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Title: An Ocean Tragedy
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.

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AN OCEAN TRAGEDY



NOVELS, ETC., BY W. CLARK RUSSELL.

Crown 8vo. cloth extra, 3_s._ 6_d._ each; post 8vo. illustrated boards,
2_s._ each; cloth limp, 2_s._ 6_d._ each.


  ROUND THE GALLEY-FIRE.
  IN THE MIDDLE WATCH.
  ON THE FO’K’SLE HEAD.
  A VOYAGE TO THE CAPE.
  A BOOK FOR THE HAMMOCK.
  THE MYSTERY OF THE ‘OCEAN STAR.’
  THE ROMANCE OF JENNY HARLOWE.
  AN OCEAN TRAGEDY.
  MY SHIPMATE LOUISE.
  ALONE ON A WIDE WIDE SEA.
  THE GOOD SHIP ‘MOHOCK.’
  THE PHANTOM DEATH.
  IS HE THE MAN?
  HEART OF OAK.
  THE CONVICT SHIP.
  THE LAST ENTRY.
  THE TALE OF THE TEN.


Crown 8vo. cloth, 3_s._ 6_d._ each.

  A TALE OF TWO TUNNELS.
  THE DEATH SHIP.
  OVERDUE.
  WRONG SIDE OUT. (Also an Edition at 1_s._ net.)
  THE ‘PRETTY POLLY.’ With 12 Illustrations by G. E. ROBERTSON.


Popular Editions, medium 8vo. 6_d._ each.

  THE CONVICT SHIP.
  IS HE THE MAN?


LONDON: CHATTO & WINDUS, 111 ST. MARTIN’S LANE, W.C.



  AN OCEAN TRAGEDY
  BY
  W. CLARK RUSSELL

  AUTHOR OF ‘THE FROZEN PIRATE’ ‘THE WRECK OF THE GROSVENOR’
  ‘A BOOK FOR THE HAMMOCK’ ‘A VOYAGE TO THE CAPE,’ ETC.

  [colophon]

  A NEW IMPRESSION

  LONDON
  CHATTO & WINDUS
  1911



_To HERMAN MELVILLE, Esq._


  _MY DEAR HERMAN MELVILLE_,

_In words of beauty and of kindness you lately wished me health and
content. Health, alas! you cannot give me; but content you have filled
me with. My books have done more than ever I had dared dream, by
winning for me the friendship and approval of the Author of ‘Typee,’
‘Omoo,’ ‘Moby-Dick,’ ‘Redburn,’ and other productions which top the
list of sea literature in the English tongue. I beg you to accept this
dedication as a further public avowal of my hearty admiration of your
genius._

  _In all faithfulness yours,
      W. CLARK RUSSELL._



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                            PAGE
  I. MY COUSIN                          1
  II. THE ‘BRIDE’                      10
  III. LAURA JENNINGS                  17
  IV. IN THE SOLENT                    27
  V. LONG TOM                          39
  VI. FINN TESTS THE CREW’S SIGHT      50
  VII. SAIL HO!                        58
  VIII. WE SPEAK THE ‘WANDERER’        67
  IX. A SQUALL                         76
  X. I GO ALOFT                        84
  XI. THE PORTUGUESE BRIG              92
  XII. A SECOND WARNING               105
  XIII. I INTERPRET THE WARNING       116
  XIV. MUFFIN GOES FORWARD            126
  XV. I BOARD A WRECK                 136
  XVI. WE SIGHT A SCHOONER-YACHT      147
  XVII. WE RAISE THE SCHOONER         156
  XVIII. IS SHE THE ‘SHARK?’          166
  XIX. A MYSTERIOUS VOICE             178
  XX. MUFFIN IS PUNISHED              188
  XXI. HEAVY WEATHER                  198
  XXII. THE ‘LIZA ROBBINS’            206
  XXIII. THE COLONEL AND HER LADYSHIP 215
  XXIV. THE DUEL                      224
  XXV. THE COLONEL’S FUNERAL          235
  XXVI. WILFRID’S DELUSION            247
  XXVII. A DEAD CALM                  263
  XXVIII. A TERRIBLE NIGHT            274
  XXIX. A VOLCANIC ISLAND             286
  XXX. WE BOARD THE GALLEON           297
  XXXI. THE FIRST NIGHT               308
  XXXII. THE GALLEON’S HOLD           321
  XXXIII. THE SECOND NIGHT            334
  XXXIV. CONCLUSION                   348



AN OCEAN TRAGEDY.



CHAPTER I.

MY COUSIN.


‘Sir Wilfrid Monson, sir,’ exclaimed my man.

It was half-past ten o’clock at night, and I was in my lodgings in Bury
Street, St. James, slippers on feet, a pipe of tobacco in my hand,
seltzer and brandy at my elbow, and on my knees the ‘Sun’ newspaper,
the chief evening sheet of the times.

‘Sir Wilfrid Monson, sir.’

My cousin! thought I, starting, and looking round at my man with a
fancy in me for a moment that he had got the wrong name. ‘Show him in.’

Sir Wilfrid entered in a sort of swift headlong way, full of
nervousness and passion, as was to be seen easily enough; and then he
came to a dead stop with a wild look round the room, as if to make sure
that I was alone, and a frowning stare at my servant, who was lingering
a moment on the threshold as though suddenly surprised out of his
habits of prompt sleek attendance by a fit of astonishment.

He stood about six feet high; he had a slight stoop, and was something
awkward in arms and legs; yet you were sensible of the indefinable
quality of breeding in him the moment your eye took in his form and
face, uncommon as both were. He was forty-four years of age at this
time, and looked fifty. His hair was long and plentiful, but of an iron
grey streaked with soft white. He had a protruding under-lip, and a
nose which might have been broken for the irregularity of its outline,
with unusually high-cut nostrils. His eyes were large, short-sighted,
and grey, luminous and earnest, but with a tremulous lid that seemed
to put a quivering into their expression that was a hint in its way of
cunning and mental weakness. He had a broad, intellectual forehead,
brilliantly white teeth, high cheek bones, a large heavy chin, rounding
into a most delicately moulded throat. He was a man, indeed, at whom,
as a stranger, one might catch one’s self staring as at something
sufficiently puzzling to be well worth resolving. Ill-looking he was
_not_, and yet one seemed to seek in vain for qualities of body or mind
to neutralise to the sight what was assuredly a combination of much
that was uncomely, and indeed, in one or two directions, absolutely
grotesque. But then I had the secret.

The long and short of it was, my cousin, Sir Wilfrid Monson, was not
entirely straight-headed. Everything was made clear to the mind, after
a glance at his strange, weak, yet striking profile, with the hint
that there had been madness in his mother’s family. He was the eighth
baronet, and on his father’s side (and that was my side, I am thankful
to say) all had been sound as a bell; but my uncle had fallen in love
with the daughter of a Scotch peer whose family were tainted with
insanity--no matter her real name: the Lady Elizabeth will suffice. He
was frankly warned by the old Earl, who was not too mad to be candid,
but the lovesick creature grinned in his lordship’s face with a wild
shake of the head at the disclosure, as though he saw no more in it
than a disposition to end the engagement. Then the honest old madman
carried him to a great window that overlooked a spacious sweep of lawn,
and pointed with a bitter smile and a despairful heave of the shoulders
to three women walking, two of whom were soberly clad in big bonnets
and veils down their back, whilst the third, who was between them, and
whose arms were locked in the others’, glided forwards as though her
feet travelled on clockwork rollers, whilst she kept her head fixedly
bent, her chin upon her breast, and her gaze rooted upon the ground;
and as the amorous baronet watched--the Earl meanwhile preserving his
miserable smile as he held his gouty forefinger levelled--he saw the
down-looking woman make an effort to break away from her companions,
but without ever lifting her head.

‘That’s Lady Alice,’ said the Earl, ‘speechless and brainless! Guid
preserve us! And the Lady Elizabeth is her seester.’

‘Ay, that may be,’ answers the other; ‘but take two roses growing side
by side: because some venomous worm is eating into the heart of one and
withering up its beauty, is the other that is radiant and flawless to
be left uncherished?’

‘Guid forbid!’ answered the Earl, and then turned away with a weak
_hech! hech!_ that should have proved more terrifying to one’s
matrimonial yearnings than even the desolate picture of the three
figures stalking the emerald-green sward.

These were dim memories, yet they flashed into my head with the
swiftness of thought, along with the workings of the eager conjecture
and lively wonder raised in me by Wilfrid’s visit, and by his peculiar
aspect, too, during the few moments’ interval of pause that followed
his entrance. My servant shut the door; Wilfrid looked to see that it
was closed, then approached me with a sort of lifting of his face as
of a man half choked with a hurry and passion of sentences which he
wants to be quit of all at once in a breath, staggering as he moved,
his right arm outstretched with a rapid vibration of the hand at the
wrist; and, without delivering himself of a syllable, he fell into a
chair near the table, dashing his hat to the floor as he did so, buried
his face in his arms, and so lay sobbing in respirations of hysteric
fierceness.

This extraordinary behaviour amazed and terrified me. I will not deny
that I at first suspected the madness that lurked as a poison in his
blood had suddenly obtained a strong hold, and that he had come to see
me whilst seized with a heavy fit. I put down my pipe and adopted a
steadier posture, so to speak, in my chair, secretly hoping that the
surprise his manner or appearance had excited in my valet would render
the fellow curious enough to hang about outside to listen to what might
pass at the start. I kept my eyes fixed upon my cousin, but without
offering to speak, for, whatever might be the cause of the agitation
that was convulsing his powerful form with deep sobbing breathings, the
emotion was too overwhelming to be broken in upon by speech. Presently
he looked up; his eyes were tearless, but his face was both dusky and
haggard with the anguish that worked in him.

‘In the name of Heaven, Wilfrid,’ I cried, witnessing intelligence
enough in his gaze to instantly relieve me from the dread that had
possessed me, ‘what is wrong with you? what has happened?’

He drew a long tremulous breath and essayed to speak, but was
unintelligible in the broken syllable or two he managed to utter. I
poured what sailors term a ‘two-finger nip’ of brandy into a tumbler,
and added a little seltzer water to the dram. He seized the glass with
a hand that shook like a drunkard’s, and emptied it. But the draught
steadied him, and a moment after he said in a low voice, while he
clasped his hands upon the table with such a grip of each other that
the veins stood out like whipcord: ‘My wife has left me.’

I stared at him stupidly. The disclosure was so unexpected, so wildly
remote from any conclusion my fears had arrived at, that I could only
look at him like a fool.

‘Left you!’ I faltered, ‘what d’ye mean, Wilfrid? Refused to live you?’

‘No!’ he exclaimed with a face darkening yet to the effort it cost
him to subdue his voice, ‘she has eloped--left me--left her baby
for--for--’ he stopped, bringing his fist to the table with a crash
that was like to have demolished everything upon it.

‘It is an abominable business,’ said I soothingly; ‘but it is not to
be bettered by letting feeling overmaster you. Come, take your time;
give yourself a chance. You are here, of course, to tell me the story.
Let me have it quietly. It is but to let yourself be torn to pieces to
suffer your passion to jockey your reason.’

‘She has left me!’ he shrieked, rising bolt upright from his chair, and
lifting his arms with his hands clenched to the ceiling. ‘Devil and
beast! faithless mother! faithless wife! May God----’

I raised my hand, looking him full in the face. ‘Pray sit, Wilfrid.
Lady Monson has left you, you say. With or for whom?’

‘Hope-Kennedy,’ he answered, ‘Colonel Hope-Kennedy,’ bringing out
the words as though they were rooted in his throat. ‘My good friend
Hope-Kennedy, Charles; the man I have entertained, have hunted
with, assisted at a time when help was precious to him. Ay, Colonel
Hope-Kennedy. That is the man she has left me for, the fellow that she
has abandoned her baby for. It is a dream--it is a dream! I loved her
so. I could have kissed her breast, where her heart lay, as a Bible for
truth, sincerity, and all beautiful thought.’

He passed his hand over his forehead and seated himself again, or
rather dropped into his chair, resting his chin upon the palm of his
hand with the nails of his fingers at his teeth, whilst he watched
me with a gaze that was rendered indescribably pathetic by the soft
near-sighted look of his grey eyes under the shadow of his forehead,
that had a wrinkled, twisted, even distorted aspect with the pain his
soul was in. There was but one way of giving him relief, and that was
by plying him with questions to enable him to let loose his thoughts.
He extended his hand for the brandy and mixed himself a bumper. There
was little in spirits to hurt him at such a time as this. Indeed I
believe he could have carried a whole bottle in his head without
exhibiting himself as in the least degree oversparred. This second dose
distinctly rallied him, and now he lay back in his chair with his arms
folded upon his breast.

‘When did your wife leave you, Wilfrid?’

‘A week to-day.’

‘You know, of course, without doubt, that Hope-Kennedy is the man she
has gone off with?’

He nodded savagely, with a smile like a scowl passing over his face.

‘But how do you know for certain?’ I cried, determined to make him talk.

He pulled a number of letters from his side-pocket, overhauled them,
found one, glanced at it, and handed it to me with a posture of the arm
that might have made one think it was some venomous snake he held.

‘This was found in my wife’s bedroom,’ said he, ‘read it to yourself.
Every line of it seems to be written in fire here.’ He struck his
breast with his fist.

What I am telling happened a long time ago, as you will notice
presently. The letter my cousin handed to me I read once and never saw
again, and so, as you may suppose, I am unable to give it as it was
written. But the substance of it was this: It was addressed to Lady
Monson. The writer called her, I recollect, ‘my darling,’ ‘my adorable
Henrietta.’ It was all about the proposed elopement, a complete sketch
of the plan of it, and the one document Sir Wilfrid could have prayed
to get hold of, had he any desire to know what had become of his
wife, and on what kind of rambles she and her paramour had started.
The letter was signed, boldly enough, ‘Frank Hope-Kennedy,’ and was
filled with careful instructions to her how and when to leave her
house. Railroads were few and far between in those days. Sir Wilfrid
Monson’s estate was in Cumberland, and it was a long journey by coach
and chaise to the town that was connected with the metropolis by steam.
But the Colonel had made every arrangement for her ladyship, and it was
apparent from his instructions that she had managed her flight first by
driving to an adjacent village, where she dismissed the carriage with
orders for it to return for her at such and such an hour; then, when
her coachman was out of sight, she entered a postchaise that was in
readiness and galloped along to a town through which the stage coach
passed. By this coach she would travel some twenty or thirty miles,
then post it to the terminus of the line that conveyed her to London.
But all this, though it ran into a tedious bit of description, was but
a part of the gallant Colonel’s programme. Her ladyship would arrive
in London at such and such an hour, and the Colonel would be waiting
at the station to receive her. They would then drive to a hotel out
of Bond Street, and next morning proceed to Southampton, where the
‘Shark’ lay ready for them. It was manifest that Colonel Hope-Kennedy
intended to sail away with Lady Monson in a vessel named the ‘Shark.’
He devoted a page of small writing to a description of this craft,
which, I might take it--though not much in that way was to be gathered
from a landsman’s statement--was a large schooner yacht owned by
Lord Winterton, from whom the Colonel had apparently hired it for an
indefinite period. He assured his adorable Henrietta that he had spared
neither money nor pains to render the vessel as luxurious in _cuisine_,
cabin fittings, and the like as was practicable in a sea-going fabric
in those days. He added that what his darling required for the voyage
must be hastily purchased at Southampton. She must be satisfied with
a very slender wardrobe; time was pressing; the madman to whom the
clergyman who married them had shackled her would be off in wild
pursuit, helter-skelter, flying moonwards mayhap in his delirium on the
instant of discovering that she was gone. Time therefore pressed, and
when once the anchor of the ‘Shark’ was lifted off the ground he had no
intention of letting it fall again until they had measured six thousand
miles of salt water.

I delivered a prolonged whistle on reading this. Six thousand miles
of ocean, methought, sounded intolerably real as a condition of an
elopement. My cousin never removed his eyes from my face while I read.
I gave him the letter, which he folded and returned to his pocket. He
was now looking somewhat collected, though the surging of the passion
and grief in him would show in a momentary sparkle of the eye, in a
spasmodic grin and twist of the lips, in a quick clenching of his
hands as though he would drive his finger-nails into his palms. I
hardly knew what to say, for the letter was as full a revelation of the
vile story as he could have given me in an hour’s delivery, and the
injury and misery of the thing were too recent to admit of soothing
words. Yet I guessed that it would do him good to talk.

‘Have they sailed yet, do you know?’ I inquired.

‘Yes,’ he answered, letting out his breath in a sigh as though some
thought in him had arrested his respiration for a bit.

‘How do you know?’

‘I arrived an hour ago from Southampton,’ he replied, ‘and have got all
the information I require.’

‘There cannot be much to add to what the letter contains,’ said I, ‘It
is the completest imaginable story of the devilish business.’

He looked at me oddly, and then said, ‘Ay, it tells what has happened.
But that did not satisfy me. I have gone beyond that, and know the
place they are making for.’

‘It will be six thousand miles distant, anyhow,’ said I.

‘Quite. The villain reasoned with a pair of compasses in his hand. It
is Cape Town--the other side of the world; when ’tis ice and northern
blasts with us, it is the fragrance of the moon-lily and a warm heaven
of quiet stars with them.’

He struck the table, smothering some wild curse or other behind his set
teeth, next leaped from his chair and fell to pacing the room, now and
again muttering to himself with an occasional flourish of his arm. I
watched him in silence. Presently he returned to the table and mixed
another glass of liquor. He sat lost in thought for a little, then,
with a slow lifting of his eyes, till his gaze lay steadfast on me, he
said: ‘Charlie, I am going to follow them to Cape Town.’

‘In some South African trader?’

‘In my yacht. You know her?’

‘I have never seen her, but I have heard of her as a very fine vessel.’

‘She sails two feet to the “Shark’s” one,’ he exclaimed, with a
queer gleam of satisfaction glistening in the earnest stare he kept
fastened on me. ‘I gave her square yards last year--you will know what
a great hoist of topsail, and a big squaresail under it, and a large
topgallantsail should do for such a model as the “Bride.” The “Shark”
is fore and aft only.’ He fetched his leg a smack that sounded like the
report of a pistol. ‘We’ll have ’em!’ he exclaimed, and his face turned
pale as he spoke the words.

‘Let me understand you,’ said I; ‘you propose to sail in pursuit of the
Colonel and your wife?’

He nodded whilst he clasped his hands upon the table and leaned forward.

‘What proof have you that they have started for Cape Town?’

He instantly answered: ‘The captain of the “Shark” is a man named
Fidler. My captain’s name is Finn. His wife and Mrs. Fidler are
neighbours at Southampton, and good friends. Mrs. Fidler told my
captain’s wife that her husband was superintending the equipment of
Lord Winterton’s yacht for a voyage round the world, and that the first
port of call would be Table Bay. She knew that the “Shark” had been let
by Winterton to a gentleman, but at the time of her speaking to Mrs.
Finn she did not know his name.’

‘You said just now,’ I exclaimed, ‘that you had assisted this fellow,
Hope-Kennedy, when help was precious to him. I suppose you mean that
you lent him money? How can he support the expense of a yacht, for, if
I remember rightly, the “Shark’s” burthen is over two hundred tons?’

‘I lent him money before I was married; within the last three years
he has come into a fortune of between eighty and a hundred thousand
pounds.’

I paused a moment and then said, ‘Have you thoroughly considered this
project of chasing the fugitives?’

His eyes brightened to a sudden rage, but he checked the utterance of
what rose to his lips and said with a violent effort to subdue himself:
‘I start the day after to-morrow.’

‘Alone?’

‘No, my sister-in-law will accompany me;’ then, after a breath or two,
‘_and you_.’

‘I?’

‘Oh,’ he cried, ‘it would be ridiculous in me to expect you to say at
once that you will come; but before I leave this room I shall have your
promise.’ And as he said this he stretched his arms across the table
and took my hand in both his and fondled it, meanwhile eyeing me in the
most passionate, wistful manner that can be imagined.

‘Wilfrid,’ said I softly, touched by his air and a sort of beauty as I
seemed to think that came into his strange face with the pleading of
it, ‘whatever I can do that may be serviceable to you in this time of
bitter trial, I _will_ do. But let me reason with you a little.’

‘Ay, reason,’ he responded, relinquishing my hand and folding his arms,
and leaning back in his chair.

‘I have been a sailor in my time, as you know,’ said I, ‘and have some
acquaintance with the sea, even though my experience goes no further
than a brief spell of East African and West Indian stations; and,
therefore, forgive me for inquiring your expectations. What do you
suppose? The “Shark” will have had three days’ start of you.’

‘Five days,’ he interrupted.

‘Five days, then. Do you expect to overhaul her at sea, or is it your
intention to crowd on to the Cape, await her arrival there, or, if
you find that she has already sailed, to follow her to the next port,
providing you can learn it?’

‘You have named the programme,’ he answered. ‘I shall chase her. If I
miss her I shall wait for her at Table Bay.’

‘She may get there before you,’ I said, ‘and be under way for another
destination whilst you are still miles to the nor’ard.’

‘No,’ he cried hotly, ‘we shall be there first; but we shall not need
to go so far. Her course must be our course, and we shall overhaul her;
don’t doubt that.’

‘But put it,’ said I, ‘first of all, that you _don’t_ overhaul her. You
may pass her close on a dark night with never a guess at her presence.
She may be within twenty miles of you on a clear, bright day, and not
a creature on board suspect that a shift of helm by so much as half a
point would bring what all hands are dying to overhaul within eyeshot
in half an hour.’

He listened with a face clouded and frowning with impatience; but I was
resolved to weaken if I could what seemed to me an insane resolution.

‘Count upon missing her at sea, for I tell you the chances of your
picking her up are all against you. Well, now, you arrive at Table Bay
and find that the “Shark” sailed a day or two before for some port of
which nobody knows anything. What will you do then? How will you steer
your “Bride”? For all you can tell, this man Hope-Kennedy may make for
the Pacific Islands by way of Cape Horn, or he may head north-east for
the Mozambique and the Indian waters, or south-east for the Australias.
It is but to let fly an arrow in the dark to embark on such a quest.’

He lay back looking at me a little without speaking, and then said, in
a more collected manner than his face might promise, ‘I may miss this
man upon the high seas; I _may_ find his yacht has arrived and gone
again when I reach Table Bay; and I _may not_ know, as you say, in what
direction to seek her if there be no one in Cape Town able to tell
me what port she has started for; but’--he drew a deep breath--‘the
pursuit gives me a chance. You will admit that?’

‘Yes, a chance, as you say.’

‘A chance,’ he continued, ‘that need not keep me waiting long for it to
happen. D’ye think I could rest with the knowledge that that scoundrel
and the woman he has rendered faithless to me are close yonder?’ he
exclaimed, pointing as though there had come a vision of the Atlantic
before his mind’s eye, and he saw the yacht afloat upon it. ‘Who’s to
tell me that before the month is out our friend the Colonel will not be
drifting somewhere fathoms deep with a shot through his heart?’

‘If you catch him you will shoot him?’

‘Oh yes.’

‘And Lady Monson?’

He looked down upon his hands without answering.

‘I am a single man,’ said I, ‘and am, therefore, no doubt disqualified
from passing an opinion. But I vow to heaven, Wilfrid, if my wife
chose to leave me for another man, I would not lift a finger either
to regain her or to avenge myself. A divorce would fully appease me.
Who would not feel gay to be rid of a woman whose every heart-throb
is a dishonour? What more unendurable than an association rendered an
incomparable insult, and the basest lie under heaven, by one’s wife’s
secret abhorrence and her desire for another?’

On a sudden he sprang to his feet as though stabbed. ‘Cease, for
Christ’s sake!’ he shouted. ‘The more truthful your words are, the more
they madden me. If I could tear her from me,’ clutching at his breast
in a wild, tragical way--‘if I could cleanse my heart of her as you
would purify a vessel of what has lain foul and poisonous in it; if
disgust would but fall cool on my resentment and leave me loathing her
merely; if--if--if! But it is _if_ that makes the difference betwixt
hell and heaven in this bad world of unexpected things.’ He sat afresh,
passing the back of his hand over his brow, and sighing heavily. ‘There
is no _if_ for me,’ said he. ‘I love her passionately yet, and so hate
her besides that----’ He checked himself with a shake of the head.
‘No, no, perhaps not when it _came_ to it,’ he muttered as though
thinking aloud. ‘We are wasting time,’ he cried, pulling out his watch.
‘Charlie, you will accompany me?’

‘But you say you start the day after to-morrow?’

‘Yes.’

‘From Southampton?’

‘Yes.’

‘And, should you find the “Shark” gone when you arrive at the Cape----’

‘Well?’

‘Ay,’ said I, ‘that’s just it. We should be like Adam and Eve, with all
the world before us where to choose.’

‘Charlie, will you come? I counted upon you from the moment of forming
my resolution. You have been a sailor. You are the one man of them all
that I should turn to in such a time as this. Say you will come. Laura
Jennings, my wife’s--my--my sister-in-law I mean--will accompany us.
Did I tell you this? Yes; I recollect. She is a stout-hearted little
woman, as brave as she is beautiful, and so shocked, so shocked!’ He
clasped his hands upon his brow, lifting his eyes. ‘She would pass
through a furnace to rescue her sister from this infamy. Come!’

‘You give me no time.’

‘Time! You have all to-morrow. You may easily be on board by four
o’clock in the afternoon on the following day. Time! A sailor knows
nothing of time. I must have you by my side, Charlie. We shall meet
them, and I shall need a friend. The support and help of your company,
too----’

‘Will your yacht be ready for sea by the day after to-morrow?’

‘She is ready now.’

‘Your people will have worked expeditiously,’ said I, fencing a little,
for he was leaning towards me and devouring me with his eyes, and I
found it impossible to say yes or no right off.

‘Will you come?’

‘How many form your party?’

‘There is myself, there is Laura, then you, then a maid for my
sister-in-law, and my man, and yours if you choose to bring him.’

‘In short, there will be three of us,’ said I; ‘no doctor?’

‘We cannot be too few. What would be the good of a doctor? Will you
come?’

‘Do you sleep in town to-night?’

‘Yes,’ he replied, naming a hotel near Charing Cross.

‘Well, then, Wilfrid,’ said I, ‘you must give me to-night to think the
thing over. What are your plans for to-morrow?’

‘I leave for Southampton at ten. Laura arrives there at six in the
evening.’

‘Then,’ said I, ‘you shall have my answer by nine o’clock to-morrow
morning. Will that do?’

‘It _must_ do, I suppose,’ said he wearily, moving as if to rise, and
casting a dull, absent sort of look at his watch.

A quarter of an hour later I was alone.



CHAPTER II.

THE ‘BRIDE.’


Time was when I had been much thrown with my cousin. I had served in
the Royal Navy for a few years, as I have said, but abandoned it on
my inheriting a very comfortable little fortune from my father, who
survived my mother a few months only. I say I quitted the sea then,
partly because I was now become an independent man, partly because
I was comparatively without influence and so found the vocation
unpromising, and partly because my frizzling equatorial spells of
service had fairly sickened me of the life.

It was then that Wilfrid, who was a bachelor, and my senior by some ten
years or thereabouts, invited me down to Cumberland, where I hunted
and shot with him and passed some merry weeks. He took a great liking
to me, and I was often with him, and we were much together in London.
There came a time, however, when he took it into his head to travel.
He thought he would go abroad and see the world; not Paris, Brussels,
and Rome, but America and the Indies and Australia--a considerable
undertaking in those ambling days of the tea waggon and the cotton
kettle-bottom, when the passage from the Thames to Bombay occupied four
months, and when a man who had made a voyage round the world believed
he had a right to give himself airs.

Well, my cousin sailed; I went down to Gravesend with him and bade him
good-bye there. His first start was for New York, and then he talked
of proceeding to the West Indies and afterwards to the Cape, thence to
India or Australia, and so on. He was away so long that the very memory
of him grew dim in me, till one day I heard some men in a club that I
belonged to speaking about the beautiful Lady Monson. I pricked up my
ears at this, for Monson is my name and the word caught me instantly,
and, gathering from the talk that one of the group, a young baronet
with whom I was well acquainted, could satisfy my curiosity about the
lady, I waited till he was alone and then questioned him.

He told me that Lady Monson was my cousin’s wife; Sir Wilfrid had
met her at Melbourne and married her there. She was the daughter of
a squatter, a man of small beginnings, who had done amazingly well.
She was exceedingly beautiful, my young friend assured me. He had met
her twice at county balls, and had never seen her like for dignity,
grace, and loveliness of form and face. He told me that she was very
fond of the sea, so some friends or acquaintances of hers had informed
him, and that, to gratify her taste in this way, Sir Wilfrid sold his
cutter--a vessel of twenty tons, aboard which I had made one or two
excursions with him--and replaced her by a handsome schooner which he
had rechristened the ‘Bride.’ I understood from the young baronet that
my cousin and his wife were then away cruising in the Mediterranean.

I had not before heard of Wilfrid’s marriage, and, though for the
moment I was a little surprised, and perhaps vexed, that he had never
communicated so interesting a piece of news as this to me, who, as a
blood relation and an intimate friend, had a claim upon his candour and
kindness, yet on reflection I judged that his memory had been weakened
by separation as mine had; and then I considered that he was so much
engrossed by his wife as to be able to think of little besides, whilst,
though he had then been married many months, he had apparently spent
with Lady Monson a good deal of his time out of England.

About six weeks before the opening of this story I met him in Bond
Street. I was passing him, for time and travel had wonderfully changed
him, and in his long hair and smooth face I must certainly have
failed, in the hurry of the pavement, to have recognised the cropped
and bewhiskered young fellow whom I had taken leave of at Gravesend,
but for his starting and his peculiar way of peering at me. My rooms
were conveniently near; I carried him to them, and a couple of hours
passed whilst he told me of his adventures. I noticed that he said
much less about his wife than I should have expected to hear from him.
He referred to her, indeed; praised her beauty, her accomplishments,
with an almost passionate admiration in his way of speaking, yet I
remarked a sort of uneasiness in his face too, a kind of shadowing as
though the having to speak of his wife raised thoughts which eclipsed
or dimmed the brightness of the holiday memories he was full of. Still
I was so little sure that when I came to think it over I was convinced
it was mere fancy on my part, or at the worst I took it that, though
he was worth ten thousand a year, she might be making him uneasy by
extravagance, or there might have been a tiff between them before
leaving his home to come to London, the memory of which would worry a
man of his temperament, a creature of nerves, and tainted besides, as
you know. He told me he was in London for a couple of days on a matter
of business, and that he had asked Lady Monson to accompany him, but
she had said it vexed her to leave her baby for even a day, and that it
was out of the question to subject the bairn to the jolting, risks, and
fatigue of a long journey. He looked curiously as he said this, but the
expression fled too nimbly from his face to be determinable.

What was I doing? When would it suit me to visit him? If I had no
better engagement would I return with him? But, though I had missed
nothing of the old cordiality in his greeting and in his conversation
that had reference to our bygone jinks and to his travels, his
invitation--if invitation it could be called--was lifeless. So much so,
indeed, that it was as good or bad as his telling me he did not want me
_then_, however welcome I might be by-and-by. We parted, and I did not
see or hear of him again until he came, as I have related, to tell me
that his wife had eloped with Colonel Hope-Kennedy.

I had now to decide how to act, and I was never more puzzled or
irresolute in the whole course of my life. Had he proposed an ocean
cruise as a mere yachting trip, I should have accepted the offer right
out of hand.

The sea, as a vocation, I did not love; but very different from the
discipline of a man-of-war’s quarter-deck, and the fever-breeding
tedium of stagnant and broiling stations, was the business of
navigating the blue brine in a large richly-equipped yacht, of
chasing the sun as one chose, of storing one’s mind with memories of
the glittering pageantry of noble and shining rivers, and green and
sparkling scenes of country radiant and aromatic with the vegetation
of tropic heights and distant sea-board cities, past the gleam of
the coral strand with a scent of sandalwood in the offshore breeze,
and boats of strange form and rig, gay as aquatic parrots, sliding
along the turquoise surface to the strains of a chant as Asiatic as
the smell of the hubble-bubble. No man ever loved travel more than I;
only, unfortunately, in my time, when I had the right sort of health
and spirit for adventure, journeys by land and by sea were tedious and
fatiguing. Very few steamers were afloat: one might have sought in vain
for a propeller to thrash one to the world’s end with the velocity of
a gale of wind. I had often a mind, after Wilfrid had started on his
voyage to various parts of the world, to follow his example; but I
would shake my head when I came to think of the passenger ship, the
chance of being locked up for months with a score or two of people,
half of whom might prove disagreeable, not to mention indifferent
food and a vile ship’s cook, with weeks of equatorial deadness, and
everything to be gone through again as one went from place to place by
sea, and myself companionless the while.

But a yachting cruise was another matter, and I say I should have
accepted Wilfred’s proposal without an instant’s reflection, even if
I had had to be on board by noon next day, but for the extraordinary
_motive_ of the trip. It was very plain that he had no clear perception
of his own programme. He talked as though everything that happened
would correspond with his anticipations. He seemed cocksure, for
instance, of overhauling the ‘Shark’ in mid-ocean, when in reality the
possibility of such an encounter was so infinitesimally small that no
man in his senses would dream of seriously entering it as an item in
his catalogue of chances. Then, supposing him to miss the ‘Shark,’ he
was equally cocksure of arriving at Table-Bay before her. The ‘Bride’
might be the swifter vessel, but the course was six thousand miles and
more; the run might occupy two and perhaps three, ay, and even four
months, and, though I did not make much of the ‘Shark’s’ five days’
start, yet, even if the ‘Bride’ outsailed her by four feet to one, so
much of the unexpected must enter as conditions of so long a run and so
great a period of time--calms, headwinds, disaster, strong favourable
breezes for the chased, sneaking and baffling draughts of air for the
pursuer--that it was mere madness to reckon with confidence upon the
‘Bride’s’ arrival at Cape Town before the ‘Shark.’ So that, as there
was no certainty at all about it, what was to follow if my cousin
found that the runaways had sailed from Cape Town without leaving the
faintest hint behind them as to their destination!

Moreover, how could one be sure that the Colonel and Lady Monson would
not change their minds and make for American or Mediterranean ports?
Their determination to put the whole world between them and England
was not very intelligible, seeing that our globe is a big one, and
that scoundrels need not travel far to be lost to the eye. If Lady
Monson discovered that she had left behind her the remarkable letter
which Wilfrid had given to me to read, then it would be strange if she
and the Colonel did not change their programme, unless, indeed, they
supposed that Wilfrid would never dream of following them upon the high
seas.

But these were idle speculations; they made no part of my business.
Should I accompany my cousin on as mad an undertaking as ever passion
and distraction could hurry him into? I was heartily grieved for the
poor fellow, and I sincerely desired to be of use to him. It might be
that after we had been chasing for a few weeks his heart would sicken
to the sight hour after hour of the bare sea-line, and then perhaps,
if I were with him, I might come to have influence enough over his
moods to divert him from his resolution, and so steer us home again;
for I would think to myself, grant that we fall in with the ‘Shark,’
what can Wilfred do? Would he arm his men and board her? Yachtsmen are
a peaceful body of sea-farers, and before it could come to a boarding
match and a hand-to-hand fight, he would have to satisfy his crew that
they had signed articles to sell their lives as well as work his ship.
To be sure, if the yachts fell within hail and Sir Wilfrid challenged
the Colonel, the latter would not, it may be supposed, decline the duel.

But, view the proposal as I might, I could see nothing but a mad
scheme in it; and I think it must have been two o’clock in the morning
before I had made up my mind, so heartily did I bother myself with
considerations; and then, after reflecting that there was nothing to
keep me in England, that my cousin had come to me as a brother and
asked me in a sense to stand by him as a brother, that the state of
his mind imposed it almost as a pious obligation upon me to be by his
side in this time of extremity and bitter anguish, that the quest was
practically so aimless--the excursion was almost certain to end on this
side the Cape, or, to put it at the worst, to end at Table Bay, which,
after all, would prove no formidable cruise, but, on the contrary, a
trip that must do me good and kill the autumn months very pleasantly--I
say that, after lengthily reflecting on these and many other points and
possibilities of the project, I made up my mind that I would sail with
him.

Next morning I despatched my man with a note--a brief sentence: ‘_I
will be on board to-morrow by four_,’ and received Wilfrid’s reply,
written in an agitated sprawling hand: ‘_God bless you! Your decision
makes a double-barrelled weapon of my purpose. I have not slept a wink
all night--my fifth night of sleeplessness; but I shall feel easier
when the clipper keel of the “Bride” is shearing through it in hot
and sure pursuit. I start in a quarter of an hour for Southampton.
Laura will be overjoyed to hear that you are to be one of us; from
the moment of my determining to follow that hell-born rascal she has
been exhorting me to choose a companion--of my own sex, I mean, but
it would have to be you or nix. My good angel be praised, ’tis all
right now! We’ll have ’em, we’ll have ’em! Mark me! Would to heaven
the pistol-ball had the power to cause in the heart of a ruffian and
a seducer the intolerable mental torments he works for another ere it
fulfilled its mission by killing him!_’ He signed himself, ‘_Yours ever
affectionately._’

Wild as the tone of this note was, it was less suggestive of excitement
and passion and restlessness than the writing. I locked it away, and
possess it still, and no memorial that I can put my hand on has its
power of lighting up the past. I never look at it without living
again in the veritable atmosphere and colour and emotions of the
long-vanished days.

Being a bachelor, my few affairs which needed attention were speedily
put in order. My requirements in regard to apparel for a voyage to the
Cape I exactly knew, and supplied them in three or four hours. The
railroad to Southampton had been opened some months, so I should be
spared a long and tiresome journey by coach. By ten o’clock that night
I was ready bag and baggage--a creditable performance in a man who for
some years had been used to a lounging, inactive life. I offered to
take my servant, but he told me he was a bad sailor and afraid of the
water, and was without curiosity to view foreign parts; so I paid and
discharged him, not doubting that I should be able to manage very well
without a man; and, leaving what property I could not carry with me in
charge of my landlord, I next morning took my departure for Southampton.

I believe I did not in the least degree realise the nature of the queer
adventure I had consented to embark on until I found myself in a wherry
heading in the direction of a large schooner-yacht that lay a mile away
out upon Southampton Water. She was the ‘Bride,’ the boatman told me,
and the handsomest vessel of her kind that he knew.

‘A finer craft than the “Shark”?’ said I.

‘Whoy yes,’ he answered, ‘bigger by fourteen or fifteen ton, but Oi
dunno about _foiner_. The “Shark” has the sweeter lines, Oi allow; but
that there “Bride,”’ said he with a toss of his head in the direction
of the yacht, sitting with his back upon her as he was, ‘has got the
ocean-going qualities of a line-of-battle ship.’

‘Take a race between them,’ said I, ‘which would prove the better ship?’

‘Whoy, in loight airs the “Shark,” Oi daresay, ’ud creep ahead. In
ratching, too, in small winds she’d go to wind’ard of t’other as
though she was warping that way. But in anything loike a stiff breeze
yonder “Bride” ’ud forereach upon and weather the “Shark” as easy as
swallowing a pint o’ yale, or my name’s Noah, which it ain’t.’

‘The “Shark” has sailed?’

‘Oy, last week.’

‘Where bound to, d’ye know?’

‘Can’t say, Oi’m sure. Oi’ve heerd she was hired by an army gent, and
that, wherever his cruise may carry him to, he ain’t going to be in a
hurry to finish it.’

‘Does he sail alone? Or, perhaps, he takes his wife or children with
him?’

‘Well,’ said the waterman, pausing on his oars a minute or so with
a grin, whilst his damp oyster-like eyes met in a kind of squint on
my face, ‘the night afore the “Shark” sailed Oi fell in with one of
her crew, a chap named Bobby Watt; and on my asking him if this here
military gent was a-going to make the voyage alone he shuts one oye
and says “Jim,” he says, Jim being one of my names, not Noah, “Jim,”
says he, “when soldiers go to sea,” says he, “do they take pairosols
with ’em? and are bonnet boxes to be found ’mongst their luggage? Tell
ye what it is, Jim,” he says, “they can call yachting an innocent
divarsion, but bet your life, Jim,” says he, “’taint all as moral as it
looks!” by which Oi understood,’ said the waterman, falling to his oars
again, ‘that the military gent hain’t sailed alone in the “Shark,” nor
took his wife with him neither, if so be he’s a wedded man.’

We were now rapidly approaching the ‘Bride,’ and as there was little
to be learnt from the waterman, I ceased to question him, whilst I
inspected the yacht as a fabric that was to make me a home for I knew
not how long. Then it was, perhaps, that the full perception of my
undertaking and of my cousin’s undertaking, too, for the matter of
that, broke in upon me with the picture of the fine vessel straining
lightly at her cable, whilst past her ran the liquid slope into airy
distance, where, in the delicate blue blending of azure radiance
floating down and mingling with the dim cerulean light lifting off the
face of the quiet waters, you witnessed a faint vision of dashes of
pale green and gleaming foreshore, with blobs and films of land beyond,
swimming, as it seemed, in the autumn haze and distorted by refraction.
It was the Isle of Wight, and the shore on either hand went yawning to
it till it looked a day’s sail away; and I suppose it was the sense
of distance that came to me with the scene of the horizon past the
yacht, touched with hues illusive enough to look remote, that rendered
realisation of Wilfrid’s wild programme sharp in me as I directed a
critical gaze at the beautiful fabric we were nearing.

And beautiful she was--such a gallant toy as an impassioned sweetheart
would love to present to the woman he adored. In those days the memory
of the superb Baltimore clippers and of the moulded perfections of the
schooners which traded to the Western Islands and to the Mediterranean
for the season’s fruits, was still a vital inspiration among the
shipwrights and yacht-builders of the country. I had never before seen
the ‘Bride,’ but I had no sooner obtained a fair view of her, first
broadside on, then sternwise, as my boatman made for the starboard
gangway, than I fell in love with her. She had the beam and scantling
of a revenue cutter, with high bulwarks, and an elliptical stern, and
a bow with the sheer of a smack, but elegant beyond expression with
its dominating flair at the catheads, where it fell sharpening to a
knife-like cutwater, thence rounding amidships with just enough swell
of the sides to delight a sailor’s eye.

The merest landsman must instantly have recognised in her the fabric
and body of a sea-going craft of the true pattern. This was delightful
to observe. The voyage might prove a long one, with many passages of
storm in it, and the prospect of traversing the great oceans of the
world; and one would naturally want to make sure in one’s floating
home of every quality of staunchness and stability. A vessel, however,
of over two hundred tons burthen in those times was no mean ship.
Crafts of the ‘Bride’s’ dimensions were regularly trading as cargo and
passenger boats to foreign parts; so that little in my day would have
been made of any number of voyages round the world in such a structure
as Sir Wilfrid’s yacht. It is different now. Our ideas have enlarged
with the growth of the huge mail boat, and a voyage in a yacht driven
by steam and of a burthen considerably in excess of many West Indiamen,
which half a century ago were regarded as fine large ships, is
considered a performance remarkable enough to justify the publication
of a book about it, no matter how destitute of interest and incident
the trip may have proved. The fashion of the age favoured gilt, and
forward and about her quarters and stern the ‘Bride’ floated upon the
smooth waters all ablaze with the glory of the westering sun striking
upon the embellishments of golden devices writhing to the shining form
of the semi-nude beauty that, with arms clasped Madonna-wise, sought
with an incomparable air of coyness to conceal the graces of her form
under the powerful projecting spar of the bowsprit; whilst aft the
giltwork, in scrolls, flowers, and the like, with a central wreath as
a frame for the virgin-white letters of the yacht’s name, smote the
satin surface under the counter with the sheen of a sunbeam. All this
brightness and richness was increased by her sheathing of new copper
that rose high upon the glossy bends, and sank with ruddy clearness
under the water, where it flickered like a light there, preserving yet,
even in its tremulous waning, something of the fair proportions of the
submerged parts.

The bulwarks were so tall that it was not until I was close aboard I
could distinguish signs of life on the yacht. I then spied a head over
the rail aft watching me, and on a sudden there sprang up alongside of
it a white parasol edged with black, and the gleam as it looked of a
fair girlish face in the pearly twilight of the white shelter. Then,
as I drew close, the man’s head uprose and I distinguished the odd
physiognomy of my cousin under a large straw hat. He saluted me with a
gloomy gesture of the hand, with something, moreover, in his posture
to suggest that he was apprehensive of being observed by people aboard
adjacent vessels, though I would not swear at this distance of time
that there was anything lying nearer to us than half a mile. You would
have thought some one of consequence had died on board, all was so
quiet. I lifted my hat solemnly in response to Wilfrid’s melancholy
flourish, as though I was visiting the craft to attend a funeral; the
boat then sheered alongside, and, paying the waterman his charges, I
stepped up the short ladder and jumped on deck.



CHAPTER III.

LAURA JENNINGS.


Sir Wilfrid was coming to the gangway as I entered, leaving his
companion, whom I at once understood to be Miss Laura Jennings,
standing near the wheel. He grasped my hand, gazing at me earnestly a
moment or two without speaking, and then exclaimed in a low faltering
voice, ‘You are the dearest fellow to come! you are the dearest fellow
to come! Indeed it is good, true, and noble of you.’

He then turned to a man dressed in a suit of pilot-cloth, with brass
buttons on his waistcoat and a round hat of old sailor fashion on his
head, who stood at a respectful distance looking on, and motioned to
him. He approached.

‘Charles, this is Captain Finn, the master of the yacht. My cousin, Mr.
Monson.’

Finn lifted his hat with a short scrape of his right leg abaft.

‘Glad to see you aboard, sir, glad to see you aboard,’ said he, in a
leather-lunged note that one felt he had difficulty in subduing. ‘A
melancholy errand, Mr. Monson, sir, God deliver us! But we’re jockeying
a real sweetheart, your honour, and if we ain’t soon sticking tight to
Captain Fidler’s skirts I don’t think it’ll be for not being able to
guess his course.’

He shook his head and sighed. But there lay a jolly expression in his
large protruding lobster-like eye that twinkled there like the flame
of a taper--enough of it to make me suspect that his mute-like air and
Ember-week tone of voice was a mere piece of sympathetic acting, and
that he was a merry dog enough when Wilfrid was out of sight.

‘See Mr. Monson’s luggage aboard, captain,’ said my cousin, ‘and stowed
in his cabin, and then get your anchor. There’s nothing to keep us now.’

‘Ay, ay, sir.’

‘Step this way, Charlie, that I may introduce you to my sister-in-law.’

He passed his arm through mine and we walked aft, but I noticed in him
a certain manner of cowering, so to speak, as of one who fears that
he is being watched and talked about--an involuntary illustration of
profound sensitiveness, no doubt, for, as I have said, the yacht lay
lonely, and he was hardly likely to dread the scrutiny of his own men.

The girl he introduced me to seemed about nineteen or twenty years
old. Lady Monson had been described to me as tall, stately, slow in
movement, and of a reposeful expression of face that would have been
deemed spiritless in a person wanting the eloquence of her rich and
tropic charms: so at least my club friend the young baronet had as good
as told me; and it was natural perhaps that I should expect to find her
sister something after her style in height and form, if not in colour.

Instead, she was a woman rather under than above the average stature,
fair in a sort of golden way, by which I wish to convey a complexion of
exquisite softness and purity, very faintly freckled as though a little
gold-dust had been artfully shaken over it--a hue of countenance, so
to speak, that blended most admirably with a great quantity of hair
of a dark gold, whereof there lay upon her brow many little natural
curls and short tresses which her white forehead, shining through them,
refined into a kind of amber colour. Her eyes were of violet with a
merry spirit in them, which defied the neutralising influence of the
sorrowful expression of her mouth. By some she might have been held a
thought too stout, but for my part I could see nothing that was not
perfectly graceful in the curves and lines of her figure. I will not
pretend to describe how she was dressed; in mourning I thought she was
at first when she stood at a distance. She was sombrely clad, to keep
Wilfrid’s melancholy in countenance perhaps, and I dare say she looked
the sweeter and fairer for being thus apparelled, since there is no
wear fitter than dark clothes for setting off such skin and hair as
hers. Indeed, her style of dress and the fashion of her coiffure were
the anticipation of a taste of a much later date. In those days women
brushed their hair into a plaster-like smoothness down the cheeks, then
coiled it behind the ear, and stowed what remained in an ungainly lump
at the back of the head, into which was stuck a big comb. The dress,
again, was loose about the body, as though the least revelation of the
figure were an act of immodesty, and the sleeves were what they called
_gigots_; all details, in short, combining to so ugly a result as to
set me wondering _now_ sometimes that love-making did not come to a
dead stand. Miss Laura Jennings’s dress was cut to show her figure.
The sleeves were tight, and I recollect that she wore gauntlet-shaped
gloves that clothed her arm midway to the elbow.

This which I am writing was my impression, at the instant, of the girl
with whom I was to be associated for a long while upon the ocean, and
with whom I was to share in one adventure, at all events, which I do
not doubt you will accept as amongst the most singular that ever befell
a voyager. She curtsied with a pretty old-world grace to Wilfrid’s
introduction, sending at the same time a sparkling glance full of
spirited criticism through the fringe of her lids, which drooped with a
demureness that was almost coquettish, I thought. Then she brightened
into a frank manner, whilst she extended her hand.

‘I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. Monson; glad indeed to feel sure
_now_ that you will be of our party. Sir Wilfrid has talked of you much
of late. You have acted far more kindly than you can imagine in joining
us.’

‘We have a fine vessel under us, at all events, Miss Jennings,’ said
I, with a look at the unsheltered decks which stretched under the
declining sun white as freshly-peeled almonds. ‘She seems to have been
born with the right kind of soul, Wilfrid; and I think if your skipper
will tell her quietly what is expected of her she will fulfil your
utmost expectations.’

He forced a melancholy smile which swiftly faded, and then, with a
start and a stare over the rail on either hand, he exclaimed, ‘It
makes me uneasy to be on deck, d’ye know. I feel--though ’tis stupid
enough--as if there were eyes _yonder_ and _yonder_ on the watch. This
restlessness will pass when we get to sea. Let us go below, dinner will
be ready by half-past five,’ pulling out his watch, ‘and it is now a
little after four.’

He took his sister-in-law’s hand in a brotherly, boyish way, and the
three of us descended.

The cabin was as shining and sumptuous an interior as ever I was
in, or could imagine, indeed, of a yacht’s internal accommodation.
Mirrors, hand-painted bulkheads, combinations of gilt and cream,
thick carpets, handsome lamps, silver swinging-trays, and twenty more
elegancies which I will not bore you with, made you feel, as you stood
at the foot of the companion steps, as though you had entered some
delicious, sparkling, fragrant little drawing-room. The bedrooms were
at each extremity. The berth allotted to me was a roomy, airy apartment
forward, with a stout bulkhead at the end of the short passage that
effectually closed this part of the craft from whatever might be
amidships and beyond. There was a stand of arms fixed here, and my
thoughts instantly went to Colonel Hope-Kennedy and Lady Monson, and
the crew of the ‘Shark,’ as I counted twenty fowling-pieces with long
polished barrels and bright stocks, with hooks alongside from which
hung a number of cutlasses and pistols of the sort you then found in
the small-arms chests aboard men-of-war. The pattern of these weapons
persuaded me that they had been collected in a hurry, purchased out
of hand off some Southampton or Gosport dealer in such ware. They can
signify but one sort of business, thought I; but, bless my heart! does
he _seriously_ entertain notions of boarding if we fall in with the
craft? And do his men suspect his intentions? And has he provided for
all things by shipping a fighting crew?

I peered into my berth, saw that it would make me as comfortable a
sea bedroom as it was possible to desire, and returned to the cabin,
where Wilfrid and Miss Jennings were sitting, he at a small table right
aft, sprawling upon it with his elbow, his chin in his hand, his face
gloomy with melancholy and anger, and his eyes fixed upon a porthole
through which he might just get a glimpse of green shore with a tremble
of water yellow under the western light steeping to it; she near him
on a short sofa, with her back against the vessel’s side, toying with
her hat which lay in her lap, so that I was now able to see that she
was indeed a very sweet woman to the topmost curl of gold that gleamed
upon her head. Indeed, you seemed to witness her charms as in a light
of her own making. There was something positively phosphoric in the
irradiation on her face and hair, as though in sober truth they were
self-luminous. A couple of fellows were bringing my luggage down the
hatch, but very quietly. I knew they were getting the anchor on deck
by the dim _chink chink_ of the windlass pawls, but I could hear no
other sounds, no singing out of orders, nothing save the pulsing of the
windlass barrel to indicate that we were about to start. There was an
element of solemnity in this our first step, at all events, along the
prodigious liquid highway we were about to enter that was not a little
irksome to me. After all, it was not _my_ wife who had run away, and
whom I was starting in pursuit of, and, though I keenly sympathised
with my cousin, it was impossible that I could feel or look as though I
was broken down by grief.

‘We are not a numerous party,’ said I, in a hearty way, seating myself,
‘one less, indeed, than we bargained for, Wilfrid, for I am without a
servant. My fellow funked the very name of salt water, and there was no
time to replace him.’

‘There are two stewards to wait upon you, and my own valet besides,’
said Wilfrid, bringing his eyes with an effort from the porthole,
through which he was staring, to my face. ‘Trust me to see that you are
made perfectly comfortable.’

‘My dear fellow--_comfortable_! Why this is palatial!’ I cried, with a
comprehensive sweep of my hand round the cabin; ‘much too luxurious, in
my humble opinion; don’t you think so, Miss Jennings? Only figure all
these fine things going down to swell the navies that lie green on the
Atlantic ooze.’

‘The “Bride” is a lovely boat,’ she answered, ‘and very swift, Wilfrid
says.’

‘Swift enough to serve my turn, I expect,’ said he, with what the
Scotch call a _raised_ look coming into his face.

‘But why not come on deck?’ said I; ‘no fear of being noticed, Wilfrid.
Who is there to see us, and who is there to care if anybody _should_
see us?’

He drew his tall, awkward figure together with a shake of the head.

‘Get you on deck by all means, Charles, and take Laura with you if
she will go. I have occupation to last me until the dinner-bell in my
cabin.’

‘Will you accompany me, Miss Jennings?’ said I.

‘Indeed I will,’ she exclaimed with an alacrity that exhibited her as
little disposed as myself to rest passive in the shadow of my cousin’s
heavy, resentful melancholy.

He seized my hand in both his as I rose to escort the girl on deck.
‘God bless you once again, my dear boy, for joining us. Presently I
shall feel the stronger and perhaps the brighter for having you by my
side.’ He looked wistfully, still holding my hand, at Miss Jennings, as
though he would address a word to her too, but on a sudden broke away
with a sigh like a sob, and walked hastily to the after passage, where
his cabin was.

In silence, and much affected, I handed the girl up the companion
steps. Gay and glittering as was the cabin, its inspirations were
but as those of a charnel-house compared with the sense of life and
the quickness of spirit you got by mounting on deck and entering the
shining atmosphere of the autumn afternoon, with the high blue sky
filled with the soft and reddening light of the waning luminary,
whilst already the land on either side was gathering to its green and
gold and brown the tender dyes of the evening. The distance had been
clarified by a small easterly air that had sprung up since I first
stepped on board, and the Isle of Wight hung in a soft pure mass of
many dyes upon the white gleam of the water that brimmed to it. There
was a large frigate, as I imagined her, drawing slowly up past Gosport
way, heading westwards, and the eye fastened upon her with a sort of
wonder; for, though she looked to be hull down, and the merest toy,
and indistinguishable by the careless glance as a sail, yet she was
too defined to pass for a cloud either, whilst the silver brightness
seemed impossible in canvas, and you watched her with a fancy in you
of a large bland star that would be presently afloat in the blue; and
sparkling there on the brow of the rising night. There were a few
vessels of different kinds anchored off Southampton, and the scene in
that direction looked wonderfully fair and peaceful, with the spars of
the craft gilt with sunshine, and a flash in their hulls where paint or
glass caught the declining beam, and past them the higher reaches of
the light blue water with the twinkling of little sails that carried
the gaze shorewards to the town.

All this my sight took in quickly. The men had quitted the windlass,
and were making sail upon the yacht nimbly, but so quietly, even with
a quality of stealth in their manner of pulling and hauling, that we
could not have been a stiller ship had we been a privateersman getting
under way on a dark night with a design of surprising a rich fabric or
of escaping a heavily-armed enemy. They looked a stout crew of men,
attired without the uniformity that is usual in yachting companies in
these days, though the diversity of dress was not sufficiently marked
to offend. I gathered that the vessel carried a mate as well as a
captain, and detected him in the figure of a sturdy little fellow,
with a cast in his eye and a mat of red hair under his chin, who stood
betwixt the knightheads forward, staring aloft at a hand on the topsail
yard. Captain Finn saluted the girl and me with a flourish of a hairy
paw to his hat, but was too full of business to give us further heed.

‘We shall be under way very soon now, Miss Jennings,’ said I; ‘it is a
strange voyage that we are undertaking.’

‘A sad one too,’ she answered.

‘You show a deal of courage in accompanying Wilfrid,’ I exclaimed.

‘I hesitated at first,’ said she, ‘but he seemed so sure of overtaking
the “Shark,” and pressed me so earnestly to join him, believing that
the sight of me, or that by my pleading to--to--’ She faltered,
flushing to the eyes, and half turned from me with such a tremulous
parting of her lips to the gush of the mild breeze, which set a hundred
golden fibres of her hair dancing about her ears, that I expected to
see a tear upon her cheek when she looked at me afresh. I pretended to
be interested in nothing but the movements of the men who were hoisting
the mainsail.

‘What do _you_ think of the voyage, Mr. Monson?’ she exclaimed after a
little pause, though she held her face averted as if waiting for the
flush to fade out of her cheeks.

‘It bothers me considerably,’ I answered; ‘there is nothing to make
heads or tails of in it that I can see.’

‘But why?’ and now she stole a sidelong look at me.

‘Well, first of all,’ I exclaimed, ‘I cannot imagine that there is the
faintest probability of our picking up the “Shark.” She may be below
the horizon, and we may be sailing three or four leagues apart for
days at a stretch, and neither ship with the faintest suspicion of the
other being close. The ocean is too big for a hunt of this sort.’

‘But suppose we _should_ pick her up, to use your term, Mr. Monson?’

‘Suppose it, Miss Jennings, and add this supposition: that the gallant
Colonel’--she frowned at his name, with a sweet curl of horror on her
lip as she looked down--‘who will long before have twigged us, declines
to heave-to or have anything whatever to do with us; what then?’

‘I suggested this to your cousin,’ she answered quickly; ‘it is a most
natural objection to make. He answered that if the “Shark” refused to
stop when he _hailed_ her--that is the proper term, I know--he would
compel her to come to a stand by continuing to fire at her, even if it
came to his sinking her, though his object would be to knock her mast
down to prevent her from sailing.’

I checked a smile at the expression ‘knock her mast down,’ and then
caught myself running my glance round in search of any hint of ordnance
of a persuasive kind; and now it was that I noticed for the first
time, secured amidships of the forecastle, and comfortably housed and
tarpaulined, something that my naval instincts were bound to promptly
interpret into a _Long Tom_, and of formidable calibre too, if the
right sort of hint of it was to be obtained out of its swathing. I
also observed another feature that had escaped me: I mean a bow-port
on either side the bowsprit--a detail of equipment so uncommon in a
pleasure craft as to force me to the conclusion that the apertures had
been quite newly cut and fitted.

I uttered a low whistle, whilst I found my companion’s gaze rooted upon
me with the same critical attention in the spirited blue gleam of it I
had before noticed.

‘Well!’ said I, taking a bit of a breath, ‘upon my word, though, I
should not have thought he had it in him! Yes, yonder’s a remedy,’ I
continued, nodding in the direction of the forecastle, ‘to correspond
with Wilfrid’s intentions if he’s fortunate enough to fall in with the
“Shark.” Will _she_ be armed, I wonder? It would then make the oddest
of all peppering matches.’

‘If the yacht escapes us, we are certain to meet with her at the Cape,’
said Miss Jennings.

It was idle to argue on matters of seamanship with the pretty creature.

‘Wilfrid has said little on the subject to me,’ I remarked. ‘He was
dreadfully overcome when he called to ask me to accompany him. But it
is good and brave of you to enter upon this wild experiment with a
womanly and a sisterly hope of courting the fugitive back to her right
and only resting-place. My cousin will receive her, then?’

‘He means to come between her and the consequences of her--of her
folly,’ said she, colouring again with a flash in her eye and a steady
confrontment of me, ‘let the course he may afterwards make up his mind
to pursue be what it will.’

I saw both distress and a little hint of temper in her face, and
changed the subject.

‘Have you been long in England?’

‘I arrived three months ago at Sherburne Abbey’ (my cousin’s seat in
the North). ‘You know I am an Australian?’

‘Yes, but not through Wilfrid, of whose marriage I should have learned
nothing but for hearing it talked about one day in a club. A young
baronet who had met Lady Monson was loud in her praises. He described
her as a wonderfully beautiful woman, but dark, with fiery Spanish eyes
and raven tresses’; and here I peeped at her own soft violet stars and
sunny hair.

‘Yes, she is beautiful, Mr. Monson,’ she answered sadly, ‘too beautiful
indeed. Her face has proved a fatal gift to her. What madness!’ she
exclaimed, whispering her words almost. ‘And never was there a more
devoted husband than Wilfrid. And her baby--the little lamb! Oh, how
could she do it! how could she do it!’

‘With whom has the child been placed?’ said I.

‘With a cousin--Mrs. Trevor.’

‘Oh, I know, a dear good creature; the bairn will be in excellent
hands.’

‘Sir Wilfrid was too affectionate, Mr. Monson. You know,’ she
continued, looking at me sideways, her face very grave, ‘if you
have ceased to love or to like a person, your aversion will grow in
proportion as he grows fond of you. It is not true, Mr. Monson, that
love begets love. No; if it were true, my sister would be the happiest
of women.’

‘Have you met Colonel Hope-Kennedy?’

‘Oh yes, often and often. He was a very constant visitor at Sherburne
Abbey.’

‘Pretty good-looking?’

‘Tall, very gentlemanly, not by any means handsome to my taste, but I
have no doubt many women would think him so.’

‘The name is familiar to me, but I never met the man. Did he live in
the North?’

‘No; whenever he came to Sherburne Abbey he was your cousin’s guest.’

Phew! thought I. ‘And, of course,’ I said, willing to pursue the
subject afresh, since it did not seem now to embarrass her to refer
to it, whilst I was curious to learn as much of the story as could be
got, ‘my cousin had no suspicion of the scoundrelism of the man he was
entertaining.’

‘No, nor is he to be blamed. He is a gentleman, Mr. Monson, and, like
all fine, generous, amiable natures, very, very slow to distrust
persons whom he has honoured with his friendship. When he came to me
with the news that Henrietta had left him I believed he had gone
_utterly_ mad, knowing him to be just a _little_’--she hesitated, and
ran her eyes over my face as though positively she halted merely to
the notion that perhaps _I_ was a trifle gone too; and then, clasping
her hands before her, and hanging her head so as to look as if she was
speaking with her eyes closed, she went on: ‘I was much with Henrietta,
and often when Colonel Hope-Kennedy was present. I had ridden with
them, had watched them whilst they played billiards--a game my sister
was very fond of--observed them at the piano when she was singing and
he turning the music, or when she accompanied him in a song; he sang
well. But--it might be, it is true, because I was as unsuspicious as
Wilfrid--yet I declare, Mr. Monson, that I never witnessed even so
much as a look exchanged between them of a kind to excite a moment’s
uneasiness. No! Wilfrid cannot be charged with blindness; the acting
was as exquisite as the object was detestable.’ And she flushed up
again, half turning from me with a stride towards the rail and a
wandering look at the green country, which I accepted as a hint that
she wished the subject to drop.

The yacht was now under way. They had catted, and were fishing the
anchor forwards; I noticed that the man I had taken to be the mate had
arrived aft and was at the wheel. The vessel’s head was pointing fair
for the Solent, and already you heard a faint crackling sound like a
delicate rending of satin rising from under the bows, though there was
so little weight in the draught of air that the ‘Bride’ floated without
the least perceptible list or inclination, spite of all plain sail
being upon her with the exception of the top-gallant sail.

‘Fairly started at last, Miss Jennings,’ said I.

She glanced round hastily as though disturbed in an absorbing reverie,
smiled, and then looked sad enough to weep, all in a breath.

Well, it was a solemn moment for her, I must say. She had her maid with
her, it is true; but she was the only lady on board. There was none of
her own quality with whom she could talk apart--no other woman to keep
her in countenance, so to speak, with the sympathy of presence and sex;
she was bound on a trip of which no mortal man could have dated the
termination--an adventure that might carry her all about the world for
aught she knew, for, since she was fully conscious of the very variable
weather of my cousin’s mind, to use the old phrase, she would needs be
too shrewd not to conjecture that many wild and surprising things were
quite likely to happen whilst the power of directing the movements of
the yacht remained his.

And then, again, she was in quest of her sister, without a higher hope
to support her than a fancy--that was the merest dream to my mind,
when I thought of the little baby the woman had left behind her, to
say nothing of her husband--that her passionate entreaties backing
Wilfrid’s appeals might coax her ladyship to quit the side of the
gallant figure she had run away with.

Just then the merry silver tinkling of a bell smartly rung sounded
through the open skylight, and at the same moment the form of a neat
and comely young woman arose in the companion hatch.

‘What is it, Graham?’ inquired Miss Jennings.

‘The first dinner-bell, Miss. The second will ring at the half-hour.’

The girl pulled out a watch of the size of a thumbnail and exclaimed,
‘It is already five o’clock, Mr. Monson. It cannot be a whole hour
since you arrived! I hope the time will pass as quickly when we are at
sea.’

She lingered a moment gazing shorewards, sheltering her eyes
sailor-fashion with an ungloved hand of milk-white softness, on which
sparkled a gem or two; then, giving me a slight bow, she went to
the companion and stepped down the ladder with the grace and ease
of a creature floating on wings. Ho, ho! thought I, she will have
her sea-legs anyhow; no need, therefore, Master Charles, to be _too_
officious with your hand and arm when the hour of tumblefication
comes. But that she was likely to prove a good sailor was a reasonable
conjecture, seeing that she was comparatively fresh from probably a
four months’ passage from Melbourne.

I followed her after a short interval, and then to the summons of
the second dinner-bell entered the cabin. The equipment of the table
rendered festal the sumptuous furniture of this interior with the
sparkle of silver and crystal, and the dyes of wines blending with
the central show of rich flowers. The western sunshine lay upon the
skylight, and the atmosphere was ruddy with it. One is apt to be
curious when in novel situations, and I must confess that yachting in
such a craft as this was something very new to me, not to speak of the
uncommon character one’s experiences at the onset would take from the
motive and conditions of the voyage; and this will prove my apology for
saying that, whilst I stood waiting for Wilfrid and his sister-in-law
to arrive, I bestowed more attention, furtive as it might be, upon
the two stewards and my cousin’s man than I should have thought of
obliging them with ashore. The stewards were commonplace enough, a pair
of trim-built fellows, the head one’s face hard with that habitual air
of solicitude which comes at sea to a man whose duties lie amongst
crockery and bills of fare, and whose leisure is often devoted to dark
and mysterious altercations with the cook; the second steward was
noticeable for nothing but a large strawberry-mark on his left cheek;
but Wilfrid’s man was worth a stare. I had no recollection of him, and
consequently he must have been taken into my cousin’s service since I
was last at the Abbey, as we used to call it. He had the appearance of
a man who had been bred to the business of a mute, a lanthorn-jawed,
yellow, hollow-eyed person whose age might have been five-and-twenty or
five-and-forty; hair as black as coal, glossy as grease, brushed flat
to the tenacity of sticking-plaster, and fitting his egg-shaped skull
like a wig. He was dressed in black, his trousers a little short and
somewhat tight at the ankles, where they revealed a pair of white socks
bulging with a hint of gout over the sides of a pair of pumps. He stood
behind the chair that Wilfrid would take with his hands reverentially
clasped upon his waistcoat, his whole posture indicative of humility
and resignation. Nothing could be more in harmony with the melancholy
nature of our expedition than this fellow’s countenance.

Miss Jennings arrived and took her place; she was followed by my
cousin, who walked to the table with the gait of a person following
a coffin. This sort of thing, thought I, must be suffered for a day
or two, but afterwards, if the air is not to be cleared by a rousing
laugh, it won’t be for lack of any effort on my part to tune up my
pipes.



CHAPTER IV.

IN THE SOLENT.


The dinner was exquisitely cooked, and as perfectly ordered a repast
as the most fastidious could devise or desire; but very little was
said, mainly, I suspect, because our thoughts were filled with the one
subject we could not refer to whilst the attendants hung about us. What
fell was the merest commonplace, but I noticed that whilst Wilfrid ate
little he offered no objection to the frequent replenishing of his
glass with champagne by the melancholy chap who stood behind him.

By-and-by we found ourselves alone.

‘That is very honest port; you need not be afraid of it, Charles,’ said
my cousin. ‘Do you understand gunnery?’

‘I believe I could load a piece and point it,’ said I, smiling, ‘but
beyond _that_----’

‘Have you seen the gun on the forecastle?’

‘Just the outline of a cannon,’ I answered, ‘under a smother of
tarpaulin. What is called a Long Tom, I think.’

‘You will have guessed the object of my mounting it?’ said he, with a
frown darkening his face to one of those angry moods which would sweep
athwart his mind like the deep but flitting shadows of squall clouds
over a gloomy sky sullen with the complexion of storm.

‘Yes; Miss Jennings explained,’ I answered, glancing at her and meeting
her eye, in which I seemed to find the faintest hint of rebuke, as
though she feared I might be laughing in my sleeve. ‘What’s the
calibre, Wilfrid?’

‘Eighteen pounds,’ he answered.

‘An eighteen-pounder, eh! That should bring the “Shark’s” spars about
their ears, though. Let me think: the range of an eighteen-pounder will
be, at an elevation of five degrees, a little over a mile.’

‘If,’ cried my cousin--lifting his hand as though to smite the table,
then bringing his clenched fist softly down, manifestly checked in some
hot impetuous impulse by the sense of the presence of the girl, who
regarded him with a face as serious as though she were listening to
a favourite preacher--‘if,’ he repeated, sobering his voice with the
drooping of his arm, ‘we succeed in overhauling the “Shark,” and they
refuse to heave her to, my purpose is to wreck her aloft, and _then_,
should they show fight, to continue firing at her until I sink her.’

There was a vicious expression in his eyes as he said this, to which
the peculiar indescribable trembling or quivering of the lids imparted
a singular air of cunning.

‘Is the “Shark” armed, do you know?’ said I.

‘She carries a couple of small brass pieces, I believe, for purposes of
signalling. Pop-guns,’ said he, contemptuously. ‘But I fancy she has
an armoury of her own. Lord Winterton was constantly cruising north on
shooting excursions, and it is quite likely that he let the weapons
which belong to him with the yacht.’

‘If Colonel Hope-Kennedy’s programme,’ said I, ‘includes a ramble
amongst the South Sea Islands, you may reckon upon his having equipped
himself with small arms and powder enough, if only with an eye to
man-eating rogues. But to revert to your Long Tom, Wilfrid. It should
not be hard to sink a yacht with such a piece; but you are not for
_murdering_ your wife, my dear fellow?’

‘No, no,’ said he slowly, and speaking to me, though he kept his eyes
fixed upon his sister-in-law, ‘have no fear of that. It is I that am
the murdered man.’ He pressed his hand to his heart. ‘Rather put it
thus: that when they find their vessel hulled and sinking they will get
their boats over and be very willing to be picked up by us.’

‘But your round shot may knock their boats into staves,’ said I, ‘and
what then?’

‘Our own boats will be at hand to rescue them,’ said he, now looking at
me full with an expression of relish of the argument.

‘But, my dear Wilfrid,’ said I, ‘don’t you know that when a craft
founders she has a trick of drowning most of the people aboard her,
and amongst the few survivors, d’ye see, who contrived to support
themselves by whatever lay floating might _not_ be Lady Monson!’

He took a deep breath, and said, so slowly that he seemed to articulate
with difficulty, ‘Be it so. I have made up my mind. If we overhaul the
“Shark” and she declines to heave to, I shall fire into her. The blood
of whatever follows will be upon their heads. This has been forced upon
me; it is none of my seeking. I do not mean that Colonel Hope-Kennedy
shall possess my wife, and I will take her from him alive if possible;
but rest assured I am not to be hindered from separating them though
her death should be the consequence.’

Miss Jennings clasped her fingers upon her forehead and sat motionless,
looking down. For a little I was both startled and bewildered; one
moment he talked as though his wish was that his wife should not
be harmed, and the next, in some concealed convulsion of wrath, he
betrayed a far blacker resolution than ever I could have imagined
him capable of. Yet in the brief silence that followed I had time to
rid myself of my little fit of consternation by considering, first
of all, that he was now talking just as, according to my notion, he
was acting--insanely; next, that it was a thousand to one against our
falling in with the yacht; and again, supposing we came up with her, it
was not very probable that the crew of the ‘Bride’ could be tempted,
even by heavy bribes, into a measure that might put them in jeopardy of
their necks or their liberty.

It was new dark, and the cabin lamps had been for some time lighted.
The evening looked black against the portholes and the skylight, but
the cheerfulness and beauty of the cabin were greatly heightened by
the sparkling of the oil-flames in the mirrors, the swing-trays, the
glass-like surface of the bulkheads, and so on. Miss Laura’s golden
loveliness--do not laugh at my poor nautical attempts to put this
amber-coloured, violet-eyed woman before you--showed, as one may
well suppose of such a complexion and tints, incomparably perfect,
I thought, in the soft though rich radiance diffused by the burning
sperm. I wondered that she should listen so passively to Wilfrid’s
confession of his intentions should we overhaul the ‘Shark.’ My gaze
went to her as he concluded that little speech I have just set down;
but I witnessed no alteration in as much of her face as was visible,
nor any stir as of one startled or shocked in her posture. Possibly
she did not master all the significance of his words; for how should
a girl realise the full meaning of plumping round shot out of an
eighteen-pounder into a vessel till she was made a sieve of? Or it
might be that she was of my mind in regarding the expedition as a
lunatic undertaking, and in suspecting that a few weeks of this ocean
hunt would sicken Wilfrid of his determination to chase the ‘Shark’
round the world. Or mingled with these fancies, besides, there might be
enough of violent resentment against her sister, of grief, pain, shame,
to enable her to listen with an unmoved countenance to fiercer and
wilder menaces than Wilfrid had as yet delivered himself of.

These thoughts occupied my mind during the short spell of silence that
followed my cousin’s speech. He suddenly rang a little handbell, and
his melancholy servant came sliding up to him out of the after cabin.

‘Tell Captain Finn I wish to see him--that is, if he can leave the
deck.’

The fellow mounted the steps.

‘What is the name of that gloomy-looking man of yours, Wilfrid?’

‘Muffin,’ he answered.

‘Have I not seen somebody wonderfully like him,’ said I, ‘holding on
with drunken gravity to the top of a hearse trotting home from the last
public-house along the road from the graveyard?’

Miss Laura laughed; and there was a girlish freshness and arch
cordiality in her laughter that must have put me into a good humour,
I think, had it been _my_ wife instead of Wilfrid’s that Colonel
Hope-Kennedy was sailing away with.

‘Maybe, Charles, maybe,’ he answered, with a dull smile; ‘he may have
been an undertaker’s man for all I know; though I doubt it, because
I had him from Lord ---- with a five years’ character, every word of
which has proved true. But I knew you would have your joke. The fellow
fits my temper to a hair; he has a hearse-like face, I admit; but then
he is the quietest man in the world--a very ghost; summon him, and if
he shaped himself out of thin air he couldn’t appear at your elbow more
noiselessly. That’s his main recommendation to me. Any kind of noise
now I find distracting; even music--Laura will tell you that I’ll run a
mile to escape the sound of a piano.’

At this moment a pair of pilot breeches showed themselves in the
companion-way, and down came Captain Finn. As he stood, hat in hand,
soberly clothed, with nothing more gimcrack in the way of finery upon
him than a row of brass waistcoat-buttons, I thought he looked a very
proper, sailorly sort of man. There was no lack of intelligence in his
eyes, which protruded, as from a long habit of staring too eagerly to
windward, and trying to see into the inside of gales of wind. He was
remarkable, however, for a face that was out of all proportion too
long, not for the width of his head only, but for his body; whilst his
legs, on the other hand, were as much too short, so that he submitted
himself as a person whose capacity of growth had been experimentally
distributed, insomuch that his legs appeared to have come to a full
stop when he was still a youth, whilst in his face the active principle
of elongation had continued laborious until long after the term when
Nature should have made an end.

‘A glass of wine, captain?’ said Sir Wilfrid.

‘Thank your honour. Need makes the old wife trot, they say, and I feel
a-dry--I feel a-dry.’

‘Put your hat down and sit, Finn. I want you to give my cousin, Mr.
Monson, your views respecting this--this voyage. But first, where are
we?’

‘Why,’ answered the captain, balancing the wine-glass awkwardly betwixt
a thumb and a forefinger that resembled nothing so much as a brace
of stumpy carrots, whilst he directed a nervous look from Wilfrid to
me and on to Miss Laura, as though he would have us observe that he
addressed us generally; ‘there’s Yarmouth lights opening down over
the port bow, and I reckon to be clear of the Solent by about three
bells--half-past nine o’clock.’

‘The navigation hereabouts,’ said I, ‘needs a bright look-out. The
captain may not thank us for calling him below.’

‘Lord love ’ee, Mr. Monson, sir,’ he answered, ‘the mate, Jacob Crimp,
him with the one eye slewed--if so be as you’ve noticed the man,
sir--he’s at the helm, and I’d trust him for any inshore navigation,
from the Good’ens to the Start, blindfolded. Why, he knows his
soundings by the smell of the mud.’

‘How is the weather?’ inquired my cousin.

‘Fine, clear night, sir; the stars plentiful and the moon arising; the
wind’s drawed a bit norradly, and’s briskening at that; yet it keeps a
draught, with nothing noticeable in the shape of weight in it. Well,
your honour, and you, Mr. Monson, sir, and you, my lady, all I’m sure I
can say, is, here’s luck,’ and down went the wine.

‘Captain,’ said Sir Wilfrid, ‘oblige me by giving Mr. Monson your views
of the chase we have started upon.’

Finn put down the wine-glass and dried his lips on a pocket
handkerchief of the size of a small ensign.

‘Well,’ he began, with a nervous uneasy twisting about of his legs and
feet, ‘my view’s this: Fidler isn’t likely to take any other road to
the Cape than the one that’s followed by the Indiemen. Now,’ said he,
laying a forefinger in the palm of his big hand, yellow still with
ancient stains of tar, whilst Wilfrid watched him in his near-sighted
way, leaning forward in the posture of one absorbed by what is said,
‘you may take that there road as skirting the Bay o’ Biscay and
striking the latitude of forty at about fifteen degrees east; then a
south by west half west course for the Canaries; the Equator to be cut
at twenty-five degrees west, and a straight course for Trinidad to
follow with a clean brace up to the South-east trades. What d’ye think,
sir?’

‘Oh, ’tis about the road, no doubt,’ said I, for whatever might have
been my thoughts, I had no intention to drop a discouraging syllable
then before Finn in my cousin’s hearing.

‘But,’ said the captain, eyeing me nervously and anxiously, ‘if so be
as we should have the luck to fall into that there “Shark’s” wake, you
know, we shan’t need to trouble ourselves with the course to the Cape
south of the Equator.’

‘Of course not,’ exclaimed Sir Wilfrid.

‘By which I mean to say,’ continued the captain, giving his back hair a
pull as though it were some bell-rope with which he desired to ring up
the invention or imagination that lay drowsy in his brain, ‘that if we
aren’t on to the “Shark” this side the Line it’ll be better for us to
tarn to and make up our mind to crack on all for Table Bay to be there
afore her, without further troubling ourselves about her heaving in
sight, though, of course, the same bright look-out’ll be kept.’

‘Good,’ said Wilfrid with a heavy emphatic nod; ‘that’s not to be
bettered, I think, Charles.’

‘I suppose,’ said I, addressing Finn, ‘that, though your hope will be
to pick up the “Shark” any day after a given period, and though you’ll
follow the scent of her as closely as your conjecture of Fidler’s
navigation will admit, you will still go on sweating--pray pardon this
word in its sea sense, Miss Jennings--your craft as though the one
business of the expedition was to make the swiftest possible passage to
the Cape of Good Hope?’

‘Ay, never sparing a cloth, sir, and she’s something to jockey, Mr.
Monson. You don’t know her yet, sir.’

‘The “Shark”’s a fore-and-aft schooner?’

‘Yes,’ he answered.

‘She carries a square sail, no doubt?’

‘Ay, a big ’un, but good only for running, and we ain’t without that
canvas, too, you must know,’ he added with the twinkle of humour in his
gaze that I had observed in him when Wilfrid had first made him known
to me. ‘Enough of it, Mr. Monson, to hold wind to serve a Dutchman
for a week, not to mention a torps’l and a t’gallants’l fit for a
line-o’-battle ship to ratch under.’

This was vague talk, but it pleased Wilfrid.

‘Square yards are very well,’ said I; ‘but surely they don’t allow a
vessel to look up to it as though her canvas was fore and aft only?
I merely ask for information. My marine experiences were limited to
square rigs.’

‘There’s nothen to prevent the “Bride” from looking up to it as close
as the “Shark,”’ answered Finn. ‘The yards’ll lie fore and aft; what’s
to hinder them? There ain’t no spread, sir, like what you get in ships
with your futtock rigging and backstays and shrouds in the road of
the slings elbowing their way to channels big enough for a ball-room.
Besides,’ he added, ‘suppose it should be a matter of a quarter of a
pint’s difference, we need but stow the square cloths, and then we
ain’t no worse off than the “Shark.”’

‘True,’ said I, thinking more of Miss Jennings than of what Finn was
saying: so perfect a picture of girlish beauty did she happen to be
at that instant as she leaned on her elbow, supporting her chin with
a small white hand, her form in a posture that left one side of her
face in shadow, whilst the other side lay bright, golden, and soft in
the lamplight over the table. She was listening with charming gravity,
and a countenance of sympathy whose tenderness was unimpaired by an
appearance of attention that I could not doubt was just a little
forced, since our sailor talk could not but be Greek to her. Besides,
at intervals, there was a lift of the white lid, a gleam of the violet
eye, which was like assuring one that thought was kept in the direction
of our conversation only by constraint.

I was beginning to feel the want of a cigar, and I had been sitting
long enough now to make me pine for a few turns on deck, but I durst
not be abrupt in the face of my cousin’s devouring stare at his skipper
and the pathetic spectacle of the contending passions in him as he
hearkened, now nodding, now gloomily smiling, now lying back on a
sudden with a frown which he made as if to smooth out by pressing his
hand to his brow.

‘The “Shark,”’ said I, ‘has five days’ start of us. Give her a hundred
miles a day, for the mere sake of argument; she should be, at that,
well in the heart of the Bay.’

‘By Heaven! within arm’s length of us, when you put it so!’ cried
Wilfrid, extending his hand in a wild, darting, irrelevant gesture, and
closing his fingers with a snap as though upon some phantom throat he
had seen and thought to clutch.

‘Five hundred miles,’ exclaimed Finn, apparently giving no heed to the
baronet’s action. ‘Well, sir, as a bit of supposing, there’s no harm
in it. It might be more. _I_ should allow less. There’s been no weight
of wind down Channel. What’s happened then to blow her along? But
there’s no telling. Anyhow,’ said he, picking up his cap and rising,
‘there’s nothing in five hundred miles, no, nor in a thousand, to make
us anxious with such a race-course as lies afore us. ’Tain’t as if we’d
got to catch the craft before she’d made Madeira.’ He paused, looking a
little irresolute, and then said, addressing Wilfrid, ‘I don’t know if
there’s anything more your honour would like to ask of me?’

‘No, not for the moment,’ answered my cousin dully, with the air of a
man languid with a sudden sense of weariness or exhaustion following
some internal fiery perturbation; ‘it is just this, Finn. Mr. Monson
served in the Royal Navy for a few years, and I was anxious that he
should be at once made acquainted with your views, so that he and you
could combine your experiences. You have chased in your time, Charles,
no doubt!’

‘Not very often, and then always something that was in sight,’ I
answered with a slight glance at Finn, whose gaze instantly fell whilst
he exclaimed:

‘Well, sir, any suggestion you can make I’ll be mighty thankful to
receive. But it’ll be all plain sailing, I don’t doubt; it’ll be all
plain sailing,’ he repeated, rumbling out the words in a stifled
hurricane note, and, giving us a bow, he went up the steps.

Wilfrid gazed at me vacantly when I proposed a cigar on deck.

‘What do you think of Finn?’ he asked.

‘He seems as honest a man and as practical a seaman as needs be. But he
has had command of this yacht since you bought her?’

He nodded. ‘Well then, of course, you know all about him. He has
clearly been a merchant Jack in his day, and has all necessary
experience, I dare say, to qualify him for this charge. But I say,
Wilfrid, let us go on deck, my dear fellow. Miss Jennings, I am sure,
will not object to the scent of a cigar in the open air.’

‘Nor down here either,’ she exclaimed.

‘I shall remember that,’ said I gratefully. ‘Now, Wilfrid, won’t
you----?’

‘No,’ he interrupted; ‘I am drowsy, and thank Heaven for a sensation
that threatens to become a novelty. If I get no rest to-night it will
be my eighth of sleeplessness, and I must humour myself; yes, I must
humour myself,’ he repeated, talking in a sort of muttering way, and
rising.

I advised him by all means to withdraw if he really felt tired, and
further recommended a boatswain’s caulker of whisky to top off the
champagne and port he had been swallowing.

‘How will you amuse yourself, Laura?’ he exclaimed, turning to her. ‘It
will be dull work for you, I fear.’

‘No, no,’ cried I blithely, ‘why need Miss Jennings be dull? It must be
our business to keep her lively.’

‘I can sit and read here,’ said she, ‘till it is time to go to bed.
What is the hour, Mr. Monson?’

‘Just on the stroke of eight,’ said I.

She made a pretty little grimace, and then burst into one of her
refreshing cordial laughs.

‘A little early for bed, Wilfrid,’ she exclaimed.

He smothered a yawn and responded: ‘I will leave you to Charles. Would
to Heaven I had his spirits! God bless you both--good night.’

He rang for his valet and stalked with hanging arms and drooping head,
in the most melancholy manner picturable, to his cabin. I asked Miss
Jennings to accompany me on deck.

‘There is a moon in the air,’ said I; ‘you may see the haze of it
through this porthole; but I must not forget that it is an autumn
night so let me beg you to wrap yourself up warmly whilst I slip on a
pea-coat.’

I fancied she hung in the wind an instant, as a girl might who could
not promptly see her way to walking the deck of a yacht alone with
a young man on a moonlight or any other night, but she assented so
quickly in reality that I dare say my suspicion was an idle and
groundless bit of sensitiveness. Five minutes later we were on deck
together.

The yacht was floating through the dusk--that was tinctured into
glimmering pearl by the broad face of the silver moon, which had
already climbed several degrees above the black sky-line of the Isle of
Wight--without the least perceptible stir or tremor in her frame. The
wind was well abaft the starboard beam; the great main boom overhung
the port quarter; the white sail rose wan to the moonshine with a large
gaff topsail above it--for those were the days of gaffs--dimming into
a space of airy faintness to the masthead, above the white button of
whose truck you caught the icy gleam of a metal vane as though it was a
piece of meteoric scoring under the dust of the stars that hovered in
the velvet gloom like a sheet of undulating silver glooming out into
hollows in places. Light as the breeze was, and following us besides,
it held the canvas asleep; but that every cloud-like cloth was doing
its work, too, the ear quickly noted in the pleasant fountain-like
sounds of running waters over the side, with a cool seething noise in
the wake and a fairy tinkling of exploding foam-bells. The land to port
loomed black against the moonshine, save where some slope or other
catching the slanting beam showed the faint green of its herbage or
wooded growths in a very phantasm of hue, like some verdant stretch of
land dyeing an attenuated veil of vapour witnessed afar upon the ocean.
Over the port bow I caught sight of a light or two a long way down the
dusky reach, as it seemed, with a brighter gleam to starboard where
the land, catching the moonlight, came in visionary streaks and breaks
to abeam and on past the quarter where it seemed to melt out into some
twinkling beacon--off Calshot Castle, maybe, so far astern it looked.

I spied the sturdy figure of the mate standing beside the wheel, no
longer steering, but manifestly conning the yacht. The skipper was
abreast of the skylight, leaning over the rail with his arm round a
backstay; there were figures moving forward tipping the gloom there
with the scarlet points of glowing bowls of tobacco, but if they
conversed it was in whispers. The stillness was scarce imaginable. It
was heightened yet even to my fancy presently when, growing used to the
light, I spied the phantom figure of what was apparently a large brig
clouded to her royals with pale canvas stemming the Solent, outward
bound, some half a mile distant.

‘There is no dew,’ said I; ‘the moon shines purely, and is full of
promise so far as fine weather goes. Well! here we are fairly started
indeed. It is almost a dream to me, Miss Jennings, d’ye know?’ I
continued, staring about me. ‘Three days ago I had no notice of
anything having gone wrong with my cousin, and therefore little
dreamt, as you will suppose, of what I was to enter upon this blessed
afternoon. Three days ago! And now here am I heading into God knows
what part of this mighty globe of ocean as empty of all theory of
destination as though I were bound in a balloon to the part the poets
call interstellar space. How is it all to end, I wonder?’

She was pacing quietly by my side.

‘You think the pursuit a silly one, Mr. Monson?’

‘Yes, I do, and Wilfrid _knows_ that I do. If he were not----He is my
cousin, Miss Jennings, and a dear friend, and you are his sister-in-law
and dear to him, too, I am sure, and so I dare be candid with you. If
it were not that he--’ (I touched my forehead) ‘would he embark on such
a quest as this?’

‘Yes,’ she replied, with just enough of heat or temper, or whatever you
like to call it, in her voice to render her utterance distinct with
unconscious emphasis; ‘he adored his wife. Can a man tear his love into
pieces in a day, as though it were no more than a tedious old letter?
He thinks he hates her; he does so in a sense, no doubt; but in a
sense, too, he still worships her. Mad! that is what you mean.’

I was beginning to protest.

‘Yes, it _is_ what you mean, and you are right and wrong. If he does
not pursue her, if he does not recover her, she is lost for ever. She
is lost now, you will tell me. Ay,’ she cried with a little stamp,
‘lost so far as her husband’s heart goes, so far as her honour is
concerned; but not so utterly lost as she will later be if she is not
rescued from that--that man, who must be so served, Mr. Monson, as to
render it impossible for him ever again to trouble the peace of another
home, to break the heart of a noble-minded creature and rob a little
infant of its mother. Hate him! Oh, girl as I am, I declare before my
Maker I would shoot him with my own hand!’

There was nothing in the least degree theatrical in her way of
speaking. The words came in a hurry to her lips from her indignant
heart, and I heard the sincerity of them so clearly in the mere
utterance, I did not doubt for an instant that, put a pistol in her
hand and set up the figure of the Colonel in front of her, she would
have sought for his heart, if he had one, with the barrel of the weapon
without so much as a sigh at having to kill him. I felt abashed; her
sincerity and resentment were overwhelming; her strength of feeling,
too, won a peculiar accentuation from the character of airy delicacy,
of tender fragility, the moonlight gave to her fair and golden beauty.
It was like listening to a volume of sounds poured forth by a singing
bird, and wondering that such far-reaching melody should be produced by
so small a creature.

‘I fear,’ said I, ‘you don’t think me very sincere in my sympathy with
Wilfrid----’

‘Oh, yes, Mr. Monson,’ she interrupted; ‘do not suppose such a thing.
It is not to be imagined that you should take this cruel and miserable
affair to heart as he does, or feel it as I do, who am her sister.’

‘The truth is,’ said I, ‘it is impossible for a bachelor not to take
a cynical view of troubles of this sort. A man was charged with the
murder of his sweetheart. The judge said to him, “Had the woman been
your wife, your guilt would not have been so great, because you would
have no other means of getting rid of her save by killing her; but
the unhappy creature whose throat you cut you could have sent adrift
without trouble.” What I mean to say is, Miss Jennings, that a husband
does not merit half the pity that is felt for him if his wife elopes.
He is easily quit of a woman who is his wife only by name. I am for
pitying _her_. The inevitable sequel--the disgrace, desertion, and
the rest of it--is as punctual as the indication of the hands of a
clock.... But see how nimbly the “Bride” floats through all this
darkness and quietude. We shall be passing that vessel shortly, and yet
for canvas she might really be one of the pyramids of Egypt towing down
Channel.’

We went to the rail to look, I, for one, glad enough to change the
subject, for it was nothing less than profanity to be arguing with so
sweet a little woman as this--in the pure white shining of the moon,
too, and with something of an ocean freshness of atmosphere all about
us--on such a gangrenous subject as the elopement of Lady Monson with
Colonel Hope-Kennedy. Out of all my sea-going experiences I could not
pick a fairer picture than was made by the brig we were passing, clad
as she was in moonlight, and rising in steam-coloured spaces to mere
films of royals motionless under the stars. She was a man-of-war; the
white of her broad band, that was broken by black ports, gleamed like
the ivory of pianoforte keys; her canvas was exquisitely out and set,
and trimmed as naval men know how--one yardarm looking backwards a
little over another, the rounded silent cloths, faint in the radiance
with a gleam as of alabaster showing through a delicate haze, and high
aloft the tremor of a pennant like the expiring trail of a shooting
star. All was as hushed as death upon her; her high bulwarks concealed
her decks; nothing was to be seen stirring along the whole length of
the shapely, beautiful, visionary fabric that, as we left her slowly
veering away upon our quarter, looked to lose the substance of her
form, as though through the gradual absorption of the light her own
white canvas made by the clearer and icy radiance of the soaring moon.

‘To think now,’ said I, ‘of the thunder of adamantine lips concealed
within the silence of that heap of swimming faintness! How amazing the
change from the exquisite repose she suggests to the fierce crimson
blaze and headlong detonations of a broadside flashing up the dark
land and dying out miles away in a sullen roar. But, d’ye know, Miss
Jennings, I shall grow poetical if I do not light another cigar. Women
should encourage men to smoke. Nothing keeps them quieter.’

We exchanged a few words with Captain Finn, who, together with the
mate, was keeping a bright look-out, and then resumed our walk, and
in a quiet chat that was ended only by a small bell on the forecastle
announcing the hour of ten by four chimes, Miss Laura gave me the story
of my cousin’s introduction to her family, described the marriage,
talked to me about Melbourne and her home there, with more to the same
purpose, all very interesting to me, though it would make the merest
parish gossip in print. Her mother was dead; her father was a hearty
man of sixty who had emigrated years before in dire poverty, ‘as you
will suppose,’ said she, ‘when I tell you that he was the son of a
dissenting minister who had a family of twelve children, and who died
without leaving money enough to pay for his funeral.’ Mr. Jennings had
made a fortune by squatting, but he had lost a considerable sum within
the past few years by stupid speculation, and as Miss Laura said this
I could see, by hearing her (to use a Paddyism), the pout of lip; for,
bright as the moonlight was, the silver of it blended with the golden
tint of her hair without defining any feature of her clearly saving
her eyes, in which the beam of the planet would sparkle like a diamond
whenever she raised them to my face. She told me her father was very
proud that his daughter should become a lady of title, and yet he
opposed the marriage, too. In short, he saw that Wilfrid’s mind was
not as sound as it should be, though he never could point to any act
or speech to justify his misgivings. But this was intelligible enough;
for, to speak of my cousin as I remembered him in earlier times, the
notion you got that he was not straight-headed, as I have before said,
was from his face, and the suspicion lay but dully in one, so rational
was his behaviour, so polished and often intellectual his talk; till on
a sudden it was sharpened into conviction on your hearing that there
was insanity in his mother’s family.

‘What had Lady Monson to say to your father’s misgivings?’ I inquired.

‘She accepted him, and insisted upon marrying him. He was wonderfully
fond of her, Mr. Monson.’

‘And she?’

I saw her give her head a little shake, but she made no reply. Perhaps
she considered that this trip we had started on sufficiently answered
the question. She said, after a brief pause, ‘I myself thought my
father a great deal too critical in his estimate of Sir Wilfrid. No
one talked more delightfully than your cousin. He was a favourite with
everybody whom he met at Melbourne. He was fresh from his travels,
and was full of entertaining stories and shrewd observations; and
then, again, he had much to say about European capitals, of English
university life, of English Society--you will not need me to tell you
that we Colonials have little weaknesses in regard to lords and ladies
and to the doings of high life, from which people in England are quite
exempt, and for the having which I fear we are slightly sneered at and
a good deal wondered at.’

I caught the sparkle of her lifted eye.

‘And pray, Miss Jennings,’ said I, ‘what would your papa think if he
were to know that you had embarked on what, I must still take the
liberty of calling, a very queer voyage?’

‘Oh,’ she cried quickly and almost hysterically, ‘don’t ask me what he
would think of what I am doing! What will be his thoughts when he gets
the news of what Henrietta has done?’

She turned her head away from me, and kept it averted long enough to
make me suspect that there was a tear in her eye. It was then that a
sailor forward struck the forecastle bell four times.

‘Ten o’clock!’ she exclaimed, knowing as an ocean traveller how to
interpret sea time. ‘Good-night, Mr. Monson.’

I handed her down the companion-steps, and went to my own cabin, and
was presently in my bunk. But it was after seven bells, half-past
eleven, before I fell asleep.

The breeze had freshened--had drawn apparently more yet to the
northward; and the yacht, having hauled it a bit now that we were out
of the Solent, was leaning over a trifle with a sputtering and frisky
snapping of froth along her bends and a quiet moaning sounding down
into her heart out of the hollows of her canvas, whilst an occasional
creak, breaking from one knew not what part of the structure, hinted
at a taut drag of tacks and sheets, though there was no motion in the
water, over whose surface our keel slided as steadily as a sleigh over
a snow-covered plain.

It was one thing on top of another, I suppose; the fancies put into me
by the oddness of this adventure; the memory of the long gun forward;
Wilfrid’s tragic intentions, the darker to my mind because it was so
easy for me to see how grief, wrath, a sense of dishonour, bitter
injury, with impulses not imaginable by me which every recurrence to
the motherless little baby at home would visit him with, had quickened
in him of late the deadly seminal principle that circulated in his
blood. Then again, there was Miss Laura’s beauty, if beauty be the
proper term to express a combination of physical charms which a brief
felicitous sentence like a single line from some old poet would better
convey than fifty pages of description; her conversation; her sympathy
with the motive of this trip; her apparent heedlessness as to the time
to be occupied by it; her indifference as to the magnitude of the
programme that Wilfrid’s resolution to recover his wife might end in
framing, if Table Bay should prove but a starting-point--I say it was
one thing on top of another; and all reflections and considerations
being rendered acute by the spirit of life one now felt in the yacht,
and that awakened the most dormant or puzzled faculty to the perception
that it was all grim, downright earnest, small wonder that I should
have lain awake until half-past eleven. Indeed that I should have
snatched a wink of sleep that first blessed night is a mystery only
to be partially resolved by reflecting that I was young, heedless,
‘unencumbered’ as they say, a lover of adventure, and in no sense
dissatisfied by the company I found myself among.



CHAPTER V.

LONG TOM.


When I awoke the morning was streaming a windy light through the
port-hole over my bunk. I lay a few minutes watching my coat and other
suspended garments swinging against the bulkhead, and listening to the
creaking and groanings of partitions and strong fastenings, and to a
muffled humming sound that was like the distant continuous roll of a
drum mixed with a faint seething that sent one’s fancy to the shingle
of the English shore, and to the panting respiration of the recoiling
breaker upon it; and then I guessed that there was a fresh breeze
blowing.

I tumbled out of bed and stood awhile, partly with the notion of
making sure of my sea-legs, and partly to discover if I was likely to
be sea-sick. Finding myself happily sound in all ways, I drew on some
clothing and looked out. Wilfrid’s melancholy man sat at the cabin
table, leaning his head upon his elbow, with his fingers penetrating
the black plaister of hair over his brow, so that he presented a very
dejected and disordered appearance. I called to him; he looked in my
direction with a wandering eye, struggled to get up, put his hand upon
his stomach with an odd smile and sat again. I entered the cabin to see
what ailed the fellow.

‘What’s the matter with you?’ said I. ‘Sick?’

He turned his hollow yellow face upon me, and I saw that he was in
liquor.

‘It’s here, sir,’ he exclaimed, pointing with an inebriated forefinger
to the lower button of his waistcoat; ‘it’s a feelin’, sir, as if I was
a globe, sir, with gold and silver fishes a-swimming round and round,
and poking of their noses against me to get out.’

He spoke respectfully, but thickly, with sundry little feints at
rising, as though very sensible that he should not be sitting whilst I
stood.

‘Try a dose of brandy,’ said I, satirically.

‘Do you think it will help me, sir?’ he inquired, pulling his fingers
out of his hair and clasping his hands upon his waistcoat, whilst his
lips went twisting into an intoxicated grin on one side of his nose, as
it looked. ‘I will try it, Mr. Monson, sir. There’s a something here as
wants settling, sir. I never was partial to the hocean, sir.’

He was proceeding, but just then the second steward came below, on
which I quitted the melancholy man, ordered a cold salt-water bath and
a hot cup of coffee, and was presently on deck. It was a windy-looking
morning, the sky high, grey, compacted; with here and there a dark curl
of scud in chase of some bald lump of sulphur-coloured cloud blowing
away to leeward like the first ball of powder smoke from a cannon’s
mouth ere the wind has had time to shred it. The water was green,
a true Channel sea with the foam of the curled ridges dazzling out
in times to the touch of a wet, pale beam of sunshine dropping in a
lance of light in some breathless moment through one of the dim blue
lines that here and there veined the dulness aloft. There was no land
to be seen; the haze of the sea-line ran the water into the sky, and
the green of the horizon went blending into the soft greyness of the
heavens till it looked all one with a difference of colour only.

The yacht was bowling through it at a noble pace; the wind sat as it
should for such a craft as the ‘Bride’; the sea had quartered her and
swept in hillocks of foam along her lustrous bends, sending an impulse
to her floating rushes with every pale boiling of it to her frame, and
the sputter and creaming all about her bows, and the swirl of the snow
over the lee rail, and the milk-white race of wake rising and falling
fan-shaped astern prismatic with the glint of chips and bubbles and
feathers of spume swept out of the giddiness by the rush of the wind,
might have made you think yourself aboard a ship of a thousand tons.
Upon my word it was as though the ‘Bride’ had got the scent and knew
that the ‘Shark’ was not far distant. Finn was not sparing her. He
was to windward, close beside the wheel, as I emerged, and I knew he
watched me whilst I stood a moment in the hatch looking from the huge
thunderous hollow of the mainsail to the yawn of the big square-sail
they had clapped upon her with the whole square topsail atop of _it_,
topgallant sail stowed, but the jibs yearning from their sheets taut as
fiddle-strings, as though they would bodily uproot the timber and iron
to which they were belayed.

Something of the exhilaration of a real chase came into one with the
glad roaring aloft and the saw-like spitting at the cutwater, and
the sullen crash of the arching billow repulsed by the cleaving bow;
and it was the instinct in me, I suppose, due to my early training
and recollection of the long pursuit of more than one polacre and
nimble-heeled schooner flush to the hatches with a living ebony cargo
that made me send a look sheer over the bows in search of some shining
quarry there.

There were three or four coasters in a huddle on the weather beam,
their outlines sharp, but their substance of a dingy black against
the yellowish glare of light over the water that way as though the
East were finding reflection in it; and to leeward, a mile off, a
full-rigged sailing ship on a bowline bound up Channel, and plunging
her round bows with clumsy viciousness into the green hollows with a
frequent lift of white water to above the cathead, where it blew in a
storm of crystals into the head canvas.

‘Good morning, captain.’

‘Good morning, sir,’ answered Finn, knuckling his forehead in the
old-fashioned style. ‘Nice little breeze of wind, sir.’

‘Ay, one could pray for nothing better,’ said I, crossing over to him.
‘You’ve got a fine craft here certainly, captain; no stint of beam, and
bulwarks stout and tall enough to serve the purpose of a pirate. And
how finely she rounds forward to the eyes! Hillo! getting ready with
your gun so soon?’

‘No, sir, only a cleaning of him,’ he answered with a grin.

They had removed the tarpaulin, and there stood the long piece, with a
couple of seamen hard at work furbishing it up.

‘D’ye think,’ said I, making a step or two towards the rail to bring us
out of earshot of the fellow who was standing at the wheel, ‘that Sir
Wilfrid really means to let fly at the “Shark” should we overhaul her,
if she refuses to heave to?’

‘I don’t doubt it, sir.’

‘But how about your crew? Will they be willing, think you, to fire
into a vessel that’s a yacht like their own ship, that hails from the
same port, and whose people may number amongst them acquaintances--old
shipmates of your own men?’

‘They’ll obey orders, sir,’ said he quietly, with an air of caution in
his long face.

‘Suppose it should come to our having to board the “Shark,” captain,
and she shows fight--are you going to get your men to hazard their
lives in the face of the pacific articles they, I presume, have signed?’

‘It’ll never come to a fight, Mr. Monson,’ he responded, ‘though I
don’t say it may not come to our having to fire at the vessel to stop
her; for you see if the Colonel commands Fidler to keep all fast and
take no notice of us there’ll be nothen for him but to obey: whilst
stop her _we_ must, do ye see, sir? But as to fighting----’ he shook
his head. ‘No, sir; when the time’s come for boarding they’ll be
willing to let us walk quietly over the side, no matter how much they
may consider their feelings injured by our shooting at ’em. In short
it’s like this; ne’er a man aboard the “Shark” but knows what the
Colonel and her Ladyship’s gone and done; a good many, I dessay, are
husbands themselves, not to speak of their being Englishmen, and ye may
take it that ne’er a hand of ’em from Fidler down is going to resist
Sir Wilfrid’s stepping on board to demand his own.’

‘You may be right,’ said I; ‘’tis hard to say, though. Do our crew know
the errand we are on?’

‘Bound to it, sir. In fact, the shipping of that there gun wouldn’t
allow the job to remain a secret. But the “Shark” was away first, and
if all Southampton had got talking of our intention it couldn’t have
signified, so far as consarns I mean their guessing at it aboard the
“Shark.”’

‘You must have pushed your equipment forward with wonderful expedition?’

‘Yes, sir; we worked day and night. Of course we was all ready for sea,
but there would be many things a-wanting for what might turn out a six
or seven thousand mile run with ne’er a stoppage along the whole road
of it.’

My eye was just then taken by something that glittered upon the
mainmast within reach of a man’s uplifted arm. I peered, imagining
it to be a little plate with an inscription upon it commemorating
something that Wilfrid might have deemed worthy of a memorial. I caught
Finn grinning.

‘D’ye see what it is, sir?’ said he.

I looked again, and shook my head. He walked to the mast, and I
followed him, and now I saw that it was a handsome five-guinea piece,
obviously of an old date--but it was too high to distinguish the
impress clearly--secured by a couple of little staples which gripped
without piercing or wounding it.

‘That piece of money,’ said Finn, ‘is for the first man that sights the
“Shark.”’

‘Ha!’ I exclaimed, ‘an old whaling practice. My cousin has not viewed
the world for nothing!’

It was but a trifling thing, yet in its way it was almost as hard a bit
of underscoring of my cousin’s resolution as the long grinning piece
they were cleaning forward, or the stand of arms against the bulkhead
below.

‘What’s the pace, captain?’

‘A full ten, sir, by the last heave of the log.’

I fell a-whistling--for it was grand sailing, surely--with a lift of my
eye to the topgallant sail that lay stowed in a snow-white streak with
a proper man-of-war’s bunt amidships on the slender black yard.

‘Well, sir,’ said Finn, taking it upon himself to interpret my
glance, ‘I know the “Bride,” and I’m likewise acquainted with a good
many vessels which ain’t the least bit in the world like her, and my
notion’s this, that a craft’ll do no more than she _can_ do. I’ve hove
the log to reefed canvas, and I’ve hove it in the same wind to whole
sails and found a loss. No use of burying what you want to keep afloat.
I might set that there little top-gallant sail without enjoying a hinch
of way more out of it. Then what ’ud be the good of straining the
spars?’

‘But you’ll be setting stun’ sails, I suppose, when a right chance for
running them aloft occurs?’

‘Ay, sir. There’s the boom irons all ready. But my notion is, in a
vessel of this sort, that it’s best to keep your stun’ sail booms out
of sight till your anchors are stowed. Once out of soundings, and then
let a man cut what capers he likes.’

As he said this, up rose my cousin’s long body through the companion
hatch. He stood a little looking about him in his short-sighted way,
but with an expression of satisfaction upon his face that gave a new
character to it. I saw him rub his hands whilst he grinned to the swift
salt rush of the wind. He caught sight of me, and instantly approached.

‘This will do! this will do, Charles!’ he cried, grasping my hand.
‘Don’t spare her, captain. These are slants to be made the most of. By
Heaven, but it makes a new man of me to see such a sight as _that_!’
pointing to the white torrent that was roaring past to leeward.

He stared with a sort of pathetic eagerness at the vessels which we
were passing as though they had their anchors down, afterwards shading
his eyes for another long yearning look over either bow.

‘It is fine, though! it is fine, though!’ he muttered with the spirit
of an unreasonable exhilaration working strong in every feature. ‘What
is it, captain? Twelve?’ Finn gave him the figure. ‘And what would be
the “Shark’s” pace supposing her yonder?’

‘Not all ours, Sir Wilfrid, not all ours,’ responded Finn, ‘though
it is a fine sailing breeze, your honour. A craft would have to be a
sawed-off-square consarn not to wash handsomely along this morning,
sir.’

‘How have you slept, Wilfrid?’ said I.

‘Well,’ he answered. ‘But I say, Charles, what do you think?’ said
he with a sudden boyish air that startled me with its suggestion of
stupidity in him. ‘Muffin is drunk.’

‘Drunk!’ cried I; ‘but who the deuce is Muffin?’ forgetting the name.

‘Why, my man,’ he answered; ‘my valet. It’s very odd. I thought at
first it was sea-sickness. He’s been crying. The tears, I give you my
word, streamed down his cheeks. He begs to be set ashore, and swears
that if he should choke with one of the fish that are swimming about
in him, his mother and two sisters would have to go to the Union. Do
you think he’s mad?’

‘Drunk, and sea-sick, too,’ said I. ‘Has he not been away with you on a
yachting trip before?’

‘No. This is a handsome vessel, don’t you think, Charles?’ he
exclaimed, breaking from the subject as though it had never been in his
mind, and following on his question with a curious fluttering smile and
that trembling of the lids I have before described; though his gaze
steadied miraculously as they rested upon the gun the fellows were at
work upon, and a shadow came into his face which was as good as telling
me that I need not respond to his inquiry, as his thoughts were already
elsewhere.

‘Let’s go and have a look at my cannon,’ said he with the same odd
boyish manner he had discovered a minute or two earlier.

We walked forward; the decks had been some time before washed down
and were sand dry, white as a tree newly stripped of its bark, with
a glitter all about them of the crystals of salt. The rigging was
everywhere neatly coiled down; whatever was of brass shone as though
it reflected a sunbeam; no detail but must have satisfied the most
exacting nautical eye with an indication of frigate-like neatness,
cleanliness, finish, and fore and aft discipline. The ‘Bride,’ after
the manner of many yachts of those days, carried a galley on deck abaft
her foremast. I peeped in as I passed and took notice of a snug little
interior, brilliant with polished cooking vessels, and as clean and
sweet as a dairy. A few of the sailors were standing about it waiting
(as I took it) for the cook to furnish the messes with their breakfast.
They had the air of a rough resolute set of men, with something of
the inspiration of the yachting business, perhaps, in their manner
of saluting Sir Wilfrid and myself, but with little of the aspect
of the seafarer of the pleasure-vessel of _these_ times. They were
bushy-whiskered hard-a-weather fellows for the most part, with one odd
face amongst them as yellow and wrinkled as the skin of a decayed lemon.

I asked Wilfrid carelessly if any of his crew had sailed with him
before. He answered that a few of them had; but that the others had
declined to start on a voyage to the end of which Finn was unable to
furnish a date, so that the captain had made up the complement in
a hurry out of the best hands he could find cruising about ashore.
So this, thought I, accounts for the absence of that uniformity of
apparel one looks for amongst the crews of yachts; yet all the sailors
I had taken notice of were dressed warmly in very good clean nautical
clothes, though I protest it made one think of the old picaroon and
yarns of the Spanish Main to glance at one or two of the dry, tough,
burnt, seawardly chaps who concealed their pipes and dragged a curl
upon their foreheads to us as we passed them.

Wilfrid stared at his eighteen-pounder as though he were some lad
viewing a toy cannon he had just purchased. He bent close to it in
his near-sighted way, and looked it all over whilst he asked me what
I thought of it. I saw the two fellows who were still at work upon it
chew hard on the junks in their cheek-bones in their struggle to keep
their faces.

‘Why,’ said I, ‘it seems to me a very good sort of gun, Wilfrid, and a
thing, when fired, I’d rather stand behind than in front of.’

‘I should have had two of them,’ said he with a momentary darkening of
his looks to the rising in him of some vexing memory, pointing as he
spoke to the bow ports, ‘but Finn thought one piece of such a calibre
enough at this end of the vessel, and it would have been idle to mount
a stern-chaser; for what we want to fire at--should it come to it--we
can always manage to keep yonder,’ nodding in the direction of the
jibboom.

I had no mind to talk with him in the presence of the two fellows, one
of whom I would see screw up his eye like the twist of a gimblet at us
whilst he went on polishing; so I stepped into the head to take a view
of the shear of the cutwater as it drove knife-like into each green
freckled and glass-smooth side of surge rolling transversely from us
ere shattering it into a snowstorm; but the bulwarks being too tall to
enable me to see all that I looked for, I sprang on to the bowsprit and
laid out to the jibboom end, which I jockeyed, holding on to a stay and
beckoning to Wilfrid to follow; but he shook his head with a loud call
to me to mind what I was about.

One may talk of the joy of a swift gallop on horseback when the man and
the animal fit like hand and glove, when all is smooth running, with a
gallant leap now and again; but what is a flight of that sort compared
with the sensations you get by striding the jibboom of such a schooner
as the ‘Bride’ and feeling her airily leap with you over the liquid
hollows which yawn right under you, green as the summer leaf or purple
as the violet for a moment or two, before the smiting stem fills the
thunderous chasm with the splendour of a cloud of boiling froth! It was
a picture to have detained me an hour, so noble was the spectacle of
the leaning yacht for ever coming right at me as it seemed, the rounds
of her canvas whitened into marble hardness with the yearn and lean
of the distended cloths to a quarter of the sea where hung a brighter
tincture of sky through some tenuity of the eastern greyness behind
which the sun was soaring. One felt a life and soul in the little ship
in every floating bound she made, in every sliding blow of the bow that
sent a vast smooth curl of billow to windward for the shrill-edged
blast to transform into a very cataract of stars and diamonds and
prisms! Lovely beyond description was the curtseying of her gilt
figure-head and the refulgence of the gold lines all about it to the
milk-white softness that seethed to the hawse-pipes.

I made my way inboards and said to Wilfrid, who stood waiting for me,
‘She’s a beauty. She should achieve your end for you if it is Table
Bay only you are thinking of. But yonder great horizon!’ I exclaimed,
motioning with my hand. ‘We are still in the narrow sea--yet look how
far it stretches! Think then of the Atlantic circle.’

‘We shall overhaul her!’ he exclaimed quickly, with a gesture that made
an instant’s passion of his way of speaking. ‘Come along aft, Charles,
and stump it a bit for an appetite. Breakfast can’t be far off now.’

Miss Laura did not make her appearance until we were at table. I
feared that the ‘Bride’s’ lively dance had proved too much for her,
and glanced aft for the maid that I might ask how her mistress did.
Indeed, though on deck one gave no heed to the rolling and plunging of
the yacht, the movements were rendered mighty sensible in the cabin by
the swift, often convulsive, oscillations of lamps and swing-trays,
by the sliding of articles of the breakfast equipment in the fiddles,
by the monotonous ticking-like noise of doors upon their hooks, the
slope of the cabin floor, sounds like the groanings of strong men in
pain breaking in upon the ear from all parts, and above all by sudden
lee-lurches which veiled the port-holes in green water, that sobbed
madly till it flashed, with a shriek and a long dim roar, off the
weeping glass lifted by the weather roll to the dull grey glare of the
day.

But we had scarcely taken our seats when the girl arrived, and she
brought such life and light and fragrance in her mere aspect to the
table, that it was as though some rich and beautiful flower of a
perfume sweetened yet by the coolness of dew had been placed amongst
us. She had slept well, she said, but her maid was ill and helpless.
‘And where is Muffin?’ she demanded.

‘He’s a lying down, miss,’ exclaimed the head steward; ‘he says his
blood-wessels is that delicate he’s got to be werry careful indeed.’

Wilfrid leaned across to her and said, in a low voice that the steward
might not hear him, but with the boyish air that I had found odd, and
even absurd, strong in him again, ‘Laura, my dear, imagine! Muffin is
_drunk_.’ He broke into a strong, noisy laugh. ‘Weepingly drunk, Laura;
talks of himself as a globe of fish, and indeed,’ he added, with a
sudden recovery of his gravity, ‘so queer outside all inspirations of
the bottle that I’m disposed to think him mad.’ Again he uttered a loud
ha! ha! peering at me with his short sight to see if I was amused.

A look of concern entered Miss Jennings’ face, but quickly left it,
subdued, as I noticed, by an effort of will.

‘I was afraid that Muffin would not suit you,’ she exclaimed, quietly.
‘I told you so, I remember. Those yellow, hollow men are miserable
sailors. He has all good qualities as a valet on shore, but----’ she
was proceeding when he interrupted her.

‘I say, Laura, isn’t this breeze magnificent, eh? Think, my dear--ten
knots an hour! We are sweeping through it as though we were in tow of a
comet. Why, if the devil himself were ahead we should overhaul him at
this pace.’

He dropped his knife and fork as though to rub his hands--an action
common to him when gratified--but his face darkened, a wild expression
came into it with a sudden savage protrusion of his projecting
under-lip to the bitter sneer of the upper one; he fell again to eating
in a hurry, breathing short and masticating viciously with now and
again a shake of the head, until all at once, ere he had half made an
end of what was before him, he pushed his plate violently away and lay
back in his chair, with his arms tightly folded upon his breast and his
gaze intently fixed downwards, in a way to make me think of that aunt
of his whom the old earl had pointed out to his father as she paced the
green sward betwixt two keepers.

With the easiest air imaginable, though it was impossible that she
could effectually blind to my sight the mingled expression of worry and
dismay in her eyes as she directed them at me, Miss Jennings, making
the breakfast upon the table her text, prattled about the food one gets
on board ship, seizing, as it seemed to me, the first common-place
topic she could think of.

I took an askant view of the stewards to see if they noticed Sir
Wilfrid, but could find nothing to interpret in their wooden, waiting
faces. After a little he seemed to wake up, coming back to his mind,
as it were, with a long, tremulous sigh, and a puzzled look round at
the table as though wondering whether he had breakfasted or not. Miss
Jennings and I chatted common-places. He called for a cup of tea, and
then, after listening with plenty of intelligence in his manner to a
little experience I was relating to Miss Laura concerning the recovery
of a captain’s pig that had been washed overboard in a sudden squall,
he described a gale of wind he had encountered off Agulhas whilst on
a voyage to India, during which the cuddy front was stove in, and an
immense sow and her young, along with a fine specimen of an English
cart-horse and a cow, washed bodily aft, and swept in thunder down
the broad staircase in the saloon that conducted to the berths and
living-room for what were then termed the steerage passengers. No story
was ever more graphically related. He described the panic amongst the
passengers, the horrible concert produced by the screams of the pigs
and the terrified moaning and bellowing of the cow, the uproar of the
cart-horse’s plunging hoofs against the resonant bulkheads, mingled
with the shrieks of the people who were in bed and imagined the ship
to be already under water; I say he described all this so well, with
so keen an appreciation of the humour, as well as of the horror of the
scene, with a delivery so free from all excitement, that it seemed
almost incredible he should be the same man that just now sat fixed
in the posture of a melancholy madman with a face, as I might have
thought, dark with the shadow of eclipsed reason.

Breakfast ended, he quitted the table to fetch his pipe.

‘I had better have come without a man, after all,’ said he, laughing;
‘one condition of sea-going should be that a fellow must help himself;
and, upon my word, it comes to it no matter how many servants he brings
with him. ’Tis the same ashore too, after all. It is the mistress who
does most of the waiting’; and thus pleasantly speaking he went to his
cabin.

Miss Laura made as if to rise.

‘An instant, Miss Jennings,’ said I. ‘I have seen nothing of Wilfrid of
late years. You, on the other hand, have been a good deal thrown with
him during the last three months. Tell me, then, what you think of his
manner and language just now--that piece of behaviour, I mean, from
which he started, so to speak, into perfect rationality?’

‘It was a sort of mood,’ she answered, speaking low, ‘that I have
noticed in him, but never before saw so defined.’

‘It was madness,’ said I, with a shake of the head.

‘The shadow of a passing mood of madness,’ said she. ‘Was he on deck
with you before breakfast?’

I answered yes.

‘Were his spirits good?’

‘Irrationally good, I thought. It was the sight of the flying schooner,
no doubt, the picture of the running seas, the sense of headlong speed,
with the black grin of the forecastle gun to quicken his wild craving
into a very delirium of expectation and hope. But that kind of glee is
quite as alarming as his melancholy.’

‘Yes, but you will find his melancholy strong as his spirits seem high.
Do I make myself understood, Mr. Monson?’

‘Quite. One moment, you mean, he is looking down upon this
extraordinary plan of his--this goose-chase, I must call it--with a
bounding heart from the edge of a chasm; the next he is at the very
bottom of the pit gazing upwards in an anguish of dejection. The deeper
the precipice the gloomier the depth where he brings up. Certainly I
understood you, Miss Jennings. But here is now a consideration that
is bothering me,’ I continued, sending a look aft, and up at the
open skylight and around, to make sure that we were unheard. ‘I am
his cousin. As his associate in this voyage I have a right to regard
myself as his best friend, for the time being anyway. Now what is my
duty in the face of a condition of mind whose capriciousness fills it
with menace? He brings me here as his right-hand man to help him, but
to help him in or to what? I seem to understand his programme, yet I
protest I cannot render it intelligible to my own common sense. Many
might think me “wanting” myself to be here at all; but I will not go
into that; what I mean is, is it not my duty to hinder him if possible
from prosecuting a chase which, in my humble judgment, by continuing
to irritate him with the disappointment of hope, may end in rendering
organic what is now, let us pray, merely functional and fugitive?’

‘You may try, but I do not think you will succeed,’ she exclaimed.
‘Indeed,’ she cried, raising her voice, but immediately and nervously
subduing it, ‘I hope you will _not_ try, for it is not hard to foresee
what must follow. You will merely make his resolution more stubborn by
rendering it angrier than it is, and then there might come a coolness
between you--indeed, something worse than coolness on his side; for in
such minds as your cousin’s it is impossible to imagine what dangerous
ideas opposition may provoke.’

I bowed in recognition of the truth of this, admiring in her a quality
of sagacity that, to the fancy at all events of a young man, as I then
was, would gather a new excellence from her graces. She looked at me
with a tremble of light in her gaze that vexed its serenity.

‘Besides, Mr. Monson, we must consider Henrietta.’

‘It is natural you should think wholly of her,’ said I.

‘Not wholly. But this pursuit _may_ end in rescuing her from Colonel
Hope-Kennedy. It gives her future a chance. But you would have her
husband sit quietly at home.’

‘Well, not exactly,’ I interrupted.

‘What would you have him do?’ she asked.

‘Get a divorce,’ said I.

‘He won’t do that,’ she exclaimed. ‘Marriage in his sight is a
sacrament. Do not you know his views, Mr. Monson?’

‘You see, I have long lost sight of him.’

‘Well, I _know_ he would not seek a divorce. He would be mad indeed,’
she cried, flushing to her brows, ‘to give my sister the liberty she
wants and Colonel Hope-Kennedy----’ She faltered and stopped, biting
her underlip, with the hot emotions which mounted to her face imparting
a sudden air of womanly maturity to her girlish beauty, whilst her
breast rose and fell to her ireful breathing. ‘This is no mad pursuit,’
she continued after a brief pause, speaking softly. ‘What is there
unreasonable in a man’s determination to follow his wife that he may
come as swiftly as the ship, the coach, the railway will permit him
between her and a life of shame and remorse and misery?’

As she spoke, my cousin arrived, holding a great meerschaum pipe in
his hand. She at once rose and left the table with a faint smile at me
and a glance on top of it that was as eloquent as a whisper of regret
at having been betrayed into warmth. Well, thought I, you are a sweet
little woman, and it is highly probable that before I have been a week
in your company I shall be head over heels in love with you. But for
all that, you fair and artless creature, I don’t agree with you in your
views of this chase. Suppose Wilfrid recaptures his wife--what is he
going to do with her? She is not a lunatic; he cannot lock her up--but
I broke off to the approach of my cousin, fetched my pipe, and went on
deck with him.

After all it was about time I should now see that, though we might
shape a course for the yacht and give the wind the name of the compass
points whence it blew, Chance was our skipper and helmsman, and the
regions into which he was leading us as blind and thick as smoke.
Throughout life, and in all things, it is the same, of course; we
sail with a fog that stands wall-like at the bows of our intentions,
receding inch by inch with our advance, and leaving the water clear on
either hand and astern, but ahead it remains for ever as thick as mud
in a wineglass. Anyhow, the chase was a sort of consolation to Wilfrid;
it had Miss Laura’s approval, and there was hope enough to be got out
of it according to her to render her trustful. But for my part I could
only view it as a yachting excursion, and I particularly felt this when
I stepped on deck with my cousin, spite of my quite recent talk with
his sweet sister-in law, and felt the sweep of the strong wind, and
caught the roar of the divided waters sounding a small thunder upon the
ears after the comparative calm of the breakfast-table below.



CHAPTER VI.

FINN TESTS THE CREW’S SIGHT.


Little of interest happened at the outset. There were but three of
us for company; our ship was a small one, and the inner life of it a
monotonous round of eating, drinking, smoking, of taking the wheel,
of pendulously stumping the quarter-deck, of keeping a look-out, of
scrubbing and polishing, and making and shortening sail; whilst outside
there was nothing but weather and sea; so that in a very short time I
had lapsed into the old ocean trick of timing the passage of the hours
by meals.

But that I may not approach in a staggering or disjointed way the
huddle of astonishments which _then_ lay many leagues’ distance past
the gleam of the sea-line towards which our bowsprit was pointing, I
will enter here in a sort of log-book fashion a few of the interests,
features, and spectacles of this early passage of our singular
excursion.

The fresh wind ran us well down Channel. Hour after hour the ‘Bride’
was driving the green seas into foam before her, and there was a
continuous fretful heaving of the log to Wilfrid’s feverish demands,
until I think, before we were two days out, the very souls of the crew
had grown to loathe the cry of ‘Turn!’ and the rattle of the reel.

That same morning--the morning, I mean, that I have dealt with in the
last chapter--after Wilfrid and I had been smoking a little while under
the lee of the tall bulwark which the wind struck and recoiled from,
leaving a space of calm in the clear above it to the height of a man’s
hand, my cousin, who had been chatting with the utmost intelligence on
a matter so remote from the object of this chase as a sale of yearlings
which he had attended a few weeks before, sprang to his feet with the
most abrupt breaking away imaginable from what he was talking about,
and called to Captain Finn, who was coming leisurely aft from the
neighbourhood of the galley with a sailorly eye upturned at the canvas
and a roll of his short legs that made you think he would feel more at
home on all-fours.

‘Finn,’ cried Wilfrid, ‘there is no one on the look-out!’ and he
pointed with his long awkward arm at the topgallant yard.

‘Why, hardly yet, sir,’ began Finn.

‘Hardly _yet_!’ interrupted Wilfrid, ‘my orders were, day and night
from the hour of our departure.’

‘Beg your honour’s pardon, I’m sure, sir,’ said Finn. ‘I didn’t quite
take ye as meaning to be literal. Five days’ start, you know, Sir
Wilfrid----’

‘What is that to _me_?’ cried my cousin impetuously; ‘it’s the
unexpected you’ve got to make ready for at sea, man. Figure something
having gone wrong with the “Shark”--her masts overboard--a leak--fire.
Any way,’ he cried with the heat of a man who means to have his will,
but who grows suddenly sensible of the weakness of his arguments, ‘have
a fellow stationed aloft day and night. D’ye hear me, Finn?’

‘Certainly I hear you, Sir Wilfrid.’

He knuckled his forehead, and was in the act of moving away to give
directions, when my cousin stopped him.

‘No use sending _blind_ men aloft, Finn--mere gogglers like myself,
worse luck! You must find out the men with eyes in their heads in this
ship.’

Finn hung in the wind, sending a dull rolling glance at the five-guinea
piece nailed to the mainmast. ‘If it worn’t for that,’ he exclaimed,
pointing to it, ‘it wouldn’t matter; but if I pick and choose, ’twill
be like stirring up the inside of a sty. The men’ll argue that the
piece of money is for the first man that sights the “Shark,” and
they’ll think it hard that a few of them only should be selected to
stand a look-out aloft; for it will be but one of ’em that’s chosen as
can airn the money.’

‘Very true,’ said I.

‘Confound it, Charles!’ cried my cousin angrily, ‘what’ll be the good
of posting a short-sighted man up there?’

‘All hands, Captain Finn, have got two eyes apiece in their heads?’
said I.

‘All, sir,’ he answered after a little reflection, ‘saving the mate,
and he’s got two eyes too; only one makes a foul hawse of t’other.’

‘You may take it, Wilfrid,’ said I, ‘that your men are able to see
pretty much alike.’

‘Is there no way of testing the fellows’ sight?’ cried Wilfrid
excitedly, with an unnecessary headlong manner about him as though he
would heave his body along with every question he put or exclamation he
uttered: ‘then we could uproot the moles among them. Dash me, Finn, if
I’m going to let the “Shark” slip astern of us for want of eyesight.’

The skipper sent a slow uncertain look around the horizon, evidently
puzzled; then his face cleared a bit. He went to the weather rail and
stared ahead, crossed to leeward and fastened his eyes on the sea on
the lee bow; then, coming up to windward again, he hailed a man who was
at work upon the topsail yard doing something to one of the stirrups of
the foot-rope.

‘Aloft there!’

‘Hillo!’

‘Jump on to the topgallant yard and let me know if there’s anything in
sight ahead or on either bow?’

‘Ay, ay, sir.’

The fellow got upon the yard, and leaned from it with one hand grasping
the tie, whilst with the other he shaded his eyes and took a long
whaling look. His figure was soft and firm as a pencil drawing against
the hard and windy greyness of the heavens, and the rippling of his
trousers to the wind, the yellow streak of his lifted arm naked to the
elbow, the inimitable, easy, careless pose of him as he swayed to the
swift vibrations of the spar on which he stood, with the ivory white
curves of the jib and stay foresail going down past him till they were
lost forward of the topsail that yawned in a shadowed hollow which
looked the duskier for the gleam of the pinion of staysail this side of
it, made a little sea picture of quiet but singular beauty.

‘Nothing in sight, sir,’ he bawled down. Finn raised his hand in token
that he heard him and turned to Wilfrid.

‘Now, sir,’ said he, ‘something’s bound to be heaving into view shortly
ahead of us. We might test the men thus: one watch at a time; two men
on the topgallant yard, which can be hoisted without setting the sail;
four men on the topsail yard; and two men on the foreyard. I’ll send
Crimp on to the forecastle to see all’s fair. There’s to be no singing
out; the man that sees the sail first is to hold up his arm. That’ll
test the chaps on the topgallant yard, who from the height they’re
posted at are bound to see the hobject first; then it’ll come to the
tops’l yard, and then to the foreyard. What d’ye say, sir? It’ll take
the men off their work, but not, for long, I reckon, for something’s
bound to show soon hereabouts.’

‘An excellent notion!’ shouted Wilfrid gleefully, all temper in him
gone. ‘Quick about it, Finn; and see here, there’ll be a crown piece
for the man on each yard who’s the first to hold up his arm.’

‘That’ll skin their eyes for ’em,’ rumbled Finn in half-suppressed
hurricane note, and he went forward grinning broadly.

The port watch were mustered; I heard him explaining; the cock-eyed
mate walked sulkily to the forecastle and took up his place between the
knight-heads in a sullen posture; his arms folded and his eyes turned
up. ‘Away aloft!’ there was a headlong rush of men, the rigging danced
to their springs, and in a few moments every yard had its allotted
number of look-outs.

It was a test not to believe in, for the instant an arm on the
topgallant yard was brandished the fellows below would know that
something had hove into view, and the dishonest amongst them,
calculating upon its appearance in due course, might flourish their
fists before their eyes gave them the right to do so. However, Wilfrid
looked hugely pleased, and you witnessed the one virtue of the test in
_that_. He bet me a sovereign to ten shillings that the man on the port
topgallant yard-arm would be the first to lift his hand. I took him,
and then naturally found the affair interesting.

In the midst of this business Miss Jennings arrived, cosily dressed in
a jacket that fitted her shape and a little hat that looked to be made
of beaver curled on one side to a sort of cockade where a small black
plume rattled to the wind as I caught her hand and conducted her to my
chair under the bulwarks. She started when she saw those sailors aloft
all apparently staring in one direction with the intentness which the
inspiration of five shillings would put into the nautical eye.

‘What is in sight?’ she exclaimed, looking round at Wilfrid with a pale
face. ‘Surely--surely----’

I explained, whilst my cousin, rubbing his hands together and breaking
into a loud but scarcely mirthful laugh, asked if she did not think it
was a magnificent idea.

‘Positively,’ she cried with alarm still bright in her eyes, ‘I
believed at first that the “Shark” or some vessel like her was in
sight. But, Wilfrid, when a man climbs up there to look-out, will not
he have a telescope?’

‘Yes, by day,’ he answered, ‘and a night-glass when the dark comes.’

‘Then what good is there in that sort of test?’ she inquired. ‘The
shortest-sighted man with a telescope at his eye would be able to see
miles farther than the longest-sighted.’

‘Aye,’ cried my cousin, ‘but a good sight’ll see further through a
glass than a feeble one, and I want to find out who have got the good
sight amongst those fellows.’

I saw her peep askant at me to gather what I thought of this business.
Very clearly she found nothing but childishness in it. Meanwhile
Wilfrid kept his large weak eyes fixed upon the two fellows on the
topgallant yard. They might have been a couple of birds perched on a
bough and he a great hungry tom-cat watching them. Finn was at the
wheel, having sent the man who had been steering to join the others
aloft. The mate on the forecastle looked sulkily up; the growling that
was going on within him, and his astonishment and scorn of the whole
proceeding, were inimitably expressed in his posture. Twenty minutes
passed. I was sick of staring, and filled another pipe, though without
venturing to speak, for the breathless intensity of expectation in
Wilfrid’s manner, along with the eager, aching, straining expression
of his face upturned to where the men were, was a sort of spell in
its way upon one, and I positively felt afraid to break the silence.
On a sudden the man on the port side of the topgallant yard raised
his hand, and in the space of a breath afterwards up went the other
fellow’s arm. But my cousin had won his bet; he hit his leg a blow with
boyish delight strong in his face.

‘A magnificent test, isn’t it?’ he whispered, as though he feared his
voice would travel aloft; ‘now watch the topsail yard. The fellows
there haven’t seen the gestures of the chaps above them. Another
sovereign to ten shillings, Charles, that the outermost man to windward
will hold up his hand first.’

I took the bet, and, as luck would have it, he won again, for a very
few minutes after the sail had been descried from the loftiest yard the
man whom Wilfrid had backed signalled, and then up went the arms of the
other three along with the arms of the two fellows who were stationed
on the fore yard as though they were being drilled, whilst a rumble of
laughter sounded from amongst a group of the starboard watch, who were
standing near the galley awaiting the issue of the test.

The hands came down; the mate set the crew to work; the fellow whose
trick it was at the wheel relieved the captain, who walked up to us.

‘That’s what they sighted, sir,’ he exclaimed, pointing ahead, where
we could just catch a glimpse of an airy streak of a marble hue, which
showed only whenever our speeding schooner lifted upon some seething
brow that washed in thunder slantwise to leeward, but which presently
enlarged to the proportions of a powerful cutter, apparently a revenue
boat, staggering under a press as though in a hurry, steering north for
an English port.

Wilfrid’s satisfaction was unbounded; his exuberance of delight was
something to startle one, seeing that there was nothing whatever to
justify it. As I looked at him I recalled Miss Laura’s remark as to
fits of excessive gloom following these irrational soarings of spirits,
and expected shortly to find him plunged in a mood of fixed black
melancholy. He told Captain Finn to have the other watch tested in the
same way before the day was out, and produced fifteen shillings, ten of
which were to go to the two men whom he had backed, and half-a-crown
apiece to the fellows on the fore yard. Finn took the money with an
eye that seemed actually to languish under its load of expostulation,
but he made no remark. He anticipated, as I might, indeed, that
fathom after fathom of hoarse forecastle arguments would attend this
distribution, for assuredly the men on the foreyard were no more
entitled to the money than the others who received none.

‘Now, captain,’ cried Wilfrid, ‘send the man who first sighted that
sail yonder aloft at once. Let the foretopgallant yard be the look-out
station; d’ye understand?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Call Muffin.’

But Muffin was too ill, or drunk, or both, to appear, so one of the
stewards was summoned and ordered to bring from Sir Wilfrid’s cabin a
telescope that he would find in such and such a place. The man returned
with the glass, a lovely Dollond, silver-mounted.

‘Try it, Charles,’ my cousin said to me.

I pointed it at the cutter, and found the lenses amazingly powerful and
brilliant. ‘A superb glass, indeed,’ said I, returning it to him.

‘Now, captain,’ said Wilfrid with that _raised_ look I have before
referred to, ‘I dedicate this glass to the discovery of the “Shark.”’
His teeth met in a snap as he spoke the word, and his breathing grew
laboured. ‘Let this telescope be carried aloft by that topgallant-yard
man who was the first to lift his hand, and there let it remain,
passing from sunrise to sunset from hand to hand as the look-outs are
relieved. Never on any account whatever is it to be brought down from
that masthead until the image of the craft we want is reflected fair in
it. See to this, Finn.’

‘Ay, ay, sir,’ responded the captain with his long face still charged
with expostulation, though you saw he would not have disputed for the
value of his wages.

‘By-and-by,’ continued my cousin, ‘I’ll give you a night glass of equal
power, to be dedicated to the same purpose.’

‘Thank ’ee, Sir Wilfrid; but your honour’--and here the worthy fellow
looked nervously from Sir Wilfrid to me--‘am I to understand, sir, that
this here beautiful instrument,’ handling it as if it were a baby,
‘along with t’other which you’re to give me, is to be kept aloft day
and night no matter the weather?’

‘Day and night, no matter the weather,’ said Wilfrid, in a sepulchral
voice.

‘Very good, sir, but I should just like to say----’

‘Now, pray, don’t say anything at all,’ interrupted my cousin,
peevishly; ‘you’re losing time, Finn. Send that fellow aloft, will
you? Gracious Heaven! can’t you see it makes one feel _desperate_ to
understand that there’s nobody on the look-out?’

He jumped up and fell to pacing the deck with long, irritable strides.
Finn, without another word, hurried forward. Presently the fellow who
had first signalled sprang into the rigging with the glass slung over
his shoulder. He ran nimbly aloft, and was speedily on the topgallant
yard; and there he sat, with an arm embracing the mast, from time to
time levelling the polished tube that glanced like a ray of light in
his hand, and slowly sweeping the sea from one beam to another. Wilfrid
came to a stand at sight of him; he clasped his arms on his breast,
his gaze directed aloft, whilst he swayed on one leg, with the other
bent before him to the heave of the deck; his melodramatic posture made
one think of a Manfred in the act of assailing some celestial body
with injurious language. It pained me to look at him. He was pale and
haggard, but there was the spirit of high breeding in every lineament
to give the grace of distinction and a quality of spiritual tenderness
to his odd, irregular, uncomely face. He stared so long and so fixedly
at the man that I saw the fellows forward looking up too, as though
there must be something uncommon there to detain the baronet’s gaze.
After a while he let his arms drop with an awakening manner, and slowly
sent his eyes around the sea in the most absent way that could be
thought of, till, his gaze meeting mine, he gave a start, and cried,
with a flourish of one hand, whilst he pointed to the topgallant yard
with the other, ‘Day and night, Charles; day and night! And keep _you_
on the look-out, too, will you, old friend? You carry a sailor’s eye in
your head, and have hunted under canvas before. We mustn’t miss her! We
mustn’t miss her!’ And with a shake of his head he abruptly strode to
the companion and went below.

I sat with Miss Jennings under the shelter of the bulwarks until hard
upon luncheon-time. Wilfrid did not again make his appearance on deck
that morning. The girl asked me if the test the men’s eyesight had been
put to was my cousin’s notion. I answered that it was the captain’s.

‘Then how stupid of him, Mr. Monson!’

‘Well, perhaps so,’ said I, ‘but I’m rather sorry for Finn, do you
know. It is not only that he has to execute orders which he may
consider ridiculous; he has to plot so as to harmonise the plain
routine of shipboard life with Wilfrid’s irrational or extravagant
expectations. But there is the mate. I have not spoken to him yet.
Let’s hear what _he_ thinks of the skipper’s testing job.’

He was pacing the lee quarter-deck, being in charge of the yacht,
though Finn had been up and down throughout the morning, sniffing about
uneasily as though he could not bear to have the picture of the little
ship out of his sight too long. I called to him, and he crossed over
to us slowly, as though astonished that I should want him. His face
had something of a Cape Horn look, with its slewed eye and a number
of warts riding the wrinkles of his weather-seasoned skin, and a mat
of hair upon his throat as coarse as rope-yarns. He was no beauty
certainly, yet I fancied him somehow as a good seaman; maybe for the
forecastle sourness of his face and a general sulkiness of demeanour,
which I have commonly found as expressing excellent sea-going
principles.

‘You’re the mate, I think, Mr. Crimp?’ said I, blandly.

‘Yes, I’m the mate,’ he answered, staring from me to Miss Jennings, and
speaking in a voice broken by years of bawling in heavy weather, and
possibly, too, by hard drinking.

‘We’re blowing along very prettily, Mr. Crimp. If this breeze holds it
cannot be long before we are out of soundings.’

‘No, I don’t suppose it will be long,’ he answered.

‘Do you know the “Shark?”’

‘Why, yes.’

‘Are we going to pick her up, think you?’

‘Well, if we gets into her wake and shoves along faster nor she,
there’ll be nothin’ to stop us picking her up,’ he answered, steadily
viewing Miss Jennings and myself alternately, to satisfy his mind, as I
took it, that we were not quizzing him.

‘I suppose,’ said I, ‘that the captain will be testing the eyesight of
the other watch presently?’

‘Ay,’ said he, with a sort of sneer, ‘they’ll go aloft after dinner.’

‘Isn’t it a good test?’

‘Don’t see no use in it at all,’ he answered gruffly, sending a look
aloft and following it on with an admonitory stare at the fellow at
the wheel. ‘Suppose nothen had hove into view; the men ’ud be still on
the yards a-watching. ’Sides, observing an object at sea depends upon
where your eyes is. One chap may be looking in another direction when
his mate sings out. Is that going to stand for a sign that his sight’s
poor?’

‘What do the men think?’ said I, anxious to get behind the forecastle,
so to speak, for I was never to know how far knowledge of this kind
might be serviceable to us later on.

‘Why, the watch has been a-grumbling and a-quarrelling over the
rewards. They say ’tain’t fair. If t’other watch is to be tested on the
same terms, stand by for something like a melhee, says I.’

‘Oh, but that must be stopped,’ I exclaimed, ‘we want no “melhees”
aboard the “Bride,” Mr. Crimp.’

Just then I caught sight of Captain Finn. I beckoned to him, and the
mate passed over to leeward, where he fell to pacing the deck as
before. I told the skipper what Crimp had said, and he burst into a
laugh.

‘Melhees!’ he exclaimed, ‘that’s just what old Jacob ’ud like. He’s a
regular lime-juicer, sir, and distils hacid at every pore; but he’s
a first-class seaman. I’d rather have that man by my side at a time
of danger than the choicest of all the sailors as I can call to mind
that I’ve met in my day. But there’ll be no melhee, sir--there’ll be
no melhee, lady. The men are grumbling a bit; and why? ’Cause they’re
sailors. But it’ll be all right, sir. That there notion of testing, I
don’t mind owning of it to you, was merely to pacify Sir Wilfrid, sir.
I’ll carry out his orders, of course, and send the other watch aloft
arter dinner. It’ll have to cost another fifteen shillin’, otherwise
I don’t mean to say there mightn’t come a feeling of onpleasantness
amongst the sailors. But Sir Wilfrid’ll not mind that, sir.’

I drew the money from my pocket and gave it him. ‘Here,’ said I, ‘you
needn’t trouble Sir Wilfrid; I’ll make it right with him. Only,’
I exclaimed, ‘keep the crew in a good temper. We do not want any
disaffection. Heaven knows there’s trouble enough aboard, as it is!’

He knuckled his forehead, and the luncheon bell now sounding, I handed
Miss Jennings below; but I could not help saying to her, as we stood
a moment together in the cabin, that I saw one part of my duty would
lie in advising Wilfrid to have as little as possible to do with his
crew and the working of the yacht; for grief and heart-bitterness had
so sharpened his eccentricities that one never could tell what orders
he might give of a nature to lead to difficulty and trouble with the
men. ‘Perhaps,’ I added, ‘it might be thought that a sincere friendship
would suffer him to have his way, in the hope that some measure of his
would bring this goose-chase to an abrupt end and force him home. But,
then, you are interested in the pursuit, Miss Jennings, and Heaven
forbid that any active or passive effort, or influence, or agency of
mine should hinder you from realising the hope with which you have
embarked on this strange adventure.’



CHAPTER VII.

SAIL HO!


A characteristic of Wilfrid’s mental feebleness was his inability to
keep his attention long fixed. This symptom would be more or less
acute according to the hold his trouble had of him. He arrived at the
luncheon table to the second summons, and I was really startled, after
conversing with him a little, to gather from what he said that the
whole incident of the testing of the men’s eyesight had gone sheer out
of his memory. This being so, no purpose could have been served by
recurring to it, though, had he mentioned the subject, I had made up my
mind to use it as a text that I had might exhort him not to meddle with
his crew, nor in any way step between Captain Finn and the navigation
of the ‘Bride.’

However I found something to raise a hope in me too, in his odd,
variable, imperfect intellect; namely, that he might come presently
to but dimly comprehend the purport of this voyage, and then I did
not doubt of being able to influence him and carry him back home, in
short; for the wild uncertainty of the adventure was made to my mind
more extravagant still by the inspiration of it being due to my poor
cousin’s weak brains; in fact, not to mince my meaning, it would have
been a mad undertaking in the sanest man’s hands; to my fancy, then, it
became the completest expression of madness possible, when I thought of
a madman as conceiving and governing it.

Finn, as I afterwards learnt, sent the other watch aloft whilst we were
at lunch, and there they hung, staring away for an hour; when, just as
the captain was about to sing out to them to come down, a fellow on the
foreyard (the lowest of the three yards) signalled a sail, and then all
hands saw it together! so, to arrest any further grumbling, Finn gave
five shillings to the foreyard man and made the watch draw lots for the
other two five-shilling prizes. This arrangement satisfied them, and it
seemed to soothe the fellows in the other watch as well, who perhaps
now perceived that there was little but inanity in the test, and that
the only sensible way to treat the whole affair was to look upon it as
a joke.

This I learnt afterwards from Finn, who did not show himself much
surprised to hear that Sir Wilfrid had apparently forgotten the
incident of the morning.

‘You’ll forgive me saying of it, Mr. Monson,’ he exclaimed, ‘seeing it
is your own cousin I’m speaking about, sir; but I’ve been master of his
yacht now since he bought her for her ladyship, and I know this much of
Sir Wilfrid, that his mind ain’t as if it were half the time with the
orders he gives. He’ll say a thing without the eyes of his intellects
being upon it. The result is that soon after the words is off his
lips the sentiment of ’em is gone from his recollection. It is like
breathing on a looking-glass; there’s the mark, but it don’t last long.’

It came on a bit thick that afternoon, with now and again a haze of
rain in the gust of a squall, sweeping like the explosion of a gun into
the straining canvas out of the heart of the hard but steady breeze,
and this weather, together with some strange edge of cold that had
entered it since luncheon time, kept us below, though I was on deck for
a little while when I had that chat with the skipper which I have just
repeated. Wilfrid lighted his big pipe in the cabin, telling Miss Laura
that she had given us leave to smoke there on the preceding night, an
odd proof of his power to remember little things. The interior was a
bit gloomy with the ashen atmosphere of the grey day sifting through
the skylight and down the companion hatch, and with a green dimness
coming yet into it from time to time to the burying of the glass of
the ports in the pale emerald of the clear brine under the froth that
was roaring away past on the surface. But there was nothing much to
incommode one in the movements of the vessel; wind and sea, as I have
said, were on the quarter, and the lift of the tall Channel surge
came soft as its own melting head to the weather counter, running the
shapely fabric into a long arrowy floating launch ahead, with a lean
down that was wrought by rhythmic action into a mere bit of cradle-play.

Snugged in the cushions of a most luxurious arm-chair, with the
consoling scent of a fine cigar under my nose and a noble claret within
arm’s reach chilled to the temperature of snow by the richly-chased
silver jug which contained it, I felt that there must be greater
hardships in life than yachting, even when the sailing cruise came to a
hunt for a runaway wife. Miss Jennings sat near me, with a novel in her
lap, on whose open page her violet eyes would sometimes rest when the
conversation languished. There was a mirror in the bulkhead just behind
me and her hair shone in it as though a sunbeam rested on her tresses.
Wilfrid lay at full length upon a couch, blowing clouds from his pipe
with his large strange weak eyes fixed upon the upper deck. He talked a
good deal of his travels, always rationally, and often with evidences
of a shrewd perception; but again and again he would withdraw his
pipe from his mouth and seem to forget that he held it, sigh deeply, a
long tremulous inspiration that was full of the tears of a heart which
sobbed continuously, then start on a sudden, sit upright and send a
crazy wandering look at the porthole near him; after which he would
stretch his form again and resume his pipe and fall to talking afresh,
but never picking up the thread he had let drop, or speaking with the
least reference to the anecdote, experience, incident, or what not,
from whose relation he had just before broken.

Once he jumped up, after lying silent for five or ten minutes, during
which Miss Jennings seemed to read; whilst I, thinking of nothing in
particular, lazily watched the rings of cigar smoke I expelled float
to the wreathing of flowers and foliage painted with delightful taste
upon the cabin ceiling. His movement was extraordinarily abrupt; he put
his pipe down and stalked to his cabin--_stalk_ is the one word that
expresses my cousin’s peculiar walk when any dark or strange mood was
upon him--and I presumed that he had gone into hiding for a while; but
he quickly reappeared. There was a light in his eye and a spot of red
on each high cheekbone as he put a case in my hand, saying, ‘Will these
do, d’ye think, Charles?’

It contained a handsome pair of duelling pistols.

‘Upon my word, Wilfrid,’ said I, in an offhand way whilst I toyed with
one of the weapons as if admiring it, ‘our little ship is not without
teeth, eh? What with your gun forward and the small arms near my
cabin, and now _these_--you’ll be having a powder magazine on board, I
suppose?’

‘There’ll be as much powder as we need, I dare say. What think you of
those weapons?’

‘They are quite killing. For what purpose are pills like these gilded
so sumptuously? Is all this garnishing supposed to make death more
palatable?’

Miss Laura extended her hand, and I gave her the weapon I was
examining. A look came into her face that made me feel glad I wasn’t
Colonel Hope-Kennedy just then. She flushed to some thought with a
sudden sweep of her gaze to the porthole, then looked again at the
pistol while she bit her lip. I found something fascinating in this
brief passage of spirit in her. Wilfrid, holding the other pistol, drew
himself erect before a length of looking-glass against the starboard
bulkhead, and levelled the weapon at his own reflection. He stood
motionless, save for the swaying of his figure upon the rolling deck,
his head thrown back, his nostrils large, his countenance a sallow
white; it was absolutely as though he believed in the reality of his
own impersonation, and waited for the signal to fire.

‘Bless me, Wilfrid!’ cried I, ‘I hope these affairs of yours aren’t
loaded! Hair triggers, by Jingo! Mind--if they are--you’ll destroy that
fine piece of plate glass.’

Of course I knew better; but his rapt posture was a little alarming,
and I said the first thing that came into my head to break the spell.
His arm sank to his side, and he turned to me with a grin that was
bewildering with its confliction emotions of anger, misery, and triumph.

‘Let that man give me a chance!’ said he, in a low but deep voice.

‘Ay, but my dear boy,’ said I, relieved by his slowly returning the
pistols to the case, ‘figure the boot on the other leg;--supposing he
kills _you_?’

‘Good God!’ cried he, ‘d’ye think _that_ consideration would hinder
me from attempting the life of the ruffian who has brought shame and
dishonour upon me and my child?’

‘No,’ said I, with a glance at Miss Laura, whom I found eyeing me with
a look of surprise that sparkled with something more than a hint of
temper; ‘but if we should meet this fellow on the open sea, and you
challenge him, and he should kill you, what will you have done for
yourself? Suffered him to put you quietly out of the road and achieve
the double triumph of first taking your wife from you and then making
a widow of her!--which, of course, would answer his purpose very well,
whether he designed matrimony or not, seeing that there could not be
much peace of mind for him with the knowledge either that you were on
his track, or waiting with spider-like patience in England for his
return.’

‘By Heaven, Charles!’ he roared out, ‘no man but you would dare talk to
me like this----’

I raised my hand. ‘Wilfrid, nothing that you can say, no temper that
you can exhibit, no menaces that you may utter, will prevent me from
remembering that I am here at your earnest request as the one male
friend you wished at your side in such a time, and from speaking to
you as freely as I should think within myself. This, to be sure, is
ridiculously premature. We have yet to fall in with the “Shark.”
Supposing _that_ happens, and that Colonel Hope-Kennedy consents to
fight you, and you insist, then it will not be for me to say you nay.
But, believe me, nothing shall intimidate me from trying to make
you understand that, honour or no honour, to give that rascal an
opportunity of assassinating you would be the very maddest act your
most righteous wrath could hurry you into.’

He looked at me a little while in silence, was about to speak, checked
himself, or maybe it was his voice that failed him; a dampness came
into his eyes; he compressed his lips till they were bloodless in the
effort to suppress his tears; then, flourishing his arm with a gesture
grievously expressive of the anguish he was feeling at that moment, he
went to his cabin, and we saw no more of him till dinner-time.

I thought Miss Jennings would rebuke me for what I had said, and I
gathered myself together, in an intellectual sense, for a little gentle
fencing with her for a bit; for, let her hate the Colonel as she
might, and let her be as eager as she would that her sister should be
speedily rescued from the villain she had sacrificed her honour for,
I had made up my mind not to suffer her to imagine that I regarded a
meeting between the two men as a necessary effect of the Colonel’s
action; but that, on the contrary, I should consider it my duty to
vehemently discountenance a duel, until I found that there was nothing
in argument to dissuade my cousin; when of course I would render him
such services as he might expect from me.

In short, as you will see, I took a cold-blooded view of the whole
business. The prosaic arbitrament of the law! that was my notion!
The shears of a dispassionate judge: no pistols and coffee for two,
thank’ee! Methinks when it comes to one’s wife preferring Jones or
Tomkins to one’s own lovely self, her new emotions should be helped,
not by giving the latest darling of her heart the chance to kill one,
but by starting one’s attorney to play upon the blissful couple with
the cold black venom of his ink-horn!

Miss Jennings, however, made no reference to my speech, nor to the
manner of Wilfrid’s going. She remained quiet, and showed herself
subdued and grieved for some time, and then we talked about the testing
of the men’s sight, and I repeated what Captain Finn had said to me on
that subject. On a sudden she exclaimed:

‘You told me, Mr. Monson, that you have never seen my sister?’

‘No, only heard of her, and then quite indirectly.’

She went to her cabin, moving in a very inimitable, floating, graceful,
yielding way to the heave of the deck, never offering to grasp anything
for support, though the lee-lurches were at times somewhat staggering,
and I thought I never saw a more perfect little figure as she withdrew,
her hair glowing when her form was already vague as she flitted into
the shadow astern of the companion steps towards the dark corridor
or passage which conducted to her cabin. She returned after a short
absence with a miniature painting set in a very handsome case, on which
was my cousin’s crest with initials beneath, signifying that it was a
gift from him to Laura Jennings. I carried it under the skylight to see
it clearly.

‘When was this done?’ I asked.

‘About a year ago,’ she answered. ‘Wilfrid sent it to Melbourne as a
gift to me.’

Now it might be that I was then--taste, of course, changes--no very
passionate admirer of dark women; brunettes, I mean, of a South
European sort, which the face in the miniature was after the pattern
of; and that is why, no doubt, the expectation in me of the ripe and
tropic graces I was to behold was not a little disappointed. Anyone
could see by the likeness that Lady Monson was a fine woman; her hair
was raven black, but there was a want of taste in the fashion in which
it was dressed; her eyes were bright, imperious, rather too staring,
with something of haughty astonishment in their expression; but this
might have been the artist’s misinterpretation of their character.
She was as like her sister Laura as I was like _her_. Her mouth was
somewhat large, rich, voluptuous; the throat very beautiful, with
something about the line or curve of the jaw which would have made
you suspect, without knowing the original, that the character of this
part of the face was exquisitely reproduced. It was a heaviness to
communicate a slightly masculine air to the whole countenance. I turned
to Miss Jennings and found her eyes intent on my face.

‘She is a handsome lady,’ said I, ‘handsomer, I should think, than she
is here represented: quite apart, I mean, from the glow of countenance,
the animation of look, and all the rest of the things which go to make
up two-thirds at least of human beauty.’

She took the miniature in silence.

‘She is not like you,’ said I.

‘Not in the least,’ she exclaimed. ‘I am little; she is very tall. She
has a commanding manner, a rich voice, and indeed,’ she added with a
smile, and then looking down, ‘anyone might suppose her of noble blood.’

I should have liked to tell her how very much sweeter and prettier
she was than her sister; what a very different sort of heart, as it
seemed to me, from her ladyship’s, looked out at you from her violet
eyes; how very much more good, pure, gentle, sympathetic, womanly,
was the expression of her mouth compared with what I had found in the
portrait’s. But our friendship was rather too new just then for such
candour as this; yet I would not swear that some faint suspicion did
not cross her of what was in my mind, though so subtle are women’s
ways, so indeterminable by words the meaning that may be perfectly
emphatic to every instinct in one in the turn of the head, a droop of
the lid, a sudden soft tincturing of the cheek, that I have no reason
to offer for supposing this.

She took the miniature to her cabin, and I waited awhile, thinking she
would return. I then lighted a cigar, but as I stepped towards the
companion with the design of killing the rest of the afternoon till the
dinner-hour on deck, Muffin came down the steps. He looked hideously
sallow, and carried a horribly dismal expression of countenance, but he
appeared to be no longer in liquor.

‘Well,’ said I shortly, ‘how are you now, Muffin?’

‘Uncommonly queer, I am sorrowful to say, sir,’ he answered, patting
his stomach and falling away on his left leg with a humbly respectful
downcast look and a writhe of the lips into a smile that would have
been expressionless if it was not that it increased his ugliness by the
exhibition of a row of fangs of the colour of the keys of an ancient
harpsichord. ‘The sea is not a congenial spear, sir.’

‘Sphere, I suppose you mean,’ said I; ‘but give yourself a day or two,
man; the sickness will wear off.’

‘I _beg_ your pardon, sir,’--he paused, still keeping his eyes
downward whilst he bowed meekly and respectfully, but with an air of
profound dejection.

‘Well?’ I exclaimed, running my gaze over the fellow’s odd figure with
a yearning to laugh in me at the sight of the gouty bulgings of his
feet over his pumps.

‘_May_ I take it, sir,’ said he, clasping his hands humbly upon his
waistcoat, ‘that there is no dispogition on the Bayronet’s part to give
up chasing of her ladyship by water?’

‘You _may_,’ said I, bluntly. ‘Why, confound it, Muffin, we’ve only
just entered on the run!’

He turned up his eyes to heaven till nothing showed but the bloodshot
whites: ‘Sir, I humbly beg your pardon. It seems an ordacious liberty
for the likes of me to be questioning the likes of you; but _may_ I
ask, sir--_is_ the voyage likely to carry us fur?’

‘Well, it is about six thousand miles to the Cape, to begin with,’ said
I.

‘Good God!’ he cried, startled out of all respectfulness. ‘Why,
there’ll be years of sailing in that distance, sir, begging your pardon
for the hexclamation my agitation caused me to make, sir.’

‘If you want to return,’ said I, feeling a sort of pity for the poor
devil, for the consternation that worked in him lay very strong upon
his yellow face, ‘your plan must be to obtain Sir Wilfrid’s permission
to tranship yourself into the first vessel we speak that will be
willing to receive you and carry you to England. It is the only remedy
I can suggest.’

He bowed very meekly and with a manner of respectful gratitude;
nevertheless, something in him seemed to tell me that he was not very
much obliged by my suggestion, and that if he quitted Wilfrid’s service
it would not be in the manner I recommended.

Nothing worth noting happened till next day. It was in the afternoon.
The Scillies were astern and the broad Atlantic was now stretching fair
under our bows. A strong fine wind had bowled us steadily down Channel,
and the utmost had been made of it by Captain Finn, who, despite his
talk of studdingsails and stowed anchors, had sent his booms aloft
ere we had brought Prawle Point abeam and the ‘Bride’ had swept
along before the strong wind that would come in slaps at times with
almost the spite of a bit of a hurricane in them, under a foretopmast
studdingsail; whence you will gather that the yacht was prodigiously
crowded; but then Finn was always under the influence of the fear of
Wilfrid’s head in the companion hatch; for I learnt that several times
in the night my cousin unexpectedly made his appearance on deck, and
his hot incessant command to both Finn and old Jacob Crimp, according
as he found one or the other in charge, was that they were to sail the
yacht at all hazards short of springing her lower masts, for in the
matter of spare booms and suits of canvas she could not have been more
liberally equipped had her errand signified a three years’ fighting
voyage.

Well, as I have said, it was the afternoon of the third day of our
leaving Southampton. The breeze had slackened much about the time
that Finn stood ogling the sun through his sextant, and then it
veered in a small puff and came on to blow a gentle, steady wind from
south-south-east, which tautened our sheets for us and brought the
square yards fore and aft. There was a long broad-browed swell from the
southward that flashed under the hazy sunlight like splintered glass
with the wrinkling of it, over which the yacht went rolling and bowing
in a rhythm as stately and regular as the swing of a thousand-ton
Indiaman, with a sulky lift of foam to her cutwater at every plunge
and a yeasty seething spreading on either quarter, the recoiling wash
of it from the counter as snappish as surf. Suddenly from high above,
cleaving the vaporous yellow of the atmosphere in a dead sort of way,
came a cry from the look-out man on the topgallant yard, ‘Sail ho!’ and
the sparkle of the telescope in his hands as he levelled the glittering
tube at the sea, over the starboard bow, rendered the customary echo of
‘Where away?’ unnecessary.

There was nothing however to take notice of in this; the cry of ‘Sail
ho!’ had been sounding pretty regularly on and off since the look-out
aloft had been established, as you will suppose when you think of
the crowded waters we were then navigating; though everything thus
signalled so far had hove into view broad on either bow or on either
beam. We were all on deck; that is to say, Miss Jennings, snug in a
fur cloak,--for the shift of wind had not softened the temperature of
the atmosphere,--in a chair near the skylight; Wilfrid near her, lying
upon the ivory-white plank smoking a cigar, with his head supported on
his elbow, and I stumping the deck close to them, with Finn abreast
of the wheel to windward. We were in the midst of some commonplace
chatter when that voice from aloft smote our ears, and when we saw the
direction in which the fellow was holding his glass levelled we all
looked that way, scarce thinking for the moment that if the stranger
were heading for us she would not be in sight from the deck for a spell
yet, and as long again if she were travelling our course.

Miss Jennings resumed her seat; Wilfrid stretched his length along the
deck as before; and I went on pacing to and fro close beside them.

‘It will be a Monday on which we sight the “Shark,”’ said Wilfrid.

‘How do you know?’ said I.

‘I dreamt it,’ he answered.

Miss Jennings looked at him wistfully as if she believed in dreams.

‘It was an odd vision,’ he continued, with a soft far-away expression
in his eyes, very unlike the usual trouble in them. ‘I dreamt that on
hearing of the--of the----’ he pushed his hair from his forehead and
spoke with his hand to his brow--‘I say that I dreamt I flung myself on
horseback--it was a favourite mare--Lady Henrietta, Laura’--she bowed
her head--‘and gave chase. I did not know which way to go, so I let
fall the reins on the animal’s neck and left the scent to the detection
of her instincts. She carried me to the sea-coast, a desolate bit of a
bay, I remember, with the air full of the moaning of vexed waters and
a melancholy crying of wind in the crevices and chasms of the cliff,
and the whole scene made gaunter than it needed to have been, as I
fancied, by a skeleton that was one moment that of a big fish and the
next of a man, fluctuating upon the sight like an image seen three
fathoms deep floating in such glass-clear water as you get in the West
Indian latitudes.’ He paused. ‘Where was I?’ he inquired, with an air
of bewilderment.

‘Your horse had carried you to the sea-shore,’ said Miss Laura, with
her face full of credulity. I love a superstitious girl, and who is the
woman that does not believe in dreams?

‘Ha!’ he cried, after a brief effort of memory; ‘yes, the mare came
to a stand on the margin of the beach, and heaven knows whence the
apparition rose: but there was an empty boat tossing before me, with a
sort of sign-post erected in her, a pole with a black board upon it on
which was written, in letters that glowed as though wrought by a brush
dipped in a sunbeam, the single word MONDAY!’

‘Pooh!’ said I, scornfully, and fancying at the moment that something
stirred in the companion-way, I moved a step or two in that direction
and saw Muffin with his head a trifle above the level of the top step
apparently taking the air, though no doubt he was diverting himself
too, by listening to our talk. On seeing me he descended, stepping
backwards with a sickly respectful smile of apology.

‘Why do you say pooh, Mr. Monson?’ asked Miss Jennings. ‘Wise people
never ridicule dreams until they have been disproved.’

I admired her arch air that floated like a veil of gauze over her
sympathy with Wilfrid.

‘I don’t want to believe in dreams,’ said I, ‘my own dreams are much
too uncomfortable to make me desire faith in that direction.’

I glanced at Wilfrid; his eyes were staring right up at the vane at
the maintopmast-head, and it was easily seen that he was no longer
thinking of what we had been talking about. Miss Jennings opened the
novel that lay in her lap and seemed to read; there was a store of this
sort of literature in the yacht, laid in, I dare say, by Sir Wilfrid
for Lady Monson, who, I don’t doubt, was a great devourer of novels;
the trash in one, two, and three volumes of an age of trashy fiction,
of a romantic literature of gorgeous waistcoats, nankeen breeches, and
Pelham cravats. I don’t think Miss Jennings had read much of the book
she held. It was called ‘The Peeress,’ and I believe it had taken her
two days to arrive at the end of the first chapter. But then, who can
read at sea? For my part I can never fix my attention. In a dead calm I
am prone to snooze; in a brisk breeze, every sweep of surge, every leap
of frothing head, every glance of sunshine, every solemn soaring of
white cloud up the slope of the liquid girdle is an irresistible appeal
to me to quit my author for teachers full of hints worth remembering;
and then, indeed, I yield myself to that luxury of passivity Wordsworth
rhymes about--that disposition to keep quiet until I am visited with
impulses--the happiest apology ever attempted by a home-keeping poet
for an unwillingness to be at the trouble to seek beyond his hillside
for ideas.

‘Here is a flowery fancy!’ exclaimed Miss Jennings, and she began to
read. It was something--I forget what--in the primitive Bulwerian vein;
plenty of capitals, I dare say, and without much sense that I could
make out to linger upon the ear; but one sentence I remember: ‘He had
that inexpressible air of distinction which comes as a royal gift from
heaven to members of old families and only to them.’

‘Stupid ass!’ exclaimed Wilfrid, whom I had imagined to be
wool-gathering.

‘But there is truth in it, though,’ said Miss Jennings.

‘What is an old family?’ I exclaimed.

‘Why a good family, surely, Mr. Monson,’ she answered.

‘No, no, Laura,’ grumbled Wilfrid. ‘I could introduce you to a
longshore sailor who can’t sign his name, and whose sole theory of
principle lies in successfully hoodwinking the revenue people, who will
tell you that his forefathers have been boatmen and smugglers for over
three hundred years, and who could feel his way back along a chain of
Jims, Dicks, and Joes without a link missing, down, maybe, to a time
when the progenitors of scores of our Dukes, Earls, and the rest of
them were--tush! That boatman belongs to an old family.’

‘Then, pray, what is a good family?’ inquired Miss Jennings.

‘Yonder’s the sail that was sighted awhile gone, Sir Wilfrid,’ sung out
Captain Finn in his leather-lunged voice.

My cousin sprang to his feet, and the three of us went to the rail to
look.



CHAPTER VIII.

WE SPEAK THE ‘WANDERER.’


On the lee-bow was a dash of orange light, much less like the sails of
a ship than a feather of vapour bronzed by a sunset and vanishing in
the tail of a cloud.

‘How does she head, Finn?’ cried Wilfrid to the skipper, who was
viewing her through a long, heavy, powerful glass of his own.

‘Coming dead on end for us, sir.’

‘What’ll she be, captain?’ said I.

He eyed her a bit, and answered, ‘A square rig, sir; a bit of a barque,
I dare say.’

My cousin suddenly slapped his leg--one of his favourite gestures when
a fit of excitement seized him. ‘Charles,’ he bawled, ‘we’ll speak her.
D’ye hear me, Finn? We’ll speak her, I say!’

‘Ay, ay, sir,’ cried the captain.

‘She may have news for us,’ Wilfrid proceeded; ‘it is about time we
fell in with something that has sighted the “Shark.”’

‘A bit betimes, sir,’ said Finn, touching his cap and approaching to
give me his telescope which I had extended my hand for.

‘Confound it, man!’ cried Wilfrid, in a passion, ‘everything’s always
too soon with you. Suppose by this time to-morrow we should have the
schooner in sight--what then, hey? What would be your arguments? That
she had no business to heave in sight, _yet_?’

Finn made no answer, but pulled his cap off to scratch his head, with
his lips muttering unconsciously to himself to the energy of his secret
thoughts, and his long face, which his mouth seemed to sit exactly in
the middle of, working in every muscle with protest.

The distant vessel was showing in the glass as high as the curve of her
fore-course, with now and again a dim sort of refractive glimmer of wet
black hull rising off a head of sea into an airy, pale length of light
that hung in a low gleam betwixt the junction of sea and sky. The sun
was westering though still high, but his orb was rayless, and the body
of him looked no more than an oozing of shapeless yellow flame into the
odd sky that seemed a misty blue in places, though where it appeared
so you would notice a faint outline of cloud; and as he waned, his
reflection in the wind-wrinkled heave of the long head-swell, seemed as
if each broad soft brow was alive with runnings of flaming oil.

There was to be no more argument about good and bad families. Wilfrid
now could think of nothing but the approaching vessel, and the
child-like qualities which went to the creation of his baffling,
unfixable nature showed in an eager impatience, in which you seemed to
witness as much of boyish desire for something fresh and new to happen
as of anything else. For my part, I detest arguments. They force you
to give reasons and to enter upon definitions. I fancied, however,
I was beginning to detect Miss Laura’s little weakness. There was a
feminine hankering in her after ancient blood, sounding titles, high
and mighty things. As I glanced at her sweet face I felt in the humour
to lecture her. What but this weakness had led to her sister’s undoing?
Wilfrid was a worthy, honest, good-hearted, generous-souled creature,
spite of his being a bit mad: but I could not imagine he was a man to
fall in love with; and in this queer chase we had entered upon there
was justification enough of that notion. His wife had married him, I
suppose, for position, which she had allowed the first good-looking
rogue she met to persuade her was as worthless as dust and ashes unless
a human heart beat inside it. And the scoundrel was right, though he
deserved the halter for his practical illustration of his meaning. I
met Miss Jennings’ eye and she smiled. She called softly to me:

‘You are puzzling over the difference between a good and an old family!’

‘I wish my countenance were less ingenuous,’ said I.

‘Hadn’t you better run up some signal,’ exclaimed Wilfrid, turning upon
Finn, ‘to make yonder craft know that we want her to stop?’

‘Lay aft here a couple of hands,’ shouted Finn in a sulky note.

Two seamen instantly came along. The flag-locker was dragged from its
cleats or chocks under the small, milk-white grating abaft the wheel;
Finn, with a square, carrot-coloured thumb ploughed into the book of
directions; then, after a little, a string of butterfly bunting soared
gracefully to the topmost head, where the flags were to be best seen,
a long pennant topping the gay colours like a tongue of flame against
the rusty yellow of the atmosphere; the dip of the yacht to the swell
became a holiday curtsey, and you thought of her as putting on a simper
like some pretty country wench newly pranked out by her sweetheart with
a knot of ribbons.

‘Aft and haul up the main-tack; round in on the weather fore braces
and lay the topsail to the mast; down hellum! so--leave her at that!’
and the ‘Bride,’ with the wide ocean heave lifting to the bow, came to
a stand, her way arrested, the wind combing her fore and aft canvas
like the countless invisible fingers of giant spirits, and a dull
plash and sulky wash of water alongside, and a frequent sharp clatter
of wheel chains to the jar of the churning rudder. There was the true
spirit of the deep in this picture then, for the seamen had dropped the
various jobs they were upon, and stood awaiting orders about the decks,
every man’s shadow swaying upon the salt sparkling of the spotless
planks, and all eyes directed at the approaching craft that had now
risen to her wash streak and was coming along in a slow stately roll
with her canvas yearning from flying jib to fore royal, every cloth
yellow as satin, and flashes of light like the explosion of ordnance
breaking in soft sulphur-coloured flames from her wet side as she
lifted it sunwards from the pale blue brine that melted yeastily from
her metalled forefoot into two salival lines, which united abaft and
went astern in a wake that looked as if she were towing some half mile
length of amber-tinctured satin. Yet there was no beauty in her as in
us; it was the sweetness and grace of airy distance working in her and
the mild and misty gushing of the afternoon radiance, and the wild
enfolding arms of the horizon sweeping as it were the very soul of the
mighty ocean loneliness into her solitary shape and into her bland and
starlike canvas, until you found her veritably spiritualised out of her
commonplace meaning into a mere fairy fancy, some toy-like imagination
of the deep; but she hardened rapidly into the familiar prosaics of
timber, sailcloth and tackling, as she came floating down upon us,
sinking to her narrow white band, then poised till a broad width of her
green sheathing was exposed, with a figure in a tall chimney-pot hat
standing on the rail holding on by a backstay.

She was a slow old waggon, and one saw the reason of it as she came
sliding along, rolling like an anchored galliot in a sea-way, in her
bows as round as an apple and her kettle-bottom run; and Wilfrid’s
impatience grew into torture to us to see almost as much as to him
to feel as he’d pace the deck for a minute or two tumultuously, then
fling against the rail with a wild stare at the approaching craft as if
indeed he was cocksure she was full of news for him, though for my part
it seemed mere trifling with the yacht’s routine to back her yard that
we might ask questions at that early time of day. She steered so as to
come within easy hail and then boom-ending her foretopmast studdingsail
she backed her main topsail and floated the full length of her out
abreast of us within pistol shot, pitching clumsily and bringing her
bows out of it with the white brine frothing like lacework all about
her there, her line of bulwarks dotted with heads watching us, the
sounds of the creaking of her aloft very clear along with a farmyard
noise of several cocks crowing one after the other lustily, and the
lowing of bulls or cows.

‘Barque ahoy?’ sung out Captain Finn, funnelling his hands as a vehicle
for his voice.

‘Halloa?’ cried the figure that stood upon the rail in the most cheery,
laughing voice that can be conceived.

‘What ship is that?’

‘The “Wanderer.”’

‘Where are you from? and where are you bound to?’

‘From Valparaiso to Sunderland,’ answered the other, in a way that made
one think he spoke with difficulty through suppressed mirth.

‘Will you tell us,’ bawled Finn, ‘if you’ve sighted an outward bound
fore and aft schooner-yacht within the past week?’

‘Sighted a fore and aft schooner-yacht? ay, that I have, master, fine a
vessel as yourn pretty nigh,’ shouted the other as though he must burst
in a moment into a roar of laughter.

‘Ask him aboard! ask him aboard!’ cried Wilfrid wild with excitement,
slapping his knee till it was like a discharge of pistols. ‘Beg him
to do me the favour of drinking a bottle of champagne with me; ask
him--ask him--but first ascertain if he has made an entry of the
meeting in his log-book.’

‘Ay, ay, sir. Ho the barque ahoy!’

‘Halloa?’

‘Can you tell us when and whereabouts ye fell in with that there
schooner?’

‘Tell ye! to be sure I can; got it in black and white, master. Ha!
ha! ha!’ and here the old figure in the tall hat clapped his hand to
his side and laughed outright, toppling and reeling about on the rail
in such a manner that I took it for granted he was drunk and expected
every moment to see him plunge overboard.

‘Ask him aboard! ask him aboard!’ shrieked Wilfrid. ‘Request him to
bring his log-book with him. We will send a boat.’

Finn hailed the barque again. ‘Sir Wilfrid Monson’s compliments to
you, sir, and will be pleased to see you aboard to drink a bottle of
champagne with him. Will you kindly bring your log-book with you? We
will send a boat.’

‘Right y’are,’ shouted the old chap with a humorous flourish of his
hand, and so speaking he sprang inboard, laughing heartily, and
disappeared down his little companion hatch.

A boat was lowered with four men in charge of surly old Crimp. My
cousin’s excitement was a real torment to witness. He smote his hands
violently together whilst he urged the men at the top of his voice to
bear a hand and be off or the barque would be swinging her topsail and
sailing away from us. He twitched from head to foot as though he must
fall into convulsions; he bawled to the sailors not to wait to cast
anything adrift but to put their knives through it as though somebody
were drowning astern and the delay of a single moment might make all
the difference between life or death. ‘By heaven!’ he cried, halting
in front of me and Miss Jennings with a fierceness of manner that was
rendered almost delirious by the quality of savage exultation in it,
‘I _knew_ it would fall out thus! They cannot escape me. Of course it
is the “Shark” that that fellow has sighted.’ He broke from us and ran
to the rail and overhung it, gnawing his nails whilst he watched the
receding boat with his eyelids quivering and his face working like that
of a man in acute pain.

‘I fear,’ said I, in a low voice, to Miss Jennings, ‘that it would not
require more than two or three incidents of this sort to utterly dement
him. His resolution is strong enough. Why in the name of pity will not
he secure his mind to it? It’s bound to go adrift else, I fear.’

‘But realise what he has suffered, Mr. Monson,’ she answered gently,
‘such a blow might unseat a stronger reason than his. I cannot wonder
at his excitement. Look how I am trembling!’ She lifted her little
hand, which shook as though she had been seized with a chill, but there
was tremor enough in her voice to indicate her agitation. ‘The mere
idea that the “Shark” may be much nearer to us than we imagine--that
this chase may very shortly bring her within sight of us----’ a strong
shiver ran through her. ‘Do you believe it is the “Shark” that that old
man saw?’

‘I shall be better able to judge when he comes aboard,’ said I. ‘See,
our boat is alongside. They must fend her off handsomely, by George, if
she is not to be swamped. Heavens! how that old cask wallows!’

In a few moments the little old man in the tall hat came to the gangway
and looked over; there was apparently some discussion; I imagined the
elderly humourist was going to funk it, for I fancied I saw him wag
his head; but on a sudden, all very nimbly, he dropped into the wide
main chains, whence, watching his opportunity, he toppled into the
boat, which immediately shoved off. Wilfrid went to the gangway to
receive him. I was a little apprehensive of the effect of my cousin’s
behaviour--which had something of the contortions and motions of a
galvanised body--upon the old sea-dog that was coming, and I say I
rather hoped that this captain might be a bit too tipsy to prove a nice
observer. I took a view of him as he sat in the stern sheets, the boat
sinking and rising from peak to hollow as she burst through the water
to the gilded, sparkling sweep of the admirably handled oars, and could
have laughed out of mere sympathy with the broad grin that lay upon his
jolly, mottled countenance. His face was as round as the full moon, and
of the appearance of brawn; his nose was a little fiery pimple; small
white whiskers went in a slant in the direction of his nostrils, coming
to an end under either eye. His hat was too big for him, and pressed
down the top of his ears into the likeness of overhanging flaps under
the Quaker-like breadth of brim; his mouth was stretched in a smile all
the time he was approaching the yacht, and he burst into a loud laugh
as he grasped the man-ropes and bundled agilely up the side of the
‘Bride.’

‘You are very good to come on board, sir,’ cried Wilfrid, bowing with
agitation, and speaking as though suffering from a swollen throat, with
the hurry, anxiety, impatience, which mastered him. ‘I thank you for
this visit. I see you have your log-book with you. Let me inquire your
name?’

‘Puncheon, sir. Ha! ha! ha! Toby Puncheon, sir; a rascally queer name,
ho! ho! And your honour’s a lord, ain’t ye? I didn’t quite catch the
words. He! he! he!’ rattled out the old fellow, laughing after almost
every other word, and staring at us one after another as he spoke
without the least diminution of his prodigious grin.

‘No, no; not a lord,’ exclaimed Wilfrid; ‘but pray step this way,
Captain Puncheon. Charles, please accompany us. Captain Finn, I shall
want you below.’

He led the road to the companion, calling to the steward, whilst he was
yet midway down the steps, to put champagne and glasses upon the table.

Captain Puncheon’s grin grew alarmingly wide as he surveyed the
glittering cabin. ‘My eye!’ he cried, after a rumbling laugh full
of astonishment, ‘them’s looking-glasses and no mistake! and pickle
me blue if ever I see the likes of such lamps afore on board ship!’
growing grave an instant to utter a low whistle. ‘Why, it’s finer than
a theaytre, ain’t it?’ he exclaimed, turning to me, once more grinning
from ear to ear, and addressing me as if I was his mate that had come
off with him. His glass was filled; he drank to us, and pulled his
log-book out of the piece of newspaper in which he had brought it
wrapped up.

‘Will you kindly give us,’ said Wilfrid, ‘the date on which you passed
the schooner-yacht?’

‘Aye, that I will,’ cried Puncheon, turning back the pages of his log,
and then pouncing upon an entry with a forefinger curled by rheumatism
into the aspect of a fish-hook as though the piece of writing would run
away if he did not keep it squeezed down upon the page. He felt about
his coat with his other hand, and then bursting into a laugh exclaimed:
‘Gents, you must read for yourselves. Blow’d if I ain’t gone and forgot
my glasses.’

The entry was perfectly ship-shape, and written in a round, somewhat
trembling old hand. There were the usual records of weather, courses
steered, and the like, and under the heading of observations was:
‘Passed large schooner-yacht steering west-south-west. Hoisted our
ensign, but she showed no colours.’ The log gave the latitude and
longitude of this encounter as 16° West longitude, 41° 30′ North
latitude.

I hurriedly made certain calculations after reading aloud this entry,
and addressing Finn said, ‘If that vessel be the “Shark” she has
managed to hold her own so far.’

‘Ay, sir,’ answered Finn, peering at my figures, ‘but what’s been her
weather?’

‘Are you chasing of her, gents?’ whipped out Puncheon, smiling as
though he only waited for us to answer to break into a roar of laughter.

‘Yes,’ cried Wilfrid fiercely, ‘and we mean to catch her;’ then,
controlling himself, ‘Captain, will you be so good as to describe the
vessel you met?’

‘Describe her? ’Course I will,’ answered the old chap, and forthwith
he gave us a sailorly picture of a yacht apparently of the burthen
of the ‘Shark’: a fore and aft schooner, a long, low, black, handsome
vessel, loftily rigged even for a craft of her kind. She passed within
a mile and a half of the ‘Wanderer’; it was about eight o’clock in the
morning, the sunshine bright, the wind north-east, a pleasant air. I
asked Puncheon if he examined her with his glass? ‘Examine her through
my glass? Ay, that I did,’ he answered in his hilarious way. ‘I see
some figures aboard aft. No lady. No, ne’er a hint of a female garment.
Happen if there was women they was still abed, seeing how young the
morn was for females as goes to sea for pleasure. I took notice of a
tall gent in a white cap with a naval peak and a white jacket.’ That
was about as much as he could tell us, and so saying he regaled himself
with a hearty laugh. Finn questioned him as one sailor would another on
points of the yacht’s furniture aloft, but the old fellow could only
speak generally of the impression left upon him. Wilfrid’s face was
flushed with excitement.

‘Finn,’ he exclaimed, ‘what do you think?’

‘Why, your honour,’ said the man deliberately, ‘putting two and two
together, and totalling up all sarcumstances of rig, haspect, time and
place, I don’t doubt that the schooner-yacht Captain Puncheon here fell
in with was the “Shark.”’

Puncheon rose.

‘Empty this bottle,’ cried Wilfrid to him. ‘By heaven, man, the news
you give me does me good, though!’

The old chap filled up, grinning merrily.

‘Gents,’ he cried, holding the foaming glass aloft and looking at it
with one eye closed, ‘your errand’s an honest one, I’m sure, and so
here’s success to it. The craft I fell in with has got legs, mind ye.
Yes, by thunder, ha! ha! ha! she’s got legs, gents, and’ll require all
the catching I expects your honours have stomachs for. ’Tain’t to be
done in the inside of a month, he! he! he! and so I tells ye. See her
slipping through it under her square sail! God bless my body and soul,
’twas like the shadow of a cloud running ower the waters. But give
yourselves a long course, gents all, and you’ve got a beauty here as
must lay her aboard--in time, ha! ha! ha! Your honours, my respects to
you.’

Down went the wine and up he got, pulling his hat to his ears and
stepping with a deep sea roll up the companion ladder. We followed him
to the gangway.

‘Is there nothing more to ask, Charles?’ cried Wilfrid.

But Puncheon had given us all he had to tell, and though I could have
wished him to hint at something distinctive in the vessel’s hull, such
as her figure-head or any other point of the like kind in which the
‘Shark’ might differ from vessels of her build and appearance, yet
there was the strongest possible reason to suppose that the craft he
reported was Lord Winterton’s schooner, with Lady Monson and Colonel
Hope-Kennedy on board.

Whilst Captain Puncheon waited for the yacht’s boat to haul alongside
Sir Wilfrid sent for a box of cigars which he presented to the old
chap. The gift produced such a grin that I saw some of the hands
forward turn their backs upon us to conceal their mirth.

‘Do you think, captain,’ exclaimed Wilfrid, once more rendered almost
alarmingly convulsive in his movements by the excitement that filled
him, ‘that there are men aboard your vessel who took note of more than
you did in the yacht’s appearance? If so----’

But Puncheon interrupted him by saying that he was the only man who
examined the schooner through a glass, and therefore neither his mate
nor any of the seamen who were on deck at the time could possibly have
observed her so fully as he.

‘Make haste and return,’ bawled my cousin to the fellows in the boat
as they shoved off with the grinning old skipper in the stern sheets.
‘Every moment is precious,’ he muttered, walking briskly in short turns
opposite Miss Jennings and me. ‘To think of them sneaking along like
the shadow of a cloud, hey!’ he sent a wildly impatient look aloft and
brought his foot with a heavy stamp to the deck.

‘It is the “Shark” then?’ whispered Miss Jennings.

‘No doubt of it,’ I answered.

She glanced at me as if she had been wounded and her lips turned pale.
Well, thought I, anticipation, to be sure, is often the worst part of
an affair of this sort, but if the mere hearing of the ‘Shark’ affects
this little sweetheart so violently, how will the sighting of the craft
serve her, and the boarding of her, if ever it comes to it? In a few
minutes the yacht’s boat was returning, whilst you saw the figure of
old Puncheon clambering out of his main chains over the bulwarks of
the ‘Wanderer.’ A little later and there were hands tailing on to the
falls, the boat rising dripping to the davits, and the foretopsail
yard slowly pointing its arm to the wind; then, to the full weight of
the breeze sweeping red with the sunset into her hollowed canvas, the
‘Bride’ leaned down, sullenly shouldering the swell into foam with the
first stubborn push of her bows, till gathering way she was once more
swinging into the west and south with the gloom of the evening growing
into a windy vagueness on her lee-beam, whilst on the weather quarter,
black as indigo against the dull western redness, was the figure of the
barque rolling with filled maintopsail over the long Atlantic heavings,
and rapidly diminishing into the fragile beauty of some exquisitely
carved toy of ebony wood on the skirts of the rising and falling
fan-shaped stretch of seething paleness that marked the limits of the
‘Bride’s’ wake.

Wilfrid, who had been standing at the compass staring with a frown at
the card, with his arms folded, whilst the men trimmed sail and started
the yacht afresh, marched up to me when that business was over and
exclaimed, ‘What did you make the average of the “Shark’s” daily runs
according to Puncheon’s reckonings of the place of his meeting her?’

‘About a hundred and eighty miles a day,’ I answered.

‘_We_ haven’t been doing that though!’

‘No: but wait a little,’ said I; ‘let your “Bride” feel the trade wind
humming aloft.’

‘Finn,’ he bawled. The captain came running to us. ‘Fetch the track
chart, Finn. There’s light enough yet to see by.’

The man disappeared and very quickly returned, with a handy chart of
the world which he unrolled and laid on the top of the skylight. We
all overhung it, Miss Jennings amongst us. The men forward watched
us curiously. Something in the manner of them suggested to the swift
glance I sent their way that the perception our voyage was more
serious, with a wilder, sterner purpose in it than they had imagined,
was beginning to dawn upon them since Puncheon’s visit.

‘Mark the spot, Finn,’ exclaimed Wilfrid in the dogged voice of a man
sullenly and obstinately struggling to master a feeling of exhaustion,
‘the exact spot where the barque fell in with the “Shark.”’

Finn produced a parallel ruler, a pair of compasses, a pencil and the
like, calculated and indicated the spot by a little cross.

‘How short the distance she has sailed seems!’ exclaimed Miss Jennings.

‘Fifteen degrees of latitude, though,’ said I; ‘these charts are mighty
deceptive. A very small pencil mark will cover a tremendously long
course.’

Wilfrid stood motionless with his eyes fixed upon the mark Finn had
made. He talked a little to himself, but voicelessly. The captain
watched him nervously. My cousin came to himself with a start. ‘What
will have been the “Shark’s” course by magnetic compass, Finn, say from
the latitude of the Scillies to the spot where the “Wanderer” met her?’

The captain put his parallel rules on the chart and named the course;
what it was I forget,--south-west by south, I believe, or something
near it.

‘Supposing the wind not to head her, Finn,’ continued my cousin, ‘would
she steer the same course down to the time when the “Wanderer” met her?’

‘No, your honour. There’s no call for Fidler any more than there is for
me to go to the westwards of Madeira.’

‘Now, Finn, show me on this chart where, steering the course you are
now heading, you will have arrived when you have run nine hundred
miles?’

‘How’s her head?’ sung out Finn to the fellow at the wheel. The man
answered. ‘You hear it, Sir Wilfrid?’ said Finn. My cousin nodded. The
captain put his rules on the chart, adjusting them to the course the
‘Bride’ was then sailing, and the measure of nine hundred miles brought
the mark he made to touch the cross that represented the ‘Shark’s’
place. ‘That’s right, I think, Mr. Monson,’ said he, turning a sober
face of triumph on me.

‘Quite right,’ I answered, and I spoke no more than the truth, for the
poor fellow had made his calculations with laborious anxiety.

Wilfrid clapped his hands together with a shout of laughter that
carried his voice to a shriek almost, and without speaking a word he
strode to the hatch and went below.



CHAPTER IX.

A SQUALL.


Although Finn’s calculations showed very well upon the chart, it will
not be supposed I could find anything in them upon which to ground that
hope of falling in with the ‘Shark’ which had become a conviction with
Wilfrid. The look-out man at our masthead might perhaps, on a clear
day, compass a range of some twenty miles, even thirty if it came to
a gleam of lofty canvas hovering over a hull a league or two past the
slope of waters; but what was a view of this kind to signify in so vast
an ocean as we had entered? As I have elsewhere said, the difference of
a quarter of a point would in a few hours, supposing a good breeze of
wind to be blowing, carry the ‘Bride’ wide of the wake of the ‘Shark,’
and put the two yachts out of sight fair abreast of one another.

Finn understood this as well as I; but when I fell into a talk with him
on the subject that evening--I mean the evening of the day on which
we had spoken the ‘Wanderer’--he told me very honestly that the odds
indeed were heavy against our heaving the ‘Shark’ into view, though
he was quite sure of outsailing her if the course was to extend to the
Cape of Good Hope; but that as there was a chance of our picking her
up, whether by luck, if I chose to think it so, or by his hitting with
accuracy upon the line of direction that Fidler would take, he had made
up his mind to regard the thing as going to happen, for his own ease of
mind as well as to keep my cousin’s expectations lively and trusting.

‘A man can but do his best, sir,’ he said to me. ‘Sir Wilfrid needs a
deal of humouring; you can see that, sir. I knew all along, when he
first came and told me what had happened and gave me my orders, that
the job of keeping him pacified would have to go hand in hand with the
business of sailing the “Bride” and lighting upon the “Shark,” if so be
she’s discoverable. My notion is that if you’re called upon so to act
as to fit an employer’s taste and keep his views and wishes gratified,
though by no more than maintaining expectation in him, the best thing
is to tarn to and try to think as fur as you can the same way as he do.
I don’t mind saying, Mr. Monson, that I allow the whole of this here
voyage to be as wague as wagueness can well be; therefore why worrit
over parts of it? Suppose we overhaul the “Shark”--then it’ll be all
right; suppose we _don’t_--then it won’t be for the want of trying.’

This was the substance of Finn’s opinion as he imparted it to me that
night. His sincerity touched me; besides, I saw worry enough in the
poor fellow to make me sorry for him. Indeed, I resolved from that
hour to back him up, heartily agreeing with him that the adventure was
quite too vague to justify anxiety in respect of any one detail of the
programme.

The weather was quiet when I went to bed that night. I came below
from my long yarn with Finn, leaving a windy smear of moon over our
mastheads and a dark sky going down from it to the obscured sea-line,
with here and there a pale and vapoury point of star hovering sparely
over a wing of cloud that lay still in the dusk, as though what wind
there was blew low upon the waters. The wide sea came to the yacht in a
dusky throbbing, like folds of gloom rolling with a sort of palpitation
in them to the eye; the foam glanced in places, but there was little
weight in the wind, and the pallid spires of the yacht’s canvas floated
nearly upright through the dark atmosphere, with a sound of the sob
of water coming off her weather bow and the dead plash of the hidden
billow falling without life from her quarter, in a way that made one
think there were fellows emptying buckets over the side abreast of the
wheel.

Wilfrid had been moody and reserved throughout the dinner, and retired
early to bed. I sat an hour with Miss Laura, with the mild diversion of
a draught-board between us; but we soon forgot to play in talking. We
had been but a few days together, yet I had already made the discovery
that I wonderfully enjoyed her company, and that I immensely relished
a quality of arch naïveté in her conversation, which owed something
of its effect to the contrast between a sort of coquettish sagacity
in many things she said and the nun-like artlessness and virginal
sweetness I seemed to find in the gentle girlish regard of her charming
eyes. I also observed in myself that the more I saw of her the more
her beauty gained upon me. I never remember meeting a woman’s face
that I would sooner have taken as a frank expression of mind; there
was a softness and delicacy of feature that one instinctively accepted
as an illustration of habitual refinement and purity of thought. Her
manner, save when aroused, was of engaging gentleness and tenderness,
and her smile the most amiable of any I remember. Her position was of
great delicacy, and could not have failed to painfully distress one
of your self-conscious women. Our adventure, every reference to it,
every mention of the ‘Shark,’ every expression in Wilfrid of grief,
shame, temper, was as it were a rude withdrawal of the veil from before
her sister’s frailty. There was no other lady on board to help her to
bear, so to speak, the burthen of the inevitable topic, and yet she
never made it appear as though there was pain and shame to her in the
subject, outside her grief for Wilfrid, her eagerness that her sister
should be recovered, her resentment against the man who had betrayed
and dishonoured his friend.

I may fail to convey what I thought of her maidenly acceptance of her
share in this strange adventure, but I am certain that nobody but
a person of exquisite instincts could have acted, as she did, the
delicate and exacting part allotted her by my cousin.

The weather was still very quiet when I bade her good-night. I went to
my cabin, and do not suppose I was ten minutes in my bed before I fell
asleep. I awoke to a sound of a great roaring all about, accompanied by
the cries of men on deck, the sharp flinging down of coils of rope and
the thunder of shaking canvas trembling in every fibre of the hull. My
bunk was an athwart-ship one, and I had turned-in, to employ the proper
sea parlance, with my head to windward; but now the yacht was lying
over on t’other side, and I awoke to find my heels in the air and the
weight of my body upon my neck; but the angle of the craft was so sharp
that it was not without a prodigious amount of heaving and floundering
I managed to get my legs over and to sit upright.

A squall! thought I, feeling for my pillow, which I placed in the port
end of my bedstead and once again lay down. A flash of sun-bright
lightning glanced through the port-hole as though a gun had been fired
into my cabin, and the interior glanced out into a noon-tide effulgence
for one breathless instant, in which, however, I managed to catch
sight of the angle formed by a coat with a stanchion, upon which it
hung by a peg. Upon my word, it was as though the yacht was upon her
beam ends--such a heel as was not to be realised by one lying in a
bunk or even sitting upright in it: then came the darkness like a sea
of ink, rolling to the sight in which the reflection of the flash
still writhed, followed by a mighty shock of thunder that died away in
a hundred rattling peals, as though ’twas high mountainous land all
around the horizon, honeycombed with caverns and every peak as resonant
as a hollow dome.

A sharp squall! thought I, but there was too much noise for sleep. It
was all hands on deck I was pretty sure by the numerous scampering over
my head; the harsh voices of the sailors bawling at the ropes would be
swept into faint cries by the rush of the wind, and now and again a
heavy lumpish sound that put a quiver into every plank, followed by a
snarling noise like the hissing of half a dozen locomotives blowing off
steam, was warrant enough to ears not unused to such sounds that the
‘Bride’ was taking large doses of water in pretty freely over her rail.

I lay quiet, and was presently sensible that the yacht was off the
wind; the righting of her was no small comfort; she was manifestly
going through it like a comet; the sea was now well aft, and the
suggestion of swiftness I found in the mere feel of the hull, somehow
or other, black as my cabin was and the blacker as it remained for the
flash of lightning, was accentuated by the thunderous rush of each
surge outstripping us in the race and hurling its black length along
the vessel’s side, and the fierce spitting and crackling of the smother
of spume that was raised by the vessel’s headlong flight, and that went
raging and racing astern on top of the swelling ebony fold that swept
forwards from the opposite direction.

Humph! thought I, if this is a case of ‘up keeleg’ with friend Finn
he’ll have to enter into something shrewder and surer than dead
reckoning to find his way back again into the ‘Shark’s’ wake. I had
a mind to see what was happening, and after a spell of troublesome
groping and clawing, during which I had like to have broke my nose
by striking it against the edge of a chest of drawers built into a
corner, I succeeded in lighting my lamp, and was presently snug in a
pea coat and a sou’-wester which I had been wise enough to include in
the slender sea outfit I had purchased for this voyage. The cabin light
was always kept burning throughout the night, dimmed by one of the
stewards, after we had retired to our berths, but with plenty of flame
left to see by, and on emerging the first object I caught sight of was
the figure of a man on his knees on the cabin floor in a posture of
prayer and apparently in an agony of fright. Nothing was to be heard of
him until I had approached close, for the roaring of the wind and the
washing and foaming of seas drowned all other noises; but on stooping
to make sure of the fellow, whose hands were clasped over his eyes
whilst he held his face upturned as he swayed upon his knees, I could
hear him praying with all his might, with an energy indeed that might
of itself have accounted for the drops of perspiration that glistened
upon his brow, if it wasn’t that his attitude of terror explained
the secret of that moisture. It was Muffin. There was something so
shameful in the fellow’s cowardice that all in an instant I lost my
temper and gave him a kick which flung him at his length, face down,
upon the deck. He set up a horrible howl.

‘Oh Lord! oh mercy! we’re gone! we’re gone! Oh, if I was only on dry
ground----’

Here I seized him by the collar. ‘Get up, you fool,’ I cried. ‘Do you
know where you are, you idiot? Cease! If you alarm Miss Jennings----’
and I hauled him on to his legs, shaking him heartily as I did so.

‘Oh, Mr. Monson,’ he whined, ‘is it you, sir? Tell me we ain’t all dead
and gone, sir! Oh, this is ’orrible, though! ’orrible! Never no more;
never no more for me!’

‘Be off to your berth at once,’ cried I angrily, though my temper died
out of me at the absurd sight of his yellow, working, terrified face,
rendered ugly enough to challenge the skill of a Cruikshank by the
manner in which, during his devotions, he had streaked his forehead and
nose and his cheeks past his eyes with his plaister-like lengths of
coal-black hair. He was for speaking, but I grasped him by the shoulder
and ran him towards his berth that lay some little distance forward of
mine on the starboard side, and when he had shut himself in I made my
way on deck, with a peep aft, as I went up the steps, where all seemed
quiet.

The night was still very dark, but of a clearer dusk. The moon made
a red streak low in the west amongst some ragged clouds that seemed
to fall like a short flight of steps, every one edged with blood, to
the sea-line, where the muddy crimson drained out, just showing the
lurid staining of it now and again when some surge beneath reared an
unbroken head to the lustre. The night was made to look amazingly
wilder than it was in reality by that western setting jumble of ugly
lustre and torn vapour, like a flock of giant bats heading from the
moon for ocean solitude of deeper blackness. To windward there was a
great lake of indigo-blue in the sky, in which a number of trembling
stars were floating and vast white puffs of cloud crossing it with
the swiftness of scud in the gale; but to leeward it was just a mass
of heaped-up gloom, one dye of dusk on top of another in blocks of
blackness such as a poet might dream of in picturing the hellish walls
and battlements of a beleaguered city of demons; and upon this mass
of darkness that looked as substantial as stone to the eye there was
a plentiful play and crackle of violet lightning; but no thunder, at
least none that I could hear. It was blowing fresh, but the wind had
taken off considerably within the last ten minutes; the ‘Bride’ was
close hauled; there was a strong sea on the bow and she was plunging;
smartly, with at frequent intervals a brisk squall of spray over her
head that rattled upon the deck like a fall of hail in a thunderstorm;
a dark gleam would break first here and then there from her deck to
her rolling, but the water was draining off fast, flashing in a loud
hissing through the scupper holes at every lee send, but with weight
enough yet remaining in each rush of it to enable me to gather that it
must have been pretty nearly waist-high between the bulwarks with the
first shipping of the seas and the first downrush of the fierce squall.

They had snugged the ‘Bride’ to very small canvas; the play of the
white waters round her threw out her shape clear as black paint on
canvas; at moments she dived till you would think the tall black coil
arching at her past the creaming glare crushed out of the sea by the
smiting of her forefoot must leap right aboard her; but her staunch and
buoyant bow, the truest piece of ocean moulding I ever saw in a ship,
would regularly swing with a leap to the peak of the billow, shattering
it with a saucy disdain that seemed to be followed by an echo of
derisive laughter in the yelling ring of the wind splitting upon the
rigging or sweeping into the iron hard cavities of the diminished
spaces of wan and spectral canvas.

I took all this in as I stood a minute in the companion hatch; then
perceiving the figure of a man to windward almost abreast of me, I
crossed to him. It was Finn.

‘Very ugly squall that, Mr. Monson,’ said he after peering at me to
make sure of my identity; ‘it found us with tops’l and t’gallants’l
set and took us slap aback. It was the most onexpected thing that
ever happened to me; as onnatural as that there moon. Talk of keeping
a look-out! I was staring hard that way with the wind a pleasant air
blowing off t’other side and saw nothing and heard nothing until I felt
it.’

‘You had to run?’

‘Ay, but not for long, sir.’

‘How’s her head now, Captain Finn?’

‘Her proper course, Mr. Monson.’

‘Well, the weather is brightening. You’ll be making sail again on your
ship, I suppose, presently?’

‘Ay, but let that muck blow away first,’ he answered, pointing with a
shadowy arm into the mass of obscurity where the lightning still winked
fitfully. ‘After such a blow-me-aback job as this I ain’t going to
trust the weather till I can see more of it.’

I lingered a little, watching the slow opening of the sky to windward,
and the gradual unfolding of the stars down the velvet declivity, that
looked as though purified by the cleansing of the black wet squall, and
then bidding good-night to Finn, who seemed a bit subdued by the wildly
disconcerting attack of the weather, that to a sober, vigilant seaman
was about as uncomfortable a snub in its way as could be administered,
I went below, intending to walk straight to my berth and go to bed
again. On entering the cabin, however, I found the lamp turned up, and
Wilfrid pacing the carpet with long strides and with an agitation of
manner that was grotesquely deepened by the occasional stagger of his
gait by the plunging of the yacht and the hurried lift of his arm to
clutch the nearest thing at hand for support. I concluded that he had
been aroused by the commotion of the squall, but thought it strange
he had not stepped on deck to see how things were. On seeing me he put
his hand on the back of a fixed revolving chair, and swung, or rather
reeled, himself into it, then leaned his cheek upon his hand in a
posture of extreme moodiness, whilst he kept his eyes bent downwards.

I took a seat opposite him, after a glance round in search of Miss
Jennings, who, I thought, might also be up.

‘The noise above disturbed you, I suppose, Wilfrid?’ said I.

‘I have not slept,’ he answered.

‘Not since half-past nine! You went to bed then, you know, and it’s now
two o’clock,’ I exclaimed, looking at the dial under the skylight.

‘I have not slept,’ he repeated.

‘I wonder that the squall did not bring you on deck.’

‘For what purpose?’ he exclaimed gloomily. ‘I could hear Finn’s voice;
I could follow what the men were doing. If every squall we are likely
to meet is to bring me from my bed, I may as well order a hammock to be
slung for me on deck.’

‘What is the matter, Wilfrid?’ said I, earnestly and soothingly.
‘Something, I fear, has happened to vex and bother you.’

He passed his hand over his eyes, and looking down said, ‘I have had a
warning.’

‘A what?’ I exclaimed.

‘A warning,’ he answered, fetching a deep sigh and making as if to
rise, retaining, however, his posture of profound melancholy, whilst he
sent a slow, wandering look around, finally fastening his eyes upon me.

‘From whom came this warning, Wilfrid?’ said I cheerfully. ‘Muffin?
Egad, you’ll be getting a warning from him soon, I reckon. I found
the chap on his knees just now, sweating with fear and praying like
clockwork. I gave him a kick, and I wonder the howl that he raised
did not bring you running out of your cabin.’ I jabbered this off in
a reckless, laughing way, though I watched him narrowly, too, all the
time I was speaking.

‘Nothing shall hinder me, Charles,’ he exclaimed, closing his right
fist and letting it lie in a menacing way upon the table. ‘I have made
up my mind to tear the creature who still remains my wife from the side
of the man she has left me for; and before God’--he rolled his eyes up
and raised his clenched hand--‘my vow is this: that I will hunt them
from port to port, through ocean after ocean, until I meet with them!
_When_ that shall be I know not; but this I _do_ know--that my time
will come and I can wait. But I must be on the move. Nothing could
render life tolerable to me now but the sense of action, the animation
and hope of pursuit.’

‘But the warning----?’ said I.

‘Oh, to be vexed by ghostly exhortations--it is enough to craze one!’
he exclaimed. ‘Heaven knows, resolution grows weak enough in me as it
is to any thought of my little one that visits me. Oh no,’ he cried,
with a sarcastic shake of the head and a singular smile, ‘do not
believe that thoughts of my baby girl would cause me to falter even for
one breathless instant on this course that I have made up my mind to
pursue. But to think of the helpless lamb as alone----’

‘My dear fellow,’ I interrupted, ‘the child could not possibly be in
tenderer hands.’

‘I know, I know,’ he cried, with a sob in his voice, ‘but she is
motherless, Charles; and then how precarious is life at that age! I may
never see her again!’

He broke down at this and hid his face.

‘Come, come,’ said I, ‘your nerves have been strained by the incident
of this afternoon, or, I should say of yesterday afternoon--unduly,
though intelligibly, excited by Puncheon’s report of having passed the
“Shark.” Endeavour to get some rest, old fellow. These warnings, these
visions, mysterious voices sounding out of heaven knows where, midnight
shapes as thin as moonshine--Wilfrid, depend upon it, they all emanate
from a disordered condition of that part of the body which the Chinese
have most wisely selected as the true seat of the soul; I mean here,’
said I, patting my waistcoat.

He regarded me somewhat vacantly and sat awhile in silence, sighed
tremulously, and stepped to the foot of the companion ladder, where he
stood staring up into the arch of black night that filled the companion
entrance. Presently Finn rumbled out an order on deck. There was the
flash of bright stars upon the gleaming ebony of the cabin windows with
every heave of the yacht; the sea was moderating, and the loud humming
of the wind aloft gradually fining into a dull complaining noise. Ropes
were thrown down overhead; voices began to sing out. I uttered a loud
yawn. Wilfrid turned and exclaimed, ‘Don’t let me keep you up, Charles.’

‘It’s all right,’ said I, ‘but why not go to bed, too? Or first
describe this warning that you have had; express the nature of it.
Perhaps, like the proverbial onlooker who sees most of the game, I
might be able to help you with some reassuring suggestion.’

But he merely shook his head; and now, feeling quite intolerably
sleepy, and in no mood, therefore, as you will suppose, to reason with
a mind so oppressed as his with superstitious melancholy, I called a
cheery good-night to him, went to my cabin, and was soon fast asleep.

I was awakened by the brilliant daylight that filled my berth, and
at once rose and sung out to the steward to prepare me a bath. All
the time I bathed and dressed I was thinking of Wilfrid and of what
he called his ‘warning.’ I supposed it was some voice that he had
heard, and he had made it plain that it had referred, amongst other
things maybe, to his little infant. Now, though of course I had known
for years that he was ‘touched,’ as the expression goes, I had never
understood that his craziness had risen to the height of hearing voices
and beholding visions in his waking hours; and I was, therefore,
forced to believe that his mind was far more unhinged at present
than his manners and speech, peculiar as they unquestionably were at
times, had indicated. Well, thought I, assuredly if he gets worse, if
the symptoms should grow more defined, this chase will have to come
to an end. I, for one, should most certainly call a halt. Why, what
could be fuller of madness than his vow last night before me--to go
on sailing from port to port, and traversing ocean after ocean, until
he has captured her ladyship; as if a pursuit on such lines as these
were going to end in anything better than driving all hands daft and
converting the ‘Bride’ into a floating lunatic asylum? So far, it is
true, I have found method enough to keep my mind tolerably easy; but if
poor Wilfrid is going to become very much worse, hang me, thought I,
plying a pair of hair-brushes with very agitated hands, if Captain Finn
don’t haul his wind for the handiest port and set me ashore for one.



CHAPTER X.

I GO ALOFT.


It was a fresh sweet ocean morning, one of the fairest I remember;
the wind, a tender fanning from the west, warm enough to make one
fancy an odour and balm of the tropics in it, leagues ahead as those
parallels yet lay. The sky was one broad surface of curls and feathers
of pearl-coloured vapour, an interweaving, as it were, of many-shaped
links of silken cloud shot with silver and amber and gold from the
early sun. I never beheld a lovelier dome of sky, so tender in glory
and rich in delicate perfections of tints. The sea spread in a firm
dark line to it like a blue floor under some mighty roof of marble; the
sun’s wake came in a misty stream of light to the port bends of the
yacht, where it was flashed by the mirror-like wet blackness of the
glossy side back deep into the brimming azure of the brine in a great
puff of radiance that made one think of a cloud of brightly illuminated
steam ascending from the depths.

Everything was brilliant and clean and cheerful, the decks of the white
softness of foam, brass sparkling, rigging flemish-coiled or festooned
as by an artist’s hand upon the pins; forward stood the long cannon
radiant as polished jet, a detail that gave an odd significance to the
saucy knowing ‘spring,’ as it is called, of the yacht that way. The
cocks and hens in the coops were straining their throats and blending
with their cheerful voices was a noise of pigs; there was black smoke
pouring away from the galley chimney, and now and again you got a whiff
of something good frying for the men’s breakfasts, for my cousin fed
his sailors well. The ‘Bride’ with erect masts was sliding over the
wide folds of water whose undulations were so long drawn and regular
as to be scarce perceptible in the motion of the vessel; there was air
enough to crisp the sea, and where the sun’s light lay the tremble
was blinding; on either bow was a curl of silver and pale eddyings
alongside with a line of oil-smooth water going away astern from under
the counter; yet we were but creeping, too, spite of the yacht being a
pile of white cloths--every stitch she owned abroad to her topgallant
studdingsail.

The mate had charge, and was stumping the weather side of the
quarterdeck in his sour way when I arrived.

‘Good morning, Mr. Crimp.’

‘Marning,’ he answered.

‘Ugly squall that last night.’

‘Ugly? ay.’

The fellow gave the word _sir_ to no man, restricting its use when
ashore to dogs as Finn once told me; but his surly tricks of speech
and manner were so wholly a part of him, so entirely natural, so
unconsciously expressed, that it would have been as idle to resent them
as to have quarrelled with him for having an askew eye or lost one’s
temper because his beard resembled rope yarns.

‘Anything in sight?’ I asked, looking round.

‘Ay,’ he answered.

‘Where?’ I exclaimed, running my eye over the sea.

‘Up yonder,’ he responded, indicating with a gesture of his chin the
topgallant-yard where was perched the inevitable figure of a look-out
man.

‘But where away, Mr. Crimp,--where away, sir?’

‘On the starboard bow,’ he answered, ‘’tain’t long been sighted.’

Breakfast would not be ready for some time yet, and having nothing to
do I thought I would make a journey aloft on my own account and take a
view of the distant sail and of the spacious field of the glittering
morning ocean from the altitude of the masthead. I stepped below for
a telescope of my own, a glass I had many a time ogled the sea with
when I was doing penance for past and future sins in African and West
Indian waters. Muffin was at the foot of the companion steps holding a
pair of Wilfrid’s boots. He cast his eyes down and drew his figure in
though there was abundance of room for me to pass. A slow, obsequious,
apologetic smile went twisting and curling down his lips; his yellow
face had a burnished look; he was uncommonly clean-shaven, and his hair
was brushed or plastered to the smoothness of his skull.

‘Got your courage back?’ said I.

‘Thank you, yes, sir,’ he answered humbly with his eyes respectfully
cast down. ‘Richard’s himself again this morning, sir, as the saying
is. But it was a ’orrible time, sir.’

‘You came near to making it so,’ said I. ‘Have you been to Sir Wilfrid
yet?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘How is he?’

‘Asleep, sir,’ he replied in a blandly confidential way.

‘Glad to hear it,’ I exclaimed, ‘don’t disturb him. He passed a bad
night down to two or three o’clock this morning.’ I was going; suddenly
I stopped. ‘By the way,’ said I, rounding upon the fellow, ‘how long
have you been in Sir Wilfrid’s service?’

My question appeared to penetrate him with a consuming desire to be
exact. He partially closed one eye, cocked the other aloft like a hen
in the act of drinking, and then said with the air of one happy in the
power of speaking with accuracy, ‘It’ll be five months to the hour,
sir, come height o’clock, Friday evening next.’

‘During the time that you have been in his service,’ said I carelessly,
‘have you ever heard him speak of hearing voices or seeing visions?’

‘Woices, no, sir,’ he answered; ‘but wisions,’ he added with a sigh and
lengthening his yellow face into an expression of deep concern, ‘has, I
fear, sir, more’n once presented theirselves to him.’

‘Of what nature, do you know?’

‘Sir Wilfrid’s a little mysterious, sir,’ he responded in a greasy tone
of voice, and looking down as if he would have me understand that with
all due respect he was my cousin’s valet and knew his place.

I said no more, but made my way on deck with a suspicion in me that the
fellow had lied, though I hardly knew why I should think so. I trudged
forward, and finding three or four of the men hanging about the galley
I pulled out five shillings and gave the money to one of them, saying
that I was going aloft and wished to pay my footing, for I was in no
temper to be chased and worried. This made me free of the rigging, into
which I sprang and had soon shinned as high as the topgallant-yard,
upon which I perched myself so noiselessly that the man who overhung it
on the other side of the mast and who was drowsily chewing upon a quid
of tobacco with his eye screwed into Wilfrid’s lovely telescope, had no
notion I was alongside of him. I coughed softly, for I had known seamen
to lose their lives when up aloft by being suddenly startled. He put
a whiskered face past the mast and stared at me as if I was Old Nick,
out of the minutest pair of eyes I ever saw in the human head, mere
gimlet-holes they seemed for the admission of light.

‘Thinking of your sweetheart, Jack?’ said I with a laugh, ignorant of
his name but counting Jack to be a sure word.

‘Can’t rightly say _what_ I was a-thinking of, sir,’ he answered
hoarsely; ‘’warn’t my sweetheart anyways, seeing that the only gell I
was ever really partial to sarved me as her ledship sarved Sir Wilfrid
yonder,’ indicating the quarterdeck with a sideways motion of his head.

‘Cut stick, eh?’ said I.

‘Wuss than that, sir,’ he answered. ‘If she’d ha’ taken herself off and
stopped at that I dunno as I should have any occasion to grumble; but
she prigged the furniture that I’d laid in agin getting married. Ay,
_prigged_ it. The boiling amounted to fourteen pound tew, a bloomin’
lot o’ money for a poor seafaring man to be robbed of for the sake
of a master chimney-sweep.’ He cast a slow disgusted look round and
expectorated with an air of loathing.

‘I hope you got the master chimney-sweep locked up,’ said I.

‘No fear!’ cried he, talking very fast; ‘smite me, your honour, if
that there gell didn’t tarn to and swear that that furniture was hers,
bought out of her own savings, and that she guv me the money to order
it with. Thinking o’ my sweetheart!’ he grumbled, lifting the telescope
in an abstracted manner to his eye, ‘if it worn’t for women dummed if
this ’ere earth wouldn’t be worth a-living in.’

I smothered a laugh, and catching sight of the sail shining faintly in
the blue air, leagues and leagues distant as it seemed, I pointed the
glass and easily distinguished the royal, topgallant-sail and a snatch
of the topsail of a ship heading directly for us.

‘I wonder if she’ll have any news?’ said I.

‘Beg your pardon, sir,’ exclaimed the man, ‘but could you tell me how
long it’s reckoned in the cabin this here ramble’s a-going to last?’

‘What was the nature of the voyage you signed for?’

‘Why,’ he replied, ‘a yachting cruise to Table Bay and home.’

‘It’ll not exceed that, I believe,’ I exclaimed.

‘And if we picks up that there “Shark” and recovers the lady afore
we git to the Cape, shall we keep all on or shift our hellum for
Southamptin again?’

‘Captain Finn will be able to tell you more about it than I,’ I
responded in a tone that silenced him, though his tiny eyes looked
athirst for information as he regarded me aslant over one of his huge
whiskers.

The height from which I surveyed the vast plain of sea, the spirit of
whose loneliness seemed to find the one touch of emphasis it needed to
render its magnitude realisable by human instincts in that remote flaw
of ship’s canvas which broke the continuity of the boundless horizon
filled me with a feeling of exhilaration I cannot express; the sweet
mild ocean breeze high on that slender yard sank through and through
me, and vitality to its most secret recesses was quickened by it into
a very intoxication of life, new, free, ardent; the air hummed gently
in a vibratory metallic note as though it were some echo of a distant
concert of harps and violins; far down the hull of the yacht, plentiful
as was her beam in reality, looked like a long slender plank rounded
at the bows, the whiteness of the deck showing with a sort of radiance
as though it were thinly sheeted with crystal upon which the shadows
of the rigging, masts, and canvas lay dark and beautifully clear, with
a fitful swaying of them to the heave of the fabric, off polished and
brilliant things such as the skylight or the brass decorations, when
flashes of fire would leap forth to be veiled again in the violet
gloom of the recurrent shade. The thin curve of foam on either hand the
cutwater looked like frosted silver; my eye went to the airy confines
of the ocean spreading out into a delicate haze of soft azure light
where it washed the marble of that magnificent morning firmament, and
then it was that, sharper than ever I had before felt it, there rose
the perception in me of the incalculable odds against our sighting the
yacht we were in pursuit of, so measureless did the ocean distance
appear when with the gaze going from the ‘Bride’s’ masthead I thought
of the distance that made the visible and compassable sphere, big as it
was, as little as a star compared with the heavenly desert it floats in.

When I looked down again I observed Miss Jennings watching me from the
gangway with her hand shading her eyes. I raised my hat and she bowed,
and being wistful of her company I bade my friend Jack keep his eyes
polished, as the piece that was nailed to the mast would help to lessen
the loss that his sweetheart had occasioned him, and descended, hearing
him rumbling in his gizzard as I got off the foot rope, though what he
said I did not catch.

‘What is there to be seen, Mr. Monson?’ was Miss Jennings’ first
question, with a delicate fire of timorous expectation in her eyes.

‘Only a ship,’ said I.

‘Not--not----’

‘No! not the “Shark” yet,’ I exclaimed smiling.

‘I am stupid to feel so nervous. I dare say I am as passionately
anxious as Wilfrid to see my sister in this vessel safe--and separated
from--from’--she faltered and quickly added, bringing her hands
together and locking them, ‘but I dread the moment to arrive when the
“Shark” will be reported in sight.’

‘Well, if we _are_ to pick up that craft,’ said I, ‘we shall do so and
then there’ll be an end on’t. But I give you my word, Miss Jennings,
the ocean looks a mighty big place from that bit of a stick up there.’

‘Too big for this chase?’

‘Too big I fear to give Wilfrid the chance he wants.’

She sent a bright glance at the topgallant yard and said, ‘Does not
that great height make you feel dizzy?’

‘Ay, as wine does. There is an intoxication as of ether in the air up
there. Oh, Miss Jennings, if I could only manage to get you on to that
yard--see how near to heaven it is! You would then be able not only to
say that you looked like an angel, but that you felt like one.’

She laughed prettily and turned as if to invite me to walk. After a bit
I spoke of the squall last night. It had not disturbed her. Then I told
her of Wilfrid’s melancholy perturbation, on which her face grew grave
and her air thoughtful.

‘He did not tell you the nature of the warning?’ she inquired.

‘No. It evidently had reference to his baby. I wished to ascertain
whether it was a voice or a vision--though I really don’t know _why_;
for an hallucination is an hallucination all the world over, and it
signifies little whether it be a sheeted essence to affect the eye or a
string of airy syllables to affright the ear.’

‘I am sorry, I am sorry,’ she exclaimed anxiously; ‘it is a bad
symptom, I fear. Yet it ought not to surprise one. The shock was
terrible--so recent too! Scarcely a fortnight ago he felt safe and
happy in his wife’s love and faith----’

‘Maybe,’ I interrupted, ‘but I wouldn’t be too sure though. When I last
met him--I mean somewhile before he came to ask me to join him in this
trip--his manner was very clouded, I thought, when he spoke of his
wife. I fancy even then suspicion was something more than a seed. But
still, as you say, it is all desperately recent, and it certainly is a
sort of business to play havoc with such a mind as his. Did you ever
hear of his having warnings or seeing visions before?’

‘Never.’

‘I asked his valet that question just now, and he told me he did not
know that his master heard “woices,” but he believed he was troubled
with “wisions,” as he called them.’

‘Wilfrid has been very secret then. My sister spoke much to me of the
oddness of his character, made more of it indeed than ever I could
witness,--but then one understands why, now,’ she exclaimed with an
angry toss of her head. ‘But she never once hinted at his suffering
from delusions of the kind you name. How should his man know then?
Wilfrid is not a person to be so very confidential as all that with his
servant. I never liked Muffin, and I believe he is a story-teller.’

‘So do I,’ said I, ‘and a coward to boot,’ and I told her of my finding
him on his knees, and how I had prostrated him with a kick. This
provoked one of her cordial, sweet, _clearing_ laughs. It was a music
to fit to gayer thoughts than we had been discoursing, and presently
we were chatting lightly about dress, society, some maestro’s new
opera and other light topics very much more suitable for a yacht’s
quarter-deck under such a morning heaven as was then shining upon
us, than the raven, owl, and bat-like subjects of ghosts, warnings,
visions, and insanity.

The breakfast bell rang; Muffin arrived with a soap-varnished face and
a humble bow, and in greasy accents delivered his master’s compliments
to us and, please, we were not to wait breakfast for him. But when
we were half through the meal Wilfrid came from his cabin and seated
himself. He looked worn and worried; his expression was that of a man
who has succeeded in calming himself after a secret bitter mental
conflict, but whose countenance still wears the traces of his struggle.
He called for a cup of tea, which with a slice of dry toast formed his
breakfast. Now and again I saw him glancing wistfully at Miss Jennings,
but his eyes fell from her when she looked at him as though he feared
the detection of some wish or thought in the manner of his watching
her. He inquired languidly about the weather, the sail the yacht was
under, and the like.

‘There’ll be a ship in sight over the bow,’ said I, ‘by the time we are
ready to go on deck.’

‘Ha!’ he exclaimed, instantly briskening; ‘we must speak her. Were it
to come to twenty vessels a day passing us we should hail them all.
But it is the wind’s capriciousness that makes the fretting part of an
excursion of this kind. Here are we creeping along as though in tow of
one of our boats, whilst where the “Shark” is there may be half a gale
driving her through it as fast as a whale’s first rush to the stab of a
harpoon.’

‘Heels were given to us in the small hours of this morning though,’
said I. ‘We covered more space of sea in five minutes than I should
like to swim if I had a month to do it in.’

‘Oh, but she was off her course,’ exclaimed Wilfrid.

‘Only to the first of the squall,’ I exclaimed; ‘when I went on deck
she was lying fair up again and crushing through it with the obstinacy
of a liner.’

He glanced at me absently as though he barely attended to my words,
and then looked round him, as I supposed, to observe if Muffin and the
stewards were out of hearing. He lay back in his chair, eyeing Miss
Jennings for a little with a thoughtful regard that was made pathetic
by the marks of care and grief in his face.

‘Laura,’ he said, ‘I am worrying about baby.’

‘Why, Wilfrid?’ she answered gently.

‘Oh, it may be a mere instinctive anxiety, some secret misgiving, well
founded but quite inexplicable and therefore to be sneered at by friend
Charles here--who knows not yet the subtleties of a flesh-and-blood
tie--as mere sentiment.’

‘But why allow a fancy to worry you, Wilfrid?’ said I.

‘I fear it is no fancy,’ he answered quickly.

‘I told Miss Jennings,’ said I, ‘that you have been vexed and upset by
what you interpreted into a warning.’

‘Did it particularly refer to baby?’ she asked.

‘Wholly,’ he responded gloomily.

‘But confound it all, Wilfrid,’ cried I somewhat impatiently, ‘won’t
you put this miserable vision into words? What form did it take? A
warning! If you choose to view things asquint they’re full of warnings.
Consider the superstitions which flourish; the signs of luck and of
ill-luck; the meaning of the stumble on the threshold, the capsized
salt-cellar, and the rest of the inventions of the wicked old hags who
ride a cock-horse on broomsticks. Why,’ I cried, talking vehemently
with the idea of breaking through the thickness upon his mind, though
it was no better than elbowing a fog, ‘I protest, Wilfrid, I would
rather swing at your lower-yardarm and be cut down after a reasonable
time to plomb the deep peace of the green silence beneath our keel,
than live in a torment of apprehension of shadows, and convert life
into a huge mustard poultice to adjust to my quivering anatomy
staggering onwards to the grave!’

He surveyed me with a lack-lustre eye whilst he listened.

‘Might not this warning, as you call it, Wilfrid,’ said Miss Jennings,
‘have been some brief, vivid dream, the impression of which was keen
enough, when you awoke, to make you imagine you had viewed what had
appeared with open eyes?’

‘No!’ he answered emphatically, ‘what I saw I saw as I see you.’

‘Then it wasn’t a voice?’ I exclaimed.

‘No matter,’ he said, ‘God’s eye is upon the innocent. Surely he will
protect my little one. Still--still--’ he seemed to struggle with some
thought and paused.

I made up my mind to attempt a bold stroke. ‘Wilf,’ said I, ‘your child
must be dearer to you than your wife. Since you are uneasy about the
bairn why not abandon a pursuit which, I give you my word, seems to me
about as aimless as a chase after the flying shadow of a cloud, and
shift your helm for home, where you will be able to have the child by
your side and where there will be no need for warnings relating to her
to worry you?’

A dangerous light came into his eyes; his strangely cut nostrils
enlarged and trembled, half a dozen dark moods went like ripples of
shadow over his face. I regarded him steadfastly, but I will own not
without a good deal of anxiety, for his bearing at this moment had more
of the madman in it than I had ever before witnessed. He breathed deep
several times before speaking.

‘You are right,’ he said; ‘my child is dearer to me than my wife, but
my honour stands first of all. For God’s sake do not craze me with such
suggestions. Look at me!’ he cried, extending his arms, ‘gripped here,’
clasping his left hand, ‘by my child that in its sweet innocence would
withhold me from this pursuit; and dragged here,’ and here he clenched
his right hand with a menacing shake of it, ‘by a sense of duty that
_must_ have its way though it should come to my never setting eyes on
my baby again. Charles’--his voice sank--‘at _your_ hands I should have
expected something better than such advice as this. If you are weary of
the voyage----’

‘No, no,’ I interrupted.

‘Why torment me then,’ he shouted, ‘by representing this pursuit as
idle as a chase of shadows? Is it so? Great heaven, man! you yourself
read out the entry in Captain Puncheon’s log-book.’

‘Well, well, Wilfrid,’ said I soothingly, ‘I am very sorry to have said
anything to annoy you. The fact is I am too prosaic in my views of
things to be as helpful as I should like to be in a quest of this sort.
Come, shall we go on deck now and see if that chap which I sighted from
the topgallant-yard has hove into view yet?’

The poor fellow rose slowly from his chair, straightening up his figure
till he looked twice as tall again as he was. His anger had left him.

‘Oh for the privilege,’ he exclaimed, ‘of being able to catch but a
single glimpse of the future! Would to heaven I had been born a saint
with a glory round my head, for by that light only is it possible to
interpret the hieroglyphs in which the page of life is printed.’

‘Miss Jennings,’ said I, ‘your sunny hair comes so near to this sort of
nimbus my cousin desires, that I am sure if you would cast your eyes
upon the mystical page that puzzles him you could read it aloud to us
both by the light of those golden tresses.’

‘Charles,’ exclaimed Wilfrid shortly, ‘you are for making fun of
everything,’ and he stalked to his cabin, but only to fetch his pipe,
as I afterwards found.

I could not discover, however, that Miss Jennings wholly agreed in
Wilfrid’s notion of my ridiculing propensity.



CHAPTER XI.

THE PORTUGUESE BRIG.


Right over the bows on either hand the sky had cleared since the early
morning; the fairy drapery of linked, prismatic, shell-like cloud had
lifted, leaving the sea-line a dark blue sweep of water against the
delicate effulgence of the heavens, and like a star climbing above that
most exquisite horizon shone the sail that was approaching us, still
distant a fair eight miles, but already distinctly visible from the
low altitude of the ‘Bride’s’ quarter-deck. Sir Wilfrid, leaning over
the side, sent a long, yearning look at her, then with a glance at the
man on the topgallant-yard he walked over to Finn, who had relieved
the mate at eight bells, and conversed with him. I got a chair for
Miss Jennings, fetched her novel--the end of the first volume of which
seemed still as far off as the Cape of Good Hope--and a rug for her
feet, and having made her comfortable I loaded a pipe and squatted
myself on deck under the lee of the mainmast.

I was not perhaps in the very sweetest of tempers; for though what I
had said below might have been a bit provoking, Wilfrid had turned
upon me for it a little too hotly methought. This expedition, to be
sure, had a special interest for _him_, as it had a special interest
for Miss Jennings; but so far as _I_ was concerned it was a mere
sympathetic undertaking. My cousin, to be sure, was ‘wanting’; but
that consideration was not going to render any indignation I might
unwarily provoke in him the more endurable. My quarrel, however, just
then lay with myself. I was beginning to consider that I had joined
Wilfrid in this cruise too hurriedly; that had I insisted upon more
time for reflection I should have declined the adventure for the very
good reason that I was unable to see how I could be of the least use
to him in it. The ocean makes people selfish; its monotony presses
upon and contracts the mind as its visible girdle circumscribes the
sight. Thought is forced inwards, and the intellect devours itself
as the monkey eats its tail. I was already pining somewhat for the
diversions of the shore. Had I been sensible of any limit to the
daily and nightly routine of eating, sleeping, keeping a look-out and
discussing probabilities, my humour might have lightened somewhat; but
on what date was this voyage to end? Where was this white fabric that
was floating in beauty over the quiet waters going to carry me? Heavy
clouds of smoke floated from my lips when I thought that for months and
months I might be sundered from my club, from the opera, of which I was
a very great lover, from the engaging recreation of billiards, from
the quarter of a hundred of pleasures with which the idle man of means
loads the blunderbuss of life to shoot at and kill the flying hours as
they pass.

Poor Wilfrid, though! I thought with a sigh; and an emotion of pity
rose in me as a rebuke when I glanced at his long, awkward figure,
thought of the bitter heart-ache that left him only when he slept, of
his love for his little one, of the dreadful grief and dishonour that
had come to him, of this apparently aimless pursuit upon the boundless
surface of the ocean of a faithless woman, with the subtle distressing
quality of madness in all he did, in all he thought, to make his
conduct a sadder thing than can be described.

I peeped round the mast for a short view of Miss Jennings. She seemed
to have lighted on a chapter in the novel that was interesting. Under
the droop of her long lashes her half-closed violet eyes showed with
a drowsy gleam; her profile had the delicacy of a cameo, clear and
tender, against the soft grey of the bulwarks past her. Deuced odd,
thought I, that I should find her prettiness so fascinating; as
though, forsooth, she was the first sweet girl I had ever seen! I
filled another pipe and sat awhile puffing slowly, with these lines of
haunting beauty running in my head:

    Have you seen but a bright lily grow,
      Before rude hands have touched it?
    Have you marked but the fall of the snow
      Before the soil hath smutch’d it?
    Have you felt the wool of the beaver?
                    Or swan’s down ever?
    Or have smelt o’ the bud o’ the briar?
                    Or the nard in the fire?
    Or have tasted the bag of the bee?
    O so white! O so soft! O so sweet is she!

The poet is also the prophet; and maybe, thought I, when old Ben Jonson
planned this fairy temple of words, he had his eye on some such another
little delicate goddess as that yonder.

But there was to happen presently something of a kind to send sentiment
flying.

Bit by bit the cloud-mailed sky had drawn away down into the northward,
until far past our mastheads that way it was clear blue heaven with
an horizon ruling it of a sort of transparent sharpness that made you
imagine you saw the atmosphere beyond through it as though it were
the edge of some huge lens. The breeze was weak and the yacht’s pace
very leisurely; there were hints of a calm at hand, here and there
in certain long glassy swathes which wound like currents amongst the
darker shadow of the wrinkling breeze upon the water; to every small
roll upon the long sleepy undulation, the main boom swang in with
a short rattle of canvas in the head of the sail and a flap or two
forwards with the smite of the mast by the square topsail as though
there were hands aloft lazily beating a carpet.

The vessel ahead was steering dead for us, her masts in one. She was
much smaller than I had supposed from the first glimpse I caught of
her from the masthead--a little brig, apparently, her cloths showing
out rusty to the brilliance as she neared us, albeit afar they had
shone like a star of white fire. Her hull was of a dirty yellow--a
sort of pea soup colour, and the foot of her foresail was spread by a
bentinck boom. She was without an atom of interest in my eyes--a small
foreigner, as I supposed, sluggishly lumbering home to some Spanish or
Italian port with her forecastle filled with chocolate-coloured Dagos,
and the cabin atmosphere poisonous with the lingering fumes of bad
cooking.

Wilfrid and Finn stood looking at her together, the latter raising a
glass to his eye from time to time. I knocked the ashes out of my bowl
and crossed over to them.

‘It will be strange if she has any news to give us of the “Shark,”’
said I.

‘We will speak her, of course,’ said Wilfrid.

‘Looks as if she meant to give us the stem,’ exclaimed Finn, with a
glance aft at the fellow at the helm; ‘she is steering dead on for us
as if her course were a bee-line and we were athwart it.’

‘I expect she’ll not be able to talk to you in English,’ said I.

‘What is her country, do you think, Mr. Monson?’ asked Miss Jennings,
closing her volume and joining us.

‘Italian. What say you, captain?’

‘Well, I can’t rightly tell what she is,’ he answered, ‘but I know what
she ain’t--and that’s English.’ He stepped aft, bent on the ensign, and
ran it aloft.

‘Does she see us?’ exclaimed Wilfrid; ‘really she is steering as if she
would run us down.’

I took the captain’s glass and brought it to bear. She was bow on, and
there was no sign of a head over the forecastle rail--nothing living in
the rigging or upon the yards either; the foresail concealed the run
of her abaft. ‘She appears derelict,’ said I, ‘with her helm secured
amidships, and blowing like the wind--as she listeth.’

‘Time to get out of her road, I think,’ grumbled Finn. ‘Down hellum!’

The turn of a spoke or two brought the stranger on the lee bow.
Then it was that, on taking another view of her through the glass,
I observed a couple of men standing near a jolly-boat, that swung
at a pair of heavy wooden davits like a Nantucket whaler’s on the
quarter. One of them wore a red cap resembling an inverted flower-pot;
the other, whilst he addressed his companion, gesticulated with
inconceivable vehemence.

‘Foreigners of a surety!’ said I; ‘they’ll have no news for us.’

All continued quiet; the two vessels approached each other slowly;
the stranger now proving herself, as I had supposed her, a brig of
about a hundred and eighty tons, as dirty a looking craft as ever I
saw, stained in streaks about the hull, as though her crew washed
the decks down with the water in which they boiled their meat; her
rigging slack and grey for want of tar; the clews of her sails gaping
at a distance from her yardarms; and at her mainmast-head an immense
weather-cock, representing a boat with what I supposed to be a saint
standing up in it, with gilt enough left upon the metal of which it was
formed to flash dully at intervals as the rolling of the vessel swung
the sunlight off and on to it. As she lifted to the floating heave of
the sea she showed a bottom of ugly green sheathing, rich with marine
growths, dark patches of barnacles, sea-moss, and long trailings of
weed rising vividly green from the sparkle of the brine.

‘What a very horrid-looking boat,’ observed Miss Jennings.

As the girl said this, I saw the fellow at the stranger’s wheel revolve
it with frantic gestures as though some deadly danger had been descried
close aboard; the brig came heavily and sluggishly round right athwart
our course, showing no colours, and dipping her channels to the run of
the folds with the weary motion of a waterlogged vessel, and so lay all
aback. Finn looked on, scarcely understanding the manœuvre, then bawled
out, ‘Hard down! Hard down! Chuck her right up in the wind! Why, bless
my body and soul, what are the fools aiming at?’

The yacht nimbly answering her helm came to a stand, her square canvas
to the mast, her fore and aft sails fluttering.

‘Hail her, Finn!’ cried Wilfrid with excitement.

‘No need, sir; they’re coming aboard,’ answered the captain, and sure
enough there were the men, the only two besides the man at the helm who
were visible, working like madmen to lower away their jolly-boat. In
their red-hot haste they let her drop with a run, and the fat fabric
smote the water so heavily that I looked to see her floating in staves
alongside. Then down one fall with the agility of a monkey dropped the
man in the red nightcap into her and unhooked the blocks, jumping about
like a madman. His companion swung himself down by the other fall, and
in a trice both men, sitting so far in the head of the boat as to cock
her stern high up whilst her nose was nearly under, were pulling for
the yacht as though the devil himself were in pursuit of them.

‘What do they want? The “Bride”?’ exclaimed Wilfrid, breaking into a
huge roar of laughter, with a slap on his knee. He had been eyeing the
approach of the boat with a sort of high, lifting stare--head thrown
back, nostrils round and quivering like an impatient horse’s.

‘The desire of the moth for the star!’ said I to Miss Jennings.

‘But the simile won’t hold; yonder red nightcap spoils the fancy of the
moth.’

‘Shall we receive them aboard, sir?’ exclaimed Captain Finn.

‘Certainly,’ responded Wilfrid, with another short shout of laughter.

‘Unship that there gangway,’ sung out Finn; ‘the steps over the side,
one of ye.’

The two strange creatures pulled with amazing contortions. Small
wonder that the heap of child-like disposition that pretty well made
up the substance of Wilfrid’s manhood, should have been stirred into
extravagant merriment by the wild movements of the two fellows’ bodies,
the windmill-like flourishings of their oars, the flopping and flapping
of the red cap, the incessant straining and twisting of the chocolate
faces over the shoulder to see how they were heading, the shrill
exclamations that sounded from the instant the fellows were within
ear-shot and that never ceased until they had floundered and splashed
alongside.

I never beheld two more hideous men. Their skins were begrimmed with
dirt, and their colour came near to the complexion of the negro with
sun and weather and neglect of soap; the hair of the seaman that wore
the dirty red nightcap fell in snake-like coils upon his back and
shoulders, black as tar and shining as grease. He wore thick gold hoops
in his ears and a faded blue sash round his waist; his feet were naked,
and for the like of them it would be necessary to hunt the forests of
Brazil. The other man wore a slouched felt hat, a pair of grey trousers
jammed into half Wellington boots, a jacket confined by a button at the
neck, the sleeves thrown over his back, whilst his dark arms, naked to
the elbows, were hairy as a baboon’s, with a glimpse to be caught of
a most intricate network of gunpowder and Indian ink devices covering
the flesh to the very finger-nails. This creature had a very heavy
moustache, backed by a pair of fierce whiskers, with flashing, though
blood-shot eyes, like a blot of ink upon a slice of orange-peel.

We were in a group at the gangway when they came sputtering alongside,
flinging down their oars and walloping about in the wildest conceivable
scramble as they made fast the painter and clawed their way up; and
the instant they were on our deck they both let fly at us in a torrent
of words, not attempting to distinguish amongst us, but both of them
addressing first one and then another, all with such mad impetuosity of
speech, such smiting of their bosoms, such snapping of their fingers
and convulsive brandishing of their fists, that the irrecognisable
tongue in which they delivered themselves was rendered the most
hopelessly confounding language that ever bewildered the ear. It was
quite impossible to gather what they desired to state. First they would
point to our ensign, then to their brig, then to the long gun upon our
forecastle, meanwhile talking with indescribable rapidity. Finn tried
to check them; he bawled, ‘Stop! stop! You no speakee English?’ but
they only stared and let drive again the moment he ended his question.

‘There’s no good in all this,’ said Wilfrid, ‘we must find out what
they want. What the deuce is their language, Charles, d’ye know?’

‘A sort of Portuguese, I imagine,’ said I, ‘but a mighty corrupt
specimen of that tongue, I should think.’

‘I will try them in French,’ said he, and approaching the fellow in the
red nightcap he bawled in French, with an excellent accent, ‘What is
wrong with your ship? What can we do for you?’

Both men shook their heads and broke out together afresh. It was
amazing that they should go on jabbering as though we perfectly
understood them when one glance at our faces should have assured them
that they might as well have addressed the deck on which they stood.

‘Try ’em in Latin, Wilf,’ cried I.

He addressed a few words to them in that tongue, but his English accent
extinguished the hint or two they might have found in the words he
employed had he pronounced them in South European fashion, and after
glaring at him a moment with a deaf face the red-capped man stormed
forth again into a passion of speech accompanied by the most incredible
gesticulations, pointing to his brig, to our flag, to the cannon as
before, winding up in the delirium of his emotion by flinging his cap
down on deck and tearing a handful of hair out of his head.

Our crew were all on deck and had come shouldering one another aft as
far as they durst, where they stood looking on, a grinning, hearkening,
bewhiskered huddle of faces. I thought it just possible that one of
them might understand the lingo of our grimy and astonishing visitors,
and suggested as much to Captain Finn. He called out, ‘Do any one of
you men follow what these chaps are a-saying?’

A fellow responded, ‘It’s Portugee, sir. I can swear to that, though I
can’t talk in it.’

‘Try them in Italian, Laura,’ said Wilfrid.

She coloured, and in a very pretty accent that floated to the ear like
the soft sounds of a flute after the hoarse, hideous, and howling
gibberish of the two Dagos, as I judged them, she asked if they were
Portuguese. The eyes of the fellow in the slouched hat flashed to a
great grin that disclosed a very cavern of a mouth under his moustache
widening to his whiskers, and he nodded violently. She asked again
in Italian what they required, but this fell dead. They did not
understand her, but possibly imagining that _she_ could comprehend them
they both addressed her at once, raising a most irritating clattering
with their tongues.

‘It looks to me,’ said Finn, ‘as if it was a case o’ mutiny. Don’t see
what else can sinnify their constant pointing to that there gun and our
flag and then their brig.’

I sent a look at the vessel as he spoke, and took notice now of a
number of heads along the line of the main-deck rail, watching us in
a sort of ducking way, by which I mean to convey a kind of coming and
going of those dusky nobs which suggested a very furtive and askant
look-out. She was not above a quarter of a mile off; the wheel showed
plain and the man at it kept his face upon us continuously, whilst his
posture, Liliputianised as he was, betrayed extraordinary impatience
and anxiety. The craft lay aback, the light wind hollowing her sails
in-board and her ugly besmeared hull rolling in a manner that I
suppose was rendered nauseous to the eye by her colour, her form, her
frowsy, ill-cut canvas and her sheathing of sickly hue, foul with
slimy weed and squalid attire of repulsive sea-growth upon the long
and tender lifting and falling of the sparkling blue. There were some
white letters under her counter, but though I took a swift peep at
them through Finn’s telescope the shadow there and the long slant of
the name towards the sternpost rendered the words indecipherable. The
glass showed such heads along the rail as I could fix to be strictly
in keeping with the filth and neglect you saw in the brig and with the
appearance of the two men aboard of the schooner. Most of them might
have passed for negroes. There were indications of extreme agitation
amongst them, visible in a sort of fretful flitting, a constant looking
up and around and abaft in the direction of the man at the wheel.

I thought I would try my hand with the red-capped worthy, and striding
up to him I sung out ‘Capitano?’

He nodded, striking himself, and then, pointing to his companion, spoke
some word, but I did not understand him. By this time the crew had come
shoving one another a little further aft, so that we now made a fair
crowd all about the gangway; every man’s attention was fixed upon the
two Portuguese. It was so odd an experience that it created a sort of
licence for the crew, and Finn was satisfied to look on whilst first
one and then another of our men addressed the two fellows, striving to
coax some meaning out of them by addressing them in ‘pigeon’ and other
forms of English, according to that odd superstition current amongst
seaman that our language is most intelligible to foreigners when spoken
in a manner the least intelligible to ourselves.

We of the quarterdeck were beginning to grow weary of all this. The
hope of being able to pick up news of the ‘Shark’ had gone out of
Wilfrid’s mind long ago; the humour, moreover, of the two creatures’
appearance and apparel was now stale to him, and with folded arms he
stood apart watching their gesticulations and listening to their
jargon--in which it seemed to me they were telling the same story over
and over and over again--with a tired air and a gloomy brow. I drew
Finn apart.

‘What is the matter with them, think you?’

‘I don’t doubt it’s a mutiny, sir.’

‘It looks like it certainly. But how can we help them?’

‘We _can’t_ help them, sir. The best thing we can do, I think, is to
order ’em off. You can see, Mr. Monson, his honour’s growing sick of
the noise.’

I started suddenly.

‘Why, Finn, look!’ I cried, ‘see! they have trimmed sail on the brig
and she is under way!’

It was indeed as I had said. Unobserved by us, the people of the vessel
had squared the mainyards and flattened in the head-sheets, and there
she was away to windward, pushing slowly through it with a brassy
wrinkling of water at her stem, her crew running about her as active as
ants, whilst I noticed in the difference of costume that a new man had
replaced the fellow who was at the wheel.

‘Mind,’ I shouted, ‘or by Jupiter they’ll run away with the ship and
leave this brace of beauties on our hands.’

A single glance enabled Finn to see how it was. In a breath he sprang
upon the red-capped man, caught him by the collar, twisted his head
round in the direction of the brig, whilst he yelled in his ear,
‘Lookee! lookee! your ship go! your ship go; jumpee, jumpee or you
loosee ship!’ It was not likely that the grimy creature would have met
with a ghost of a hint of the truth in the ‘lookees’ and ‘jumpees’ of
friend Finn, but his nose having being slewed in the right direction he
instantly saw for himself. He broke out in a long ringing howl which I
took to be some tremendous sea-curse in the Portuguese language, and
calling his companion’s attention to the brig by striking him with his
clenched fist between the shoulders and then indicating the vessel
with both arms outstretched in a melodramatic posture that made one
think of Masaniello, he uttered another wild roar that was no doubt a
further example of Portuguese bad language, and went in a sprawl to the
gangway, followed by his comrade. In a trice they were over the side
and in the boat, and pulling furiously in the direction of the brig.

‘Better trim sail, Captain Finn, so as to lie up for that vessel,’
exclaimed Wilfrid. ‘We must see those men aboard and the little drama
played out, though ’tis vexatiously delaying.’

It was now blowing a very light air of wind, yet there was weight
enough in it to hold steady the canvas of the Portuguese brig even to
the lifting of her foresail, lumpish as those cloths were made by the
boom that spread the clews, and one saw by the wake of her that she
was stirring through it at a pace to render the pursuit of the boat
long and possibly hopeless, if the crew refused to back their yards
for the two follows. The boat was a fat, tub-like fabric, apparently
heavy for her size, and the rowers pulled with such alternate heat
and passion, that though they made the water buzz and foam about the
bows, their motion was as erratic--first to right, then to left, then
a spasmodic heave round as though they meant to return to us--as the
course of a fly climbing a pane of glass. The whole picture was thrown
out strong and clear by the background of sparkling azure water melting
into a sort of trembling faintness off the horizon to above the height
of the brig’s masts against the sky, which from there ran up in a
tint of deepening blue till it whitened out into glory round about
the sun. The boat rose and fell upon the long ocean heave, splashed
wildly forwards by the two rowers, who again and again would turn their
mahogany-coloured faces over their shoulders to yell to the withdrawing
vessel. The brig’s crew stood in a crowd aft watching, most of them,
as the glass disclosed, in a loafing, lounging posture, their bare
arms folded or their hands sunk in their breeches-pockets, whilst one
or another occasionally pointed at us or the boat with a theatrical
attitude of leaning back as he did so that made one fancy one could
hear the laughter or the curses which attended these gestures. On high
rustily glittered the amazing old weathercock or dog-vane of the saint
in his boat, from which would leap with pendulum regularity a dull
flame sunwards, timing a like kind of fire which flashed wet from the
dirty yellow and sickly green of the hull, as her side rolled streaming
to the noon-tide blaze.

‘I say, Wilfrid,’ cried I, ‘it doesn’t seem as if those chaps meant to
let that boat approach them.’

‘What’s to be done?’ he exclaimed.

I looked at Finn. ‘If they don’t pick those two fellows up,’ said I,
‘_we_ shall have to do so, that’s cocksure. But they are a kind of
beauties whose room is better than their company, I think, as the crew
would find out when we approached the equinoctial waters.’

‘Ay, sir,’ cried Finn, ‘it would never do to have the likes o’ them
aboard, your honour,’ addressing Sir Wilfrid. ‘No, no, the brig must
pick ’em up. Dang their cruel hearts! I never seed a scurvier trick
played at sea in all my days.’

‘But what’s to be done?’ cried Wilfrid impatiently and irritably.
‘Could one of our boats overhaul the brig and put the two fellows
aboard her?’

Finn shook his head.

‘See here, Wilf,’ said I: ‘suppose we let slip a blank shot at her out
of that eighteen-pounder yonder? The dirty herd of scow-bankers may
take us to be a man of war. And another idea on top of this!’ cried I,
bursting into a laugh. ‘Is there anything black aboard that we can fly
at the masthead? It should prove a warrant of our honesty that must
puzzle them gloriously.’

‘Would a black shawl do, Mr. Monson?’ said Miss Jennings.

‘The very thing,’ said I, ‘if it’s big enough.’

She immediately went below.

‘I think a blank shot’s a first-class idea,’ exclaimed Finn, ‘but as
to a black flag----’ and he cocked his eye dubiously at the masthead,
whilst his face visibly lengthened.

‘Why a _black_ flag, Charles?’ cried Wilfrid.

‘Why, my dear Wilf,--the pirate’s bunting, you know. The rogues may
take us for a picaroon--no telling the persuasive influence of a black
banner upon the nerves of such gentry.’

‘Noble! noble!’ shouted Wilfrid, slapping his leg: ‘frighten them,
Finn, frighten them. Why, man, they can’t be _all_ fools, and some of
them at least will very well know that that ensign up there,’ pointing
to the commercial flag at our peak, ‘is not her Britannic Majesty’s red
cross. But a black flag--oh, yes, by all means if we can but muster
such a thing. And get that gun loaded, will ye, Finn? get it done at
once, I say.’

The skipper walked hurriedly forward as Miss Laura arrived with a black
cashmere or crape shawl--I do not recollect the material. We held it
open between us.

‘The very thing,’ I cried, and full of excitement--for here was
something genuine in the way of an incident to break in upon the
monotony of a sea trip--I bent the shawl on to the signal halliards
that led from the main-topmast head and sent it aloft in a little ball,
ready to break when the gun should be fired.

Meanwhile all was bustle forwards. It is a question whether Jack does
not love firing off a cannon even better than beating a drum. Miss
Jennings walked right aft as far as she could go, holding her fingers
in readiness for her ears and saying to me as she passed that sudden
noises frightened her. Wilfrid stood alongside of me, glancing with
a boyish expression of excitement and expectation from the seamen
congregated round the gun to the little black ball at the masthead.
The yacht was slowly overhauling the brig, but almost imperceptibly.
The boat maintained an equidistance betwixt us and was struggling,
wabbling, and splashing fair in a line with our cutwater and the
lee-quarter of the Portuguese craft. The two rowers exhibited no signs
of exhaustion, though I expected every minute to find one or both of
them give up and disappear, dead beaten, in the bottom of their tub.

‘All ready forward, sir,’ shouted Finn; ‘will your honour give us the
signal when to fire?’

As he sung out the group of seamen hustled backwards from the gun and
thinned into meagre lines of spectators at a safe distance.

‘Fire!’ bawled Wilfrid.

There was a glance of flame past the bow port, a roar that tingled
through the decks into one’s very marrow, and the sea turned blind with
white smoke, iridescent as a cobweb, over the bows of the ‘Bride.’ I
tugged at the signal halliards, broke my little ball, and the black
shawl floated out fair from the masthead, as sinister a piratic
symbol as one could have desired and not an atom the less malignant
in significance for wanting the old-fashioned embellishments of the
cross-bones and skull. I saw the Jacks forward looking up at the sight
with grinning wonderment. However, it was easy to see by their way of
laughing, staring, and turning to one another, that they twigged the
motive of that wild marine exhibition. I sprang to the peak signal
halliards and hauled the ensign down, for the black flag combines but
ill with the Union Jack, and then went to the side to see what the brig
was about. Either she did not understand our meaning, or was resolved
not to take any hint from us. She held on doggedly without a touch of
the braces or a shift of the helm by the length of a spoke, with her
people watching us and the pursuing boat from over the taffrail, a
cluster of sulphur-coloured faces, as they looked at that distance, but
harmonising excellently well, I thought, with the dingy yellow of the
canvas rising in ungainly spaces over their heads and the sickly hue of
the brig’s hull with its shiny, pea-soup-like reflection in the water
to the lift of the squalid fabric upon some polished brow of swell.

‘Wilfrid,’ cried I, ‘they don’t mean to pick up their boat.’

‘It looks like it,’ said he; ‘what’s to be done? There’s some thing
confoundedly insulting in the rogues’ indifference to our gun and
colours.’

‘Better consult with Finn,’ said I.

He called to the skipper, who came to us from the forecastle.

‘I say, Finn, what are we to do? We don’t want those two filthy fellows
aboard this yacht; and yet, if that brig don’t pick them up, we can’t
of course let them remain adrift here.’

‘Arm a boat’s crew,’ said I; ‘you have weapons enough below. Take those
two fellows out of yonder boat and compel the brig to receive them.
I’ll take charge with pleasure if Finn’ll permit.’

Finn, a slow, sober, steady old merchant seaman, did not seem to see
this. The expression of worry made his long face comical with the
puzzled twist at the corners of his mouth, which looked to be, in his
countenance, where most men’s noses are situated.

‘Or,’ said I, observing him to hang in the wind, ‘make them really
believe that those are the colours we sail under,’ pointing to the
shawl, ‘by slapping a round-shot at them in sober earnest, leaving the
missile to take its chance of missing or hitting.’

‘That’s it,’ almost shrieked Wilfrid in his excitement; ‘yes! that’ll
save the botheration of boat-lowering and arguefication and perhaps
bloodshed, by George! Run forward now, Finn, and let fly a round-shot
at that ugly brute; hit her if you can, no matter where, that they may
know we’re in earnest, and that they may believe if they don’t heave to
we shall sink them. No remonstrance, Finn, for heaven’s sake! Jump, my
dear fellow. Dash it, man,’ he cried passionately, with a quite furious
gesture in the direction of the brig, ‘_that’s_ not the object of our
chase!’

Finn, with an air of concern, but awed also by Wilfrid’s temper and
insistence, hurried on to the forecastle. I watched them load the gun
a second time, and burst into a laugh when I saw two fellows rise out
of the fore hatch, each of them hugging an eighteen-pound shot to his
heart.

‘Only one ball at a time,’ shouted Wilfrid, conceiving very likely that
they meant to double-shot the gun.

‘Ay, ay, sir,’ responded Finn.

The crew backed away as before. The stout, whiskered sea man, with
a face that made one think of a red apple snugged in a setting of
horse-hair, who had previously fired the gun and who was apparently the
‘Bride’s’ gunner, sighted the piece with a deliberateness that made me
expect wonders. We all held our breath. I fixed my eye on the brig to
observe, if possible, where the shot struck her. Then, crash! Had the
cannon been loaded to the muzzle the blast could not have been more
deafening. The thunder of it swept with a thrill, out and away fiercer
than the tremble of the first shock, through the deck, and was almost
immediately followed by a loud and fearful yell from the forecastle. I
thought the gun had burst.

‘Merciful powers! What has happened?’ cried Wilfrid.

Captain Finn came bowling aft fast as his legs would travel, shouting
as he ran.

‘What is it? what is it?’ my cousin and I roared out in one voice.

‘The shot’s struck the boat, your honours, and _sunk her!_’ bellowed
Finn.

I looked, and sure enough where the boat had been there was nothing to
be seen but the violet slope of the swell softly drawing out of the
cloud of powder-smoke that was settling in lengthening, glistening
folds towards the brig! I thought I observed something dark, however,
and snatching up Finn’s telescope from the skylight-top I levelled it
and made out the head of the man with the red nightcap holding by an
oar or bit of wreckage. I shouted out that one of the men was alive
in the water. The dismay was universal, but there was no disorder, no
commotion. By waiting a little the ‘Bride,’ even as she was heading,
would have floated to the spot where that melancholy red beacon was
bobbing; but the delay this would have involved was not to be dreamt
of. With a smartness that excited my admiration, man-of-war’s-man as I
had been in my time, our largest boat, a six-oared fabric, with sour
old Crimp in the stern-sheets, was lowered and pulled away with splendid
precision in the direction of the red nightcap. In a few minutes
they had got the fellow in-boards; they then hung upon their oars,
looking round and round; but the other unfortunate creature, he of the
slouched hat and black and flashing eyes, had found a sailor’s grave.
I sought with the glass over a broad field of water, but could see
nothing. Indeed there was not a vestige left of the boat save what the
red-capped chap had clung to.

‘One of them killed! Heaven have mercy upon us,’ groaned Wilfrid in my
ear, and his appearance was full of dreadful consternation.

Meanwhile the brig ahead was holding steadfastly on, her crowd of
people aft gazing at us as before. I took a view of them; they all
held a sort of gaping posture; there were no dramatic gesticulations,
no eager and derisive turning to one another, no pointing arms and
backward-leaning attitudes. They had as thunderstruck an air as can be
imagined in a mob of men. What they supposed us to be _now_ after our
extermination of the boat and one of the two fellows who had sought our
assistance, it was impossible to conjecture.

Our boat, that had sped away from us about four times faster than we
were moving through the water, hung, with lifted oars, over the spot
where our cannon-ball had taken effect until the ‘Bride’ had slowly
surged to within hail; then up stood sour Crimp.

‘What are we to do?’

‘Have you got both men?’ bawled Finn, who perfectly well knew that they
hadn’t.

‘No; there was but one to get, and here he is,’ and Crimp pointed into
the bottom of the boat.

‘Put him aboard his ship,’ cried Finn. ‘If they refuse to receive him,
find out if there’s e’er a one of ’em that can speak English, and then
tell them that if they don’t take him we shall arm our men and compel
’em to it; and if _that_ don’t do we’ll keep all on firing into ’em
till they follow the road that’s been took by their jolly-boat.’

His long face was purple with temper and the effort of shouting, and he
turned it upon Wilfrid, who nodded a fierce excited approval, whilst I
cried, ‘That’s it, that’s it; they _must_ take him.’

Crimp held up his hand in token of having heard the captain, then
seated himself; the oars fell and flashed as they rose wet to the
sun, every gold-bright blade in a line, and the foam went spinning
away from the bows of the little craft in snow to the magnificent
disciplined sweep of those British muscles. In a jiffy she was on the
brig’s quarter, with Crimp erect in her, gesticulating to the crowd who
overhung the rail. I kept the telescope bearing on them, and it seemed
to me that the whole huddle of them jabbered to Crimp all together, an
indistinguishable hubbub, to judge from the extraordinary contortions
into which every individual figure flung itself, some of them going to
the lengths of spinning round in their frenzy, whilst others leapt upon
the rail and addressed the boat’s crew with uplifted arms, as though
they called all sorts of maledictions down upon our men. This went on
for a few minutes, then I saw the bow-oar fork out his boat-hook and
drag the boat to the main channels into which, all very expeditiously,
two or three brawny pairs of arms lifted the red-capped man. Then four
of our fellows sprang into the chains, handed the little creature over
the rail and let him drop in-boards. They then re-entered their boat
and fell astern of the brig by a few fathoms, holding their station
there by a soft plying of oars, Crimp’s notion probably being, as ours
was indeed, that the Portuguese crew would presently send our friend
the red-cap to follow his mate.

We waited, watching intently. On a sudden I spied the red-cap in the
heart of the mob of men that had clustered again near the wheel. His
gesticulations were full of remonstrance; his people writhed round
about him in the throes of a Portuguese argument, but it seemed to
me as I followed their gestures and their way of turning their faces
towards us, that their talk was all about our schooner, as though
indeed their mutinous passions had been diverted by our cannon-shot in
a direction that boded no particular evil to the red-capped man.

‘They’ll not hurt the creature, I believe,’ said I.

‘Call the men aboard, Finn,’ exclaimed Wilfrid, ‘and get the “Bride” to
her course.’



CHAPTER XII.

A SECOND WARNING.


I hauled down the shawl from the masthead, carefully unbent, folded,
and gave it to Miss Jennings, who stood with Wilfrid watching the
Portuguese brig. We had hoisted in our boat, and the men were busy
about the decks coiling up after having trimmed sail.

‘Once more heading a fair course for the “Shark,”’ said I with a glance
at the compass. ‘This has been a neat morning’s work. A few incidents
of the kind should make out a lively voyage.’

‘Oh, but it’s dreadful to think of that poor man having been drowned!’
exclaimed Miss Jennings. ‘I was watching the boat before the gun was
fired. In an instant she vanished. She might have been a phantom. She
melted out upon the water as a snow-flake would. I pressed my eyes, for
I could not believe them at first.’

‘Horrible!’ exclaimed Wilfrid in a hollow, melancholy voice; ‘what
had that miserable creature done that we should take his life? Have
we insensibly--insensibly--courted some curse of heaven upon this
yacht? Who was the villain that did it?’ He wheeled round passionately:
‘Finn--Captain Finn, I say!’ he shouted.

The captain, who was giving directions to some men in the waist, came
aft.

‘Who was it that fired that shot, Finn?’ cried my cousin in his
headlong way, jerking his head as it were at Finn with the question,
whilst his arms and legs twitched and twisted as though to an electric
current.

‘A man named O’Connor, Sir Wilfrid,’ responded Finn.

‘Did he do it expressly, think you?’

‘I wouldn’t like to say that, your honour. The fellow’s a blunderhead.
I inquired if there was e’er a man for’ard as could load and sight a
cannon, and this chap stands up and says that he’d sarved for three
years in a privateer and was reckoned the deadest shot out of a crew of
ninety men.’

‘Call him aft,’ said Wilfrid. ‘If he aimed at that boat intentionally
it’s murder--call him aft!’

He took some impatient strides to and fro with a face that worked like
a ship in a seaway with the conflict of emotions within him, whilst
Finn going a little way forward, sung out for O’Connor. Meanwhile we
were rapidly widening the distance between us and the brig. I protest
it was with an honest feeling of relief that I watched her sliding into
a toy-like shape, with promise of nothing showing presently but some
radiant film of her topmost canvas in the silver azure that streaked by
a hand’s breadth, as it looked, the whole girdle of the horizon; for
one was never to know but that her people might send the red-capped man
adrift for us to pick up, or worry us in some other way.

Finn arrived, followed by the Irishman who had discharged the gun; his
immense black whiskers stood out thick, straight, inflexible as the
bristles of a chimney-sweep’s brush, contrasting very extraordinarily
with the bright apple-red of his cheeks and the blue, Hibernian,
seawardly eye that glimmered under a dense black thatch of brow. He
stood bolt upright soldier-fashion, with his arms straight up and
down by his side like pump-handles, and fixed an unwinking stare upon
whoever addressed him.

‘You fired that gun, Captain Finn says,’ exclaimed Wilfrid.

‘Oi did, your honour.’

‘What made you take aim at the boat?’

‘Your honour, by the holy eleven, I took aim at the brig. There’s
something wrong with the pace.’

‘Wrong with the piece. What d’ye mean?’

‘It was cast with a kink, sorr; it dhroops amidships and shoots as
Mister Crimp’s larboard oye peeps, your honour, though loike his oye it
manes well.’

‘Nonsense,’ I cried, ‘you must have covered the boat to hit it.’

‘By all that’s sacred then,’ cried the man, ‘I had the natest
observation of the brig’s maintopmasht as ever oye could bring the
muzzle of a pace to soight. The gun was cast with a kink, sorr.’

‘My belief is that you’re utterly ignorant of guns,’ cried Wilfrid.
‘The concussion was fierce enough to shake the yacht to pieces.’

‘’Twas your honour’s design to froighten ’em.’

‘But not to murder them, you dolt!’ shouted Wilfrid. ‘D’ye know I could
have you _hanged_ for this.’

‘It was but a haythen Portuguay, sorr,’ answered the fellow, preserving
his ramrod-like posture and his unwinking stare.

‘Tell him to go forward, Finn; tell him to go forward,’ cried Wilfrid,
‘and see that he never has any more to do with that gun on any account
whatever, d’ye understand?’

The seaman knuckled his forehead and wheeled round, but methought I
could just catch a glimpse past his whisker of a sudden protrusion of
the cheek as though he was signalling with his tongue to a brother Jack
who was flemish-coiling a rope not very far from where he was standing.

The luncheon bell rang and we went below. At table we could talk of
nothing but the unhappy Portuguese whom our round-shot had sent to the
bottom. Muffin’s face of respectful horror was a feature of the time
which I recall more vividly than even the disaster itself. This man,
though he was in attendance on Wilfrid as a valet, regularly stood
behind his master’s chair at meals. It was Wilfrid’s whim to have him
at hand. He did not offer to wait unless it was to procure anything my
cousin might require when the stewards were busy with Miss Jennings
and myself, or one or both of them absent. His air of deferential
consternation was exceedingly fine as he listened to our talk about the
annihilated boat and the foundered foreigner--‘Who,’ said I, with a
glance at his yellow visage, the shocked expression of which he tried
to smother by twisting his lips into a sort of shape that might pass
as a faint obsequious simper and by keeping his eyelids lowered, ‘let
us trust was cut in halves, for then his extinction would be painless;
for after all, drowning, though it is reckoned an agreeable death
after consciousness has fled, is mortal agony, I take it, whilst the
sensation of suffocation remains.’

Muffin’s left leg fell away with an exceedingly nervous crooking of
it in the trouser, and he turned up his eyes an instant to the upper
deck with so sickly a roll, that spite of myself I burst into a laugh,
though I swiftly recovered myself.

‘It is strange, Charles,’ exclaimed my cousin in a raven-like note,
‘that a ghastly incident of this kind should sit so lightly on your
mind, considering that you have quitted the sea for years and have led
a far more effeminate life ashore than I who have been roughing it on
the ocean when very likely you were lounging with a bored face in an
opera stall or dozing over a cigar in some capacious club arm-chair.
Had you been chasing slavers or pitching cannon shot into African
villages down to the present moment, I could almost understand your
indifference to a business that’s going to haunt me for the rest of my
days.’

‘Nonsense!’ I exclaimed, ‘it was a bad job I admit, but a pure
accident, not more tragical than had the boat capsized and drowned the
man. There would be nothing in a twenty-fold uglier mishap to haunt
you. But I’ll tell you what, though,’ I continued, talking on to avert
the sentimental argument which I saw strong in Wilfrid’s face, ‘the
incident of this morning points a very useful moral.’

‘What moral?’ he demanded.

‘Why, that we must not be in too great a hurry to speak every sail we
sight.’

‘Finn knows my wishes; we must hear all we can about the “Shark,”’
cried Wilfrid warmly.

‘The very vessel that we neglect to speak,’ exclaimed Miss Jennings
softly--she had spoken but little, and it was easy to see through the
transparency of her unaffected manner that the tragic affair of the
morning had made a very deep impression on her--‘might prove the one
ship of all we pass that could most usefully direct us.’

‘Two to one!’ said I, giving her a bow and smiling to the look of
coy reproach in her charming eyes; ‘of course, Miss Jennings, I have
no more to say. At least,’ I added, turning to Wilfrid, ‘on the head
of speaking passing ships, though the moral I find in this forenoon
trouble is not exhausted.’

‘Well?’ said he a little imperiously, leaning towards me on one elbow
with his nails at his lips and the spirit of restlessness quick as the
blood in his veins in every lineament.

‘Well,’ said I, echoing him, ‘my suggestion is that your Long Tom’s
murderous mission should be peremptorily cut short by your ordering
Finn to strike the noisy old barker at once down into the hold, where
he’ll be a deuced deal more useful as ballast than as a forecastle toy
for the illustration of Irish humour.’

‘No!’ shouted Wilfrid, fetching the table a whack with his fist:
‘so say no more about it, Charles. Strange that _you_, who should
possess the subtlest and strongest of any kind of human sympathy for
and with me--I mean the sympathy of blood--should so absolutely fail
to appreciate my determination and to accept my purpose! That girl
there,’ pointing with his long arm to Miss Laura, ‘can read my heart
and, of her sweetness, justify and approve all she finds there. But
_you_, my dear Charles’--he softened his voice though he continued
speaking with warmth nevertheless--‘_you_, my own first cousin, _you_
to whom my honour should be hardly less dear than your own--_you_ would
have me abandon this pursuit--forego every detail of my carefully
prepared programme--blink with a cynical laziness at my own and my
infant’s degradation and turn to the law--to the law forsooth!--for the
appeasement or extinction of every just yearning and of every consuming
desire of my manhood. No, by G--!’ he roared, ‘fate may be against me,
but even _her_ iron hand can be forced by a heart goaded as mine has
been and is.’

He rose from the table and without another word went to his cabin.

We had been for some time alone--I mean that Muffin and the stewards
had left us. When my cousin was gone I looked at Miss Jennings.

‘Forgive me, Mr. Monson,’ she exclaimed with a little blush and
speaking with an enchanting diffidence, ‘but I fear--indeed I am sure,
that any, even the lightest, suggestion that runs counter to Wilfrid’s
wishes irritates him. And,’ she added almost in a whisper, ‘I think it
is dangerous to irritate him.’

‘I have no wish to irritate him, believe me, Miss Jennings,’ said I.
‘I desire to be of some practical help, and my recommendations have
no other motive. But I give you my word if this sort of thing goes
on I shall grow selfish, nay, alarmed if you like. I certainly never
anticipated these melodramatic displays, these tragic rebukes, when I
accepted his offer of the voyage. Pray consider: if Wilf, poor fellow,
should grow worse, if his actions should result in exhibiting him as
irresponsible, what’s to be done? Heaven forbid that I should say a
word to alarm you--’ she shook her head with a smile: I was a little
abashed but proceeded nevertheless--‘we are not upon dry land here.
The ocean is as full of the unexpected as it is of fish. Finn is a
plain steady man with brains enough, but then he is not in command in
the sense that a captain is in command when we speak of a ship whose
skipper is lord paramount. He will obey as Wilfrid orders, and I say,
Miss Jennings, with all submission to your engaging, to your beautiful
desires as a sister, that if Wilfrid’s humour is going to gain on him
at the rate at which I seem to find it growing, it will be my business,
as I am certain it will be my duty for everybody’s sake as well as for
yours and his own, so to contrive this unparalleled pursuit as to end
it swiftly.’

She was silent--a little awed, I think, by my emphatic manner, perhaps
by a certain note of sternness, for I had been irritated, besides being
nervous; and then, again, my distaste for the trip worked very strongly
in me whilst I was talking to her.

We were a somewhat gloomy ship for the rest of the day. I noticed
that the seamen wore tolerably grave faces at their several jobs,
and it was easy to gather that, now they had had time to digest the
incident of the morning, it was as little to their taste as it was
to ours aft. Indeed it was impossible to tell what kind of omen they
might manufacture out of so tragic an affair. Sailors were very much
more superstitious in those days than they are now; the steam fiend
has wonderfully cleared the atmosphere of the forecastle, and the
sea-goblin has long since made his final dive from the topgallant-rail
to keep company with the mermaid in her secret bower of coral in a
realm fathoms deep beneath the ocean ooze. O’Connor tried very hard to
look as if he felt that on the whole he almost deserved to be hanged
for his blundersome extermination of the Portugee heathen; at least
this seemed his air when, as he sat stitching on a sail in the waist,
he suspected a quarterdeck gaze to be directed at him. But it is hard
for a man with merry blue eyes and cheeks veritably grinning with
ruddiness in the embrace of a huge hearty pair of carefully doctored
whiskers to look contrite. The Irishman did his best, but I laughed to
see how the instant he forgot his part nature jovially broke out in him
again.

Crimp had charge that afternoon, and when I arrived on deck with a
cigar in my mouth, leaving Miss Jennings and her maid hanging together
over a hat whose feather in some way or other had gone wrong, I asked
the mate what was his opinion of the accident of the morning.

‘Ain’t got any opinion about it at all,’ he answered.

‘It was an accident, let us believe,’ said I.

‘Pure hignorance more like,’ he answered. ‘That there O’Connor’s
regularly ate up with pride. He’s all bounce. Says he’s descended from
kings and if he had his rights he’d be at the head o’ Ulster or some
such place as that ’stead of an able seaman. _He_ know anything ’bout
firing off cannons!’ making a horrible face and going to the side to
spit.

‘Did they understand what you said aboard the brig when you talked to
them from the boat?’

‘Ne’er a word.’

‘Was the red-capped man hurt?’

‘Dazed. Eyes pretty nigh out on’s cheeks. He was too full o’ salt water
to curse, I allow, so when we hauled him into the boat he fell on his
knees and prayed. A bloomin’ poor job; a measly mean business! Knocking
of a boat to pieces an’ drownding of a man. What’s the good o’ that
there gun? Only fit to kick up a plaguey shindy. Next time it may bust
and then, stand by! for I once see an explosion.’

‘Is there anything wrong with the piece as O’Connor suggests!’ said I,
much enjoying the old chap’s sourness, which I may say was not a little
in harmony with my mood that afternoon.

‘Couldn’t tell if ye offered me all ye was worth. My business ain’t
guns. I shipped to do my bit and my bit I’ll _do_, but the line’s
chalked a mighty long way this side o’ hordnance.’

I walked on to the forecastle to inspect the gun for myself. O’Connor
watched me with the whole round of his face, broad and purple as the
rising moon. The gun was of an elderly fashion, but it looked a very
substantial weapon, with a murderous grin in the gape of it and a long
slim throat that warranted a venomous delivery. The kink the Irishman
spoke of was altogether in his eye.

I returned to the quarterdeck, relighted my cigar, stowed myself
comfortably away in the chair I had at an earlier hour procured for
Miss Jennings, and pulling from my pocket a little handy edition of
one of Walter Scott’s novels, was speedily transported leagues away
from the ocean by the spells of that delightful wizard. Thus passed
the afternoon. Miss Jennings remained below, and Wilfrid lay hid in
his cabin. It was very pleasant weather. The sky was a clear blue
from line to line, with just a group of faint bronze-browed clouds of
a dim cream at the horizon looming in the azure air far away down in
the north-west. The wind was cool though salt, a pleasant breeze from
the east with a trifle of northing in it, and very steadily the yacht
travelled quietly over the plain of twinkling waters, cradled by a
soft western heaving. She made no stir forwards saving now and again
a sound as of the pressure of a light foot upon tinderish brushwood;
every sail that would draw was packed on her, to her triangular lower
studdingsail, the reflection of which waved in the tremulous blue like
a sheet of quicksilver, fluctuating as it drained downwards.

Still it was dull work. I would often break away from Scott to send
a glance at the skylight where I could just get a peep at the ruddy
glow of Miss Laura’s hair, as she sat at the table with her maid near
her, and heartily wished she would join me. Crimp’s company was like
pickles, a very little of it went a long way. Had etiquette permitted I
should have been glad to go amongst the men and yarn with them, for I
could not doubt there was a store of amusing experiences lying behind
some of the rugged hairy countenances scattered about the decks. Indeed
no summons ever greeted my ear more cheerfully than the first dinner
bell; for whether one has an appetite or not, sitting down to a meal on
board ship is something to do.

Nothing that need make a part of this story happened that night.
Wilfrid was reserved, but his behaviour and the little he said
were collected enough to make one wonder at the lengths he would
occasionally go the other way. He brought a large diary from his cabin,
and sat writing in it up to a short while before going to bed. I cannot
imagine what he had to put down, unless, indeed, he were posting up the
book from some old date. It found him occupation, however, and he was a
good deal in labour too throughout, I thought, often biting the feather
of his pen, casting his eyes up, plunging his fingers into his hair and
frowning upon the page, and comporting himself, in a word, as though he
were composing an epic poem. I played at beggar-my-neighbour with Miss
Jennings, showed her some tricks at cards, and she told my fortune.
She said she could read my future by looking at my hand, and I feel
the clasp of her fingers still, and smell the perfume of her hair and
behold the brightness of it, and see her poring upon my palm, talking
low that Wilfrid should not be disturbed, tracing the lines with a rosy
finger-nail with an occasional lift of her eyes to mine, the violet
of them dark as hazel and brilliant in the oil flames--it might have
happened an hour ago, so keen is this particular memory.

It was as peaceful an ocean night as any man could imagine of the
weather up in the seas which our yacht was still stemming; moonless,
for the planet rose late now, but spacious and radiant with stars.
There was the phantasm of a craft when I went on deck about a mile
on the bow of us, in the spangled dusk looking like ice, so fine and
delicate was the white of her canvas; but no notice was taken of her.
Finn trudged over to the gloom to leeward when I rose up through the
hatch, possibly mistaking me for my cousin, and manifestly anxious to
shirk the job of having anything to do with the stranger. I watched her
pass--a mere wraith of a ship she looked, sliding her three stately
spires that seemed to melt upon the eye as you watched them under the
red tremble and green and diamond-like sparkling of the luminaries
which looked down upon her. By the time she had faded out like a little
puff of steam in the dumb shadow astern, my pipe was smoked out, and I
went below and to bed, scarce having exchanged three words with Finn,
and musing much on my fortune that Miss Laura had read in my hand--that
my ‘line of life’ was very long, that in middle life I should meet with
a woman who would fascinate me, but that, nevertheless, I should die as
I had lived, a bachelor.

Next morning Wilfrid did not appear at the breakfast-table. Muffin
informed me that his master had passed a very bad night, had not
closed his eyes, indeed, and for hour after hour had paced the cabin,
sometimes going on deck.

‘Is he ill, do you think?’ I inquired.

‘Not exactly ill, sir,’ he answered in his sleekest manner, with the
now familiar crock of one knee and his arms hanging straight up and
down.

‘What then?’ I demanded, perceiving that the fellow had more to say,
though his very humble and obsequious respectfulness would not suffer
him to express much at a time.

‘I fear, sir,’ he exclaimed, looking down, ‘that yesterday’s ’orrid
tragedy has preyed upon his nerves, which, as you are of course aweer,
sir, is uncommonly delicate.’

I thought this probable, and, as the man was going to his master’s
cabin with a cup of tea from the breakfast-table, I told him to give
Sir Wilfrid my love and to say that I should be glad to look in and
sit with him. He returned to tell me my cousin thanked me, but that he
would be leaving his berth presently, and would then join me in a pipe
on deck.

There was a fresh breeze blowing, and the yacht was plunging through
it in a snowstorm, rising buoyant to the bow surge with a broad dazzle
of racing water over the lee-rail, and a smother of white roaring in a
cataract from under her counter. There was wind in the misty shining
of the sun and in the spaces of dim blue between the driving clouds.
The ocean was gay with tints, flying cloud-shadows of slate, broad
tracts of hurrying blue rich and gloriously fresh, with a ceaseless
flashing of the heads of the dissolving billows, dashes of lustrous
yellow to the touch of the sun that you would see sweeping a rusty
ball of copper through a mass of smoke-like vapour, and then leaping
out, moist and rayless, into some speeding lagoon of clear heaven. The
horizon throbbed to the walls of the dimness that circled the line all
the way round, and my first glance was for a ship; but all was bare
ocean. From time to time the fellow on the topgallant-yard ogled the
slope over either bow in a way that made me imagine some sort of hope
of the ‘Shark’ heaving into view had come to the sailors out of this
rushing morning. I waited for Miss Jennings, thinking she would arrive
on deck; but, after stumping to and fro for a half-hour or thereabouts,
and passing the skylight, I saw her and Wilfrid in close conversation
standing almost directly beneath, he gesticulating with great energy,
but speaking in a subdued voice, and she watching him with a troubled
face. Passing the skylight again, a little later on, I caught sight of
Wilfrid’s figure marching up and down with irregular, broken strides,
whilst the girl, leaning with her hand upon the back of a chair,
continued to gaze at him, with now and again a little movement of the
arm which suggested that she was endeavouring to reassure or to reason
with him.

I got alongside of Finn and fell into a yarn with him. One thing led to
another, and Lady Monson’s name was mentioned.

‘Was she a pleasant lady?’ said I.

‘Ay, to look at, your honour. Up to the hammer. A little too much
of her, some folks might think, but such eyes, sir! such teeth! and
talk of _figures_!’ and here he delivered a low prolonged whistle of
admiration.

‘She was a tolerably amiable lady, I suppose?’ said I carelessly.

‘Well, sir, if you’ll forgive me for saying of it, that’s just what
she _wasn’t_,’ he replied. ‘She was one of them parties as can be very
glad and very sorry for themselves and for nobody else. She steered Sir
Wilfrid as I might this here “Bride.” She needed but to set her course,
and the craft answered the shift of helm right away off. Ye never saw
her, sir?’

‘Never.’

‘Well, she hadn’t somehow the appearance of what I tarm a marrying
woman. She looked to be one of them splendid females as can’t abide
husbands for the reason that, being made up of wanity, nothing
satisfies ’em but the sort of admiration that sweethearts feels. I took
notice once that, she being seated in a cheer, as it might be there,’
said he, indicating a part of the deck with a nod of his long head,
‘Sir Wilfrid draws up alongside of her to see if she were comfortable
and if he could run on any errand for her; she scarcely gave him a look
as she answered short as though his merely being near fretted her. But
a minute arter up steps a gent from the cabin, the Honourable Mr. Lacy,
and dawdles up to her, pulling at his bit of a whisker and showing of
his teeth over a long puking of “Haw! haws!” and “Yaases:” and then
see the change in her ladyship! Gor bless my heart and soul, your
honour, ’twarn’t the same woman. She hadn’t smiles enough for this here
honourable. Her voice was like curds and whey. She managed the colour
in her cheeks, too, somehow, and bloomed out upon the poor little dandy
when a minute afore her face to her husband was as blank as a custard.
No, Mr. Monson, sir, her ladyship wasn’t a marrying woman. She was one
of them ladies meant by natur to sit in a gilt cheer in the heart of
a crowd of young men all a-bowing to and a-worshipping of her; very
different from her sister, sir. That little lady down below there I
allow’ll have the true makings of an English wife and an English mother
in her, for all she’s an Australian.’

‘I suppose, then, you were not very much surprised when you heard of
Lady Monson’s elopement?’

‘No more surprised, your honour, than a man can be when a thing that
he’s been expecting has happened. But she’s not going to stick to the
colonel. If his honour don’t overhaul the “Shark” and separate ’em,
she’ll be separating herself long afore the time it ’ud occupy the
schooner to sail round the world. Lord love ’ee, sir; if I were to
hear of her heeloping with some African king, atop of an elephant, it
wouldn’t surprise me. When a woman like her allows a chap to cut her
cable he must be a wiser man than e’er a prophet of them all that’s
writ about who’s going to tell you where the hull’ll strand or bring
up.’

As he delivered himself of these words Sir Wilfrid showed in the hatch
handing Miss Jennings up the ladder, and my companion started away on
a lonely quarterdeck walk. The girl looked very grave and worried; my
cousin, gaunt and haggard, with a fire in his weak, protruding eyes
that was like the light of fever or of famine. He grasped my hand and
held it whilst he sent a look round. I spoke lightly of the fine breeze
and the yacht’s pace and the good runs we should be making if this
weather held, finding something in his instant’s assumption of a hearty
demeanour, a sort of strained liveliness far more affecting than his
melancholy, that was like a request to me not to venture upon any sort
of personal inquiries. He called to Finn to know the speed, then said,
‘Charles, give Laura your arm, will you? There’s too much wind to sit.
She looks a little pale, but a few turns will give roses to her cheeks.
My head aches, and I must keep below out of this air till I am better.’

Miss Jennings took my arm, for there would happen a frequent lee swing
with a rise of the bow and a long slanting rush to the whole weight of
the cloths till you could have spooned up the white water over the side
with your hand that rendered walking difficult and fatiguing; very soon
I placed chairs under the weather bulwarks, snugging her with rugs and
shawls, and in the comparative calm of that shelter we were able to
converse.

‘Wilfrid looks very ill this morning,’ said I.

‘He has had another warning,’ she answered.

‘The deuce he has. When?’

‘Last night.’

‘What sort of a warning is it this time?’

‘Precisely the same as the first one,’ she replied.

‘I am grieved but not surprised,’ said I. ‘I very much fear he is
going from bad to worse. I still hold with the views I expressed last
evening. A time may, nay, a time must come, when you yourself, Miss
Jennings, ardent as is your sisterly desire, will look to me for some
resolution that shall preserve us and himself too from the schemes of
a growing distemper.’ She was silent. ‘Did he tell you,’ I continued,
‘the nature of the warning?’

‘Yes,’ she answered.

‘In confidence? If so, of course----’

‘No,’ she interrupted, ‘he came from his cabin after breakfast when
you had gone on deck, and I saw at once that something was very wrong
with him. I was determined to get at the truth and questioned him
persistently, and then he told me all.’

‘_All!_’ exclaimed I, opening my eyes, for the word seemed to indicate
some very large matter lying behind his confession.

‘What he has seen,’ she said, ‘for two nights running has been a
mysterious writing upon his cabin wall.’

‘Humph!’ said I.

‘Do you remember, Mr. Monson, that he told us of a dream in which he
had seen a boat with a sort of sign-board in it on which was inscribed
the word Monday in letters of flame? Well, he sees the same sort of
fiery scrawl now in his cabin.’

‘What is the nature of the message?’

‘He says that the words are, “RETURN TO BABY!”’

‘He has dreamt this,’ said I, ‘or it is some wretched trick of the
sight or brains; but I would rather believe it a dream.’

‘It is an illusion of some kind, no doubt,’ she exclaimed, ‘but it
is strange that it should occur, be the cause what it will, on two
successive nights, and much about the same time. No wonder the poor
fellow is depressed this morning. It is not only that he fears this
warning as signifying that something is seriously wrong with baby,
and that it is a mysterious command to him to return to her at once;
he dreads that it may occur again to-night and to-morrow night,
continuously, indeed, until it actually drives him mad by obliging
him to make up his mind either to neglect his child or to abandon his
pursuit of his wife.’

‘The long and short of it is, Miss Jennings,’ said I, ‘that when it
comes to one’s being thrown with a man whose mind is a misfit that’s
apt to shift like an ill-stowed cargo to any breeze of wind that heels
the craft over, one must “stand by,” as sailors say, for troublesome
half-hours and bewilderingly unexpected confrontments.’

But there was no use in my telling her the wish was strong in my mind
that if it was to be Wilfrid’s unhappy destiny to grow worse, then the
sooner he acted in such a way as to force all hands to see that it
would be at his own as well as at our peril to leave him at large and
to suffer him to preserve control over the movements of the yacht, and
by consequence the lives and fortunes of those who sailed in her, the
better; for I protest that even in the thick of my talk with the girl,
I never sent a glance at the white roll of spinning waters twisting
and roaring away alongside without a sense of the absurdity of the
whole business, the aimlessness of the pursuit, the futility of it as
a project of revenge, its profound idleness as a scheme of recovering
Lady Monson, guessing, as anyone could from my cousin’s talk and from
what Laura Jennings had let fall, that if Wilfrid _should_ succeed in
regaining his wife, he wouldn’t know what in the world to do with her!



CHAPTER XIII.

I INTERPRET THE WARNING.


The strong wind blew throughout the day and the yacht made a gallant
run, floating buoyant in foam from one blue knoll to another, with
nothing living outside our decks saving a grey gull that overhung the
seething line torn up by the furrow of our keel. A bright look-out was
kept aloft; rarely did I send a glance that way but that I saw one or
another of the men whose duty lay in overhanging the topgallant-yard
sweeping the windy sallow sky against which the ridged horizon was
beating, with Wilfrid’s polished, lance-bright tube.

In the first dog-watch before we sat down to dinner the breeze thinned
and the ocean flattened out into a softly-heaving surface flowing in
folds of tender blue to the dark orange of the west, where lines of
the hectic of the crimsoning orb hung like mouldy stains of blood.
All cloths were crowded on our little ship, and when after dinner I
came on deck I found her sliding through the evening shadow, large
and pale, like a body of moon-tinctured mist that floats off some
great mountain-top and sails stately on the indigo-blue air, melting
as it goes, as our canvas seemed to dissolve to the deepening of the
dusk upon its full bosoms. A sailor was playing a concertina forward,
and a man was singing to it. Here and there upon the forecastle was
a dim grouping of outlines with a scarlet tipping of the darkness by
above half-a-score of well-sucked tobacco pipes, making one think of a
constellation of fire-flies or of a cluster of riding lights.

I had asked Miss Jennings to join me on deck, but she declined, on the
plea--which two or three sneezes emphasised in the most reassuring
way--that she felt chilly and was afraid of catching cold. Wilfrid
produced his diary again, if a diary it was, and sat writing. I tried
to court him into a walk and a smoke, but he said no; he had a fancy
for writing just then; it was a humour whose visits were somewhat rare,
and therefore, the mood being on him, he wished to encourage it as he
had a very great deal to commit to paper.

‘Well,’ said I, ‘I’ll just go and smoke one cigar, and then, with your
permission, Miss Jennings, I’ll endeavour to win a six-pence from you
at beggar-my-neighbour again, and you shall tell me my fortune once
more.’

I yawned as I stepped on deck. Dull enough work, by George! thought
I. Only think of this sort of thing lasting till we get to the Cape,
with Wilfrid’s intention that even by _that_ time, if we don’t fall in
with the ‘Shark,’ little more than a beginning shall have been made!
Let me once see the inside of Table Bay and her ladyship may go hang
for any further pursuit that _I_ shall be concerned in. The worst of
it was that poor Wilfrid’s troubles, warnings, health and the like,
engrossed Miss Jennings. Nearly all our talk was about my cousin. I had
hoped that the sunshine of her nature, that was bright in her laugh
just as you seemed to see it glowing in her hair, would have somewhat
cleared the gloom that Wilfrid cast upon our social atmosphere; but
she seemed to lie under a kind of spell; it was keen womanly sympathy,
no doubt, beautiful for its sincerity, animated too by an honourable
sensitiveness--by the feeling, I mean, that the runaway was her sister,
and that she to that degree at least shared in the responsibility of
the blow that had been dealt the poor fellow’s fond and generous heart.
All this was doubtless as it should be; nevertheless her qualities
went to fashion a behaviour I could not greatly relish simply because
it came between us. Her thoughts were so much with my cousin and her
sister’s wrong-doing, that the side of her I was permitted to approach
I found somewhat blind.

All was now quiet on deck; the concertina had ceased; the watch below
had gone to bed; those who were on duty stowed themselves away in
various parts, and sat, mere shapes of shadow, blending with the deep
gloom betwixt the bulwarks, nodding but ready to leap to the first
call. There were many shooting stars this night; one of them scored the
heavens with a bright line that lingered a full ten minutes after the
meteor had vanished in a puff of spangles, and it was so glittering as
to find a clear reflection in the smooth of the swell where it writhed,
broadened and contracted like a dim silver serpent of prodigious
length. There was some dew in the air, and the sparkle of it upon the
rail and skylight flashed crisply to the stars to the quiet rise and
fall of the yacht upon the black invisible heave that yearned the whole
length of her, with an occasional purr of froth at the cutwater, and
a soft, rippling washing noise dying off astern into the gloom. The
phosphorus in the sea was so plentiful that you might have thought
yourself inside the tropics. It glared like sheet-lightning under each
ebony slope running westwards, and in every small play of froth there
was the winking of it like the first scratching of lucifer matches.
Under the counter where the wake was the streaming of this light was
like a thin sheathing of the water there with gold-beater’s skin,
rising and falling, and of a greenish tint, of the light of the moon.
The flash of the sea-glow forward when the bow broke the swell would
throw out the round of the staysail and jib as though the clear lens of
a bull’s-eye lamp had glanced upon the canvas. This greenish, baffling
twinkling, this fading and flickering of flames over the side thickened
the obscurity to the sight within the rails. Somehow, too, the mystic
illumination seemed to deepen the stillness that lay upon the deep,
spite of the welter and the breeze that had weight enough to lift a
streak of foam here and there. It might be that the sight of those
fires made one think of the crackling and noise of flame, so that the
very dumbness of the burning lay like a hush upon the darkling surface
with nothing aboard us to vex it, for our canvas swelled silent as if
carved in mother-of-pearl, and not so much as the chafe of a rope or
the stir of a sheave in its block fell from above to trouble the ear.

I spied a figure standing a foot or two before the main rigging,
leaning over the side. Not knowing whether Finn or Crimp had the watch,
and supposing this man to be one of them, I approached close and peered.

‘Is that you, captain?’ said I, for the shadow of the rigging was upon
him to darken him yet.

‘No sir, it’s me, Mr. Monson. Muffin, sir.’

He had no need to mention his name, for his greasy, most remarkable
voice, along with its indescribable tone of insincere habitual
obsequiousness would have proclaimed him Muffin had he spoken as one of
a crowd out of the bottom of a coal mine.

‘Feel sick?’ said I.

‘No, I am obliged to you, sir,’ he answered with a simper in his tone.
‘I am taking the liberty of breathing the hair just a little, sir.’

‘I suppose you’ll not be sorry to get home again, Muffin?’

‘Indeed, sir,’ he exclaimed, ‘I shall be most humbly thankful, I assure
you.’

‘You’re an Englishman, aren’t you?’

‘Oh dear yes, quite English, sir. Born at ’ammersmith, sir.’

‘Then you ought to be very fond of the sea.’

‘I should be more partial to it, sir, I believe,’ said he, ‘if it was a
river. I have a natural aversion to the hocean, sir. I can swim and I
can row. I’ve pulled on the Serpentine, sir, and four years ago I made
a voyage to the Continong as far as Cally, and found the water very
hentertaining. But there’s so much hocean here, sir, that it’s alarming
to think of. On a river, Mr. Monson, sir, one can never seem distant,
but here--why, sir, if my mother’s ’ouse was in one of them stars, it
couldn’t seem further off, and every day I suppose’ll make the distance
greater.’

‘That you must expect,’ said I, turning with a notion of seeking Finn
or Crimp.

‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ he said, ‘but could you tell me what them
fires are that’s burning in the water?’

‘Phosphorus,’ said I.

‘Phosphorus?’ he ejaculated as though startled, ‘hoh, indeed sir! And
might I wenture to ask why it is that the water don’t put it out?’

‘There are more kinds of fire than one,’ said I, laughing, and not
much relishing the prostrative nature of the fellow’s respectfulness I
walked aft.

Close to a boat that hung inboards by the davits, only a few strides
from where Muffin was standing, I spied another figure standing with
his back against the rail. It proved to be Mr. Jacob Crimp.

‘Plenty of fire in the water to-night,’ said I.

‘Is there?’ he answered, slowly rounding his sturdy little figure to
look. ‘I ain’t took notice.’

‘Have you followed the sea many years, Mr. Crimp?’ said I, feeling the
need of a chat, and willing moreover to humour the quizzical mood that
commonly came to me when I conversed with this sour little chap.

‘Thirty year.’

‘A long spell!’

‘Sight too long.’

‘I suppose you’ll be settling down ashore soon?’

‘Ay, if I ain’t drownded. _Then_ settling ashore with me’ll sinnify a
hole in the airth.’

‘Come, come,’ said I, ‘after thirty years of hard labour there’ll be
surely dollars enough for a clean shirt and a roof. But you may be
married, though?’

‘No I ain’t,’ he answered with a snap like cocking a gun.

‘Well, a sailor is a fool to get married,’ said I. ‘Why should a man
burthen himself with a wife whose society he cannot enjoy, with whom
he accepts all the obligations of a home without the privilege of
occupying it, save for a few weeks at a time?’

‘Well, I ain’t married, so I don’t care. It’s nothen to me what other
men do. Talk o’ settling! If you come to my berth I’ll show you the
fruits of thirty year of sea sarvice; an old chest, a soot or two
of clothes, and ’bout as much ready cash as ’ud purchase a dose of
ratsbane.’ Here emotion choked him and he remained silent.

At this moment a low, mocking, most extraordinary laugh came out of the
blackness upon the sea in the direction I happened to be gazing in. The
sound was a distinct _ha! ha! ha!_ and before the derisive, hollow,
mirthless note had fairly died off the ear, a brisk angry voice within
apparently a pistol-shot of us exclaimed, ‘_That yacht is cursed!_’ A
laugh like the first followed and then all was still.

Crimp started, and I was grateful to heaven he did so, since it was
an assurance the noise had been no imagination of my own. I will
not deny that I felt exceedingly frightened. My legs trembled like
an up-and-down lead line in a strong tideway. It was not only the
suddenness, the unexpectedness of such a thing; it was the combination
of deep gloom upon the waters, the play of the phosphoric fires there,
the oppressive mystery of the sombre vastness stretching from over our
rail as it seemed to the immeasurably remote dim lights of heaven lying
low upon the edge of the ocean, and languishing in the darkness there.

‘Did you hear it?’ I cried in a subdued voice to Crimp.

‘Ay,’ responded the man in a startled voice. ‘I don’t see anything. Do
you?’

I peered my hardest. ‘Nothing,’ I exclaimed. ‘Hush, the cry may be
repeated.’

We strained our eyes and ears too, but all was silent; nor was there
any livelier sparkle in the liquid dusk to indicate the dip of an oar
or the stirring of the fiery water by a boat’s stem.

‘Did the fellow at the wheel hear it, think you?’ said I.

We both stepped aft, the mate looking to right and left, and even up at
the stars overhead as though he feared something would tumble down upon
us out of the dark air. He approached the man who was at the helm and
said, ‘Thomas, did you hear anybody a-laughing like just now out on the
quarter there?’

‘No,’ answered the man.

‘Are ye a bit deaf?’

‘Ne’er a bit.’

‘And you mean to say you heard _nothen_?’

‘Nothen.’

Grumbling with astonishment and perplexity, Crimp turned to me. ‘If it
wur fancy,’ he muttered, ‘call me a dawg’s flea.’

I believe I could see Muffin’s figure still leaning over the rail.
Had he heard the voice? As I passed the skylight I looked down and
perceived him standing with drooped head and folded arms before Wilfrid
in the cabin. My cousin appeared to be giving him some instructions.
Advancing yet a little I discovered that what I had taken to be the
valet’s figure was merely a coil of rope on a pin, the outline of which
was blackened up and enlarged to the proportions and even the posture
of a human shape by the illusive character of the obscurity made by the
shrouds just there. I threw my half-finished cigar overboard.

‘Enough to make a man feel as if he’d like to be turned in,’ said
Crimp. ‘It’s gone blooming cold, han’t it?’

‘It’s the most puzzling thing that ever happened to me,’ said I; ‘but
of course if we were in the secret we should find nothing wonderful in
it. In the West Indian waters, you know, there is a fish to be caught
that talks well enough to put a ship about. Who’s to tell in a midnight
blackness of this sort what amazing marine thing may not rise to the
surface and utter sounds which an alarmed ear would easily interpret
into something confoundedly unpleasant?’

‘What did it say?’ inquired Crimp.

‘Why, after the laugh, “_that yacht’s cursed_,” then another laugh.
So it seemed to me,’ said I, with my eyes going blind against the
blackness whence the noise had proceeded.

‘That’s just what I heard,’ said Crimp gruffly, ‘exactly them words.
Two ears ain’t a going to get the same meaning out of what’s got no
sense in it to start with.’

‘Pooh!’ I exclaimed, mentally protesting against an argument that was
much too forcible to be soothing, ‘what could it have been, man, if it
were not, say, some great bird, mayhap, flapping past us unseen, and
uttering notes which, since they sounded the same to you and me, would
have sounded the same to the whole ship’s company had they been on deck
listening?’

‘Beats all my going a-fishing anyhow,’ growled Crimp, going to the rail
and looking over.

‘Well, take my advice and don’t speak of it,’ said I; ‘you’ll only get
laughed at, especially as the fellow at the wheel heard nothing.’

‘His starboard ear’s caulked; he’s hard o’ hearing,’ rumbled Crimp.

I walked to the taffrail and looked astern. There was nothing to be
seen but faint phantasmal sheets of phosphoric light softly undulating,
with the brighter glow of our wake. I was really more agitated than I
should have liked to own, and I must have stood for nearly a quarter of
an hour speculating upon the incident and striving to reassure myself.
One thought led to another and presently I found myself starting to a
sudden odd suspicion that came into my head with the vivid gleam of
a broad space of the sea-glow that flashed out bright as though it
reflected a lantern hung over the side from the run of the yacht where
the bends hollowed in from the sternpost. It was a suspicion that had
no reference whatever to the voice that Crimp and I had heard, yet it
did me good by drawing my mind away from that bit of preternaturalism,
and a few minutes later I found myself below alongside of Miss Jennings.

‘The cigar you lighted to-night must have been an unusually big one,’
said she with a light glance, in which, however, it was easy to see
that she noted my expression was something different from what was
usual in me.

I smiled, and measuring on my finger, told her that I had smoked but
that much of the cigar and thrown the rest of it overboard. Wilfrid sat
at the table with a tumbler of seltzer and brandy before him, and he
was filling his large meerschaum pipe as I arrived.

‘Help yourself, Charles,’ said he, pointing to the swing tray that
was full of decanters. ‘I was about to join you on deck. How goes the
night?’

‘Dark, but fine; the wind just a small pleasant air. I am tired, or I
should accompany you.’

‘We are sailing though, I hope,’ said he.

‘Ay, some four knots or thereabouts, and heading our course. We have
no right to grumble. It has blown a fine gale all day, and from the
hour of our start down to the present moment I think we have had fairer
weather and brisker breezes than we had a right to hope for.’

He emptied his tumbler, lighted his pipe, and said that he would go and
take a turn or two. ‘If I should loiter,’ he added, ‘don’t sit up. If I
am not to sleep when I turn in, the night will be all too long for me
were I to go to bed at four o’clock in the morning.’

As he mounted the cabin steps I rose to mix a glass of seltzer and
brandy, and when I returned to my seat near Miss Jennings, she at once
said, ‘I hope nothing has happened to worry you, Mr. Monson?’

‘Why do you ask?’

‘You had a slightly troubled look when you came into the cabin just
now.’

‘What will you think,’ said I, ‘if I tell you that _I_ have had a
warning?’

Her eyes glittered to the rounding of the brows, and her lips parted as
though with a sigh of surprise. I shook my head, looking with a smile
at her. ‘I see how it is. If I am candid, you will think there are
_two_ instead of one!’

‘No, no,’ she cried.

I was in the midst of telling her about the voice Crimp and I had heard
when Muffin passed through the cabin, seemingly from his own berth
on his way to his master’s. He held a little parcel of some kind. On
arriving at the opening of the short alley or corridor that divided
the after berths, he stopped, looked round, and said in his humblest
manner, ‘I beg your pardon, sir, but _is_ the bayronet in his cabin,
d’ye know, sir?’

‘He’s on deck,’ I answered.

‘Thank you, sir,’ he exclaimed, and vanished.

I proceeded with my story and finished it.

‘It must have been some trick of the hearing, Mr. Monson,’ exclaimed
the girl; ‘some sea-fowl winging slowly past, as you suggest, or--it is
impossible to say. I can speak from experience. Often I have been alone
and have heard my name called so distinctly that I have started and
looked round, though there might have been nobody within a mile of me.
The senses are conjurors; they are perpetually playing one tricks, and,
which is very mortifying, with the simplest appliances.’

‘True enough that, Miss Jennings. The creak of a door will be a
murdered man’s groan sometimes. I remember once being at a country
house and holding a pistol in my hand ready to cover the figure of
a man that was watching the old-fashioned building with burglarious
intentness; which same man, after I had stood staring at him her a long
twenty minutes, was resolved by the crawl of the moonshine into the
original fabric and proportions of a neatly-clipped bush. No; I shall
not suffer that mysterious voice to sink very deep. It was passing
strange and that’s all. I hope sour old Crimp has some sense of the
ridiculous and will keep his mouth shut. Heaven deliver us if he should
take it upon himself to tell Wilfrid a mysterious sea-voice sung out
just now that this yacht was cursed!’

I rose with a glance at the skylight. ‘Excuse me for a few minutes. I
am going to Wilfrid’s cabin to confirm a suspicion that has entered my
head. Should my cousin arrive whilst I am absent, endeavour to detain
him here until I return. I shall know how to excuse myself for entering
his bed-room.’

She looked at me wonderingly, but asked no questions. I walked swiftly
but softly to the corridor aft. Wilfrid’s cabin was on the port side.
It was the aftermost berth, two cabins there having been knocked into
one. I turned the handle of the door and entered. The flame of a
silver-bright bracket lamp filled the place with light. It was a very
handsome sea apartment, with no lack of mirrors, hangings, small costly
furniture, all designed for the comfort and happiness of her ladyship.
I nimbly closed the door behind me and stood for an instant beholding
the precise spectacle I had entered fully expecting to witness. It was
Muffin, who stood close against the bulkhead at the foot of the bunk
my cousin occupied, grasping in his left hand a small white jar such
as might be used for jam, whilst in the other hand he flourished a
brush, with which he was apparently painting or scoring marks upon the
bulkhead as I entered. The occasional kick of the rudder, with frequent
creaking, straining noises arising from the movement of the yacht,
hindered him from hearing me turn the handle of the door and from being
conscious of my presence, whilst I stood looking on. He had made some
progress with his mysterious lettering; for, having dipped the brush
into the jar, he fell to writing a big B after several preliminary
flourishes of his arm as though he had a mind to give an artistic curve
to the letter; he was then beginning to paint a small A, though the
brush left no mark, when I exclaimed, ‘How many b’s are there in baby?’

He looked round slowly, keeping his right hand nevertheless lifted, and
preserving his posture in all save the turn of his head as though he
had been blasted into motionlessness by a flash of lightning. I walked
up to him:

‘So,’ said I, ‘_you_ are the warning, eh? _You_ are the mysterious
fiery message which has distracted my cousin for the last two days
and nights, and which, if continued, must end in driving him mad? You
scoundrel!’

He faced round, his right hand slowly sinking to his side like
a pump-handle gradually settling. For a moment there was a look
of malevolent defiance in his face, but it yielded to one of
consternation, terror, eager entreaty.

‘Mr. Monson, sir,’ he exclaimed in a voice that was the very
double-distilled extract of oily accent, ‘I am discovered, sir. I meant
the honourable bayronet no ’arm. My ’umble wish is to get ’ome.’

‘What is that stuff you have there?’

‘A remedy for wermin, sir, which they told me was numerous on board
ship.’

‘Open that porthole!’

He did so after giving me a look as if he suspected I meant to squeeze
him overboard through the aperture.

‘Out now with that pot and brush.’

He tossed them into the sea. I turned down the lamp till only the
feeblest glimmer of flame remained, and then sure enough there stole
out upon the bulkhead in a feeble, green, glittering scrawl that seemed
to wink upon the sight with its coming and going the words ‘_Return to
Ba_--.’

‘Rub that off at once,’ said I, ‘and be quick about it too. If Sir
Wilfrid arrives I shall have to explain; and he’s a man to shoot you
for such an act as this.’

He pulled a pocket handkerchief out of his coat-tail and fell to
rubbing the bulkhead with a terrified hand, backing to see if the
letters were gone, then applying himself afresh, breathing hard
meanwhile and manifesting much fear, for no doubt he believed that my
hint that Wilfrid would shoot him was very well founded, seeing that he
had a half-crazy man to deal with in his master. He rubbed till nothing
was left of the letters. I turned up the lamp and ordered him out of
the cabin. He was about to address me.

‘Not a word,’ I cried, subduing my voice, for though my temper was
such that I could scarce keep my hands off him, yet I was exceedingly
anxious too that Wilfrid should not overhear me nor come to his berth
and find me in it with his valet. ‘Get away forward now to your own
cabin.’

‘For God’s sake, Mr. Monson, don’t tell Sir Wilfrid, sir,’ he
exclaimed, in a hoarse, broken tone.

‘Away with you! I promise nothing. This is a matter to think over. I
shall require to talk with you in the morning.’

I held open the cabin door and he passed out in a sideways fashion as
if he feared I should hit him, and then travelled swiftly forwards with
such a twinkling of the white socks bulging over his pumps as made me
believe he ran. My cousin was still on deck. Miss Jennings gazed at me
earnestly; I looked to see if the coast was clear, and exclaimed: ‘It
proved as I had supposed. I have interpreted the warning Wilfrid has
received.’

She gazed at me in silence.

‘The mysterious handwriting is Muffin’s,’ I continued. ‘The flaming
admonition is wrought by a brush dipped in a phosphoric composition
for--for--beetles!’

‘You mean to say, Mr. Monson----’ She paused to take a long breath
whilst her eyes shone with astonishment.

‘The long and short of it is, Miss Jennings,’ said I, ‘that our friend
Muffin hates the sea; he has been cursing the voyage from the bottom
of his soul pretty nearly ever since we started, and has hit upon this
device to appeal to Wilfrid’s instincts as a father and to his poor,
weak, credulous nerves as--as--well as a man not wholly sound, in the
hope, not ill-founded, that provided the warning be repeated often
enough, my cousin _would_ return to baby.’

‘The horrid wretch! You actually found him----?’

‘Yes, he had got as far as _Return to Ba_--.’

‘Shall you tell Wilfrid?’

‘No,’ I answered; ‘not a word must be said to him on the subject. I
told Muffin--and I believe in my own notion too--that if my cousin were
to hear that the sufferings occasioned him by the mysterious writing on
his cabin wall were due to a trick of his valet, he would pistol the
scoundrel. No, we must keep our counsel. I shall confer with Finn in
the morning and contrive that our melancholy humourist be wholly and
effectually sundered henceforth from all intercourse with this end of
the yacht.’

Well, she was thunderstruck, and could hardly be brought to credit
that a servant should play his master so cruel a trick. I told her
that in my opinion Muffin would do well as keeper of a private lunatic
asylum, since so artful a wretch might be warranted to drive anyone
whose nerves were not ‘laid up’ with galvanised iron strands into a
condition of sullen imbecility or clamorous lunacy within any time
specified by the friends and relatives of the sufferer. When, however,
the pretty creature’s surprise had somewhat abated, she expressed
herself as wonderfully grateful that the discovery had been so early
made. ‘Had the writing been continued,’ she said, ‘I am sure it would
have ended in completely crazing poor Wilfrid. And I am glad too
for another reason, Mr. Monson--it proves at all events that there
was nothing insane in your cousin’s fancy of a warning. After all,
the healthiest-minded person would be startled and dismayed, and
afterwards, perhaps, dangerously affected, by finding a reference to
his baby shining out upon him in the dark, night after night.’

‘I believe I should have got up and rubbed the reference out,’ said I,
‘had it glimmered upon me.’

‘But you are not Wilfrid. What made you suspect Muffin?’

‘I suspected not Muffin, but a trick, and _then_ that Muffin must be
the man. It came to me with the sight of a bright sheet of phosphoric
fire flaming off the yacht’s quarter as I overhung the rail, staring
into the gloom and puzzling over the cry Crimp and I had heard. One
can’t give a reason for the visitations of fancy. Instinct I take to be
the soul’s forefinger with which it points out things to the reason.’

‘I hope it will point to the true cause of the mysterious voice you
heard,’ she exclaimed, smiling, but with something of uneasiness in her
face nevertheless.

We continued chatting a little; she then went to her cabin. Soon
after she had withdrawn, Wilfrid arrived. He yawned, and without
seating himself spoke of the weather, the yacht’s progress, and other
commonplace matters. For my part I had too much on my mind just then
to feel in the humour to detain him, so after a few sentences as
carelessly spoken as I could manage, I advised him after his sleepless
nights to try once more for a spell of rest, and so saying went away to
my own berth.



CHAPTER XIV.

MUFFIN GOES FORWARD.


I rose next morning shortly after seven, bathed and went to the cabin
for a cup of coffee. I could see through the skylight that it was a
fine day. The air showed a bright blue against the glass, and a rich
tremble of sunlight was on the thick crystal of every weather porthole,
the glory rippling with the reflective throbbing and running of the
sea, as it broke upon the polished panels abreast or flashed in the
confronting mirrors. The ocean was quiet too; the heave of the yacht
was gentle, though the heel of her gave assurance of a breeze of wind.
The two stewards were busy in the cabin. I knew that Finn would have
the forenoon watch, since Crimp had had charge from eight to midnight,
and I called to the head steward to know if the captain was about.

‘Not yet, sir, I believe.’

‘Take my compliments to him, and say I should like to see him at once,
if possible--here, in the cabin, I mean.’

Whilst I waited, Muffin, hearing my voice, came from his berth. I
watched him out of the corner of my eyes; he slowly advanced in a sort
of writhing way, making many grimaces as he approached, as if in the
throes of rehearsing a speech, and presently stood before me, first
casting a look at the second steward who was polishing a looking-glass,
and then clasping his hands before him and hanging his head.

‘Mr. Monson, I ’umbly ask your pardon, sir. May I beg that out of your
kind ’art you will overlook my doings last night? Sir, I do not find
myself partial to the hocean, and my desire is to return ’ome, sir. I
meant no ’arm. I would not wrong an ’air of Sir Wilfrid’s ’ed. My five
years’ character from the Right Honourable the Lord Sandown speaks to
my morals, sir. I am sincerely remorseful, Mr. Monson, and trust to be
made ’appy by your forgiving me, sir.’

I listened to what he had to say, and then exclaimed, ‘My forgiveness
has nothing to do with the matter. You are not a person fit to wait
upon Sir Wilfrid Monson, and--but I shall have something to tell you a
little later on. Meanwhile, you can go.’

He said unctuously, ‘Am I to take Sir Wilfrid his ’ot water as usual,
sir?’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘continue to wait on him.’

He plucked up at this and withdrew with an ill-dissembled smirk upon
his countenance. Presently Captain Finn came trundling down the cabin
steps, cap in hand, his long face bright with recent cleansing, and
full of expectation. I asked him to sit, and then, without a word of
preface, I bluntly told him about the ‘warnings’ my cousin had received
for two nights running, and how last night my suspicion, in some
unaccountable way, having been aroused, I entered the baronet’s berth
and found Muffin painting the sentence in a vermin-killing composition
of phosphorus. Finn whistled.

‘The weasel!’ he cried; ‘how is he to be punished for this? Will ye
have him ducked from the yard-arm, or seized up aloft, or played
on with the hose for spells of half-an-hour, or whipped up for a
grease-down job that’ll last him nigh a day? Say the word, sir. I feel
to want the handling of a chap whose veins look to run slush, to judge
by his colour and the lay of his hair.’

‘No,’ said I, ‘no need to deal with him as you suggest. But he must
be turned out of this end of the vessel and sent into the forecastle.
Before we decide, however, can you make use of him?’

‘Ay, can I. Leave him to me, your honour,’ said Finn, grinning. ‘I’ll
make a man of him.’

‘Steward,’ I called, ‘send Muffin to me.’

The valet arrived, looking hard at Finn. I made some excuse to get the
stewards out of the cabin, and then said, ‘Now, Muffin, attend. You are
at once to decide whether you will go forward amongst the men, live
with them in the forecastle and do such work as Captain Finn appoints,
or whether Sir Wilfrid shall be told of last night’s business, that he
may deal with you as he thinks proper.’

Finn gazed at him with a frown and a cheek purpled by indignation and
contempt. The fellow fixed his dead black eye on me, and said, ‘I would
rather go ’ome, sir.’

‘I dessay you would!’ burst out Finn. ‘How will ’ee travel? By
locomotive or post-chay? By my grandmother’s bones! if one of my men
had played such a trick on me as you’ve played on your master, I’d
spreadeagle him with these here hands if he was as tall as my mainmast,
and lay on till there wasn’t a rag of flesh left to tickle.’

I motioned silence with an indication with my head in the direction of
Sir Wilfrid’s berth.

‘Take your choice, and be sharp about it,’ said I, turning hotly upon
Muffin, whose very sleekness at such a time was a kind of insolence
in him somehow; ‘either decide to be dealt with by Sir Wilfrid, who
probably will shoot you for what you have done, or go to him after he
has risen, tell him that you have made up your mind to discontinue your
services as a valet, and that you have requested Captain Finn to place
you upon the articles as a boy.’

‘Ay, as a boy,’ echoed Finn in a half-suppressed note of storm, and
fetching his leg a mighty thump with his clenched fist.

Muffin’s left leg fell away, he clasped his hands in a posture of
prayer upon his shirt-front, and, after looking in a weeping way
from Finn to me, and from me to Finn, he said, snuffling as he spoke,
‘Gentlemen, give me an ’arf hour to think it over, I beg of you.’

I pulled out my watch. ‘I must have your decision by eight o’clock,’
said I. ‘See to it. If you do not decide for yourself, I shall choose
for you, and give my cousin the whole truth; though for your sake,’
I added, with a menacing look at him, ‘as well as for his, I am very
desirous indeed that he should remain ignorant of your conduct. Go!’

I sat talking with Finn. His indignation increased upon him as we spoke
of Muffin’s behaviour.

‘It was enough to drive his honour clean mad, sir,’ he exclaimed. ‘Why,
though there’s little I believes in outside what my senses tells me
of, I allow I should feel like jumping overboard if so be on putting
out the light I found a piece of adwice wrote upon the dark in letters
of fire. But I’ll work his old iron up for that job. There’s something
leagues out of the ordinary in that there slush made cove, sir. ’Taint
that I hobjects to a man who never looks me in the eye. But there’s
something in the appearance of that there Muffin which makes me think
that if he could pull his heart out of his breast he’d find it like a
piece of rotten ship’s bread, full of weevils and holes.’

‘The man is pining for the shore,’ said I. ‘The fellow thought to
work upon the weak side of my cousin’s intellect. He meant no more, I
believe, than to frighten Sir Wilfrid into returning. He remains a very
good valet all the same, though we must have him out of this. He will
not be the only servant in the world who has procured his or her ends
by working on the master’s or mistress’s fears.’

‘Well, I suppose not, sir,’ said Finn; ‘taking men-servants all round
they’re a bad lot. I never yet see one, specially if he wore big calves
and had got white hair, but that I felt a longing to have him at sea
for a month. By the way, sir, talking of this here Muffin’s mystifying
of his honour, what d’ye think, Mr. Monson, sir? Blowed if old Crimp,
who I shouldn’t ha’ credited with a single idea outside the tar bucket,
hain’t gone and fallen superstitious! When I relieved him at midnight
he up and spins a long twister about you and him having heard a woice
holloing a curse upon this yacht away out on the starboard quarter
somewhere.’

He broke into a low, deep sea laugh, which he endeavoured to check by
clapping his hand to his mouth.

‘We heard something,’ said I, ‘that sounded like a voice, and we made
out the noise to signify the same thing. It may have been a bird,
or some mysterious fish come up to breathe, or some singular sound
produced by the yacht herself. No matter what--I have dismissed it from
my mind.’

‘Poor old Jacob!’ he continued, smothering another laugh; ‘why sir,
he’d actually thought hisself into a clam when I went on deck, and
said he reckoned this part of the hocean much colder than the coast
o’ Greenland. Jacob’s being so werry commonplace is the reason of my
thinking nothen of the yarn. Had he even a little bit more mind than
belongs to him I’d be willing to allow his story was a queer one; but
he’s so empty of any sort o’ intellects short of the ones that he needs
to enable him to keep a look-out and attend to the navigation of the
craft, that his werry hollowness touches t’other extreme of a brain
chock ablock with fantastical ideas; by which I mean that I’d as lief
attend to a madman’s notion of a strange woice as to Jacob’s. Not but
that he ain’t as trustworthy, practical a sailor as I could wish to
have by my side if I ever found myself in a quandary.’

I cast my eye at the clock under the skylight. As I did so, Muffin came
sliding towards us with exactly the same sort of gait and countenance
you would expect in a well-practised funeral mute. He approached close
before speaking, and postured in front of me, preserving a respectful
silence, whilst he kept his eyes fastened on the deck.

‘Well?’ said I.

‘I’ve been considering the matter, sir, and beg to state that I’ve made
up my mind.’

‘Well?’ I repeated.

‘It might ’urt Sir Wilfrid’s feelings, gentlemen, if you, Mr. Monson,
sir, explained away the cause of what had alarmed him, and I’ll not
deny that as his strength of mind isn’t such as to give him control
over his passions, sir, I should go in fear. Which being so, I’m
willing to tell him that I desire to discontinue my services as valet,
and should be glad to become what I’ve ’eard Captain Finn describe as
an ’and until such times as we fall in with a ship that may be willing
to carry me ’ome. To which, Mr. Monson, sir, and you, Capt’n Finn, I
trust, gentlemen, both, you’ll have no objection.’

I preserved my gravity with difficulty.

‘Very well,’ said I, witnessing in the vague indeterminable twinkle
of the unpolished jet of his eye that he detected in me the mirth I
flattered myself I had concealed; ‘after breakfast you will convey your
resolution to Sir Wilfrid, of course taking care to insist if he should
object, for after what has happened your connection with him must
_cease_.’

‘As you wish; sir,’ he exclaimed, giving me a bow with the whole spine
of him; ‘but, gentlemen, I should like to state that whatever may be
the work Captain Finn puts me too, I would rather do it as an ’and than
as a boy.’

I felt a bit sorry for the poor devil. It seemed to me that he had
accepted his alternative with some pluck.

‘A boy is the next grade to ordinary seaman,’ said I; ‘you will be a
hand just the same.’

‘What can you do?’ exclaimed Finn, running his eye over the figure of
the man with an expression that was not one of quite unmixed contempt.
‘Can ’ee go aloft?’

The fellow clasped his hands and turned up the whites of his eyes. ‘Not
to save my precious soul, sir.’

‘You can row,’ said I.

‘I’ll feather an oar agin any Thames waterman,’ exclaimed Muffin.

‘Enough has been said,’ I exclaimed, rising. ‘The stewards wait to lay
the cloth for breakfast,’ and so saying, I mounted on deck, followed
by the captain, who, after I had exchanged a few words with him, went
forward to break his fast before relieving old Crimp.

There was a large full-rigged ship on the weather beam. We were slowly
passing her. She was an East Indiaman, I think, of a frigate-like
stateliness, with her white band and black ports, and her spacious
rounds of canvas tapering in spires, to the delicate gossamer of the
top-most cloths. The red ensign was waving at her peak as it was at
ours, but then she was from England as we were, and had no more news
to give us than we her. The bosoms of her canvas arched towards us
with the rigging under each curve fine as wire against the sky that
sloped to the horizon white and blinding as irradiated steel with the
eastern gushing of glory there. There was just swell enough to heave a
little space of her coppered forefoot out of the glittering brine that
came brimming to her in a liquid blue light, and the rhythmic flash
of the metal over the curl of snow at the stem gave an inexpressible
grace to the dignity and majesty of the lofty and swelling fabric of
cream-coloured cloths, each softened by an airy pinion of shadow at
its lee clew. ’Twas wonderful the magic that ship had to vitalise and
to subdue to human sympathy the brilliant, weltering wilderness of
the morning ocean. She carried the thoughts away to the Thames and to
Gravesend, to leave-takings and weeping women and the coming and going
of boats, to the hurricane note of the Jacks getting the anchor, to
the waving of handkerchiefs up on the poop, to the smell of hay for
the live-stock, the gabble of poultry, the cries of children, the loud
calls of officers, the ceaseless movements of passengers, stewards,
friends, sailors, crowding and elbowing, talking, shaking hands, and
crying upon the main deck. All this, I say, she made one think of, with
a fancy, too, of the rushing Hooghley, a burning atmosphere sickly with
the smell of the incense of the hubble-bubble, with a flavour of hot
curry about, a dead black body gliding slowly past, the lip, lip, of
the rushing stream against the ship’s bow and seething to the gangway
ladder, the fiery cabins o’ nights vibratory with the horns of the
mosquitoes like a distant concert of Jew’s harps mingling with the
distant unearthly wail of the jackal. Pooh! ’twas a fit of imagination
for its torrid atmosphere and Asiatic smells to make one mechanically
mop the brow with one’s handkerchief. Why, far off as that Indiaman was
the clear cool wind seemed to breeze down _hot_ from her with an odour
of bamboo and cocoanut rope, and chafing gear wrought from the jungle
with strange aromas of oils along with the shriek of the paroquet and
the hoarse musings of the macaw. I turned to surly old Jacob.

‘Good-morning, Mr. Crimp.’

‘Marning.’

‘Fine ship out yonder.’

‘Well, I’ve seen uglier vessels.’

I approached him close. ‘Heard any more voices, Mr. Crimp?’

‘No,’ he answered, thrusting his fingers into the door-mat of oakum
upon his throat, ‘and I don’t want to.’

‘I advised you to keep your counsel,’ said I, ‘but I find that you have
spoken to Captain Finn.’

‘Who wouldn’t? My mind ain’t a demijean, smother me! It’s not big
enough to hold the likes of last night’s job. Told the capt’n? ’Course
I did.’

I saw that he was a mule of a man, and not proper to reason with. I
said with an air of indifference, ‘Have you thought the thing over? Was
it a bird, as I said at the time, or a noise breaking out perhaps from
the inside of the yacht, and by deception of the hearing sounding in
syllables apparently away out upon the sea?’

He eyed me dully, and after a stupid, staring pause, exclaimed, ‘I wish
_you_ hadn’t heard it.’

‘Why?’

‘Why? ’Cause then I might ha’ believed it was _my_ fancy; but as I says
to the capt’n, two collected intellects ain’t going to get the same
meaning out o’ what’s got no sense. I hope that this here trip may turn
out all right, that’s all. I’ve been a going to sea now for thirty
year, but smite me if ever I was in a wessel afore that was damned in
the first watch by a woice a-sounding out of the blackness with nothen
for it to come from.’

The breakfast bell now rang, and I went below not a little surprised by
this exhibition of superstitious alarm in so sour and matter-of-fact a
seaman as Jacob Crimp. For my part, though I admit the thing greatly
puzzled me, it was only as some conjuring trick might. Perhaps with
old Crimp I should have been better satisfied had but one of us heard
the voice; or, presuming us both to have caught the sound, had we
each made a different sentence of it. _There_ lay the real oddness of
the incident, but as to supposing there was anything supernatural in
it, I should have needed the brains of my cousin, who could interpret
Muffin’s stale and vulgar trick into a solemn injunction, perhaps from
heaven, to think so.

Wilfrid joined us at breakfast; he made a good meal, and was easy
in his spirits. I asked him if he had been troubled with any more
warnings. He answered no, nothing whatever had occurred to disturb
him. He had slept soundly, and had not passed so good a night for days
and days. ‘But,’ said he with a glance round the cabin, for the valet
had been hanging about, though he did not station himself behind his
master’s chair as heretofore, ‘if I were ashore I should be prepared
for another kind of warning, I mean a warning from Muffin, if I may
judge by his face and manner. Something is wrong with the fellow.’

‘You once suspected his sanity,’ said I, smiling. ‘Upon my word I
cannot persuade myself that such a dial-plate as his covers sound
clockwork. He strikes wrongly, I’m sure. He don’t keep true time, Wilf.’

‘Do you think so really?’ he exclaimed with some anxiety.

‘Do you believe Muffin to be perfectly sound, Miss Jennings?’ said I,
giving her a significant glance.

‘I should be very sorry to trust him,’ she answered with a spirited
gaze at Wilfrid.

The subject dropped; our conversation went to the Indiaman that lay
for a little, whilst we sat at the breakfast table, framed in the
cabin porthole abreast of us, coming and going with the light reel
of the yacht, but whenever set for a moment then the most dainty and
lovely image imaginable, like to some small choice wondrous carving in
mother-of-pearl of a ship, shot with many subtle complexions of light
as though you viewed her through a rainbow of fairy-like tenuity. Then,
having talked of her, we passed on to our voyage, till on a sudden a
fit of sullenness fell upon Wilfrid, and he became moody; but, happily,
I had by this time finished my breakfast, and as I had no notion of an
argument, nor of courting one of his hot, reproachful, vexing speeches
touching his own anguish and my coldness, I left the table, telling
Miss Jennings that she would find her chair, rugs, and novel ready for
her on deck when she should be pleased to join me.

She arrived alone in about half-an-hour. There was something so
fragrant in her presence, so flower-like in her aspect, that she could
not approach you but that it was as though she brought a nosegay with
her whose perfume had a sweetness for every sense of the body. We had
not been long together, yet already I might have guessed what had
happened with me by noticing in myself the impatience with which I
desired her company, the repeated glances I would send at the companion
hatch if I expected her on deck, the very comfortable feeling of
satisfaction, the emotion indeed of quiet delight that possessed me
when I had her snug by my side in her chair, with no one to break
in upon us but Wilfrid, who troubled us very little in this way. I
remember this morning when I took the novel off her lap to see what
progress she had made in it, thinking, as my glance went in a smile
from the mark in the middle of chapter the third to her eyes, in which
lay a delicate light of laughter, that before long we should be having
the weather of the tropics, the radiant ivory of the equinoctial moon,
the dew-laden stillness of the equatorial calm, and that there might
come night after night of oceanic repose for us to enjoy--and enjoy
alone; but I almost started to the fancy, for it was a sort of secret
recantation, a quiet confession of my heart to my reason that though to
be sure this voyage was to be viewed as a goose-chase, I was beginning
to feel willing that it should not be so brief as I was quite lately
trusting it would prove. No wonder the old poets represented love as a
kind of madness, seeing that a man who suffers from this disorder will,
like a madman, experience twenty different moods in an hour.

‘You do not appear to find the dukes and earls of this star-and-garter
novel very engaging company,’ said I, placing the book in her lap again.

‘It is a good sort of novel to dream over,’ said she; ‘the moment I
look at it I find my mind thinking of something else.’

‘A pity Wilfrid cannot read,’ said I, ‘but his mind, like the poet’s
eye, glances too much. There are two unfailing tests of brain power:
the appreciation of humour and the capacity of concentration.’

‘Might not a very clever man laugh at a very silly joke?’ she asked.

‘Yes, but his laugh will be of a different sort from a stupid fellow’s
at the same joke. Where did you leave Wilfrid?’

‘In the cabin. Muffin came up to me just now, apparently on his way to
his master, and begged me in a most strange, suppliant, hollow way to
implore you not to allow Sir Wilfrid to suspect that the handwriting
was a trick; “for,” said the man, “if he gets that notion into his head
he will suspect me, and then, miss,” he said, “the baronet might take
my life, for if he’s scarcely responsible for what he does when he’s in
a good temper, what would he not be capable of when he’s in a dreadful
passion?” This was in effect what he said. His language and manner
are not to be imitated. I told him very coldly that neither of us was
likely to tell Sir Wilfrid, not because we should not be very pleased
to see him punished by his master as he deserved, even though it came
to shooting him,’ she exclaimed, lifting her eyes to mine with roguish
enjoyment of Muffin’s terror, ‘but because we were anxious that Sir
Wilfrid should be spared the humiliation of the discovery.’

‘Muffin will be out of this end of the ship before noon,’ said I.

‘What have you arranged?’

‘His name will be entered in the articles as a boy, that is, as a
sailor below the grade of an ordinary seaman.’

‘Is he to work as a sailor?’

‘Finn will try him.’

‘The poor wretch!’ she cried, looking aloft; ‘have you ever observed
his feet? Such a man as that cannot climb.’

‘They’ll put him to deck work,’ said I, ‘scrubbing, polishing,
scraping, painting.’ She fell silent, with her gaze upon the open book.
Presently she sent a slow, thoughtful look along the sea and sighed.

‘Mr. Monson, I wonder if we shall fall in with the “Shark”?’

I shook my head.

‘But why not?’ she exclaimed with a pretty pettishness.

‘She might be yonder at this moment,’ said I, pointing to the
light-blue horizon that lined, like an edging of glass, the sky upon
our starboard beam. ‘Who is to tell? Our field is too big for such a
chase.’

‘We shall find them at Table Bay, then,’ she said defiantly.

‘Or rather, let us hope that they will find us there. But suppose
we pick the “Shark” up; suppose we are lying in Table Bay when she
arrives. What is to happen? What end is to be served? On my honour, if
Lady Monson were my wife----’ I snapped my fingers.

‘You are cold-hearted.’

‘I am practical.’

‘You would not extend your hand to lift up one who has fallen.’

‘Do not put it so. The girl I marry will, of course, be an angel.’ Her
lips twitched to a smile. ‘If she expands her wings and flies away
from me, am I to pick up a blunderbuss with the notion of potting her
as she makes sail? No, let her go. She is indeed still an angel, but a
bad angel. A bad angel is of no use to a man. She poisons his heart,
she addles his brains, she renders his sleep loathsome with nightmares,
she buries a stiletto in the vitalest part of his honour. _Follow_ her,
forsooth! I could be eloquent,’ said I with a young man’s confident
laugh, ‘but I must remember that I am talking to Laura Jennings.’

We were interrupted by Wilfrid. He came slowly forking up through the
hatch in his long-limbed way, and approached us with excitement in his
manner.

‘Mad!’ he cried with a look over his shoulder. ‘Mad, as you say, by
George! you were both right, and I’m deuced glad to have made the
discovery. Why, here was this fellow, d’ye see, Charles, hanging about
me at all hours of the day, free to enter my room at any time when I
might be in bed and sound asleep. Confoundedly odd, though.’

‘Are you talking of Muffin?’ said I.

‘Ay, of Muffin, to be sure.’

‘He’s not gone mad, I hope?’

‘I think so, any way,’ he answered with a wise nod that was made
affecting to me by the tremble in his lids, and the childish assumption
of shrewdness and knowingness you found in his eyes and the look of his
face.

‘What has he done?’ asked Miss Jennings, playing with the leaves of the
volume on her knee.

‘Why, he just now came to my cabin,’ answered my cousin, sending a
glance at the skylight, ‘and told me that he was weary of his duties as
a valet, and desired to be at once released. I said to him, “What do
you mean? We’re at sea, man. This is not a house that you can walk out
from!” He answered he knew that. He desired to go into the forecastle
and work as a sailor--as a sailor! Figure Muffin astride of a lee
yardarm in a gale of wind.’ He broke into one of his short roars of
laughter, but immediately grew grave, and proceeded: ‘There was a tone
of insolence in the fellow that struck me. It might have been because
he had made up his mind, expected that I should refuse, and had come
resolved to bounce, even to offensively bounce me into consenting.
Besides, too, there was an expression in his eye which satisfied me
that yours and Laura’s suspicions were sound--were sound. But I did
not need to witness any physical symptom of mental derangement. Enough
surely that this sleek, obsequious, ghostly, though somewhat gouty
rascal, whom I cannot imagine fit for any post in the world but that
of valet, should throw up his comfortable berth with us in the cabin
to become what he calls “an ’and.” Ha! ha! ha!’ His vast, odd shout of
laughter rang through the yacht from end to end.

‘Of course,’ said I, ‘you told him to go forward.’

‘Oh, certainly. I should not love to have a lunatic waiting upon me.
Why, damme, there are times when I have let that fellow shave me.
But--I say, Charles--Muffin as an ’and, eh?’

He turned on his heel, shaking with laughter, and walked up to Finn, to
whom I heard him tell the whole story, though repeatedly interrupting
himself with a jerky, noisy shout of merriment. He asked the skipper
what work he could put Muffin to, and Finn rumbled out a long answer,
but they stood at too great a distance to enable me to catch all that
was said. Presently Finn put his head into the companion hatchway and
called. After a little Muffin emerged. Wilfrid recoiled when he saw the
man, turned his back upon him, and stepped hastily right aft past the
wheel. I whispered to Miss Jennings, ‘Did you mark that? Each will go
in terror of the other now, I suppose; Wilfrid because he thinks Muffin
mad, and Muffin because he thinks that Wilfrid, should he get to hear
the truth, will shoot him.’

‘This way, my lad,’ cried Finn in a Cape-Horn voice, and a half smile
that twisted the hole in the middle of his long visage till it looked
like the mouth of a plaice. They both went forward and disappeared. The
sailors who were at work about the deck stared hard at Muffin as he
passed them, shrewdly guessing that something unusual had happened, and
not a little astonished to observe the captain conducting him between
decks to the mariners’ parlour. Soon the skipper came up, and called
to a large, burly, heavily-whiskered man, who, as I had gathered, was
a sort of acting boatswain, though I believe he had not signed in that
capacity, but had been appointed by Finn to oversee the crew as being
the most experienced sailor on board. The skipper talked with him, and
the heavily-whiskered man nodded vehemently with a broad smile that
compressed his face into a thousand wrinkles, under the rippling of
which his little eyes seemed to founder altogether. Then Finn came aft,
and Wilfrid and he fell to pacing the deck.

Miss Jennings read; I smoked occasionally, giving her an excuse to
leave her book by asking a question, or uttering some commonplace
remark. I was lying back in my easy, lounging deck-chair, with my eyes
sleepily following the languid sweep of the maintopmast-head, where the
truck showed like a circle of hoar frost against the airy blue that
floated in its soft cool bright tint to the edges of the sails whose
brilliant whiteness seemed to overflow the bolt ropes and frame them
with a narrow band of pearl-coloured film, when Miss Jennings suddenly
exclaimed, ‘Oh, Mr. Monson, do look!’

I started, and, following the direction of her gaze, spied Muffin
standing near the galley rigged out as a sailor. There may have been
a slop-chest on board--I cannot tell; perhaps Finn had borrowed the
clothes for the fellow from one of the seamen; anyway, there stood
Muffin, divested of his genteel frock coat, his gentlemanly cravat and
black cloth unmentionables, and equipped in a sailor’s jacket of that
period, a coarse coloured shirt, rough duck or canvas breeches, whose
bell-shaped extremities entirely concealed his gouty ankles. His head
was protected by a nautical straw hat, somewhat battered, with one long
ribbon floating down his back, under the brim of which his yellow face
showed with the primrose tincture of the Chinaman, whilst his dead
black eyes, gazing languishingly our way, looked the deader and the
blacker for the plaster-like streak of hair that lay along his brow as
though one of the Jacks had scored a line there with a brush steeped in
liquid pitch.

‘Heavens, what an actor that fellow would make!’ said I, the laugh
that seemed to have risen to my throat lying checked there by wonder
and even admiration of the astonishing figure the man cut in his new
attire. The burly, heavily-whiskered salt rolled up to him. What Muffin
said I could not hear, but there was the air of a respectful bow in the
posture of his odd form, and my ear easily imagined the oily tone of
his replies to the huge sailor. They crossed to the other side of the
deck out of sight.

Shortly afterwards I left my seat to join Wilfrid, and then the first
object that I beheld on the port side of the vessel was Muffin washing
the side of the galley with a bucket of water at his feet and the
heavily-whiskered man looking on. Well, thought I, rounding on my
heel with a laugh, ’twill make home the sweeter to him when he gets
there, and meanwhile Wilfrid will be free from all further phosphoric
visitations.



CHAPTER XV.

I BOARD A WRECK.


The time slipped by. Life is monotonous at sea, and, though the days
seem to have speeded quickly past when one looks back, they appear
to be crawling along on all-fours when one looks ahead. We sighted
nothing that carried the least resemblance to the vessel we were in
chase of. Within a week we spoke two ships, both Englishmen, one a
fine tall black clipper craft from Sydney, New South Wales, full of
Colonials bound to the old country for a cruise amongst the sights
there; the other a little north-country brig laden down to her chain
plates in charge of the very tallest man I ever saw in my life, this
side I mean of the giants who go on show, with a roaring voice that
smote the ear like the blast of a discharged piece; but neither vessel
gave us any news of the ‘Shark’; no craft of the kind had been sighted
or heard of by either of them.

It was as I expected. For my part the adventure remained a most
ridiculous undertaking, and never more so than when I thought of the
speck a ship made in the vast blue eye of the wide ocean. We fell in
with some handsome breezes for travelling, several of which drove us
through it in thunder with a hill of foam on either quarter and an acre
of creaming white spreading under the chaste golden beauty the yacht
carried on her stem-head. The wind flashed blue into the violet hollows
of the canvas, the curves of whose round breasts shone out past the
shadowings to the sun, and rang splitting upon the iron taut rigging of
the driven craft with joyous hunting-notes in its echoings as though
the chase were in view and there were spirits in the air hallooing us
into a madder speeding.

Wilfrid and Finn and I hung over the chart, calculating with sober
faces, finding our position to be there and then there and then there,
till we worked out an average speed from the hour of our departure
that caused the skipper to swear if the ‘Shark’ was not already astern
of us she could not be very far ahead, unless a great luck of wind
had befallen her; a conjecture scarce fair to put down as a basis to
build our figures upon, since it was a hundred to one that her fortune
in the shape of breezes had been ours. For, be it remembered, we were
in a well-scoured ocean; the winds even north of the ‘rains’ and
‘horse-latitudes’ were in a sense to be reckoned on, with the trades
beyond as steady in their way as the indication of a jammed dogvane,
and the ‘doldrums’ to follow--the equinoctial belt of catspaws and
molten calms where one sailor’s chance was another’s the wide world
round.

But so reasoned Finn, and I was not there to say him nay; yet it was
difficult to hear him without a sort of mental shrug of the shoulders,
though it was a talk to smooth down the raven plume of Wilfrid’s
melancholy ‘till it smiled.’ My cousin managed very well without his
valet, protested indeed that he felt easier in his spirits since the
fellow had gone forward, as though, all unconsciously to himself, he
had long been depressed by the funeral face of the man.

‘Besides,’ said he, in his simple, knowing way, with a quivering of the
lids that put an expression of almost idiot cunning into the short,
pathetic peering of his large protruding eyes, ‘he was with me when
my wife left my home; he it was who came to tell me that Lady Monson
was not to be found; it was he, too, who put Hope-Kennedy’s letter
into my hand, though it was picked up by one of the housemaids. These
were thoughts that would float like a cloud of hellish smoke in my
brain when he was hanging about me, and so I’m glad to have him out of
my sight; yes, I’m the better for his absence. And then,’ he added,
lowering his voice, ‘his behaviour proves that he is not sound in his
mind.’

That Muffin was as well content with the arrangement as his master I
cannot say. They kept him at work forward upon small mean jobs, and he
seldom came aft unless it was to lend a hand in pulling upon a rope.
Yet after a little I would see him in a dog-watch on the forecastle
with a huddle of seamen on the broad grin round him. One special
evening I remember when the watch had run out into the dusk, and it
might have been within half-an-hour of eight-bells, I arrived on
deck from the dinner table and heard, as I supposed, a woman singing
forward. The voice was a very good clear soprano, with a quality in it
that might have made you imagine a middle-aged lady was tuning up. The
song was ‘The Vale of Avoca.’ The concertina accompaniment was fairly
played. I listened with astonishment for some time, wondering whether
Miss Jennings’ maid had got among the men, and then called to Crimp--

‘Who’s that singing?’ said I.

‘Him they’ve nicknamed the mute,’ said he.

‘What, Muffin?’

‘Ay! sounds as if he’d swallowed his sister and she was calling out to
be released.’

There happened inside this particular week with which I am dealing an
incident much too curious not to deserve a place here. All day long it
had been blowing a fresh breeze from north-east, but as the sun sank
the wind went with him, and about an hour before sunset there was a
mild air breathing with scarce weight enough in it to blow the scent
off a milkmaid, as sailors say, though it was giving the yacht way
as you saw by the creep of the wrinkles at her stem working out from
the shadow of the yacht’s form in the water into lines that resembled
burnished copper wire in the red western light. Miss Laura and Wilfrid
were on deck, and I was leaning over the rail with a pipe in my mouth,
all sorts of easy, dreamy fancies slipping into me out of the drowsy
passage of the water alongside with its wreath of foam bells eddying or
some little cloudy seething of white striking from our wet and flashing
side into a surface which hung so glass-like with the crimson tinge in
the atmosphere sifting down into it that you fancied you could see a
hundred fathoms deep. Presently running my eyes ahead I caught sight of
some minute object three or four points away on the weather bow, which
every now and again would sparkle like the leap of a flame from the
barrel of a musket. I stepped to the companion, picked up the telescope
and made the thing out to be a bottle, the glass of which gave back
the sunlight in fitful winkings to the twists and turns of it upon the
ripples.

‘What are you looking at?’ cried Wilfrid.

‘A bottle,’ I answered.

‘Ho!’ he laughed, ‘what you sailors call a dead marine, ha? What sort
of liquor will it have contained, I wonder, and how long has it been
overboard?’

The glass I held was Captain Finn’s; it was a very powerful instrument,
and the bottle came so close to me in the lenses that it was like
examining it at arm’s length.

‘It is corked,’ said I.

‘Can we not pick it up?’ exclaimed Miss Jennings.

‘Oh, but an empty bottle, my dear,’ exclaimed Wilfrid, with a shrug.

I examined it again. ‘I tell you what, Wilfrid; that it is corked
should signify there is something in it. Who troubles himself to plug
an empty bottle when it is flung overboard unless it is intended as a
messenger?’

He was instantly excited. ‘Why, by all means then----,’ he broke off,
looking round. The mate had charge; he was sulkily pacing the deck
to leeward with a lift of his askew eye aloft and then a stare over
the rail, all as regular as the recurrence of rhymes in poetry. ‘Mr.
Crimp,’ called Wilfrid. The man came over to us. ‘Do you see that
bottle?’

Crimp shaded his eyes and took a steady view of the water towards which
my cousin pointed, and then said, ‘Is that there thing flashing a
bottle?’

‘Yes, man; yes.’

‘Well, I see it right enough.’

‘Get it picked up, Mr. Crimp,’ said Wilfrid.

The mate walked aft. ‘Down hellum,’ he exclaimed to the fellow who was
steering. The wheel was put over and the bottle was brought almost
directly in a line with the yacht. The topgallant-sail ‘lifted,’ but
what air blew was abaft the beam and the distance was too short to
render necessary the handling of the braces and sheets. Crimp went
a little way forward and hailed the forecastle, and presently a man
stood ready at the gangway with a canvas bucket slung at the end of a
line. A very small matter will create a great deal of interest at sea.
Had the approaching bottle been a mermaid the group of sailors could
not have observed it with livelier attention nor awaited its arrival
with brisker expectations. Presently _splash_! the bottle was cleverly
caught, hauled up, dried and brought aft.

‘It’s not been in the water long,’ said I; ‘the wooden plug in the
mouth looks fresh.’

‘Mr. Crimp, sing out for a corkscrew,’ cried Wilfrid.

‘No good in that,’ cried I; ‘break the thing. That will be the
speediest way to come at its contents.’

I held the bottle to the sun a moment, but the glass was thick and
black, and revealed nothing. I then knocked it against the rail, the
neck fell and exposed a letter folded as you double a piece of paper to
light your pipe with. I pulled it out and opened it; Miss Laura peeped
over one shoulder, Wilfrid over the other; his respirations swift,
almost fierce. It was just the thing to put some wild notions about the
‘Shark’ into his head. From the forecastle the sailors were staring
with all their eyes. The paper was quite dry; I opened it carefully
with an emotion of awe, for trifling as the incident was apparently,
yet to my fancy there was the mystery and the solemnity of the ocean
in it too. Indeed, you thought of it as having something of the wonder
of a voice speaking from the blue air when your eye sought the liquid
expanse out of whose vast heart the tiny missive had been drawn. It was
a rude, hurried scrawl in lead pencil, and ran thus:

‘_Brig Colossus. George Meadows, Captain. Waterlogged five days--all
hands but two dead; fast breaking up. No fresh water. Raw pork one
cask. Who finds this for God’s sake report._’

The word September was added, but the writer had omitted the date,
probably could not remember it after spelling the name of the month. I
gave Crimp the note that he might take it forward and read it to the
men, telling him to let me have it again.

‘They will all have perished by this time, no doubt,’ said Wilfrid in
his most raven-like note.

‘Think of them with raw pork only! The meat crystallised with salt, the
hot sun over their heads, not a thimbleful of fresh water, the vessel
going to pieces plank by plank, the horrible anguish of thirst made
maddening by the mockery of the cold fountain-like sounds of that brine
there flowing in the hold or washing alongside with a champagne-like
seething! Oh,’ groaned I, ‘who is that home-keeping bard who speaks of
the ocean as the mother of all? The mother! A tigress. Why, if old Davy
Jones be the devil, Jack is right in finding an abode for him down on
the ooze there. Mark how the affectionate mother of all torments its
victims with a hellish refinement of cruelty before strangling them!
how--if the land be near enough--she will fling them ashore, mutilated,
eyeless, eaten, in horrid triumph and enjoyment of her work, that we
shuddering radishes may behold and understand her power.’

‘Cease, for God’s sake!’ roared Wilfrid; ‘you’re talking a nightmare,
man! Isn’t the plain fact enough?’ he cried, picking up the broken
bottle and flinging it in a kind of rage overboard, ‘why garnish?’

‘I want to see the ocean properly interpreted,’ I cried. ‘Your poetical
personifications are claptrap. Great mother, indeed! Great grandmother,
Wilfrid. Mother of whales and sharks, but when it comes to man----’

‘Oh, but this is impiety, Mr. Monson,’ cried Miss Laura, ‘it is really
dangerous to talk so. One may _think_--but here we are upon the sea,
you know, and that person you spoke of just now (pointing down) might
with his great ears----’

‘Now, Laura, my dear,’ broke in Wilfrid, ‘can’t we pick up a wretched
bottle and read the melancholy message it contains without falling ill
of fancy?’ He went to the skylight--‘Steward, some seltzer and brandy
here! Your talk of that salt pork,’ he continued, coming back to us,
‘makes my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. I would give much for
a little ice, d’ye know. Heigho! Big as this ocean is, I vow by the
saints there’s not room enough in it for the misery there is in the
world!’ with which he set off pacing the deck, though he calmed down
presently over a foaming glass; but he showed so great a dislike to
any reference to the bottle and its missive that, to humour him, Miss
Jennings and I forbore all allusion to the incident.

It was next forenoon, somewhere about the hour of eleven o’clock, that
the lookout man on the topgallant yard--whom I had noticed playing for
some time the polished tubes, which glanced like fire in his lifted
hands as he steadied the glass against the East--suddenly bawled down
with a voice of excitement, ‘Sail ho!’

Wilfrid, who was lounging on the skylight, jumped off it; I pricked up
my ears; Miss Laura hollowed her gloved hands to take view of the man
aloft.

‘Where away?’ cried Finn.

‘Right ahead, sir.’

‘What do you make her out to be?’

The seaman levelled the telescope again, then swinging off from the
yard by his grip of the tie, he sung out, ‘She looks to be a wreck,
sir. I don’t make out any canvas set.’

‘She’ll be showing afore long, your honour,’ said Finn, and he cast his
eye upon the water to judge of our speed.

All night long it had blown a weak wind, and the draught was still a
mere fanning, with a hot sun, that made the shelter of the awning a
necessary condition of life on deck by day; a clear, soft, dark-blue
sky westwards, and in the east a broad shadowing of steam-like cloud
with a hint in the yellow tinge of it low down upon the sea of the
copper sands of Africa, roasting noons and shivering midnights, fever
and cockroaches, and stifling cabins. So that, merely wrinkling through
it as we were, it was not until we had eaten our lunch, bringing the
hour to about a quarter before two o’clock, that the vessel sighted
from aloft in the morning had risen above the rim of the ocean within
reach of a glass directed at her over the quarterdeck rail.

‘It will be strange,’ said I, putting down the telescope after a long
stare at her, ‘if yonder craft don’t prove the “Colossus.” Look at her,
Wilfrid. A completer wreck never was.’

He seized the glass. ‘By George, then,’ he cried, ‘if that’s so the
two men that paper spoke of may be still alive. I hope so, I hope
so. We owe heaven a life, and it is a glorious thing to succour the
perishing.’ His hand shook with excitement as he directed the glass at
the vessel.

Points of her stole out as we approached. She had apparently been a
brig. Both masts were gone flush with the deck, bowsprit too, channels
torn from their strong fastenings, and whole lengths of bulwark smashed
level. I supposed her cargo to have been timber, but her decks showed
bare, whence I gathered that she was floating on some other sort of
light cargo--oil, cork; no telling what indeed. She swayed wearily upon
the long ocean heave with a sulky, sickly dip from side to side, as
though she rocked herself in her pain. There was a yard, or spar, in
the water alongside of her, the rigging of which had hitched itself in
some way about the rail, so that to every lurch on one side the boom
rose half its length, with a flash of the sun off the wet end of it,
and this went on regularly, till after watching it a bit I turned my
eyes away with a shudder, feeling in a sense of creeping that possessed
me for an instant the sort of craziness that would come into a dying
brain aboard the craft to the horrible maddening monotony of the rise
and fall of that spar.

‘Such a picture as that,’ whispered Miss Jennings softly in my ear,
‘realises your idea of the ocean as a tigress. What but claws could
have torn her so? And that soft caressing of the water--is it not the
velvet paw stroking the dead prey?’

‘There’s a man on board,’ cried Wilfrid wildly; ‘look, Charles.’

He thrust the glass into my hand whilst he pointed with a vehement
gesture. I had missed him before, but the broadside opening of the
wreck to our approach disclosed his figure as he sat with folded arms
and his chin on his breast in a sleeping posture against the companion
that remained intact, though the wheel, skylight, and all other deck
fixtures that one could think of were gone. I eyed him steadily through
the lenses, but though he never raised his head nor stirred his arms,
which lay folded, yet owing to the roll of the hulk it was impossible
to say that his body did not move.

‘There’s the word “Colossus,”’ said I, ‘painted plainly enough upon her
bow. Yonder may be the writer of the letter received. Wilf, you should
send a boat. He may be alive--God knows! But though _he_ be dead there
might be another living.’

‘Finn,’ cried Wilfrid, ‘bring the yacht to a stand and board that wreck
instantly, d’ye hear?’

‘Ay, ay, sir.’

‘I’ll make one of the boat’s crew with your good leave, captain,’ I
sung out.

‘Take charge by all means, Charles,’ said Wilfrid.

‘With pleasure,’ said I. ‘See two things in the boat, Finn, before we
start--fresh water and a drop of brandy or rum.’

The yacht’s topsail was backed, the helm put down and the vessel’s
way arrested. We came to a halt within half-a-mile of the wreck. The
ocean swung smoothly in wide-browed folds that went brimming to the
bulk in rounds polished enough at times to catch the image of her till
she showed as she leaned from us with her reflection leaning too as if
she had broken in halves and was foundering. The boat was lowered and
brought to the gangway; I jumped in and we shoved off. Five fellows
pulled, and on a sudden I had to turn my head away to smother a laugh
whilst I seemed to wave a farewell to Wilfrid and Miss Laura on noting
that one of the rowers was no less a man than Muffin. Whether he had
thrust himself into this errand owing to some thirst for any momentary
change in the discipline of his shipboard life, or whether Finn had
remembered that the fellow talked much of being able to feather an oar
and had ordered him into the boat I cannot tell, but there he was, as
solemn as a sleeping ape, his old straw hat pulled down to his nose
and his eyes steadfastly fixed upon the oar that he plied. He pulled
well enough, but his anxiety to keep time and to feather besides was
exceedingly absurd, and it cost me no small effort to master my face,
though the struggle to look grave and ignorant of his presence was
mightily helped in a minute by the sight of the silent figure seated
upon the wreck’s deck.

I earnestly overhauled with my eyes the wallowing fabric as we
approached her, but saving that lonely man motionless in his posture of
slumber there was nothing to be distinguished outside the melancholy
raffle of unrove rigging and ropes’ ends in the bow, vast rents in the
planks of the deck, splinters of bulwark, stanchion, and the like.
The fellow that pulled stroke was the big-whiskered man that acted as
boatswain, named Cutbill. I said to him as he came stooping towards
me for the sweep of his oar, ‘She’s so jagged the whole length of
her broadside, that I believe her stern, low as it lies, will be the
easiest and safest road to enter by.’

He looked over his shoulder and said, ‘Ay, sir. But there is no need
for you to trouble to step aboard. I’ll overhaul her if you like, sir.’

‘No, I’ll enter. It’s a break, Mr. Cutbill. But you will accompany me,
for I may want help.’

He shook his head. ‘You’ll find nothing living there, sir.’

‘No telling till we’ve found out anyway,’ said I. ‘Oars!’ I sung out.

We floated under the wreck’s counter, hooked on, and, waiting for the
lift of the swell, I very easily sprang from the boat’s gunwale to the
taffrail of the hulk, followed by Cutbill. The decks had blown up, and
the sort of drowning rolling of the hulk rendered walking exceedingly
dangerous. The water showed black through the splintered chasms,
with a dusky gleam in the swaying of it like window-glass on a dark
night; and there was a strange noise of sobbing that was desperately
startling, with its commingling of sounds like human groans, and hollow
frog-like croakings, followed by blows against the interior caused
by floating cargo driven against the side, as if the hull was full of
half-strangled giants struggling to pound their way out of her.

From the first great gap I looked down through I remember recoiling
with a wildness that might easily have rolled me overboard to the sight
of a bloated human face, with long hair streaming, floating on the
surface of the water athwart the ragged orifice. It was like putting
one’s eye to a _camera obscura_ and witnessing a sickening phantom of
death, saving that here the horror was real, with the weeping noises in
the hold to help it, and the great encompassing sea to sweep it into
one’s very soul as a memory to ride one’s sleepless hours hag-like for
a long term.

We approached the figure of a man. He was seated on a three-legged
stool, with his back resting against the companion. I stooped to look
at his face.

‘Famine is the artist here!’ I cried instantly, springing erect. ‘My
God! what incomparable anguish is there in that expression!’

‘See, sir,’ cried the burly sailor by my side in a broken voice, and he
pointed to a piece of leather that lay close beside the body. One end
of which had been gnawed into pulp, which had hardened into iron again
to the air and the sun.

‘Yet the letter we picked up,’ said I, ‘stated there was a cask of raw
meat on board.’

‘_That_ was chewed for thirst, sir,--for thirst, sir!’ exclaimed the
seaman. ‘I suffered once, and bit upon a lump of lead to keep the
saliva a-running.’

‘Best not linger,’ said I. ‘Take a look forward, will you?’

He went towards the forecastle; I peered down the little companion way;
it was as black as the inside of a well, with the water washing up the
steps within reach of my arm. There could be nothing living down there,
nor indeed in any other part of the wreck if not on deck, for she was
full of water. The men in the boat astern were standing up in her with
their heads bobbing together over the line of the taffrail to get a
view of the figure, for it was seated on the starboard side, plain in
their sight, all being clear to the companion; yet spite of that lump
of whiskered mahogany faces, with Muffin’s yellow chops in the heart of
it to make the whole group as commonplace as a sentence of his, never
in all my time did so profound a sense of desolation and loneliness
possess me as I stood bringing my eyes from the huge steeping plain
of the sea to that human shape with its folded arms and its bowed
head. Heavens, thought I, what scenes of human anguish have the ocean
stars looked down upon! The flash past of the ghastly face in the hold
beneath--that bit of gnawed leather, which even had you thought of a
dog coming to such a thing would have made your heart sick--the famine
in that bowed face where yet lay so fierce a twist of torment that the
grin of it made the slumberous attitude a horrible sarcasm----

‘Nothing to be seen, sir,’ exclaimed Cutbill, picking his way aft with
the merchantman’s clumsy rolling step.

I went in a hurry to the taffrail and dropped into the boat, he
followed, and the fellow in the bow shoved off. Scarce, however, had
the men dropped their oars into the rowlocks, each fellow drawing in
his breath for the first stretch back, when a voice hailed us from the
deck:

‘_For God’s sake don’t leave me!_’

‘Oh!’ shrieked Muffin, springing to his feet and letting his oar slide
overboard; ‘there’s someone alive on board!’

‘Sit, you lubber!’ thundered the fellow behind him, fetching him a chip
on the shoulder that brought him in a crash to his hams, whilst the man
abaft picked up the oar.

Every face wore an expression of consternation. Cutbill’s, that looked
like a walnut-shell between his whiskers, turned of an ashen hue; he
had stretched forth his arms to give the oar its first swing, and now
they forked out paralysed into the stiffness of marline-spikes by
astonishment.

‘Smite my eyes,’ he muttered as though whispering to himself, ‘if it
ain’t the first dead man’s voice _I_ ever heard.’

‘Back water!’ I cried out, for the swell had sheered the boat so as
to put the companion way betwixt us and the figure. I stood up and
looked. The man was seated as before, though spite of the sure and
dreadful expression of death his famine-white face bore, spite of my
being certain in my own mind that he was as dead as the creature whose
face had glimmered out upon the black water in the hold, yet the cry
to us had been so unmistakably real, had come so unequivocally, not
indeed only from the wreck, but from the very part of the hulk on which
the corpse was seated, that I found myself staring at him as though I
expected that he would look round at us.

‘There’s no one alive yonder, men,’ said I, seating myself afresh.

‘What was it that spoke, think ’ee, sir?’ exclaimed the man in the bow,
bringing his eyes full of awe away from the sheer hulk to my face.

‘Mr. Monson, sir, I ’umbly beg pardon,’ exclaimed Muffin, in the greasy
deferential tone he was used to employ when in the cabin, ‘but there
must be something living on board that ship, unless it were a sperrit.’

‘A spirit, you fool!’ cried I in a passion, ‘what d’ye mean by such
talk? There’s nothing living on that wreck, I tell you. Jump aboard
anyone of you who doubts me and he can judge for himself.’

Muffin shook his head; the others writhed uneasily on the thwarts of
the boat.

‘Cutbill and I overhauled the vessel; she’s full of water. What is on
her deck you can see for yourselves, and nothing but a fish could live
below. Isn’t that right, Cutbill?’

‘Ay, sir,’ he answered; and then under his breath, ‘but what voice was
it that hailed us then!’

‘Come, give way!’ I cried, ‘they’ll be growing impatient aboard the
yacht.’

The oars dipped, feathered, flashed, and in an instant the blue sides
of the smart and sparkling little craft were buzzing and spinning
through it in foam. It was like coming from a graveyard to the sight
of some glittering, cheerful, tender poetic pageant to carry the eye
from the hull to the yacht. She seemed clad by the contrast with new
qualities of beauty. You found the completest expression of girlish
archness in the curtseying of her shapely bows, with a light at her
forefoot like a smile on the lip when she lifted her yellow sheathing
there, pouting, as one might say, from the caressing kiss of the blue
brine, to gleam like gold for a moment to the sunlight. We swept
alongside and I sprang on board.

‘The poor creature is dead, I suppose?’ exclaimed Wilfrid, inspecting
the wreck through a binocular glass.

‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘dead as the dead can be; too dead to handle, faith.
I might have sought in his pockets for some hints to found a report
upon, but his face had the menace of a fierce whisper.’

‘It seems cruel to leave him unburied,’ said Miss Laura, with her soft
eyes full of pity, and the emotions begotten of the presence of death.

‘That hulk must soon go to pieces,’ said I, ‘and then she will give him
a sailor’s funeral.’

‘When nature acts the part of high priestess, if there be such a part,’
exclaimed Wilfrid in a low, tremulous voice, not without a kind of
sweetness in its way, thanks, perhaps, to the mood of tender sentiment
that was upon him, ‘how grandly she celebrates the humblest sailor’s
obsequies! how noble is her cathedral! Observe the altitude of that
stupendous roof of blue. How sublime are the symphonies of the wind;
how magnificent the organ notes which they send pealing through this
great echoing fabric! Nature will give yonder poor fellow a nobler
funeral than it is in our power to honour him with. But Charles,’ he
cried, with a sudden change of voice, and indeed with a new manner in
him, ‘have you ever remarked the exquisite felicity with which nature
invents and fits and works her puppet shows? Take yonder scene at which
we have been suffered to steal a peep. What could be more choicely
imagined than that a dead man should have charge of such a dead ship as
that, and that the look-out he is keeping upon her deck should be as
black as the future of the vessel he still seems to command?’

‘Well, well,’ said I, ‘all this may be as you put it, Wilf. But all the
same, I am glad to see that topsail-yard swung and that spectre there
veering astern. I protest my visit has made me feel as though I must
lie down for a bit;’ and, in a sober truth, the body I had inspected,
coupled with the thrill of amazement that had shot through me to the
voice we had heard, had proved a trifle too much for my nerves, topped,
as it all was, with certain superstitious stirrings, the crawling, as
it might be, upon the memory of that ghostly, insoluble hail, along
with the workings of an imagination that was too active for happiness
when anything approaching to a downright horror fell in its way. So I
went below and lay upon a sofa, but had scarcely hoisted my legs when
Wilfrid arrived, bawling to the steward for a bottle of champagne, and
immediately after came Miss Jennings, who must needs fetch me a pillow,
and then, as though she had a mind to make me feel ridiculous, saturate
a pocket handkerchief with eau de Cologne, all which attentions I
hardly knew whether to like or not till, having swallowed a bumper of
champagne, I hopped off the couch with a laugh.

‘A pretty sailor I am, eh, Wilfrid?’ cried I; ‘a likely sort of figure
to take command of the Channel Fleet. Miss Jennings, your eau de
Cologne has entirely cured me.’

‘What’s to be the next incident now--the “Shark”?’ exclaimed Wilfrid.
He thrust his hands deep into his trousers pocket and marched into his
cabin, head hanging down.



CHAPTER XVI.

WE SIGHT A SCHOONER-YACHT.


I happened to be alone on deck after dinner, having left Wilfrid at
his diary and Miss Jennings in her cabin, where she had gone to make
ready to join me, as she had said. The wreck had faded out before
sundown, melting upon the flashing purple under the sinking luminary
like the memory of a nightmare off a mind upon which is streaming a
light of cheerfulness. The night was clear but dark, with a pleasant
wind through whose dryness the stars looked down purely. The yacht
was sailing a fair six knots, as I gathered when I stepped from the
companion to the lee-rail and peered over in a wool-gathering way at
the emerald gushings and eddyings of the phosphoric fires which winked
in the cloudy paleness along the bends, and fled into the dimness of
glow-worms to the spectral racing of our wake.

I was worried and oppressed by a sort of heaviness of spirits. I had
acted a cheerful part at dinner, but there was little of my heart in
the tongue I wagged. The recollection of the motionless figure seated
upon the wreck, and darker yet, the memory of that bloated, long-haired
phantom face sliding in the space of a breath across the gape in the
shattered deck, with the sobbing wash of the black water on which it
floated to put a dreadful meaning of its own into the livid, nimble
vision went for something--nay, went for a good deal, no doubt; but
it was the hail that had come from the wreck which mainly occasioned
my perplexity and agitation, and, I may add, my depression. Twice now
had syllables sounding from where there were no lips to pronounce them
reached my ears. Had I alone heard them I should have been alarmed
for my reason, not doubting an hallucination, though never for an
instant believing in the reality of the utterance; but the voices had
been audible to others, they were consequently real, and for that
reason oppressive to reflect upon. The shadow of Wilfrid’s craziness
lay on his ship; the voyage was begun in darkness, and was an aimless
excursion, as I thought, with no more reasonable motive for it than
such as was to be found in the contending passions of a bleeding heart.
Hence it was inevitable that any gloomy incident which occurred during
such an adventure as this should gather in the eye of the imagination
a very much darker tincture than the complexion it would carry under
sunnier and more commonplace conditions of an ocean run.

Whilst I lay over the rail lost in thought, I was accosted by Finn.

‘Beg pardon, Mr. Monson; couldn’t make sure in this here gloom whether
it was you or Sir Wilfrid. May I speak a word with ’ee, sir?’

‘Certainly, Finn.’

‘Well now, sir, if that there old Jacob Crimp ain’t gone and took on
so joyful a frame of mind that I’m a land-crab if his sperrits ain’t
downright alarming in a man whose weins runs lime-juice!’

‘Old Crimp!’ cried I, ‘what’s the matter with him?’

‘Why, he comes up to me and says, “Capt’n,” he says, “there’s Joe
Cutbill, Jemmy Smithers, that funeral chap Muffin, and the t’others who
was in the boat that went to the wreck this afternoon, all a-swearing
that they heard a voice in the air!” and so saying, he bursts out a
laughing like a parrot. “A woice!” says he. “So me and Mr. Monson
aren’t the only ones, d’ye see. Damme,” says he, “if it don’t do my
heart good to think on’t. There’s the whole bloomin’ boiling of us
now,” says he, “to laugh at, capt’n; not Jacob Crimp only,” and here he
bursts into another laugh.’

‘What does the old chap want to convey?’ said I.

‘Why, sir, joyfulness as that he no longer stands alone as having
heard a woice, for though to be sure you was with him that night, and
some sound like to a cuss rose up off yon quarter, he feels like being
alone in the hearing of it, for, ye see, a man in his position can’t
comfortably hitch on to a gent like you, and it was the harder for him,
for that the man at the wheel swore that he never heard the cry.’

‘He is superstitious, like most old lobscousers, no doubt,’ said I.
‘Have the others been talking about this mysterious hail from the
wreck?’

‘Ay, sir; ’tis a pity. It’s raised an uneasiness ’mongst the men.
There’s that Irish fool O’Connor, him that foundered the “Dago,” going
about with his face as long as a wet hammock and swearing that ’taint
lucky.’

‘I don’t know about it’s being unlucky,’ said I, ‘but it certainly is
most confoundedly curious, Captain Finn.’

I saw him peering hard at me in the dusk. ‘But surely your honour’s not
going to tell me there _was_ a woice?’ said he.

‘As we were shoving off,’ said I, ‘We were hailed in God’s name to
return. Every man of us in the boat heard it. There were but two bodies
in the wreck, as stone dead as if they had died before the days of the
flood. What say you to _that_, Captain Finn?’

He pulled off his hat to scratch his head. After a pause he exclaimed
slowly, ‘Well, I’m for leaving alone what isn’t to be understood. There
was ghosts maybe afore I was born, but none since; and the dead h’aint
talked, to my knowledge, since New Testament times. Old Jamaicy rum
isn’t to be had by dropping a bucket over the side, and if a truth lies
too deep to be fished up by creeps, better drop it, says I, and fix the
attention on something else.’

‘You tell me the men are uneasy?’

‘Ay, sir.’

‘Do you mean all hands?’

‘Well, your honour knows what sailors are. When they’re housed together
under one deck they’re like a box of them patent lucifer lights--if one
catches, the whole mass is aflame.’

‘It’s a passing fit of superstition,’ said I. ‘Give it time. Best say
nothing about it to Sir Wilfrid.’

‘Bless us, no, sir. Sorry it’s raised so much satisfaction in that
there old Jacob, though. A laugh in Jacob don’t sound natural. Any sort
o’ joyfulness in such a constitution is agin nature.’

At this point Miss Jennings arrived on deck, and Finn, with a shadowy
fist mowing at his brow, stepped to the opposite rail, where his figure
was easily distinguished by the stars he blotted out.

‘I hope your spirits are better,’ said Miss Laura.

‘I should be glad to turn the silent sailor of that wreck out of my
memory; but my spirits are very well.’

‘Wilfrid noticed your depression at table, but he attributed it
entirely to the dreadful sight you witnessed on the wreck.’ She passed
her hand through my arm with a soft impulse that started me into a
walk, but there was so much real unconsciousness in her way of doing
this--a childlike intimation of her wish to walk without proposing it,
and so breaking the flow of our speech at the moment--that for some
little while I was scarce sensible that I held her arm, and that I was
pacing with her. ‘But I think there is more the matter with you, Mr.
Monson,’ she continued, with her face glimmering like pearl in the
dusk, as she looked up at me, ‘than meets the ear--I will not say the
eye.’

‘The fact is, Miss Jennings,’ said I abruptly, ‘I am bothered.’

‘By what?’

‘Well, what think you of the suspicion which grows in me that this
yacht carries along with her, in the atmosphere that enfolds her, some
sort of Ariel, whose mission it is to bewilder out of its invisibility
the sober senses of men of plain, practical judgment, like your humble
servant?’

‘You want to frighten me by pretending that you are falling a little
crazy.’

‘No!’

‘Or are you creating an excuse to return home.’

‘No again. How can I return home?’

‘Why, by the first convenient ship we happen to sight and speak. Is
this some stratagem to prepare Wilfrid’s mind for your bidding us
farewell when the chance happens?’

She spoke with a subdued note and a tremble of fretfulness in it.

‘Suffer me to justify myself,’ said I, and with that I led her to the
captain, who stood with folded arms leaning against the rail near the
main rigging. ‘Finn!’ He dropped his hands and stood bold upright.
‘Be so good as to tell Miss Jennings what the men are talking about
forward.’

‘You mean the woice, sir?’

‘What the men are talking about,’ said I.

‘Well, miss,’ said Finn, ‘as the boat that Mr. Monson had charge of
this afternoon was a-leaving the wreck, the men heard themselves hailed
by a woice that begged ’em, in God’s name, not to leave the party as
called behind. Mr. Monson, sir, you heard it likewise.’

‘I did,’ I answered.

‘Another mystery,’ exclaimed Miss Laura, ‘quite as dismal and
astonishing as Muffin’s phosphoric warning.’

‘Thanks, Finn; that’s all I wanted to ask you,’ said I, and we left him
to resume our walk.

‘Tell me about this voice,’ said the girl.

I did so, putting plenty of colour into the picture, too, for I wanted
her to sympathise with my superstitious mood, whilst up to now there
was nothing but incredulity and a kind of coquettish pique in her voice
and manner.

‘And you are afraid of this voice, Mr. Monson? I wonder at you!’

‘You should have my full consent to wonder,’ said I, ‘if it were the
first time; but there was the other night, you know, with solid, sour,
uncompromising old Crimp to hear me witness, and now again to-day, with
a boatful of men for evidence.’

‘Really, Mr. Monson, what do you want to make yourself believe?’ she
asked, with a tone like a half-laugh in her speech; ‘the dead cannot
speak.’

‘So ’tis said,’ I grumbled, sucking hard at my cigar to kindle it
afresh.

‘Human syllables cannot be delivered save by human lips. What, then,
could have spoken out of the darkness of the sea the other night?’

‘Does not Milton tell of airy tongues that syllable men’s names?’ said
I gloomily.

‘Mr. Monson, I repeat that I wonder at you. How can you suffer your
imagination to be cheated by some trick of the senses?’ she laughed.
‘Pray, be careful. You may influence me. Then what a morbid company
shall we make? I am sure you would like me to believe in this
mysterious voice of yours. But, happily, we Colonials are too young, as
a people, to be superstitious. We must wait for our ruined castles, and
our moated granges, and our long, echoing, tapestry-lined corridors.
Then, like you English, we may tremble when we hear a mysterious voice.’

She started violently as she said this, giving my arm so smart a pull
that it instantly brought me to a halt, whilst in a voice of genuine
alarm she exclaimed, ‘Good gracious! what is that?’

Her face was turned up towards the weather yardarm of the
square topsail, where, apparently floating a little above the
studdingsail-boom iron, like to a flame in the act of running down
the smoke of an extinguished candle ere firing the wick, shone a
pendulous bubble of greenish fire, but of a luminosity sufficiently
powerful to distinctly reveal the extremity of the black spar pointing
finger-like into the darkness ahead, whilst a large space of the curve
of the topgallant-sail above showed in the lustre with something of
the glassy, delicate greenness you observe in a midsummer leaf in
moonshine. The darkness, with its burden of stars, seemed to press to
the yacht the deeper for that mystic light, and much that had been
distinguishable outlines before melted out upon the sight.

‘What is it?’ exclaimed Miss Jennings in a voice of consternation, and
I felt her hand tighten upon my arm with her fears thrilling through
the involuntary pressure.

‘Figure an echoing corridor hung with aged tapestry stirring to cold
draughts which seem to come like blasts from a graveyard, a noise as
of the distant clanking of chains, and then the apparition of a man in
armour, holding up such a lantern as that yonder, approaching you who
are spell-bound and cannot move for horror.’ I burst out laughing.

‘What is that light, Mr. Monson?’ she cried petulantly.

‘Why, Miss Jennings,’ I answered, ‘’tis a saint, not a light; a
reverend old chap called St. Elmo who transforms himself at pleasure
into a species of snapdragon for the encouragement of poor Jack.’

‘See that corposant, sir?’ rumbled Finn out of the darkness.

‘Very well, indeed,’ I answered. ‘Finn has explained,’ I continued;
‘that light is what sailors call a corpusant--sometimes compr_ee_sant.
If we were Catholics of the Columbian period we should tumble down
upon our knees and favour it with a litany or oblige it with a hymn;
but being bleak-minded Protestants all that we can do is to wonder
how the deuce it happens to be burning on such a night as this, for I
have seen scores of these corposants in my time, but always either
in dead calms or in gales of wind. But there it is, Miss Jennings, an
atmospheric exhalation as commonplace as lightning, harmless as the
glow-worm, though in its way one of the most poetic of old ocean’s
hundred suggestions; for how easy to imagine some giant figure holding
that mystic lamp, whose irradiation blends the vast spirit shape with
the gloom and blinds the sight to it, though by watching with a little
loving coaxing of fancy one should be able after a bit to catch a
glimpse of a pair of large sorrowful eyes or the outline of some wan
giant face.’

‘It is gone,’ she exclaimed with a shudder.

‘Hush!’ I exclaimed, ‘we may hear the rustling of pinions by listening.’

‘Mr. Monson, you are ungenerous,’ she cried with an hysterical laugh.

Suddenly the light glanced and then flamed at the foretopmast head,
where it threw out, though very palely, the form of the lookout man on
the topgallantyard, whose posture showed him to be crouching with his
arm over his eyes.

‘I dare say that poor devil up there,’ I exclaimed, ‘fully believes the
fire-bubble to be a man’s ghost.’

‘It is a startling thing to see,’ exclaimed Miss Jennings.

‘But Colonials are too young as a people to be superstitious,’ said
I. ‘It is only we of the old country, you know, with our moated
granges----’

‘What is the hour, Mr. Monson?’

‘I say, Charles, are you on deck?’ shouted Wilfrid from the companion
hatch.

‘Ay; here I am with Miss Jennings. What’s the time, Wilfrid, d’ye know?’

As I spoke two silver chimes, and then a third, came floating and
ringing from the forecastle--three bells, half-past nine.

‘See that corposant?’ bawled Wilfrid. And he came groping up to us. ‘An
omen, by George!’ he cried with an odd hilarious note in his voice.
‘Laura, mark me, that flame isn’t shining for nothing. ’Tis a signal
light fired by fortune to advise us of some great event at hand.’

‘Quarterdeck there!’ came down the voice of the lookout man, falling
from sail to sail, as it seemed, in an echo that made the mysterious
flame a wild thing to the imagination for a moment by its coming direct
from it.

‘Hallo?’ roared Finn.

‘Can I lay down till this here blasted light’s burnt out? ’Tain’t right
to be all alone with it up here.’

‘It _is_ burnt out,’ cried Finn, in a way which showed he sympathised
with the fellow. In fact, as the sailor called, the light vanished,
and, though we stood looking awhile waiting for its reappearance, we
saw no more of it.

That ocean corpse candle had shone at the right moment. Likely enough
I should have made myself a bit merry over my tender and beautiful
companion’s fears in revenge for her pouting, pettish wonderment at
the uneasiness which the mysterious voices had raised in me. But
Wilfrid remained with us for the rest of the evening, and, as I was
anxious that he should know nothing about the strange sound, I forbore
all raillery. It was midnight when we went to bed. Our talk had been
very sober, indeed somewhat philosophical in its way, with references
to electrical phenomena. Wilfrid chatted with excitement, which he
increased by two or three fuming glasses of seltzer and spirits. He
told us a wild story of a ship that he was on board of somewhere down
off the New Zealand coast, ploughing through an ocean of fire on a
pitch-black night with a gale of wind blowing and a school of whales
keeping pace with the rushing fabric, spouting vast feather-like
fountains of burning water as they stormed through it. He talked like
a man reciting a dream or delivering an imagination, and there was a
passion in his speech due to excitement and old Cognac, along with a
glow in his large peering eyes and a play of flushed features that
persuaded me of a very defined mood of craziness passing over his mind.
His fancy seemed to riot in the roaring, fiery scene he figured; the
ship, plunging into hollows, which flashed about her bows like volcanic
vomitings of flame, the heavens above black as soot, the ocean waving
like sheet lightning to its confines, and the huge body of the whales
crushing the towering surges as they rolled headlong through them into
a moonlike brilliance, flinging on high their delicate emerald-green
sparkling spouts of water, which floated comet-like over them against
the midnight of the heavens.

On eight-bells striking we went to bed. All was quiet on deck; a
pleasant breeze blowing under the hovering prisms and crystals of the
firmament, the yacht leaning over in a pale shadow in the dusk and
seething pleasantly along with a noise rising up from round about her
like the rippling of a flag in a summer breeze. I fell asleep and slept
soundly, and when I awoke it was to the beating of somebody’s knuckles
upon my cabin-door. The day had broken, and my first glance going to
the scuttle, I spied through the thick glass of it a windy sunrise with
smoky crimson flakes and a tint of tarnished pink upon the atmosphere.

‘Hallo! Hallo there! Who’s that knocking?’

‘’Tis me, sir, Capt’n Finn. Can I have a word with your honour?’
exclaimed the skipper, who had subdued his voice to a note that was
alarming with its suggestion of physical effort.

‘Come in, Finn. What is it now?’

The handle was turned, and the captain entered cap in hand. He closed
the door carefully, and instantly said, ‘Sorry to disturb you, sir,
but baste me for an old duckling, Mr. Monson, if I don’t believe the
“Shark” to be in sight.’

‘_What?_’ I shouted, sitting bolt upright and flinging my legs over the
edge of the bunk.

He glanced at the door, looking an intimation to me to make no noise.
‘I thought I’d consult with ’ee first, sir, before reporting to Sir
Wilfrid.’

‘Is she in sight from the deck?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Have you seen her?’

‘Ay, Mr. Monson, I’m just off the t’gallant-yard, where I’ve been
inspecting her ever since she was first reported, and that’ll be
drawing on for five and twenty minutes.’

‘But she is hull down?’

‘Yes, sir, and still a schooner-yacht at that,’ said he emphatically.
‘Mind, I don’t say she _is_ the “Shark.” All I want to report is a
schooner with a yacht’s canvas--not American cotton. No, sir, canvas
like ourn, nothen square forrards, and sailing well she looks.’

‘How heading?’

‘Why to the south’ard and west’ard as we are. I’m in your hands, sir.
It’ll be a fearful excitement for Sir Wilfrid and a terrible blow if
it’s another vessel.’

‘Oh, but you have to give him the news, happen what will! Wait,
however, till I have had a look, will you? I shall be with you in a
minute or two.’

He left the berth, and in red-hot haste with a heart beating with
excitement I plunged into my clothes and ran on deck, passing softly,
however, through the cabin; for, though I know not why it should be,
yet I have observed that at sea there is something almost electrical
in a time full of startling significance like this, an influence that,
act as softly and be as hushed as you may, will yet arouse sleeping
people and bring them about you in a dreaming way, wondering what
on earth has happened. Pale and windy as the sunrise was, there was
dazzle enough in the soaring luminary to stagger my sight on my first
emergence. I stepped clear of the companion and stood whilst I fetched
a few breaths gazing round me. The sea was a dull, freckled blue with
a struggling swell underrunning it athwart the course of the wind as
though the coming breeze was to be sought northwards. The horizon
astern was gloomy and vague in the shadow of a long bank of clouds,
a heap of sullen terraces of vapour rising from flint to saffron and
then to a faint wet rose where the ragged sky-line of the compacted
body caught the eastern colour. All was clear water, turn where the
gaze would. On the topgallant-yard the fellow on the look-out lay
over the spar with a telescope at his eye; his figure, as it swung
through the misty radiance against the pale blue of the morning sky
that south-east looked to be kindling into whiteness, was motionless
with the intentness of his stare. If what the tubes were revealing to
him was the ‘Shark,’ then, as he had been the first to sight her, that
glittering heavy five-guinea piece nailed to the mainmast was his. It
was as much the thought of this reward going from them as curiosity
that had sent the watch on deck aloft too to have a look. The last of
them was coming down hand over hand as I went forward. Discipline was
forgotten in the excitement of such a moment as this, and swabs and
squiligees had been flung down without a word of rebuke from Cutbill,
whose business it was to superintend the washing of the decks.

I sprang into the foreshrouds, and was presently alongside the lookout
fellow. ‘Give me hold of that glass,’ said I. To the naked eye up here
the sail hung transparently visible upon the edge of the sea, a point
of lustrous white like the head of a marble obelisk lustrous with the
silver of sunrise. But the telescope made a deal more of that dash
of light than this. I threw a leg over the yard, steadied the glass
against the mast, and instantly witnessed the white canvas of what
seemed unquestionably a large schooner-yacht risen to her rail upon the
horizon where the thin black length of her swam like an eel with the
fluctuations of the refractive atmosphere; but all above was the steady
brilliant whiteness of the cloths of the pleasure ship mounting from
boom to gaff; a wide and handsome spread with a flight of triangular
canvas hovering between jibboom and topmast, as though a flock of
seafowl were winging past just there.

‘Do you know the “Shark”?’ said I to the man.

‘I’ve seen her once or twice at Southampton, sir.’

‘Is that she, think you?’

‘Ay, sartin as that there water’s salt.’

‘Well, there’ll be good pickings for you on the mainmast,’ said I,
handing him back the glass.

His face seemed to wither up between his whiskers to the incredible
wrinkles of the smile which shrunk it to the aspect of an old dried
apple. I got into the rigging and descended to the deck. The sailors
stared hard at me as I went out. I suppose they imagined that I was
well acquainted with the ‘Shark,’ and they eyed my countenance with a
solicitude that was almost humorous. Finn stood near the main rigging
perspiring with impatience and anxiety, fanning his long face with his
cap and sending glances in the direction of the sea, where presently
those two alabaster-like spires now hidden would be visible.

‘Is it the “Shark,” think ’ee, sir?’ he cried in a breathless way.

‘My good Finn, how the dickens should I know? I know no more of the
“Shark” than of Noah’s Ark. But, seeing that the vessel we want is a
schooner of some two hundred tons, of a fore and aft rig, bound our
way, and a yacht to boot, then, if yonder little ship be not the chap
we are in search of, this meeting with her will be an atrociously
strange coincidence.’

‘Just what I think, sir,’ he cried, still breathless.

‘Do you mean to shift your helm for her?’

‘She was abeam when first sighted, sir. I have brought her on the bow
since then, as ye can see. But I’ll head straight if ye should think
proper,’ he exclaimed with a look aloft and around.

‘Oh, by all means go slap for her, captain!’ said I. ‘That you know
will be my cousin’s first order.’

‘Trim sail, the watch!’ he bawled out.

The helm was put over and the yacht’s head fell off till you saw by the
line of the flashing glass through which the fellow aloft continued
to peer that the hidden sail had been brought about two points on the
lee bow. All was now bustle on deck with trimming canvas, setting
studdingsails, and the like. The dawn had found us close hauled with
the topgallantsail lifting and every sheet flat aft, and now we were
carrying the wind abaft the beam with a subdued stormy heave of the
yacht over the sulky swell. Indeed, Finn should have made sail to the
first shift of helm; but the poor fellow seemed to have lost his head
till he had talked with me, scarce knowing how to settle his mind as to
the right course to be instantly adopted in the face of that unexpected
apparition which was showing like a snow-flake from aloft. For my part,
I thought, I could not better employ the leisure that yet remained than
by preparing for what was to come by a cold brine bath. So down I went,
telling Finn that I would rout out Sir Wilfrid as I passed through the
cabin and give him the news.



CHAPTER XVII.

WE RAISE THE SCHOONER.


I descended into the cabin, walked straight to the door of Wilfrid’s
berth and knocked.

‘Who’s there?’

‘I, Charles. I have news for you.’

‘Come in, come in!’

I entered and found Wilfrid in his bunk propped up on his elbow, his
eyes looking twice their natural size with the intensity of his stare,
and one long uncouth leg already flung over the edge so that his
posture was as if he had been suddenly paralysed whilst in the act of
springing on to the deck.

‘What news in the name of heaven? Quick, now, like a dear boy!’

‘There’s a schooner-yacht uncommonly like your “Shark” away down on the
lee bow visible from aloft.’

He whipped his other leg out of bed and sat bold upright. I had
expected some extravagance of behaviour in him on his hearing this, but
greatly to my surprise he sat silent in his bunk eyeing me, his brow
dark and his lips moving for several seconds, which might have been
minutes for the time they seemed to run into.

‘What is to-day, Charles?’

‘Thursday.’

‘Ha! It should be Monday. That light last night was an omen, as I told
you. I knew some great event could not be far off.’ His eyes kindled
under their quivering lids and an odd smile twisted his mouth into
the expression of a sarcastic grin. It was as ugly a look in him as I
had ever seen, and it gained heavily in the effect it produced by his
comparatively quiet manner.

‘We are heading directly for her, of course?’

‘Finn has her about two points on the lee bow,’ said I.

‘Will that do?’ he exclaimed.

‘Why, yes; hold a weather-gage of the chase, it is said; though I think
we shall be having a northerly blast upon us before the sun touches his
meridian.’

‘Is she the “Shark,” Charles?’

‘You know I never saw the vessel, Wilf. But Finn and the chap on the
yard seem to have no doubt of her, and the skipper ought to know
anyway.’

On this he leapt to the deck with a _cry_ of laughter, and coming up to
me let fall his hand heavily upon my shoulder with such a grip of it
that, spite of my having my coat on, it ached after he had let go like
an attack of rheumatism. ‘Now what say you?’ said he, stooping, for he
was a taller man than I, and peering and grinning close into my face.
‘You looked upon this chase as a crazy undertaking, didn’t you? The sea
was such a mighty circle, Charles! the biggest ship in the world but an
insignificant speck upon it, hey?’

He let go of me and brought his hands together, extending and slowly
beating the air with them, with his body rocking. I awaited some
passionate outfly, but whether his thoughts were too deep for words
or that he was satisfied to think what at another time he might have
stormed out with, he held his peace. Presently and very suddenly he
abandoned his singular attitude and fell to collecting articles of his
clothing which he pulled on as though he would tear them to pieces.

‘I’ll be with you on deck immediately,’ said I, going to the door. But
he did not seem to know that I was present; all the time he strained
and dragged at his clothes he talked to himself rapidly, fiercely;
pausing once to smite his thigh with his open hand; following this on
with a low, deep laugh, like that of a sleeper dreaming.

Well, thought I, as I stepped out and went to my berth, whether it
prove the ‘Shark’ or not we shall have to ‘stand by,’ as Finn hinted,
for some queer displays to-day. I met Miss Jennings’ maid in the cabin
and asked if she was going to her mistress. She replied yes. ‘Then,’
said I, ‘give her my compliments and tell her that we have raised a
large schooner-yacht during the night, and that Finn seems to think she
is the “Shark.”’

As I entered my berth I caught myself smiling over my fancy of the look
that would come into the sweet girl’s face when her maid gave her the
message; the brilliant gleam of mingled alarm, temper, astonishment in
her eyes, the sudden flush of her cheek and its paleness afterwards,
the consternation in the set of her lips and the agitation of her
little hands like the fluttering of falling snow-flakes as she dressed.
But in good sooth I too was feeling mightily excited once more; I had
cooled down somewhat since going on deck and viewing the distant sail
from the masthead; now that I was alone and could muse, my pulse rose
with my imaginations till it almost came to my thinking of myself as
on the eve of some desperate and bloody business, boarding a pirate,
say, with the chance of a live slow match in his magazine, or cutting
out something heavily armed and full of men under a castle bristling
with artillery. Supposing the craft to be the ‘Shark,’ what was to be
the issue? The ‘Bride’ would be recognised; and Hope-Kennedy was not
likely, as I might take it, to let us float alongside of him if he
could help it. Suppose we maimed her and compelled her to bring to;
what then? I had asked Finn this question long before, and he had said
it would not come to a hand-to-hand struggle. But how could he tell? If
we offered to board they might threaten to fire into us, and a single
shot, let alone a wounded or a killed man, might raise blood enough to
end in as grim an affray as ever British colours floated over. Small
wonder that my excitement rose with all these fancies and speculations.
And then again, supposing the stranger to be the ‘Shark,’ there was (to
me) the astonishing coincidence of falling in with her--picking her up,
indeed, as though we had been steered dead into her wake by some spirit
hand instead of blundering on her through a stroke of luck, which
had no more reference to Finn’s calculations, and suppositions and
hopings, than to the indications of the nose of our chaste and gilded
figure-head.

When I went on deck I spied Wilfrid coming down the forerigging. He
held on very tightly and felt about with his sprawling feet with
uncommon cautiousness for the ratlines ere relaxing his grip of the
shrouds. Finn was immediately under him, standing by, perhaps, to
shoulder him up if he should turn dizzy. They reached the deck and came
aft.

‘She’s not yet in sight from the cross-trees,’ exclaimed Wilfrid,
puffing and irritable from nervousness and exertion and disappointment,
‘and I can’t climb higher.’

‘If she’s the “Shark,”’ said I, ‘you’re not going to raise her upon
the horizon as if she were a beacon. But there’s a spread of wings
here that _she_ can’t show anyhow, and it will be strange if her white
plumes are not nodding above that blue edge by noon.’

‘Ay, sir,’ rumbled Finn, ‘specially with that coming along,’ pointing
to the north, where the weather looked heavy and smoky and thunderous
with a purple rounding of shadow upon the sea-line and a hot-looking
copperish light flowing off the jagged summits into the dusty blue as
though it were sundown that was reflected there, whilst the troubled
roll of the swell out of the shadow on the ocean put a finishing touch
to the countenance of storm you found spreading astern from north-east
to north-west. ‘There’ll be wind enough there, sir,’ said Finn,
keeping his square-ended stumpy fore-finger levelled, ‘to give us white
water to above our bow ports anon, or I’m a codfish.’

Wilfrid turned about and fell to pacing the deck; he struck out as
though walking for a wager, tossing his legs and swinging his arms
and measuring the planks from the wheel to very nearly abreast of the
galley. Such of the sailors as were to windward slided to the other
side, where you saw them exchanging looks though there was no want of
respect in their manner, but on the contrary an air of active sympathy
as if they were getting to master the full meaning of the existence of
that sail below the horizon by observing how the report of it worked in
the baronet.

‘We must try and raise her,’ muttered Finn in my ear, ‘if only to
pacify his honour by the sight of her. He can’t climb, and he’ll go out
of himself if he don’t see her soon.’

‘But do you gain on her!’

‘Why, yes, she is visible from the cross-trees already. But Sir Wilfrid
can’t get so high.’ Well, thought I, this should surely signify slower
heels than the ‘Shark’ is allowed to have.

I went to the taffrail and overhung it, watching the sky astern with an
occasional mechanical glance at the wool-white spin of the wake gushing
over the surface of the jumble of the swell like steam from the funnel
of a locomotive. It was blowing a fresh wind, though I guessed it would
slacken away soon to pipe up in a fresh slant presently. The yacht was
a great fabric of cloths, every stitch abroad that would hold air, and
she drove through it humming, troubled as she was by the irregular
heave of the sea. In fact her movements were so awkward as to render
walking inconvenient, and nothing, I believe, but the not knowing what
he was about could have furnished Wilfrid with his steady shanks that
morning. It was like a bit of sleep-walking, indeed, where a man who
awake could not look down forty feet without desiring to cast himself
out of a window, safely and exquisitely treads a narrow ledge of roof
as high as the top of London Monument.

I was startled from my reverie by an exclamation, and turning, saw him
hastily approaching Miss Jennings, who had just arrived on deck. He
came to her with his arms extended as though he would embrace her.

‘Laura, have you heard?’

‘_Is_ it the “Shark,” Wilfrid?’

‘Finn says yes. She exactly answers to the “Shark’s” description.
Hereabouts she should be, this is her track,--yes, yes, it is the
“Shark.” Would God it were Monday!’ Then, seeing me looking, he bawled,
‘Eh, Charles, what other ship should she prove? Fore and aft--fore
and aft, of the “Shark’s” burthen, as you and Finn say, a schooner,
a pleasure craft by the colour of her canvas--’ his face suddenly
darkened, and he said something to Miss Jennings, but what I could
not gather. She half turned away as if overcome by a sudden sense of
sickness or faintness; the effect of some expression of fierce joy,
I dare say, on his part, some savage whisper of assurance that his
opportunity was not far distant now which acted upon her nervous system
that trembled yet to the surprise of the news I had sent her through
her maid. There was something so sad and appealing in her beauty just
then that but for the feelings it possessed me with I might scarcely
have suspected what a lover’s heart I already carried in my breast for
her. The troubled sweetness of her glances, her pale cheeks and lips,
the swift rise and fall of her bosom, betokened consternation and the
conflict of many emotions and, as I could not but think, a subduing
sense of loneliness. Well, I must say I loved her the better for this
weakness of spirit, for this recoil from the confrontment that she
had been endeavouring to persuade herself she was looking forward to
with a longing for it only a little less venomous than Wilfrid’s.
Nothing, I had thought again and again, but the soul of a fond, tender,
chaste woman, gentle in mind and of a nature loveable, with the best
weaknesses of her sex, could go clad in such graces as she walked in
withal from her topmost curl of gold to the full, firm, elegant little
foot on which she seemed to float to the buoyant measures of the
yacht’s deck.

Wilfrid addressed her again hurriedly and eagerly with the
gesticulations of a Jew in a passion. She answered softly, continuously
sending scared looks over the yacht’s bow. I heard him name his wife,
but it was not for me to join them nor to listen, so I overhung the
taffrail afresh, observing that even now there was a noticeable
weakening in the weight of the wind, whilst the swing of the swell from
a little to the westward of north was growing more regular, a longer
and fuller heave with an opalescent glance in the vapour immediately
over the sea-line as though the weather was clearing past the rim of
the ocean.

‘Mr. Monson.’

I turned. Miss Laura stood by my side. Wilfrid had left the deck. ‘Is
that vessel, that is said to be ahead of us, the ‘Shark,’ do you think?’

‘I wish I knew positively for your sake, that I might relieve your
anxiety.’

‘If she should prove to be the vessel that my sister is in’--she drew
a long, tremulous breath--‘it will be a marvellous meeting, for I feel
_now_ as you have felt all through--now that that yacht is in sight
from the mast up there--that this ocean is a vast wilderness.’ She
slowly ran her eyes, which were still charged with their scared look,
along the sea-line.

‘Well, Miss Jennings, hanging and marriage go by destiny, they say, and
so does chasing a wife at sea apparently. I give you my word I am so
excited I can scarcely talk.’

‘But it may not be the ‘Shark.’’

‘Why, no.’

‘I hope it is not,’ she cried, starting to the rise in her voice with a
glance at the helmsman, who stood near us.

‘I can see that in your face,’ said I.

‘Oh, I hope it is not, and yet I want it to be the “Shark” too. Wilfrid
must recover Henrietta. But it makes my heart stand still to think of
our meeting. Oh, her shame! her shame! and then to find _me_ here. And
what is to happen?’

‘Best let that craft turn out to be the “Shark” though,’ said I. ‘Here
we are with a programme of rambles that threatens the world’s end if
we don’t fall in with the Colonel. Keep your heart up,’ said I gently.
‘What have you to fear? It is for the galled jade to wince. Why t’other
night you would have shot Hope-Kennedy had he stood up before you.’

She tried to smile, but the movement of her lips swiftly faded out into
their expression of grief and consternation.

‘I will play my part,’ she exclaimed, twisting her ring upon her
finger. ‘If my sister refuses to leave Colonel Hope-Kennedy I have made
up my mind not to leave _her_. Where she goes I’ll go.’

‘I hope not,’ I interrupted, ‘for it might come, Miss Jennings, to my
saying that where you go _I’ll_ go, and the Colonel may have rather
curious views on the subject of guests.’

‘You said you were too excited to talk,’ she exclaimed with a little
colour mounting. ‘It may be that I am stupidly influenced by old
memories. I was always afraid of Henrietta. She had an imperious
manner, and an old lord whom I met at your cousin’s--I forget his
name--told Wilfrid that her eyes made him think of Mrs. Siddons in her
finest scenes. I fear her influence upon me when I begin to entreat
her. I know how she will look.’

‘All this is mere nervousness,’ said I. ‘You thought of these things
before, yet you are here. Besides, the sense of wrong-doing will
mightily weaken the genius of wizardry in her--her power at least of
exercising it and subduing by it--subduing even you, the tenderest and
gentlest of girls; or depend on’t she’s no true member of your sex, but
one of those demon-women whom Coleridge describes as wailing for their,
or rather in her case for _new_, lovers.’

She made no reply. Shortly afterwards the breakfast bell summoned us
below.

At table Wilfrid spoke little, but his manner was collected; whether
it was that excitement was languishing in him or that he had managed
to master himself, what he said was rational, his words and manner
unclouded by that hectic which was wont to give the countenance of
a high fever to all he said and did when anything happened to stir
him up. He was stern and thoughtful, and it was easy to see that he
accepted the vessel ahead as the ‘Shark,’ and that he was settling his
plans. I was heartily grateful for this posture in him. I never knew
anyone so fatiguing with his restlessness as my cousin. Half an hour
of his company when he was much excited left one as tired, dry, and
hollow as a four hours’ argument with an illogical man. He was too much
preoccupied to notice how pale and subdued and scared Miss Laura was,
struggle as she might in his presence to seem otherwise. I talked very
cautiously for fear of provoking a discussion that might heat him. Once
he asked me in an angry, twitting way, as though to the heave-up within
him of a sudden mood of wrath with a parcel of words atop which were
bound to find the road out, whether I felt disposed _now_ to challenge
his judgment, whether I was still of opinion that the ocean was too
wide a field for such a chase as this, and so on, proceeding steadily
but with rising warmth through the catalogue of my early objections to
the voyage, but instead of answering him I praised the bit of virgin
corned beef off which I was breakfasting, wondered why it was that
poultry was always insipid at sea, and so forced him back into his dark
and collected silence or obliged him to quit his subject.

However, his inability to keep his attention long fixed helped me here,
for he never attempted to pick up the end of the thread I had cut,
though, little as he spoke, two-thirds of what he delivered himself of
might have been worked into hot arguments but for my cautious answers.

I was not surprised on going on deck to find the wind no more than a
light draught with the main boom swinging to the long roll of the yacht
and the canvas flapping with vicious snaps at sheet and yard-arm. The
water seemed to wash thick as oil from the yacht’s sides, a dirty blue
that went into an oozy sort of green northwards. There was a deadness
in the lift of the swell that made you think of an idiot shouldering
his way through a crowd, and the eye sought in vain for a streak of
foam for the relief of the crisp vitality of it.

‘Is that wind or thunder, think you, Mr. Crimp?’ said I to the mate,
whom I found in charge, whilst I pointed to the heaped-up folds of
cloud astern, the brows of which were not far off the central sky
that, spite of the sunshine, was blurred to the very luminary himself
with the shadow in the north and with tatters and curls and streaks of
rusty brassish vapour risen off the line of the main body and sulkily
floating southwards.

‘Wind or thunder?’ answered Crimp with a dull, indifferent look; ‘well,
’tain’t tufted enough for thunder, but there’ll be a breeze, I allow,
behind this here swell.’

‘Are we rising the chap ahead?’

‘Not noticeably. She’ll have to shift her hellum for us for that to
happen at this pace,’ sending an askew glance over the side. I was
leaving him. ‘Heard any more woices?’ he asked.

‘No, have you?’

‘No, and don’t want to. It’s been a puzzling me, though,’ he exclaimed,
mumbling over a quid the juice of which had stained the corners of his
mouth into so sour a sneer that no artist could have painted it better.
‘Tell’ee what it is. I’m a-going to believe in ghosts.’

‘You can’t do better,’ said I; ‘get hold of a ghost and it will explain
everything for you.’

‘Well, ’taint a childish notion anyhow. There’s first class folks as
believes in sperrits. What’s a ghost like? Ne’er a man as I’ve asked
forrads knows saving the mute, who describes it as a houtline.’

‘What’s inside his outline?’ I asked.

‘Why, that there Muffin can’t get further than that. I says to him,
how can a houtline speak? Look here, says he, answer me this: suppose
ye takes a bottle and sucks out all the air from inside of it, what’s
left? A wacuum, says I. And what’s a wacuum? says he. Why, I says, says
I, space, ain’t it? I says. And what’s space? says he. Why nothen, I
suppose, I says, says I. Then, says he, how can nothen exist? And yet,
says he, it do exist, because ye can point to the bottle and say there
it is. So with a ghost, says he; it’s a houtline with nothen inside
it if you like, but it’s as real in its emptiness as the inside of a
bottle with nothen in it.’

At any other time I should have hugely enjoyed an argument with this
acrid old sailor on such a subject as ghosts. There is no company to
my taste to equal that of a sour, prejudiced, ignorant salt of matured
years, whose knowledge of life has been gained by looking at the world
through a ship’s hawse pipe, and who is full to the throat with the
sayings and the superstitions of the forecastle. Jacob Crimp was such a
man. Indeed he was the best example of the kind that I can recollect,
thanks, perhaps, to the help he got from his queer sea-eyes, glutinous
in appearance as a jelly-fish, one peering athwart the other with a
look of quarrelling about them that most happily corresponded with
the sulky expression of his face and the growl of his voice that was
like a sea-blessing. But it was impossible to think of the schooner
ahead and talk with this man about ghosts. I left him and got into the
fore-shrouds and ascended to the cross-trees, where, receiving the
glass from the fellow on the yard above, I took a view of the sea over
the bow, and caught plainly the canvas of the vessel we were heading
for,--her mainsail visible to the boom of it with a glimpse of her
bowsprit end wriggling off into the dusky blue air at every rise of her
bow to the lift of the swell. I noticed, however, that she had taken
in her main gaff topsail, possibly with an eye to the weather astern;
but it was a thing to set me problemising. Supposing her to be the
‘Shark,’ either she had not yet sighted us or she had no suspicion of
us. Fidler, her captain, would, when we showed fair, be pretty sure to
twig us by our rig; but was it likely that the Colonel and Lady Monson
would gravely suppose that Wilfrid had started in chase of them? That,
indeed, might depend upon whether her ladyship had missed the Colonel’s
letter to her, which my cousin had asked me to read. Well, we should
have to wait a little. My heart beat briskly as I descended to the
deck. Put yourself in my place, and think of the sort of excitement
that was threatened before that morning sun shining up there had set!

Half an hour later the weak draught had died out; the rolling of
the ‘Bride’ was putting a voice of thunder into her canvas, and the
strain on hemp and spar presently obliged old Crimp to take in his
studdingsails, which he followed on by ordering the topgallant-sail to
be rolled up and the gaff topsail hauled down. Wilfrid, who had arrived
on deck, stood haggardly eyeing these manœuvres, but he said nothing,
contenting himself with an occasional look, as dark as the shadow
astern of us, at the weather there, and a fretful stride to the rail
and a stormy stare at the sallow oil-smooth water that came swelling to
the counter and washing the length of the little ship in a manner that
made her stagger at times most abominably.

‘Let that vessel prove what she may,’ said I, sitting down on a grating
abaft the wheel close to which he was standing, ‘we appear to have the
heels of her in light airs, however it may be with her in a breeze of
wind.’

‘How do you know?’ he inquired in a churchyard note.

‘Why,’ said I, ‘I was just now in the crosstrees and found her showing
fair from them, whereas before breakfast she was only visible from the
topgallantyard.’

He looked at me with a heavy, leaden eye, and said, ‘A plague on the
wind! It has all gone; just when we want it too.’

‘We shall have a capful anon,’ I exclaimed; ‘no need to whistle for
it. Mark how it brightens down upon the sea-line yonder as that shadow
floats upwards. That means wind enough to whiten this tumbling oiliness
for us.’

He directed his gaze in a mechanical way towards the quarter in which I
was looking, but said nothing. Miss Jennings came out of the companion.
I took her hand and brought her to the grating.

‘A strange, oppressive calm,’ she cried; ‘how sickly the sunshine is!
Nature looks to be in as dull a mood as we are.’

‘Wilf,’ said I, ‘if that schooner is the “Shark,” what will you do?’

‘What would _you_ do?’ he answered sternly, as though he imagined I
quizzed him, when God knows I was in a more sober and anxious humour
than I can express.

‘Well,’ said I very quietly and gravely, ‘when I got my yacht within
reach of her glasses, if I could manage it, I should signal that I
wanted to speak her.’

‘Quite right; that’s what I shall do,’ said he.

‘But after!’ I exclaimed.

‘After what?’ he cried.

‘Why, confound it, Wilf, suppose she makes no response, holds on all,
as we say at sea, and bowls along without taking the slightest notice
of us.’

He approached me close, laid his great hand upon my shoulder and thrust
his long arm forth straight as a handspike pointing to the forecastle
gun. ‘_There’s_ my answer to that,’ he cried in my ear in a voice as
disagreeable as the sound of a saw with irritability; ‘you wished me
to strike it down into the hold, d’ye remember? you were for ridiculing
it from the moment of your catching sight of it; yet without that
messenger to deliver my mind what answer would there be to the question
you have just now put? Oh my God,’ he suddenly cried, smiting his
forehead, ‘I feel as if I shall go mad.’

He crossed to the other side of the deck and paced it alone. Miss
Jennings was too much dejected by all this, by the excitement of the
time, by nervousness, grief, anxiety, to converse; nor, indeed, was my
mood a very sociable one. I procured a chair for her, and, presently
found myself alone, as Wilfrid was, wishing from the very bottom of my
heart that Colonel Hope-Kennedy was hanged, her ladyship in a lunatic
asylum, and myself in my old West End haunts again, though somehow
a misgiving as to the accuracy of this last desire visited me on a
sudden with the glance I just then happened to cast at Miss Laura, who
sat with her hands folded upon her lap, her head bowed in a posture
of meditation that took an indescribable character of pathos from the
expression on her sweet face.

It was now a little after ten o’clock. Crimp, who was pacing near me
that Wilfrid might have the whole range of the weather quarterdeck to
himself, suddenly rumbled out, ‘Here comes the wind at last!’ The stern
of the yacht was still upon the north, where, at the very verge of the
waters which sluggishly heaved like molten lead under the dark canopy
of vapour that overhung them, the sea was roughening and whitening to
the whipping of wind which looked at that distance to be coming along
in a straight line, though as it approached us I witnessed a strange
effect of long fibrine feelers sweeping out of the hoarse and rushing
ridges of foam which were seething towards us--like darting livid
tongues of creatures hidden in the yeast behind tipped with froth that
made one think of the slender stem of a vessel ripping through the
surface. In a few minutes the boiling popple was all about us, hissing
to our counter with a shriek of wind which flashed with such spite into
the great space of mainsail and the whole spread of square topsail
that the yacht for a moment was bowed down to her ways, fair as it
took her on her quarter. An instant she lay so, then came surging back
to an almost level deck with her rigging alive as with the ringing of
bells, took a sudden plunge forward, throwing from either bow a mass of
creaming sea the summit of which went spinning like a snowstorm ahead
of her, then gathering impulse in a long, floating, launching plunge as
it were, she went sliding through it faster and faster yet till she had
a wake like a millrace in chase of her.

It was a scene full of the life and spirit and reality of the ocean
after the spell of sulky calm with its dingy northern heaving of water
and its haze of weak, moist sunlight in the south and east. Finn to
the first of the blast came on deck and fell a-bawling, the sailors
sprang from rope to rope with lively heartiness, the slack running gear
blew out in semicircles, which with the curve of the canvas and the
lean of the masts as the yacht swept forward with the brine boiling
high along her, gave a wild, expectant, headlong look to the whole
rushing fabric, something indeed to make one fancy that the spirit of
her owner, the expression of whose face had her own strained, eager,
rushing air, so to speak, had passed into and vitalised her--mere
structure of timber as she was--into passionate human yearnings.



CHAPTER XVIII.

IS SHE THE ‘SHARK’?


It was not to prove a gale, though it would have been hard to guess
what lay behind that dirty jumble of white and livid terraces which
had been stealthily creeping all the morning zenithwards. The clouds
scattered to the rush of the wind, the sun with a brightened disk leapt
from one flying vaporous edge to another, dazzling out the snows of the
dissolving seas till the eye reeled from the glare of the brilliant
foam and the sharp and lovely sparkle of the pure dark blue between.
Indeed, before long the wind steadied down into a noble sailing breeze
with a piebald sky of warm and cheerful weather steadily swinging into
the south-east, as though the whole heaven revolved from one quarter to
another like a panorama on a cylinder. Wilfrid looked his wishes, but
said nothing. He hung apart in a fashion that was the same as telling
me to keep off, nor had he anything to say to Miss Jennings. Finn
easily interpreting his master’s face, piled cloths on the yacht till
it seemed as though another rag would blow the whole lofty white fabric
of canvas, tapering spar, and rigging clean over the bows. We fled
along in thunder, and to every curtsey of the vessel’s head the water
recoiled in a roar of spume as far as the jibboom end, to speed aft as
fast, you would have thought, as the eye could follow it, the swell
washing to the counter as if to help her.

We held on in this way for some time, when suddenly Wilfrid, who had
come to a stand at the weather rail and was looking ahead, bawled with
the note of a shriek in his voice, ‘Look!’ and out sprang his long arm
pointing directly on a line with our bowsprit.

‘Ay, there she is, sure enough!’ cried I, as I caught sight, to a
floating lift of the deck at that moment, of the pearlish gleam of
canvas of a milky brilliance slanting past the soft whiteness of a head
of sea against the marble look of the sky there, where the sun-touched
clouds were going down to the ocean edge in a crowd with a vein of
violet here and there amongst them. I glanced at Wilfrid, not knowing
what sort of mood this first glimpse of the yacht would put into him,
but there was no alteration of face. His countenance had set into an
iron hard expression; methought resolution could never show more grimly
stubborn. Miss Jennings came to the side to look.

‘There is little to be seen as yet,’ said I to her, ‘but we shall be
heaving her hull up very soon. She is taking it quietly.’

Finn stood near; I took his glass from him and levelled it. ‘Why, ’tis
merely _ambling_ with her, captain,’ said I; ‘gaff topsails down and
no hint of squaresail that I can make out. The cloud we are making
astern should puzzle her. D’ye think Captain Fidler will recognise this
vessel?’

‘Why, yes, sir; bound to it,’ he answered; ‘we aren’t like the “Shark,”
you know: our figure-head alone is as good as naming us. Then our sheer
of bow ’ud sarve like a sign-post to Fidler. Back this by our square
rig and he’d have to ha’ fallen dark to mistake,’ meaning by dark,
blind.

‘Is the “Shark” to be as easily recognised?’ asked Miss Jennings, who
stood close by me, occasionally laying her hand upon my arm to steady
herself and putting the other to her lips to speak, for the breeze
rang with a scream in it at times over the rail in a manner to sweep
the words out of her mouth as though her syllables were the smoke of a
cigarette. Finn shook his long head.

‘Lay me close aboard, miss,’ said he, ‘and I’ll tell you the “Shark”
from another craft; but there’s nothen distinct about her as there
is with us. She’s black without gilt like a great many others, of a
slaving pattern, long, low, without spring forrads or aft, with apple
sides like others again. But,’ said he after a pause, during which
he had taken a look through his telescope at the glistening fragment
hovering like a butterfly over the bow, ‘though I don’t want to say too
much, sir, I’d be willing to lay down a good bit o’ money on the chance
of yonder chap proving the “Shark.” Time, place, all sarcumstances
point her out.’

‘True,’ said I; ‘but there are many schooners afloat.’

‘Ay, sir; but such a coincidence as _that_, your honour,’ said he
pointing, ‘sits too far on the werge of what’s likely to fit it to
sarve as part of a man’s reckonings.’

‘I agree with Captain Finn,’ said Miss Laura; ‘besides, I feel _here_
that it is the vessel we are pursuing.’ She laid her hand upon her
bosom and turned to cross the deck where her chair was.

I assisted her to her seat with a peep out of the corner of my eyes at
Wilfrid, but there was no encouragement in his face; so, posting myself
forward of the companion for the shelter of it, I lighted a cigar and
puffed away in silence till the luncheon bell rang. Wilfrid did not
come to table. When I returned on deck after lingering nearly an hour
below, partly with the wish to put some heart into Miss Jennings, who
was pitifully dejected and nervous, and partly because I had had a long
spell in the open air and guessed that for some time yet there would
be little enough of the schooner showing to be worth looking at--I say
when I returned I found my cousin at the rail with his arms tightly
clasped on his breast staring fixedly ahead, with a face grim, indeed,
with the scowling contraction of the brows, but as collected in the
determined severity of it as can be imagined. In fact, the sight of the
schooner ahead had gathered all his faculties and wandering fancies
and imaginations into a bunch, so to speak, and his mind as you saw
it in his eyes, in the set of his lips, in the resolved and contained
posture of his body, was as steady as that of the sanest man aboard
us. It was without wonder, however, that I perceived we had risen the
yacht to the line of her rail, when I noticed that she still kept under
short canvas whilst the ‘Bride’ was bursting through the surges to
the impulse now even of the lower studdingsail. I took Finn’s glass
from him and made out a very handsome schooner, loftily sparred with
an immense head to her mainsail, the boom of which hung far over her
quarter, whilst she swang in graceful floating leapings from hollow to
ridge with the round of her stern lifting black and flashing off each
melting brow that underran her. We had, indeed, come up with her hand
over hand, but then it would be almost the worst point of sailing for
a fore-and-aft vessel, whilst we were carrying in our square rig alone
pretty nearly the same surface of canvas that she had abroad. She was
too far off as yet, even with the aid of the glass, to distinguish her
people.

‘What do you think, Finn, _now_?’ said I, turning to him. He stood
close beside me with his long face working with anxiety, and straining
his sight till I thought he would shoot his eyes out of their sockets.

‘If she ain’t the “Shark,”’ said he, ‘she’s the “Flying Dutchman.” I
had but one doubt. Yonder craft’s boats are white, and my notion, but
I couldn’t swear to him, was that the “Shark’s” boats were blue. I’ve
been forrards amongst the men, a few of whom are acquainted with Lord
Winterton’s yacht, and one of ’em says her boats was blue, whilst th’
others are willing to bet their lives that they are white.’

‘But the cut of her as she shows yonder proves her the “Shark,” you
think?’

‘I do, sir,’ he answered emphatically.

‘Well,’ said I, fetching a deep breath, ‘after _this_ hang me if I
don’t burn my book and agree with your mate, old Jacob Crimp, to
believe in ghosts.’

I levelled the glass again and uttered an exclamation as I got the
lenses to bear upon her. ‘By thunder, Finn! yes, they look to have the
scent of us now. See! there goes her gaff topsail?’

Wilfrid caught my words. ‘What are they doing?’ he roared, bursting out
in a mad way from his rapt iron-like silence; ‘making sail, d’ye say?’
and he came running up to us with an odd thrusting forward of his head
as though straining to determine what was scarce more than a blur to
his short sight. He snatched the glass from my hand. ‘Yes,’ he shouted,
‘and there goes her squaresail. By every saint, Finn, there’s an end of
my doubts;’ and he closed the glass with a ringing of the tubes as he
telescoped them that would have made you think that the thing was in
pieces in his hands.

‘Shall I signal her to heave to, your honour?’ exclaimed Finn, speaking
with a doubtful eye as if measuring the distance.

‘Ay, at once,’ cried Wilfrid, ‘but’--he cast a look at the gaff
end--‘she’ll not see your colours there,’ pointing vehemently.

‘I’ll run ’em up at the fore, Sir Wilfrid; they’ll blow out plain there
with the t’gallant halliards let go.’

‘Do as you will, only you must make her know my meaning,’ cried my
cousin, and he went with an impetuous stride right aft and resumed his
former sentinel posture. Miss Jennings came timidly up to me.

‘She is the “Shark,” then?’ she said in a low voice.

‘All who know her are agreed, Finn says, saving here and there a doubt
about the colour of her boats,’ I answered.

She had a sailor’s eye for sea effects, and instantly noticed that the
schooner ahead had broadened her show of canvas.

‘Do they suspect who we are?’ she exclaimed, talking as though she were
musing.

‘No doubt the “Bride” is recognised, and they will run away if they
can.’

She looked at Wilfrid. ‘I do not like to speak to him,’ she exclaimed.

‘He’s killing Hope-Kennedy over and over again,’ said I: ‘his wife is
before him too, and he is haranguing her. Bless us, what a wonderful
thing human imagination is!’

Up went the signal flags forward in a string of balls, a man tugged,
the bunting broke and streamed out in its variety of lustrous colours,
every flag stiff as a sheet of horn handpainted, with the light of
the sky past it showing through. I caught myself breathing short and
hard whilst waiting for what was to follow this summons to the running
craft. We had been crushing through it after her with the speed of a
steamer, and, supposing her indeed to be the ‘Shark,’ had literally
verified Wilfrid’s boast that the ‘Bride’ could sail two feet to her
one. But now that she had broadened her wings there was a threat of
considerable tediousness in the chase.

‘Do you suppose they have made out what yacht we are?’ I asked Finn.

‘Likely as not, sir. I shall think so for sartin if they don’t shorten
sail on reading that bunting up there. A stranger ’ud be willing enough
to speak us. Why not? ’Tis understandable that Fidler should have kept
his rags small in the face of the muck that was crawling in the nor’rad
this morning. _He’s_ got nothen to chase, and was always a careful man,
so I’ve heard, and I tell ye, sir,’ said he in a subdued way, speaking
with his eyes fixed on Miss Jennings, who stood close with a white
face, ‘that the sight of his easy canvas is almost the same to me as
seeing of her ladyship a sitting there,’ levelling his hairy finger
at the yacht, ‘for, fond as she was of the water, let anything of a
breeze come and she was always for having Sir Wilfrid reduce sail.’
He put the glass to his eye as he spoke. ‘Hillo!’ he exclaimed in an
instant, ‘they’re hoisting a colour. There it goes--there it blows.
Oh my precious eyes! What is it? what is it?’ he rumbled, talking to
himself and working into the glass as though he would drive an eye
clean through it. ‘Why, Mr. Monson,’ he bawled, ‘I’m Field Marshal the
Duke o’ Wellington, sir, if she han’t hoisted Dutch colours.’

I snatched the glass from his hand, and sure enough made out the
Batavian horizontal tricolour streaming from the peak signal halliards
like a fragment of rainbow against the lustrous curve of the mainsail.

‘Wilfrid,’ I shouted, addressing him as he stood right aft, Miss Laura
and I and the skipper being grouped a little forward of the main
rigging, ‘they’ve hoisted Dutch colours. She’s a Hollander, not the
“Shark!”’ and I fetched something like a breath of relief, for it was a
condition of suspense that you wanted to see an end to one fashion or
another as quickly as possible.

He approached us slowly, took the glass from my hand in silence, and
after a steady inspection turned to Finn.

‘She’s the “Shark,”’ he said, with a fierce snap in his manner that was
like letting fly a pistol at the skipper.

‘Your honour thinks so?’

‘Don’t you?’

‘Them Dutch colours, Sir Wilfrid----’

‘A device, a trick! What could confirm one’s suspicions more than
yonder display of a foreign ensign? She’s the “Shark,” I tell you, and
that colour’s a stratagem. What do you say, Charles?’

‘I’m blest if I know what to think,’ said I. ‘If she’s the “Shark,” why
has she taken it so leisurely, only just now setting her squaresail and
gaff topsail though we have been in sight for a long time, crowding
down upon her under a press that should awhile since have excited
their suspicions? No need for them to hoist Dutch colours. If Fidler
thinks he is chased, why don’t he haul his wind instead of keeping that
fore-and-aft concern almost dead before it, as if he didn’t know on
which side to carry his main boom?’

‘She’s the “Shark”!’ thundered Wilfrid, ‘the flag she is flying is a
lie. Finn,’ he cried in a voice so savagely imperious, so confoundedly
menacing, that I saw Miss Laura shrink, whilst the poor skipper gave
a hop as though he had touched something red-hot; ‘are we overhauling
that vessel?’

‘Yes, Sir Wilfrid.’

‘How long will it take us to come within gunshot of her?’

Finn scratched the back of his head. ‘Mr. Monson, sir,’ said he,
addressing me, ‘that gun’ll throw about three-quarters of a mile, I
allow.’

‘Call it a mile,’ said I.

My cousin, with his nostrils distended to the widest, his respiration
hysteric, his whole body on the move, and with that _raised_ look in
his face I have formerly described, stared at Finn as though he would
slay him with his gaze. The skipper scratched the back of his head
again.

‘Well, your honour, if yon schooner holds as she is and this here
breeze don’t take off, we ought to be within gun-shot,’ here he
produced a silver watch of the size and shape of an apple, ‘in three
hours’ time, making it about half-past five.’

‘How far is she distant now?’

‘Betwixt three and four mile, Sir Wilfrid.’

‘Get your gun ready.’

‘A blank shot, your honour?’

‘A blank devil and be damned to you. Load with ball. Who’s your gunner?’

‘We shall have to manage amongst us, Sir Wilfrid,’ turning a face of
alarm upon me.

I was about to remonstrate, but there was an expression in the eye
that my cousin bent on me at that instant that caused me to take Miss
Jennings’ hand as an invitation to her to cross the deck and walk.

‘Charles,’ said he, ‘you told me that you knew something about gunnery.
Will you handle that weapon yonder for me?’

‘Wilf, it is madness,’ said I. ‘What! plump a shot into a craft that
may not be the vessel you want! or, which in my opinion is just as
bad, fire at with a chance of sinking a yacht with a lady aboard--that
lady your wife--the woman whom you have embarked on this extraordinary
adventure to rescue?’

My blood rose with my words. I dared not trust myself to reason with
him. I crossed the deck with Miss Laura, and when we faced round
I spied Wilfrid marching forwards with Finn, and presently he was
beside of the gun gesticulating vehemently to a body of seamen who had
collected round the piece.

Our signals were kept flying at the fore, whilst with the naked eye
one could behold the minute spot of colour steadfast at the schooner’s
peak. Onwards she held her course, swarming steadily forward in long
gliding curtseyings over each frothing surge that chased her, a most
shapely and beautiful figure with a long flash of her low black wet
side coming off the line of foam like a lift of dull sunshine, whilst
on high soared the stretches of her sails with something of the
airiness of a dragon-fly’s wing in the milk-white softness of their
spaces against the cloudy distance beyond. The time passed, Wilfrid
remained forward. He stood upon one of the anchors swaying with folded
arms to the movement of the yacht, stiff as a handspike, his face
fixedly directed at the schooner ahead. The sailors hung about, chewing
hard, spitting much, saying things to one another past the hairy backs
of their hands, here and there a whiskered face looking stupid with
a sort of dull wonder that was like an inane smile; but the fact is,
from Cutbill down to the youngest hand all the seamen were puzzled,
excited, and uneasy. The state of my cousin’s mind showed plainly to
the least penetrating of those nautical eyes. No man amongst them could
imagine what wild directions would be delivered, and though I made no
doubt the gun would be let fly when the order to fire was given, I was
pretty sure that should it come to a command to board the schooner by
force the men would decline. Sometimes Finn was forward, fluttering
near Wilfrid, sometimes aft, restlessly inspecting the compass or going
feverishly to the side and looking over, when again and again I would
hear him say in a voice as harsh as the sound of a carpenter’s plane,
‘Glory, glory! blow, my sweet breeze, blow!’ manifestly unconscious
that he spoke aloud, but evidently obtaining some ease of mind from the
ejaculation.

The sun went floating down westwards, the breeze shifted a point or
two towards him and then slackened, though it continued to blow a fine
sailing wind with a regular sea that had long before lost the early
snappish and worrying hurl put into it by the first of the dark blast.
Slowly we had been gaining upon the chase; minute after minute I had
been expecting to see her put her helm down, flatten her sheets, and
go staggering away into the reddening waters weltering and washing to
the sky under the descending sun, on what she might know to be some
best point of sailing. She kept her squaresail spread and the Dutch
flag hoisted, and swung stubbornly ahead of us, making nothing of our
signals, which still continued to fly. Through Finn’s glass I could
distinguish the figures of a few seamen forward and a couple of men
pacing the weather-side of the quarterdeck. Now and again a head would
show at the rail as though watching us, but the suggestion I seemed
to find in the general posture and air aboard the vessel was that of
indifference, as though, in fact, we had long ago exhausted curiosity,
and had been quitted as a spectacle for inboard jobs and the routine of
such life as was led there.

‘_Is_ she the “Shark,”?’ I said to Finn.

‘If she isn’t,’ said he, ‘my eyes ain’t mates, sir. It is but a
question of the colour of the quarter-boats.’

‘I see no name on the counter.’

‘No, sir, the “Shark” has no name painted on her.’

‘She’s steered by a wheel,’ said I.

‘So is the “Shark,” sir.’

‘What do the men forward who know the “Shark” think now?’ I asked.

‘Two of ’em say that it ain’t her; the rest that it is. But ne’er a man
aboard has that knowledge of her that ’ud give him conscience enough to
take an oath upon it. Glory, glory, there she walks! By the piper that
played afore Moses in the woods, your honour, ’twill be the fairest
sunrise that ever I see that lights up the end of this damned mess,
begging your pardon, Mr. Monson, and yours, miss, I’m sure. Fact is, I
feel all of a work inside me, like a brig’s boom in a calm.’

‘I am unable to hold the glass steady,’ said Miss Laura. ‘Mr. Monson, I
see no signs of a lady on board. Do you, Captain Finn?’

‘Not so much as the twinkle of a hinch of a petticoat, miss; but if her
ladyship’s there, of course she’d keep below.’

‘You know Captain Fidler,’ said I.

‘Very well, sir.’

‘There are two figures walking that quarterdeck. Is one of them he?’

‘It’s too fur off, sir. I’ve been looking and looking, but it’s too fur
off, I say, sir. Mind!’ he suddenly roared, ‘they’re a-going to fire,’
and he rolled hurriedly forwards.

A moment or two after, crash! went the gun. The blast broke in a dead
shock upon the ear, and the smoke blew away over the lee bow as red
with the tincturing of the sun as a veil of vapour at the edge of the
crimson moon. Miss Jennings shrieked. A long yearning gush of sea
catching the ‘Bride’ fair on the quarter swung her for a breadth or two
so as to hide the schooner, then to her next yaw with Wilfrid still at
the anchor bending forward in impetuous headlong pose and two or three
sailors handling the gun and a crowd of men in the head staring their
hardest, the chase swept into view afresh.

‘Ha!’ I shouted, ‘she’s heaving to.’

‘Oh, Mr. Monson!’ cried Miss Jennings, clasping her hands.

Instantly Finn fell to thundering out orders. ‘In stun’sails! clew
up the t’garnsail! down squares’l; down gaff tops’l!’ Twenty such
directions volleyed from him; in a trice the decks of the ‘Bride’ were
as busy as an anthill; canvas rattled like musketry as it was hauled
down; the strains of Cutbill’s whistle shrilled high above the voices
of the men, and a true ocean meaning came rolling into the commotion
and clamour from the yeasty seething over the side, the singing of the
wind past the ear, and the frisky motions of the yacht as she brought
the sea on her bow heading, to Finn’s yell to the man at the helm,
to range to windward of the schooner that was now fast coming round
with her squaresail descending, her main tack hoisting and her topsail
withering with her head to the west.

Distance is mightily deceptive at sea. How far off the schooner was
when they let drive at her from our forecastle I could not say. She was
probably out of range; at all events she showed no damage as she came
rounding to, away down upon the blue throbbing which had softened much
within the hour, with a bronze gleam of sheathing, as she heeled over
ere her canvas broke shivering in the eye of the wind, that wonderfully
heightened the beauty of the long, low, black, most shapely hull, and
the bland and elegant fabric of bright spar and radiant cloths shining
white yet through the faint claret tinge in the atmosphere. Wilfrid
came slowly aft, constantly looking at her as he walked. Under reduced
canvas we swept down leisurely, sliding lightly upon the run of the
surge that was now on the beam. I examined her carefully through the
glass whilst Miss Laura stood by my side asking questions.

‘Is she the “Shark”?’

‘She may be. But such of her crew as I make out don’t look to me to be
English.’

‘Can you distinguish any women on board?’

‘Nothing approaching a woman. They mean to board us. They have a fine
boat of a whaling pattern hanging to leeward, and there are sailors
preparing to lower her. They are not Englishmen, I swear. I see a large
fat man delivering orders apparently with sluggish gesticulations,
which strike me as distinctly Dutch. How about her figure-head?’ I
continued, and I brought the glass to bear on the bows of the schooner.
‘Ha!’ I cried, and looked round.

Wilfrid was watching the schooner right aft, where he had stood during
the greater part of the chase, his arms folded as before, the same
iron-hard expression on his countenance. I called to him.

‘What is the figure-head of the “Shark”?’

He started, and answered, ‘I don’t know. Ask Finn,’ and so saying
walked towards us.

The skipper was giving some instructions to Crimp on the other side of
the deck.

‘Captain Finn,’ I called.

‘Sir.’

‘What’s the “Shark’s” figure-head?’

‘A gold ball in a cup shaped like a lily, your honour.’

‘Then, Wilfrid,’ I cried, shoving the glass into his hands, ‘your
pursuit must carry you further afield yet, for that craft’s figure-head
is a white effigy, apparently a woman’s head.’

His manner to the sudden, desperate surging of the disappointment in
him fell in a breath into the old form of the craziness of his moods of
excitement. He looked through the glass, and then roared out--

‘Finn.’

The skipper came bundling over to us.

‘That vessel is not the “Shark.”’

‘I’ve been afeared not, sir, I’ve been afeared not,’ said Finn.
‘Like as two eggs end on; but now she’s drawed out--’tain’t only the
figure-head. She han’t got the “Shark’s” length of bowsprit.’

Wilfrid dashed the telescope down on to the deck. ‘A fool’s chase!’ he
exclaimed, scarcely intelligible for the way he spoke with his teeth
set. ‘Heavenly God, what a disappointment! But it should have been
Monday, it should have been Monday,’ and his gaze went in a scowling,
wandering way from us to the schooner.

‘I suppose you know,’ said I to Finn, ‘that they’re standing by to
lower a boat when we shall have come to a stand?’

‘Ay, sir, I know it,’ exclaimed Finn, who had picked up his telescope
and was feeling over it in a nervous, broken-down manner as though he
feared it was injured, but durst not look to make sure while Wilfrid
stood nigh. ‘I shall heave to to looard for their convenience,’ and
with that he walked aft to the wheel.

Wilfrid looked crushed with something absolutely lifeless in the dull
leaden blank of his eyes. It was perhaps fortunate for us, if not for
him, that this sudden prodigious blow of disappointment should have
completed the sense of physical and mental exhaustion which inevitably
attended the war of emotions that had been going on all day in his weak
mind, otherwise heaven alone knows what miserable and painful display
might have followed this failure of his expectations. I was much
affected by his manner, and endeavoured to console him, but he motioned
me to silence with a gesture of the hand, and seated himself on the
skylight, where he remained with his arms folded and his eyes fixed on
the deck, apparently heeding nothing that passed around him.

‘He’ll rally after a little,’ said I to Miss Laura, who furtively
watched him with eyes sad with the shadow of tears.

‘It ought to have been the “Shark,” Mr. Monson,’ she exclaimed in a
low voice. ‘My cowardly heart all day has been praying otherwise; and
now I would give ten years of my life that my sister were there--for
_his_ sake, for mine, and for yours too, that this wretched voyage of
expectation and mistakes and superstitions--oh, and I do not know what
else,’ she added with a little toss of her arms like a wringing of her
hands, ‘might come to an end.’

The sailors forward were eyeing the vessel steadily as we approached
her. By this time all hands were aware of the blunder that had been
made, and one seemed to see a kind of suspense in the posture of the
fellows, with a half-grin in it, too, as though ’twas an incident to
be as much laughed at as wondered at. The breeze continued to slacken,
the seas were momentarily losing weight as they rolled, the gushing of
the western crimson floated in the air like a delicate red smoke, with
a heap of flame-coloured clouds resting broodingly upon the southern
confines and the new moon over the sun, a wonder for the bright
sharpness of its curve in such a hectic as she stood in. We ran down
and hove to within easy hailing distance to leeward of the schooner,
but it was plain that Mynheer had no notion of talking to us from over
his rail. His fine large boat hung manned at the davits as we rounded
to, with a gang of fellows at either fall, and no sooner was our way
arrested than down slowly sank the six-oared fabric. The oars sparkled
in the red light, and away she came for us.

‘Charles,’ called my cousin from the skylight. I went to him. ‘I’m too
ill to be worried,’ said he; ‘represent me, dear boy, will you? Get us
out of this mess as best you can, and as quickly.’

He spoke faintly and slightly staggered after he had risen. Miss
Jennings seeing this, took his arm and together they went below.

I stood at the gangway along with friend Finn. ’Twas a ludicrous
position to be in, and what excuses to make I knew not, unless it
was to come to my explaining the full motive and meaning of our
expedition--a sort of candour I did not like the idea of. In the
stern-sheets of the approaching boat was the large fat man I had
previously taken notice of on the schooner’s quarterdeck. His face was
as round as the moon, with a smudge of bristly yellow moustache under a
bottle-shaped nose: his person was the completest pudding of a figure
that can be imagined, as though forsooth a huge suit of clothes had
been filled out with suet. He wore a blue cap with a shovel-shaped peak
and a piece of gold lace on it going from one brass button to the other.

‘That’s not Fidler,’ said I to Finn.

‘Fidler!’ he ejaculated, staring with all his might at the boat;
‘there’s twenty Fidlers in that man, your honour. Why Fidler’s a mere
rib, lean enough to shelter himself under the lee of a rope-yarn.’

The boat came fizzing alongside handsomely, and the fat man, watching
his opportunity, planted himself upon the steps and rose like a whale
to our deck, upon which he stepped. In a very phlegmatic, leisurely
way he stood staring around him for a little out of a pair of small,
greenish, expressionless eyes, and with a countenance that discovered
no signs of any sort of emotion; then in the deepest voice I ever heard
in a man, a tone that literally vibrated upon the ear like the low note
of a church organ, he said in Dutch, ‘Who speaks my language?’

I knew a few sentences in German, enough to enable me to understand
his question, but by no means enough to converse with, even if the man
spoke that tongue, so I said bluntly in English, ‘No one, sir.’

He wheezed a bit, looking stolidly at me, and exclaimed ‘You are
captain?’

I motioned to Finn.

‘Vy you vire ot me?’ he demanded, turning his fat, emotionless face
upon the skipper.

Finn touched his cap. ‘Heartily sorry, sir: ’twas all a blunder
happening through our mistaking you for another craft. I’m very willing
to ’pologise and do whatever’s right.’

The Dutchman listened apathetically, then slowly bringing his fist
of the shape, if not the hue, of a leg of beef to his vast spread of
breast, he exclaimed in a voice even deeper than his former utterance,
‘Vot I ask is, vy you vire at me?’

Finn substantially repeated his former apology. The Dutchman gazed at
him dully, with an expression of glassiness coming into his eyes.

‘Vot schip dis?’

Finn answered with alacrity, ‘The schooner-yacht “Bride,” sir.’

‘Zhe vight vorr herr nation?’ sending a lethargic glance at our
masthead as if in search of a pennant.

‘No, sir,’ cried Finn, ‘we’re a pleasure vessel.’

‘Dere is no var,’ exclaimed the Dutchman, shaking his head, ‘between
mine coundry und yours.’

‘Ho no, sir,’ exclaimed Finn.

‘Den I ask,’ said the Dutchman, in a voice like a trombone, ‘vy you
vire ot me?’

This promised no end. I hastily whispered to Finn, ‘Leave him to me.
Turn to quietly and trim sail and get way upon the vessel. He’ll take
no other hint, I fear.’ Finn sneaked off. ‘Pardon me, sir,’ said I,
‘you’ll have heard from the captain that our firing at you was a
blunder into which we were led by mistaking your ship. We desire to
tender you our humble apology, which I trust you will see your way
to accept without delay as we are very desirous of proceeding on our
voyage.’

He looked at me with a motionless head and a face as vacant of human
intelligence as a cloud, with its fat, its paleness, its Alp upon Alp
of chin, then ponderously and slowly putting his hand into his breast
he pulled out a great pocket-book and said, ‘Vot dis schip’s name?’

‘The “Bridesmaid,”’ said I.

He wrote down the word, wheezing laboriously.

‘Your captain name?’

‘Fidler,’ I answered.

This he entered.

‘Owner!’

‘Colonel Hope-Kennedy.’

‘Ow you shpell?’

I dictated, and he put down the letters as I delivered them.

‘Where you vrom?’

‘Limerick,’ I answered.

‘Ow you shpell?’ He got the word, and then said, ‘Vere you boun’?’

‘To the Solomon Group,’ I answered.

This I had to spell for him too. He wrote with such imperturbability,
with such a ponderosity of phlegmatic manner in his posture, with such
whale-like asthmatic wheezings broken only by the trembling notes of
his deep, deep voice, that again and again I was nearly exploding
with laughter, and indeed, had I caught anybody’s eye but his, I
must certainly have whipped out with the merriment that was almost
suffocating me. He slowly returned the note-book to his pocket and
exclaimed, ‘Goot. You hear more of dis,’ and with that walked to the
gangway.

‘Pray forgive me,’ said I, following him and speaking very courteously,
‘will you kindly tell me the name of your ship?’

He regarded me with a kind of scowl as he hung an instant in the
gangway--the only expression approaching intelligence that entered his
face, and said, ‘Malvina.’

‘And pray where are you bound to, sir?’

‘Curaçoa.’

‘Are you the owner, sir?’

‘Captain,’ he responded with an emphatic nod, and so saying he put his
foot on the ladder and entered his boat.

Five minutes later we were breaking the seas afresh, making a more
southerly course than was needful by two points, that we might give as
wide a berth as soon as possible to the Dutch schooner, that, at the
time I went below to the summons of the dinner-bell, was sliding away
west-south-west a league distant under every cloth that she had to
hoist.



CHAPTER XIX.

A MYSTERIOUS VOICE.


This was an incident to give one a deal to think and talk about.
Certainly little imaginable could be stranger than that we, being in
chase of a fore-and-aft schooner yacht, should fall in with a vessel so
resembling the object of our pursuit as to deceive the sight of men who
professed to know the ‘Shark’ well. I should have been glad to ask the
Dutchman about his craft, yet it was a matter of no moment whatever.
The thing had happened, it was passing strange, and there was an end.
Likely enough she was an English vessel purchased for some opulent
trader in the island of Curaçoa, and on her way to that possession in
charge of the porpoise who had honoured us with a visit. The incident
signified only as a disappointment. All dinner time I had been fretting
over it, for since sunrise I had been thinking of the vessel ahead as
the ‘Shark’; counted, in a sort of unreasoning, mechanical, silent way,
upon capturing Lady Monson out of her, which, of course, would mean a
shift of helm for us, and home again.

Wilfrid bore the blow better than I had dared to expect. He made a good
dinner, for which he had the excuse of having fasted since breakfast,
and broke into a noisy roar of laughter out of the air of gloomy
resentment with which he had arrived from his cabin on my describing
the Dutchman, and repeating his questions and my answers. In short,
his weak mind came to his rescue. With the schooner had vanished an
inspiration of thought that had served his intellect as an anchor to
ride by. His imagination was now fluent again, loose, draining here and
there like water on the decks of a rolling ship; and though he spoke
with vehement bitterness of his disappointment, and with indignation
and rage even of Finn’s ignorance in pursuing a stranger throughout the
day, he dwelt very briefly at a time on the subject. Indeed, his talk
was just an aimless stride from one thing to another. If he recurred
to the Dutch schooner, it was as if by mere chance; and, though the
subject would blacken his mood, in a very short while he had passed
on to other matters with a cleared face. Miss Laura afterwards said
to me that the strain of the day had been too great for him, and that
when the tension was relaxed the strings of the instrument of his mind
dropped into slack fibres, out of which his reason could fiddle but
very little music. Well, I could have wished it thus for everybody’s
sake. Better as it was than that he should have shrunk away scowling
and hugging a dark mantle of madness to him, and exaggerated the
abominably uncomfortable behaviour I had witnessed in him all day.

He arrived on deck after dinner to smoke a cigar, and whilst I sat
with Miss Jennings--for it was a quiet night after the stormy blowing
of the day, with a tropic tenderness of temperature in the sweet
gushing of the southerly wind, the curl of moon gone, and the large
stars trembling through the film of their own radiance like dew-drops
in gossamer--I could hear my cousin chatting briskly near the wheel
with Finn with intonations of voice that curiously proclaimed the
variableness of his moods to the ear, sometimes speaking with heat,
sometimes in a note of sullen expostulation, sometimes surprising the
attention with a loud ha, ha! that came floating back again to the deck
in echoes out of the silent canvas, whilst Finn’s deep sea-note rumbled
a running commentary as the baronet talked.

‘What do you think of this chase now?’ said I to Miss Laura.

‘I wish it were over,’ she answered. ‘I want to see my sister rescued
from the wretch she has run away with, Mr. Monson; but this sort of
approaching her recovery is dreadful.’

‘It is worse than dreadful,’ said I; ‘it is tedious with the threat
of a neat little tragical complication by-and-bye--any day indeed--if
Wilfrid doesn’t stow that gun in his hold or heave it overboard. The
Dutchman might very well have answered our shot had he mounted a piece
or two or driven alongside and plied us, as they used to say, with
small arms. Now one isn’t here for _that_ sort of thing, Miss Jennings.’

‘No. Is there no way of losing the cannon?’

I laughed. ‘If Wilfrid will reserve his fire until he is sure of the
“Shark” instead of blazing away at the first craft that resembles her,
the weapon might yet prove something to usefully serve his turn; for
I doubt if anything will hinder the Colonel from cracking on when he
catches sight of us, short of iron messages from the forecastle there.
But we shall not meet with the “Shark” this side the Cape, if _there_.’

‘I fear it will prove a long voyage,’ said she, with the sparkle of the
starlight in her eyes.

‘You will be glad to return?’

‘Not without my sister.’

‘But shall you be willing, Miss Jennings, supposing us to arrive at
Cape Town without falling in with the “Shark,” to persevere in this
very singular and unpromising sea quest?’

‘I will remain with Wilfrid certainly,’ she answered quietly. ‘My duty
is to help him in this search, and where he goes I shall go.’

‘But he will be acting cruelly to carry you on from the Cape unless
able to certainly tell where to find the fugitives, fixing the date too
for that matter.’

‘I see you will leave us at the Cape, Mr. Monson,’ she exclaimed with
an accent that could only come from the movement of the lips in a smile.

‘Not unless I prevail upon you to accompany me home,’ said I.

She shook her head lightly, but made no answer. Perhaps it was her
silence that rendered me sensible of the unpremeditated significance of
my speech. ‘Well,’ said I, lighting a second cigar, ‘whilst you feel it
your duty to stick to my cousin I shall feel it mine to stick to you.
Not likely I should leave you alone with him. No.’

At that instant the harsh, surly voice of old Jacob Crimp hailed the
skipper, who still stood aft talking with Wilfrid. All was in darkness
forward; it was hard upon two bells; the canvas rose as elusive to
the eye in its wanness as a dim light in windy gloom far out at sea,
and the shadow of it plunged a dye as opaque as blindness into the
obscurity from the mainmast to the forecastle rail, where the stars
were sliding up and down like a dance of fire-flies to the quiet lift
and fall of the close-hauled yacht upon the invisible folds brimming to
her port bow.

‘Capt’n,’ sung out Crimp’s melodious voice--plaintive as the notes of
a knife upon a revolving grindstone--from the heart of the murkiness
somewhere near the galley.

‘Hallo!’ answered Finn.

‘Can I speak a word with ye?’

‘Who is it wants me?’

‘The mate.’

‘Tell him to come aft,’ Wilfrid bawled out. ‘If there’s anything wrong
I must know it. Step aft, Crimp, step aft, d’ye hear?’ he cried.

Old Jacob’s stunted figure came out of the darkness and walked along to
where Finn stood.

‘What is the matter, I wonder?’ said Miss Laura.

I cocked my ear, for there is something in a hail of this sort at sea
on a dark night to put an alertness into one’s instincts and nerves.
Besides, there was no sounder snorer on board than old Jacob, and his
merely coming up on deck during his watch below, though he should have
stood mute as a ghost, was something to raise a little uneasy sense
of expectation. His voice rumbled, but I could not hear what he said.
Wilfrid shouted ‘_What_ d’ye say?’ with an expression of astonishment
and incredulity. Finn laughed in a sneering way, whilst old Jacob again
rumbled out with some sentence. Then my cousin bawled out, ‘Charles,
Charles, come here, will you?’

‘What the deuce is the matter _now_?’ said I, and Miss Laura followed
me as I went over to the group.

‘Here’s a nice pickle we’re in, Charles,’ cried Wilfrid. ‘What think
you? Crimp swears the yacht’s haunted.’

‘So she be,’ said Crimp.

‘Pity your mother didn’t sell vinegar, Jacob, that you might have
stayed at home to bottle it off,’ exclaimed Finn. ‘Haunted! That may do
for the marines, but you won’t get the sailors to believe it.’

‘That’s jist what they do then,’ remarked Crimp. ‘All the watch below
have heard it, and can’t sleep in consequence.’

‘Heard what?’ I asked.

‘The woice,’ answered Jacob, ‘the same as you and me heard t’other
night.’

‘Have _you_ heard a voice, Charles?’ exclaimed Wilfrid, suddenly
fetching a deep breath.

‘A mere fancy,’ said I.

‘Ye didn’t like it anyhow,’ said Crimp gruffly, as though speaking
aside.

‘For God’s sake, tell me about this voice, Charles,’ cried Wilfrid,
agitated all on a sudden and restless as a dog-vane, with the twitching
of his figure and the shifting of his weight from one leg to another.

I related the incident, making light of it, and tried to persuade him
that the mere circumstance of my having said nothing about it proved
that I regarded it as a deceit of the hearing.

‘Did you know of this, Laura?’ said Wilfrid.

‘As a joke only,’ she answered.

‘A joke,’ cried he, breathing deep again. ‘The voice sounded off the
sea, hey? and two of you heard it? What did it say?’ and I could see
him by the starlight looking towards the starboard quarter in the
direction whence the syllables had floated to us. ‘What did it say?’ he
repeated.

‘Why, that this here yacht was cussed,’ rattled out Jacob defiantly,
‘and dum me if I don’t think she be now that the blooming corpse
belonging to the wreck is a-jawing and a-threatening of all hands down
in the forepeak.’

‘What is this man talking about?’ I exclaimed, believing that he must
either be drunk or cracked.

‘He’s come aft to tell us, Mr. Monson,’ answered Finn, ‘that he and
others of the watch below have been disturbed by a woice in the hold
saying that there’s a ghost aboard, and that the only way to get rid of
him is to sail straight away home and end this woyage which, saving the
lady’s presence, it calls blarsted nonsense.’

I observed old Jacob’s head vigorously nodding.

‘_You’ve_ heard the voice, too, Charles?’ said Wilfrid, flitting in
short, agitated strides to and fro beside us.

‘Mr. Monson heard it twice,’ growled Jacob, ‘off the wreck as well as
off the quarter.’

‘Speak when you’re spoken to,’ cried Finn. ‘Why, spit me, Mr. Monson,
if it ain’t old Jacob’s grandmother as has signed on instead of Crimp
himself.’

‘Look here,’ said Crimp, ‘let them what disbelieves step forrards and
listen themselves.’

‘Charles, inquire into this matter with Finn, will you?’ exclaimed
Wilfrid. ‘I--I--’ he stopped and passed his hand through Miss Jennings’
arm, immediately afterwards saying with a short, nervous laugh, ‘the
sound of a supernatural voice would cost me a night’s rest.’

‘Come along, Finn,’ said I. ‘Come along, Crimp. If there be a ghost,
as our friend here says, he must promptly be laid by the heels and
despatched to the Red Sea.’

‘What did ’ee want to go and tell Sir Wilfrid about that woice you and
Mr. Monson heard t’other night?’ grumbled Finn, as we moved forwards
into the darkness towards the forehatch.

‘Cause it’s true,’ answered Crimp in his sullenest manner. ‘’Sides,
it’s time to end this here galliwanting ramble, seems to me, if we’re
going to be talked to and cursed by sperrits.’

Finn made no answer. We arrived at the forehatch and descended. The
‘Bride’s’ forecastle was a large one for a vessel of her size. On
either hand abaft was a small cabin partially bulk-headed off from
the sailors’ sleeping-room, respectively occupied by Jacob Crimp and
Cutbill. Whether the mate ate with the captain, whose berth was just
forward of the one that had been occupied by Muffin, with access by
means of a sliding door to a small living room through which he could
pass into the forecastle, I cannot say. It was a rough scene to light
upon, after the elegance, glitter, and rich dyes of the fittings of our
quarters aft, but the more picturesque for that quality as I found it
now, at least on viewing the homely and coarse interior by the light
of a small oil lamp of the shape of a block-tin coffee-pot with a
greasy sort of flame coming out of the spout, and burning darkly into a
corkscrew of smoke that wound hot and ill-flavoured to the upper deck.
There were bunks for the seamen and two or three hammocks slung right
forward; suits of oilskins hung by nails against the stanchions, and
swung to the motion of the vessel like the bodies of suicides swayed by
the wind. The deck was encumbered by sea-chests cleated or otherwise
secured. Here and there glimmering through the twilight in a bunk I
took notice of a little framed picture, a pipe rack, with other odds
and ends, trifling home memorials, and the artless conveniences with
which poor Jack equips himself. There were seamen lying in their beds,
a vision of leathery noses forking up out of a hedge of whisker, with
bright wide-awake eyes that made one think of glow-worms in a bird’s
nest; other equally hairy-faced figures in drawers and with naked feet,
huge bare arms dark with moss and prickings in ink, sat with their legs
over the edge of their bunks. It was with difficulty that I controlled
my gravity when on casting a hurried glance round the forecastle on
entering it my gaze lighted on the visage of Muffin, whose yellowness
in the dull lamplight showed with the spectral hue of ashes. His bunk
was well forward; his bare legs hung from the edge like a couple of
broomsticks: his hands were clasped; his head slightly on one side;
his posture one of alarm, amid which, however, there still lurked a
native quality of valet-like sleekness with a suggestion of respectful
apology for feeling nervous. Sweet as the ‘Bride’ was, no doubt, as a
pleasure vessel compared with other craft of those times, the odour of
this interior, improved as it was by the flaring snuff of the lamp,
not to mention a decidedly warm night, was by no means of the most
delicious. Added to this was the lift and fall of the yacht’s bows
which one felt here so strongly, that, coming fresh from the tender
heavings of the after-deck, you would have imagined a lively head sea
had sprung up on a sudden. That Muffin should have stood it astonished
me. Sleeping as he did, right in the ‘eyes,’ he got the very full of
the motion. Besides, such an atmosphere as this must needs prove the
severer as a hardship after the luminous and flower-sweetened air of
the cabin. Finn took a leisurely survey of the occupants of the bunks.

‘Well, lads!’ said he, ‘what’s the meaning of this here talk about a
woice? Mr. Crimp’s just come aft to tell me there’s somewhat a-speaking
under foot here.’

‘That’s right, sir,’ remarked Cutbill, who stood bolt upright like a
sentry in the entrance to his little berth. ‘I beg your pardon, Mr.
Monson, sir, but it’s nigh hand the same sort o’ speech as hailed us
from the wreck.’

‘’Tis the _same_!’ said a deep voice from one of the bunks.

‘Rats!’ quoth Finn contemptuously.

‘Never yet met with the rat as could damn a man’s eyes in English,’
grunted Crimp.

‘Nor in any other lingo, Mr. Crimp,’ said a singular-looking seaman,
whose face I had before taken notice of as resembling the skin of an
over-ripe lemon. He lay on the small of his back blinking at us, and
his countenance in that light, that was rendered confusing by the
sliding of shadows to the swing of the yacht, made one think of a melon
half buried in a blanket.

‘Well, but see here, my lads,’ exclaimed Finn in a voice of
expostulation, ‘what did this here woice say? _That’s_ what I want to
know. What did it _say_, men?’

‘I told ’ee,’ growled Crimp.

But old Jacob’s interpretation did not tally with that of the others.
The sailors were generally agreed that the voice had exclaimed in
effect that the yacht was cursed, and that their business was to make
haste and sail her home; but some had apparently heard more than
others, whilst a few again manifestly embellished, with a notion,
perhaps, of making the most of it; but there could be no question
whatever that human syllables, very plainly articulated, had sounded
from out of the hold; all hands were agreed as to _that_, and proof
conclusive as to the sincerity of the men might have been found in the
looks of them, one and all.

‘Silence, now!’ cried Finn; ‘let’s listen.’

We all strained our ears. Nothing broke the silence but the sulky wash
of the sea outside, seething dully, the half-stifled respirations of
the sailors, who found it difficult to control their hurricane lungs,
and the familiar creaking noises breaking out in various parts of the
fabric to her swayings. Impressed as I was by the agreement amongst
the men--and I had come besides to this forecastle with the memory
very fresh in me of the mysterious voices I had before heard--I could
scarcely hold my face as I stood listening, with my eye glancing from
one hairy countenance to another. The variety of the Jacks’ postures,
the knowing cock of a head here and there, the unwinking stare, the
strained hearkening attitude, the illustration of superstitious
emotions by expressions which were rendered grotesque by the swing
of the lamp, the half-suffocated looks of some of the fellows who
were trying to draw their breaths softly, formed a picture to appeal
irresistibly to one’s sense of the ridiculous.

Three minutes passed, it might have been hours, so long the time seemed.

‘Seems it’s done jawing, whatever it is,’ said Finn.

We listened again.

‘Tell ’ee it’s rats, lads,’ said Finn.

‘As the cuss was meant for this ’ere craft,’ exclaimed the deep voice
that had before spoken, ‘perhaps if her owner was to come below, the
sperrit, if so be it’s _that_, ’ud tarn to and talk out again.’

‘Tell ’ee, it’s rats!’ cried Finn scornfully.

‘Rats!’ exclaimed Crimp, with great irritation, ‘if that’s all why
don’t Sir Wilfrid lay forrard and listen for hisself?’

‘Won’t he come?’ said one of the men.

‘Come! no,’ rattled out Crimp, ‘and why? ’Cause he knows it’s the
truth.’

‘Well,’ exclaimed Cutbill, ‘speaking with all proper respect, seems
to me that what’s meat for the dawg ought to be meat for the man in
the likes of such a humble-come-tumble out of the maintop into the
main-hold sort o’ job as this.’

There was now some grumbling. Crimp had enabled the men to guess that
Wilfrid was afraid to enter the forecastle, and sundry sarcasms, with a
mutinous touch in them, passed from bunk to bunk.

‘Avast!’ roared Finn; ‘listen if he’ll speak now.’

But no sound resembling a human syllable entered the stillness.

‘It’s rats, I tell ’ee,’ shouted the skipper, making to go on deck.
‘Come along, Mr. Monson. Blamed now if I believe that Jacob _is_ the
only grandmother as has signed articles for this here woyage.’

But as I followed him the exclamations I caught determined me on
advising Wilfrid to come forward. He had left Miss Jennings standing
alone at the rail, and was walking swiftly here and there with an
irritability of gesture that was a sure symptom in him of a troubled
and active imagination. On catching sight of me as I emerged out of the
blind shadow on the forward part of the yacht, he cried out eagerly,
‘Well, what have you heard? Is it a voice, Charles?’

‘There is nothing to hear,’ I answered. ‘Finn disrespectfully calls it
rats.’

‘What else, your honour?’ exclaimed Finn, ‘the squeaking of rats ain’t
unlike a sort o’ language. Put the noise they make along with the
straining of bulkheads and the like of such sounds and let the boiling
be listened to by a parcel of ignorant sailors, and I allow ye’ll get
what might be tarmed a supernatural woice.’

Wilfrid burst into one of his great laughs, but immediately after
said in a grave and hollow tone, ‘But you, Charles, have before heard
something preternatural in the shape of a hail off yonder quarter, and
from the dead man you found on the wreck.’

‘Fancy, mere fancy,’ I said. ‘Gracious mercy! am I making this voyage
to carry home with me a belief in ghosts? But I wish you’d go into
the forecastle with Finn, Wilfrid, and listen for yourself. Make your
mind easy: there’s nothing to be heard. A visit from you will pacify
the men. They hold that you admit the truth of what they allege by
declining to satisfy yourself by listening. Their temper is not of the
sweetest. They should be soothed, I think, when it is to be so easily
done.’

He hung in the wind and said in a hesitating way, ‘What do you think,
Finn?’

‘Well, Sir Wilfrid, since, as Mr. Monson says, there’s nothen to hear
and nothen therefore to cause ye any agitation, I dorn’t doubt that a
wisit from you would please the sailors and calm down their minds. I’m
bound to say they’re oneasy--yes, I’m bound to say that.’

‘Come, then,’ cried my cousin, and he strided impetuously into the
darkness, followed by the skipper.

I gave Miss Laura my arm and we started on a little walk. The awning
was furled and the dew everywhere sparkled like hoar frost. The quiet
night wind sighed in the rigging, and the yacht, a point or two off her
course, and every sheet flat aft, softly broke through the black quiet
waters with dull puffs of phosphor at times sneaking by like the eyes
of secret shapes risen close to the surface to survey us. The sheen of
the binnacle light touched a portion of the figure of the fellow at the
wheel, and threw him and a segment of the circle whose spokes he held,
out upon the clear, fine, spangled dusk in phantasmal yellow outlines,
dim as the impression left on the retina by an object when the eyelid
is closed upon it.

My fair companion and I talked of the incidents of the day. One thing
was following another rapidly, I said. ’Twas like a magic-lantern show;
scarcely had one picture faded out when something fresh was brightening
in its room.

‘What manner of sound could it be,’ she asked, ‘that the sailors have
interpreted into cursings and dreadful warnings?’

‘It was no fancy on _my_ part anyway,’ said I, ‘let me put what face
I will on it to Wilfrid. If what the men profess to hear be half as
distinct as what _I_ heard, there must be some kind of sorcery at work,
I’ll swear.’

I led her to the starboard quarter, where I had stood with Crimp, and
repeated the story. The darkness gave my recital of the incident the
complexion it wanted; a tremor passed through her hand into my arm. It
was enough to make a very nightmare of the gloom, warm as it was with
the dew-laden southerly breathing, and delicate too with the small fine
light trembled into it by the stars, to think of a hail sounding out of
it from a phantasm as shapeless as any dye of gloom upon the canvas of
the night. Ten minutes passed; I then discerned the figures of Wilfrid
and Finn coming aft. My cousin’s deep breathing was audible when he was
still at a distance.

‘Well, what news?’ I called cheerily.

Wilfrid drew close and exclaimed, ‘It is true. I have heard it.’

‘Ha!’ said I, turning upon Finn.

‘By all that is blue, then, Mr. Monson, sir,’ exclaimed the worthy
fellow, ‘there _is_ somewhat a-talking below.’

‘What does it say?’ asked Miss Jennings, showing herself all on a
sudden thoroughly frightened.

‘What I heard,’ said Wilfrid in his most raven note, ‘was this, “_The
yacht is cursed. Sail her home! Sail her home!_”’

‘’Twas as plain, Mr. Monson, as his honour’s own voice,’ said Finn, in
a profoundly despondent way.

‘D’ye think, Finn,’ said I, ‘that it is a trick played off upon the
crew by some skylarking son of a gun forward?’

His head wagged against the stars. ‘I wish I could believe it, sir.
The woice was under foot. There’s nobody belonging to the ship there.
There’s no man a-missing. ’Sides, ’tain’t a human woice. Never could
ha’ believed it.’ He pulled out his pocket-handkerchief and polished
his brow.

‘Well,’ I exclaimed, ‘so long as the thing, whatever it be, keeps
forward--the deuce of it is, I’ve heard such sounds myself twice.
It can’t be fancy, then. Yet, confound it all, Wilf, there can be
nothing supernatural about it either. What is it? Shall I explore the
yacht forward? Give me a lantern, and I’ll overhaul her to my own
satisfaction anyway.’

‘You may set us on fire,’ said Wilfrid; ‘let the matter rest for
to-night. To-morrow, Finn, you can rummage the yacht.’ He started
violently: ‘_What_ can it be, though? Are we veritably haunted by the
ghost of the Portuguese?’ He tried to laugh, but the dryness of the
utterance seemed to half choke him.

‘Well, let us wait for daylight, as you say,’ cried I.

‘I am going below for some seltzer and brandy,’ said Wilfrid. ‘Finn,
you may tell the steward to give the men a glass of grog apiece.
What can it be?’ he muttered, and his long figure then flitted to the
companion, through which he vanished.

It was evident the thing had not yet had time to work in him. He was
more astonished than terrified, but I guessed that superstition would
soon be active in him, and that there was a bad night before him of
feverish imaginings and restless wandering. I could not have guessed
how frightened Miss Jennings was until I conducted her below, shortly
after Wilfrid had left the deck, where I was able to observe her scared
white face, the bewildered expression in her eyes, and a dryness of her
cherry under-lip, that kept her biting upon it. Her maid shared her
berth, and I was mighty thankful to feel that the sweet creature had
a companion. Indeed, had she been alone, one might have wagered she
would not have gone to bed that night. My cousin drank freely, but for
all that a gloom of spirits settled upon him as slowly and surely as
a fog thickens out the atmosphere and darkens down upon the view. He
talked with heat and excitement of the strange voice at the first going
off, but after a little he grew morose, absent-minded, with symptoms
of temper that made me extremely weary, and I fetched a breath with
a positive sigh of relief when he abruptly rose, bade us brusquely
good-night, and went, in long, melodramatic strides, to his cabin.

I did my best to inspirit Miss Jennings, but I was not very successful.
It may be that I was more half-hearted in my manner of going to work
than I was conscious of. It never could come to my telling her more
than that we might be quite sure, if we could only solve the mystery of
the sounds which had frightened all hands forward, and aft, too, for
the matter of that, we should be heartily ashamed of our fears in the
face of the abject commonplace of the disclosure. She shook her head.

‘It might be as you say,’ she said; ‘but if this strange voice
continues to be heard, indeed should it not speak again and yet
remain unriddled, what shall we think? I am frightened, I own it. I
do not believe in spirits, Mr. Monson, in haunting shadows, and other
inventions of old nurses; but I cannot forget that _you_ have heard
such a voice as this twice--you who are so--so----’

‘Stupid,’ said I.

‘Matter of fact, Mr. Monson.’

But talking about the thing was not going to help her nerves. She went
to bed at ten o’clock, and feeling too sleepy for a yarn with Finn I
withdrew to my cabin. I found myself a bit restless, however, when I
came to put my head upon the pillow, and would catch myself listening,
and sometimes I fancied I could hear a faint sound as of a person
talking in a low voice. Then it was I would curse myself for a fool
and turn angrily in my bed. Yet for all that, I would fall a-listening
again. It was quiet weather still, as it had been since sundown. In the
blackness of my cabin I could see a bright star sliding up and down the
ebony of the glass of the scuttle, with a pause at intervals, when it
would beam steadfastly and intelligently upon me as though it were a
human eye. Now and again the water went away from the side in a stifled
sob. I could have prayed for such another squall as I have described
to burst upon us for the life that would come to the spirit out of the
lightning flash, the roar of thunder, the shriek of wind, the fierce
blow of the black surge, and the tempestuous hiss of its dissolving
spume. I cudgelled my wits for a solution of the voice, but to no
purpose. It was ridiculous to suppose that a man lay hidden below. For
what sailor of the crew but would not be quickly missed? And then again
I had but to consider, to understand what I had not thought of on deck,
I mean that even if a pair of hurricane lungs were secreted in the
hold it was scarce conceivable that their utmost volume of sound could
penetrate through the thick, well-caulked planking of the forecastle
deck.

At last I fell asleep.



CHAPTER XX.

MUFFIN IS PUNISHED.


It was seven o’clock when I awoke. I at once rose, bathed, and went
on deck, thinking, as I passed through the cabin and observed the
brilliant effect of the sunshine streaming through porthole and
skylight in rippling silver upon the shining bulkheads, the radiant
lamps, the mirrors, rich carpet and elegant draperies of the cabin,
what a very insignificant figure a night-fear cuts by daylight. The
wind was north-east, a merry shining morning with a wide blue heaven
full of liquid lustre softened by many small white clouds blowing into
the south-west, and rich as prisms with the rainbow lights that kindled
in their skirts as they sailed past the sun. The firm line of the ocean
went round the sky tenantless. The yacht was making good way, running
smoothly over the crisping and crackling waters under an airy spread
of studdingsail which trembled a light into the water far beyond her
side. Finn was on deck standing aft with his back upon the companion. I
walked leisurely over to him with vitality in the very last recesses of
my being stirred by the exquisite sweetness and freshness of the long,
pure sunlit gushing of the wind.

‘Good morning, Captain Finn.’ He turned and touched his cap. ‘How long
is this delicious weather going to last, I wonder? Nothing in sight,
eh? Bless us, captain, when are we going to run the “Shark” into view?’

He looked at me with a curious expression which his smile, that was
always in the middle of his face, rendered exceedingly odd, and said,
‘Did ye hear anything like a mysterious woice, sir, last night after
you’d turned in?’

‘I was for fancying,’ I answered, ‘that the atmosphere crawled with
indistinguishable whispers. But I suppose without imagination there
would be no lunatic asylums.’

He said, still preserving his odd look, ‘The sperrit’s discovered, sir.’

‘Gammon!’ I exclaimed.

‘Ay! we’ve got hold of the woice!’ he cried gleefully. ‘Did ye ever see
a ghost, Mr. Monson, sir? Look! _There’s_ the corpse as belonged to the
wreck, and _there’s_ the happarition as was a cursing of this yacht
last night in the forepeak, and your honour may take it that _there_
is the invisible shape whose hail from off yon quarter has given old
Jacob the blues;’ and all the time that he spoke he was pointing to the
fore-rigging just under the cross-trees.

I had before lightly glanced at a man up there, but had given him no
heed whatever, as I supposed him to be a sailor at work. But now I
looked again, shading my eyes.

‘Muffin!’ I cried with a gasp of astonishment. ‘Do you mean to
say----?’ and I veritably staggered as the full truth and absurdity of
the thing rushed upon me.

He hung in the rigging facing seawards, and there was turn upon turn
of rope round his arms and legs; indeed, he was as snugly secured to
the shrouds as if he had been a sample of chafing gear. The sailors had
compassionately jammed his hat down on his head, and in the shadow of
the brim of it his face looked of the sickly yellow hue of tallow. But
he was too high to enable me to witness the expression he wore. He had
nothing on but his shirt and a pair of grimy duck trousers rolled to
above his knees.

‘What do you think of him as a sperrit, sir?’ cried Finn, with a loud
hoarse laugh which caused the sailors at work forward to look up
grinning at Muffin, who hung as motionless in the shrouds as if he lay
in a faint there.

‘How long has he been seized aloft?’ said I, with something of a pang
coming to me out of the sight of him, for there followed close on my
first emotion of astonishment a sort of admiration for the outlandish
genius of the creature that worked in me like a feeling of pity.

‘Since dawn,’ answered Finn. ‘The men put him where he is. I let ’em
have their way. I was afeered they might have used him in an uglier
fashion, sir. Jack don’t like to be made a fool of, your honour. Old
Jacob, I’m told, felt bloodthirsty. Ye see, ye can’t take a view of
them sailors, specially such a chap as Cutbill, and think of ’em as
lambs.’

‘He must be an amazingly clever ventriloquist, though,’ said I. ‘Of
course! All’s as clear as daylight now. He was leaning over the rail
when Crimp and I were talking on that night we heard the voice. I
caught sight of him in the cabin a minute after the cry had sounded.
The dexterous rogue; he must have sneaked with amazing swiftness below.
A consummate actor, indeed! How was he discovered?’

‘Why,’ answered Finn, with a slow shake of laughter, ‘there’s a chap
named Harry Blake, as occupies the bunk just over him. Blake, like
O’Connor, is an Irishman, with a skin as curdles to the thought of a
ghost. He was more frightened than any other man forrards, and lay
awake listening. Time passed: all the watch was snoring saving this
here Blake. On a sudden he hears the woice. He sits up, all of a muck
o’ sweat. Why, thinks he, it’s the mute as lies under me a-talking in
his sleep! He drops on to the deck and looks at Muffin, who presently
fell a-talking again in his sleep, using the hidentical words that Sir
Wilfrid had heard, and the tone o’ woice was the same, sort o’ muffled
and dim-like; but it wasn’t pitched fit to make a scare, seeing, of
course, that the hartist was unconscious. On this Blake sings out,
kicks up a reg’lar hullabaloo, tells the men that the woice was a trick
of Muffin’s. Muffin being half-dazed and terrified by the sailors
crowding round his berth, threatening of him, confesses and says that
he did it with the notion of terrifying Sir Wilfrid into returning
home, as his life had growed a burden. The men then called a council to
settle what should be done with him, and it ended when daybreak come in
their seizing him up aloft as ye see there, where they mean to keep him
until I’ve consulted with Sir Wilfrid as to the sort of punishment the
chap merits.’

‘What shall you propose, Captain Finn?’ said I, with a glance at the
bound figure, whose motionlessness made him seem lifeless, and whose
posture, therefore, was not a little appealing.

‘Sir,’ answered Finn, ‘I shall recommend his honour to leave it to the
men.’

‘But they may hang him?’

‘No; I’ll see they stop short of that. But, Mr. Monson, sir, begging
your pardon, I’m sure you’ll allow with me that Muffin’ll desarve all
he’s likely to get. Speaking as master of this wessel, I say that if he
hadn’t been found out in good time it might have gone blazing hard with
all of us. The men were saucy enough last night, growling indeed as if
it was next door to a mutiny being under way; and yet it was the first
time of the woice speaking in the hold. Imagine it going on for several
nights! It was bound to end in all hands giving up unless we shifted
our helm for home, which Sir Wilfrid would never have consented to; so
there ye’d have had a quandary as bad as if the sailors had been laid
low with p’ison, or as if the “Bride” had tarned to and leaked at every
butt end. Then think of his anointing his honour’s cabin with flaming
letters; all to sarve his own measly wish to git out of an ondertaking
that he don’t relish.... Mr. Monson, sir, he wants a lesson, something
arter the whipping and pickling business o’ my father’s day, and sooner
than that he should miss of his desarts by striving to get to windward
of the soft side of his honour’s nature, I’m damned,’ said he, striking
his open hand with his clenched fist, ‘if I wouldn’t up and tell Sir
Wilfrid myself that it was that there Muffin as wrote the shining words
about his honour’s baby.’

‘Best not do that,’ said I. ‘We want no tragedies aboard us, Finn.
However, you may count upon my not interfering; but for God’s sake let
there be no brutality.’

‘That’ll be all right, sir,’ answered the skipper, with such a look,
however, at the helpless and stirless figure in the rigging as
satisfied me that his inclination, at present at all events, was not
towards mercy.

It was not a sort of sight to make the deck a pleasant lounge till
breakfast time. I was moved by some compassion for the unfortunate
creature, mainly due, I believe, to a secret admiration for his
remarkable skill and dramatic cunning; and understanding that the
sooner Wilfrid was apprised of this business the sooner would Muffin be
brought down out of the shrouds, I stepped below. The head steward came
out of my cousin’s cabin as I approached the door.

‘Is Sir Wilfrid getting up?’ said I.

‘I’ve just taken him his hot water, sir. He isn’t out of bed yet. He’s
very heavy; had a bad night, I’ve been told, sir----’

I passed on and knocked.

‘What is it?’ cried Wilfrid, in a drowsy, irritable voice.

I entered, and said, ‘Sorry to disturb you, Wilf, but there’s news that
will interest you.’

He started up. ‘The “Shark”?’ he cried.

‘No,’ I answered, ‘they’ve found out who talked like a ghost last
night; who it was that whispered off the ocean to Crimp and me that
this yacht was cursed; and who it was that made the corpse on the wreck
hail us.’

He sat bolt upright with eyes and nostrils large with excitement. ‘Who?’

‘Muffin,’ said I.

‘Muffin!’ he shouted; ‘what d’ye mean, Charles?’

‘Why, the fellow’s a ventriloquist, an incomparable artist, I should
say, to deceive us all so atrociously well.’

He stared at me with a face of dumb astonishment. ‘What was his motive,
think you?’ he asked presently.

‘He’s pining to get home,’ I replied; ‘he’s capable of any tricks to
achieve that end. The men mean to punish him, and Finn is waiting to
confer with you on the subject. They’ve had him lashed to the rigging
aloft since daybreak.’

‘The scoundrel!’ he cried, springing on to the deck with a dark look of
rage, yet with an indescribable note of relief as of a mind suddenly
eased, softening the first harshness and temper of his voice. ‘I have
to thank him for a frightful night. What a fool I am,’ he cried,
vehemently striking his forehead, ‘to suffer myself to be terrified by
things which I ought to know--which I _ought_ to know,’ he repeated
with passionate emphasis, ‘cannot be as they seem.’

‘Well, Wilf,’ said I, ‘you will find Finn on deck. He will tell you all
about it, and you will leave the fellow’s punishment to the men, or
settle with Finn the sort of discipline the man deserves, as you shall
think proper. I wash my hands of the affair, satisfied with Finn’s
promise that there shall be no brutality.’ With which I left him and
returned to my cabin, where I lay reading till the breakfast bell rang.

Miss Jennings was alone in the cabin. She stood with head inclined
over some flowers which still bloomed in the mould in which they had
been brought from England. The sunshine of her hair blended with the
pinks and whites of the petals, and the gems on her hands trembled like
dewdrops on the leaves of the plants as she lightly touched them with
fingers half caressing, half adjusting. Her look of astonishment when I
told her that the voice we had heard was a trick of Muffin’s was like
a view of her beauty in a new light; amazement with a sparkle as of
laughter behind it to throw out the expression, rounded her eyes and
deepened their hue. Then the little creature clasped her hands with
gratitude that the thing should have been discovered.

‘Muffin is quite a rascal,’ she said, ‘and so clever as to be a real
danger.’ She could scarcely credit that he had skill enough to deceive
the ear as he had.

Wilfrid was slow in coming; I could see him through the skylight
walking with Finn, gesticulating much, with a frequent look in the
direction where, as I might gather, Master Muffin still hung. He kept
Miss Laura and me waiting for nearly a quarter of an hour, during
which I explained how Muffin had been discovered, how Wilfrid had gone
on deck to arrange a punishment for him, and the like. Presently my
cousin arrived, and on catching sight of Miss Jennings, cried out in
his most boyish manner, ‘Only think, my dear, that our superstitious
alarms last night should be owing to a trick, but a deuced clever
trick, of that illiterate, yellow-faced, tearful, half-cracked son of a
greengrocer--Muffin. I never could have believed he had it in him. Eh,
Charles? Mad, of course; I don’t say dangerously so, but warped, you
know, or is it likely that he would practise so cruel and dangerous a
deceit merely because he wants to get home? Why, d’ye know, Charles,
Finn gravely swears that, had the rascal persisted successfully for
two or three nights, the yacht would have been in an uproar of mutiny,
perhaps seized, ay, actually seized, through the terror of the crew,
and sailed home--ending all my hopes.’

‘How is he to be served?’

‘Finn proposes,’ he answered, ‘that the men should form a court--a
judge and jury. Their decision will be brought aft for our approval.
If the sentence be a reasonable one, the fellows will be allowed to
execute it.’

Miss Jennings looked scared.

‘They won’t hurt him much,’ said I. ‘Finn has pledged his word to me.
’Tis the fright that will do him good. Is he out of the rigging, Wilf?’

‘Probably by this time,’ he answered. ‘I told Finn to get him sent
down and fed. The sun is hot up there, and the poor devil faced it.’

Whilst we breakfasted I had much to say about the fellow’s singular
accomplishment as a ventriloquist; suggested that by-and-by he should
be brought aft to entertain us, and expressed wonder that a man so
gifted, qualified by nature, moreover, to dress up his singular and
special faculty with the airs of as theatrical a countenance as ever I
had heard of, should be satisfied with the mean offices of a valet. But
my flow of speech was presently checked by a change of mood in Wilfrid.
His face darkened; he pushed his plate from him, and let fly at Muffin
in language which would not have been wanting in profanity probably had
Miss Jennings been absent.

‘Do you remember those strange warnings that I received about my little
one?’ he cried, turning a wild eye upon me. ‘After the gross deception
of last night, who’s to tell me that I might not have been made a fool
of in that too?’

I shot a hurried glance of meaning and warning at Miss Jennings, and
said carelessly, ‘Depend upon it, we can never be the victims of more
than our senses in this life.’

‘Why should the creature have left me to go forward?’ he shouted.

I touched my forehead with a smile. ‘When you engaged this fellow,’
said I, ‘you supposed his brain healthy anyway. Now, my dear Wilf, the
motive of this voyage supplies plenty of occupation to the mind, and
there is excitement enough to be got out of it without the obligation
of a lunatic to wait upon you.’

He burst into a laugh, without however a hint of merriment in it, and
then fell silent and most uncomfortably moody. Shortly afterwards he
went on deck.

‘What’ll they do to Muffin, Mr. Monson, do you think?’ Miss Laura asked.

‘I cannot imagine,’ said I; ‘they may duck him from the yardarm, they
may spreadeagle and refresh him with a few dozens; punish him they
will. Finn is hot against him. He is quite right in suggesting that a
few such experiences as that of last night might--indeed must--have
ended in a perilous mutiny. Are you coming on deck?’

‘No.’

‘But it is a beautiful morning. The breeze is as sweet as milk, and the
clouds as radiant as though the angels were blowing soap-bubbles.’

‘I do not care; I shall remain in the cabin. Do you think I could
witness a man being ducked or whipped? I should faint.’

‘Well, I’ll go and view the spectacle, so as to be able to give you the
story of it.’

She pouted, and cried, ‘Wretched Muffin! Why did Wilfrid bring him?
Lend me one of Scott’s novels, Mr. Monson. I cannot get on with that
story about the nobility.’

I was not a little surprised, on passing through the companion hatch,
to find that the first act of the drama was about to begin. The whole
of the ship’s company, with the exception of the man who was at the
wheel, were assembled on the forecastle. Crimp and Finn stood together
near the forerigging, looking on. One of the sailors, who I afterwards
learned was Cutbill, had pinned a blanket over his shoulders to serve
him as a robe, whilst on his head he wore a contrivance that might have
been a pudding-bag, though what it really was I could not distinguish.
He had covered his chin and cheeks with a quantity of oakum, and
presented a very extraordinary appearance as he sat with a great air of
dignity on the top of a small bread cask. Six sailors stood wing-like
on either hand him, constituting the jury, as I supposed. Confronting
Cutbill was Muffin between two brawny salts, each of whom held him
by the arm. The valet made a most melancholy figure, and even at the
distance of the quarterdeck I could see his naked yellow shanks, his
breeches being turned above the knees, quivering and yielding, till I
began to think that the two sailors held him, not as a prisoner, but to
prevent him from tumbling down.

Wilfrid was swinging to and fro the quarter-deck with long flighty
strides, taking an eager, probing, short-sighted stare at the crowd
forward when he faced them, and then rounding to step aft with a grin
on his face and his underlip working as though he talked.

‘I’m glad to see Cutbill making a fool of himself,’ said I. ‘Jack’s
jinks are seldom dangerous when he introduces skylarking after the
pattern of that fellow’s make-up. Shall we step forward and hear the
trial, Wilf?’

‘No,’ said he, ‘it would be undignified. Every man to the end he
belongs to aboard a ship. Finn is there to see all fair. Besides,
Muffin might appeal to me or to you--and I mean that the sailors shall
have their way with him, providing, of course, that they don’t carry
things too far.’

‘Let’s sit, then,’ said I; ‘your seven-league boots are too much for me
this hot morning.’

He called to the steward to bring him his pipe, and we posted ourselves
on the grating abaft the wheel. It was a very gem of a picture just
then. The canvas rose spreading on high in clouds of soft whiteness
so silver-like to the burning of the sun that viewed from a little
distance I don’t doubt they would have shone upon the eye with the
sparkle of crystal or the richer gleam of a pearl-encrusted surface.
The decks went forward pure as ivory, every shadow so sharp that
it looked as though an artist had been at work upon the planks
counterfeiting the rigging and every curve of stirless cloth and all
delicate interlacery of ratline and gear running crosswise. The sea
sloped in dark blue summer undulations, light as the rise and fall of
the breast of a sleeping girl, into the liquid azure upon the starboard
bow, where the steam-white clouds were gathered in a huddle like a
great flock of sheep waiting for the rest that were on their way there
to join them. The crowd on the forecastle filled that part of the
vessel with colour. It was the fuller of life for the coming and going
of the shadows of the far-reaching studdingsails and the marble-like
arch of the flowing squaresail on the many dyes of the tough, knotted,
bearded groups of faces with heads of hair and wiry whiskers ranging
from the blackness of the rook’s plumes to a pale straw colour, most
of the beards wagging to the excited gnawing upon junks of tobacco
standing high in the cheek-bones, with here a wrinkled grin, there a
sour cast, all combining to a picture that I have but to close my eyes
to witness bright and vivid again as though it were of yesterday.

The trial was very decorously conducted; there were no jeers, no cries,
no noise of any kind. I could hear the rumble of Cutbill’s deep-sea
notes, and once or twice Muffin’s response, faint as the squeak of a
rat deep down. Crimp was called as a witness, and declaimed a bit, but
nothing reached me save the sulky rasp of his voice. The fooling did
not last long. Cutbill got on top of his cask to address the jury,
and I saw the fellow at the wheel near us shaking his sides at the
preposterous figure of the man as he hugged his blanket to his heart,
gravely nodding with his pudding-bag first to the six men on his left,
then to the six men on his right, whilst he delivered his charge. When
this was ended Captain Finn, with a look aft, sang out at the top of
his voice, evidently that we should hear him:

‘Now, my lads, you who constitute the jury, what’s your vardict? Is the
prisoner at the bar guilty or not guilty?’

‘Guilty!’ all twelve men roared out at once, on which Cutbill, still
erect on his cask, passed judgment.

I strained my ear, but to no purpose. It was a monotonous rigmarole of
a speech, and so long that I turned with a face of dismay to Wilfrid.

‘I say, what are they going to do with him? Why, Cutbill has said
enough to include whipping, ducking, roasting, hanging, and quartering.’

‘They only mean to frighten him,’ he answered, looking anxious
nevertheless.

The two men who grasped Muffin walked him into the head, faced him
round, and stood on either hand him, still preserving their hold.
Finn came aft, the men meanwhile hanging about in a body forward in a
posture of waiting.

‘Well, what is decided on?’ cried Wilfrid, eagerly and nervously.

Finn touched his cap. He tried to look grave, but secret enjoyment was
very visible in the twinkle of his eye, spite of the portentous curve
of his mouth and the long drop of his chops to his chin end.

‘Your honour, the men’s vardict is that the prisoner’s to be cobbed and
ducked.’

‘Cobbed!’ cried Wilfrid, whilst I exclaimed ‘Ducked!’ with a look at
the fore yardarm that stood high above the sea.

‘Every man’ll give him a blow with a rope’s end as he walks forrard,’
explained Finn, ‘and arterwards cool him with a bucket o’ water apiece.’

Wilfrid’s eyes came to mine.

‘It will depend upon how hard every man hits,’ said I; ‘the ducking
is innocent enough. Yet I see nothing of cruelty in the sentence; and
really the fellow not only requires to be punished, but to be terrified
as well.’

‘The hands are waiting for me to tell ’em to begin, your honour,’ said
Finn with a glance forward. ‘It’ll make the punishment too severe to
keep the poor devil a-waiting for it.’

‘One moment,’ exclaimed Wilfrid, ‘did he offer any excuses?’

‘Why, sir, he said he was egged on with the desire to return to his
mother and get off the sea which disagrees with his insides and affects
his hintellectuals. He says he meant no more harm than that. Don’t
believe he did, but it might have ended in some smothering trouble all
the same. “I came as a walet,” says he, “and here now am I,” says he,
“broke--just a ship’s dog, a filthy scullion,” says he, “when my true
calling,” says he, “is that of gentleman’s gentleman.”’

‘But, confound him!’ cried Wilfrid, ‘it was he who left me; I did not
dismiss him. He went forward of his own will.’

‘My dear Wilfrid, he is cracked,’ said I.

‘Get on, get on, and make an end of this, now, Finn,’ exclaimed
Wilfrid, with a little colour of temper in each cheek. ‘I’m weary of
the business, and want these decks cleared and quiet to the eye.’

The skipper promptly trudged forward, and sung out as he advanced. In a
few moments most of the sailors had ranged themselves along the deck in
a double line. Every man held a piece of rope in his hand--reef points
they looked to me, though whether they had been cut for this special
business or had been hunted for amidst raffle of the kind forward I
cannot say. Meanwhile a couple of seamen handed buckets full of water
along from a little pump in the head until every man had one at his
feet. When these preparations were completed the brace of salts who
had charge of Muffin suddenly whipped off his shirt, and laid bare
his back, so that he stood in nothing but a pair of breeches, a very
radish of a figure--his yellow anatomy glancing dully in the sunshine,
whilst the ghastly pallor of his face was heightened yet by his plaster
of coal-black hair, just as his inward terror was accentuated by the
corkscrew-like writhing of his lean legs, the convulsive twitching of
his arms, and the dismal rolling of his dead black, lustreless eyes.
It was impossible not to feel sorry for the wretched creature. One
felt that he was entitled, by virtue of the remarkable gift he had
displayed, to a discipline of a more dignified sort than he was now
to be subjected to. I laughed out, however, when Cutbill formed a
procession. Absurdity could not have gone beyond the figure the great
whiskered tarpaulin cut in his blanket and the canvas bag that served
him as headgear as, making a sign, he tragically entered the double
line of men, beating with his hands that Muffin and his two supporters
should keep time with his strides. When Muffin was brought to the
aftermost end of the rank of seamen Cutbill seized him by the neck and
forced him to give us a bow. The two sailors who had conducted him to
this point then posted themselves with the others, each of them picking
up a rope’s end, whereupon Cutbill, twisting Muffin so as to force him
to face the vessel’s forecastle, took a couple of strides backwards,
extending his arms under his blanket to hinder Muffin from running
forwards.

‘Lay on now!’ he hoarsely bawled, and then whack! whack! whack!
whack! sounded upon the unhappy Muffin’s spine as rhythmically as the
tapping of a land-crab’s claws upon a polished floor. Every fellow
administered his single blow with a will, one or two spitting on their
hands before their turn came. The sufferer writhed pitifully to the
very first stroke, and to the fourth howled out like a dog. The sight
half-sickened me, and yet I found myself laughing--though, I dare
say, there was something of hysteric nervousness in my merriment--at
the preposterous spectacle of the staggering, twitching, dodging,
almost nude figure of Muffin, throwing out into strong relief the huge
blanketed form of Cutbill, who, with arms extended, his head with its
adornment of oakum nodding gravely from side to side, as if bestowing
approbation on each man for the blow he dealt, strode backwards on
majestic legs, carefully turning out his toes as though he were giving
Muffin a lesson in dancing, and sliding along the lines of knotted,
hairy faces, with the air of some court functionary marshalling the
progress of royalty.

As the echo of the last whack rose hollowly off Muffin’s back, the
skin of which was unbroken, though it was barred with white lines
that resembled flakes of peeled onion, Cutbill whirled him round
again, choking the yell he was in the act of delivering into a moan,
and ran him back to where he had first started. The ropes’ ends
were now dropped; every man seized his bucket, and as Muffin moved,
slowly confronted as before by Cutbill, who barricaded the way with
outstretched arms, striding backwards once again with Cape-Horn graces,
he received a deluge full in his face one after another till I thought
the very breath would have been washed out of his body.

‘Now cut down below and dry and clothe yourself,’ roared Finn, as the
last bucket was emptied over the shivering creature, ‘and the next
time, my lad, ye try any of your pranks upon e’er a man aboard this
wessel, whether he lives forward or whether he lives aft, we’ll send ye
aloft to that yardarm there with a rope round your neck.’

Cutbill whipped off his blanket and tore the oakum and cap off his
head. In a few brief moments the decks resounded with the slapping of
sailors swabbing up the wet; buckets were stowed away in their places,
the rope’s-ends collected, and in an incredibly short space of time
all was as though no such incident as I have related had happened, the
planks drying fast, some seamen aft spreading the awning, other fellows
at their several jobs in the rigging or on deck, just a grin now and
again passing amongst them, but no laughter and no talk, and the yacht
softly pushing forwards under the increasing glory of the sun fast
approaching his meridian.

‘We shall hear no more of Muffin, I think,’ said Wilfrid, showing
nothing of the excitement I had expected to find in him.

‘No,’ said I, with a yawn, and sickened somewhat by the business that
had just ended, ‘but all this sort of business doesn’t look like the
errand that has brought us out on to the face of these broad waters.’

‘Ay,’ said he, ‘but that errand was in jeopardy until this morning.’

He went to the rail and took a long thirsty look ahead. I waited
thinking he meant to return. Instead he folded his arms and continued
gazing, motionless, with eyes so intently fixed that I took a look too,
conceiving that he beheld something to fix his attention. A strange
expression of surprise entered his face, his brow lightened, an air
of eagerness sharpened his visage. ’Twas as likely as not that he saw
with his mind’s eye what he craved to behold in reality, and that the
vision a sudden craze had raised up before him was as actual to his
tainted imagination as if it lay bright to all hands upon the sea-line.
But I felt wearied to the heart, sick as from a sort of ground-swell
of emotion, worried with sharper longings to make an end of this idle
quest than had ever before visited me. The mere sight of Wilfrid’s
posture and face was enough to increase the fit of the blues upon me
just then, and I quietly slipped below for such sunny influence as was
to be got out of the presence of the sweet little woman in the cabin.



CHAPTER XXI.

HEAVY WEATHER.


After this, for a good many days nothing in any degree noteworthy
happened. It seemed, indeed, as though whatever little there was to
alarm or divert during this extraordinary voyage had been packed
into the beginning of it. Muffin lay ill of his back for two days
in his bunk; but for Wilfrid, Finn would have had the poor devil up
and about within an hour of drying and dressing himself. The skipper
could not forgive that menace of mutiny which had been involved
in the yellow-faced joker’s effort to procure the shifting of the
yacht’s helm for home, and he would always refer privately to me
with violent indignation to the valet’s trick upon his master. But on
Wilfrid’s hearing that the man was in pain and that his nerves had
been prostrated by the punishment, he ordered Finn to let him remain
below until he was better or well. There was no more ventriloquism;
the midnight silence of the forecastle was left unvexed by muffled
imprecations. The sailors, when Muffin left his bunk, asked him to
give them an entertainment, to which he replied by saying he would see
them in a nameless place first. The request, indeed, maddened him. I
gathered from sullen Crimp’s sour version of the incident that Muffin
shrieked at the men, shook his fist at them, his eyes started half out
of his head, the foam gathered upon his lips, and he heaped curses and
oaths of a nature so novel, so unimaginable, indeed, upon them, that
the stoutest shrunk back from the screaming creature, believing him
to be raving mad. However, he behaved himself very quietly on deck.
I never caught him looking our way nor speaking, nor heard him again
singing in a dog-watch in his woman’s voice. Life grew so tedious that
I should have been glad to see him aft again for the sake of his parts
as a mimic and actor. I was certain the man would have contrived a
very good entertainment for us night after night; but Wilfrid said no,
angrily and obstinately, once and for all, and so the subject dropped.

The north-east trades blew a fresh breeze and bowled us handsomely
athwart the broad blue field of the Atlantic. The ‘Bride’ was a noble
sailer when she had the chance, and some of our runs rose to three
hundred miles in the twenty-four hours, with a hill of snow at either
bow and the frothing surge of the trades chasing us, and a sensible
increase of heat day after day in the loud and shrilling sweep of air
and the glitter of flying-fish sparking on wings of gauze from the
white and gold of our vessel’s shearing passage. We had entered the
tropics, but had met with no ship that we could speak. At times a sail
shone, but always afar. The lookout aloft was as steadfast as the
rising and sinking of the sun. Day after day the polished tube up there
was sweeping the glass-like sapphire of the ocean boundary, steadily
circling the firm line of it, sweeping from either quarter to ahead.
But the cry of ‘Sail ho!’ delivered at long intervals never resulted in
more than the disclosure of a rig of a very different pattern from what
we were in pursuit of.

A settled gloom fell upon my cousin’s spirits. He complained of
sleeplessness; his appetite failed him, he talked but little, and his
one subject was the ‘Shark.’ I would sometimes long for a startling
incident to shake him out of the melancholy that sat darkly as the
shadow of madness upon him. Miss Jennings tried hard to keep up her
heart, but already I could see that the monotony of the voyage, coupled
with an incessant strain of expectation, was proving too much for
her. She had come to this strange quest, taking my cousin’s word for
what was to happen. She had given Wilfrid’s programme of hopes no
consideration. We were bound to fall in with the ‘Shark’ at sea, or
at the very worst to arrive at the Cape before her, and there lie in
wait. She was finding out now that the ocean was the prodigious plain I
had represented it for a pursuit of this kind, and that the journey had
already grown infinitely tedious, though Table Bay lay some thousands
of miles distant yet. Still, she stuck to her guns manfully. Her heart
would show in her eyes when she thought herself unobserved; but if
ever I approached the subject, in conversing with her on the vagueness
and vanity of this pursuit, she would tell me that it was idle to
talk, that she had made up her mind, that she had cast in her lot with
Wilfrid in this chase, and that whilst he continued to pursue his wife,
no matter to what part of the world he might direct Finn to steer the
vessel, she would remain at his side.

‘Should I ever forgive myself, do you think, Mr. Monson,’ she would
argue, ‘if after I had left him Wilfrid found Henrietta, and she
refused to return with him for lack, perhaps, of the influence I should
be able to exert?’

‘Ay, but do not you suppose too much?’ I would answer. ‘_Perhaps_
Wilfrid might fall in with his wife; _perhaps_ she might decline to
have anything to do with him; _perhaps_ if you were present she might
yield to your entreaties. As my sympathies are not so deeply concerned
as yours, I am able possibly to take more practical views. The one
staggering consideration with me is this: we arrive at Table Bay and
find the “Shark” has sailed, and there is nobody to tell us where she
has gone. Figure our outlook then!’

‘But you are supposing too. The “Shark” _may_ arrive whilst we are
lying in Table Bay. What then, Mr. Monson?’

It was idle talk, though to her ‘what then?’ I might have replied by
another question: ‘If Lady Monson, at Table Bay, should decline to
allow her husband to carry her home in his yacht, _what then?_’

It must have fared hard with me, I think, but for this girl; for had I
had during this journey no other companion than Wilfrid, likely as not
it would have ended in my carrying ‘a bee in my bonnet’ for the rest of
my days. Between us we managed to kill many tedious hours with cards,
chess, chats, reading aloud, whilst Wilfrid lay hid in God knows what
mysterious occupation in his cabin, or paced the deck alone, austere,
unapproachable, with an iron sneer on his lip and on his brow the scowl
of a dark mood out of which you might have looked to see him burst
into some wild, unreasoning piece of behaviour, some swearing fit or
insane soliloquy--one knew not what; only that the air of him held you
restless with expectation of trouble in that way.

The night-time was the fairest part of this queer trip when we got
under the tropic heights, with failing breezes, hot and moist,
softly-running surges languidly gushing into a sheet-lightning of
phosphoric froth, a full moon that at her meridian came near to
the brilliance of sunrise, the planets large, trembling, and of
heavenly beauty, a streak of dim fire in the dark water over the
counter denoting the subtle, sneaking pursuit of some huge fish; and
reflections of white stars like dim water-lilies riding the polished
ebony heave when it ran foamless. Evening after evening on such nights
as these would Miss Laura and I placidly step the deck together or sit
watching the exquisite effects of moonlight on sail and cordage; or the
rising of the luminary above the black rim of ocean, with the tremble
of the water in its light as though the deep thrilled to the first kiss
of the moonbeams gliding from one romantic fancy to another as tenderly
as our keel floated over the long-drawn respirations of the deep.
Indeed, it would come sometimes to my thinking that if the ‘Bride’ were
my yacht and Laura and I alone in her--with a crew to navigate the
craft, to be sure--I should be very well satisfied to go on sailing
about in this fashion in these latitudes, under those glorious stars
and upon these warm and gentle seas, until she tired. In its serene
moonlit moods the ocean possesses an incomparable and amazing magic of
spiritualising. The veriest commonplace glows into poetic beauty under
the mysterious, vitalising, enriching influence. I have seen a girl
whom no exaggerated courtesy could have pronounced comely by daylight,
show like an angel on the deck of a yacht on a hushed and radiant night
when the air has been brimming to the stars with the soft haze of
moonlight, and when the sea has resembled a carpet of black silk softly
waving. The moon is a witch, and her pencils of light are charged with
magic qualities. In the soft golden effulgence my companion’s face
would sometimes grow phantasmal, a dream of girlish loveliness, the
radiance of her hair and skin blending with the rich illusive light
till I would sometimes think if I should glance away from her and then
look again, I should find her fairy countenance melted--a romantic
confession that tells the story of my heart! Yes, I was far gone; no
need to deny it. Our association was intimate to a degree that no
companionship ashore could approach. Wilfrid left us alone together for
hour after hour, and there was nobody to intrude upon us. Finn clearly
understood what was happening, and sour old Crimp was always careful to
leave us one side of the deck to ourselves.

But there was now to happen a violent change: a transformation of
peaceful, amorous conditions of the right kind to affright romance and
to drive the spirit of poetry cowering out of sight.

We were in latitude about eight degrees north; the longitude I do not
remember. The night had been very quiet but thick; here and there a
star that was a mere lustreless blur in the void, and the water black
and sluggish as liquid pitch without a gleam in it. The atmosphere had
been so sultry that I could get no rest. The yacht dipped drearily
from side to side, shaking thunder out of her canvas and sending a
sound, like a low sobbing wail, off her sides into the midnight gloom.
This prevented me from opening the scuttle and I lay half stifled,
occasionally driven on deck by a sense of suffocation, though it was
like passing from one hot room to another in a Turkish bath. There
was a barometer in the cabin just under the clock in the skylight;
every time I quitted my berth I peeped at it, and every time I looked
I observed that the mercury had settled somewhat, a very gradual but
a very steady fall. That foul weather was at hand I could not doubt,
but it was hard to imagine the character it would take down amongst
these equatorial parallels, where one hardly looks for gales of wind or
cyclonic outbursts, or the rushing tempest red with lightning of high
latitudes; though every man who has crossed the Line will know that the
ocean is as full of the unexpected thereabouts as in all other parts of
the globe.

I somehow have a clearer recollection of that night than of the time
that followed, or, indeed, of any other passage of hours during this
queer sea ramble I am writing about. It was first the intolerable heat,
then the unendurably monotonous lifeless rolling of the yacht, with
its regular accompaniment of the yearning wash of recoiling waters,
the ceaseless and irritating clicking of cabin doors upon their hooks,
the idle beating of canvas above hollowly penetrating the deck with
a muffled echo as of constant sullen explosions, the creaking and
straining to right and to left and above and below, a hot smell of
paint and varnish and upholstery mingled with some sort of indefinable
marine odour; a kind of faint scent of rotting seaweed, such as
will sometimes rise off the breast of the sluggish deep when stormy
weather is at hand. I believe I drank not less than one dozen bottles
of seltzer water in the small hours. I was half dead of thirst, and
routed out the steward and obliged him to supply me with a plentiful
stock of this refreshment. But the more I drank the hotter I got, and
no ship-wrecked eye ever more gratefully saluted the grey of dawn than
did mine when, wakening from a half-hour of feverish sleep, I beheld
the light of morning lying weak and lead-coloured on the glass of the
porthole.

An uglier jumble of sky I never beheld when I sent my first look up
at it from the companion-hatch. It was as though some hundreds and
thousands of factory chimneys had been vomiting up their black fumes
throughout the night, the bodies of vapour coming together over our
mastheads and compacting there lumpishly amid the stagnant air with
the livid thickenings dimming into dusky browns; and here and there
a sallow lump of gloom of the kind of yellowish tinge to make one
think of fire and thunder. The confines of this ghastly storm-laden
pall drooped to the sea within three miles of the yacht, so that the
horizon seemed within cannon-shot--a merging and mingling of stationary
shadows whose stirlessness was rendered the more portentous by the
sulky pease-soup-coloured welter of the ocean washing into the shrouded
distance and vanishing there. All hands were on the alert. What was
to come Finn told me he could not tell, but he was ready for it. His
maintopmast was struck, that is, sent down on deck; he had also sent
down the topgallantyard. Every stitch of canvas was furled, saving
the close reefed gaff-foresail and the reefed stay-foresail. Extra
lashings secured everything that was movable. Much to my satisfaction,
I observed that he had struck the long gun forward down below. There
was not a breath of wind as yet, and the yacht looked most forlorn and
naked, as though indeed she were fresh from a furious tussle as she
rolled, burying her sides upon the southerly swell that was growing
heavier and heavier hour by hour.

We were at breakfast when the first of the wind took us. It came along
moaning at first, with a small dying away, and then a longer wail as
it poured hot as the breath of a furnace blast between our masts. This
was followed by some five minutes of breathless calm, during which
the yacht fell off into the trough again; then, having my eye upon a
cabin-window, I bawled out, ‘There it comes!’ seeing the flying white
line of it like a cloud of desert sand sweeping through the evening
dusk, and before the words were well out of my mouth the yacht was
down to it, bowed to her bulwark rail, every blessed article on the
breakfast table fetching away with a hideous crash upon the deck, with
the figures of the two stewards reeling to leeward, myself gripping the
table, Wilfrid depending wholly for support upon his fixed chair, and
Miss Jennings buoying herself off to windward upon her outstretched
arms with her face white with consternation.

The uproar is not to be described. The voice of the gale bellowing
through the gloom was a continuous note of thunder, and trembled upon
the ear for all the world as though it was the cannonading of some
fierce electric storm. The boiling and hissing of the seas made one
think of a sky full of water falling into the ocean. The yacht at the
first going off was beaten down on to her broadside and lay motionless,
the froth washing over the rail; and the horror of that posture of
seemingly drowning prostration, together with the fears it put into
one, was prodigiously increased by the heavy blows of seas smiting the
round of the hull to windward and bursting over her in vast bodies of
snow. But she was a noble sea boat, and was soon gallantly breasting
the surge, but with a dance that rapidly grew wilder and wilder as the
tempestuous music on high rang out more fiercely yet, until it became
absolutely impossible to use one’s legs. The sea rose as if by magic,
and the slide of the hull down the liquid heights, which came roaring
at her from a very smother of scud and vapour and flying spray, gave
her such a heel that every recovery of her for the next buoyant upward
flight was a miracle of resurrection in its way. The hatches were
battened down, tarpaulins over the skylight, and as for some time the
stewards were unable to light the lamp we remained seated in the cabin
in a gloom so deep that we could scarcely discern one another’s faces.
Off the cabin deck rose a miserable jangling and clatter of broken
crockery and glass and the like, rolling to and fro with the violent
movements of the yacht. For a long while the stewards were rendered
helpless. They swung by stanchions or held on grimly to seats, and it
was indeed as much as their lives were worth to let go; for there were
moments when the decks sloped like the steep roof of a house, promising
a headlong fall to any one who relaxed his grip of a sort to break his
neck or beat his brains out. At regular intervals the cabin portholes
would turn blind to a thunderous rush of green sea, and those were
moments, I vow, to drive a man on to his knees with full conviction
that he would be giving up the ghost in a very little while; for to
these darkening, glimmering, green delugings the cabin interior turned
a dead black as though it were midnight; down lay the yacht to the
mighty sweeping curl of water; a shock as of the discharge of heavy
artillery trembled with a stunning effect right through her to the
blows of the tons upon tons of water which burst over the rail to the
height of the cross-trees, falling upon the resounding deck from that
elevation with a crash that made one think of the fabric having struck,
followed on by a distracting sound of seething as the deluge, flung
from side to side, boiled between the bulwarks.

We had met with a few dustings before we fell in with this tempest, but
nothing to season us for such an encounter as this. I made an effort
after two hours of it to scramble on all-fours up the cabin ladder
and to put my head out through one of the companion doors. Such was
the power of the wind that to the first protrusion of my nose I felt
as if my face had been cut off as by a knife and swept overboard. The
hurricane was as hot as though charged with fire; the clouds of foam
blown off the sea and whirling hoarily under the black vapour low
down above our mastheads looked like steam boiling up off the hissing
surface of the mighty ocean cauldron. I caught sight of a couple of
fellows lashed to the wheel and the figure of Finn glittering in
black oilskins crouching aft under the lee of the bulwark, swinging
to a rope’s end round his waist; but all forward was haze, storms
of foam, a glimpse of the yacht’s bows soaring black and streaming,
then striking down madly into a very hell of white waters which leapt
upwards to the smiting of the structure in marble-like columns, round,
firm, brilliant, like the stem of a waterspout, but with beads which
instantly vanished in a smoke of crystals before the shriek and thunder
of the blast. The fragment of gaff foresail held bravely, dark with
brine from peak to clew, with a furious salival draining of wet from
the foot of it out of the hollow into which there was a ceaseless mad
hurling of water.

Heaven preserve me! never could I have imagined such a sight as that
sea presented. It might well have scared the heart of a far bolder man
than ever I professed to be to witness the height and arching of the
great liquid acclivities with their rage of boiling summits; the dusk
of the atmosphere darkened yet by the flying rain of spume torn by the
fingers of the storm out of the maddened waters; the ghastliness of the
dissolving mountains of whiteness glaring out into the wet and leaden
shadow; the leaping of the near horizon against the thick gloom that
looked to whirl like a teetotum, mingling scud and foam and hurtling
billow into a sickening confusion of phantasmal shapes, a mad, chaotic
blending of vanishing and reappearing forms timed by the yell and hum
of the gale sounding high above the crash of the breaking surge and the
shattering of wave by wave as though in very truth it fetched an echo
of its own deafening roaring out of the dark sky rushing low over this
tremendous scene of commotion.

Whatever it might be that blew, whether a straight-lined hurricane or
some wing of rotating storm, it lasted for three days; not, indeed,
continuing the terrible severity with which it had set in, for we were
all afterwards agreed that a few hours of the weight of tempest that
had first sprung upon us must have beaten the yacht down to her grave
by mere blows of green seas, let alone the addition of the incalculable
pressure of the wind. The stay-foresail in one blast that caught the
yacht when topping a sea was blown into rags, and whirled up into the
dusklike smoke. A fragment of headsail was wanted, but whilst some men
were clawing forwards to effect what was necessary the vessel shipped
a sea that carried three of them overboard like chips of wood, leaving
the fourth stranded in the scuppers as far aft as the gangway with his
neck and both legs broken! We were but a small ship, and luxurious
fittings counted for nothing in such a hellish tumblefication as that.
Wilfrid kept his berth nearly the whole time, having slightly sprained
his ankle, which topped by the motion prohibited him from extending
his leg by so much as a single stride. On the other hand Miss Laura
would not leave the cabin. I endeavoured to persuade her to take some
rest in her bunk, but to no purpose. I did what I could to make her
comfortable, crawled like a rat to her berth, where I found her maid
half dead with fright and nausea, procured a pillow, rugs, and so
forth, got her over to the lee side, where there was not much risk of
her rolling off the sofa, and snugged her to the best of my ability.
I sat with her constantly, said what I could to keep her spirits up,
procured food for her, fell asleep at her side holding her hand, saw to
her maid, and in a word acted the part of a devoted lover. But heaven
bless us, what a time it was! I would sometimes wonder whether if the
‘Shark’ met with this gale, she had seaworthiness enough to outlive
it. Occasionally Finn would arrive haggard, streaming, the completest
figure imaginable of a tempest-beaten-man, and report of matters above;
but I remember wishing him at the devil when he told us of the loss
of the four men, for a more depressing piece of news could not have
reached us at such a time, and Miss Laura’s spirits seemed to utterly
break down under it. It was impossible to light the galley fire, and
we had to subsist upon the remains of past cookery and on tinned food.
However, Finn told us that on the evening of the first day of the gale
the cook had fallen and broken two fingers of his right hand: so that
could a fire have been kindled there was no one to prepare a hot meal
for us.

But a little before eleven o’clock on the night of the third day
the gale broke. I was sitting alongside Miss Jennings in the cabin,
with a plate of biscuit and ham on my knee, off which she and I were
making a lover’s meal, I popping little pieces into her mouth as she
lay pillowed close against my arm, then taking a snack myself, then
applying a flask of sherry to her lips and finding the wine transformed
into nectar by her kiss of the silver mouth of the flask. A steward
sat crouching in the corner of the cabin; the lamp burnt dimly, for
there had been some difficulty in obtaining oil for it and the mesh was
therefore kept low. Suddenly, I witnessed a flash of yellow moonshine
upon the porthole directly facing me, and with a shout of exultation
I sprang to my feet, giving no heed to the plate that fell in a crash
upon the deck, and crying out, ‘Thank God, here’s fine weather coming
at last!’ I made a spring to the companion steps and hauled myself up
through the hatch.

It was a sight I would not have missed witnessing for much. The moon at
that instant had swept into a clear space of indigo black heaven; her
light flashed fair upon the vast desolation of swollen waters; every
foaming head of sea glanced with an ivory whiteness that by contrast
with the black welter upon which it broke showed with something of the
glory of crystalline snow beheld in sunlight; the clouds had broken
and were sailing across the sky in dense dark masses; it still blew
violently, but there was a deep peculiar note in the roar of the wind
aloft, which was assurance positive to a nautical ear that the strength
of the gale was exhausted, just as in a humming-top the tone lowers and
lowers yet as the thing slackens its revolutions. By one o’clock that
morning it was no more than a moderate breeze with a high angry swell,
of which, however, Finn made nothing; for after escorting Miss Jennings
to her cabin I heard them making sail on deck; and when, having had a
short chat with Wilfrid, who lay in his bunk earnestly thanking God
that the weather had mended, I went on deck to take a last look round
before turning in, I found the wind shifted to west-north-west and the
‘Bride’ swarming and plunging over the strong southerly swell under a
whole mainsail, gaff foresail and jib, with hands sheeting home the
square topsail, Crimp singing out in the waist, and Finn making a
sailor’s supper off a ship’s biscuit in one hand and a cube of salt
junk in the other by the light of the moon.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE ‘’LIZA ROBBINS.’


The gale was followed by several days of true tropical weather: light
airs before which our stem slided so softly as to leave the water
unwrinkled; then pauses of utter stagnation with the horizon slowly
waving in the roasting atmosphere as if it were some huge snake winding
round and round the sea and our mastheads wriggling up into the brassy
blue like the points of rotating corkscrews.

I rose one morning early, loathing the narrow frizzling confinement of
my cabin, where the heat of the upper deck dwelt in the atmosphere with
a sort of tingling, and where the wall, thick as the scantling was and
cooled besides outside by the wash of the brine, felt to the hand warm
as a glass newly rinsed in hot water. I went on deck and found myself
in a cloudless day. The sun was a few degrees above the horizon, and
his wake flowed in a river of dazzling glory to the inverted image of
the yacht reflected with mirror-like perfection in the clear, pale-blue
profound over which she was imperceptibly stealing, fanned by a draught
so tender that it scarcely lifted the airy space of topgallant-sail
whose foot arched like a curve of new moon from one topsail yard-arm to
the other.

I had noticed the dim grey outline of what was apparently a huge shark
off our quarter on the previous night, and went to the rail to see
if the beast was still in sight; and I was overhanging the bulwark,
sniffing with delight the fresh salt smell that floated up from
alongside, scarce warmed as yet by the early sun, and viewing with
admiration the lovely representation of the yacht’s form in the water,
with my own face looking up at me too, as though I lay a drowned man
down there, when Finn suddenly called out: ‘A humpish looking craft,
your honour; and I’m a lobster if I don’t think by the stink in the air
that her cargo’s phosphate manure!’

I sprang erect, and on turning was greatly astonished to observe a
barque of some four or five hundred tons approaching us just off the
weather bow, and almost within hail. I instantly crossed the deck to
get a better view of her. She was a round-bowed vessel, deep in the
water, with a dirty white band broken by painted ports going the length
of her, and she rolled as clumsily upon the light swell as if she were
full of water. She had apparently lost her foretopgallant-mast, and
the head of the topmast showed heavy with its crosstrees over the tall
hoist of single topsail. A group of men stood on the forecastle viewing
us, and now and again a head was thrust over the quarterdeck rail. But
she was approaching us almost bow on, and her bulwarks being high,
there was little to be seen of her decks.

‘Very queer smell,’ said I, tasting a sort of faint acid in the
atmosphere, mingled with an odour of an earthy, mouldering kind, as
though a current of air that had crept through some churchyard vault
had stolen down upon us.

‘Bones or bird-dung, sir; perhaps both. I recognise the smell; there’s
nicer perfumes a-going.’

‘Has she signalled you?’

‘Ay, sir; that she wanted to speak, and then she hauled her colours
down when she saw my answering pennant. She’s been in sight since hard
upon midnight. Crimp made her out agin the stars, and how we’ve stole
together, blessed if I know, for all the air that’s blowed since the
middle watch wouldn’t have weight enough to slant a butterfly off its
course.’

‘What do they want, I wonder?’ said I; ‘rather a novelty for _us_ to be
spoken, Finn, seeing that it has always been the other way about. Bless
me! how hot it is! Pleasant to be a passenger aboard yonder craft under
that sun there, if the aroma she breathes is warrant of the character
of her cargo.’

A few minutes passed; the barque then shifting her helm slowly drew
out, giving us a view of her length. As she did so she hauled up her
main course and braced aback her fore-yards. This looked like business;
for, had her intention been to hail us merely in passing, our joint
rate of progress was so exceedingly slow as to render any manœuvring,
such as heaving to, unnecessary. Finn and I were looking at her,
waiting for the yacht to be hailed, when Crimp, who had been in the
waist superintending the washing down of the decks--for he was in
charge, though the captain had come up at once on hearing that there
was a vessel close to us; sour old Crimp, I say, whom I had observed
staring with a peculiar earnestness at the barque, came aft and said:
‘Ain’t this smell old bones?’

‘Foul enough for ’un,’ answered Finn.

‘Dummed,’ cried Crimp, gazing intently with his cross eyes whilst his
mat of beard worked slowly to the action of his jaw upon a quid as
though there were something behind it that wanted to get out, ‘if I
don’t believe that there craft’s the “’Liza Robbins.”’

‘Well, and what then?’ demanded Finn.

‘Why, if so, my brother’s her skipper.’

Finn levelled his glass. He took a long look at the figure of a man who
was standing on the barque’s quarter, and who was manifestly pausing
until the vessel should have closed a little more yet to hail us.

‘Is your brother like you, Jacob?’ he asked, bringing his eye from the
telescope.

‘Ay, werry image, only that his wision’s straight. We’re twins.’

‘Then there ye are to the life!’ cried Finn, bursting into a laugh and
pointing to the barque’s quarterdeck.

Crimp rested the glass on the rail and put his sour face to it. ‘Yes,’
he exclaimed, ‘that’s ’Arry, sure enough,’ and without another word he
returned to the waist and went on coolly directing the scrubbing and
swabbing of the men.

‘Mr. Monson,’ said Finn, who had taken the glass from Crimp, and
extending it to me as he spoke, ‘just take a view of them figures on
the fo’k’sle, sir, will ’ee? There’s three of ’em standing alone close
against the cathead. They ain’t blue-jackets, are they?’

But at that instant we were hailed, and I forgot Finn’s request in
listening to what was said.

‘Schooner ahoy!’

‘Hallo!’ answered Finn.

‘What schooner is that and where are you bound?’ cried the man on the
barque’s quarter-deck in a voice whose sulky rasping note so exactly
resembled Jacob Crimp’s when he exerted his lungs, that I observed
some of our sailors staring with astonishment, as though they imagined
Muffin had gone to work again.

‘The “Bride” of Southampton on a cruise,’ responded Finn, adding in an
aside to me: ‘no use in singing out about the Cape of Good Hope, sir.’

There was a brief pause, then Finn bawled: ‘What ship are you?’

‘The “’Liza Robbins,”’ was the answer, ‘of and for Liverpool from
Hitchaboo with a cargo of gewhany.’

‘Thought so,’ exclaimed Finn to me with a snuffle; ‘d’ye smell it now,
sir? How they can get men to sign for a woyage with such a cargo beats
my going a fishing.’

‘Schooner ahoy!’ now came from the barque again.

‘Hallo?’

‘I’ve got a lady and gent here,’ roared the figure through his hands
which he held funnelwise to his mouth, ‘as want to get aboard summat
smelling a bit sweeter nor this. They was wrecked in a yacht like
yourn, and I came across ’em in a open boat five days ago. Will’ee take
’em?’

‘What was the name of the yacht, can you tell me?’ cried Finn.

The man turned his head, evidently interrogating another, probably his
mate, who stood a little behind him; then bringing his hands to his
mouth afresh, he roared out ‘The “Shark”!’

Finn slowly brought his long face to bear upon mine; his figure moving
with it as though the whole of him were a piece of mechanism warranted
to perform that motion but no more. ‘Gracious thunder!’ he exclaimed
under his breath and then his jaw fell. I heard the confused humming of
the men’s voices forward, a swift flow of excited talk subdued into a
sort of buzzing by their habits of shipboard discipline. I felt that I
was as pale in the face as if I had received some violent shock.

‘The “Shark”!’ I cried in a breathless way; ‘the lady and gentleman
then aboard that vessel must be the Colonel and Lady Monson. The yacht
probably met with the gale that swept over us and foundered in it;’
then pulling myself together with an effort, for amazement seemed to
have sent all my wits adrift for a moment, I exclaimed, ‘Hail the
barque at once, Finn; say that you will be happy to receive the lady
and gentleman. Ask the captain to come aboard, or, stay--where is
Crimp? Let old Jacob invite his brother. We must act with extreme
wariness. My God, what an astounding confrontment!’

‘Mr. Crimp,’ roared Finn, on a sudden exploding, as it were, out of his
state of petrifaction. Jacob came aft. ‘Jump on that there rail, Mr.
Crimp, and tell your brother who ye are and ask him aboard.’

The sour little man climbed on to the bulwarks, and in a voice that was
the completest imaginable echo of that in which the fellow aboard the
barque had hailed us, he shouted ‘’Arry ahoy!’

The other stood a while staring, dropping his head first on one side,
then on the other, in the manner of one who discredits his sight and
seeks to obtain a clearer view by dodging about for a true focus.

‘Why, Jacob,’ he presently sang out, ‘is that you, brother?’

‘Ay, come aboard, will ye, ’Arry?’ answered Crimp, with which he
dropped off the rail and trudged sourly to the gangway without the
least visible expression of surprise or pleasure or emotion of any kind.

Meanwhile I had taken notice of strong manifestations of excitement
amongst the little group on the forecastle of the barque--I mean
the small knot of men to whom Finn had called my attention. The
vessels lay so near together that postures and gestures were easily
distinguishable. There could be no doubt now that the fellows had
formed a portion of a yacht’s crew. Their dress betokened it; they
gazed with much probing and thrusting of their heads and elbowing of
one another at our men, who lined the forward bulwarks--most of our
sailors having turned up--as though seeking for familiar faces. I
eagerly looked for signs of the colonel and his companion, but it was
still very early; they were doubtless in their cabins, and the crying
out of voices from vessel to vessel was so recent that even if the
couple had been disturbed by the noise they would not yet have had time
to dress themselves and make their appearance on deck.

‘Will you go and report to Sir Wilfrid, sir?’ said Finn.

‘At once,’ I answered. ‘Let old Jacob’s brother have the full story,
the whole truth, should he arrive before I return. His sympathies must
be enlisted on Sir Wilfrid’s side, or there may happen a most worrisome
difficulty if the Colonel refuses to leave that barque and should make
some splendid offer to the skipper to retain him and her ladyship.’

‘I’ll talk with Jacob whilst his brother’s a-coming, sir,’ said Finn.

I stepped below with a beating heart. I was exceedingly agitated,
could scarce bring my mind to accept the reality of what had happened,
and I dreaded moreover the effect of the news upon my cousin. The
‘Shark’ foundered!--the couple we were in chase of picked up out
of an open boat!--this great, blank, lidless eye of ocean, whose
infinite distances I had pointed into over and over again to Miss
Laura, yielding up the pair that we were in chase of in an encounter
bewildering as a surprise and miraculous for its unexpectedness!--why
I confess I breathed in gasps as I thought of it all, making my way,
absolutely trembling in my shoes, to Wilfrid’s berth. I knocked and was
told to enter. He had nearly finished dressing, and looked up from a
boot that he was buttoning with a cold, bitter, triumphant smile at me.

‘I know,’ he exclaimed in a voice infinitely more composed than I could
have exerted; ‘this is Monday, Charles.’

It was Monday as he said! I stared stupidly at him for a minute, and
then saw how it was that he knew. The window of his port was unscrewed
and lay wide open; through it I could see the barque fluctuating in the
silver and blue of the atmosphere as she swayed swinging her canvas in
and out with every roll. The port made a very funnel for the ear as a
vehicle of sound, for I could distinctly hear the orders given on board
the vessel for lowering a boat; the voice of one of the ‘Shark’s’ men
apparently hailing our fellows; the beat of her cloths against the
mast; and the recoil of the water breaking from her broad channels as
she buried her plates to the height almost of those platforms.

‘I am breathless with astonishment,’ said I; ‘but, God be praised,
Wilf, I see you mean to confront this business coldly.’

‘The captain of that vessel is coming on board,’ he said, speaking with
extraordinary composure, whilst his face, from which the smile had
faded, still preserved the light or expression of its mingled triumph
and bitterness.

‘He will be here in a minute or two,’ I answered.

‘Is Laura up?’

‘I do not know.’

‘See that she gets the news, Charles, at once. I shall want her on
deck. Then return and we will concert a little programme.’

I quitted his cabin, marvelling exceedingly at his collectedness.
But then I had noticed that his mind steadied in proportion as his
attention grew fixed. This is true of most weak intelligences, I
suppose; if you want them to ride you must let go an anchor for them.
I was hesitating at Miss Jennings’ door, stretching my ear for the
sound of her voice that I might know she was dressing and had her maid
with her, when the handle was turned and the maid came out. I inquired
if her mistress was rising. She answered ‘Yes.’ ‘Tell her,’ said I,
‘that there is a vessel close to us, and that Colonel Hope-Kennedy and
Lady Monson are on board of her. Sir Wilfrid begs that she will make
haste, as he desires her presence on deck as soon as possible.’ I then
returned to my cousin’s berth, thinking that, though to be sure the
news would immensely scare the little girl, it was best that she should
have the whole truth at once, and so find time to tauten her nerves for
what was to come.

As I entered my cousin’s cabin I heard through the open port the sound
of the grinding of oars betwixt thole pins, and immediately after there
rang out a cry of ‘Look out for the end of the line!’ by which I knew
that Crimp’s brother was alongside of us. Wilfrid, having buttoned his
boots, was now completely dressed. He stood with a hand upon the edge
of his bunk, gazing at the barque, which still hung fair in the blue
and gleaming disc of the porthole, showing in that circular frame like
a daguerreotype with the silvery flashing and fading of light, the
shooting prismatic tints, the shot-silk-like alternations of hues that
accompanied the floating heave of her by the swell to the sunshine. I
picked up a small binocular glass that lay on the table, but could see
nothing as yet of Lady Monson or her companion.

‘My wife was always a late riser,’ said Wilfrid, turning to me with a
haggard smile and a cold sarcastic note in his voice that was steadied,
as your ear instinctively detected, by the iron resolution of his mood,
as the spine stiffens the form.

‘Had we not better go on deck?’ said I. ‘It might be useful to hear
what the master of the barque has to say.’

‘Inch by inch, Charles. There is no hurry. I have my man safe,’
pointing at the vessel. ‘Let us briefly debate a course of action--or
rather, let me leave myself in your hands. We want no “scene,” as women
call it, or as little as possible. There are many grinning, merely
curious spectators, and Lady Monson is still my wife. What do you
advise?’

‘First of all, my dear Wilfrid, what do you want?’ I exclaimed, rather
puzzled and not at all relishing the responsibility of offering
suggestions. ‘You intend, of course, that Lady Monson shall come on
board the “Bride.” But the Colonel?’

‘Oh,’ cried he, sharply and fiercely, ‘I shall want him here too!’

‘Then you don’t mean to separate them?’

‘Yes, I do,’ he answered; ‘as effectually as a bullet can manage it for
me.’

‘Ha!’ said I, and I was silent a little and then said: ‘If I were
you, I should leave Crimp’s brother to sail away with the rascal. The
separation will be as complete as----’

He silenced me with a passionate gesture, but said, nevertheless,
calmly, ‘I want them both on board my yacht.’

‘Will they come if they are fetched, think you?’

He walked impatiently to the door. ‘I must plan for myself, I see,’ he
exclaimed. He grasped the handle and turned to me with his hand still
upon it. ‘I see how it is with you, Charles,’ he said, almost gently;
‘you object to my fighting Colonel Hope-Kennedy.’

‘I do,’ I answered. ‘I object to this scoundrel being furnished with a
chance of completing the injury he has done you by shooting you.’

He came to me, put his hand on my shoulder, bent his face close to
mine, and said in a low voice, ‘Do not fear for me; I shall kill him.
As you value my love’--his tone faltered--‘do not come by so much as
a hair’s breadth between me and my resolution to take his life. If
he will not fight me on board my yacht, he shall fight me on yonder
vessel. He is a soldier--a colonel; he will not refuse my challenge.
Come, my programme is arranged; we are now wasting time.’ He stepped
from his berth and I followed him.

As I turned to ascend the companion steps, Wilfrid being in advance
of me, mounting with impetuosity, I saw Miss Jennings come out of her
berth. I waited for her. Her face was bloodless, yet I was glad to see
something like resolution expressed in it.

‘Is it true, Mr. Monson, that my sister is close to us in a ship?’ she
asked.

‘She and the Colonel,’ I answered; ‘within eyeshot--that is to say,
when they step on deck.’

She put her hand to her breast, and drew several short breaths.

‘Pray take courage,’ I said; ‘it is for your sister to tremble--not
you.’

‘How has Wilfrid received this piece of extraordinary news?’ she asked,
with a sort of panting in her way of speaking.

‘He is as unmoved, I give you my word, as if he were of cast iron. You
shall judge; he has preceded us.’

I took her hand and led her up the ladder. Crimp’s brother had
apparently just climbed over the yacht’s side. As I made my appearance
he was coming aft from the gangway in company with Finn and surly old
Jacob. All three rumbled with talk at once as they made, with a deep
sea roll, for Wilfrid, who was standing so as to keep the mainmast of
the yacht between him and the barque. Miss Jennings started and stopped
on seeing the vessel, that had closed us somewhat since she had first
hove-to, so that it was almost possible now to distinguish the faces of
her people. When my companion moved again she seemed to shrink--almost
cower indeed, and passed to the right of me as though to hide herself.
Then peeping past me at the vessel, she said, ‘I see no lady on board.’

‘Your sister is still below, I expect,’ I answered.

She left me and clasped my cousin’s arm, just saying, ‘Oh, Wilfrid!’
in a tearful, pitiful voice. He gazed down at her and pressed his hand
upon hers with a look of dreadful grief entering his face swiftly as
a blush suffuses a woman’s cheek; but the expression passed quickly.
Something he said in a whisper, then lightly freed his arm from her
clasp and turned to the master of the barque.

‘Captain Crimp, your honour,’ said Finn, knuckling his forehead;
‘Jacob’s brother, Sir Wilfrid.’

Small need to mention that, I thought, for, saving that Jacob was the
taller by an inch or two, whilst his brother’s eyes looked straight at
you, the twins were the most ludicrous, incomparable match that any
lover of the uncommon could have desired to see; both of the same sulky
cast of countenance, both of the exact same build, each wearing a light
kind of beard similarly coloured.

‘Yes, I’m Jacob’s brother,’ answered Captain Crimp. ‘Heard he was out a
yachtin’, but didn’t know the name of the wessel.’

‘I’m very glad to have fallen in with you,’ said Wilfrid, addressing
him with a coolness that I saw astonished Finn, whilst Miss Laura
glanced at me with an arching of her eyebrows as eloquent of amazement
as if she had spoken her thoughts. ‘I hear that you have a lady and
gentleman on board your ship.’

‘Ay,’ answered Captain Crimp bluntly, though somehow one found nothing
offensive in his manner of speech; ‘they want to leave me, and,’ added
he with a surly grin, ‘I don’t blame ’em. Gewhany ain’t over choice as
a smell, ’ticularly down here.’

‘Their names are Colonel Hope-Kennedy and Lady Monson. Is that so?’
demanded Wilfrid, speaking slowly and coldly.

Captain Crimp turned a stupid stare of wonder upon his brother, and
then, addressing Wilfrid, exclaimed: ‘Who tould ’ee? Ye’ve got the
gent’s name right: the lady’s his missus--same name as t’other’s.’
Wilfrid set his teeth.

I looked towards the barque, but there were no signs of the Colonel or
her ladyship yet.

‘The lady is my wife, Captain Crimp,’ said Wilfrid.

‘Ho, indeed,’ responded the man, showing no surprise whatever.

‘She has run away,’ continued my cousin, ‘with the gentleman you have
on board your vessel, and we,’ looking round upon us, ‘are here in
pursuit of them. We have met with them--very unexpectedly. It is likely
when Colonel Hope-Kennedy discovers who we are that he may request you
to trim your sails and proceed on your voyage home, and offer you a sum
of money to convey Lady Monson and himself away from us. You will not
do so!’ he exclaimed with sudden temper, which he instantly subdued,
though it darkened his face.

‘I don’t want no trouble,’ answered Captain Crimp. ‘The parties have
been a-wanting to get out of my wessel pretty nigh ever since we fell
in with them, and here’s their chance. Only,’ he added with a wooden
look at his brother, ‘if they don’t choose to quit I can’t chuck ’em
overboard.’

‘Oh yes, ’ee can, ’Arry,’ said Jacob. ‘What ye’ve got to do is to
tell ’em they must go. No sogerin’ in this business, ’Arry, so stand
by. The law ain’t a-going to let ye keep a lawful wife away from her
wedded spouse when he tarns to and demands her of ye. Better chuck ’em
overboard than have the lawyers fall foul of ye, ’Arry.’

This was a long speech for Jacob, who nodded several times at his
brother with energy after delivering it.

‘Well, and who wants to keep a wedded woman away from her lawful
spouse, as ye calls it, Jacob?’ exclaimed Captain Crimp. ‘What I says
is, if the parties refuses to leave I can’t chuck ’em overboard.’

‘See here, Captain,’ said Finn, ‘Jacob’s right, and what you as a
sensible man’s got to do is to steer clear of quandaries. His honour’ll
be sending for the lady and the gent, and you’ll have to tell ’em
to go, as Jacob says. If they refuse--but let ’em refuse first,’ he
continued with a look at Wilfrid.

‘I don’t want no trouble,’ said Captain Crimp, ‘and I ain’t going to
get in a mess for no man. Do what you think’s proper. What I ask is to
be left out of the boiling.’

As he spoke I touched Miss Jennings’ arm. ‘_There they are!_’ I
whispered.



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE COLONEL AND HER LADYSHIP.


Wilfrid saw them too in a flash. He slightly reeled, making a fierce
grasp at some gear against the mainmast to steady himself. Distant as
they were, one could see, nevertheless, that they were an uncommonly
fine couple. A man who was apparently the mate of the barque stood
near them, and, though seemingly above rather than below the average
stature, he looked a very poor little fellow alongside the towering
and commanding figure of the Colonel. I witnessed no gestures, no
movements, nothing of any kind to denote astonishment or alarm in
either of them. They stood stock-still side by side, surveying us over
an open rail that exposed their forms from their feet; he, so far as
I could make out, attired in dark blue cloth or serge, and a cap with
a naval peak, the top protected by a white cover; she in a dress of
some sort of yellow material that fitted her figure as a glove fits the
hand. But more than this one’s sight could not distinguish, saving that
her hat, that was very wide at the brim, was apparently of straw or
chip with one side curled up to a large crimson flower there.

I saw Miss Laura gazing with the fascination of a bird at some gilded
and glowing and emerald-eyed serpent. Captain Crimp, looking round at
his vessel just then, said, ‘Them’s the parties.’

‘Ay, there’s her ladyship,’ whipped out Finn, biting his lip, however,
as though ashamed of the exclamation, with a dodge of his head to right
and left as he levelled a look at the couple under the sharp of his
hand.

‘Finn,’ cried Wilfrid, with a face as crimson as though he had exposed
it to the sun all day, and with a note in his utterance as if his teeth
were setting spite of him whilst he spoke, ‘get a boat lowered and
brought to the gangway. You, myself, Miss Jennings, and my cousin will
go aboard that barque at once. Captain Crimp will attend us in his own
boat.’ He turned swiftly upon the master of the barque, and exclaimed
imperiously, with wrath surging into his words till it rendered the
key of them almost shrill, ‘I count upon your assistance. You must
order those people off your vessel. Yonder lady is my wife, and the man
alongside of her I must have--here!’ stamping his foot and pointing
vehemently to the deck, ‘that I may punish him. Do you understand me?’

‘Why, of course I do,’ answered Captain Crimp, manifestly awed by
the wild look my cousin fastened upon him, by his manner, full of
haughtiness and passion, and his tone of fierce command. ‘What I says
is, do what ye like, only let me be out of the smother. My crew’s
troublesome enough. Don’t want to get in no mess through castaway
folks.’

Finn was yelling orders along the deck for a boat’s crew to lay aft.

On a sudden the yacht was hailed by the man whom I had noticed standing
near Colonel Hope-Kennedy. ‘Schooner ahoy!’

Jacob Crimp went to the rail. ‘Hallo!’ he bawled.

‘Will yer tell my capt’n, please,’ shouted the fellow from the barque’s
quarterdeck, ‘that the lady and gent desire him to come aboard, as they
don’t want nothen to do with your schooner? They prefer to keep where
they are, and request that no more time be lost.’

‘Ha!’ cried Wilfrid, looking round at me with an iron grin; then he
half screamed to the men who were running aft, ‘Bear a hand with the
boat, my lads, bear a hand with the boat! We’ve found what we’ve been
hunting in yonder craft--and by God, men, we’ll have that couple out of
it or sink the vessel they stand on!’

Jack is almost certain to cheer to a speech of this kind; the sailors
burst out into a loud hurrah as they sprang to the falls. Captain Crimp
walked to his brother’s side, and putting his hand to his mouth cried
to the mate of his vessel, for such the fellow undoubtedly was, ‘Mr.
Lobb.’

‘Hillo, sir.’

‘My compliments to the lady and gent, and we’re all a-coming aboard. I
don’t want no trouble, tell ’em, and I don’t mean to have none.’

Scarce was the sense of this remark gatherable when Lady Monson walked
to the companion and vanished below, leaving the Colonel standing erect
as a sentry at the rail.

‘She’s gone to her cabin, and will lock herself in probably. What’ll be
to do then?’ said I to Miss Laura.

She wrung her hands, but made no answer.

Meanwhile, in hot haste the sailors had cast adrift the gripes of the
boat and lowered her. She was a roomy fabric, pulling six oars, and
capable of comfortably stowing eighteen or twenty people.

‘Mr. Crimp,’ said Wilfrid, ‘get tackles aloft ready for swaying out of
the hold the eighteen-pounder that lies there. D’ye understand?’

‘Ay, it shall be done,’ answered Crimp, coming away from his brother,
with whom he had been exchanging some muttering sentences.

‘An eighteen-pounder!’ cried Captain Crimp, whipping round.

‘Have everything in readiness,’ cried Wilfrid, making a move towards
the gangway, ‘to get the gun mounted, with ball and cartridge for
loading. See to it now, or look to yourself, Crimp. Come!’ he cried.

He seized Miss Laura by the hand; Finn and I followed, Captain Crimp
rolling astern of us. We descended the side and entered the boat, and
then shoved off, waiting when we were within a length or two of the
yacht’s side for Captain Crimp to drop into his own boat.

‘Skipper,’ sang out Finn to him, ‘hail your barque, will’ee, and tell
’em to get a ladder or steps over.’

This was done; the sailors of the barque, along with the three or four
yachtsmen who had been picked up out of the ‘Shark’s’ boat, scenting
plenty of excitement in the air, tumbled about with alacrity. They saw
more sport than they could have got out of an evening at a theatre, and
I question if a man of them could have been got to handle a brace until
this wild ocean drama had been played through. Meanwhile the Colonel
stood rigid at the rail looking on.

‘What is to be done, Mr. Monson,’ whispered Miss Laura to me, ‘if
Henrietta has locked herself up in her cabin and refuses to come out?’

‘Let us hope that her door has no lock,’ said I. ‘There are easy ways,
however, of coaxing a bolt.’

‘Give way, lads!’ cried Finn. The six blades cut the water sharp as
knives, and a few strokes carried us alongside the barque. We held a
grim silence, saving that as the bow oar picked up his boat-hook he
expectorated violently to the evil smell that seemed to come floating
off the vessel’s side as she rolled towards us, driving the air our
way. Evil it was, as you may suppose of a cargo of guano mixed up
with the rotting carcases of sea-fowl under the blaze of the sun
whose roasting eye of fire was fast crawling to its meridian. The
faint breeze was dying, and the heat alongside the barque was scarce
sufferable with the tingling of the luminary’s light like fiery needles
darting into one’s eyes and skin off the smooth surface that flashed
with a dazzle of new tin. The Colonel had left the rail and had seated
himself upon a little skylight, his arms folded. The first to climb the
side was Wilfrid; Finn and I followed, supporting Miss Laura between
us; then came Captain Crimp. The vessel was an old craft, her decks
somewhat grimy, with a worm-eaten look; the smell of the cargo coupled
with the heat was hardly supportable; the crew, half naked, unwashed,
and many of them wild with hair, stood sweltering in a cluster near the
fore-hatch staring at us, grinning and nudging one another. But the
men who had belonged to the ‘Shark’ were already leaning over the side
calling to our men to hook their boat more forward that they might have
a yarn.

Wilfrid, who was a little in advance of us, walked steadily up to
Colonel Hope-Kennedy, who rose as my cousin approached him, letting
fall his arms from their folded posture. Handsome he was not--at least
to my taste--but he was what would be called a fine man--exceedingly
so; six feet one or more in stature, with a body and limbs perfectly
proportioned to his height; small dark eyes heavily thatched,
coal-black whiskers and moustache, ivory-white teeth, and an expression
of intelligence in his face as his air was one of distinction. He had
a very careworn look, was pale--haggard almost; dark hollows under
the eyes, brought about, as I might readily suppose, by exposure
and privation in an open boat. I could witness no agitation in him
whatever; his nerves seemed of steel, and he confronted Wilfrid’s
approach haughtily erect, merely swaying to the heel of the deck,
passionless and as unmoved in his aspect as any figure of wax.

Wilfrid walked right up to him and said composedly, whilst he pointed
to the gangway, ‘You will be good enough to enter my boat that my crew
may convey you at once to the yacht.’

‘I shall do nothing of the kind, sir,’ answered the Colonel quietly,
but in a tone distinctly audible to us who had come to a halt some
paces away. ‘Captain Crimp.’

‘Sir?’ responded the master of the barque, with an uneasy shuffling
step or two towards the couple.

‘You are the commander of this vessel. It is in your power to order
your deck to be cleared of these visitors. I am your passenger, and
look to you for protection. I decline to exchange this vessel for that
yacht, and request, therefore, that you will proceed on your voyage.’
He spoke with a fine air of dignity, the effect of which was improved,
I thought, by his giving himself slightly the manner of an injured man.

‘Sir, I want no trouble,’ answered Captain Crimp. ‘I onderstand that
the lady you’re with is this gentleman’s wife. Every man’s got a right
to his own. The gentleman means to take the lady back with him to his
yacht, and I don’t think that there’s any one aboard this wessel as’ll
stop him.’

‘I mean to take my wife,’ exclaimed Wilfrid, still preserving what
in him was an amazing composure of voice and manner, ‘and I mean to
take you too. Colonel Hope-Kennedy, you are a bloody rascal! You shall
fight me--but not here. You shall fight me--yonder;’ he pointed to the
‘Bride.’ ‘_This_ you _must_ repay.’ He struck him hard upon the face
with the back of his hand.

The cheek that had received the blow turned scarlet, the other was
of a ghastly pallor. He looked at Wilfrid for a moment with such a
fire in his eye, such a hellish expression of wrath in his face, that
I involuntarily sprang forward to the help of my cousin, resolved
that there should be no vulgar, degraded exhibition of fisticuffs and
wrestling between the men.

But I was misled by the Colonel’s looks. He folded his arms, and
said--exhibiting in his utterance a marvellous control over his
temper--‘That blow was needless. I will fight you here or on your own
vessel, as you please. But if I fight you yonder the condition must
be’--he was now looking at me and addressing me--‘that I am afterwards
at liberty to return to this vessel.’

Wilfrid eyed him with a savage smile. I approached the man, raising my
hat. He instantly returned the salute.

‘Sir,’ I said, ‘I am Sir Wilfrid Monson’s cousin, and agree to the
condition you name. To save any further exhibition of temper before
those men there, may I entreat you to at once step into the yacht’s
boat?’

His eye wandered about the deck for a moment or two; he then said, ‘I
am without a second. That need not signify. But I must be satisfied
that the duel in other respects will be in accordance with the practice
of such things ashore.’

‘Oh! certainly,’ I answered.

‘What are to be the weapons?’ he inquired.

‘Pistols,’ I replied.

‘I have no pistols. I have lost all by the foundering of my yacht.’

‘We have pistols,’ said I.

He bowed, then his eye roamed over the deck again, and he exclaimed,
with the air of a man thinking aloud, ‘I am without a second,’ adding
decisively, ‘I am perfectly willing to give Sir Wilfrid Monson
satisfaction, but I submit, sir, that it would be more convenient to
wait until he and I have arrived home----’

‘No!’ thundered my cousin. ‘I do not mean that you shall arrive home.’

The Colonel glanced at him with a sneer.

‘Will you be so good as to step into the boat, sir?’ said I.

He hung in the wind with a look at the little companion hatch. ‘The
lady, I presume,’ he said, addressing me, ‘is to be left----’

‘Do not mention her name!’ said Wilfrid in a trembling voice,
approaching him by a stride with a countenance dark with the menace of
mad blood.

The Colonel fell away from him with a swiftly passing convulsion of
countenance such as might have been wrought by a sudden spasm of the
heart.

‘This way, sir,’ said Finn, moving in a bustling fashion towards the
gangway.

I confess I drew a breath of relief when the Colonel, without a word,
and with a mechanical step, followed him. There was, indeed, no other
course that he could adopt. Captain Crimp had retreated doggedly to the
gangway abreast of the one we had entered by, and lay over the rail
in a wooden way, with resolution to give himself no concern in this
business strong in his posture. The Colonel saw, therefore, that it was
useless to hope for his interference. In a few moments he had descended
the side, and was being pulled aboard the ‘Bride,’ with Finn standing
up in the stern sheets and singing out to us that he would return for
the rest of the party shortly.

I now missed Miss Laura, and was looking around the deck for her,
when she suddenly came up out of the cabin. I was standing close
to the hatch at the moment, which was the reason, perhaps, of her
addressing me instead of Wilfrid, who was at the skylight gazing at the
withdrawing boat with an absent face.

‘Mr. Monson,’ she exclaimed, ‘my sister will not answer me. I do not
know where she is.’

‘Have you tried all the berths?’

‘I have knocked at every door and called to her. I did not like to turn
the handles.’

I thought to myself, suppose her ladyship has committed suicide!--lying
dead below with a knife in her heart! Truly a pleasant ending of our
chase, with a chance on top of it of the Colonel driving a bullet
through my cousin’s brains! The girl’s gaze was fastened on me; her
pallor was grievous, her face full of shame, grief, consternation; her
very beauty had a sort of passing withered look like a rose in the hot
atmosphere of a room.

‘Wilfrid!’ I exclaimed.

He brought his eyes away from the boat with a start and approached us.
‘Miss Jennings has been overhauling the cabin below,’ said I, ‘and
cannot get your wife to answer her.’

‘Have you seen her, Laura?’ he cried in a half-breathless way, stooping
his face to hers, with his near-sighted eyes moistening till I looked
to see a tear fall.

‘No,’ she answered. ‘She has shut herself up in her cabin. I have
knocked at every berth and called to her, but she will not answer me.’

His face changed. He shouted to Captain Crimp, who was leaning with his
back against the starboard rail near the gangway, watching us out of
the corner of his eyes, and waiting for us to take the next step. He
came to us.

‘Kindly show us,’ said Wilfrid, ‘the cabin which the lady occupies.’

‘This way,’ he answered, and forthwith trundled down the companion
steps, we at his heels. We found ourselves in what Captain Crimp
would doubtless have called a state cabin, a gloomy dirty interior
with a board-like rude table that travelled upon stanchions so that
it could be thrust up out of the road when room was wanted, whilst on
either hand of it was a row of coarse lockers, the covers of which
were liberally scored with the marks of knives that had been used for
cutting up cake-tobacco. The upper deck was very low pitched, and, as
if the heat and the disgusting smell of the cargo did not suffice,
there swung from a blackened beam a lighted globular lamp the flame of
which burnt into a coil of thick black smoke that filled the atmosphere
with a flavour of hot fat. Yet apparently, to judge by the number of
berths this rank and grimy old barque was fitted with, she had served
as a passenger vessel in her heyday. There were doors conducting to
little cabins forward of the living room, and there were four berths
abaft contrived much as the ‘Bride’s’ were, that is to say, rendered
accessible by a slender alley-way or corridor.

‘The lady’s cabin,’ said Captain Crimp, pointing, ‘is the starn one to
port, the airiest of ’em all. It was chosen because it was furdest off
from this here smell,’ and he snuffled as he spoke.

Wilfrid, followed by Miss Laura, at once walked to the indicated cabin.
I remained standing by the table with Crimp, watching my cousin. He
tried the handle of the door, found the key turned or a bolt shot,
shook it a little, then, after a pause, knocked lightly.

‘Henrietta,’ he exclaimed. ‘It is I--your husband. You know my voice. I
want you.’

There was no answer. He knocked again, then Miss Laura exclaimed:
‘Henrietta, open the door. Wilfrid is here--I am here, I, Laura your
sister. We have come to take you home to the little one that you left
behind you. Oh, Henrietta, dear, for my sake--for your child’s sake,
for our father’s sake--’ her voice faltered and she broke down, sobbing
piteously.

‘I hope to heaven the woman has not killed herself,’ I exclaimed to
Captain Crimp. ‘But it is for you to act now. Step aft with me. You
don’t want to keep her on board, I suppose?’

‘Not I,’ he answered.

‘Threaten then to break open the door. If that don’t avail, send at
once for your carpenter, for you may then take it that her silence
means she lies dead.’

He walked aft and beat with a fist as hard as the stock of a musket,
raising a small thunder. ‘Sorry to interfere, lady;’ he exclaimed,
talking at the door with his nose within an inch of it; ‘this here’s
no job for the likes of me to be messing about with.’ A dead pause.
‘There’s folks who are awaiting for you to come out.’ Here he grasped
the handle of the door and boisterously shook it. ‘And as there’s no
call now for you to remain, and as loitering in this here heat with the
hatches flush with gewhany isn’t to none of our liking, I must beg,
mum,’ he shouted, ‘that you’ll slip the bolt inside and open the door.’

Another dead pause. Miss Jennings looked aghast, and indeed the
stillness within the cabin now caused me to forebode the worst. It was
clear, however, that no fear of the sort had visited Wilfrid. He gazed
at the door with a kind of terrier-like expression in his fixed eyes.

Captain Crimp once more beat heavily and again wrestled with the
handle, trying the door at the same time with his shoulder. ‘Well,
mum,’ he bawled, ‘you will do as you like, I suppose, and so must I.
I’m not partial to knocking my ship about, but by thunder! lady, if
this here door ain’t opened at once I’ll send for the carpenter to
force it.’ Another pause. He added in his hoarsest voice, addressing us
generally, ‘Do she know that the gent that’s been keeping her company
has gone aboard the yacht?’

‘She’ll know it now,’ I answered, ‘if she has ears to hear with.’

I noticed Wilfrid violently start on my saying this.

‘Gentlemen,’ said Captain Crimp, ‘I’ll go and fetch the carpenter,’ and
he had taken a stride when the bolt within was shot, the handle turned
and the door opened.

Had we come fresh from the splendour of the morning on deck we must
have had great difficulty in distinguishing objects in the gloom of the
little, hot, evil-smelling interior that had been suddenly revealed
to us; but the twilight of the narrow passage in which we stood had
accustomed our sight to the dim atmosphere. Lady Monson stood before
us in the middle of the cabin reared to her fullest stature, her hands
clasped in front of her in a posture of passionate resolution. I must
confess that she had the noblest figure of any woman I had ever seen,
and no queen of tragedy could have surpassed the unconsciously heroic
attitude of scorn, indignation, hate, unsoftened by the least air of
remorse or shame, that she had assumed.

‘Captain Crimp,’ she cried in a clear, rich, contralto voice that
thrilled through and through one with what I must call the intensity
of the emotions it conveyed, ‘how _dare_ you threaten me with breaking
open my door? I am your passenger--you will be paid for the services
you have rendered. I demand your protection. Who are these people?
Order them to leave your ship, sir.’

She spoke with her eyes glowing and riveted upon Captain Crimp’s
awkward, agitated countenance, never so much as glancing at her
husband, at her sister, or at me.

‘Well, mum,’ answered Captain Crimp, passing the back of his hand over
his streaming forehead, ‘all that I know is this: here’s a gentleman
as says you’re his wife; his yacht lies within heasy reach; he wants
you aboard, and if so be that you _are_ his wife, which nobody yet has
denied, then you’re bound to go along with him, and I may as well
tell’ee that my dooty as a man lies in seeing that ye _do_ go.’ And here
the old chap very spunkily bestowed several emphatic nods upon her.

‘Henrietta,’ cried Miss Laura, ‘have you nothing to say to me or to
Wilfrid?’

‘Go!’ she shrieked, with a sharp stamp of her foot and a wild,
warding-off gesture of her arms, ‘what right have you to follow me. I
am my own mistress. Leave me. The mere sight of you will drive me as
mad as _he_ is!’ pointing impetuously to Wilfrid but without looking at
him.

The poor little darling shrank like a wounded bird, literally cowering
behind me, dismayed and terrified, not indeed by the woman’s words,
but by the passion in them, the air with which she delivered them, the
wrath in her face and the fire in her eyes that would have made you
think they reflected a sunset. I looked at Wilfrid. Had she exhibited
the least grief, the least shame, any the feeblest hint, in short, of
womanly weakness, I believe he would have fallen upon his knees to
her. I had observed an expression almost of adoration enter into and
soften his lineaments to an aspect that I do not exaggerate in calling
beautiful through the exquisite pathos of the tenderness that had
informed it on her throwing open the door and revealing herself to
us; but that look was gone. Her scornful reference to his madness had
replaced it by an ugly shadow, a scowl of malignant temper. He stepped
over the coaming of the doorway, and extended his hand as if to grasp
her.

‘Come!’ he exclaimed, breathing dangerously fast. ‘I want you. This
is merely wasting time. Come you must! Do you understand? Come!’ he
repeated, still keeping his arm outstretched.

She recoiled from him as though a cartridge had exploded at her feet
and pressed her back against the side of a bunk, the edge of which she
gripped with her hands.

‘Leave me!’ she said, looking at him now. ‘I hate you. You cannot
control me. I abhor the very memory of you. Madman and wretch! why have
you followed me?’

Captain Crimp, who had been shuffling restlessly near me, now whipped
in, hoarse, angry, and determined; ‘See here, mum; all this calling of
names isn’t going to sarve anybody’s purpose. I see how the land lies
now. The gentleman has a right to his own, and it’s proper ye should
know that ’tain’t my intention to keep ye. Let there be no more noise
aboard this wessel, I beg; otherwise you’ll be having my crew shoving
down into the cabin to know what’s happening. Give her your arm, sir,’
he cried, addressing me, ‘and lead her to the gangway. Your boat’ll be
retarned by this time.’

My arm, thought I! Egad, I’d liefer snug the paw of a tigress under my
elbow!

‘Wilfrid,’ I exclaimed, ‘let me exhort you to go on deck and take
Miss Jennings with you. I am sure Lady Monson will listen to my
representations. It is due to her to remember that we are four and
that she stands alone, and that the suddenness, the unexpectedness of
this visit, scarcely gives her a chance fully to realise what has come
about, and to form an intelligent decision.’

She uttered a short hysterical laugh, without a smile, whilst her face
glimmered white with rage in the gloom of the cabin. ‘My decision
is quite intelligent enough to satisfy me,’ she said, in a voice so
irritatingly scornful that it is out of my power to furnish the least
idea of it, whilst she looked at me as though she would strike me dead
with her eyes; ‘I mean to remain here.’

‘No, mum, no,’ growled Captain Crimp.

‘You know, I presume, Lady Monson,’ said I, ‘that Colonel Hope-Kennedy
has gone on board the “Bride”?’

‘I do not care,’ she answered; ‘Captain Crimp, I insist upon your
requesting these people to leave me.’

‘Come!’ cried Wilfrid furiously, and he grasped her by the arm.

She released herself with a shriek and struck him hard on the face; a
painful and disgusting scene was threatened; Miss Jennings was crying
bitterly; I dreaded the madman in Wilfrid, and sprang between them as
he grasped his wife’s arm again.

‘For God’s sake, Wilfrid----’ I began, but was silenced by her shrieks.
She sent up scream after scream, wrestling with her husband, whose grip
of steel I was powerless to relax, and who, with a purple face and a
devilish grin of insanity upon his lips, was dragging her towards the
door. On a sudden she seemed to suffocate, she beat the air wildly with
her arm that was free. Then clapped her hand to her heart, swayed a
little, and fell to the deck. I was just in time to save her head from
striking the hard plank, and there she lay in a dead faint.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE DUEL.


‘This is our chance,’ exclaimed Captain Crimp; ‘she’ll go quietly now.
She might have done it afore though. Let’s bear a hand or she’ll be
reviving.’

‘Wilfrid, see if our boat’s alongside, will you?’ I cried, anxious
to get him out of the way and to correct as far as possible the
unmistakable mood of madness that had come upon him with Lady Monson’s
insults and blow, by finding him occupation; ‘and send Finn to help us,
and let the men stand by ready to receive the lady.’

He cast a look of fury at his wife as she lay motionless on the deck,
her head supported on my arm, and sped away in long strides, chattering
to himself as he went.

‘Is she dead!’ cried Miss Jennings, in a voice of terror and her ashen
face streaming.

‘Bless us, no,’ said I, ‘a downright faint, and thank goodness for it.
Now, captain.’

How between us we managed to carry her on deck, I’m sure I do not know.
Captain Crimp had her by the feet, I by the shoulders, and Miss Laura
helped to keep the apparently lifeless woman’s head to its bearings.
She was as limber as though struck by lightning, and the harder to
carry for that reason,--a noble figure, as I have said, and deucedly
heavy to boot. My part was the hardest, for I had to step backwards
and mount the companion ladder, that was almost perpendicular,
crab-fashion. The captain and I swayed together, staggering and
perspiring, bothered excessively by the ungainly rolling of the barque,
both of us nearly dead with heat, and I half suffocated besides by the
abominable acid stench from the hold. We were animated, however, into
uncommon exertions by the desire to get her over the side before she
recovered; and the fear of her awakening and resisting us and shrieking
out, and the like, gave us, I reckon, for that particular job the
strength of four men. We conveyed her to the gangway, helped by Finn,
who received us at the companion hatch, and with infinite pains handed
her over the side, still motionless in her swoon, into the boat. A hard
task it was; we durst not call out, for fear of reviving her, and the
melancholy business was carried through by signs and gestures, topped
off with sundry hoarse whispered orders from Finn.

I paused panting, my face burning like fire, whilst Captain Crimp
looked to be slowly dissolving, the perspiration literally streaming
from his fingers’ ends on to the deck as though he were a figure of
snow gradually wasting.

‘Why couldn’t she have fainted away at first?’ he muttered to me.
‘That’s the worst of women. They’re always so slow a-making up their
minds.’

Now that she was in the boat the trouble was at an end; though she
recovered consciousness she could not regain the barque’s deck, and
there was no power in her screams to hinder the yachtsmen’s oars
from sweeping her to the ‘Bride.’ Preserve me! What a picture it all
made just then: the wild-haired, wild-eyed, semi-nude figures of the
barque’s crew overhanging the rail to view Lady Monson as she lay
white and corpse-like in the bottom of the boat; the sober, concerned
faces of our own men; Wilfrid’s savage, crazy look as he waited with
his eyes fixed upon his yacht for Miss Laura to be handed down before
entering the boat himself; the prostrate form of his wife with her head
pillowed on Finn’s jacket, her eyes half opened, disclosing the whites
only, and imparting the completest imaginable aspect of death to her
countenance, with its pale lips and marble brow and cheek bleached into
downright ghastliness by contrast of the luxuriant black hair that had
fallen in tresses from under her hat. The men who had belonged to the
‘Shark’ stood in a little group near the foremast looking on, but with
a commiserating respectful air. One of them stepped up to us as Miss
Laura was in the act of descending the side, and addressing Finn whilst
he touched his cap, exclaimed, ‘We should be glad, sir, if y’d take us
aboard the “Bride.” We’ll heartily tarn to with the rest; you’ll find
us all good men.’

‘No!’ roared Wilfrid, whipping round upon him, ‘I want no man that has
had anything to do with the “Shark” aboard my vessel.’

The fellow fell back muttering. My cousin turned to Captain Crimp.

‘Sir,’ he cried, ‘I thank you for your friendly offices.’ He produced
a pocket-book. ‘You have acted the part of an honest man, sir. I am
obliged to you. I trust that this may satisfy all charges for the
maintenance of Lady Monson on board your ship.’ He handed him a Bank
of England note; Crimp turned the corner down to look at the figure--I
believe it was a hundred pounds--and then buried it in his breeches
pocket.

‘I’m mighty obliged to you, mighty obliged,’ he exclaimed. ‘It’s a
deal more’n the job’s worth. I’d like to see my way to wishing you
happiness’--and he was proceeding, but Wilfrid stopped him by dropping
over the side, calling to me to make haste.

‘Captain Crimp,’ I said hurriedly, ‘you will please keep your barque
hove-to as she is now for the present. There’s to be a duel; you of
course know that.’ He nodded. ‘You also heard the promise made to
Colonel Hope-Kennedy, that after the duel he is to be at liberty to
return to your vessel.’

‘Then I don’t think he will, for the guv’nor means to shoot him,’
said Captain Crimp, ‘and I’ll wager what he guv me that he’ll do it
too; and sarve ’im right. Running away with another man’s wife! Ain’t
there enough single gals in the world to suit the likes of that there
colonel? But I’ll keep hove-to as you ask.’

All this he mumbled in my ear as I put my foot over the side waiting
for the wash of the swell to float the boat up before dropping. We then
shoved off.

We had scarcely measured a boat’s length, however, from the barque’s
side, when Lady Monson stirred, opened and shut her eyes, drew a long,
fluttering breath, then started up, leaning on her elbow staring about
her. She gazed at the men, at me, at her husband and sister, with her
wits abroad, but intelligence seemed to rush into her eyes like fire
when her sight encountered the yacht. I thought to myself what will
she do now? Jump overboard? Go into hysterics? Swoon away again? I
watched her keenly, though furtively, prepared to arrest any passionate
movement in her, for there had come a wilder look in her face than
ever I had seen in Wilfrid’s. My cousin sat like a figure of stone,
his gaze riveted to his schooner, and Miss Laura glanced at her sister
wistfully, but, as one saw, on the alert to avoid meeting her gaze.

I could very well understand now that this fair, gentle, golden-haired
girl should have held her tall, dark, imperious, tragic-eyed sister in
awe.

I know I felt heartily afraid of her myself as I sat pretending not to
notice her, though in an askant way I was taking her in from head to
foot, feeling mightily curious to see what sort of a person she was,
and I was exceedingly thankful that the yacht lay within a few minutes
of us. But happily there was to be no ‘scene.’ She saw how things
stood, and with an air of haughty dignity rose from the bottom of the
boat and seated herself in the place I vacated for her, turning her
face seawards to conceal it from the men. Nobody but a woman possessed
of her excellent harmonious shape could have risen unaided with the
grace, I may say the majesty, of motion she exhibited from the awkward,
prostrate posture in which she had lain. The bitter, sarcastic sneer
upon her lip paralysed in me the immediate movement of my mind to offer
her my hand. She seemed to float upwards to her full height as a stage
dancer of easy and exquisite skill rises to her feet from a recumbent
attitude. I might well believe that many men would find her face
fascinating, though it was not one that I could fall in love with. She
was out and away handsomer than her picture represented her, spite of
the traces which yet lingered of suffering, privation, and distress of
mind, such as shipwreck and even a day’s tossing about in an open boat
might produce.

Not a syllable was uttered by any one of us as the flashing oars of
the rowers swept us to the ‘Bride.’ The sailors with instinctive good
feeling stared to right and left at their dripping and sparkling
blades as though absorbed by contemplation of the rise and fall of
the sand-white lengths of ash. Finn at the yoke-lines sat with a
countenance of wood. We buzzed foaming to the accommodation ladder. I
was the first to spring out, and stood waiting to hand Lady Monson on
to the steps; but without taking the least notice of me she exclaimed,
addressing her sister in a low but distinctly audible voice, ‘Take me
at once to your cabin,’ and so saying she stepped on to the ladder. I
helped Miss Laura out of the boat, and then they both passed through
the gangway and I saw no more of them. Wilfrid mounted slowly at my
heels. I passed my arm through his and walked him aft. He made as if he
would resist, then came passively enough, sighing deeply as though his
heart had broken.

‘Wilfrid,’ I said gently, ‘a hard and bitter part of the project of
your voyage is ended. You have regained your wife--your one desire is
fulfilled. Why not, then, abandon the rest of your programme? Yonder
barque will be kept hove-to until we hail her to say that she may
proceed. Colonel Hope-Kennedy does not want to fight you. Let me go
to him and arrange that he shall return to that vessel forthwith. I
abhor the notion of a duel between you. Your end has been achieved
bloodlessly; your baby has such a claim upon your life, that if you
will but give a moment’s thought to the significance of it, you would
not, you dare not, turn a deaf ear to the infant’s appeal. Consider
again, we are without a surgeon; there is no medical help here for
the sufferer, be he you or be he your enemy. This colonel, again, is
without a second. Wilfrid, in the name of God, let him go! He may
reach England, and will meet you ashore, if you desire it; but between
then and now there will be abundance of time for you to consider
whether there is any occasion for you to give the scoundrel a chance
of completing the injury he has already dealt you by sending a bullet
through your heart.’

He listened to me with wonderful patience, his head bowed, his eyes
rooted on the deck, his hands clasped in front of him. I was flattering
myself that I had produced something of the impression I desired to
make, when, lifting his face, he looked slowly round at me, and said
quietly, almost softly, ‘Charles, I shall not love you less for your
advice. You speak out of the fulness of your heart. I thank you, dear
cousin, for your kindness. And now do me this favour.’ He pulled out
his watch and let his eye rest on it for a brief pause, but I doubt
if he took note of the hour. ‘Go to Colonel Hope-Kennedy and make all
necessary arrangements for our meeting as soon as possible. See Captain
Finn, and request him to send the sailors below when the appointed
time arrives. Come to my cabin and let me know the result. Colonel
Hope-Kennedy shall have choice of the pistols in my case, and, seeing
that he has no second any more than I have, for your office will simply
consist in chalking the distance and in giving the signal, he must load
for himself.’

He took my hand in both his, pressed it hard, and then, without a word,
walked to the companion and disappeared. Captain Finn, who had been
watching us from a distance, waiting till our conversation had ended,
now walked up to me.

‘Can you tell me his honour’s wishes, sir?’ he inquired. ‘I suppose now
that he’s fallen in with her ladyship he’ll be heading home?’

‘Let the yacht lie as she is for the present, Finn,’ said I; ‘no need
to hoist in the boat either. She cannot hurt herself alongside in
this smooth water. We may be wanting her shortly to convey Colonel
Hope-Kennedy to the barque. Sir Wilfrid means to fight him, and at
once. I would give half what I am worth to avert this meeting, but my
cousin is resolved, and I must stand by him.’

‘Sir,’ said Finn, ‘he has been cruelly used.’

‘When the time comes,’ I continued, ‘he wishes the men to be sent
below. You will see to that.’

‘Oh, yes. But I dorn’t think the helm should be desarted, sir.’

‘Certainly not,’ I exclaimed. ‘Arrange it thus: Let Mr. Crimp hold the
wheel. I must have help at hand, for one of the men may fall badly
wounded. Therefore, stay you on deck, Captain Finn, and keep by me
within easy hail. Cutbill is also a strong, serviceable fellow in such
an emergency as this. Post him at the forehatch to hinder any man from
popping his head up to look. I shall thus have two--you and him--to
assist me.’

‘Right, sir,’ he exclaimed, touching his cap.

‘Better mark off the ground, or deck rather, at once,’ said I; ‘fetch
me a piece of chalk, Finn.’

He went forward, and in a few moments returned with what I required. A
broad awning sheltered the whole of the quarterdeck that lay gleaming
white as the flesh of the cocoa-nut in the soft, almost violet-hued
shadow. There was just air enough stirring aloft to keep the lighter
cloths quiet and to provide against the yacht being slued or revolved
by the run of the long, delicate, tropic swell. I said to Finn, after
considering a little and anxiously observing the effects of the
sunshine gushing through the blue air betwixt the edge of the awning
and the bulwark rail, or rising off the sea in a trembling flashing
that whitened the air above it, ‘I don’t think it will matter which
side of the quarterdeck we choose. The men must toss for position. But
there’s a dazzle on the water off the port bow that might bother the
eye that faces forward. Better mark the starboard side therefore.’

He gazed thoughtfully around, and said, ‘The yacht’s position can be
altered, if you like, sir.’

I answered, ‘No; leave her as she is. She rolls regularly and quietly
thus.’

I had never before been concerned in a duel, and in the matter of the
strict etiquette of this sort of encounter was entirely at a loss how
to act. However, I had always understood that twelve paces were the
prescribed distance, so ruling a line athwartships almost abreast
of the mainmast, I made twelve steps and then scored another line
crosswise, measuring the interval a second time, and finding that it
was very fairly twelve of my own paces. The men had come together in
a crowd forward, and were staring aft with all their might. They knew
perfectly well what was going to take place, and they were not yet
sensible that they were not to be admitted to the spectacle. It was to
be something of a far more wildly exciting sort than catching a shark,
ay, or even may be of seeing a man hung at a ship’s yardarm. It put a
sort of sickness into me somehow to witness that swarm of whiskered
mahogany-checked faces, all looking thirstily, expectation shaping
every posture, with a kind of swimming of the whole body of them too
in the haze of heat into which the yacht’s jibboom went twisting in a
manner to make the brain dizzy to watch it. One never gets to see how
thoroughly animal human nature is at bottom until one has examined the
expression of the countenances of a mob, big or little, assembled in
expectation of witnessing human suffering.

I stepped below. Colonel Hope-Kennedy sat bareheaded at the cabin
table, supporting his head on his right elbow and drumming softly with
the fingers of his left hand. I approached him, and giving him a bow,
which he returned with an air of great dignity--men are amazingly
polite when arranging the terms of some cut-throat job--I said, ‘It is
my painful duty, sir, to inform you that my cousin desires the meeting
between you and him should take place at once.’

‘Not a moment need be lost so far as I am concerned,’ he answered,
gazing at me steadfastly with eyes that looked like porcelain with the
singular glaze that seemed to have come suddenly upon them.

‘My cousin requests me to state,’ I continued, ‘that you will consider
him as acting without a second equally with yourself. My unhappy office
will consist simply in giving the signal to fire. I would to God that
my influence had been powerful enough with him to arrest his resolution
at this point----’

‘It could not have prevailed with me,’ he exclaimed. ‘The madman’s blow
was needless. On what part of the yacht do we fight?’

‘On the quarterdeck,’ I answered.

‘Measured by you?’

I bowed.

‘As there are no seconds,’ he said, ‘I presume we load for ourselves?’

‘That is Sir Wilfrid Monson’s suggestion,’ I answered.

‘Have you the pistols, sir?’

‘I will fetch them.’

I went at once to Wilfrid’s berth and knocked, and walked in without
waiting for him to tell me to enter. He was writing in his diary; he
instantly threw down his pen and jumped from his chair.

‘Is all ready, Charles?’ he asked.

‘Your pistols are identical, I believe?’ said I.

‘Exactly alike,’ he answered.

‘Then Colonel Hope-Kennedy’s choice,’ said I, ‘cannot furnish him with
any advantage over you, by his choosing, I mean, with a soldier’s
experience the preciser weapon?’

‘There is not an atom of difference between them,’ he exclaimed.
‘Yonder’s the case, Charles. Take it, and let the scoundrel choose for
himself.’

He could not have spoken more coolly had he been giving me the most
commonplace instructions. I remember wondering whilst I looked at him
and listened to him whether he actually realised his own intention; yet
I should have known better than this if only for the meaning his face
conveyed, and for a note in his voice that made every accent hard and
steady. He said, ‘When you are ready ring the hand-bell on the table; I
will then join you.’

‘But you will charge your own pistol,’ said I, ‘so I must return with
the weapon after the Colonel has made his choice.’

‘No,’ he exclaimed; ‘carry the case on deck and load for me.’

‘Very well,’ said I, wearily and sick at heart, and devoutly wishing
that some heavy black squall would come thundering down on the yacht as
the precursor of a gale of wind and delay this wretched business, for
the present anyway. I took the pistol-case, and returned it to Colonel
Hope-Kennedy. He slightly glanced at the fire-arms, and said with a
faint smile, ‘They are an elegant brace of weapons. Either will do for
me.’

‘Will you load on deck or here, sir?’ said I.

‘Here, if you please.’

He extracted one of the pistols, poised it in his hand, toying a moment
or two with it, tried the trigger once or twice, then loaded it,
fitting the cap to the nipple with fingers in which I could not discern
the least tremor. He then returned the pistol to the case. Both of us
would know which one he had handled very well, as it lay against the
side upon which the lid locked.

‘Have you a surgeon on board?’ he inquired.

I answered No. He looked a little anxious, and exclaimed, ‘No one of
any kind qualified to deal with a wound?’ Again I answered No. He
seemed to wince at this, the only expression of uneasiness I had
witnessed in him. Finding he asked no more questions, I said, ‘If you
are ready, sir, I will summon my cousin.’

‘I am ready,’ he replied.

On this I rang the little hand-bell that stood upon the table, and in
a minute Wilfrid came out. In grim silence we mounted the companion
steps, my cousin leading the way, the Colonel next, and I at his heels,
with the pistol-case under my arm and a very lively sense of murder
in my heart. All was hushed where the ladies were. Whether Miss Laura
guessed what was going forward I know not, but I was very thankful that
she remained hidden, since, in the face of the Colonel’s coolness, it
was most important that nothing should imperil Wilfrid’s composure.
The yacht’s decks were deserted save by the figures of the men who it
had been arranged were to remain. Forward at the hatch conducting to
the forecastle stood the tall, burly figure of Cutbill; close beside
the cabin skylight was Finn, pale, agitated, his mouth working in the
middle of his face as though he were rehearsing a long speech; Crimp
grasped the wheel. Heaven knows how it was that I should have found
eyesight for small outside features of such a scene as this at that
moment, but I clearly recollect observing that sour old Jacob, with a
view, mayhap, of supporting his spirits, had thrust an immense quid
into his cheek, the angle whereof stood out like a boil or a formidable
bruise against the clear gleam of sky past him; up and down which the
curtseying of the yacht slided his squab, homely figure, and I also
observed that he gnawed upon this junk with an energy that suggested a
mind in an advanced stage of distraction.

I said to the Colonel, ‘It will be satisfactory to myself, sir, if you
will kindly measure the distance I have chalked.’

His eye swiftly ran from line to line, and then giving me a slight bow
he said, nonchalantly, ‘I am quite satisfied.’

‘With regard to the light,’ I continued, looking from him to Wilfrid,
‘you will decide for yourselves, gentlemen, which end of the vessel you
will face.’

‘It is immaterial,’ said the Colonel, with a slight shrug.

‘Then,’ said Wilfrid, ‘I will have my back to the wheel.’

I could not be sure that he was well advised, for the blue dazzle of
sunshine past the awning would throw out his figure into clear relief,
as I noticed Crimp’s was projected, clean lined as a shadow cast by the
moonlight on a white deck.

‘It may be as well to toss for position,’ I said.

‘No,’ cried Wilfrid, ‘I am content.’

I loaded his pistol and handed the weapons to the men. My heart thumped
like a coward’s in my breast, but I strove hard to conceal my agitation
for Wilfrid’s sake. Each took up his respective post, and both held
their pistols at level. The Colonel exclaimed ‘Tell your mad relative
to feather-edge himself. He is all front. ’Tis too irrational to take
advantage of.’

Wilfrid heard him and cried out, ‘Let him look to himself. Ready with
the signal, Charles.’

I pulled out my pocket-handkerchief, and as I did so old Crimp suddenly
let go the wheel and came skimming up to Finn, rumbling out, in a voice
half choked with tobacco-juice, that the gent’s pistol (meaning the
Colonel’s) was upon him full, and that he wasn’t going to be made cold
beef of for any man.

‘Ready, gentlemen!’ I cried, and desirous of emphasising the signal,
lest the Colonel’s keener sight should witness the fall of the
handkerchief before the flutter of it caught Wilfrid’s eye, I called
out ‘_Now!_’ and the handkerchief fell to the deck.

There was one report only; it was like the sharp crack of a whip. For
the instant I did not know which man’s pistol had exploded, but the
little curl of smoke at Wilfrid’s end told me that it was his. I saw
the Colonel fling his arms up, and his weapon flashed as he seemed
to fire it straight into the air. ‘Good God! how generous!’ was the
thought that swept through me; ‘he will not fight.’ He continued
holding his pistol elevated whilst you could have counted ten, with a
slight backward leaning posture and an indescribable look in his face,
absolutely as though he were endeavouring to follow the flight of the
bullet; his weapon then fell to the deck, he made a clutch with both
hands at his heart, with a deep groan sank--his knees yielding, and,
with his hands still at his heart, dropped, as a wooden figure might,
on his side and lay without motion.

Finn and I rushed up to him. Whilst the skipper freed his neck I
grasped his wrist, but found it pulseless. Yet it was difficult to
credit that he was dead. His face was as reposeful as that of a
sleeper. There was no look whatever of pain in it--nay, such faint
distinguishable expression as I remember had the air of a light smile.
I opened his coat, and found a small perforation in the shirt under the
right arm; the orifice was as cleanly clipped as though made with a
pair of scissors. There was no blood.

‘Dead, sir!’ exclaimed Finn. ‘A noble-looking gentleman, too. A pity, a
pity! How gents of this kind stand upon their honour! yet they’re the
people to break up homes.’

‘Call Cutbill,’ said I, ‘and let the body be taken below.’

I rose from my knees and walked aft to Wilfrid, who remained standing
at the chalked line, his arm that grasped the pistol hanging by his
side. There was a kind of _lifting_ look in his face, that with his
swelled nostrils and large protruding eyes and a curve of the upper
lip, that was made a sarcastic sneer of by the peculiar projection of
the under one, indicated a mood of scornful triumph, of exultation
subdued by contempt.

‘You have killed your man, Wilfrid,’ said I.

‘I have shot him through the heart,’ said he, talking like one newly
aroused from his slumber and still in process of collecting his mind.

‘Most probably. You hit him in some vital part, anyway. He dropped
dead.’

‘He made sure of killing me; I saw it in his cold, deliberate way of
covering me.’ He laughed harshly and mirthlessly. ‘He’ll trouble no
other man’s peace. I’ve merely liberated the spirit of a devil that
is now winging its way on black, bat-like wings back to that hell it
came from. There will be disappointment amongst the fiends. That fellow
there,’ nodding at the body over which Cutbill and Finn were bending,
‘was good at least for another twenty years of scoundrelism. What are
they going to do with him?’

‘Carry him below.’

‘Finn!’ he called.

‘Sir!’ answered the skipper, looking up from the body, whose arms he
grasped.

‘Hide it in some forward cabin, and if stone-dead, as Mr. Monson
declares, get it stitched up. I’ll tell you when to bury him.’

‘Ay, ay, sir,’ answered Finn promptly, but looking shocked nevertheless.

My cousin handed me his pistol. As he did so his manner changed;
a broken-hearted look--I do not know how else to describe the
expression--entered his face. He drew a long, deep breath, like to the
sigh of a sufferer from some exquisite throe, and said in a low voice,
trembling with the tears which pressed close behind, ‘His death does
not return to me what he has taken from me. With him go my honour,
my peace of mind, the love that was my wife’s--all gone--all gone!’
he muttered. ‘My God!’ he almost shrieked, ‘how blank has the world
become, now that he lies there.’

‘Be advised by me, Wilfrid,’ said I; ‘withdraw to your cabin and rest.
This has been a terrible morning--enough to last out a lifetime has
been crowded into it. You met him bravely, fairly, honourably. He has
paid the penalty of his infamy, and though Heaven knows I would have
gone to any lengths to avert this meeting, yet, since it has happened,
I thank God your life is preserved and that you have come out of it
unharmed.’

His eyes moistened and he took my hand; but just then Cutbill and Finn
came staggering towards the companion hatch, bearing the body between
them, on which he walked hastily to the rail and stood peering over
into the water, supporting his temples in his hands.

Jacob Crimp had resumed his hold of the wheel. I went up to him. ‘I’ll
keep the helm steady,’ said I, ‘whilst you wipe out those chalk marks
on the deck. Meanwhile pick up that pistol yonder and bring me the case
off the skylight.’

Whilst he did this we were hailed from the barque. She lay close to us,
with her sailors in a crowd about the fore-rigging, where they had been
standing attentive spectators of the duel. ‘Beg pardon!’ bawled Captain
Crimp, erect on the rail and steadying himself by a backstay, ‘but I
should be glad to know if the gent’s coming aboard?’

I shouted back, ‘No. You need not wait for him.’

The man tossed his arm with a gesture very significant of a growling
‘Well, well!’ and then with a flourish of his hat he cried, ‘A lucky
run home to ’ee, gentlemen all!’ dismounted, and fell to singing out
orders. His wild-looking crew ran about, the maintopsail-yard slowly
swung round, and presently the deeply-laden, malodorous craft, rolling
clumsily upon a swell to whose light summer heavings our yacht was
curtseying with fairy grace, was heading round to her course, blurring
the water at her bows to the blowing of the mild breeze that had
scarcely power enough to lift her foresail.

Finn and Cutbill arrived on deck, and Wilfrid on seeing them went below.

‘Better turn the hands up, I suppose, now, sir?’ said Finn to me.
‘There’ll be nothen more, your honour, that’ll be onfit for them to
see.’

‘By all means, Captain Finn; and then get the boat hoisted and a course
shaped for home, for our quest is over, and we have made southing
enough, Heaven knows!’

Cutbill went forward. There is a magic in the mere sound of homeward
bound that would put a jocund nimbleness into the proportions of a
marine Falstaff. Cutbill tried to walk and look as though he were
sensible that death lay under his feet and that the shadow of a
dreadful event hung dark upon the yacht, but scarce was he abreast of
the galley when his spirits proved too much for him, and he measured
the rest of the deck in several gleesome, floundering jumps, pounding
the scuttle with a capstan bar that he snatched up, and roaring out,
‘All hands trim sail for home!’ The men came tumbling up as though the
yacht’s forecastle were vomiting sailors, and in a breath the lustrous
decks of the ‘Bride’ were full of life, colour, and movement.

A man came to the wheel. I lingered a minute or two to exchange a few
words with Finn.

‘You are sure the Colonel is dead?’

‘Ay, sir; he’ll be no deader a thousand years hence.’

‘A bloody morning’s work, Finn! I feel heart-sick, as though I had
shared in the assassination of a man. But since it was bound to end in
one or the other’s death, ’tis best as it is. Have you any particulars
of the foundering of the “Shark”?’

‘The yarn her people--I mean the surwivors aboard the barque--spun our
men whilst they lay alongside was that they met with a gale of wind,
that, after blowing with hurricane fury for two days and two nights,
ended in dismasting ’em. The fall of the mainmast ripped the plank out
of the deck as clean as though shipwrights had been at work there. Then
the pounding of the wreckage alongside started a butt, and she took in
water faster than they could pump it out. There were boats enough for
all hands and to spare, and they had just time to get away when the
“Shark” foundered. ’Twas blowing hard then, and a high sea running,
and before it came on dark the boats had lost sight of one another. The
Colonel and her ladyship were together, along with five sailors, one of
whom fell overboard on the second day and was drownded. They were three
days and four nights washing about afore the “’Liza Robbins” fell in
with them. That’s all I got to hear, sir; but I suppose it’s the true
yarn right enough.’

‘I dare say they encountered much such weather as we met with,’ said I;
‘the same straight-lined storm thundering up from the south, for all
one knows. Well, now, Finn, drive us home as fast as ever you can. Bowl
her along--we’ve all had enough of it. In what berth have you placed
the body?’

‘In the one that was occupied by his honour’s walet, sir.’

I gave him a nod, and, with the pistol-case under my arm, descended the
steps and went to my cabin.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE COLONEL’S FUNERAL.


On entering my berth I threw myself into my bunk and sat in it in such
a despondent condition of mind as I had never before been sensible
of. This, to be sure, signified no more than reaction following the
wild excitement I had been under all the morning. But, let the cause
be what it might, whilst the fit was on me I felt abjectly miserable,
and a complete wretch. It then occurred to me that hunger might have
something to do with my mood, seeing that no food had crossed my lips
since dinner time on the preceding day.

It was about two o’clock in the afternoon. I entered the cabin and
found a cold lunch upon the table, not a dish of which had been
touched, proving that there were others besides myself who were
fasting. I was without appetite, but I sat down resolutely, and calling
to the steward--who seemed thankful to have an order to attend to--to
bring me a bottle of Burgundy, I fell to, and presently found myself
tolerably hearty; the fountain of my spirits unsealed afresh, and
beginning leisurely to bubble into the channel that had run dry. There
is no better specific in the world for a fit of the blues than a bottle
of Burgundy. No other wine has its art of tender blandishments. It does
not swiftly exhilarate, but courts the brain into a pleasing serenity
by a process of coaxing at once elegant and convincing.

Whilst I sat fondling my glass, leaning back in my chair with my eyes
fixed upon the delicate, graceful paintings on the cabin ceiling,
and my mind revolving, but no longer blackly and weepingly, the grim
incidents which had crowded the morning, I heard my name pronounced
close at my ear, and, whipping round, found Miss Laura at my elbow.

‘I have been most anxious to see you,’ she exclaimed. ‘What is the
news?’

‘Have you not heard?’ I inquired.

‘I have heard nothing but two pistol shots. I have seen nobody of whom
I could ask a question.’

‘Wilfrid has shot Colonel Hope-Kennedy through the heart,’ said I, ‘as
he declared he would, and the body lies yonder;’ and I pointed to the
recess that Muffin had formerly occupied.

‘Colonel Hope-Kennedy killed!’ she exclaimed, in a low, breathless,
terrified voice; and she sank into a chair beside me, and leant her
face on her hand speechless, and her eyes fixed upon the table.

‘Better that he should have been shot than Wilfrid,’ said I. ‘But he
is dead; of him, then, let us speak nothing since we cannot speak
good. I have just succeeded in fighting myself out of a hideous mood
of melancholy with the help of yonder bottle. Now you must let me
prescribe for you. You have eaten nothing since dinner yesterday. I
therefore advise a glass of champagne and a slice of the breast of
cold fowl;’ and that she might not say no, I put on an air of bustle,
called to the steward to immediately open a pint bottle of champagne,
helped her to a little piece of the fowl, and, finding her still
reluctant, gently insinuated a knife and fork into her hands. ‘We are
homeward bound,’ said I; ‘see! the sun has slipped t’other side of the
yacht. Our bowsprit points directly for dear old Southampton Water.
So,’ said I, filling a glass of champagne and handing it to her, ‘you
must absolutely drink to our prosperous voyage, not only to the ship
that goes, but to the wind that blows, whilst,’ said I, helping myself
to another small dose of Burgundy, ‘I’ll drink the lass that loves a
sailor.’

She could not forbear a slight smile, drank, and then ate a little, and
presently I saw how much good it did her by the manner in which she
plucked up her heart. I asked her where Lady Monson was.

‘In my cabin,’ she answered; ‘she will not speak to me; she asks my
maid for what she requires; she will not even look at me.’

‘It is all too fresh yet,’ said I. ‘A little patience, Miss Jennings.
The woman in her will break through anon; there will be tears, kisses,
contrition. Who knows?’

She shook her head. Just then I caught sight of the maid, beckoned
to her, exclaiming to Miss Laura, ‘Your sister must not be allowed
to starve. I fear she will have known what hunger is aboard Captain
Crimp’s odious old barque, where the choicest table delicacy probably
was rancid salt pork. Here,’ said I to the maid, ‘get me a tray.
Steward, open another bottle of champagne. You will smile at the
cook-like view I take of human misery, Miss Jennings,’ said I; ‘but let
me tell you that a good deal of the complexion the mind wears is shed
upon it by the body.’

I filled the tray the maid brought, and bade her carry it to her
ladyship, and to let her suppose it was prepared by the steward. I then
thought of Wilfrid, and told Miss Laura that I would visit him. ‘But
you will stop here till I return,’ said I. ‘I want you to cheer me up.’

I went to my cousin’s cabin and knocked very softly. The berth occupied
by Lady Monson was immediately opposite, and the mere notion of her
being so near made me move with a certain stealth, though I could not
have explained why I did so. There was no response, so, after knocking
a second time very lightly and obtaining no reply, I entered. Wilfrid
lay in his bunk. The porthole was wide open, and a pleasant draught of
air breezed into the cabin. He lay in his shirt, the collar of which
was wide open, and a pair of silk drawers, flat on his back, his arms
crossed upon his breast, like the figure of a knight on a tomb, and
his eyes closed. I was startled at first sight of him, but quickly
perceived that his breast rose and fell regularly, and that, in short,
he was in a sound sleep. Quite restful his slumber was not, for whilst
I stood regarding him he made one or two wry faces, frowned, smiled,
muttered, but without any nervous starts or discomposure of his placid
posture. I was seized with a fit of wonder, and looked about me for
some signs of an opiate or for any hint of liquor that should account
for this swift and easy repose, but there was nothing of the sort to
be seen. He had fallen asleep as a tired child might, or as one who,
having accomplished some great object through stress of bitter toil and
distracting vigil, lightly pillows his head with a thanksgiving that he
has seen the end. I returned to Miss Jennings marvelling much, and she
was equally astonished.

‘Conceive, Mr. Monson,’ she exclaimed, ‘that the whole may have passed
out of his memory!’

‘I wish I could believe it,’ said I. ‘No, he has just lain down as a
boy might who is tired out and dropped asleep. A man is to be envied
for being wrongheaded sometimes. If _I_ had shot the Colonel---- but we
agreed not to speak of him. Miss Jennings, you are better already. When
you arrived just now you were white, your eyes were full of worry and
care, you looked as if you would never smile again. Now the old sparkle
is in your gaze, and now you smile once more, and your complexion has
gathered afresh that golden delicacy which I must take the liberty of
vowing as a friend I admire as a most surprising perfection in you.’

‘Oh, Mr. Monson,’ she exclaimed softly, with one of those little pouts
I was now used to and glad to observe in her again, whilst something of
colour came into her cheeks, ‘this is no time for compliments.’

Nevertheless she did not seem ill pleased, spite of her looking
downwards with a gravity that was above demureness. At that moment
Cutbill and Crimp came down the companion ladder, pulling off their
caps as they entered. The big sailor had a roll of what resembled
sailcloth under his arm. They passed forward and disappeared in the
cabin that had been occupied by Muffin. Miss Laura noticed them,
but made no remark. It was impossible that she should suspect their
mission. But the sight of them darkened the brighter mood that had
come to me out of the companionship of the girl, and I fell grave on a
sudden.

‘Will you share your cabin with your sister?’ I asked.

‘No; she cannot bear my presence. My maid will prepare for me the berth
adjoining my old one. She must be humoured. Who can express the agonies
her pride is costing her?’

‘I fear Wilfrid sleeps rather too close to her ladyship,’ said I.
‘There’s a cabin next mine. I should like to see him in it. Figure his
taking it into his head in an ungovernable fit of temper to walk in
upon his wife----’

‘If such an impulse as that visited him,’ she answered, ‘it would be
all the same even if he should sleep amongst the crew forward. Do not
anticipate trouble, Mr. Monson. The realities are fearful enough.’

I smiled at her beseeching look. ‘Lucky for your sister,’ said I, ‘that
you are on board. She arrives without a stitch saving what she stands
up in, and here she finds your wardrobe, the two-score conveniences of
the lady’s toilet table, and a maid on top of it all, with pins and
needles and scissors, bodkins and tape--bless me! what a paradise after
the “’Liza Robbins.”’ And then I told her how the ‘Shark’ was lost,
giving her the yarn as I had it from Finn. ‘Anyway,’ said I, ‘Lady
Monson is rescued. Your desire is fulfilled.’

‘But I did not wish her--I did not want Colonel Hope-Kennedy killed,’
she exclaimed with a shudder.

‘Yet you could have shot him,’ said I; ‘do you remember our chat that
night off the Isle of Wight?’

‘Yes, perfectly well,’ she answered. ‘But now that he is dead--oh, it
is too terrible to think of,’ she added with a sob in her voice.

‘It must always be so with generous natures,’ I exclaimed. ‘What is
abhorrent to them in life, death converts into a pathetic appeal. Best
perhaps to leave old Time to revenge one’s wrongs. And now that her
ladyship is on board, what is Wilfrid going to do with her?’

‘She is never likely to leave her cabin,’ she replied.

‘When the “Bride” arrives home, then?’

‘I cannot tell.’

‘Had Wilfrid’s misfortune been mine this is the consideration that
would have stared me in the face from the very start and hindered me
from taking any step that did not conduct me straight to the Divorce
Court.’

Here her maid arrived and whispered to her, on which, giving me a
pretty little sad smile, she rose and went to her cabin. I mounted
to the deck and found the wide ocean shivering and flashing under a
pleasant breeze of wind, whose hot buzzing as it hummed like the vast
insect life of a tropic island through the rigging and into the canvas,
was cooled to the ear by the pleasant noise of running waters on either
hand. My first look was for the ‘’Liza Robbins,’ and I was not a little
surprised to find her far away down upon our lee quarter, a mere dash
of light of a moonlike hue. Finn was pacing the quarterdeck solemnly
with a Sunday air upon him. On seeing me he approached with a shipshape
salute and exclaimed:

‘I suppose there is no doubt, sir, his honour designs that we should be
now steering for home?’

‘For what other part of the world, captain?’

‘Well, sir, at sea one wants instructions. Maybe Sir Wilfrid _knows_
that we’re going home?’

‘He lies sleeping as soundly and peacefully, Finn, as a little boy in
his cabin, and knows nothing.’

‘Lor’ bless me!’ cried Finn.

‘But you may take me as representing him,’ said I, ‘and I’ll be
accountable for all misdirections. About the funeral now. I observed
Cutbill and Crimp pass through the cabin. They’ve gone to stitch the
body up.’

‘Yes, sir. His honour told me to get it done at once. ’Sides, ’tain’t a
part of the ocean in which ye can keep the like of them things long.’

‘When do you mean to bury him?’

‘Well, I thought to-night, sir, in the first watch. Better make a
quiet job of it, I allow, for fear of----’ and screwing up his face
into a peculiar look, he pointed significantly to the deck with clear
reference to Lady Monson.

‘You are right, Finn. We have had “scenes” enough, as scrimmages are
called by women.’

‘Will your honour read the orfice?’

‘D’ye mean the burial service? It will be hard to see print by lantern
light.’

‘I’ve got it, sir, in a book with the letters as big as my forefinger.’

I considered a little and then said, ‘On reflection, no. You are
captain of this ship, and it is for you, therefore, to read the
service. I will be present, of course.’

He looked a trifle dismayed, but said nothing more about it, and, after
walking the deck with him for about half an hour, during which our
talk was all about the ‘Shark’ and the incidents of the morning, what
the crew thought of the duel and the like, I went below to my berth,
and lay down, feeling tired, hot, and again depressed. I was awakened
out of a light sleep by the ringing of the first dinner bell. Having
made ready for dinner I entered the cabin as the second bell sounded,
and found the table prepared, but no one present. I was standing at
the foot of the companion ladder, trying to cool myself with the wind
that breezed down of a fiery hue with the steadfast crimsoning of the
westering sun, when Wilfrid came from his cabin. He was dressed as
if for a ball--swallow-tail coat, patent leather boots, plenty of
white shirt sparkling with diamond studs, and so forth. Indeed, it was
easily seen that he had attired himself with a most fastidious hand,
as though on a sudden there had broken out in him a craze of dandyism.
I was much astonished, and stared at him. There had never been any
ceremony amongst us; in point of meals we had made a sort of picnic of
this marine ramble, and dined regardless of attire. Indeed, in this
direction Wilfrid had always shown a singular negligence, often in cold
weather sitting down in an old pilot coat, or taking his place during
the hot days in white linen coat and small-clothes or an airy camlet
jacket.

‘Why, Wilf,’ said I, running my eye over him, ‘you must give me ten
minutes to keep you in countenance.’

‘No, no,’ he cried, ‘you are very well. This is a festal day with me,
a time to be dignified with as much ceremony as the modern tailor will
permit. Heavens! how on great occasions one misses the magnificence of
one’s forefathers. I should like to dine to-day in the costume of a
Raleigh, a doublet bestudded with precious gems, a short cloak of cloth
of gold. Ha, ha! a plague on the French Revolution--’tis all broadcloth
now. Where’s Laura?’ He asked the question with a sudden breaking away
from the substance of his speech that startlingly accentuated the wild
look his eyes had and the expression of countenance that was a sort of
baffling smile in its way.

‘I do not know,’ I answered.

‘Oh, she must dine with us,’ he cried; ‘I want company. I should like
to crowd this table. Steward, call Miss Jennings’ maid.’

The man stole aft and tapped on the cabin next to the room occupied
by Lady Monson. Miss Jennings opened the door and looked out. Wilfrid
saw her, and instantly ran to her, with his finger upon his lip. He
took her by the hand and whispered. She was clearly as much amazed as
I had been to behold him attired as though for a rout. There was a
little whispered talk between them; she apparently did not wish to join
us; then on a sudden consented, and he led her to the table, holding
her hand with an air of old-world ceremony that must have provoked a
smile but for the concern and anxiety his looks caused me. We took
our places, and he fell to acting the part of host, pressing us to
eat, calling for champagne, talking as if to entertain us. He laughed
often, but softly, in a low-pitched key, and one saw that there was
a perpetual reference in his mind to the existence of his wife close
at hand, but he never once mentioned her nor referred to the dead
man whose proximity put an indescribable quality of ghastliness into
his hectic manner, the crazy air of conviviality that flushed, as
with a glow of fever, his speech, and carriage, and behaviour of high
breeding. Not a syllable concerning the events of the morning, the
objects of our excursion, its achievement, the change of the yacht’s
course escaped him. He drank freely, but without any other result than
throwing a little colour upon his high cheek-bones and rendering yet
more puzzling the conflicting expressions which filled with wildness
his large, protruding, near-sighted gaze at one or the other of us. I
saw too clearly how it was with the poor fellow to feel shocked. Miss
Laura’s tact served her well in the replies she made to him, in the
interest with which she seemed to listen to his conversation, in her
well-feigned ignorance of there being anything unusual in his apparel
or manner. But it failed her in her efforts to conceal her deep-seated
apprehension, that stole like a shadow into her face when she looked
downwards in some interval of silence that enabled her to think, or
when her eyes met mine.

After dinner my cousin fetched his pipe and asked me to join him on
deck. I took advantage of his absence to say swiftly to Miss Laura, ‘We
must not forget that Lady Monson is on board. Upon my word, I believe
you are right in your suggestion this afternoon that Wilfrid has
forgotten all about it, or surely he would have made some reference to
her dining.’

‘I’ll take care that she is looked after, Mr. Monson,’ she answered. ‘I
purposely abstained from mentioning her name at dinner. I am certain,
by the expression in his face, that he would have been irritated by the
lightest allusion to her, and unnatural as his mood is after such a
morning as we have passed through,’ here she glanced in the direction
of the cabin where the Colonel’s body lay, ‘I would rather see him as
he is than sullen, scowling, silent, eating up his heart.’

He returned with his pipe at that moment, and we were about to proceed
on deck when he stopped and said to his sister-in-law, ‘Come along,
Laura, my love.’

‘I have a slight headache, Wilfrid, and I have to see that my cabin is
prepared.’

I thought this answer would start him into questioning her, but he
looked as if he did not gather the meaning of it. ‘Pooh, pooh!’ he
cried, ‘there are two stewards and a maid to see to your cabin for you.
If they don’t suffice we’ll have Muffin aft; that arthritic son of a
greengrocer, whose genius as a valet will scarcely be the worse for the
tar that stains his hands. Muffin for one night only!’ He delivered one
of his short roars of laughter and slapped his leg.

By Jupiter! thought I, Lady Monson will hear that and take it as an
expression of his delight at her presence on board! Does she know, I
wondered, that her colonel lies dead? But I had found no opportunity of
inquiring.

‘Come along, Laura,’ continued Wilfrid; ‘I’ll roll you up as pretty a
cigarette as was ever smoked by a South American belle.’

She shook her head, forcing a smile.

‘Perhaps Miss Jennings will join us later,’ said I, distrustful of his
temper, and passing my hand through his arm, I got him on deck.

‘Laura is a sweet little woman,’ said he, pausing just outside the
hatch to hammer at a tinder-box.

‘Ay, sweet, pretty, and good,’ said I.

‘You’re in love with her, I think, Charles.’

‘My dear Wilf, let us talk of this beautiful night,’ I exclaimed.

‘Why of a beautiful night in preference to a beautiful woman?’ cried he.

But I was determined to end this, so I called to a figure standing to
leeward of the main boom, ‘Is that you, Finn?’

‘No, it’s me,’ answered Crimp’s surly note; ‘the capt’n’s a-laying
down, but he’s guv orders to be aroused at four bells.’

‘Why?’ inquired Wilfrid.

Crimp probably supposed the question put to me, for which I was
thankful. ‘He may mistrust the weather, perhaps,’ I answered softly,
that old Jacob might not hear. ‘Yet the sky has a wonderfully settled
look too. Let’s go right aft, shall we, Wilf? The downdraught here is
emptying my pipe.’

We strolled together to the grating abaft the wheel and seated
ourselves. I cannot tell how much it affected me to find him so easily
thrown off the line of his thoughts. It had been dark some time, for
in those parallels night treads on the skirts of the glory which the
departing sun trails down the western slope of the sea. There would
be no moon sooner than ten o’clock or thereabouts, and it was now a
little after eight--for my cousin’s strange humour had made a much
longer sitting than usual of the dinner. There was a refreshing sound
of rushing wind in the star-laden dusk, a noise as of the sweeping of
countless pinions, with a smooth hissing penetrating from the cutwater
that made one think of the shearing of a skater over ice. The cabin
lamps glowing into the skylight shed a yellow, satin-like sheen upon
the foot of the mainsail, the cloths of which soared the paler for
that lustre till the head of the gaff topsail looked like the brow of
some height of vapour dissolving against the stars. We sat on a line
with the side of the deck on which he had shot Colonel Hope-Kennedy.
The gloom worked the memory of the incident to me into a phantasm,
and I remember a little shiver creeping over me at the vision of that
tall, noble figure with face upturned to heaven a moment or two as
though he watched the flight of his spirit, then falling dead with
the countenance of a man in easy slumber. But Wilfrid had not a word
to say about it. I could not reconcile his extraordinary silence with
his attire and manner, which at all events indicated the recollection
of the duel as strong in him. He chatted volubly and intelligently,
without any of his customary breakings away from his train of thought;
but not of his wife, nor of the Colonel, nor of his infant, nor of this
ocean chase that was now ended so far as the fugitives were concerned.
He talked of his estate; how he intended to build a wing to his house
that should contain a banqueting room, how he proposed to convert some
acres of his land into a market garden, and so on and so on. His face
showed pale in the starlight; his evening costume gave him an unusual
look to my eye; though he talked carelessly on twenty matters of small
interest, I could yet detect an undue energy in the tone of his voice,
comparatively subdued as it was, and in his vehement manner of smoking,
puffing out great clouds rapidly and filling the bowl afresh with hasty
fingers. It would have vastly eased my mind had he made some reference
to the morning. You felt as if the memory of it must be working in him
like some deadly swift pulse, and I confess I could have shrunk from
him at moments when I thought of the character of the source whence he
drew the strength that enabled him to mask himself with what might well
have passed for a mere company face.

When three bells, half-past nine, were struck, I made a move as though
to go below.

‘Going to turn in?’ he asked.

‘It has been a long, tiring day,’ said I evasively.

‘A grand day,’ he exclaimed; ‘the one stirring, memorable day of our
voyage. Come, I will follow you, and we will pledge it in a bumper
before parting.’

We entered the cabin; it was deserted. Wilfrid asked where Miss Laura
was, and the steward replied that he believed she was gone to bed.

‘She should be with us, Charles,’ cried my cousin, with a light of
excitement in his eyes, his face flushed, though above it had looked
marble in the starlight, and a half smile of malicious triumph riding
his lips.

‘No, no,’ said I. ‘The poor child is tired. What is our drink to be,
Wilf? I want to see you turned in, my dear boy.’

‘Pooh, pooh; hang turning in! I feel myself of forty-spirit power
to-night, just in the humour, if I were a member, to go down to the
House and terrify the old ladies in it who call themselves Sir Johns
and Sir Thomases, and who wear swallow-tailed coats and broad-brimmed
hats, with a passionate attack on the British Constitution.’

He called for brandy and seltzer. However, we had not been sitting
twenty minutes when his mood changed; his dinner-party face darkened.
He folded his arms and lay back in his chair, looking downwards with a
gathering scowl upon his brow. I rose.

‘Good-night, Wilfrid,’ said I.

He viewed me with an absent expression, said ‘Good-night,’ and at once
went, but in a mechanical way, governed by habit without giving his
mind to the action, to his berth, at the door of which I saw him stand
a moment whilst he gazed hard at the cabin abreast him; then rubbing
his brow with the gesture of one who seeks to clear his brain, he
disappeared.

Four bells were struck forward. I quietly stepped on deck, and whilst I
stood looking into the binnacle Finn came up to me.

‘Shall we tarn to now, sir,’ said he, ‘and get this here melancholy job
over?’

‘Yes,’ said I, ‘the sooner the better. Sir Wilfrid has gone to his
cabin. Tell your people to be quick and secret.’

He trudged forward, and presently returned with Cutbill and another
seaman. The three of them went below, leaving Crimp to get the gangway
rigged and lighted. A couple of globular lamps, such as might be used
for riding lights, were suspended against the bulwarks, and between
them a seaman rested a grating of the length of a stretcher. The moon
was rising at this moment on our starboard beam, an arch of blood
defining the indigo-black line of the horizon there that on either
hand of her went melting out into a blending of starladen sky, with
the dark and gleaming ocean brimming to the yacht, vast as the heavens
themselves looked. Presently up through the hatch rose the figures
of Captain Finn and the two men, swaying under the weight of the
canvas-shrouded form they bore. The watch on deck came aft and gathered
about the gangway, where they glimmered like visionary creatures to
the dull, yellow shining of the lamps. Face after face seemed to
come twisting and wriggling out of the dusk--visions of hairy salts,
rendered lifelike and actual by the dull illumination that glanced upon
their shadowy lineaments. The wind filled the rigging with melancholy
noises, there was a yearning sob in the sound of the water as it washed
aft, broken and hissing serpent-like from the bow. The canvas rose
dark, but it was now gathering to its loftier cloths a faint, delicate,
pinkish tinge from the red moonbeam, though in a few minutes, when the
planet had lifted her ill-shapen face clear of the black line of brine,
all would be of a snow-white softness above us, and a sparkling line of
bulwark-rail and glittering constellations in the skylight glass and a
wake of floating and heaving silver rolling fan-shaped to us.

A couple of seamen caught hold of the grating and raised it level with
the bulwarks, one end supported by the rail. The body was placed upon
it, and ghostly it looked in that spectral commingling of starlight and
lamplight and moonlight not yet brightening out of its redness--ghastly
in the nakedness of its canvas cover, though, to be sure, there was
no need at that hour to conceal it under a flag. Finn pulled a thin
volume from his pocket and opened it close against one of the lanterns,
peering into it hard and coughing hoarsely as though loath to begin. At
last he mustered up courage and made a start. He pronounced many of the
words oddly, and there was a deep sea-note in his delivery. I watched
his long face twitching and working to his recital as he brought his
eyes in a squint to the page with the lantern-light touching his skin
into a hue of sulphur that made one think of it as the likeness of a
human countenance wrought in yellow silk upon black satin. But the
mystery of death was with us; it seemed to breathe--hot as the night
was--in an ice-cold air off the dark surface of the sea, and a man’s
sense of humour must have been of the featherweight quality of an
idiot’s to flutter in the presence of the pallid, motionless bundle
upon the grating, whose chill, secret subduing inspirations were
unspeakably heightened by the eyes of the sailors round about gleaming
out of the weak glimmer of their countenances vaguely shaped by the
rays of the oil-flames upon the obscurity, by the silver gaze of the
countless equinoctial heaven surveying us over the yardarms and through
the squares of the ratlines and amid the exquisite tracery of the gear,
and by the steadfast watching of stars low down in the measureless dark
distances of the west and north and south, as though they were the
eyes of giant spirits standing on tiptoe behind the horizon to observe
us, and by the slow soaring of the moon that was now icing her crimson
visage with crystal, and diffusing a soft cloud of white light over
the eastern sky with an edging already of brilliant glory under her
upon a short length of the dark sea-line there that made the water in
that direction look as though its boundary were beating in ivory foam
against the wall of sky.

I was standing with my back to the companion hatch; my eyes were rooted
upon the white form which in a few moments now would be tilted and sent
flashing with a heavy cannon-ball at its feet into the black depths on
which we were floating. The man, in life, had acted a scoundrel’s part,
and had richly merited the end he had met; but he lay dead; his grave
was this mighty wilderness of waters; not a hole in the earth to which
those who mourned him could repair and say, pointing downwards, ‘What
remains of him is here;’ but a tomb rivalling the heavens in immensity,
a material eternity that would absorb him and his memory as though his
form, waiting there to be launched, was but a drop of the dew that
glittered in the moonshine upon the grating that supported him.

That bundle was a text to fill me with melancholy musings, and I was
thinking of the man as I beheld him in the morning, worn indeed by
shipwreck and privation, but stately, erect, soldierly; his cheek
crimsoning to the blow that Wilfrid had dealt him; life and passion
strong in him; when I was startled out of my thoughts by Finn ceasing
to read. I glanced at him and observed that he was peering over the
top of his book, goggling some object with eyes that protruded from
their sockets. I looked to see what had called off his attention, and
remarked a tall female figure attired in a light dress, but with her
face concealed by a long dark veil, standing close beside the head of
the grating, perfectly motionless, save for such movements as came to
her by the swaying of the yacht. She had appeared amongst us with the
stealthiness of a ghost, and she looked like one in that conflicting
light, with the faint gleam of her eyes showing through the veil,
and the stitched-up form on the grating to give a darker and more
thrilling accentuation to her presence than she could have got from
an empty grave or a ruptured coffin. The sailors backed away from
her, shouldering one another into the gloom with much wiping of their
leather lips upon the backs of their hands. I was startled on beholding
her, but quickly rallied to a sense of deep disgust that possessed me
on contrasting this illustration of emotion with her language and
treatment of Wilfrid that morning.

‘Proceed,’ I exclaimed to Finn. ‘Read on man, and shorten the service,
too, if you can.’

He croaked out afresh, but the poor fellow was exceedingly nervous.
The ceremony, so far as it had gone, had been chill, doleful,
depressing enough before; but a character almost of horror to my
mind now came into it with the tall, stately, motionless apparition
that stood--scarce won by the lamplight and the moonlight from the
shadowiness that clothed her with unreality--at the head of that
ashen-tinctured length lying prone and resembling a hammock upon the
grating. It was the moral her ladyship’s presence put into the occasion
that made the ceremony all on a sudden so hideously gaunt, so wild, so
inhuman, striking ice-like to the heart. For _this_ she had quitted
her child, as she believed, for ever; for _this_ she had abandoned
her husband, had pricked the bubble of her honour, extinguished the
inspiration of her womanhood’s purest, truest, deepest, holiest
feelings! What but an affrighting vision could that dead man wrapped
in his sea-shroud convert her ladyship’s dream of passion and pleasure
into! Something, one should think, to blind the very eyes of her soul.
But, Lord, how I hated her then for the base dishonour she did herself
by this subtle, sneaking attendance at the funeral of her shame with
the ghost of it to slip with her to her cabin again, and to act, maybe,
as a sentinel to her for the rest of her natural life, stalking close
at her heels, so steadfast there as to make her presently dread to look
behind her!

Finn’s croaking delivery ceased.

‘Overboard with it,’ he rumbled, for his gesture to tilt the grating
had been unobserved by the two men who held it, or else not understood.

The sailors raised their arms; the glimmering bundle sped like a small
cloud of smoke from the side to the accompaniment of the noise of a
long creaming wash of water simmering aft from the bow, through which
I caught the note of a half-stifled shriek from Lady Monson. She flung
her hands to her face and reeled, as if she would fall. I sprang to her
assistance, but on freeing her eyes and seeing who I was, she waved me
from her with a motion of which the passionate haughtiness, disdain,
and dislike were too strong for me to miss, confusing as the lights
were. She then walked slowly aft.

I believed she was going below again, and said to Finn, ‘Shut the book.
Make an end now. The man is buried, and thank God for it.’

Lady Monson, however, walked to the extreme end of the vessel, kneeled
upon the little grating abaft the wheel, and overhung the taffrail,
apparently gazing into the obscurity astern where the Colonel’s body
was sinking and where the white wake of the yacht was glittering like
a dusty summer highway running ivory-like through a dark land on
a moonlit night. I watched her with anxiety, but without daring to
approach her. The sailors unhitched the lanterns and took them forward
along with the grating.

I said to Finn: ‘I hope she does not mean to throw herself overboard.’

His head wagged in the moonlight. ‘Sir,’ he answered, ‘the likes of her
nature ain’t quick to kill themselves. If she were the wife of the gent
that’s gone, I’d see to it. But _she’ll_ not hurt herself.’

Nevertheless, I kept my eye upon her. The awning was off the deck;
the planks ran white as the foam alongside under the moon that was
now brilliant, and all objects showed sharp upon that ground, whilst
the flitting of the ebony shadows to the heave of the deck was like
a crawling of spectral life. I spied the fellow at the glistening
wheel turn his head repeatedly towards the woman abaft him, as though
troubled by that wrapped, veiled, kneeling presence. Finn’s rough,
off-hand indifference could not reassure me. The fear of death, all
horror induced by the cold, moonlit, desolate, weltering waters upon
which her eyes were fixed might languish in the heat of some sudden
craze of remorse, of grief, of despair. There were shapes of eddying
froth striking out upon the dark liquid movement at which she was
gazing--dim, scarce definable configurations of the sea-glow which to
her sight might take the form of the man whose remains had just sped
from the yacht’s side; and God knows what sudden beckoning, what swift,
endearing, caressing gesture to her to follow him she might witness in
the apparition, real, sweet, alluring as in life to the gaze of her
tragic eyes, which in imagination I could see glowing against the moon.
It was with a deep sigh of relief that, after I had stood watching
her at least ten minutes in the shadow of the gangway, I observed her
dismount from the shadow of the grating and walk to the companion, down
which she seemed to melt away as ghostly in her coming as in her going.
Twenty minutes later I followed her, found the cabin empty, and went
straight to bed.



CHAPTER XXVI.

WILFRID’S DELUSION.


It was pleasant to learn next morning that the breeze which had been
slipping us nimbly through it since we had trimmed sail for our
homeward bound run had not only blown steadily all night, giving us an
average of some seven knots an hour, but had gathered a little increase
of weight at sunrise, so that I awoke to as much life in the vessel
in the resonant humming from aloft, the quick wash and eager seething
of recoiling seas, the straining noises of strong fastenings to the
sloping of the spars as though the north-east trades were pouring full
upon the starboard bow, and we were buzzing through the cool Atlantic
parallels within a distance of soundings that would render talk about
Southampton and arriving home reasonable.

For my part, ever since we had penetrated these ‘doldrums’ as they are
called I was dreading the long dead calms of the frizzling belt where
a catspaw is hailed in God’s name and where the roasting eye of the
sun sucks out the very blue of the atmosphere till the heavens go down
in a brassy dazzle to the ocean confines as though one were shut up in
a huge, burnished bell with a white-hot clapper for light. My spirits
were good as I sprang out of my bunk and made for the bath-room. It was
not only that the fresh wind whistling hot through the open scuttle of
my berth caused me to think of home as lying at last fairly over the
bow instead of over the stern as it had been for weeks; the object of
this trip, such as it was, had been achieved; there was nothing more to
keep a look-out for; nothing more to hold one’s expectations tautened
to cracking point. Everything that was material had happened on the
preceding morning, and the toss of the Colonel’s body last night over
the gangway by lantern-light with Lady Monson looking on was like the
drop of the black curtain; it was the end of the tragedy; the orchestra
had filed out, the lights were extinguished, and we could now pass
into heaven’s invigorating air and live again the old easy life of
commonplaces.

So ran my thoughts as I emerged from my berth with a very good appetite
and made my way to the sparkling breakfast-table. I seated myself on a
couch waiting for Wilfrid and Miss Laura; the stewards hung about ready
to serve the meal. I called the head one to me and said, ‘Is there any
chance of Lady Monson joining us at table, do you know?’

‘I think not, sir,’ he answered.

‘Who attends to her--I mean as regards her meals?’

‘Miss Jennings’ maid, sir. She told me this morning her ladyship’s
orders are that a separate tray should be prepared for her for
breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Her breakfast was taken to her about ten
minutes ago.’

‘So I may presume,’ said I, ‘that she finds herself pretty well this
morning? And my cousin, steward?’

‘I was to tell you, sir,’ he answered, ‘that Sir Wilfrid will not come
to table.’

‘How is he?’

‘He didn’t complain, sir; just said, “I’ll breakfast in my cabin this
morning”!’

‘All right,’ said I, and the man retired.

There was nothing unusual in Wilfrid breakfasting in his cabin. I was
glad to hear that he did not complain; as a rule he was very candid if
in suffering; owned freely to whatever troubled him however trifling,
and made much of it.

In a few minutes Miss Laura came from her berth. Her face had the
delicacy of look that in her at all events I took to express a troubled
or sleepless night. Her eyelids were a little heavy; her lips wanted
their dewy freshness of hue. Yet no woman, I thought, could ever show
sweeter than she as she advanced and took my hand smiling up at me and
subtly incensing the atmosphere with a flower-like fragrance that had
nothing whatever to do with the scent-bottle. I told her that Wilfrid
would not breakfast with us, and we seated ourselves.

‘He is well, I hope?’

‘Oh, I should think so, if I may judge from what the steward tells me.
I’ll look in upon him after breakfast. Have you seen Lady Monson this
morning?’

‘No,’ she answered, ‘I sent my maid with a message and the reply was
that Lady Monson wishes to be alone.’

‘Now, Miss Jennings,’ said I, gently but with some emphasis ‘you must
let nothing that Lady Monson does vex you. You have done your duty;
she is on board this yacht; I shall grow fretful if I think you intend
to waste a single breath of the sweetness of your heart upon the arid
air of Madame Henrietta’s desert nature. I dare say you have scarcely
closed your eyes all night through thinking about her.’

‘About her and other things.’

‘Why tease yourself? A sister is a sister only so long as she
chooses to act and feel as one. It is indeed a tender word--a sweet
relationship. But if a woman coolly cuts all family ties----’

She shook her head, smiling. ‘Your views are too hard, Mr. Monson. You
would argue of a sister as you would of a wife. We must bear with the
shame, the degradation, the wickedness of those we have loved, of those
we still love spite of bitter repulse. There is no one, I am sure,
would dare kneel down in prayer if it was believed that God’s mercy
depended upon our own actions. All of us would feel cut off.’

Not all, I thought, looking at her, but I sat silent awhile, feeling
rebuked. I was a young man then; I can turn back now, scarred as I am
by many years of life’s warfare, and see that I was hard, too hard
in those thoughtless days of mine; that knowing little or nothing of
suffering myself, I knew little or nothing of the deep and wondrous
vitality of human sympathy. You find many corridors in human nature
when you enter, but sympathy is the only way in; and to miss that door
is merely to go on walking round the edifice.

I ate for a little in silence and then said, ‘I suppose, as you have
seen almost nothing of your sister, you are unable to form an opinion
of her state of mind?’

‘She is naturally of a cold nature,’ she answered; ‘dispositions such
as hers, I think, do not greatly vary, let what will happen to them.
Though one knows not what passion, feeling, emotion may have its fangs
buried in such hearts, yet suffering has to pass through too many wraps
to find expression.’

I smiled. ‘Yes,’ said I, ‘I know what you mean. She is like a person
who lies buried in half a dozen coffins; a shell, then lead, then oak
and so on. Nothing but the last trumpet could influence the ashes
inside.’

‘But why did you ask that question, Mr. Monson?’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘you know that we buried the Colonel last night?’

She started. ‘I did not know!’ she exclaimed.

‘Yes,’ I continued. ‘We slung a couple of lanterns and Finn read the
service. Just before the body was launched your sister arrived, rising
like a ghost amongst us.’

She looked greatly shocked. ‘Was Henrietta really present?’ she
exclaimed. ‘How could she have known--what could the men have thought
of her? What madness of bad taste!’

‘The forefinger follows the thumb,’ said I, ‘and when you come to the
little finger you must begin again. All’s one with some people when
they make a start. Am I too hard on human nature in saying this?’

But she merely exclaimed, as though talking to herself, ‘How could she
be present? How could she be present?’

‘Well, now, mark what follows, Miss Jennings,’ said I; ‘when the body
had vanished your sister walked right aft, kneeled upon the grating and
in that posture of supplication continued to watch the dark waters for
upwards of ten minutes. Meanwhile I was gazing at her from the gangway,
where I stood in the dusk fidgeting exceedingly. For what was in my
mind? Suppose she should fling herself overboard!’

Her violet eyes rested thoughtfully upon my face. ‘I should not have
been afraid,’ she exclaimed, with a faint touch of scorn which made
wonderfully sapid her voice that was low and colourless.

‘Of course you know your own sister,’ said I. ‘Finn took your view. I
mentioned my misgiving, and his long head waggled most prosaically in
the moonlight.’

‘Women who behave as my sister has, Mr. Monson,’ she exclaimed with the
gravity of a young philosopher, ‘are too selfish, too cowardly, too
much in love with themselves and with life to act as you seem to fear
my sister might. They may go mad, and then to be sure there is an end
of all reasoning about them; but whilst they have their senses they
may be trusted so far as they themselves are concerned. In perfectly
sane people many noble qualities go to impulses or resolutions which
are deemed rash and impious by persons who falter over the mere telling
of such deeds. My sister has not a single noble quality in her. She
may poison the lives of others, but she will be extremely careful to
preserve her own.’

‘Now if I had said that----’ said I.

‘Oh,’ she answered, with the little colour that had come into her
cheeks fading out of them, ‘I will never reproach you for telling the
truth.’

After breakfast I went to Wilfrid’s cabin and found him up and dressed,
sitting in an easy chair reading his diary, which I took the book to
be. He held the volume close to his face; his legs were crossed, his
feet in slippers, his right hand grasped his big meerschaum pipe which
was filled with yellow tobacco not yet lighted. The cabin window was
open and the draperies of the handsome little apartment stirred to the
pouring of the rich, hot ocean breeze through the orifice.

‘You look vastly comfortable, Wilf,’ said I. ‘Glad to find you well.
But it must be a bit dull here though?’

‘Not at all,’ said he, putting down the book and lighting his pipe.
‘Sit and smoke with me.’

‘Why not on deck?’ I answered, sitting, nevertheless. ‘A wide view in
hot weather takes the place of a cool atmosphere. The sight is sensible
of the heat as well as other organs. It may be cooler down here in
reality than it is under the awning above, but these cribbed and
coffined bulkheads make it very hot to the eye, spite of that pleasant
gushing of wind there.’

He quietly sucked at his pipe, looking at me through the wreathes of
tobacco smoke which went up from his bowl. I lighted a cigar, furtively
observing his face as I did so. He was pale: there was nothing novel
in that, but I noticed an expression of anxiety in his eyes that was
new to me: a look of sane concern as though some difficulty novel and
surprising, yet not of a character to strike deep, had befallen him.
I glanced at the breakfast tray that was upon the table near which
he was seated and easily guessed by what remained that he had made
a good meal. His manner was quiet, even subdued; no symptoms of the
old jerkiness, of the odd probing gestures of head with a thrust of
his mind, as it were, into one’s face as if his intellect were as
short-sighted as his eyes. He was airily clothed in white, a coloured
shirt wide open at the collar, and a small silk cap of a jockey pattern
was perched upon his head.

‘Has Finn removed the five-guinea piece from the mainmast? said he?’

‘I don’t know, Wilf.’

‘I must send word to him to take charge of it, and to tell the men that
the money will be distributed among them on our arrival. I shall be
glad to get home.’

‘And so shall I, upon my word.’

‘The ceaseless motion of the sea,’ he continued, talking quietly and
with a more sensible look in his face than I had witnessed in him since
the hour of our start, ‘grows so distractingly monotonous after a time,
that I can readily believe it affects weak heads. This trip has about
exhausted my love of seafaring. I shall sell the “Bride.”’

I nodded.

‘How long should the run home occupy us?’ he asked.

‘Let us call it a month, or five weeks at the outside, for everybody’s
sake,’ I answered.

He smoked for a minute in silence with a thoughtful face and then said,
‘Five weeks in one’s cabin is a long imprisonment.’

I imagined he referred to his wife, and that he was feeling his way
in this roundabout fashion to talk about her. ‘There is no necessity
to be imprisoned for five weeks,’ said I. ‘Your yacht is not an ocean
liner full of passengers whose stares and whispers might indeed prove
embarrassing. So far as I am concerned I am quite willing to promise
very honestly never even to look. Miss Jennings is all tenderness
and sweetness and sympathy; there could be nothing to found a plea
for seclusion upon in her presence. As to the sailors,’ I continued,
noticing without comprehending an air of bewilderment that was growing
upon his face as I talked, ‘Jack meets with so many astonishments in
his vocation that surprise and curiosity are almost lost arts with him.
The crew will take one long thirsty stare; then turn their quids and
give what passes aft no further heed whatever.’

‘I don’t follow you,’ he exclaimed, poising his pipe, with his eyes
intently fixed on me; ‘what are you talking about?’

‘You were speaking of the tediousness of a five weeks’ imprisonment!’

‘Quite right,’ said he, ‘and tedious it is if it’s to last five weeks.’

‘But, my dear Wilfrid, I was endeavouring to point out that the
imprisonment to which you refer is unnecessary; in fact, after last
night----’ But here I suddenly bit my lip to the perception that it
would be rash and unwise on my part to let him know that his wife had
been present at Colonel Hope-Kennedy’s burial. ‘What I mean is,’ I
continued, talking rapidly, ‘if it’s a mere question of sensitiveness
or pride recoiling from observation, why not imitate the great Mokanna:

                      “O’er his features hung
    The Veil, the Silver Veil which he had flung
    In mercy there to hide from human sight
    His dazzling brow till men could bear its light.”

In our case we have no dazzling brow, and consequently require no
silver veils; but in Miss Laura’s wardrobe there should be----’

He was now gaping at me, and cried out, ‘Your brain wanders this
morning, Charles. Do you mean that _I_ should go veiled?’

‘You!’ I exclaimed; ‘certainly not. I am not talking of you.’

‘But I am talking of myself, though,’ he cried.

I looked at him with amazement. ‘You do not mean to say that _you_
intend to imprison yourself in this cabin till we get home?’

He shook his head. ‘I don’t imprison myself,’ he answered, ‘I am
imprisoned.’

‘By whom, pray?’

‘Can’t you see?’

I ran my eyes round the cabin.

‘No, no!’ he shouted, ‘look at _me_. Don’t you perceive that I can’t
get out? How am I to pass through that door?’

‘How are you to pass through that door?’ I exclaimed; ‘Why, by walking
through it, of course. How else!’

‘Ay, and that’s just what I can’t do,’ said he with a melancholy shake
of the head.

‘But why not, Wilfrid?’ I cried, scarcely yet understanding how it was
with him.

‘Because,’ he answered petulantly, looking down himself, then at his
arms and legs, ‘I am too big.’

I perceived now what had come to him, and felt so dismayed, so grieved,
so pained, I may say to the very heart, that for some moments I was
unable to speak. However, with a violent effort I pulled myself
together, and lighting my cigar afresh in a demonstrative way, for the
mere sake of obtaining what concealment I could get out of my gestures
and my puffing of the tobacco clouds, I said, ‘Big you always were,
Wilfrid; but never so big--and not _now_ so big--as not to be able
to pass through that door. See! let me go first; put your two hands
just above my hips and you’ll follow me through as easily as reeving a
rope’s end through the sheave hole it belongs to.’

I rose, but he waved me off with an almost frantic gesture. ‘My God,
man!’ he shouted, ‘What is the use of talking? I could no more get
through that door than I could pass through that porthole.’

‘But don’t you think we might manage to haul you through?’ said I.

‘You’d tear me to pieces,’ he answered. ‘Sit down, my dear fellow,’ he
continued, speaking with an almost cheerful note in his voice, ‘it is a
very grave inconvenience, but it must be met. This cabin is commodious,
and with you and Laura to come and keep me company, and with the
further solace of my pipe and books, why I shall be very nearly as well
off as if I could get on deck. Besides,’ he added, lifting his finger
and addressing me with that old air of cunning I have again and again
referred to, made boyish and pathetic by the quivering of his eyelids
and the knowing look his mouth put on, ‘even if I was not too much
swelled to pass through that door,’ he glanced at it as if it were a
living thing that demanded respectful speech from him, ‘I should never
be able to get through the companion hatch.’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘it no doubt is as you say. A little patience and you
will find yourself equal, I am sure, to leaving your cabin. If not, and
you fear the idea of a squeeze, there is always your carpenter at hand.
A few blows dealt at yonder bulkhead would make room for an elephant.’

‘Ay, that would be all very well,’ said he, ‘so far as this cabin is
concerned. But would you have me order the carpenter to rip up the deck
with leagues of Atlantic weather right ahead of us?’

I feigned to agree. No useful result could possibly follow any sort
of reasoning with him whilst this extraordinary fancy possessed his
brain. I watched him attentively to remark if he moved or acted as if
his hallucination involved physical conditions, as if, in short he was
sensible of the weight and unwieldiness of excessive growth in his body
and limbs: for I remembered the case of a man I once heard of, who,
believing himself to have grown enormously corpulent in a single night,
acted the part of an immensely fat man by breathing pursily and with
labour, by grasping his stomach as though it stood out a considerable
distance ahead of him, and by other samples of behaviour which in his
madness he might imagine properly belonged to the obese. But I could
detect no conduct of this sort in Wilfrid outside that inspection of
himself which I mentioned when he first told me that he had grown too
big to quit his cabin.

I changed the subject and sat talking with him for a long half-hour.
He asked no questions about his wife, nor as to the disposal of the
Colonel’s body, nor reverted to the extent of the faintest implication
to the incidents of the preceding day. Yet he conversed with perfect
rationality; his manners were bland, with something of dignity in them;
it seemed, indeed, as if the poor fellow’s craziness had localised
itself in this new and astounding fancy of his being unable to squeeze
his way through on deck, leaving his mind in all other directions
clear and serene; yet mad as was the notion that had now seized him,
I could not but secretly feel that there was more madness yet in his
insensibility to what had happened, as though, indeed, the light of
memory in him had been extinguished and he was conscious of nothing but
what was actually passing before his eyes.

I held my peace on this new and astonishing craze, fancying that at
any hour I might find him on deck and his delusion gone. At dinner,
however, that day Miss Laura noticed his absence. My silence, I
suppose, convinced her that there was something wrong with him. She
questioned me and I told her the truth. Her eyes filled with sadness.

‘He grows worse,’ she said. ‘I fear he will never recover.’

‘This marriage,’ I answered, ‘on top of what was congenital in him, has
proved too much. Have you seen your sister to-day?’

‘No.’

‘Does she intend to keep her cabin until we reach England?’

‘I cannot say. She declines to see me.’

‘Yet she has turned you out of your berth, and does not scruple, I
suppose, to use everything that you possess. Well, we are a queer
little ship, I must say; the husband self-imprisoned by fancy on one
side, and a wife self-imprisoned by heaven knows what emotions on the
other side; and both doors within kick of a foot from either threshold.
It is a picture to encourage an ingenuous mind fired with matrimonial
resolutions!’

‘Men are fools to get married!’ she exclaimed piquantly.

‘And women?’ said I.

‘Oh, it is the business of women to make men fools,’ she answered.

Her clear eye rested serenely on mine, and she spoke without archness
or sarcasm.

‘I don’t think,’ said I, ‘that women make fools of men, but that it is
men who make fools of themselves. Yet this I vow before all the gods:
if I had married a woman like your sister and she had served me as she
has served her husband, I should wish to be mad as Wilfrid is. He does
not ask after her, seems to have utterly forgotten her and the fellow
who was sent to his rest yesterday. Oh, how delightful! Why, you hear
of women like Lady Monson driving their spouses into hideous courses of
life, forcing them to search for oblivion in drink, gambling, and so
on until they end as penniless miscreants, as broken-down purple-nosed
rogues, and all for love, forsooth! But how is Wilfrid served? Some
wild-eyed imagination slips into his brain, turns all the paintings to
the wall, and with nimble hands falls to work to garnish the galleries
inside his skull with tapestry hangings which engage his mind to the
forgetting of all things else.’

‘But, Mr. Monson,’ cried she, ‘surely with some little trouble one
might succeed in persuading him, whilst feigning to admit he has
increased in size, that he is not too big to pass through his door.’

‘Let us pay him a visit,’ said I.

She at once rose. We had finished dinner some time. I had been chatting
with her over such slender dessert as a yacht’s stores in those days
supplied--figs, nuts, raisins, biscuits, and the like. The westering
sun coloured the cabin with a ruby atmosphere amid which the wines
on the table glowed in rich contrast with the snow-white damask and
the icy sparkle of crystal, whilst red stars trembled in the silver
lamps with a soft crimson lustre, flaking, as it seemed, upon the eye
out of the mirrors. The humming wind gushed pleasantly through the
open skylight and down the hatchway, and set the leaves of the plants
dancing and the ferns gracefully nodding. To think of the woman for
whom all this show was designed, for whom all these elegancies were
heaped together, the mistress indeed of the gallant and beautiful
little fabric that was bearing us with a pretty sauciness over this sea
of sapphir, and under this reddening equinoctial heaven, sulking in her
cabin, a disgraced, a degraded, a socially ruined creature, imprisoned
by her own hand, and pride acting the part of turnkey to her! But
Miss Jennings was making her way to Wilfrid’s cabin, and there was no
leisure now for moralising.

We entered. The remains of the dinner my cousin had been served with
were still upon his table, and I gathered that he had done exceedingly
well. This did not look as though he suspected that eating had anything
to do with his sudden astonishing growth. He had emptied one pint
bottle of champagne, and another about a quarter full stood at his
elbow with a bumper, just poured out apparently, alongside it. He had
attired himself in dress clothes again, and sat with an air of state
and dignity in his armchair, toying with a large cigar not yet lighted.

‘How d’ye do, Laura, my dear? Sit down. Sit, Charles. There is plenty
of room for slender people like you.’

I placed a chair for Miss Jennings and vaulted into Wilfrid’s bunk,
for though the cabin was roomy in proportion to the burthen of the
yacht, the accommodation was by no means ample owing to the furniture
that crowded the deck. His high cheek-bones were flushed, a sort
of glassiness coated his eyes, but this I readily ascribed to the
champagne; the interior was hot, and Miss Laura cooled her sweet face
with a black fan that hung at her waist. My cousin watched her uneasily
as if he feared she would see something in him to divert her.

‘Do you feel now, Wilfrid,’ said I, ‘as if you could get on deck?’

‘Oh, certainly not,’ he answered warmly, ‘I wonder that you should ask
such a question. Compare my figure with that door.’

He looked at Miss Laura with a shrug of his shoulders as though he
pitied me.

‘Surely, Wilfrid,’ she exclaimed, ‘you could pass through quite easily,
and without hurting yourself at all.’

‘Quite easily! Yes, in pieces!’ he cried scornfully. ‘But it is not
that you are both blind. Your wish is to humour me. Please do nothing
of the sort. What I can see, you can see. Look at this bulk.’ He put
down his cigar to grasp his breast with both hands. ‘Look at these,’
he continued, slapping first an arm, then a leg. ‘It is a most
fortunate thing that I should have broadened only. Had I increased
correspondingly in height, I should not have been able to stand upright
in this cabin,’ and he directed a glance at the upper deck or ceiling,
whilst a shiver ran through him.

I thought now I would sound his mind in fresh directions, for though
whilst his present craze hung strong in him it was not likely he would
quit his cabin, yet if his intellect had failed in other ways to the
extent I found in this particular hallucination he would certainly
have to be watched, not for his own security only, but for that of
all others on board. Why, as you may suppose, his craziness took the
wildest and most tragic accentuation when one thought of where one
was--in the very heart of the vast Atlantic, a goodly company of us
on board, a little ship that was as easily to be made a bonfire of
as an empty tar-barrel, with gunpowder enough stowed somewhere away
down forward to complete in a jiffy the work that the flames might be
dallying with.

‘You do not inquire after Lady Monson, Wilfrid,’ said I.

Miss Jennings started and stared at me.

‘Why should I?’ he answered coldly, and deliberately producing his
little tinder-box, at which he began to chip. ‘I’ll venture to say she
doesn’t inquire after _me_.’

I was astonished by the rationality of this answer and the air of
intelligence that accompanied its delivery.

‘No, I fear not,’ said I, much embarrassed. ‘As she only came on board
yesterday----’

‘Well?’ he exclaimed, finding that I paused.

‘Oh,’ said I with a bit of a stammer, ‘it just occurred to me you might
have forgotten that she was now one of us, journeying home.’

‘Tut, tut!’ said he, waving his hand at me, but without turning his
head. ‘Laura, you are looking after her, my dear?’

‘My maid sees that she has all she requires,’ answered the girl. ‘She
declines to have anything to say to me--to meet me--to hear of me.’

He nodded his head slowly and gravely at her, and lowering his voice
said, ‘Can she hear us, do you think?’

‘No,’ I exclaimed, ‘not through the two bulkheads, with the width of
passage between.’

He smoked leisurely whilst he kept his eyes thoughtfully bent on Miss
Laura. ‘My cousin,’ said he, addressing her as though I were absent,
‘has on more than one occasion said to me, “Suppose you recover your
wife, what are you going to do with her?” I have recovered her and
now I will tell you my intentions. Laura, you know I adored her.’
She inclined her head. ‘What term would you apply to a woman,’ he
proceeded, ‘who should abandon a devoted husband that worshipped
the ground she walked upon? who should desert the sweetest little
infant’--I thought his voice would falter here, but it was as steady
as the fixed regard of his eyes--‘that ever came from heaven to fill a
mother’s heart with love? who should forfeit a position of distinction
and opulence,--who should stealthily creep like a thief in the night
from a home of beauty, of elegance, and of splendour; who should do
all this for an end of such depravity that it must be nameless?’ his
forefinger shot up with a jerk and his eyes glowed under the trembling
of the lids. ‘What is the term you would apply to such a woman?’ he
continued, now scowling and with an imperious note in his voice.

I guessed the word that was in his mind and cried, ‘Why, mad of course.’

‘Mad!’ he thundered violently, slapping his knee and breaking into
a short, semi-delirious laugh. He leaned forward as though he would
take Miss Laura into his strictest confidence, and putting his hand to
the side of his mouth he whispered, ‘She is mad. We none of us knew
it, Laura. My first act, then, when we reach home will be to confine
her. But not a word, mind!’ He held his finger to his lips and in that
posture slowly leaned back in his chair again, with a face painful with
its smile of cunning and triumph.

I saw that the girl was getting scared; so without ado I dropped out of
the bunk on to my feet.

‘An excellent scheme, Wilfrid,’ said I; ‘in fact the only thing
to be done. But, my dear fellow, d’ye know the atmosphere here is
just roasting. I’ll take Miss Jennings on deck for a turn, and when
I am cooled down a bit I’ll look in upon you for another yarn for
half-an-hour before turning in.’

‘All right,’ he exclaimed. ‘Laura looks as if she wants some fresh
air. Send one of the stewards to me, will you, as you pass through the
cabin? But mind, both of you--hush! Not a word; you understand?’

‘Trust us,’ said I, and sick at heart I took Miss Laura’s hand and led
her out of the cabin. As I closed the door she reeled and would have
fallen but for the arm I passed round her. I conducted her to a couch
and procured a glass of water. The atmosphere here was comparatively
cool with the evening air breezing down through the wide skylight, and
she quickly recovered.

‘It is terrible!’ she exclaimed, pressing her fingers to her eyes and
shaking her head. ‘I should fall crazy myself were I much with him.
His sneers, his smiles, his looks, the boyish air of his face too! The
thought of his misery, his injury, the irreparable wrong done him--poor
Wilf, poor Wilf!’ Her tender heart gave way and she wept piteously.

When she was somewhat composed she fetched a hat and accompanied me on
deck. The dusk down to the horizon was clear and fine, richly spangled
to where the hard black line of the ocean ruled the firmament. On high
sailed many meteors, like flying-fish sparking out of the dark velvet;
some of them scoring under the trembling constellations a silver wake
that lingered long on the eye and resembled a length of moon-coloured
steam slowly settling away before the breath of a soft air. There were
many shooting stars, too, without the comet-like grace of the meteoric
flights; sharp, bounding sparkles that made one think of the flashing
of muskets levelled at the ocean by visionary hands in the hovering,
star-laden gloom. The wind was failing; the yacht was sailing with
erect masts with a rhythmic swinging of the hollows of her canvas to
the light weather rolls of the vessel on the tender undulations. It
was like the regular breathing of each great white breast. The dew was
heavy and cooled the draught as a fountain the atmosphere round about
it. A little sleepy noise of purring froth came from the bows. All was
hushed along the decks, though as the yacht lifted forward I could make
out some figures pacing the forecastle, apparently with naked feet, for
no footfall reached the ear.

‘Alas,’ said I, ‘the wind is failing. I dread the stagnation of these
waters. I have heard of ships lying becalmed here for two and three
months at a stretch; in all those hideous days of frying suns and
steaming nights scarce traversing twenty leagues.’

‘We were becalmed a fortnight on the Line,’ said Miss Laura, ‘on our
passage to England. It seemed a year. Everybody grew quarrelsome, and I
believe there was a mutiny amongst the crew.’

‘Oh, I hate the dead calm at sea!’ I cried. ‘Yet I fear we are booked.
Look straight up, Miss Jennings, you will behold a very storm of
shooting stars. When I was in these waters, but much more west and east
than where we now are, I took notice that whenever the sky shed meteors
in any abundance a calm followed, and the duration of the stagnant time
was in proportion to the abundance of the silver discharge. But who is
that standing aft by the wheel there?’

My question was heard and answered. ‘It’s me--Capt’n Finn, sir.’

‘We’re in for a calm, I fear, Finn.’

‘I fear so, sir,’ he answered, slowly coming over to us. ‘Great pity
though. I was calculating upon the little breeze to-day lasting to draw
us out of this here belt. Them shooting stars too ain’t wholesome. Some
says they signifies wind, and so they may to the norrards, but not down
here. Beg pardon, Mr. Monson, but how is Sir Wilfrid, sir? Han’t seen
him on deck all day. I hope his honour’s pretty well?’

‘Come this way, Finn,’ said I.

The three of us stepped to the weather rail, somewhat forward, clear of
the ears of the helmsman.

‘Captain,’ said I, ‘my cousin’s very bad and I desire to talk to you
about him.’

‘Sorry to hear it, sir,’ he answered in a voice of concern; ‘the heat’s
a-trying him, may be.’

‘He refuses to leave his cabin,’ said I, ‘and why, think you? Because
he has got it into his head that he has grown too broad to pass through
the door or even to squeeze through that hatch there.’

‘Gor bless me!’ he exclaimed, ‘what a notion to take on. And yet it
ain’t the first time I’ve heard of such whims. I was once shipmate with
a man who believed his nose to be a knife. I’ve seen him a trying to
cut up tobacco with it. There’s no arguing with people when they gets
them tempers.’

‘But don’t you think, Captain Finn,’ said Miss Jennings, ‘that with
some trouble Sir Wilfrid might be coaxed into coming on deck? If he
could be induced to pass through his door he would find the hatch easy.
Then, when on deck, confidence would return to him and his crazy notion
leave him.’

‘Won’t he make the heffort, miss?’ inquired Finn.

I answered ‘No. He says that it would tear him to pieces to be dragged
through.’

‘Then, sir,’ exclaimed the skipper with energy, ‘if he says it you may
depend upon it he believes it, sir, and if he believes it then I dorn’t
doubt that physical force by way of getting him out of his cabin would
be the most dangerous thing that could be tried. It’s all the narves,
sir. Them’s an arrangement fit to bust a man open by acting upon his
imagination. Mr. Monson, sir, I’ll tell’ee what once happened to me.
I had a fever, and when I recovered, my narves was pretty nigh all
gone. I’d cry one moment like a baby, then laugh ready to split my
sides over nothen at all. I took on a notion that I might lay wiolent
hands on myself if the opportunity offered. It wasn’t that I wanted to
hurt myself, but that I was afeered I _would_. I recollect being in my
little parlour one day. There was a bit of a sideboard agin the wall
with a drawer in which my missus kep’ the table knives we ate with. The
thought of them knives gave me a fright. I wanted to leave the room,
but to get to the door I should have to pass the drawer where them
knives were, and I couldn’t stir. Your honour, such was the state of my
narves that the agony of being dragged past that door would have been
as bad as wrenching me in halves. So I got out through the window, and
it was a fortnight afore I had the courage to look into that parlour
again.’

‘My father knew a rich gentleman in Melbourne,’ said Miss Jennings,
‘who lost his mind. He believed that he had been changed into a cat,
and all day long he would sit beside a little crevice in the wainscot
of his dining-room waiting for a mouse to appear.’

‘But when it comes to imaginations of this kind,’ said I, ‘one is never
to know what is going to follow. Captain Finn, my cousin may mend--I
pray God he will do so, and soon----’ ‘Amen,’ quoth Finn in his deepest
note. ‘Meanwhile,’ I continued, ‘I am of opinion that he should be
watched.’

‘You think so, sir!’ he exclaimed.

‘Why, man, consider where we are. Send your eye into that mighty
distance,’ I cried, pointing to the black junction of scintillant
gloom and the spread of ocean coming to us thence in ink. ‘Think of
our loneliness here and the condition that a madman’s act might reduce
us to. That is not all. Lady Monson, this young lady, and her maid
sleep close to his cabin. Who shall conjecture the resolution that may
possess a diseased brain on a sudden? Sir Wilfrid must be watched,
Finn.’

‘I agree with you, sir,’ he answered thoughtfully, ‘but--but who’s
to have the ordering of it? ’Tain’t for the likes of me, sir----’ He
paused, then added, ‘He’s master here, ’ee know, sir.’

‘I’ll make myself responsible,’ I exclaimed; ‘the trouble is to have
him watched with the delicacy that shall defy the detection of his
most suspicious humour should he put his head out of his berth or quit
it--which he is not likely to do _yet_. Of course an eye would have to
be kept upon him from without. Name me two or three of your trustiest
seamen.’

‘Why sir, there’s Cutbill, a first-class man; and there’s two others,
Jonathan Furlong and William Grindling, that you may put your fullest
confidence in.’

‘Then,’ said I, ‘I propose that these men should take a spell of
keeping a lookout turn and turn about. The stewards would have been fit
persons, but they are wanting in muscle. Let the man who keeps watch
in the cabin so post himself that he may command the passage where Sir
Wilfrid’s berth is. You or Crimp, according as your watch comes round,
will see that the fellow below, whoever he may be, keeps awake. Pray
attend to this, Finn. I am satisfied that it is a necessary measure.’

‘I shall have to tell old Jacob the truth, sir, and the men likewise,’
said he, ‘and also acquaint the stewards with what’s wrong, otherwise
they’ll be for turning the sailor that’s sent below out of the cabin.’

‘By all means,’ said I. ‘I’ll stand your lookout whilst you are making
the necessary arrangements. But see that you provide your men with some
ready and quite reasonable excuse for being in the cabin should Sir
Wilfrid chance to come out during the night and find one of his seamen
sitting at the table.’

‘Ay, ay, sir; that’s to be managed with a little thinking,’ answered
Finn, and forthwith he marched towards the forecastle into the darkness
there.

‘It is fortunate,’ I said to Miss Jennings, ‘that I am Wilfrid’s
cousin. If I were simply a guest on board I question if Finn would do
what I want.’

We fell to pacing the deck. Even as we walked the light breeze weakened
yet, till here and there you’d catch sight of the gleam of a star in
some short fold of black swell running with a burnished brow. The
dew to the fluttering of the canvas aloft fell to the deck with the
pattering sound of raindrops.

‘Oh,’ groaned I to Miss Laura, ‘for a pair of paddle-wheels!’

We stepped to the open skylight to observe if aught were stirring
below, but gladly recoiled from the gush of hot air there rising with
a fiery breath stale with the smell of the dinner table spite of the
sweetness put into it by the flowers. Heavens, how my very heart
sickened to the slopping sounds of water alongside lifting stagnantly
and sulkily, melting out into black ungleaming oil! We seated ourselves
under the fanning spread of mainsail, talking of Wilfrid, of his wife,
of features of the voyage, until little by little I found myself slowly
sliding into a sentimental mood. My companion’s sweet face, glimmering
tender and placid to the starlight, came very near into courting me
into a confession of love. The helmsman was hidden from us, we seemed
to be floating alone upon the mighty shadow that stretched around. A
sense of inexpressible remoteness was inspired by the trembling of
the luminaries and the sharp shooting of the silver meteors as though
all the life of this vast hushed universe of gloom were up there, and
we had come to a pause upon the very verge of creation, with no other
vitality in the misty confines save what the beating of our two hearts
put into them.

On a sudden she started and said, ‘See! there is my sister.’

The figure of Lady Monson rose, pale and veiled, out of the companion
hatch. She did not observe us, and approached the part of the deck
where we were seated, courted haply by the deeper dye the shadow of the
mainsail put into the atmosphere about it. I was struck by the majesty
of her gait, by the tragic dignity of her carriage as she advanced,
taking the planks with a subtlety of movement that made her form look
to glide wraith-like. The sweet heart at my side shrank with so clear
a suggestion of alarm in her manner that I took her hand and held it.
Lady Monson drew close--so close without seeing us that I believed she
was walking in her sleep, but she caught sight of us then and instantly
flung, with an inexpressible demeanour of temper and aversion, to the
other side of the deck, which she paced, going afterwards to the rail
and overhanging it, motionless as the quarter-boat that hung a little
past her.

‘She frightens me!’ whispered Laura; ‘ought I to join her? Oh, cruel,
cruel, that she should hate me so bitterly for her own acts!’

‘Why should you join her? She does not want you. The heat has driven
her on deck, and she wishes to muse and perhaps moralise over the
Colonel’s grave. Why are you afraid of her?’

‘Because I am a coward.’

Just then Finn came along. He went up to Lady Monson and I saw his
figure stagger against the starlight when he discovered his mistake. He
peered about and then came over to us, breathing hard and polishing his
forehead.

‘Nigh took the breath out of my body, sir,’ he exclaimed in a hoarse
whisper; ‘actually thought it was your honour, so tall she be. Well,
I’ve arranged everything, sir, and a lookout’ll be established soon
arter the cabin light’s turned down.’

Laura suddenly rose and wished me good-night. I could see that Lady
Monson’s presence rendered her too uneasy to remain on deck, so I did
not press her to stay, though I remember heartily wishing that her
ladyship was still on board the ‘’Liza Robbins.’ She continued to hold
her stirless posture at the bulwark rail as though she were steadily
thinking herself into stone. But for her contemptuous and insolent
manner of turning from us, I believe I should have found spirit enough
to attempt a conversation with her. It was not until four bells that
she rose suddenly from her inclined attitude as though startled by the
clear echoing chimes. Past her the sky was dimly reddening to the moon
whose disc still floated below the horizon, and against the delicate
almost dream-like flush, I perceived her toss up her veil and press
her hands to her face. She then veiled herself afresh, came to the
companion and disappeared. Was it remorse working in her, or grief
for her foundered colonel, or some anguish born of the thought of her
child? Easier, I thought, to fathom with the sight the mysteries of the
ooze of the black, vaporous-looking surface that our keel was scarce
now wrinkling than to penetrate the secrets of a heart as dark as hers!

Half-an-hour later I quitted the deck, and as I passed through
the cabin nodded to Cutbill, who sat awkwardly and with a highly
embarrassed air with his back upon the cabin table, commanding the
after cabins--a huge salt, all whisker, wrinkles, and muscle.



CHAPTER XXVII.

A DEAD CALM.


I was up and about a great deal during the night. It was not only
that the heat murdered sleep; there was something so ominous in the
profound stillness which fell upon our little ship that the mind found
itself weighed down as with a sense of misgiving, a dull incommunicable
dread of approaching calamity. Of the dead calm at sea I was by no
means ignorant; in African and West Indian waters I had tasted of the
delights of this species of stagnation over and over again. One calm,
I remember, came very close to realising Coleridge’s description, or
rather the description that the poet borrowed from the narrative of
old Sir Richard Hawkins preserved in the foxed and faded pages of the
Rev. Samuel Purchas. The water looked to be full of wriggling fiery
creatures burning in a multitude of colours till the surface of the sea
resembled a vast, ghastly prism reflecting the lights of some hellish
principality, deep sunk in the dark brine. But I never recollect the
ocean until this night as without some faint heave or swell; yet after
the weak draught of air had utterly died out, somewhere about midnight,
the yacht slept upon a bosom as stirless as the surface of a summer
lake. There was not the slightest movement to awaken an echo in her
frame, to run a tremor through her canvas, to nudge the rudder into
the dimmest clanking of its tiller chains. The effect of such a hush
as this at sea is indescribable. On shore, deep in the country, far
distant from all hum of life, the stillness of night is a desired and
familiar condition of darkness; it soothes to rest; whatever vexes
it is a violence; the sweeping of a gale through hissing and roaring
trees, the thunder of wind in the chimney, the lashing of the windows
with hail and rain, the red belt of lightning to whose view the bedroom
glances in blood to the eye of its disturbed occupant; all this brings
with it an element of fear, of something unusual, out of keeping, out
of nature almost. But at sea it is the other way about. ’Tis the dead
calm that is unnatural. It is as though the mighty forces of heaven and
ocean had portentously sucked in their breath in anticipation of the
shock of conflict, as a warrior fills his lungs to the full and then
holds his wind whilst he waits the cry of charge.

I tried to sleep, but could not, and hearing one o’clock struck on the
forecastle, dropped out of my bunk for ten minutes of fresh air on
deck. Cutbill sat with his back against the table; the small flame of
the lamp that hung without the least vibration from the cabin ceiling
gleamed in the sweat-drops that coated his face as though oil had been
thrown upon him. I said softly, pausing a moment to address him: ‘A
wonderfully still night, Cutbill.’

‘Never remember the like of it, sir,’ he answered in a whisper that
had a note of strangling in it, with his effort to subdue his natural
tempestuous utterance.

‘All quiet aft?’

‘As a graveyard, sir.’

‘In case Sir Wilfrid Monson should look out and see you, what excuse
for being here has Captain Finn provided you with?’

‘I’m supposed to be watching the bayrometer, sir. If Sir Wilfrid steps
out I’m to seem to be peering hard at that there mercury, then to go on
deck as if I’d got something to report.’

‘Oh, that’ll do, I dare say,’ I exclaimed. ‘He may wonder but that must
not signify. Heaven grant, Cutbill, that I am unnecessarily nervous;
but we’re a middling full ship; it is the right sort of night, too,
to make one feel the hugeness of the ocean and the helplessness of
sailors when deprived of their little machinery for fighting it; and
what I say is, a misgiving under such circumstances ought to serve us
as a conviction--so keep a bright look-out, Cutbill. Nothing is going
to happen, I dare say; but our business is to contrive that nothing
_shall_ happen.’

The huge fellow lifted his enormous hand very respectfully to his
glistening forehead, and I passed on to the deck.

The moon shone brightly and her reflection lay upon the sea like a
league-long fallen column of silver, with the ocean going black as
liquid pitch to the sides of the resplendent shaft. Not a wrinkle
tarnished that prostrate pillar of light; not the most fairy-like
undulation of water put an instant’s warping, for the space of a
foot, into it. I set the mainmast head by a star and watched it, and
the trembling, greenish, lovely point of radiance hung poised as
steadfastly on a line with the truck as though it were some little
crystal lamp fixed to an iron spike up there.

I spied Jacob Crimp near the wheel, but I had come up to breathe and
not to talk. I desired to coax a sleepy humour into me and guessed that
that end would be defeated by a chat with the surly little sailor,
with whom I rarely exchanged a few sentences without finding myself
drifting into an argument. So I lay over the rail striving to cool my
hot face with the breath off the surface of the black profound that lay
like a sheet of dark, ungleaming mirror beneath. On a sudden I heard a
great sigh out in the gloom. It was as though some slumbering giant had
fetched a long, deep, tremulous breath in a dream. I started, for it
had sounded close, and I looked along the obscure deck forward as if,
forsooth, there was any sailor on board whose respiration could rise to
such a note as that! In a moment I spied a block of blackness slowly
melting out like a dye of ink upon the indigo of the water with the
faint flash of moonlight off the wet round of it. A grampus! thought I;
and stared about me for others, but no more showed, and the prodigious
midnight hush seemed to float down again from the stars like a sensible
weight with one wide ripple from where the great fish had sunk,
creeping like a line of oil to the yacht’s side and melting soundlessly
in her shadow.

This grave-like repose lasted the night through, and when early in the
morning, awakened by the light of the newly risen sun, I mounted to the
deck, I found the ocean stretched flat as the top of a table, the sky,
of a dirty bluish haze, thickening down and merged into the ocean line
so that you couldn’t see where the horizon was, save just under the
sun where the head of the misty white sparkle in the water defined the
junction. It baffled and bothered the sight to look into the distance,
so vaporous and heavy it all was, with a dull blue gleam here and there
upon the water striking into the faintness like a sunbeam into mist,
and all close to, as it seemed, though by hard peering you might catch
the glimmer of the calm past the mixture of hazy light and hues where
sea and sky seemed to end.

Jacob Crimp had charge. I asked him if all had been quiet below in the
cabin.

‘Ay,’ he answered, ‘I’ve heard of nothen to the contrairy. Her ledship
came on deck during the middle watch and had a bit of a yarn with me.’

‘Indeed!’ said I.

‘Yes, she scared me into a reg’lar clam. I was standing at the rail
thinking I see a darkness out under the moon as if a breath of wind
were coming along, and a woice just behind me says, “What’s your name?”
Nigh hand tarned my hair white to see her, so quiet she came and her
eyes like corposants.’

‘What did she talk about?’ said I in a careless way.

‘Asked what the sailor was a-sitting in the cabin for. “To prevent
murder being done,” says I. “Murder?” says she. “Yes,” says I, “and to
prewent this wessel from being set on fire and blown to yellow blazes,”
says I, “for God knows,” says I, “what weight of gunpowder ain’t stowed
away forrard.” “Who’s a-going to do all this?” says she; so I jist told
her that Sir Wilfrid had been took worse, and that the order had come
forward that the cabin was to be watched.’

‘What did she say to that?’ I exclaimed.

‘Why, walked to t’other side of the deck and sot down and remained an
hour, till I reckoned that when she went below she must ha’ been pretty
nigh streaming with dew.’

‘What do you think of the weather, Mr. Crimp?’

‘It’s agin nature,’ he answered. ‘Like lying off Blackwall for
smoothness. ’Taint going to last, though. Nothing that’s agin nature
ever do, whether it’s weather, or a dawg with two tails, or a cat with
eight legs.’

‘I wish you were a magician,’ said I, ‘I’d tassel your handkerchief for
a strong breeze. A roasting day with a vengeance, and the first of a
long succession, I fear.’

At breakfast I told Miss Laura of Lady Monson’s visit on deck in the
middle watch, and the mate’s blunt statement to her. ‘It was a mighty
dose of truth to administer,’ said I. ‘She will pass some bad quarters
of an hour, I fear. Think of old Jacob talking to her of murder and
fire, and explosions unto yellow blazes, whatever _that_ may mean, with
her husband sleeping right abreast of her cabin and armed, as she must
know.’

‘Has he those pistols?’ she asked.

‘Yes,’ I answered; ‘I gave the case to one of the stewards to return to
him, and now I am sorry I did so.’

‘Of course Henrietta will be frightened,’ she exclaimed. ‘I do not
envy her in her loneliness. Why should she refuse to see me? I easily
understand her objection to showing herself on deck by daylight; but
I am her sister; I could sit with her; I could be company for her,
win her, perhaps,’ she said with a wistful look, ‘to something like
a gentle mood.’ She sighed deeply and continued: ‘Wilfrid scared me
yesterday. There was that in his face which shocked me, but I could not
explain what it was. Yet I am not the least bit afraid he will commit
any deed of violence. Let him be twenty times madder than he now is,
his heart is so tender, his spirit so boylike, pure, honourable, there
is so much of sweetness and affection in his nature that I am certain
his cruellest delirium would be tempered by his qualities.’

I was grateful to her for thus speaking of my poor cousin, but I could
not agree with her. The qualities she pinned her faith to had suffered
him at all events to shoot Colonel Hope-Kennedy and to make nothing
of the man’s death. Yet, thought I, looking at her, seeing how this
sweet little creature values, and to a large extent understands him,
what devil’s influence was upon the loving, large-hearted, childlike
man when he chose the _other_ one for his wife? But, fond of him and
sorry for him as I was, I could not have wished it otherwise--for my
sake at all events; though on her part it would have made her ‘her
ladyship’ and found her a husband whose brain I don’t doubt might year
by year have grown stronger in the cheerful and fructifying light of
her cordial, sympathetic, radiant character.

I looked in upon him after breakfast. Miss Laura wished to accompany
me, but I advised her to delay her visit until I had ascertained for
myself how he did. He was lying in his bunk, a large pipe in his mouth,
at which he pulled so heartily that his cabin was dim with tobacco
smoke. His cheek was supported by his elbow and his eyes fixed upon
his watch, a superb gold time-keeper that dangled at the extremity of
a heavy chain hitched to a little hook screwed into the deck over his
head. On the back of this watch were his initials set in brilliants,
and these gems made the golden circle show like a little body of light
as it hung motionless before his intent gaze. He did not turn his head
when I opened the door, then looked at me in an absent-minded way when
I was fairly entered.

‘Ah!’ he exclaimed languidly, ‘it is you, Charles. You promised to sit
with me awhile last night.’

‘I did, but the heat below was unendurable. It is no better now. The
temperature of this cabin must be prodigious. What calculations are you
making?’ said I.

‘None,’ he answered. ‘I have slung the watch to observe if there is
any movement in the yacht. She is motionless. Mark it. There is not a
hairbreadth of vibration. We are afloat, of course?’ he said, suddenly
looking at me.

‘I hope so,’ said I. ‘Afloat? Why, what do you suppose, Wilf? That
we’ve gone to the bottom?’

‘It would be all one for me,’ he answered with a deep sigh, and then
applying himself to his pipe again with a sort of avidity that made one
think of a hungry baby sucking at a feeding bottle. He clouded the air
with tobacco smoke and said: ‘I am heartily weary of life.’

‘And why?’ cried I: ‘because we are in a dead calm with the equator
close aboard. The very deep is rotting. A calm of this kind penetrates
through the pores of the skin, enters the soul and creates a thirsty
yearning for extinction. Being younger than you. Wilf, I give myself
another twelve hours, and then, if no breeze blows, I shall, like you,
be weary of life and desire to die.’

‘It is easily managed,’ said he.

‘Yes,’ cried I, startled, ‘no doubt; but the weather may change,
you know.’ And not at all relishing his remark nor the looks that
accompanied it, I seized my hat and fell to fanning the atmosphere with
the notion of expelling some of the tobacco smoke through the open
porthole.

‘I am of opinion,’ said he, puffing and dropping his words alternately
with the clouds he expelled whilst he kept his eyes fixed upon his
watch, ‘that, spite of the arguments of the divines, life is a free
gift to us to be disposed of as we may decide. Nature is invariably
compensative. We are brought into this world without our knowledge, and
therefore, of course, without our consent, d’ye see, Charles,’ and here
he rolled his eyes upon me, ‘and by way of balancing this distracting
obligation of compulsory being, nature says you may do what you like
with existence: keep it or part with it.’

‘I say, Wilfrid,’ said I, ‘there are surely more cheerful topics for an
equinoctial dog-day than this you have lighted on. _Don’t_ speculate,
my dear fellow; leave poor old nature alone. Take short views, and let
the puzzling distance unfold and determine itself to your approach.
It is the wayfarers who decline to look ahead, who whistle as they
trudge along the road of life. The melancholy faces are those whose
eyes are endeavouring to see beyond the horizon towards which they are
advancing. Tell me now--about this cabin door of yours. My dear fellow,
it must be big enough this morning to enable you to pass through; so
come along on deck, will you, Wilfrid?’

‘Damn it, how blind you are!’ he exclaimed.

‘No, I’m not,’ said I.

‘D’ye mean to say that you can’t see what’s happened to me since we
last met?’

‘What now, Wilfrid?’

‘What now?’ he shouted. ‘Why, man, I can’t stand upright.’

‘Why not?’ I asked.

‘Because I’m too tall for this cabin,’ he answered in a voice of
passion and grief.

‘Pray when did you find that out?’ said I.

‘On rising to dress myself this morning,’ he answered, ‘I was obliged
to clothe myself in my bunk. What a dreadful blow to befall a man! I
can’t even quit my bed now, and everything I want must be handed to me.’

Well, well! thought I; God mend him soon. Hot as it was, a chill ran
through me to the crazy, wistful, despairful look he directed at me,
and I was oppressed for a moment with the same sickness of heart that
had visited me during my interview with him on the preceding day.

‘I had resolved to sell the “Bride,”’ said he mournfully, putting his
pipe into a shelf at the back of him and folding his hands, which
seemed to me to have grown thin and white during the past few days,
upon his breast, ‘but I shan’t be able to do so now.’ I was silent.
‘She will have to be broken up,’ he added.

‘Nonsense!’ I exclaimed.

‘But I say _yes_!’ he suddenly roared; ‘how the devil else am I to get
out of her?’

‘Oh, I see!’ I answered soothingly, ‘I forgot that. But, Wilf, since
you’re too big to use this cabin, for the present only, for I am
certain you will dwindle to your old proportions before long, don’t you
think you ought to have an attendant constantly with you, some one at
hand sitting here to wait upon you?’

‘Why, yes,’ said he, ‘no doubt of it. I am almost helpless now. But
I’ll not have that rascal Muffin.’

‘No, no,’ said I. ‘Nor would the stewards make the sort of servants you
want. If I were in your place I should like to be waited on by a couple
of jolly hearty sailors, fellows to take turn and turn about in looking
after me, chaps with their memories full of long yarns, unconventional,
sympathetic, no matter how rough their manners, agile, strong as
horses, with lively limbs, used to springing about. One or two such men
are to be met forward amongst your crew.’

‘A good idea,’ he cried. ‘Gad! after my experiences of Muffin I’d
rather be waited upon by the tarriest of tarry tarpaulins than one of
your sleek, soft-stepping, trained rogues who come and ask you for a
situation with an excellent character in one pocket from their late
master, and in the other the contents of his dressing-case. Ha, ha,
ha!’ and here he delivered one of his short roars of laughter.

I remained conversing with him until an hour was gone. Now that he had
put his pipe down the atmosphere of the cabin grew somewhat endurable,
yet the heat was extraordinarily great, and due, so far as one’s
sensations went, not more to the temperature than to the incredible
motionlessness of the yacht, so that there was not the faintest stir
of air in the porthole. I spoke of Lady Monson, fancying that the
thought of her might help to steady his mind and bring him away from
his crazy notions of growth and expansion; but he would not talk of
her; as regularly as I worked round to the subject of her ladyship, as
regularly was he sliding off into some other topic. Sometimes I’d think
that feeling had utterly changed in him; that there had grown up in
him for the woman whom he had again and again vowed to me he adored, a
loathing to which his innate good taste forbade him to give expression.
How it would be if they should meet I could not tell. Her black tragic
eyes might not have lost their fascination, nor her shape of beauty and
dignity its power of delighting and enamouring him. But certainly, as
we sat conversing, the sort of cowering air that accompanied his abrupt
changing of the subject every time I mentioned his wife’s name was
strongly suggestive of disgust and aversion. He talked very sensibly
save about his dimensions, but I took notice in him of a hankering
after the topic of suicide. Several times he tried to bring me into an
argument upon it.

‘Am I to be told,’ he said, ‘that a man’s life is not his own? If not,
to whom does it belong, pray?’

‘To heaven,’ I responded sullenly.

‘Prove it,’ he sneered.

‘Oh, ’tis too plain and established a fact to need proving,’ said I.

‘If a man’s life is his own,’ he cried, ‘who the deuce in this world
has the right to hinder him from doing what he will with it?’

‘Wilf, if this goes on,’ said I, ‘we shall be landed in a religious
controversy; a thing unendurable even under the sign of the frozen
serpent, but down here with a thermometer at about 112° in the cabin,
no ice nearer than 56° north?--see here, my dear cousin, get you small
again as soon as you can, back to your old size, join Laura and myself
at the table afresh, walk the decks with us, taste the fragrance of
a cigar upon the cool night air; realise that your little one is at
home waiting for you, and that on your return you will have plenty of
homely occupation in looking after those excellent improvements in your
property which you were telling me the other day you had in your mind.
This sudoriferous speculation as to whether people have a right to
hinder a man from taking his life will then exhale.’

And so I would go on chatting, talking him away, so to speak, from
this gloomy subject which his condition rendered depressing and most
uncomfortably significant in his mouth.

However, my visit to him had led to one stroke of good, for on
quitting him I at once went to Finn, who was on deck, and told him
how Sir Wilfrid had fallen into my scheme and was for having a couple
of sailors to wait upon him, one of whom should be constantly in his
cabin.

‘You must be plain with the fellows, captain,’ said I; ‘tell them
that Sir Wilfrid’s craze grows upon him and that he must be narrowly
watched, but with tact.’

‘I’ll see to it, sir,’ said he; ‘can’t do better than Cutbill and
Furlong, I think. They’re both hearty chaps, chock-a-block with lively
yarns, and they’ve both got good tempers. But dorn’t his honour get no
better then, sir?’

‘No,’ said I.

‘Dorn’t he feel as if he was a-coming back to his old shape, sir?’

‘On the contrary,’ I answered, ‘yesterday he had only broadened, but
this morning he feels so tall that he can’t stand upright.’

‘Well to be sure!’ cried the worthy fellow, with his long face working
all over with concern and anxiety. ‘It’s all her ladyship’s doing. It’s
all her caper-cutting that’s brought him to this. Such a gentle heart
as he has, too, and a true gentleman through and through him when his
mind sits square in his head? But lor’ bless me, sir, what did he want
to go and get married for? ’Taint as if he wanted a home, or a gal
with money enough to keep him. Not that it’s for me to say a word agin
marriage, for my missus has always kept a straight helm steady in my
wake ever since I took her in tow. But all the same, I’m of opinion
that matrimony is an institootion that don’t fit this here earth. It’s
a sort of lock-up; a man’s put into a cell along with a gal. If she’s
a proper kind of gal, why well and good. The window dorn’t seem barred
and ye don’t take much notice of your liberty being gone; but if she
tarns out to be of her ladyship’s sort, why there’s nothen to do but to
sing out through the keyhole for a rope to hang yourself with, or, if
ye ain’t got sperret enough for that remedy, to hang _her_ with.’

The delivery of this harangue seemed to ease his mind, and he went
forward with a face tolerably composed to give instructions to the two
men who were to serve as companions or, to put it bluntly, as keepers
to Wilfrid.

The weather held phenomenally silent and breathless. Just before lunch
I went right aft, where I commanded the length of the vessel, and
steadfastly watched her, and though I had my eye upon the line of her
jibboom I did not see that the end of the spar lifted or fell to the
extent of the breadth of a finger-nail. The sole satisfaction that
was to be got out of this unparalleled condition of stagnation was
the feeling that it could not possibly last. The dim and dirty blue
of the sea went rounding not above a mile distant into a like hue of
atmosphere, with a confused half-blinded vagueness of sky overhead
that did not seem to be higher up than twice the height of our masts,
and the appearance made you think of sitting in a glass globe sunk a
fathom or two under water with the light sifting through to you in a
tarnished, misty, ugly azure. A strange part of it was that though the
sky was cloudless the atmosphere was so thick you could watch the sun,
which hovered shapeless as a jelly-fish almost overhead, for a whole
minute at a time, without inconvenience; yet his heat bit fiercely for
all that; there was a wake, too, under him, flakes of muddy yellow-like
sheets of a ship’s sheathing scaling one under another, as though they
were going to the bottom in a procession. If you put your hand upon
the rail clear of the awning you brought it away with a stamp of pain.
I touched the brass binnacle hood by accident and bawled aloud to the
burn which raised me a blister on the side of my hand that lasted for
three days. A sort of impalpable steam rose from the very decks, so
that if a man stood still a moment you saw his figure trembling in it
like the quivering of an object beheld in clear running water. And how
am I to express that deeper quality of heat which seemed to come into
the atmosphere with the smell of the blistering of paint along the
yacht’s sides?

Yet there was no fall in the mercury, no hint above or below to
indicate a change at hand. Close alongside the burnished water lay
clear as crystal and gave back every image with almost startling
brilliance. I remember looking over and seeing my face in the clear
profound as distinctly as ever I had viewed it in a mirror. It lay like
a daguerreotype there. It was of course as deep down as I was high
above the surface, and I protest it was like looking at one’s self as
though one floated a drowned man.

It was the right kind of day for a plunge, and I pined for a swim,
for the delight of the cool embrace of the glass-clear brine. But the
skipper would not hear of it.

‘To the first splash, sir,’ he exclaimed, ‘there’d sprout up a regular
crop of black fins. It isn’t because there’s nothing showing now that
there ain’t a deal more than I for one ’ud care to see close at hand.
No sir; be advised by me; don’t you go overboard.’

‘Oh, captain,’ said I, ‘I’ve been a sailor in my day and of course know
how to obey orders. But I’ve cruised a good deal in my time in John
Sharkee’s waters, and with all due deference to you I must say that
whenever there are sharks about one or more will be showing.’

‘Sorry to contradict ye, sir, but my answer’s no to that,’ he replied.
‘Tell ’ee what I’ll do, sir--there’s nothen resembling a shark hanging
round now, is there?’

We both stared carefully over the water, and I said no.

‘Well, now, sir,’ he exclaimed, ‘I’ll bet ’ee a farden’s worth of
silver spoons that I’ll call up a shark to anything I may choose to
chuck overboard.’

‘Make it a pennyworth of silver spoons,’ said I, ‘and I’ll bet.’

‘Done,’ said he with a grin, and straightway walked forward. After
a little he returned with a canvas-bag stuffed full of rubbish,
potato-parings, yarns, shavings enough to make it floatable, and the
like. He hitched the end of a leadline to it, jumped on to the taffrail
clear of the awning, and whirling it three or four times, sent it
speeding some distance away on the quarter. It fell with a splash, and
the blur it made upon the flawless surface was for all the world like
the impress of a damp finger upon a sheet of looking-glass. He towed
it gently, and scarce had he drawn in three fathoms of the line when a
little distance past the bag up shot the fin of a shark with a gleam
off its black wetness as though it were a beer-bottle. He hauled the
bag aboard and the fin disappeared.

‘Are they to be egg-spoons or dessert-spoons, Finn?’ said I, laughing.
‘By George, I shouldn’t have believed it, though. But it’s always so.
Let a man fancy that he knows anything to the very top of it, and he’s
sure to fall in with somebody who has a trick above him.’

But it was too hot for shark-fishing, let alone the mess of a capture
on our ivory-white planks. At first I was for decoying the beasts to
the surface and letting fly at them with one of the muskets below, but
Finn suggested that the firing might irritate Sir Wilfrid. What was to
be done but lie down and pant? Miss Laura was so overcome by the heat
that for once she proved bad company. At lunch she could not eat; she
was too languid to talk.

‘Just the afternoon for a game of draughts,’ said I, in playful
allusion to the want of air.

She waved away the suggestion with a weak movement. In fact she was
so oppressed that when I told her about Wilfrid’s new phase of growth
she could only look at me dully as though all capacity of emotion
lay swooning in her heart. I sat by her side fanning her, whilst the
perspiration hopped from my forehead like parched peas.

‘Oh,’ cried the little creature, ‘how long is this calm going to last?
What would I give for an English Christmas day to tumble down out of
the sky upon us, with its snow and hail.’

‘Let us go on deck,’ said I; ‘I am certain it is cooler up there.’

We mounted the steps, but she was scarcely out of the companion hatch
when she declared it was a great deal hotter above than below, and down
she went again. After all, thought I, Sir Wilfrid and his wife are as
well off in their cabins as though they had permitted themselves to
wander at large about the yacht. Yet it seemed a roasting existence to
my fancy for the self-made prisoners when I glanced aft and thought
of the size of their cabins, with not air enough to stir a feather in
the open ports, and Cutbill’s huge form in Wilfrid’s berth to give as
distinct a rise to the thermometer there as though a stove had been
introduced and a fire kindled in it.

All day long it was the same smoky, confused blending of misty blue
water and heaven shrouding down overhead and closing upon us, with
the sea like a dish of polished steel set in the midst of it, bright
as glass where we lay, then dimming into a bluish faintness in the
atmospheric thickness at its confines, and the sun a distorted face
of weak yellow brightness staring down as he slided westwards with
an aspect that made him look as though he were some newly-created
luminary. At about six o’clock he hung over the sea line glowing like
a huge live cinder, and the air was filled with his smoky crimson
glare that went sifting and tingling into the distance till one was
able to see twice as far again, a red gleam of sea opening past the
dimness and a delicate liquid dye of violet melting down, as one might
have thought, from the highest reaches of the heavens into the eastern
atmosphere.

‘Hillo!’ cried I to Jacob Crimp, who was leaning over the side with his
face purple with heat and full of loathing of the weather; ‘direct your
eyes into the south, will ye, and tell me what you see there?’

He turned with the leisurely action peculiar to merchant-sailors,
lifted the sharp of his hand to his brow and peered sulkily in the
direction which I had indicated.

‘Clouds,’ said he. ‘Is that what ye mean?’

‘Yes,’ said I, ‘and a very noble and promising coast of them, too, as I
believe we shall be finding out presently when the change which I hope
their brows are charged with shall have clarified the air.’

In fact I had just then caught sight, away down in the south amidst the
haziness there, of some bronze streaks stretching from south-east to
south-west, with here and there dashes of exceedingly faint shadow of
the colour of flint. Much looking was not needful; it was quickly to be
seen that right astern of our course, though as the yacht lay just then
the appearance was off the starboard beam, there had gathered and was
slowly mounting a long, heavy body of thunderous cloud scarce visible
as yet save in its few bronze outlines.

‘It will mean a change I hope,’ said I to Crimp; ‘more than mere
thunder and lightning, let us pray. Yet the drop in the glass is
scarcely noticeable.’

‘Time something happened anyway,’ said he. ‘Dum me if it ain’t been too
hot even for the sharks to show themselves. I allow the “’Liza Robbins”
ain’t over sweet just now.’

‘No, I’d rather be you than your brother to-day, Crimp.’

‘Sorry to hear from the captain,’ said he, ‘that Sir Wilfrid’s got the
notion in his head that he’s growed in the night till he’s too tall to
stand upright.’

‘Yes,’ said I, ‘and I hope his craze may end at that.’

‘There’s but one cure for the likes of such tantrums,’ said he.

‘And pray what is that, Mr. Crimp?’

‘Fright. Git the hair of a chap that’s mad to stand on end, and see if
his crazes don’t fly clean off out of it like cannon balls out of a
broadside of guns.’

‘Ay, but fright, as you call it, might drive my poor cousin entirely
mad, Mr. Crimp.’

‘No fear,’ he answered. ‘Tell ’ee what I’ll ondertake to do. What’s the
hour now?’

‘Call it six o’clock,’ said I.

‘Well, I’ll ondertake by half-past six to have Sir Wilfrid running
about these ’ere decks.’

‘And what’s the prescription, pray?’

‘Why, there’s a scuttle to his cabin, ain’t there?’

‘Yes,’ I answered.

‘An’ it lies open, I allow, a day like this. Werry well. Give me ten
minutes to go forrards and black my face and dress up my head according
to the notion that’s in my mind; then let me be lowered by a bowline
over the side. I pops my head into the scuttle and sings out in a
terrible woice, “Hullo, there, I’m the devil,” I says, says I, “and
I’ve come,” says I, “to see if ye’ve got any soul left that’s worth
treating for.” And what d’ye think he’d do at sight of me? Why run out
of his cabin as fast as his legs ’ud carry him.’

‘More likely let fly a pistol at you,’ I exclaimed, laughing at the
look of self-complacency with which the sour little fellow eyed me.
‘However, Mr. Crimp, we’ll leave all remedies for Sir Wilfrid alone
till we see what yonder shadow to the southward is going to do for us,’
and so saying I stepped below to change my coat for dinner.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

A TERRIBLE NIGHT.


Miss Laura arrived at the dinner table. She was pale with the heat. She
toyed with a morsel of cold fowl and sipped seltzer and hock.

‘The dead calm,’ said I, ‘gives you a young lady’s appetite.’

‘I am here,’ she answered, ‘because I do not know where else to be.’

‘You are here,’ said I, ‘because you are good and kind, and know that I
delight in your society.’

She fanned herself. As the mercury rises past a certain degree
sentiment falls. Emotion lies north and south of the line, hardly on
it unless in a black skin. How death-like was the repose upon the
yacht! The sun had gone out in the western thickness with a flare like
the snuff of a blown-out candle, and a sort of brown dimness as of
smoke followed him instead of the staring red and living glare that
accompanies his descent in clear weather in those parts. The cabin
lamp was lighted; it hung without a phantom of vibration, and sitting
at that table was like eating in one’s dining room ashore. I glanced
my eye round the interior. Delicate and elegant was the appearance
of the cabin. The mirrors multiplied the white oil flames of the
silver burners; the carpet, the drapery, the upholstery of chairs
and couches stole out in rich soft dyes upon the gaze. The table was
radiant with white damask and glass and plate and plants. Confronting
me was the charming figure of the sweet girl with whom I had been
intimately associated for several weeks. Her golden hair sparkled in
the lamplight; from time to time she would lift her violet eye with a
drowsy gleam in it to mine.

‘Heat depresses the spirits,’ said I. ‘I feel dull. What is going to
happen, I wonder?’

‘Is the wind ever likely to blow again?’ she asked.

‘Yes, I shall have the pleasure of conducting you on deck presently,
when I will show you a fine bank of clouds in the south that will be
revealed to us by lightning, if I truly gather the character of the
vapour from the bronzed lines of it which I witnessed a little while
ago.’

‘Have you seen Wilfrid since lunch?’

‘Yes; he talks very sensibly. He beckoned me to his bunk side to
whisper that Cutbill made him laugh. Anything to divert the dear
fellow’s mind. I presume you have seen nothing of Lady Monson?’

‘Nothing,’ she answered, fanning her pale face till the yellow hair
upon her brow danced as though some invisible hand was showering gold
dust upon her.

‘Jacob Crimp,’ said I softly, ‘is of opinion that he could drive
Wilfrid on deck by blacking his face, looking in upon him through his
open porthole, and calling himself the devil.’

‘He need not black his face,’ said she, with the first smile that I had
seen upon her lip that day, ‘but if he does anything of the sort I hope
he will be treated as Muffin was.’

‘Yet I am of opinion,’ said I, ‘that a great fright would impel Wilfrid
to make for the door. He would pass through it of course, and then his
hallucination would fall from him.’

She shook her head. ‘You must not allow him to be frightened, Mr.
Monson.’

‘Depend upon it I shan’t,’ I replied. ‘I merely repeat a sour seaman’s
rude and homely prescription.’

As I spoke the yacht slightly rolled, and simultaneously with the
movement, as it seemed, one felt the dead atmosphere of the cabin set
in motion.

‘Good!’ I cried, ‘’tis the first of the change. Now heave to it, my
beauty!’

Again the yacht softly dipped her side. I jumped up to look at the
tell-tale compass, and as I did so the skylight glanced to a pale glare
as of sheet lightning. I waited a minute to mark the rolling of the
craft that was now dipping sluggishly but steadfastly with rhythmic
regularity on undulations which were still exceedingly weak, and found
the set of the suddenly risen swell to be north as near as I could
judge.

‘Well, Miss Laura,’ said I, ‘I think now we may calculate upon a breeze
of wind, presently, from a right quarter too.’

I looked at the hour; it was twenty minutes to eight. The death-like
hush was broken; the preternatural repose of the last day and night
gone. Once more you heard the old familiar straining sounds, the click
of hooked doors, the feeble grinding of bulkheads, with the muffled
gurgling of water outside mingled with the frequent flap of canvas; but
I could be sure that there was no breath of air as yet; not the least
noise of rippling flowed to the ear, and the yacht still lay broadside
on to her course.

‘Let us go on deck,’ said I.

She sent her maid, who was passing at the moment, for her hat, and we
left the cabin.

‘Hillo!’ I cried as I emerged from the companion, holding her hand
that lay almost as cold in mine as if it were formed of the snow which
it resembled, ‘there’s another of your friends up there, Miss Laura,’
and I pointed to the topgallant yardarm, upon which was floating a
corposant, ghastly of hue but beautiful in brilliance.

She looked up and spoke as though she shuddered. ‘Those things frighten
me. What can be more ghostly than a light that is kindled as that is?
Oh, Mr. Monson, what a wild flash of lightning!’

A wild flash it was, though as far off as the horizon. Indeed it was
more than one stroke: a copper-coloured blaze that seemed to fill
the heavens behind the clouds with fire, against which incandescent
background the sky-line of the long roll of vapour stood out in vast
billows black as pitch, whilst from the heart of the mass there fell
a light like a fireball, to which the sea there leapt out yellow as
molten gold.

I strained my ear. ‘No thunder as yet,’ said I. ‘I hope it is not going
to prove a mere electric storm, flames and detonations and an up and
down cataract of rain breathless in its passage with a deader calm yet
to follow.’

All at once the light at the topgallant yardarm vanished, a soft air
blew, and there arose from alongside a delicate, small, fairy-like
noise of the lipping and sipping of ripples.

‘Oh, how heavenly is this wind!’ exclaimed Miss Laura, reviving on
a sudden like a gas-dried flower in a shower of rain; ‘it brings my
spirits back to me.’

‘Trim sail the watch!’ bawled Crimp. But there was little to trim;
all day long the yacht had lain partially stripped. No good, Finn
had said, in exposing canvas to mere deadness. She wheeled slowly to
the control of her helm, bowing tenderly upon the swell that was now
running steadily with an almost imperceptible gathering of weight in
its folds, and presently she was crawling along with her head pointing
north before the weak fanning, with the lightning astern of her making
her canvas come and go upon the darkness as though lanterns green and
rose-bright were being flashed from the deck upon the cloths. The sea
was pale with fire round about us. Indeed the air was so charged with
electricity that I felt the tingling of it in the skin of my head
as though it were in contact with some galvanic appliance, and I
recollect pulling off my cap whilst I asked Miss Laura if she could see
any sparks darting out of my hair. The skylight, gratings, whatever one
could sit upon, streamed with dew. I called to the steward for a couple
of camp-stools and placed them so as to obtain the full benefit of the
draught feebly breezing down out of the swinging space of the mainsail.
The air was hot, and under the high sun it would doubtless have blown
with a parching bite that must have rendered it even less endurable
than the motionless atmosphere of the calm; but the dew moistened it
now; it was a damp night air, with a smell of rain behind it besides,
and the gushing of it upon the face was inexpressibly delicious and
refreshing.

‘We are but little better than insects,’ said Miss Laura; ‘entirely the
children of the weather.’

‘Rather compare us to birds,’ said I; ‘I don’t like insects.’

‘You complained of feeling depressed just now, Mr. Monson. Are you
better?’

‘I am the better for this air, certainly,’ said I, ‘but I don’t feel
particularly cheerful. I shouldn’t care to go to a pantomime, for
instance, nor should I much enjoy a dance. What is it? The influence
of that heap of electricity out yonder, I suppose,’ I added, looking
at the dense black massed-up line of cloud astern, over all parts
of which there was an incessant play of lightning, with copperish
glances behind that gave a lining of fire to the edges of the higher
reaches of the vast coast of vapour. It was like watching some gigantic
hangings of tapestry wrought in flame. The imagination rather than the
eye witnessed a hundred fantastic representations--heads of horses,
helmets, profiles of titanic human faces, banners and feathers, and I
know not what besides. It was very dark overhead and past the bows; the
thickness that had been upon the sky all day was still there; not the
leanest phantom of star showed, and the stoop of the heavens seemed the
nearer and the blacker for the flashings over our taffrail, and for the
pale phosphoric sheets which went wavering on all sides towards the
murkiness of the horizon.

I spied Finn conversing with Crimp at the gangway; the lightning astern
was as moonlight sometimes, and I could see both men looking aloft and
at the weather in the south and consulting. In a few minutes they came
our way.

‘What is it to be, Finn?’ said I.

‘Well, sir,’ he answered, ‘this here swell that’s slowly a-gathering
means wind. It will be but little more, though, than an electric
squall, I think--a deal of fire and hissing and a burst of breeze, and
then quietness again with the black smother spitting itself out ahead.
The barometer don’t seem to give more caution than that anyway, sir.
But there’s never no trusting what ye can’t see through.’

He turned to Crimp. ‘Better take the mainsail off her, Jacob,’ said
he, ‘and let her slide along under her foresail till we see what all
that there yonder sinnifies.’

The order was given; the sailors tumbled aft; the great stretch of
glimmering, ashen cloths, burning and blackening alternately as they
reflected the tempestuous flares withered upon the dusk as the peak
and throat halliards were settled away; the sail was furled, the huge
mainboom secured, and the watch went forward softly as cats upon their
naked feet.

Ha! what is that? Right ahead, on a line with our bowsprit, there leapt
from the black breast of the sea, on the very edge of the ocean, if
not past it, a body of flame, brilliant as sunshine but of the hue of
pale blood. It came and went, but whilst it lived it made a ghastly
and terrifying daylight of the heavens and the water in the north,
revealing the line of the horizon as though the sun’s upper limb were
on a level with it till the circle of the sea could have been followed
to either quarter.

‘_That_ was not lightning,’ cried Miss Laura in a voice of alarm.

‘Finn,’ I shouted, ‘did you see that?’

‘Ay, sir,’ he cried with an accent of astonishment from the opposite
side of the deck.

‘What in the name of thunder was it, think you?’ I inquired.

‘Looked to me like a cloud of fire dropped clean out of the sky, sir,’
he answered.

‘No, no,’ exclaimed the hoarse voice of the fellow who grasped the
helm, ‘my eye was on it, capt’n. It rose up.’

‘Listen,’ cried I, ‘if any report follows it.’

But we could hear no sound save the distant muttering of thunder astern.

‘It looked as though a ship had blown up,’ said Miss Laura.

‘I say, captain,’ I called, ‘d’ye think it likely that a vessel has
exploded down there?’

‘There’s been nothen in sight, sir,’ he answered.

‘And why? Because the atmosphere has been blind all day,’ I replied.
‘You’d see the light of an explosion when the craft herself would be
hidden.’

‘’Twarn’t no ship, sir,’ muttered the fellow at the wheel, considering
himself licensed by the excitement of the moment to deliver his
opinion. ‘I once see the like of such a flare as that off the Maldives.’

‘What was it?’ inquired Miss Laura.

‘A sea-quake, miss.’

‘Ha!’ I exclaimed, ‘that’ll be it, Finn.’

We fell silent, all of us gazing intently ahead, never knowing but that
another wild light would show that way at any moment. Though I was
willing enough to believe it to have been a volcanic upheaval of flame,
I had still a fancy that it might be an explosion on board a ship too,
some big craft that had been out of sight all day in the thickness;
and I kept my eyes fixed upon the horizon in that quarter with a
half-formed fancy in me of witnessing something there by the light
of some stronger flash than the rest out of the stalking and lifting
blackness astern of us.

‘I cannot help thinking,’ said Miss Laura, rising as she spoke, and
arching her fingers above her eyes to peer through the hollow of her
hands, ‘that I sometimes see a pale, steam-like column resembling
ascending smoke that spreads out on top in the form of a palm-tree.
_Now_ I see it!’ she cried, as a brilliant flash behind us sent its
ghastly yellow into the far confines ahead, till the whole ocean lifted
dark and flat to it.

The thunder began to rattle ominously, the light breeze faltered, and
the foresail swung sulkily to the bowing of the vessel upon the swell
that was distinctly increasing in weight. We all looked, but none of us
could distinguish anything resembling the appearance the girl indicated.

‘If the flame rose from the sea,’ said I, ‘it is tolerably certain to
have sent up a great body of steam. That is, no doubt, what you see,
Miss Jennings.’

‘It lingers,’ she exclaimed, continuing to stare.

‘The draught’s a-taking off,’ rumbled Finn. ‘Stand by for a neat little
shower.’

As the air died away it grew stiflingly hot again, hotter, it seemed,
than it was before the breeze blew. The huge volumes of dense shadows
astern were literally raining lightning; the swell ran in molten
glass, and the still comparatively subdued roar of the thunder came
rolling along those sweeping, polished brows as though the ocean were
an echoing floor and there were a body of giants away down where the
lightning was sending colossal bowls at us.

All at once, and in a manner to drive the breath out of one’s body with
the suddenness and astonishment of it, the yacht’s bows rose to a huge
roller that came rushing at her from right ahead. Up she soared till
I dare say she showed twenty foot of her keel forward out of water.
The vast liquid mass swept past the sides with a roar that drowned the
cannonading of the heavens. Down flashed the vessel’s bows whilst her
stern stood up as though she were making her last plunge. I grasped
Laura by the waist, clipping hold of a backstay just in time to save
us both from being dashed on the deck. Finn staggered and was thrown.
Out of the obscurity in the fore part of the schooner rose a wild,
hoarse cry of dismay and confusion mingled with the din of crockery
tumbling and breaking below, and the grinding sound of movable objects
sliding from their places. Heaven and earth, what is it? Another! Not
so mountainous this time, but a terribly heavy roller nevertheless. Up
rose the yacht again to it, then down fell her stem with a boiling of
white waters about her bow, amid the seething of which and the thunder
of the liquid volume rushing from off our counter you heard a second
cry, or rather groan of amazement and alarm, from the sailors forward,
with more distracting noises below.

I continued to grip Laura and to hold firmly to the backstay with
my wits almost scattered by the incredible violence of the yacht’s
soaring and plunging, and by the utter unexpectedness of the swift,
brief, headlong dance. But now the yacht floated on a level keel again
and continued so to float, the calm being as dead as ever it had been
in the most stagnant hour of the day, saving always the southerly
undulation which the two gigantic rollers had temporarily flattened
out, though the heaving presently began again. I saw Finn rubbing his
nose like a dazed man as he stood staring towards the lightning.

‘What could it have been?’ cried Laura.

‘Two volcanic seas, mum,’ answered the fellow who grasped the wheel;
‘there’s most times three. Capt’n, beg pardon, sir, but that’ll ha’
been a mighty bust up yonder to have raised a weight of rollers to be
felt as them two was all this distance away.’

‘The most surprising thing that ever happened to me, Mr. Monson,’ cried
Finn, still bewildered.

A great drop of rain--a _drop_ do I call it? it seemed as big as a
hen’s egg--splashed upon my face, and at the same moment a flash of
lightning swept an effulgence as of noontide into heaven and ocean,
followed rapidly by an ear-splitting burst of thunder.

‘Finn’s little shower is beginning,’ said I, grasping Laura’s hand;
‘let us take shelter. Anyway the wet should cool the atmosphere if
no wind follows. Bless me! how disgusting if it’s to prove merely a
thunderstorm.’

I conducted her to the cabin. At the foot of the companion steps stood
Lady Monson. She was without a hat, her face was of a deadly white, her
large black eyes glowed with terror, her hair was roughly adjusted on
her head, and long raven-hued tresses of it lay upon her shoulder and
hung down her back. I could well believe that the old lord whom Laura
had met at my cousin’s found something in this woman’s tragic airs and
stately person to remind him of Mrs. Siddons as Lady Macbeth.

‘What has happened?’ she exclaimed, addressing me without noticing
her sister. I explained. ‘Are we in danger?’ she exclaimed, with an
imperious sweep of her fiery eyes over my figure as though she could
not constrain herself to the condescension of looking me full in the
face.

‘I believe not,’ said I coldly, making as though to pass on, for I
abhorred her manner and was shocked by her treatment of her sister.

She stood a moment looking up; but there came just then a fierce flash
of lightning; she covered her eyes; at the same moment somebody on deck
closed the companion. She then, without regarding us, went to her cabin.

Hardly had we seated ourselves when down plumped the rain. It seemed to
roll over the edge of the cloud like the falls of Niagara, in a vast
unbroken sheet of water. There was as much hail as rain; the stones
of the bigness you find only in the tropics, where there is plenty
of lightning to manufacture them, and the sound of the downrush as it
struck the deck and set the sea boiling was so deafening that, though
the thunder was roaring almost overhead, nothing was to be heard of
it. The lightning was horribly brilliant, and the cabin seemed filled
with the sulphur-smelling blazes, though there was only a comparatively
small skylight for them to show through. In a few minutes the rush of
rain slackened, the volleying claps and rolling peals of thunder were
to be heard again, with a noise, in the intervals, of the gushing of
water overboard from our filled decks.

‘I hope the lightning will not strike the yacht,’ exclaimed Laura.

‘There is no safer place in a thunderstorm than a vessel in the middle
of the wide ocean,’ I answered.

At that moment the burly form of Cutbill came out of Wilfrid’s cabin.
His head dodged to right and left awhile in the corridor whilst he
sought to make out who we were; then distinguishing us he approached.

‘Beg pardon, sir,’ he exclaimed, ‘but his honour’s growed very crazy,
and wants to know what was the cause of the yacht pitching so heavily
just now.’

‘I will go to his berth and explain,’ said I.

‘Oh, Mr. Monson, please don’t leave me,’ cried Laura. ‘The lightning
terrifies me.’

‘Then Cutbill,’ said I, ‘give my love to Sir Wilfrid and tell him
that the pitching of the yacht was to a couple of seas caused, as we
suppose, by a submarine earthquake away down in the north, probably
fifteen miles distant.’

‘Thought as much, sir,’ said Cutbill, from whose face the perspiration
was streaming, whilst his immense whiskers sparkled like a dew-laden
bramble-bush in sunrise.

‘Also explain that I do not desire to leave Miss Jennings until this
deafening and blinding business is over. I shall hope to carry my pipe
to his berth by-and-by. But it must be very hot for you, Cutbill, in
that cabin?’

‘Melting, sir. I feel to be a-draining away. Reckon there’ll be nothen
left of me but my clothes if this here lasts.’

‘How is Sir Wilfrid?’

‘Well, sir, to be honest, I don’t at all like what I see in him.
There’s come a sing’ler alteration in him. Can’t xactly describe it,
sir; sort of stillness, and a queer whiteness of face, and a constant
watching of me; his eyes are never off me, indeed. The heat’ll have a
deal to do with it, I dessay.’

‘Some change may be at hand,’ said I, ‘from which he may emerge with
his miserable hallucinations gone. Yet the heat should account for a
deal too. Give him my message, Cutbill.’

The man knuckled his forehead and withdrew. The heat was so great
owing to the companion hatch and skylight being closed, that my sweet
companion seemed half-dead with it, and leaned against me with her
eyes closed, almost in a swoon. But the worst of the storm was over
apparently, for the rain had ceased, and though the lightning was still
intensely vivid, one knew by the sound of the thunder that what was
fiercest had forged ahead of us and was settling away into the north. I
called to the steward to open the companion doors and report the state
of the weather. The moment the hatch lay clear to the night I felt a
gush of refreshing and rain-sweetened air. Laura sat upright and gave a
deep sigh.

‘Does it rain, steward?’ I sung out.

‘No, sir.’

‘Tell Captain Finn,’ said I, ‘to get some space of deck swabbed dry for
Miss Jennings. The heat here is too much for the young lady.’

In a few moments I heard the slapping of several swabs and Finn’s long
face glimmered through the open skylight. ‘The weather’s a-clearing,
sir,’ he called down. ‘There’s a nice little air a-blowing. The lady’ll
find the port side of the quarter-deck comfortable now.’

I conducted the girl up the ladder, but she kept her hand in my
arm. Her manner had something of clinging in it, not wholly due to
fear either. It was, in fact, as though she was influenced by an
overpowering sense of loneliness, easy to understand when one thought
of Wilfrid lying mad in his cabin and her sister shunning her with hate
and rage.

What Finn meant by saying the weather was _clearing_ I could not quite
understand. It was pitch black to windward, that is to say, right
over the stern, whence there was a small breeze blowing in faint,
fitful, weak gusts as though irresolute. The thunderstorm was ahead and
its rage seemed spent, for the lightning was no longer plentiful or
brilliant and the thunder had faded into a sullen muttering. A lantern
or two had been brought up from below by whose feeble lustre you
witnessed the shadowy forms of seamen swabbing the decks or squeezing
the water with scrubbing-brushes into the scuppers. The dark swell ran
regularly and with power from the south, but there was nothing to be
seen of it saving here and there the glittering of green sea fire upon
some running brow to let you guess how tall it was. I went aft with
Laura and looked over; the wake was a mere dim, glistening, crawling,
dying out after a few fathoms. Indeed, the yacht had but the foresail
on her with a headsail or two, and she seemed to owe what small way she
was making more to the heave of the swell than to the light breeze. The
darkness was a wonderful jumble of shadows. I never remember the like
of such confusion of inky dyes. The obscurity resembled an atmosphere
of smoke denser in one place than another, a little thin yonder, then
just over the mastheads a stooping belly of soot, elsewhere a sort of
faintness merging into impenetrable darkness.

‘Lay aft and loose the mains’l,’ rattled out Finn. ‘Double reef and
then set it.’

The breeze now began to freshen; the watch came running on to the
quarter-deck, and presently the wan space of double-reefed canvas
slowly mounted.

‘I wish it would brighten a bit astern,’ said I; ‘no wolf’s throat
could be blacker. There’ll be more than a capful of wind there, but it
will blow the right way for us, so let it come.’

‘I feel,’ said Laura, ‘as though I had recovered perfect health after a
dreadful illness.’

‘Now she walks,’ cried Finn, approaching where we stood to peer over
the side; ‘blow, my sweet breeze. By the nose on my face, Mr. Monson, I
smell a strong wind a-coming.’

It did not need the faculty of smell to hit the truth. The breeze was
freshening as if by magic. A little sea was already running and the
yeasty flashing of breaking heads spread far into the gloom. A loud
noise of torn and simmering waters came from the bows and a white race
of foam was speeding arrowlike from under the counter.

‘There is my sister,’ whispered Laura.

I instantly spied the tall figure of Lady Monson standing on the top
step of the companion ladder taking in the deep refreshment of the
wind. She stepped on to the deck, approached, saw us, and crossed to
the other side. She called to Captain Finn.

‘Yes, my lady.’

‘A chair, if you please. I will sit here.’

A seat was procured from the cabin and placed for her abreast of the
wheel close against the bulwarks. This time Laura was not to be driven
below by the presence of her sister. The heat in the cabin outweighed
her sensitiveness, and then again there was the darkness of the night
which sundered the sides of the deck as effectually as if each had
been as far off as the horizon. Yet for all that, the sort of fear in
which she held Lady Monson subdued her now through the mere sense of
the woman being near, scarce visible as she was, just a shadow against
the bulwarks. I had to bend my ear to catch her voice through the
hissing of the wind aloft and the singing and the seething of the foam
alongside, so low was her utterance. We sat together right aft against
the grating on the port side. The helmsman stood near with his eyes
on the illuminated compass bowl, the reflection of which touched him
as with a lining of phosphor and exposed a kind of gilded outline of
his figure against the blackness as he stood swinging upon the wheel
with a twirl of it now and again to left or to right as the vessel’s
course on the compass card floated to port or starboard of the lubber’s
mark. Though it was Finn’s watch below he kept the deck with Crimp,
rendered uneasy by the thunder-black look of the night, along with
the freshening wind and the lift of seas leaping with a foul-weather
snappishness off the ebony slopes of the swell that had grown somewhat
heavy and hollow. I could just distinguish the dark forms of the two
men pacing the deck abreast of the gangway. The main sheet was well
eased off, the great boom swung fairly over the quarter, and there
was a note of howling in the pouring of the wind, as it swept with
increasing power into the glimmering ashen hollow of the reefed canvas
and rushed away out from under the foot of it. There was no more
lightning; the sea with its glancings of foam went black as ink to the
ink of the heavens. There was no star, no break of faintness on high.
The yacht flashed through the mighty shadow, whitening a long narrow
furrow behind her, and helped by every dusky fold that drove roaring to
her counter.

On a sudden there arose a loud and fearful cry forward.

‘Breakers ahead!’

The hoarse voice rang aft sheer through the shrill volume of the wind
strong as a trumpet-note with the astonishment and fear in it.

Finn went to the side to look over, whilst I heard him roar out to
Crimp, ‘Breakers in his eye. The nearest land’s a thousand miles off.’

I jumped up and thrust my head over the rail and saw, sure enough,
startlingly close ahead a throbbing white line that, let it be what
else it might, bore an amazing resemblance to the boiling of surf at
the base of a cliff. There was nothing else to be seen; the pallid
streak stretched some distance to right and left. ‘It’ll be a tide rip,
sir!’ shouted Finn to me, and his figure melted into the obscurity as
he went forward to view the appearance from the forecastle.

I continued peering. ‘No, it is breakers by heaven!’ I cried, with
a wild leap of my heart into my very throat to the dull thunderous
warring note I had caught during an instant’s lull in the sweep of the
wind past my ear.

Laura came to my side; we strained our eyes together.

‘Breakers, my God!’ I cried again, ‘we shall be into them in a minute.’

Then out of the blackness of the forecastle there came from Finn,
though ’twas hard to recognise his voice, a fierce, half-shrieking cry:
‘Hard a starboard! Hard a starboard!’

I rushed to the wheel to assist the man in putting it hard over. At
that instant the yacht struck! In a breath the scene became a hellish
commotion of white waters leaping and bursting fiercely alongside,
of yells and cries from the men, of screams from Lady Monson, of the
grinding and splintering of wood, the cracking of spars, the furious
beating of canvas. I felt the hull lifted under my feet with a brief
sensation of hurling, then crash! she struck again. The shock threw
me on my back; though I was half-stunned I can distinctly recollect
hearing the ear-splitting, soul-subduing noise of the fall of the
mainmast, that broke midway its height and fell with all its gear and
weight of canvas like a thunderbolt from the heavens on the port side
of the vessel, shattering whole fathoms of bulwark. I sprang to my
feet; Laura had me by the arm when I fell and she still clung to me.
There was a life-buoy close beside us; it hung by a laniard to a peg.
I whipped it off and got it over Laura’s head and under her arms, and
the next thing I remember is dragging her towards the forecastle, where
I conceived our best chance would lie.

What had we struck? There was no land hereabouts. If we had not run
foul of the hulk of some huge derelict buried from the sight in the
blackness and revealing nothing but the foam of the seas beating
against it, then we must have been caught by a second volcanic upheaval
into whose fury we had rushed whilst the devilish agitation was in
full play. So I thought, and so I remember thinking; but that even a
rational reflection could have entered my mind at such a time, that
my brain should have retained the power of keeping its wits in the
least degree collected, I cannot but regard as a miracle, when I look
back out of this calm mood into the distraction and horror and death
of that hideous night. The seas were breaking in thunder shocks over
the vessel; the wind was hoary with flying clouds of froth. In a few
instants the ‘Bride’ had become a complete wreck aloft. Upon whatever
it was that she had struck she was rapidly pounding herself into
staves, and the horrible work was being expedited outside her by the
blows of the wreckage of spars which the seas poised and hurled at her
with the weight and rage of battering-rams. The decks were yawning
and splitting under foot; every white curl of sea flung inboard black
fragments of the hull. There is nothing in language to express the
uproar, the cries and groans and screams of men maimed and mutilated by
the fall of the spars or drowning alongside. I thought of Wilfrid; but
the life of the girl who was clinging to me was dearer to my heart than
his or my own. I could hear Lady Monson screaming somewhere forward as
I dragged Laura towards the forecastle. Sailors rushed against me, and
I was twice felled in measuring twenty paces. The agony of the time
gave me the strength of half-a-dozen men; the girl was paralysed, and
I snatched her up in my arms and drove forward staggering and reeling,
blinded with the flying wet, half-drowned by the incessant play of seas
over the side, feeling the fabric crumbling under my feet as you feel
sand yielding under you as the tide crawls upon it. I knew not what I
was about nor what I aimed at doing. I believe I was influenced by the
notion that, since the yacht had struck bow on, her forecastle would
form the safest part of her, as lying closest to whatever it was that
she had run foul of. I recollect that as I approached the fore rigging,
stumbling blindly with the girl in my arms, a huge black sea swept over
the forward part of the wreck and swept the galley away with it as
though it had been a house of cards. The rush of water floated me off
my legs; I fell and let go of Laura. Half-suffocated I was yet in the
act of rising to grope afresh for her when another sea rolled over the
rail and I felt myself sweeping overboard with the velocity that a man
falling from the edge of a cliff might be sensible of!

What followed is too dream-like for me to determine. Some small piece
of floating spar I know I caught hold of, and that is what I best and
perhaps only remember of that passage of mortal anguish.



CHAPTER XXIX.

A VOLCANIC ISLAND.


I lost my senses after I had been in the water a few minutes: whether
through being nearly strangled by the foam which broke incessantly over
me, or through being struck by some fragment of the wreck I cannot
say. Yet I must have retained my grip of the piece of spar I had
grabbed hold of on being swept overboard with the proverbial tenacity
of the drowning, for I found myself grasping it when I recovered
consciousness. I lay on my back with my face to the sky, and my first
notion was that I had dropped to sleep on the yacht’s deck, and that
I had been awakened by rain falling in torrents. But my senses were
not long in coming to me, and I then discovered that what I believed
to be rain was salt spray flying in clouds upon and over me from a
thunderous surf that was roaring and raging within a few strides. It
was very dark, there was nothing to be seen but the white boiling of
the near waters with the intermittent glancing of the heads of melting
seas beyond. I felt with my hands and made out that I was lying on
something as hard as rock, honeycombed like a sponge. This I detected
by passing my hand over the surface as far as I could reach without
rising. After a little I caught sight of a black shadow to the right
thrown into relief by the broad yeasty throbbing amid which it stood.
It was apparently motionless, and I guessed it to be a portion of the
‘Bride.’ The wind howled strongly, and the noise of the breaking seas
was distracting. Yet the moment I had my mind, as I may say, fully,
I was sensible of a heat in the air very nearly as oppressive as had
been the atmosphere in the cabin of the yacht that evening; and this
in spite of the wind which blew a stiff breeze and which was full of
wet besides. Then it was that there entered my mind the idea that the
yacht had struck and gone to pieces upon a volcanic island newly hove
up in that sudden great flame which had leapt upon our sight over the
‘Bride’s’ bows some two or three hours before at a distance, as we had
computed, of fifteen miles, and which had seemed to set the whole of
the northern heavens on fire.

I felt round about me with my hands again; the soil was unquestionably
lava, and the heat in it was a final convincing proof that my
conjecture was right. I rose with difficulty, and standing erect looked
about, but I could distinguish nothing more than a mere surface of
blackness blending with and vanishing in the yelling and hissing night
flying overhead. I fell upon my knees to grope in that posture some
little distance from the surf to diminish by my withdrawal something
of the pelting of the pitiless storm of spray; and well it was that I
had sense enough to crawl in this manner, for I had not moved a yard
when my hand plunged into a hole to the length of my arm. The cavity
was full of water, deep enough to have drowned me for all I knew,
whilst the orifice was big enough to receive three or four bodies of
the size of mine lashed together. There was no promise of any sort of
shelter. The island, as well as I could determine its configuration
by the surf which circled it, went rounding out of the sea in a small
slope after the pattern of a turtle-shell. However, I succeeded in
creeping to a distance where the spray struck me without its former
sting, and then I stood up and putting my hands to the sides of my
mouth shouted as loud as my weak condition would suffer me.

A voice deep and hoarse came back like an echo of my own from a
distance, as my ear might conjecture, of some twenty paces or so.

‘Hallo! Who calls?’

‘I, Mr. Monson. Who are you.’

‘Cutbill,’ he roared back.

I brought my hands together, grateful to God to hear him, for how was I
to know till then but that I might be the only survivor of the yacht’s
company?

‘Can you come to me, Cutbill?’ I cried.

‘I don’t like to let go of the lady, sir,’ he answered.

‘Which lady?’ I shouted.

‘Miss Jennings.’

‘Is she alive, Cutbill?’

‘Ay, sir.’

By this time my sight was growing used to the profound blackness. The
clouds of pallid foam along the margin of the island flung a sort of
shadow of ghastly illumination into the atmosphere, and I fancied I
could see the blotch the figure of Cutbill made to the right of me on
the level on which I stood. I forthwith dropped on my knees again and
cautiously advanced, then more plainly distinguished him, and in a few
minutes was at his side. It was the shadowy group, the outlines barely
determinable by my sight, even when I was close to, of the big figure
of the sailor seated with the girl supported on his arm. I put my lips
close to the faint glimmer of her face, and cried ‘Laura, dearest, how
is it with you? Would God it had been my hand that had had the saving
of you!’

She answered faintly, ‘Take me; let me rest on you?’

I put my arm round her and brought her head to my breast and so held
her to me. Soaked as we were to the skin like drowned rats, the heat
floating up out of the body of volcanic stuff on which we lay prevented
us from feeling the least chill from the pouring of the wind through
our streaming clothes.

‘Oh, my God, Laura!’ I cried, ‘I feared you were gone for ever when I
lost my hold of you.’

‘The life-buoy you put on saved me,’ she exclaimed, so faintly, that I
should not have heard her had not my ear been close to her lips.

‘The lady had a life-buoy on, sir,’ said the deep voice of Cutbill,
‘she was stranded alongside of me, and I dragged her clear of the surf
and have been holding of her since, for this here soil is a cuss’d hard
pillow for the heads of the likes of her.’

‘Are you hurt, Cutbill?’

‘No, sir, not a scratch that I’m aware of. I fell overboard and a swell
run me ashore as easy as jumping. But I fear most of ’em are drownded.’

‘Lady Monson!’ I cried.

‘I don’t know, sir.’

‘And my cousin?’

‘Mr. Monson!’ he exclaimed in a broken voice, ‘the instant I felt what
had happened I laid hold of Sir Wilfrid to drag him on deck! He yelled
out and clung, and ’twould have been like mangling the gentleman, sir,
to have used my whole strength upon him if so be as my arms had been
equal to the job of even making him budge. I gave up; I wanted to save
my life, sir; I could hear the vessel going to pieces and reckoned upon
his following me if I ran out. I fear he’s drownded, sir.’

‘Ah, great heaven! Poor Wilf! Merciful Father, that this desperate
voyage should end thus!’

I felt the girl shuddering and trembling on my breast.

‘Darling,’ I cried, ‘take heart! Daylight has yet to tell us the whole
story. How sudden! How shocking! Cutbill, you have lungs; for God’s
sake, hail the darkness, that we may know if others are living!’

He did so; a faint halloo, sounding some distance from the right,
replied. He shouted again and an answer was again returned, this time
in another voice; it was feebler, but it proved at all events that
there were others besides ourselves who had survived the destruction
of the yacht. What the hour was I did not know. The night wore away
with intolerable and killing slowness, the wind decreased, the sea
moderated, the boiling of the surf that had been fierce for a long
while took a subdued note, and the wind blew over us free of spray.
Till daybreak I was cradling Laura on my arm. Frequently she would
sit up to lighten the burthen of her form, but as often as she did
so, again would she bring her head to my breast. What the dawn was to
reveal I could not imagine, yet I felt so much happiness in the thought
of Laura’s life being spared and in having her at my side, that I
waited the disclosures of daybreak without dread.

At last there came a sifting of grey light into the east. By this time
there was no more than a gentle wind blowing; but the sky had continued
of an impenetrable blackness all night, and when day broke I witnessed
the reason of the oppressive obscurity in a surface of leaden cloud
that lay stretched all over the face of the heavens without the least
break visible in it anywhere.

It was natural that the moment light enough stole into the atmosphere
to see by, my first look should be at the girl by my side. Her head was
uncovered; I in slipping on the lifebuoy, or Cutbill in removing it
from her, had bared her hair, and the beautiful gold of it lay like a
cloud upon her back and shoulders. It was as dry as were our clothes;
the heat of the island had indeed served us as an oven. She was deadly
pale, hollow-eyed, with a shadow as of the reflection of a spring
leaf under each eye; her lips blanched, her countenance piteous with
its expression of fear. Her dress had been torn by the wreckage: more
shipwrecked than she no girlish figure could ever have looked, yet her
beauty stole through all like a spirit breathing in her, and I could
not release her without first pressing her to my heart and kissing her
hand and fondling it, whilst I thanked God that she was alive and that
we were together.

The yacht had broken in half from a few feet abaft of where her
foremast had stood. All the after part of her had disappeared;
nothing remained but the bows with the black planks winding round,
jagged, twisted, broken; an incredible ruin! The putty-coloured shore
that looked to the eye to trend with something of the smoothness of
pumice-stone to the wash of the surf was dark with wreckage. I saw
several figures lying prone amongst this litter of ribs and planks and
cases and the like; there were others again recumbent higher up--five
of them I counted--a few hundred paces distant, two of whom, as the
three of us sat casting our eyes about us, slowly rose to their legs to
survey the scene. One of these was Finn, the other one of the crew of
the ‘Bride.’

I exclaimed, pointing to the furthest of the three figures who
continued recumbent, ‘Isn’t that a woman?’

Cutbill stared; Laura, whose eyes were keen, said, ‘Yes. Is it
Henrietta or my maid?’

Finn perceived us and held up his hand, and made as if to come to us;
but on a sudden he pressed his side, halted, and then slowly seated
himself. I gazed eagerly around me for signs of further life. It was
now clear daylight, with a thinning of the leaden sky in the east
that promised a sight of the sun presently with assurance of a clear
sky a little later on. It was to be easily seen now that this island
which had brought about the destruction of the ‘Bride’ was a volcanic
upheaval created in the moment of the prodigious blaze of light we
had viewed in the north. It was of the form of an oyster-shell, going
with a rounded slope to amidships from one margin to another, and was
everywhere of a very pale sulphur colour. It was within a mile in
circumference, and therefore, but a very short walk in breadth, and at
its highest point rose to between twelve and fifteen feet above the
sea. There stood, however, on the very apex of it, if I may so term
the central point of its rounded back, a vast lump of rock, as I took
it to be. But my eye ran over it incuriously. We were making towards
Finn and the others when I glanced at it, and my mind was so full that
I gave the thing no heed.

It was necessary to walk with extreme caution. The island was like a
sponge, as I have before said, punctured with holes big and little,
some large as wells and apparently deep. But for these holes walking
would have been easy, for everywhere between the surface was as smooth
as if it had been polished. In many parts a sort of vapour-like steam
crawled into the air. Now that the wind was gone you felt the heat of
this amazing formation striking up into the atmosphere, and I confess
my heart fell sick in me on considering how it should be when the
sun shone forth in power and mingled the sting of its glory with the
oven-like temperature of this fire-created island.

There were many dead fish about, some floating belly up in the wells,
others dry, of all sizes and sorts, with the dark-blue, venomous form
of a dead shark a full fifteen feet long close down by the edge of the
sea, about forty paces to the left of the wreck.

Laura walked without difficulty. She leaned upon my arm, but there was
no weight in her pressure. The lifebuoy had held her head well above
water, and she had been swept ashore without suffering; the resting of
her limbs, too, through the long hours of the night had helped her;
there was comfort also in the dryness of her clothes, and I was very
sensible likewise that my presence gave her heart and spirit.

‘It is Henrietta!’ she exclaimed.

Yes! the figure that at a distance might have passed for Lady Monson or
Laura’s maid now proved the former. She had been resting some little
distance apart from the others with her head upon her arm, but suddenly
she sat upright and looked fixedly towards us. She, like Laura, was
without covering to her head; her pomp of black hair fell with gipsy
wildness to her waist; her posture was so still, her regard of us so
stubbornly intent, that I feared to discover her mind was wanting.

‘I will go to her,’ said Laura.

Yet I witnessed the old recoil in her as though there was nothing
in the most tragic of all conditions to bate her sister’s subduing
influence. She withdrew her hand from my arm and pressed forward; as
she approached, Lady Monson slowly rose, tottered towards her, threw
her clasped hands upwards with her face upturned, and then fell upon
Laura’s neck.

Finn called feebly to me, ‘God be praised you’re safe, Mr. Monson, and
sound, I hope, sir? And how is it with ye, mate?’ addressing Cutbill.

I grasped his hand; the tears gushed into his eyes, and he pointed
towards the wreck and to the bodies amongst the stuff that had been
washed ashore, whilst he slowly shook his head. He looked grey,
haggard, hollow, ill, most miserable, as though he had lived ten years
since last night and was sick and near his end.

‘Cap’n,’ cried Cutbill in a broken voice, ‘’twas no man’s fault. Who’s
to keep a look-out for islands after this pattern?’

I seated myself by Finn’s side. ‘Keep up your heart,’ said I. ‘You are
not hurt, I trust?’

‘Something struck me here,’ said he, putting his hand to his
left breast, ‘whilst I was swimming, and it makes me feel a bit
short-winded. But it isn’t that what hurts me, Mr. Monson. It’s the
thoughts of them who’ve gone, and the sight of what was yesterday, sir,
the sweetest craft afloat. Who’d have thought she’d have crumbled up
so fast? reg’larly broke her back and gone into staves aft! She was
staunch, but only as a pleasure wessel is.’

I asked Cutbill to examine the people who were lying on what I must
call the beach, and report if there was any life in them.

‘My cousin is drowned,’ I said to Finn.

‘Oh, blessed God!’ he answered. ‘Cutbill knows; he couldn’t get him out
of his berth, I allow!’

‘Ay, that was it,’ I said, ‘but this is no time for grieving for the
dead, Finn. Regrets are idle. How are we who are spared to save our
lives? Are the yacht’s boats all gone?’

I ran my eye along the beach and over the sea, but nothing resembling
a boat was visible. The sailor that had stood up with Finn when I had
first caught sight of them had seated himself a little distance away,
Lascar fashion, and I noticed him at that moment dip his forefinger
into a hole close beside him, suck it and then drink by lifting water
in the palm of his hand. I called to him, ‘Is it fresh?’

‘Pretty nigh, sir,’ he answered.

There was such another little hole near me half full of water, as
indeed was every well or aperture of the kind that I saw. I dipped as
the sailor had and found the water slightly, but only very slightly,
brackish. This I concluded was owing to the overwhelming weight of rain
that had followed the upheaval of this island overflowing the hollows
and holes in it so abundantly as to drown the salt water, with which,
of course, the cavities had been filled when this head of lava had been
forced to the surface. I bade Finn dip his hand and taste, and told him
that our first step must be to hit upon some means of storing a good
supply before the heat should dry up the water.

There were two sailors lying close together a few yards from where the
seaman had squatted himself, and I called to him to know if they were
alive. He answered ‘Yes,’ and shouted to them, on which they turned
their heads, and one of them languidly rose to his elbows, the other
lay still.

‘It will be the wreckage that drownded most of them and that hurt them
that’s come off with their lives,’ exclaimed Finn. ‘It was like being
thrown into whirling machinery. How many shall we be able to muster?
I fear _they’re_ but bodies, sir,’ indicating the figures over which
Cutbill was stooping.

All this while Laura and her sister were standing and conversing. I
was starting to walk to the wreckage that stood at the foreshore, when
Laura slightly motioned to me to approach her. I at once went to her,
watching every foot of ground I measured, for the island was just a
surface of pitfalls, and one could not imagine how deep the larger
among them might prove. Lady Monson bowed to me with as much dignity as
if she were receiving me in a ball-room. Her face looked like a dead
woman’s vitalised by some necromantic agency, so preternatural was the
ghastly air produced by the contrast between the tomb-like tincture of
the flesh and the raven blackness of her mass of flowing hair, and the
feverish glow in her large dark eyes. I returned her salutation, and
she extended a lifeless, ice-cold hand.

‘I am asking Laura what is to become of us,’ she exclaimed with a
distinct hint of her imperious nature in her voice, and fastening her
eyes upon me as from a habit of commanding with them.

‘I cannot tell,’ I answered; ‘our business is to do the best we can for
ourselves.’

‘How many are living?’ she asked.

‘We do not as yet know, but I fear no more than you see alive. My
cousin is drowned, I fear.’

Her eyes fell, she drew a deep breath and continued looking down; then
her gaze, full of a sudden fire, flashed to my face again.

‘I am not accountable for his death, Mr. Monson. Why do you speak
significantly of this dreadful thing? I did not desire his death. I
would have saved his life had the power to do so been given to me. Oh
God!’ she cried, ‘it is cruel to talk or to look so as to make me feel
as if the responsibility of all this were mine!’

She clasped one hand over another upon her heart, drawing erect her
fine figure into a posture full of indignant reproach and passionate
deprecation. Indeed, had I never met her before and not known better,
I should have taken her to be some fine tragedy actress who could not
perform in the humblest article of an everyday commonplace part without
dressing her behaviour with the airs of the stage.

‘Pardon me,’ I exclaimed, ‘you mistake. I meant nothing significant. I
thought you would wish to know if your husband had been spared. This is
no moment for discussing any other question in the world but how we are
to deliver ourselves from this terrible situation.’

As I turned to leave them I thought she regarded me with entreaty,
almost with wistfulness, if such eyes as hers could ever take that
expression, but she remained silent; and giving my love a smile--for my
love she was now, and I cannot express how my heart went to her as she
stood pale, worn, heavy-eyed, but lacking nothing of her old tenderness
and sweetness and fairness by the side of her sister, listening timidly
to the haughty, commanding creature’s words--I walked to meet Cutbill,
who was slowly returning from his inspection of the bodies.

‘They’re all dead, sir,’ he exclaimed.

‘Ah!’ I cried.

‘There’s poor old Mr. Crimp----’ his voice failed him. He added, a
little later, ‘they look more to have been killed than drownded, sir.’

‘Sir Wilfrid?’

‘No, he isn’t amongst them.’

We stood together looking towards the bodies.

‘Cutbill,’ said I, ‘We must all turn to now and collect what we can
from the wreck that may prove useful to us. There’s nothing to eat here
saving dead fish which will be rotting presently.’

The sea stretched in lead under the lead of the sky saving in the far
east, where the opening of the heavens there had shed a pearly film
upon it bright with sunrise. The swell had flattened and was light, and
rolled sluggishly to the island, sliding up and down the smooth incline
soundlessly, save when now and again some head of it broke and boiled
and rushed backwards white and simmering. I sent a long look round, but
there was nothing in sight. One could follow the ocean girdle sheer
round the island with but the break only of the queer rugged mass of
rock in the centre where the slope came to its height. The line of
shore which the remains of the yacht centred was a stretch of some
hundred and fifty feet of porous rock like meerschaum in places, the
declivity very gradual. It was covered with wreckage, and remains of
the vessel continued to be washed ashore by the set and hurl of the
swell.

I went to work with Cutbill to haul high and dry whatever we were able
to deal with. We were presently joined by two of the sailors. Finn and
the other man made an effort to approach, but I perceived they were too
weak and would be of no use to us, and I called to them to continue
resting themselves. Laura and Lady Monson were seated together and
watched us. I could not gather that they conversed; at least, though I
often directed a glance at them, I never observed that they looked at
each other as people do who talk.

We toiled a long hour, and in that time had stacked at a good distance
from the wash of the sea a store of articles of all kinds: casks of
flour, salt beef, biscuit for forecastle use, a cask of sherry, some
cases of potted meats, and other matters which I should only weary you
by cataloguing. Had the shore been steep too we should probably have
got nothing, but it shelved gently far past the point where the yacht
had struck, and as the goods had floated out of the yacht they were
rolled up like pebbles of shingle by the swell till they stranded;
and, as I have said, even as we were busy in collecting what we wanted
other articles came washing towards us. Every cask and barrel that
was recoverable we saved for the sake of the drink it might contain.
Amongst other things we succeeded in dragging high and dry the yacht’s
foresail. This was a difficult job, for first it had to be cut from
the gear that held it to its wreck of spar, and then we had to haul it
ashore, which was as much as the four of us could manage. We also saved
the yacht’s chest of tools, a box of Miss Laura’s wearing apparel, and
a small chest of drawers which had stood in my poor cousin’s cabin.
Cutbill and another seaman who stood the firmest of the rest of us on
their shanks had to wade breast-high before we could secure many of
these goods which showed in the hollow of the swell but were too heavy
to be trundled further up by the heave of the water, whose weight was
fast diminishing. There was little risk, but it took time; plenty of
rope had come ashore, and we secured lines to the men whilst they
carried ends in their hands to make fast to the articles they went
after. Then they waded back to us and the four of us hauled together,
and in this way, as I have said, we saved an abundance of useful things.

There was plenty yet to come at, but we were forced to knock off
through sheer fatigue. Our next step was to get some breakfast. I was
very eager that poor Finn and the man that was lying near him should be
rallied, and counted on a substantial meal and a good draught of wine
going far towards setting them on their legs again.

‘Cutbill,’ said I, ‘whilst I overhaul the stores for breakfast, will
you take Dowling,’ referring to the stronger of the two men who had
joined us, ‘and bury those bodies there? They make a terrible sight
for the ladies to see. I have not your strength of heart, Cutbill; the
handling of the poor creatures would prove too much for me. Yet if you
think it unreasonable that I should not assist----’

‘Oh, no, sir! it’s a thing that ought to be done. We shall have to
carry ’em t’other side. They may slip into deep water there.’ He called
to Dowling, and together they went to the bodies.

The carpenter’s chest was padlocked. Happily I had a bunch of keys in
my pocket, one of which fitted. The chest was liberally furnished; we
armed ourselves with chisel and hammers, a gimlet and the like, with
which tools we had presently opened all that we needed to furnish us
with a hearty repast. We stood casks on end for tables, and boxes and
cases served as seats. There were sailors’ knives in the tool-chest,
and we emptied and cleaned a jar of potted meat to use as a drinking
vessel. The prostrate seaman, whose name was Johnson, was too weak
to rise: so I sent Head to him, this fellow being one of the sailors
who had worked with us on the beach, with a draught of sherry, some
biscuits, and tinned meat, and had the satisfaction of seeing him fall
to after he had tossed down the wine. Finn managed to join us, but he
ate little and seemed broken down with grief.

There is much that I find hard to realise when I look back and reflect
upon the incidents of this wild excursion of which I have done my
best to tell you the story; but nothing seems so dream-like as this
our first meal upon that newly-created spot of sulphurous rock in
the deepest solitude of the heart of the mighty Atlantic. The leaden
curtain had gradually lifted off the face of the east, leaving a band
of white-blue sky there ruled off by the vapour in a line as straight
as the horizon. The sun floated clear in it; his slanting beam had
flashed up the waters midway beneath into an azure of the delicate
paleness of turquoise; but all the western side lay of a leaden hue
yet under the shadow of the immense stretch of almost imperceptibly
withdrawing vapour. At one cask sat Laura and Lady Monson. The weak
draught of wind kept my sweetheart’s golden hair trembling; but Lady
Monson’s hung motionless upon her back; it made one think of a thunder
cloud when one looked at it and noticed the lightning of her glance
as she sent her eyes in a tragic roll from the distant horizon to the
fragment of rock and on to the island slope with the great strange bulk
of rock nodding, as it seemed, on top; and the corpse-like whiteness
of her face was a sort of stare in itself to remind you of the bald,
stormy glare you sometimes see in the brow of a tempest lifting sombre
and sulkily past the sea-line. Finn’s eyes clung with drooping lids
to the fragment of the ‘Bride’; Head reclined near me in a sailor’s
reckless posture, feeding heartily; down on the beach the figures of
Cutbill and Dowling were passing out of sight with one or another of
their dreadful burthens and then returning. None of us seemed able to
look that way.

‘All yon wessel’s company saving the eight of us gone!’ exclaimed Finn.
‘And she’s what? Look at her. Just the shell of a yacht’s head. Oh, my
God, Mr. Monson, how terrible sudden things do happen at sea!’

‘I never would ha’ believed that the “Bride” ’ud tumble to pieces like
that though, capt’n,’ exclaimed Head.

‘Oh, man,’ cried Finn, ‘the swell lifted and dropped her. Didn’t ye
feel it? Poor Sir Wilfrid! Mr. Monson, sir--I’d take his place if he
could be here.’

‘I believe it, Finn. I am sure you would,’ I said with a swift glance
at Lady Monson, whose head sank as she caught the poor fellow’s remark.

‘Has this island been thrown up from the very bottom of the sea?’ asked
Laura.

‘From the very bottom of the sea,’ I answered, ‘and from a depth out
of soundings too. It is the head of a mountain of lava created in a
flash of fire, and taller, maybe, from base to peak than half-a-dozen
Everests one on the top of another.’

‘Do not ships sail this way?’ said Lady Monson.

‘Plenty of them, my lady,’ answered Finn. ‘No fear of our being long
here. A hisland in these waters where it is all supposed to be clear
is bound to bring wessels close in to view it. The “’Liza Robbins”
oughtn’t to be fur off.’ He shuddered and cried, ‘Poor Jacob Crimp!
poor old Jacob! Gone! and the werry echo of the yarn he was spinning me
last night ain’t yet off my ears.’ He buried his long, rugged face in
his hands, shaking his head.

‘Is there any means of escaping should a vessel not pass by?’ inquired
Lady Monson.

‘We must pin our faith on being sighted and taken off,’ I answered.

‘But where are we to live meanwhile? What is there on this horrible
spot to shelter us?’ she exclaimed with a sudden start, and darting a
terrified look around her. ‘If stormy weather should come, the waves
will sweep this island. How shall we be able to cling to it? All our
provisions will be washed away. How then shall we live?’

‘It’ll take a middling sea to sweep this here rock, your ledship,’ said
Johnson feebly. ‘But it is to be swept capt’n. What’s the height o’ un?’

‘Two fadom end on, I allow,’ said Head.

‘Silence!’ roared Finn, putting the whole of his slender stock of
vitality as one should suppose into his shout. ‘What d’ye want? to
scare all hands by jawing? My lady, there’s nothen to be afraid of. It
blew strong last night arter the yacht had stranded; but this island
wasn’t swept or we shouldn’t be here.’

I met my sweetheart’s frightened eyes, and to change the subject asked
Lady Monson if she had reached the shore unaided.

‘No,’ she answered. ‘I owe my life to the sailor who is with that big
seaman down there,’ meaning Dowling. ‘I am unable to explain. I was
unconscious before I left the yacht.’

‘Her ladyship was washed overboard,’ said Finn. ‘Dowling, who was
swimming, got one of his hands foul of your hair, my lady. He kept
hold, towed your ladyship as the swell ran him forrads, felt ground,
and hauled ye ashore. He behaved well.’

‘My poor maid is drowned!’ cried Laura.

‘Too many, miss, too many! Oh, my God, too many!’ muttered poor Finn.

Meanwhile my eye had been resting incuriously upon the singular lump
of rock that stood apparently poised on the highest slope in the very
centre of the island. On a sudden I started to a perception that for
the instant I deemed purely fanciful. The block of stuff was distant
from where we were eating our breakfast some two hundred and eighty to
three hundred yards. The complexion of it whilst the sky was in shadow
had so much of the meerschaum-like tint of the island that one easily
took it to be a mass of lava identical with the rest of the volcanic
creation; but the sun was now pouring his brilliant white fires upon
it, and I noticed a deal of sparkling in it as though it were coated
with salt or studded with flints of crystal, whilst the bed in which it
lay and the slope round about were of a dead, unreflecting pale yellow.
My fixed regard attracted the attention of the others.

One of the two seamen looked and called out, ‘That ain’t a part of the
island, sir.’

‘What form does it take to your fancy?’ I asked, addressing my
companions generally.

There was a pause and Laura said, ‘It looks like a ship, an unwieldy
vessel coming at us. Do you notice two erections like broken masts?’

Finn peered under his hand.

‘It certainly looks uncommonly like as if it had been a ship in its
day,’ he exclaimed, ‘but these ’ere convulsions, I am told, are made up
o’ fantastics.’

Cutbill and his companion were now approaching; they were fiery hot,
their faces crimson, and they moved with an air of distress. Yet
Cutbill made shift to sing out as he approached, pointing as he spoke,
‘Mr. Monson, there’s a ship ashore up there, sir. You get the shape of
her plain round the corner.’

‘Come, lads!’ I cried, ‘sit and fall to. There’s plenty to eat here and
drink to give you life. You have got well through a bitter business.
Finn, do you feel equal to inspecting that object?’

‘Ay, sir,’ he answered. ‘I’m drawing my breath better. But it’s the
mind, Mr. Monson--it’s the mind.’

‘Then come, all of us who will,’ I cried. ‘Laura, here is my arm for
you, and here is a pocket handkerchief too to tie round your head.’

Lady Monson looked at her sister and rose with her. Laura came to my
side and we started.



CHAPTER XXX.

WE BOARD THE GALLEON


The surface of the island was so honeycombed that one dared not look
elsewhere than downwards whilst walking, and so it was not until we
had drawn close to the huge rock-like lump that I was able to give my
attention to it.

How am I to describe this astonishing body? It was most clearly the
petrified fabric of a ship, a vessel of considerable tonnage, that
had been hove from the dark ocean-bed on which it had been resting
for God alone could tell how many scores of years by the prodigious
eruption that had sent this head of rock on which we stood rushing
upwards through the deep into the view of the Atlantic heaven. She had
been apparently a galleon in her day, and to judge from such shape
as I could distinguish in her, she was probably upwards of a century
and a half old. She was not much above three times as long as she was
broad, and the figure of her, therefore, was only to be got by viewing
her broadside on. She was incrusted with shells of a hundred different
kinds and colours, with much exquisite drapery of lace-like weed. This
shelly covering was manifestly very thick and astonishingly plentiful,
but though it increased her bulk it did not greatly distort her shape.
You saw the form of the craft plain in the astonishing growth and
adhesion. There was the short line of poop and then a little longer
line of quarter-deck, then a deep waist broken again by the rise of
the forecastle. You could follow the curve of the stem and cutwater
and plainly see the square of the counter rising castle-like to a
height of hard upon thirty feet from the surface on which she lay.
She suggested the structure of a ship built of shells. The remains of
a couple of masts shot up from her decks, one far forward, the other
almost amidships, each about twelve feet high, as richly clothed as the
hull with shells of many hues. She lay with a slight list; that is to
say, a little on one side, the inclination being to starboard, and so
far as one could guess, she was disconnected from the bed on which she
reposed--probably thundered clear of it by the shock of earthquake,
though she looked as solid as a block of cliff. Sparkling lines of
water spouted from her upper works, but from below that part of her
main-deck which sailors would call the covering board, she showed
herself as tight as if she had been newly caulked and launched.

The sunshine streamed purely and with great power upon her, and though
she had scarce been distinguishable from the rest of the island save
in the shape of her when the sky was dark with cloud, she now flashed
out on that side of her that faced the sun into the most barbarically
glorious, richly coloured, admirably novel object that ever mortal
eye lighted upon in this wide world. Pearl-coloured shells blended
with blue and green; there were ruby stars; growths of a crystalline
clarity prismatic as cut glass; shells of the cloud-like softness of
milk but of the hardness of marble; patches of incrustation of an
amber tint, others of a vivid green delicately relieved by the scoring
of the burnished edges of mussel-like shells. The falls of water
fell like curves of rainbow over this magnificence and splendour of
marine decoration; the tapestry of weed hung moist and of an exquisite
vividness of green. The short height of masts glittered in the sunshine
with many lovely colours of silver and rose and other hues which made a
very prism of each shaft of spar.

The whole of us stood gazing, lost in wonder; then Finn cried, ‘This is
a wonderful sight, Mr. Monson.’

‘An old galleon full o’ treasure. Who’s to know?’ exclaimed the seaman
Head.

‘From what depth will she have been thrown up?’ asked Laura.

‘From a soil too deep for human soundings,’ said I. ‘Wonderful that
the blaze of fire in the heart of which she must have soared to this
surface did not wither her up. But she seems perfect, not an ornament
injured, not a jewel on her broken, no hint of having been scorched
that I can anywhere see. She will have belonged to the last century,
Finn?’

‘Ay, sir,’ he answered, ‘and mayhap earlier. How would she show if she
was to be scraped?’

He held his long chin betwixt his thumb and forefinger, and stared
gapingly at the wondrous object.

‘We might find shelter in her,’ said the cold, haughty voice of Lady
Monson, ‘if the sea should break over the island.’

‘Happily suggested!’ I exclaimed. ‘What sort of accommodation will her
decks offer?’

‘Grit, I reckon,’ said Head.

‘Well, we can pound a space clear for ourselves, I hope,’ said I;
‘there’s canvas enough yonder on the beach to furnish us with a roof.’

‘And she’ll give us a rise of twenty or thirty feet above the level
of the island, sir,’ said Finn, ‘pretty nigh as good as a masthead
look-out. A wessel’ll have to pass a long way off not to see her! Well,
thank God! says I, for that she’s here. It’s something for a man’s
sperrits to catch hold of, ain’t it, Mr. Monson? Lor’ bless me, how
beautiful them shells look!’

Cutbill and Dowling now joined us, and stood staring like men
discrediting their senses.

‘William,’ said Finn, addressing Cutbill, ‘if ye had her safe moored in
the Thames, mate, just as she is, there’d be no need for you to go to
sea any more. There’s folks as ’ud pay a pound a head to view such a
hobject.’

‘What’s inside of her?’ said Dowling.

‘That’s to be found out,’ answered Cutbill. ‘Smite me, Mr. Monson, sir,
if the look-out of exploring of her ain’t good enough to stop a man
from being in a hurry to get away from here.’

‘Will not one of the sailors climb on board,’ said Lady Monson, ‘that
we may know the state of her decks? We shall require a shelter to-night
if a ship does not come to-day and take us off,’ and she sent her black
eyes flashing over the sea-line as she spoke, but there was nothing to
be seen.

‘How is a man to get aboard?’ exclaimed Dowling; ‘there’s nought to
catch hold of, and sailors ain’t flies.’

‘Pile casks one on top of another,’ said I, ‘and then make a
pick-a-back, the lightest hand last. I’ll lend my shoulders.’

Finn shook his head. ‘No need to risk our necks, sir. The bows are the
lowest part. Nothen’s wanted but a coil of rope. Dowling, you look
about the freshest of us, my lad. Step down where the raffle is, will
’ee, and bring along a length of the gear there.’

The fellow trudged to the beach very willingly. Had he been a merchant
sailor pure and simple, one might have looked in vain under such
conditions for hearty obedience. Mercantile Jack when shipwrecked has
a habit of viewing himself as a man freed from all restraint, and
instantly privileged by misery to grow mutinous and in all senses
obnoxious. But the instincts of the yachtsman come very near to those
of the man-of-war’s-man; and indeed, for the matter of that, I would
rather be cast away with a crew of men who knew nothing of seafaring
outside yachting than with a body of blue-jackets--I mean as regards
the promise of respectful behaviour.

Presently Dowling returned with a line coiled over his shoulder. In
truth, rope enough to rig a mast with had come ashore with the yards,
gaffs, and booms of the yacht, and the sailor had had nothing to do but
to clear away as much line as he wanted and bring it to us. Cutbill
took the stuff from him and coiled it down afresh over his fingers
as though he were about to heave the lead, then nicely calculating
distance and height with his eye he sent the fakes flying lasso fashion
sheer over the head of the huge, glittering, fossilised structure where
the incrustation forked out in a manner to suggest the existence of
what the ancient mariner termed a ‘beak,’ and the end was caught by
Dowling, who had stepped round the bows of the craft to receive it.

‘Now up you go, my lad,’ shouted Cutbill, and the sailor, who was of a
light figure, mounted as nimbly as a monkey, hand over hand; three of
us holding on to the rope t’other side to secure it for him. He gained
the deck and looked about him with an air of stupid wonder.

‘Why, it’s a plantation!’ he shouted; ‘young cork-trees a-sprouting and
flowers as big as targets! vegetables right fore and aft, and a dead
grampus under the break of the poop!’

‘Avast!’ bawled Cutbill, ‘tarn to and see if the stump of that there
foremast is sound.’

The spar was stepped well forward, after the ancient custom, with a
slight inclination towards the bow. Dowling made for it with his mouth
open, staring around and looking behind him as he went, and treading
as though he moved on broken glass. He drew close to the shell-covered
shaft that glowed with the tints of a dying dolphin and glittered and
coruscated with the richness and variety of dyes beyond imagination to
every movement that one made. After briefly inspecting it he sang out:
‘Strong enough to moor a line-of-battle ship to, sir!’

‘Then make the end of the line fast there,’ roared Cutbill.

This was done, and up went the burly salt, puffing and blowing,
swinging a crimson visage round to us as he fended himself off the
lacerating heads of the shelly armour with his toes. He got over the
side, stood staring as the other had, and then, tossing up his hands,
shouted down, ‘Looks like that piece, capt’n, that’s wrote down in the
Bible ’bout the Gard’n of Eden. Only wants Adam and Eve, damn me! Never
could ha’ dreamed of such a thing. And it’s the bottom of the sea too.
Why, it’s worth being drownded if it’s all like this down there.’

‘Any hatches?’ cried Finn.

‘Can’t see nothen for shells and vegetables.’

‘Well, just take a look round, will ’ee, and let’s know if there’s
shelter to be got for the ladies.’

Dowling sang out, ‘Main-deck’s pretty nigh awash, but there’s a raised
quarter-deck, and it’s dry from the break of it to right aft.’

‘She will be full of water,’ said I to Finn. ‘Why not scuttle her?
There are a couple of augers in the carpenter’s chest. Is that growth
to be pierced, though?’

‘Can but try, sir,’ he answered.

‘Well,’ said I, ‘one thing is certain. The sun will be standing
overhead presently. There’s no wind, and we must absolutely contrive to
protect the ladies from the pouring heat. There’s but one thing to do
for the moment, that I can see. We must manage to rig up a sail aboard
to serve as an awning. But how are the ladies to be got into her?’

Lady Monson and Laura stood close, listening anxiously.

‘Why,’ answered Finn, after thinking for a few moments, ‘we must rig
up a derrick. There’s blocks enough knocking about amongst the raffle
down there to make a whip with. The consarn’ll sarve also to hoist the
provisions up by. I allow that if once we get stowed up there, there’ll
be nothen to hurt us so far as seas goes in the heaviest gale that can
come on to blow.’

‘I shall be miserable until I am on board,’ said Lady Monson. ‘It is
dreadful to be dependent upon this low rock for one’s life. The tide
may rise.’

I met Laura’s sad and wondering eyes, and divined her thoughts. The
instinct of self-preservation was indeed a very powerful development in
her ladyship’s bosom. Is she not ashamed to let us all see how anxious
she is about her life, Laura’s glance at me seemed to say, after the
sufferings and death her behaviour has brought about--her husband
drowned, the unhappy man she abandoned her home for floating in the
depths beyond the horizon there----?

Cutbill descended, followed by Dowling.

‘’Tis an amazing sight, surely,’ he exclaimed, wringing the
perspiration in a shower from his forehead. ‘The decks is flinty hard
with shell, but I reckon a space is to be cleared just under the break
of the poop, and it feels almost cool up there arter these here rocks.
There’s a porpoise aft as’ll want chucking overboard. ’Tain’t no
grampus, as Dowling says. Only I tell ye, capt’n, that there deck’s a
sight to make a man see twenty times more’n he looks at.’

Finn’s spirits had improved through his having something else to think
of than the loss of the yacht and the drowning of her people. He was
fetching his breath, too, with comparative ease, and only at long
intervals brought his hand to his side. This improvement in him greatly
cheered me. I liked the rough, homely sailor much, and his death would
have been a blow. The man Johnson had by this time made shift to rise
and join us, but he walked with a weak step and looked very sadly, as
though a deal of the life had been washed out of him in his struggle to
fetch the shore. He was of no use to us, and I told him to go and sit
in the shadow of the hull out of the blaze of the sun.

Finn then called a council: Cutbill, myself, Dowling, and Head gathered
round him, and very briefly and with but little talk we concerted our
plans. We were all agreed that the astonishing shell-armoured fabric
could be made to yield us a tolerably secure asylum, and that the
elevation of its deck would enable us to command a wide view of the
sea, and that therefore it was our business forthwith to convey all
that we could recover from the yacht into her. I went to work with
the rest and toiled hard. The labour mainly consisted in dragging and
pulling, for we had to bring a spare boom to the galleon from the beach
to serve as a derrick for hoisting; then such sails as had been washed
ashore; then the provisions. It was like drawing teeth; everything
seemed to weigh about five times more than it should. The work was
made the harder, moreover, by the character of the ground. Had the
surface been smooth as earth is we could have tramped with tolerable
briskness; but our staggering march to the galleon under heavy loads
was converted into a very treadmill exercise by our having to dodge
the little holes large enough to neatly fit the leg to as high as the
knee, or the wider yawns and great wells of which some were big enough
to receive the whole body of us, goods and all, in one gulp. I had by
this time ascertained that the water in the larger pores and holes was
too salt to drink. It was in the smaller hollows only, and these indeed
amongst the shallowest, that the water lay scarce brackish. In short,
the fall of rain, great as it was, had not lasted long enough to drown
the brine in the deeper wells. This was an important discovery, for the
fierce sun would soon dry up the shallow apertures; and had we taken
for granted that the contents of the deeper ones were fit to drink, we
should have been brought face to face with thirst.

But happily nearly the whole of the yacht lay in piecemeal before us.
All that had been in her forepart, which yet stood, had washed out
and rolled ashore or stranded within wading distance. Our fresh water
had been carried in casks, as I believe was the custom for the most
part in those days; some of the barrels had bulged, but a few had been
swept high and dry. There were empty water casks, moreover, which had
floated up, and these we rolled aside to be filled the moment we had
leisure to devote to that task. There were no bodies to be seen, and
I was thankful for it. The sharks no doubt had been put to flight by
the explosion, but they would not be long in returning; and indeed I
gathered they were in force again, though I saw nothing resembling a
fin, from the circumstance of none of the dead, saving the few forms
which Cutbill and Dowling had slipped into the sea on the other side of
the island, having drifted in with the wreckage.

The leaden curtain had drawn far down into the west; two-thirds of the
heavens now were a dazzle of silver blue with a high sun looking down
out of it with a roasting eye, and the water a surface of shivering
glory south and east and edged crape-like in the west, but not a cloud
of the size of a thumb-nail anywhere save there. A thin line of surf
purred delicately upon the gradual slope of sulphur-lined beach, with a
weak, metallic hissing sounding along the length of it as the sparkling
ripple slipped up and down upon the honeycombed beach. The remains of
the yacht’s bows lay gaunt and motionless some distance down. Her gilt
figure-head glowed in the sunshine and made a brightness under it that
rode like a fragment of sunbeam upon the delicate lift of sea rolling
inwards. A plank or two rounding into the stern were gone and you could
see daylight through her. It seemed incredible that so stout a little
craft should have gone to pieces as she had; but then the swell had
been heavy and the ground on which she beat iron-hard, and then again
her scantling was but that of a pleasure vessel, though the staunchest
of its kind.

Meanwhile I conveyed, with the help of Cutbill, into the shadow that
was cast by the galleon, as I will call her, Laura’s box of wearing
apparel which we had fallen in with early in the morning. Oddly
enough it was the only trunk or portmanteau that had come ashore.
Some sailors’ chests had floated in, but nothing belonging to any
of us aft saving this box of Laura’s and a small chest of drawers
out of Wilfrid’s cabin, one drawer gone, and the others containing
articles of no use to us, such as gloves, neck-ties, writing material,
manuscripts sodden and illegible. The removing her clothes from the
box and spreading them to dry found Laura occupation and something
else therefore to think of than our miserable condition. Her sister
very early had withdrawn to the shadow cast by the galleon, and there
sat--Johnson lying a little way from her--apparently stirless for a
whole half-hour together; as much a fossil to the eye as the wondrous
structure that sheltered her. The black cloud of hair upon her back,
her spectral white face and dark eyes gave me an odd fancy of her as
the figure-head of the mysterious fabric that had risen in thunder and
flame from the green stillness of its ocean tomb where it had been
lying so long that the mere thought of the years put a shiver into
one, spite of the broiling orb that hung overhead. Heavens! I remember
thinking in some interval of toil, during which I paused, panting, with
my eye directed towards the galleon--figure a lonely man coming ashore
here on a moonlit night and beholding that woman seated as she now
sits, looking as she now looks, stirless as she now is, in the shadow
of that shell-covered structure shimmering like a lunar rainbow to the
moonbeam!

It was like passing from death to life to send the gaze from Lady
Monson to Laura as the little sweetheart busily flitted from sunshine
to shadow, spreading the garments to the light, her hair flashing and
fading as she passed from the radiance into the violet shade, her
figure the fairer to my enamoured eyes, maybe, for the shipwrecked
aspect of her attire that enriched by fitful and fascinating
revelations the beauty of her form by an art quite out of the reach
of the nimblest of dressmaking fingers. Her spirits and much of her
strength seemed to have returned to her. Often she would look my way
and wave her hand to me.

Half an hour after noon by the sun--for my watch had stopped when
I tumbled overboard, and so had Laura’s and Lady Monson’s--we all
assembled under the overhanging counter of the galleon for a midday
meal. The sun was almost overhead, and there was very little shadow;
which forced us to sit tolerably close together, and I could see that
her ladyship did not very much relish this intimate association with
the rough sailors; but it was either for her or for them to sit out
in the scorching, blinding light, and as she did not offer to go I
insisted on the poor fellows keeping their places, though Finn and
Cutbill shuffled as though they were for backing away. She perceived
my indifference to her sensitiveness and shot a look of hate at me.
However, I was not so insensible as she imagined, for I was very
careful to scarcely glance at her; for there she sat, unveiled, her
head uncovered, close to, to be peered at, if one chose, as if she were
a picture or a statue, and I would not pain what weak sense of shame,
what haughty confusion there might be in her by a single lift of my
eyes to her face, saving when I accosted her or she me. I observed that
the sailors were studious in their disregard of her. There was not a
man of them I dare say but would have squinted curiously at her out
of the corner of his eyes on board the yacht had she shown herself on
deck; but here it would have been taking an unfair advantage of her;
their instincts as men governed them, and no fine gentleman could ever
have exhibited a higher quality of breeding than did these rough Jacks
in this respect, as they squatted munching biscuit and potted meat and
handing on to one another the jar of sherry and water.

But often, though swiftly and very respectfully too, their glances
would go to Laura. They would look as though they found something to
hearten them in her sweet pale face, her kind smile, her pretty efforts
to bear up.

‘There ought to be a ship passing here before long,’ said Finn, with a
slow stare seawards; ‘’taint as if this here island was right in with
the African coast.’

‘The “’Liza Robbins” should be looked out for, capt’n,’ said Cutbill;
‘she was dead in our wake when we drawed ahead, steering our course to
a hair.’

‘Strange that all the yacht’s boats should have disappeared,’ said I.

‘Hammered into staves, your honour,’ said Finn; ‘ye may see bits of
them on the beach.’

‘I couldn’t swear to it,’ said Johnson languidly; ‘it was so blooming
dark; but I’ve got a notion of seeing some of the men run aft when the
yacht struck, as though making for one of the boats.’

‘I was knocked down by a rush of several sailors,’ said I.

‘If any of our chaps got away in a boat, why aren’t they here?’ asked
Dowling.

‘Why, man, consider the size of this island,’ I exclaimed; ‘a few
strokes of the oars, the boat heading out, or to the eastwards, say,
would suffice to send them clear of this pin’s-head of rock, and then
once to leeward they’d blow away. But we need not trouble to speculate:
I fear nobody has escaped but ourselves.’

Finn shook his head with a face of misery, putting down what he was
eating and fixing his eyes, that had moistened on a sudden, on the rock
he sat on.

‘How long will it be before we enter the ship?’ asked Lady Monson.

‘Oh, we shall all be aboard before sundown, I don’t doubt,’ said I.

‘Will you not have some signal ready in case a vessel pass?’ she
demanded.

‘We’ll stack the materials for a bonfire, but there is much to be done
meanwhile,’ said I.

I believed she would have addressed Cutbill or Finn rather than me,
but for the downright insolence her disregard of my presence would
have signified. No doubt she hated me for being her husband’s cousin,
for joining in his chase of her, for having helped in the duel that
cost the Colonel his life, for the part I had acted aboard the
‘’Liza Robbins,’ and for being a witness of her defeat and shame and
humiliation. Yes, such a woman as Lady Monson would violently abhor a
man for much less than this. Why should poor Wilfrid have been drowned
and she spared? I remember thinking. The world would surely have been
the better off for the saving of one honest heart out of the yacht’s
forecastle than for Lady Monson’s deliverance. But reflections of
this kind were absurdly ill-timed. I started from them on meeting
Laura’s gaze pensively watching me, and then sprang to my feet to the
perception of the overwhelming reality that confronted us all.

‘Come, lads,’ said I, ‘if you are sufficiently rested shall we turn to?’

They instantly rose; Johnson staggered on to his legs, but I told him
to keep where he was.

‘You’ll be hearty again to-morrow,’ said I, ‘and we are strong enough
to manage without you.’

He knuckled his forehead with a grateful smile and lay down again.

The work ran us deep into the afternoon. There did not seem much to be
done, but somehow it occupied a deal of time. The heat was a terrible
hindrance; it fell a dead calm, the atmosphere pressed with a tingling
vibration to the skin and swam in a swooning way, till sometimes on
pausing and bringing my hand to my brow I would see the hot blue
horizon beginning to revolve as though it were some huge teetotum with
myself perched on the top of the middle of it. With a vast deal of
trouble and after a long time a boom was secured to the stump of the
galleon’s foremast with a block at the end of it, through which a line
was rove. There had washed ashore close to the great dead shark down on
the beach a small arm-chair of red velvet that had formerly stood in
Laura’s cabin. Cutbill spied it and brought it to Finn, and said that
it would do to hoist the ladies on board by. It was accordingly carried
to the galleon, and made fast to one end of the whip. Dowling then
climbed on board whilst the others of us stood by to sway away.

‘Will you go up first, Lady Monson?’ said I.

She coldly inclined her head and came to the chair, sweeping her hair
backwards over her shoulders with a white, scared look at the height
up which she was to be hoisted. I snugged her in the chair, and passed
the end of a piece of line round her, and all being ready, we ran her
up hand over hand till she was on a level with the shell-bristling rail
of the galleon’s forecastle. Here Dowling caught hold of the chair and
drew it inboards, singing out to us to lower away, and a few moments
after the chair was floating over the side empty.

We then sent Laura aloft. She smiled at me as she seated herself, but
there was a deal of timidity in her sweet eyes, and her smile vanished
as if by magic the moment the chair was off the ground. However, she
soared in perfect safety and was received by Dowling, and no sooner
had she sent a look along the decks than her head shone over the side
and she called down to me, ‘Oh, Mr. Monson, it is exquisite--a very
Paradise of shells and sea flowers!’

‘Will you go up now, sir?’ said Finn.

‘Not yet,’ I replied; ‘I can be useful down here. Let us get Johnson
hoisted out of the way first.’

Cutbill brought the poor fellow round to the chair and we sent him
up. Dowling remained on the vessel to receive what we whipped up
aloft to him, and in the course of an hour from the time of swaying
Lady Monson aboard we had hoisted all the provisions we had brought
into the shadow of the galleon--Laura’s box of clothes, the yacht’s
foresail and fore-staysail, a bundle of mattresses that had washed out
of the forecastle, the cask of sherry, two casks of fresh water, the
carpenter’s chest, and other matters which I cannot now recall. This
was very well indeed, but we were nigh-hand spent, and had to fling
ourselves down upon the pumice rocks to rest and breathe ere tailing on
to the whip again to hoist one or another of us up.

The sun was now in the west, his light a rich crimson and the sea a
sheet of molten gold polished as quicksilver under him. The galleon’s
shadow lay broad on her port side, and in it we sprawled with scarlet
faces and dripping brows.

‘No chance of being picked up in such weather as this, sir,’ said Finn,
who had worked as hard as any of us and seemed the better for his
labours, though I observed that his breath was caught at times as if by
a spasm or shooting pain in the side.

‘We must have patience,’ said I, ‘but at the worst ’tis a tolerably
comfortable shipwreck, Finn. We are well stocked, and there’s a deal
more yet to be had if the sea will keep quiet. We’re not ashore upon
the Greenland coast, all ice ahead of us and all famine astern.’

‘No, thank the Lord,’ quoth Cutbill; ‘it’s a bad shipwreck when a man
daresn’t finger his nose for fear of bringing it away from his face.
Better too much sun, says I, than none at all.’

‘And then again,’ said I, with a glance up at the marvellous,
shell-encrusted conformation that towered with swelling bilge over our
heads, ‘here’s as good a house as one needs to live in till something
heaves in view.’

‘I’m for scuttling her at once, capt’n,’ cried Head; ‘she’ll hold a
vast o’ water, and the sooner she’s holed the sooner she’ll be empty.
Who’s to tell what’s inside of her?’

Cutbill ran his eyes thirstily over the huge fossil. ‘She was a lump of
a craft for her day,’ said he, ‘and when wessels of her size put to sea
they was commonly nearly all rich ships, so I’ve heerd.’

‘Head, you’re right,’ cried Finn. ‘Ye shall be the first to spike
her--if ’ee can. On deck there!’

‘Hillo!’ answered Dowling, putting his purple, whiskered face over the
line of shells.

‘Send down the augers and a chopper out of the carpenter’s chest.’

‘Ay, ay, sir,’ he answered, and in a few moments down came the tools.

‘Before you make a start,’ said I, ‘hoist me aboard, will you?’

I planted myself in the chair, was cleverly run up, got hold of
Dowling’s hand, and stepped on to the deck.

I was prepared to witness a rich and gorgeous show, but what I now
viewed went leagues beyond any imagination I could have conceived
of the reality. The ancient fabric had four decks, that is to say,
the forecastle, the main-deck that was like a well, a short raised
quarter-deck, and abaft all a poop, going to the narrow, castle-like
crown of the head of the stern. These decks, together with the inside
of the bulwarks, were thickly encrusted with shells of every imaginable
hue and shape and size; but in addition there flourished densely
amongst these shells a wonderful surface of marine growths, not so
dense but that the shells could be seen between, yet plentiful enough
to submit each deck to the eye as a glorious marine parterre. It was
like entering upon a scene of fairyland; there were growths of a
coralline appearance of many colours, from a Tyrian dye to a delicate
opalescent azure, huge bulbs like bloated cucumbers, flowers resembling
immense daisies, with coral-hard spikes projecting from them like the
rays which dart from the sun; long trailing plants like prostrate
creepers, others erect, as tall as my knee, resembling ferns, of a
grace beyond all expression, with their plume-like archings, blossoms
of white and carnation, green bayonet-like spikes, weeds shaped to the
aspect of purple lizards so that one watched to see if they crawled;
great round vegetables bigger than the African toad-stools, some
crimson, some of cream colour, some barred with crimson on a yellow
ground; here and there lay fish big and little, of shapes I had never
before beheld, whose vividness seemed to have lost nothing through
their being dead. Against the front of the quarterdeck was the livid
body of a porpoise. There was scarcely a vegetable growth but that
might have been wrought of steel for the unyieldingness of it. I kicked
at one toadstool-like thing and my foot recoiled as though it had
smote a little pillar of iron. The picture was made the more amazing
by the red light of the declining sun, for every white gleam had its
tinge of ruby, and what was deep of hue glowed gloriously rich. The two
shafts of masts sparkled like the jewelled fingers of a woman. And the
deep sea smell! The atmosphere was charged with an odour of brine and
weed of a pungency and quality that one felt to be possible only to a
revelation from some deepest and most secret recess of the deep. The
water that had covered the main-deck when Dowling and Cutbill had first
inspected the craft was fast draining away, but the growths there and
the shells were still soaked and gave a wet surface for the light of
the sun to flash up in, and the whole space sparkled with the glory of
the rainbow, but so much brighter than the brightest rainbow, that the
eye, after lingering, came away weeping with the dazzle.



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE FIRST NIGHT.


Laura and her sister sat on one of the sailors’ chests that we had sent
up; Johnson leaned on top of a flour or biscuit barrel that stood on
end, with his eyes fixed up on the western sea. There was still a deal
of bright curiosity in Laura’s face as her gaze ran over the deck,
resting again and again with a sparkle in it upon some lovely fibrine
form, some lily-like sea flower, some plant as of green marble; but
Lady Monson’s countenance was listless and almost empty of expression.
Any astonishment she might have felt was exhausted. I had scarce
time after being swayed inboards to take even a swift view of this
glittering miracle before she asked me in a voice cold and commanding,
yet, I am bound to say, of beauty too--some of the notes soft almost
as a flute’s--‘When will the men spread the sail as an awning, Mr.
Morison? They should prepare for the night. Darkness speedily comes
when the sun is gone, and we are without lights.’

‘The men have worked very well, Lady Monson,’ said I. ‘They will rig
up a sail promptly for you, I am sure. I am not in command of them, as
of course you know, but they have attended cheerfully to many of my
suggestions. They were your husband’s servants, madam.’

‘And therefore _mine_, if you put it so,’ she answered with an angry
flash of her eyes at me.

‘I have no doubt,’ said I, ‘that they will be willing to do any thing
you may desire,’ and with that I stepped to the side to see what they
were about, with so strong an aversion in me that I could only heartily
hope it would never betray me into any more defined expression of it
than mere manner might convey.

Laura came to my side as though to observe with me what the men were
about, and whispered, ‘She is very trying, Mr. Monson, but bear with
her. It will not need a long imprisonment of this kind to tame her.’

‘My dearest,’ said I, ‘I have not a word to say against her. My quarrel
is with _you_.’ She stared at me. ‘I call you Laura! Again and again
last night you let me tell you I loved you. By your own admission I am
your sweetheart, and yet you call me _Mr. Monson_.’

‘Oh, I will call you Charles; I never thought of it!’ she exclaimed,
blushing rosy. ‘What are the men doing?’ she exclaimed, peering as
though engrossed by the movements of the seamen.

Cutbill was winding away at the shell-thickened side of the galleon
with an auger; further aft stood Head similarly employed. On a line
with my face as I looked down there was a finger-thick coil of water
spouting out of the vessel’s side, smoking upon the rocks and streaming
away in a rivulet into holes which it overflowed. I explained to Laura
the fellows’ employment.

‘They have a notion,’ said I, ‘that there may be treasure contained
in the hold of this old galleon, but before they can search they must
empty her of the water she is full of. Below there!’ I called.

Finn looked up. ‘I see that you have bored through her,’ said I. ‘Is
her side hard?’

‘As stone, sir,’ he answered. ‘The shells come away pretty easy, but
her timber’s growed into regular iron.’

I asked him how many holes they were going to pierce. He answered
three, that she might be draining handsomely through the night.

‘The sooner we can rig up a sail, Finn, to serve as a shelter, the
better,’ I called down to him. ‘When the sun is gone there’ll be
nothing to see by. The men will be wanting their supper too; then
there’s that lump of a porpoise to be got out of the craft, for we
don’t want to be poisoned as well as shipwrecked; and if daylight
enough lives after all this,’ I continued, ‘we ought to beach high and
dry as much as we can come at to-night that may be washing about out of
the yacht down there, in case it should come on to blow. There’s no
moving on this island for the holes in it when the darkness falls.’

‘Ay, ay, sir, we’ll be with ye in a jiffy,’ he answered.

‘What think you of this marine show?’ I said to Laura.

‘It is too beautiful to believe real. The mermaids have made a garden
of this ship. How lovingly, with what exquisite taste have they
decorated these old decks!’

‘Happy for us,’ I exclaimed, ‘that the earthquake should have struck
her fair, and brought her, beflowered and bejewelled as she is, to the
surface. She is more than an asylum. She compels our attention and
comes between us and our thoughts and fears.’

‘Would she float, do you think, if all the water were to be let out of
her?’

‘I would not stake a kiss from you, Laura, on it, but unless she is
full of petrified cargo and ocean deposit, stones, shells, and so on, I
don’t see why she shouldn’t swim, though she might float deep.’

‘Imagine if we could launch her and save our lives by her!’ cried
Laura, clasping her hands; then changing her voice and casting down her
eyes she added: ‘I must go to Henrietta. She watches me intently. She
wonders that I can smile, I dare say; and I wonder too when I think for
an instant. Poor Wilfrid! poor Wilfrid! and my maid too, and the others
who are lying dead in that calm sea.’

She moved away slowly towards her sister.

I looked about me for a forecastle or maindeck hatch or any signs of an
entrance into the silent interior under foot, but the crust of shells
and the grass and plants and vegetation concealed everything. Both the
front of the poop and that of the short raised quarter-deck seemed
inlaid with shells like a grotto. There was doubtless a cabin under the
poop, with probably a door off the quarter-deck, and windows in the
cabin front to be come at by beating and scraping. It might furnish
us with a shelter, but how would it show? What apparel had the sea
clothed it with? An emotion of deep awe filled and subdued me when I
looked at this ship. I was sufficiently well acquainted with old types
of craft to guess the century to which this vessel had belonged, and
even supposing her to have been one of the very last of the ships of
her particular build and shape, yet even then I might make sure that
she could not be of a less age than a hundred and twenty or thirty
years, so that I might safely assume that she had been resting in the
motionless dark-green depths of this ocean for above a hundred years.
She had been a three-masted vessel, but all traces of her mizen-mast
had vanished. Her figure made one think of a tub, the sides slightly
pressed in. All about her bows was so thickly encrusted with shells
that it was impossible to guess the character of the structure there.
I traced the outline of a beak or projection at the stem head with a
hollow betwixt it and the fore part of the forecastle deck. Little more
was to be gathered, for all curves and outlines here were thickened
into grotesque bigness of round and surface out of their original
proportions and shape by deposits of shells. Indeed, the well in the
head was choked with marine vegetation. It was like a square of tropic
soil loaded with the eager growths of a fat and irresistible vitality,
appearances as of guinea grass, wondrous imitations of tufts of rushes,
beds of pink and feathering mosses, star blossoms, thickets of delicate
filaments, gorgeous heads in velvet, snake-like trailings, sea-roses,
dark satin masses of plants of a crimson colour, and a hundred other
such things, with a subsoil of shells, whose dyes glanced through the
growth in gleams of purple and orange and pearl and apple-green, in
shapes of mitres, harps, volutes, and so forth.

The men now arrived on board; three holes had been pierced in the
galleon’s side, and the water hissed with a refreshing sound on to the
rocks, intermingled with the faint lipping of the brine that was slowly
filtering down the sides from the main-deck. Finn’s first directions
were to make an awning of the stay-foresail. The canvas had long ago
dried out into its original whiteness, so fiery had been the heat of
the sun, and so ardent the temperature of this porous island. The sail
was easily spread. The stump of the foremast, as I have before said,
was close into the head; the sparkling shaft served as an upright for
the head of the sail to be seized to, and the wide foot of it, shelving
like the roof of a house, was secured to the bows. For that night,
at all events, we chose the forecastle to rest on, partly because we
happened to be on it and our provisions were stocked there, and next
because the main-deck was still almost awash; and then, again, there
was the great porpoise to get rid of, and, in truth, until one could
force an entrance into the craft it mattered little at which end of her
one lay.

The sun still floated about half an hour above the sea. I had again and
again looked yearningly around the firm, light-blue ocean line, but the
azure circle ran flawless to either hand the wedge of dark-red gold
that floated without a tremble in the dazzle of it under the sun.

‘Nothing can show in this here calm, sir,’ said Finn, as I brought my
eyes away from the sea. ‘No use expecting of steam; and, what’s moved
by wind ain’t going to hurry itself this weather, sir.’

‘Let’s get supper,’ said I. ‘There should be starlight enough anon, I
think, Finn, to enable us to fill a couple of the empty casks with the
sweetest of the water that we can find in those holes.

‘It can be managed, I dorn’t doubt,’ said he.

‘These here chests, capt’n,’ exclaimed Cutbill, indicating the three
sailors’ boxes that we had hoisted aboard, ‘belonged to O’Connor,
Blake, and Tom Wilkinson. How do we stand as consarns our meddling with
’em?’

‘How d’ye suppose, William?’ answered Finn. ‘Use ’em, man, use ’em.’

‘Hain’t the dead got no rights?’ inquired Dowling.

‘Ay, where there’s law, mate,’ responded Finn, with a half-grin at me;
‘but there’s no law on the top crust of an airthquake, and I allow that
whatever may come to us in such a place is ourn to do what we like
with.’

‘Oh, certainly,’ I cried; ‘who the deuce wants to discuss the subject
of law and dead men’s rights here? Overhaul those chests, Dowling, and
use whatever you want that you may find in them.’

But one saw the mariner’s prejudices in the way in which the sailors
opened and inspected the contents of the boxes. Had they had the
handling of a portmanteau of mine or a trunk belonging to Wilfrid they
might not have shown themselves so sensitive; but these were the chests
of dead shipmates and messmates, of men they had gone aloft with, eaten
and drank with, skylarked and enjoyed sailors’ pleasure with, and I
saw they felt that they were doing a sort of violence to forecastle
traditions by handling the vanished Jacks’ little property without the
sort of right to do so which on board ship they would have obtained
by a sale of articles at the mast. However, they found tobacco and
pipes, which went far towards reconciling them towards Finn’s theory
of appropriation. They also met with shoes, which were an unspeakable
comfort to Dowling and Head, who were barefooted, and in torture with
every step they took from the sharp edges and points of shells. There
were rude articles of clothing too, which, when dried, would give the
men a shift.

Well, we got supper, and when the meal was ended, there being yet a
little space of daylight in the west, Cutbill, Dowling, and Head went
to the beach to roll empty water-casks near to the galleon for filling
with such water as we could find that was least brackish, and to drag
clear of the wash of the sea any further casks and cases of provisions,
wine, and the like, which they might chance to come across. Johnson
continued too feeble to be of use. We had three mattresses already as
dry as if they had never touched salt water, and one of them I unrolled
and made the poor creature lie upon it. Then Finn and I went about to
prepare for the night whilst we could still see. We stretched the gaff
foresail over the plants and shrubs, placed the other two mattresses
on one side of it, covering them with a portion of the sail-cloth that
the ladies might have clean couches, and made a roll of the sail at the
head of these mattresses to serve as a bolster. Tough as the growth
of plants on the deck was, stiff as steel as I had thought at first,
they proved brittle for the most part to rough usage, and were speedily
broken by our tramping and stamping so as to form a sort of mattress
under the sail, and we were grateful enough when by-and-by we came to
lie down for the intervention of these petals and leaves and bulbs
between our bones and the flint-like surface of the shells, as barbed
and jagged as though formed of scissors and thumbscrews.

The sun sank and the darkness of the evening swept over the sea as
swiftly as the shadow of a storm, but it proved a glorious dusk, fine,
clear, glittering though dark, the sky like cloth of silver, flashful
in places with a view of the cross of the southern hemisphere low
down to make one contrast this heat and stillness and placid grandeur
of constellations with the roaring of Cape Horn and the rush of the
mountain-high surge, down upon which that divinely planted symbol was
gazing with trembling eyes. Nothing sounded save the plashing of the
fountains of water spouting from the sides of the galleon, and the
soft, cat-like breathing of the black line of sea sliding up and down
the beach.

The men had made short work of filling the casks; and leaving them
where they stood for the night, had clambered afresh to the forecastle.
It was now too dark to deal with the porpoise; so we agreed to let the
great thing rest till the morning. I and one or two of the others had
tinder-boxes, and the means therefore of procuring a light, but we were
without candles or lantern. This was a hardship in the absence of the
moon that rose so late as to be worthless to us and that would be a new
moon presently without light; though if I thought of _that_ it was only
to hope in God’s name that the rise of the silver paring would find us
safe on board some ship homeward bound.

We were unable to distinguish more of one another than the vague
outlines of our figures, and this only against the stars over the
crested height of bulwark, for the sail we had spread as an awning
deepened the gloom; the growths on the galleon’s decks were black, and
the shadows lay very thick to the height of the rail where the spangled
atmosphere glistened to the edge of the stretched sail overhead. The
faces of Laura and her sister showed in a dream-like glimmer. Finn and
I had made a little barricade of casks, cases, and the like betwixt
the mattresses on which the ladies were to lie and the other part
of the forecastle, that they might enjoy the trifling privacy such
an arrangement as this could furnish them with. The men formed into
a group round about the mattress where Johnson lay, and lighted the
pipes which they had been fortunate enough to meet with in the seamen’s
chests. As they sucked hard at the bowls the glowing tobacco would
cast a faint coming and going light upon their faces. They subdued
their voices out of respect to us, and their tones ran along in a
half-smothered growl. Much of their talk was about the yacht, her loss,
their drowned mates, and the like. I sat beside Laura, with Lady Monson
seated at a little distance from her sister, and we often hushed our
own whispers to listen to the men. Their superstitions were stirred
by their situation. This galleon lay under the stars, a huge looming
mystery, vomited but a little while since from the vast depths of
yonder black ocean; and now that the night had come her presence, her
aspect, the stillness in her of the hushed, unconjecturable, fathomless
liquid solitude out of which she had been hurled, stirred them to
their souls. I could tell that by the superstitious character of their
talk. They told stories of their drowned shipmates’ behaviour on the
preceding day--repeated remarks to which nothing but death could give
the slightest significance. Johnson in a feeble voice from his mattress
said that O’Connor half an hour before the yacht struck told him that
he felt very uneasy, and that he’d give all he owned if there were a
Roman Catholic priest on board that he might confess to him. He had led
a sinful life, and he had made up his mind to give up the sea and to
find work if he could in a religious house. ‘I thought it queer,’ added
Johnson in accents so weak that they were painful to listen to, ‘that a
chap like that there O’Connor, who was always a-bragging and a-grinning
and joking, should grow troubled with his conscience all on a sudden.
Never knew he was a Papish till he got lamenting that there warn’t a
priest aboard to confess to.’

‘Mates,’ said Finn, whose voice sounded hollow in the darkness, ‘when
death’s a-coming for a man he’ll often hail him, sometimes a good bit
afore he arrives. The sperrit has ears, and it’s them that hears him,
men. O’Connor had heard that hail, but only the secret parts in him
onderstood it, and they set him a commiserating of himself for having
lived sinfully, and started him on craving for some chap as he at all
events could reckon holy, t’whom he could tell how bad he’d been.
Though what good the spinning of a long yarn about his hevil ways into
an old chap’s ear was going to do him, I’m not here to explain.’

Then Cutbill had something to tell of poor old Jacob Crimp, and Head of
a shipmate whose name I forget. But they rumbled away presently from
depressing topics into the more cheerful consideration of the contents
of the galleon’s hold. I sat hand in hand with Laura listening.

‘This time yesterday,’ said I, ‘the cabin of the “Bride” was a blaze
of light. I see the dinner table sparkling with glass and silver, the
rich carpet, the elegant hangings, the lustrous glance of mirrors. What
is there that makes life so dreamlike and unreal as the ocean? The
reality of one moment is in a breath made a vision, a memory of in the
next. The noble fabric of a ship melts like a snowflake, and her people
vanish as utterly as though they had been transformed into spirits.’

‘Fire will destroy more completely than the ocean!’ exclaimed Lady
Monson.

‘I think not,’ said I; ‘fire leaves ashes, the sea nothing.’

‘To the eye,’ said Lady Monson.

‘This time to-morrow we may be sailing home, Charles,’ said Laura.

‘Heaven grant it! Give me once more, Laura, the pavements of Piccadilly
under my feet, and I believe there is no man in all England eloquent
enough to persuade me that what we have undergone from the hour of our
departure in the “Bride” to the hour of our return in the whatever her
name may prove actually happened.’

‘But _I_ am real,’ she whispered, and I felt her hand tremble in mine.

I pressed her fingers to my lips. Had Lady Monson been out of hearing
I should have known what to say. I tried to put a cheerful face upon
our perilous and extraordinary position, but I found it absolutely
impossible to talk of anything else than our chances of escape, how
long we were to be imprisoned, Wilfrid’s death, the destruction of the
yacht, incidents of the voyage, and the like. I spoke freely of these
matters, caring little for Lady Monson’s presence. One of the men in
talking with the others said something about the ‘Eliza Robbins,’ and
Laura, turning to her sister, exclaimed:

‘I hope some other ship may take us off. How could you have endured
such a horrid atmosphere, Henrietta, even for the short time you lived
on board her?’

But to this her ladyship deigned no reply; her silence was ominous,
full of wrath. I can imagine that she abhorred her sister at that
moment for recalling that ship, and the infamous withering memories
which the mere utterance of the name carried with it. She rose as
though to go to the galleon’s side, but sat again after the first
stride, finding the deck with its slippery and cutting shells and its
tripping interlacery of growths too ugly a platform to traverse in the
dark. I had hoped that she would break through the husk of sulkiness,
haughtiness, selfishness with which she had sheathed herself for such
comfort as Laura might have obtained from some little show in her
sister of geniality and humanity and sympathetic perception of the dire
disaster that had befallen us. There was indeed a time that evening
when I believed her temper was mending; for during some interval of our
listening to the conversation of the sailors Laura spoke of Muffin, of
the horror and fear that had possessed him that night of the severe
squall when I found him on his knees, his detestation of the sea, his
eagerness to get home, his tricks to terrify Wilfrid into altering the
yacht’s course, and how the poor wretch’s struggles in that way seemed
now justified by his being drowned, ‘so much so,’ added Laura, ‘that I
cannot bear to think of the unfortunate fellow having been whipped by
the men.’

On hearing this, Lady Monson began to ask questions. Apparently she
had been ignorant until now that Muffin was on board the ‘Bride.’
Naturally, she perfectly well remembered him, for the man was her
husband’s valet some time before she ran off with the Colonel. Her
inquiries led to Laura telling her of the tricks that Muffin had
played. The girl’s voice faltered when she spoke of the phosphoric
writing on the cabin wall.

‘What words did Muffin write?’ asked Lady Monson.

‘Oh, Henrietta!’ exclaimed Laura, who paused to a tremulous sigh, and
then added, ‘He wrote, “_Return to baby._”’

I might have imagined there would be something in this to have silenced
her ladyship for a while, but apparently there was as little virtue
in thoughts of her child to touch her as in thoughts of her husband.
She asked coldly, but in a sort of dictatorial, pressing way, as though
eager to scrape over this mention of her child as you might crowd sail
on your ship to run her into deep water off a shoal on which her keel
is hung: ‘This Muffin was a ventriloquist too, you say?’

I could guess how grieved and shocked Laura was by the tone of her
answer. She told her sister how the valet had tricked us with his
voice, how he had been sent forward into the forecastle to work as a
sailor, and how the men had punished him on discovering that it was
he who terrified them. Several times Lady Monson broke into a short
laugh, of a music so rich and glad that one might easily have imagined
such notes could proceed only from a very angel of a woman. I did not
doubt that she sang most ravishingly, and as her laughter fell upon my
ear in the great shadow of that galleon, with the narrow breadth of
star-clad sky twinkling with blue and green and white-faced orbs, there
arose before me the vision of her ladyship seated at the piano with the
gallant Colonel Hope-Kennedy turning the pages of the music for her,
and sweet, true, unsuspicious little Laura listening well pleased, and
my poor half-witted cousin maybe up in the nursery playing with his
baby.

However, as I have said, this was but a short burst on Lady Monson’s
part. Laura’s reference to the ‘Eliza Robbins’ silenced her; then Laura
and I fell still, her hand in mine, and we listened to the men, who
were talking of the galleon, and arguing over the state and contents of
her hold.

‘Well, treasure ain’t perishable anyhow,’ said Cutbill.

‘That’s all right,’ answered Finn, whose deep sea voice I was glad to
hear had regained something of its old heartiness. ‘Gold’s gold whether
it’s wan or wan thousand years old. But what I says is, bar _treasure_,
as ye calls it, which ’ee may or may not find--and I hope ye may, I’m
sure--there ain’t nothen worth coming at in the inside of a wessel that
was founded, quite likely as not, afore George the Fust was born.’

‘But take a cargo of wine,’ said Dowling. ‘I’ve been told that these
here galleons was often chock ablock with wines and sperrits of
fust-rate quality. The longer ’ee keep wine the more waluable it
becomes.’

‘If there’s nought but wine,’ said Cutbill, ‘better put on a clean
shirt, mate, and tarn in. There’ll be nothen in any cask under these
here hatches that worn’t have become salt water after all them years.
Dorn’t go and smile in your dreams to the notion that there’ll be
anything fit to drink below.’

‘How long’s she going to take to drain out, I wonder?’ said Head.

‘I allow she’ll be empty by the time you’ve lifted the hatches,’
answered Finn; ‘that’ll be a job to test the beef in ’ee, lads.’

‘Well,’ cried Dowling, ‘there’ll be no leaving this here island, as
far as I’m consarned, till the old hooker’s been overhauled. Skin me,
capt’n, if there mayn’t be enough aboard to let a man up ashore as a
gentleman for life, and here sits a sailor as wants what he can get.
I’ve lost all my clothes and a matter of three pun fifteen on top of
them. Blarst the sea, says I!’

‘Belay that,’ growled Cutbill; ‘recollect who’s a listening onto ye.’

‘How long’s this island going to remain in the road?’ asked Head; ‘do
it always mean to stop here? They’ll have to put a lighthouse upon it.’

‘Likely as not, it’ll go down just as it came up,’ answered the sick
voice of Johnson.

Laura started. ‘_That_ may not be an idle fancy, Charles,’ she
whispered.

‘Do you think this hulk would float, captain,’ I called out, ‘if the
head of this rock were to subside, as Johnson yonder suggests?’

‘Well, she ain’t buried, sir!’ he exclaimed; ‘there’s nothen to stop
her from remaining behind, that I can see, if she’s buoyant enough to
swim. If she’s pretty nigh hollow she’ll do it, I allow; for look at
the shape of her. As there’s a chance of such a thing, then, when she’s
done draining, we’d better plug the holes we’ve made.’

‘I’ll see to that,’ said Dowling; ‘there’s no leaving of her with me
till I’ve seen what’s inside of her.’

Here Head delivered a yawn like a howl.

‘It will be proper to keep a look-out, I suppose, sir,’ said Finn.

‘Why, yes,’ I answered; ‘the night is silent enough now, but there may
come a breeze of wind at any minute and bring along a ship, and one
pair of eyes at least must be on the watch.’

‘There’s nothen aboard to make a flare with,’ said Cutbill; ‘a pity.
This here’s a speck of rock to miss a short way off in the dark.’

‘It cannot be helped,’ I exclaimed; ‘we have all of us done a hard
day’s work since dawn, and there is always in a miserable business of
this sort some job or other that must be kept waiting. There’s plenty
of stuff on the beach to collect to-morrow. As for to-night, a breeze
may come, as I have said, but mark how hotly those stars burn. There’ll
be but little air stirring, I fear.’

‘There are four of us to keep a look-out, lads,’ said Finn.

‘Five,’ I interrupted; ‘I’m one of you. I’ll stand my watch!’

‘Very good, sir,’ said Finn. ‘An hour and a half apiece. That’ll bring
us fair on to daybreak.’

‘There ain’t no timepiece aboard that’s going,’ said Head; ‘how’s a man
to know when his watch is up?’

‘Well, damn it, ye must guess,’ growled Cutbill sulkily and sleepily.

‘I’m the least tired of you all, I believe,’ said I; ‘so with your good
leave, lads, I’ll keep the first look-out.’

This was agreed to; the men knocked the ashes out of their pipes, and,
with a rough call of ‘Good-night’ to the ladies and myself, lay down
upon the sail.

They occupied the port side of the galleon’s forecastle, and made a
little huddle of shadows upon the faintness of the canvas, well apart
from where the mattresses for the ladies had been placed. Indeed, as
you will suppose, the gaff foresail of a schooner of the dimensions
of the ‘Bride’ provided a plentiful area of sail-cloth, and the space
between the ladies and the sailors could have been considerably widened
yet, had the main-deck been dry enough to use.

‘Where am I to lie?’ demanded Lady Monson.

‘Your sister, I am sure, will give you choice of either mattress,’ said
I. ‘These casks and cases will keep you as select as though they were
the bulkhead of a cabin.’

‘A dreadful bed!’ she cried. ‘How long is it possible for these
horrors to last? I am without a single convenience. There is not even
a looking-glass. To be chased and hunted down to _this_!’ she added
in a voice under her breath, as though thinking aloud, whilst her
respiration was tremulous with passion.

‘I wish the deck was fit to walk on,’ said Laura; ‘I do not feel
sleepy. I should like to walk up and down with you, Charles.’

‘It would be worse than pacing a cabbage-field, my dear,’ said I. ‘You
are worn out, but will not know it until your head is pillowed. Let me
see you comfortable.’

She at once rose, went to the mattress that was nearest the vessel’s
side, and seated herself upon it, preparatory to stretching her limbs.

‘I should like that bed,’ said Lady Monson. ‘I suffer terribly from the
heat. Your blood runs more coldly than mine, Laura.’

‘Either bed will do for me, Henrietta,’ answered the girl with a
pleasant little laugh, and she stepped on to the other couch, and
stretched herself along it.

I turned the edge of the sail over her feet, saw that the roll of the
canvas made a comfortable bolster for her, and tenderly bidding her
‘Good-night,’ crossed to the other side of the deck, leaving to Lady
Monson the task of adjusting her own fine figure, and of snugging
herself according to her fancy. It was about nine o’clock by the stars.
Now that the men had ceased speaking, and the hush as of slumber had
descended upon this galleon, I cannot express how mysterious and awful
was the stillness. You heard nothing but the cascading of the water
from the holes in the vessel’s side, a soft fountain-like hissing
sound, and the stealthy, delicate seething of the sea slipping up and
down the honeycombed beach. The men at a little distance away breathed
heavily in the deep slumber that had swiftly overtaken them. Once
Johnson spoke in a dream, and his disjointed syllables, amid that deep
ocean serenity, grated harshly on every nerve. The heavens overhead
were blotted out by the stretched space of canvas, but aft the line of
the galleon rose, broken and black, against the stars which floated in
clouds of silver in the velvet dusk of the sky. The silence seemed like
some material thing, creeping, as though it were an atmosphere, to
this central speck of rock, out of the remote glistening reaches of the
huge circle of the horizon.

But deeper than any silence that could reign betwixt the surface of the
earth and the stars was the stillness of the bottom of the ocean that
had risen with this galleon, the dumbness which filled the blackness
of her stonified interior. Imagination grew active in me as I sent my
sleepless eye over the sombre, mysterious loom of the ship to where the
narrow deck of the poop went in a gentle acclivity, cone-shaped, to the
luminaries which glanced over the short line of her taffrail like the
gaze of the spectres of her crew, who would presently be noiselessly
creeping over the sides. I figured, and indeed beheld, the ship in the
days of her glory, her sides a bright yellow, the grim lips of little
ordnance grinning through portholes, the flash of brass swivel-guns
upon the line of her poop and quarter-deck rail, her canvas spreading
on high, round, spacious, flowing and of a lily-white brightness,
enriched by flaring pennants, many ells in length, with figures aft and
forward, Spanish ladies in gay and radiant attire, their black eyes
shining, their long veils floating on the tropic breeze, grave señors
in plumed hats, rich cloaks half draping the sheaths of jewel-hilted
swords, a priest or two, shaven, sallow, with a bead-like pupil of
the eye in the corner of the sockets; the pilot and the captain
pacing yonder deck together, and where I was standing, crowds of
quaintly-apparelled mariners with long hair and chocolate cheeks, yet
with roughest voices rendered melodious by utterance of the majestic
dialects of their country--and then I thought of her resting, as I now
beheld her, motionless in the tideless, dark-green waters at the bottom
of the ocean!--figures of her people, lying, sitting, standing round
about her in the attitudes they were drowned in, preserved from decay
by the petrifying stagnation of the currentless dark brine.

It was now that I was alone, the deep breathing of sleepers rising
from the deck near me, the eyes of my mind quickened by high-strung
imagination into perception, vivid as actuality itself, of the visions
of this galleon in her sunlit heyday and then in her glory of shells
and plants in the unimaginable hush of the fathomless void from which
she had emerged, that I fell to thinking gravely and wonderingly over
what Johnson, the sick sailor, had said touching the possibility of
this island’s sudden disappearance. Of such volcanic upheavals as this
I had read and heard again and again. Sometimes the land thus created
stood for years; sometimes it vanished within a few hours of its
formation.

I particularly recollected a story that I had met with in the ‘Naval
Chronicle’; how two ships were in company off a height of land rising
sixty feet above the level of the sea, that was uncharted and unknown
to the captains of the vessels, though one of them had been in those
waters a few weeks before and both men were intimately well-acquainted
with the navigation of that tract of ocean; how after masters and
crews had been staring, lost in wonder, at the tall, pale, sterile,
sugar-loaf acclivity, one of the commanders sent a boat over in charge
of his mate, that he might land and return with a report; when, whilst
the boat was within a long musket-shot of the island, the land sank
softly but swiftly without noise, and with so small a commotion of the
sea following the disappearance of the loftiest point of peak, that the
darkening of the surface of the ocean with ripples there seemed as no
more than the shadow of a current.

This and like yarns ran in my head, and indeed the more I thought of
it the more I seemed to fancy that this head of pumice upon which the
galleon was seated was of the right sort to crumble down flat all in a
minute. Why, think of the height of it! Since those times I believe the
plummet has sounded the depths of that part of the equinoctial waters,
but in those days the ocean there was held unsearchable. Was it all
lava that had been spewed up? some mountain of volcanic vomit, hardened
by the brine into an altitude of many thousands of feet from ooze to
summit; and hollow as a drum, too, with a mere film of crust on top?
Oh God! I mused, wrung from head to foot with a shudder; think of this
crust yielding, letting the galleon sink miles down the gigantic shaft
of porous stuff, the walls on top yet standing above the water-line,
high enough to prevent the sea from rolling into the titanic funnel!
Gracious love! figure our being alive when we got to the bottom, and
looking up at the mere star of daylight that stared down upon us from
the vast distance as the galleon grounded on a bottom deeper than the
seat of the hell of the mediæval terrorists!

I shook my head; such a fancy was like to drive me mad--with the sort
of possibility of it, too, in its way. Could I have but stirred my
stumps I might have been able to walk off something of my mood of
horror, but every pace along that deck was like wading and floundering.
I went to the high forecastle rail and leaned my arms upon it and
looked into the night, and presently the beauty and the serenity and
the wide mystery of the dark ocean brimming to the wheeling stars
worked in me with the influence of a benediction; my pulse slackened
and I grew calm. What could the worst that befel us signify but death?
I reflected; and I thought of my cousin sleeping in the black void
yonder. The splashing of the water streaming from the holes in the
side sounded refreshingly upon the ears. There was a suggestion as of
caressing in the tender noise of the dark fingers of the sea blindly
and softly pawing the incline of the beach. The atmosphere was hot, but
the edge of its fever was blunted by the dew.

Thus passed the time, and when I thought my hour and a half had gone
I stepped quietly over to Finn and shook him, and with a sailor’s
promptitude he sprang to his feet, understanding, dead as his slumber
had been, our situation and arrangements the instant he opened his
eyes. My mind was full, nor was I yet sleepy, and I could have
talked long with him on the thoughts which had visited me. But to
what purpose? There was nothing that he could have suggested. Like
others in desperate straits our business was to wait and hope and help
ourselves as best we could. I took a peep at Laura before lying down;
she lay motionless, sound asleep, breathing regularly. Lady Monson
stirred as I was in the act of withdrawing, and laughed low and so
oddly that I knew it was a dreamer’s mirth.



CHAPTER XXXII.

THE GALLEON’S HOLD.


I woke from a deep sleep, and opened my eyes against the glare of the
risen sun. Death must be like such sleep as that, thought I. I sat up
and met Laura’s gaze fixed upon me. She was seated on a seaman’s chest
lightly smoothing her hair, and the jewels on her fingers sparkled
like dewdrops on the golden fall of her tresses. She looked the better
for the night’s rest, her complexion fresher, her eyes freed of the
delicate haziness that had yesterday somewhat dimmed their rich violet
sparkles; the pale greenish shadow under them, too, was gone. A little
past her stood Lady Monson, gazing seawards under the shelter of her
hand. Her shape made a very noble figure of a woman against the blue
brilliance of atmosphere betwixt the edge of the spread sail and the
forecastle rail; the cap she wore I supposed she had found in her
sister’s box. Her hair was extraordinarily thick and long and of a
lustreless black, and looked a very thunder-cloud upon her back,
as I have before said; it put a wild and almost savage spirit into
her beauty, which this slender headgear of lace or whatnot somewhat
qualified; in fact, she looked a civilised woman with that cap on, but
her cheeks were so white as to be painful to see. The full life of her
seemed to have entered her eyes; her breast rose and fell slowly, as
if her heart beat with labour; yet, slow as every movement in her was,
whether in the turn of her head, the droop of her arm, the lifting of
her hand, it was in exquisite correspondence with the suggestion of
cold dignity and haughty indifference you seemed to find in her form
and carriage.

I had a short chat with Laura, and found she had rested well. The men
were off the galleon.

‘They have gone to the wreck, I suppose,’ said I, scarce able to see
that way, however, for the blinding dazzle of sunshine that made the
leagues of eastern ocean as insupportable to the gaze as the luminary
himself.

‘The poor man Johnson is dead!’ she exclaimed.

‘Ah! I feared it. I believed I could hear death in his voice when he
spoke in his sleep last night.’

‘Cutbill and Head,’ she continued, for she was now well acquainted
with the names of the men, ‘have carried his body to bury in the sea
past that slope there.’

I sat silent a little. I had all along secretly expected that the man
would die, yet the news that he was dead strangely affected me. It
might be because he had been amongst the saved, and it seemed hard and
cruel that he should perish after having come off with his life out of
a conflict that had destroyed robuster men. Then again there was the
loneliness of his death, expiring, perhaps, after vainly struggling
to make some whispered wants audible to our sleeping ears or to the
nodding figure standing at a distance from him on the look-out.

I sent a look round the sea, compassing the blue line as fully as the
blaze would permit. The calm was as dead as it had been throughout the
night. In the west the heads of a few clouds of the burning hue of
polished brass showed with a stare out of a dimness over the sea there.
There was bitter loathing of all this deadness and tranquillity in me
as I stepped to the side for a sight of Finn down on the beach. What
phantom of chance was there for us unless a breeze blew? Dowling was at
work below winding with his auger into the galleon’s side. He had made
two further holes to starboard, and was now piercing a third.

‘There ain’t anything like the first weight of water in her now, sir,’
he sung out; ‘see how languid these here spurts are as compared to
yesterday’s spouting.’

I overhauled the whip that was rove at the end of the derrick, secured
the end, and went down hand over hand. My skin felt parched and
feverish and thirsty for a dip. ‘I’m off for a plunge,’ I called to
Laura, who came to the side to look at me as I slipped down. I found
Finn exploring amongst the wreckage on the shore; Cutbill and Head were
then coming round from the other side of the island, their heads hung
and their feet taking the pumice rocks with funeral strides.

‘How are you, Finn?’ I called to him.

‘Thank God, I feel myself again. The pain in my side’s gone, and my
breath comes easy. Poor Johnson’s dead.’

‘I know.’

‘Something whilst he was in the water struck agin his heart. But arter
all, sir, what does it matter, since a man can die but once, where he
takes his header from?’

‘We must suffer nothing to depress us, Finn. Good morning, Cutbill. How
are you, Head? A sad job for sunrise to turn you to, men.’

‘Poor Sammy!’ exclaimed Cutbill in a deep sea growl full of emotion,
and a slight lift of his face, smothered in whiskers, to the sky. ‘He’s
been hailed for the last time. He’s gone where there’s no more tarning
out.’

‘He’s lived hard, worked hard, and died hard,’ said Head, bringing his
eyes in a squint to my face, ‘and it would be hard if he’s gone to hell
arter all.’

‘Stow all sarmons,’ cried Finn; ‘let’s see now if there’s anything come
ashore worth having.’

I left them wading and searching, and trudging to the other side of
the island, stripped, and advanced into the water to the height of my
hips, not daring to venture further for fear of sharks. The plunge made
a new man of me, and when I returned it was with a good appetite and a
hearty disposition to help in any sort of work that might advantage us.
The men met with a barrel of pork and another case of potted meats. The
water was as pure and bright as glass over the shelving beach, and what
lay near to on the fluctuating sulphur-coloured bottom was as plain as
though viewed through air. We were thus enabled to rescue much of what
in thick water we should never have seen; amongst other matters, three
cases of champagne, a case of bottled beer, a small cask of brandy, and
one or two other articles which had formed a portion of the forecastle
stores, not to mention many armsful of stuff for making flares with,
should a vessel show in the night. Of the cabin provisions we recovered
but little, owing to their having been stowed aft for the most part,
where the yacht had been literally torn to pieces. The bows of the
vessel stood gaunt and bare in the light-blue water. I saw poor Finn
gazing at the remains until his eyes moistened, and he broke away with
a deep sigh and a dreary look at me. I never could have imagined that
anything inanimate could have appealed so humanly as that mutilated
fragment of a fabric that but a little while before shone as sweet and
stately a figure upon the sea as any structure of her size that ever
lifted a snow-white spire to the sky.

It was after ten o’clock, as was to be guessed by the sun’s height,
when we started to break into the interior of the galleon. We had
worked hard since sunrise; filled another brace of empty casks, which
we had found on the beach, with water out of the holes in the rocks;
hoisted these casks aboard along with the other provisions and spirits
we had fallen in with; got our breakfast; then with prodigious labour
and difficulty had turned the great dead porpoise out of the ship by
clapping tackles to it and prizing it up with a small studding-sail
boom that served as a handspike. The main-deck was now as dry as the
poop or forecastle. Lady Monson remained seated under the awning.
Laura, on the other hand, with a handkerchief tied over her head,
reckless of her complexion, wandered like a child about the decks,
examining the many gorgeous sea-plants, bending her fair face to
an iridescent cluster of shells, gazing with rounded eyes and an
expression of charming wonder at some flat, flint-coloured, snake-like
creeper as if she believed it lived. The wondrous marine parterre
seemed the richer for the presence and movements of the lustrous-haired
girl, as a rose appears to glow into darker and finer beauty when
lifted to some lovely face.

We resolved to attack the cabin entrance first, but it was hard to
tell where the door lay, whether in the front of the poop or of the
quarter-deck. There were steps leading from one deck to the other on
either hand close against the bulwarks, as you easily guessed by the
incline and appearance of the thick moulding of shells upon them.
Cutbill was for attacking the quarter-deck front, but Finn agreed
with me that the state cabin would lie under the poop, and that the
door to it, therefore, would be somewhere in the front of that deck.
To this part, then, we carried the tool-chest. There were five of us;
every man seized an implement and to it we fell, scraping, hammering,
chipping, prizing. Dowling and Head worked as though they had already
caught sight of the glitter of precious metal within. Some of the
shelly adhesions were hard as rock, some broke away easily in lumps,
like bricks from a house that is being demolished; but the thickness
was staggering, it was a growth of layer upon layer, and every man
had a great mound of splintered or concreted shells at his feet when
the front at which we worked was still heavily coated. There seemed
a sort of sacrilege in the destruction of so much beauty. Again and
again I would pause to admire a shape of exquisite grace, a form of
glorious hue, before striking; and then it seemed to me as I toiled,
many fancies crowding into my head now that I looked close into this
glorious incrustation, that it was impossible this galleon could
have been sunk to the depth I had first imagined. Surely no such
rainbow-like life as I now witnessed existed in the black and tideless
depths, countless fathoms out of reach of the longest and fiercest
lance of light the sun could dart. No, she had probably settled down
on some hilltop within measurable distance of the surface, on some
submarine volcanic eminence where the vitality of the deep was all
about her.

We came to woodwork at last, or what had been wood. It was fossilised
timber, and the blows of a hammer rang upon it as though an anvil was
struck.

‘Here’s where the door is,’ roared Cutbill.

We saw the line of what was manifestly a doorway showing in a space
clear of shells, and in a moment we all fell upon it and presently laid
it bare--a little door about five feet high close against the starboard
heap of shells which buried the poop ladder there.

‘Don’t smash it if ’ee can help it,’ called out Finn.

But it would not yield to any sort of coaxing short of Cutbill’s
thunderous hammer, which he swung with such Herculean muscle, that
after half a dozen blows the door went to pieces and tumbled down
with a clatter as of the fragments of iron. It was pitch dark inside,
of course, but for that we were prepared. Dowling and Head were for
thrusting in at once.

‘Back!’ bawled Finn. ‘What sort of air for breathing d’ye think this is
after being bottled up afore your great-grandmothers was born.’

Yet for my part, though I stood close, I tasted nothing foul. The first
breath of the black atmosphere came out with a wintry edge of ice,
and the chill of it went sifting into the sultry daylight of the open
air till I saw Laura, who stood some little distance away watching us,
recoil from the contact of it.

‘There’s nothing to be done in there without a light of some kind,’
said I. ‘How was this cabin illuminated? From the deck, I presume, as
well as by portholes.’

‘Let me go and see, sir,’ said Finn.

The gang of us armed with tools crawled up the line of shells against
the door and gained the poop-deck. There was a coffin-shaped heap of
glittering incrustation close to where the mizzen-mast had probably
stood; the form of it indicated a buried skylight. We fell upon it, and
after we had chipped and hammered for some quarter of an hour, the mass
of it broke away, and went thundering into the cabin below. The sweep
of cold air that rose drove us back.

‘Casements of this skylight were blown out, I reckon, when she
settled,’ said Finn; ‘’stonishing how them shells should have filled up
the cavity without anything to settle on.’

‘Weeds and plants stretched themselves across, maybe,’ said I, ‘and
made a platform for them.’

We returned to the quarter-deck but waited awhile before entering the
cabin, that the atmosphere might have time to sweeten. Thickly as the
upper works of the vessel were coated I suspected that they would be
sieve-like in some places from the circumstance of our finding no
water in the cabin. I put my head into the door, fetched a breath, and
finding nothing noxious in the atmosphere, exclaimed, ‘We may enter
now with safety, I believe.’ The interior lay very clearly revealed. A
sunbeam shone through the deck aperture, and the cold, drowned, amazing
interior lay bathed in a delicate silver haze of the morning light. I
felt a deeper awe as I stood looking about me than any vault in which
the dead had been lying for centuries could have inspired. The hue of
the walls was that of ashes. It was the ancient living-room of the ship
and went the whole width of her, and in length ran from the front of
the deck through which we had broken our way to the moulding of the
castle-like pink-shaped stern, the planks sloping with a considerable
spring or rise. It had been a spacious sea-chamber in its day. There
were here and there incrustations in patches of limpet-like shells
upon the sides and upper deck; under foot was a deal of sand with
dead weeds, no hint of the vegetation that showed without. There were
fragments of wreckage here and there which I took to be the remains of
the furniture of the place; it had mostly washed aft, as though the
vessel had settled by the stern.

Up in a corner on the port side that lay somewhat darksome, on a line
with the door, were a couple of skeletons with their arms round each
other’s neck. They seemed to stand erect, but in fact they rested with
a slight inclination against the scantling of the cabin front. Some
slender remains of apparel clung to the ribs and shoulder-bones, and a
small scattering of like fragments lay at their feet, as though shaken
to the deck with the jarring of the fabric by the volcanic stroke that
had uphove her.

‘Hearts my life,’ murmured Finn. ‘What a hobject to come across! Why,
they’ve been _men_!’

‘A man and a woman more like,’ said Cutbill, ‘a-taking a last farewell
as the ship goes down.’

‘May I come in, Charles?’ exclaimed Laura, putting her head into the
door.

She advanced as she spoke, but her eye instantly caught the embracing
skeletons. She stopped dead and recoiled, and stood staring as if
fascinated.

‘Not the fittest sight in the world for you, Laura,’ said I, taking her
hand to lead her forth.

‘They were living beings once, Charles!’ she exclaimed, drawing a deep
breath, and slightly resisting my gentle drawing of her to the door.

‘Ay, red hearts beat in them, passions thrilled through them, and love
would still seem with them. What were they? Husband and wife--father
and daughter--or sweethearts going to their grave in an embrace?’

She shuddered and continued to gaze. Ah, my God! the irony of those
skeletons’ posture,--the grin of each skull as though in mirthless
derision of the endearing, caressing grasp of the long and stirless
arms!

‘Oh, Charles!’ exclaimed Laura in a whisper of awe and grief, ‘is love
no more than _that_?’

‘Yes, love is more than that,’ I answered softly, conducting her, now
no longer reluctant, to the door; ‘there is a noble saying, Where we
are death is not; where death is we are not. Death is yonder and so
love is not. But _that_ love lives, horrible as the symbol of it is--it
lives, let us believe! and where it is death is not. Would Lady Monson
like to view this sight?’

‘It is a moral to break her heart,’ she answered; ‘she would not come.’

She went towards her sister thoughtfully.

‘There’s nothing here, men,’ said I, returning.

‘Them poor covies’ll frighten the ladies,’ said Dowling, eyeing the
skeletons with his head on one side; ‘better turn ’em out of this.’

‘Let them rest,’ said I. ‘The ladies will not choose this cabin now to
lie in.’

‘If them bones which are a-hugging one another so fondly to-day could
talk,’ said Cutbill, ‘what a yarn they’d spin!’

‘Pooh,’ said I, ‘I’ve had enough of this cabin,’ and with that I walked
right out.

The men followed. It was broiling hot, the sea a vast white gleam
tremorlessly circling the island and steeping like quicksilver into
the leagues of faint sky; the bronzed brows of the clouds in the west
still burned, looming bigger. I prayed heaven there might be wind
there. Laura had told her sister of our discovery in the cabin, and
when, whilst we sat making a bit of a midday meal, my sweet girl, in a
musing, tender way, talked of this shipwreck of a century and a half
old as though she would presently speak of that cabin memorial of it so
ghastly and yet so touching, Lady Monson imperiously silenced her.

‘Our position is one of horror!’ she exclaimed; ‘do not aggravate it.’

The men, defying the heat, went to work when they had done eating, to
search for the main hatch that they might explore the hold. I observed
that Finn laboured with vigour. In short the four of them had convinced
themselves that there was grand purchase to come at inside this ancient
galleon, and they thirsted for a view of the contents of her. I was
without their power of sustained labour, was enfeebled by the tingling
and roasting of the atmosphere; my sight was pained, too, by the fierce
glare on the unsheltered decks; so I plainly told them that I could
help them no more for the present, and with that threw myself down
on the sail beside the chest on which Laura was seated, and talked
with her and sometimes with Lady Monson, though the latter’s manner
continued as uninviting as can well be imagined.

However, some hope was excited in me by the spectacle of the slowly
growing brass-bright brows of cloud in the west. There was a look of
thunder in the rounds of their massive folds, and in any case they
promised some sort of change of weather, whilst they soothed the eye
by the break they made in the dizzy, winding horizon, and the bald and
dazzling stare of the wide heavens brimming with light, which seemed
rather to rise from the white metallic mirror of the breathless sea
than to gush from the sun that hung almost directly over our heads.

It took the men three hours to find and clear the hatch, and then
uproot it. The square of it then lay dark in the deck, and Laura and
I went to peer down into it along with the others who leant over it
with pale or purple faces. The daylight shone full down and disclosed
what at the first glance seemed no more to me than masses of rugged,
capriciously heaped piles of shells, with the black gleam of water
between, and much delicate festooning of seaweed drooping from the
upper deck and from the side, suggesting a sort of gorgeous arras with
the intermingling of red and green and grey. One could not see far
fore or aft owing to the intervention of the edges of the hatch, but
what little of the interior was visible discovered a vegetable growth
as astonishing as that which glorified the decks; huge fans, plants
exactly resembling the human hand, as though some Titan had fallen
prone with lifted arms, bunches of crimson fibre, with other plants
indescribable in shape and colour of a prodigious variety, though the
growths were mainly from the ceiling, or upon the bends where the sides
of the galleon rounded to her keel.

‘All them heaps’ll signify cargo,’ said Dowling.

‘No doubt,’ said I; ‘but how is it to be got at?’

‘Mr. Monson, sir,’ exclaimed Finn, ‘you’re a scholar, and will know
more about the likes of such craft as this than us plain sailor-men.
What does your honour think? Was this vessel a plate ship?’

‘I wish I could tell you all you want to know,’ I replied. ‘She was
unquestionably a galleon in her day, and a great vessel as tonnage then
went--seven hundred tons; what d’ye think, Finn?’

‘Every ounce of it, sir. Look at her beam.’

‘Well, here is a ship that was bound to or from some South American
port. She’s too far afield for considerations of the Spanish Main and
the towns of the Panama coast. Was treasure carried to or from the
cities of the eastern American seaboard? I cannot say. But if she
was from round the Horn--which I don’t think likely, for the Manilla
galleons clung to the Pacific, and transhipments came to old Spain by
way of the Cape--then I should say there may be treasure aboard of her.’

‘Well, I’m going to overhaul her, if I’m here for a twelvemonth,’ cried
Dowling.

‘So says I,’ exclaimed Head.

‘Would she float, I wonder,’ said Cutbill, ‘when the water’s gone out
of her?’

‘I’ll offer no opinion on that,’ said I, laughing. ‘I hope I may not be
on board should it come to a trial.’

‘If she was full up with cargo it must have wasted a vast,’ remarked
Head.

‘Where did these here Spaniards keep their bullion?’ exclaimed Finn,
stroking down his long cheek-bones.

‘Why down aft under the capt’n’s cabin. They was leary old chaps; they
wouldn’t stow it forrads or amidships,’ exclaimed Cutbill.

‘All the water will have run out of her by to-morrow morning, I allow,’
said Finn; ‘but there’s no sarching of her with it up over a man’s
head.’

‘I wish this deck were sheltered,’ said Laura. ‘What a glorious scene!
I could look at it for hours. But the sun pains me.’

I took her hand, and we returned together to the shadow of the sail
spread over the forecastle, leaving the four men talking and arguing
and staring down, dodging with their heads to send greedy looks into
the gloom past the hatch. But there was nothing to be done till the
ship was clear of water, as Finn had said, and presently they came
forward and lighted their pipes, seating themselves at a respectful
distance from us; but all their talk ran upon the treasure they were
likely to meet with, and though I would sometimes catch a half-look
from Finn, as though my presence somewhat subdued him, yet I saw that
at heart he was as hot and as full of expectation as the others.

The clouds had risen a third of the way to the zenith, when the sun
struck his fiery orb into them and disappeared, turning them as black
as thunder against the heaven of blood-red light that lingered long
in waving folds as though the atmosphere were incandescent. Then the
lightning showed in zigzag lines of sparkling violet, though all
remained hushed whilst the sea went spreading in a sheet of glass that
melted out of its crimson dye into a whitish blue in the clear east.

‘Should it come on to blow,’ said I to Laura, ‘this sail over our heads
will yield us no shelter. We shall have to betake ourselves to the
cabin.’

‘With two skeletons in it?’ said Lady Monson sarcastically.

‘We shall not see them,’ I answered, ‘and skeletons cannot hurt us.’

‘We shall see them by the lightning,’ exclaimed Laura, ‘and they will
be very dreadful!’

‘I would rather remain in the storm,’ said Lady Monson.

‘But if those figures are carried out of the cabin,’ said I, ‘you will
not object to take shelter in it.’

‘I would rather die,’ she said, ‘than enter that part of this horrid
ship.’

‘Well,’ said I, mildly, ‘we will first see what is going to happen.’

At half-past five or thereabouts we got what the sailors would have
called our supper. There was indeed plenty to eat, enough to last
us some weeks, with husbandry. All the casked meat, it is true, was
uncooked, but enough galley utensils had come ashore--a big kettle, I
remember, and a couple of saucepans--to enable us to boil our pork and
beef when our stock of preserved food should be exhausted. Our supply
of water, however, justified uneasiness. One’s thirst was incessant
under skies of brass, and on an island whose crust was as hot as the
shell of a newly-boiled egg. But then, to be sure, the surface was
honeycombed with wells. In a very short time the salt water would have
dried out of the deepest of them, and we might hope that the next
thunder-shower would yield us drink enough to last out this intolerable
imprisonment.

But when was it to end? I stood up to take a view of the sea. The
galleon’s forecastle probably showed a height of between thirty and
forty feet above the water-line, and one seemed to command a wide
prospect of ocean; but not a gleam of the size of a tip of feather met
the eye the whole wide stagnant sweep around. The sun was now low in
the heart of the dark masses of vapour in the west, a sickly purple
shadow underhung the clouds upon the sea and glanced back with an eye
of fire to every lightning dart that flashed from above. Overhead the
sky had fainted into a sickly hectic, and it was an ugly sallow sort of
green down in the east, with a large star there trembling mistily.

‘It’s coming on a black thundering night,’ I heard Cutbill say as he
stood up to send a look into the west, with the inverted bowl of a
sooty pipe showing past his whisker and a large sweatdrop glancing like
a jewel at the end of his nose.

‘There’ll be wind there,’ exclaimed Finn.

‘What signs do you find to read?’ said I.

‘Well, your honour, there’s a haze of rain if ye look at the foot of
that smother down there,’ he answered, pointing with the sharp of his
hand, ‘and the verse concerning manifestations of that sort is gospel
truth: _When the rain before the wind, Then your tops’l halliards
mind_.’

‘If it’s coming on a breeze of wind,’ said Dowling, who like the others
felt himself privileged by stress of shipwreck to join freely in any
conversation that was going forward, ‘this here sail’ll blow away and
we shall lose it,’ meaning the jib that we had stretched as an awning.

‘Pity to lose it,’ exclaimed Finn; ‘shall we take it in, sir, whilst
there’s light?’

‘No,’ cried Lady Monson, who probably imagined that if this shelter
went she would be driven to the cabin.

Finn knuckled his forehead to her.

‘I’m afraid, Lady Monson,’ said I, ‘that this sail will be carried away
by the first puff, and it will be carried into the sea.’

‘If you remove it you leave us without shelter,’ she answered.

‘But we shall be without shelter if the wind removes it,’ said I.

‘Then it cannot be helped,’ she exclaimed, looking at me as though she
found me irritating.

‘We shall have to carry this sail aft anyway,’ said I, pointing to the
one that was spread upon the forecastle. ‘The first gust of wet will
soak it through, and we shall not be able to use it until it is dry for
fear of rheumatic fever.’

‘To what part do you wish it carried?’ said Laura.

‘To the only sheltered spot the ship supplies, the cabin,’ I answered.

‘You do not intend that we should sleep there, Charles?’ she cried.

‘We needn’t sleep, my dearest, we can keep wide awake. But will it not
be madness to expose one’s self to a violent storm merely because----’

‘Oh, horror!’ interrupted Lady Monson; ‘I shall remain here though the
clouds rain burning sulphur.’

‘Finn,’ said I, ‘when you have smoked your pipe out fall to with the
others, will you, to get this sail into the cabin, and turn the two
silent figures there out of it?’

‘Where are they to go, sir?’

‘Oh, lower them into the hold for to-night. Lady Monson, is your
mattress to be left here?’

‘Certainly,’ she answered indignantly; ‘how am I to rest without a
mattress?’

‘Only one mattress, then, is to be carried aft, Finn,’ said I. ‘Now
bear a hand like good sailor-men whilst there’s daylight. We shall
have that blackness yonder bursting down upon us in a squall, then it
will be thick as pitch, with decks like a surface of trawlers’ nets to
wade through, and yonder main hatch at hand grinning like a man-trap.’

‘Come, lads!’ cried Finn.

The four of them sprang to their feet, rolled up the sail and hauled it
aft, singing out a shipboard chorus as they dragged. When they had got
it into the cabin, they cut off a big stretch of it which they spread
over the open skylight, and secured by weighting the corners heavily
with the masses of shell which had been chipped away to come at the
aperture. Then Head arrived for Laura’s mattress, flung it over his
back and staggered with it, grinning, along to the quarter-deck. Lady
Monson looked on, cold, white, but with anger brilliant in her great
black eyes.

‘I believed that these men were still my servants to command,’ she
exclaimed.

‘I am sure they will obey any order your ladyship may give them,’ said
I.

‘They have no right to denude this part of the deck since it is my
intention to remain here,’ she exclaimed, drawing her fine figure
haughtily erect and surveying me with dislike and temper.

‘Henrietta dear,’ broke in the soft voice of Laura, ‘Mr. Monson
instructs them in the interests of all. See how bright the lightning
is. You will not be able to remain here. How frightful was the rain
when the “Bride” was wrecked!’

‘The strongest man had to turn his back to the wind,’ said I.

Lady Monson, whose eyes had glanced aft at that moment, jumped from
the chest on which she was seated and went in a headlong way to the
bulwark as though she meant to leap overboard. I could not understand
this sudden wild disorder in her till I saw Cutbill, Dowling, and Head,
with Finn superintending the business, bearing the pair of embracing
skeletons to the main hatch. Laura started and looked away; but there
was no absurd demonstration of horror in her. A ghastly sight, indeed,
the skeleton twain made, dreadfuller objects to behold in the wild,
flushed, stormy light of the moment than they had appeared in their
twilighted corner of the cabin. The long bones of arms clung like
magnets to the skeleton necks, fossilised, I suppose, by the action
of the sea into that posture; and thus grimly embracing, whilst they
looked with death’s dreadful grin over each other’s shoulder, they were
lowered by the sailors down the main hatch.

‘Mr. Monson, sir,’ suddenly bawled Finn, ‘will you and the ladies step
this way and see the beautifullest sight mortal eyes ever beheld?’

‘Where is it, Finn?’ I called back to him.

‘In the hold, sir,’ he answered.

‘He cannot mean the skeletons,’ exclaimed Laura.

‘Will you come, Lady Monson?’ I exclaimed.

‘Certainly not,’ she replied from the bulwark, where she stood staring
seawards, and answering without turning her head.

Laura seemed a little reluctant. ‘Come, my love,’ I whispered; ‘is not
a beautiful sight, even according to Finn’s theory of beauty, worth
seeing?’

I took her hand and together we proceeded to the open hatch.

On peeping down, my first instinctive movement was one of recoil. I
protest I believed the interior of the hull to be on fire. The whole
scene was lighted up by crawling fluctuations, creepings and blinkings
of vivid phosphoric flame. It might be that the atmosphere of this
storm-laden evening was heavily charged with electricity; yet since
the gloom had drawn down I had often cast my eyes upon the sea in the
direction where the shadow of the tempest lay and where the water
brimmed darkly to the slope of the beach, and therefore had the ocean
been phosphorescent even to a small extent I should have observed it;
yet no further signs of fire were apparent than a thin dim edging of
wire-drawn, greenish light, flickering on the lip of the brine as it
stealthily, almost imperceptibly, crept up and down the declivity of
the rock. But in this hold the sparkling was so brilliant that every
object the eye rested upon showed even to the most delicate details of
its conformation, though the hue was uniform (a pale green), so that
there was no splendour of tint, nothing but the wonder of a phosphoric
revelation, grand, striking, miraculous to my sight, so unimaginable a
spectacle was it. It was like, indeed, a glimpse of another world, of a
creation absolutely different from all scenes this earth had to submit,
as though, in truth, one were taking a peep into some lunar cave rich
with stalactites, wondrous with growths which owed nothing to the sun,
all robed with the colour of death--the pale pearl of the moonbeam!

Laura, whose hand grasped my arm, held her breath.

‘Did ever man see the like of such a thing afore!’ exclaimed Finn in an
awed voice, as though amazement were of slow growth in him.

Immediately on a line with the hatch, resting on a heap of shells,
whose summit rose to within an easy jump, lay the two skeletons in that
embrace of theirs which was so full of horror, of pathos, of suggestion
of anguish. Ah, Heaven, what a light to view them in! And yet they
communicated an inexpressibly impressive element of unreality to the
picture. It was as though the hand of some sorcerer had lifted a corner
of the black curtain of the future and enabled you to catch a glimpse
of the secret principality of the King of Terrors.

‘One sees so little of this marvel here,’ exclaimed Laura. ‘How
magnificent must be the scene viewed from the depths there!’

‘Have you courage to descend?’ said I.

She was silent a moment, eyeing askant with averted face the two
skeletons immediately beneath, then fetching an eager breath of
resolution, she said, ‘Yes, I have courage to go--with you.’

‘Finn,’ I exclaimed, ‘this is too grand and incomparable a spectacle
to witness only in part. If we are to come off with our lives in this
galleon, there,’ said I, pointing into the hold, ‘is the chance of a
memory that I should bitterly reproach myself for not grasping and
making the most of. Can you lower Miss Laura and myself into that hold
on to that dry, smooth heap there, clear of where those figures lie?’

‘Why, yes, your honour, easy as lighting a pipe. William, fetch the
chair, will ’ee, and overhaul the whip, and bring ’em along?’

The chair was procured, and a turn taken round the stump of the
mainmast. I seated myself and was lowered, then down sank Laura and I
lifted her out; a moment after the four seamen sprang from the edge
of the hatch. Now indeed we could behold the glowing interior as it
deserved to be seen. The galleon was apparently bulk-headed from her
forecastle deck down to the keelson, and the fore hold, accessible
doubtless by a hatch in the lower forecastle deck, was hidden from us.
But aft the vault-like interior stretched in view to plumb with the
poop deck, past which nothing of the after hold was to be seen; but the
vessel’s great beam and such length of her as we commanded submitted a
large area of illuminated wonders, and as you stood gazing around it
made you feel as if you were under the sea, as if you had penetrated to
the silent lighted hall of a dumb ocean god that was eyeing you, for
all you knew, from some ambush of glittering green growth whither he
had fled on your approach.

The irradiation was phosphoric, I was sure, by the hue and character
of it, but how kindled I could not imagine; the water had sunk low;
in the death-like stillness you could hear through the hatchway the
sounds of it gushing on to the rocks from the perforations. It lay
black with gleams of green fire upon it, deep down amid the billowy
sheathing of shell under which we might be sure was secreted such of
the cargo as had not been washed out of the vessel. Pendent from the
upper deck was a very forest of multitudinous vegetation; the sides,
far as the eye could pierce, were thickly covered; the writhings of the
grave-like glow quickened the snake-shaped plants, the bulbous forms,
the distended fingers as of gigantic hands, green outlines which the
imagination easily wrought into the aspect of the heads of men and
beasts and such wild sights as one traces in clouds; these writhings
vitalised all such sights into an aspect of growing and increasing
life; they seemed to stir uneasily, to mop and mow, to elongate and
shrink.

‘It’s almost worth being cast away,’ cried Cutbill, ‘to see such a
picter as this. Lord, now for a steamer to tow her into port! My
precious eyes! what a fortune as a mere sightseeing job!’

‘If there’s treasure aboard there’s where it’ll lie stowed,’ cried
Dowling, pointing aft; his figure with his long outstretched arm
looking like a drawing in phosphorus. Indeed, in that astonishing
light we all had a most unhuman, unearthly appearance. Laura’s hair
and skin were blended indistinguishably into a faint greenish outline,
in the midst of which her violet eyes glowed black as her sister’s by
lamplight. Suddenly I felt her hand tremble upon my arm.

‘I feel a little faint,’ she said softly; ‘the atmosphere here is
oppressive--and then those----’ She averted her eyes in a shuddering
way from the skeletons.

As she spoke the hatch was flashed into a dazzling blaze of sun-bright
light.

‘Quick, lads,’ I cried, ‘or the storm will be on us! Hark, how near the
thunder rattles!’

The detonation boomed through the hollow hold as though a broadside had
been fired within half a mile of us by a line-of-battle ship.

‘There’s her ladyship a-singing out,’ exclaimed Finn; and sure enough
we heard Lady Monson violently calling for her sister.

‘Heaven preserve us! I hope she hain’t been hurt by that flash,’
shouted Cutbill.

‘Up with us, now lads, before it is upon us!’ I cried.

Dowling, seizing the two ends of the whip, went up hand after hand, and
in a few moments we were all on deck.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE SECOND NIGHT.


The dim hectic that was lingering in the atmosphere when we entered
the hold was now gone; the evening had fallen on a sudden as dark as
midnight: it was all as black as factory smoke away west and overhead,
but a star still shone weak as a glow-worm in the east. A second flash
of lightning, but this time afar, glanced out the figure of Lady Monson
standing on the forecastle and calling to Laura.

‘She is not hurt!’ I exclaimed.

‘I am coming, Henrietta,’ said Laura.

‘I shall die if I am left alone here!’ cried Lady Monson. ‘I believed
that that flash just now had struck me blind.’

‘Keep hold of my arm, Laura,’ said I, ‘and walk as if the deck were
filled with snakes.’

We cautiously stepped the wild growths of the planks, rendered as
dangerous as the holes outside of the rocks by the dusk, and approached
Lady Monson.

‘May I conduct you to the cabin?’ said I.

‘I would rather remain here,’ she answered; but there was no longer the
old note of imperious determination in her voice. In fact it was easy
to see that she did not care to be alone when the lightning was fierce
and when a heavy storm of wet and wind was threatened.

‘Shall we take in this here sail, sir?’ cried Finn from the other side
of the deck, ‘before it’s blown away?’

‘No; keep all fast, Finn,’ said I; ‘her ladyship desires to remain
here.’

‘Are you going to stop with me, Laura?’ said Lady Monson.

‘Suffer me to answer for Miss Jennings,’ I exclaimed. ‘I make myself
answerable for her health and comfort. I could not endure that she
should be exposed when there is a safe and dry shelter within a
biscuit-toss of us.’

Just then was a blinding leap of lightning; the electric spark seemed
to flash sheer from the western confines to the eastern star, scoring
the black firmament with a line of fire that was like the splitting of
it. A mighty blast of thunder followed.

‘Hark!’ I cried, as the echoes of it went roaring and rolling into the
distance. My ear had caught a rushing and hissing noise, and looking
into the direction of the sea, over which the thick of the tempest was
hanging, I saw what seemed a line of light approaching us.

‘Rain!’ I shouted, ‘flashing the phosphorescent water up into flame.’

‘No, sir, no!’ roared Cutbill; ‘it’s wind, sir, wind! ’Tis the boiling
of the water that looks like fire.’

He was right. An instant’s listening enabled me to catch the yell of
the squall sounding in the distance like a moaning sort of whistling
through the seething of the ploughed and lacerated waters.

‘Laura, give me your hand,’ I cried. ‘Lady Monson, if you are
coming----’

‘I will accompany you,’ she answered, and very nimbly, and much to my
astonishment, she slipped her hand under my arm and clung to me. So!
There was yet a little of the true woman remaining in her, and it would
necessarily discover itself soonest in moments of terror.

The illuminated square of hatchway not only enabled us to avoid the
ugly gap down which it was mighty easy to plump by mistake in the
confusion of the blackness and in the bewilderment following upon the
blinding playing of the lightning; it threw out a faint haze of light
that went sifting into a considerable area over the main deck, so that
we were able to make haste without risk; and after a few minutes of
floundering, with an interval of groping when we came to the incline
of shells which conducted to the quarter-deck, I succeeded in lodging
the two ladies fairly in the shelter of the cabin, and not a moment too
soon. We were scarce entered when a squall of terrific violence burst
upon the little island. It took the galleon with a glare of lightning
of noontide brilliance, a roar of thunder, and such a hurricane
howling of wind that no tornado ever shrieked under the heavens
more deafeningly. One by one the men arrived. The lightning was so
continuous that I could see their figures stealing along the deck, and
they made for the cabin door by it as directly as though guided by a
stretched hand-line.

‘Did you get in the sail?’ I cried to Finn.

‘Lord love ’ee, sir,’ he roared, ‘it fled to the first blast like a
puff of baccy smoke.’

‘Hark to the sea a-getting up!’ said Dowling. ‘Here’s a breeze to start
this old waggin. Stand by for a slide, says I. I wish them holes was
plugged.’

‘Belay, you old owl,’ grumbled Cutbill hoarsely; ‘ain’t there blue
lights enough here without you hanging of more out? There’ll be no
sliding with this here hulk onless it’s to the bottom when it’s time
for her to go.’

Nevertheless the sea had risen as if by magic. The swift heaping up
of it was the stranger because there had been no preceding swell. The
first of the squall had swept over a sheet of water polished as any
mirror without a heave, as might have been seen by a glance at the
island beach, where the edge of the ocean was scarce breathing. _Now_
the shrilling and screaming of the wind was filled with the noise of
ploughed and coiling surges dissolving in masses upon the rocks from
which they recoiled with a horrible hissing and ringing sound. The
continual electric play filled the cabin with light as it glittered
upon the sail over the skylight above, or coloured the black square
of the door with violet and green and golden brilliance. It was
true tropic lightning, a heaven of racing flames, and the thunder a
continuous roll, one burst following another till the explosions seemed
blent into a uniform roar.

Lady Monson had seated herself on Laura’s mattress. My dear girl and
I reposed upon a roll of the sail; the men had flung themselves down,
one leaning his head upon his elbow, another Lascar fashion, a third
sitting upright with his arms folded. There were no wonders in this
cabin as in the hold, no marvellous and beautiful conformations,
self-luminous as one might say, and making a greenish moonlight
radiance of their own. Yet the interior seemed the wilder to the
imagination for its very nakedness, for the austere desolation of it
as it glanced out to the levin brand to its castle-shaped confines.
It forced fancy to do its own work, to revitalise it with the ghostly
shapes of beings that in life had filled it, to regarnish it with the
feudal furniture of its age. I was heartily thankful that the two
skeletons had been turned out. By every flash I could see Lady Monson’s
black eyes roaming wildly, and though I might have counted upon Laura’s
spirit whilst I was by her side and held her hand, I could have
reckoned with equal assurance upon some wretched distracting display in
her sister, had the two embracing skeletons remained in yonder corner
to serve as a moral for the motive of this voyage, to be witnessed by
the illumination of the lightning, and to add a horror of their own to
the sound of the thunder, to the fierce crying of the wind, and to the
boiling of the beating seas.

‘I say, Finn,’ I shouted to him, ‘here’s the wind before the rain, my
friend--you were mistaken.’

‘My sight ain’t what it was, sir,’ he answered.

‘It’s a commotion to blow something along in sight of us,’ said Cutbill.

‘Wonder if that there hold’s lighted up every night like that?’ said
Head; ‘enough to make a man think that there must be sperrits aboard
who trims their inwisible lamps when it comes on dark.’

‘Sorry I ain’t got my green spectacles with me,’ said Cutbill; ‘if you
was to put them on, mate, you’d see them sperrits dancing.’

‘Proper sort of ball-room, though, ain’t it, miss?’ exclaimed Finn,
addressing Laura.

‘How touching,’ said Dowling, who I could see by the lightning pulling
out his whiskers as if trimming himself, ‘for them skellingtons to go
on a-loving of one another for all these years! Supposing they was
husband and wife: then if they was living they’d ha’ given up clinging
to each other a long time ago.’

Cutbill hove a curse at him under his breath, but the man did not seem
to hear.

‘It’s curious,’ continued this sea philosopher in a salt, thick voice
that seemed not a little appropriate to the strong fish-like, marine,
_drowned_ smell of this interior, ‘they should go on a-showing of
affection which they’d sicken at if they was coated with flesh.’

‘Pray hold your tongue!’ said Lady Monson. ‘Captain Finn, please
request that sailor to be silent.’

‘Told ’ee so,’ I heard Cutbill growl; ‘always a-sticking of that hoof
of yourn into the wrong biling.’

Scarce had this been muttered when all on a sudden the squall ceased;
there fell a black, dead calm; no more lightning played, not a murmur
of thunder sounded; there was nothing to be heard but the roar of the
near surf upon the beach and the creaming of seas off the huge area of
the angry waters. In its way this sudden cessation, this abrupt, this
instant hush on high, was more terrifying than the wildest outbreak
of tempest. The lightning had been so continuous that in a manner we
had grown used to it, and we had been able to see one another’s faces
by it whilst we conversed as though by some lamp that waned and then
waxed brilliant to its revolutions. Now we sat plunged in impenetrable
blackness, whilst we sat hearkening, to use an Irishism, to the
incredible silence of the atmosphere. Not the faintest loom of the
galleon could be distinguished through the open door; yet the sheen of
the mystic illumination in her hold hovered like a faint green mist
over the hatch and dimly touched a little space of the marine growths
round about.

‘What’s a-going to happen now?’ cried Finn; but I did not know that he
had left the cabin until I heard him calling from the outside, ‘My eye,
your honour, here it comes; a _shower_ this time.’

I groped my way out, feeling down with my outstretched hands one of the
men who was groping to the door also. The stagnant air was as thick as
the fumes of brimstone and oppressively hot. It made one gasp after
coming out of the cabin, where it was kept almost cool somehow by the
strong weedy and salt-water smell that haunted it. I looked over the
rail and saw the sea at the distance of about half a mile away from
us, flaming as though it were an ocean of brandy on fire, only that
the head of the luminous appearance had as straight a line to the eye
as the horizon. But I could now observe how phosphorescent was the sea
that, whilst tranquil, had hung a lustreless shadow by marking the
vivid flashes of light in the white smother of the froth down in the
gloom of the beach and the sharp darting gleams beyond.

I groped back to the cabin, followed by the others, found Laura by the
shadow her figure made upon the dim glimmer of the sail and seated
myself beside her. Then plump fell the rain. It was just a sheet of
descending water, and spite of the fossilised decks being thickened
by marine verdure, the hull echoed to the downpour with a noise as
distracting and deafening as a goods train passing at full speed close
alongside. But the wonder of that rain lay not so much in its weight as
in its being electric. It came down black, but it sparkled on striking
the decks as though every drop exploded in a blaze. I never witnessed
such a sight before, and confess that I was never so frightened by
anything in all my life.

‘Why, it’s raining lightning!’ called Head.

‘The vessel will be set on fire!’ cried Lady Monson.

‘Nothen to be afraid of, my lady,’ shouted Cutbill; ‘these fiery falls
are common down here. I’ve been rolling up the maintop-garnsail in rain
of this sort in the Bay of Bengal when ye’d ha’ thought that the ship
had been put together out of lighted brimstone; every rope a streak of
flame, and the ocean below as if old Davy Jones was entertaining his
friends with a game of snapdragon.’

It was, no doubt, as Cutbill had said; but then there was not only
the sight of the fire flashing out along the length of the vessel
as far as the doorway permitted the eye to follow the deck, to the
roaring, ebony, perpendicular discharge of the clouds; there was the
tremendous thought of our being perched on the head of a newly-formed
volcanic rock, that had leapt into existence on such another night as
this. Suppose it sank under us! Here were all necessary conditions
of atmosphere, at least, to justify dread of such a thing. Would the
ship float? Was she buoyant enough to tear her keel from the rock
and outlive the whirlpool or gulf which might follow the descent of
a mountain of lava of whose dimensions it was impossible to form a
conception? But she had six holes in her; and then, again, there was
still plenty of water in the hold, whose volume must already have been
further increased--rapidly and greatly increased--by the cataract that
fell in a straight line to the broad yawn of the uprooted hatch.

My consternation was, indeed, so great that I could not speak. I felt
Laura press my hand, as though the dew in the palm of it and the tremor
of my fingers were hints sufficient to her of the sudden desperate
fit of nervousness that possessed me; but I could not find my tongue.
Figure being out in a horrible thunderstorm, miles from all shelter,
and seized by an overmastering apprehension that the next or the next
flash will strike you dead! My torment of mind was of this sort. I
philosophised to myself in vain. There was nothing in the consideration
that others shared my danger--most often a source of wonderful comfort
to a person in peril--that I could but die once, that there were harder
deaths than drowning, and the like, to restore me my self-possession.
I was unnerved and in a panic of terror, fired afresh by the fearful
fancy that had entered my brain on the preceding night of this head of
rock gaping and letting us down to God knows what depth. All the time
I was feeling with a hideous, nervous intensity with feet, fibres,
and instincts for any faint premonitory jar or thrill in the hull to
announce that this island was getting under way for the bottom again.

I believe that the electric rain had a deal to do with the insufferable
distress of my mind at that time, for when it ceased--with the same
startling suddenness that had marked the drop of the wind--I rallied as
though to a huge bumper of brandy. My hands were wringing wet, yet cold
as though lifted from a bucket of water; the perspiration poured down
my face, but my nerves had returned to me.

‘What now is to be the next act of this wild play?’ said I.

‘A breeze of wind, your honour,’ cried Finn out of the black gap of the
door; and sure enough I felt the grateful blowing of air cooled by the
wet.

The weight of rain had wonderfully deadened the sea, and the surf that
a little while ago broke with passion and fury now beat the rocks with
a subdued and sulky roaring sound. It had clarified to the westwards
somewhat, the dusk was of a thinner and finer sort there, with a look
of wind in the texture of the darkness; but it continued a black night,
with no other relief to the eye than the pale preternatural haze of
light in the square of the main-hatch and the occasional vivid flash
of phosphor out at sea. But the wind swept up rapidly, and within
a quarter of an hour of the first of its breezing it was blowing
hard upon a whole gale; the old galleon hummed to it as though she
had all her rigging aloft. In an incredibly short time the sea was
making clean breaches over the island, rendering the blackness hoary
with a look of snow squalls as it slung its sheets of thrilling and
throbbing and hissing spume high into the dark sweep of the gale.
One saw the difference between this sort of weather and the night on
which the ‘Bride’ had struck. Then the heaviest of the surf left a
clear space of rock; but there were times now when the smother came
boiling to the very bends of the galleon, striking her till you felt
her tremble with huge quivering upheavals of froth over and into her;
and it was like being at sea to look over the side and witness the
white madness of water raging and beating on either hand. Every now and
again a prodigious height of steam-like spray would go yelling up with
the sound of a giantess’s scream into the flying darkness from some
pipe-like conduit in the porous rock. These columns of water were so
luminous with fire, so white with the crystalline smoke into which they
were converted by the incalculable weight of the sea sweeping into the
apertures, that, dark as it was, one saw them instantly and clearly.
They soared with hurricane speed in a straight line, then were arched
by the gale like a palm; and if ever the wind brought the falling
torrent to our decks the stonified ship shook to the mighty discharge
as though the point of land on which she lay were being rent by the
force of flame and thunder which created it.

We sat in the cabin in total darkness. It made our condition
unspeakably dreadful to be without light. We had tinder-boxes, but
there was nothing to set fire to, nothing that would steadily flame and
enable us to see; nor was there any prospect now of our being able to
make a flare should we catch a glimpse of a ship, for what before would
have made a fine bonfire was soaked through. It was up to a man’s knees
on the main-deck, and the cabin would have been flooded but for the
sharp spring or rise of the planks from the poop front to the stern.
Such darkness as we sat in was like being blind. There was nothing to
be seen through the door but pale clouds of spray flying through the
air. Just the faintest outline of our figures upon the white ground
of the sail was visible, but so dim, so indeterminable as to seem but
a mere cheat of the fancy. A lamp or a candle would have rendered our
condition less intolerable. The men could then have made shift to bring
some sherry and provisions from the forecastle; the mere toying with
food would have served to kill the time. We could have looked upon one
another as we conversed, but the blackness of that interior was so
profound that it weighed down upon us like the very spirit of dumbness
itself. I have often since wondered whether men who are trapped in
the bottom of a mine and lie waiting in the blackness there for
deliverance--I have often wondered, I say, how long such poor fellows
continue to talk to one another. The intervals of silence, I am sure,
must rapidly grow greater and greater. There is something in intense
darkness in a time of peril that seems to eat all the heart and courage
out of a man. The voice appears to fall dead in the opacity as a stone
vanishes when hurled at snow.

Cutbill and Finn did their best to keep up our hearts. They spoke of
the certainty of this wind bringing a ship along with it. What should
we have done without this galleon? they asked; but for the shelter it
provided us with we should have been swept like smoke by the seas off
the rocks. There was no fear, they said, of the old hooker not holding
together. She was bound into one piece by the brine that had made a
stone of her, and by the coating of shells, and if all ships afloat
were as staunch as she was there would be an end of underwriting and
drowned sailors would be few.

I helped in such talk and did my best, but our spirits could not
continue to make headway against the blackness that was rendered yet
more subduing by the uproar without, and by our being unable to imagine
from moment to moment what was next to happen.

By-and-by the men stretched themselves upon the sail and slept. I
passed my arm round Laura’s waist and brought her head to my shoulder,
and after a little her regular breathing let me know that she was
asleep. Lady Monson was close to us, but she might have been on the
forecastle for all that I could distinguish of her. Whether she sat or
reclined, whether she slumbered or was wide awake throughout, I could
not imagine. She never once spoke. At times my head would nod, but as
regularly would I start into wakefulness afresh to the heavy fall of a
sheet of water splashing into the main-deck, or to some sudden shock of
the blow of a sea either against the galleon’s side or upon the near
rock. Nobody had suggested keeping a look-out. Indeed, had ships been
passing us every five minutes we could have done nothing.

It was probably about two o’clock in the morning when the gale abated.
The wind fell swiftly, as it mostly does in those parallels; a star
shone in the black square of the door; the pouring and boiling of
waters about us ceased, and the sounds of the sea sank away into the
distance of the beach. I should have stepped on deck to take a look
round but for Laura, who slumbered stirlessly and most reposefully upon
my shoulder, supported by my arm, and I had not the heart to disturb
the sweet girl by quitting her. Added to this, I could guess by looking
through the doorway that it was still too black to see anything spite
of the glance of starlight, and even though I should discern some
pallid vision of a running ship, there was nothing dry enough to signal
her with. So, being dog-tired, I let drop my chin, and was presently in
as deep a sleep as the soundest slumberer of them all.

Deep and deathlike indeed must have been my repose, for somehow I was
sensible of being stormily shaken even whilst my wits were still locked
up in sleep.

‘Why, Mr. Monson, sir,’ roared Finn in my ear, ‘ye ain’t so sleepy, I
hope, as not to care to git away. Hallo, I say, hallo!’

‘Father of mercy, what is it now?’ I cried, terrified in my dazed
condition by his bull-like voice.

‘Why, sir,’ he answered, ‘there’s a barque just off the island. She’s
seen our signals, and ’s slipping close in with hands at the maintops’l
brace.’

‘Ha!’ said I, and I sprang to my feet.

Finn rushed out again. I had been the last of the sleepers apparently,
and was the only occupant of the cabin. The sun was risen, but, as
I might suppose by his light, he had scarce floated yet to three or
four times the height of his diameter. The doorway framed a silvery
blue heaven, and the wondrous vegetation of the deck sparkled in
fifty gorgeous dyes, streaming wet after the night, and every blob of
moisture was jewel-coloured by the particular splendour it rested upon.
I darted on to the quarter-deck, looked wildly towards the forecastle,
then perceived that my companions had gathered upon the poop. Laura
came running to me, heedless of the perilous deck, pointing and
speechless, her eyes radiant. There was a long swell washing from the
westwards, but to the eastwards of the island the water ran away smooth
like the short wake of a great ship, till the shouldering welter swept
to it again; and there where the blue heave was, with the sun’s dazzle
a little away to the right, was a small barque slightly leaning from
the pleasant morning breeze, and sliding slowly but crisply through
it with a delicate lift of foam to the ruddy gleam of her sheathing,
and her canvas glistening sunwards, bright as the cloths of a pleasure
vessel.

‘_That’s_ what we’ve been awaiting for!’ shouted Finn.

I came to a dead halt, looking at the barque with Laura hanging on my
arm. There was a fellow in the mainchains swinging a leadline, but it
was plain that the weight fell to the full scope without result. Then
on a sudden round came the maintopsail yard to us with a flattening in
of the cotton white cloths from the folds of the course to the airy
film of the tiny sky-sail.

‘Forward, Head! forward, Dowling, as if the devil were in chase of
’ee,’ bawled Finn, ‘and get that whip rove and the chair made fast.’

The men ran to the work. Cutbill was following them.

‘No, William,’ cried Finn; ‘stop where ’ee are a minute. The shipwreck
t’other night ain’t left me my old woice. Hist! there’s a chap hailing
us.’

‘What island’s that, and who are you and what manner of craft is that
you’re aboard of?’ came from the rail of the barque’s quarter-deck in a
thin, reed-like, but distinctly audible voice.

Cutbill roared back, ‘We’re the surwiwors of the schooner-yacht
‘Bride,’ cast away three nights ago. Will you take us off, sir?’

‘How many are there of you?’

‘Seven, including two ladies.’

‘Five, Mr. Cutbill, tell ’em,’ shouted Dowling from the forecastle; ‘me
and Head stops here.’

‘Have you a boat?’ came from the barque.

‘No, sir,’ roared Cutbill.

‘I’ll send one. Make ready to come along.’

Lady Monson was the first of us to press forward to the forecastle.
The main-deck was ankle deep, but we splashed through it like a pack
of racing children and gained the fore-end of the galleon without
misadventure. I was mad with impatience, and all being ready with the
whip and chair I plumped Laura most unceremoniously into the seat,
caught hold of the line over her head, and down we were lowered. Up
then soared the empty chair and out swung her ladyship, who plunged
into my arms and came very near to throwing me in her eagerness to leap
out before the rocks were within reach of her feet.

‘Now,’ said I, ‘the men can manage for themselves,’ and with that I
seized hold of Lady Monson’s hand, grasped Laura by the arm, and away
we trudged to the beach off which the barque was lying. I was still so
newly awakened from a very stupor of slumber that I moved and thought
as though in a dream. Yet my wits were sufficiently collected to enable
me to keep a bright look-out for holes. Again and again I secretly
heaped curses upon the hindrance of this porous surface, for it
forced us into deviations which seemed to make a league of a distance
that would have been but a few minutes’ walk on reasonable soil. The
energy of our strides forbade speech; we could only breathe, and what
little mind this sudden chance of deliverance had left us we had to
exclusively devote to the pitfalls.

They had lowered a boat aboard the barque by the time that we arrived
at the water’s edge, breathless, and the three of us staring with a
feverish greediness, a thirsty, frantic desire, I may say, which ocean
peril, of all earthly dangers, paints with most perfection upon the
eye. She was a good-sized boat of a whaling pattern, sharp at both
ends, pulled by three men who peered continuously over their shoulders
as they rowed, and steered by a small man in a blue jacket and a
broad-brimmed straw hat. By the time she was close in the others had
joined us. I had heard much heated talk amongst them as they came down
from the galleon, springing over the holes and wells, and Finn at once
said to me:

‘What d’ee think, your honour? here’s Head and Dowling gone mad! They
say there’s bullion to be met with in that hulk up there, and they mean
to stop with her till they’ve got it.’

‘Nonsense!’ I exclaimed.

‘By the ’Tarnal, then, Mr. Monson,’ cried Dowling, ‘there’s no leaving
with me yet. Here’s a chance that ain’t going to happen more’n once to
a sailor-man.’

‘Ashore there!’ came from the little chap at the tiller of the boat;
‘what sort of beach have you got for grounding?’

‘Pumice-stone, sir,’ answered Finn.

‘Don’t like it,’ said the little fellow with a shake of his head. ‘Is
it steep to?’

‘He ought to be able to see by looking over the side,’ grumbled Finn;
then aloud, ‘Slopes as gradual as the calf of a man’s leg.’

‘Well, then, you won’t mind wading,’ said the little fellow.

‘Cutbill, Finn,’ I cried, ‘carry her ladyship, will you? Dowling or
Head, come and lend me a hand to convey Miss Jennings.’

The little fool obliged us to wade waist high by keeping off, so
confoundedly anxious was he to keep his keel clear of the ground.
However, we easily got the ladies into the boat; then Cutbill, Finn,
and I gripped the gunwale and rolled inboards; but Dowling coolly waded
shorewards again to where Head was standing.

‘Aren’t you two men coming?’ cried the little fellow, who afterwards
proved to be the second mate of the barque, a doll of a man with bright
eyes, diminutive features, red beard, and hands and feet of the size of
a boy of ten.

‘No, sir,’ answered Dowling; ‘there’s treasure in that there craft, and
my mate and me’s going to stop to overhaul the cargo.’

The three seamen belonging to the boat stared on hearing this,
instantly pricking up their ears with sailors’ sympathy and fastening
devouring eyes on the galleon.

‘They have no reason to believe there is treasure,’ I cried; ‘it is a
mere idle hope on their part. Exhort them to come, sir. They stand to
perish if they are left here.’

‘Now, then, don’t keep us waiting, my lads,’ exclaimed the second mate.

‘We mean to stop here,’ responded Head decisively.

‘But have you any provisions?’

‘Enough washed out of the yacht to sarve our tarn,’ answered Dowling;
‘but we should be glad of another cask of fresh water.’

‘Well, you’ll not get that,’ answered the second mate; ‘our own stock’s
not over-plentiful. Now, once more, are ye coming?’

They shook their heads, and in a careless, reckless manner Head
half-swung his back upon us.

‘Give way!’ cried the second mate.

‘But it’s like helping them to commit suicide, Finn,’ I exclaimed.

‘They ought to be seized and forced into the boat,’ said Lady Monson,
looking with a shudder at the galleon.

‘They’ve got a notion there’s money in that there hulk,’ exclaimed
Finn, ‘and they’ll stick to her till they satisfies themselves one way
or the other.’

‘Small fear of them not being taken off when they’re ready to go,’ said
the mate, staring hard at Lady Monson and then at Laura; ‘that island’s
a novelty which’ll bring every ship that heaves her masthead within
sight of it running down to have a look at. Volcanic, eh? And that
shell-covered arrangement up there rose along with it?’

‘Ay,’ said Finn.

‘Well,’ said the little second mate, ‘why shouldn’t she have treasure,
aboard? She has the look of one of them plate ships you read of.’

‘I’d take my chance with them two sailors,’ said the fellow who was
pulling the bow oar.

‘So would I,’ said the man next to him.

The stroke gazed yearningly through the hair over his eyes.

The sea of the preceding night had cleared the beach of every vestige
of the yacht; all the fragments which had littered the rocks were
gone. As we drew out from the island it took in the brilliant sunshine
the complexion of marble, and the wondrous old galleon lying on top
sparkled delicately with many tints as our point of view was varied by
the stroke of the oars. The resolution of the two men vexed and grieved
me beyond all expression; but what was to be done? My spirit shrank at
the mere thought of their determination when I reflected upon the damp,
dark, ocean-smelling cabin, the luminous hold, the two skeletons, the
vegetation and shells, whose novelty, wonder, glory seemed to carry the
structure out of all human sympathy, as though it were the product of
a form of existence whose creations were not to be met with under the
stars. We drew rapidly to the barque. She was an exceedingly handsome
model, painted green, rigged with a masterly eye to accurate adjustment
down to the most trivial detail.

‘What’s her name, sir?’ asked Finn.

‘The “Star of Peace,”’ answered the second mate.

‘Homeward bound, I hope, sir?’ says Cutbill.

‘Ay,’ said the little man, grinning, ‘and long enough about it too.
Sixty-one days from Melbourne as it is.’

Finn whistled; Laura looked at the mate on hearing him say that the
ship was from Melbourne.

‘Oars!’ A boathook caught the accommodation ladder and we gained the
deck. The captain of the barque stood in the gangway to receive us;
he was a Scotchman with a slow, kind, thoughtful face, grey hair that
showed like wire on end with thickness and stubbornness as he lifted
his straw hat to the ladies. His grey, keen, seawardly eye rapidly took
stock of us. I briefly related our story.

‘I remember the “Bride,” sir,’ he said. ‘She was owned by Sir Wilfrid
Monson, who married Miss Jennings of Melbourne.’

‘This is Lady Monson,’ I said; ‘her sister, too, Miss Jennings.’

‘Indeed!’ he exclaimed, with a sort of slow surprise giving a little
animation to his speech. ‘I have the honour of being acquainted with
Mr. Jennings. He came on board this vessel three days before we sailed
along with a gentleman, Mr. Hanbury’--Laura slightly nodded--‘to whom
a portion of the freight belongs. I see the likeness now,’ he added,
looking with admiration at Lady Monson.

She glowed crimson, and turned with a haughty step to the rail to
conceal her face.

‘I have always heard this world was a small one, captain,’ said I,
‘small enough, thank God, to enable your ship to fall in with that rock
there. To what port are you bound?’

‘London, sir. There are a couple of cabins at your service. There are
no females aboard,’ looking at Laura and running his eye over her dress
with a glance on to Lady Monson; ‘I judge ye were cast away in little
more than what you stood up in?’

‘By the way, Laura,’ said I, ‘we ought not to leave your box of odds
and ends behind us.’

‘Oh, no; bring off everything,’ exclaimed the captain. ‘I’ll send the
boat ashore.’

It was arranged that Finn should fetch the box and make a final effort
to persuade the two men to come off. The captain of the barque laughed
when I told him of the fellows’ resolution, and seemed to make little
of it. ‘If they’ve got a notion there’s treasure there, sir,’ he
exclaimed, ‘you’ll not move ’em. I know Jack’s nature. He’d follow old
Nick if he believed he’d take him to where there were dollars. Ships
enough’ll be coming in sight of that rock. I don’t fear for the men’s
safety.’

‘But it is a volcanic creation, captain. It may vanish just as it rose,
in a flash.’

‘Ha!’ cried he, sucking in his breath, ‘my word! But I should never
have thought of that. Better try and coax those men off,’ he exclaimed,
walking to the rail and putting his head over and addressing Finn who
had entered the boat.

‘I’ll do my best, sir,’ answered Finn, and shoved off.

‘Now, ladies and gentlemen,’ said the captain, returning to us, ‘will
you step below that we may see how you’re to be made comfortable?’

After the galleon the cabin of a smack would have been sheer Paradise.
Here was a breezy, plain, substantial homely interior. The sunshine
brilliantly flooded it, the eastern splendour of water rippled in lines
of light upon the bulkheads; the hot morning breeze gushed humming
through the skylight into it. The captain led us to a couple of berths
forward of the state cabin, and the first object I witnessed was my
face reflected in a looking-glass. Heavens! what a contrast to the
Pall Mall exquisite of a few months before! Unshaven, sunblackened,
unbrushed, unwashed; my linen dark, my clothes expressing every
feature of shipwreck in rents, stains, and the like; I needed but
a few further grimy embellishments to have passed to admiration as
a back alley sailor. The captain’s name was Richardson; he seemed
fascinated by Lady Monson, called for his servant or steward, bade him
procure at once every convenience of hot water, towels, hair-brushes
and the like; continued to congratulate himself upon having been the
means of delivering the daughters of Mr. Jennings of Melbourne from a
situation of distress and peril, and so warmed up to the occasion, but
slowly as the kettle boils, that I easily saw there was small fear of
Laura and her sister not being made as thoroughly comfortable as the
accommodation supplied by the barque would permit.

I was too anxious, however, about the fellows on the island to linger
below, and went on deck, leaving Captain Richardson talking to the
ladies, protesting in hearty Scotch accents his anxiety to serve them
to the utmost of his ability, questioning the steward about sheets
and blankets, bidding him likewise tell the cook to make haste with
the breakfast, asking Lady Monson if she drank tea or coffee, and so
on and so on. The boat was off the island and Finn ashore, coming
down from the galleon to the beach with Laura’s box slung betwixt him
and Dowling, whilst Head trudged close behind. Then there was a long
talk; I could see Finn pointing to the hulk and then to the barque,
flourishing his arms and emphatically nodding at one or the other as he
addressed them. Cutbill stood in the gangway looking on.

‘I hope the captain will prevail upon them to leave that place,’ said I
to him.

‘He won’t, sir,’ answered Cutbill; ‘and blowed if I don’t feel now, Mr.
Monson, as if I’d made a mistake in leaving it myself!’

Here the mate of the barque stepped up to me--an immense man, even
bigger than Cutbill, in a long white coat with side pockets so vast
that one might have thought that he could have stowed the little second
mate away in one of them.

‘Do those chaps think that there’s plunder to be found aboard that
effigy?’ he asked in a voice rendered unutterably hoarse and harsh by
probably years of roaring out in foul weather, supplemented by rum and
the natural gift of a deep note.

‘Don’t know about plunder, sir,’ answered Cutbill, ‘but they reckon
there may be chests of plate and bullion stowed away aft.’

‘Stowed away in their eye!’ growled the mate. ‘Where did she come from?’

‘The bottom of the sea, sir.’

‘An old galleon,’ said he, cocking his eye at her, ‘and a volcanic
burst up,’ he continued. ‘Well, I don’t know, if so be she’s a galleon,
likely as not those chaps are right. Why, they thought nothing in the
days she belonged to in stowing a matter of six or seven millions of
dollars in the lazarettes of craft of that kind.’

‘By the Lord, Mr. Monson,’ burst out Cutbill, ‘I must go ashore, sir! I
feel I’m a-doing wrong in being here!’

‘You’ll have to swim then,’ said the mate drily, ‘for that boat is
meant for our davits when she comes alongside, and it will then be time
to trim sail.’

At that moment I observed Finn shaking the two sailors by the hand. He
then entered the boat and made for the barque, whilst Head and Dowling
walked slowly up to the galleon and sat down in the shade of her under
her counter, whence they continued to watch us.

‘It’s no good, Mr. Monson, sir,’ said Finn, as he came clambering
and panting over the side; ‘they call it a gold mine, and there’s no
persuading of ’em to leave it.’

‘Up with this boat,’ roared the mate; ‘stand by to round in on those
topsail braces.’

The boat soared to her davits, the milk-white squares of canvas on the
main went floating onwards into full bosoms; the barque, bowing to the
swell, broke the flashing water into trembling lines; slowly, almost
imperceptibly, that marble-looking hump of rock with its glittering
centre-piece stole away upon the quarter, its solitude somehow making
the ocean look as wide again as it was. Laura came on deck and stood by
my side.

‘Oh, Charles!’ she exclaimed, ‘we have left the poor fellows behind,
then?’

‘They refuse to leave. Observe Cutbill,’ said I, pointing to the huge
figure of the honest tar as he lay over the rail, his face knotted up
with conflicting emotions, whilst his expression was rendered spasmodic
by his manner of gnawing upon a quid that stood in his cheek. ‘He is
lamenting the loss of a princely income, and would have returned to the
island could he have got a boat. Mark Finn, too; with what a mixture of
thirstiness and misgiving does he stare!’

‘The poor creatures are waving to us,’ said Laura.

Instantly throughout the barque there was a general flourishing of arms
and Scotch caps and straw hats. We lingered watching them till the
island looked to be no more than a small blue cloud floating low upon
the water.

‘Poor Wilfrid!’ suddenly exclaimed Laura, and her eyes dimmed with
tears.

‘It has been a hard time for you, dear one!’ I exclaimed, ‘but the end
of the black chapter is reached, let us believe. See! here comes the
captain’s man with a tray of good things. But I must positively shave
before I can sit down to breakfast, if there is a razor on board to
borrow.’

We walked together to the companion hatch, but even there we lingered a
little with our eyes dwelling upon that distant azure film which seemed
now to be fainting out as though it were a wreath of sea-mist that was
being fast devoured by the sun.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

CONCLUSION.


Our passage home was extraordinarily long. It took us seventy-five days
to arrive at the English Channel from the latitude of the volcanic
island. The captain thought himself under a spell, and swore that he
believed his barque was to be made a ‘Flying Dutchman’ of. Yet she was
a clipper keel, moulded in exquisite conformity with all theories of
swiftness in sailing, and when a fresh and favourable wind blew she
ate through it as though with the iron bite of a powerful steamer.
But had she spread the canvas of a ‘Royal George’ over the hull of
a racing yacht she could have done nothing in the face of the dead
calms and light baffling breezes which held us motionless or sent us
sliding southwards for days and days. Scarce had we struck soundings
indeed--that is to say, hardly had we entered the mouth of the English
Channel--when a whole gale of wind blew down upon us from the eastward,
and grove us a third of the distance across to the shores of the United
States.

How bitterly sick I grew of this time I cannot express. I had lost
everything that I had brought with me in the wreck of the ‘Bride,’
and was entirely dependent upon the kindness of the captain and the
mates for a supply of the few wants I absolutely required. One lent
me a shirt, another a pair of socks, a third a razor, and so on,
but it was a miserable existence. A few weeks of it I should have
found supportable by comparing the life with the horrors we had been
delivered from; but as time went on gratitude languished, the sense of
contrast lost something of its edge; I abhorred the recollection of the
galleon, yet it really seemed as though we had merely exchanged one
form of imprisonment for another; as if old ocean indeed were suffering
us to amuse ourselves with a dream of escape, as a cat humours a mouse
in that way, to drop with a spring upon us ultimately when she had
sickened the patience out of our souls.

I need not say that Lady Monson made the worst of everything. She had
to share a cabin with her sister, and to that extent, therefore, was
associated with her, but her behaviour to Laura, as to me, was cold,
haughty, disdainful. She froze herself from head to foot, gave us a
wide berth when on deck, would break away abruptly if one or the other
of us endeavoured to engage her in conversation, and was as much alone
as she could possibly contrive to be. It is hard to say whether she
disliked me more than her sister. Yet I could not but feel sorry for
her, heartily as I hated her. What was her future to be? What had life
in store for one whose memory was charged as hers was? Laura tried hard
to find out what her intentions were, what plans she had formed, but to
no purpose. But then it was likely that the woman had not made out any
programme for herself.

Both she and my darling were desperately put to it for the want of
apparel. Each had but the dress she stood in, for Laura’s box had
contained little more than under-linen. They had arrived on board the
barque without covering for their heads; but this was remedied by the
second mate presenting Laura with a new straw hat, and later on we
heard through Finn that one of the crew had a new grass hat in his
chest which he desired to present to Lady Monson. I see her ladyship
now in that sailor’s hat, over which she tied a long brown veil that had
come ashore upon the island in Laura’s box. I witness again the fiery
gleam of her black eyes penetrating the thin covering. I behold the
captain, with his slow Scotch gaze following her majestic figure as she
glides lonely to and fro the deck, seldom daring to address her, and
rapidly averting his glance when she chanced to round her face towards
him on a sudden. And I see Laura, too, sweet as a poet’s fancy I would
sometimes think, in the mate’s straw hat, perched on top of her golden
hair, a sailor’s half-fathom of ribbon floating from it down her back,
her violet eyes lovely once more with their old tender glow, and with
the smiles which sparkled in them and with the love which deepened
their hue as she let me look into them.

She had soon regained her health and spirits. I never would have
believed that two women born of the same parents could be so absolutely
dissimilar as these sisters. Laura made no trouble of anything. She ate
the plain cabin food as though she heartily enjoyed it; cooled me down
when I was slowly growing mad over some loathsome pause of calm; made
light of the embarrassing slenderness of her wardrobe. She had always
one answer: ‘This is not the galleon, Charles. We’re bound to England.
You must be patient, my dear.’

I remember once saying to her, ‘Your dress is very shabby, my pet. It
no longer sits to your figure as it did. It shows like shipwrecked
raiment. Salt-water stains are very abundant; and your elbow cannot
be long before it peeps out. How, then, is it that I find you more
engaging, more lovely, more adorable in this castaway attire than
ever I thought you aboard the “Bride,” where probably you had a dozen
dresses to wear?’

‘Mere prejudice,’ she answered, laughing and blushing. ‘You will
outgrow many opinions of this kind.’

‘No! But don’t you see what a moral shipwreck enables you to point to
your sex, Laura?’ said I. ‘Girls will half-ruin their fathers, and
wives almost beggar their husbands, for dress. They clothe themselves
for men. No doubt you consider yourself wholly dependent for two-thirds
of your charms upon dress. All women think thus--the young and the old,
the beautiful and the--others. But what is the truth? You become divine
in proportion as you grow ragged!’

‘When I am your wife you will not wish that I shall be divine only on
the merits of rags,’ said she.

‘Well, my dear,’ said I, ‘old ocean has given me one hint concerning
you. Should time ever despoil you of a single charm there is the remedy
of shipwreck. We will endeavour to get cast away again.’

Thus idly would we talk away the days. No ship ever before held such
a pair of spoonies, I dare swear, spite of the traditions of the
East India Company. But sweet as our shipboard intercourse was, our
arrival in England threatened delays and difficulties. First of all
she declared that she could not dream of marrying without her father’s
consent. This was, no doubt, as it should be, and surely I could not
love her the less for being a good daughter. But the consent of a
man who lived in Melbourne, and who had to be addressed from England,
signified, in those ambling times, the delay of hard upon a year.

‘A year, Laura!’ I cried on one occasion whilst debating this subject;
‘think of it! With the chance, perhaps, of your father’s reply
miscarrying.’

She sighed. ‘Yes, it is a long time. Oh, if Melbourne were only in
Europe. Yet it cannot be helped, Charles.’

‘But, my heart’s delight,’ I exclaimed, ‘Why should not we get married
first and then write for your father’s consent?’

No; she must have her papa’s sanction.

‘All right, birdie,’ said I; ‘anyhow you will remain in England till
you hear from him, and so we shall be together.’

‘It might shorten the time,’ she said with a little blush and a timid
glance at me under the droop of her eyelids, ‘if you and I sailed to
Melbourne.’

‘It would, my precious!’ I answered; ‘but suppose on your introducing
me your father should object?’

‘Oh no, Charles, he will not object,’ she exclaimed with a confident
shake of the head.

‘In fact then, Laura,’ said I, ‘you are sure your papa will sanction
our marriage?’

‘Quite sure, dear.’

‘Then would it not come to the same thing if we got married on our
arrival in England?’

This was good logic, but it achieved nothing for me, and since I saw
that her father’s sanction would contribute to the happiness of her
married life I never again attempted to reason with her on the subject.

At last, one morning we found ourselves in the English Channel, bowling
over the green ridges of it before a strong south-westerly wind, and
within fifty hours of making the Lizard Light the brave little barque
‘Star of Peace’ was being warped to her berth in the East India Docks.
Down to that very moment, incredible as it may seem, Lady Monson had
given neither her sister nor myself the vaguest hint of what she
intended to do. As we stood waiting to step ashore she arrived on deck
and, approaching Laura, exclaimed,

‘Mr. Monson, I presume, will escort you to an hotel.’

‘Won’t you accompany us, Henrietta?’ her sister asked.

‘No, I choose to be independent. I shall go to such and such an
hotel,’ and she named the house at which she had stopped with Colonel
Hope-Kennedy when she arrived in London on her way to Southampton. ‘You
can address me there, or call upon me, Laura. I have not yet decided on
any steps. In all probability I shall return to Melbourne, but not at
present.’

She extended her hand coldly to her sister and gave me a haughty bow.
Laura bit her lips to restrain her tears, but her pride was stung;
disgust and amazement too fell cool upon her grief.

The last I ever saw of Lady Monson was as she passed along the quay
towards the dockyard gates. As she paced forward, stately, slow, her
carriage queenly and easy as though, sumptuously clothed and in the
full pride of her beauty, she trod the floor of a ball-room, the scores
of sailors, labourers, loafers who thronged the decks, turned, to a
man, to stare after her. A strange and striking figure indeed she
made, habited in the dress which she wore when the ‘Shark’ foundered,
and which, as you may suppose, by this time showed very much like the
end of a long voyage. The brown veil concealed her features and to a
certain degree qualified the outlandish appearance of the sailor’s
grass hat upon her head.

‘So!’ said I as she disappeared, ‘and now, Laura, it is for you and me
to go ashore.’

We bade a cordial farewell to Captain Richardson and his mates and to
Finn and Cutbill, both of whom promised to call upon me. I had the
address of the owner of the vessel, and told the skipper that next day
I would communicate with the office and defray whatever expenses we
had put the ship to. I further took the addresses of the captain and
his mates that I might send them some token of my gratitude for our
deliverance and for the many kindnesses they had done us during the
long and tedious passage.

A few hours later I had comfortably lodged Laura in a snug private
hotel within an easy walk of my lodgings, to which I forthwith repaired
and took possession of afresh with such an emotion of bewilderment
excited in me by the familiar rooms, and by the feeling that I was
once more in London, with no more runaway wives to chase, no more
Dutchmen to fire into, no more duels to assist in, no more volcanic
rocks to split upon, and no more galleons to sleep in, that I felt like
a man just awakened from some wild and vivid dream whose impressions
continue so acute that the familiar objects his eyes open upon seem as
phantasms that must presently fade. My first act was to send a milliner
and a dressmaker to Laura, and to see in other ways to her immediate
requirements; my next to address a letter to Wilfrid’s solicitors, in
which I acquainted them with the loss of the ‘Bride’ and the death of
my cousin. Whom else to write to at once about the poor fellow I did
not know. I asked after his infant, and requested them to tell me if
the child was still with the lady with whom my cousin had placed it
before leaving England. I added that I should be pleased to see one of
the partners and relate the full story of the voyage, the object of
which I could not doubt Wilfrid had informed them of before sailing.

I spent the evening with Laura. All her talk was about what she was to
do until she had heard from her father, to whom she told me she had
written a long letter within an hour after her arrival at the hotel,
‘so as to lose no time, Charles.’ She had no relations in England,
scarcely an acquaintance for the matter of that; with whom was she to
live then? Even had Lady Monson settled down in a house she was not
a person with whom I could have desired the girl I was affianced to
to be long and intimately associated. The notion of her returning to
Australia alone was not to be entertained. There seemed nothing then