Hard Cash, by Charles Reade

Chapter 10

THEY got to the wounded captain and raised him: he revived a little; and, the moment he caught sight of Mr. Sharpe, he clutched him, and cried, “Stunsels!”

“Oh, captain,” said Sharpe, “let the ship go; it is you we are anxious for now.”

At this Dodd lifted up his hands and beat the air impatiently, and cried again in the thin, querulous voice of’ a wounded man, but eagerly, “STUNSELS! STUNSELS!”

On this, Sharpe gave the command.

“Make sail. All hands set stunsels ‘low and aloft!”

While the unwounded hands swarmed into the rigging, the surgeon came aft in all haste; but Dodd declined him till all his men should have been looked to: meantime he had himself carried to the poop and laid on a mattress, his bleeding head bound tight with a wet cambric handkerchief, and his pale face turned towards the hostile schooner astern. She had to hove to, and was picking up the survivors of her blotted-out consort. The group on the Agra’s quarter-deck watched her to see what she would do next; flushed with immediate success, the younger officers crowed their fears she would not be game to attack them again. Dodd’s fears ran the other way: he said, in the weak voice to which he was now reduced, “They are taking a wet blanket aboard; that crew of blackguards we swamped won’t want any more of us: it all depends on the pirate captain: if he is not drowned, then blow wind, rise sea, or there’s trouble ahead for us.”

As soon as the schooner had picked up the last swimmer, she hoisted foresail, mainsail, and jib with admirable rapidity, and bore down in chase.

The Agra had, meantime, got a start of more than a mile, and was now running before a stiff breeze with studding sails alow and aloft.

In an hour the vessels ran nearly twelve miles, and the pirate had gained half a mile.

At the end of the next hour they were out of sight of land, wind and sea rising, and the pirate only a quarter of a mile astern.

The schooner was now rising and falling on the waves; the ship only nodding, and firm as a rock.

“Blow wind, rise sea!” faltered Dodd.

Another half-hour passed without perceptibly altering the position of the vessels. Then suddenly the wounded captain laid aside his glass, after a long examination, and rose unaided to his feet in great excitement, and found his manly voice for a moment: he shook his fist at the now pitching schooner and roared, “Good-bye! ye Portuguese lubber — outfought — outmanoeuvred — AND OUTSAILED!”

It was a burst of exultation rare for him; he paid for it by sinking faint and helpless into his friend’s arms; and the surgeon, returning soon after, insisted on his being taken to his cabin and kept quite quiet.

As they were carrying him below, the pirate captain made the same discovery, that the ship was gaining on him: he hauled to the wind directly and abandoned the chase.

When the now receding pirate was nearly hull down, the sun began to set. Mr. Tickell looked at him and said, “Hallo! old fellow, what are you about? Why, it isn’t two o’clock.”

The remark was quite honest: he really feared, for a moment, that orb was mistaken and would get himself — and others — into trouble. However, the middy proved to be wrong, and the sun right to a minute: Time flies fast fighting.

Mrs. Beresford came on deck with brat and poodle: Fred, a destructive child, clapped his hands with glee at the holes in the canvas: Snap toddled about smelling the blood of the slain, and wagging his tail by halves, perplexed. “Well, gentlemen,” said Mrs. Beresford, “I hope you have made noise enough over one’s head: and what a time you did take to beat that little bit of a thing. Freddy, be quiet; you worry me; where is your bearer? Will anybody oblige me by finding Ramgolam?”

“I will,” said Mr. Tickell hastily, and ran off for the purpose; but he returned after some time with a long face. No Ramgolam to be found.

Fullalove referred her — with humour-twinkling eye — to Vespasian. “I have a friend here who says he can tell you something about him.”

“Can you, my good man?” inquired the lady, turning haughtily towards the negro.

“Iss, Missy,” said Vespasian, showing his white teeth in a broad grin, “dis child knows where to find dat ar niggar, widout him been and absquatulated since.”

“Then go and fetch him directly.”

Vespasian went off with an obedient start.

This annoyed Fullalove; interfered with his system: “Madam,” said he gravely, “would you oblige me by bestowing on my friend a portion of that courtesy with which you favour me, and which becomes you so gracefully?”

“Certainly not,” replied Mrs. Beresford. “Mr. Fullalove, I am out of patience with you: the idea of a sensible intelligent gentleman like you calling that creature your friend! And you an American, where they do nothing but whip them from morning till night. Who ever heard of making friends with a black? — Now what is the meaning of this? I detest practical jokes.” For the stalwart negro had returned, bringing a tall bread-bag in his arms: he now set it up before her, remarking, “Dis yar bag white outside, but him ‘nation black inside.” To confirm his words, he drew off the bag, and revealed Ramgolam, his black skin powdered with meal. The good-natured negro then blew the flour off his face, and dusted him a bit: the spectators laughed heartily, but Ramgolam never moved a muscle: not a morsel discomposed at what would have made an European miserably ashamed, even in a pantomime — the Caucasian darkie retained all his dignity while the African one dusted him; but, being dusted, he put on his obsequiousness, stepped forward, joined his palms together to Mrs. Beresford — like medieval knights and modern children at their devotions — and addressed her thus:—

“Daughter of light, he who basks in your beams said to himself, ‘The pirates are upon us, those children of blood, whom Sheitan their master blast for ever! They will ravish the Queen of Sunshine and the ayahs, and throw the sahibs and sailors into the sea; but, bread being the staff of existence, these foxes of the water will not harm it, but keep it for their lawless appetites; therefore Ramgolam, son of Chittroo, son of Soonarayan, will put the finger of silence on the lip of discretion, and be bread in the day of adversity: the sons of Sheitan will peradventure return to dry land and close the eye of watchfulness; then will I emerge like the sun from a cloud, and depart in peace.”

“Oh, very well,” said Mrs. Beresford; “then you are an abominable egotist, that is all, and a coward: and thank Heaven Freddy and I were defended by English and Americans, and — hem! — their friends, and not by Hindoos.” She added charmingly, “This shows me my first words on coming here ought to have been to offer my warmest thanks to the brave men who have defended me and my child;” and swept them so queenly a curtesy, that the men’s hats and caps flew off in an instant “Mr. Black,” said she, turning with a voice of honey to Vespasian, but aiming obliquely at Fullalove’s heart, “would you oblige me by kicking that dog a little: he is always smelling what does not belong to him — why, it is blood; oh!” and she turned pale in a moment.

Sharpe thought some excuse necessary. “You see, ma’am, we haven’t had time to clean the decks since.”

“It is the blood of men — of the poor fellows who have defended us so nobly,” faltered the lady, trembling visibly.

“Well, ma’am,” said Sharpe, still half apologetically, “you know a ship can’t fight all day long without an accident or two.” He added, with nautical simplicity and love of cleanliness, “However, the deck will be cleaned and holy-stoned tomorrow, long before you turn out.”

Mrs. Beresford was too much overcome to explain how much deeper her emotion was than a dislike to stained floors. She turned faint, and on getting the better of that, went down to her cabin crying. Thence issued a royal order that the wounded were to have wine and every luxury they could fancy, without limit or stint — at her expense.

The next day a deep gloom reigned in the ship; the crew were ranged in their Sunday clothes and bare-headed; a grating was rigged; Sharpe read the burial service; and the dead, each man sewed up in his hammock with a 32-lb. shot, glided off the grating into the sea with a sullen plunge; while their shipmates cried so that the tears dripped on the deck.

With these regrets for the slain, too violent to last, was mingled a gloomy fear that Death had a heavier blow in store. The surgeon’s report of Captain Dodd was most alarming; he had become delirious about midnight, and so continued.

Sharpe commanded the ship; and the rough sailors stepped like cats over that part of the deck beneath which their unconscious captain lay. If two men met on the quarter-deck, a look of anxious, but not hopeful, inquiry was sure to pass between them.

Among the constant inquirers was Ramgolam. The grave Hindoo often waylaid the surgeon at the captain’s door, to get the first intelligence This marked sympathy with a hero in extremity was hardly expected from a sage who at the first note of war’s trumpet had vanished in a meal-bag. However, it went down to his credit. One person, however, took a dark view of this innocent circumstance But then that hostile critic was Vespasian, a rival in matters of tint. He exploded in one of those droll rages darkies seem liable to: “Massa cunnel,” said he, “what for dat yar niggar always prowling about the capn’s door? What for he ask so many stupid questions? Dat ole fox arter no good: him heart so black as um skin: dam ole niggar!”

Fullalove suggested slily that a person with a dark skin might have a grateful heart: and the colonel, who dealt little in innuendo, said, “Come, don’t you be so hard on jet, you ebony!”

“Bery well, gemmen,” replied Vespasian ceremoniously, and with seeming acquiescence. Then, with sudden ire, “Because Goramighty made you white, you tink you bery wise without any more trouble. Dat ar niggar am an abominable egotisk.”

“Pray what does that mean?” inquired Kenealy innocently.

“What him mean? what him mean? Yah! yah!”

“Yes. What does it mean?”

“What him mean? Yah! What didn’t you hear Missy Besford miscall him an abominable egotisk?”

“Yes,” said Fullalove, winking to Kenealy; “but we don’t know what it means. Do you, sir?”

“Iss, sar. Dat ar expression he signify a darned old cuss dat says to dis child, ‘My lord Vespasium, take benevolence on your insidious slave, and invest me in a bread-bag,’ instead of fighting for de ladies like a freenindependum citizen. Now you two go fast asleep; dis child lie shut one eye and open de oder bery wide open on dat ar niggar.” And with this mysterious threat he stalked away.

His contempt for a black skin, his ebullitions of unexpected ire, his turgid pomposity, and love of long terms, may make the reader smile; but they could hardly amuse his friends just then; everything that touched upon Dodd was too serious now. The surgeon sat up with him nearly all night: in the daytime those two friends sat for hours in his cabin, watching sadly, and silently moistening his burning brow and his parched lips.

At length, one afternoon, there came a crisis, which took an unfavourable turn. Then the surgeon, speaking confidentially to these two staunch friends, inquired if they had asked themselves what should be done with the body? “Why I ask,” said he, “is because we are in a very hot latitude; and if you wish to convey it to Barkington, the measures ought to be taken in time: in fact, within an hour or two after death.”

The poor friends were shocked and sickened by this horrible piece of foresight. But Colonel Kenealy said, with tears, in his eyes, that his old friend should never be buried like a kitten.

“Then you had better ask Sharpe to give me an order for a barrel of spirits,” said the surgeon.

“Yes, yes, for two if you like. Oh, don’t die, Dodd, my poor old fellow. How shall I ever face his wife — I remember her, the loveliest girl you ever saw — with such a tale as this? She will think it a cruel thing I should come out of it without a scratch, and a ten times better man to be dead: and so it is; it is cruel, it is unjust, it is monstrous; him to be lying there, and we muffs to be sitting croaking over him and watching for his last breath like three cursed old ravens.” And the stout colonel groaned aloud.

When the surgeon left them, they fell naturally upon another topic, the pledge they had given Dodd about the L. 14,000. They ascertained it was upon him, next his skin; but it seemed as unnecessary as it was repugnant to remove it from his living person. They agreed, however, that instantly on his decease they would take possession of it, note the particulars, seal it up, and carry it to Mrs. Dodd, with such comfort as they could hope to give her by relating the gallant act in which his precious life was lost.

At 9 P.M. the surgeon took his place by Dodd’s bedside; and the pair, whom one thing after another had drawn so close together, retired to Kenealy’s cabin.

Many a merry chat they had had there, and many a gaseonade, being rival hunters; but now they were together for physical companionship in sorrow rather than for conversation. They smoked their cigars in moody silence, and at midnight shook hands with a sigh and parted. That sigh meant to say that in the morning all would be over.

They turned in; but, ere either of them was asleep, suddenly the captain’s cabin seemed to fill with roars and shrieks of wild beasts, that made the whole ship ring in the silent night The savage cries were answered on deck by shouts of dismay and many pattering feet making for the companion ladder; but the nearest persons to the cabin, and the first to reach it, were Kenealy and Fullalove, who burst in, the former with a drawn sword, the latter with a revolver, both in their nightgowns; and there saw a sight that took their breath away.

The surgeon was not there; and two black men, one with a knife, and one with his bare claws, were fighting and struggling and trampling all over the cabin at once, and the dying man sitting up in his cot, pale, and glaring at them.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/reade/charles/hard-cash/chapter9.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33