Chapter 6: The Carthusian
There was nothing to do but to wait. Some little trifle of property I had below in the cabin, but nothing that I cared to burden myself with at such a time. All the money I had brought with me, bank notes and some gold, was in the pocket-book I married. As for my sweetheart's wardrobe, what she had with her, as you know, she wore, so that she would be leaving nothing behind her.
But never can I forget the expression of her face, and the exclamations of horror and astonishment which escaped her lips, when, on my seating her under the bulwark, she sent a look at the yacht. The soaked, strained, mutilated appearance of the little craft persuaded her she was sinking even as we sat together looking. At every plunge of the bows she would tremulously suck in her breath and bite upon her under lip, with nervous twitching of her fingers and a recoil of her whole figure against me.
It was some half-hour or so after our coming on deck that Caudel, quitting the pump, at which he had been taking a spell, approached me and said,— "You'll understand, of course, Mr. Barclay, that I as master of this yacht sticks to her ?"
"What!" cried I, "to be drowned?"
"I sticks to her, sir," he repeated, with the emphasis of irritability in his manner, that was not at all wanting in respect, either. "I don't mean to say if it should come on to blow another gale afore that there era ," indicating the ship, "receives ye that I wouldn't go too. But the weather's a-moderating: it'll be tarning fine afore long, and I'm a-going to sail the Spitfire home."
"I hope, Caudel," said I, astonished by this resolution in him, "that you'll not stick to her on my account. Let the wretched craft go, and " I held the rest behind my teeth.
"No, sir. There'll be nothin' to hurt in the leak if so be as the weather gets better; and it's fast getting better, as you can see. What! let a pretty little dandy craft like the Spitfire go down merely for the want of pumping? All of us men are agreed to stick to her and carry her home."
Grace looked at me; I understood the meaning her eyes conveyed, and exclaimed,—
"The men will do as they please. They are plucky fellows, and if they carry the yacht home she shall be sold and what she fetches divided among them. But I have had enough of her,—-and more than enough of yachting. I must see you, my pet, safe on board some ship that does not leak."
"I could not live through another night in the Spitfire, she exclaimed.
"No, miss, no," rumbled Caudel, soothingly; "nor would it be right and proper that you should be asked to live through it. They'll be sending for ye presently; though, of course, as the wessel's outward bound,"-—here he ran his eyes slowly round the sea,—"ye've got to consider that unless she falls in soon with something that'll land you, why, then of course you both stand to have a longer spell of sea faring than Mr. Barclay and me calculated upon when this here elopement was planned."
"Where is she, bound to, I wonder?" I said, viewing the tall, noble vessel with a yearning to be aboard her with Grace at my side.
"To Australia, I allow," answered Caudel. "Them passengers ye sees forrards and along the bulwark rail ain't of the sort that goes to Chaney or the Hindies."
"We can't go to Australia, Herbert," said Grace, surveying me with startled eyes.
"My dear Grace, there are plenty of ships between this Channel and Australia,-—plenty hard by,—rolling home and willing to land us for a few sovereigns, would their steersmen only shift their helm and approach within hail."
But, though there might be truth in this for aught I knew, it was a thing easier to say than to mean, as I felt when I cast my eyes upon the dark-green frothing waters still shrouded to within a mile or so past the ship by the damp and dirty gray of the now fast expiring gale that had plunged us into this miserable situation.
There was nothin to be seen but the Carthusian rolling solemnly and grandly to windward, and the glancing of white heads of foam arching out of the thickness and running sullenly, but with weight, too, along the course of the wind.
The ship, having canvas upon her, settled slowly upon our bow at a safe distance, but our drift was very nearly hers, and during those weary hours of waiting for the sea to abate the two craft fairly held the relative positions they had occupied at the outset.
The interest we excited in the people aboard of her was ceaseless. The line of her bulwarks remained dark with beads, and the glimmer of the white faces gave an odd pulsing look to the whole length of them as the heave of the ship alternated the stormy light. They believed us on our own report to be sinking, and that might account for their tireless gaze and riveted attention.
On a sudden, much about the hour of noon, there came a lull; the wind dropped as if by magic; here and there over the wide green surface of the ocean the foam glanced, but in the main the billows ceased to break and charged in a troubled but fast moderating swell.
A kind of brightness sat in the east, and the horizon opened to its normal confines; but it was a desolate sea,—nothing in sight save the ship, though I eagerly and anxiously scanned the whole circle of the waters.
The two vessels had widened their distance, yet the note of the bail, if dull, was perfectly distinct:
"Yacht ahoy! We're going to send a boat."
I saw a number of figures in motion on the ship's poop; the aftermost boat was then swung through the davits over the side, four or five men entered her, and a minute later she sank to the water.
"Here they come, Grace!" cried I. "At last, thank Heaven !"
"Oh, Herbert, I shall never be able to enter her !" she exclaimed, shrinking to my side.
But I knew better, and made answer with a caress only.
The oars rose and fell, the boat showed and vanished, showed and vanished again, as she came buzzing to the yacht, to the impulse of the powerfully-swept blades. Caudel stood by with some coils of line in his hand; the end was flung, caught, and in a trice the boat was alongside, and a sunburnt, reddish-haired man in a suit of serge, and with a naval peak to his cap, tumbled with the dexterity of a monkey over the yacht's rail.
He looked round him an instant, and then came straight up to Grace and me, taking the heaving and slanting deck as easily as though it had been the floor of a ballroom.
"I am the second mate of the Carthusian," said he, touching his cap with an expression of astonishment and admiration in his eyes as he looked at Grace.
"Are all your people ready to leave, sir? Captain Parsons is anxious that there should be no delay."
"The lady and I are perfectly ready," said I, "but my men have made up their minds to stick to the yacht, with the hope of carrying her home.
He looked around to Caudel, who stood near.
"Ay, sir, that's right," exclaimed the worthy fellow. "It's a-going to be fine weather, and the water's to be kept under."
The second mate ran his eye over the yacht with a short-lived look of puzzlement in his face, then addressed me: "We had thought your case a hopeless one, sir."
"So it is," I answered.
"Are you wise in your resolution, my man ?" he exclaimed, turning to Caudel again.
"Ay, sir," answered Caudel, doggedly, as though anticipating an argument. "Who's a-going to leave such a dandy craft as this to founder for the want of keeping a pump going for a day or two? There are four men and a boy all resolved, and we'll manage it," he added, emphatically.
"The yacht is in no fit state for the young lady, anyway," said the second mate. "Now, sir, and you, madam, if you are ready." And he put his head over the side to look at his boat.
I helped Grace to stand, and whilst I supported her I extended my hand to Caudel.
"God bless you and send you safe home!" said I. "Your pluck and determination make me feel but half a man. But my mind is resolved too. Not for worlds must Miss Bellassys pass another hour in this craft."
He shook me cordially by the hand, and respectfully bade Grace farewell. The others of my crew approached, leaving one pumping, and among the strong fellows on deck and in the boat——sinewy arms to raise and muscular fists to receive her—Grace, white and shrinking and exclaiming, was handed dexterously and swiftly down over the side. Watching my chance, I sprang, and plumped heavily but safely into the boat. The second mate then followed, and we shoved off.
By this time, the light that I had taken notice of in the east had brightened: there were breaks in it, with here and there a dim vein of blue sky, and the waters beneath had a gleam of steel as they rolled frothless and swell-like. In fact, it was easy to see that fine weather was at hand; and this assurance it was that reconciled me as nothing else could have done to the fancy of Caudel and my little crew carrying the leaking, crippled yacht home.
The men in the boat pulled sturdily, eying Grace and me out of the corners of their eyes, and gnawing upon the bunks of tobacco in their cheeks as though in the most literal manner they were chewing the cud of the thoughts put into them by this encounter.
The second mate uttered a remark or two about the weather, but the business of the tiller held him too busy to talk. There was the heavy swell to watch, and the tall, slowly-rolling, metal fabric ahead of us to steer alongside of.
For my part, I could not see how Grace was to get aboard; and, observing no ladder over the side as we rounded under the vessel's stern, I asked the second mate how we were to manage it.
"Oh," said he, "we shall send you both up in a chair with a whip. There's the block," he added, pointing to the yard-arm: "and the line's already rove, you'll observe."
There were some seventy or eighty people watching us as we drew alongside, all staring over the rail, and from the forecastle, and from the poop, as one man. I remarked a few bonnets and shawled heads forward, and two or three well-dressed women aft: otherwise the crowd of heads belon ed to men-emigrants, shabby and grimy,-—-most of them looking sea-sick, I thought, as they overhung the side.
A line was thrown from the ship, and the boat hauled under the yard-arm whip, where she lay rising and falling, carefully fended off from the vessel's iron side by a couple of the men in her.
"Now, then, bear a hand !" shouted a voice from the poop. "Get your gangway unshipped, and stand by to hoist away handsomely."
A minute later a large chair with arms dangled over our heads, and was caught by the fellows in the boat. A more uncomfortable, nerve capsizing performance I never took part in.
The water washed with a thunderous sobbing sound along the metal bends of the ship, that, as she stooped her sides into the brine, flashed up the swell in froth, hurling towards us also a recoiling billow which made the dance of the boat horribly bewildering and nauseating.
One moment we were floated, as it seemed to my eyes, to the level of the bulwarks of the stooping ship; the next we were in a valley, with the great bare hull leaning away from us,—an immense wet surface of red and black and checkered band, her shrouds vanishing in a slope, and her yard-arms forking up sky-high.
"Now, madam," said the second mate, "will you please seat yourself in that chair ?"
Grace was very white, but she saw that it must be done, and with set lips and in silence was helped by the sailors to seat herself. I adored her then for her spirit, for I confess that I had dreaded she would hang back, shriek out, cling to me, and complicate and delay the miserable business by her terrors. She was securely fastened into the chair, and the second mate paused for the chance.
"Hoist away !" he yelled, and up went my darling, uttering one little scream only as she soared.
"Lower away!" and by the line that was attached to the chair she was dragged through the gangway, where I lost sight of her.
Now it was my turn. The chair descended and I seated myself not without several yearning glances at the sloping side of the ship, which, however, only satisfied me that there was no other method by which I might enter the vessel than the chair, active as I was.
"Hoist away !" was shouted, and up I went, and I shall not readily forget the sensation. My brains seemed to sink into my boots as I mounted. I was hoisted needlessly high,—almost to the yard-arm itself, I fancy,-—through some blunder on the part of the men who manned the whip.
For some breathless moments I dangled between heaven and ocean, seeing nothing but gray sky and heaving waters. But the torture was brief. I felt the chair sinking, saw the open gangway sweep past me, and presently I was out of the chair at Grace's side, stared at by some eighty or a hundred emigrants, all between decks passengers who had left the bulwarks to congregate on the main deck.
"Will you step this way ?" exclaimed a voice overhead.
On looking up, I found that we were addressed by a short, somewhat thick-set man who stood at the rail that protected the forward extremity of the poop- deck. This was the person who had talked to us through the speaking-trumpet, and I at once guessed him to be the captain.
There were about a dozen first-class passengers gazing at us from either side of him, two or three of whom were ladies. I took Grace by the hand, and conducted her up a short flight of steps and approached the captain, raising my hat as I did so, and receiving from him a sea-flourish of the tall hat he wore.
He was buttoned up in a cloth coat, and his cheeks rested in a pair of high, sharp-pointed collars, starched to an iron hardness, so that his body and head moved as one piece. His short legs arched outward, and his feet were encased in long boots, the toes of which were of the shape of a shovel.
He wore the familiar tall hat of the streets; it looked to be brushed the wrong way, was bronzed at the rims, and on the whole showed as a hat that had made several voyages. Yet if there was but little of the sailor in his costume, his face suggested itself to me as a very good example of the nautical life.
His nose was little more than a pimple of a reddish tincture, and his small, moist, gray eyes, lying deep in their sockets, seemed as they gazed at you to be boring their way through the apertures which nature had provided for the admission of light. A short piece of white whisker decorated either cheek, and his air, that was cropped close as a soldier's, was also white.
"Is that your yacht, young gentleman ?" said he, bringing his eyes from Grace to me, at whom he had to stare up as at his mast-head, so considerably did I tower over the little man.
"Yes," said I: "she is the Spitfire,-—belongs to Southampton. I am very much obliged to you for receiving this lady and me."
"Not at all," said he, looking hard at Grace. "Your wife, sir?"
"No," said I, greatly embarrassed by the question and by the gaze of the ten or dozen passengers who hung near, eying us intently and whispering, yet for the most part with no lack of sympathy and good nature in their countenances. I saw Grace quickly bite upon her under lip, but without coloring or any other sign of confusion than a slight turn of her head, as though she viewed the yacht.
"But what have you done with the rest of your people, young gentleman ?" inquired the captain.
"My name is Barclay, Mr. Herbert Barclay; the name of the young lady to whom I am engaged to be married," said I, significantly, sending a look along the faces of the listeners, "is Miss Grace Bellassys, whose aunt, Lady Amelia Roscoe, you may probably have heard of."
This I thought was introduction enough. My business was to assert our dignity first of all, and then, as I was addressing a number of persons who were either English or colonial or both, the pronunciation of her ladyship's name was, I considered, a very early and essential duty.
"With regard to my crew—" I continued, and I told the captain they had made up their minds to carry the vessel home.
"Miss Bellassys looks very tired," exclaimed a middle-aged lady with gray hair, speaking with a gentle, concerned smile engaging with its air of sympathetic apology. "If she will allow me to conduct her to my cabin "
"By all means, Mrs. Barstow," cried the captain. "If she has been knocking about in that bit of a craft there throughout the gale that's been blowing; all I can say is, she'll have seen more tumbling and weather in forty-eight hours than you'll have any idea of though I was to keep you at sea for ten years in this ship."
Mrs. Barstow with a motherly manner approached Grace, who bowed and thanked her, and together they walked to the companion hatch and disappeared.
The captain asked me many questions, many of which I answered mechanically, for my thoughts were fixed upon the little yacht, and my heart was with the poor fellows who had resolved to carry her home,—-but with them. only, not with her. No! as I watched her rolling, and the fellow pumping, not for worlds would I have gone aboard of her again with race, though Caudel should have yelled out that the leak was stopped, and though a fair, bright, breezy day, with promise of quiet lasting for a week, should have opened round about us.
The captain wanted to know when I had sailed, from what port I had started, where I was bound to, and the like. I kept my gravity with difficulty when I gave him my attention at last. It was not only his own mirth-provoking nautical countenance; the saloon passengers could not take their eyes off' my face, and they bobbed and leaned forward in an eager hearkening way to catch every syllable of my replies.
Nor was this all; for below on the quarter-deck and along the waist stood scores of steerage passengers, all straining their eyes at me. The curiosity and excitement were ridiculous. But fame is a thing very cheaply earned in these days.
The captain inquired a little too curiously sometimes. So Miss Bellassys was engaged to be married to me, hey? Was she alone with me? No relative, no maid, nobody of her own sex in attendance, hey?
To these questions the ladies listened with an odd expression in their faces. I particularly noticed one of them: she had sausage-shaped curls, lips so thin that when they were closed they formed a fine line as though produced by the single sweep of a camel's-hair brush under her nose; one pupil was considerably larger than the other, which gave her a very staring knowing look'on one side of her face; but there was nothing in my responses to appease hers or the captain's or the others' thirst for information.
"There can be no doubt, I hope, Captain Parsons," said I, for the second mate had given me the skipper's name, "of our promptly falling in with something homeward bound that will land Miss Bellassys and me? What the craft may prove will signify nothing: a smack would serve our purpose."
"I'll signal when I have a chance," he answered, looking round the sea and then up aloft; "but it's astonishing, ladies and gentlemen," he continued, addressing the passengers, "how lonesome the ocean is, even where you look for plenty of shipping."
"How far are we from Penzance, captain ?" I inquired.
"Why," he answered, "all of a hundred and fifty miles."
"If that be so, then," I cried, "our drift must have been that of a balloon."
"Will those poor creatures ever be able to reach the English coast in that broken boat ?" exclaimed one of the ladies, indicating the Spitfire, that now lay dwarfed right over the stern of the ship.
"If they are longshoremen—and yet I don't know," replied the captain, with a short laugh; "a boatman will easily handle a craft of that sort when a blue-water sailor would be all abroad. Have you lunched, Mr. Barclay?"
"No, captain, I have not; neither can I say I have breakfasted."
"Oh, confound it, man, you should have said so before. Step this way, sir, step this way." And he led me to the companion-hatch that conducted to the saloon, pausing on the road, however, to beckon with a square forefinger to a sober Scotch-faced personage in a monkey jacket and loose pilot trousers,-—the chief mate, as I afterwards earned,—to whom in a wheezy undertone he addressed some instructions which, as I gathered from one or two syllables I overheard, referred to the speaking of inward-bound vessels and to our transshipment.
At this moment, a door close beside which I was standing opened, and Grace came out, followed by the kind lady Mrs. Barstow. She had removed her hat and jacket, and was sweet and fresh with the application of such toilet conveniences as her sympathetic acquaintance could provide her with. Captain Parsons stared at her and then whipped off' his tall hat.
"This is better than the Spitfire, Grace," said I.
"Oh, yes, Herbert," she answered, sending a glance of her fine dark eyes over the saloon; "but Mrs. Barstow tells me that the ship is going to New Zealand."
"So she is; so she is," cried Captain Parsons, bursting into a laugh: "and, if you choose, Mr. Barclay and you shall accompany us."
She looked at him with a frightened girlish air.
"Oh, no, Miss Bellassys," said Mrs. Barstow. "Captain Parsons is a great humorist. I have made two voyages with him, and he keeps me laughing from port to port. He will see that you get safely home; and I wish that we could count upon arriving at Otaga as speeding as you will reach England."
Just then a man in a camIet jacket entered the saloon,——cuddy, I believe, is the proper word for it. He was the head steward, and Captain Parsons immediately called to him:
"Jenkins, here. This lady and gentleman have not breakfasted; they have been shipwrecked, and wish to lunch. You understand? And draw the cork of a quart bottle of champagne—There is no better sea-physio, Miss Bellassys. I've known what it is to be five days in an open boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and I believe if even Mrs. Barstow had been my wife I should not have scrupled to make away with her for a quart bottle of champagne."
Our lunch consisted of cold fowl and ham and champagne,—good enough meat and drink, one should say, for the sea, and a most good enough, one might add, for a pair of love-sick fugitives.
"How is your appetite, my darling ?" said I.
"I think I can eat a little of that cold chicken."
"This is very handsome treatment, Grace. Upon my word, if the captain preserves this sort of behavior I do not believe we shall be in a very great hurry to quit his ship."
"Is not she a noble vessel?' exclaimed Glace, rolling her eyes over the saloon. "After the poor little Spitfire's cabin! And how different is this motion! It soothes me, after the horrid tumbling of the last two days."
"This is a very extraordinary adventure," said I, eating and drinking with a relish and an appetite not a little heightened by observing that Grace was making a very good meal. "It may not end so soon as we hope, either. First of all we have to fall in with a homeward-bound ship, then she has to receive us, then she has to arrive in the Channel and transfer us to a tug or a smack or anything else which may be willing to put us ashore; and there is always the chance of her not falling in with such a craft as we want until she is as high as the Forelands,—past Boulogne, in short. But no matter, my own. We are together, and that is everything."
She took a sip of the champagne that the steward had filled her glass with, and said, in a musing voice, "What will the people in this ship think of me ?"
"What they may think need not trouble us," said I. "I told Captain Parsons that we were engaged to be married. Is there anything very extraordinary in a young fellow taking the girl he is engaged to out for a sail in his yacht, and being blown away and nearly wrecked by a heavy gale of wind ?"
"Oh, but they will know better," she exclaimed, with a pout.
"Well, I forgot, it is true, that I told the captain we sailed from Boulogne. But how is he to know your people don't live there?"
"It will soon be whispered about that I have eloped with you, Herbert," she exclaimed.
"Who's to know the truth if it isn't divulged, my pet?" said I.
"But it is divulged," she answered.
I stared at her. She eyed me wistfully as she continued, "I told Mrs. Barstow the story. I am not ashamed of my conduct, and I ought not to feel ashamed of the truth being known."
There was logic and heroism in this closing sentence, though it did not strictly correspond with the expression she had just now let fall as to what the people would think. I surveyed her silently, and after a little exclaimed,—
"You are in the right. Let the truth be known. I shall give the skipper the whole yarn, that there may be no misunderstanding; for, after all, we may have to stick to this ship for some days, and it would be very unpleasant to find ourselves misjudged."