Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley

Chapter 6.

The Warren Hastings.

Time, the inexorable, kept mowing away at poor Charles’s flowers until the disagreeable old creature had cut them all down but two or three, and mowed right into the morning when it was necessary that he should go home; and then Charles, looking forward through his tears, could see nothing at first but the very commonest grass. For was he not going to leave Adelaide, probably never to see her again? In short, Charles was in love, and going to separate from the object of his affections for the first time; at which I request you will not laugh, but just reflect how old you were yourself when you first fell in love.

The little flirt, she must have waited till she heard him coming out of his room, and then have pretended to be coming upstairs all in a hurry. He got a kiss or a dozen, though, and a lock of hair, I believe; but he hadn’t much time to think about it, for Lord Ascot was calling out for him, and when he got into the hall, there was all the household to see him off. Everybody had a kind word for him; the old lady cried; Lord Saltire and the general shook hands; Lord Welter said it was a beastly sell; and Lord Ascot hummed and awed, and told him to tell his father he had been a good boy. They were all sorry he was going, and he felt as though he was leaving old friends; but the carriage was there, and the rain was pouring down; and, with one last look at the group of faces, he was in the carriage and away.

It was a terrible day, though he did not notice it at first. He was thinking how pleasant it was that the people were all so kind to him, just as kind as they were at home. He thought of Adelaide, and wondered whether she would ever think of him. He was rather glad that Welter was such a naughty boy (not really naughty, you know), because she would be less likely to like him. And then he thought how glad the people at home would be to see him; and then he looked out of window. He had left Lord Ascot’s carriage and got into the train some time before this. Now he saw that the train was going very slowly, and nothing was visible through the driving rain. Then he tried to remember whether he had ever heard his father speak of Lord Saltire, and what he had heard about him; and, thinking about this, the train stopped. — Swindon.

He got out to go to the refreshment room, and began wondering what the noise was which prevented him from hearing any one when they spoke, and why the people looked scared and talked in knots. Then he found that it was the wind in the roof; and some one told him that a chimney had been blown across the line, and they must wait till it was removed.

All the day the brave engine fought westward against the wind, and two hours after time Charles found himself in the coach which would take him to Stonnington. The night crept on, and the coach crawled on its way through the terrible night, and Charles slept. In the cold pitiless morning, as they were going over a loftily exposed moor, the coach, though only going foot’s pace, stood for an instant on two wheels, and then fell crashing over on to a heap of roadside stones, awaking Charles, who, being unhurt, lay still for a minute or so, with a faint impression of having been shaken in his sleep, and, after due reflection, made the brilliant discovery that the coach was upset.

He opened the door over his head and jumped out. For an instant he was blinded by the stinging rain, but turned his back to it; and then, for the first time, he became aware that this was the most terrible gale of wind he had ever seen in his lifetime.

He assisted the coachman and guard, and the solitary outside passenger, to lead the poor horses along the road. They fought on for about two hundred yards, and came to an alehouse, on the sight of which Charles knew that they were two stages short of where he thought they had been, for this was the Watershed Inn, and the rain from its roof ran partly into the Bristol Channel and partly into the British.

After an hour’s rest here Charles was summoned to join the coach in the valley below, and they crawled on again. It was a weary day over some very bleak country. They saw in one place a cottage unroofed on a moor, and the terrified family crouched down beneath the tottering walls. In the valleys great trees were down across the road, which were crosscut and moved by country men, who told of oaks of three hundred years, fallen in the night, and of corn stacks hurried before the blast like the leaves of autumn. Still, as each obstacle was removed, there was the guard up blowing his horn cheerily, and Charles was inside with a jump, and on they went.

At last, at three o’clock, the coach drove under the gate of the “Chichester Arms,” at Stonnington, and Charles, jumping out, was received by the establishment with the air of people who had done a clever thing, and were ready to take their meed of praise with humility. The handsome landlady took great credit to herself for Charles’s arrival — so much so, that one would have thought she herself had single-handed dragged the coach from Exeter. “She had been sure all along that Mr. Charles would come.” A speech winch, with the cutting glance that accompanied it, goaded the landlord to retort in a voice wheezy with good living, and to remind her that she had said, not ten minutes before, that she was quite sure he wouldn’t; whereupon the landlady loftily begged him not to expose himself before the servants. At winch the landlord laughed, and choked himself; at which the landlady slapped him on the back, and laughed too; after which they went in.

His father, the landlord told him, had sent his pony over, as he was afraid of a carriage on the moor today, and that, if he felt at all afraid to come on, he was to sleep where he was. Charles looked at the comfortable parlour and hesitated; but, happening to close his eyes an instant, he saw as plain as possible the library at home, and the flickering firelight falling on the crimson and oak furniture, and his father listening for him through the roaring wind; and so he hesitated no longer, but said he would push on, and that he would wish to see his servant while he took dinner.

The landlord eyed him admiringly with his head on one side, and proceeded to remark that corn was down another shilling; that Squire West had sold his chesnut mare for one hundred and twenty pounds; and that if he kept well under the walls going home he would be out of the wind; that his missis was took poorly in the night with spasms, and had been cured by two wine-glasses of peppermint; that a many chimney-pots was blown down, and that old Jim Baker had heard tell as a pig was blowed through the church window. After which he poked the fire and retired.

Charles was hard at his dinner when his man came in. It was the oldest of the pad grooms — a man with grizzled hair, looking like a white terrier; and he stood before him smoothing his face with his hand.

“Hallo, Michael,” said Charley, “how came you to come?”

“Master wouldn’t send no other, sir. It’s a awful day own there; there’s above a hundred trees down along the road.”

“Shall we be able to get there?”

“As much as we shall, sir.”

“Let us try. Terrible sea, I suppose?”

“Awful to look at, sir. Mr. Mackworth and Mr. Cuthbert are down to look at it.”

“No craft ashore?”

“None as yet. None of our boats is out. Yesterday morning a Pill boat, 52, stood in to see where she was and beat out again, but that was before it came on so bad.”

So they started. They pushed rapidly out of the town, and up a narrow wooded valley which led to the moor which lay between them and Ravenshoe. For some time they were well enough sheltered, and made capital way, till the wood began to grow sparer, and the road to rise abruptly. Here the blast began to be more sensibly felt, and in a quarter of a mile they had to leap three uprooted trees; before them they heard a rushing noise like the sea. It was the wind upon the moor.

Creeping along under the high stone walls and bending down, they pushed on still, until, coming to the open moor, and receiving for the first time the terrible tornado full in their faces, the horses reared up and refused to proceed; but, being got side by side, and their heads being homeward, they managed to get on, though the rain upon their faces was agonising.

As they were proceeding thus, with Michael on the indward side, Charles looked up, and there was another horseman beside him. He knew him directly; it was Lloyd’s agent.

“Anything wrong, Mr. Lewis? Any ship ashore?” he shouted.

“Not yet, sir,” said the agent. “But there’ll be many a good sailor gone to the bottom before tomorrow morning, I am thinking. This is the heaviest gale for forty years.”

By degrees they descended to more sheltered valleys, and after a time found themselves in the courtyard of the hall. Charles was caught up by his father; Lloyd’s agent was sent to the housekeeper’s room; and very soon Charles had forgotten all about wind and weather, and was pouring into his father’s ear all his impressions of Ranford.

“I am glad you like it,” said Densil, “and I’ll be bound they liked you. You ought to have gone first; Cuthbert don’t suit them.”

“Oh, Cuthbert’s too clever for them,” said Charles; "they are not at all clever people, bless you!" And only just in time too, for Cuthbert walked into the room.

“Well, Charley,” he said coolly, “so you’re come back. Well, and what did you think of Welter, eh? I suppose he suited you?”

“I thought him very funny, Cuthbert,” said Charles timidly.

“I thought him an abominable young nuisance,” said Cuthbert. “I hope he hasn’t taught you any of his fool’s tricks.”

Charles wasn’t to be put off like this; so he went and kissed his brother, and then came back to his father. There was a long dull evening, and when they went to complines, he went to bed. Up in his room he could hear that the wind was worse than ever, not rushing up in great gusts and sinking again, as in ordinary gales, but keeping up one continued unvarying scream against the house, which was terrible to hear.

He got frightened at being alone; afraid of finding some ghostly thing at his elbow, which had approached him unheard through the noise. He began, indeed, to meditate upon going down stairs, when Cuthbert, coming into the next room, reassured him, and he got into bed.

This wasn’t much better though, for there was a thing in a black hood came and stood at the head of his bed; and, though he could not see it, he could feel the wind of its heavy draperies as it moved. Moreover, a thing like a caterpillar, with a cat’s head, about two feet long, came creep-creeping up the counterpane; which he valiantly smote, and found it to be his handkerchief — and still the unvarying roar went on till it was unendurable.

He got up and went to his brother’s room, and was cheered to find a light burning; he came softly in and called “ Cuthbert,”

“Who is there?” asked he, with a sudden start.

“It’s I,” said Charles; “can you sleep?”

“Not I,” said Cuthbert, sitting up. “I can hear people talking in the wind. Come into bed; I’m so glad you’re come.”

Charles lay down by his brother, and they talked about ghosts for a long time. Once their father came in with a light from his bedroom next door, and sat on the bed talking, as if he, too, was glad of company, and after that they dozed off and slept.

It was in the grey light of morning that they awoke together and started up. The wind was as bad as ever, but the whole house was still, and they stared terrified at one another,

“What was it?” whispered Charles.

Cuthbert shook his head and listened again. As he was opening his mouth to speak it came again, and they knew it was that which woke them. A sound like a single footstep on the floor above, light enough, but which shook the room. Cuthbert was out of bed in an instant, tearing on his clothes. Charles jumped out too, and asked him, “What is it? ”

“A gun!”

Charles well knew what awful disaster was implied in those words. The wind was N.W., setting into the bay. The ship that fired that gun was doomed.

He heard his father leap out of bed and ring furiously at his bell. Then doors began to open and shut, and voices and rapid footsteps were heard in the passage. In ten minutes the whole terrified household were running hither and thither, about they hardly knew hat. The men were pale, and some of the women were beginning to whimper and wring their hands; when Densil; Lewis the agent, and Mackworth, came rapidly down the staircase and passed out. Mackworth came back, and told the women to put on hot water and heat blankets. Then Cuthbert joined him, and they went together; and directly after Charles found himself between two menservants, being dragged rapidly along towards the low headland which bounded the bay on the east.

When they came to the beach, they found the whole village pushing on in a long straggling line the same way as themselves. The men were walking singly, either running, or going very fast; and the women wore in knots of twos and threes, straggling along and talking excitedly, with much gesticulation.

“There’s some of the elect on board, I’ll be bound,” Charles heard one woman say, “as will be supping in glory this blessed night.”

“Ay, ay,” said an old woman, “I’d sooner be taken to rest sudden, like they’re going to be, than drag on till all the faces you know are gone before.”

“My boy,” said another, “was lost in a typhoon in the China sea. Darn they lousy typhoons! I wonder if he thought of his mother afore he went down.”

Among such conversation as this, with the terrible, ceaseless thunder of the surf upon his left, Charles, clinging tight to his two guardians, made the best weather of it he could, until they found themselves on the short turf of the promontory, with their faces seaward, and the water right and left of them. The cape ran out about a third of a mile, rather low, and then abruptly ended in a cone of slate, beyond which, about two hundred yards at sea, was that terrible sunken rock, “the Wolf,” on to which, as sure as death, the flowing tide carried every stick which was embayed. The tide was making; a ship was known to be somewhere in the bay; it was blowing a hurricane; and what would you more?

They hurried along as well as they could among the sharp slates which rose through the turf, until they came to where the people had halted. Charles saw his father, the agent, Mackworth, and Cuthbert together, under a rock; the villagers were standing around, and the crowd was thickening every moment. Every one had his hand over his eyes, and was peering due to windward, through the driving scud.

They had stopped at the foot of the cone, which was between them and the sea, and some more adventurous had climbed partly up it, if, perhaps, they might see further than their fellows; but in vain: they all saw and heard the same — a blinding white cauldron of wind-driven spray below, and all around, filling every cranny — the howling storm.

A quarter of an hour since she fired last, and no signs of her yet. She must be carrying canvas and struggling for life, ignorant of the four-knot stream. Some one says she may have gone down — hush! who spoke?

Old Sam Evans had spoken. He had laid his hand on the squire’s shoulder, and said, “There she is.” And hen arose a hubbub of talking from the men, and every one crowded on his neighbour and tried to get nearer. And the women moved hurriedly about, some moaning to themselves, and some saying, “Ah, poor dear!” “Ah, dear Lord, there she is, sure enough.”

She hove in sight so rapidly that, almost as soon as they could be sure of a dark object, they saw that it was a ship — a great .ship about 900 tons; that she was dismasted, and that her decks were crowded. I could see that she was unmanageable, turning her head hither and thither as the sea struck her, and that her people had seen the cliff at the same moment, for they were hurrying aft, and crowding on to the bulwarks.

Charles and his guardians crept up to his father’s party. Densil was standing silent, looking on the lamentable sight; and, as Charles looked at him, he saw a tear run down his cheek, and heard him say, “Poor fellows!” Cuthbert stood staring intently at the ship, with his lips slightly parted. Mackworth, like one who studies a picture, held his elbow in one hand, and kept the other over his mouth; and the agent cried out, “A troop-ship, by gad. Dear! dear! ”

It is a sad sight to see a fine ship beyond control. It is like seeing one one loves gone mad. Sad under any circumstances; how terrible it is when she is bearing on with her in her mad Bacchante’s dance a freight of living human creatures, to untimely destruction!

As each terrible feature and circumstance of the catastrophe became apparent to the lookers-on, the excitement became more intense. Forward and in the waist, there was a considerable body of seamen clustered about under the bulwarks — some half-stripped. In front of the cuddy door, between the poop and the mainmast, about forty soldiers were drawn up, with whom were three officers, to be distinguished by their blue coats and swords. On the quarter-deck were seven or eight women, two apparently ladies, one of whom carried a baby. A well-dressed man, evidently the captain, was with them; but the cynosure of all eyes was a tall man in white trousers, at once and correctly judged to be the mate, who carried in his arms a little girl.

The ship was going straight upon the rock, now only marked as a whiter spot upon the whitened sea, and she was fearfully near it, rolling and pitching, turning her head hither and thither, fighting for her life. She had taken comparatively little water on board as yet; but now a great sea struck her forward, and she swung with her bow towards the rock, from which she was distant not a hundred yards. The end was coming. Charles saw the mate slip off his coat and shirt, and take the little girl again. He saw the lady with the baby rise very quietly and look forward; he saw the sailors climbing on the bulwarks; he saw the soldiers standing steady in two scarlet lines across the deck; he saw the officers wave their hands to one another, and then he id his face in his hands, and sobbed as if his heart would break.

They told him after how the end had come; she had lifted up her bows defiantly, and brought them crashing down upon the pitiless rock as though in despair. Then her stern had swung round, and a merciful sea broke over her, and hid her from their view, though above the storm they plainly heard her brave old timbers crack; then she floated off, with bulwarks gone, sinking, and drifted out of sight round the headland, and, though they raced across the headland, and waited a few breathless minutes for her to float round into sight again, they never saw her any more. The Warren Hastings had gone down in fifteen fathom. And now there was a new passion introduced into the tragedy, to which it had hitherto been a stranger — Hope. The wreck of part of the mainmast and half the main-topmast, which they had seen, before she struck, lumbering the deck, had floated off, and there were three, four, five men clinging to the futtock shrouds; and then, they saw the mate with the child hoist himself on to the spar, and part his dripping hair from his eyes.

The spar had floated into the bay, into which they were looking, into much calmer water; but, directly to leeward, the swell was tearing at the black slate rocks, and in ten minutes it would be on them. Every man saw the danger, and Densil, running down to the water’s edge, cried —

“Fifty pound to any one who will take ’em a ope! Fifty gold sovereigns down tonight! Who’s going?”

Jim Matthews was going, and had been going before he heard of the fifty pound — that was evident; for he was stripped, and out on the rocks with the rope round his waist. He stepped from the bank of slippery seaweed into the heaving water, and then his magnificent limbs were in full battle with the tide. A roar announced his success. As he was seen clambering on to the spar, a stouter rope was paid out; and very soon it and its burden were high and dry upon the little half-moon of sand which ended the bay.

Five sailors, the first mate, and a bright-eyed little girl were their precious prize. The sailors lay about upon the sand, and the mate, untying the shawl that bound her to him, put the silent and frightened child into the hands of a woman who stood close by.

The poor little thing was trembling in every limb. “If you please,” she said to the woman, “I should like to go to mamma. She is standing with baby on the quarter-deck. Mr. Archer, will you take me back to mamma, please? She will be frightened if we stay away.”

“Well, a deary me,” said the honest woman, “she’ll break my heart, a darling; mamma’s in heaven, my tender, and baby too.”

“No, indeed,” said the child, eagerly; “she’s on the quarter-deck. Mr. Archer, Mr. Archer!”

The mate, a tall, brawny, whiskerless, hard-faced an, about six-and-twenty, who had been thrust into a pea-coat, now approached.

“Where’s mamma, Mr. Archer?” said the child.

“Where’s mamma, my ladybird? Oh, dear! oh, dear!”

“And where’s the ship, and Captain Dixon, and the soldiers?”

“The ship, my pretty love,” said the mate, putting his rough hand on the child’s wet hair; “why the good ship, Warren Hastings, Dixon master, is a-sunk beneath the briny waves, my darling; and all on board of her, being good sailors and brave soldiers, is doubtless at this moment in glory.”

The poor little thing set up a low wailing cry, which went to the hearts of all present; then the women carried her away, and the mate, walking between Mackworth and Densil, headed the procession homeward to the hall.

“She was the Warren Hastings, of 900 tons,” he said, “from Calcutta, with a detachment of the 120th on board. The old story — dismasted, both anchors down, cables parted, and so on. And now I expect you know as much as I do. This little girl is daughter to Captain Corby, in command of the troops. She was always a favourite of mine, and I determined to get her through. How steady those sojers stood, by jingo, as though they were on parade. Well, I always th ought something was going to happen, for we had never a quarrel the whole voyage, and that’s curious with troops. Capital row, too. Ah, well, they arc comfortable enough now, eh, sir?”

That night the mate arose from his bed like a giant refreshed with wine, and posted off to Bristol to “her owners,” followed by a letter from Densil, and another from Lloyd’s agent, of such a nature that he found himself in command of a ship in less than a month. Periodically, unto this day, there arrive at Raven shoe, bows and arrows (supposed to be poisoned), paddles, punkahs, rice-paper screens; a malignant kind of pickle, which causeth the bowels of him that eateth of it to burn; wicked-looking old gods of wood and stone; models of Juggernaut’s car; brown earthenware moon-shees, translating glazed porcelain bibles; and many other Indian curiosities, all of which are imported and presented by the kind-hearted Archer.

In a fortnight the sailors were gone, and save a dozen or so of new graves in the churchyard, nothing remained to tell of the Warren Hastings but the little girl saved so miraculously — little Mary Corby.

She had been handed over at once to the care of the kind-hearted Norah, Charles’s nurse, who instantaneously loved her with all her great warm heart, and about three weeks after the wreck gave Charles these particulars about her, when he went to pay her a visit in the cottage behind the kennels.

After having hugged him violently, and kissed him till he laughingly refused to let her do it again till she had told him the news, she began — “The beauty-boy, 'e gets handsomer every day ” (this might be true, but there was great room for improvement yet), “and comes and sees his old nurse, and who loves him so well, alanna? It’s little I can tell ye about the little girl, me darlin’. She’s nine years old, and a heretic, like yer own darlin’ self, and who’s to gainsay ye from it? She’s book-learned enough, and play she says she can, and I axed her would she like to live in the great house, and she said no. She liked me, and wanted to stay with me. She cries about her mother, a dear, but not so much as she did, and she’s now inside and asleep. Come here, quick.”

She bent down her handsome face to Charles’s ear, and whispered, “If my boy was looking out for a little wee fairy wife, eh?”

Charles shook his hair, and laughed, and there and then told Norah all about Adelaide, which attachment Norah highly approved of, and remarked that he’d be old enough to be married before he knew where he was.

In spite of Densil’s letters and inquiries, no friends came forward to claim little Mary. Uncle Corby, when in possession of facts, was far too much a man of business to do anything of the kind. In a very short time Densil gave up inquiring, and then he began dreading lest she should be taken from him, for he had got wonderfully fond of the quiet, pale, bright-eyed little creature. In three months she was considered as a permanent member of the household, and the night before Charles went to school he told her of his grand passion. His lordship considered this step showed deep knowledge of the world, as it would have the effect of crashing in the bud any rash hopes which Mary might have conceived; and, having made this provision for her peace of mind, he straightway departed to Shrewsbury school.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56