Chapter 10: Homeward Bound
But the boat had now gained the tall fabric's side: the tackles had been booked into her, and even whilst she was soaring to the davits the great main-top-sail yard of the Carthusian came slowly round and the sails to the royal filled.
At the same moment I was sensible of a pulsation in the deck on which we were standing; the engines had been started; and in a few beats of the heart the Carthusian was on our quarter, breaking the sea under her bow as the long, slender, metal hull leaned to the weight of the high and swelling canvas.
I pulled off my hat and flourished it; Grace waved her handkerchief. A hearty cheer swept down to us, not only from the passengers assembled on the poop, but also from the crowds who watched us from the forecastle and from the line of the bulwark-rails, and for some minutes every figure was in motion as the people gesticulated their farewells to us.
"Act the fourth," said I, bringing my eyes to Grace's face. "One more act, and then over goes the show, as the Cockneys say."
"Aren't you glad to be here, Herbert?"
"I could kneel, my darling. But how good those people are! How well they have behaved! Such utter strangers as we were to them! What did Mrs. Barstow give you ?"
She put her hand in her pocket, opened the little parcel, and produced an Indian bracelet, a wonderfully cunning piece of work in gold.
"Upon my word!" cried I.
"How kind of her!" exclaimed Grace, with her eyes sparkling, though I seemed to catch a faint note of tears in her voice. "I shall always remember dear Mrs. Barstow."
"And what yacht is this?" said I, casting my eyes around. "A beautiful little ship indeed. How exquisite y white these planks! What money, by George, in everything the eye rests upon!"
The master, who had remained on the bridge to start the yacht, now approached. He saluted us with the respectful air of a man used to fine company, but I instantly observed on his glancing at Grace that his eye rested upon her wedding-ring.
"I presume you are the captain ?" said I.
"I am, sir."
"Pray what name ?"
"John Verrion, sir."
"Well, Captain Verrion, I must first of all thank you heartily for receiving us. Is the owner of this vessel aboard ?"
"No, sir. She belongs to the Earl of—- . His lordship's been left at Madeira. He changed his mind and stopped at Madeira,—-him and the countess, and a party of three that was along with them,— and sent the yacht home."
"I have not the honor of his lordship's acquaintance," said I, "but I think, Grace," I remarked, turning towards her, not choosing to speak of her as "this lady" whilst she wore the wedding-ring, nor to call her "my wife," either, "that he is a distant connection of your aunt, Lady Amelia Roscoe."
"I don't know, Herbert," she answered.
"Anyway," said I, "it is a great privilege to be received by such a vessel as this."
"His lordship would wish me to do everything that's right, sir," said Captain Verrion. "I'll have a cabin got ready for you; but as to meals-" he paused, and added, awkwardly, "I'm afraid there's nothin' aboard but plain yachting fare, sir."
"When do you hope to reach Southampton, captain ?"
"Monday afternoon, sir."
"A little more than two days i" I exclaimed. "You must be a pretty fast boat."
He smiled, and said, "What might be the port you want to get at, sir? Southampton may be too high up for you."
"Our destination was Penzance," said I, "but any port that is in England will do."
"Oh," said be, "there ought to be no difficulty in putting you ashore at Penzance." He then asked if we would like to step below, and forthwith conducted us into a large, roomy, elegantly—indeed, sumptuously—furnished cabin, as breezy as a drawing-room, and aromatic with the smell of plantains or bananas hung up somewhere near, though out of sight.
"This should suit you, Grace," said I.
"Is it not heavenly ?" she cried.
The captain stood by with a pleased countenance, observing us.
"I dunno if I'm right in calling you sir?" he exclaimed,—"I didn't rightly catch your name"
"My name is Mr. Herbert Barclay."
"Thank ye, sir. I was going to say that if you and her lady ship——"
"No, not her ladyship," I interrupted, guessing that having heard me pronounce the name of Lady Amelia Roscoe he was confounding Grace with her.
"I was going to say, sir," he proceeded, "that you're welcome to any of the sleeping berths you may have a mind to."
The berths were aft,—mere boxes, each with a little bunk, but all fitted so as to correspond in point of costliness with the furniture of the living- or state-room. We chose the two foremost berths, as being the farthest of the sleeping-places from the screw; and, this matter being ended, and after declining Captain Verrion's very civil offer of refreshments, we returned to the deck.
The steamer was thrashing through it at an exhilarating speed. The long blue Atlantic surge came brimming and frothing to her quarter, giving her a lift at times that set the propeller racing, but the clean-edged, frost-like band of wake streamed far astern, where in the liquid blue of the afternoon that way hung the star-colored cloths of the Carthusian, a leaning shaft resembling a spire of ice.
We chatted as we walked the deck. We had the after part of the little ship entirely to ourselves: the captain came and went, but never offered to approach. In fact, it was like being aboard one's own vessel; and, now that we were fairly going home, being driven towards the English Channel at a steady pace of some twelve or thirteen knots in the hour by the steady resistless thrust of the propeller, we could find heart to abandon ourselves to every delightful sensation born of the sweeping passage of the beautiful steamer, to every emotion inspired by each other's society, and by the free, boundless, noble prospect of dark-blue waters that was spread around us.
We were uninterrupted till five o'clock. The captain then advanced, and, saluting us with as much respect as if we had been the curl and his lady, inquired if we would have tea served in the cabin.
I answered that we should be very glad of a cup of tea, but that he was to give himself no trouble: the simplest fare he could put before us we should feel as grateful for as though he sat us down to a Mansion House dinner.
He said that the steward had been left ashore at Madeira, but that a sailor who knew what to do as a waiter would attend upon us.
"Who would suppose, Grace," said I, when we were alone, "that the ocean was so hospitable? Figure us finding ourselves ashore in such a condition as was our lot when we thought the Spitfire sinking under us,--in other words, in want. At how many houses might we have knocked without getting shelter or the offer of a meal! This is like being made welcome in Grosvenor Square; and you may compare the Carthusian to a fine mansion in Bayswater."
The captain contrived for "tea," as he called it, as excellent a meal as we could have wished for,—white biscuit, good butter, bananas, a piece of virgin corned beef, and preserved milk to put into our tea. What better fare could one ask for? I had a pipe and tobacco with me, and as I walked the deck in the evening with my darling I had never felt happier.
It was a rich autumn evening; the wind had slackened and was now a light air, and we lingered on deck long after the light had faded in the western sky, leaving the still young moon shining brightly over the sea, across whose dark, wrinkled, softly-heaving surface ran the wake of the speeding yacht in a line like a pathway traversing a boundless moor.
I slept as soundly as one who sleeps to wake no more; but on going on deck some little while before the breakfast was served I was grievously disappointed to find a wet day.
There was very little wind, but the sky was one dismal surface of leaden cloud, from which the rain was falling almost perpendicularly with a sort of obstinacy of descent that was full of the menace of a tardy abatement. Fortunately, the horizon lay well open; one could see some miles, and the steamer was washing along at her old pace, a full thirteen, with a nearly-becalmed collier, ragged, wet, and staggering, all patches and bentinck-boom, dis solving rapidly into the weather over the starboard quarter.
It was some time after three o'clock in the afternoon that on a sudden the engines were "slowed down," as I believe the term is, and a minute later the revolutions of the propeller ceased. There is always something startling in the abrupt cessation of the pulsing of the screw in a steamer at sea. One gets so used to the noise of the engines, to the vibratory sensation communicated in a sort of tingling throughout the frame of the vessel by the thrashing blades, that the suspension of the familiar sound falls like a fearful hush upon the ear.
Grace, who had been dozing, opened her eyes. "What can the matter be?" cried I.
As I spoke I heard a voice apparently aboard the yacht, hailing. I pulled on my cap, turned up the collar of my coat, and ran on deck, expecting to find the yacht in the heart of a thickness of rain and fog, with some big shadow of a ship looming within biscuit-toss.
It was raining steadily, but the sea was not more shrouded than it had been at any other hour of the day, saving perhaps that something of the complexion of the evening which was not far off lay somber in the wet atmosphere. I ran to the side, and saw at a distance of the length of the steam-yacht—my own hapless little dandy, the Spitfire!
Her main-mast was wholly-gone, yet I knew her at once. There she lay, looking far more miserably wrecked than when I had left her, lifting and falling forlornly upon the small swell, her poor little pump going, plied, as I instantly perceived, by the boy Bobby Allett.
I had sometimes thought of her as in harbor, and sometimes as at the bottom of the sea, but never, somehow, as still washing about, helpless and sodden, with a gushing scupper and a leaky bottom. Caudel —-poor old Caudel—stood at the rail, shouting to Captain Verrion, who was singing out to him from the bridge.
I rushed forward, bawling to Captain Verrion, "That's the Spitfire! that's my yacht!" and then at the top of my voice I shouted across the space of water between the two vessels, "Ho, Caudel! where are the rest of you, Caudel ? For God's sake, launch your boat and come aboard!"
He stood staring at me, dropping his head first on one side, then on the other, doubting the evidence of his sight, and reminding one of the ghost in Hamlet: "It lifted up its head and did address itself to motion as it would speak."
Astonishment speech. For some moments he could do nothing but stare; then up went both hands with a gesture that was eloquent of—"Well, I'm blowed!"
"Come aboard, Caudel! come aboard!" I roared, for the little dandy still had her dinghy, and I did not wish to put Captain Verrion to the trouble of fetching the two fellows.
With the motions and air of a man dumfounded or under the influence of drink, Caudel addressed the lad, who dropped the pump handle, and between them they launched the boat, smack-fashion.
Caudel then sprang into her with an oar and sculled across to us. He came floundering over the side, and yet again stood staring at me as though discrediting his senses. The color appeared to have been washed out of his face by wet; his oil-skins had surrendered their water-proof properties, and they clung to his frame as soaked rags would. His boots were full of water, and his eyes resembled pieces of jelly-fish fixed on either side of his nose. I grasped his hand.
"Of all astonishing meetings, Caudel! But how is it that you are here? What has become of the main-mast ? Where are the rest of the men? Never did a man look more shipwrecked than you. Are you thirsty? Are you starving ?"
By this time Captain Verrion had joined us, and a knot of the steamer's crew stood on the forecastle, looking first at the Spitfire, then at Caudel, scarcely, I dare say, knowing as yet whether to feel amused or amazed at this singular meeting. Caudel had the slow, laborious mind of the merchant-sailor. He continued for some moments to gaze heavily and damply about him, then said,—
"Dummed if this ain't wonderful, too!—to find you here, sir! And your young lady, Mr. Barclay ?"
"Safe and well in the cabin," I answered. "But where are the others, Caudel?"
"I'll spin you the yarn in a jiffy, sir," he answered, with a countenance that indicated a gradual re—collection of his wits. "Arter you left us we got some sail upon the yacht; but just about sundown it breezed up in a bit of a puff, and the rest of the mast went overboard, a few inches above the deck. Well, there we lay. There was nothin' to be done. Job Crew he says to me, "What's next?" says he. "What but a tow home ?" says I. "It'll have to be that" says he, "and pretty quick, too," he says, "for I've now had nigh enough of this gallivanting."
Job was a-wanting in sperrit, Mr. Barclay. I own I was surprised to hear him, but I says nothin', and Dick Files he says nothin', and neither do Jim Foster. Well, at daybreak a little bark bound to the river Thames comes along and hails us. I asked her to give me a tow, that I might have a chance of falling in with a tug. The master shook his head, and sings out that he'd take us aboard, but we wasn't to talk of towing.
On this Job says, ' Here goes for my clothes.' Jim follows him. Dick says to me, ' What are you going to do?" ' Stick to the yacht,' says I. He was beginning to argue. ' No good a-talking,' says I; ' here I am, and here I stops.' Wouldn't it have been a blooming shame," he added, turning slowly to Captain Verrion, "to have deserted that there dandy, when nothin's wanted but an occasional spell at the pump, and when something was bound to come along presently to give us a drag?"
Captain Verrion nodded, with a little hint of patronage, I thought, 'in his appreciative reception of Caudel's views.
"Well, to make an end to the yarn, Mr. Barclay," continued Caudel, "them three men went aboard the bark, taking their clothes with 'em; but when I told Bobby to go too, 'No,' says he, ' I'll stop and help ye to pump, sir.' There's the making of a proper English sailor, Mr. Barclay, in that there boy," he exclaimed, casting his eyes at the lad, who had again addressed himself to the pump.
"And here you've been all day ?" said I.
"All day, sir, and all night too, and a dirty time it's bin."
"Waiting for something to give you a tow, with a long black night at hand ?"
"Mr. Barclay," said he, "I told ye I should stick to that there little dandy; and I wouldn't break my word for no man."
"You shan't be disappointed," said Captain Verrion, bestowing on Caudel a hearty nod of approval, this time untinctured by condescension. "Give us the end of your tow-rope, and we'll drag the dandy home for ye."
"Cap'n, I thank "ee," said Caudel.
"You and the boy are pretty nigh wore out, I allow," exclaimed Captain Verrion. "I'll put a couple of men aboard the Spitfire.
How often does she want pumping ?"
"'Bout every half-hour."
"You stay here," said Captain Verrion, looking with something of commiseration at Caudel, who, the longer one surveyed him, the more soaked, ashen, and shipwrecked one found him. "I'll send for the boy, and you can both dry yourselves and get a good long spell of rest."
He left us to give the necessary orders to his men, and, whilst the steamer launched-her own boat, I stood talking with Caudel, telling him of our adventures aboard the Carthusian, of our marriage, and so forth.
I had got into the shelter of the companion whilst I talked, and Grace, hearing my voice, called to me to tell her why the steamer had stopped, and if there was anything wrong.
"Come here, my darling," said I. She approached and stood at the foot of the steps. "We have fallen in with the Spitfire, Grace, and here is Caudel."
She uttered an exclamation of astonishment. He directed his oyster-like eyes into the comparative gloom, and then, catching sight of her, knuckled his forehead, and exclaimed, "Bless your sweet face! And I am glad indeed, mum, to meet you and find you both well and going home likewise." She came up the steps to give him her hand, and I saw the old sailor's face Working as he bent over it.
The steamer made a short job of the Spitfire; but a very little maneuvering with the propeller was needful, a line connected the two vessels, the yacht's boat returned with the boy Bobby, leaving thereof the steamer's crew in the dandy, the engine-room bell sounded, immediately was felt the thrilling of the engines in motion, and presently the Mermaid was ripping through it once more, with the poor little dismasted Spitfire dead in her wake.
I sent for the boy, and praised him warmly for his manly behavior in sticking to Caudel.
Captain Verrion then told them both to go below and get some hot tea, and put on some dry clothing, belonging to them, that had been brought from the dandy.
"I'm thinking, sir," said he, when Caudel and the other had left, "that I can't do better than run you into Mount's Bay. I never was at Penzance, but I believe there's a bit of a harbor there, and no doubt a repairing shipway, and I understand that Penzance was your destination all along."
I assured him that he would be adding immeasurably to his kindness by doing as he proposed; "but as to the Spitfire," I continued, "I shan't spend a farthing upon her. My intention is to sell her, and divide what she will fetch among those who have preserved her."
Sometime about two o'clock on the afternoon of Monday, the Mermaid, with the Spitfire in tow, was steaming into Mount's Bay. I stood with Grace on my arm, looking. The land seemed as novel and refreshing to our sight as though we had kept the sea for weeks and weeks. The sun stood high; the blue waters, delicately brushed by the light wind, ran in foamless ripples; the long curve of the parade, with the roofs of houses past it, dominated by a church, came stealing out of the green slopes and hills beyond. A few smacks from Newlyn were putting to sea, and the whole picture their way was rich with the dyes of their canvas.
The steamer was brought to a stand when she was yet some distance from Penzance harbor, but long before this we had been made out from the shore, and several boats were approaching to inquire what was wrong and to offer such help as the state of the Spitfire suggested.
Caudel and Captain Verrion came to us where we were standing, and the former said,— "I'm going aboard the dandy now, sir. I'll see her snug, and will then take your honor's commands."
"Our address will be my cousin's home, which is some little distance from Penzance," I answered: "here it is." And I pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled the address upon it. "You'll be without anything in your pocket, I dare say," I continued, handing him five sovereigns. "See to the boy, Caudel, and if he wants to go home you must learn where he lives, for I mean to sell that yacht there, and there'll be money to go to him. And so farewell for the present," said I, shaking the honest fellow hearting by the hand.
He saluted Grace, and went over the side, followed by Bobby Allett, and both of them were presently aboard the little Spitfire.
"There are boats coming," exclaimed Captain Verrion, "which will tow your dandy into Penzance harbor, sir. Will you go ashore in one of them, or shall I have one of the yacht's lowered for you ?"
Thanking him heartily, I replied that one of the Penzance boats would do very well, and then, looking into my pocket-book and finding that I had no more money about me than I should need, I entered the cabin, sent the sailor attendant for some ink, and, writing a couple of checks, asked Captain Verrion to accept one for himself and to distribute the proceeds of the other among his crew. He was very reluctant to take the money,—said that the earl was a born gentleman, who would wish him to do everything that had been done, and that no sailor ought to receive money for serving people fallen in with in a condition of distress at sea; but I got him to put the checks into his pocket at last, and, several boats having by this time come alongside, I shook the worthy man by the hand, thanked him again and again for his treatment of us, and went with Grace down the little gangway-ladder into the boat.
On landing, we proceeded to the Queen's Hotel, where I ordered dinner, and then wrote a letter to my cousin, asking him and his wife to come to us as speeding as possible, adding that we had been very nearly shipwrecked and had met with some strange adventures, the narrative of which, if attempted, must fill a very considerable bundle of manuscript.
This done, I told the waiter to procure me a mounted messenger, and within three-quarters of an hour of our arrival at Penzance my letter was on its way at a hard gallop to the little straggling village of , of which Frank Howe was vicar.
Time passed, and I was beginning to fear that some engagement prevented Howe and his wife from coming over to us, when, hearing a noise of wheels, I stepped to the window, and saw my cousin assisting a lady out of a smart little pony-carriage.
"Here they are !" I exclaimed to Grace.
There was a pause; my darling looked about her with terrified eyes, and I believe she would have rushed from the room but for the apprehension of running into the arms of the visitors as they ascended the staircase. A waiter opened the door, and in stepped Mr. and Mrs. Frank Howe. My cousin and I eagerly shook hands, but nothing could be said or done until the ladies were introduced.
I had never before met Mrs. Howe, and found her a fair-haired, pretty woman of some eight-and-twenty years dressed somewhat "dowdily," to use the ladies' word, but her countenance so beamed with cheerfulness and good nature that it was only needful to look at her to like her.
Frank, on the other hand, was a tall, well-built man of some three-and-thirty, with small side whiskers, deep-set eyes, a large nose, and teeth so white and regular that it was a pleasure to see him smile. One guessed that whatever special form his Christianity took, it would not he wanting in muscularity.
He held Grace's hand in both of his and seemed to dwell with enjoyment upon her beauty as he addressed her in some warm-hearted sentences. Mrs. Howe kissed her on both cheeks, drew her to the sofa, seated herself by her side, and was instantly voluble and delightful.
I took Frank to the window, and, with all the brevity possible in a narrative of adventures such as ours, related what had befallen us. He listened with a running commentary of "By Jove!--You don't say so!—Is it possible!" and other such exclamations, constantly directing glances at Grace, who was now deep in talk with Mrs. Howe, and, as I could tell by the expression in her face, excusing her conduct by explaining the motives of it.
Mrs. Howe's air was one of affection and sympathy, as though she had come to my darling with the resolution to love her and to help her.
"She is very young, Herbert," said Frank, in a low voice.
"She is eighteen," I answered.
"She is exquisitely beautiful. I cannot wonder at you, even if I could have the heart to condemn you. But is not that a wedding-ring on her finger ?"
"It is," I answered, looking at him.
He looked hard at me in return, and remarked, "A mere provision against public curiosity, I presume? For you are not married ?"
"I am not so sure of that," I answered, "but my story is not yet ended." And I then told him of the marriage service which had been performed by Captain Parsons on board the ship Carthusian.
"Tut!" cried he, with a decided, Churchman-like shake of the head, when I had made an end. "That's no marriage, man."
"I believe it is, then," said I; "though, of course, until you unite us we do not consider ourselves man and wife."
"I should think not," he exclaimed, with vehemence. "What! a plain master of a ship empowered to solemnize Holy Matrimony? Certainly not. No Churchman would hear of such a thing."
"Ay, but it's not for the Church; it's the affair of the law. If the law says it's all right the Church is bound to regard it as right."
"Certainly not," he cried, and was proceeding, but I interrupted him by repeating that we had consented to be married by Captain Parsons in the forlorn hope that the contract might be binding.
"But without banns?—without license ?—without the consent of the young lady's guardians ? No, no," he cried: "you are not married. But it is highly desirable," he added, with a look at Grace, "that you should get married without delay. And now what do you propose to do ?"
"Well, time may be saved by your publishing the banns at once, Frank."
"Yes, but you must first obtain the guardian's consent."
"Oh, confound it!" I cried, "I did not know that. I believed the banns could be published whilst the consent was being worked on."
He mused awhile, eying his wife and Grace, who continued deep in conversation, and then, after a considerable pause, exclaimed,— "There is nothing to be done but this: we must revert to your original scheme. Miss Bellassys—"
"Call her Grace," said I.
"Well, Grace must come and stay with us."
I nodded: for that I had intended all along.
"I will find a lodging for you in the village." I nodded again.
"Meanwhile,—this very day, indeed,—you must sit down and write to Lady Amelia Roscoe, saying all that your good sense can suggest, and taking your chance, as you have put it, of the appeal your association with her niece will make to her ladyship's worldly vanity and to her perceptions as a woman of society."
"All that you are saying," I replied, "I had long ago resolved on: and you will find this scheme, as you have put it, almost word for word in the letter in which I told you of my plans and asked you to marry us."
"Yes, I believe my recommendations are not original," said he.
"There is something more to suggest, however. If Lady Amelia will send Grace her consent, why wait for the banns to be published ? Why not procure a license? It is due to Grace," said he, sinking his voice and sending a look of admiration at her, "that you should make her your wife as speedily as possible."
"Yes, yes, I have heard that said before. I have been a good deal advised on this head. My dear fellow, only consider: would not I make her my wife this instant if you will consent to marry us?"
The pony and trap had been sent round to some adjacent stables, but by seven o'clock we had made all necessary arrangements and the vehicle was again brought to the door. I then sat down to write to Lady Amelia Roscoe.