when encountered at sea she was regarded as
a venerable piece of marine architecture, and that was all. But why?
Because her rig had been changed. She had been a ship; when I knew her
she was a brigantine. Aloft she had been made to keep pace with all
improvements. Then her hull was carefully preserved with paint, her
voyages were short, and she was constantly being renewed and in divers
ways made good.

But this Death Ship was now as she had been in 1653 when she set sail
from Batavia for her homeward passage. Aloft she was untouched--that
is, in respect of her original aspect, if I save the varying thickness
of her standing gear, which would not be observable at a short
distance. For a century and a half, when I met her, had she been
washing about in this ocean off the Cape of Storms, and the exposure
had rotted her through and kindled the glow of deadwood in every pore.
It might be that the Curse which held her crew living was not yet quick
in her. By which I mean that she had not yet come to that condition of
decay which would correspond in a ship to the death of a human being,
so that the repairs, careening, calking and the like which her men
found necessary for her might be found needful for some years yet,
when she would become as her crew were--dead in time but staunch and
enduring so long as the Curse should be in force.

These were the speculations of a troubled and bewildered mind. I
glanced at the sail astern and guessed it would not be long before that
shining pillar of canvas swept the hull beneath it on to the delicate
azure that went trembling to the heavens there. Prins had brought a
chair for Imogene and she sat near the tiller. Vanderdecken stood
beside her, watching the distant ship. Van Vogelaar, who had the watch,
stumped the weather side of the poop, often coming abreast of where I
stood to leeward, and occasionally sending a scowling furtive glance my
way. It was not my policy to intrude. Nay, the rising of that vessel
in our wake furnished a particular emphasis to Imogene's advice to me,
for if haply I should irritate Vanderdecken by some unwise remark or
indiscreet behaviour, and the ship should turn out an Englishman and
act in some such fashion as did the Saracen, my life might have to pay
for the incivility of my countrymen.

I had the yearning of the whole ship's company in me for a pipe of
tobacco, but I had parted with all I owned--which now vexed me, for my
generosity had brought me no particular kindness from the men--and had
not the courage to solicit a whiff or two from the skipper's little
store. Sometimes Imogene would turn her head as if to view the ship
or glance at the sea, but in reality to mark if I was still on deck,
but I could not discover in her way of doing this the slightest hint
that I should approach her. Occasionally Vanderdecken addressed her,
often he would stand apparently wrapped in thought, heeding nothing but
the vessel astern, if one might suppose so from his eyes being bent
thitherwards. From time to time Van Vogelaar picked up the glass and
levelled it at the ship, and then put it down with an air of angry
impatience--though you found the motion suggested rather than showed as
an actually definable thing the counterfeit passion displayed in the
gestures and carriage of an automaton.

Leaning against the rail of the bulwarks as high as my shoulder-blades,
I quietly waited for what was to come, yet with a mind lively with
curiosity and expectations. What would Vanderdecken do? What colours
would the stranger show? How would she behave? What part might I have
to take in whatever was to happen? To be sure the stranger would not
be up with us for some while yet, but since breakfast the breeze had
slightly freshened, and by the rapid enlargement of those shining
heights astern you knew that the wind had but to gather a little more
weight to swiftly swirl yonder nimble craft up to within musket-shot of
this cumbrous ancient fabric.

I looked over the rail, watching the sickly-coloured side slipping
sluggishly through the liquid transparent blue, marbled sometimes by
veins and patches of foam, flung with a sullen indifference of energy
from the hewing cutwater, on the top of which there projected a great
beak, where yet lingered the remains of a figure-head that I had some
time before made out to represent an Hercules, frowning down upon the
sea with uplifted arms, as though in the act of smiting with a club.
It was easy to guess that this ship had kept the seas for some months
since careening by observing the shell-fish below the water-line, and
the strings of black and green weed she lifted with every roll. But,
uncouth as was the fabric, gaunt as her aged furniture made her decks
appear, inconvenient and ugly as was her rig, exhibiting a hundred
signs of the primitiveness in naval construction of the age to which
she belonged, yet, when I lifted my eyes from the water to survey her,
'twas not without a sentiment of veneration beyond the power of the
horror the supernaturalism of her and her crew raised in me to correct.
For was it not by such ships as this that the great and opulent islands
and continents of the world had been discovered and laid open as
theatres for posterity to act dazzling parts in? Was it not with such
ships as this that battles were fought, the courage, audacity, skill
and fierce determination exhibited in which many latter conflicts may,
indeed, parallel, but never in one single instance surpass? Was it
not by such ships as this that the great Protector raised the name of
Britain to such a height as exceeds all we read of in the history of
ancient or modern nations? What braver admirals, more skilful soldiers,
more valiant captains, stouter-hearted mariners, have flourished than
those whose cannon flamed in thunder from the sides of such ships as
this?

Ay, 'twas a structure to dream in when the soul could let slip the
dread which the thought of the Curse and the appearance of the crew
inspired; a wizard to hearken back the imagination to olden times and
show the sun sparkling, and the Heavens blue, and the sea azure in
pictures, not more dead, and not less vital either, than the company
who manned her, who were beings with loving hearts and blood-fed
skins in that distant age into which she drove fancy, romancing and
recreating.

The time passed; at the hour of eleven, or thereabouts the hull of the
ship astern was visible upon the water-line. The breeze had freshened,
and the long heave of the swell left by the gale was whipped into
wrinkles, which melted into a creamy sparkling as they ran. Under the
sun, upon our starboard bow, the ocean was kindled into glory; through
the trembling splendour the blue of the sea surged up in fluctuating
veins, and the conflict of the sapphire dye welling up into the
liquid dazzle, where it showed an instant, ere being overwhelmed by
the blaze on the water, was a spectacle of beauty worthy of life-long
remembrance. Elsewhere, the crisped plain of the ocean stretched darker
than the Heavens, under which were many clouds, moving with full white
bosoms like the sails of ships, carrying tinted shinings resembling
wind-galls, or fragments of solar rainbows, upon their shoulders or
skirts, as they happened to offer them to the sun.

By this time you felt the stirring of curiosity throughout the ship.
Whatever jobs the crew had been put to they now neglected, that they
might hang over the sides or stand upon the rail to watch and study the
ship astern of us. Many had an avidity in their stare that could not
have been matched by the looks of famine-stricken creatures. Whether
they were visited by some dim sense or perception of their frightful
lot and yearned, out of this weak emotion, for the ship in pursuit,
albeit they might not have been able to make their wishes intelligible
to their own understandings, God knoweth. 'Twas moving to see them;
one with the sharp of his hand to his forehead, another fixedly gazing
out of a tangle of grey hair, a third showing fat and ghastly to the
sunlight, a fourth with black eyes charged with the slate-coloured
patches of blindness, straining his imperfect gaze under a bald brow,
corrugated into lines as hard as iron.

Vanderdecken had left Imogene and stood on the weather quarter with the
mate. The girl being alone, I walked aft to her and said in English,
feigning to speak of the weather by looking aloft as I spoke, "I have
held aloof long enough, I think. He will not object if I join you now?"

"No--his head is full of that ship yonder," she replied. "For my part
I am as weary of sitting as you must be of standing. Let us walk a
little. He has never yet objected to our conversing. Why should he do
so now?"

So saying she rose. Her sheer weariness of being alone, or of talking
to Vanderdecken, was too much for her policy of caution. We fell to
quietly pacing the poop deck to leeward, and with a most keen and
exquisite delight I could taste in her manner the gladness our being
together filled her with, and foresee the spirit of defiance to danger
and risks that would grow in her with the growth of our love.

No notice was taken of us. The eyes and thoughts of all were directed
to the ship. From time to time Vanderdecken or Van Vogelaar would
inspect her through the glass. Presently Antony Arents and Jans, the
boatswain, joined them, and the four conversed as though the captain
had called a council.

"She is picking us up very fast," said I to Imogene, whilst we stood
awhile looking at the vessel. "I should not like to swear to her
nationality; but that she is an armed ship, whether French, or Dutch,
or English, is as certain as that she has amazingly lively heels."

"How white her sails are, and how high they rise!" exclaimed Imogene.
"She leans more sharply than we."

"Ay," said I, "she shows twice her number of cloths. Is it not
astonishing," I continued, softening my voice, "that Vanderdecken, and
his mates and men, should not guess that there is something very wrong
with them, from the mere contrast of such beautifully cut and towering
canvas as that yonder with the scanty, storm-darkened rags of sails
under which this groaning old hull is driven along?"

"Yes, at least to you and me, who have the faculty of appreciating
contrasts. But think of them as deficient in all qualities but those
which are necessary for the execution of the Sentence. Then their
heedlessness is that of a blind man, who remains insensible to the
pointing of your finger to the object you speak to him about."

"Would to God you and I were quit of it all," said I.

"We must pray for help, and hope for it too!" she answered, with a
swift glance at me, that for a breathless moment carried the violet
beauty and shining depths of her eyes fair to mine. An instant's
meeting of our gaze only! Yet I could see her heart in that rapid,
fearless, trustful look, as the depth of the Heavens is revealed by a
flash of summer lightning.

Suddenly Vanderdecken gave orders for the ensign to be hoisted. The
boatswain entered the little house, and returned with the flag which
he bent on to the halliards rove at the mizzen topmast-head. The
colours mounted slowly to his mechanical pulling, and they were worthy
indeed of the dead-and-alive hand that hoisted them, being as ragged
and attenuated with age as any banner hung high in the dusty gloom of a
cathedral. But the flag was distinguishable as the Hollander's ensign,
as you saw when it crazily streamed out its fabric, that was so thin
in places, you thought you spied the sky through it. One should say
it was a flag seldom flown on board the Dutchman, to judge from the
manner in which the crew cast their eyes up at it, never a one of them
smiling, indeed, though here and there under the death-pallor there lay
a sort of crumpling of the flesh, as of a grin. 'Twas a flag to drive
thoughts of home deep into them, and now and again I would catch one
muttering to another behind his hand, whilst the most of them continued
to steadfastly regard the ensign for many minutes after Jans had
mastheaded it, as though they fancied home could not be far distant
with that flag telling of it.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE CENTAUR FLIES FROM US.


Now the Dutch flag had not been flying twenty minutes when, my sight
being keen, I thought I could perceive something resembling a colour at
the fore-royal masthead of the ship. I asked Imogene if she saw it. She
answered "No." I said nothing, not being sure myself, and was unwilling
to intrude upon the four men standing to windward by asking for the
telescope. On board our ship they had set the sprit-topsail, and the
forward part of the dull, time-eaten, rugged old vessel resembled a
Chinese kite. She was doing her best; but let her splutter as she would
'twas for all the world like the sailing of a beer-barrel with a mast
steeped in the bunghole. And this, thought I, was the vessel that
gave the slip to the frigate belonging to Sir George Ascue's squadron!
The wake she made was short, broad and oily--a square, fat, glistening
surface of about her own length--not greatly exceeding the smoothness
she would leave aweather if drifting dead to leeward under bare poles;
different indeed from that suggestion of comet-like speed which you
find in the fleecy swirl of a line of foaming waters boiling out from
the metalled run of a fleet cruiser, and rising and falling and fading
into dim distance like a path of snow along a hilly land.

On board yonder ship they would have perspective glasses of a power
very different from the flat lenses in Vanderdecken's tubes; and since
by this time it was certain they had us large in their telescopes, what
would they be thinking of our huge, old-fashioned tops, fitter for the
bowmen and musqueteers of Ferdinand Magellan and Drake than for the
small-armsmen of even the days of the Commonwealth, of the antique cut
of our canvas and the wild and disordered appearance its patches and
colour submitted, of the grisly aspect of the wave-worn, storm-swept
hull, of the peaked shape and narrowness of our stern, telling of times
long vanished, as do the covers of an old book or the arches in an
ancient church?

Imogene and I continued our walk up and down, talking of many things,
chiefly of England, whereof I gave her as much news, down to the time
of the sailing of the Saracen, as I carried in my memory, until,
presently coming abreast of the group of four, still on the weather
quarter, every man of whom, turn and turn about, had been working away
with the telescope at the ship, Vanderdecken called me by name and
stepped over to us with the glass in his hand.

"Your sight is younger than ours, mynheer," said he, motioning towards
Jans and the two mates. "What flag do you make yonder vessel to be
flying at her fore-topgallant masthead?"

I took the glass and pointed it, kneeling to rest it as before, and
the instant the stranger came within the lenses I beheld Britannia's
glorious blood-red St. George's Cross blowing out--a great white
flag betwixt the fore-royal yard and the truck that rose high above.
Pretending to require time to make sure, I lingered to gather, if
possible, the character of the ship. From the cut of her sails, the
saucy, admirable set of them, the bigness of the topsails, the hungry
yearning for us I seemed to find in the bellying of the studding-sails
she had thrown out, it would have been impossible for a nautical eye
to mistake her for anything but a State ship, though of what rate I
could not yet guess. There was a refraction that threw her up somewhat,
and in the glass she looked to be swelling after us in a bed of
liquid boiling silver, with a thin void of trembling blue between the
whiteness and the sea-line.

I rose and said, "The colour she shows is English."

Vanderdecken turned savagely towards the others and cried, "English!"

Arents let fly an oath; Jans struck his thigh heavily with his open
hand; Van Vogelaar, scowling at me, cried, "Are you sure, sir?"

"I am sure of the flag," said I; "but she may prove a Frenchman for all
I know."

Vanderdecken clasped his arms tightly upon his breast and sank into
thought, with the fire in his eyes levelled at the coming ship.

"See there, gentlemen!" I exclaimed. "A gun!"

Bright as the morning was I had marked a rusty red spark wink in the
bow of the vessel like a flash of sunshine from polished copper; a
little white ball blew away to leeward expanding as it fled. An instant
after, just such another cloudy puff swept into the jibs and drove out
in a gleaming trail or two. Presently the reports reached our ears in
two dull thuds, one after the other.

Vanderdecken stared aloft at his canvas, then over the side, and joined
the others. My excitement was intense; I could scarce contain myself. I
knew there was a British squadron at the Cape, and 'twas possible that
fellow there might be on a reconnoitring or cruising errand.

"You are sure she is English?" Imogene whispered.

"She is a man-of-war; she is flying our flag. I don't doubt she is
English," I replied.

The girl drew a long tremulous breath, and her arm touching mine--so
close together we stood--I felt a shiver run through her.

"You are not alarmed, Imogene?" I exclaimed, giving her her Christian
name for the first time, and finding a lover's sweetness and delight
in the mere uttering of it. She coloured very faintly and cast her gaze
upon the deck.

"What is going to happen?" she whispered. "Will they send you on board
that ship--keeping me?"

"No! they'll not do that. If she be an Englishman and has balls to feed
her cannon with----" I cried, raising my voice unconsciously.

"Hush!" she cried, "Van Vogelaar watches us."

We were silent for a space that the attention I had challenged should
be again given to the ship. During the pause I thought to myself, "But
can her guns be of use? How much hulling and wounding should go to the
destruction of a vessel that has been rendered imperishable by the
Curse of Heaven? What injury could musket and pistol, could cutlass
and hand-grenades deal men to whom Death has ceased to be, who have
outlived Time and are owned by Eternity?"

Vanderdecken, who had been taking short turns upon the deck with heated
strides, stopped afresh to inspect the ship, and as he did so another
flash broke from her weather-bow, and the smoke went from her in a
curl. The skipper looked at the others.

"She has the wind of us and sails three feet to our one. Let the
mainsail be hauled up and the topsail brought to the mast. If she be
the enemy her flag denotes, her temper will not be sweetened by a long
pursuit of which the issue is clear."

Van Vogelaar, scowling venomously, seemed to hang in the wind, on which
Vanderdecken looked at him with an expression of face incredibly fierce
and terrible. The posture of his giant figure, his half-lifted hand,
the slight forward inclination of his head as if he would blast his man
with the lightning of his eyes--it was like seeing some marvellous
personification of human wrath; and I whispered quickly into Imogene's
ear, "That will be how he appeared when he defied his God!"

It was as if he could not speak for rage. And swiftly was he
understood. In a breath Jans was rolling forward, calling to the men,
Arents was hastening to his station on the quarter-deck, and Van
Vogelaar was slinking to the foremost end of the poop. The crew, to
the several cries that broke from the mates and boatswain, dropped
from rail and ratline, where they had been standing staring at the
pursuing craft, and in ghastly silence, without exhibition of concern
or impatience, fell to hauling upon the clew-garnets and backing the
yards on the main.

So weak was the ship's progress that the bringing of the canvas to the
mast immediately stopped her way, and she lay as dead as a buoy upon
the heave of the sea. This done, the crew went to the weather side,
whence, as they rightly supposed, they would best view the approaching
vessel. Jans held to the forecastle, Arents to the quarter-deck, and
the mate hung sullen in the shadows cast by the mizzen-shrouds upon the
planks. My heart beat as quickly as a baby's. I could not imagine what
was to happen. Would yonder man-of-war, supposing her British, take
possession of the Braave?--that is, could she? English powder, with
earthquake power, has thrown up a mighty mountain of wonders; but could
it, with its crimson glare, thunder down the Curse by and in which,
this ship continued to sail and these miserable men continued to live?
I shuddered at the impiety of the thought, yet what ending of this
chase was to be conjectured if it were not capture?

Vanderdecken, on the weather quarter, watched the ship in his
trance-like fashion. How majestic, how unearthly, too, he looked
against the blue beyond, his beard stirring and waving like smoke in
a faintly moving atmosphere to the blowing of the wind! He wore the
aspect of a fallen god, with the fires of hell glittering in his eyes
and the passions of the damned surging dark from his soul to his face.
Imogene and I had insensibly gained the lee-quarter, and our whispers
were driven seawards from him by the breeze.

"How will this end?" I asked my sweet companion. "If there be potency
in the Curse this ship cannot be captured."

She answered: "I cannot guess; I have not known such a thing as this to
happen before."

"Suppose they send a prize crew on board--the Sentence will not permit
of her navigation beyond Agulhas--there is not a hawser in all the
world stout enough to tow this ship round the Cape. As it is, is not
yonder vessel doomed by her chasing us, by her resolution to speak us?"

There was a deep stillness fore and aft. No human voice broke the
silence. You heard but the purring of the surges frothing against
our sides, the flap of a sail to the regular roll of the fabric, a
groan from the heart of her, the soft shock of the sudden hit of a
billow. Nothing more. The silence of the unmeasurable deep grew into a
distinct sense undisturbed by the gentle universal hissing that went
up out of it. The sails of the oncoming ship shone to the gushing of
the sunlight like radiant leaning columns of a porphyritic tincture
breaking into moonlike alabaster with the escape of the shadows to the
sunward stare of the cloths. Bland as the fairy glory of the full moon
floating in a sea of ethereal indigo was the shining of those lustrous
bosoms, each course and topsail tremulous with the play of the golden
fringe of reef-points, and delicate beyond language was the pencilled
shadowings at the foot of the rounded cloths. Like cloud upon cloud
those sails soared to the dainty little royals, above the foremost of
which there blew Britannia's glorious flag, the blood-red cross of St.
George upon a field white as the foam that boiled to as high as the
hawse pipes with the churning of the shearing cutwater storming like
a meteor through the blue. Oh, she was English! You felt the blood of
her country hot in her with the sight of her flag that was like a crown
upon an hereditary brow, making her queen of the dominion of the sea,
roll where it would!

She approached us like a roll of smoke, and the wash of the froth
along her black and glossy bends threw out the mouths of her single
tier of cannon. She was apparently a thirty-eight-gun ship, and as
she drew up, with a luffing helm that brought the after-yard-arms
stealing out past the silky swells of the sails on the fore, you spied
the glitter and flash of the gold-coloured figure-head, a lion, with
its paw upon Britannia's shield. When she was within a mile of us
she hauled down her studding-sails, clewed up her royals and mizzen
topgallant sail, and drove quietly along upon our weather-quarter,
still heeling as though she would have us note how lustrous was the
copper, whose brightness rose to the water-line, and what finish that
ruddy sheathing, colouring the snow of the blue water leaping along it
with a streaking as of purple sunshine, gave to her charms.

All this while, the master, mates and crew of the Death Ship were as
mute as though they lay in their coffins. Vanderdecken leaned upon
his hand on the rail above the quarter-gallery, and the motion which
the heave of the ship gave to his giant form by the sweeping of it
up and down the heavens at the horizon emphasised his own absolute
motionlessness. Nevertheless, his gaze was rooted in the ship, and
the brightening of the angry sparkle in them to the nearing of the
man-of-war was a never-to-be-forgotten sight.

"How is this going to end?" I whispered to Imogene. "Is it possible
that they are still unable to guess the character of our vessel?"

The frigate had drawn close enough to enable us to make out the glint
of buttons and epaulets on the quarter-deck, the uniform of marines on
the forecastle, and the heads of seamen standing by the braces or at
the guns along the decks. She now hauled up her mainsail but without
backing her topsail, luffed so as to shake the way out of her, giving
us, as she did so, an oblique view of her stern very richly ornamented,
the glass of the windows flashing, and the blue swell brimming to her
name in large characters, "Centaur."

"Ship ahoy!" came thundering down through the trumpet at the mouth
of a tall, powerfully-built man erect on the rail close against the
mizzen-rigging: "What ship is that?"

Vanderdecken made no answer. The wind blew in a moaning gust over the
bulwark, and there was the sound of a little jar and shock as the old
fabric leaned wearily on the swell, but not a whisper fell from the
men. Meanwhile it was grown evident to me that our ship was greatly
puzzling the people of the frigate. It looked indeed as if the men
had left their stations to crowd to the side, for the line of the
bulwarks was blackened with heads. A group of officers stood on the
quarter-deck, and I could see them pointing at our masts as though
calling one another's attention to the Braave's great barricadoed tops,
to her sprit-topmast, the cut and character of her rigging, and to the
many signs that would convert her into a wonder, if not a terror, in
the eyes of sailors.

"Ship ahoy!" now came down again, with an edge of anger in the
hurricane note. "What ship is that?"

At this second cry Vanderdecken broke into life. He turned his face
forward. "Bring me my trumpet!" he exclaimed, in a voice whose rich,
organ-like roll must have been plainly heard on board the frigate,
whether his Dutch was understood or not. The ancient tube I had seen in
his cabin was put into his hand. He stepped to the rail, and placing
the trumpet to his mouth, cried, "The Braave."

"Where are you from?"

"Batavia!"

"Where bound?"

"Amsterdam!"

There was another pause. The line of heads throbbed with visible
agitation along the sides, and I saw one man of the group on the
quarter-deck go up to the captain, who was speaking our ship, touch his
cap, and say something. But the other imperiously waved him off with a
flourish of his trumpet, which he instantly after applied to his lips,
and shouted out, "Haul down your flag and I will send a boat."

Vanderdecken looked towards me. "What does he say?" he exclaimed.

I told him. He called to Van Vogelaar, who promptly enough came to the
halliards and lowered the flag to the deck. I watched the descent of
that crazy, attenuated, ragged symbol. To my mind it was as affrighting
in its suggestions of unholy survival as the whole appearance of the
vessel or the countenance and mechanic manners of the most corpse-like
man of the crew of her.

Scarce was the ensign hauled down when there came to our ears the
silver, cheerful singing of a boatswain's pipe, the main-topsail was
laid aback and the frigate's length showed out as she fell slightly
off from the luff that had held her canvas trembling in the wind. We
were too far asunder for the nice discernment of faces with the naked
eye, but methought since there seemed no lack of telescopes aboard the
frigate, enough should have been made out of the line of deadly faces
which looked over our bulwark-rail, to resolve us to the satisfaction
of that British crew.

Again was heard the silver chirping of the boatswain's whistle; a
pinnace was lowered, into which tumbled a number of armed seamen, and
the blades of eight oars flashed like gold as they rose feathering from
the first spontaneous dip.

"They are coming!" cried Imogene in a faint voice.

"Let us keep where we are," I exclaimed, "Vanderdecken does not heed
us. If we move his thoughts will fly to you, and he may give me
trouble. Dear girl, keep a stout heart. They will be sure to carry us
to the ship--proud to rescue you, at least; then, what follows must
come--you will be safe!"

She put her hand under my arm. Tall as were the bulwarks of the Braave,
there was swell enough so to roll the ship as to enable me with every
windward sway to see clear to the water where the boat was pulling.
With beating hearts we watched. On a sudden the oars ceased to rise and
fall; the seamen hung upon them, all to a man, staring at our ship with
heads twisted as if they would wring their necks; then, as if impelled
by one mind, they let fall their oars to stop the boat's way, all of
them gazing with straining eyeballs.

The officer who steered stood erect, peering at us under his hand. The
ship, God knows, was plain to their view now--the age and rottenness
of her timbers, her patch-work sails, the sickliness of such ghastly
and dismal hue as her sides discovered, the ancientness of her guns
and swivels; above all, the looks of the crew watching the boat's
approach--an array of figures more shocking than were they truly dead,
newly unfrocked of their winding sheets and propped up against the rail
to horribly counterfeit living seamen.

"Why have they ceased rowing?" cried Imogene, in a voice of bitter
distress, and withdrawing her hand from my arm to press it upon her
heart.

As she spoke a sudden commotion was perceptible among the men in the
boat; the officer shrilly crying out some order, flung himself, as one
in a frenzy, in the sternsheets; the larboard oars sparkled, and the
desperate strokes of the men made the foam fly in smoke, whilst the
starboard hands furiously backed-water to get the boat's head round
swiftly, and before you could have counted ten she was being pulled, in
a smother of froth, back to the frigate.

I was about to leap to the side and shout to them, but at the instant
Vanderdecken turned and looked at me. Then it flashed upon my mind,
"If I hail the boat, he and Van Vogelaar, all of them, may imagine I
design to inform the frigate of the treasure!"--and the apprehension of
what might follow such a suspicion held my feet glued to the deck.

"They have guessed what this ship is!" said Imogene, in a voice full of
tears.

I could not speak for the crushing disappointment that caused the
heart in me to weigh down, heavy as lead. I had made sure of the
officer stepping on board, and of his delivering the girl and me from
this accursed ship on hearing my story, and acting as a British naval
officer should when his duty as a sailor, or his chivalry as a man, is
challenged; in conformity with that noble saying of one of our most
valiant admirals, who, on being asked whither he intended to carry his
ship--"To Hell!" he answered, "if duty commands!"

Yet one hope lingered, though faintly indeed; the captain of the
frigate had imperiously commanded the boat to be manned, as I gathered
by his manner of waving away the officer, who had addressed him in a
remonstrant manner; would he suffer the return of the boat's crew until
they had obeyed his orders?

I watched. Headlong went the boat, smoking through the billows
which arched down upon her from the windward, and her oars sparkled
like sheet lightning with the panic-terror that plied them; the
excitement in the ship was visible enough, discipline had given way
to superstitious fear. I could see the captain flourishing his arm
with threatening gestures, lieutenants and midshipmen running here and
there, but to no purpose. The whole ship's company, about three hundred
sailors and marines as I supposed, knew what ship we were, and the very
frigate herself as she rolled without way, looked like some startled
beast mad for flight, the foam draining from her bows to the slow
pitching, as a terrified steed champs his bit into froth, and shudder
after shudder going up out of her heart of oak into her sails, as you
would have said to watch the tremble and filling and backing of them to
the wind.

It was as I had feared, and had the captain of the man-of-war promised
to blow his ship and men into a thousand atoms if the boat's crew
refused to obey his orders to board us, they would have accepted that
fate in preference to the hideous alternative adventure. In a trice the
pinnace was alongside the frigate, the crew over the rail, and the boat
hoisted. The yards on the main flew round, royals and topgallant-sails
were set, studding-sails were run aloft, and before ten minutes had
elapsed since the boat had started to board us, the frigate, under a
whole cloud of canvas, was heeling and gently rolling and pitching over
the brilliant blue sea, with her head north east, her stern dead at us,
the gilt there and the windows converting her betwixt her quarters
into the appearance of a huge sparkling square of crystal, the glory of
which flung upon her wake under it a splendour so great that it was as
though she had fouled a sunbeam and was dragging the dazzle after her.

I looked at Imogene; her beautiful eyes had yearned after the ship into
the dimness of tears.

"My dear, do not fret,", said I, again calling her my dear, for I still
lacked the courage to call her my love; "this experience makes me clear
on one point: we shall escape, but not by a ship."

"How, if not by a ship?" she cried, tremulously.

Before I could reply, Vanderdecken looked round upon us, and came our
way, at the same time telling Van Vogelaar to swing the topsail-yard
and board his main tack.

"'Tis in this fashion," he exclaimed, "that most of the ships I
meet serve me. It would be enough to make me deem your countrymen a
lily-livered lot if the people of other nations, my own included, did
not sheer off before I could explain my needs or learn their motives in
desiring to board us. What alarmed the people of that ship, think you,
mynheer?"

"Who can tell, sir?" I responded, in as collected a manner as I
could contrive. "They might suspect us hardly worth the trouble of
capturing----"

He motioned an angry dissent.

"Or," I continued, abashed and speaking hurriedly, "they might have
seen something in the appearance of your crew to promise a bloody
resistance."

"By the Holy Trinity!" he cried, with the most vehement scorn, "if such
a thing were conceivable I should have been glad to confirm it with a
broadside!" and his eye came from the frigate that was fast lessening
in the distance to his poor show of rust-eaten sakers and green-coated
swivels.

It was sure that he had no suspicion of the truth. Not knowing that he
and his ship were accurst, how was it possible for him to guess the
cause of the behaviour of the ships which fled from him? You would
suppose that he and the rest of the crew discovered many signs of
satisfaction and delight at this escape from a ship to whose commands
they had hauled down their flag; instead, they hung upon the rail
watching the frigate shifting her helm for a hasty flight without a
murmur, a note of speech; nothing appeared in them but a dull, leaden,
Dutch phlegmatic curiosity, if indeed this quality at all possessed
them, and when Van Vogelaar sang out to them to brace round the yards
on the main, they fell to the job of trimming sail and getting way on
the ship with an incredible ghastly indifference in their countenances
and in their movements, as they went about their silent labour.
Indeed, whatever passions they had seemed to pertain to what was to
come; I mean, the heaving in sight of a ship would make them eager for
tobacco or for whatever else they needed and she might have; but when
the incident, the adventure, the experience--call it what you will--was
passed, they turned a black and passionless mind upon it, without the
capacity of grief or gladness.

It was an hour after our usual dinner-time, and Prins arrived to tell
the captain the meal was on the table. He put Imogene's hand under
his arm caressingly, and I followed them with one wistful look at the
frigate that was already a toy and far off, melting like a cloud into
the junction of sapphire ether and violet ocean. I saw Vanderdecken
level a glance at her too, and as we entered the cabin he said,
addressing me, but without turning his head, and leading Imogene to
the table. "It will be a disappointment to you, mynheer, that your
countrymen would not stay to receive you?"

"It was your intention," said I, "that I should go with them?"

"Certainly," he answered, confronting me slowly and eyeing me
haughtily; "you are an Englishman, but you are not my prisoner."

"We may be more fortunate next time," I said, coldly.

"'Tis to be hoped!" said Van Vogelaar, who had followed last, speaking
in his harshest and sourest tone.

I turned to eye him; but at the moment the parrot, probably animated
by our voices, croaked out, hoarsely, "Wy Zyn al Verdomd!" on which
the fellow broke into a coarse, raw "ha! ha!" yet never stirring a
muscle of his storm-hammered face. 'Twould have been like fighting with
phantoms and fiends to war in words with these men. I am here, thought
I, and there is yonder sweetheart to rescue before I am done with
this Death Ship; and with a smile at her earnest, half-startled eyes I
seated myself.



CHAPTER IX.

CAPTAIN VANDERDECKEN WALKS IN HIS SLEEP.


This incident of the English frigate satisfied me that it was
Vanderdecken's intention to get rid of me at the first opportunity that
offered. There could be no doubt that Van Vogelaar had poisoned his
mind against me, for, certainly, at the start of this experience of
mine, the skipper had treated me with humanity and a sort of heated,
lofty courtesy; and since he deemed himself homeward bound, and
regarded his vessel as a good sailer, he would not think it necessary
to tranship me if his mind had not been acidulated.

I remember when the evening came on that same day we had been chased
and abandoned by the Centaur, walking up and down the lee-side of the
short poop alone, Arents, who had charge, standing silent near the
helmsman. I had worked myself up into great confusion and distress of
mind. Dejection had been followed by a fit of nervousness, and when I
looked around me at the unmeasurable waste of ocean darkling in the
east to the growing shadows there, at the ancient heights of canvas
above me, with the dingy rusty red of the western light slipping from
the hollow breasts and off the sallow spars, till the edges of the
sails melted into a spectral faintness upon the gradual gloom, at
the desolate, grassy appearance of the decks, the dull motions, the
death-like posture of the three or four men standing here and there
forward--I felt as if the curse of the ship had fallen upon my heart
and life too--that it was my doom to languish in her till my death--to
love and yet be denied fruition--to yearn for our release with the
same impotency of desire that governed the navigation of this Death
Ship towards the home it was the Will of God she was never to approach.

Yet in any other mood I should have found an exquisite repose for the
soul in this interval. There was an aroma as of the tropics in the
gentle north-west wind. The ship, faintly impelled, went with a small
curl of silver at her bow, as softly along the sea as the reflection of
a star slides upon the brow of a smooth swell. The peace of the grave
was in the floating tomb, and had my spirits been easy there would have
been something of the delicious rapture of intellectual enjoyment that
the opium smoker is said to inhale through the stem of his pipe in the
indolent watching of this ancient ship, swimming out of daylight into
darkness, with the reflected hectic on the larboard beam creeping like
vermilioned smoke up her masts and over her sails, and vanishing off
the trucks like the trailing skirts of some heavenward flying vision.

On turning from a short contemplation of the sea over the stern, I
observed Imogene, at the head of the ladder conducting from the poop to
the quarter-deck, watching me. It was the first opportunity which had
offered for speaking with her alone since dinner-time.

"Captain Vanderdecken has gone to his cabin to take some rest," said
she. "I knew you were above by your tread."

"Ah! you can recognise me by that?"

"Yes, and by the dejection in it, too," she answered, smiling. "There
is human feeling in the echo; the footfalls of the others are as
meaningless as the sound of wood smitten by wood."

"I am very dull and weary-hearted," said I. "Thanks be to God that you
are in this ship to give me hope and warmth."

"And I thank Him, too, for sending you to me," said she.

I took her hand and kissed it; indeed, but for Arents and the helmsman,
I should have taken her to my heart with my lips upon hers. "Let us
walk a little," said I. "We will step softly. We do not want the
captain to surprise us."

I took her hand, and we slowly paced the deck.

"All the afternoon," said I, "I have been considering how we are to
escape. There is no man among this ghostly crew who has a friendly eye
for me, and so whatever is done must be done by me alone."

"You must trust no one," she cried, quickly; "the plan you light upon
must be our secret. There is a demon imprisoned in Vanderdecken; if it
should be loosed he might take your life!"

"I don't doubt it. And suppose I went armed, my conflict would be with
deathless men! No! no! my plan must be our secret, as you say. But
what is it? If but a gleam of light sank its ray into this darkness I
should take heart."

She pressed my hand, saying, "The frigate's abandoning of us has
depressed you. But an opportunity will surely come."

"Yes, the behaviour of the frigate has depressed me. But why? Because
she has made me see that the greatest calamity which could befall us
would be our encountering a ship willing to parley with us."

"Is it so?"

"I fear; because Vanderdecken would send me to her, and separate
us." Then bethinking me, by observing her head sink, how doleful
and unmanly was such reasoning as this, such apprehension of what
might be, without regard to the possibility of our salvation lying
in the very circumstance or situation I dreaded, I said, heartening
my voice, "Imogene, though I have no plan, yet my instincts tell me
that our best, perhaps our sole chance of escaping from this ship
will be in some necessity arising for her to drop anchor off the
coast, for careening, or for procuring provisions and water. Think, my
dear, closely of it! We dare not count upon any ship we meet taking
such action as will ensure our joint deliverance. No body of seamen,
learning what vessel this is, would have anything to do with her. Then,
as to escaping from her at sea, even if it were in the power of these
weak, unaided arms to hoist one of those boats there over the side
unperceived, I know not whether my love for thee, Imogene--whether, O
forgive me if I grieve you----"

She stirred her hand, as if to remove it, but I held it the tighter,
feeling in the warm and delicate palm the dew that emotion was
distilling there.

She was silent, and we came to a stand. She said in a weak and
trembling voice: "You do not grieve me. Why should I grieve to be
loved?"

"You are beautiful and good and a sailor's child, my dearest," said I.

"And friendless."

"No! bid me say I love thee?"

She bade me whisper, drawing closer to me. I swiftly kissed her cheek
that was cold with the evening wind. Great Heaven! what a theatre was
this for love-making. To think of the sweetest, in our case the purest,
of emotions having its birth in, owing its growth to, the dreaded
fabric of the Death Ship! Yet I, that a short while ago was viewing
the vessel with despondency and fear and loathing, now for a space
found her transfigured! The kiss my darling had permitted, her gentle
speech, the caress that lay in her drawing close to me, had kindled a
light in my heart, and the lustre was upon the ship; a faint radiance
viewless to the sight, but of a power to work such transformation,
that instead of a gaunt phosphoric structure sailing through the dusk,
there floated under the stars a fabric whose sails might have been of
satin, whose cordage might have been formed of golden threads, whose
decks might have been fashioned out of pearl!

We were silent for awhile, and then she said, in a coyly-coquettish
voice with a happy note of music in it, "What were you saying, Mr.
Fenton, when you interrupted yourself?"

"Dear heart!" cried I, "you must call me Geoffrey now."

"What were you saying, Geoffrey?" said she.

"Why," I replied, "that even were it possible for me to secure one of
those boats, and launch it unperceived, my love would not suffer me to
expose you to the perils of such an adventure."

"My life is in your keeping, Geoffrey," said she. "You need but lead--I
will follow. Yet there is one thing you must consider: if we escape to
the land, which seems to me the plan that is growing in you----"

I said, "Yes," watching the sparkling of the stars in her eyes, which
she had fixed on mine.

"Are not the perils which await us there greater than any the sea
can threaten, supposing we abandoned ourselves to its mercy in that
little boat yonder? There are many wild beasts on the coast; often in
the stillness of the night, when we have been lying at anchor, have I
heard the roaring and trumpeting of them. And more dreadful and fearful
than leopards, wild elephants and terrible serpents--all of which
abound, dear--crocodiles in the rivers and poisonous, tempting fruit
and herbs--are the savages, the hideous, unclothed Kaffres, and the
barbarous tribes which I have heard my father tell of as occupying the
land for leagues and leagues from the Cape to the coast opposite the
Island of Madagascar."

A strange shudder ran through her, and letting slip my hand to take
my arm--for now that she knew I loved her she passed from her girlish
coyness into a bride-like tenderness and freedom, and put a caressing
manner into her very walk as she paced at my side--she cried, "Oh, do
you know, Geoffrey, if ever a nightmare freezes my heart it is when
I dream I am taken captive by one of those black tribes, and carried
beyond the mountains to serve as a slave."

There was so much truth in what she said that I could not listen
to her without an emotion of distress; since, my own judgment
forbidding the escape by the boat--if it were possible for us so to
escape--her dread of the land was like the complete shutting out of
all self-deliverance. However, I felt that no good could come of a
conversation that insensibly led us into disheartening reflections, so
I gradually worked our thoughts into another channel, and presently
found myself breathing my passion afresh into her ear and hearkening
to hurried answers, sighed rather than spoken, so gentle was her
utterance. The dusk had thickened into night, the stars swung in glory
to the majestical motion of the mastheads, there was a curl of moon
in the west like a paring of pearl designed for a further enrichment
of the jewelled skies, the phosphor trembled along the decks, and all
substantial outlines swam into indistinctness in an atmosphere that
seemed formed of fluid indigo. Visible against the luminaries past
the quarter-gallery was the figure of the mate; but the helmsman near
him was shrouded by the pale haze that floated smoke-like about the
binnacle. Flakes of the sea-glow slipped slowly past upon the black
welter as though the patches of stardust on high mirrored themselves in
this silent ebony water. From time to time a brilliant meteor flashed
out upon the night and sailed into a ball of fire that far outshone
the glory of the greatest stars. The dew fell lightly; the crystals
trembled along the rail and winked to the stirring of the wind with
the sharp sparkle of diamonds; and though we were in the cold season,
yet the light breeze, having a flush of northing in it, was pure
refreshment without touch of cold, so that a calmer, fairer night than
this I do not conceive ever descended upon a ship at sea.

I was a young fellow in those days. My passion for the lonely and
lovely girl who walked beside me was keen and hot; that she loved me as
I loved her I could not be certain, for women are slower, and therefore
the surer, in their capacity of loving than men; but that she did love
me she made me know by a subtle sweetness of words and behaviour. I
was young, I say, of a naturally merry and sanguine heart, and the
gladness of my love entered into the night, smoothing out all the
alarms and anxieties from my mind, and making me so much myself that
for my light spirits I might have been on board some English ship with
my sweetheart, swiftly heading for home, instead of treading with her
the deck of a vessel accurst of Heaven, and moving through the night, a
ghostly shadow palely gleaming with death-fires, on a voyage that was
never to have an end.

Thrice the clock struck in the cabin, and whenever the first chime
sounded I would start as if we were near land and the sound was the
note of a distant cathedral bell; and punctually with the last stroke
would come the rasping voice of the parrot, reminding all who heard
it of their condition. Occasionally, Arents moved, but never by more
than a stride or two; forward all was dead blackness and stillness,
the blacker for the unholy, elusive shinings, the stiller for the
occasional sighing of the wind, for the thin, shaling sound of waters,
gently stemmed, for the moan now and again that floated muffled out of
the hold of the ship. Twice Imogene said she must leave me; but I could
not bear to part with her. The night was our own, yea, even the ship,
in her solitude wrought by the silent figures aft and the tomb-like
repose forward, seemed our own; and my darling, being in her heart as
loth as I to separate, lingered yet and yet till the silver sickle of
the moon had gone down red into the western ocean, and the clock below
had struck half-past eleven.

Then she declared it was time, indeed, for her to be gone; should
Vanderdecken come on deck and find her with me he might decide to part
us effectually by sending me forward, and forbidding me to approach
the cabin end; so, finding her growing alarmed, and hearing the quick
beating of her heart in her speech, I said, "Good-night," kissing her
hand, and then releasing her. She seemed to hurry, stopped and looked
behind; I stood watching her; seeing her stop, I held out my arms,
and went to her, and she returned to me. With what love did I kiss her
upturned brow, and hold her to my heart!

She was yet in my arms, when the great figure of Vanderdecken rose
above the ladder, and ere I could release her he was close to us,
towering in shadow like some giant spirit. The start I gave caused
her to turn; she saw him, and instantly grasping my hand drew me
against the bulwark, where we stood waiting for him to speak. Love
will give spirit to the pitifullest recreant, and had I been the most
craven-hearted of men the obligation to stand between such a sweetheart
as Imogene and one whom she feared, though he stood as high as Goliath,
would have converted me into a hero. But I was no coward; I could
look back to my earliest experiences and feel that with strictest
confidence. Yet, spite of the animating presence of Imogene, the great
figure standing in front of us chilled, subdued, terrified me. Had
he been mortal I could not have felt so; nay, had his demeanour, his
posture, been that which intercourse with him had made familiar, I
should not have suffered from the superstitious fears which held me
motionless, and made my breathing laboured. But there was something
new and frightful in the pause he made abreast of us, in the strange
and menacing swinging of his arms, in the pose of his head defiantly
held back, and in his eyes, which shone with a light that owed nothing
to the stars, in the pallid gloom of his face. His gaze seemed to
be rivetted on the ocean-line a little abaft of where we stood, and
therefore did he appear to confront us. The expression in his face I
could not distinguish, but I feebly discerned an aspect of distortion
about the brow, and clearly made out that his under-jaw was fallen so
as to let his mouth lie open, causing him to resemble one whose soul
was convulsed by some hideous vision.

Imogene pressed my hand. I looked at her, and she put her white
forefinger to her mouth, saying in accents so faint, that they were
more like the whispers one hears in memory than the utterance of human
lips: "He is walking in his sleep. In a moment he will act a part.
I have seen this thing once before;" and so fairily speaking she
drew me lightly towards the deeper gloom near the bulwarks where the
mizzen-rigging was.

For some moments he continued standing and gazing seawards, slowly
swinging his arms in a way that suggested fierce yet almost controlled
distress of mind. He then started to walk, savagely patrolling
the deck, sweeping past us so close as to brush us with his coat,
then crossing athwartships and madly pacing the other side of the
deck, sometimes stopping with a passionate violent suddenness at
the binnacle, at the card of which he seemed to stare, then with
denunciatory gesture resuming his stormy striding now lengthwise, now
crosswise, now swinging his great figure into an abrupt stand to view
the sea, first to starboard then to larboard, now standing aloft; and
all with airs and gestures as though he shouted orders to the crew and
cried aloud to himself, though saving his swift deep breathing that,
when he passed us close, sounded like the panting of bellows in angry
or impatient hands, no syllable broke from him.

"Some spell is upon him!" I exclaimed. "I see how it is!--he is acting
over again the behaviour that renders this ship accurst."

"I saw him like this two years ago; 'twas earlier in the night,"
whispered Imogene. "He so scared me that I fainted."

That Arents and the helmsman took notice of this strange somnambulistic
behaviour in their captain I could not tell: he approached them as
often as he approached us, and much of the dumb show of his rage was
enacted close to them; but so far as I could judge from the distance
at which we stood, their postures were as quiet as though they
were lay figures, or passionless and in sensible creatures without
understandings to be touched. It was a heart-subduing spectacle beyond
words to tell of. Bit by bit his temper grew, till his motions, his
frenzied racings about the deck, his savage glarings aloft, his
fury when, in this distemper of sleep, his perusal of the compass
disappointed him, were those of a maniac. I saw the white froth on his
lips as he approached us close to level a flaming glance seawards, and
had he been Satan himself I could not have shrunk from him with deeper
loathing and colder terror. The insanity of his wrath, as expressed
by his gestures--for he was as mute as one bereft of his voice by
agony--was rendered the wilder, the more striking and terrible by the
contrast of the night, the peace of it, the splendour of the stars, the
silence upon the deep rising up to those luminaries like a benedictory
hush! For such an infuriated figure as this you needed the theatre of
a storm-tossed ship, with the billows boiling all about and over her,
and the scenery of a pitchy sky torn by violet lightning and piercing
the roaring ebony of the seas with zig-zag fire, and the trumpetings of
the tempest deepened by a ceaseless crashing of thunder.

He continued to lash himself into such a fury that, for very pity,
misery and horror, you longed to hear him cry out, for the expression
would give relief to his soul, strangling and in awful throes. Suddenly
he fell upon his knees; his hands were clenched, and he lifted them on
high; his face was upturned; and as I watched him menacing the stars
with infuriate gestures, I knew that even as he now showed so did
he appear when he blasphemously dared his Maker. A soft gust of the
midnight air blew with a small moan through the rigging. Vanderdecken
let drop his arms, swayed a while as if he would fall, staggered to
his feet, and with his hands pressed to his eyes as though indeed some
sudden stroke of lightning had smitten him blind, came with wavering
gait, in which was still visible a sullen and disordered majesty,
to the poop ladder, down which he sightlessly went, steered by the
wondrous, unintelligible faculty that governs the sleep-walker.

I pulled off my hat and wiped my forehead, that was damp with sweat.

"Great God!" I cried. "What a sight to behold! What anguish is he made
to suffer! How is it that his human form does not scatter, like one
broken on a wheel, to the rending of such infernal passions as possess
him?"

Imogene was about to answer when on a sudden the first stroke of
midnight came floating up in the cathedral-note of the clock.

"Hark!" she exclaimed. "It is twelve! Arents will now be relieved by
Van Vogelaar. If that malignant creature spies me here at this hour
with you, oh, 'twould be worse through the report he would give than if
Vanderdecken himself had surprised us. Good-night, Mr. Fenton!"

She quickly slipped from my grasp, and faded down the ladder. As she
vanished I put my hand to my heart to subdue its beating, and whilst
I thus stood a moment the last note of the clock vibrated into the
stillness on deck and scarcely less clear than had the accursed croak
sounded close beside me, rose the parrot's detestable cry:

"Wy zyn al Verdomd!"



CHAPTER X.

WE SIGHT A DISMASTED WRECK.


Terrible as must have been the sufferings of Vanderdecken in the tragic
passage through which his spirit had driven in a silent madness of
sleep, yet next morning I could perceive no trace of his frenzy in the
cold and ghastly hue of his face. I found him on deck when I quitted
my melancholy cabin, and he responded to the good morning I gave him
with a touch of civility in his haughty, brooding manner that was not
a little comforting to me, who had been kept awake till 'twas hard
upon daylight by remembrance of the spectacle I had witnessed, and by
apprehensions of how a person of his demoniacal passions might serve me
if I should give him, or if he should imagine, offence.

The draught--for the breeze was little more--had come more northerly,
and the ship, as I might guess by the sun, was heading about north
east. There were swathes and circles of gleaming ribbed clouds of
gossamer texture all about the sky, and they looked as if some mighty
hand had been swinging pearls, as a sower hurls seeds, about the
heavens, which had been compacted by the wind into many different
figures. They sobered the dazzle where the sun was, so that his wake
lay upon the ocean in flashing streaks, instead of the fan-shaped path
of glory he would have wrought had he shone in unstained azure.

"There should be promise of a breeze, mynheer," said I, "in the shape
and lay of those high clouds and the little dimness you notice to
windward."

"Yes," he answered, darting a level glance, under his bushy, corrugated
brows, into the North quarter; "were it not for what hath been sighted
from aloft, I should be steering with my starboard tacks aboard."

"What may be in sight, sir?" I asked, dreading to hear that it was a
ship.

He answered, "The sparkle of a wet, black object was visible from the
cross-trees at sunrise. Arents finds it already in the perspective
glass from the fore-top. He reports it the hull of an abandoned ship.
He may be mistaken. Your sight is keen, sir; we greatly need tobacco;
but I would not willingly lose time in running down to a vessel that
may be water-logged, and therefore utterly unprofitable."

"You wish me to go aloft and see what I can make of the object, sir?"

"If you will be so good," he answered, with a grave inclination of the
head.

"Captain Vanderdecken," said I, "I should be glad to serve you in any
direction. I only regret your courtesy will not put me to the proof."

He bowed again and pointed to the telescope to which Arents had
fastened a lanyard that he might carry it aloft on his back. I
threw the bight over my head and walked forward, guessing now that
Vanderdecken's civility was owing to his intending to make me oblige
him in this way. Coming abreast of the weather fore-shrouds, I jumped
on to an old gun, thence leaped to the rail and swung myself into
the rigging, up which, however, I stepped with the utmost caution,
the seizings of the ratlines looking very rotten, and the shrouds
themselves so grey and worn that they seemed as old as the ship
herself, and as if generations of seamen had been employed to do
nothing else but squeeze the tar out of them. There was a good-sized
lubber's hole through which I easily passed, the barricadoes
prohibiting any other entrance into the top; and when I was arrived, I
found myself on a great circular platform, green as a field with moss
and grass, and surrounded by a breastwork of wood to the height of my
armpits, the scantling extraordinarily thick, but answering in age and
appearance to the rest of the timber in the ship, with loop-holes for
muskets and small cannon.

The foot of the fore-sail having a very large curve, I had a clear view
of the sea on both bows under it, and the moment I ran my naked eye
from the windward to the leeward side, then I saw, fair betwixt the
cathead and the knighthead, the flashing of what was unquestionably the
wet side of a dismasted ship rolling to the sun. The regular coming
and going of the sparkling was like the discharge of a piece fired
and quickly loaded and fired again. I pointed the telescope, and the
small magnification aiding my fairly keen sight I distinctly made out
the hull of a vessel of between three hundred and four hundred tons,
rolling with a very sluggish regularity and shooting out a strong blaze
of light whenever the swell gave her streaming sides to the glory. I
was pretty sure, by the power and broadness of this darting radiance,
that her decks were not submerged, that indeed she would still show
an indifferently good height of side above the water, and thereupon
threw the glass over my back for the descent, pausing, however, to take
a view of the ship from the height I occupied, and wondering not a
little, with something of amusement, too, at the extraordinary figure
her body offered thus surveyed.

In fact, she was not three times as long as she was broad, and she had
the sawn-off look of a wagon down there. After every swimming lift of
her head by the swell, the droop of her bows hove a smearing of froth
into the large blue folds, that might have passed for an overflowing
of soap-suds from a wash-tub; and upon that whiteness all the forward
part of her stood out in a sort of jumble of pondrous catheads, curved
headboards sinking into a well, out of which forked the massive
boltsprit, as the people who fashioned it would have spelt it, with its
heavy confusion of gear, yards, stays for the sprit-topmast, and the
like. I had a good sight of the sails up here, and perceived they were
like the famous stocking of which Dr. Arbuthnot, or Pope, or one of the
wits of Queen Anne's reign, wrote; that is, that though they might have
been the same cloths which the Braave sheeted home when she set sail
from Batavia, yet they had been so patched, so darned, and over and
over again so repaired, that to prove they were the same sails would be
as nice a piece of metaphysical puzzling as to show that they were not.

Yet the sun flung his light upon their many-hued dinginess, and as
I looked up they swung to the heave of the ship with a hard blank
staring of their breasts that seemed like the bending of an idiot's
gaze at the clusters and wreaths, and curls of pearly vapour over the
lee horizon, and though my glance was swift yet even in a breathless
moment a confusion was wrought, as though the shining prismatic clouds
were starting to sweep like some maelstromic brimming of feathery foam
around the ship and founder her in gradual gyrations of blue ether and
snow-like mist. Great God! thought I, here, to be sure, is a place to
go mad in! To lie upon this dark green platform, to hearken to the
spirit-whisperings amid this ancient cordage, to behold these darkened
sails sallowly swelling towards some bloody disc of moon soaring out of
a belt of sooty vapour, to listen to the voices of the fabric beneath
and to the groans of her old age dying in echoes in the caverns of her
stretched canvas--by my father's hand! thought I, if I am to save my
brain I must put myself nearer to Imogene than this; so I dropped with
a loud heart through the lubber's hole, and stepped down the ratlines
as fast as my fears of the soundness of the seizings would suffer me to
descend.

"What do you see, mynheer?" asked Vanderdecken.

"The hull of a ship, sir," I replied. "She is deep in the water but not
too deep for boarding, I believe, for the sunshine finds a wide expanse
to blaze out upon when she rolls."

"Well," he exclaimed, "an hour or two can make but very little
difference," and he sent his impatient, imperious gaze into the blue
to windward, and fell to marching the deck athwartships, opposite the
tiller-head, becoming suddenly as heedless of my presence as if I
had been a brass swivel on his bulwarks. But I was less likely to be
chagrined by his discourtesy than by his attention. It had, indeed,
come to my never feeling so easy in my mind as when he perfectly
neglected me.

Our bringing of that hull within sight from the deck ran into more
than an hour or two. Close-hauled, and the breeze light, the Braave
scarce seemed able to push her bows through the water at all. The
bubbles and foam-bells slided past as languidly as the tide of ebb in
its last quarter wrinkles against the stem of an anchored vessel.

At breakfast nothing else was talked of, and little enough was
said about it too. We were, in truth, a silent party. Every look
of Imogene caused me to see how the memory of last night worked in
her--a night of sweetness and terror--of kisses and caresses, and
entrancing revelations--and of an horrific spectacle of enormous
and speechless anguish, humanly devilish! On deck, in the early
sparkling breeziness of the morning, I had been sensible of no recoil
on meeting Vanderdecken; but at table I sat close to him; to his
presence the recollection of the foam upon his lip, his fallen jaw, the
soul-devouring, feverish restlessness of his enraged movements, his
dreadful posture of imprecation, imparted insufferable emphasis; and
when I quitted the cabin for the deck, not having spoken half-a-dozen
syllables during the meal, the feeling of relief in me was like the
removal of a cold hand from my heart.

It was two hours-and-a-half after sighting the hull from the masthead,
that it lay visible upon the sea from the deck. Luckily, the breeze
had stolen a point or two westerly, which enabled our ship to keep
the wreck to leeward of our bowsprit; otherwise, we should never have
fetched it by two miles, without a board, and that might have ended in
a week's plying to windward. The crew had long got scent of this object
ahead, and being as keen for tobacco as was ever a sharp-set stomach
for victuals, they were collected in a body on the forecastle, where,
in their dull, lifeless, mechanic way they stood staring and waiting.
Although those who had the watch on deck had been at various sorts
of work when the wreck hove into view over the forecastle rail--such
as making spun-yarn, sawing wood, (as I supposed for the cook-room)
sail-mending, splicing old running gear, and the like--yet, I remarked
they dropped their several jobs just as it suited them, and I never
observed that either of the mates reproved them, or that the captain
noticed their behaviour; whence I concluded that the Curse had stricken
the ship into a kind of little republic, wherein such discipline as was
found was owing to a sort of general agreement among the men that such
work as had to be done must be done.

I found myself watching the wreck with a keener interest than could
ever possess the breasts of the wretched master, mates, or crew. Was
any stratagem conceivable to enable me to use that half-sunk vessel as
an instrument for escaping with Imogene from this Death Ship?

My dearest girl came to my side whilst my brain was thus busy, and in
a soft undertone I told her of what I was thinking. She listened with
eager eyes.

"Geoffrey," said she, "you are my captain. Command me, and I will do
your bidding."

"My darling," I replied, "if you knew what a miserable, nervous
creature this Death Ship has made of me you would guess I was the one
to be led, you to direct. But yonder craft will not serve us. No!
Better that little boat there than a hull which the crew, ay, and
perhaps the very rats have abandoned."



CHAPTER XI.

THE DEAD HELMSMAN.


I proved right in the estimate I had formed from the fore-top of
the size of the wreck. Her burthen was within four hundred tons. We
gradually drove down to her, and when we were within musket-shot
Vanderdecken ordered the topsail to be laid aback. The breeze had
freshened, the little surges ran in a pouring of silver-gushing heads,
the broad-backed swell rose in brimming violet to our channels, and
our ship rolled upon it helpless as an egg-shell. The wallowing of the
wreck, too, was like the plashing and struggling of some sentient thing
heavily labouring, with such fins or limbs as God had given it, to keep
itself afloat.

That there was no lack of water in her was certain; yet, having the
appearance of a ship that had been for some days abandoned, at which
time it might be supposed that her people would imagine her to be in a
sinking condition, it was clear that in a strange accidental way the
leak had been healed, possibly by some substance entering and choking
it. All three masts were gone within a foot or two of the deck. Her
hull was a dark brown, that looked black in the distance against the
blue, with the mirror-like flashing from the wet upon it; she had
a handsome stern, the quarter-galleries supported by gilt figures,
wherefrom ran a broad band of gilt along her sides to the bows. Under
her counter there stole out in large, white characters, with every
heave of her stern, the words "Prince of Wales," and 'twas startling
to see the glare of the letters coming out in a ghastly, staring sort
of way from the bald brow of the swell, as it sloped from the gilded
stern. Her name proved her English. You could see the masts had been
cut away, by the hacked ends of the shrouds snaking out into the
hollows and swellings over the side. Her decks were heavily encumbered
with what sailors call "raffle"--that is, the muddle of ropes, torn
canvas, staves of boats and casks, fragments of deck fittings and so
forth, with which the ocean illustrates her violence, and which she
will sometimes for weeks, ay, and for months, continue to rock and
nurse, and hold intact for very affection of the picture as a symbol
of her wrath when vexed by the gale, and of her triumphs over those
who daringly penetrate her fortresses to fight her. The confusion to
the eye was so great, and rendered so lively and bewildering by the
hulk's rolling that, scan her as you would, it was impossible to master
details with any sort of rapidity.

Suddenly Imogene, grasping my wrist in her excitement, exclaimed,
"See! there is a man there--he seems to steady himself by holding the
wheel--look now, Geoffrey, as she rolls her decks at us!"

I instantly saw him. The wheel was in front of the break of the poop,
where the cuddy or round-house windows were; and erect at it stood a
man, on the starboard side, one hand down clutching a spoke at his
waist, and his left arm straight out to a spoke to larboard, which
he gripped. Methought he wrestled with the helm, for he swerved as a
steersman will who struggles to keep a ship's head steady in a seaway.

"Is he mad?" cried I. "Ay, it must be so! Famine, thirst, mental
anguish, may have driven him distracted. Yet, even then, why does not
he look towards us? Why, were he actually raving, surely his sight
would be courted by our presence."

"Pray God he be not mad," whispered Imogene; "he is certain to be a
sailor and an Englishman; and if he be mad, and brought here, how will
these men deal with him?"

"Yes; and I say, too, pray God he be not mad!" I cried; "for back me
with a hearty English sailor and I believe--yes, I believe I could so
match these fellows as to carry the ship, without their having the
power to resist me, to any port I chose to steer for to the eastward;"
for with her cry of, "He is sure to be a sailor and an Englishman,"
there swept into my brain the fancy of securing the crew under hatches,
and imprisoning Vanderdecken and his mates in their cabins--the least
idle, in sober truth, of all the schemes that had presented themselves
to me.

"Hush!" she exclaimed, breathlessly, and as she closed her lips to the
whisper, Vanderdecken came to us. But not to speak. He stood for some
minutes looking at the wreck, with the posture and air of one deeply
considering. The seamen forward gazed with a heavy steadfastness, too,
some under the sharp of their hands, some with folded arms. I heard
no speech among them. Yet though their stillness was that of a swoon,
their eyes shone with an eager light, and expectation shaped their
pallid, death-like faces into a high and straining look.

There were no signs of life aboard the wreck, saving the figure of the
man that swayed at the wheel. I was amazed that he should never glance
towards us. Indeed, I am not sure that the whole embodied ghastliness
of our Death Ship matched in terror what you found in the sight of that
lone creature grasping the wheel, first bringing it a little to right,
then heaving it over a little to left, fixedly staring ahead, as though
such another Curse as had fallen upon this Dutch ship had come like a
blast of lightning upon him, compelling him to go on standing at yonder
helm, and vainly striving to steer the wreck--as terribly corpse-like
as any man among us, and as shockingly vital too!

It struck my English love of briskness as strange that Vanderdecken
should not promptly order the boat over, or give orders that should
have reference to the abandoned hull; yet I could not help thinking
that his Holland blood spoke in this pause, and that there intermingled
with the trance-like condition that was habitual in him, the phlegmatic
instincts of his nation--that gradual walking to a decision, which in
Scotland is termed "takin' a thocht."

After a while he said to me: "Mynheer, the wreck hath an English name;
she will be of your country therefore. May I beg of you to take my
trumpet and hail that person standing at the wheel?"

"I shall not need your trumpet, sir," said I, at once climbing upon the
rail and thinking to myself that 'twas odd if there was not wanted a
trumpet with a voice as thunderous as the crack o' doom to bring that
silent, forward-staring man's face round to his shoulder.

"Wreck ahoy!" I bawled, with my hand to my cheek, and the wind took the
echo of my voice clear as a bell to the hulk.

There was not a stir in the helmsman beyond that dreary monotonous
waving of his figure in his struggle to steady the wheel. I watched
the foamless leaning of the wreck into the hollow, bringing her
decks aslant to us, and the trailing and corkscrewing of the black
gear that was washing over the side, and the sparkling of the broken
glass of a skylight contrasting with the dead black of an half-dozen
of carronades, and the squattering of the dead-eyes of her channels
upon the blue volume of sea like the ebony heads of a row of negroes
drowning; and then, wash! over she rolled to larboard, bringing a
streak of greenish copper sheathing out of the white water which the
fierce drainings from her side churned up, with a mighty flashing
of sunlight off her streaming side, and a sharp lifting of the dark
shrouds and stays and running ropes out of the seething welter, making
her appear as though scores of sea-snakes had their fangs in her
timbers, and that 'twas the very agony of their teeth, and the poison,
which caused her to roll from them.

I shouted again, and yet again; then dismounted.

"He is deaf!" said Vanderdecken.

"He is dead!" said I, for this was forced upon me, spite of the erect
and life-like posture of the figure, and what resembled the straining
of his arms to steady the wheel.



CHAPTER XII.

THE DUTCH SAILORS BOARD THE WRECK.


"Get the boat over," cried Vanderdecken, turning to Van Vogelaar, "and
go and inspect the wreck. Look to the man first: Heer Fenton declares
him dead; and particularly observe if there be aught that hath life in
it aboard."

On this, Van Vogelaar went forward, calling about him. In a few minutes
a white-faced seaman, with yellow beard trembling to the wind, and
his eyes looking like a rat's with the white lashes and pink retinas,
leisurely climbed aloft with a line in his hand, and swinging himself
on to the main-yard, slided out upon the horses to the extremity, or
yard-arm as it is termed, which he bestrode as a jockey a steed; and
then hauled up the line, to the end of which was hitched a tackle.
This tackle he made fast to the yard-arm, and by it, with the help of
steadying-ropes or guys, some of the crew on deck hoisted the little
boat out of the bigger one and lowered it away into the water alongside.

I watched this business with a sailor's interest, wondering that
so great a ship as this--great, that is, for the age to which she
belonged--should carry no more than two boats, stowed one in the
other after the fashion of the north-country coastmen. Nor was I less
impressed by the aged appearance of the boat when she was afloat. She
had the look of a slug with her horns, only that those continuations
of her gunnel rail projected abaft as well as from the bows. And when
Van Vogelaar and three of the crew entered her, then, what with the
faded red of her inner skin, the wide, red blades of the short oars,
the soulless movements of the seamen, the hue of their faces, the
feverish unnatural shining of their eyes like sunshine showing through
a cairngorm stone, their dried and corded hands, which wrapped the
handles of their oars like rugged parchment--the little but marvellous
picture acted as by the waving of a magic wand, forcing time back by a
century and a half and driving shudders through the frame of a beholder
with a sight whose actuality made it a hundredfold more startling and
fearful than had it been a vision as unsubstantial as the Death Ship
herself is mistakenly supposed to be.

The wreck being within hailing distance, the boat was soon alongside
her. The heavy rolling of the hull, and the sharp rise and fall of the
boat, would have made any human sailor mightily wary in his boarding
of the vessel, but if ever there was an endevilled wretch among the
Phantom's horrible crew, Van Vogelaar was he. The fiend in him stayed
at nothing. The instant the boat had closed the wreck the fellow
leaped, and he was on deck and walking towards the figure at the wheel,
whilst the other--that is to say, two of them--were waiting for the
hull to swing down for them to follow.

The mate went up to the figure, and seemed to address him; then,
receiving no reply, he felt his face, touched his hands, and pulled
to get that amazing grip relaxed, but to no purpose. The others now
joining him, they all stared into the figure's face; one lifting
an eyelid and peering into the eye, another putting his ear to the
figure's mouth. Van Vogelaar then came to the side, and shouted in his
harsh and rusty voice that it was a dead man. Vanderdecken imperiously
waved his hand, and cried, "Fall to exploring her!" and motioned
significantly to the sky, as if he would have the mate misgive the
weather, though there was no change in the aspect of the pearly wreaths
and glistening beds of vapour, and the draught was still a gentle
breeze.

"Dead!" I whispered to Imogene; "yet I feared it!"

"Will he have been English, think you, Geoffrey?" she said.

"Yes!" cried I, feeling a heat rising to my cheeks, "name me a
foreigner that would so gloriously have confessed his nation!
English?--ay, a thousand times over! For what does that posture
indicate, that stern holding to his place, that dutiful grip of his
iron hands? What but those qualities which give the British sailor the
dominion of the deep, and which rank him foremost among the noblest
spirits the world has ever seen? He has died at his post--one of
thousands who have as heroically perished."

I noticed Vanderdecken looking at the body. There was deep thought in
his imperious, menacing expression, with a shadow of misery that his
fierce and glittering eyes did but appear to coarsen and harshen the
gloom of, and I wondered to myself if ever moments came when perception
of his condition was permitted to him, for it truly appeared as though
there were a hint of some such thing in him now whilst he gazed at
the convulsive figure at the wheel, as if--Jesus have mercy upon
him!--the sight of the dead filled his own deadly flesh with poignant
and enraging yearnings, the meanings of which his unholy vitality was
unable to interpret.

When Van Vogelaar had spent about half-an-hour on the wreck, he and
the others dropped over the side into the boat and made for us. We had
scarce shifted our position, for the courses being hauled up and the
topgallant-sails lowered, there was too little sail abroad for the
weak wind then blowing to give us drift, and the swell that drove us
towards the wreck would also drive the wreck from us. The mate came
over the side, and stepping up to the captain, said, "She is an English
ship, freighted with English manufacture; I make out bales of blanket,
clothing and stores, which I imagine to have been designed for troops.

"What water is in her?"

"Seven and a quarter feet by her own rod."

"Her pump?"

"She hath two--both shattered and useless."

"Does she continue to fill?"

"I believe not, sir; I would not swear to it; she rolls briskly, but,"
said he, sending his evil glance at the wreck, "it does not appear that
she is sunk deeper since we first made her out."

"Yonder figure at the wheel is dead you say?"

"As truly dead a Briton as ever fell to a Dutchman's broadside."
I exchanged a swift look with Imogene. "His eyes are glassy; his
fingers clasp the spokes like hooks of steel. He must have died on a
sudden--perhaps from lightning--from disease of some inward organ--or
from fear." And there was the malice of the devil in the sneer that
curled his ugly mouth as he spoke, taking me in with a roll of his
sinister eyes.

I watched him coldly. Remonstrance or temper would have been as idle
with this man and his mates as pity to that unrecking heart of oak out
there.

"What is to be come at?" demanded Vanderdecken, with passionate
abruptness.

The other answered quickly, holding up one forefinger after another
in a computative tallying way whilst he spoke, "The half-deck is free
of water, and there I find flour, vinegar, treacle, tierces of beef,
some barrels of pork, and five cases of this--which hath the smell of
tobacco, and is no doubt that plant." And he pulled out of his pocket
a stick of tobacco, such as is taken in cases to sea to be sold to the
crews.

Vanderdecken smelt it. "'Tis undeniably tobacco," said he, "but how
used?" His eye met mine; I took the hint, and said: "To be chewed,
it is bitten; to be smoked, it has to be flaked with a knife--thus,
mynheer." And I imitated the action of cutting it.

Some of the crew had collected on the quarter-deck to hear the mate's
report, and seeing the tobacco in the captain's hand and observing
my gestures, one of them cried out that if it was like the tobacco
the Englishman had shown them how to use 'twas rare smoking! Whether
Vanderdecken had heard of my visit to the forecastle I do not know:
he seemed not to hear the sailor's exclamation, saying to me, "Yes,
mynheer, I see the convenience of such tablets; they hold much and are
easily flaked." And then, sweeping the sea and skies with his eyes, he
cried: "Get the other boat over: take a working party in her and leave
them aboard to break out the cargo. The smaller boat will tow her to
and fro. Arents, you will have charge of the working party--you, Van
Vogelaar, will bring off the goods and superintend the transhipments.
Away, now! There is stuff enough there to fill the hollowest cheek with
fat and to sweeten the howl of a gale into melody. Away, then!"

There was excitement in his words, but none in his rich and thunderous
voice, nor in his manner; and though there seemed a sort of bustle in
the way the men went to work to hoist out the large boat, it was the
very ghost of hurry, as unlike the hearty leaping of sailors, fired
with expectation, as are the twitchings of electrified muscles, to the
motions of hale limbs controlled by healthy intellect.

Yet, to a mariner, what could surpass the interest of such a scene?
As I leaned against the bulwark with Imogene, watching the little
boat towing the big one over the swell, with now a lifting that put
the leaning, toiling figures of the rowers clear against the delicate,
vaporous film over the sky at the horizon--the red blades of the oars
glistening like rubies as they flashed out of the water, and the white
heads of the little surges which wrinkled the liquid folds melting all
about the boats into creaming silver, radiant with salt rainbows and
prismatic glories--and now a sinking that plunged them out of sight
in a hollow, I said to my dear one, "Here is a sight I would not have
missed for a quintal of the silver below. I am actually witnessing
the manner in which this doomed vessel feeds and clothes herself, and
how her crew replenish their stores and provide against decay and
diminution. What man would credit this thing? Who would believe that
the Curse which pronounced this ship imperishable should also hold
her upon the verge of what is natural, sentencing her to a hideous
immortality, and at the same time compelling the crew to labour as if
her and their life was the same as that of other crews, in other ships."

"If they knew their doom they would not toil," she answered; "they
would seek death by famine or thirst, or end their horrible lot by
sinking the ship and drowning with her."

"How far away from the dread reality is the world's imagination of
this ship, and the situation of her people!" cried I. "She has been
pictured as rising out of the waves, as sailing among the clouds, as
being perpetually attended by heavy black storms, and thunder claps and
blasts of lightning! Here is the reality--as sheer a piece of prose at
first sight as any salvage job, but holding in the very heart of its
simplicity so mighty, so complicate, so unparalleled a wonder, that
even when I speak to you about it, Imogene, and suffer my mind to
dwell upon it, my mind grows numb with a dread that reason has quitted
her throne and left me fit only for a madhouse!

"You tremble!" she whispered, softly; "nay, you think too closely of
what you are passing through. Let your knowledge that this experience
is real rob it of its terror. Are we not surrounded with wonders which
too much thought will make affrighting? That glorious sun; what feeds
his flaming disk? Why should the moon shine like crystal when her soil
perchance is like that of our own world, which also gleams as silver
does though it is mere dust and mould and unreflecting ashes? Think of
the miracles we are to ourselves and to one another!"

She pressed my hand and pleaded, reproved and smiled upon me with
her eyes. Was she some angelic spirit that had lighted by chance on
this Death Ship, and held it company for very pity of the misery and
hopelessness of the sailor's doom? But there was a human passion and
tenderness in her face that would have been weakness in a glorified
spirit. Oh, indeed, she was flesh and blood as I was, with warm lips
for kissing, and breasts of cream as a pillow for love, and golden hair
too aromatic for phantasy.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE DUTCHMEN OBTAIN REFRESHMENTS.


Above an hour passed before the big boat, deeply laden, was towed by
the little one from the wreck. Of what a proportion of her freight was
composed I could not tell, much of it being in parcels and casks. They
had made sure of the tobacco by bringing away, at once, all that they
could find. I observed a number of hams stitched up in canvas, and some
sacks of potatoes, two bags of which were lost by the bottoms bursting
whilst they were being hoisted, on which Van Vogelaar broke into
several terrible oaths in Dutch, though 'twas like a dramatic rehearsal
of a ranting and bullying scene, for Vanderdecken took no notice and
the men went on hoisting and lowering away in the old phlegmatic
mechanic fashion as though they were deaf. There were likewise other
kinds of provisions of which I need not tease you with the particulars.
I believe that all the loading of the boat--in this her first trip,
I mean--consisted of articles of food; for some of the parcels which
puzzled me proved to contain cheeses and the others might therefore as
well represent stores of a like kind.

"Is it their custom to bring away the provisions first," I asked
Imogene.

"As a rule," she answered, "they take whatever comes to hand, that is,
if the articles be such as may be of use. What they chiefly secure as
soon as possible is tobacco and spirits; then provisions and clothing;
and then any treasure they may come across, and afterwards any portion
of the cargo they may fancy that is light to handle, such as silks,
pottery, and so forth."

"But they cannot take very much," said I, "or a few meetings of this
kind would sink their ship for them with overloading."

"There are many of us," she replied, "and the provisions they bring
away do not last very long. The pottery they use and it is soon broken.
Silk and such materials as they bring are light; and then, my dear,
they do not meet wrecks every day, nor of the wrecks they meet may you
count one in five that yields enough to sink this ship by a foot."

"I am heartily sorry," said I, "that they should find so much to eat
aboard yonder hulk. With so goodly a store of provisions, Vanderdecken
will not require to run into the land to shoot; and until this ship
brings up I see no chance for ourselves."

She sighed and looked sadly into the water, insomuch that she suggested
an emotion of hopelessness; but in an instant she flashed out of her
expression of melancholy weariness into a smile and gave me the deep
perfections of her violet eyes to look into, as if she knew their power
over me and shaped their shining influence for my comfort and courage.

When the boat was discharged of her freight, the men's dinner was
passed over the side for the fellows to eat in snatches, working the
while to save time. The wind remained weak and quiet, but it was
inevitable that the hamper we showed aloft should give us a drift
beyond the send of the swell; and to remedy this Vanderdecken clewed
up his topsails and took in all his canvas, leaving his ship to tumble
under bare poles, and by this means he rendered the drift of the vessel
down upon the wreck extremely sluggish and scarcely perceptible.

All day long the big boat was towed to and fro, making many journeys
and regularly putting off from the wreck very deep with freight.
Vanderdecken ate his dinner on deck. You would have found it hard
to reconcile any theory of common human passions such as cupidity,
rapacity and the like, with his bloodless face and grave-yard aspect;
and yet it was impossible to mistake the stirring of the true Dutch
instincts of the patient but resolved greed in the air he carried
whilst he waited for the return of the boat, in his frequent levelling
of the telescope at the wreck as one who doubted his people and kept
a sharp eye on them, in the eagerness his posture indicated as he
hung over the rail watching the stuff as it was handed up or swayed
by yard-arm tackles over the side, and the fierce peremptoriness of
the questions he put to Van Vogelaar as to what he had there, how
much more remained, and so on, though nothing that the mate answered,
satisfactory as must have been the account he gave, softened the
captain's habitual savageness or in any degree humanised him. Of the
majesty of his deportment I have spoken; likewise of the thrilling
richness of his voice, the piercing fire of his fine eyes and of his
mien and bearing, so haughtily stately in all respects as to make one
think of him, after a Pagan fashion, as of some god fallen from his
high estate; but for all that he was a Dutchman at heart, dead-alive
as he was; as true to his Holland extraction in 1796 as he had been an
hundred and fifty years earlier, when he was trading to Batavia and
nimbly getting money, and saving it, too, with as sure a hand as was
ever swung in Amsterdam.

The threads and lines and beds of vapour extending all over the sky
served to reverberate the glory of the sunset, as the crags and peaks
of mountains fling onwards the echoes of the thunder-clap. In the east
it was all jasper and sapphire, reds and greens, and a lovely clear
blue slowly burning to a carnelian in the zenith, where the effulgence
lay in a pool of deep red with a haze of light like fine rain floating
down upon it half white, half of silver; then followed a jacinthine
hue, a lustrous red most daintily delicate, with streaks of clear
green like the beryl, till the eye came to the west, where the sun,
vastly enlarged by refraction, hung in enormous bulk of golden fiery
magnificence amid half-curtained pavilions of living splendour, where
'twas like looking at some newly-wrought fairy world robed in the
shinings of the Heaven of Christ to see the lakes and lagoons of amber
purple and yellow, the seas of molten gold, the starry flamings in the
chrysolite brows of vapour, and the sky fading out north and south in
lights and tints as fair as the reflections in the wet pearly interior
of a sea-shell gaping on a beach towards the setting sun. The small
swell traversing the great red light that was upon the sea put lines of
flowing glory under the tapestries of that sunset, and the appearance
was that of an eager shouldering of the effulgence into the grey of the
south quarter, as though old Neptune sought to honourably distribute
the glory all around, and render the western sea-board ambient.

Then it was, while the lower limb of the luminary yet sipped from the
horizon the gold of his own showering, that the picture of the wreck,
and the Death Ship heaving pale and stripped of her canvas, became the
wonder that my memory must for ever find it. How steadfastly the dead
seaman at the wheel kept watch! The quieted sea now scarce stirred
the rudder, and the occasional light movements of the figure seemed
like starts in him, motions of surprise at the Dutchmen's antlike
pertinaciousness in their stripping of the hull.

And they? In that mani-coloured western blaze they partook more of
the character of corpses, in those faces of theirs, which stared our
way or glimmered for a breath or two over the bulwarks, than ever I
had found visible in them by moonlight or lamplight or the chilling
dimness of a stormy dawn. The sun vanished and the pale grey of evening
stole like a curtain drawn by spirit-hands out of the eastern sea and
over the waning glories of the skies, with a star or two glittering
in its skirts; and the wind from the north blew with a sudden weight
and a long moaning, making the sea whence it came ashen with gushings
of foam which ran into a colour of thin blood on passing the confines
of the western reflection. Vanderdecken, seizing his trumpet, sent
a loud command through it to the wreck; but the twilight was a mere
windy glimmering under the stars, which shone very brightly among the
high small clouds by the time the boats had shoved clear of the hull
and were heading for us, and the night had come down dark, spite of
the stars and the silver paring of moon, ere the last fragment of the
freight of rope, sail, and raffle from the wreck had been passed over
the side from the big boat.

It grew into a wild scene then: the light of the lantern-candles dimly
throwing out the bleached faces and dark figures of the seamen as
they hoisted the boats and stowed them one inside the other, the ship
rolling on the swell that had again risen very suddenly as though some
mighty hand were striving to press it down and so forcing the fluid
surface into larger volumes, the heads of the seas frothing spectrally
as they coursed arching and splashing out of the further darkness,
the eastering slip of moon sliding like a sheering scythe among the
networks of the shrouds and gear, and nothing to be heard but the angry
sobbing of waters beating themselves into hissing foam against the
ship's side, and the multitudinous crying, as of a distant but piercing
chorussing of many women and boys, of the freshening wind flying damp
through the rigging.

It had been a busy day, it was still a busy time; but never throughout
the hours, if I save the occasional cursing of the mate, the captain's
few questions, his command trumpetted to the wreck, my talk with
Imogene, had human voice been heard. It was not so noticeable a thing,
this silence of the ghostly crew, in the broad blaze of sunshine and
amid an exhibition of labour that was like sound to the eye, as now,
in the darkness, with the wind freshening, sail to be made and much
to be done--much of the kind that forces merchant seamen into singing
out and bawling as they drag and pull and jump aloft. The wreck was a
mere lump of blackness tumbling out to windward upon the dusky frothing
welter, and I thought of the dead sentinel at the helm. What in the
name of the saints was there in that figure to put into the sea the
enormous solitude I found in the vast surface glimmering to where it
melted in shadow against the low stars? What was there in that poor
corpse to fling a bleakness into the night wind, to draw an echo as
chilling as a madman's cry out of the gusty moaning aloft, to sadden
the very star-beams into dull and spectral twinklings? The canvas shook
as the silent sailors sheeted it home and voicelessly mastheaded the
yards. At three bells in the first watch the Death Ship had been wore
to bring her starboard tacks aboard, and under all the canvas she had
she was leaning before a small gale with her head to the southward and
westward, her sides and decks alive with the twistings of the mystic
fires which darkness kindled in her ancient timbers, and her round
weather-bow driving the rude black surge back into boiling whiteness.



CHAPTER XIV.

MY LIFE IS ATTEMPTED.


Heading out to sea afresh! Once again pointing the ship's beak for the
solitude of the ocean, and starting as it might be on a new struggle
that was to end in storm and defeat, in the heavy belabouring of
the groaning structure by giant surges, and in a sickening helpless
drift of God alone knew how many leagues, ere the sky brightened into
blueness once more!

Never had I so strongly felt the horror and misery of the fate which
Vanderdecken's hellish impiety had brought down upon his ship and
her company of mariners as now, when I saw the yards braced up on
the starboard tack, and the vessel laid with her head to the south
and west. The fresh wind seemed to shriek the word "Forever!" in her
rigging, and the echo was drowned in the wild sobbing sounds that rose
out of each long, yearning wash of the sea along her dimly shining
bends.

How was I to escape? How deliver Imogene?

I was a sailor, and whilst the ocean found me business, whilst it
defined the periods of its detentions of me, I loved it! The freedom of
it was dear to my heart; it was my home; it was a glass in which was
mirrored the image of the Creator I worshipped. But the prospect of
continuously sailing upon it in the Death Ship, of fighting its subtle
winds and furious storms to no purpose, converted it into a melancholy
waste--a liquid plain of desolation--a mere Hell of waters upon whose
sandy floor Hope, with tempest-torn wings, would speedily lie drowned,
whilst its surface should grow maddening with the reflected icy
sparkling of that Starry Crux, which shone but as a symbol of despair
when the eye sought it from these accursed decks and beheld the quick
light of its jewels trembling over the yard-arms of the Death Ship.

Shortly after midnight the wind freshened, and it came on to blow
with some weight. I had been in my cabin an hour, lying there broad
awake, being rendered extraordinarily uneasy by my thoughts. The sea
had grown hollow, and the ship plunged quickly and sharply with a
heavy thunderous noise of spurned and foaming waters all about her.
It was sheer misery lying intensely wakeful in that desolate cabin,
that would have been as pitchy black as any ancient castle dungeon
but for the glimmering lights, which were so much more terrible than
the profoundest shade of blackness could be, that had there been any
hole in the ship where the phosphor did not glow, I would cheerfully
have carried my bed to it, ay, even if it had been in the bottom of
the fore-peak or in the thickest of the midnight of the hold. The
rats squeaked, the bulkheads and ceilings seemed alive with crawling
glow-worms, groans as of dying, cries as of wounded men sounded out of
the interior in which lay stowed the pepper, mace, spices and other
Indian commodities of a freight that was hard upon an hundred and fifty
years old!

I suspected from the motions of the ship and the hollow, muffled
roarings outside, that a gale of wind was brewing, and I resolved to go
on deck and take a look at the weather since I could not sleep, for if
the wind was north west it would give us such a further drift to the
eastwards as would set the African coast at a fearful distance for our
round-bowed sea-wagon to come at. On the other hand, the gale might
have veered to a quarter favourable to heading for Cape Agulhas. Should
this happen, how would the Curse operate? Would the ship be permitted
to near the Cape before being blown back? But I suspected the operation
of no fixed laws in this doom. To suffer the Death Ship to draw close,
to fill the minds of the crew with triumphant assurance of their
weathering the Cape of Storms, would be a mere hideous tantalising of
them that could surely form no part of the sentence which obliterated
from their minds the recollection of past failures. For, let the
readers of my narrative bear this steadfastly in view: that if
Vanderdecken and his men knew of a surety that they were never to pass
the cape into the South Atlantic Ocean, then, as beings capable of
thinking and acting, they would long ago have desisted from the attempt
and sought rest--if they could not procure death for themselves--haply
in that same island of Java from which they had sailed.

I crawled into my clothes by feeling for them, and groped my way on to
the poop. The sky was black with low-flying cloud, from the speeding
rims of which a star would now and again glance, like the flash of a
filibuster's fusil from the dark shrubbery of a mountain slope. But
there was so much roaring spume and froth all about the ship, that a
dim radiance as of twilight hung in the air, and I could see to as high
as the topmast heads.

I stepped at once to the binnacle without noticing who had the watch
and found the ship's head south-east by south. I could not suppose
the ancient magnet showed the quarters accurately, but, allowing for
a westerly variation of thirty degrees, the indication came near
enough to satisfy me that the wind was as it had been ever since the
night I first entered this ship--right in our teeth for the passage of
the Cape, and that though we might be sluggishly washing through it
close-hauled, we were also driving away broadside on, making a clean
beam course for the heart of the mighty Southern Ocean.

This vexed and harassed me to the soul, and occasioned in me so
lively a sympathy with the rage that adverse gales had kindled in
Vanderdecken, that had he contented himself with merely damning the
weather instead of flying in the face of the Most High and behaving
like some foul fiend, I should have deeply pitied him and considered
his case the hardest ever heard of. The main-yard was lowered and a row
of men were silently knotting the reef-points. The topgallant-sails had
been handed, reefs tied in the topsails, and the vessel looked prepared
for foul weather.

But though the wind blew smartly, with weight in its gusts and plenty
of piping and screaming and whistling of it aloft, there was no marked
storminess of aspect in the heavens, sombre and sullen as was the
shadow that ringed the sea-line, and fiercely as flew the black clouds
out of it in the north west; and with this appearance I essayed to
console myself as I stood near the mizzen-shrouds gazing about me.

Seeing a figure standing near the larboard-shrouds, I stepped over
and found it to be Van Vogelaar. My direct approach made some sort of
accost a formal necessity, but I little loved to speak with this man,
whom I considered as wicked a rascal as ever went to sea.

"These nor'-westers are evil winds, mynheer," said I, "and in this sea
they appear to have the vitality of easterly gales in England. What is
the weather to be like? For my part, I think we shall find a quieter
atmosphere before dawn."

He was some time in answering, feigning to watch the men reefing the
mainsail, though by the light of the white water I could catch the
gleam of his eyes fixed upon me askant.

"What brings you on deck at this hour?" said he, in his rasping, surly
voice.

I answered, quietly, that feeling wakeful and hearing the wind, I rose
to view the weather for myself.

"A sailor is supposed to rest the better for the rocking of seas and
the crying of wind," said he, with a mocking, contemptuous tone in his
accents. "That saying is intended no doubt for the Dutch seamen; the
English mariner nobly shines as a sailor in his own records, but you
will admit, sir, that he is never so happy as when he is ashore."

"Sir," I replied, suppressing my rising temper with a very heavy
effort, "I fear you must have suffered somewhat at the hands of the
English sailor that you should never let slip a chance to discharge
your venom at him. I am English, and a sailor, too, and I should be
pleased to witness some better illustrations of Dutch courage than the
insults you offer to a man who stands defenceless among you, and must
be beholden, therefore, wholly to your courtesy."

He said, in a sneering, scornful voice, "Our courtesy! A member of a
dastardly crew that would have assassinated me and my men with their
small arms, hath a great claim upon our courtesy!"

"I was aft, and ignorant of the intentions of the men when that thing
was done," said I, resolved not to be betrayed into heat, let the
struggle to keep calm cost what it would.

To this he made no reply, then after a pause, said in a mumbling voice
as if he would, and yet would not have me hear him, "I brought a curse
into the ship when I handed you over the side; the devil craved for ye,
and I should have let you sink into his maws. By the holy sepulchre,
there are many in Amsterdam who would have me keel-hauled did they know
this hand had saved the life of an Englishman!" And he tossed up his
right hand with a vehement gesture of rage.

I was a stoutly-built fellow, full of living and healthy muscle, and
I do solemnly affirm that it would not have cost me one instant of
quicker breathing to have tossed this brutal and insulting anatomy
over the rail. But it was not only that I feared any exhibition of
temper in me might end in my murder; I felt that in the person of
this ugly and malignant mate I should be dealing with a sentence that
forbade his destruction, that must preserve him from injury, and that
rendered him as superior to human vengeance as if his body had been
lifeless. And what were his insults but a kind of posthumous scorn, as
idle and contemptible as that inscription upon a dead Dutchman's grave
in Rotterdam, in which the poor Holland corpse after eighty years of
decay goes on telling the world that in his opinion Britons are poor
creatures?

I held my peace, and Van Vogelaar went to the break of the poop, whence
he could better see what the men were doing upon the main-yard. The
enmity of this man made me feel very unhappy. I was never sure what
mischief he meditated, and the sense of my helplessness, the idleness
of any resolution I might form in the face of the supernatural life
that encompassed me, made the flying midnight seem inexpressibly dreary
and dismal, and the white foam of the sea carrying the eye to the ebony
cloud-girdle that belted the horizon, suggested distances so prodigious
that the heart sank to the sight of them, as to thoughts of eternity.

I was running my gaze slowly over the weather sea-board, whence came
the endless procession of ridged billows like incalculable hosts
of black-mailed warriors, with white plumes flying and steam from
the nostrils of their steeds boiling and pouring before them, and
phosphoric lights upon them like the shining points of couched spears,
when methought a dim pallid shadow, standing just under a star that
was floating a moment betwixt two flying shores of cloud, was a ship;
and the better to see, I sprang on to the rail about abreast of the
helmsman, for my support catching hold of some stout rope that ran
transversely aft out of the darkness amidships. What gear it was I
never stopped to consider, but gripping it with my left hand swayed
to it erect upon the rail, whilst with my right I sheltered my eyes
against the smarting rain of spray, and stared at what I guessed to be
a sail. I have said that the creaming and foaming of the waters flung
from the vessel's sides and bows made a light in the air, and the
sphere of my sight included a space of the poop-deck to right and left
of me, albeit my gaze was fastened upon the distant shadow.

All on a sudden the end of the rope I grasped was thrown off the pin
to which it was belayed and I fell overboard. 'Twas instantaneous!
And so marvellously swift is thought that I recollect even during
that lightning-like plunge thinking how icy-cold the sea would be,
and how deep my dive from the great height of the poop-rail. But
instead of striking the water, the weight of me swung my body into the
mizzen-channels by the rope my left hand desperately gripped. I fell
almost softly against a shroud coming down to a great dead-eye there
and dropped in a sitting posture in the channel itself which to be
sure was a wide platform to windward and therefore lifted very clear
of the sea, spite of the ship's weather rolls. My heart beat quickly,
but I was safe: yet a moment after I had liked to have perished,
indeed, for the rope I mechanically grasped was all at once torn from
my fingers with so savage a drag from some hand on deck that nothing
but the pitting of my knee against a dead-eye preserved me from being
tweaked into the hissing caldron beneath. I could see the rope plain
enough as it was tautened, through the pallid atmosphere and against
the winking of the stars sliding from one wing of vapour to another,
and perceived that it was the main-brace, the lowering of the yard or
reefing the sail having brought it within reach of my arm. Then, with
this, there grew in me a consciousness of my having noticed a figure
glide by me whilst I stood on the rail; and, putting these things
together, I guessed that Van Vogelaar, having observed my posture, had
sneaked aft to where the main-brace--that was formed of a pendant and
whip--was made fast and had let go of it, never doubting that, as I
leaned against it, so, by his whipping the end off the pin it would let
me fall overboard!

I was terribly enraged by this cowardly attempt upon my life and was
for climbing inboard at once and manhandling him, ghost or no ghost;
then changed my mind and stayed a bit in the channel considering what
I should do. Thin veins of fire crawled upon this aged platform as
upon all other parts of the ship; but the shrouds coming very thick
with leather chafing-gear to the dead-eyes made such a jumble of black
shapes, that I was very sure Van Vogelaar could not see me if he should
take it into his head to peer down over the rail.

After casting about in my mind, the determination I arrived at was
to treat my tumble from the rail as an accident, for I very honestly
believed this: that if I should complain to Vanderdecken of his mate's
murderous intention, I would not only harden the deadly malignity of
that ghastly ruffian's hatred of me, insomuch, that it might come to
his stabbing me in my sleep, but it might end in putting such fancies
into the captain's head as should make him desire my destruction, and
arrange with his horrid lieutenant to procure it. Indeed, I had only to
think of Amboyna and the brutal character of the Dutch of those times,
and remember that Vanderdecken and his men belonged to that age, and
would therefore have the savagery which one hundred and fifty years of
civilization, arts, and letters have somewhat abated in the Hollanders,
to determine me to move with very great wariness in this matter.

But I had been dreadfully near to death, and could not speedily
recollect myself. The white heads of the surges leaped, boiled and
snapped under the channels, like wolves thirsting for my blood; and the
crying of the wind among the shrouds, in whose shadows I sat, and the
sounds it made as it coursed through the dark night and split shrilly
upon the ropes and spars high up in the dusk, ran echoes into those
raving waters below, which made them as much wild beasts to the ear as
they looked to the eye.

But little good could come of my sitting and brooding in that
mizzen-channel; so, being in no mood to meet the villain, Van Vogelaar,
I very cautiously rose, and with the practised hand of a sailor crawled
along the lap of the covering-board, holding by the rail but keeping
my head out of sight, and reached the main-chains, whence I dropped
on to the deck unseen among the tangled thickness of the shrouds, and
slided, as stilly as the ghostliest man among that ghastly crew could
tread, to my cabin.



CHAPTER XV.

MY SWEETHEART'S JOY.


Once asleep I slept heavily, and it was twenty minutes past the
breakfast hour by the time I was ready to leave the crazy and groaning
dungeon that served me for a bedroom.

I entered the cabin, but had scarcely made two steps when there sounded
a loud cry in a girl's voice, half of terror, half of joy; a shriek so
startling for the passions it expressed that it brought me to a dead
stand. It was Imogene. I saw her jump from her seat, make a gesture
with her arms as though she would fly to me, then bring both hands
violently to her heart with a loud hysterical ha! ha! as if she could
only find breath in some such unnatural note of laughter, whilst she
stood staring at me with straining eyes that filled her violet beauty
with a light like that of madness.

The clock struck the half-hour as she cried, and the echo of her voice
and the deep, humming vibration of the bell were followed by the
parrot's diabolical croak:

"Wy zyn al Verdomd!"

"God in Heaven!" exclaimed Vanderdecken, in a tone deep with amazement,
"I thought that man was drowned!"

It was a picture of consternation that I should not have dreamt to
expect in men who had outlived life and in whom you would think of
seeking qualities and emotions outside those which were necessary to
the execution of their sentence. Vanderdecken, leaning forward at the
head of the table upon his great hands, the fingers of which were
stretched out, glared at me with a frown of astonishment. Prins--whose
attendance upon me in my cabin had long been limited to his placing
a bucket of salt-water at my door without entering--Prins, I say,
arrested by my entry whilst in the act of filling a cup of wine for
the captain, watched me with a yawn of wonder, and stood motionless as
though blasted by a stroke of lightning; whilst Van Vogelaar, with his
head upon his shoulder, the blade of the knife with which he had been
eating forking straight up out of his fist that lay like a paralysed
thing upon the table, eyed me with a sunk chin and under a double fold
of brow; his level, enchained stare full of fear, and cruelty and
passion.

I saw how it was, and giving the captain a bow and my darling a smile,
I went to my place at the table and sat down. Van Vogelaar shrunk as
I passed him, keeping his eyes upon me as a cat follows the motions
of a dog; and when I seated myself he fell away by the length of his
arm, dropping his knife and fork and watching me. Imogene, breathing
deeply, resumed her seat; nothing but Vanderdecken's amazement hindered
him from observing her agitation, which was of a nature he could not
possibly have mistaken, if indeed he still possessed the capacity of
distinguishing such emotions as love.

She merely said, letting out her words in a tremulous sigh: "O
Geoffrey, thank God! thank God!" The food in front of her was untasted;
but what grief there had been in her face before was lost in the
confusion of feelings which worked in her loveliness with a vitality
that made her red and white in the same moment. She repeated under her
breath to herself: "Thank God! thank God!"

This, while the others stared.

I turned to Van Vogelaar. "Mynheer," said I, "you regard me with
astonishment."

He shrank a little further yet, and, after a pause, said, "Are you man
or devil?"

"Captain Vanderdecken," said I, "has your mate lost his reason?"

On this Van Vogelaar cried out: "Captain, by the Holy Trinity, I swear
it was as I have reported. This Englishman, after prowling on deck last
night in the early hours of the middle watch, suddenly clambered on to
the rail, for what purpose I know not, and leaned his weight against
the starboard main-brace, the sail then reefing. I looked round--on
turning again he was gone! and Nicholas Houltshausen, who was at the
helm, swore he saw him rise black upon the white eddies of the wake."

Vanderdecken frowningly questioned me with his eyes. I should have been
acting a sillier part than a fool's to have jested with these men,
besides, I had long since resolved to be plain.

"Herr Van Vogelaar," said I, "doubtless refers to my having fallen into
the weather mizzen-channel last night from the rail, whilst peering at
what I believed to be a ship. The main-brace, upon which I had put my
hand to steady myself, yielded very suddenly," and here I shot a look
at the mate, "but I fell lightly, and after sitting a little to recover
my breath, made my way to my cabin."

Van Vogelaar's death-like face darkened. An oath or two rattled in his
throat, and returning to his old posture he fell to the meat upon his
plate with the ferocity of some starving beast, insomuch that the veins
about his forehead stood out like pieces of cord.

The feelings with which Vanderdecken received my explanation I could
not gather. He gazed hard at me with fiery eyes, as though, mistrusting
me, he sought to burn his sight down to my heart, and then, slowly
resuming his knife and fork, went on with his breakfast in his familiar
trance-like way, mute as a dead man.

I constantly exchanged glances with Imogene, but held my peace since
she remained silent. She struggled to compose her face, but her joy at
my presence shone through her mask of reserve, twitching the corners
of her mouth into faint smiles, and dancing in her eyes like sunshine
on the ripples of a sapphire pool. Her love for me spoke more in this
quiet delight than she could have found room for in a thousand words.
How sweet and fair she looked! The light of her heart lay with a fair
rosiness upon her cheeks, which had been as pale as marble when she had
risen with her shriek and laughter to my first coming.

Presently Van Vogelaar left the cabin, going out scowling and talking
to himself, but not offering so much as to glance at me. There was a
piece of hung meat on the table, of what animal I did not know; it
proved indifferent good eating. This and some cakes made of flour,
with a goblet of sherry and water, formed my breakfast. I ate slowly,
knowing that Vanderdecken would not smoke whilst I breakfasted, and
wishing to tire him away that Imogene and I might have the cabin to
ourselves. But my stratagem was to no purpose. He started suddenly
from his waking dream--if, indeed, it was to be credited that any
sort of intellectual faculty stirred in him when he lapsed into these
cataleptic stillnesses--and bade Prins go and get cut up some of the
tobacco they had removed from the wreck, and then erecting his figure
and stroking down his beard, he looked from me to Imogene and back to
me again, and said, "The weather promises to mend; but this wind must
come from a witch's mouth--and a witch of deep and steady lungs. I hope
you may not have brought us ill-luck, sir?"

"I hope not," said I, shortly.

"There are malign stars in the heavens," he continued, in a voice
that trembled richly upon the air, like the waving echoes of some
deep-throated melodious bell, "and there are men born under them.
North of the Baltic, on Muskovite territory, is a nation of wretches
who can bewitch the winds and sail their ships through contrary gales.
They are not far removed from Britain," said he, significantly.

"They are as close to Holland, mynheer," said I.

"Oh, captain!" cried Imogene, "you do not wish to say that Mr. Fenton
has had a hand in the fixing of this wind?"

He leaned his forehead upon his elbow, and stretching forth his
other hand, drummed lightly on the table with his long, lean,
leprous-coloured fingers as he spoke. "Why, Mynheer Fenton, Miss Dudley
must allow that a curious luck attends you. How many of a crew went to
your ship?"

"Forty, sir."

"Mark your star! Of forty men you alone fall overboard! But fortune
goes with you and you are rescued by Van Vogelaar. Observe again!
Of forty men you alone are delivered into a ship whose nation is at
war with yours! Yet fortune still attends you and you are hospitably
received, yea, even made welcome, and clothed, and fed and housed."

I bowed.

"More yet! Last night you fell from the bulwark-rail. What sorcery is
it that sways you into the mizzen-channel and presently, unseen, to
your bed? Nicholas Houltshausen is noted among us for his shrewd sight.
Did not he swear he saw you rise black after your plunge among the
froth of the ship's wake? What was it that he beheld? Can the soul shed
its body as the butterfly its skin and yet appear clothed, substantial,
real as flesh and blood?"

"I exactly explained that accident," said I. "If there be sorcery in my
having the luck to tumble into a ship's mizzen-chains instead of the
water, then am I a witch fit for a broomstick and a grinning moon!"

"Captain Vanderdecken does but amuse himself with you, Mr. Fenton,"
said Imogene. "It is true, mynheer," she continued, putting on an
inimitable air of sweet dignity, which was vastly reassuring to me as
proving that she had recovered her old easiness of mind and was now
playing a part, "that we believed you had fallen overboard last night,
and this being our conclusion you may judge how greatly your entrance
just now amazed us. For me, I was so frightened that I shrieked out,
as you doubtless heard. Truly I thought you, the dead, arisen. Captain
Vanderdecken cannot recover his surprise, and would have himself to
believe that you are a sorcerer. You, who are so young, and an English
sailor!" She laughed out, and a truer ring she could not have put into
her forced merriment had she been a Pritchard, or a Clive, or a Cibber.
"Indeed," she added, "to be a necromancer, you need a beard as long and
as grey as the captain's."

There was no temper in the look Vanderdecken cast upon her, nay, it
almost deserved the name of mildness in him whose eyes were forever
fiery with hot thought and passions of undivinable character. But not
the phantom of a smile showed in his face in response to her laughter.

"Madam," said I, putting on a distant air in conformity with the hint
of her own manner, "I am no sorcerer. For your sake I would I were, for
then my first business would be to veer this wind south, and keep it
there till it had thundered our ship with foaming stem into the smooth
waters of the Zuyder-Zee."

This seemed to weigh with Vanderdecken. He reflected a little and then
said, with something of lofty urbanity in his mode of addressing me,
"Had you that power, mynheer, I do not know that I should object to
your presence were you Beelzebub himself."

Imogene's smile betrayed the delight she felt in her gradual, happy,
nimble drawing of this fierce man's thoughts away from his astonishing
suspicions of me as a wizard.

"Have you ever heard, Mr. Fenton," said she, "of that nation to the
north of the Baltic of whom Captain Vanderdecken has spoken?"

"Oh! yes, madam," I replied; "they are well known as Russian Finns,
and are undoubtedly wizards, and will sell such winds to ships as
captains require. I knew a master of a vessel who, being off the
coast of Finland, grew impatient for a wind to carry him to a certain
distant port. He applied to an old wizard, who said he would sell him
a gale that should enable him to fetch the Promontory of Rouxella,
but no further, for his breeze ceased to obey him when that point
was reached. The captain agreed, holding that a wind to Rouxella was
better than light airs and baffling calms off the Finland coast, and
paid the wizard ten kronen--about six and thirty shillings of English
money--and a pound of tobacco; on which the conjurer tied a woollen
rag to the fore-mast, the rag being about half a yard long and a nail
broad. It had three knots, and the wizard told him to loose the first
knot when he got his anchor, which he did, and forthwith it blew a
fresh favourable gale."

"That is so?" demanded Vanderdecken, doubtingly, and folding his arms
over his beard.

"I knew the captain, mynheer," I answered; "his name was Jenkyns, and
his ship was a brig called the True Love."

"Did the first knot give him all the wind he wanted?" asked he.

"No, sir. It gave them a brisk west south-west gale that carried them
thirty leagues beyond the maelstrom in the Norwegian sea; then shifted,
on which Captain Jenkyns untied the second knot, which brought the wind
back to its own quarter. It failed them again, but when the third knot
was untied there arose so furious a tempest that all hands went to
prayers, begging for mercy for choosing to deal with an infernal artist
instead of trusting to Providence."

It was not easy to make out the thoughts in Vanderdecken's mind, not
less because of the half of his countenance being densely clothed with
hair, than because of the white, iron rigidity of as much of his face
as was visible; yet I could not doubt that he believed in those Finnish
wizards from a sudden yearning in his manner, followed by a flashing
glance of impatience at the cabin entrance, that was for all the world
as though he had cried out "Would to God there was a purchasable wind
hereabouts!" But the reader must consider that this man belonged to an
age when wise men soberly credited greater wonders than Icelandish and
Finnish wind-brokers.

By this I had made an end of breakfast, and Prins arriving with a jar
full of the tobacco, flaked and fit for smoking, the captain filled
his pipe, first pushing the jar to me, and then fell into one of his
silences, from which he would emerge at wide intervals to say something
that was as good as a warrant he was thinking no longer of the sorcery
of my fall and appearance. When he had emptied his bowl, he went to his
cabin. Imogene instantly arose and came to my side.

"Oh, my dearest!" she whispered, with a sudden darkening of her eyes by
the shadow of tears, "I did believe, indeed, you were lost to me for
ever! My senses seemed to leave me when Vanderdecken accounted for your
absence."

"Dear heart! My precious one!" I answered, fondling her little hand,
which lay cold with her emotion in mine; "I am still with thee, and
hope with us may remain fearless. But it was a narrow escape. Van
Vogelaar came red-handed to this table. For hours he has had my blood
upon his devilish soul. No wonder the villain quailed when I entered
this cabin."

"What did he do?" she cried.

"I believed I saw a ship," I answered; "I jumped on to the rail to
make sure, and leaned against the brace that governs the main-yard. He
slipped aft and let go the rope, meaning that I should fall overboard,
but my grip was a sailor's, and I swung with the rope into the
mizzen-chains."

"The wretch! He told Vanderdecken that you had climbed on to the
bulwarks and fallen. I could kill him!" She clenched her white fingers
till the jewels on them flashed to the trembling of the tension, and a
delicate crimson surged into her face. "I could kill him!" she repeated.

"Hush, sweet one! It is our business to escape, and we need an
exquisite judgment. I, too, could kill the treacherous ruffian, only
that he is deathless. You, brave heart, will advise me that we are not
to know of this thing. No, let it be an accident of my own doing. We
are in a shipful of devils, and must act as if we believed them angels."

Her face slowly paled, her fingers opened, and the angry shining faded
out of her eyes leaving the soft, violet pensive light there.

"Yes, you are right; we must not know the truth of this thing," said
she, musingly, after a little. "But be on your guard, Geoffrey; keep
well away from that rogue. His Spanish treachery is made formidable
by his Dutch cunning. How swiftly he acted last night! His thoughts
must have been intent for some time or even the demon in him would not
have been equal to such readiness. See to your cabin door at night--O
Geoffrey, he might steal in upon you."

I smiled. "He has spoken once; I shall not require a second hint."

"O that I had a man's arm, Geoffrey, that I might be your sentinel
whilst you slept!"

"Precious one! You shall sentinel me yet! Patience, meanwhile! It is
this ship that makes home so distant. Once clear of this groaning vault
and we shall be smelling the sweetbriar and the violet."

Vanderdecken came out of his cabin and went on deck. He walked with
impetuosity and passed without regarding us. Through the open door
leading to the quarter-deck I saw him stand a minute with his face
upturned and then toss his hand with a gesture of baffled rage.

"He is cursing the wind," said Imogene. "How often has he done so since
I have been in this ship! And when will a last day come to him, when
there shall be no wind to curse, when death shall have paralysed his
tongue and silenced his heart? How fiercely it now throbs! Surely there
is more stormy passion in one day of its beating than in twenty years
of a human pulse! O, my dear, that you had the northern wizard's power
of evoking prosperous gales!"

"I should be glad of that power," said I, "for better reasons than to
help this man to fight against his Sentence. Can you guess what I would
do? I would straightway blow this old ship ashore. Dread the Afric
coast as you will, dear one, it will be our only chance."

"I dread it for its savages--the thought of captivity beyond the
mountains is horrible! I have heard my father tell of the wreck of an
East Indiaman named the Grosvenor, in which were ladies of distinction,
who were seized by the natives and carried far inland and made wives
of. That is not more than twenty years ago. O, Geoffrey, sooner than
that--I would be content to die in this ship--to go on sailing about
in her till my hair was as white as the foam about our keel!" and as
she said this she grasped a handful of her golden hair and held it
to me, unconscious in the earnestness of her fears of the child-like
simplicity of her action. I put my lips to the tress, that flowed from
her head through the snow of her hand and thence down like a stream of
sunny light or the raining of the jet of a golden fountain, and told
her not to fear, that I loved the natives as little as she, and would
contrive to give them a wide berth; and then I changed the subject by
wondering what the consequences would be if last night's business and
Vanderdecken's talk this morning put it into the minds of the crew that
I was as much a wizard as any Finn and could control the breezes if I
chose.

She shook her head. "Better that they should regard you as what you
really are--an English sailor. Suppose they persuaded themselves that
you could raise and sell winds, they might determine to test you, and
imprison, even torture you in the belief you were stubborn and would
not do their bidding; or, if they came to consider you a wizard, they
might think your presence in the ship unlucky, and, being half-savages,
with demons for souls, as I believe, and with instincts belonging to a
time when the world was brutal and human life held in no account--there
is no imagining how they would serve you."

"Oh, Imogene!" cried I, "you are my good angel----"

"A true sweetheart must ever be that to the boy she loves," she
whispered, looking down and softly blushing.

"You are my true sweetheart, Imogene! And how faithfully you are able
to guide me through the marvellous experience we are both passing
through, I know by the words you have just uttered," and I went on to
tell her how Van Vogelaar had under his breath talked as if to himself
of my being a curse in the ship.

As I said this, Prins came to the cabin door, and stood looking in.
Perceiving him, Imogene rose and saying quietly, "He has perhaps been
sent to report if we are together; go you on deck, dearest; I will join
you, presently," went to her berth.


  END OF VOLUME II.



  PRINTED BY
  TILLOTSON AND SON, MAWDSLEY STREET
  BOLTON



Transcriber's Notes


Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Inconsistent hyphenation fixed.

P. 28: stancheons -> stanchions.

P. 33: schellings -> schillings.

P. 60: silival -> salival.

P. 63: rotteness -> rottenness.

P. 109: least my thoughtlessness -> lest my thoughtlessness.

P. 197: mani-hued dinginess -> many-hued dinginess.

P. 227: Voeglaar -> Vogelaar.

P. 248: assasinated -> assassinated.

P. 249: solemly -> solemnly.





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