THE subsiding sea was now a liquid Paradise: its great pellucid braes and hillocks shone with the sparkle and the hues of all the jewels in an emperor’s crown. Imagine — after three days of inky sea, and pitchy sky, and Death’s deep jaws snapping and barely missing — ten thousand great slopes of emerald, aquamarine, amethyst and topaz, liquid, alive, and dancing jocundly beneath a gorgeous sun: and you will have a faint idea of what met the eyes and hearts of the rescued looking out of that battered, jagged ship, upon ocean smiling back to smiling Heaven.
Yet one man felt no buoyancy, nor gush of joy. He leaned against a fragment of the broken bulwark, confused between the sweetness of life preserved and the bitterness of treasure lost — his wife’s and children’s treasured treasure; benumbed at heart, and almost weary of the existence he had battled for so stoutly. He looked so moody, and answered so grimly and unlike himself, that they all held aloof from him; heavy heart among so many joyful ones, he was in true solitude; the body in a crowd, the soul alone. And he was sore as well as heavy; for of all the lubberly acts he had ever known, the way he had lost his dear ones’ fortune seemed to him the worst.
A voice sounded in his ear: “Poor thing! she has s foundered.”
It was Fullalove scanning the horizon with his famous glass.
“Foundered? Who?” said Dodd; though he did not care much who sank, who swam. Then he remembered the vessel, whose flashing guns had shed a human ray on the unearthly horror of the black hurricane. He looked all round.
Ay, she had perished with all hands. The sea had swallowed her, and spared him — ungrateful.
This turned his mind sharply. Suppose the Agra had gone down, the money would be lost as now, and his life into the bargain — a life dearer to all at home than millions of gold: he prayed inwardly to Heaven for gratitude and goodness to feel its mercy. This softened him a little; and his heart swelled so, he wished he was a woman to cry over his children’s loss for an hour, and then shake all off and go through his duty somehow; for now he was paralysed, and all seemed ended. Next, nautical superstition fastened on him. That pocket-book of his was Jonah: it had to go or else the ship; the moment it did go, the storm had broken as by magic.
Now Superstition is generally stronger than rational Religion, whether they lie apart or together in one mind; and this superstitious notion did something toward steeling the poor man. “Come,” said he to himself “my loss has saved all these poor souls on board this ship. So be it! Heaven’s will be done! I must bustle, or else go mad.”
He turned to and worked like a horse: and with his own hands helped the men to rig parallel ropes — a substitute for bulwarks — till the perspiration ran down him.
Bayliss now reported the well nearly dry, and Dodd was about to bear up and make sail again, when one of the ship-boys, a little fellow with a bright eye and a chin like a monkey’s, came up to him and said —
“Please, captain!” Then glared with awe at what he had done, and broke down.
“Well, my little man?” said Dodd gently.
Thus encouraged, the boy gave a great gulp, and burst in in a brogue, “Och your arnr, sure there’s no rudder on her at all barrin the tiller.”
“What d’ye mean?”
“Don’t murder me, your arnr, and I’ll tell ye. It’s meself looked over the starrn just now; and I seen there was no rudder at all at all. Mille diaoul, sis I; ye old bitch, I’ll tell his arur what y’are after, slipping your rudder like my granny’s list shoe, I will.”
Dodd ran to the helm and looked down; the brat was right: the blows which had so endangered the ship, had broken the rudder, and the sea had washed away more than half of it. The sight and the reflection made him faintish for a moment. Death passing so very close to a man sickens him afterwards, unless he has the luck to be brainless.
“What is your name, urchin?”
“Ned Murphy, sir.”
“Very well, Murphy, then you are a fine little fellow, and have wiped all our eyes in the ship: run and send the carpenter aft.”
“Ay, ay, sir.”
The carpenter came. Like most artisans, he was clever in a groove: take him out of that, and lo! a mule, a pig, an owl. He was not only unable to invent, but so stiffly disinclined: a makeshift rudder was clean out of his way; and, as his whole struggle was to get away from every suggestion Dodd made back to groove aforesaid, the thing looked hopeless. Then Fullalove, who had stood by grinning, offered to make a bunkum rudder, provided the carpenter and mates were put under his orders. “But” said he, “I must bargain they shall be disrated if they attempt to reason.” “That is no more than fair,” said Dodd. The Yankee inventor demanded a spare maincap, and cut away one end of the square piece, so as to make it fit the stem-post: through the circle of the cap he introduced a spare mizen topmast: to this he seized a length of junk, another to that, another to that, and so on: to the outside junk he seized a spare maintop-gallant mast, and this conglomerate being now nearly as broad as a rudder, he planked over all. The sea by this time was calm; he got the machine over the stern, and had the square end of the cap bolted to the stern-post. He had already fixed four spans of nine-inch hawser to the sides of the makeshift, two fastened to tackles, which led into the gunroom ports, and were housed taut — these kept the lower part of the makeshift close to the stern post — and two, to which guys were now fixed and led through the aftermost ports on to the quarter-deck, where luff-tackles were attached to them, by means of which the makeshift was to be worked as a rudder.
Some sail was now got on the ship, and she was found to steer very well. Dodd tried her on every tack, and at last ordered Sharpe to make all sail and head for the Cape.
This electrified the first mate. The breeze was very faint but southerly, and the Mauritius under their lee. They could make it in a night and there refit, and ship a new rudder. He suggested the danger of sailing sixteen hundred miles steered by a gimcrack; and implored Dodd to put into port.
Dodd answered with a roughness and a certain wildness never seen in him before: “Danger, sir! There will be no more foul weather this voyage; Jonah is overboard.” Sharpe stared an inquiry. “I tell you we shan’t lower our topgallants once from this to the Cape: Jonah is overboard:” and he slapped his forehead in despair; then, stamping impatiently with his foot, told Sharpe his duty was to obey orders, not discuss them. “Certainly, sir,” said Sharpe sullenly, and went out of the cabin with serious thoughts of communicating to the other mates an alarming suspicion about Dodd, that now, for the first time, crossed his mind. But long habit of discipline prevailed, and he made all sail on the ship, and bore away for the Cape with a heavy heart. The sea was like a mill-pond, but in that he saw only its well-known treachery, to lead them on to this unparalleled act of madness: each sail he hoisted seemed one more agent of Destruction rising at his own suicidal command.
Towards evening it became nearly dead calm. The sea heaved a little, but was waveless, glassy, and the colour of a rose, incredibly brave and delicate.
The look-out reported pieces of wreck to windward. As the ship was making so little way, Dodd beat up towards them: he feared it was a British ship that had foundered in the storm, and thought it his duty to ascertain and carry the sad news home. In two tacks they got near enough to see with their glasses that the fragments belonged, not to a stranger, but to the Agra herself. There was one of her waterbutts, and a broken mast with some rigging: and as more wreck was descried coming in at a little distance, Dodd kept the ship close to the wind to inspect it: on drifting near, it proved to be several pieces of the bulwark, and a mahogany table out of the cuddy This sort of flotsam was not worth delaying the ship to pick it up; so Dodd made sail again, steering now south-east.
He had sailed about half a mile when the look-out hailed the deck again.
“A man in the water!”
“A short league on the weather quarter.”
“Oh, we can’t beat to windward for him,” said Sharpe; “he is dead long ago.”
“Holds his head very high for a corpse,” said the look-out.
“I’ll soon know,” cried Dodd. “Lower the gig; I’ll go myself.”
The gig was lowered, and six swift rowers pulled him to windward, while the ship kept on her course.
It is most unusual for a captain to leave the ship at sea on such petty errands: but Dodd half hoped the man might be alive; and he was so unhappy; and, like his daughter, who probably derived the trait from him, grasped instinctively at a chance of doing kindness to some poor fellow alive or dead. That would soothe his own sore, good heart.
When they had pulled about two miles, the sun was sinking into the horizon. “Give way, men,” said Dodd, “or we shall not be able to see him.” The men bent to their oars and made the boat fly
Presently the coxswain caught sight of an object bobbing on the water abeam.
“Why, that must be it,” said he: “the lubber! to take it for a man’s head. Why, it is nothing but a thundering old bladder, speckled white.”
“What?” cried Dodd, and fell a-trembling. “Steer for it! Give way!”
“Ay, ay, sir!”
They soon came alongside the bladder, and the coxswain grabbed it. “Hallo! here’s something lashed to it: a bottle!”
“Give it me!” gasped Dodd in a voice choked with agitation. “Give it me! Back to the ship! Fly! fly! Cut her off, or she’ll give us the slip now.”
He never spoke a word more, but sat in a stupor of joyful wonder.
They soon caught the ship; he got into his cabin, he scarce knew how: broke the bottle to atoms, and found the indomitable Cash uninjured. With trembling hands he restored it to its old place in his bosom, and sewed it tighter than ever.
Until he felt it there once more, he could hardly realise a stroke of good fortune that seemed miraculous — though, in reality, it was less strange than the way he had lost it;10 but now, laid bodily on his heart, it set his bosom on fire. Oh, the bright eye, the bounding pulse, the buoyant foot, the reckless joy! He slapped Sharpe on the back a little vulgarly for him:—
“Jonah is on board again, old fellow: look out for squalls.”
10 The Agra, being much larger than the bottle, had drifted faster to leeward in the storm.
He uttered this foreboding in a tone of triumph, and with a gay elastic recklessness, which harmonised so well with his makeshift rudder, that Sharpe groaned aloud, and wished himself under any captain in the world but this, and in any other ship. He looked round to make sure he was not watched, and then tapped his forehead significantly. This somewhat relieved him, and he did his duty smartly for a man going to the bottom with his eyes open.
But ill luck is not to be bespoken any more than good: the Agra’s seemed to have blown itself out; the wind veered to the south-west, and breathed steadily in that quarter for ten days. The topgallant sails were never lowered nor shifted day nor night all that time, and not a single danger occurred between this and the Cape, except to a monkey, which I fear I must relate, on account of its remoter consequences. One fine afternoon, everybody was on deck amusing themselves as they could: Mrs. Beresford, to wit, was being flattered under the Poop awning by Kenealy. The feud between her and Dodd continued, but under a false impression. The lady had one advantage over the gentler specimens of her sex; she was never deterred from a kind action by want of pluck, as they are. Pluck? Aquilina was brimful of it. When she found Dodd was wounded, she cast her wrongs to the wind, and offered to go and nurse him. Her message came at an unlucky moment, and by an unlucky messenger: the surgeon said hastily, “I can’t have him bothered.” The stupid servant reported, “He can’t be worried;” and Mrs. Beresford, thinking Dodd had a hand in this answer, was bitterly mortified; and with some reason. She would have forgiven him, though, if he had died; but, as he lived, she thought she had a right to detest him, and did; and showed her sentiments like a lady, by never speaking to him, nor looking at him, but ignoring him with frigid magnificence on his own quarter-deck.
Now, among the crew of this ship was a favourite goat, good-tempered, affectionate, and playful; but a single vice counterbalanced all his virtues: he took a drop. A year or two ago some light-hearted tempter taught him to sip grog; he took to it kindly, and was now arrived at such a pitch that at grog-time he used to butt his way in among the sailors, and get close to the canteen; and, — by arrangement, an allowance was always served out to him. On imbibing it, he passed with quadrupedal rapidity through three stages, the absurd, the choleric, the sleepy; and was never his own goat again until he awoke from the latter. Now Master Fred Beresford encountered him in the second stage of inebriety, and, being a rough playfellow, tapped his nose with a battledore. Instantly Billy butted at him; mischievous Fred screamed and jumped on the bulwarks. Pot-angry Billy went at him there; whereupon the young gentleman, with all eldrich screech, and a comparative estimate of perils that smacked of inexperience, fled into the sea, at the very moment when his anxious mother was rushing to save him. She uttered a scream of agony, and would actually have followed him, but was held back, uttering shriek after shriek, that pierced every heart within hearing.
But Dodd saw the boy go overboard, and vaulted over the bulwark near the helm, roared in the very air, “Heave the ship to!” and went splash into the water about ten yards from the place. He was soon followed by Vespasian, and a boat was lowered as quickly as possible. Dodd caught sight of a broad straw hat on the top of a wave, swam lustily to it, and found Freddy inside: it was tied under his chin, and would have floated Goliath. Dodd turned to the ship, saw the poor mother with white face and arms outstretched as if she would fly at them, and held the urchin up high to her with a joyful “hurrah.” The ship seemed alive and to hurrah in return with giant voice: the boat soon picked them up, and Dodd came up the side with Freddy in his arms, and placed him in his mother’s with honest pride and deep parental sympathy.
Guess how she scolded and caressed her child all in a breath, and sobbed over him! For this no human pen has ever told, nor ever will. All I can just manage to convey is that, after she had all but eaten the little torment, she suddenly dropped him, and made a great maternal rush at Dodd. She flung her arms round him, and kissed him eagerly, almost fiercely: then, carried away wild by mighty Nature, she patted him all over in the strangest way, and kissed his waistcoat, his arms, his hands, and rained tears of joy and gratitude on them.
Dodd was quite overpowered. “No! no!” said he. “Don’t now, pray, don’t! There! there! I know, my dear, I know; I’m a father.” And he was very near whimpering himself; but recovered the man and the commander, and said, soothingly, “There! there!” and he handed her tenderly down to her cabin.
All this time he had actually forgotten the packet. But now a horrible fear came on him. He hurried to his own cabin and examined it. A little salt water had oozed through the bullet-hole and discoloured the leather; but that was all.
He breathed again.
“Thank Heaven I forgot all about it!” said he: “it would have made a cur of me.”
Lady Beresford’s petty irritation against Dodd melted at once — before so great a thing: she longed to make friends with him; but for once felt timid. It struck her now all of a sudden that she had been misbehaving. However, she caught Dodd alone on the deck, and said to him softly, “I want so to end our quarrel.”
“Our quarrel, madam!” said he; “why, I know of none: oh, about the light eh? Well, you see the master of a ship is obliged to be a tyrant in some things.”
“I make no complaint,” said the lady hastily, and hung her head. “All I ask you is to forgive one who has behaved like a fool, without even the excuse of being one; and — will you give me your hand, sir?”
“Ay, and with all my heart,” said Dodd warmly, enclosing the soft little hand in his honest grasp.
And with no more ado these two highflyers ended one of those little misunderstandings petty spirits nurse into a feud.
The ship being in port at the Cape, and two hundred hammers tapping at her, Dodd went ashore in search of Captain Robarts, and made the Agra over to him in the friendliest way, adding warmly that he had found every reason to be satisfied with the officers and the crew. To his surprise, Captain Robarts received all this ungraciously. “You ought to have remained on board, sir, and made me over the command on the quarter-deck.” Dodd replied politely that it would have been more formal. “Suppose I return immediately, and man the side for you: and then you board her, say, in half-an-hour?”
“I shall come when I like,” replied Robarts crustily.
“And when will you like to come?” inquired Dodd, with imperturbable good-humour.
“Now, this moment: and I’ll trouble you to come along with me.”
They got a boat and went out to the ship: on coming alongside, Dodd thought to meet his wishes by going first and receiving him. But the jealous, cross-grained fellow, shoved roughly before him and led the way up the ship’s side. Sharpe and the rest saluted him: he did not return the salute, but said hoarsely, “Turn the hands up to muster.”
When they were all aft, he noticed one or two with their caps on. “Hats off and be —— to you!” cried he. “Do you know where you are? Do you know who you are looking at? If not, I’ll show you. I’m here to restore discipline to this ship: so mind how you run athwart my hawse: don’t you play with the bull, my men; or you’ll find his horns —— sharp. Pipe down! Now, you, sir, bring me the log-book.”
He ran his eye over it, and closed it contemptuously: “Pirates, and hurricanes! I never fell in with pirates nor hurricanes: I have heard of a breeze, and a gale, but I never knew a seaman worth his salt say ‘hurricane.’ Get another log-book, Mr. Sharpe; put down that it begins this day at noon; and enter that Captain Robarts came on deck, found the ship in a miserable condition, took the command, mustered the officers and men, and stopped the ship’s company’s grog for a week for receiving him with hats on.”
Even Sharpe, that walking Obedience, was taken aback. “Stop — the ship’s company’s — grog — for a week, sir?”
“Yes, sir, for a week; and if you fling my orders back in my face instead of clapping on sail to execute them, I’ll have you towed ashore on a grating. Your name is Sharpe; well my name is Dammedsharpe, and so you’ll find.”
In short, the new captain came down on the ship like a blight.
He was especially hard on Dodd: nothing that commander had done was right, nor, had he done the contrary, would that have been right: he was disgracefully behind time; and he ought to have put in to the Isle of France, which would have retarded him: his rope bulwarks were lubberly: his rudder a disgrace to navigation: he, Robarts, was not so green as to believe that any master had really sailed sixteen hundred miles with it, and if he had, more shame for him. Briefly, a marine criticaster.
All this was spoken at Dodd — a thing no male does unless he is an awful snob — and grieved him, it was so unjust. He withdrew wounded to the little cabin he was entitled to as a passenger, and hugged his treasure for comfort. He patted the pocket-book, and said to it, “Never you mind! The greater Tartar he is, the less likely to sink you or run you on a lee shore.”
With all his love of discipline, Robarts was not so fond of the ship as Dodd.
While his repairs were going on he was generally ashore, and by this means missed a visit. Commodore Collier, one of the smartest sailors afloat, espied the Yankee makeshift from the quarter-deck of his vessel, the Salamanca, fifty guns. In ten minutes he was under the Agra’s stern inspecting it; then came on board, and was received in form by Sharpe and the other officers. “Are you the master of this ship, sir?” he asked.
“No, commodore. I am the first mate: the captain is ashore.”
“I am sorry for it. I want to talk about his rudder.”
“Oh, he had nothing to do with that,” replied Sharpe, eagerly: “that was our dear old captain: he is on board. Young gentleman! ask Captain Dodd to oblige me by coming on deck! Hy! and Mr. Fullalove too.”
“Young gentleman?” inquired Collier. “What the devil officer is that?”
“That is a name we give the middies; I don’t know why.”
“Nor I neither; ha! ha!”
Dodd and Fullalove came on deck, and Commodore Collier bestowed the highest compliments on the “makeshift.” Dodd begged him to transfer them to the real inventor, and introduced Fullalove.
“Ay,” said Collier, “I know you Yankees are very handy. I lost my rudder at sea once, and had to ship a makeshift; but it was a cursed complicated thing, not a patch upon yours, Mr. Fullalove. Yours is ingenious and simple. Ship has been in action, I see: pray how was that, if I may be so bold?”
“Pirates, commodore,” said Sharpe. “We fell in with a brace of Portuguese devils, lateen-rigged, and carrying ten guns apiece, in the Straits of Gaspar: fought ’em from noon till sundown, riddled one, and ran down the other, and sunk her in a moment. That was all your doing, Captain: so don’t try to shift it on other people; for we won’t stand it.”
“If he denies it, I won’t believe him,” said Collier, “for he has got it in his eye. Gentlemen, will you do me the honour to dine with me today on board the flag-ship?”
Dodd and Fullalove accepted. Sharpe declined, with regret, on the score of duty. And as the cocked hat went down the side, after saluting him politely, he could not help thinking to himself what a difference between a real captain, who had something to be proud of, and his own unlicked cub of a skipper with the manners of a pilot-boat. He told Robarts the next day: Robarts said nothing, but his face seemed to turn greenish, and it embittered his hatred of Dodd the inoffensive.
It is droll, and sad, but true, that Christendom is full of men in a hurry to hate. And a fruitful cause is jealousy. The schoolmen, or rather certain of the schoolmen — for nothing is much shallower than to speak of all those disputants as one school — defined woman, “a featherless biped vehemently addicted to jealousy.” Whether she is more featherless than the male can be decided at a trifling expense of time, money, and reason: you have but to go to court. But as for envy and jealousy, I think it is pure, unobservant, antique Cant which has fixed them on the female character distinctively. As a molehill to a mountain is women’s jealousy to men’s. Agatha may have a host of virtues and graces, and yet her female acquaintance will not hate her, provided she has the moderation to abstain from being downright pretty. She may sing like an angel, paint like an angel, talk, write, nurse the sick, all like an angel, and not rouse the devil in her fair sisters, so long as she does not dress like an angel. But the minds of men being much larger than women’s, yet very little greater, they hang jealousy on a thousand pegs. Where there was no peg, I have seen them do with a pin.
Captain Robarts took a pin, ran it into his own heart, and hung that sordid passion on it.
He would get rid of all the Doddites before he sailed. He insulted Mr. Tickell, so that he left the service and entered a mercantile house ashore: he made several of the best men desert, and the ship went to sea short of hands. This threw heavier work on the crew, and led to many punishments and a steady current of abuse. Sharpe became a mere machine, always obeying, never speaking: Grey was put under arrest for remonstrating against ungentlemanly language; and Bayliss, being at bottom of the same breed as Robarts, fell into his humour, and helped hector the petty officers and men. The crew, depressed and irritated, went through their duties pully-hauly-wise. There was no song under the forecastle in the first watch, and often no grog on the mess table at one bell. Dodd never came on the quarter-deck without being reminded he was only a passenger, and the ship was now under naval discipline. “I was reared in the royal navy, sir,” would Robarts say, “second lieutenant aboard the Atalanta: that is the school, sir, that is the only school that breeds seamen.” Dodd bore scores of similar taunts as a Newfoundland puts up with a terrier in office: he seldom replied, and, when he did, in a few quiet dignified words that gave no handle.
Robarts, who bore the name of a lucky captain, had fair weather all the way to St. Helena.
The guard-ship at this island was the Salamanca. She had left the Cape a week before the Agra. Captain Robarts, with his characteristic good-breeding, went to anchor inshore of Her Majesty’s ship: the wind failed at a critical moment, and a foul became inevitable. Collier was on his quarter-deck, and saw what would happen long before Robarts did; he gave the needful orders, and it was beautiful to see how in half a minute the frigate’s guns were run in, her ports lowered, her yards toppled on end, and a spring carried out and hauled on.
The Agra struck abreast her own forechains on the Salamanca’s quarter.
(Pipe.) “Boarders away. Tomahawks! cut everything that holds!” was heard from the frigate’s quarter-deck. Rush came a boarding party on to the merchant ship and hacked away without mercy all her lower rigging that held on to the frigate, signal halyards and all; others boomed her off with capstan bars, &c., and in two minutes the ships were clear. A lieutenant and boat’s crew came for Robarts, and ordered him on board the Salamanca, and, to make sure of his coming, took him back with them. He found Commodore Collier standing stiff as a ramrod on his quarter-deck. “Are you the master of the Agra?” (His quick eye had recognised her in a moment.)
“I am, sir.”
“Then she was commanded by a seaman, and is now commanded by a lubber. Don’t apply for your papers this week; for you won’t get them. Good morning. Take him away.”
They returned Robarts to his ship, and a suppressed grin on a score of faces showed him the clear commanding tones of the commodore had reached his own deck. He soothed himself by stopping the men’s grog and mast-heading three midshipmen that same afternoon.
The night before he weighed anchor this disciplinarian was drinking very late in a low public-house. There was not much moon, and the officer in charge of the ship did not see the gig coming till it was nearly alongside: then all was done in a flurry.
“Hy! man the side! Lanterns there! Jump, you boys, or you’ll catch pepper.”
The boys did jump, and little Murphy, not knowing the surgeon had ordered the ports to be drooped, bounded over the bulwarks like an antelope, lighted on the midship port, which stood at this angle, and glanced off into the ocean, lantern foremost: he made his little hole in the water within a yard of’ Captain Robarts. That Dignity, though splashed, took no notice of so small an incident as a gone ship-boy: and if Murphy had been wise and stayed with Nep. all had been well. But the poor urchin inadvertently came up again, and without the lantern. One of the gig’s crew grabbed him by the hair, and prolonged his existence by an inconsiderate impulse.
“Where is the other lantern?” was Robarts’ first word on reaching the deck: as if he didn’t know.
“Gone overboard, sir, with the boy Murphy.”
“Stand forward, you, sir,” growled Robarts.
Murphy stood forward, dripping and shivering with cold and fear.
“What d’ye mean by going overboard with the ship’s lantern?”
“Och, your arnr, sure some unasy divil drooped the port; and the lantern and me we had no foothold at all at all, and the lantern went into the say, bad luck to ut; and I went afther to try and save ut — for your arnr.”
“Belay all that!” said Robarts; “do you think you can blarney me, you young monkey? Here, Bosen’s mate, take a rope’s-end and start him! — Again! — Warm him well! — That’s right.”
As soon as the poor child’s shrieks subsided into sobs, the disciplinarian gave him Explanation for Ointment: “I can’t have the Company’s stores expended this way.”
The force of discipline could no farther go than to flog zeal for falling overboard: so, to avoid anticlimax in that port, Robarts weighed anchor at daybreak; and there was a southwesterly breeze waiting for this favourite of fortune, and carried him past the Azores. Off Ushant it was westerly, and veered to the nor’-west just before they sighted the Land’s End: never was such a charming passage from the Cape. The sailor who had the luck to sight Old England first nailed his starboard shoe to the mainmast for contributions; and all hearts beat joyfully — none more than David Dodd’s. His eye devoured the beloved shore: he hugged the treasure his own ill luck had jeopardised — but Robarts had sailed it safe into British waters — and forgave the man his ill manners for his good luck.
Robarts steered in for the Lizard; but, when abreast the Point, kept well out again, and opened the Channel and looked out for a pilot
One was soon seen working out towards him, and the Agra brought to. The pilot descended from his lugger into his little boat, rowed alongside, and came on deck; a rough, tanned sailor, clad in flushing, and in build and manner might have passed for Robarts’ twin brother.
“Now then, you, sir, what will you take this ship up to the Downs for?”
Roberts told him roughly he would not get thirty pounds out of’ him.
“Thyse and no higher, my Bo,” answered the pilot sturdily: he had been splicing the main brace, and would have answered an admiral.
Robarts swore at him lustily: Pilot discharged a volley in return with admirable promptitude. Robarts retorted, the other rough customer rejoined, and soon all Billingsgate thundered on the Agra’s quarter-deck. Finding, to his infinite disgust, his visitor as great a blackguard as himself, and not to be outsworn, Robarts ordered him to quit the ship on pain of being man-handled over the side.
“Oh, that’s it, is it?” growled the other: “here’s fill and be off then.” He prudently bottled the rest of his rage till he got safe into his boat, then shook his fist at the Agra, and cursed her captain sky-high. “You see the fair wind, but you don’t see the Channel fret a-coming, ye greedy gander. Downs! You’ll never see them: you have saved your —— money, and lost your —— ship, ye —— lubber.”
Robarts hurled back a sugar-plum or two of the same and then ordered Bayliss to clap on all sail, and keep a mid-channel course through the night.
At four bells in the middle watch, Sharpe, in charge of the ship, tapped at Robarts’ door. “Blowing hard, sir, and the weather getting thickish.”
“Wind fair still?”
“Then call me if it blows any harder,” grunted Robarts.
In two hours more, tap, tap, came Bayliss, in charge. “If we don’t take sail in, they’ll take themselves out.”
“Furl to-gallen’sels, and call me if it gets any worse.”
In another hour Bayliss was at him again. “Blowing a gale, sir, and a Channel fog on.”
“Reef taupsles, and call me if it gets any worse.”
At daybreak Dodd was on deck, and found the ship flying through a fog so thick that her forecastle was quite invisible from the poop, and even her foremast loomed indistinct and looked distant. “You’ll be foul of something or other, Sharpe,” said he.
“What is that to you?” inquired a loud rough voice behind him. “I don’t allow passengers to handle my ship.”
“Then do pray handle her yourself; captain! Is this weather to go tearing happy-go-lucky up the Channel?”
“I mean to sail her without your advice, sir; and, being a seaman, I shall get all I can out of a fair wind.”
“That is right Captain Robarts, if you had but the British Channel all to yourself.”
“Perhaps you will leave me my deck all to myself.”
“I should be delighted: but my anxiety will not let me.” With this Dodd retired a few steps, and kept a keen look-out.
At noon a lusty voice cried “Land on the weather beam!”
All eyes were turned that way and saw nothing.
Land in sight was reported to Captain Robarts.
Now that worthy was in reality getting secretly anxious: so he ran on deck crying, “Who saw it?”
“Captain Dodd, sir.”
“Ugh! Nobody else?”
Dodd came forward, and, with a respectful air, told him that, being on the look-out, he had seen the coast of the Isle of Wight in a momentary lift of the haze.
“Isle of Fiddlestick!” was the polite reply; “Isle of Wight is eighty miles astern by now.”
Dodd answered firmly that he was well acquainted with every outline in the Channel, and that the land he had seen was St. Katherine’s Point
Robarts deigned no reply, but had the log heaved: it showed the vessel to be running twelve knots an hour. He then went to his cabin and consulted his chart; and, having worked his problem, came hastily on deck, and went from rashness to wonderful caution. “Turn the hands out, and heave the ship to!”
The manoeuvre was executed gradually and ably, and scarce a bucketful of water shipped. “Furl taupsles and set the main trysail! There, Mr. Dodd, so much for you and your Isle of Wight. The land you saw was Dungeness, and you would have run on into the North Sea, I’ll be bound.”
When a man, habitually calm, turns anxious, he becomes more irritable; and the mixture of timidity and rashness he saw in Robarts made Dodd very anxious.
He replied angrily, “At all events, I should not make a foul wind out of a fair one by heaving to; and if I did, I would heave to on the right tack.”
At this sudden facer — one, too, from a patient man — Robarts staggered a moment. He recovered, and with an oath ordered Dodd to go below, or he would have him chucked into the hold.
“Come, don’t be an ass, Robarts,” said Dodd contemptuously.
Then, lowering his voice to a whisper, “Don’t you know the men only want such an order as that to chuck you into the sea?”
Robarts trembled. “Oh, if you mean to head a mutiny ——”
“Heaven forbid, sir! But I won’t leave the deck in dirty weather like this till the captain knows where he is.”
Towards sunset it got clearer, and they drifted past a revenue cutter, who was lying to with her head to the northward. She hoisted no end of signals, but they understood none of them, and her captain gesticulated wildly on her deck.
“What is that Fantoccio dancing at?” inquired Captain Robarts brutally.
“To see a first-class ship drift to leeward in a narrow sea with a fair wind,” said Dodd bitterly.
At night it blew hard, and the sea ran high and irregular. The ship began to be uneasy, and Robarts very properly ordered the top-gallant and royal yards to be sent down on deck. Dodd would have had them down twelve hours ago. The mate gave the order: no one moved. The mate went forward angry. He came back pale. The men refused to go aloft: they would not risk their lives for Captain Robarts.
The officers all assembled and went forward: they promised and threatened; but all in vain. The crew stood sullen together, as if to back one another, and put forward a spokesman to say that “there was not one of them the captain hadn’t started, and stopped his grog a dozen times: he had made the ship hell to them; and now her masts and yards and hull might go there along with her skipper, for them.”
Robarts received this tidings in sullen silence. “Don’t tell that Dodd, whatever you do,” said he. “They will come round now they have had their growl: they are too near home to shy away their pay.”
Robarts had not sufficient insight into character to know that Dodd would instantly have sided with him against a mutiny.
But at this juncture the excaptain of the Agra was down in the cabin with his fellow-passengers, preparing a general remonstrance: he had a chart before him, and a pair of compasses in his hand.
“St. Katherine’s Point lay about eight miles to windward at noon; and we have been drifting south and east this twelve hours, through lying to on the starboard tack; and besides, the ship has been conned as slovenly as she is sailed. I’ve seen her allowed to break off a dozen times, and gather more leeway. Ah! here is Captain Robarts. Captain, you saw the rate we passed the revenue cutter. That vessel was nearly stationary; so what we passed her at was our own rate of drifting, and our least rate. Putting all this together, we can’t be many miles from the French coast, and, unless we look sharp and beat to windward, I pronounce the ship in danger.”
A horselaugh greeted this conclusion.
“We are nearer Yarmouth sands than France, I promise you, and nothing under our lee nearer than Rotterdam.”
A loud cry from the deck above, “A LIGHT ON THE LEE BOW!”
“There!” cried Robarts with an oath: “foul of her next! through me listening to your nonsense. He ran upon deck, and shouted through his trumpet, “All hands wear ship!”
The crew, who had heard the previous cry, obeyed orders in the presence of an immediate danger; and perhaps their growl had really relieved their ill-humour. Robarts with delight saw them come tumbling up, and gave his orders lustily: “Brail up the trysel! up with the helm! in with the weather main brace! square the after yards!”
The ship’s bow turned from the wind, and, as soon as she got way on her, Robarts ran below again, and entered the cabin triumphant
“That is all right: and now, Captain Dodd, a word with you. You will either retire at once to your cabin, or will cease to breed disaffection in my crew, and groundless alarm in my passengers, by instilling your own childish, ignorant fears. The ship has been underlogged a hundred miles, sir; and but for my caution in lying to for clear weather we should be groping among the Fern Isl ——”
An unheard-of shock threw the speaker and all the rest in a mass on the floor, smashed every lamp, put out every light; and, with a fierce grating noise, the ship was hard and fast on the French coast, with her stern to the sea.
One awful moment of silence; then, amidst shrieks of agony, the sea struck her like a rolling rock, solid to crush, liquid to drown, and the comb of a wave smashed the cabin windows and rushed in among them as they floundered on the floor, and wetted and chilled them to the marrow. A voice in the dark cried, “O God! we are dead men.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59