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Title: A Son of the Sea Author: John Arthur Barry * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1305951h.html Language: English Date first posted: October 2013 Most recent update: October 2013 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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|Why Torre Leigh Went to Sea|
|"D. D. and S."|
|A Young Gentleman-Midshipman|
|The Death of the Dane|
|Of a Baby and a Pot of Paint|
|"Blooded to the Open and the Sky"|
|To the Islands for Copra|
|Of the Big White Killing at Kuloa|
|From Cannibal Land to Bohemia|
|An A.B. on Board the Mary Robinson|
|By the Skin of Their Teeth|
|A Daughter of the Sea|
|Some City Savages|
|Third of the Cumberland|
|A Mid-Sea Madman and Some Second Mates|
|The Spanish Yacht|
|"Good-bye, Fare You Well"|
"HIT him again, Torre! harder, oh harder, ever so much! Mind! he's got a stone! Oh, the great coward!"
Thus shrilled a little girl as she danced, wild with excitement, around two boys, one considerably the stouter and heavier, who were doggedly pummelling each other in a secluded spot of garden hidden from the house by a thick grove of laurels.
As she spoke, the bigger of the combatants paused a minute to shake his fist at her, and his opponent, a much slighter and younger lad, seizing his opportunity, rushed in and planted such a shrewd fist on the other's nose that the blood began to flow pretty freely. Wild with the pain of the blow, he ran close up to the other boy, and, when only a foot or so away, with all his strength hurled a piece of rock he had picked up from a miniature mountain fernery close at hand. As luck would have it his opponent moved his head slightly, and the jagged stone, in place of hitting fairly, and probably killing him, only cut a shallow groove across his forehead. But in a second his face was streaming with blood. The little girl screamed with fright and ran away as the lad, wiping his eyes clear, sprang like a wild cat at the other's throat, got one arm around it, and bending his head down into chancery punched it with such hearty goodwill that it was soon of the same colour as his own, whilst the loud bellowing of the sufferer could be heard all over the garden.
At this critical moment there appeared on the scene a stout, bald-headed, elderly gentleman, dragged along rapidly by the little girl already mentioned. The pair paused as they took in the aspect of the fight, and the newcomer remarked placidly, as he put up his pince-nez, "Why, Edie, I thought you told me that Torre was getting killed! Now, as well as I can make out, I think my stepson seems in most danger, eh?"
"Yes, pa, it's all right now," assented Edie, cheerfully. "Look, Torre's punching him real good an' cumfable. That'll learn him to throw cowardly stones again—and tie crackers to my cat's tail."
"Well," replied her father, "I really think, my dear, that I must put a stop to it now, before your mother comes. Laban's roarings are enough to wake the dead."
But even as he spoke a voice was heard above the din of battle that made the pair draw back hurriedly, whilst on to the scene marched a tall, thin, hard-faced woman, who, catching up a garden rake that lay handy, commenced at once to belabour the smaller of the boys.
"Oh, you wicked villain," she screamed, "do you want to murder my poor Labie! Take that (whack) and that! (whack). Off you go for good, this time. Uncle or no uncle, Torre Leigh, I've done with you. Go and find a home for yourself where you like. But stay here to knock poor Laban about in this way you shall not!" (whack, whack).
Up till now the boy addressed had hung on to his prey like a bull-dog. But the round of a rake handle, with a furious woman at the other end to ply it, must take effect in time, so the lad let go his hold of the enemy, who at once sought protection under his mother's wing, sobbing and blubbering, and with nose, eyes, and mouth showing the effects of heavy punishment. Meanwhile Torre backed away towards his coat lying on the grass behind him—a slim, active figure of a fifteen years old lad, with dark curly hair, brown eyes, oval face, and alert, upright carriage, an undeniably handsome youngster, showing something of blood and breeding, too, in the style of him.
His late opponent, now seated beside his mother, who, as she wiped his damaged face, paused every now and then to abuse Torre, was fully a couple of years the elder, stout, broad-chested, and of so light a complexion that even eyelashes and brows looked quite white, whilst the eyes themselves, of a pale milk-and-water blue, were shifty, narrow, and too close together.
"Torre," whispered a voice from the other side of the laurel bushes, and the boy, pushing through them, found a pair of soft young arms round his neck, whilst kisses rained on his discoloured face.
Edith Bovey was only fourteen, but tall for her age, and in appearance not unlike her cousin, Torre Leigh, possessing the same rich dark complexion, deep brown eyes, and slim figure. Indeed, they might have passed for brother and sister anywhere.
"I'm ashamed of you, Torre," said his uncle in a matter-of-fact sort of way, belied, however, by a kindly smile. "You're always in mischief, and always rowing with Laban. What your aunt will do this time I really don't know."
"Well, uncle," replied Torre, as the three walked away, "I can't help it. You see, he tied a bunch of crackers to Mab's tail and set them alight, and nearly drove the poor thing mad. Then, when I tried to take 'em off he hit me. So, and so—why, you see, there was nothing else for it. And, I say, uncle, you know I've been wanting this long time to leave school and get away to sea. There's no peace here for me."
"Umph," said Mr Bovey, irresolutely, "I'd like you to have another year or two's schooling. Still, it's very evident you and Laban will never hit it."
"No, uncle," replied Torre, with a laugh, "we hit each other. He's always had the best of it, too, till to-day, when I got a few in that he won't forget in a hurry, I'll bet."
And the others, although they said nothing, seemed to derive satisfaction from the idea.
Mr Bovey, after many years spent in business as a wholesale grocer in Exeter, had retired with a fair competence to a pleasant house in the village of Newton Pomeroy, on the coast of South Devon. At that time he was a widower with one child, Edith. Then, in an unfortunate moment, he married the present Mrs Bovey, a widow named Freeman, possessing, besides a snug little income derived from money carefully invested in Consols, a boy by her first husband.
Mr Bovey's sister, Jane, had married and survived a young army officer of good family, and when she died she left a legacy to her brother in the shape of Torre and £100 in trust for him.
Open war had always raged between little Edie Bovey and Laban Freeman, but on Torre's appearance in the household, very much against Mrs Bovey's wish, matters became worse. At first Laban bullied the pair unmercifully, making their young lives a burden to them, and supported ever by Mrs Bovey, of whom her husband stood in awe, both as regarded her tongue and her person, the first of which was sharp and tireless, the latter powerful to masculinity.
As time went on the condition of affairs at "Laurustinus Lodge" resolved itself into one of unequal but acknowledged hostility between Mrs Bovey and her son on one side, and Torre and Edith on the other, with Mr Bovey as a passive well-wisher to the weaker party, and an ineffective court of appeal to both. Until to-day the opposition had always scored. Therefore, now, Torre and Edie felt a qualified delight; nor was the former in any hurry to remove the stains of battle, albeit the rake-handle so vigorously applied to the small of his back made him walk with a shortened strut that seemed triumphant, but was emphatically not so.
"I suppose she'll be sending for us presently," remarked Mr Bovey after a while. And these few words sensibly diminished the quiet elation of his young companions, who looked at each other forebodingly as, with a deep sigh, his uncle continued, affecting a faintly jocular manner, "Better go to your room, Torre, and have a wash and a bit of a brush up before the court opens. It'll be a big trial this time, I expect."
But, to the surprise of all three, there was no enquiry held as was usually the case. Only, at dinner, Mrs Bovey's stern features seemed even harsher and grimmer than ever as she sat next to her son, whose swelled nose and discoloured eyes presented a notable contrast to Torre's handsome face, untouched except for a broad band of diachylon across the forehead where the treacherously flung stone had left its mark. It was a silent meal, and an uncomfortable one, made more so from the ill-advised attempts of Mr Bovey to appear quite at his ease by casting inane little remarks on the deceptive calm that prevailed. Then, as it suddenly dawned upon him that perhaps this time he alone was to be the victim, and the coming night and its inevitable lit de justice cast its shadow over his soul, he all at once subsided. Towards the close, however, things livened up a little. Laban Freeman, made bold by his mother's presence, stretching out under the table, kicked Torre hard and heavily upon the shin, an attention that the latter promptly acknowledged by dashing a cup full of hot tea in the other's face.
"Torre!" exclaimed Mr Bovey in a tone of horror.
"Look what the coward did, uncle," replied the boy, pulling up his trousers and showing a nasty red mark on the leg. "Why can't he fight fairly, or else leave me alone?"
"Even so, sir," replied Mr Bovey as severely as he could, "the table is no place to settle your quarrels at. You had better go to your room." Torre had risen to leave. But Mrs Bovey, with an awful smile, remarked, as she got up and signed to her son, who was roaring with pain and rage, to follow her: "No, if anybody leaves it must be me and my poor tortured child. Pray do not disturb your nephew on my account, Mr Bovey. Let him turn your dining-room into a pigstye, if he likes. Perhaps he will throw something at me presently. Come along, Labie, dear."
"I'm sorry, uncle," said Torre, "but it wasn't my fault. And I'd better go away. You can see it's no use my trying to live here. It's hard to leave you and Edie, though. I'll go to sea, uncle, whenever you're ready."
Torre spoke bravely; but, presently, what with the pain of the kick and the thought of leaving his uncle and Edie, both of whom he dearly loved, his lip trembled and the tears rolled down his face. Then the girl, putting her arms round his neck and her soft cheek to his, began to cry too, whilst old Bovey scratched his bald head in perplexity. He was fond of his nephew, and wished much to keep the lad with him. This, however, he soon saw was a manifest impossibility. Before next morning he had realised the fact more strongly than ever.
No one ever knew what he went through during the quiet night watches, but when he came down to breakfast he looked a ten years' older man than he had done the day before.
"Have you really made up your mind to go to sea, Torre?" he asked of the boy later on.
"Yes, uncle," replied Torre, looking up from "Midshipman Easy," and certain from the tone of the old man's voice that his time at Laurustinus Lodge was getting short.
"Yes, uncle. I think I should make a good sailor, and it seems to be a fine free and easy life, with lots of adventures and things in it."
"Umph!" replied old Bovey, doubtfully. "I don't know much about it. But I should say it was a pretty hard life myself, with more kicks than ha'pence. Think it over, Torre, my lad. I can get you a good place in a grocer's business in Plymouth. There won't be any adventures and stuff of that sort. Still, it's a good, steady, paying concern. I made money at it. And then, too, you'll be near me and Edie."
But the lad's soul revolted at the thought of serving out sugar and plums, clad perhaps in a white apron, as he had seen the assistants doing in the very place he knew his uncle had in mind.
Although he was inland bred, having lived at Wellington under the shadow of Shropshire's Wrekin, he was not inland born, but, on the contrary, a son of the sea itself, born on the voyage home from India, and a love of the sea, although dormant, was instinctive in him, and needed only opportunity to become a ruling passion.
Yet the two years he had passed within sound of the sea had not given him any more practical familiarity with the life he was so eager to follow than if he had seen it for the first time.
Newton Pomeroy boasted a harbour, certainly, but it was a small one, and strictly in accord with the little coasting trade carried on there—a few schooners, slate-laden from Welsh quarries, or a grimy old brig or two with Cardiff coals, being all there was to represent the magic and mystery of men's doings in the great deep. But to Torre, sitting at times on the pier-head, and watching one of the old tubs transformed by the magic of the moon into a thing of beauty, her patched sails looking as if they were hollowed out of great pearls, her rusty sides, chafed rigging, and buckled spars etherealised by the soft effulgence as she swam slowly along in a sea of liquid silver, the scene appealed very forcibly, playing on the natural bent of the boy's mind, filled as it was by a long course of indiscriminate reading, with a too ready appreciation of the romantic side of things. And with the romance of the sea Torre was saturated; dreaming dreams of a wild roving life; of hidden treasures in lonely wrecks; of "Summer isles of Eden" peopled by brown men and women, flower-crowned, where tall palms swayed to the spicy breeze, and the long moan of the breakers on the circling reef fell faintly on the ear.
But old Bovey only shook his head as Torre enthusiastically recited whole chapters of Michael Scott and Marryat and Hermann Melville.
"Yes," he would reply, "it sounds pretty and fine. But I doubt there's another side of the story, if somebody'd only tell it. To my notion, and from the bit I've heard, there's precious little romance left about a sailor's life, and as for those tropic smells your writers rave of, why, you'd find it hard to beat the inside of a big grocer's shop. But there, my boy," concluded the old man, "I see you're bent on it, so you shall have a try anyhow. I've been having a talk with Mr James, whose son is a sailor. He says the young man served his time in the D. D. and S. Line; and he also very kindly gave me a note to one of the owners. So, to-morrow, we'll go up to town and see if we can make arrangements. According to James, though, it seems a rather expensive sort of business, this going to sea, what with a premium and outfit."
Now that Mrs Bovey and her son had gained the day, the former treated Torre with the calm toleration of the victor. But Laban, like the ill-conditioned cub he was, became so profuse in his taunts, and so triumphant in his rejoicing, that, but for Torre's wish to avoid making trouble for his uncle, there would assuredly have been more fights between the pair. As for Edie, she was inconsolable at the prospect of losing her playmate and protector, hanging about him and weeping incessantly, until her father said that she too might come to London and see the last of him.
THE office of the Line was in Cornhill, and as Mr Bovey and Torre entered the long room, many clerks looked up from their books and grinned comprehendingly whilst the pair were shown into an inner sanctum where sat one of the partners of the big ship-owning firm of Messrs Derrick, Deadeye, and Scupper.
The last-named, who received them, was a white-haired, rubicund, jolly old gentleman, who treated the whole affair as if it were one of the finest jokes imaginable—this going to sea.
"Aha," said he, rubbing his hands together and beaming on them, "you are just in time. Another week and you'd have been too late. Now, I can put our young friend into one of our finest ships at once. And the captain! Well, sir, there are very few captains like him. He's actually a father to our young gentlemen. I do assure you that when a vacancy occurs with him, and it becomes known, we're simply pestered with applications. That's the vessel, Mr—ah—Bovey. What do you think of her, sir?" And he pointed to a large framed oleograph—one of a dozen that hung upon the wall—representing a noble vessel tearing along over an intensely blue and white sea, whilst a green lighthouse forked up over her port bow and a yellow headland over the other. "That, sir," continued Mr Scupper, impressively, "is our A1 clipper ship, the Andromeda, Captain M'Cutcheon, just entering the harbour of Port Jackson, in New South Wales."
"Ah," replied Mr Bovey, who, with his glasses on, was scrutinising the picture, "dear me! You don't say so? Yes, very pretty, I'm sure. She runs the water like a thing of—er—um. Yes, exactly. And then, with a reminiscence of ships seen at Plymouth long ago, carrying a somewhat similar row of ports, the old gentleman startled Mr Scupper by demanding abruptly, "How many guns?"
"None, sir, none," replied the latter, gravely. "Those painted squares are only for ornament. We're peaceful traders, you know. And, as the poet says, 'Peace has her victories as well as war.' Yes; it's a noble profession. That's our House-flag you see waving from the masthead—blue ground with two red D's and an S in it, standing, of course, for Derrick, Deadeye and Scupper." Which, by the way, was not the meaning assigned to those capitals by the 'young gentlemen' of the line.
It presently appeared that the premium to be paid for the privilege of sailing as an apprentice—a word avoided as much as possible by Mr Scupper, with whom it was all "young gentlemen" or "midshipmen"—was £80 for a term of four years, out of which sum 5s. per annum was to be repaid to cover cost of washing. For the £80 the firm contracted to teach the "young gentleman" his profession, feed and lodge him, doctor him, and in fact do everything they possibly could except wash for him. Therefore the return of the five shillings.
Mr Scupper was commendably frank.
"There are," he said, "firms that charge more than twice as much per annum, and there are some who charge nothing at all. But, in the case of the former, their young gentlemen are let do pretty well as they please, and at the end of their time hardly know one end of the ship from the other, whilst in the latter they are allowed to go to the opposite extreme, and, by consorting with the crew, become quite the reverse of what we strive to make our—ah—midshipmen, that is, officers and gentlemen."
This was well delivered. Torre was impressed; so was Mr Bovey. And the latter, thinking that he could do no better for his nephew, presently found himself signing an Indenture, and then drawing a cheque for eighty pounds.
"Nice boy," said Mr Scupper, paternally pinching Torre's ear, as the business was concluded. "Shouldn't wonder if he turns out an honour to the Line. Tell you what I'll do. I'll give him a note to M'Cutcheon. He lives at Bow. The captain will advise him about his outfit, and tell him when to be on board."
This was kind; and when Torre and his uncle left the office they both felt as if they had made a friend; whilst Deadeye, presently entering, remarked to his partner, whose exclusive province the interviewing was: "Another hard bargain? More trouble than they're worth."
"Never believe it," replied Mr Scupper, earnestly. "They save a man's place. And £80 takes a lot of eating under the Merchant Shipping Act."
"Maybe," said the other, "but fifty per cent, of 'em never make sailors."
"This one will," replied Mr Scupper, with conviction. "I've sent him to M'Cutcheon in the Andromeda. A good captain and a good ship."
"Bah!" returned the other, "he'd do just as well in a Geordie brig, and better as an O.S.1 in any fok'sle afloat. However, it's your fad. And I suppose, as everybody does it, we must. But I never cared for the business."
1 Ordinary Seaman
Deadeye had himself been to sea in the days of his youth.
Torre found Captain M'Cutcheon and his family living in a small house at Bow, and, presenting his credentials, was looked upon, he thought, with some curiosity by the Captain and his wife. The former was a stout, red-cheeked, fair-bearded Scot of about fifty; the latter, a tall, thin young Englishwoman who nursed a baby, and seemed delicate.
"Ay, ay," remarked M'Cutcheon, as he read Scupper's note and glanced sharply at Torre's handsome face, "ye'll be comin' wi' me in the Andromeda. That'll make four o' ye in the omnibus this trip. I've got a son an' a nephew there too. But they're auld hands now—third voyagers.
Outfeet—ay—o' course ye'll be needin' one. Best go to Brown an' Sons in the Minories. They'll tell ye a' that's necessairy. Be aboord by Monday. There's plenty wants doin'; an' there's nae mair cats than there's mice to catch. Gude e'en till ye."
As Torre took his leave and went out into the narrow little passage, he thought he heard a feminine laugh, and some reference that he did not quite catch, to "young gentlemen-sylors."
Messrs Brown & Sons Torre and his uncle found particularly obliging people. There was, it appeared, a stereotyped outfit for (it was curious how the term would insist on cropping up) "young gentlemen about to embrace a sea-life." This was composed of three suits of uniform—working suits, suits for cold weather and suits for hot, white and coloured shirts by the dozen, caps without number, a revolver in case, with all accompaniments, a dressing case, toilet soaps, and other articles "too numerous to mention," but which filled a big iron-clamped chest, and were specified by the polite salesman as being absolutely necessary for all young gentlemen's comfort on board ship.
Mr Bovey looked astounded as he read the long list and saw the huge total of the bill.
"But," he objected, "the boy has plenty of clothes. Surely some of them would be available at sea?"
"Not unless they're specially made, sir," replied the shopman. "The other young gents'd only laugh at 'im if he had what they call long-shore togs on, sir. All midshipmen, sir, take one of our outfits. They've got a great name with seamen, sir."
Which was quite true, although hardly in the sense the affable counter-jumper imagined.
One other protest only Mr Bovey made. Seeing an item of "One dozen best white drill waistcoats, pearl buttons," he remarked, "Surely these things are unnecessary for a lad on board ship?"
"Yes, sir," was the reply, "quite so. But then they're not for sea use, sir. Often the young gentlemen on these crack clippers get invited out, sir, abroad, to swell 'ouses, an' a white vest looks real nice on an 'ot tropick night."
This was the old gentleman's last stand. Wishful that Torre should not be stinted in anything, or be unlike other boys in his belongings, he submitted to what so many parents and guardians often submit in the useless and unnecessary spending of scores of pounds where less than a quarter of the sum would be ample; and in Torre's case this was the more to be regretted because, by arrangements at his uncle's second marriage, barring a provision for Edie at his death, all the old man's fortune went to Mrs Bovey. At that time the Shrophire Leighs were in flourishing circumstances, and old Bovey had never imagined any necessity could arise by which he might wish to provide for his widowed sister and her boy. More than ever did he feel how foolish those settlements had been when he saw Torre's few pounds melting away so rapidly, and knew that without many of the bitter scenes which he dreaded, he was powerless to make good the shrinkage, as he would willingly have done, out of his own pocket.
Of course Torre, boy-like, was delighted, especially when his smart suit of navy-blue cloth with its shining anchor-buttons came home; and as for Edie, his appearance in uniform for a time, almost reconciled her to losing him. Neither she nor Torre were aware that one of the articles of the treaty insisted upon by Mrs Bovey, and weakly agreed to by her husband, was that Torre should come to Laurustinus Lodge no more, but stay at London lodgings between his voyages. This, however, as subsequent events proved, mattered nothing at all. There was nearly a week for the embryo sailor to air his new clothes in. And during that time—the happiest perhaps of his life, so far—his uncle took the two children about to every place of amusement he could think of, despite impatient letters from Mrs Bovey.
But at last the day came on which Torre had been ordered to report himself on board, and the three made their way to the South-West India Docks, where the Andromeda was lying.
After not a little trouble they found her, looking as much as possible unlike her picture in the Cornhill office. To a sailor's eye she would have seemed a pretty enough little clipper, although with promise of proving a wet one. But to their untrained vision she appeared small and dirty beyond belief, as she lay there, her decks littered with stores, cargo, and lumber of every description. Fowls tied in pairs waiting to be cooped and cackling shrilly, pigs grunting in their sty, masses of vegetables blocking the gangway, and through all, the angry rattle of a donkey-engine and the shouts of the lumpers as they received and stowed away cargo, made up a rather bewildering scene to the visitors.
"Dear me, my boy," remarked old Bovey, "I hardly think this can be the ship. Certainly there's the name on her back. But she's not a bit like the one Mr Scupper showed us. Probably there are two Andromedas, eh?"
"Now, sir," said a sharp-spoken, red-whiskered, but pleasant-faced man in a suit of faded serge, coming up to the party where they stood on the poop, having made their way on board, "can I do anything for you—passengers, I suppose?"
"No, my man," replied old Bovey, "but I should like to see the captain, who would doubtless tell us if this is our Andromeda, and, if so, show us where my nephew's room is?"
Turning, the man saw Torre's cap with its glittering new band, and the house-flag worked in silk and gold. Evidently repressing a strong inclination to laugh, he replied, "Oh, I see, this must be the new apprentice the captain told me of. I'm the mate. That's the omnibus, down there on the main deck, where the youngsters live. And now, my lad," he continued, "the sooner you get those togs off and a working suit on, the sooner I'll give you something to do. I expect you'll find your donkey in the omnibus." And the mate rushed away to the hatches, leaving his hearers quite bewildered.
"Most extraordinary!" exclaimed old Bovey, staring around. "A donkey and an omnibus! Torre, do you know anything about the matter? Or is the man mad?"
"I think the omnibus is where I am to live, uncle," replied Torre, leading the way towards the little house on the main deck that the mate had pointed out, "but the donkey's a puzzler."
Looking in at the door of the house, Torre caught sight of his own chest, bulking big in all its bravery of varnish and the bright black paint of its owner's name, in strong contrast to three other low-set, rope-handled, bruised and battered, but workmanlike boxes. Stepping over the tall door-sill, the three entered, and the place seemed crowded. Mr Bovey glanced about him in dismay. Altogether there were six bunks, two on each side, one above the other. Two cupboards and a door took up the fourth side. In the bunks lay rolled-up mattresses, new and crackling, also bright tin quart-pots and pannikins.
"What a hole!" exclaimed Mr Bovey.
"Oh, Torre," said Edie, "there must be some mistake, it's only a very little bigger than Carlo's kennel at home."
As she spoke a big square-set youngster dressed in a suit of dirty dungaree and a glengarry cap bundled in amongst them. As his eye fell on Torre's uniform, he sniffed and grinned, whilst saying with a strong Scotch accent, "If ye're the new apprentice, the mate says ye're to start packin' they onions an' carrots awa' under the boats on the skids. Ye'd better open yer donkey an' pit some worrkin' claes on."
"This is the—ah—room, then?" queried Mr Bovey, incredulously.
"Ay, this is the 'rume,' sure enough," replied the other, grinning more than ever, "where Drive, Distress an' Starve stows their hard bargains. Dinna ye see the kists—donkeys they ca' 'em at sea? An' here," punching one of the beds, "is the donkeys' breakfasts. He," nodding at Torre, " 'll be one o' Brown an' Sons saxty-five pund ootfits. His matteras 'll be hair—ay, I thocht so. Shavins is just as gude, an' mair eeconomical by a long way. Ay, ay, sir!" And the speaker, with a yell that made Edie jump, was off like a shot.
"What a coarse-looking boy," said Mr Bovey, as Torre, having unlocked his chest, began to hurriedly turn over its contents, tossing out uniforms, white shirts and dress-neckties in the search for something fitted to the business in hand. The nearest he could find, however, to "worrkin' claes," just then, was an Oxford shirt, at seven and sixpence, "as per account," and a pair of fine drill trousers with straps at the bottom for riding, "our own make at fourteen shillings."
"I expect I must get into these, uncle," said he, doubtfully. "I don't see any blue things like the other fellow had on. And I suppose you and Edie had better go. It's no use your staying now. But I'll come up to the hotel to-night, if I can get away We sail to-morrow, you know."
Whilst Mr Bovey and his daughter made their way ashore again, the old gentleman shook his head more doubtfully than ever as he said, "Well, Edie, it may be all right. But I must say it's hardly what I should have expected for the money. I'm afraid, my dear, that Torre's about to buy his experience too dearly. I ought to have got somebody who knew to look after him, and enquire into matters for me. However, I suppose they'll make a sailor of him—that's one comfort. But it's an expensive business."
Besides the lad Torre had already seen, and who, it seemed, was the captain's son by a first wife, two others, both Scotch, turned up at dinner-time. One, Campbell, was about seventeen, the other, Munro, of nearly the same age; M'Cutcheon was a couple of years older. And Torre, as they sat and eyed him, passing remarks on his attire, and grinning at the evident difficulty he found in eating with his plate on his knees, felt that probably he was booked for a pretty rough time of it.
Of course there was no table. Torre, on being told that as a "first voyager" it was his duty, had gone to fetch the dinner from the galley. There the cook had flung a lump of lean fresh roast beef and a dozen or so of potatoes, unpeeled, into a small wooden tub known as a kid. Carrying this to the omnibus, he had returned for three hook pots, which the cook filled with a dark, milkless, greasy-looking compound called tea. This, with a loaf of bread, formed the dinner. Not a very tempting meal perhaps, but the hearty young appetites left very little remaining for supper.
Rather to his surprise, Torre was now ordered to wash up the plates, forks and knives, and to put them carefully away in the locker or cupboard. He was, it seemed to him, at once installed as servant to the other three.
Nor that night, when he asked permission of the mate, was he allowed leave ashore. The Andromeda, too, he learned, was to go out on the top of the morning's tide, therefore it was quite possible he would not see his uncle and Edie again.
TORRE'S last job was to sweep the decks fore and aft. It was dark when he finished, and he had then to run sharp for the supper whilst the other three sat on their chests and looked at him sourly. So far his day had been a round of ceaseless drudgery. Had he known how many similar ones were before him he would, likely enough, have walked ashore and steered due west to the "Tavistock," where his uncle was stopping.
At dinner-time he had used a piece of canvas for wiping the plates with. That had disappeared, and he was at a loss. "Take one o' yer fine white sarks," said Campbell, with a laugh. "It's all the use ye'll ever hae for them."
In the end Torre was obliged to use a clean new handkerchief, "best Irish linen at 2s. 6d."
The three now opened their chests and prepared themselves for going ashore, there being, apparently, no objection to their doing so. And Torre was astonished to see the difference in their outfits and his. Plain suits of blue pilot cloth with bone buttons, knitted guernseys, and socks and sea-boot stockings, for heavy weather wear—dungaree for fine—flat Scotch caps, and rough flannel shirts, everything for use, and nothing for ornament. Perhaps some ten or twelve pounds' worth altogether.
Tired, and feeling dirtier than he had ever done in his life, Torre made his bed, after a fashion, noticing, as he did so, that he was the only one who indulged in the luxury of sheets and pillow-slips. Then, turning in, he blew out the double-spouted oil lamp that hung from the ceiling, and, whilst feeling very much inclined to cry, fell asleep and never awoke till a rough hand shook him, and a rough voice bade him rouse out and go to the force-pump.
The dawn was just breaking, and already the Andromeda with a tug ahead of her, was slipping down the river. A chill, cheerless scene it was, and a cold wind shrilled through the bare rigging with a hollow harsh note that struck strangely on the lad's ear as he worked away at the pump-brakes with Munro, whilst the second mate and some of the men washed the decks.
At Gravesend, he heard some one say, they were to make fast to the buoys and take powder on board. There, too, the captain and his passengers would join the Andromeda.
After the decks had been washed down and the usual breakfast-fetching and scullery business got through, the second mate, whose name was Phillips, a rough, sulky sort of fellow, evidently at some time promoted from the forecastle, roared out to Torre: "Hi, boy, lie aft now, and polish this brasswork-binnacle, skylight-gratin's, everythin'. Come, sling your long carcase about, or you'll get shifted!"
Pounded bath-brick and oil were supplied to him by the steward, a pale, unwholesome-looking man with a pasty fat face, out of which a great carbuncle of a nose fairly glowed. He spoke with a vile Glasgow accent, and utterly refused to give Torre any cloths.
"Nae, nae," said he, "the shep doesna find ye in ony sic looxurees. Ye maun jist bang aboot for rags o' yer ain. Brawn an' Co., nae doot, hae providit ye wi' lots o' stuff that's nae use for aught else ava. Awa' wi' ye noo!" And Torre, seeing no help for it, tore up one of his shirts to make "polishers" of. Munro was steering, and the other two were aloft, busy about something.
As Torre rubbed away at the brass band and boss of the wheel, Munro asked, "Did ye pay a premium to come to sea, youngster?"
"Eighty pounds," replied Torre rather dolefully, as he looked at his grimy hands and clothes.
"Good Lord!" said the other. "What fools some folk are, to be sure? Eighty punds for the privilege of bein' loblolly boy to the sailors!"
"But surely you paid, too?" asked Torre in amazement.
"Not one of us," said the other. "Mair sense an' less money than ye've got. We're the skipper's apprentices, a' three of us. First year we got nothin'. Now, this last one, we're gettin' a pund sterling a month. Pay to come to sea! Not much! Nobody'll teach ye anythin', here, if they think ye've money."
Lamp trimming was Torre's next occupation—side-lights, binnacles, riding-lights, the lamps out of the first and second mates' berth, and his own. And as he sat on the main-hatch surrounded with these articles, polishing them, cutting their wicks and filling them with fresh oil, his clothes and hands blacker and dirtier than ever, the ship arrived at Gravesend; and to his delight, amongst the first to step on board were his uncle and Edie, who stared in astonishment as they saw his occupation. Then, noticing the boy's flush of shame and embarrassment, the old man said kindly, "They're making you useful, eh, Torre? Can't begin too soon, you know. I suppose this is only a bit of preliminary to see what you're made of."
But Edie was angry, and said, frankly, "Oh, Torre, dear, is this sailors' work? And look at your hands and face and clothes all smudgy! Father, won't you speak to the captain about it?"
"It's all right, Edie," said Torre, bravely, but with a gulp in his throat, "I expect it's what everybody's got to do when they first come to sea. It isn't nice, certainly. But, perhaps, it's as well to be able to know how to manage such matters."
Not for worlds would he have told them his real thoughts and feelings, or confessed how his soul loathed these first experiences, of which, too, something seemed to warn him he had not yet seen the worst.
The decks were crowded with people; there was no privacy anywhere. So, presently, Mr Bovey and Edie said good-bye, the latter kissing Torre heartily before all hands, despite lampblack and oil. "Good-bye, dear," she whispered, "I shall have no one to take my part now against Laban. Oh, Torre, I'll always think of you and love you. I'll write to Sydney, and—and—" But here poor Edie broke down, and was led away sobbing by her father, whilst Torre, in not very much better case, returned to his lamps.
When, or how, the ship eventually got off and down the river, Torre never knew. He was kept far too busy. All day long it was boy here and boy there, until his legs were almost too tired to carry him. He was called to get coals for the cook out of the forepeak; to help the steward to stow stores away in the lazarette; to feed the pigs and fowls; in fact, do as much of the menial dirty work of the ship as one pair of hands could effect.
Off Dungeness the tug left them with a fair wind, and Torre saw sail made on a ship for the first time; and was taught that his duty consisted, on such occasions, of pulling and hauling at, and then coiling up, ropes. That night, on watches being chosen and set, he found himself in the second mate's—the starboard one—along with Munro, the captain's nephew. The other two lads were taken by the chief mate.
Munro felt it hard to have a new chum with him, and did not forget to tell Torre so, after coming down from furling the mizzen top-gallant sail, where our lad had not been of much use to him. It was his first journey aloft, and bewildered by the motion, the height, and the flapping and banging of the sail, he had found it took most of his time to hold on. Also he lost his cap. In fact, during the next few days he lost them all, and was obliged to swap a pair of new boots to Campbell for a glengarry which would not blow off. Of course this was an imposition, but, as Campbell remarked drily, "There's a big differ, ye ken, atween sea prices an' lan' prices."
So far his companions were not actually brutal towards the newcomer. But they were very far from kind. Nor did they even attempt to teach him anything. Indeed, rather the contrary, for if he asked a question, the probable answer was a jeer, and a scoff to the effect that gentlemen's sons had no business at sea. Certainly Torre was unlucky in that his lot should have been cast in company with specimens of those lower middle-class Scotch boys with regard to whom it has been popularly said that they serve the same purpose in the same place as do good intentions. But he had no choice. He would, however, have done far better as an ordinary seaman in the forecastle amongst the men, have learnt more, been treated better, have saved his money, and not been made altogether a scullion and a rouseabout of. The captain never by any chance deigned to speak to him. As for the passengers, of whom there were five, they probably thought it was part of the usual routine—as it really is, even in far more important lines than the D. D. and S.—for the youngest apprentice to scrub out the officers' berths, feed pigs, carry coal, trim lamps, be at the nod and beck of the men, and generally remain in a state of dirt and discomfort, watch in, watch out. So there was nothing really very unusual or personal to him, particularly in the menial duties that took up poor Torre's every minute on board the Andromeda. The other three had been through it, but without feeling it so keenly, not only because of constitutional indifference, but by reason of their having all commenced their sea career together, thus being enabled to divide the labour. The plain fact of the matter is, that in very many cases the apprenticing of a boy to the sea is an utter sham, except in vessels specially devoted to the training of them, and then the expense is generally prohibitive. And it is nearly time parents and guardians should know the real state of affairs, and how heavily they have to pay that their sons and wards may learn the correct way to clean out a pigstye, trim a lamp-wick, and use a broom and scrubbing-brush—all arts, it would seem, absolutely necessary to the making of an officer in the British Mercantile Marine.
Another thing that embittered Torre's life, as he was living it now, was the open hostility of Mr Phillips, the second mate. Although he was careful to keep his hands off the boy, he never lost an opportunity of using the foulest language he could towards him. A coarse, rough brute, of a species fortunately becoming rarer every year, his only aim appeared to be to make the lad like himself. And as he could neither induce Torre, during this first probation, to smoke, chew, swear, nor drink, he vowed the youngster was a softy, and would never make a sailor.
Of course, if Torre had complained to the captain the latter would probably have interfered. But the lad bore it all silently, contenting himself with a promise, registered heart-deep, that no more voyages would he take in the Andromeda if Mr Phillips was on board her. Often, now, in his watch below, Torre used to slip into the forecastle, and there some of the men, only too pleased when they saw how willing the lad was, taught him to splice and knot; the use of the compass; and to handle a palm and needle. Fortunately it was some time before this came to the ears of the captain, who, then, at once stopped these most useful visits, and gave orders that Torre was to keep to his own quarters when not on duty.
Still, at every opportunity, the men encouraged and taught him odds and ends of his profession. They saw that, in spite of all the disadvantages he laboured under, he loved the sea, and would, in time, make a sailor. So they took an interest in him, but for which, during this first passage, he would scarcely have known one mast from the other. Many boys who have not the faculty for "picking up" things, and require to have knowledge firmly but kindly drilled into them before they can hope to comprehend anything of the vast minutiæ of sea-craft, serve their four years in hopeless drudgery, are put down, simply from want of a little teaching, as incurable blockheads, and leave their profession eminently qualified for a billet as scullion or farmyard helper.
One of the most distasteful of Torre's many distasteful duties was, at times, to nurse Mrs M'Cutcheon's baby, for whom, also, he had to milk a goat every morning.
And still, as has been said, he loved his profession, although the path to the learning of it had turned out so utterly different from anything his imagination could have possibly pictured in its wildest flights. The Andromeda, too, was a fine little clipper of some 800 tons, composite built, i.e., wood on an iron framework, and a "goer." But she was terribly wet owing to her length and her lack of beam. Thus for weeks together, on her main deck, from forecastle-head to break of poop, often there would be no dry spot visible. She was deep, too, and M'Cutcheon drove her along for all she was worth whenever he got the chance. He had a reputation for fast passages, and was always trying to make records. Also, a believer in studding-sails, just then going out of fashion as not paying for wear and tear of gear, he kept the crew box-hauling them about day and night in light winds.
But when, at odd times, Torre would run out to the flying-jiboom-end, and, holding on by the royal stay, look in at the great towering, outstretched mass of snow-white cloths piling their full and graceful curves, tier above tier, from the big courses to the tiny skysail reeling against the blue, as the clipper rose her sharp bows and carried them yearning along before dropping into the creaming swirl again, he thought that nowhere in the world could be seen a more gallant or captivating spectacle. And the sailor's heart of him throbbed with delight as he rose and fell with the taper spar, standing there solitary, swaying to the jubilant motion of the beautiful fabric as it came roaring and foaming at him with that infinite majesty of motion only possessed by a ship going free, and with everything drawing from the crowning skysails to the flights of triangular staysails between her masts, and the stu'nsails reaching far out on either side. This was the sort of thing that made Torre's soul happy, and compensated for not a few hours during which, engaged in one or other of his many squalid occupations, his spirit nearly failed him.
So far, and they were now running their Easting down with the Roaring Forties and a mountainous sea behind them, nothing had occurred to break the monotony of the passage. Now three incidents happened, one at least of which helped to make matters easier for Torre.
"BOY," said the second mate to Torre one morning, as the latter was busy feeding the fowls, "jump up and jockey the gaff, and reeve those signal-halliards. Look sharp now!"
This, perhaps, is one of the most dangerous jobs that can be given on board ship, even to an old and practised seaman, let alone a "first voyager." It meant climbing out some thirty feet to the end of a swaying spar which, projecting at almost an acute angle from the mast, has nothing except a few ropes such as vangs, lifts, etc., to steady it.
Luckily, the captain was near, and, happening to hear the order, at once put his veto on it, and told the second to send somebody else.
Looking very ill-pleased, Phillips called a Dane, Svenson by name, and gave him the errand.
The seaman, an elderly, grizzled, stolid fellow, looked first at the second mate, then at the spar, and seemed about to make some remark. But, thinking better of it, he took the end of the halliards and slowly began to ascend the mizzen-rigging.
It was a bright sunshiny day, and the Andromeda, running before more than half a gale and showing nothing to it above her upper topsails, was foaming majestically along over the great combers, one minute sliding up a rounded glassy slope, the next settling down with a roaring and hissing of white smother between the lofty furrows, down, down, till, losing the wind, her topsails gave a flap, becalmed in that deep ravine. Then, rising once more, she would hang poised on the very summit of a wave for just so much time as enabled one to look around before the descent began.
Away on the port quarter was a small barque showing only her lower topsails, and a forestay-sail to the gale blowing in her teeth. Evidently she was making pretty heavy weather of it, and taking lots of water on board. So long did she stay out of sight, indeed, between the sea-mountains, that those watching oft and again wondered whether she had not foundered. But always she re-emerged, thrashing away into the head-sea, the fore part of her hull hardly discernible for the big masses of spray and foam that broke over it. From her gaff flew a string of bright flags, the American ensign on top, giving a needed flash of colour to her naked spars and rigging as she tossed and stormed like a cork amongst the vast abysses.
Right aft at the Andromeda's taffrail stood a group of passengers alternately watching the barque and the flocks of Mother Carey's chickens and mollyauks which, together with a couple of huge albatrosses, were fluttering and crying hoarsely in the ship's wake.
Torre had finished his fowl-feeding. Overhead, Svenson had succeeded in crawling out to the peak of the gaff, whence, having rove the halliards, he overhauled them on deck where Phillips was busy in bending on the "Answering Pennant," whilst the captain stood close by with the signal book in his hand.
As Torre looked at the Dane, still clinging to the extreme end of the spar, the man at the wheel, minding the distant ship more than his helm, let the Andromeda a trifle up in the wind, so that a big following comber, in place of breaking under the stern, hit her a tremendous smack on the quarter, bursting in spray across the poop and giving the gaff such a sudden violent jerk as shook Svenson from his precarious hold and flung him rods out to sea. In a minute all was confusion. "Man overboard!" roared the helmsman, whilst a passenger cut adrift and flung over two life buoys.
"Down with your helm!" shouted Phillips, suddenly losing his head. "Port main braces here, some of you!" he continued, running for'ard.
"Keep all fast!" thundered the captain to the men as they raced along the deck. "Up aloft a hand and don't let him out of sight! Let go your topsail-halliards fore and aft! Clew up foresail and mainsail! Lively there, my boys! Now then, main and cross-jack yards round! Let her come! Brace up the foreyard! There, eediot!" he remarked to the second mate, "that's the way to heave a ship to! Did ye want to sweep oor decks? "All this passed in less time than it has taken to tell it; and the Andromeda lay to, dry enough, but with a tremendous banging and clattering of canvas up aloft.
Meanwhile, Svenson could be seen, as the ship rose, swimming strongly towards her. Although volunteers to man a boat were in plenty, it was impossible, so the captain said, to launch one in such a sea; also the chances were that, encumbered by his heavy boots and clothing, the man must sink in any case long before help could reach him.
Every soul in the ship was now standing aft eagerly staring, as she lifted, towards the black mass of birds that showed the swimmer's whereabouts. Repeatedly, too, the men urged that a boat be lowered. But the captain would not hear of it.
"My God!" exclaimed someone presently, "he's turned, and is swimming away from us!" And in a minute a hail from the mizzen-royal yard confirmed the fact.
"It's them birds," said the boatswain, his mahogany-hued face paling. "They're peckin' oot his een! Hech, sirs, but yon's a crool sicht! He's better dead! An' him thinkin' he's mekkin' straight for us?"
A low groan went up from both watches, and the captain and the mate turned away from the awful scene.
One of the passengers was an Australian squatter returning home; a tall, stout, big-bearded man, very popular with the crew, to whom, now and then, he would smuggle forward a bottle of rum, or fill his pockets with cabin bread for them.
"Good God, men!" he exclaimed, "wouldn't it be better to put him out of his misery. You won't lower a boat, captain?"
The latter shook his head. "It would only be to lose her and every man in her," said he.
"Then," replied Mr Barker, "if you'll let me, I'll shoot him. I'm a dead shot. Look! isn't anything before that? And he may keep it up for hours yet."
Another low groan arose from the men as they now saw the Dane, apparently as strong as ever, swimming with one hand, but still in the wrong direction, whilst with the other he buffeted and struck at his merciless tormentors, swooping at him with fierce screams, audible even above the slatting canvas and the rush of the great seas that at times poured over the fok'sle-head. Without waiting for an answer to his appeal, Mr Barker ran below, and in another minute appeared with an express rifle. Putting it to his shoulder, and waiting for a second of comparative steadiness, he fired. But the heave of the deck threw his aim out; and in place of hitting the swimmer, a great albatross soared up and fell back, flapping the water with broken wings.
"Try again, sir," said a man.
"No," replied Mr Barker, his lip twitching with emotion, "I see I can't make certain on such bad footing. I may only wound him, and so increase his agony."
"Why," exclaimed some one at this moment, "there's a boat making for him!"
In the excitement of the drama acting out before their eyes, nobody had taken any notice of the barque. Now, looking round, they saw that she had shifted her helm and run down on their starboard quarter. Then, heaving to, had lowered a boat which with six men in her was pulling swiftly towards the swimmer.
"Hooray!" shouted one of the Andromeda's crew in a deep salty note, "there's a Yankee Chrischun on board o' that little hooker! If he'd ha' been with us, we'd not been a shipmate short, you bet!" M'Cutcheon turned scarlet as he heard this, and noticed how the passengers glanced askance at him.
"Ay," remarked another man, a shaggy-haired, wild-looking customer, as he pointed to the approaching boat, now, as it seemed, standing upright on her bows, now sitting completely out of water on her stern, "an' what'll them brave boys think on us as wasn't game enough to make our skipper put a boat over? Oh, the bullies! I'm fair 'shamed to be an Englishman!" And the fellow brought his shut fist savagely down on the rail.
"Silence!" roared Phillips; "stow that long tongue of yours!"
"Silence yerself," retorted the man, with a nasty look in his eyes and a hand wandering towards his sheath-knife. "Silence yerself, ye d—d greaser! How'd you, or yer skipper, like to jockey that gaff, now, eh? I reckon ye'd soon be where poor Hans is."
The men were greatly excited, and some very free talk was being indulged in when, all at once, the swimmer, with the boat not more than a hundred yards from him, suddenly disappeared.
"He's gone!" shouted one.
"No, there his head shows again!" roared another, pointing.
But it was only the black body of a mollyauk; and the barque's boat was tossing and tumbling over the very spot to which, all along, the thick flock of birds had directed them.
For awhile they lingered. Then they pulled back towards their own vessel. As they passed the Andromeda the whole of the latter's crew tumbled into the fore-rigging, utterly regardless of orders calling them to the braces, and gave three rousing cheers, acknowledged by the man at the boat's steering-oar by as many waves of his sou-wester.
"He'll have a nice job getting his boat aboard again," remarked Phillips to the chief officer, as the men, at last, and sulkily enough, came to the topsail halliards.
"Tshee!" sneered the man who had before spoken, overhearing this, "there's a sailor got charge of that ship—not a soger." And the mate very wisely took no notice of the insult to his own captain.
And as they mastheaded their yards, and set their courses, and brought the Andromeda before the wind, during which operation she repeatedly filled her decks, they saw that the stranger had indeed picked up her boat, and that—significant fact—not only were her signals hauled down, but that, when the Andromeda dipped her own ensign, the Stars and Stripes stood out motionless to the gale, whilst the brave little ship, turning her head once more to wind and sea, battered away again upon her course.
"Bully for 'em!" exclaimed a sailor loudly, as the starboard watch came aft to get a pull on the crossjack braces. "She don't want to have nothin' to say to us! An' she won't bid us good-bye. Wot a flamin' hinsult! But, by God, they're men, those Yanks!"
This matter lost Captain M'Cutcheon prestige fore and aft, everyone feeling acutely the slur that the American had thrown upon the ship by her smart piece of work, unavailing though it had been. Certainly the captain had acted according to his best judgment and conscientiously, and nothing more would have been heard of the affair if the barque had not so completely demonstrated the possibility of saving the man's life had steps been taken in time. Actually, the catastrophe in the first place was the result of the helmsman's inattention. If he had not let the ship fall off and then brought her to so suddenly, poor Hans would never have been slung to his doom from the peak like a potato from a stick. And Torre fully appreciated his own narrow escape from a similar fate; for, undoubtedly, the captain's interference had saved his life. A few days after this, another disaster overtook the Andromeda. Running heavily under her fore and main lower topsails and a mizzen and fore topmast staysail, she broached to and swept her decks.
Torre had just turned in when, all at once, the ship seemed to stand still, there was a sound as of some huge weight falling on her decks, and she quivered from stem to stern.
"Ah," remarked Munro sleepily, "she's taken a sea on board that time!" And so she had; for, even as he spoke, the omnibus windows were darkened by a big body of water that made its way in over the wash-board and through every crevice until the lower bunks were afloat. Then they felt the ship heel slowly over, until Torre, in his bunk, had to hang on like a parrot to stop himself from pitching out across Munro on the opposite side.
"Oh," shouted the latter, "she's turning turtle, and we canna get oot. Lord ha' maircy upon us, puir sinners!"
Then they heard a terrific banging and thundering of canvas, and slowly, very slowly, the ship became nearly upright again, the water cleared away, and the pair, forcing the door open, rushed on deck.
It was a clear night; but it was blowing a gale. The Andromeda, who had been running with the sea on her quarter, was now hove to, head to wind and sea, and making dismal weather of it. All her topsail sheets had been let fly to stop her from going over, and the racket was indescribable; whilst green combers rushed thundering aft along the deck, bursting even into the saloon, already half full of water. Here and there dim forms came and went with hoarse cries and shoutings. Torre, hanging to the fife-rail round the mainmast, looked on for a minute or two bewildered, and up to his waist in boiling foam. Then, following Munro's example, he clawed his way aft on to the poop, nearly getting his legs broken by a harness cask which had washed adrift.
To his utter astonishment he saw the poop swept bare. The wheel was gone, so were the skylights, binnacle, companion, everything. Making for'ard again, Torre found one watch clewing up and furling the topsails, whilst others were getting a tarpaulin ready to lash in the mizzen-rigging, and sails to cover the yawning holes in the poop deck where the skylights had stood. Whilst doing his best to help, he was sent away by the mate to trim and light a riding-lamp to use with the spare compass.
Not until towards morning did he hear that both of the helmsmen had gone with the wheel; that the second mate's leg was broken; and the captain's face badly cut by the hood of the companion.
Desolate and storm-swept, indeed, did the ship look when dawn at last broke, as she lay to under a storm-staysail forward and the tarpaulin aft, the only remnants visible of all her huge pile of fine-weather canvas. Her decks were afloat with a raffle of gear, spare spars, hencoops full of drowned fowls, pots and pans out of the galley, seamen's dunnage from the forecastle. Through her rigging the gale blew with a stern, steady, threatening hum; over the bows, at intervals, green seas were pouring. The galley fire was out; and the two pigs who had managed to escape from their pen were crouched in it. A monstrous grey sea curved its rolling hills up to a lowering grey sky. It was bitterly cold, for they were in 46° south. Aloft, the slack running gear stood out in bights; on the yards were heaped sodden masses of canvas. From their davits the two quarter boats hung in bunches of splintered planks.
THE fact of the second mate being laid by the heels was a distinct gain to Torre, who felt but little sympathy for his tyrant's plight, and hailed live advent of M'Cutcheon junior in Phillips's place with heartfelt satisfaction.
It goes without saying that the Andromeda's crew were not too well fed. Few sailors' forecastles, even in these latter days, are noted for plenty, although, undoubtedly, the average quality is better than of old. But in the Andromeda's case, unfortunately, Messrs Derrick, Deadeye and Scupper had allowed Captain M'Cutcheon a lump sum to "find" the crew with. Consequently the provisions he had been able to provide, and at the same time make a few pounds for himself, were not altogether what the Board of Trade might have approved. In fact some of the stuff came well under the description of
"High old Gover'ment stores
That had been to war with the Boers,
And sailed the waves to free the slaves on Africa's burnin' shores!
Game old Gover'ment tack,
That had fought with the Brown and the Black,
And now was agoin' to finish its days in the belly of Merchant Jack."
For the first few weeks there had been a lot of growling, but the majority of the crew, being foreigners, "knuckled under" submissively—or appeared to do so, when they, after one or two remonstrances, perceived the hopelessness of redress—and ate their rusty pork, mahogany-textured "salt-horse," and frowsy biscuit in silence without further complaint
"That's the beauty o' Dutchmen," remarked M'Cutcheon to his son. "They'll eat maist anythin'! Mind, Jock, when ye come to be a master, yersel, to always pick your crew of 'em. Gude sailor-men, too, are they; an', aboon a', they've deegestions like an ostreedge. See till 'em, hoo weel they've settled doun after the first grummle or twa! An' ye ken, Jock, that chandler Bobstay's victual is, as ane micht say, auld."
"An' stinkin', an' hard as the hobs o' hell, an' salt as Lot's wife!" added the acting-second mate with a grin. "D'ye think I had nane o' it whiles in the omnibus? Ye're not earnin' an ower gude name for the firm, father; although, certainly, ye canna mak them a much waur ane than they've gotten a'ready."
"Hoots!" exclaimed M'Cutcheon, "less talk out o' ye! Gang for'ard an' set that fore-topmast stuns'l, shipshape this time, or I'll disrate ye."
Mrs M'Cutcheon, whose parents kept a butcher's shop in the Mile End Road, rarely opened her lips to anybody. She was so impressed by the obligations of her position as the captain's wife, that she declined to run any risk of compromising it by the slightest appearance of familiarity with the officers or apprentices—even though her stepson was now one of the former. So, beyond a sharp admonition now and then as to the manner in which he was to hold the "biby" she was too lazy to nurse herself, and for which her husband was too mean to hire a maid, Torre gained nothing by this, his most hated duty of all.
The loss of three able seamen had so grievously weakened the Andromeda's crew, however, that presently Torre found himself gradually being made more use of. He learned to take his trick at the wheel, represented, since the smash, by four hand-spikes lashed crossways to the boss of the tiller. Also, he was aloft much more than formerly; and the fowls being dead, and the pigs slaughtered, rendered further services towards them unnecessary. Even on the coarse fare supplied in the omnibus or, perhaps, actually because of it, and an ever sharpened appetite, the boy grew stronger and stouter in amazing fashion. Still, as a "first voyager," to his share fell all the most dirty and disagreeable work of the ship, together with the uncomfortable knowledge that, unless changes took place in the personnel of the omnibus, the next trip, and possibly the next alo, might find him still the latest comer, and still doomed to the menial servitude of fetch and carry, rub and polish, dragging coals, and feeding and cleaning stock. And the idea troubled the boy not a little.
One night, emboldened by the settled look of the weather, and the fine breeze that sung so steadily after her, the second mate, perhaps thinking to surprise his father, loosed and set the double fore, main, and mizzen topgallant'sls, under which increased area of canvas the ship tore along with her lee-rail at times almost level with the water, and a sound aloft as if a whole gale was now booming in the bellies of the fresh sails.
It was four bells—ten o'clock—in the first watch. And though heartily wishing he had left well alone, young M'Cutcheon determined to carry on until twelve o'clock before taking the extra canvas off her. But in about another hour the wind increased to such an extent that, even to his eye, it became manifest that, if he did not at once reduce the pressure on his spars, he would lose some of them. To add to his trouble, the mate, aroused by the increased list, and the sound of rushing water outside his cabin door, came on the poop and, after calling him all the Scotch idiots he could think of, ordered him to at once turn the hands up and shorten sail.
Torre was sent to rouse out the watch below. To his surprise there was a light in the forecastle, and not only the watch below but the one on deck were there. A light was burning, too; and some one was singing a song.
But at Torre's summons the lamp was dowsed, and the crowd stumbled out on deck. By this time the upper topgallant yards were on their caps, with the canvas wildly flapping and banging—the apprentices having let go the halliards.
As soon as they appeared, Torre perceived at once that both watches were hopelessly drunk. There was not a sober man amongst them. Some one let go the upper fore-topsail halliards, and some one the main. Losing their footing, the men skulldragged about in the lee scuppers amongst the water, whilst Mr Sinclair, the chief mate, roared like a bull at them, enforcing his words with oaths and kicks. But they only jeered at him. Very quickly now, the captain came on deck, just in time to see three of the topgallant sails laughing at him through ominous and ever-widening rents.
Of course they put the helm up and kept away, but too late to save the canvas. And the scene, with the crew helpless, or only just sensible enough to be mischievous in letting go things that should be kept fast; the whipping and slatting of the ragged sails aloft; the shouts of the passengers, who had volunteered to assist when they learned how matters stood; together with the bawling of the drunken seamen, and the fall inboard of big seas at intervals, was something to remember. As for the captain, he just stood and "swoor at lairge"; whilst, with the help of the sailmaker, carpenter, cook, steward, and apprentices, after hours of hard work the ship was snugged, and once more kept on her course.
At daybreak the fore-hatch was taken off and an exploring party sent below. Their report again brought M'Cutcheon himself on the scene. The Andromeda, not being a full ship, one could walk almost erect over the cargo fore and aft. And the havoc that had been played with the latter was terrible. Cases of tinned meats, fish, milk, biscuits, sweets, vegetables, etc., etc., lay almost everywhere in dozens and scores, all partially or wholly emptied. Apparently, however, the cargo-broachers had only within the last day or two succeeded in finding spirits; for though there were lots of rifled casks of bottled Lager beer, whose effect upon such seasoned stomachs would be about equal to toast and water, only a couple of cases of strong drink were broken into. These contained Marie Brizard rum of the finest quality, mild but strong, and were evidently accountable for the fiasco of the preceding night.
This morning the men stood sulkily about, watching the boatswain and his aides as they kept adding to the pile of "empties" gradually accumulating on deck. Nothing had been thrown overboard. And at this the mate was inwardly jubilant. For missing cargo he would have been held responsible. But here was proof as to the correctness of his tally in London. The men knew this as well as he did. But Mr Sinclair was rather a favourite.
At last the tale seemed complete. It reached from galley to forecastle-head, packed high as the bulwarks—all cases and casks that had contained eatables or drinkables. Boxes of jewellery—gold and silver watches and chains—and clothing had been opened, but fastened carefully down again with their contents untouched. The men had been foraging for empty stomachs, not for their pockets.
The passengers stood by, rather interested. They had more than once been in the forecastle at meal times. And more than once had conveyed saloon remnants thither under cover of darkness.
"If I were to put such stuff on the table of my men's hut at Ngori, they'd throw it to the dogs!" had exclaimed Barker.
He was the only returning Australian. The other four were more or less unhealthy young persons taking the round voyage for their bodies' sake. And they all watched curiously as the red face of the captain grew redder and redder, and his thick apoplectic neck visibly swelled and rolled over his shirt collar whilst he tried vainly to control his passion.
Meanwhile, both watches, port and starboard, looked on apparently without interest, puffing at their pipes, but showing in their unsteady limbs, unkempt hair, salt-sodden faces and bloodshot eyes very plainly the result of their late debauch—an unsavoury enough seeming crowd, in proportion of three foreign to one British. At last M'Cutcheon turned to them.
"D'ye see yon?" he asked, sternly pointing to the pile.
Some one laughed; and a German replied defiantly, "Yah! und ver good dey vos. Mein Gott, subbose ve no ged 'em, ve die mit sdarvation."
"I'll starve ye, ye meeserable villain!" burst out the captain furiously. "I'll see that ye'll get what ye've been workin' for—sax months' hard labour in Darlinghurst, the meenit we reach Sydney. Nae satisfied wi' my gude victuals, ye must gang awa an' brak cargy to fill yer tarry bellies wi'! Ma conscience! but I'll work ye up, lads, for this bit spree! I'll tak it oot o' ye! I'll let ye ken that Jock M'Cutcheon's na to be jokit wi' in sic fashin' as ye've been attemptin'! I'll stap yer ploys frae this oot—"
"Oh, give us a rest," interrupted a sailor, "an talk English. Why, yer wuss nor a bloomin' Dutchman yerself! If yer hadn't starved us on yer blasted old stores, which was part o' the same lot as was in the Hark when she run ashore, why, we'd ha' left yer cargo alone. Git out, ye bloomin' sailor-killer!"
As M'Cutcheon stood, actually gasping at this salute, another man took up the parable. Altogether a superior sort of customer, this, who spoke with a rather refined accent, and who, in spite of the traces of the recent "spree," was evidently a smart and fairly educated seaman—probably a mate forced to ship before the mast, as so many certificated men have to do in these days.
"Look here, Captain," said he, "there's not the least doubt we've done wrong (M'Cutcheon snorted angrily), and that you can get us six months in Sydney gaol, if you like. But I, for one, know Sydney well. And I also know Captain Brown, of the Marine Board, and other folk who have to do with seafaring matters. And I think, when we show the Magistrate specimens of the stuff you've been trying to feed us on, that, if he doesn't say at once this business serves you right, he'll, anyhow, let us off easy. Also I have friends, journalists in the City, and I'll take care that a fair sample of our rations goes to each of their offices. I suppose you know what that means? We may go to gaol, Captain, but you'll get such a showing up as you'll remember all your days, I can tell you that!"
"Ye scoondrel," roared the Captain, shaking his fist at him, "so ye're the ringleader! A broken man, maist likely, wi' a met's or, mebbe, a skipper's certeefiket in yer kist. Pit the airns on him, bo'sun, an' bring him aft. I'll hae no domd sea-lawyers runnin' loose aboord ma ship."
But as the boatswain advanced, dangling a pair of great rusty handcuffs, a dozen sheath knives flashed out and he stopped short. Three of the men, too, who had rushed into the forecastle, appeared handling revolvers as if they knew how to use them. The passengers, except Barker, beat a hasty retreat aft. The cause of the demonstration alone remained unmoved, smoking calmly, and leaning against the windlass.
But, presently, throwing his pipe overboard, he said, "Put those things up, boys, or they'll be calling it mutiny, or some such rot. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the Old Man don't think it's something of the sort already, to judge by his looks. I'm perfectly willing to go aft—if he'll only lock me up in the store-room." And so saying, he advanced and offered his hands for the cuffs, and was led away, and confined in a spare berth next to the second mate's.
"Now then, lads!" exclaimed Mr Sinclair briskly, seeing that the skipper, whose empurpled face had become mottled with white patches at the sight of so much cold steel, remained silent, "Now then, lads! Turn to and get all that stuff below again."
"Is the skipper goin' to give us that six months chokee when he gits to Sydney?" asked one.
"Oui," chimed in a Frenchman angrily, "is it dat ve come to ze preezon parce que ve veel our estomacs, zat 'e sall kip, vat you call 'im, hempty? Sacre nom! 'E is von big vool if 'e tink ve vork no more only for preezon!"
"That's it, Frenchy," confirmed the first speaker, as low polyglot growls of assent went around. "Is we to go to gaol in Sydney?"
"Yes," replied the captain, having got over his momentary qualm, "an' for as long as I can mak' them gie it ye."
"Then sail yer cussed ship there!" answered the man, turning and entering the forecastle, followed immediately by the rest of the crew.
Then ensued a curious state of affairs. The men's food was stopped. But they did not seem to mind. The weather was very cold, and it could be seen that with a couple of oil drums they had constructed a sort of stove in the forecastle, fed, of course, by coals of which, from the situation of the fore-peak, they were enabled to procure any quantity. New sails ought to have been bent in place of the three topgallant sails; but in the prevailing heavy weather, and with so few hands, this was out of the question. Also, the captain and his mates had to take their trick at the wheel. Running as the Andromeda was, with a high following sea, it was not safe to trust an apprentice to steer alone; so, what with a man at the lee-wheel, now and again, intervals were short between wheels and look-outs. Indeed, it was almost trick and tie,1 especially o' nights. Thinking it safer to get his lower topgallant sails off, the skipper had them stowed, a task that gave his scratch crew all they knew how to perform; for, considering her size, the Andromeda's sails were very heavy. She could have carried them, and the other ones too, easily just then. And the passage was being spoiled,—a maddening reflection to M'Cutcheon, and one that prevented him from taking the upper topsails and mainsail off his ship, as he might have yet done in time. Whilst the apprentices and the boatswain, sailmaker and carpenter, etc., were at work aloft, the men lounged about for'ard, smoking, and freely criticising the proceedings. What they were living on puzzled the captain.
1 From wheel to look-out and back again without a rest.
"I'm thinkin', Mr Sinclair," said he, "that we'll hae to search the fok'sle. They must ha' proveesions hid there. They canna get at the cargy again?"
"No, sir," replied the mate; "I was down to-day, and nothing's been disturbed. They won't pick that new lock on the hatch very easily. I suppose they have a store of stuff hidden away under their bunks, or somewhere. They may have foreseen and provided against their supplies being stopped."
"If you insist on searching their quarters there'll be bloodshed," remarked Mr Barker bluntly. "And, Captain," he added, "I speak for the rest of the passengers when I say that some arrangement should be come to. We don't want to spend more time than can be helped pottering about the Southern Ocean in this style."
The skipper looked at him dourly. He himself was getting very tired of taking so active a part in working the ship. But he had been robbed, scared, and defied by his men, a matter he could in no way make up his mind to stomach. If he could but sight a warship! But, as he knew, few of them had any business in these latitudes. Well, at all risks, he must try and manage, at least as far as Adelaide. Yes, the latter port for choice! Reflection had told him that his prisoner might, as he promised, make matters uncomfortable for him in Sydney. He had seen a specimen of ships' stores produced in a Colonial police court once before, and the accompanying comments had been unpleasant to listen to. But he saw no way out of his present dilemma.
Meanwhile, baby and brasswork, alike, were neglected in these days, so far, at least, as Torre was concerned. He was kept, like everybody else, constantly going about other business.
As Mr Sinclair guessed, the men had a reserve of food. But this was getting low, and indeed they were anxiously considering the advisableness of helping themselves by force, when what might have been foreseen happened.
SUDDENLY, during the last hour of the middle watch, the wind which had blown so long and so steadily either on the quarter or right aft, hauled abeam, and thence dead ahead, hardening into a gale before Mr Sinclair could even get his yards braced for'ard. And presently, the Andromeda began, with so much sail upon her, to make tremendously bad weather of it. Foresail, mainsail, and upper topsails must come off her or the masts must go. Already the tough Kauri pine sticks were buckling like fishing rods, whilst big seas in ceaseless procession broke high above her bows and rolled six feet deep to the saloon doors, and over them, swamping the whole place for the second time that passage.
In the forecastle the men lay in their bunks smoking, and staring stolidly at the bubbling seething water as it flowed in and out. Here the din and riot were indescribable as the ship lifted her bows to the shock of the waves that made her reel and stagger as they hit her, first on one side then on the other, or bounded over her in foaming cascades of greenness, whilst she buried herself until she hid the clew of the foretopmast staysail.
Aft stood the captain and the passengers, amongst the latter of whom Barker was the only one who understood the full gravity of the situation.
With her swept poop where, over the apertures left by the missing skylights, spare sails had been fastened; rude wheel, meat-safe instead of shining binnacle, and what brasswork was left around the mizzen green with verdigris, the Andromeda looked like a craft that had already suffered shipwreck. Aloft, too, the roughly stowed sails lay in shapeless heaps upon the yards, ropes blew out in curves to the wind that roared with the voice of a thousand bulls into the cavities of the great courses, threatening every moment to tear their tacks and sheets out of the deck, now nearly waist high in water fore and aft.
Very grim looked M'Cutcheon as he watched his straining spars and labouring ship.
"For twa preens," muttered he at length, "I'd up hellum an' rin awa before it." And he tugged at his beard vigorously.
"Well, Captain," said Barker, who had been conversing with his fellow passengers, and felt that the time had now come to "talk straight," "this is a losing game you're playing. Nor does it suit us. And it's all your own fault. If you'd fed your men properly they wouldn't have broached the cargo. However, Mr Sinclair tells us that the outside value of the stuff consumed is about £100. And, although by rights the loss should come out of your pocket, still, to get clear of this most uncomfortable ship, we are willing to subscribe the amount amongst ourselves, provided you agree to give up any idea of prosecuting the men."
Now Mr Barker was, as the Captain knew, not only a very wealthy man, but a man possessing a good deal of influence in Sydney; thus his plainly stated view of the case rather staggered him. For a minute he tried to stand on his dignity and assert himself. But the attempt was a failure; and, with a bad enough grace, he gave in, saying:—
"Weel, it's hard to hae sic a crowd o' thieves get the better o' me. An' but for ye passengers, an' the wife an' bairn, I'd jist hang it oot till a' was blue!"
"Just so," replied the squatter drily, "but I have business awaiting me in Sydney, and I can plainly see that, if you don't do something, we'll either have the ship dismasted, or worse; possibly the crew taking charge into the bargain. Better let Mr Sinclair go and tell them that—or stay, I'll have a talk with that man in the lock-up. The best plan will be, then, to let him go to his shipmates."
"Do what ye like, sir," replied M'Cutcheon, sulkily enough, "as ye've got the whole thing planned oot, ye may as well feenish it."
So, presently, after a few words with Eastmore, the prisoner, Mr Barker sent him for'ard; and in a short time the men could be seen wading about, and so obviously waiting for orders, that Mr Sinclair very soon had them at work clewing up the main-sail and snugging the Andromeda down to her lower topsails.
The head-wind only lasted twenty-four hours before drawing aft again as suddenly as it had shifted at first; and then, to make up for lost time, the Captain piled the canvas on until the log showed thirteen, and the noise of her going was like that of an express train with the rattle and the roaring of it.
In this southerly weather, spite of his expensive outfit, Torre could not find enough clothes to keep himself warm. Thin merino underclothing in place of good honest stout flannel, and blue serge instead of pilot cloth, all undoubtedly the best of its kind, but more suitable for Singapore or Calcutta than the lee-side of a poop or on a royal yardarm in forty-five South latitude. But of his stock of fine clothes, actually, by this time, little remained except a few suits of uniform which he never, so far as he could see, would have a chance to wear. His dress waistcoats and white and fancy shirts had been either swapped away for something warm and useful in the shape of flannel under-vests and drawers and woollen comforters, a "backed" waistcoat, canvas trousers, or similar articles that would stand wear, or been converted, along with his sheets, into lamp-cleaners and brasswork-polishers.
As to any attempt that was ever made to teach him something of the science of navigation, he might as well have been in the forecastle itself. Now peace reigned on board once more—once more it was "biby" and brasswork; scrubbing, coaling, and waiting on his messmates. Also Phillips was fast getting well again, his leg having made a good cure.
Horribly tired was poor Torre of that slobbering crying mite of Scotch-Cockney humanity who seemed to delight in pulling his hair or digging its fingers into his eyes as he, often in vain, strove to soothe its querulous shrieks, whilst its mother watched him from her lounge chair. The boy, too, felt it an indignity thus to be made into a nurse, and often his wrath and shame were near getting the better of him. One day they actually did so. The "biby" had been more than usually fractious; and its mother had spoken sharply to Torre before the passengers and the grinning man at the wheel, until the lad's face burned again, and bitter tears forced themselves into his eyes.
"Chucka dam biby all overboard an' see heem swim-a," whispered the helmsman, a Greek with whom, as with the rest of the crew, Torre was a prime favourite.
But the lad felt no animosity towards the child, and redoubled his vain efforts to keep it quiet. The captain, surly and ill-tempered, as he always was now, happened just then to come on deck, and disturbed by the shrill yells of the infant, flung an oath at Torre as he passed him, bidding him at the same time, to "stap the bairn fra greetin'."
"E's doin' it a purpus, John," complained Mrs M'Cutcheon from her seat. "Nothin' 'll mike me believe but what he's pinchin' of the little dear. It's always the best o' bibys when I've got it."
"Then," said Torre suddenly and desperately, as he stepped forward and put the child on her lap, "take it, ma'am, and keep it. I didn't come to sea to learn how to nurse. My uncle paid £80 for me to learn my profession. My indentures said nothing about nursing babies. And I'll do no more of it." And turning, he walked off the poop, leaving the parents struck dumb with astonishment, the passengers laughing in pleased approval, and "Jack the Greek" swearing jubilantly in soft sibilant whispers to himself. Ten minutes afterwards Torre could be seen, suspended in a bowline, far away aloft, tarring down the main-royal stay. But during the remainder of his short term on the Andromeda, although they hazed the boy by keeping him in a continual plaster of tar and grease, he was never again told to "get a wash and a clean shirt, and go and take the baby."
It was on the ninety-fifth day from leaving London that the Andromeda, one beautiful forenoon, entered the Heads of Port Jackson in tow of the Commodore. But of the scenery of the world-famed harbour, Torre saw nothing as, until the ship berthed, he was inside a four hundred gallon bread-tank, handing bucketfuls of evilsmelling, broken-up biscuit through the man-hole to the second steward, who emptied them to the Port Jackson sharks. The skipper was getting rid of the remnant of forecastle stores; and the tugboat men grinned as they saw the clipper's muddy brown wake; and made uncomplimentary allusions to the House-flag, and "limejuice hookers," that should have caused M'Cutcheon's ears to tingle.
Thus, when Torre, wet through to the skin, and half-choked, emerged from his prison, the Andromeda was abreast of Fort Denison, and turning in for Circular Quay.
Of course the passengers went ashore at once; the health-seekers rapturously glad to be rid of their physician, and swearing that the biggest mail steamer afloat would hardly be big enough to hold them for the return trip, although M'Cutcheon gently hinted at a possible forfeiture of passage money if such a thing should happen. But they laughed him to scorn. They would sue Derrick, Deadeye and Scupper for sending them with a man who not only nearly wrecked the ship and condemned them to a miserable existence by lamp light; but, into the bargain, almost made the crew mutiny by his greed, thus costing them £20 each! They'd see all about it! They'd talk to the agents! Besides, the owners had said seventy days at the outside! And here were ninety-six! And, too, they had been fed in a most beastly way, considering the amount of passage money, etc., etc. And so these young men, having arrayed themselves in a new suit apiece, with linen like proof armour reaching from fingertips to ear-lobe, and tanned boots of the latest fashion; after giving the captain a bit of their mind, hung silver-mounted crook-sticks over their arms, turned up the bottoms of their trousers, and marched ashore to explore "The Kawlinies," leaving the skipper in a decidedly uncomfortable state.
But Barker only laughed. "I don't expect you'll ever see or hear of 'em again," said he. "The trip's done them a lot of good. But they won't go back with you. I wouldn't myself, in their place. The Andromeda's no passenger ship. Take my advice, Captain, do without 'em, and advise the firm to. Also, don't be so fond of foreigners. And, in any case, feed your men better, or I'll be hearing of you in trouble one of these days. Well, so long!"
Before this, the squatter had told Torre, to whom he had taken a great fancy, especially since the nursing incident, that if ever he wanted a friend he'd find one at Ngori.
"Bourke's the town. Station's twenty miles away. I don't suppose you'll ever find your way there, as you're indentured for four years to this low-down firm. Still, one never can tell, especially in this country, the curious fashion in which extremes may meet. So don't forget, my boy—John Barker, Ngori, Bourke. It's a far cry from here—over 500 miles. Still, as I say, one never knows."
Captain M'Cutcheon, once his sails were unbent, lost no time in offering his crew their discharges; which they accepted to a man. The usual paragraphs about the passage had appeared in the shipping news of the daily papers—curt matter-of-fact notices copied from entries in the log book, and furnished by the skipper himself. But he had some knowledge of the dreadful rapacity of the reporter for anything sensational; and he feared the man Eastmore might be tempted to give a full account of the whole business, not only of his failure to attempt the rescue of the Dane, but of the cargo broaching and the cause of it. In which case he knew at least three newspapers who would serve it up to their readers in columns with all the pomp of displayed headings and "leaded out" type. Therefore, it seemed good to him to pay off the crew at once almost, giving them at the same time, ignorant that he was compounding a felony, a gentle reminder that, if they did not hold their tongues about the cargo, Darlinghurst gaol might still be their end. Of the passengers he had no dread. Barker had promised that he would keep their mouths shut. And, although in this case, unknown to the captain, the squatter had done the same by Eastmore. The fact was, that Barker, in the first place, above all things, hated publicity of the kind a Sunday paper or a weekly free-lance would bestow on him as a local and well-known man; and that, into the bargain, the agents of the Andromeda, Messrs Moore, Devine and Co., were personal friends and customers of his own.
In harbour it is the custom on almost all vessels of any size or reputation, to have an apprentice at the gangway to give information to visitors, or to warn loafers away. This post is generally taken in turn, and is looked upon as a welcome break in the usual routine. But when Torre's turn came, and, for the first time since joining, he had arrayed himself in his uniform, he was brusquely told by Phillips, now about again, albeit with a crutch, "to come out o' that, and get aloft and scrape down the mizzen-royal mast."
The Captain was standing close to, and for a moment Torre thought of appealing. But, just then, catching M'Cutcheon's eye, he saw that such a course would be worse than useless; realised, too, that by his refusal to nurse the baby, he had made the Andromeda, henceforth, a harder home than ever for himself; and that between the second mate and the captain his life would hardly be worth living. But he set his teeth resolutely, and yielding his place to Munro, went into the omnibus, threw off his useless finery, and shinned aloft with a scraper round his neck and a feeling of bitter resentment at his heart.
A few days after this, being ashore on an errand, he met Eastmore, so well dressed and so smart-looking that Torre hardly knew him. "Well, how's the baby now?" said the sailor laughing. "I suppose they'll haze you a bit for that mutiny of yours, eh? Why, it was a lot worse than our little shine. You ought to leave that ship, Leigh. You'll never do much good in her—especially as that brute Phillips is on his legs again."
With all this Torre cordially agreed. And when Eastmore said that he was going to give up the sea for a time and take a billet that had been offered him in the country, the boy at once asked if he could not go with him. But Eastmore would not hear of it. "No," said he, "it's no use breaking your indentures in that fashion, and probably forfeiting the premium. Suffer it, and sit tight till you get home; and then insist on a shift to another ship. You can't change for the worse. And if you've any friends, why, just let them give the owners a hint that you didn't pay £80 to be made a general servant of. You'd be better off in every way as an ordinary seaman in a fok'sle. That is, if you must stick to the sea. You bet, I wouldn't use it myself if I could help it! But, worse luck, I can't keep away from it altogether. I've left good billets to go back to such picnics as we had on this trip. Well, so long, youngster. Keep a stiff upper lip and you'll pan out all right yet."
Eastmore was a good-looking man of about thirty-five, or so; one of those amongst the Andromeda's crew who had always been foremost in offering to show Torre anything he could. And, as the boy watched him move off amongst the crowd, that same upper lip quivered ominously, and he had half a mind to throw down the parcel he was carrying and run after Eastmore and entreat again to be allowed to accompany him. But, by an effort, restraining himself, he went on board the ship, the very sight of which was becoming hateful to him.
Next morning he was ordered aloft to paint the crossjack yard. He took with him a large heavy pot of paint, and, making it fast by its lanyard to the jackstay, he commenced on the starboard yardarm and worked inboard. Presently, the second mate limping along, looked up and shouted "Hi, you little devil, you've left a couple o' 'holidays' there already. If I could only get to you, I'd shove the brush down your throat! Wait—"
But, here, the lanyard of the big paint pot either worked itself out of the clove hitch by which it was fastened, or carried away—Torre never knew how. And as he gazed down at the hated face with its fringe of coarse black whisker, and the piggish eyes so much too close together, he suddenly saw a thick white stream descend and completely blot the features out, followed a second later by the heavy pot which, hitting the second mate fairly on top of the poll, levelled him to the deck.
Luckily there was nobody about. The sail-maker and carpenter were at work for'ard, and the other apprentices scraping iron-rust below. For a minute Torre hesitated, then, having made up his mind, he ran in, slipped down a backstay, and jumped ashore just as Mrs M'Cutcheon, emerging from the companion, stood staring in astonishment at the sight of the second mate who, sitting up, was spitting paint out of his mouth and vainly striving to scrape his eyes clear of it, whilst from a cut in his head blood flowed plentifully and mixed with the white plastering on his hair.
Like a dingo Torre doubled amongst the lumpers and cargo that littered the quay, and running past the Sailor's Home, presently found himself through the Argyle Cut and nearly abreast of the Observatory. Here he steadied, and coming to one of those steep streets that lead to the waterside at short intervals all along this part of Sydney and form a cul de sac with wharves at the far end, walked swiftly down it.
At the foot of it jetties ran out, and alongside them lay steamers busily taking in and discharging cargo. Finding he was blocked to right and left, Torre scuttled up the gangway of the first boat he came to. Her decks were crowded with people; steam winches were rattling; 'scape pipes roaring; noise and confusion everywhere. Glancing back towards the street, he caught sight of M'Cutcheon junior and the carpenter coming along at a trot. In desperation he slipped into the empty forecastle and crawled under one of the lower bunks. Another few minutes and he heard bells ringing; then, after a pause, he felt the vessel slowly moving, whilst the sound of cheering fell on his ears. Evidently the steamer was under way. But Torre never stirred. Another hour, and some men entered; plates and knives and forks clattered; a smell of beefsteak and onions filled the place; and a voice that sounded familiar remarked, "We're passin' the Sow an' Pigs. Larst time I seen 'em, a week or two agone, I wos in a bloomin' limejuicer, an' as near as a dam gettin' chokee out of her, too!"
"Sam!" exclaimed Torre, popping his head up alongside the speaker.
"Well, bli' me!" shouted the other, nearly falling off the chest on which he sat, "if 'taint the young baby-pincher from the Andromedary! Now what the blazes brings you here?" pulling Torre up as he spoke, and giving him a seat beside him.
Whereupon Torre told his story, interrupted by roars of laughter from the watch as he related the episode of the painting of the second mate.
"You're right enough here, sonny," remarked Sam—the man who on the Andromeda had been so liberal with his remarks when Svenson fell overboard. "But ye'll have to git off at Adelaide. Boys ain't wanted on these here coasters. Now turn to and fill yer belly. I'll bet it'll be the best feed ye've had since leavin' the Big Smoke."
And so it proved, for the seamen of the Yatala lived better than the saloon passengers of the Andromeda had done.
By the time the meal was over, the electric lights were turned on; and Sam, saying to Torre, "You'd better keep pretty close, because stowaways ain't not to say popular in this line," went away, returning presently, with a mattress and some bedding.
"There," said he, "I shook them things out o' the steerage. There ain't many passengers this trip. Sling 'em into that spare bunk, sonny, and 'ave a snooze. The chaps is all right uns; an' I've give the nod to 'em. But if any disremembers, an' gits at all inquisitious, just you say, says you, "I'm Sam the Sailor's young nevvy,' says you. 'An' if you don't mind yer eye, uncle'll put it in a curous sort of a sling for ye.' It's my look-out now. Draw them curtins so's to keep the light outer yer face, an' there y'are—snug as a bloomin' 'possum in a 'ole."
But it was some time before Torre could fall asleep. The change in his prospects had been such a sudden and a radical one that he had had no leisure to think it over. All he possessed in the world, apparently, was the suit of paint-stained dungaree he wore, and in the jacket pocket of which was the last letter received that day from his uncle, enclosing one from Edie. Perhaps of all the thoughts that flitted through Torre's brain as he lay in his bunk, the predominant one was thankfulness at being clear of the Andromeda. From his father, probably, he had inherited, with his good looks, all the instincts of a gentleman, and the menial drudgery of which his life had been made up for the last four months held for him a repulsion and disgust that nothing would ever induce him to undergo again. But, in spite of all, he still loved the sea, and was loth to give up all idea of it as a profession. To return home to his uncle, even if he had felt so inclined, he knew would be useless whilst his aunt lived. Premium and outfit must have swallowed all, or more than all, of his little capital. No, decidedly, there was no going back! One good effect of the time passed upon the Andromeda was that it had knocked a deal of the dreamy romance entailed by much reading of sea-novels out of the boy's mind. And he was young, strong, active and plucky, all fine possessions to begin life with, even if one has made a mull at starting. Not an ideal boy, or a faultless one by any means, but still, a very fair specimen as they are made in these days; and, as one likes to think, no whit inferior to those of long ago whose fathers drew bow at Creçy and Agincourt; or, later, singed the Spaniards' beards; or, later still, sternly faced the Mutiny; or died in Crimean trenches.
Evidently, in Torre's case, it was useless to make plans; so, after a while, fully recognising this, he gave up thinking, and, turning over, fell asleep with the rush of the Yatala's bow wave against his ears and the regular thump thump of her engines seemingly at his feet.
AWAKING, Torre found it was broad daylight, and Sam and his watch at breakfast.
The men greeted him kindly, and after a good wash he joined them. Through the forecastle doors he could see the steerage passengers' sitting and lounging about the decks; further aft, the bridge, with above its canvas "dodgers" or wind screens, the gilt-banded cap of an officer.
As Sam smoked his pipe before turning in, Torre took counsel with him. The Yatala, it seemed, was bound for Fremantle, in Western Australia. But Sam did not advise Torre to go on there, even if his presence could be kept a secret. It would be too risky, he thought. Besides, there was nothing to do for a boy ashore in the Western Colony.
"Tell ye what," said Sam at last; "ye says ye won't go home, although, from Adelaide, it mightn't be hard to get a passidge as or'nary seaman. An' ye wants to folly the trade, ye says,—which it's a darn poor one! Well, I thinks it's more'n likely, as presen'ly the Andromedary 'll come roun' to Adelaide to load up. An' that wouldn't suit. Now the bes' thing as you can do, in my idea, is to git a job up the bush a bit—not too far away—till the Yatala, 'ere, comes back from Western Australia, which'll be a month or six weeks good. I've got a cousin as is skipper on a schooner runnin' roun' to Wallaroo for copper ore. He'll be in the Port by then, an' I'll see if I can't get ye a billet with 'im. Ye'll larn more there in a week than you'd larn in six months deep water. No use writin' 'ome fer money, eh?"
Whereupon Torre explained.
"Bli' me!" exclaimed Sam, "ef that don't beat all! One—'undred—an' a good many odd pounds to come to sea! Oh h—ll! So 'elp me Jimmie Johnson if there ain't some—ijiots in this world! But there," he continued hastily, seeing Torre's cheeks flush, "it's no use cryin' arter spilled milk. Ye'll 'ave to go on the coast. An' it ain't bad, if the work is a bit rough. An' ye'll larn. Which is the main point. In that bloomin' starvation limejuicer ye'd serve yer four year an' not be fit to make a long splice without havin' as many lumps in it as there's in a fathom o' chain cable! Ay, ay, you travel up Mount Barker, or Strathalbyn way—the cockies there is harvestin' 'bout now—an' git a job for a few weeks, till ye sees by the papers as the Yatala's in agen. Then down ye comes; an', meanwhile, I'll have matters fixed up with Jim Turner on the Lass o' Gowrie. I'll bet ye won't be many trips afore ye'll be gittin' yer six quid a month as well as any ov 'em. Then, bimebye, ye can pass fer second, or only mate—'avin', as is easy seen, the needcessery edication. Then sling canvas and go fer steam, till, lo an' beold yer! in a few year ye'll be able ter run a boat on yer own hook."
And Sam, having thus settled the question of Torre's future satisfactorily, lay back and sucked at his pipe. He was rather a wild-looking customer, middle-aged, with harsh, furrowed face, and grizzly hair that stuck up like a millet broom all round a bare patch on his poll; whilst a great curved nose met a moustache that sprung fiercely out straight and rigid, a good eight inches.
"It's a pity," he went on presently, "as Eastmore didn't take ye with 'im for a spell. 'E's a daisy, is Jack! There ain't no flies on 'im! 'E's got a Master's ticket, too, 'e 'as. That's twice I bin shipmates with 'im. Larst time 'e was mate o' the Orinoco, tramp, tradin' to Bahie an' Walloperaiser. Steam or sail, it's all the same to 'im! 'E'll stay away for a spell. But 'e's boun' to come back agin. I bin up the Bush, too. Lots o' times. All over these here Colonies. It's right enough fer a change. Now, young un, you go to Mount Barker. There's a cocky there I worked fer. 'E's got a couple o' fine gals—darters. 'E's a bloomin' Dutchman; Carl Becke's 'is name. Sez you, 'Sam the Sailor sent me.' That'll be good enough. You bet! I grubbed forty acres fer 'im at a quid an acre. Well, 'e 'adn't got the stuff. So I sez, 'Well, ole chap,' I sez, 'give us Dagmar there, or Louisa, either'll do; an' we'll cry quits.' But altho' I b'lieve as the ole man was willin', the gals only larfed, an' sez as they wanted somethin' a bit fresher an' younger like. Well, I had to stop with 'em till the corn was ripe; an' I 'elped to pull it, an' 'usk it, an' take it to market, all fer nix, afore I got my forty quid. But I didn't mind. I was linin' my ribs fer next voyage. Why, I must ha' put a couple o' inches o' fat over the kidneys that spell!" And Sam chuckled as he extinguished his pipe and rolled into his bunk.
Finding matters thus settled for him, Torre saw nothing better than to concur without question. This pleased Sam mightily; and through the day he found means to procure a suit of tweeds, old, certainly, but a good fit for the boy, and far better than the light dungarees he had run away in. Also he brought him a soft felt hat and a pair of blucher boots in place of Torre's cap and sand shoes. Probably he got them from one of the steerage passengers in exchange for tobacco; or he might have bought them. Nor did his kindness end here, for, procuring a pair of blankets from somewhere, he showed Torre how to roll them up, like a swag, with straps to go over his shoulders and a piece of canvas to protect them from the wet. Also, the night they turned up the Port Adelaide River, he brought the boy an old and dirty one pound note and five shillings in silver.
"An' now," said he, stopping Torre's heartfelt thanks with a deprecatory curse, " 'bout eight bells we'll be alongside the wharf. Last train fer the City leaves 'bout ten. It ain't no distance. But you clear out to the station right away an' ketch it. In the City you go to Pablo Frank's rest'rent—corner o' Light's Square—got that in yer nut? Right! Well, you tell Pablo as Sam the Sailor's roun' about these diggin's agen, an'll look 'im up bimebye. Likewise, as he's to give ye anythin' you wants in the way o' tucker, an' put ye on the track for Mount Barker. There's a coach. But it's dear; an' the tramp'll do ye no 'arm. We'll be shovin' out cargo all night, I reckon; an' as I'm donkey-man, mebbe there won't be much time for yarnin', an' I'll say 'So long!' at oncest." And the kind-hearted sailor wrung Torre's hand and went away to see his steam winch clear for action, leaving the boy with lumps in his throat, and eyes in which glittered very appreciable moisture.
As he rolled his blankets together, another man came off the dark deck and put a handful of silver on the swag, saying, "Here y'are, sonny! We bin makin' a bit ov a tarpaulin-muster amongst us. We can't let Sam, d'ye see, have things all his own way. This is just a few bob to help yer on the wallaby. An' mind, when ye comes back, an' the same crowd's in this fok'sle, ye're heartily welcome to a passidge. An' tell Pablo if he don't put ye up to rights, as Bill Johnson'll bash his bloomin' 'ead in for him next time he sees him. Well, so long, sonny. Keep a stiff upper lip on ye." And away he went. Truly these were the kindest people Torre had met since he left Newton Pomeroy. And as, presently, the Yatala made fast and was boarded by a gang of stevedores, unperceived he jumped ashore, glad to have escaped the fate of a detected stowaway, and yet with a heavy feeling at his heart as he gazed back at the big bulk of the steamer, her deck thronged with dark figures, and her derricks already fishing cargo out of her hatches. It seemed like leaving his last refuge; and, for awhile, as he tramped along, he felt lonely. But he was glad to breathe the cool fresh air and stretch his legs once more after his four days' confinement. And, gradually, his courage returning, a not unpleasant sense of freedom and adventure came upon him, imparting vigour to his step and warmth to his heart as he made for the railway station.
"Ahi!" exclaimed Pablo Frank, a dark-faced, but not ill-natured looking Spaniard, "So senhor Sam de Sailor come again, eh? Oh, yase; ver' well. Why cert'n'ly. Me an' Sam chipmet once—twicest—tree time. Ver' good man, Sam. Yase, amigo, suppa, bet, brikfest. Why cert'n'ly. Ah-ha, de Yatla! Me know? Ver' nice chip. Ah dat rocque, Pill Yohnson. Si, si. Me know. Ah-ha, you tek de swac to de boosh on de estancia for to get job! Si?"
Whilst talking, Pablo was busy laying one of the many small tables in the long room of the restaurant, nearly deserted at this late hour, and soon had a suitable meal set before Torre, chattering away whilst the lad ate, about his seafaring days, but evincing little curiosity as to his visitor's business. Then, as Torre finished, he took him upstairs and showed him into a small but clean room, promising to give him an early call, as Torre had said he would start at sunrise. It was the month of February, and Sam had advised him always to get the best part of his journey over before the great heat of the day came on, during which travelling on foot is not to be thought of.
True to his word, Pablo aroused him whilst it was yet dark. Descending, he found, early as it was, a smoking hot breakfast of sausages and mashed potatoes awaiting him. But when it came to payment, Pablo indignantly refused.
"No! no! no!" said he, shaking his head furiously, "Sam an' Pill knock-a me de 'ead if I teks 'im. Bimbi dey come an' dey pay pe-lenty. Why cert'n'ly! You bet! Com' long, me show de vay." And snatching up a bag, Pablo took Torre to the top of Hindley Street and gave him precise directions for clearing the city and gaining the Mount Lofty road. Then handing him the parcel, he said, "Tucka—must 'ave 'im on de vallabie, eh? You bet! Addios—goot bye, señhor. You come back bimbi, pe-lenty money. Why, cert'n'ly, vay a usted con dios!" and with a farewell wave of his hand he ran back to his shop.
The sun was just rising as Torre left the last of the trim suburban villas behind him, and entered the park-like country that slopes up to the spurs of the Mount Lofty ranges. It was a lovely morning with a cool breeze blowing, and Torre, excited both by the novelty of the scene and his own strange feeling of utter independence, tramped quickly along, always ascending, until, after an hour or two, the day getting unpleasantly hot, he turned off the road and rested under the shadow of some trees. Here, tired by the unusual exercise, he fell asleep, and when he awoke the sun was high. He felt hungry, too, and was glad to have recourse to Pablo's bag, which he found well stocked with cheese, sausages, scones, a couple of raw onions, and some biscuits. Making a good meal, washed down with water from a neighbouring creek, Torre essayed a fresh start. But he was stiff; his feet felt as if they were swollen to twice their size; his swag, light as it was, seemed to burn through his coat, and the weight of his bag of provisions was well nigh intolerable. And the sun shone down mercilessly upon the white dusty road. Evidently "swagging it" was not all cakes and ale. But manfully persevering, he trudged along, not without many a wistful glance to where above the tree tops rose puffs of feathery smoke, telling of the railway; until, presently, to his joy, a man overtaking him in a spring cart, offered him a lift.
His new friend turned out to be a German—a farmer from near a place called Hahndorf. He looked curiously at Torre, but said little until the latter asked him if he knew the Beckes.
"Yaze," said he, "I knows dem veil. Bud dey is nod ad Mound Barker no more. Dey vas zold oop by a sdoregeeber in de City. Den Becke and his vamily dey go do Yankalilla, und from dere dey go again oop de goast. Bort Augusta vays, I dink."
This was bad news for Torre; and he told the man that he had expected work there. But the other shook his head saying, "Id is hardt to get a shob now. I regollekt veil dat Sam de Sailor. He vas goot bushman—vence, dig, plough, anytinks. Bud a new-ghum, as you, an' a boy, doo, geds nodings onless you 'ave der eggsberience."
And Torre felt that this was probably only too true.
"De varmers is boor," the other continued, "by de bat zeazon, und dey gannot avvord to bay labour. Bud if you dravel do de zheep sdadions, dere you ged a shob bretty zoon, berhabs. Do night you gomes mit me 'ome und sdays."
After an hour or two's travel, the farmer turned off the main road; and in another mile they came to a cleared space in the bush in which stood a bark-roofed, barn-like hut. At the door a fairhaired, blue-eyed woman, surrounded by a swarm of fair-haired blue-eyed children stood and stared shyly at the stranger. The housewife could not speak a word of English, but she smiled her welcome at Torre, and he soon made himself at home with the children. There he first tasted damper, and coffee made from roasted corn. Evidently they were desperately poor, these people, and though, when morning came, they pressed him to stay another day he refused, and set off along the track without any very definite idea of where he was going, except that he thought he would like to find one of the sheep stations his late host had mentioned, and imagined he might perhaps come across one. At midday, feeling thirsty, he left the road and descended into a deep gully which gave promise of water. But it was dry and he felt thirstier than ever. So he followed it for a mile or so when, seeing a branch gully, he took to that for a good distance until, at last, to his joy, he heard the sound of falling water. Hastening, he all at once came out upon a steep, grassy slope, at the foot of which, bordered by ti-tree, ran a creek. Soon quenching his thirst, he lay down in the grateful shade and made a good meal. Just as he finished he heard a voice at the water's edge. Cautiously peeping from his cover, he saw a very tall, thin man with a swag upon his shoulders and a little book in his hand, walking along the bank. And as he approached, Torre heard him say to himself in a high-pitched voice:—"Now there! What I wants to know is where's the conneckshun? Iron's iron, all the world over. But irony! Now what's irony—'a kind o' satire,' it says 'ere—got to do with it? They both sounds alike—iurn, iurny. The only thing's the extry letter. Well it just knocks me bandy for a langwidge. Iron! Well, let's see if we can rise the colour of another sorter metal."
And as he came abreast of Torre, the traveller threw his swag off his shoulder, and, first putting the little book carefully away in his pocket, he unstrapped from the top of the bundle a short shovel and a round tin dish. Then, closely scrutinising the creek banks, he chose a spot, and, filling the dish with earth and gravel and water, began, to the watcher's great perplexity, to wash it carefully, keeping part of the dish in the stream whilst shaking it from side to side, and allowing the water to gradually carry away the larger and heavier particles until only a little remained. Then, putting on a pair of spectacles, he stared long and fixedly at the residuum; washed away another portion, then another, then straightened himself, saying, "Black sand, an' nothin' but black sand! Not a colour, not a speck! Darn such a country! It's as delusioning as the English langwidge!"
As he turned, Torre saw a big, round, brown, hairless face seamed with innumerable wrinkles from amongst which, as he took off his spectacles, shone a pair of restless small blue eyes. His nose was fleshy but prominent, his mouth large, with full sensuous lips, showing a good set of teeth, and his hair fell in a thick grizzled mass on to the collar of his coat. He walked with a noticeable limp or, rather, dragging of one leg, and was altogether a striking figure to come upon in such a spot.
Presently, as Torre recalled talks in the Andromeda's forecastle amongst those of the crew who had been gold-seeking, he became convinced that the stranger was also searching for traces of the precious metal. Meanwhile, the latter was methodically washing dish after dish without result. And, at last, rising, he threw the basin down with an oath and an exclamation of disgust. "'Tain't no use!" said he, coiling himself, as it were, on to his swag and proceeding to fill a short wooden pipe. "I don't say but what there's a bit 'ere an' there. But it's that patchy as it ud take a life-time to hit on it. Gar! I'll clear down the river agin. Darn South Australia an' all the Crow Eaters1 in it! It's a pore country fer tucker; the squatters is as mean as workus skilly; the settlers is nex' door to starvin,' an' thinks as much of a pum'kin as if't were a pig, an' of a pannakin o' flour as if't were gold dust. Yah!" And he puffed away at his pipe in meditative silence.
1 Nickname sometimes given to South Australians. Similarly Banamen to Queenslanders; Gumsuckers to Victorians; Cornstalks to New South Welshmen.—AUTHOR.
Presently, Torre, picking up his swag, came out of his shelter amongst the ti-trees, approaching the stranger from behind, and getting close to him before a breaking stick betrayed his presence.
"Well, sonny," said the traveller, turning his head at the sound, but showing no surprise, "an' what might you be doin' so fur away from yer mammy? Prospectin'? Whalin'? Bushed?"
"Oh, I'm just travelling around," replied Torre indifferently, as he sat down.
"Ay, ay, I see," replied the other as his big face puckered all over into creases; "just rovin' fer yer 'ealth's sake, as it might be. Well, as I was just tellin' Bralga, you might ha' chosen a wuss country—but you'd ha' had a h—ll of a job. What ship did ye clear from?"
Then Torre told him as much as he thought fit, winding up by confessing that he did not know which way to turn.
"Well, fer a kiddy, you've got a 'eart like a bullock," said the man admiringly as Torre finished; "put it there, ole chap," and as he spoke he extended a great brown hand. "My name's Bralga," he continued, "leastways, that's what I'm called on my own towri—runnin', one might say, from the Murray Bend to the Culgoa. Ye see, I'm long an' lank like a Native Companion, which is a bird as the blacks calls bralga. As fer the 'riginal name I've a'most forgot it myself. An' it don't matter nohow—the very cod in the cricks knows Bralga, and never tries to git away when they see who's holdin' the line. But I'm off my towri1 now. Thought I'd see a little o' the world, an' crossed into Crow Eater Land. An' I've been mostly hungry ever since. Got any tucker? Right! Now we'll light a fire an' boil the billy. You get the sticks gathered, an' I'll get the water, which is only fair, seein' as you're sich a rank new chum. No, hold on!" he suddenly amended as he hoisted his great length up, "you're findin' the tucker. I'll gather the wood, an' you'll fill the billy. Fair's fair if y'are a chummy."
1 Towri: native name for the run or district of a tribe, from which it never departs.—AUTHOR.
Now Torre's provisions were at their last ebb; and Braga's contribution only consisted of a Johnny-cake, two days old, tough and leathery, some tea and sugar, and a piece of rusty-looking bacon. Torre, who had just eaten, only drank a little tea. But Bralga made such a clean sweep that, after he had finished, a mouse would have found nothing.
"Now," said he, as he rather ruefully shook out the empty bags, "I've made a beast o' myself; an' we're brokers. But I ain't had a square feed fer a week. If we were on the River, now, all we'd ha' to do 'ud be to drop in a hook an' up comes a big cod; shove a lump of 'im in the billy, an' in about an hour, out it turns, white an' flaky, an' there y'are! But 'ere!" and he snorted contemptuously as he surveyed the shallow stream.
"Know nobody up the country, I spouse?" he asked presently.
"Not about here," replied Torre. "But there's a gentleman called Barker, one of our passengers, who told me to come and see him if I ever was near the station. It's not far from Bourke."
"Jack Barker, o' Ngoro," replied the other. "Ay, I knows 'im. 'Tain't a bad shop, Ngoro, either—meat, flour, tea an' sugar, an' sometimes, if the storekeeper's in a good temper, a stick o' back. It's in my ole towri. An' I'm thinking' o' makin' back that way. I bin in Crow Eaters' Land long enough. You might as well come too. Jack Barkers' find yer a job if he said so. You bet!"
"But it must be a very long way from here?" replied Torre.
"Well, a tidy step," said Bralga; "say a couple o' thousand mile, if ye keeps to the River. But that's nothin'. The walks' do ye good. Got any sugar?"
"No," replied Torre, "I never thought of it, nor of tea either!"
The other laughed. "Money, I mean," said he. "I've been stony this six months—spent my last tanner for back at Morgan. Had to cadge it ever since. Only got about a prideful left now."
"Yes, I've some money," replied Torre; over two pounds altogether."
"Good Lord!" exclaimed his companion, "enough to travel to the Gulf o' Carpentaria like bloomin' swells on, let alone to Bourke! Why, you couldn't spend it if ye tried, once you get on the River."
"What river?" asked Torre.
"Why, the Murray, o' course," replied Bralga. "The Murray as runs up bimebye inter the Darling, an' then inter the Baron and Farrago right away into Queensland.1 An' ye keep along it, cutting' off a bend 'ere an' another un there, camping' o' nights under the big gums, with the stars a-looking' down at ye, an' the native bears a-grunting', an' the flowing' o' the river fifty feet below in yer ears. An' stations in plenty all along where ye calls fer yer bit o' damper-dust; an' there's whips o' pigweed growing', which is better nor the best cabbage; an' there's fish, sweet an' fresh, fer the grill on the coals, or fer billing' in the billy, such as never was sold in Leaden' all markets. Common' down, I 'ad a gun. But I swopped 'err to a cove in Wentworth. She was a rum un fer ducks—80 yards. All the way I lived on game an' fish. In the 'eat o' the day I setter camp; an' go on by moonlight. If it rained I 'ad my tent ready to pitch. Ay, the wallaby's right enough if yer ain't fretting' an' written' an' runnin' 'ere an' there looking' fer work."
1 Braga's physical geography, like that of most Australian nomads, is at fault here. The Baron and Farrago are tributaries of the Darling, which in its turn joins the Murray.—AUTHOR.
"And do you never work?" asked Torre in surprise.
"Well," was the reply, "I ain't done much these last few years. What's the good? Wages ain't with 'avin'! Tucker ye can mostly git fer the asking'! Sometimes I takes a stand in the shearing' season, an' the cherub I gist then does fer clothes an' a knobbier or two. But since these machines come in, I ain't done much wool chopping'! This season I'll be too late fer the Darling' sheds. Might git a cut in, though, somewhere this side. Most in general I travels hatter. But I've sorter tuck a fancy to the cut o' yer gibe, an' if ye likes to come 'long, I'll see ye safe an' sound into Ngoro station yard in lesson four months."
"Hatter?" queried Torre without directly answering.
"Ay," replied Bralga, "I can't find the meaning' in dic', here, but it means in Bush talk without a mate—on yer own bottom."
Picking up the little volume, Torre saw that it was a cheap dictionary, giving, at the outside, no more than a couple of definitions to each word.
"It's improving'," remarked Bralga with pride, "an' it's puzzling' as well, in parts. I've worked through 'em as fur as 'I.' Ye see, my dedication was rather neglected when I was a kiddy. Now I'm doin' what I can to make up fer it. An' I don't mind tellin' ye, too, that if I sees ye through to Barker's, I'll expect' as ye'll lend me a hand now an' agin wig' some o' the three-decker words as this dic' don't give no pronouncing of."
Torre laughed. But the idea of learning something of the country by walking through it leisurely, appealed to him. And, still, there was his promise to his friends on the Yatala.
"Toss!" exclaimed Bralga seeing his indecision; "heads fer the Bush, tails fer the Sea. As I told ye, I'm stony, flyblown, a lime burner without a cent, or I'd lend ye a bob."
"Very well," replied Torre, producing a shilling, "let it be as you say." And as he spoke, up went the coin, falling between them. "It's a head," cried Torre.
"Right," said Bralga, rising. "What's yer name?"
"Torre Leigh," answered the lad, spelling each word.
"Right again," replied the other, hoisting up his swag. "Bralga, Torre an' How'll start from Crow Eaters' Land to the country o' the Cornstalks. First stage is six mile, an' that'll bring us to a coccyx's hut where we git a handful o' flour an', mebbe, a bit o' pork fer supper. Ay, bring the dish along. It'll come in handy fer mixing the damper-dust—flour, ye savvy. Darn the shovel! We'll leave that fer the nex' prospecting' party. Easy does it, sonny, fer Jordan is a 'arid road to travel, don't yer know."
AND now for Torre commenced an extraordinary time of open-air wandering—for such it was, although making steadily in the one direction. But the twistings and turnings were so numerous as to render their track almost a zigzag until they struck the Murray at a place called Mannum. These deviations were not so much a matter of necessity, but rather owing to Bralga's attention to commissariat supplies taking him off the track to stations and isolated settlers' houses. Torre had wished to pay for the food at these places, but his companion scouted the notion.
"There's two things only as ye can't ginerally git fer the askin'," said he, "an' them's baccy or a nobbler. Therefore, it's allers advisable to 'ave a few bob in resarve. Ye don't smoke, nor ye don't drink. But I does both—on a strick medium princible. I'm one o' the Co. So to speak, I'm the Workin' Pardner. I looks out fer the tucker. Right! Then, o' course, ye'll have to look out fer the lugzuries. Fair's only fair, ain't it?" and Torre was quite willing that things should be so arranged.
Thus Bralga, on making a station, would empty the flour, tea, and sugar bags, and, marching up to the store, generally return with a fresh supply, and, into the bargain, often a shoulder of mutton. Then, passing a bush store, or through a little township, Torre would buy a cake or two of tobacco; and, if there was a public-house in the place, pay for a couple of nobblers of rum for his companion. And after such occasions, the latter would, as the queerly assorted pair tramped along, relate strange stories and legends of Bush and Camp life that made the miles slip past almost unnoticed. Then, Torre's feet sometimes failing, they would camp in some deep shady bend, where giant coolabahs spread their gnarled branches a hundred feet aloft, and dark, whispering sheoaks seemed to answer the murmuring of the stream below them, gliding by in the shadow of its tall banks where the martins built. Now and again, curious-looking, stern-wheeled steamers would pass up and down, in the former case laden with stores for far western stations, in the latter, towing barges wool-laden for the tall ships at Port Adelaide. At times, as Bralga told Torre, when the rivers were exceptionally high, these boats penetrated as far inland as Brewarrina, or even to Walgett on the Barwon. But, on the other hand, by reason of a sudden fall in the stream and ensuing rainless seasons, they occasionally found themselves stuck up in shallow ponds for months together, unable to move either way. In one or two cases indeed, in such circumstances, the passage from Bourke to Milang had taken nearly two years.
On these days of "spell" Torre passed much of his time in the water, whilst Bralga fished for the cod he so loved. Other travellers they met, too, running the river down, nomads who brought all the news from the districts intervening between them and the burning western plains. Of these, some were mounted men, generally with a led pack-horse, whose talk was mostly of the shearing; the state of the tracks as regarded grass and water; horse-racing; the superiority of Wolseley machines to hand-shears; and the possibility of a general strike of Bush labourers. The footmen's talk took other directions: the quantity and quality of rations at the different stations en route, the "hungriness" of some and the liberality of others; the prices of bushwork; Protection and Free-trade; the necessity, or otherwise, of Colonial Federation; and the general deterioration of the squatter from a swagman's point of view. And everybody, horse and foot, knew Bralga, and left their own camps to interview him, treating him with an admiring respect that puzzled Torre, until later on the mystery was solved. So that, around their fire were often gathered a score of nomads yarning and exchanging news, whilst Torre listened with interest. Some of the crowd were undoubtedly rough customers; but none of them ever offered to interfere with the lad in any way. Amongst them, now and again, turned up sailors who, tired of the Bush, were making back to the sea again. As one of them put it, "The country's all right fer a spell. But, somehow, arter a bit, a feller gits a fancy fer a sniff o' salt water oncest more. Ay, o' course, ye've got yer all night in, an' whips o' tucker—on a good station; an' yer quid a week, wet an' dry, an' not too many bosses a-hazin' of yer around. An', well, it wasn't half a bad sort o' game—still, ye see, well, 'tain't easy to give a reason fer leavin' it. It's somethin' in the blood, I reckon—want o' salt, mebbe, that runs a feller back to the ole pully-hauly—ay—ay—sir—damn-yer-eyes life agin."
"Yer a fool, Bill Adams," remarked Bralga. "When I seen ye last yer was a gentleman ox-conductor on Billeroy. 'Bout eight o'clock ye began to yoke yer bullocks up. Then ye took 'em fer a constitooshinal inter the paddocks fer a load o' firewood; back agin at four, an' turns out fer the day. Good table ye 'ad, too, in the station 'ut, an' Yankee Sam fer cook. An' then yer not satisfied, but must go back to be chipped at, an' nagged at, an' bossed, an' robbed o' yer night's rest, an' p'raps drownded inter the bargain. Salt! why, dammit, if ye want salt, can't ye do like the sheep an' cattle does—lick rock?"
"Now, Bralga," replied the other in an aggrieved tone, as the laughter ceased, "yer knows as it's much the same wi' yerself, ashore 'ere. Ain't yer allers on the roam, roam, roam? Did ye ever stop a month in the one place? Ain't it up one side o' the rivers an' down t'other all the year roun', wi', p'raps, a shed through the season, just fer curiosity to see wot work's like. I won't say nothin' 'bout whalin' nor sundownin'—"
"Quit, ye blamed tenderfoot," here interrupted an American who formed part of the audience, "afore ye get more'n ye'll be able to hump fer a month."
But the warning came too late. Bralga's long arm had shot out and grasped the sailor by the throat, and, whilst still seated, its owner was shaking him to and fro till his teeth rattled again. Although a stout, well-made fellow, he seemed almost helpless in that terrible clutch, as Bralga, puffing calmly at his pipe, uncoiled to his full height, and, still shaking, remarked: "Now, young feller, I won't hit ye, because yer don't know yer cumpn'y. But you'll 'ave to learn manners. I thought as most people knowed better'n to insult Bralga. Apariently there's one or two left yet as don't. Now go an' set down like a good little boy; an', when ye gits back to sea, don't leave it no more till ye've got some sense, which means as ye'll find a sailor's grave." With which exhortation he suddenly gave the man a twist and a jerk that threw him like a stick a dozen yards away.
Never before had Torre suspected the immense strength concealed in that loose slouching body; or that, as appeared presently, his companion was the acknowledged pugilistic champion of those inland parts, a fact peculiarly entitling him to the deference and homage of their rough and often lawless nomads, to all of whom he was known by a reputation gained from many a fierce battle at shearers' hut or bush shanty.
Meanwhile the luckless sailor who had so foolishly drawn down Bralga's resentment, had picked himself up and slunk off to his own camp, whilst the conversation around the fire turned to discussing the famous fight last year between Bralga and Paroo Billy at Avon Downs.
But there were other times when Torre and Bralga had their camp to themselves o' nights; and then, whilst the latter pored by the firelight over his beloved "dic," the lad would lie silently watching the great throbbing stars as they peeped down at him through the arching foliage. And, presently, his companion, tiring, would put his book aside, and fill his pipe, and yarn until the Cross scaling the southern sky warned them to their odoriferous gum-leaf couches.
Some nights the mosquitoes were very bad and bit Torre unmercifully. At first, on these occasions, Bralga used to pitch the tent and light a fire of smouldering cow-dung in it. This would expel every mosquito, and allow Torre to sleep in peace. As for Bralga himself, he never slept under cover unless it rained. Nor did the mosquitoes appear to bother him in the least. But for his young companion he was always thoughtful, seeming to take a pleasure in devising little matters for his comfort. However, presently, Torre protested, and determining to take his chance outside again, was speedily "blooded to the open and the sky." Then, envying the thick clouds that Bralga puffed defiantly into the buzzing hordes, and mindful of second mate Phillips's distasteful and obligatory lessons when he had made him light his pipe o' nights and carry it to him on the Andromeda's poop, he bought materials at a station store, and thenceforward became a regular smoker, much to Bralga's pleasure; for your pipe-lover, as a rule, likes a companion who also indulges. And in spite of the "pernicious habit," under the new life—the constant exercise, and early rising, and bathing, together with the wholesome fare—Torre broadened out wonderfully, gained strength, and became hardy to a degree that surprised Bralga. And the latter, presently, discovering that the lad knew nothing whatever of the "noble art," insisted on giving him lessons which, as the old man possessed no mean amount of science at the game, were valuable.
One night, getting into camp rather late, Torre, gathering dead wood out of the long grass, gathered at the same time a long black snake with a red belly which at once, coiling round his naked arm, struck deeply just under the elbow.
It was nearly dark; still not so dark but that Torre could see to tightly grasp the reptile below the head with his other hand, thus forcing him to unclose his jaws. He had of late heard many snake stories, and thought he remembered that this species was a particularly venomous one. But, after the first shock and sudden thrill of fear, he felt calm enough as he walked up to where Bralga had already started a fire, and explained matters without a tremor in his voice.
"Ah," said Bralga to all appearance utterly unconcerned, "nipped ye, did 'e? Hobjected to be taken fer firewood, eh? 'Old 'im tight now, sonny, while I de-cap-it-hates 'im." And drawing his sharp sheath knife, with one snick he cut the snake's head off under the spot where Torre's fingers gripped, and placed it carefully on the blazing small wood. Then, unwinding the coils, he threw the body away, talking all the time in matter of fact fashion, spite of a heart lying heavy as lead in his breast. Then, always deliberately, he took a piece of cord from his pocket and tightly tied it round the arm above the two red marks, plainly visible on the brown skin. Then, pulling the flesh up between his finger and thumb, he suddenly gave two rapid flashes with his knife across it, and almost before Torre could feel the pain, the other was sucking the wound with might and main. This treatment he kept up until the place ceased bleeding. Then said he, "Now, sonny, I think that'll do. How d'ye feel?"
"Pretty fairly," replied Torre, who, now the reaction had set in, was trembling as with cold. "It was venomous, wasn't it?"
"Well, better to make sure," replied Bralga diplomatically. "I'm dead set agin all snakes me-self, an' specially agin black uns. Still, I have 'eard as they ain't so bad as brown uns. However, we mus' be joggin'. Tapoloro's up the river, 'bout a mile an' a arf. I knows ole Peter Robson. He's boun' to 'ave somethin', if it's only a drop o' whisky. Come along as slippy as ye can." But, ere the mile was nearly finished, Torre began to get drowsy and staggered in his stride, whilst things seemed to blaze in the darkness before his eyes. Feeling how he lagged, Bralga suddenly stooped, and lifting him up on to his shoulders, and telling him to put his arms around his neck and hang on like a 'possum, started off at a quick run. And then Torre knew that the case must be serious.
His next sensation was of feeling something burning his throat. Then a voice said, "There, that's enough brandy, you old heathen. You think, like all other ignoramuses, that it's a cure when it's merely a stimulant. All the spirits in Australia wouldn't have saved him if you hadn't done what you did; and, possibly, if I hadn't happened to have Muller's strychnine remedy, and known how to use it. But he's all right now."
"By gum, then," replied Bralga's voice shaky with emotion, "it was a tight squeak. An' I wouldn't have 'ad anythin' 'appen to the kid fer more'n I can say. I promised to see 'im safe to Barker's o' Ngori, in the fust place. An', in the second place, I've tuk a real likin' to 'im. 'E's that plucky an' cheerful on the road, an' 'elpful, too, when I'm a-studyin', you wouldn't believe."
"What, still at 'dic,' Bralga?" said the other, laughing; "I thought you'd got through it long ago. Why, you were at 'G' when you passed last time."
"An' now I'm only at 'K,' replied Bralga. "Even wi' my mate's 'elp, it's turble difficult work, what wi' the pronouncin's an' meanin's, an' 'untin' backard an' for'ard fer words as like as two peas in the sound, but all different in the spellin'!"
Sitting up, Torre saw that he was on a couch in a comfortable room well lit by kerosene lamps. On a table were decanters, and a small case containing a bottle and a hypodermic syringe. By his side stood Bralga, his wrinkled face paler than Torre had imagined possible, and a short, stout, grey-whiskered, keen-eyed man who nodded kindly at him, as he looked down at his swollen and blackened arm, and said, "That's all right, my boy. Don't be scared. Bralga, here, had most of the poison out before he brought you up. You'll do nicely. All the same, he might have known better than to let a new chum pick up sticks in a river bend after sundown."
"I oughter, I oughter, Mr Robson!" exclaimed Bralga contritely, "but I never gave it a thought!"
"Well," replied Mr Robson, "take another nip, and get away to your camp. The boy can stay here until he's fit again, which won't be to-morrow."
"Right y'are, sir," replied Bralga.—"Good-night, Torre," he continued, taking one of the boy's hands in his; "it'll be lonely enough without ye down there. But I'm only thankful as it's no wuss, an' that I'm leavin' ye in such good cump'ny."
Presently, Mr Robson's housekeeper brought in a basin of hot broth for Torre who, feeling better, but a good deal shaken, heartily thanked the squatter for his kindness.
"Well," replied the other, "if you will take to roaming through the country in such a fashion you must expect accidents, you know. Bralga's a good enough fellow—as actually most of the old hands are,—but still, one would think, hardly a companion for a youngster like you. What do you want to get to Barker's for?"
Then Torre told his story, to which the other listened without comment.
"Umph," he said at last, as the boy finished, "you're bringing your pigs to a nice market early. Look here, you'd better go back to your ship again, before it's too late. I'll see that you reach it safely, if you'll make up your mind. As I remarked before, Bralga's not a bad sort. Still, when all's said and done, an old hand, and a notoriously idle fellow—almost a whaler in fact—is not the best company possible for any boy."
"He's been very kind indeed to me, sir," replied Torre, "and I have no wish to leave him and return to the ship. The second mate would make things rather too lively for me there. I like the Bush, and will try and get Mr Barker to keep me at Ngori. Thank you very much for your offer, but, all the same, I'll stick to Bralga. And what, if you please, is an 'old hand'?"
For a minute Mr Robson hesitated. Then said he, "Well, I don't see why I shouldn't tell you. Bralga's one of those who, in the early days, left his country for his country's good; was, in fact, sent out here as a prisoner, and passed years in leg irons, as you may see for yourself by his walk. Mind you, his character's fair enough now, if he'd only drop whaling, that is, loafing along the rivers, and depending on the settlers for rations which, together with an occasional fight, and a rare spell at the shearing, is all I ever knew him do. No, I've got nothing actually bad against him. But, there, if you're determined not to return to your ship, you might do worse than go to Ngori—even with Bralga. Evidently your mind's made up."
"Quite," replied Torre, to whom, indeed, the fact of his companion's having been transported rather added, than otherwise, to the interest and liking, if not actual affection, that the lad was beginning to feel for him, thus producing an exactly opposite effect to the one that perhaps Mr Robson had reckoned on.
It was three days before Torre was declared to be little worse for his adventure, and fit to take the wallaby track again. Mr Robson said no more except in his rough and ready way to wish him well. But the old Scotch house-keeper upon whom, by reason of his handsome face and winning ways, Torre had made a great impression, openly lamented his going, and loaded him with delicacies from her store-room.
His stay at Tapoloro had been marked by the utmost kindness on the part of its inmates; and yet it is questionable whether Torre did not feel glad in his heart to be back to the utter freedom of the Bush; to the tramps by day along the broad river; the resting in shady bends; the nightly yarns and pipes around the camp fire, diversified by doses of "dic" amongst whose wordy labyrinths Bralga groped blindly, and with a heartfelt, expressed admiration for the ripe erudition and scholarship that, here and there, helped to make his path a little clearer.
And if Torre was pleased, Bralga was overjoyed; so much so, indeed, that on reaching Wentworth, where the noble river they had followed for so long is joined by the far-reaching Darling coming down through the heart of the great dry West, he expended the five shillings he had received from a party of amateur fishermen for a couple of big cod, to such effect that, about midnight, as he did not return to the camp, Torre was fain to go in search of him through the town. For some time he looked in vain. But at last he found him, put for safe keeping in the lock-up, "full as a tick," as the policeman phrased it. And, even then, being, it appeared, favorably known in the place, and with nothing previously against him, he emerged in the morning with a simple caution.
"No resistance?" had queried the Police Magistrate, looking up at the tall powerful figure. "None, yer worship," had replied the Senior Sergeant gratefully, as he reflected on what might have been. "He jest come like a lamb when I asked him. Said ut woos a case a snakebite he woos father recovering' from, or somethin' a the kind."
"Snake-juice, more likely," said the Police Magistrate with a grim smile; and, pleased with his wit, he let the culprit off.
Shortly after this Torre picked up a dog, lame, and probably abandoned by some drover. "Stumpy," as he was named, owing to the condition of his tail, proved an acquisition to the party. "A Scotch coolie," 1 Bralga remarked, "an' a well-bred un at that. We've been wanting' a Co. Now Stumpy'll do fer it."
1 Always "coolie," in Bush talk, not collie.
About this time, Torre, scanning a weekly newspaper given him by a nomad, saw in the shipping news that the Andromeda had indeed gone round to Port Adelaide to load for home, as he had been told on board the Yalata was very probable. And he congratulated himself on not having made back as, ere he met Bralga, he had half thought of doing.
"Now, you chaps," remarked a man, riding up to their camp one morning, just as the billy was boiling, "if you want a job, I'll give you one. You've got a dingo, I see," casting, as he spoke, an appreciative look at Stumpy—by this, a sleek, well-groomed dog. "If you like," he continued, "you can have a flock o' sheep. I've got 20,000; takin' 'em up the Warrego to Cunnamulla. Twenty-five shillin's a week, the best o' tucker, an' a long job."
Bralga, to whom Torre had, since his talk with Mr Robson, held forth more than once on the advisableness of doing something to show people that they were not merely whalers or sundowners,—anglice, loafers—looked at the lad and, seeing by his face that acceptance would please him, drawled out rather unwillingly, "Where's the jumbucks? An' when does ye want us?"
"They'll camp about here to-night," replied the other, "but I'm short-handed; an' if you like to leave your swags with the dray when it comes up, an' then go back and give us help in, why, I'll be obliged; and we'll call it a day."
"That's fair enough," replied Bralga with a sigh; "we'll be there."
And now began another entirely new experience for Torre. All day long he and Bralga and Stumpy coaxed and drove their mob of some 2000 sheep along the dusty roads, spelling in the heat for a few hours; and then on again into camp, where the cook and reporter had tents pitched and supper ready. Then, when the whole 20,000 had arrived and were all "boxed," i.e., mixed in one great woolly heap, generally in the angle of a fence, or a river bend, regular watches were set of a couple of hours each; big fires lit at intervals so as to encircle the recumbent mass; and a sentinel kept moving quietly about seeing that no stragglers were feeding out, and ready to stop a rush induced by a 'possum, or other trespasser amongst the sheep. Then, in the morning, the 20,000 were split up into mobs, each marching off along the track, with its attendant drovers carrying their water-bags and lunch. Six miles a day was the average pace of travel. Nor could one choose a shady spot, or make on to the river at pleasure. Indeed, from the latter they were at times many miles away. Eyes and mouth, too, were nearly always full of dust, clouds of which, kicked up by the sheep, were ever in the air. The country, also, away from the frontage, seemed little better than a desert, and the travelling stock route—upon which they were by law compelled to keep their charges—the barest of all. No, decidedly, it was not a very pleasant business, this droving. And, although Bralga never grumbled, Torre knew that he was pining for independence. But the boy was earning his first money. And with the aid of Stumpy, was doing it well. Therefore he was proud and satisfied, although he came, in time, to hate the sight and smell of sheep. The 20,000 were split into ten detachments of 2000 each, snailing along the flat country just within sight of each other. And when they camped during the great heat, the drovers, picking out a shade, camped also; some sleeping, others reading, others playing euchre. But the flies, ants, and mosquitoes made all life, both human and animal, more or less a burden. Actually, the sheep were the best off, for, clustered around the trunks of trees like heaps of bees they stuck their heads under each others' bellies, presenting impenetrable fleeces to the pests.
Torre had been with the sheep a month or so, when one day the man in charge asked him if he could ride, as the reporter was leaving him.
As it happened, Torre had now and then ridden a little at Newton Pomeroy and, therefore, felt justified in replying that he could.
"All right," replied the "Boss." "In the morning you can go on and report Meringle. Tell 'em we'll be on the run Tuesday night."
Torre was overjoyed at his release from tramping at sheeps' tails; but Bralga looked concerned. "Now mind," said the latter, "these 'ere hosses ain't like them at 'ome. Ye'll 'ave to be careful, or ye'll be gittin' somethin' as'll astonish ye. Still, if ye can manage it, it's better'n drovin'. An' it'll look better when ye goes to report Ngori, which is right on the track we're takin'! I'm chuckin' it up, too, when I gits that far."
So, in the morning, Torre, saddling-up a horse, mounted. It happened to be a young colt, and frisky. And the lad, excited and eager, stuck both spurs into its flanks, and the next moment was lying on his back looking up at a ring of laughing faces around him.
"Why, I thought you said you could ride?" said the Boss. "A quiet thing, too; well, never mind. Take those hooks off, an' try him again." And Torre, a good deal sobered, but not hurt, divesting himself of his spurs, sedately climbed into the saddle and started away, very deliberately this time, on his twenty mile ride, returning in the evening, sore enough, but pleased with his new occupation, and with having found the station and delivered his report successfully. Another man with a dog had joined Bralga, for whom Stumpy worked willingly, so that both had easier times than when one dog did all the work.
In a few weeks Torre learned to ride very well; his reporting taking him away from the sheep sometimes for a couple of days, when the stations he had to warn of their approach, and thus enable the squatters to convoy the travellers through their own flocks, were a considerable distance ahead. At last the eventful day arrived on which he was to report Ngori; and attired in spotless moleskin riding-pants, a dark blue regatta shirt, with silk tie of the same colour drawn through a carved quandong stone, soft felt hat and white puggaree, polished leggings and boots, and all his horse's furniture shining, Torre set forth, as handsome and smart a lad as the Australian Bush held, on his ten mile ride to the homestead that he had travelled so far to see.
The road was good, and he cantered along through the scrubby flat country, now mulga, now gidyea, now brigalow, with grassy plains and lignum swamps between; smoking and singing by turns; raising flocks of long-legged bralgas solemnly hunting for frogs, and crying with a noise of bugles as they flew awkwardly and heavily away; galahs that made the paddocks look pink as they fed on the nardoo seeds and screamed shrill defiance at him, whilst startled mobs of emus ran waddling across his path from under the quandong trees whose fruit glowed in the morning sun like round spots of scarlet flame. By and bye, the white station buildings caught his eye away to the right; and, turning off the road and entering the home paddocks, he was soon in a spacious yard enclosed on three sides by substantial out-buildings, on the fourth by the homestead—a handsome stone house half-embowered in foliage.
In the yard a thick-set, cross-looking man was standing. Dismounting, Torre walked up to him and asked for Mr Barker.
Eyeing the boy with evident disfavour, the person replied curtly, "He isn't here. What's the matter? Sheep report, eh? Oh, damn all travelling sheep—and flash reporters too! All right. I'll send someone out to pilot you through."
Torre was lingering, rather taken aback at his reception, when, all at once, he caught sight of a face he was sure he knew at the door of one of the offices. Walking over, he called out, "Is that you, Eastmore?"
"That's my name," said the man addressed, coming forward and glancing sharply at Torre. As he looked, recognition dawned in his eyes, and he exclaimed, "I'm hanged if it isn't young Leigh of the Andromeda! Well, upon my word, if this isn't a go! Queer country, Australia? Hang your horse up, sonny-boy, and come right in. Never mind that brute yonder. For two pins I'd put a head on him before I go. Barker? Why, bless you, Barker and Mrs Barker and the girls are just about Colombo now, bound for old England again. The station's sold, worse luck. That's the new manager. I gave him a month's notice first week he was here. Got a fortnight to run. Well, call me a nigger, but it does one good to see you! What price Mrs Captain's baby, eh?"
By this time Torre was seated in a comfortable room, a foaming glass of hop beer in his hands, with Eastmore alternately asking questions and giving scraps of his own story. And from this it appeared that Mr Barker, finding him qualified for the billet, had engaged him, even before they reached Sydney, as book and store-keeper for Ngori. Then, after a few months, Mrs Barker, feeling rather unwell, was ordered a sea trip. Then came an offer for the station at a very high figure, which was accepted—Mr Barker giving Eastmore the option of staying with the new owner, whose promise to that effect he had obtained, or of going to another of his stations in Queensland. Eastmore had chosen to remain where he was. But the purchaser, in place of living at Ngori himself, had sent up as manager a person with whom Eastmore could not get on at all.
"A good place too, Leigh," said he regretfully; "none better. A fair salary, lots of riding, not too much to do, and a trip to Bourke now and again. Lonely? Well, yes, perhaps it is. But that's inevitable in these out-of-the-way parts. However, I won't bother about another billet in the Bush. I'm off to sea again. You'd better come too. There's nothing in front of you at this life. Not that there's much at sea, either. It's almost six of one and half a dozen of the other. But you say you don't like sheep. Well, then, it's no use staying—not a bit. I think I can get a ship straightaway in Sydney—as skipper or mate, I mean. What do you say? Think it over, and I'll run my horse up, and ride back to camp with you. He won't interfere. I had to threaten to punch his head last week. There are Phillipses ashore as well as at sea."
Just then "he" came up, scowling sullenly, and wanted to know with many oaths whether Torre meant to loaf around all day.
"Friend of mine, Mr Watkins," said Eastmore, "and a friend of Mr Barker's, too. Mr Leigh,—Mr Watkins. A lord's son, Mr Watkins, from the old country," he continued airily. "I'm thinking of going back with him to manage his estates. And—" but Mr Watkins, muttering something angrily to himself, walked away.
"No use losing temper twice with cattle of that sort, Leigh," remarked Eastmore. "I find light chaff produces more effect than anything else on the type—the bovine, mulish, uneducated, and would-be brutal sort of man."
Torre was very much disappointed at finding Mr Barker away. Still it was some consolation, this meeting with Eastmore, to whom, as they presently rode along, he told the story of his trip.
"Well, you've had a long walk," commented Eastmore, "but one that evidently hasn't done you any harm. Still, even if Mr Barker had been there, I'm afraid he couldn't have done much for you, if you dislike stock. And there's nothing particularly remunerative in wandering about the country. I think you'd better take my advice and come with me. If I get a ship I'll take care you go too—as ordinary seaman, for a trip or so, till you know a little. If I don't get on the quarter-deck, why, then, we must both go into the fok'sle. By jove! that was a go in the Andromeda, wasn't it? Of course you can finish this droving business, if you decide to come. My time isn't up for a fortnight yet. It'll take you all that to get to Cunnamulla. Then you could catch the coach to Bourke and meet me there. I have almost £30, which is a good deal, when you know your Australia."
Torre was not long in making up his mind. He liked Eastmore, with his pleasant face, and frank, happy-go-lucky manner of treating things. Indeed, ever since the Andromeda affair, Torre had made a sort of hero of him, and this, joined to the other's evident and—to the boy—flattering desire for his company, together with his disappointment at missing Mr Barker, determined him to accept Eastmore's offer.
Certainly he was sorry to leave Bralga. But then, as Eastmore put it, he couldn't be wandering over the country all his life. Then, too, Eastmore had a shipmaster's "ticket"—proof quite sufficient to Torre that he was a man worth following. So, ere the latter left him, nearly in sight of the travelling sheep camp, Torre had promised to meet him in Bourke, at an hotel that Eastmore named.
By now, the 20,000 had left the Darling, and, running the Culgoa up, were just branching off through Ngori, and then across a patch of arid country on to the Warrego at Enngonia, and so to their destination. These final stages turned out the roughest on the whole trip. For Torre, long hot rides on nearly knocked-up horses that tried his patience and endurance to the utmost; for the drovers, bad stages and scarcity of water and feed, thus making double watches necessary to keep the sheep from getting off camp at nights, whilst during the day they could hardly be kicked along, so weak did the majority become.
"I'm jack on it!" remarked Bralga, more than once. "Back to the runnin' water fer me, as soon's we deliver. An' as, Torre, it seems we must dissolve pardners, the sooner it comes the better. I'm sorry to lose ye, boy, fer we got on rale well together. But I ain't a-goin' to whip the cat over it, knowin' as it ud be outer all reason expectin' ye to stay potterin' about wi' me. I'll be a hatter agen along the bends, soon's I blew this cheque I've got comin'. If I ain't due fer a bit av a bust arter swallerin' a matter o' three months' dust, I'd like to know the reason. Any'ow, if I've done ye no good, no one can't say as I done yer any harm, 'cept in the matter o' that snake, which was purely a bit o' bad luck. All the same, I'm going to 'ave a squint at yer new mate. An' I'll take a ride in to Bourke, special, in state, as one o' Cobb and Co.'s passingers."
So, when delivery day came at last, and the sheep, less than their original number by many hundreds, were duly counted, and the men's cheques paid over, Torre and Bralga started on their last short tramp into Cunnamulla township. And there, taking coach, they crossed the border back into New South Wales, behind four horses, and in due course arrived at Bourke, the capital of the North-West. A wide spreading town on the banks of the Darling, flat as a billiard table; the home of the heat-wave; whence the camel trains start for the still drier and more barren lands further out; a place where extreme seasons meet, with its 120° in a summer shade to its 34° in winter; almost wrecked at times by fierce floods; at others, forcing its people to flee in terror from the perishing fury of the sun.
As the coach dashed up to the Post Office, Torre saw Eastmore evidently on the look-out for him; and the three presently adjourned for drinks, Bralga and Torre a little abashed by his spick and span appearance contrasted with their own weatherbeaten toggery. Torre, as yet, seldom touched spirits; although, on the Andromeda, when ill-clad and suffering from the cold in the Southern Ocean, he had at times taken his allowance of rum. But on this occasion nothing would serve Bralga but champagne, in a magnum of which the trio drank each other's healths. Then, seeing that Bralga meant to lose no time in beginning his "bust," Eastmore took Torre to get some needed clothes and a portmanteau.
"We'll be off in the morning," said he; "I've had enough of Bourke. Been waiting two days. Train starts at 8 A.M. You must be tired. I've got a room for you next to mine. So, perhaps, you'd better take all this dunnage up to it, and have a bath and a fresh rig-out."
This was good advice; and when Torre descended, dressed in his new clothes, Eastmore hardly recognised him, so great was the alteration effected by clean linen and well-fitting tweeds.
"You see," remarked Eastmore, when Torre said something about expense, "pulling a poor mouth's bad economy, if you can possibly help it—especially in this country where you're apt to be taken right away at your own valuation. I've been up the ladder, and down at the bottom of it—I wasn't at the bottom, by any means, in the Andromeda—and I've always found it the best policy, if you want anything, to keep an eye to appearances. The chances are that if you look smart and shipshape, people will ask you to accept what, otherwise, they'd laugh at the idea of giving you if you went down on your knees for it to 'em."
Bright and early in the morning, Torre was up and searching the house for Bralga. But he was nowhere to be found. The barman said he had gone to his room at midnight "with a bloomin' skinful o' all sorts." But although the bed had been slept in, it was empty now. So, as the hotel waggonette with their luggage upon it was at the door, waiting to take them to the railway station, Torre reluctantly gave up all hope of being able to say good-bye to his old mate.
But, as they entered the station, the first man they saw was Bralga in clean new moles and blue shirt, alert and cheery, with Stumpy at his heels.
And he laughed, apparently well-pleased, as Torre told him of his ineffectual search.
"Thought I might be in quod again, eh?" said he. "Surely ye didn't think I'd git real tight, an' ye makin' tracks so soon! Not much, you bet! But my! ain't we a toff this mornin'! See 'ere," he continued, lugging out a small parcel wrapped in brown paper and intricately bound with stout twine, "'ere's somethin' as might come in 'andy one o' these days. It's the ole Dic. An' when ye looks at it, now an' agen, it'll mebbe remind ye o' Bralga. So long, lad, so long! Good-bye an' good luck!" And Torre, looking back as they steamed out of the station, could see the tall stooping figure waving his hat from the edge of the platform whilst the train was in sight.
It was a long and wearisome journey, occupying all that day and night, until on the early morning of the next day the train drew into the Redfern station in the capital of New South Wales.
EASTMORE was a cosmopolitan in the widest sense of the word, and his talents were as varied as the characters he had played. By turns sailor, miner, journalist, bushman and explorer, his was a most curious and attractive, if somewhat unsatisfying personality. About forty years of age, he was tall and well-built, with pleasant features, albeit the cheek-bones were rather too prominent, and the eyes in colour of that dull, lustreless black that is apt to lend a lifeless expression to a face. Still, with his frank smile, assured carriage, small peaked beard and moustache, just showing signs of grey, he would have been anywhere considered a good-looking man. Of his past he never spoke. That he was an Englishman was pretty certain; that he was an insatiable rover was quite so. Indeed he seemed at home in most parts of the world, and knew and could talk about people in them after that minute fashion which is the surest test of all of a man's having been, and seen, and done. Here in Sydney, for instance, Torre quickly discovered that part, at least, of his threat to the captain of the Andromeda was no vain one, for with pressmen of all degrees he appeared to be hail fellow well met.
"I tried journalism myself here once," he remarked to Torre; "but things were dull, and I found it impossible to get constant employment on any newspaper. You see——Oh, how d'ye do, Tomlinson," interrupting himself to return the salutation of a clever-faced, brown-bearded, spectacled man who passed. "That's the editor of the Nomad" he continued, "a weekly paper whose pink cover you may see anywhere between Nyngan and the Nile. It consists mainly of paragraphs cleverly seasoned—often with pepper—and at times served up hot, and hot on the edge of a libel action. Tomlinson's the man I should have asked to help me with M'Cutcheon, if necessary. The Nomad's done yeoman's service before now by exposing abuses and slaying shams—and has suffered for it."
"Now, Eastmore!" exclaimed a stout, dark-whiskered, but somewhat absorbed-looking man, meeting the pair, "where on earth did you spring from? Sea or land, eh? A pile, at length, or merely a sufficiency?"
"Not even the last, Jenkins," replied the other, laughing heartily. "Nor ever has been, nor ever will be, I fear."
"Umph," said Jenkins, thoughtfully, "I expect that's about the truth," and he peered inquisitively at Torre. "But you haven't told me of yourself."
"Well, in answer to your first question," said Eastmore, "I'm from the land last—the far Western New South Wales country. Tired of that; and now I'm on the look-out for a ship in which to test luck on the other element."
"Curious place, the middle of Pitt Street, in which to find one," replied Jenkins, putting up an eyeglass and staring around. "Now I'm looking for something far more in evidence—a drink. Come and join me with your young friend, and then, perhaps, unlikely as you may think it, it is just possible I may be able to help you in your quest."
"Well," said Eastmore, "as the sun's a good bit over the fore-yard arm, I suppose we may fairly do so."
"Do you know what copra is?" asked Jenkins presently, as they sat in the smoking-room of the Empire.
"Of course," replied Eastmore; "made lots of it. Why do you ask?"
"Because, until this morning, I had not the faintest conception of what it might be—thought, indeed, that it was a new kind of gum, or glue, or a substitute for india-rubber. I wasn't quite sure which. Anyhow, I had to write an article on the subject for to-morrow's paper. Of course, I might have gone to the Public Library and found something there to suit the case. But I like my facts at first hand, if possible. So, finding from a man that copra was simply coco-nut, dried in the sun, and exported from the South Sea Islands, I made my way to a shipping firm I know of near Circular Quay, and there got all the information I wanted."
"Yes, well?" asked Eastmore impatiently. "Where's the point of the joke?"
"You're always in such a deuced hurry," retorted the other. "You make one forget the gist of one's story."
"An article for that old rag of yours," replied Eastmore.
"Not a bit of it," said Jenkins chuckling. "It was a ship for you. You see, whilst I was talking about copra with one of the partners—a personal friend by the way—another of them came in saying, 'What had we better do about a skipper for the Aniwa?'—I remember the name because a fellow was killed and eaten there the other day; and one of our men, writing about the affair, put the place in Matabeleland instead of the New Hebrides, where it should be. Not that it mattered much. Still, it's interesting as showing the necessity for having reliable data, even in a newspaper article. And—"
But here, seeing that Eastmore was sitting back, puffing resignedly at his cigar, and showing no further sign of interest, Jenkins abruptly took up the thread of his story in a more energetic voice. "'Well,' said the other partner, 'if there are none about that we know, I suppose we'd better advertise in the Standard to-morrow. That'll bring a shoal of 'em to the office.' See, Eastmore? Now, if I give you a note to my friend, Mr Fibre of Fibre, Coir and Trepang, why, it may possibly save them the price of an advertisement in that 'old rag' you mentioned just now. Come round to my diggings in Elizabeth Street, and I'll write it for you at once. I don't in the least know what the Aniwa is. She may be a barque, or a cutter, or a steamer, or a raft. But I suppose it's all the same to you?"
"Every bit," replied Eastmore. "And, anyhow it's a decent firm, I've heard, and a liberal. Also, I'm sure I'm much obliged to you, Jenkins, although you do back and fill so confoundedly before beginning to steer a course."
Jenkins' letter, coupled with Eastmore's satisfactory credentials, had the effect of making the latter, before many more hours, Master of the Aniwa, a fine little brig of some 400 tons, bound first to the Gilbert Islands, where the owners had a copra station, and then back to the New Hebrides and Solomons, there to form other stations; as they intended to go in almost exclusively for copra, instead of the general Island produce which had hitherto engaged their attention.
"Well, it might have been something bigger," remarked Eastmore to Torre, as the pair boarded the tug to go out to the brig, then lying in Johnston's Bay. "But she's not a bad-looking craft. And it's the easiest rig going, in my opinion, to handle. She'll hold as much copra as we can get, I daresay. The firm have given me a free hand, so I'll ship a fair crew. I've been thinking what to do with you, Leigh. Perhaps the best plan will be for you to sign in the regular way as an ordinary seaman. But you shall pass as my cousin, and live aft. There's lots of room, evidently. I'll have a mate, of course, and a second mate and carpenter combined, if I can pick one up. That'll make four aft. Yes, she's a nice little boat. To look at her you'd take her for 700 tons at the least."
The Aniwa was nearly new, built of Tasmanian hardwood, and with her knees and stanchions so close together as to resemble a grove of timber. Not an iron bolt or rail had been used in her construction. Everything was of copper. Her clipper lines gave promise of speed; and her tall spars of Oregon pine, tapering away to skysail poles, and crossed, not only by double topsail, but double topgallant yards—the latter somewhat unusual in craft of her size—made her look larger than she really was. On deck everything was up to date. The ground tackle worked by a powerful capstan in place of a windlass; she carried her side lights for'ard in towerlets of iron, domed with copper, instead of unsheltered screens, and aft; her anchors were a new patent, both flukes fitting into the stocks, and the pair not taking up as much room as one of the old sort; she carried four splendid boats whose davit-falls were self-unhooking; and by the metallic clicking of her block-sheaves it was easy to tell they were all fitted with patent rollers. The forecastle—a house on deck—was comfortably furnished with curtained bunks, and a broad seat cut into lockers ran underneath them all around. There were also cupboards here and there about the walls. Next came the galley, containing a fine range, tiled floor, and table. For'ard of everything was a scuttle with steps leading into a lower forecastle in which were bunks, but of a much rougher description than those above.
"I expect these are for the 'boys,'" said Eastmore. "We'll have to get some for boating copra, you know. And, take her altogether, I don't think I ever saw a better found little ship."
Right aft, in front of the raised and railed-in poop which, with a broad alley-way running around it, reached nearly to the open space where stood a handsome wheel and binnacle, was a windowless, square structure, evidently, from its massive timbers, of great strength. The door was fastened by a broad iron bar and a heavy Chubb lock. Torre inspected this curiously, but without being able to guess its use.
"It's the trade-house," explained Eastmore, "and will be filled presently with all sorts of stuff, cloth, calico, tomahawks, knives, axes, bright-coloured kerchiefs, scents, etc., etc., to barter for copra. Square gin used to be the chief medium when I was down there some years ago. But although the niggers are as fond of it as ever, its introduction is prohibited now except by missionaries, to be used as medicine. It makes too much fight, and also gives the natives an appetite for 'long pig'—human flesh—at least so 'Missi' says."
All this time the Aniwa had been towing towards her new berth at one of the Pyrmont wharves where she was to take in a couple of hundred tons of provisions and necessaries generally for trading stations.
Torre had often been on the point of writing home since so unceremoniously leaving the Andromeda. But he had always deferred doing so until the time arrived that he could say something definite about his future, other than that he was a mere wanderer in the Australian Bush. Now, however, the Andromeda had sailed from Adelaide on her return passage. Nor, so far as Eastmore could discover from cautious inquiries, had any orders been left behind respecting her runaway apprentice. Derrick, Deadeye and Scupper were large winners over the transaction, and would probably, Eastmore imagined, refuse to take him back on any terms now that he had voluntarily broken his indentures. Still, Torre did not think it safe to call at the ship's agents for any letters that might be lying there. Instead, he wrote a full account to his uncle of all that had befallen him; and then, with an easier mind, went about his work on the Aniwa—now nearly ready for sea. With one exception, the brig's crew were all British. The mate, Mr Brewer, an elderly man with a wife and family in a Sydney suburb, was a quiet, decent seafarer, who, having, after twenty years of the life, retired to a little home put together bit by bit, had been forced to take once more to his old profession, by the failure of a bank in which his hard-earned money was invested.
The second mate, Mr Curtis, was a smart young fellow, a native of Dover, who, leaving big ships, had already made a few trips to "the Islands," and round about the coast. And, although not a carpenter, he was handy enough with tools to prove very useful. He, too, had tempted fortune on the Westralian gold fields, and often the recital of the hardships he underwent there would make a watch pass away quickly for Torre, who, as the captain's cousin, found himself looked upon with some degree of consideration in spite of his inferior O.S. rating. This did not, however, prevent the lad working hard at both the practice and theory of his profession, making such progress under the willing tutorship of all hands on board, that, long before the voyage came to its dismal finish, Eastmore considered he would be able to take charge of the deck if necessary.
More than once whilst the Aniwa lay taking in cargo, the Yatala had made an appearance. But when Torre boarded her on the lookout for his friends of that stowaway trip, he found the original crew scattered, and their places filled with strangers.
And, just at this time, he came across an unexpected memento of Bralga. Packing his kit for the voyage, he picked up the little dictionary wrapped in paper and tightly bound with string. Something moved him to open it; and inside between the leaves he found ten neatly folded one pound notes. And, as he fell to thinking on the invariable kindness and patience of the old man with whom he had tramped so many miles; his good temper, and cheery optimism in all sorts of depressing circumstances, crowned at the last by this act of generosity which, Torre knew, must have left him with little or nothing; the lad's eyes filled with tears, and there arose in him pleasant memories of shaded river bends, with the scent of gum bloom, and the long stretches of shining water, and the murmur of the breeze in the sheoaks that dipped their branches in the stream; and of the wild gipsy life he had led whilst being "blooded to the open and the sky" of the far inland Australian Bush.
Very pleasant was Torre's life now. Never, since the day the brig had cast off her towline outside of Sydney Heads, and spread her lofty canvas to a fair wind, had he once regretted returning to the sea. His so squalid and unhappy experiences in the Andromeda seemed to him like a bad dream when compared with those in this bright little vessel where the food was good and plentiful, the men contented; whilst their officers, with the wisdom born of knowledge, forebore to pull the strings of discipline absurdly tight, nor attempted to imitate big ship fashions.
Before leaving, Mr Fibre, a kind-faced old man with whom Eastmore had made his arrangements for Torre's berthing aft, at the same time explaining why he thought an assumed relationship necessary, had taken some notice of the lad, remarking that, if he showed himself as smart and diligent as Captain Eastmore represented him to be, it should not be very long before he obtained a higher rating. Also, one day, he brought on board a sextant and a Norrie's Epitome and gave them to him. And, now, half Torre's watch below was passed in study, and to such good purpose that, very shortly, he was able, not only to take a meridian altitude, but also a lunar or stellar observation by which to correct the chronometer, whilst, at the same time, the mates took care to thoroughly ground him in practical seamanship. Thus, altogether, the lad was happy and contented, learning more in one week than he had done during his four months on the Andromeda. Of course there were still brass-work to clean, decks to sweep, and odd jobs to do. But, always, if he happened to get a little behindhand, some one would stay and help him. These were part of his duties as an O.S. Here, the steward attended to the lamps; and the cook hauled his own coal. He took his wheel and look-out regularly, fair weather or foul, and raced aloft like an acrobat when the word was given to shorten sail.
"You'll do all right," Eastmore said once, "if you stick to the sea, and don't take to wandering any more across country with old hands. I've a good mind to steady down myself; especially if I got a bigger vessel. Still, there's that gold on the Mambare, in New Guinea, that they were talking about when we left Sydney. There may be piles up there. And there's not much to be got at this! I'm a rolling stone. But you'd better quit rolling whilst there's time, and stay at something permanent." And Torre could see that, early as it was, his captain's mind was already busy with fresh schemes of roving.
The one foreigner on board was the cook, a very fat German, named Schneider; a good-tempered, jolly little man, as broad as he was long. It was his first trip to the Islands; and a favourite joke with the men was to feel his fat legs and arms, and poke him in his well-covered ribs, whilst gravely warning him to keep inside the galley and not let any natives see him, or inevitably they would, by hook or by crook, kidnap and turn him into "long pig." To all of which chaff he would reply with almost the whole of his available stock of English: "Oh, yas, ver' nice! Oh, yas, ver' nice! You bets! My word!"
They were now sailing nearly through the centre of Oceania; and day by day before Torre's delighted gaze rose green islands, sometimes almost alone, at others in groups, through whose midst the Aniwa threaded her way to the frequent accompaniment of the leadsman's cry. Since leaving the Australian coast, barring a few squalls, it had been a fine weather, fair wind passage. They had passed the New Hebrides, amidst which lay their return work, sighting nearly the whole group, scattered like a handful of emeralds over the dark blue sea—some towering 2000 feet, others almost level with the water—when, one morning, Torre, doing something aloft, caught a glimpse of six black dots broad on the weather beam. Thinking they might be porpoises, he went on with his work. But looking again, he still saw them coming steadily along, with none of the leaping motions of the "sea pigs." The Aniwa, before a light breeze on the quarter, was doing six knots; and Torre, puzzled, hailed the deck. The mate, however, could see nothing from there, and brought his glass into the mizzen-top. Taking one glance he descended; and Torre, to his further surprise, heard the order to clew up foresail and mainsail, let go topsail and topgallant halliards, and lay the fore yards aback; thus heaving the brig to.
They had passed Cape Cumberland, on Espiritu Santo, two days ago, and but for a few atolls the way lay clear to Santa Cruz, nearly one hundred miles away. Thus, as Torre descended the rigging, not the remotest suspicion of the truth entered his mind. And even when told that the black dots, now rapidly gaining, were the heads of men swimming, he was incredulous. But, in less than another hour, they were alongside, and six great, stalwart, copper-coloured savages hauled themselves inboard, mother-naked except for necklaces and anklets of shells; whilst boars' tusks were thrust through the lobes of the ears, and several had round pieces of polished tortoise shell inserted athwart the nose-cartilage. They were not by any means prepossessing looking customers, their bodies stained with red paint—that even so much salt water had been unable wholly to wash out—and gleaming black eyes that stared fiercely around, although their owners were so weak that they were forced to sit down every few minutes. One of them spoke almost as much, but far more forcible English than Schneider; and from him, eked out by a liberal use of signs, it was learned that he and his companions were Santo men; that four days ago their canoe had been blown out to sea in a squall as they were fishing off the island. They tried vainly to right it. But at last it sank. No land was in sight. And they had kept swimming night and day in the direction they imagined Santo to lie. This was the fifth day.
They ate and drank voraciously, regarding Schneider, who brought them food, with the greatest admiration, feeling his body exactly as his shipmates had done, and making excited remarks to each other, whilst Schneider, evidently none too comfortable, backed into his galley muttering "Ver' nice! ver' nice!" but not as if he meant it. Considering the time they had been in the water, and the continuous swimming, they were in wonderful condition. They, Eastmore said, must have been blown out towards the Louisiades, and were making back again, keeping a course, however, that would have just cleared Vanua Lava, to the northward of Santo.
"They're a bad lot, the Santos," remarked Mr Brewer, the mate, "even on the West Coast, and in spite of the missionaries. But these fellows are East Coasters, I think. Reg'lar man-eaters! See how their eyes snap when they reckon up poor old Schneider."
"Well," said Eastmore, "I'm not going to take them back now. They'll make a boat's crew, perhaps. Give them some slops out of the trade if they'll wear them."
But they would not wear shirts and trousers; and preferred to make their own loin-cloths of some bright-patterned "Manchester" in which they proudly strutted about the deck, darting truculent looks hither and thither. Ultimately, to the great discomfort of Schneider, they squatted before the galley-door, smoking out of new clay pipes—instruments whose use they showed themselves quite familiar with.
About this time, the glass falling rather suddenly, and Eastmore deciding to "snug down," the "Santos" proved themselves willing enough, and pulled and hauled, and even went aloft, imitating, monkey-like, all they saw the men doing, but still appreciably helping. Meanwhile, the sky had darkened, except for one spot in the South—a long, green, evil-seeming streak which, as the heavens grew blacker and blacker, looked perfectly ghastly. Already the brig was stripped to her topsails and foresail. Eastmore now took the upper topsails off her, and close reefed the fore course, keeping the mizzen staysail set aft and the fore-topmast one for'ard. By this the wind had quite died away, and the green streak seemed gradually broadening and growing deeper and more vivid in colour. Low thunder-mutterings, too, broke the silence, and sharp flashes pierced the southern sky. "Dambad! Ohverymuchmoredambad," remarked the English-speaking Santo man, whom the sailors, with their quick appreciation of the fitness of things, had named "Snooks," waving his arms aloft in the fast fading light.
"Ay, ay," remarked Eastmore to Brewer, the heathen's right enough. But we can't be much snugger, and it'll take more than that to swamp her. The main thing we've got to look out for is a sudden shift to the nor'ard. Stand by the topsail-sheets there, some of you! Leigh, come to the lee wheel. Mr Brewer, see that the braces are all clear, and hands at them. Perhaps a couple had better get aloft, fore and aft, and frap the sails down with spare gaskets."
By the time this had been done it was black as a starless midnight. Even the broad green streak was shut out by the thick curtain that hung over all. Both thunder and lightning had ceased. Air and sea held a great stifling silence. The Aniwa's men hung about in groups, the sweat trickling off their faces, and their clothes wet through with it. The brig had lost steerage way. It was only three o'clock in the afternoon, but the binnacle and sidelights were lit, for you could not see your hand in front of you. It was trying work, this waiting for the unexpected to happen. Even the Santo men felt it. "Oh, baddambad!" muttered Snooks from where they crouched in a body close to the break of the little poop.
"Shut up, do, you croaking owl!" exclaimed Mr Curtis, viciously; "you weren't born to be drowned, anyhow!"
As he spoke, all the western horizon suddenly showed a lurid red as of the reflection of a great bushfire; whilst, to the south, the darkness lifted like a drop scene on a stage, revealing a sickly green sky with a trimming of white underneath it, and from that quarter there now came a faint swell that set the Aniwa rolling. In a few minutes the motion increased to such a degree as made it difficult to hold on to anything. There was just enough light by now to show the brig sweeping her decks with the Santos, never giving them a moment's respite in which to get a hold on pin or gear. Presently the red western clouds parted, and a great coppery, angry sun looked out through the rift. In the south pale lightnings began to play on the green sky with its snow-fringed base. Nature seemed to be steadily concentrating her forces against the rolling Aniwa.
"I wish to goodness something would happen!" exclaimed Eastmore, as he swung out to a tremendous lurch, like a hand-lead from the main-rigging, to which he was hanging.
"At last!" said Mr Brewer. "There she roars!" pointing, as he spoke, to the white water astern coming up like an express train, and with the noise of a hundred howling gales all lashed together.
"And, by heavens!" exclaimed Eastmore, staring under the sun, "here's another. Did ever anyone see the like of that? Keep the yards square, Mr Brewer, the Southerly'll catch us first. If it doesn't we're broken merchants!"
Breathlessly all hands watched the two tornadoes one astern, the other on the beam, racing up to the brig with such a deafening, hungry roar as made any talk impossible. One, the western wall of water, was like blood with the dull red sunshine; the other, from astern, came on pallid in the glare of lightning playing around its crests out of the hideous green cloud sweeping along with it. And as they gazed, the men of the Aniwa felt bewildered and terrified, whilst the brig flung them wildly to and fro as if herself gone crazy with fear.
But Eastmore was right; and the southerly hurricane struck them first. The limp topsails blew out with loud reports, and the brig lay over till her lee bulwarks were deep under water. Had the beam storm struck her at this moment nothing could have saved the brig from instantly foundering. But, luckily, whilst yet the driving smother was still a couple of hundred yards away, the Aniwa righted. There was a momentary lull, and "Port braces!" roared Eastmore, "For your lives, men!" The yards swung round in a twinkling. "Luff!" And close-hauled, with her bows now to sea and wind, the brig was tossed like a feather amidst the meeting waters, whilst overhead the wind roared and yelled as if with rage at her escape. Big seas leapt on board, filling her from rail to rail, thundering aft over the poop, and streaming in torrents over the stern. Torre and the man at the weather-helm secured by bowlines were up to their waists. The crew were in the rigging. And all the time, below them, water fought water, and wind fought wind for possession of their prey.
"Topsail sheets?" roared the mate once, in question to the captain beside him, flattened into the main rigging, as the Aniwa, labouring heavily under the weight of three big following seas, heeled slowly over and over as if she never meant to stop till she had turned turtle.
"Keep all fast!" roared Eastmore back again through the clouds of flying spindrift and stinging water, although, even then, with their legs and arms rove through the rattlines, they were looking straight down at the white cauldron outboard on the opposite side. "I think the worst's over now!"
And, even as he spoke, the brig rose, shaking herself, a streaming, forlorn, draggled thing, it is true, but victorious, as she slipped over the further boundary of the battlefield into what was, by comparison, a calm and windless space.
"Well," remarked Eastmore, as he and his two mates got down from their perch, "I've seen some curious things in my sea-life, and been in some tight places. But I don't think I ever had a twenty minutes quite like that before! Grog ho! Mr Curtis, you may tell the men. Then set the foresail and upper topsails, and send those Santo fellows aft to bale the cabin out. Some water got down. I think you'll find them in the lower fok'sle. I saw Snooks's head pop up through the scuttle half an hour ago."
JUST a fortnight after the gale, the Aniwa lay at rest in a land-locked lagoon. All around were coco palms and pandanus trees. Nowhere near Makoora was there any high land in view. Indeed, over the tops of the trees, away outside, were visible tops of more trees, looking, so flat and low were the islands, as if they grew directly out of the water. But a long way off could be seen the dim hazy blue of hilly Banabon and Nawado. Just in front of the brig was a native village, compact, each house adjoining its neighbour in a half circle. A little further along shone the white buildings of a mission station and a church. Atolls everywhere, and none more than twenty feet above sea level.
Before the vessel dropped her anchor, Fibre and Co.'s agent was on board, accompanied by his wife,—a native woman belonging to Tanna—and three half-caste children. The agent's name was Brown, an Irish-American, and originally a runaway sailor. He had grievances. "It's been a bad season, Cap," said he; "nut scarce an' niggers lazy. I ain't got more'n forty ton o' copra at the outside. The beggars are gettin' too knowin' by half in these parts since the missions came. Darn me if I they don't turn up their noses at good stuff because it ain't got a crack maker's name on it! Now, yesterday, a feller comes for an axe—bringing some watered copra fer swap. Well, I seen it was right, spite o' the extry weight, so I gets an axe out o' the store an' gives it to 'im. Well, he looks it all over carefully. Then he says: 'No good this one. Want Merkin axe—Collins-Massy-too-tets axe'—meanin', o' course, Massachusetts. An', darn me, if I 'adn't got to chuck a couple o' yards o' calico in to make up! Why I kin do miles better down to Tanna, where my ole woman belongs, or any o' the other islands. But these Gilberts—yah! Better shift us, Cap. If you don't, I guess I'll chuck the contract."
The speaker was a stout, red-faced man with a short beard just beginning to turn grey; and, judging from what could be seen, his whole body, from neck to finger tips, was one mass of artistic tattooing. His wife, a powerful-looking, pleasant-featured, coffee-coloured woman, was fully clothed in print jacket and skirt, and wore small tortoise shell ornaments in her ears. The children were fine healthy youngsters, who took a great fancy to Torre, and made friends with him at once.
"Hello!" said Brown, presently, as he caught sight of Snooks and his companions. "Who you got there? Santo men, eh? Well, they're worse'n the Tannas. Beggars wanted to make 'long pig' o' me oncest! An', by gum, they nearly did it! Let's see if I can patter to 'em any."
But they seemed to understand very little of Brown's questioning. "They're East siders," said the latter at last. "I can talk about ten o' the West side languages. But what can ye do with a people that's got so many lingoes that one village can't understand its neighbours five miles away? That's what makes 'em fight like they does, I guess. These jokers are pretty wild. Eat you without banany paste, or any other luxury, if they got the chanst. Guess, Cap, ye'll have to take 'em back, or ye'll be had up fer blackbirdin'! You musn't look crooked at a nigger now; not, by Jehosophat! if he's clubbin' of ye! Swim! You bet! Oncest, comin' across from Frisco, we met thirteen of 'em. They'd been blown away from Oahu, an' been swimming a week then. Goin' strong they were, too; an' if we 'adn't picked 'em up, I do believe they'd ha' fetched the continent of America in due time." And Mr Brown replenished his glass from the bottle of whisky that Eastmore had produced.
"Did you take your lot back?" asked the latter.
"You may gamble we didn't," was the reply. "It was in the old days before the Recruiting Act. We was bound for Manilla. An' anyhow, we didn't care a dump for the Queensland, nor any other gov'ment. I ain't sure what the Ole Man got from Johnnie Spaniard fer his pick-ups. But seein' I was only greaser o' the Yank, an' my whack come to a couple o' hundred dollars, it must ha' been somethin' 'andsome. But them days is gone now. I'm jack on havin' any truck with niggers arter the almighty doin' I got with Stevens in the Daphne—three years bloomin' 'ard. By gum, if it 'ad bin me I'd ha' kep 'all full an' let them Santos swim till they busted. Darn their black skins, if it wasn't fer my ole donah here, Sam Brown's bones ud ha' pointed arrers an' spears a good few year agone. But when you picks Moll up fer a squid you lays her down again fer a shark, right away! Well, Cap, if ye'll send your boats ashore fer the nut, I'll be there. Meantime, as I see 'Holy Joe' a-comin', an' me an' 'im don't square yards nohow, I'll quit. He gives me a pain each time, that feller does." And droning through his nose,
"The livelong night we've toiled in vain,
But at Thy gracious word,
I will let down the net again,
Do Thou Thy will, O Lord,"
this curious customer gathered his family together and got down the gangway, pausing as the mission boat approached to remark with a knowing wink, "You kin gamble every time, Cap, on the net business with 'Missi,' an' everythin' that comes into it's fish—from a pig to a nut."
"And I don't know but what he's right—at least in many cases," commented Eastmore, gazing with evident disfavour at the man in white clothes and solar topee who now stepped on board.
Before even he saluted the captain, the new comer's eyes lit upon "Snooks" and his comrades amongst the crowd of Line islanders, and with a suspicious look he said abruptly, "Where did you get those boys from, Captain?"
His face softened, however, as Eastmore curtly explained; and remarking, "Well, you'll have to take the poor creatures home again to their own village, mind—wherever that may be. Of course I shall report the occurrence to the next man o' war that visits us," he began to enquire into the details of the cargo the Aniwa had brought him. Then, turning to Snooks who, a head taller than his brethren, stood near, the Rev. gentleman said in a blander voice than he had yet used, "Well, my poor fellow, I hope the glad tidings of great joy have already reached you from some of my brethren!"
Snooks stared and, shaking his head, recited his unfailing parrot-like formula, "Ohbaddambad!" and as an afterthought added, "Go to h—ll; you no good! Too dam lean!" thus almost exhausting the vocabulary evidently taught him by some mischievous sailor or beach-comber. But when, on seeing the missionary's look of indignation, he added all in one breath, "AnmaytheLord'avemercyonyoursoulforeveran'eversobeitamen," the mirth of the bystanders found full vent in shouts of laughter; whilst, with an angry glance around, "Missi" got over the side and was pulled ashore to the sound of a hymn sung by his boat's crew.
There was, however, no sense of the comic in Snooks, for he glared fiercely at the laughing faces about him; and, after a few words to his mates, they all retired to their favourite spot in front of one of the galley doors, and there sat and watched poor Schneider with speculative, unwinking black eyes, silent except for an unanimous grunt as he now and again stepped outside to wipe his fat wet face and arms with his sweat-rag.
Nalouna was a really pretty girl of about fourteen, daughter of a chief, and herself and her father both belonged to "Missi's" flock. Torre and she met one day at Brown's house and were introduced by the trader in his own peculiar way. "Here, young un," said he to Torre, "what d'ye think o' this for a titter? Pass on a dark night without any shovin', wouldn't she? An' see, Nelly, here's a smart lad for ye to go sweetheartin' with."
The girl looked shyly at Torre out of lustrous dark eyes set in an oval face of rich golden brown; and, as if she found the inspection satisfactory, laughed through a pair of ripe lips showing unstained ivory between them, and held out her hand to him.
"That means as she's fairly well pleased, I reckon," said Brown. "An' that, if you like, you can be right bower with Miss Nelly. But no hanky-panky, mind, or you'll have Holy Joe down on ye like a thousand o' bricks, to say nothin' of her ole man."
And, after this, Nalouna and Torre met very often. And they went for long moonlight walks amongst the plantations surrounding the lagoon that filled the centre of the island or, in reality, atoll, for Makoora was, like the rest of the group, but a circular strip of coral. Or the pair would pass in Nalouna's canoe out through the reef entrance to leeward and, pulling to another islet a mile away, pay a visit to its village, there to be received with songs and flowers by its hospitable people, also offers of teiparu jam, made from a sort of gooseberry, together with hot bread fruit, pork, and, for drink, karaki fresh from the cocoa's flower-stalk.
Torre was, or thought he was, honestly in love with the pretty island maiden who, on her part, seemed equally smitten with her sailor sweetheart; and, o' nights, haunted the Aniwa in her canoe till Torre could join her, when the pair would pull away not to return sometimes till near morning. Nalouna's father seemed to take little or no notice of this courtship. But "Missi," when he heard of it, was terribly annoyed, and in his intolerant manner remonstrated with Eastmore. Nalouna, it seemed, was one of his favourite pupils, and he intended to train her as an assistant. But Eastmore only laughed, saying it was no business of his. If Torre did his work through the day, he could go where he liked o' nights. Marry the girl? Yes, why not, if he wished, and so give "Missi" another assistant.
As for Torre he was, during these halcyon times, simply revelling in his first love story, and had long made up his mind that the Aniwa should sail without him. And as he and Nalouna on hot Sunday afternoons lay under the rustling palms and pandanus listening to the crooning of the ever-near sea, whilst she with deft fingers wove a coronal of those little pink flowers that grow in the rich volcanic soil, and placed it on his curly hair; or out in their canoe, rocked by the sea breeze, stopped paddling and watched the great tropic stars throbbing in the soft blue overheard, and the phosphorescent water running, as it seemed, in waves of shimmering refulgence half way up the dark masses of vegetation that formed their atoll, whilst each to each whispered the old changeless story, then all the romance of bygone days surged back to the lad's heart. His idyll was complete. No more wanderings, no more ocean hardships; here with Nalouna would he spend his life in peace, counting friends, profession, everything, well lost for love.
And thus it happened that when the Aniwa was once more ready for sea, Torre was not to be found.
At first Eastmore laughed; then, as the searchers returned without the absconder, he grew angry. Nalouna, the picture of innocence and conscious prettiness, denied absolutely in her broken English any knowledge of the runaway.
"I ain't been here two year for nothin'," said Sam Brown who, with his family and chattels, was on board the brig bound for a new station. "An', you bet, I knows the nature o' these heathen down to the ground. Moll (to his wife), you go and bring that hussy off again. She knows where the kid is. An' I knows how to make her tell us."
And, presently, Mrs Brown returning with Nalouna, Sam took the latter to the trade-house. There he tried to tempt her with various articles. But she only looked pertly and defiantly at him as he coaxed and persuaded her in her own tongue to give up the secret of Torre's hiding-place. Still, she made no sign except contemptuously to push aside in turn combs, knives, rolls of print, brooches, and similar "Brummagem" trash.
"Oh, swim out!" exclaimed Eastmore, impatiently, "The girl's as tight as wax. There's one native, at least, Brown, whose nature you don't know."
"I'll be darned if there is," replied Brown, with a twinkle in his small blue eyes, "an' a feemel's least of all. What's in this case, now?" (as he pulled out a large wooden box from amongst the trade). "Somethin' perticklerly fetchin' by the look on it. Ye see, Cap, I expect the young un's been givin' her an' her old man most o' the truck we got here. It must be somethin' re-churchy,' as the Wee Wees1 say, as'll perdooce any impression. Ah, here we are! Just you wait till I fix this up. If it don't bring her to her bearin's, then call Sam Brown a Dutchman."
"Well, look sharp," replied Eastmore as the other unpacked a gorgeous mirror, "or I'll turn the dashed island upside down and see if he's on the bottom of it."
Rapidly, and with a practised hand, getting the gilded supports in place, Brown set the oval sheet of glass swinging between them, and mounted a great gilt eagle on top of all. Then at its base, on each side, he stuck, on pins provided for them, a couple of figures representing knights in armour with mace and sword; lightly rubbed the lot with a kerchief, and held it up for Nalouna to see her face in.
Smiling, she stared with gleaming eyes for a minute at her own reflection, then muttered a few words to the tempter, who, rising with a grim smile, said, "That done the trick. What did I tell ye. Come along, afore she changes her mind. She's got the toughest one in the whole o' the Line Islands. Darn my rags if I'd ha' believed it without seein'!"
It was dark, but with a rising moon, as Eastmore, Brown, and three seamen, leaving the Aniwa hove short and her topsails loosed, entered one of the largest huts in the compact row that lined the beach facing the lagoon. Nalouna, bearing her precious mirror, accompanied them. But she came no further than the door.
"All right," said Brown, "hold her there till we see whether she's given us the straight tip, or whether it's an almighty sell. That there bit o' shoddy an' glass is worth a ton o' nut, I guess; an' as I'm 'sponsible, I want to see if it's a square deal afore she clears."
The place was empty inside. But Brown, lighting a candle, held it up to the thatched roof, presently, his keen eye detected a spot that looked as if the palm leaves had been recently disturbed. Pulling at this, they came readily away in handfuls, revealing the fact that it was but a false ceiling. Mounting on a seaman's back, Brown thrust his head and shoulders inside and groped about, whilst around him fell a curious litter of stuff—bits of iron and copper, some carpenters' tools, empty bottles, an old flint musket, a cutlass, and other odds and ends, doubtless filched, before his conversion, from passing vessels by the master of the house.
Soon a yell of triumph announced a find of another sort; and a protruding leg being seized by Eastmore and the others, with a long pull and a strong one down came Torre bare-headed, wet through with sweat, covered with dust and dead leaves, and looking remarkably foolish as he blinked at the light.
"Come, my son," said Brown, soothingly, in reply to some half-choked curses," an' see who put ye away. An' for what price."
And Torre, forced outside, saw by the bright moonlight under whose beams they two had so often exchanged their vows, Nalouna holding the glittering mirror clasped with both arms to her breast. Her head was bent down; but, presently, as if constrained by the intent gaze Torre fixed upon her, she suddenly looked him full in the face; another minute, and a cry of remorse burst from her; she threw the mirror at his feet, and wrenching herself free from the sailor who held her, rushed sobbing into the bush.
* * * * * *
"Heave an' bust her, bullies! Heave an' break her out! Anchor's off the ground, sir."
"Ay, ay, Mr Brewer, starboard fore-topsail braces, sir. Head sheets over to port, there! Mr Curtis, swing your after-yards. Leigh, jump into the apron with the hand-lead and give us the water!"
And thus, to the creaking of yards, the cheep-cheep of braces through their blocks, the shouts of the men, and his own long chant of "Quarter less—eight! And a half—seven! No bottom at ten fathoms!" ended poor Torre's idyll.
And neither fore nor aft was ever a word spoken to remind him of his foolish escapade.
"She give him away, all right," was all that Brown remarked to Eastmore. "But the Queen o' the Cannible Hilands couldn't ha' stud agin that lookin' glass, let alone Nalouna. Jumpin' Jehosophat! I reckon she's a rale parrygin, considerin'; an' if I 'adn't ha' got Moll, there, I don't know but what I wouldn't have a shot fer 'er myself."
But the captain only laughed and said shortly, "Well, well, he's young, and 'll soon get over his first fit of calf-love. There's no harm done—good, in fact. Like whooping-cough, or the measles, the sooner a youngster's got rid of his first flush of emotional romance—brown or white—the better."
"M'h," answered Brown, perhaps not comprehending, or doubtful.
The Aniwa took fair weather and light winds with her through Micronesia, until, running down the East side of Espiritu Santo, she had to beat up the eight miles of St Phillip's Bay, into which Eastmore put with the double intention of landing Snooks and Co. and getting fresh water.
But neither that redoubtable individual nor his companions could be persuaded at any price to go ashore. Nor did they seem to understand a solitary word of the other natives' language. These latter tried to come on board in numbers, but Eastmore made them keep away by means of sharp hints from the business ends of boarding pikes. Great, strapping, fierce-looking fellows they were; painted all colours, and armed with bows and arrows, and old Tower muskets and Sniders; flaunting whole cocks' tails in their bushy hair, casting hungry, arrogant glances around; whose room seemed infinitely more desirable than their company.
"Dambadohdambad!" was all Snooks had to say as he pointed to the shore, and, picking up a stick, went through a pantomimic process of gnawing, as at a bone, which was realistic enough. Therefore, as it was plain his native heath was not in this quarter, Eastmore determined to run down the eastern coast of the island and find it, if possible.
Coming out of St Phillips, the Aniwa met a three-masted, white-painted steamer, under sail alone, entering the bay.
She proved to be H.M.S. Pathfinder on a cruise, looking for reefs; taking soundings; punishing evildoers, and patrolling the group generally.
"I think those chaps are Kuloa Bay men, by the cut of them," said the lieutenant who boarded the Aniwa. "Better try down there. Only keep your weather eye lifting, for they're a rum lot."
The naval man, as it proved, had guessed correctly, for as the Aniwa opened out Kuloa, Snooks and his mates showed signs of interest and recognition; and when yet a couple of miles away, all except the former suddenly took headers off the bows and swam for the land.
Snooks explained that he had merely sent them to herald their coming as friends. Whereupon Eastmore served out to each man a revolver and a Winchester rifle, put the boarding pikes handy, and erected amidships, and all around the Aniwa's rail, a patent of his own, composed of three strains of barbed wire. In these latter days many vessels went into the Island trade unarmed except for a rusty pistol, hanging in the captain's berth. But Fibre and Co. took no risks on their ships. And as this was a practically unvisited part of Santo, Eastmore thought it wise to do the same. If he had, alas! only persevered in his precautions there might never have been a big killing at Kuloa.
Snooks viewed these offensive preparations with equanimity, and by signs protested that his people were the most peaceful and harmless in the wide world. Then, sampling the barbed wire by kicking it to try its strength, he hastily examined his naked toes and howled out his never failing, and on this occasion, at least, quite appropriate assertion, much to the amusement of Schneider, whose fat sides shook as he exclaimed, "Oh yas, ver' nice! You bets! Dam goot!"
Rather to Eastmore's surprise, only a few canoes came off, as the anchor was let go in about twelve fathoms, and half a mile from shore. And their occupants, after a short conversation with Snooks, made no attempt to come on board, and contented themselves with handing up gifts of pork and pigs, bananas, yams, and sweet potatoes.
Meanwhile, Torre, whose natural good sense had some time since led him to the conclusion that he had been saved from making an irretrievable mess of things, grateful also for the forbearance of his shipmates, gazed with delight at the snow-white beaches running up to meet the thick-growing woodlands that, in turn, changed into mountain masses rugged and broken, but without a bare patch, so covered were they with greenery to the very summits of their five thousand feet; whilst, here and there, amidst the wondrous fertility of vegetation, a bright, almost perpendicular gleam betokened where some waterfall worked its way through the curtain of vines with which Nature had draped alike both gully and precipice.
The harbour was a fine one, nearly land-locked, and with that great desideratum hereabouts, moderate soundings and good holding-ground. An ideal site for a copra station! And so Brown evidently thought. During the passage he had conversed much with Snooks, who had promised that if the trader established himself at Kuloa, he could procure him in a month enough copra to load the Aniwa to her hatches.
"Tanna's full up," said he, arguing the point with Eastmore. "So's most o' the other islands. Traders cuttin' each other's throats, an' 'Missi' encouragin' of 'em. It's the same way on Santo, here, at the other side. This side's got a bad name, an' 'Missi' don't like it any more'n the traders. But I don't mind so long's the nut's there. Me an' Moll an' the kids 'll chanst it, I reckon. You can stop a bit, Cap, just to see fair play, and give us a hand to shove a store up. An' when you comes back from the Solomons you can gamble I'll have a heap o' copra for you."
Brown was no new chum; and, though rather doubtful, Eastmore, in the end, let him have his own way. A chief was interviewed, a patch of land bought, and with great apparent good will, the natives helped to erect a store, dwelling-house, and a shelter-shed for the copra.
Nothing indeed could be friendlier than their attitude, and Brown, in his own words, began to think that he "had struck a patch"—not a very easy matter in these days of competition, and with trading firms springing up like mushrooms. Snooks and the other five were especially eager and willing to do everything in their power to help matters on, and formed themselves into a boat's crew which, in charge of Torre, plied between ship and store. Curtis, the second mate, was builder-in-chief, and under his directions, the rough timber that had been put on board the Aniwa for just such purposes rapidly assumed shape. Curtis was a smart, brown-faced young man of about four and twenty, with a fair short moustache lying close along his lip. He held a mate's certificate; and of him this history has yet much to relate. After awhile, as the houses neared completion, Eastmore allowed him and Torre, with one or two other seamen, to sleep ashore.
Whilst at work clearing a garden, and fencing the trading station in, the natives painted themselves black nearly all over, leaving the nose alone red. And this particular tribe seemed more civilised than any other Curtis, Eastmore, Brown, or the rest of the Aniwas who had aforetime used the Islands, remembered seeing. They kept their villages cleaner, built better houses, made a sort of unglazed pottery, and cultivated large patches of yams, cassava, etc., etc. Their boats and fishing nets, too, were artistically fashioned, and they appeared especially friendly, and anxious to be on good terms with their visitors.
Even Schneider lost his original fear of this mild-mannered people and at times ventured ashore, and felt rather flattered than otherwise when the whole village turned out to survey him in open-mouthed admiration of so much adipose tissue.
By this the buildings were nearly finished, and the store filled, not only with what Brown had brought from Makoora, but much fresh stuff from the Aniwa. Under the trader's tutelage, also, many men were hard at work cutting and curing cocoa-nuts, of which the supply seemed inexhaustible.
To mark the completion of the station a great festival was decided upon, to which, as a matter of course, the crew of the Aniwa were bidden. The feast was at first spread in the copra store, a long building of posts twelve feet high, interlaced with bamboos; bearing a thatched roof reaching to the ground, and floored with rough boards. Roast pigs, fowls and fish, with heaps of yam and grated coconut kneaded into a paste with the milk of the latter, formed the menu. But such crowds arrived from another village, close to, that every thing had to be taken out and put under a big banyan tree that overshadowed the state-house, or hall of council, in which palavers were held. Here, long planks placed on trestles served as tables for those who cared to use them. But the majority of the guests squatted on the ground in the light of torches of coir soaked in fish oil and stuck on tall staves of iron-wood fixed in the ground in the shape of a great circle.
Eastmore had allowed all but two of the men to come ashore. He and Brewer remained on board. And such was the fatal confidence now felt in the Santos after nearly a month's constant association and intercourse, that no one dreamt of going armed to the friendly festival. Even Brown, suspicious and alert as he was, had for some time put aside his generally constant companions, a pair of Colt's Navy revolvers. Truly it was a case of quem deus vult perdere prius dementat!
Kava is not a pleasant drink, even if one doesn't see it brewed. But British Jack will drink most things, and the Aniwas were no exception to the rule. And beside each sailor sat his native sweetheart, ready to fill his coco-nut shell directly it was emptied. After supper came a dance in which hundreds of women and men, hideously painted, kept time to the beating of a drum five feet long, played upon with two sticks. The scene was a curious one; and Torre and Curtis, who had strolled away from the crowd with its noise, heat, and smell, stood and looked on from the darkened doorway of the council house.
Suddenly there was an almost dead silence; and, presently, three booming notes were struck on another, and evidently larger drum, whose echoes rolled back in muffled thunder from the mountains. Doubtless, this was a signal; for ere the reverberations had ceased, the pair of watchers in the gloom heard a volley of diabolical yells, saw clubs lifting and descending in the glaring circle of torches, and instinctively felt that the doom of those who implicitly trust the savage Man of Colour was upon them. Then, still watching, fascinated, they heard shots and saw the crowd scatter right and left, disclosing a woman in its midst with a smoking pistol in each hand, and three children clinging to her skirts and legs. At her feet lay a man; other prostrate figures were spread out around her. Crack! crack! crack! She was firing into the thick—and at each report a native fell or screamed. It was Molly Brown, the Tanna woman, who, more suspicious than her dead husband, had come to the feast with his discarded revolvers. Torre made a step forward at the sight. But Curtis, grasping him by the shoulder, exclaimed hoarsely: "Too late! And it serves us all damned well right! My God! What a woman! Look!"
And Torre, looking, saw that Molly, having discharged her pistols, had been brought to her knees by an arrow buried almost up to its feathers in her breast, and was now striving with uplifted arms to ward off from the children the murderous dripping clubs that were falling thickly on the group as the enraged savages tore each other away from the victims in their eagerness to strike.
The lad nearly fainted at the sight, and felt sick, and would have fallen but for Curtis's sustaining arm.
"Let's climb up into the boot," whispered the latter. "I suppose we'd better put it off as long as possible. And it's about the last place they'll ever think of looking in for us."
"The ship!" gasped Torre. "Couldn't we make a dash for her?"
"The ship!" echoed Curtis bitterly. "The skipper and the rest of 'em are like those poor chaps out there, before this. I saw Snooks and the other five go off in our boat an hour ago. Said they were taking a message from the chief to invite the skipper to come ashore for a short time. Oh, a pretty little plot it's been from the very beginning! Idiots! Asses! Serves us right! Now then, up you get. A miracle may happen, but it'll take the shape of long pig, most likely."
FROM the front of one end of the council house, which was also used for kava making, protruded a structure in shape something between the bow of a ship and an immense boot. Once Curtis and Torre had climbed up one of the carved pillars that supported the roof—some twenty feet or so—and discovered that the affair was cleverly made of stout bamboo lashed together with sennit, painted, lined with mats, and thatched. Apparently its only use was that of ornament. But it made a very secure hiding-place, whence, by peering under the eaves, the pair could see much of what was going on whilst themselves hidden.
And in a very few minutes they had swarmed up the pillar, and, trembling with excitement, were looking out from the "boot" on the scene beneath them. Some of the natives were running about cutting the throats of the dead men, of whom, including Brown, there were six. Others were busy lashing the bodies to poles by feet and hands, ready to carry away. Many, it could be seen in the dancing torchlight, were at the beach. And from these, all at once, a roar of triumph proceeded, upon hearing which more men ran with poles. Presently they re-appeared bearing on their shoulders four corpses. One of these was laid just opposite where Torre and Curtis crouched with beating hearts, and bodies reeking with sweat. And as he suddenly recognised it for Eastmore's, Torre groaned aloud, whilst his companion muttered hot curses to himself. Their own dead—killed by Molly—and numbering four, they carried off first amidst the wailing of the women and the beating of many drums. Molly and her children and the others, all tied to poles, were now borne away in similar fashion on men's shoulders, Snooks apparently counting and identifying them as they passed. One body, however, they left so much in shadow as made it impossible to see whose it was. And now it became very evident that Torre and his companion were missed, for many of the savages rushed up to the new station; others seized torches and searched the bush; and some looked into the council house. But the great bare place was useless for concealment, and these last withdrew at once. Meanwhile, a crowd had taken up the solitary man left behind by the bearers of the dead, and placed him upon a rude sort of stone altar, many of which were to be seen about the village, and whose use Torre had often wondered at.
To their astonishment the friends saw that it was Schneider, and, though alive, bound so as to be unable to stir hand or foot. But his bonds were soon cut, the natives thronging around, whilst some stripped him mother-naked, and others offered him bowls of kava, and others again tried to stuff balls of grated yam and cocoa-nut into his mouth. Then they crowned him with wreaths of scarlet hibiscus blossoms and many-coloured crotons, and danced about him, yelling at the top of their voices as the poor bewildered wretch sat on the broad stone, and gazed stupidly from side to side.
Louder and louder grew the noise of the great drums, denser and denser the crowds, as from other villages the people came pouring in, eager to assist at the great festival which had been arranged so cunningly, and with so much forethought and patience—presumably by Snooks, who now seemed to take the part of a sort of master of the ceremonies, gorgeous in angular stripings of red, white, and black paint, and carrying one of the Aniwa's boarding pikes over his shoulder. Soon, from the cook-house, behind where they lay, to Torre and Curtis came the smell of roasting flesh, hot and steamy on the steamy air. And, presently, great half-cooked joints were brought in on plantain leaves laid over shallow wooden trenchers, whose significance the shuddering and horrified watchers knew only too well.
There must have been fully a thousand savages present at that appalling feast, the fruit of that big white killing of which the memory yet nae e nda piliwakini—"sits with legs crossed"—in the Kuloa district. And as fast as the terrible portions appeared, so almost were they consumed.
Meanwhile, even as they ate and drank, and danced and yelled, the wretched Schneider, his white skin shining in strong contrast to the dark masses around him, was the central object of interest. A dozen at a time the cannibals would pass their hands admiringly over his plump body, and then make room for others. Once he stood up and seemed about to jump off his pedestal, but Snooks dragged him down again and threatened him with a club.
And by and bye the dawn came, and the east flushed crimson, and the sun rose on the lovely island and the blue sea, and showed to the hollow-eyed watchers on death, the Aniwa riding peacefully at her anchors; the new trading station just there on the hill; the blood-stained ground with many gorged savages prone here and there in groups; and Schneider, mercifully senseless with the floods of kava that had been poured into him, again bound, and lying at the foot of the stone altar.
The smoke of much terrible cooking still floated greasy on the morning air as Torre and Curtis looked at each other's pallid features, and crouched as low as possible amongst the mats, afraid to stir lest some sudden creak of their cage should betray them and send them to join that naked white figure yonder at the altar under the pandanus. For this reason they dared not close their tired eyes for a minute, or disturb the legions of sand-flies and mosquitoes that, as the sun grew stronger, swarmed into their shelter and preyed upon and tortured them almost beyond endurance. "Could we hang it out till to-night," whispered Curtis, "we might get down to the beach and collar a canoe. If only the Pathfinder would put in!"
But Torre only shook his head. His heart was sick for the good friend he had lost in such a direful manner. Moreover, a fierce wild lust for the blood of at least one of the cowardly, treacherous murderers had taken possession of his soul; and he had quite made up his mind that, if they were discovered, he would kill Snooks and then die satisfied.
All that terrible day they lay there watching the natives, as bodies of them looted the Aniwa. At first they used their canoes to transport the plunder ashore. But, about midday, a strong breeze setting in from the sea, they, led by Snooks and his mates, hove the anchor up and, getting the topsails loosed, let the brig drive right on to the beach, which she took with good way on her and the loss of her topmasts. And there she stuck, nearly on her beam-ends, bumping heavily, a sight to sadden a sailor's heart.
Schneider, again untied, was now placed in a small mat-covered pen, and constantly tempted to eat and drink by attendants who, when he refused, endeavoured by force to cram him with every island delicacy they could think of. Nor were the two refugees forgotten, for parties were at intervals coming and going from the bush, which they must have searched for miles in every direction.
As the day wore on, the council house below them grew full of noisy youths who for some hours were busy chewing the roots of the pepper-tree and spitting it out again into dishes, thus preparing kava for the night's feast. All the trade from the store, too, was brought down and piled in a heap just inside the big house, ready, apparently, for distribution. And to their almost utter despair, Torre and Curtis, watching through little holes in the mats, made with their sheath-knives, saw that a strong guard armed with spears and clubs was set over the treasure. So close were they that the fugitives scarcely dared to breathe for fear of attracting the attention of two in particular who were leaning against the very pillar by which they had ascended into the "boot." Towards evening the smoke began once more to pour from the cookhouse; and Schneider was brought forth, set upon the altar and crowned, this time with crotons only, whilst the natives danced around him to the sound of drums. Apparently, so far as the two could make out, the poor wretch was half stupefied with kava, or fright, for, smiling idiotically, he beat time to the drums with a hand on each naked knee, and it required very little imagination to hear him muttering, "Ver' nice! Ver' nice!"
As the sun set, torches were lit, and the Chief of Kuloa, terrible in paint and cocks' feathers, and with a great white shell bound on to his head, approached Schneider, accompanied by Snooks who bore a ship's wooden bucket, and a long butcher's knife. Evidently the climax of the poor cook's fate was close at hand. But the guard below, contrary to the hopes of the watchers, only stood on stumps and trade-boxes to get a better view of the ceremony.
Torre and Curtis had seen enough of horrors, and they drew their heads in beneath the sago leaf thatch. Suddenly the drums ceased beating; the dancers their yells. Then terrible screams pierced the night, startling the hidden ones till their refuge creaked and swayed ominously. The screaming still continuing, Torre, moved by an ungovernable impulse, peered out again, noticing that Curtis had done the same.
Schneider, he saw, had, at last realising his fate and the presence of his executioner, sprung from the altar, and was struggling and screaming in the strong grasp of four men who were bearing him, two to the legs, two to the arms, back to the sacrificial stones across which, despite his efforts, they laid him belly downwards. Then Snooks, handing the knife to the Chief, held the bucket under the doomed man's throat whilst the other bent his head back. But here, Torre, trembling and half fainting, sank down with such a noise that Curtis gripped him hard and swore in whispers, even as the victim's cries changed to a horrid, gurgling, choking sound that made Torre stop his ears with his fingers. Presently the drums struck up; and when he looked again, men were carrying towards the cookhouse something that hung from a pole, white, with great red blotches all over it plain in the torchlight.
The pair were weak for want of food, and their tongues and throats were parched. Torre, especially, felt ill and shaken. And now, drawing his sheath-knife, he whispered huskily to Curtis that he meant to make a dash for it, and at least kill one, or, perhaps, two, of the bloodthirsty villains. Anything, he added, was better than enduring another day of torture. The guard had scattered a little, and were drinking kava, and gazing longingly at the feasters, already beginning operations.
"Wait a little longer," pleaded Curtis; "those brutes at the door will be off for their whack directly. It's no use throwing a chance away. Then I'm with you. Hello! What's up now?" As he spoke, a tremendous hubbub arose of yells, shrieks and groans, as from every side through the scrub came a rush of warriors spearing, clubbing, and mercilessly slaughtering the unarmed and surprised Kuloans who ran wildly hither and thither in their attempts to escape.
There was, it seemed, to be a black as well as a white killing that night at Kuloa. Already the guard at the council-house entrance had gone, mingled with the struggling mass from which the noise of clubbing sounded like that made at a carpet-beating contractor's.
The torches had long been extinguished, and as the roar of the battle—or rather massacre, for such it was—rolled first one way, then the other, Curtis said, "Now, Leigh! Now for it!" And getting stiffly out of the boot he slid down the pillar, closely followed by Torre, who nearly fell, so cramped were his limbs, as, reaching the bottom, he set foot on something soft. By the light of an expiring torch he saw it was the corpse of a man with his head smashed like an eggshell. Almost mechanically picking up a long spear from beside the body he joined Curtis. It was only some three hundred yards or so to the beach and the boats and liberty. Between them and it were isolated groups of yelling, pounding savages. But they kept safely outside of these, and had nearly gained the beach when, to their dismay, they saw that a similar means of escape having occurred to the Kuloans, many of them had also rushed the canoes, and, pursued by the foe, were struggling along the water's edge.
"Keep to the right," whispered Curtis, "there seems less hell over there! Passing the stranded Aniwa with her white sails glimmering faint and ghastly as she bumped heavily at intervals with the incoming tide, the two got to the water and searched along it for a canoe—anything that would bear them away from that place of blood and horror.
Another minute or two, and they almost ran against a big native who was striving frantically to shove an outrigger canoe down the shelving bank of coral and shells. But it was too heavy for him, and, hearing their crunching steps, he turned to face them. Torre was ahead and could see nothing but a tall dark figure, its arm upraised menacingly. Thoroughly desperate, and grasping the long slender spear with both hands, he suddenly gave point and ran in, experiencing an indescribable thrill of astonishment and fear as he felt it slip smoothly through the man's body—right through and out at the other side. The transfixed savage stood upright a full minute, Torre heard a weapon drop clinking on the coral, and then, exclaiming "Oh, baddambad!" his opponent reeled and fell heavily.
"Bully for you!" muttered Curtis as, stumbling up with his knife in his hand, he heard the familiar formula. "It's that beast Snooks! Gooddamgood!" And, striking a match, he held the flame down, showing the fierce painted face of the traitor convulsed with agony as he writhed and twisted, impaled on half the length of the tough spear tipped with human bone.
And, all at once, Torre felt happier than he had done since seeing poor Eastmore's dead face staring up at him from under the carrying pole.
"He's got his medicine all right," continued Curtis gleefully; "the treacherous brute knows us, too! I don't like to hit a man down, or I'd put this knife between his ribs and 'mak siccar.' But unless he's got a cat's lives, he's no better off now than Brewer and the poor skipper. Come along, Leigh. That canoe's too big for us."
Further up the beach they found another and a smaller one which, launching without difficulty and hoisting the square sail of matting, soon took them well into the bay. But they were not yet out of danger, for a few boats full of Kuloans were about; and once they narrowly escaped collision with a big war canoe filled with men that was lying off watching the red glow that presently began to crimson sea and sky and show where their homes were blazing. Without a doubt, retribution had surely and swiftly overtaken this bloodthirsty and treacherous people. Fairly knocked up, Torre lay down in the canoe. Fortunately, Curtis presently discovered a big bunch of dried bananas and a bamboo bucket full of fresh water, a find more valuable to them, just then, than its weight in gold would have been, for, the wind falling light, they had to take to the paddles. Towards morning, however, it breezed up again and at dawn they found themselves clear of the bay. But, still, in plain sight at its head rose a column of black smoke against the fast purpling sky in token that even yet the work of destruction was not ended.
"A clean sweep!" remarked Curtis, as he sat at the steering-oar. "But was there ever such luck? If that other mob hadn't come down our cake was dough to a certainty. Phew! it makes me sweat again to think of it. Leigh, it does me real good, old chap, to recollect the shipshape fashion in which you skewered Snooks. And what fits those other fellows must have got—nearly wiped out I should imagine! Say, Leigh, how did it feel when you shoved the spear through that beast?"
"Ugh! horrible!" replied Torre with a shiver. "I felt as sick for the moment, and till I knew it was Snooks, as I did when they were murdering poor old Schneider."
"By God!" said Curtis, "that was a terrible affair! If ever I'm skipper of a craft in these seas, and find niggers swimming after her, I'll take poor Brown's advice and let 'em swim. How on earth a man like that, who said he never trusted any native, came to be caught napping, I can't conceive. And the woman! What a brick she was! Of course it was all a put-up job from the first, with Snooks for the boss of it. Slack off your sheet a bit, lad, and please the Lord we'll be safe on board the Pathfinder to-night, if she hasn't left the bay."
But luck was with them, and rounding Cape Quiros with a fair wind, late that night they were telling their story to the Commander of the warship in the Bay of St Phillip.
"Well," said the latter, "we'll go round at once. But, from your account, there's not much to be done. The other tribe, who came just in the nick of time to save you, are probably men from the hills whom it would be only labour lost to think of following. And, in any case, they don't want punishment—rather the reverse. All the same, if they'd caught you, they'd have eaten you. I warned your Captain to be careful. But it's always the same old story. And then we get hauled over the coals in the Australian papers. Well, youngster, (to Torre) I'm glad, anyhow, that you accounted for the ringleader.
But, now that he was safe, Torre quite broke down. The horrors he had witnessed, combined with his own narrow escape, and perhaps the island malaria, proved too much for him, and an hour after boarding the Pathfinder he was in a high fever, and raving alternately of Eastmore, Schneider, and Snooks. The ship's surgeon, however, was unremitting in his attentions, and our hero wanted for nothing that skilled help could give. Curtis, as beseemed his maturer years and more vigorous frame, stood their terrible experience better. But even he was very sick when the re-action took place, and although able to get about, constant retching, and an utter distaste for food, that lasted several days, reduced him nearly to a skeleton.
On arriving, late the next day, at Kuloa, the Pathfinder's people found nothing but heaps of smoking ruins. Not a living thing was visible. But amongst the still hot embers of the cookhouse and council-chamber, they saw great piles of calcined human bones with here a leg and there an arm sticking up not entirely consumed. Without a doubt, the attacking party had collected the killed and badly wounded and throwing them into the two buildings had set the latter on fire. A more complete catastrophe it would indeed have been hard to imagine, for the village and its inhabitants were virtually exterminated. Also, before leaving, the conquerors had fired the brig which, bilged and burnt to the water's edge, looked a hopeless, melancholy object that one wished the sea would, in pity, take to itself and hide the splintered spars and charred hull of the once smart and graceful Aniwa fathoms deep amongst its coral groves. As there was nothing for her to do, the man o' war at once sailed for the Loyalty Group, at which islands she had to call ere leaving for Sydney.
Long before the Australian coast hove in sight, Torre was again well and hearty. And so taken was he with the life on board the Pathfinder that, but for Curtis, he might have joined the Service.
"Don't be a fool," said the latter, when Torre spoke about the matter, "it's right enough here, and in a small craft like this. But wait till they draft you on to one of the big ironclads—and you don't know the minute that might happen—and then you'll find the difference. Drill and sweat, sweat and drill, it is with them. Scrub and paint and holystone; and your hand going to your cap thirty times an hour. Besides, you're stuck in harbour nine months out of the year, almost, in the so-called cruisers of the Australian Squadron. No, no, Leigh! It's all right if you enter the navy up the after-gangway. But to go into it late, and through the hawse-pipes is, for a lad of some education, as you are, a fatal mistake. Stick to the Red Ensign, my boy. You've had rather a rough time, certainly. But perhaps there's better in store."
So Torre took his friend's advice, and had no cause in years to come to regret having done so.
In the Capital the news of the Aniwa massacre made a stir. And the survivors were besieged at their quarters—the "Seamen's Home"—by quite a crowd of people, anxious to hear their story which, of course, appeared in all the newspapers, illustrated, mostly, by such portraits of the officers and crew as could be procured. Amongst the earliest callers was Jenkins, who listened with horrified interest to the account of Eastmore's fate.
As soon as they landed, Curtis and Torre had reported themselves at Messrs Fibre and Co.'s office, where they were very kindly received, and their wages paid up to the day of their arrival in Sydney.
The Aniwa, it appeared, was fully insured at the time of her loss. But, notwithstanding this, the senior partner was evidently genuinely sorry for the sad end of her people, and especially for Eastmore and Brewer. "As for you, my lad," he said to Torre, "whenever you are ready I'll give you another berth. And the same with you, Mr Curtis. But," he added, "from what I hear, you'll be able to afford a good spell ashore, if you wish it."
What he meant they soon discovered. The Sydney people are nothing if not generous. And whilst the interest aroused by the Aniwa tragedy was at its height, somebody opened a subscription for the two survivors and the family of Mr Brewer—the only married man of the crew—with such good results that, shortly, Torre and Curtis found themselves in possession of £100 each, and numerous offers of employment; whilst the widow and her children received three times that amount. But there seemed no present hurry. And Curtis, who had friends in Goulburn, went there for a short stay; whilst Jenkins, who in his quiet way was sincerely grieved at Eastmore's death, took Torre to his bachelor establishment, and introduced him to many old friends of the dead adventurer, Bohemians like Eastmore himself, the majority of them, amongst whom Jenkins, from being in regular work, was regarded as a sort of superior anomaly. They were a curiously mixed lot that Torre met here—sailors, bushmen, educated labourers, diggers, sheep and cattle men. Or rather, in their time, they had been one or other, or all of these by turns. And now, tired for a while of a roving life, they "knocked out" some sort of a living in the Capital, by the aid of their experiences, and pen and ink and pencil—one week perhaps "stone broke," the next with two or three pounds in their pockets. But, in spite of all, generally contriving to keep up a decent appearance, and never at a loss for a pipe of tobacco or a nip of whisky. And, now and again, one would be missed for weeks and months together, nobody but an editor or two, perhaps, knowing his whereabouts; or an occasional published sketch now and then to show that he was still alive. Then one day, Brown would reappear and mention casually that he'd been doing a bit of droving "up Queensland way;" or fencing, or ring-barking on some far back station; or prospecting for gold in Westralia. Similarly, Smith would bring his mate's or master's "ticket" into use, and return to the sea for a few trips up and down the coast. If he could get a billet aft, all the better. If not, he would "take the fok'sle for it."
And the talk of these men interested Torre immensely. They had, in their time, done so much, and seen so much, and gathered so very little except experience; and they talked so freely and openly about themselves and their prospects, and seemed so careless of what might happen to them at present or in the future that, as he listened, he could almost fancy himself surrounded by many Eastmores.
"I'VE got some news for you," remarked old Fibre to Torre one morning; "first, here are a couple of English letters that the Andromeda's agent sent to me. It appears they have only just discovered your identity with that of the runaway apprentice.
I don't suppose they'll bother their heads about the matter. But the Andromeda herself was signalled as being off Gabo this morning. And if M'Cutcheon learns you are here, he might, just out of spite, take proceedings against you for absconding from the service of the firm. You see, they didn't get as much work out of you as they expected. About the worst that could happen would be to send you back on board her again. But you don't wish that?"
"Well," continued the old man, as he laughed at Torre's decided negative, "I think you had better get away for awhile. The Andromeda's stay will be short. She's only going to discharge, and then off to Newcastle and load coals for China. Three weeks or a month here at the outside. Now I'm sending a lot of stuff up to a sugar plantation on the Clarence that I've an interest in—machinery and bricks and so on. The Mary Robinson sails tomorrow or the next day. She's only a ketch. Three men and a skipper, a dog, a rooster, a magpie, and a cat, form the crew. It will be a new experience for you, and a valuable one in a way. I'm going to rate you as an A. B. at £6 per month. I'd make you mate, but I can't afford to lose the insurance through your not having a certificate of any kind. Pity you're not out of your time! The Mary's lying at the foot of Erskine Street. You might go on board after you've read your letters, and have a talk with old Billy Horn. I fancy he wants another hand besides yourself."
Both letters were from Edie, and of course written long before she could have received Torre's, posted on the eve of his departure for his last tragic trip. Edie's letters dealt mainly with the uncomfortable state of things at Laurustinus Lodge, in which Torre's departure, it seemed, had made no change except to direct Mrs Bovey's animosity towards herself. Laban, too, was a bigger torment and nuisance than ever, now Torre was no longer there to defend her. But as the former was shortly to leave school and be articled to a solicitor in Exeter, Edie thought matters might then be better. In the second letter was news. Mr Bovey's health had been so bad that the doctors had ordered him to Madeira for the winter. Mrs Bovey and Edie were to go too. "Thank goodness," wrote the girl, "Laban stays behind!" But afterwards, at the end, was a postscript, "Oh, Torre, after all, he is coming. Mrs Bovey refused altogether to stir without him. In any case, there would have been little pleasure in the change for poor father unless he and I could have gone away together. But now that Laban is to come, it will be simply awful. I do wish you were here, dear. Father would write, but he is not so well to-day. Oh, Torre, how sorry I am to miss you! Where will you go to in London? What will you do? And your ship must be just getting ready for home now. Couldn't you ask the captain to call at Madeira? We should—father and I—so love to see you again."
Torre's brow darkened as he turned back and read some account of Mrs Bovey's "goings on" towards his uncle and Edie. "She's trying to kill him and drive the girl away altogether," he muttered. "What a beast she is! Still, if I were there, I could do nothing except make matters worse, and they must be at Madeira long ago; but if I ever get my hands on Master Laban I'll give him something more than he got last time we met."
"Now, what are you looking so fierce for, and talking to yourself in that unnatural manner about?" asked Jenkins, coming into the room; and Torre, feeling the want of somebody to tell things to, and knowing how kind and helpful a heart beat under the rather listless, insouciant exterior of his journalist friend, told Jenkins his home-story.
"Well," remarked the latter, "I don't see that you can do anything—just yet, anyhow. It would be of no use your going to them; in fact you're better away. Of course it's a pity the poor girl should be tormented by a jealous stepmother and her cub. Pretty, you say—and fifteen. Umph! Well, you know, you're hardly of a marrying age yet, either of you, although it may come to that eventually, when the father—who seems by way of being a weak-minded, poor sort of creature—dies. Always kind to you. Yes, no doubt, but don't look for anything else from him. That woman will take care that neither yourself nor the girl will get much of the old chap's money. In fact it's probably all settled upon herself now. Best thing you can do is to keep in touch with them as much as possible and wait to see how matters turn out, whilst pushing along in your profession."
This seemed good advice, and Torre who really had had some vague notion of drawing his money out of the Bank in which Mr Fibre had placed it and rushing off to Madeira to thrash Laban and rescue his uncle and Edie, thought better of it, and, instead, went to look at the Mary Robinson.
Going along Erskine Street, he saw a man he knew leaning against a post with his hands in his pockets, and slowly masticating a quid of tobacco, the pavement at his feet showing signs of a prolonged stand.
"Well, Sam, old man," said Torre, halting, "how are you getting along now?"
The man addressed turned a lack lustre eye on the lad, but gave no signs of recognition.
"Why," said Torre, "surely I haven't changed that much? Don't you remember me on the Andromeda, nursing the baby, loblolly boy; and then stowing away on board the Yatala?"
"Oh, bli' me?" exclaimed Sam, the Sailor, after a prolonged scrutiny, and half bashfully extending a great, hairy, tattooed paw, as he discharged cargo from his cheek. "Now, I reckernizes yer. But that growed, an' stout, an' strong! Why, on'y yestiddy I was a-readin' in a noospaper 'bout a young chap gettin' near scoffed by the niggers down in the Islands; an' I sez to myself, I sez, a-lookin' at the pitchers, 'Well,' I sez, 'to the best o' my belief that's the kid's name as I was shipmates with on the 'ungry Andromedary. Poor Jack Eastmore I knows fer certing, 'I sez, 'but the pitcher's too old an' 'ard lookin' for the young 'un's.' "
"It was me right enough, Sam," replied Torre, his heart warming to the man who had given him such ready and willing help a year ago. "Come and have a drink and a yarn. I've got plenty of time."
"So've I," replied Sam, as he straightened himself up with wonderful alacrity and followed Torre into a private bar, close to; "too darned much. I was just a-chewin' bumpers1 as you walked up, an' thinkin' which boat I could best cadge a feed off."
1 Cigar stumps.
"Phew!" whistled Torre. "Spree, Sam?"
"On'y a small 'un," replied the other, deprecatingly, as he poured his beer down. "Six notes outer the Koonoowarra. I got took down fer three by a speiler as I was a-makin' fer the Home. Then, in spite, I swamped the rest at the 'Blue Anchor' yonder."
"Ay, ay," replied Torre, as a matter of course, "and now you're stoney and looking for a ship."
"That's so, sir," said Sam, as Torre handed him a cake of tobacco to fill his empty pipe.
"Never mind the handle, Sam, just yet, anyhow. I'm only rated A.B. like yourself," said Torre, "and on a little boat, too. I was just going to have a look at her when I saw you. Do you know the Mary Robinson, Sam?"
"Old Billy Horn's ketch?" replied Sam. "Ay, I knows 'er, an' 'er skipper as well. Good sort, Billy, at bottom. A bit cranky, though, a-top, till you gets the run of 'im."
"Well, look here," said Torre, "we're going up to the Clarence. I think she's a man short. Now you rip along to Fibre and Co.'s in York Street—Fibre, Coir and Trepang—and give Mr Fibre this bit of a note for me. And I fancy, somehow, that we'll be shipmates again. You did me a good turn once, Sam, and I mean to return it if possible. The wages are £6 per month. I suppose you'd like to come."
"Would a duck swim?" replied Sam, taking the pencilled leaf from Torre.
"And take this half sovereign," continued the latter, as he finished his glass and went out. "If you get the berth, I expect I'll see you on board the Mary, presently. But, anyhow, whether you do, or whether you don't, come down after you've had a feed, because I'm bound to run you in somewhere."
Sam thanked him and swung off up the street, a different man altogether to the one Torre had found.
The latter was now seventeen, very big for his age, and had already contracted the two habits, common to most seamen, of drinking and smoking—in his case both in very strict moderation. And, considering his opportunities, it would have been a miracle if he had not done so. But from many points of view Torre was not an immaculate boy. There are none. At times, even, under the influence of excitement, he swore, and swore hard. Most seamen do. He had never been a goody-goody boy in his best days, either. But he was a warm-hearted, frank, truthful one; quick, ready, and determined-looking beyond his years. His personal appearance, too, had so much changed that Sam might well have been excused for not recognising him. Tall, and filling out fast into manhood, he carried himself, in notable contrast to the majority of sailors, quite erect. And the matter of the Aniwa, perhaps it was, that had brought a some what hard look upon the dark, resolute, young face that, as its owner stepped along in his well-fitting suit of blue serge, tanned boots, and spotless linen, made many a buxom Jewess in that region of stale fruit and fish, tar, smoke, steam, and waterside smells, stare after him out of softening bold black eyes. But Torre heeded not regard of women. The memory of Nalouna's pretty face and graceful winning ways still abode with him.
He found the Mary Robinson wedged in between a floating dummy pier and a 6000 ton ocean steamer. She was taking cargo from a big stack on the wharf; and Torre for a while stood watching the men, who, their hands protected by leathern shields, deftly caught the bricks, two at a time in a ten foot throw, and passed them to their mates below. The Mary was a curious looking craft to Torre's eyes, the rig being strange to him. She might have been of some sixty tons burden. For'ard, she reared, stayed bolt upright, a very lofty lower and topmast. Aft was a very much smaller mast, carrying only a trysail or jigger, and looking out of all proportion to its towering fellow for'ard, on which, in addition to a square topsail and top gallant sail, she mounted a shifting lower yard which, when not in use, could be housed up and down the mast. The sail for this was set from the deck, and with her three head sails on a bowsprit that could be run in or forked out at pleasure, must, Torre imagined, give her an overcrowded look for'ard.
On the fore-topmast truck shone brightly a gilded cock; from the smaller mast floated a parti-coloured pennant. A fine retriever basked near the after-scuttle, upon which a very large "British Game" representative of the rooster aloft perched, and lazily watched a low-set, brown, lean man dressed in a white shirt rolled above the elbows, trousers of rusty black, and a hard bowler hat. This individual was peeling potatoes, whilst a magpie sat on the edge of a bucket, and one minute whistled various tunes with exceeding sweetness, and the next snapped at the dog and made profane remarks. Amidships was a galley, so small that one might well make a single step through between the doors. Everything about her was as clean as clockwork, from the brass banding of the little wheel to the snow-white of her flush deck. She had a clipper bow with a figure-head of an olive-faced woman in blue petticoats which swept gracefully into the curve of the stem. Her stern was half square, and fancifully embellished with painted flowers such as only grow in dreams.
As Torre at length stepped on board, chanticleer gave a sleepy crow, the magpie snapped at his legs, and the dog lifted his head and looked at him. The man went on with his work.
"Captain Horn?" asked Torre tentatively, for he knew something of coasting ways.
"That's me," replied the other without raising his eyes.
"All right, then," said Torre briskly, "I've come down from the office—"
"No use rushin' things," interrupted the other, without looking up. "Tell the Boss we can't git off till mornin's tide, not if the Angel Gabriel was to come along an' hurry us through."
"Well," replied Torre, laughing, "I know nothing about that. I was only going to say that I'm sailing with you, this trip, if you'll take me."
Then the man at last lifted his face—a lean, sharp, wrinkled, weather-beaten face, clean-shaved but for a heavy grizzled moustache—and looked Torre all over from a pair of small, deep-set blue eyes.
"You've made a mistake, sir," he answered presently, nodding towards the great steamer, "but an excusable one in a landsman. That's the Haurotowa's gangway round t'other side." And he fell to work again at his potatoes.
For a minute Torre felt annoyed and angry, but he knew it would not do to lose his temper, so he replied quietly, after a pause: "I'm not looking for the steamer; I'm looking for the Mary Robinson, and I've found her. My name's Leigh. I was with Eastmore in the Aniwa. Mr Fibre told me to come and see you. Now I've seen you; and I'm going back to him—"
"Then why the blazes couldn't you say you was a mate o' Jack Eastmore's?" suddenly broke in the man as, starting up, he wiped his hands on a big red handkerchief and held one out to Torre. "I thought ye was one o' them snipsnapper clerks from the office, or else a cussed tide-waiter a-thinkin' he cud take a rise outer ole Billy Horn! Why, I was with poor Jack in the Durham Castle ten years ago, when he was only a greaser. An', oh! wow! wow! what an endin'! Come along, young feller, an' 'ave a nip," he continued, leading the way into the cabin, whilst the magpie flew on to Torre's shoulder and nibbled gently at his ear, and muttered to herself.
"I was just peelin' a few spuds to make a bit o' scous for dinner," the skipper went on. "An' so you're comin' for a trip, eh? Well, there's no big ship style about us, y'know. Trick an' tie, it is, 'ere—wheel an' lookout—lookout an' wheel. Sartainly, 'Bo'sun'—that's the dog—takes a watch now an' agen in fine weather. But Mag, an' Bolivar—the rooster—an' Turnips—that's the cat, yonder on the locker—is only idlers. Still, we're fair an' cumfable," concluded the old fellow, evidently anxious to make up for his earlier incivility, as he produced a big square bottle of rum and a couple of glasses, disturbing in the process a huge brindled tom cat who, yawning, arched his back and walked slowly up the stairs.
The cabin was larger than Torre had expected. A single tier of wide and curtained bunks ran along both sides of it; a swinging lamp hung from the deck. The floor was covered with oil-cloth; framed oleographs from Christmas supplements of newspapers hung on the walls over the bunks. A clock ticked at one end. There were also lockers and cupboards, and a recess to hang dripping oilskins in, with a sort of well in the bottom of it to catch the water from them. All very complete and natty and shipshape. And Torre's saying so pleased her skipper.
"Ay," he said, "we're the smallest o' the push o' barques, brigs, schooners, an ketches as Fibre an' Co. owns. But we ain't the slowest, nor the dirtiest, nor the wettest. An' we can find our way in an' out, an' round about, where plenty o' them can't without goin' overland. Ketch, they calls her, but topsail-schooner's the rating as properly belongs."
And, now, finding the skipper in such a good humour, Torre took the opportunity to speak a word in favour of Sam, at the same time telling of his kindness to him when a stowaway on the Yatala.
"Fancy I've seen the chap," remarked Horn. "If I'm not mistaken, he were once in the Lady Mary, one o' our barques. Well, all right. I'll want a couple b'sides yourself and the mate—that's him in the hold stowin' bricks—an' this Sam might as well make one of 'em. We're both qualified for coasting v'y'ges within the boundaries o' the colony—Mat Bacon and me. I don't generally carry more'n a couple 'sides ourselves. But, this trip, I'll take an 'extry hand,' cause there'll be some heavy discharging when we get up the river, an' nobody to do it 'ceptin' the ship's company. Well, I must go an' get that scous ready, or Mat'll be forced to eat bricks. Remember we tows down early in the mornin'."
On deck they found Sam with a letter from Mr Fibre, asking the skipper to take him, if possible.
"All right," said the latter as he read it, "I guess ye'd better come up to the Shipping Office an' sign, both o' ye—say, 'bout three this arternoon. I'll be there. And if ye knows of another chap anywhere as wants to ship, why, ye can bring him along too." And, with this, the old man returned to his potatoes.
Sam, it appeared, owed a pound at the boarding house, where his bag and other belongings were kept in default. This sum Torre gave him, and as he would be able to draw an advance for another couple or so, his affairs seemed satisfactorily settled, and our young sailor felt that he had not done a bad morning's work. It was, however, he presently found, not quite finished yet.
On his way back to Jenkin's rooms, he met a man, named Harris, who wrote stories for one or two of the weekly newspapers, and with whose talk and personality Torre had been rather pleased. Just now, Harris was looking, he thought, somewhat despondent; and upon the former's asking him the reason, he told him. Said he, "Well, the fact of the matter is, I've been roaming about all day looking for a permanent billet. I'm about full up of Sydney and the precarious sort of livelihood one earns by literary work. Of course I found nothing, and I suppose I seem rather glum, eh? And now," he continued, "I've made up my mind to be off up the Bush, fencing, or droving, or something. Or, I've got a mate's certificate; and I'm jiggered if the sea isn't better than this! I'll quit, and get away, as I said, to the Islands or up the Bush again, and leave ink-slinging alone for a spell. Never able to knock that off altogether, you know. It's worse than ever smoking or drinking could possibly be!"
"Hold on!" exclaimed Torre suddenly, and remembering the mate's certificate, as the other turned to go. "Did I hear you say you'd been to sea?"
"Eight years," replied Harris with a laugh, "in almost every craft you could name."
"Well," said Torre, "I'm going a trip to-morrow—A.B. on a ketch, to the Clarence. I believe there's another hand wanted. How would that suit you, if you really wish to get away?"
"To a T.," answered the other promptly, "and much obliged to you for the show. I've got an old discharge or two. And, anyhow, I expect I could get a permit, if needed. But, of course, I might pass on my ticket. Only, you see, a fellow don't care about putting that in to ship before the stick on."
"Right," said Torre, "only I must get on the telephone somewhere, and try and ring old Horn up at Fibre's wharf. I think I noticed a wire to a steamboat company's office close to the Mary Robinson."
"There's an instrument in here," replied Harris, leading the way into a shop; "I know the people; and we'll soon find out. Let's see, Fibre's—oh! the next wharf must be the A.B.N. Co's., No. 678; I daresay they'll call across to the ketch."
And in a few minutes came back the satisfactory answer, "Horn says, 'Right! Shipping Office at three. Bring him along." And so, all unconscious, Harris put his foot on one of Fortune's narrow tracks. He was very pleased, and laughed as Torre told him about the ketch and her crew. "I know the sort of thing," said he. "Jack cooks the breakfast whilst Bill takes the wheel, and skipper washes down. I've been there before and enjoyed it. We'll wet this business. Come along."
But Torre refused, saying that he had already drunk as much that day as he intended to.
"All right," replied Harris, "I'll save the bob. I only had half-a-crown to my name, anyhow. See you at the 'Smoke' to-night I suppose—its Saturday, you know. I'll go home now, and pack a bag and get a few things together for the trip. Hope it'll be a long one."
Torre's preparations were soon made; for he, too, only took a round-bottomed bag to place at the foot of his bunk, knowing that a chest would take up more room than could be spared in the little hooker. And duly, in the afternoon, he and Harris and Sam signed on the ketch Mary Robinson's Articles in presence of skipper and Shipping Master.
That evening there was a rather larger attendance than usual at Jenkin's rooms, for the report had got about that Torre and Harris were going away in a canoe together round the coast, and the news interested the Bohemians. And when they heard how commonplace the affair really was, some disappointment was shown. "Still, you know," remarked a man to Harris, "there may be copy in it. One never knows what may happen to even a sketch in these days."
"Very, very true," put in an artist visitor, quick to detect the slip. "One never does! It may bring a guinea, or only ten bob."
"All the same, Fairbairn's right," insisted another gravely. "One never does know what may happen, afloat or ashore, to a man, even in these commonplace days. For instance, I went out for a walk in Cooktown one morning, fully intending to come South by the steamer at night; and that day week I was eating boiled dog and grass, and potting niggers on the Palmer diggings. So our friends may have adventures before we see them again. Well, here's luck to 'em! And no more cannibals, Leigh!"
"I fancy, somehow," remarked a jovial, stout man, who wrote Indian stories and was, when a reviewer wished to be complimentary, called, in consequence, "The Australian Kipling." "I fancy, somehow," said he, "that there will be adventures. Leigh was evidently born into 'em. And if Harris doesn't act as a drawback, they'll get blown out to sea, or wrecked on a desert island and build brick houses out of the cargo; or discover a—a—"
"Oh, leave!" laughed the artist, "Your imagination's too limited. Why not say they'll marry cockies' daughters on the Clarence, and settle down on the river and grow sugar?"
There was music, too, this night, both banjo and piano; and some of the men sang well; so that it was far into the small hours ere Torre and Harris got a cab and took their traps to the Mary Robinson.
Late as it was, they found only Sam on board. The skipper and the mate were still ashore—both at the latter's house, across the water in Balmain. So the pair, making their beds, turned in, never waking till daylight, by which time Sam had already lit the galley fire and made coffee. And before the sun rose, the Mary, in the embrace of a little, dirty, rattletrap of a tug, was hurrying past the still sleeping ships and out into the harbour.
A HOT day broke as they passed Fort Denison; and then Horn told the tug to let go, for the wind was fair, and he could get out just as fast "on his own."
Abreast of Watson's Bay, Bolivar came from his roost under the top-gallant forecastle and greeted sunrise; Mag hopped out of her cage and perched on the boom, and whistled "Polly Put the Kettle On;" Bo'sun sniffed round the galley where Harris was frying chops and rashers of bacon; and Turnips, after his morning toilet, came and rubbed himself amiably against Torre's legs at the wheel. The mate and Sam were washing and scrubbing the brick dust off the deck about the hatchway, whilst the skipper sat near Torre, smoking a before-breakfast pipe and watching the sails.
"Takes just a mite o' weather hellum, don't 'er?" he asked. And on Torre's replying that such was the fact, he continued, "They all does it wi' this rig. But spite o' that, they're handy little boats. This ain't 'er best point o' sailin', though. Quarterly wind's what she likes. It's too fur aft now. Ay, keep 'er as she goes. Hello! 'ere's a inward-bounder in tow o' Goole No. 1., an' with a long hawser."
And Torre, looking a little to the left, and towards the Heads, saw a full-rigged ship, her yards braced to the wind, that, even before he distinguished her House-flag, he knew to be the Andromeda. At the same moment, almost, Sam also made her out, and shouted to him, "Andromedary ahoy!"
Then an idea seized Torre, and he said to the old skipper, "Do you mind my keeping away a couple or three points, and running close past her?"
"Sartainly not," replied the latter, "keep away as many as ye want, only don't set us ashore on Middle Head yonder."
So Torre put his helm up and edged so close into the track of the approaching tug that she screamed at him through her siren to be off. But Torre, who was a born helmsman, had, long ere this, felt the Mary, and knew exactly what he could do with her. And although the old skipper looked a little uneasy, he never moved or stopped smoking, as Goole No. 1., with much objurgation, hissing, straining and snorting, went by, carrying the tow line, now in a bight, now rigid as an iron bar.
There was a group of men on the Andromeda's bows, and one of them, leaning over, roared, "What d'ye mean, ye blasted farmers—nearly making us let go our line?" And the speaker, in whom Torre at a glance recognised Phillips, shook his fist at the Mary.
Old Horn removed his pipe to reply; but Sam was before him. Jumping on the skylight and taking a double sight at the speaker along spread fingers, he yelled, "Git out, ye sneakin' greaser! Garn fer a hungry ship! Oh! come out on 'er boys, afore she kills yer dead! Bli' me! but she made a bloomin' skelinton of me! Yah!" And as she slowly drew by, Phillips' eyes met Torre's, but without a sign of recognition in them, although, from his angry words and gestures, he certainly knew Sam. Over the rail amidships looked Mr Sinclair, with Munro and Campbell. And the former Sam passed with a touch of the cap and loud, "Good day, sir; 'ope I see yer well!"
To this the mate waved his hand, and the youngsters laughed. But no one uttered the name of the helmsman, looking full up at them with a host of bitter memories at his heart.
Over the rail aft gazed M'Cutcheon, purple-faced with passion, as Torre remembered him more than once. "Hello, farmer!" shouted Sam again, "how's yer cargo this trip? Drownded any more Dutchmen? Who's a nussin' o' the biby? Scotch an' hungry! An' no sailor!"
Exactly as Phillips had done, M'Cutcheon shook his fist at Sam, and Torre could see, by the broad grin on his face, how the pilot, who stood near, was enjoying the fun.
"You can use a ship's wheel, young man," remarked the skipper, as the ketch passed under the Andromeda's stern and kept away again for the ocean entrance between the Heads. "I s'pose you an' Sam knowd 'er, and wanted the chance o' tellin' 'em so, eh?"
"Something of the sort," said Torre, smiling; "you see, we were shipmates together on her. I used to nurse the Captain's baby aft, and haul coals for the cook, whilst Sam was broaching cargo for'ard."
"Haw! haw!" laughed the old man, "I knows! I used to sail in them lime-juicers oncest. Some of 'em's fair to middlin', an' a few's real good, but the biggest part of 'em's simply h—ll. Now you git yer tucker, whiles I shoots her through the Heads."
They ate on deck under the shade of a tarpaulin, for the sun was hot already, with a nasty sullen sort of haze about him that, to Torre, looked like wind. Rounding the rugged North Head, the ketch was kept well inshore until abreast of Narrabeen, when she stood out a little to make room for a coasting steamer with her funnel stuck right aft, her nose cocked inquiringly in the air, and her stern nearly awash. She was black all over except in one spot. Her bridge, boats, masts, decks, men—all were black; but, amidships, on the black hull, glared a ragged patch of bright red, forming such a contrast to the black rest of her as to look almost like flame as she surged along, a squalid, dingy blot against the brown cliffs and the emerald green of the water.
"The ole Wild Duck from Newcastle with coals," commented Horn. "Fifty year since she first smelled the briny, if it's a week! Plates like brown paper; crowns o' her bilers all burned away, an' the fire-bars only fit fer toothpicks. Sink me, if I'd swap billets with Denny Mitchell, an' chuck his steam-tank in to boot! An' her hands is never clean—black ship, black men. An' presen'ly, one fine day, down they goes lumpus in thirty fathom, an' gits the coal-dust washed outer their skins an' souls."
Meanwhile, with the yards checked, the Mary slid along past a low stretch of far-reaching sandy beach. All hands had lit their pipes. The mate was helping Harris to prepare dinner, the former hard at work on a plum-pudding, the latter peeling potatoes and vegetables, of which the dinghy was half-full; whilst in the squat, motherly-looking boat amidships hung a sheep and a quarter of fresh beef. Torre, for his own satisfaction, had been aloft for'ard overhauling things, and now, with Sam, sat sewing a couple of cloths into an old topsail. The skipper steered with Mag on his shoulder, and Torre, pausing to refill his pipe, smiled as he glanced over the homely scene, accentuated by the hospitable smoke that poured from the little cook-house funnel; by Bolivar perched on the skylight, and with half-closed eyes digesting his breakfast; by Bo'sun and Turnips fast asleep in each other's arms in the sunshine.
The mate, Mat Bacon, was a steady-going, elderly man, rather taciturn, with a pleasant, grey-bearded, round face. Before joining the Mary he had been boatswain of coasting steamers, but finding it difficult to save money for the wife and six little Bacons ashore, by reason of being so constantly in and out of port, and the temptation of an ever open bar, he had returned to canvas, and had now been two years in the Mary. He had also, it appeared, "turned steady," and was even putting a few pounds together to buy a house of his own with.
"Mat," remarked the skipper presently as the mate relieved him for a spell, "we're a-goin' to have a snifter from the east'ard; an' we're deep, an' we're stiff. I been pipin' 'er these last couple o' hours, an' she's like one o' them wimmen what you sees around the Block as can't stoop to lace their shoes for fear o' somethin' carryin' away astern."
"Bricks ain't too lively," replied Mat as he watched the water to leeward, out of which, as the breeze freshened, one could dip a bucketful comfortably, and without leaning too far over.
" 'Bout as lively as salt or railway iron," remarked Sam. "An' this little hooker's got as many ov 'em in her gut as she can carry—an' mebbe a few over!"
"Just five ton too many," acquiesced Mat placidly, "but the Boss, there, would stack 'em into 'er."
"Well, sons," replied old Horn, lifting up his nose and smelling around exactly like a dog on a faint scent, "deep or no deep, I ain't goin' to chanst it. Keep 'er away, Mat, an' we'll lie snug to-night inside Barranjoey. She may have more'n she can do with, or she mayn't. That's my picnic. All the same, we'll sink the kellick on black mud an' gravel this good night of our Lord. So make a dead fair wind of it, an' chanst the ducks!"
So the helm was put up, and the Mary, that evening, with wind and sea just moderate, rounded into the estuary of the Hawkesbury, and dropped anchor in a little bay sheltered by high cliffs from any gale, blow it never so fiercely.
And here, long ere night fell, she was joined by a whole mosquito-fleet of little coasters, driven by instinct to seek refuge ere the gale had even begun to show its intention. Only a steady easterly breeze at present. But men had noted the morning haze, and although, without barometers or any other scientific appliances, a long acquaintance with coastal weather signs, not to mention certain bodily phenomena, warned them infallibly that ere they could get inside the Heads of Port Jackson, furious winds and seas would be their share.
"My belly was a-rumblin' all night," remarked one visitor to the Mary, "an' that's a sure sign wi' me o' easterly messers."
"My 'ead's been a-givin' of me jip this larst couple o' days," said another; "an' bunyins an' corns! O Lor! Only three days out from Port Macquarie I says to the mate, 'Bill,' says I, 'we're in fer a easterly snorter. I reckon we'd bes' run fer Barranjoey an' lie snug till she does what she's got ter do.' But Bill he only laughs. Howsomever, when I sees the 'aze over the sun an' feels my toes an' 'ead achin' that much as never was, I cracks on an' comes right in. An' whether she snorts or whether she don't, here stops the Annie till that there 'aze clears away."
Thus visiting skippers from ketches and fore-and-afters, homeward bound, sculling themselves on board the Mary with perhaps a square bottle of gin, or a couple of fowls, or a "quarter o' spuds," or a couple of pounds of butter, or some honey and juicy maize-cobs, and a fine ham with which to pay their respects to "ole Billy Horn o' Fibre's Mary Robinson."
They were for the most part, these coasting captains, an elderly, keen-eyed, weather-beaten lot; not, perhaps, possessing amongst them all, more than just as much knowledge of scientific navigation as would enable them to take a meridian altitude. But, on the other hand, their local knowledge was tremendous and, chiefly because of this, they held their "certificates of servitude." Every inlet and creek and beach and promontory, large or small, they had a name for, and could tell you the depths of water about it and the snug spots in which to take shelter; and the coasting lights from Cape Howe on the Victorian boundary to Cape Byron on that of Queensland were as familiar to them as their own binnacle lamps. Even when bush fires made the land nothing but one mass of smoke, they seemed able to smell their way along it, and they hardly ever came to grief. Some of them owned their crafts; others like Horn sailed them for small colonial shipping companies. But, by all these seamen of the Australian coast, Torre's skipper was held in universal respect for the reason that he had proved himself able to sail his boat faster, make her carry as much cargo as a larger one, and was the oldest Captain of the crowd, not in years but in command. Hence, the gilded rooster at the topmast truck.
That night the easterly commenced to "snort" in earnest. Long ere morning it was blowing a gale; by midday it had become a hurricane before which a large topsail schooner, wanting her jibboom and fore-topmast, came scudding for shelter like a frightened rabbit into a burrow.
"That's the Alert" remarked old Horn. "An' when Jimmy Thompson with a couple o' hundred ton under his foot, runs away from wind, it means blowin'."
And blow it did, until even inside that well-protected refuge, the small craft pitched and tumbled at the anchor like mad things. The gale lasted three days, during the greater part of which the crew of the Mary Robinson kept below, one man taking a turn-about anchor-watch to see that the ground tackle held. The rest played euchre, overhauled their clothes, and helped each other in the galley. Torre, in his leisure, worked away at his "Norrie" and "Ainslie," and Harris at the MS. of a long sea-story, which he wrote with indelible pencil in exercise-books, and kept in an oilskin bag.
The morning of the fourth day dawned clear and bright, and, spite of the big seas outside, the clinkety-clank of many little windlasses told that the fleet was getting under weigh.
"Mat's right about them bricks," remarked the skipper, as ocean saluted the Mary's appearance with a comber that half swamped her, carried Bo'sun off his feet, and drenched dog and crew impartially, whilst an indignant gurgling protest from Bolivar's refuge under the forecastle told of salt water there also. "But," continued the old man, as he wiped his smarting eyes on his fingers, "I wasn't a-goin' to leave 'em behind, arter blowin' to the Boss as I cud ha' took half as many agen. Darn this head wind! Fer two pins I'd run back an' wait till it shifts."
As it happened, however, the Mary was the only one of the lot bound to the Nor'ard. And old Horn, disliking the notion of returning in sight of the fleet, kept pegging away into a cross sea, and against the wind which had hauled dead ahead, and, though light, was enough to keep the sea up and make things the very reverse of comfortable. Cooking of any sort was almost impossible, the water washing knee high through the galley and into the stove; and although constantly tacking, the ketch's progress was slow in the extreme. Luckily, both air and water were warm; and despite their constant soakings, no one felt any the worse. Then, one night, the wind shifted and commenced to blow great guns off the land. Therefore the skipper at once hove the Mary to under her fore-topsail and a bit of her jigger. And, now, although dry, her drift was so considerable that presently the coast was completely lost sight of. This, of course, was annoying, but not serious. As the Mary's leeway was due East, all that had to be done, when a chance offered, was to steer back due West and pick up the land again. Nothing could be simpler than that.
For several days this sort of thing went on. The fresh beef and the sheep were long ago finished. And, worst of all, their supply of salted provisions and bread was getting low; when, Torre, one afternoon on deck by himself, looking out over the great seas that lifted their roaring crests high above the mastheads to the lowering sky, caught sight of a sail far away abeam. Now they wanted to speak a ship rather urgently; for in a couple of day's, at the outside, "tucker" on the ketch would be a thing of the past. As it was, not only the pets were beginning to feel hungry at meal times, but their masters also. Thus, Torre, getting hold of the skipper's long telescope—spunyarn-parcelled, and capped at each end with canvas, around which Turk's heads were worked—stared eagerly enough through it at the distant fleck of white that now was, now was not.
As the day wore on and the vessels drew nearer, or rather, as the quick drift of the ketch brought her nearer, it could be seen that the stranger was a barque under the rags alone of her two lower topsails and fore-topmast staysail, fluttering from yards and stay respectively. But, otherwise, she appeared sound enough.
"A derelik fer a dollar!" exclaimed the old skipper with his bushy eyebrows bent like a penthouse over the telescope. "Either that, or all hands is drunk."
Meanwhile, night came on with a wild sea still running. Going for'ard for something, it suddenly struck Torre that the Mary was lower in the water there than she had any business to be. Also a dull rumbling noise reached his ears from below the fore-hatch, audible even above the roaring and screaming of the gale. Was it imagination, he wondered, or only the continuous thump of the seas against the bows? Stooping, he listened intently. No, decidedly something was wrong there underneath him. And surely she had not always been down by the head in such pig-like fashion!
Suddenly the meaning of that curious, grinding, swashing noise below broke upon him. The bricks had worked loose, or some of them, and had probably started a butt, through which the Mary was taking in enough water to sink her before morning. And as he realised what this meant, a cold sweat broke out all over him. But he soon recovered his self-possession, and, after listening again, and taking another look outboard, attentively watching both rise and fall, he turned to walk aft. Bo'sun, who, with Bolivar, lived under the little forecastle, set up a long, dismal howl as he heard the retreating footsteps, and Torre, lifting the canvas curtain that sheltered the entrance, the dog emerged and bolted aft like a shot, presently followed by the rooster, running and jumping awkwardly with outstretched neck, and wings that flapped and beat on the ankle-deep water. Never had the animals before shown any desire to leave their snug quarters at such an hour—for it was now nearly dark.
In the cabin he found Sam and the skipper playing euchre; the mate mending an old sea-boot; and Harris poring over his MS. Supper had been scanty enough—only, indeed, biscuits and tea, and not too much of either. But all their pipes were in full blast.
"What d'ye think o' that fer a hand," said the captain, holding his cards over his shoulder for Torre to see, "with hearts trumps?"
"A.1," replied Torre. "All the same, I wish one of you would bring a light while I sound the well." "Ay," said the skipper sharply, as he played his right bower and the mate looked up from his boot, "of course. But she sucked dry as a bone this mornin'!"
"I know she did," replied Torre, "only I'm doubtful of her doing it now, and I'd like to make sure. Will you come, Harris?"
At that moment down the companion flopped Bolivar, followed more sedately by the dog, at which incursion the magpie cursed them both, and Turnips hissed venomously just for form's sake.
"Well!" exclaimed the skipper, playing his last card and shouting, "Euchre—game!" at his opponent. "What's the meanin' o' this? Dogs an' poultry's barred the saloon. Is there a mutiny springin' up in the fok'sle, or is it hunger a-drivin' the pore things aft. Lord knows, I could do with a beefsteak and ingins myself just at this minute!" Then Torre, filling his pipe, told his suspicions.
The skipper's brown face paled a little as he listened, but he made no remark, only rose and put on his sou'wester and oilskins, an example imitated in silence by the rest. With a steady hand Sam lit the riding-light, whilst Torre got the sounding rod. The sky was bright as the men came on' deck, but the wind blew hard as ever, and from where they stood, looking for'ard, they could hear the slop-slop-slop of water breaking over pretty continuously. "Four feet!" said the skipper, unable to repress a groan as he examined the wet rod whilst Sam held the light; "this mornin' it was four inches!"
Then he went for'ard with Torre. Even since the latter's absence it seemed to him that the little craft was deeper, and certainly, more water was coming on board, nearly each rising comber leaving part of its crest on deck.
Presently, shipping the brakes in the tiny pump, they worked for an hour in spells of two, but they only lowered the water six inches. It was coming in nearly as fast as they pumped it out. "We might try a sail," suggested Torre, "over the bows and under her bottom."
And with infinite difficulty and danger they at last got a spare foresail passed right round the Mary, but it made little difference, and it soon became evident that the ketch was doomed. So they got the 'midship boat ready, stowing their little possessions, the scant remainder of their provisions, and so forth, in her, all the time looking doubtfully up at the big combers that roared expectant around them.
By reason of their continuous work through the night they had forgotten all about the vessel sighted the preceding day, but at dawn Torre discovered her some two miles away to leeward across the heaving wastes of foam-tipped greyness, with the tattered sails still flaring from their yards; a lump of a barque, painted slate colour, with white and black ports. Through the glass which, in spite of its homely looks, was a powerful one, Torre made out that a British Ensign, Jack downwards, was flying half-way up her signal-halliards; but not a soul, as she rolled her decks over to his view, could be seen about them.
"I'd sooner be there than here," said a voice at his shoulder, and turning, Torre saw Harris. "Here, certainly, is 'copy' of a kind," continued the latter, shivering—for the morning was raw, and breakfast had been a mere pretext—"because most surely this thing's going back, or rather down, on us. I don't believe she'll last another couple of hours. It's on the whole a blue lookout. But I say, Leigh, don't you think we stand a show of getting on board that barque?"
"Old man's going to have a try," replied Torre. "See, they're loosing the staysail. Can't bring her to the wind, or she'd swamp us in one act."
A little fore and aft canvas increased the ketch's drift so rapidly, that in a short time it was obvious she would be almost alongside the barque. The Mary's decks were now awash all over, and the pounding noise below had increased in violence.
"Them cussed bricks!" exclaimed Sam, "they've all broked up, and is knockin' fits out on 'er at every kick. See anybody on the barque?"
"Not a soul," replied Torre, his eye again glued to the glass. "Yes, by heaven, there is though! A woman!"
"A wo-man!" exclaimed Sam, as he peered under the sharp of his hand, in a tone of disgust. "Is that all? Then our cake's about dough! Ay; I seen the flap av 'er petticoat when the barque ruz that last time."
All hands were standing aft, watching the stranger—their last chance, if indeed it could be called one—and the female figure now plainly visible, standing near the wheel, as every heaving sea bore the forlorn looking vessel up, rolled her slowly over till her decks sloped steeply, and then hid her as she sank behind its crest. As far as could be seen, with the exception of the sails, she was sound both aloft and in her hull, the latter showing a fine high lead-coloured, painted-port side running to the pink composition at her bends that told of the iron ship. She carried double topsail and topgallant yards; and but for the flogging remnants for'ard, the rest of her canvas seemed securely stowed. Now and again a wave would hit her amidships and send a great storm of spray arching clear over her. Inexpressibly lonely and pathetic to Torre, seemed the sight of that solitary figure, standing motionless under the reversed ensign of distress.
Half tide rock, as she now was, the motion of the ketch was so erratic and troublesome, that minutes elapsed ere Torre could get the telescope steady enough to gain even a fleeting glimpse of the woman's features. But, presently, as borne up by a huge comber, the Mary hung for a second or two on its summit, there swum into the object glass, the fair pale face of a young girl with long brown hair sweeping away before the wind, and a pair of white hands clutching the spokes of the wheel.
The vision was gone as rapidly as it came, hidden behind a great mound of opaque billow. But as he put the glass aside, Torre's heart beat faster, and he turned with an involuntary gesture of appeal to his companions who stood around, hanging on to the rigging, alternately watching the barque, and their own vessel whose forecastle-head now only showed out of the water at intervals.
Sam and the skipper chewed stolidly on their quids. The mate stared straight ahead with a vacant far away look in his eyes. Perhaps he was thinking of "the missus an' the kids" in distant Balmain. Harris, his dark features showing darker through his salt-encrusted skin, was holding Bo'sun with one hand, for the dog was barking wildly at the strange vessel, and seemed on the point of jumping overboard. Within the partial shelter of the companion crouched Bolivar and Turnips—feathers and fur alike rippling in the wind, whilst Mag had crept into the pocket of her master's pea-jacket, whence, with protruding head she gave at times a dismal croak. None of them, beast or bird, would stay below, although, as yet, the cabin was dry and warm.
"The boat, Captain?" shouted Torre.
But the skipper shook his head as he shouted back, "I doubt whether she'll live. She ain't new, by chalks! I'm a-waitin' to see how close we'll hit the barque. I'm thinkin' we'll go well to leu'ard."
"She won't last much longer," said Sam. "My tip's to take the boat an' try to pull up lee side o' the ship, an' let ketch an' bricks go to ole Nick. Presen'ly, afore yer knows where y'are, she'll sink like a grinestun under our feet."
But the old skipper seemed loth to desert his vessel. With twinkling eyes he stared aloft at the gilded fowl, letting his gaze travel down to the half-submerged hull, pitching wearily, and as if every pitch was to be her last. Already the boat was moving on her chocks under the beat of a sea that had just rolled over the decks.
"Come along," said Harris, moving towards her, "let's have a try for something, anyhow. I'm tired! And I reckon there's a chance for a big salvage as well as for Davy Jones."
The word "salvage" seemed to have some effect on old Horn, for, with a relaxing of his set expression, he too made towards the boat, carrying Turnips in his arms, whilst Torre, after one more long look at the barque, followed with Bolivar.
The lee-rail of the vessel was, by this, under water; and three getting into the boat, the other two with very little exertion shoved her down the sloping deck and jumped in.
"Goodbye, ole Mary," exclaimed the skipper, as he stumbled aft to the tiller, "I'll never see your likes agen. Ketch, they allers called ye, but topsail schooner's the name as belonged. An' a good 'un at that! The pride o' the coast an' the daddy o' the fleet—so long, ole gal!"
WITH wind and sea behind her, it took all old Horn's skill to keep the fat-bowed boat from being swamped as they drove down towards the barque.
"I can't put her alongside in this sea," said the skipper to Torre, who was pulling the after oar; "she'll smash like a hegg-shell. I'll shove her round the bows an' try to get to leu'ard. An' then, it's a green lemon to a carriage factory as we don't fetch her never no more, amen!"
And, indeed, as they neared the vessel, and the boat was one moment borne high on a level with her deck, the next down till her pink bottom and grey topsides with their black and white streak towered like a cliff above them, the odds seemed all in favour of the green lemon.
As they pulled round the bows, they saw her name in big white letters on her lead-coloured paint—Enchantress.
"We're leakin' like a bloomin' sieve!" shouted Sam, paddling in water up to his ankles as he pulled.
"I told ye she wasn't no chicken," remarked the skipper, "but ye would chance her. Better ha' stuck to the ole hooker—bricks an' all."
"We're goners, now, all right," said the mate, bending fiercely to his oar as the boat shot round the tossing bows, and to the lee-side of the Enchantress.
As he spoke, fake upon fake, a coil of stout line settled over his head; and, looking up, they beheld upon the barque's forecastle the figure of the girl who had flung it.
She shouted something, but the wind bore it away from their ears. Suddenly, Bolivar, with a wild but valorous scream, shot up into the air towards the barque. But the gale was too much for him, and he was blown back into the water, Torre presently picking him up, draggled and dripping, but still defiant, out of the crest of a comber.
Meanwhile, the girl had made her end fast, as also had the men in the boat, in which the water was now up to their knees. It seemed as if, despite their constant baling, she must presently sink, so fast the sea came in through her opening seams.
If ever poor wretches were tantalised it was they, a hundred feet away from apparent safety; and there they tossed hungry, thirsty, and drowning slowly. Presently, they saw the girl dragging at and coiling down a small hawser. She evidently mistrusted the strength of the rope she had just hove to them. They watched her as they baled, working with fiery energy, her head bare, and her hair now tucked into a great heap at back and top of it.
Presently, she motioned them to haul in. And very carefully, and with eyes glued to the straining, jerking rope, they pulled themselves by it as near as they dared to the crushing walls of iron that now crouched almost to their own level, now flung themselves thundering and streaming on high.
"Come up all I said afore!" exclaimed Sam, as he saw the bowline on the small coir hawser that, after many a pause and check, at last slipped along the first line. "She's a right 'un, she is! A sailor's gal that, you bet! If any feller kin 'possum along this, an' on board to 'elp 'er, why, we might save our skins yet. Balin' ain't no good," continued he, throwing off his coat and long seaboots; "the darned boat's half full a'ready. S'pose we hauls 'longside she'll be mashed like a bug. But if I kin git on board and give the gal a hand, I dessay we'll manage."
As he talked, Sam had been making the bowline smaller, intending to get into it. But now Torre interfered, saying, "I've got a better chance of reaching the barque, Sam, than you. I'm a bit lighter. I think where there's so much depending on it, we oughtn't to take any risks."
"Well, perhaps you're right," replied Sam. "The lighter weight the better chance. No doubt on it."
"It's an impossible thing to do," suddenly cried old Horn. "The boy shan't go! D'ye think anybody can stop on that!" pointing, as he spoke, to the surging coir that for a minute, as the ship plucked the boat towards her with a windward roll, stood rigid as a bar of steel, and then, as she wallowed back again, was submerged fathoms deep in the boiling brine.
Mat and Harris said nothing. But from the expression on their faces they were evidently of the skipper's opinion. Not that, apparently, it mattered much. Their time seemed close at hand, for the water in the boat was rising rapidly. And if they were all doomed to perish like this within touch of safety, why, as well die at once. That was what their faces said.
"I don't know, but arter all," Sam doubtfully remarked, as Torre stripped off boots and jacket, "that a heavier weight mightn't be best. 'Owever, ye can but try. Yer as active as a cat; an' us old uns is stiff an' slow. See, I'll bend these halliards on to the bowline, an' slack away 'cordin' as ye wants it. An' she'll have the gumption to look out fer 'er end, you bet! Now, lads, haul 'er up as close as we dar'! Wait till she surges! Now's yer time!"
And with a glance at the slim figure on the forecastle-head, already handling the smaller line, Torre swung off hand over hand up the tautened coir, making such good way that he got fully twenty feet along the rope before the slackening of it warned him of the impending plunge. Another moment, and as he gripped the line with his legs, the water closed over his head—it seemed for weeks. Then, just as he felt that he must let go to ease his bursting lungs or die, he was plucked up panting and gasping to resume his terrible journey. He could spare no instant to look ahead, but with aching wrists and smarting eyes, his body still quivering from the jerk of the straightening hawser, he managed to work himself along and up, a gentle tugging at his waist helping him in the struggle, with the thought of whose hands held the rope that did it, and of whose eyes were watching him from above. His forward progress scarcely, this time, appeared to last a second ere he was plunged into those black depths, again to re-emerge feeling as weak and helpless as a kitten, whilst the pain in his wrists and head grew insupportable. Yet he strove mechanically to drag himself forward. Lights blazed before his eyes, taking strange shapes that jarred upon his throbbing brain. Better to let go and die, he thought, than suffer like this! And let go he knew he must at the next plunge. His legs hung like lead, and would be powerless to draw themselves up and clasp the rope any more. Already he felt the downward heave, and speculated curiously whether he would be drowned before he could be dragged into the boat. And he settled in his mind that he certainly would; and that, probably, his body would jam between hawser and bowline, making a nasty sight when doubled over and hanging limp, as each recurring jerk brought it to the surface. It was all a mistake. He had thought it at the time—that putting the bowline round the hawser. It gave a fellow no show. It would have been far better simply knotted loosely round his waist. Then she—but no, the weight would have been too much for her. Still, it was hard to have to look so ugly—like a dead fish in a net. Ugh! But, anyhow, he'd wait for the plunge before letting go.
As these thoughts flashed across his brain, Torre suddenly felt his arms grasped by hands that dragged at and vainly strove to lift his weight off them, whilst a despairing voice screamed in his ear "Help me, oh, help me! or it will be too late!"
The sound of that voice seemed to give him a new lease of life; and, opening his eyes and looking up, he found himself so nearly at the ship's rail that the girl, who, with a rope knotted around her waist, leaned perilously out over it, could, by stooping, just reach far enough to put her hands beneath his stretched and rigid arms.
The ship was giving her downward roll towards the boat. But so far had he mechanically progressed before exhausted nature put the brake on, that he dipped only to the waist. Still, so weak was he that, but for her cry, and the look in those eyes gazing terror-stricken into his own, he would have been assuredly plucked off. But the sight put fresh vigour and energy into him, and as the ship rose again, drawing himself up, helped by the warm, soft touch of those little hands that seemed to send the blood speeding through his veins in thrills of fresh strength, he at last grasped the chain that ran along the rail and rolled underneath it on to the deck, hearing, as he did so, the roaring cheer of his mates in the boat below him, standing deep in the water with their lives a question of minutes. He was spent, breathless from hunger and thirst, and the sea had stripped off his shirt, leaving him naked to the waist, and showing his skin all scarred and bleeding. But that glimpse of those others acted on him with more power than the mouthfuls from the flask of strong brandy that the girl was pressing into his hands.
"God be thanked!" she exclaimed, as she saw the colour return to his cheeks, energy and purpose to his eyes. "Brave! brave! I feared you could never last! And now the others! What can we do for them?"
But Torre knew exactly what to do; and with a single glance at the deep grey eyes and sweet face, and a few hurried earnest words of thanks, he set to work.
First, he took the hawser from where it was fastened to the bitts, and re-fastened it to the head of an iron crane, or derrick, used for swinging the anchors inboard. Then, galloping aft, he snatched a life-buoy from the taffrail. Then, reeving the end of the rope which had been attached to his bowline through a notched-block hitched to the fore-stay, he bent on his buoy and gave the signal to haul in.
Those in the boat, by means of their halliards, easily did this, the incline of the hawser being now so much more abrupt.
Mat—the man with the wife and children—was the first one to get into the buoy. The pair on the barque watched him being pressed and pushed, unwilling, by the rest. But they made him go. Hauling his part taut through a leading block, Torre took it to a small capstan on the forecastle-head, shipped a bar, and, giving the end to the girl to take in slack, he hove away with a wary eye on the buoy and its occupant. But except a good ducking, there was no trouble for Mat, and he was soon inboard and giving a hand. Harris and Sam, the former clutching Bolivar, the latter with Bo'sun, came next. Last of all arrived the old skipper with, in one pocket, a saturated cat, in the other, a half drowned magpie. With so much weight out of her, the boat allowed the hawser to sag, also there was no one to ease away the guy-line, and the skipper made the worst trip of all, except, of course, Torre.
When Sam arrived safely, the girl had gone aft. She now returned with a shirt and coat for Torre, and more brandy. The first thing old Horn did, when he got his breath, was to run up to windward. But there was no Mary to be seen. The last remnant of her was the boat, now with the water brimming over her gunwale. The skipper winked hard as he came back and took Torre's hand, whilst his salt-encrusted, weather-worn face worked and twitched curiously. For a moment he was silent. Then said he: "My lad, you an' this brave lass atween you ha' saved our lives. I never seen anythin' like it, an' never will agen. It was a lucky day fer us as you shipped on the ketch (topsail schooner was the name as rightly belonged). An' me a-takin' of ye fer a dashed tide-waiter, or a counterjumper!"
The rest also tendered their congratulations and thanks to Torre and the girl, who blushed and simply said how glad she was to see them. Torre, now it was all over, began to feel the terrible strain of the past hour. Quick to perceive this, the girl, putting her hand timidly on his sleeve, said: "Won't you come into the cabin and lie down? And you must all be hungry and tired. Come, and I'll get you something to eat."
"Right you are, dearie," replied the old skipper, whom the spirit had made a little loquacious, "an' thank ye kindly, for we're starvin' men. But is there nobody on board but yer own pritty self?"
"No one," said the girl, leading the way aft. "My father was captain. He died two months ago. We came from San Francisco, bound to Sydney. The mate was a Norwegian, and the second mate a Swede. All the men in the fok'sle were foreigners, mostly Greeks and Italians. A week ago the barometer fell suddenly, and the men shortened sail. It blew tremendously and carried away those sails you see there. When the weather got fine, and they were about getting up fresh sails, they saw smoke coming from the after-hatchway. As they took the hatches off, flames burst out. It was night time. A panic seized them, and, without trying to extinguish the fire, they lowered the boats. I was below in my berth putting a few things together, and when I came on deck they were gone."
"Ay, ay," growled Sam bitterly, "just what you'd expec' from a lot o' Dagoes. But the fire, Miss?"
"When I found it was no use screaming to them," she replied simply, "I got a few buckets of water and put it out. It was only a bundle of sails and some bales of oakum stowed away on the fresh water-tanks. One of the men had been down for something and let a match drop, I suppose."
"Well, upon my word!" exclaimed Harris, "if that doesn't beat everything. But come, Leigh, I daresay, Miss—"
"Darnell," supplemented the girl.
"Miss Darnell will show us a berth in which you can lie down and rest for a while. It's our turn to work now, you know."
"He shall have my father's cabin," said the girl, showing them into a fine large state-room furnished with a swinging cot and other sea luxuries in the way of furniture. And, presently, Miss Darnell, returning, brought a bottle of arnica, and showed Torre where he could find a change of clothes. But so stiff and sore and bruised was he that, after a good wash, he unwillingly enough found himself obliged to lie on the settee. There he dozed off for a few minutes, awaking with a start to see that the girl had drawn a chair to his side and was holding a basin of hot soup ready for him.
"I can get up quite well, thank you," said Torre, feeling uncomfortable in the new sensation of being waited upon by a pretty girl. But as he made the attempt he could not suppress a groan from the pain of his swollen wrists.
The girl uttered an exclamation as she caught sight of them, and, putting the soup down, hurried away to return presently with soft bandages and some cooling lotion. And as she steeped the linen and bound it around the strained sinews with deft, light touches, Torre had time to take a good look at her.
Rather above the medium height, with a fine shapely form and graceful carriage added to a peculiarly attractive and winsome face, May Darnell's chief features were undoubtedly her hair and her eyes. The former, now carefully plaited and coiled around her head, shone like a ripe horse chestnut peering through its half-opened husk in gleams of burnished brown and dark gold; whilst from under the broad forehead shone deep, calm, grey eyes, which in excitement, as Torre had seen, could sparkle and flash expressively with their owner's emotion. Her cheeks were rather pale, but with transient flushes that quickly came and went, and her mouth would have been commonplace but for a short upper lip that showed a glimpse of white teeth, and when she smiled sent two bewitching dimples fluttering to each corner of it.
"Now please drink your broth," she said, as she finished her bandaging; "the others are having something to eat, and then they are going to get new sails up and bend them; for the glass is very low still, and the gale seems increasing."
"You talk like a sailor," said Torre smiling, as he sipped his soup.
"Little wonder," she replied, "I was with my dear father three voyages."
"You saved my life," remarked Torre, somewhat inconsequently, "and I haven't thanked you for that, yet."
"I did all I could, which was not much," replied the girl, as a wave of sudden scarlet swept over her face; "if you had let go, I should never have been able to hold you."
"The very touch of your hands seemed to put new strength and vigour into me," said Torre. "Oh yes, very certainly, but for you, not only myself, but the rest of us, yonder, would now be fathoms deep amongst the fishes. And now, I suppose," continued Torre, "we shall sail the Enchantress to Sydney, and I'll never see you any more."
"Can you take her there?" asked the girl. "You came out of such a small vessel that I thought—I thought—she stopped embarrassed.
"That we were only fishermen, perhaps," put in Torre laughing, "or a lot of farmers got afloat by accident. But I daresay Harris and myself know enough of navigation to get the barque to her port safely, for all that."
"Is Mr Harris the one who took the books from around his body, and was so pleased when he found they were dry?" asked the girl, with her dimples working.
"Yes," replied Torre gravely, "that's a novel he's writing. It'll be a very fine story."
She looked more puzzled than ever, as she said presently, "And you're quite a—quite young yet, are you not?"
Torre blushed as he replied in remonstrant voice, "I'm nearly eighteen. And I'm sure you're not very much more. Besides," he added grandly, "at sea we don't count age by years."
At this she laughed outright, with a sound as of sweet bells in the laugh of her that was very pleasant to hear.
"Have you any relations in the colonies?" asked Torre presently, as, after taking the empty basin away, May—he called her so to himself already, having discovered the name on a large framed photograph that hung close to his bed—brought in a tray covered with dainties—cold tongue, potted ham, fish, and a couple of bottles of beer. With her came Harris in somebody else's clothes, which were a lamentable misfit. Otherwise, he looked well and ready for service, and behaved himself as a gentleman in a drawing-room where ladies were present.
"The wind's getting up stronger than ever, Leigh," said he, "but we've found a couple of spare topsails and a staysail, and are going to bend them and keep the barque hove to. The glass is down to 28° 27". And that's no joke, you know. She's only got six inches of water in her—as tight as a new drum. You just lie quiet, old man, and take it easy. I'm sure"—with a low bow to the girl, which brought his already too short trousers nearly up to his knees, and showed a long stretch of white stocking on each leg—"you couldn't be in better hands. We've set the lower-main tops'l," he added as he turned to go, "and you'll find her a lot steadier for it. I discovered a sextant, too, in one of the berths and got an observation just now. Roughly, we're 300 miles off the coast. How we must have travelled in the poor little Mary, eh?"
"He seems nice," remarked May Darnell, "and he talks like a sailor. But sailors don't write books. Nor do any I've ever seen before carry dogs and fowls and things to sea with them."
"He's an all right chap," replied Torre with a jealous inflexion in his voice that made the girl smile. "And everybody writes books nowadays, you know. But you haven't answered my question yet about relations?"
"Only an uncle on my mother's side," she replied. "And he lives far away from Sydney on a station. But I've only seen him twice. He seemed very kind. He was in London about two years ago; and the Enchantress, as we all thought, being berthed for Sydney, he intended returning with us. However, when her destination was altered to Valparaiso, he sailed in another ship called the Andromeda!'
"Oh, oh!" suddenly exclaimed Torre, who, without much interest in what she was saying—for uncles didn't count in his ego—had been watching those pretty hands cutting his food into dainty pieces that he could fork up without pain to his wrists. "And, please, what was your uncle's name?"
"John Barker," replied May, "but I forget the name of his station. Are those bandages too tight?"
"Not a bit," replied Torre, "but it's funny how things turn out, isn't it?"
And, as he ate, he told her about his visit to Ngori, and how the Barkers had sold it and gone.
"Then," said she, as he finished, with a quiver in her voice, and a little sob, "I haven't a friend left. My mother has been dead some years—and father—oh, my dear father, how could you leave me all alone?" And the tears sprang to her eyes, whilst Torre in great distress, and with a boyish impulsiveness and daring that became him well, taking her hand, exclaimed, "Never mind, dear May. Don't cry. You can't be alone when you've got me."
WHEN, late in the afternoon, and after a good sleep, Torre went on deck he found the Enchantress hove to under a lower main-topsail and a fore-topmast-stay-sail, and making fine weather of it, hardly wetting her decks. But the gale still blew from the same quarter with unabated vigour and spite. And Torre, as he stood near the lashed wheel and stared out over the ceaseless procession of great waves marching in endless ranks, threatening, roaring, sullen, breaking in thunder against the ship only to hurl harmless spindrift at her mastheads; as he watched these, and listened to the shrill steady yelling of the wind through the rigging, he thanked God in his heart for their almost miraculous escape from the sinking Mary and from the crazy boat. Sam was on the poop. The rest were asleep. The reversed Ensign had been hauled down, and all the running gear tautened; yards braced to the wind; every sail looked to, and its gaskets re-passed. And now, Torre found himself appreciatively gazing along the decks of a fine clipper barque of some 1200 tons, with high, sheltering bulwarks, teak decking fore and aft, iron lower masts, and yards able to spread, from the squareness of them, a great show of canvas. All her furniture, such as wheel, binnacle, skylights, deckhouses, capstans, etc., etc., were solidly handsome, and Torre guessed that, even in these days of depreciated "sailers," the Enchantress was a very valuable ship.
"An' jist to think o' them cussed Dagoes a-runnin' away an' leavin' of 'er like they did!" said Sam, rolling up with a short pipe, bowl down, between his teeth, but from which, in spite of that precaution, the gale robbed, now and then, live sparks and sent them flying to leeward. "Well, well, it's bin a good thing fer us, an' I expec' there's salwage outer this job. She's a rale slap-up sort ov a ship. One comfut, them jokers as cleared out in sich a hurry, an' leavin' the gal to drownd an' burn, is pritty well drownded themselves now—an' p'raps burnin', too," he added reflectively. "Would ye believe it? They must ha' hopped outer their bunks, by the look o' things in the fok'sle, an' straight into the boat."
"Shall we be able to work her home, Sam?" asked Torre.
"Under short canvas," replied Sam, "I reckon we oughter. She's chuck full o' patents. Patent capstings an' patent winches, an' sich, as 'elps to make pully-hauley come light. But bli' me!" he exclaimed suddenly, staring at Torre with a sort of unbelieving wonder in his eyes, "who cud ha' thought as the kiddy we stowed away in the ole Yatala that time would ha' med the man you's gettin'! When I see yer a-grippin' an' a-clawin' an' a-hangin' to that there coir like a shot 'possum to a gum limb, I sez to meself, sez I, ' 'E's a goner, poor chap! I ought to ha' took an' did it, an' not run 'im on to tackle sich a contrak, which was only fit for a man growed!' I sez. But," continued Sam with energy, "there's many a man growed couldn't ha' done it, nor wouldn't ha' had the 'eart nor the stummick to start at it. An' I was proud as a dog with a tin tail or a bloomin' coach with five wheels when I seen you done it. An' when the young lady arsted me why we sent the youngest of us on that perilous hexpadition I up and sez: 'Why, Miss,' sez I, 'beggin' yer pardin, because 'e was the best man we had.' An', you bet, she's a brick every time."
"She is," exclaimed Torre, immensely pleased, as he shook Sam by the hand, "and you're another!"
Under the break of the poop, snug and sheltered from wind and spray, were the rest of the castaway crew of the Mary Robinson, sleeping off their fatigues on full stomachs; Bolivar and Mag each perched on the weatherboard at the cabin door, heads tucked away under their wings; Bo'sun coiled up on a grating with, as usual, Turnips between his legs purring softly in his dreams.
"A rum lot," commented Sam, as he and Torre walked for'ard; "bli' me, if that ere dog didn't hang on to me like a Crischun when we was comin' through the smother, an' took his duckin's when we went under without a whimper, although I were werry near losing him oncest. Pore ole skipper! He's got 'em all, anyhow, if he has lost the Mary. Gates o' Heving, how proud he was o' them there square yards which 'adn't never oughter ha' been!"
The gale took two days to blow itself out By that time they were in Lat. S. 32.20", Long. E. 180.15", or some 450 miles to the eastward of their port. But the wind coming from the north-east, they presently set topsails and lower topgallant-sails. And as even under that short canvas the Enchantress reeled off eight knots, it was considered wise, weak-handed as they were, to err on the side of safety. They kept no regular watch. But there was always a man on the lookout besides the one at the wheel. The balance of them slept about the decks anywhere, ready for a call. As if to make up for former bad usage, however, the weather remained beautifully fine. Harris and Torre checked each other in their calculations, and there was no recognised skipper. It was a majority crew. And the system worked well, perhaps because there happened to occur no crisis which might severely have taxed its capabilities. In a few days Torre was himself again physically, mentally he was head over heels in love with May Darnell. But, for the matter of that, so were all hands from old Horn to Turnips, and they were all her most humble servants, rushing at a word to do her bidding, but oftener anticipating it. Never was princess ashore better served and loved than this pale-faced princess at sea. Torre, as Sam put it, was undoubtedly "the Right Bower." And May ruled him, now, with a matronly protective air that maddened him, now, with a maidenly confidence that enchanted him. She had her sad moments, too, when, with wet eyes, and quivering lips, she shut herself up in her berth; and then her subjects trod lightly and spoke in hushed accents, for they knew she was thinking of her father, the dead Captain, and feeling her loneliness in the world. But more often o' nights she would sing to them, and play on the cottage piano in the saloon, old songs—songs of love, and war, and the sea—until Sam and the skipper and Mat, listening down the open skylight, would furtively rub tarry knuckles into watery eyes under cover of the darkness, and vow to each other, in hoarse, salty whispers, that it was "slap-up, A. 1, copper-bottomed an' enuff to melt the 'eart of a grinestun."
These three fought rather shy of the saloon, which was a fine sea-parlour enough, with its carpets and lounges, panelled walls and swinging trays, Rochester lamps, and spirited paintings of other clippers belonging to the same line as the Enchantress.
But Torre and Harris appreciated the luxury of it, and felt at home there, delighting in their meals at the hand of its mistress, always fresh and dainty, and always ready to welcome them with a smile and a glance of heartfelt friendliness out of those wonderful grey eyes of hers.
Harris had long ago "sacked" his heroine in "Watch Ahoy!" and substituted May; and with such success that the book bade fair to become all May and little else. But Torre was not jealous now, for quite lately Harris had confided to him a tendresse of long standing that he had formed for a little girl who worked as a typewriter in a government office in Sydney.
"I wanted her to marry me long ago," said Harris, "but Annie's got some sense. 'How can we do it on ten shillings a week?' said she. 'That's my income. And I'm afraid yours, take it all the year round, isn't much more. No, it would be madness to marry. You must wait until I get a rise, or till you write a successful book!' That's what she said," concluded Harris with a sigh; "and—you know—well, I'm afraid I'll die a bachelor."
Long ere this, Torre had told May the story of his life since leaving his comfortless home with the Boveys, omitting, however, as may be judged, any reference to Nalouna. And May, as she listened, breathless and shuddering, with him in the "boot" at the Kuloan village, followed in sympathetic interest his wanderings with Bralga through the heart of Australia, or laughed at his earliest experiences of all as "a young gentleman" on board the Andromeda, could not help feeling that this handsome, masterful, big-limbed lad who spoke so well, and upon whose features at times sat an expression of resolute gravity beyond his years, was to all intents and purposes more of a man than other men with age and beards in their favour.
Besides, the girl felt a proprietary interest in Torre ever since, by the clutch of her small hands and the sound of her voice in his closing ears, she had called him back from the roaring wells of death to effort and life.
Therefore, these two were fast friends, if nothing more, in a very short time; and, in return for his own, May Darnell's simple story was soon told. Born at Deal, her earliest recollections were of the sea and ships. When she was only thirteen her mother died, and Captain Darnell, with no near relatives of his own, and the only ones belonging to his wife being in Australia, thought the best thing he could do was to send his little daughter to a boarding school between trips. And there she stayed till she was sixteen, when he took her to sea with him. Until this last most unhappy voyage, May had never known a sorrow. Secure in the care of an indulgent father, and loving the sea very dearly, she had been perfectly happy, so happy that the Fates had thought it time to interfere. Then, her father, rising from a sick bed, rather than let his ship sail without him, had taken her to San Francisco, his health appearing to improve on the trip. At that place, the crew deserting, a nondescript lot had been shipped. A week out and the Captain had suffered a relapse, only lingering a few days before the end came. He was buried in the usual manner. But, and May's voice grew tremulous as she came to this part of her story, and her eyes filled with tears, something must have been neglected, for during three days, the corpse followed the ship upright in its hammock-shroud. All the time a gale of wind was blowing dead ahead, and the sight so demoralised the crew that they were fit for little afterwards. They said there was a judgment on the ship; and at the very first spurt of flame from the after-hatch, officers and men had rushed wildly for the boats. A sad story of superstition and cowardice combined, but not by any means a solitary one of its kind in the curious records of ocean.
The crew had taken little or nothing in the boats with them in the shape of provisions or water, and must, Torre supposed, have inevitably perished in the furious gale that sprung up almost directly they left the vessel. Her father, added May, held a share in the Enchantress, but to what extent she was ignorant. Also, she had heard him say that the cargo was a valuable one—worth forty or fifty thousand pounds.
One day, jogging away under short canvas, they were overtaken by a great white steamer that hoisted signals, and wanted to know if she could help them. In reply they hoisted their number and asked to be reported. A hurried council had been held whilst the steamer was yet far astern, and a resolution come to that, as they were getting along very well, no assistance, if offered, should be accepted. The crew of the Enchantress wanted to take her in themselves, and as none of them were in any particular hurry, the weather seemed set fine, and they expected to make the land in a couple of days, it was determined to risk it, so they had their answer ready.
"It's the Warrimoo—'Frisco mailboat," remarked old Horn. "Either her or the Miowera. Can't mistake 'em, with their white wall-sides, an' yaller, black-topped stack, set square like a factory chimbley. She'll report us in Sydney all right to-morrow afternoon 'bout three o'clock; but that won't ease the Boss's mind much as to what's gone with the Mary. They'll ha' gived us all up fer lost afore this, though, I 'spect. Ay, she were insured pritty well, I'm sartain," continued he, in answer to a question from Torre, "but insurance don't build a boat like her over agen. If we gets anythin' outer this business, I'll not be takin' any more sea. I swallered enough salt water on that there trip from the boat to last my old karkuss the rest av its days. Yah, I kin feel it a-rumblin' in my belly yet!"
The steamer turned out to be the Warrimoo, and as she passed at a distance of about three quarters of a mile, Torre, and May also, little dreamed that they had a friend on board her who at that very moment was saying to the first officer: "Well, I wish you could have stopped; the Captain of that vessel's my brother-in-law. I was coming out in her one trip. However, I suppose she'll be in port presently." "Well, seems to me," replied the other, laughing, "that she ain't in any partic'lar, express, gilt-edged hurry. Should reckon he waan't a very slick skipper as runs her, or else there's something crooked in the deal. However, he says he's all serene, and we've got the mails, an' must make this raft snort, as it is, to rise to time. Should like to oblige, but you'll be seein' your relation in a week, if he don't crack on too much." And the Yankee chief-mate turned away to continue his flirtation with one of the lady members of a theatrical company who, as they expressed it, "were coming across to see if they could rake in any beans at the Anti-podes."
One effect of this business, however, was that, as on the second day after the Warrimoo's passing, and whilst the Enchantress was leisurely making in to sight the Heads of Port Jackson, a stain of smoke appeared on the horizon, and presently a big tugboat was churning and foaming abreast of her. The consignees, it seemed, were getting anxious over the prolonged passage, and on the American steamer reporting their vessel under short canvas in such weather, they feared something was wrong, and sent the Commodore to look for and bring her in.
It is doubtful, however, whether anybody was glad to see her. Torre certainly was not. The last week had passed so pleasantly; everything was so comfortable; it had been a regular deep-water picnic; and now he would probably lose May, certainly lose the constant companionship in which he had begun to so thoroughly rejoice. As for the rest, they had nothing particular to do; plenty of good things to eat and drink, a fine ship under foot, which they had been instrumental in saving, and a possible large reward to look forward to for doing so. Therefore, when the Captain of the tug roared for a line no one rushed, in big ship fashion, to heave him one; and he was about to repeat his demand, astonished at such apathy, not less than at such a meagre show of canvas twenty miles from land on a fine summer morning, when old Horn poked his head over the rail and sang out, "How do, Jim? What's all the row about? Don't know whether we're justified in takin' steam so fer out, 'specially as I'm exempt."
The tug skipper's open mouth opened still wider at this; but, presently recovering, he said, "Why, Billy Horn, we thought you was drowned in the ketch. Did ye all get picked up, then, by this sleepy limejuicer?"
"She warn't a ketch," replied the old Captain testily, "an' you knows it, Jim Schofield. An' we didn't get picked up. We picked up. An' we left the ole Mary fer a swap."
At this moment Bolivar flapped on to the rail with a loud, sturdy, cock-a-doodle-doo; and through an open port Bo'sun pushed his big head inquiringly as if to ask what all the laughter was about. Torre stood at the wheel. May was below; and Sam and Mat had joined old Horn at the gangway.
"Where's the Captain, Billy?" asked the tug man, glancing along their faces, "I can't stop foolin' 'ere all day. I'm glad you're right, o' course—an' that's Mat Bacon, ain't it? How's things, Mat?—but look slippy an' sling us a line. Ain't there any skipper, or what's up, at all?"
"We're all skippers, Jimmy," replied old Horn. "Everybody's ekal on board this ship. It's a lim'ted li'b'lety kump'ny. She's a salwage—a fair an' square salwage. An' we're the salwagees. Now d'ye tumble? An' here's yer line. An' hook on as soon as ye likes. But just send us a couple o' hands over to 'elp stow that canvas. We're short, as you can see."
"Right y'are," said the other, "you shall have 'em. But my wig! ain't this a go! 'Ere's the Boss comes to me in a 'ell of a flurry an' sez, 'Skipper,' 'e sez, 'rip along outside fer twenty or thirty mile,' 'e sez, 'an' see if ye can pick up a lump ov a painted-port barque called the Enchantress. Weld an' Co.,' sez 'e, 'the agents, is in a devil of a scot sence the 'Merican boat reported 'avin' seen 'er under topsails with a fine fair wind a-blowin', an' 'er a fortnight overdue.' An,' lo an' be'old yer, away I comes hotfoot," continued the tug Captain, shaking with suppressed laughter, "on'y to find ole Billy Horn an' the dog, an' the bloomin' rooster—an', ay, by God! the magpie—an' two or three more haristocrats o' shellbacks in charge as salwagees! Well, don't it beat the world! You bet it does!"
"Well, I should smile!" promptly replied Mag, who had perched on the old skipper's shoulder whilst the other was speaking.
Shortly after this, the pilot came on board, and was every whit as much tickled by the story as the tug skipper had been. And all of them looked with interest and admiration at May, whilst not forgetting to congratulate Torre on his plucky conduct.
That afternoon they anchored in Neutral Bay, and were boarded a little later by a good many people to whom the evening newspapers had already given a garbled version of the affair. Amongst the visitors were Mr Fibre, Curtis, Jenkins, and to Torre's and May's surprise and relief, Mr Barker who, with his family, had arrived in the Warrimoo the day before. The squatter was very pleased to see Torre again, and carried his niece and the latter ashore at once to his hotel; whilst Fibre took hold on the business of seeing that the interests of the salvors were properly protected, pending legal decision. The others stayed on board the Enchantress, with the exception of Harris and Mat, the former of whom hurried off to visit his sweetheart, and the mate to his family at Balmain.
Mr Barker, who had liked Eastmore and was genuinely shocked at his fate of which, however, he had already heard, asked Torre to tell the story of his tramp to Ngori and his later adventures to himself, his wife, and daughters—a nice motherly woman and two handsome jolly girls already engaged, one to a wealthy squatter, the other to a city doctor—and who all three took to the young sailor, so that amongst them, both he and May at once felt quite at home.
"Some people," commented the squatter, as Torre finished, "can't find adventures even when they go and look for them. Others can't walk down the street without running up against 'em. You're one of that sort, evidently. And I fancy, too, that you stand to make some money out of this last one. However, we shall see presently. Yes, perhaps you'd better go to your friend's and dress; but be sure to come back and dine. Bring Mr Jenkins with you too; and your shipmate, Harris, if you can find him; and we'll all go to the theatre afterwards."
And now commenced for Torre a very pleasant time indeed. The Barkers had taken a house at Manly, and Torre was so constantly there that it was like a home for him. Indeed, he was pressed to take up his quarters there altogether, but, afraid of encroaching, he returned to his old room at Jenkins', where the Bohemians met o' Saturday nights and made much of him, and pressed him jocularly to lose no time in setting forth again to make more copy for them. Of course they had, all of them, tried their hands, both artistic and literary, at the Enchantress episode, with the result that Torre was become quite a feature of Sydney; and had even been congratulated by Vice-royalty itself. Also, he was presently to receive, at the hands of the same august personage, the gold medal of the New South Wales Life Saving Association. More, the enthusiastic public of the Colony had declared with one voice that he should, in due course, marry May Darnell. Letters appeared in the newspapers advocating the measure, and showing how cheaply the young couple could keep house. Often the correspondent enclosed a sum of money as the nucleus of a fund whose interest was to be devoted to helping Torre on in his profession. All the country over, an admiring interest in himself and May sprang up and grew steadily, much to their distress, both disliking so much notoriety but finding it impossible to ignore the kindly intentioned folk, who seemed determined to have a finger in their future. The presentation of the medal took place in the great hall of the city, which was crammed to suffocation, and the affair passed off very successfully. Torre made a little modest speech in which he took occasion to refer to his companions who, all four, at the same time, received silver medals and a money present as well. It had never occurred to Torre, in his few sentences deprecating so much praise being given to himself, and asking that some of it be shifted from his shoulders on to those of his shipmates, to mention May. In such a place and before such crowds of people the thing would have been distasteful to him. And, in any case, he knew that she, as well as himself, had already had quite enough of this well-meant publicity. But others thought differently, for no sooner had Torre finished, than every one saw that old Horn was in heavy labour with a delivery of words. Rising from his seat on the platform where Harris had in vain tried to secure him, and producing a great handkerchief, he first wiped his face carefully all over, and advancing a few steps, shouted at the top of his voice in a succession of sea-roars audible almost in the street outside :—
"Ladies an' gents 'ere to-night, there's been a lot o' soft soapin' an' jammin' goin' on among us, but some one's been forgot. Fair play's fair play, ain't it? (Shouts of delighted assent.) Well then, I've only got to put one leetle question to you. Wheer would any one ov us ha' been if a sartain young lady (I won't mention no names, as I'm told," glaring at Harris, "that it ain't manners. An' any'ow, I 'ope such won't be needful). Wheer, I says agin, would us ha' been now if 'er 'adn't hove us that line as we was slippin' away to loo'ard, like a banany skin down a gutter, eh? That's what I wants to know." (Hear! hear! and immense applause.) Encouraged, the old sailor came further forward still, and shaking a horny finger at the audience, continued: "An' who, I wants to know, when the young 'un was 'bout clewed up, an' swingin' like a monkey on a fore t'gallant stay over them bilin', roarin' combers, skreeked in his ear-hole to pluck up 'eart, an' twisted her purty leetle 'ands aroun' his waist? An' I wants to know—"
But he got no further, for the three thousand people simply roared as one man at that last pathetic touch, whilst the old skipper, still shaking his crooked finger at them, was pulled back to his seat by Harris. Mutilated though it was, it undoubtedly remained the speech of the evening. And when the Mayor called for three cheers for "The Young Lady," they were given with an enthusiasm that seemed to shake the vast building, and satisfied even old Horn. But Mr Fibre whispered to his neighbour, who happened to be Mr Barker, "Old ass! There goes five thousand at least off the salvage money!"
He thought that such a public confession of assistance in saving the Enchantress by one on board of her, would have helped to invalidate very materially the salvage claim. Wherein, however, ultimately, he was proved not to be correct.
THE usual gathering that night at Jenkins' was larger than ever. Torre, coming in late with Mr Barker, was hailed from all parts of the smoke-cloud by voices imitative of old Horn's "What I wants to know;" and allusions to "a monkey on a thingumbob stay." Torre's companion was well known to more than one man in the room, and therefore received a hearty welcome to Bohemia. Not a few there could talk stock and station and pastoral business generally, and knew almost as much about it as Mr Barker; therefore the squatter was in no danger of being bored by literary shop, and enjoyed the experience mightily. Suddenly, amidst a chorus of surprised "Hello's!" a policeman put his white-helmeted head into the room, and peered cautiously about him.
"Sorry to throuble yez, gints," said he doubtfully, "but if there's wan o' ye as is called Lay here, it's afther lukkin' for him that Oi am."
"No Lays here, my man," replied somebody, "nor Pays either. Perhaps though it's a whis-kay you're after."
"Oh, Brennan?" asked Jenkins, who knew him, "that's you? What business are you on now?"
"Jist this, sorr," replied the officer, producing a document and handing it over, "an' if ye can help me to dhrop across the person mintioned therein Oi'll be obligated. Oi'm towld—from inforrmation resaved, sorr—as it's loikely it's here Oi'd be afther foinding him."
"Why, Leigh!" exclaimed Jenkins in surprise as he glanced at the paper, "this is a warrant taken out for your apprehension, on a charge of absconding from your indentured service. It is issued by Alexander M'Cutcheon, Master of the ship Andromeda, and seems all thoroughly in order. But, Brennan, you should have known better than to choose such a time for serving it on one of my friends."
"Begob, thin, sorr," replied the other apologetically, "if Oi'd knowed it was a frind o' yourn, Oi'd ha' let the Sargint sarve his own dhirty warrant, so Oi wud! But he sez to me (thank ye koindly, sorr, but Oi'll take it nate) sez he, 'Jist run up to 61,' sez he, 'Brinnan, an' see if ye can dishcover an owner for this piece o' paper, bekase Oi've to get back to the station at oncest,' sez he."
"Oh, nonsense, Brennan," replied Jenkins sharply, "you must have known these were my rooms. Take the thing away and let Goulburn serve it himself. I did him a good turn once, and I suppose he didn't care about coming up."
"Loike enough, sorr," replied Brennan, "an' shure its plazed Oi'll be to obligate ye, Misther Jinkins, seein' as it's besht to kape on the roight soide o' ye newspaper gints (the laste taste o' wather wid it this toime, sorr) as there's no tellin' what ye moight be sayin' about us poor bhoys in the foorce. Thank ye, gintlemin, an' a good night to yez."
"Well," remarked Mr Barker, "that's only staved off. But I didn't think old M'Cutcheon would be such a fool."
"It's the second mate who's at the bottom of it, I expect!" said Torre, his face on fire; indignant and humiliated at the petty spite that must have prompted such a proceeding at such a time.
"Don't trouble yourself, my lad," said Mr Barker kindly, "I had to interfere once before to bring Captain M'Cutcheon to reason, and I fancy I can manage our old friend again. Anyhow, I conceive it to be more of the owners' business than the skipper's."
"No," replied a young barrister who happened to be there that night, "I think not. Captain stands in loco parentis, don't you see? and if he really insists on having Leigh back, he'll get him. Penal offence, I'm afraid, absconding from an indentured apprenticeship. And he only lacks a few months of being out of his time? It's a pity. But doubtless the matter can be arranged."
"I'll have a try, at any rate," replied Barker; "of course the warrant will have to take effect, but I don't mind laying odds that there'll be no appearance from the ship."
There were no takers, but much pleasure was expressed at this view of the case, and all sorts of professional assistance volunteered, literary, artistic and legal—the barrister aforesaid declaring himself as only too pleased to take up the matter, if necessary, and put it through from the Water Police Court to the Supreme one, and thence to the Privy Council.
"Capital bit of practice it would be, too," he remarked with a longing sigh as he puffed at his pipe; "and practice is exactly what a good many of us want just now. No curious little incidents happened on the passage out, I suppose, Leigh," he continued, "that would bear working up against M'Cutcheon and Company. I only ask because it appears to me that incident follows as naturally and surely in your wake as night does day."
Torre laughed at this and looked at Mr Barker, but left the query unanswered.
Next morning the squatter, taking Torre with him, went to see his friend, the agent of the Andromeda.
"I can't be bothered with M'Cutcheon any more," concluded Mr Barker, after briefly narrating some happenings of the outward passage that we are already acquainted with, "but I will not have my young friend here worried into Court if I can stop it. You can put the screw on the Captain, Moore, and tell him that unless—"
"Captain M'Cutcheon to see you, sir," announced a clerk at this moment.
Mr Moore grinned and looked at Barker.
"Oh, yes; show him in," said the latter. And presently in walked Torre's old skipper to whom the irate squatter at once and abruptly put the question:—
"Are you going to appear against your late apprentice, Leigh?"
"Ay," replied M'Cutcheon stormily, "an' sae ye're mixin' yerself up in my beesness agen, Mister Barker? An' what for should I no appear, gin it pleases me to dae't? Ye're a' makkin' a wonnerfu' clamjamfry aboot the puir feckless airticle. But when we get him on boord the ship I'll be takkin' some o' the stairch oot o' him, I'm thinkin'! The domm'd young scoondrel to assault my officer an' then rin awa in siclike fashion! My feth, when they send him doun frae the Coort I'm afeard his skin an' the eend o' a rope'll be vera closely acquent," and the Captain showed his teeth.
"I'm not afraid of any such thing!" all at once exclaimed Torre, rising, tall and broad and sturdy, and glancing at the skipper with a very unfriendly eye.
And still, as the other gaped in surprise at the speaker, he evidently did not know him, for he presently went on: "Weel, if you're any relation o' the lad's, a' I've got to say is—"
"Why, skipper," said Mr Moore, laughing, "he must have changed a lot if you don't know it's Leigh himself. Don't look much like a subject for a rope's end, does he?"
"Yes," remarked Barker, who also could not forbear laughing at the amazed expression of the Captain's face as he stared disbelievingly at Torre, "I thought it better to bring him, so that he might hear the understanding I hope we are presently coming to. Now, in the first place, did the owners instruct you to go so far as applying for a warrant? From what I know of them—no offence to you, Moore—I should think they'd rather say, 'A good riddance; we've got the premium!' "
"I was told to use my ain discretion in the matter," replied the skipper sulkily, "an' it doesna seem to strike ye that the firrum ha' lost his sairvices for the time. Pairsonally I'm nae carin' muckle gin I never see him ony mair, but as ye'll obsairve there's ithers to conseeder in the matter."
"Well, Captain," put in Mr Moore with scant ceremony, for a shipmaster, more or less, was of precious little account in the office of big merchants like Moore, Devine and Co., "my time's money. Mr Barker, here, has told me in confidence, of course, about certain things that occurred during the outward passage, and intimated his intention—if you persist in appearing to your warrant—of making them public through the press. Also of instituting an action against you for condoning a felony in respect to that cargo-broaching business. You had no right whatever, as you may recollect I told you afterwards, to take that money from the passengers and let the crew go free. Of course, as agents for your firm, we're anxious to do our best for you, and my advice is that you agree not to trouble your late apprentice any more. From what I hear, he has done very well indeed for himself since he left you; is in good hands now, and will probably in a few years be master of a ship himself."
But still M'Cutcheon, although distinctly perturbed and impressed, hesitated. The real fact of the matter was that he would not have gone to the trouble he had done if fifty paint pots had been emptied over Phillips, or all his apprentices cleared out in a body, and for himself he had by this time quite forgiven Torre his refusal to nurse the baby. But Mrs M'Cutcheon had neither forgotten nor forgiven, and she it was who had persistently egged her husband on in the affair. She was nothing if not spiteful, and she desperately wanted to show Torre that she had power to revenge what she considered a personal insult of a very terrible character offered to her before the passengers.
Thus her husband was in a quandary.
Quarrel with his agents he dare not. It meant very likely the loss of his berth to do so. Quarrel with Barker and provoke all manner of reprisals he was equally loth to do. But to return and confess to his wife that he had been beaten, he was perhaps more unwilling than all to do, she having developed a tongue whose length and sharpness he alone was aware of. So he sat and scratched his head, and perspired freely, gazing helplessly at the others who, on their part, naturally enough put his hesitation down to spite and stubbornness.
"Have you brought out Mr Leigh's indentures?" suddenly inquired Moore.
"No, I hae na them wi' me," replied M'Cutcheon sullenly.
"Why, you silly man!" exclaimed the agent, "that's the first thing you'd be asked for in Court. Well, upon my word! And you have the cheek to take out warrants for people!"
Now, whether this assertion was a fact or not, M'Cutcheon was ignorant; so, actually, was Moore. But the skipper saw his way at last, and his face, to the puzzlement of the others, grew bright and hopeful. He had a good and valid excuse, after all, to present to his better half.
"A'richt," he said suddenly, seizing a pen, "I'll take it on my ain shouthers to give him a free discharge. Dom a' owners' apprentices! They're a nuisance!" And, with this, he hastily dashed off a note to the effect that Messrs Derrick, Deadeye and Scupper forebore any claim they might hold over their apprentice at present or henceforward; inserting at Mr Moore's suggestion, also, a note of Torre's service on board the Andromeda. The paper was signed by both Moore and Barker as witnesses, and Torre gave a sigh of relief as it was handed to him. Whilst M'Cutcheon, with a curt "Guid mornin', sirs," left the room.
"Caved in all at once, didn't he?" laughed Moore. "There's something in the background that we know nothing about. But, anyhow, that's settled. Mr Leigh can appear if he's called upon, but nobody else will. And now," he continued, turning to Torre, with whose appearance he seemed rather taken, "I've got an offer to make you. You want nine months of your time running out, it seems. If you like you can sign on as third mate of a ship we have here waiting for wool. She'll be, probably between this port and filling up at Adelaide, a good six months yet. Then, if you wish, you can go home in her and pass the Board in London. How will that suit you? Oh! I should tell you that Mr Fibre was here the other day and spoke very handsomely of you, regretting that he had no vessel in at present. He seems to think, by the way, that your share in the salvage money will be something considerable. But I fancy the case won't be decided here. It will have to go home to the Admiralty Court. I shouldn't wonder if you're not there about the same time."
Mr Moore's offer was a kind one, and Torre accepted it thankfully. He could, it appeared, be put on the Cumberland's Articles at once, although the vessel herself was in dry dock.
"You know, Leigh, it's just possible," remarked Mr Barker as they left the office, "that this salvage money may be enough to enable you to give up the sea altogether, should you wish to do so. Of course, it is too soon to speculate on any certain amount. Still, I shouldn't wonder if it turned out to be a good few thousands of pounds."
"And even then I don't think I should leave the sea," replied Torre. "I'd like to sail a ship, and have an interest in her too. I could do that if I had capital. But I expect, by-and-bye, that I'll go into steam. I've begun to read up a bit already. Perhaps my highest ambition is to be Captain of one of the big liners."
"Well, I don't see why you shouldn't realise it," replied Mr Barker. "Goodness knows you've plenty of time."
"I should like to send poor old Bralga something," said Torre presently. "I shall never forget that money in the dictionary."
"I don't see what can be done for the old rogue," said Mr Barker thoughtfully. "He's never happier than when whaling along the bends of the rivers without a penny. I'll tell you what you might do, though. You'd break his heart if you sent the money back. But you could send that portrait of yourself—the black and white one that Spurritt did—together with a full assortment of hooks and lines, all shapes and sizes, and a new 'dic.' Send the parcel to Peter Robson of Tapoloro—the man who fixed you up after that snake business—and he'll see that Bralga gets it. And won't he be a proud old scamp that day?"
Curiously enough, not long after this, and just as Torre had despatched his consignment, augmented by a good double-barrelled breech-loader and a supply of ammunition, both he and Mr Barker had occasion to remember Bralga, and be grateful for certain lessons given by him in those same river bends. The pair had been spending the evening on board a big steel steamer whose Captain was a cousin of Mr Barker's. The vessel was lying at the foot of Margaret Street, and they were hurrying via Church Hill to catch the last boat for Manly.
Half-way along the Hill they met a "push," consisting of some half dozen larrikins who proceeded to "deal it out" to them in the most approved fashion.
Sydney, at any time, is a badly-lighted city. It is especially so in the vicinity mentioned, and the "push" was upon Torre and his companion almost before they saw them. It was composed of young men between eighteen and twenty, and one, making a grab at Mr Barker's watch-chain, was promptly knocked head over heels with a stiff left hander from Torre, who, with his back to a wall, took the brunt of the assault.
Mr Barker was stout and easily winded, had also partaken fully of the S.S. Crozet's hospitality, and was, therefore, not capable of doing much more than valiantly poking at the enemy with his umbrella, and shouting, "Hi, police! fire!" But Torre drove right and left amongst them with such effect that soon cries arose of "Stowsh 'im!" "Git some metal an' plug 'im!"
Luckily there were no stones handy, but presently a big fellow running up made a hit at Torre with a heavy stick, which, had it taken effect, would probably have ended his seafaring or any other career. Luckily, Mr Barker interposed his umbrella, breaking the fierce blow which, even then, catching Torre on the shoulder, nearly brought him to the ground. But the next moment, jumping out, he executed a favourite trick of Bralga's that the latter had taught him for just such an occasion. Drawing back his foot, he kicked the ruffian on the knee, and as he leant over with a howl of pain, Torre's fist shot out and "landed" him on the nose with such force that he came down full length on the pavement, his head hitting it a crack perfectly audible above the volleys of oaths and yells by which his companions encouraged each other. Still, matters were decidedly unpromising. Mr Barker, his umbrella broken, had been beaten to his knees, and one of the larrikins was attempting to garrotte him, whilst another was busy at his pockets. Hearing an agonised gurgle, Torre, free for a moment after his victory, turned just in time to send the strangler to the ground by a well-directed blow between the eyes. Then, quickly putting his arm over the stooping fellow's neck, he punched away at his face until he roared, "Gorblime! O, Gorblime!" in a voice that echoed along the deserted streets. By this time one of the "push" had returned from a spot, where, some distance away, the kerbing was being taken up, with a supply of their favourite weapon—blue metal. And this soon began to fly. Torre was nearly stunned by a piece that hit him on the temple, as the cowardly brutes stood and pelted at short range. Mr Barker had not recovered enough from the effect of his choking to be able to make a run for it; and yet Torre could see, nearly equidistant from where he stood, the lamps of two big hostelries, the "Grosvenor" and "Petty's"; and realised that their only chance was to reach one or the other of them.
As yet he had uttered no cry for help, but, as the stones came thicker and thicker, he suddenly yelled "Police!" at the top of his voice. At that moment the Post Office clock chimed eleven, and catching sight of some dark forms issuing from "Petty's," he shouted again, feebly seconded by his companion.
The big fellow on the ground, now recovering consciousness, tried to creep away. But Torre, suddenly conceiving an idea, and calling on Barker to help him, first jumped on the brute to keep him quiet, and then with the squatter's assistance, raised him to his feet and used him as a shield, against the hail of stones, that, as with Torre's arms round his throat and Barker's round his knees they could feel plumping into their shelter who, at every hit faintly groaned, "Gorblime!"
Very luckily, they had behind them an angle formed by two dead walls, and, but for the cover afforded by these, it would doubtless have gone hard with them. There was no moon, but the stars gave light enough for their assailants to take very fair aim; also their missiles did not always hit the feebly struggling shield. However, just as matters began to look desperate, a rattle of feet was heard, and three or four men burst upon the larrikins, whilst a voice familiar to Torre shouted, "Give it 'em boys! Break the beggars up!"
But the push did not wait, and, delivering a last shower of metal at their assailants, scattered and fled, as Curtis—for he it was who, with some friends, emerging from "Petty's" at "shut up time," had heard Torre's cries for help—came up. Not till then did Torre and his companion release the fellow they held who, falling to the ground, was promptly sat upon by Mr Barker.
Presently, as Torre was explaining matters, a constable strolled on to the scene and placidly wanted to know what all the row was about. Then Mr Barker gave him a bit of his mind in such fashion that the officer began to realise that if he didn't shift himself, he might lose his jacket. So, using his whistle, in a curiously short space of time two others appeared. Then a sub-inspector arrived who took all their names and addresses, and opined that the larrikin in custody had got "more than he could carry." Indeed, an ambulance stretcher had to be procured before he could be moved; and then only to the hospital, groaning dismally at every bump.
"I know him," said the sub-inspector cheerfully, as they wheeled their prisoner under a lamp; "he's the leader of the 'Rock's push.' But he's got a dingbat that'll stop him from leading anything for a very long time. You two gents had better put up at the hotel to-night, I expect, seeing you've lost the last boat, and got a bit mauled into the bargain."
So, with Curtis, who decided to do likewise, they went in and had a wash and something to eat and drink, and their cuts and bruises looked to.
"By gad, sir," said Mr Barker to Curtis, "it would have been a case with us if you hadn't turned up. I'm convinced the police never would."
"It's said," replied the other, "that they're very scared of this particular push, and give them a wide berth, if possible. It was the greatest chance in the world my being here. Some Goulburn friends and I had strolled down from the Tivoli to this place, where they're staying. Of course we heard the row going on, but there were a lot of people drinking and talking, and somebody said, 'Oh, it's only the pushes on the war path, having a go in amongst themselves.' So, naturally, we didn't bother. Then eleven struck, and when I got outside I heard a voice I was almost certain was Leigh's, and I ran back and mustered up my crowd. And jolly glad I am, too! Why, these brutes, Leigh, are nearly as bad as the Santo men, aren't they? But that was a lovely idea of making the beggar into a cover for you. I'm blessed if he'll get over it in a hurry."
And Curtis was right, for it was three weeks before the often remanded case came on, and William Porter, alias "Slinger," "The Kid," "Dead-bird," and a dozen other titles, was sent up for three years "hard," a sentence which took any starch out of him that might have remained; for he scarcely mustered voice enough to mutter with a dazed look at the magistrate, his inevitable "Gorblime!" Mr Barker and Torre were complimented on their resistance and capture; and in return the former mentioned that, in spite of its being an illegal act, he always intended, henceforth, to carry a revolver when out after dark. To which the Stipendiary Magistrate who knew him, whispered, "Fool not to have done it before, Barker. I always do."
Shortly after his encounter with the "push," Torre received letters from both Edie and his uncle, dated from Funchal. The latter wrote in a querulous strain, complaining of Torre's leaving his ship; and the waste of so much money, and hinting plainly that there was no hope of pecuniary help to come. In fact Mrs Bovey's hand was visible throughout the letter, and emphatically so in the postscript in her own writing which ran: "You have disgraced yourself and us too. We want nothing more to do with you, and both Mr Bovey and myself and son hope we may never set eyes on you again. And you may trust me to see that you never get another penny from us." (Which considering that Torre's outfit and indenture money were strictly his own, was, to say the least, a cool way of stating matters.) Then she went on to say, "I always knew—and Mr Bovey is now forced to quite agree with me—that you would never do any good for yourself in the world. Disobedient, wilful, quarrelsome boys, never thrive. All your life you will be, in spite of the generous start Mr Bovey gave you, a scapegrace and a wanderer, and to that fate we leave you."
In her letter Edie said that Mr Bovey had now fallen so completely under the control of his wife as to be even more of a mere cypher than ever. His health, too, was not much improved; and there had been some talk of their going on to either the Cape or Australia in search of the drier atmosphere that his disease required. She said little about herself, or her stepmother and her son. But Torre could, reading between the lines, see that the girl's life must be well nigh intolerable. "Laban," she wrote, "does nothing but lounge about and smoke and drink and gamble. He has made the acquaintance of a Spanish Count who has his yacht here—at least he says it is his—but it seems to me to be owned by several "noblemen" of different nationalities who make themselves at home with us, and win the money that Laban gets from his mother who is very much impressed by the long titles of these people, and seems unable to see their personal uncleanliness and most disagreeable habits. Our house is called the Casa San Marino and, as I write, there are three Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian grandees (I really am not sure what they are) drinking brandy, and smoking cigars, and winning the foolish fellow's money whilst poor dear papa dozes, regardless of everything, in his chair, and Mrs Bovey smirks and looks on with pride. Of course I may be mistaken, but I cannot take these men at their own value, nor the dirty little steamer that lies close under our windows as a pleasure yacht. One of the men, Don Sebastian del Ojos de Corrientes, has invited us all, as some poor return for our hospitality, to visit his estates in Uruguay; and I verily believe he will persuade Mrs Bovey to go. Oh, how I do hate that greasy, unclean creature! I think, dear, you did quite right to run away from the Andromeda and the miserable menial work they put you to. I haven't forgotten how, when we said goodbye to you, you were all over lampblack and oil. I must smuggle this letter to the post as I am forbidden to write. Mrs Bovey read papa's letter to you, and told him beforehand what to say. But, oh! Torre, I should like to see you. Perhaps if we come to Australia we may yet meet."
There was much in Edie's letter to give Torre food for reflection. And Mr Barker, to whom he showed it, quite agreed with the latter's opinion that the Bovey's had fallen in with a party of adventurers. "It's bad for the girl, of course," said Mr Barker, "but I don't see how you can do anything—just yet, at any rate. She's only sixteen, and, unless you kidnap her, perfectly out of your reach or control in any way, even if you were on the spot, which you are not. Have patience, and you may be able to attend to this business later. At present you've other fish to fry."
And so Torre had, undoubtedly, if not quite in the sense that his friend meant. In these days, before joining the Cumberland—of which, to his great pleasure, he presently heard Curtis had been appointed mate—May Darnell's deep grey eyes and winsome face had found ample time to complete the work begun on the Enchantress. And on the girl's part there was no difficulty; for, when Torre told her of his love she frankly confessed that he was more to her than any one else in the world. And when May Darnell said a thing like that she meant it with her whole heart and soul. Thus, the wish of the people of New South Wales, who were still sending in their subscriptions to help carry it into effect, seemed in a fair way to be realised. May was eighteen, Torre half a year older; and the pair, being practically alone in the world, did not see why they should not get married at once. But here motherly Mrs Barker intervened. An engagement she did not mind. Of anything else, however, she would not hear. True, she had married her Jack when both of them were even younger than Torre and May, but that wasn't a case in point. 'To begin with, they were Natives; and the Australian-born folk often married very early'—too early she thought now. She had (shaking a finger at her husband) seen lots of men since that she liked better than Jack, and couldn't have them because she was already tied up and done for. Then they both had plenty of money, which also—though these young people mightn't think it—made a difference. She didn't believe in long engagements, certainly. All the same, her niece wasn't going to marry for at least two more years, by which time Torre might reasonably hope to be able to keep a wife and family. "Which means, I suppose," she concluded, "in the long run, as you're both so fond of the sea, a ship to live in—not by a long way my own idea of comfort."
But Mrs Barker's interference ended there, and Torre and May were much together in those weeks by the sea. The Fairy Bower knew them, and Rock Lily and Narrabeen, and all the pleasant spots around; for Torre, after the fight on Church Hill, had gone to live altogether in the fine house fronting the Ocean Beach that the Barkers had taken for the summer, and before going up country again to a big station the squatter had bought near Forbes.
And May, though at times grieving sadly enough for the loss of that father who, until now, had been all in all to her, still let her youth and health have sway, and these, fostered by the sweet accompaniments of a first love, made the girl almost beautiful. And, also, when Torre complained of her aunt's tyranny, she soothed him, and dutifully tried to make him see the wisdom of waiting—a matter that, nevertheless, heretofore, she had not been particularly impressed with herself.
"I really do think, Torre," she said, in one of their talks, "that what with my poor father's share in the Enchantress, and your salvage money, and the subscription people are collecting—which I don't like the idea of taking at all—we shall be presently quite well off. And you must 'hustle around,' as the American mate we had once used to say, and get a ship, so that I can come with you, and look after you—second mate, chief, and then Captain. And I'm sure, with our money, there'd be no trouble in getting a billet once you had your certificate."
"I imagine I should like a steamer best, dearest," replied Torre, "and you know I've been reading up pretty constantly of late. The big companies don't often care about the captains taking their wives with them, but, if one has a share in the vessel or a few hundreds in the concern itself I think that makes a difference. But in any case, May, I'm not going to wait until I'm a skipper before we get married. That would be too rich a joke."
"Well, I think chief would be about fair," replied May meditatively. "Can you do chief's work, Torre—correct your chronometers by lunar observations, find the bearing of a cyclone centre, and all that sort of thing?"
"I think so," replied Torre; "in fact, I've gone through lots of Masters' papers without any trouble. But I must get really practical work. I half wish the Cumberland would lose everything above the lowermasts going home." And he laughed.
It was curious talk, as Mr Barker, catching fragments of it now and again, told his wife, for a pair of engaged lovers. But Mrs Barker only laughed and said, "Why, what's the matter with it? You don't think they're going to do their billing and cooing before us, do you? Depend upon it there's plenty of that at odd times. They've got lots of sentiment about them. In their way I think they're practical too. May's a born sailor; so's Torre. They'd never settle down on dry land with comfort. And if their joint imagination can picture nothing better but sailing the sea in company, why then, Jack, it's a harmless ambition, and one that should not be hard to reach. I like that boy," continued the good lady, "although perhaps just the least bit too grave and cool for his age. But I suppose the way he's had to shift for himself and the rough times he's gone through account for that. And, if he wasn't a sailor, and had taken to our Bella or Agnes, before they were fixed up, I'd have been pleased enough. However, as it is, May can have a home with us till he's got one to take her to—a ship, I suppose, is their highest notion of home. Just fancy, Jack!"
Mr Barker laughed. "Sounds funny," he assented. "Still, I only wish I could shove the fellow along faster. It does seem such a crawl to have to wait years perhaps before a capable youngster like that can be master of a vessel. Both Curtis and old Fibre say that he'll be fit to take charge of one after another twelve months or so at sea. I owe him something, too, for the way he stood up for me against that push of larrikins. It's all very fine, Jane, making light of it as he does, but if it hadn't been for him you'd have been a widow, my dear, and on the lookout for another victim."
For reply his wife came over and kissed him. Then, said she, "Jack, I suppose we've got plenty of money, haven't we?"
"Lots, old woman," said her husband, affectionately pinching her yet round and unwrinkled cheek. "When you gammoned sick at Ngori, and made me sell the place so that you could go home and see the Queen, we made a clear £60,000. Well, that's all to the good yet after buying Stockman's Valley."
"Well, I've been thinking," she replied; "why not buy Torre a ship and have done with it?"
Her husband started; then he laughed. "Well," said he, "after all, you can't beat a woman when she does make up her mind to do the thing properly. Have you any notion what one of the things cost?"
"Not the remotest," answered Mrs Barker; "but not so very much I should imagine—empty, of course."
"No more have I," said her husband; but I'm blessed if I don't ask Moore the first time I see him. I have an idea, though, that a good one isn't to be picked up for a song. However, my dear, you're a clever woman, and I'll speak to Moore about it. And now you'd better call the two sailors in off the beach. It's getting late, and I think they've had time enough to talk about logarithms and latitudes and things. Bella and Aggie are asleep long ago."
The Enchantress still lay at anchor at Neutral Bay with old Horn, Mat, and Sam on board her. But presently came a communication from the owners in which, whilst intimating their perfect readiness to pay fair salvage, they asked that the cargo be discharged and the ship sent home wool-laden as primarily intended. In exchange for this concession they offered to insure the vessel and her present cargo up to half of the full estimated value, in the names of the salvors, or agents they might appoint in Sydney.
This, after much advice and discussion was agreed to, and thus it seemed very probable that the Enchantress and the Cumberland might be sailing for London about the same time.
The latter vessel was out of dock long since, and taking in deadweight in the shape of lead and copper ore, tallow, etc., etc. Torre found, on joining her, which he did when May and the Barkers went away to Stockman's Valley, a large steel ship of 1800 tons, built almost exclusively for a cargo-carrier, and possessing very little passenger accommodation. Curtis was already in charge, and he told Torre that, as yet, he did not know of any Captain having been appointed.
"Well, no; she's not exactly a beauty," replied his friend in answer to a remark of Torre's, "but she's as strong as a castle. Look at the thickness of her plates. If she got on a reef she'd break it up, instead of being the other way about. By the way, I want you to overhaul everything aloft from lift-eyes to brace-pennants. I don't like the look of some of that wire. There's a bo'sun—a real good man—and three A.B's. aboard. I'll be busy seeing the stiffening taken in; besides it's time you did something. Can't be always a celebrity, you know. It doesn't pay. Oh, I say," continued Curtis, as he and Torre paced the broad decks, and the latter noted the massiveness of everything on board from the steel-rounded turtle-back aft to the steel, spike-like, stumpy bowsprit and jibboom in one for'ard, "Oh, I say, I heard Mr Barker asking Mr Moore the other day in an off-hand way if he had a ship he could sell him. Well, Moore said he had. 'There's the Cumberland,' said he, 'we bought her simply because we wanted a bottom at the moment, and she was for sale cheap. Otherwise, we're not shipowners.' 'Why,' said Barker, 'that's the very thing. That's the ship young Leigh's already on. What's her figure?' 'Oh,' replied Moore in a joking sort of way, 'take her for seven thousand as she stands.'
"Well," continued Curtis, laughing, "old Barker considered a bit; then, says he, 'Moore, I drew "Carbine" in Tattersall's Big Sweep on the Melbourne Cup yesterday. Therefore I can afford to pay for my fancy. And in any case, sweep or no sweep, I should have done it.' And, with that, he whips out his cheque-book and asks for a pen. 'Hold on, man,' cries Moore, 'I thought it was only a joke. What in blazes do you want a ship for? The Cumberland's not a station, remember.' 'I know that,' says Barker impatiently, 'but the old woman and myself have made up our minds to do something for Leigh, straight away. What with examinations and service, and one thing and another, it'll be years, probably, before he'll have a ship of his own. Besides, there's a girl in the case, and if he gets this Cumberland, don't you see they'll have a home to go to at once.'
"Well," said Curtis, "Moore simply roared. I was sitting in the small office close to them, and they knew I could hear, so he called me in and asked me to explain things. And, of course, I had to tell the old chap that matters couldn't be done like that at this time of day. Nobody would insure the ship; an unqualified man wouldn't be allowed to take a crew to sea; no merchants would trust him with their property, and so on, and so on. But Barker was a good deal disappointed, and swore it was hard lines a man couldn't do as he liked with his own. Still, you know, you are a lucky beggar to have a fellow willing to plank down a pot of money like that for you. Shows what Barker'll do when he takes a fancy to a chap. I suppose you don't know that he got me this billet. And, if I can pass for Master this time at home, old Fibre's promised me the Gladiator—you've seen her—2000 ton steamer. New Caledonia and Fiji. All through Barker, of course, but you were the beginning of it. If it hadn't been for you I'd never have met Barker and should be pottering about the coast still in some little dug out or other, very likely."
Torre was deeply touched by what Curtis told him. And now he knew why Mrs Barker, before they went, had asked him so seriously whether he had quite made up his mind to stick to the sea, begging him to think it over carefully and give her an answer next morning. Also hinting that, should he alter his views, she would not only abate a year of the two fixed for his marriage, but promise him a small station, well-stocked, as a start for a land life. And then May and he had discussed the question together, ultimately deciding in favour of the sea they both loved so well.
"It's no use, Jack," said Mrs Barker to her husband; "they've made up their minds. Of course we could give them the money, but that won't do. They wouldn't know what use to put it to at present. The only thing is to keep an eye on them and see how they get along. Meanwhile, I'm going to take May about with me and show her other men. Now Bella and Agnes are both so soon to be married, I shall have time for a trip to Melbourne and Hobart after I've seen you safe at the Valley. Serve young Leigh right if he loses her. He that will not when he may—you know."
"Keep your hair on, dear," had replied Mr Barker, laughing, "and fly around as much as you like, and trot out the pick of your paddocks; but I'll bet you a new dress for the Cup against a penny whistle that you don't make that sea-girl forget her sea-boy."
To Torre's great surprise, although the matter came about naturally enough, the new Captain of the Cumberland turned out to be no other than Mr Sinclair, ex-chief officer of the Andromeda, who, tired of waiting for promotion with D. D. & S., had applied to Mr Moore for a berth. Sinclair had always been friendly to Torre, although the latter, not being in his watch, saw little of him in the now old days of his first voyage. And, at any rate, he was a first class seaman and a gentleman; therefore, both Torre and Curtis were very pleased, Likewise, the latter did not forget to give the Captain a true and particular account of Torre's doings of late; and on the Aniwa trip, leaving him much impressed thereby, but not altogether astonished.
"I thought," he remarked, as he laughingly told the incident to Curtis, "the day I saw him coolly plump that baby back into Mrs M'Cutcheon's arms and declare a mutiny, that he'd make a splash one way or the other. I'm glad it seems to be the right one. But what a pity he lost so much time! He'd be almost going up now for his mate's exam." "That's all right, sir," replied Curtis, "he'll pull that up and be running a ship of his own whilst we're still wages-men."
"I hope so, and good luck to him, I'm sure," said the skipper kindly; "I always liked the lad. That brute Phillips would have ruined him. Still, you know, although his clearing out seems to have proved exceptionally lucky in his case, in another's it might mean going altogether to the dogs."
Torre had a notion of getting Harris on the Cumberland as second, but when he applied to Mr Fibre, he was told that his friend was already booked in that capacity for the Enchantress; with old Horn—despite his weariness of the sea—as boatswain, and Sam and Mat before the mast, all determined on seeing their salvage safe home. No wonder that Torre, as he saw his friends rising up the rigging one after the other, felt just a little sore at being left behind on the shear-pole. Still, when he came to think of his compensations he ceased fretting. As well he might; for, besides the £100 banked by Mr Fibre, the collected money, now that the last lists were in, was found to amount to a little over £500—invested by the former gentleman and a co-trustee until it should be wanted for himself and May. Then, too, there was his share of the Enchantress to come. And, to boot, also, ever first in his thoughts and dreams and air castles, the possession of sweet and winsome May Darnell's love. "Yes, certainly," as Jenkins concisely remarked, he might consider himself "a lucky dog."
Torre seldom missed one of the Bohemian "Smokes." And, as they only took place on Saturday nights, they never interfered with his work which was pretty constant; for actually the Cumberland's running and much of her standing gear were unreliable—an inestimable advantage to him, at least, if not to the owners, in the way of practice and usage with the more intricate forms of cutting, fitting and splicing. Thus, he often appeared at Jenkins' with tarry hands. He came there one night to look for a second mate, but there were no seamen available just then.
"Jackson might have gone," said Jenkins, "but he went up country, yesterday, fossicking. His new book, 'The Profit of Endeavour,' didn't gee, and he's slung literature in disgust—for a while. Then there's Manning—you met him—police court reporter for the Evening Comet. Had to put the cases into rhyme, you know. He had a mate's certificate. Got sick of the flimsy and went away with a gang scrub-cutting on the Bogan. No, all our seafarers have cleared, I believe."
About this time came to Torre a letter written in a boy's round hand, and with the post-mark of Bourke.
"Honoured and Respected Mate," it ran, "I hope these few words will find you well as it leaves me in Camp at present for which thank God. I received your welcome presents with the greatest of Pleasure. The Dictionary especially is right up to the Knocker, and I have fossicked up most all these words in it. Likewise the picture shows as you have growed most wonderful big. Times is none too good since I seen you, Fish being scarce and River low. The Gun is a allright one, and I killed a Duck with her at eighty yards. I seen in some papers that Mr Parker of Tabletop give me that you was near eat by Cannibals which would have been worse nor the Snake. I have never had no more Mates. Nor do not want none. You was a Real First Class One. But them is hard to get. I was sorry to hear about the Ngori Storekeeper—him as you went along with—getting killed and eat. He did not seem a bad Sort. I hope you are not forgitten to Use your Props as I shown you. I have given up the Game, but it always comes in Handy when a Fellow thinks he knows more as You does. This is a Splendid Dic. and I will not run short of Reading all the rest of my Life till I Peg Out. Wishing You Luck wherever you goes, and Hoping as this Letter will find You in Safety and Please excuse any Words as I have not drafted out right as my Eyes is none too Good as you knows.—I am with Much Respect,
"Yours to Command,
"P.S.—Poor old Stumpy picked up a bait and got poisoned and died,"
And Torre, knowing and appreciating the trouble and time this epistle must have cost his former mate, answered it at once, begging him to go to Mr Barker at Stockman's Valley, as the latter had promised he should have rations and liberty to camp anywhere along the bends of the Lachlan that ran for thirty miles through his station. But the old man could not be induced to leave his old towri any more. The trip he took into Crow Eater Land had cured him of wandering further than from boundary to boundary along the Darling and the Warrego—"up one side of the river and down the other."
Until there came a day when a ration-carrier of Tapoloro found him fast asleep with the sleep that stops all wanderers some time or other. He died as he had lived—alone. And Mr Robson had him buried decently in one of the great shady river-elbows he loved so well and haunted so long, under a big coolabah out of reach of the flood water and overlooking a long broad reach that, now, steamboat men and nomads call "Bralga's Bend."
MEANWHILE, the Cumberland, was rapidly taking in her cargo; and finding that she would be able to fill up at Newcastle, Moore, Devine and Co., decided to send her to that port, in place of Adelaide. A second mate had been appointed, a nephew of Mr Devine's, who had passed a local Marine Board Examination after two attempts. His name was Pike. He had served his time with a London firm, and seemed to know very little about his business, so far as could be judged at this early stage. Captain Sinclair would have preferred a better man, but might have given offence by saying so. Also, as he told Curtis, having Torre and a good boatswain to fall back upon, it did not so much matter.
Before leaving, Mrs Barker and May came to Sydney on their way to Melbourne, and visited the Cumberland at Circular Quay. Torre had a good berth to himself, and the two women amused themselves by decorating and making it look homely. Nor was Curtis forgotten, Mr Barker having presented him with a very fine sextant and a pair of binoculars as memorials of that night on Church Hill. May, too, went on board the Enchantress, now also filling up, and saw all her old friends there, forgetting nobody. Old Horn had wished, it appeared, to take his pets with him, but the Captain had objected to "Bo'sun." So, although legally, if not actually, part owner of the ship, Horn had sensibly given in, and was leaving the dog ashore. Bolivar, Turnips, and Mag, however, were to go. Both vessels, it was thought, would be able to get away within a week of each other, and were timed to arrive for the February sales in London.
Of course, Torre and May were a great deal together during these last few days. And they went down to their old Manly resorts, and also to theatres and amusements, behaving, as Mrs Barker said, exactly like an old married couple.
"You won't marry your cousin now, Leigh," whispered Jenkins, whom they met once in King Street. "Still, I think you ought to try and rescue her from that Spanish gang you told me about—to say nothing of your old uncle."
Torre thought so too, and so did May. But all their thinking could resolve no feasible plan to that end. Torre had already lost too much time to go himself, even if his presence would be of any effect, which was more than doubtful. Besides, he had heard no further from Edie, and perhaps they were all on their way by this to the Cape, or Australia, or even to those chateaux en Espagne in Uruguay, of which there had been mention.
May approved of the Cumberland on the whole. "You can see," was her verdict, "that she isn't a flier like the old Enchantress, who will start a week behind you and be at home a fortnight ahead. But still, she's a fine ship, and a dry and a comfortable one. And oh, Torre, I wish I were going with you. The station is nice, and the horses and everything very pleasant, of course. Still, it's not the sea. There was some talk, you know, of my going in the Enchantress; but it came to nothing, the Barkers thinking that 'my interests,' whatever they mean by that, will be as well looked after as if I were there. And they are the only friends I have now except you."
"They are the dearest people in the world," replied Torre. "But she might be a little less hard upon us in the matter of time. Two years! Ugh! And I'm twenty in January."
May laughed, dimpling so bewitchingly that Torre kissed her there and then, although somebody might have been looking down the cabin skylight, for all he knew.
"You speak as if it were two hundred in place of twenty," she replied, still laughing and blushing, for Torre was not usually given to public caressing. "Still, it does seem long to me," she continued frankly, "although I suppose aunt is right."
Torre made no reply, but stood gazing at her with eyes that were good substitutes for speech. A tall, slim figure of a girl, dressed all in white, with patches of cardinal ribbons here and there about her, and a little straw hat, perched, somehow, on the topmost coil of glossy hair; the love-light shining in those steadfast beautiful eyes, and a rosy flush tinting the smoothly rounded cheeks—just the least tanned now by the kisses of the western sun. And Curtis, glancing in off the quarter-deck, smiled and muttered to himself, as memory recalled another very different scene. "That's more like the real thing! Black's black, and yellow's yellow; but white and red's the champion mixture!"
"Now then," said Mrs Barker, suddenly fussing out of Torre's berth, "you know, May, we must catch the mail at five. So I'll give you ten minutes to say goodbye in. If you'd been sensible people instead of sea-struck ones, there'd be no need of a goodbye at all. But there, there, I won't growl. You can go and look at your room now—I have cupboards at home twice the size of it—whilst I go and see Mr Curtis."
But Torre, getting in her way, took hold of her hands, and stooping, kissed her pleasant motherly face, and thanked her in such terms for all she had done for him and May, as made her eyes twinkle moistly, and need drying before joining Mr Curtis out there on the sunny deck, whilst Torre and May went into the former's berth for their last farewell.
That same night the Cumberland was towed up the coast to Newcastle, and three weeks later she was leaving "Nobby's" astern, making South again to get round New Zealand.
Torre was placed in the second mate's watch, and soon discovered that young Mr Pike was not to be trusted. He meant well perhaps, still his knowledge was far from equal to his will. But the worst of it was his being thin-skinned, and resentful of kindly intended hints; so that, once or twice, he made a mess of things, and had his watch openly jeering, which is a dangerous state of matters at the commencement of a passage.
As May had remarked, the Cumberland was "no flier;" but she was immensely square aloft, spreading great spaces of canvas from the twelve double yards and big steel lower ones that sent the massive bulk of her along at an average ten with the wind on either quarter. Her crew was the usual mixture that obtains nowadays; only, in this case, mostly German with a sprinkling of Danes, Swedes, and British. The boatswain was a capital man, a native of Liverpool—tall, thin, wiry, and active as a cat. He had served in the Royal Navy, too, and kept a good hold on his men. The only trouble seemed likely to be with Pike; and, by dint of careful watching, Captain Sinclair thought he might improve; although, as Pugh the boatswain put it concisely, "If a man don't know how, an' gammons he does, an' is too big to be set right quietly, why then, the sooner he's broke, afore mischief comes, the better." This was in confidence to Torre, and after Pike had insisted on hauling home the weather sheet of a topgallant-sail before the lee one. The Captain was on deck, and swore a little, which was contrary to his usual custom, being on the whole, for a sailor, a remarkably clean-mouthed man. But the provocation was certainly excessive, as all seafarers who read will at once admit. To have an officer in a responsible position who clearly demonstrates such appalling ignorance of the A.B.C. of his profession, is unpleasant. Some captains would have disrated Mr Pike, there and then. But, as has been shown, there were reasons why patience might be exercised. The aggravating thing about it was, that on being remonstrated with in respect to this and similar muddles, the one answer was invariably given: "We always used to do it that way in the Hampden." Which was the ship he had served his time in.
This presently became a regular watchword, and if anything went wrong a gruff, and often a foreign, voice might be heard to derisively mutter, "Ve vos alvays do 'im zo in der Hambden!"
To Torre it was a delightful sensation, this being at sea with, once more, a wide sweep of deck under foot, and overhead a mass of tapering spars and maze of rigging.
The Aniwa and the Mary Robinson had been well enough in their way, of course. But, still, it was a small way, and his heart warmed to the old Cumberland as she ploughed along with decks dry as a nut, fore and aft, in a sea that would have half swamped even the Andromeda, and glanced at the comfortable scene inboard—the men at work, here and there making chafing gear; passing new lashings for the spare spars, and such like preparation for coarse southerly weather that might be expected presently. Aloft, he knew matters were in perfect order for they had been seen to under his own and Pugh's eye; the heavy sails, too, were bent, so that there really was not much to do except just set that amount of work going that wise officers know is absolutely necessary to keep the men out of mischief.
Some captains seem to take a pleasure in constantly seeing their men on deck, appearing to grudge them their afternoon below; and, even in high latitudes, setting them to holystone, scrub paintwork, and beat iron rust off chains and anchors with a ship perhaps making heavy weather of it under short canvas, whilst the spindrift freezes on their oilskins, and the wind cuts their skin like a knife. These are the captains who have trouble with their crews. Then sometimes the latter run amok amongst the afterguard, and the public, quite unable to judge of the merits of the case, simply exclaim, "Oh, what brutes those sailors are!"
But Sinclair was a different sort of man, and although this was his first command, gave himself no airs and his men no hazing. Pike, however, made him uneasy. So, presently, this fine breezy morning, with the Snares somewhere on the port bow, and the Cumberland under topgallant-sails roaring along in great style, carrying the wind nearly aft, the Captain called Torre, smoking an after-breakfast pipe before turning in, and asked him to keep a stricter look out in his watch than he might otherwise be inclined to do.
"You see," said he, "the bo'sun sleeps in all night, and although, of course, I'm up and down a good deal, still I don't want to be on deck all the time."
"Yes, sir," replied Torre, coming straight to the point, "I know. But he won't be told. And if I take charge before the men it will make things bad for him. I've tried to save him more than once or twice, but it's of no use."
"Well," said the skipper, "I can't run the risk of losing sails and spars, perhaps, even the ship herself, through a duffer like that. He comes between me and my rest. Something must be done with him. Why, if you hadn't awakened me the other night to take sail off her we'd have lost our sticks, sure as a gun! And then I suppose it would be, 'That's the way we did in the Hampden!"
Torre grinned, but made no reply, and the Captain walked away, apparently making up his mind to do what many men would have done long ago. Something, however, occurred that same night to settle the matter permanently.
Towards twelve o'clock the weather thickened, whilst the wind dropped. Torre found the Captain on deck with Mr Curtis who was now waiting for his relief—Pike, always a bad riser, but more particularly so at night. The wheel had been relieved some time by one of the two English sailors in the starboard watch when the second mate at last staggered aft, not thoroughly awake even then.
"Nice relief this!" growled Curtis; "nearly one bell! Keep her as she goes, and if there's any change in the weather call the Captain." And the mate went off to his bed, followed presently by the skipper. Mr Pike, after a sleepy look at the binnacle, flopped on to a hen coop. Then, feeling himself dozing off, got up again and began to walk up and down. Torre was doing the same on the lee side; for, of late, he never addressed the second mate except when actually obliged to, so highly had the other resented any attempt at help, however delicately tendered.
The night was pleasant though hazy. The upper topgallant-sails were stowed, and the Cumberland was jogging comfortably along at about eight. The decks and rigging were wet with dew; all the fore part of the ship in darkness; a dull murmur of wind aloft meeting canvas and soughing amongst gear; a mellow spot of yellow right aft where the binnacle lamps showed up a section of the gleaming wheel; all around, the vast immensity of ocean heaving in tall dark furrows that seemed always trying to blot out the dull gray wake as the ship rose and fell with rhythmic noises upon their crests and sent them rolling aft with gurgling roarings and bubblings capped now and then with phosphorescent flashes dimly visible through the surrounding thickness. Crossjack and spanker were both furled; but, to a great extent, the foresail hid anything directly ahead from the sight of those aft.
"This smother's thickening, and it's getting colder," muttered Torre. "Wonder if there can be any ice about?"
Suddenly, from the look-out man on the forecastle-head came a wild quick yell of, "Bright light right ahead, sir," that made him jump a foot off the deck.
"Ay, ay, all right," replied Mr Pike drowsily, craning his neck to peer. But Torre ran forward as hard as he could go.
"Steamer's mast-head light, sir," said the man. "Just slipped out o' the mist suddent like, an' give me a scare."
"My God!" exclaimed Torre all at once, as the pair stood and watched, "he doesn't see us! He'll be slap into us in another five minutes! Hard a port!" he bellowed aft, but there was no change in the Cumberland's course, and now a red eye and a green one showed dull under the white which seemed to almost overhang the ship's jibboom.
"Hard a port!" shouted the look-out man again and again as he fled from the impending shock. But by this time Torre had raced to the wheel, and pushing the man there aside, with all his might he hove it up, up, hard up, whilst hurling bad bitter words at the second mate.
A minute—two—breathless expectant minutes, during each second of which he waited with set lips to hear and feel the grinding crash heralding destruction—and then the ship, answering her helm, swung away like a newly broken colt from his shadow; whilst, with a mighty roar of steam-siren, a great towering mass hurtled by so closely that agonised ears could almost swear steel sides were kissing steel sides, and her wave, as she vanished astern, made the Cumberland reel and stagger as if a big sea had hit her amidships.
"Go to your berth, Mr Pike," said the Captain who had run up in his pyjamas, and his voice choked as he spoke, "and consider yourself relieved from duty as officer of a watch."
And this time the second mate, whose very teeth they could hear rattling from sheer terror, turned and went without a word of explanation or protest.
"Why the devil didn't you port, Clements?" asked Torre, as he brought the Cumberland to her course again. "Didn't you hear me roaring like any bull?"
"Certainly I did, sir," answered the seaman in an aggrieved but shaky voice, "but that thing as has just gone below, he says, 'Keep on your course, Clements;' says he, 'it's only a steamer. Steamers always are regarded as wessels with a fair wind,' says he, 'an' mus' git out of our way.' All the same," continued the man turning, as the Captain gave a groan of disgust, and addressing him, "I was just goin' to up helium on my own account, when Mr Leigh comes a-rushin' like a bloomin' tiger an' near knocks me overboard. Obey orders you know, sir, if you breaks owners."
"I'm not blaming you, my man," said the Captain. "Still, if it wasn't for Mr Leigh—who for the future will take the second mate's place—you'd ha' been sleeping with the fishes to-night instead of in your bunk. Check those fore-yards a little, Mr Leigh, if you please."
"Ay, ay, sir," said Torre. "Starboard fore braces there, the watch!"
"My heavens! A nice sort of a shave!" exclaimed Mr Curtis, when he came on deck and found only Torre there, and was told what had happened. "No wonder I had a bad dream! And yet you know," he presently added, "the fellow was correct enough as far as he went, only he didn't allow for the possibility of the steamer not seeing us. Four years at sea, I suppose, cleaning brasswork and trimming lamps, and then hurriedly crammed parrot-wise to pass the Board. But, by gad, he gave us a narrow squeak for it! Makes me shiver to think of the thing. Said nothing about the Hampden, did he? Well, perhaps it will knock some of the conceit out of him. I know the skipper doesn't want to be too hard on the chap, so I'll take him in my watch, with a third's rating, if the Old Man'll consent." And thus Torre became second mate of the Cumberland, vice Pike.
The latter was a young man of about twenty-two, with a dull heavy sort of face, and an unfortunate manner, who evidently had come on board in the full assurance, that, as an owner's nephew, he would be able to do pretty well as he liked; but the narrow escape of being sent headlong to the bottom by the steamer, knocked a lot of the starch out of him; and when presently, both Captain Sinclair and Mr Curtis had talked to him kindly but forcibly, and shown him how utterly ignorant he was, and how lamentably incompetent to have charge of life and property, he came out of the sulks he had thought proper to clothe himself with, and promised to try and improve under the mate's tuition. All the same, good men and fair as the pair were, they were but human; and, on the whole, it was very very lucky indeed for Mr Pike that he happened to be Mr Devine's nephew. And he never forgave Torre who, he imagined, had, as he phrased it, "been trying to do him bad" from the very beginning.
A few days after this delivery from the tender mercies of a Union steamer and an incapable officer, they spoke an American schooner, four-masted, and the prettiest craft imaginable. Painted a dark green, with a narrow white band that brought out and emphasised her tremendous sheer, running from the eyes of her in a graceful and gradual sloping to the waist, then curving up again to the taffrail, forming one great sweep from which, tall and stately rose her masts—square on the fore, and schooner-rigged on the other three—so level that you could have stretched a tape along their trucks without finding an inch difference in their heights. Her bows though sharp, were full, shooting out to stout bowsprit and long lancing boom as if part of them, then flaring back suddenly into the run as a fish's head does into its body. It was a bright, sunny, cold day, and with the wind about a couple of points free, she came along, her wide breadths of spotless cotton, from the fore skysail that floated far above the Cumberland's main-royal to snowy staysails, flying topsails, and great main, mizzen and jigger wings, creaseless, and gleaming when the sun caught them, like plates of shining silver.
"Great Jehosophat!" exclaimed Pugh. "Ain't that Yank style all over, yachting off the Horn in a cotton dress! But what a picture!" Curtis, who had a kodak, as the vessels approached each other, "snapped" her two or three times; and all along the Cumberland's rail men, mostly indifferent to such sights, stared in pleasure at the beautiful creature as she danced like some graceful sea-fairy within hailing distance, forming the strongest imaginable contrast to the big steel bulk of the Cumberland with her groves of heavy spars, endless maze of rigging; sturdy deck-houses with the tall funnel of the donkey-engine sticking up between them, resembling an emaciated steamer's smoke stack; and her straight stem curving into a beak-like projection under the spiky, stumpy, bowsprit. There seemed to be a crowd of men on the schooner, and they handled her like a toy, although it could be seen, as she backed her fore-yards and lay broadside on to the Cumberland, that she was deceptively big—light and graceful though she looked.
"A thousand tons, ay, and over," remarked Mr Curtis as his eye ranged along the great length of her, seeming to overlap the Cumberland.
"Nearer sixteen hundred," said the Captain; "why, she's loftier and longer than we are! Schooner ahoy! What schooner's that?" he hailed. "This is the Cumberland, of Sydney, bound for London."
"Julia M. Lane, of Portland, Maine, U.S.," replied a short, stout, sandy-goateed man, standing on the rail of the schooner, waving his hat in salutation, and speaking in a strong nasal tone. "Seen any ice yet?"
"None," replied Captain Sinclair. "Have you?"
"Piles an' piles!" returned the other emphatically. "Came darned near gittin' squashed like a rotten melon under a nigger's foot. We're bound to Puget for lumber, an' then raound to Sydney. Keep your eye a-liftin' for them pesky bergs. So long!"
Then forward went her fore-yards again, and as the sails filled, she leaned gently over, dipped her bows till the glistening scroll-work around them streamed, and danced gaily away over the choppy sea coming up steely blue and bitter cold to meet her from the Antarctic Ocean, whilst the "Stars and Bars" fluttered up and down from her lofty gaff in salute to the Red Ensign.
"Surely the prettiest ship in the world!" exclaimed Torre, moved to the sailor's soul of him by the sight, as he watched the snowy cloud melting away astern.
"Werry pritty, sir," replied the bo'sun with a grin, "but dam wet! Like as not her crowd don't know what it is to have a dry skin. Web-toed, too, I 'spects most of 'em. Lumbermen generally is. An' see her loaded! Down to her chain-plates; an' half-way up the rigging with a deck cargo o' deals—deals in the cuddy, deals a-pokin' into the fok'sle bunks, deals builded up round masts an' galley an' boats. Still, just now, there's no denyin' her's a pritty pictur'! Although, at sea, like some other places, prittiness and cumfut is meanin's as don't allers sail in cump'ny."
A few days later they saw their first ice, and came very near feeling it into the bargain. And so thick and close did it presently become, that they had to put the Cumberland under very short canvas and grope their way through it as best they might. Never before had such masses been known to come so far North; and although, fortunately, it was mostly in the form of isolated and lofty bergs, there were times when it seemed as if the ship would never get clear any more. And once they had to fasten on to one to escape being crushed by another that came swooping down straight for them, and, missing, smashed to pieces against their protection—a big fellow, long and low and broad, upon whose sides the thick plates of the Cumberland ground ominously. There were clusters of bergs; and double lines of them, forming avenues adown which they sailed in fear and trembling of a cul de sac. Their number appeared endless, and they were all bound northabout as if bent on attacking and quenching "The Land of Fire" itself. It was a dreadfully nervous and trying time to both officers and men on the Cumberland, so close and deadly was the peril which, for nearly a week, encompassed them by day and by night. And, one night, right in the middle of the crowd, moving very cautiously and very slowly down an ice-lane formed of barns and haystacks and church-steeples and towers and fortresses around whose frozen bases the water washed with hollow roarings in and out of deep caves, and from whose summits, at intervals, great lumps fell splashing spray and "nuggets" that clinked on frozen decks like volleys of glass bottles, they saw lights coming to meet them. There was just room, and no more, for the two ships—the stranger, a Hull barque with her jibboom and foretopmast wanting—to pass each other in the sort of canal formed by opposing bergs, with not more than fifty yards to spare between them.
"What's this Ah'm getting into?" hailed the Yorkshireman doubtfully.
"A devil of a mess ahead," replied Curtis. "How is it behind you?"
"The damndest raffle o' stoof Ah've seed in forty year o' the sea!" shouted the other. "Lost ma spars, an' tooch an' go for ma ship, too."
"Can we help you in any way?" asked Captain Sinclair as the vessels forged past.
"No," shouted the other, "ye'll have a' ye can do to help yourself ere ye win clear. One thing, ye've got the wind free, an' Ah've been nigh close-jammed the whole time."
But fate was kind to them, and that very morning they found the ice had scattered and shifted so much before a fresh Easterly breeze that the water ahead was comparatively open, and free enough not only to allow making sail, but to do with one man at the con on the fore-topsail yard, in place of all hands day and night about the ship. They were round the Horn now, too, and the weather soon got milder as they made their northing. And one morning watch, Torre, keeping it, was startled by a cry from the look-out of, "Landt right ahead!"
"What are you giving us, Hans?" he asked, running for'ard, and peering into the darkness, already streaked with dawning. "There's no land within a thousand miles of us. You've been asleep and dreamt it."
"Veil den," replied Hans stolidly, "I dit hear in mein treams von bick shout vrom der vowl—der cocg—rooster—how you galls 'im? Zo if id is nod landt, it mays be a schip mit der vowl on him; bud I zee no lichts."
Nor did Torre. But as he stared, there suddenly rose on the air a shrill, long sustained cry that he could almost have sworn to be Bolivar's by the volume and the power of it.
"Yah," said Hans, "I never hear roosder shout zo loudt in all mein lives bevore. Id is ein schip. I zee der loom of her. Bud how ve gatches her I knows nod."
Torre returned aft and stood by the wheel, taking the other ship's bearings, and then kept away a couple of points. There was a light but steady breeze, and he had the Cumberland under everything she possessed in the way of sail cloth. But she was not doing more than about seven. It took half a gale to get her top out of her. So Hans' wonder was excusable. As, however, the day broke, with chanticleer still crowing most lustily, they saw that the sounds proceeded from a big painted port barque on the weather bow, stripped to her fore and main lower topsails and a couple of staysails, and with her royal yards down.
"The Enchantress!" exclaimed Torre before the glass had been at his eye a moment; "but what's the matter, I wonder? She looks all right, too."
"Is there a farmyard anywhere about, Leigh?" suddenly asked Mr Curtis, popping out of the companion, "or was I dreaming? Hello!" as he caught sight of the barque, "who's mad now? Where's the weather that rig's for?"
"It's my salvage ship," said Torre, laughing heartily, "and I must say they're taking good care of her. Do you hear that crow? Well that's Bolivar, Horn's rooster, I've told you of. Hans was so impressed that he thought there must be land somewhere handy."
"By gad, I don't wonder at it," replied Mr Curtis. "I had my port open and the noise came right through, and must have woke me. Hang me, but she's a flier! See how, even now, she's almost holding her own with us. Man, but an Aberdeen model, if only in steel, takes a lot of beating! But I must have a look at the glass and call the skipper. We'll be within talking distance presently."
As he gazed at the barque, Torre's thoughts ran on the first occasion of his seeing her, and of how strange it seemed, this meeting here in mid-ocean of every one engaged in that business, every one, that was, except his May. His sailor instinct, however, soon banished all such retrospect, as his eye searched the horizon for some sign of the coming storm. But it looked a beautiful clear morning, and when Sinclair came on deck he was as fully surprised as his officers had been.
"WHO'S got the Enchantress, Leigh?" asked Captain Sinclair as he stared through his binoculars, evidently much puzzled by her appearance.
"I don't know, sir," replied Torre, also looking through his glasses, "but my friend Harris is second, and I know the bo'sun and a couple of the foremast hands. I can see them all now. I expect that tall dark man, standing near the wheel, is the Captain," he continued. "But what's he waving his arms to us for? I'm afraid there's something wrong on board her, sir," continued Torre, "I see Harris beckoning from behind the foremast."
"Luff, my lad, luff!" said the Captain to the helmsman. "By heavens," he added, "if she had her upper topsails set we'd never catch her! There, steady so!"
As the Cumberland approached, the tall man, who was evidently the Captain of the Enchantress, walked to the rail and in a loud deep voice, distinctly audible, shouted out without preamble, "The Lord hath worked great things for us. Prepare to meet His wrath, even as I have done through His infinite mercy and loving kindness in warning me."
"Ay, ay," shouted Sinclair, after a look of astonishment at the others, "where's the wind coming from, sir?"
To this there was no reply for a minute or two. The vessels were now exactly abreast, and so close that Torre could easily see Sam and Mat and old Horn amongst a group of men for'ard. But not a soul of them opened his mouth, and it appeared to Torre that they watched their Captain with an intensity that left no time for anything else.
"Let go your topsail halliards fore and aft, Mr Leigh," all at once said Sinclair, "and haul up mainsail and crossjack. There's something amiss there, and I'd like to see what's the matter."
Meanwhile the other skipper, a tall, thin, sallow faced man with long black beard and whiskers, was staring wildly at the Cumberland, and at intervals waving his arms on high, or shaking his fist at the men for'ard.
"What does your glass tell you, sir?" asked Sinclair presently.
"Ha, ha," laughed the other with a maniacal flourish, "the Lord is my glass! He it is Who watches over me! Last night His Angel appeared at the side of my bed and said, 'Francis Maybury, I have preserved thee from the perils of ice, and now I will do the same by those of storm. The winds shall blow, and the bitter waters arise in their might to destroy thee. But, I, even I, will save my faithful servant from destruction. Prepare, therefore, for the wrath to come. Punish thy disobedient people, should they refuse to obey thee, and hold fast to the Lord God, thou redeemed one whom He hath delivered from the merciless rage of the sea.' " And, as he spoke, with wild gestures and rolling staring eyes, he suddenly whipped a revolver out of each pocket of his pilot coat and pointed them first at the helmsman, who crouched low with deprecating gestures, and then at the men for'ard, who fled for shelter behind masts, spars, and houses.
From the lower fore-topsail yard arm swung a gasket, made up to within about a couple of feet of the yard. Taking aim at the small bunch of line, as the pistol cracked, the watchers saw the gasket jerk aloft and fall over on the after side of the yard. A wonderful shot under the circumstances, and one that made those on the Cumberland instinctively draw back as the mad Captain laughed and flourished his weapon towards them.
"This is serious," remarked Curtis, "and I can see the butt of another pistol sticking out of his breast pocket. But, good Lord, what shooting! I hope he won't take a fancy to make holes in us. Listen! He's at it again."
At this moment Pugh came aft with an iron bolt around which was tightly tied a piece of paper. It had, the boatswain explained, just been thrown on board. It proved to be a letter from Harris: "The Captain's mad," it ran; "the last week in the ice was too much for him. He's threatened to shoot the first man who speaks to any of you. And he can shoot. The mate's locked up in his berth for wanting to make sail. One of the men has his arm broken by a bullet for laughing whilst at the wheel. We're in a mess! For God's sake stand by us."
"All very fine," said Captain Sinclair as he finished, "but he doesn't suggest much. Of course I won't leave them if I can help it. Still, I don't quite see what's to be done."
"Strip your ship, sir," shouted the maniac, suddenly coming to the rail again, "strip your ship, if you would avoid the wrath to come, before the Angel of the Lord sweeps over the face of the waters, and sea and sky become as one. Then come to me, and we will offer sweet and living sacrifices to the Lord. I have neither bullocks nor goats, but there are sheep and"—with a glance at Bolivar, who was sunning himself on the galley—"a great fowl. Therefore, do you clew up and stow, whilst I prepare the altar. So shall we be made clean in the sight of the Lord." And as he finished, he walked down the poop ladder, still holding his pistols, and gave some orders.
"Religious mania with a dash of homicide chucked in," said Curtis, "and if you'll allow me, Captain Sinclair, I think I can manage it. Evidently we can do nothing here; but give me Leigh and a boat's crew, and we'll go on board. You and the rest can be shortening sail as if in obedience to his request. And, well, it'll be hard if we can't secure the poor beggar. He won't be so suspicious of us, you see, sir, as of his own men."
The Captain pondered doubtfully, and looked long around and aloft; but the weather was simply perfect—blue sky and blue water, all flooded with bright warm sunshine. The breeze had lightened considerably within the last hour, and the two vessels lay within fifty yards of each other, rolling lightly on the gentle swell; one stripped for a stern encounter with wind and sea, the other with her courses hauled up, yards on their caps, and a general air about her of undecided preparation.
"I don't like it," the Captain presently replied; "I don't want to run the risk of losing my officers at the hands of a madman, and be left alone. Still, I suppose common humanity demands that something be done. I will keep Leigh with me. You, Mr Curtis, can take Pugh and the four Englishmen and see what you can do; but for God's sake be careful."
Torre was loth to lose his chance, but the Captain was firm.
"No," said he, "I daresay you'd do just as well as the mate. Still, he's an older and more experienced man, and if anything happens, people won't be able to say I didn't take that into consideration. I don't like this business at all."
"Lower away the gig," called Curtis, coming up just then from the saloon with a bulge in each pocket. "I've got your pistol as well as my own," he whispered to Torre, "but I don't think there'll be any shooting. However, I feel better with 'em."
"I'm going to send a boat," hailed Captain Sinclair to the other, "and as soon as I get the ship snugged, I'll follow."
"Ay, ay," returned the Captain of the Enchantress, standing at the head of the poop ladder, "come in the Lord's name, and before His anger overtakes and crushes us."
The excitement on board the Cumberland, even amongst the phlegmatic foreigners, was by this time intense, as they, in accordance with instructions, slowly and temporarily rolled up and made fast the sails, with long pauses to look down at the barque's decks.
Curtis's instructions to his men were brief. "Keep as close as you can to the skipper and me, and when I sing out, then rush him," was all he said.
Leaving a man in the boat, he and the other four clambered up the ladder that had been thrown over and stepped on deck.
As he did so, the Captain advanced towards him, saying, "Excuse me, sir, for receiving you with armed hands, but I have had much trouble with my crew. They doubt my Message to them, sent to me direct from Heaven; and I believe would confine me by force if they could. But ever since the Angel's first appearance, four nights ago, sir, I have never closed my eyes. I had just determined on making an example of some of the unbelievers when you came in sight. And I am delighted that your Captain has consented to listen to and profit by the Message. You see, I shall soon have the altar ready, and there are two sheep in yonder pen."
He spoke collectedly enough, in a melancholy and rather refined voice, but Curtis could see the mad fires smouldering in the black, deep-sunken eyes whose quick suspicious glances roved from one face to another. Nor, for a moment, did he relinquish the grip of his pistols, nor allow any one to come behind him, backing quietly away as Curtis or Pugh made a careless advance. The crew, or most of them, were busy getting four empty iron tanks squared side by side on the main-hatchway.
"Not what I could have wished," said the Captain, following Curtis's eye, "but the Lord will overlook such shortcomings on the part of poor sailor men. Will he not?"
"I'm sure I hope so, sir," replied Curtis, "but is there nothing we can do to help you till our Captain comes?"
"Why, yes, of course, I was almost forgetting," replied the other, as he frowned sternly at Pugh who had tried to unconcernedly pass him, "I want you to kill my second mate—that dark-looking man there," and he pointed to Harris who was watching him out of the corner of his eye.
"Certainly," said Curtis without a minute's hesitation; "what's he done, sir?"
"Told me," replied the other fiercely, "that he had a share in this ship—the Lord's ship, consecrated by Himself through me, His unworthy servant, to His own use. And there are others also guilty of the same blasphemous assertions. We will kill them all. I meant to shoot him and the mate to-day. But last night the Angel forbade me, saying they would meet death shortly at the hands of others. Without a doubt you were sent for that very purpose."
"I expect so," said Curtis. "All right, sir, lend me your pistols, and I'll soon polish those unbelievers off."
Hitherto he had never been able to get closer to the madman than three or four yards. Now he fearlessly stepped towards him, keeping his eyes sternly fixed on the other's shifty gaze and with hands outstretched to receive the weapons.
It was a bold thing to do; but Curtis was a bold man, and also tired of the business, and wishful to end it.
At first the Captain drew back almost to the door of the saloon, followed, however, closely by Curtis. Then he stopped and held out his pistols, saying, "Yes, I'll trust you. But promise that the unbelievers and scoffers, they who claim the Lord's ship for their own, shall be cut off."
"Yes," said Curtis as his grasp closed on the other's wrists, and he shouted, "Pugh!"
But the boatswain and the rest were not near enough, and the Captain struggled desperately to free himself. One of the pistols fell to the deck. The hand that held the other Curtis had twisted inwards; and as Pugh, rushing up, flung himself on the Captain, there was a muffled explosion, the latter suddenly ceased to offer any resistance and went down heavily, dragging Curtis and the boatswain with him.
"Take the irons off the mate, Horn!" shouted Harris, "and bring them here! Quick!"
But when they were brought, there was no need of them. The Captain lay huddled up quietly in a corner, staring with wide-open glassy eyes at those who held him.
"Why," exclaimed Pugh, hurriedly taking his hands away, "he's shot. Look at the blood!" Curtis, who was kneeling on him, got up and, putting his arm under the body, lifted it into a sitting position, disclosing, as he did so, a burnt patch on the coat just over the breast from which blood was oozing.
All at once the dying man gave a gasp; a flicker of life came into his eyes, and muttering, "The Angel of the Lord told . . ." his head fell back, the legs stiffened out, and all was finished.
"A good seaman and a kind-hearted gentleman," said Harris with a sob in his throat, as he rose from his knees, "before those narrow shaves in the ice sent his mind astray."
"Amen to that," said an elderly, grey-headed man who had just joined the group. "For four days we have all been in terror of our lives," he continued, "but I have no grudge against him for it. Poor chap he's at rest, now, anyhow."
It was the mate who spoke. "My name's Patterson," he said to Curtis; "the skipper put me in irons and sent me to my berth for questioning the reality of his vision. I believe if you had not appeared, sir, he would have killed me before long."
"I think so too," replied Curtis drily, "and others. However, sir, you are Captain now. Perhaps I had better take you and Mr Harris there on board the Cumberland for a while. I know Captain Sinclair will be anxious to see you."
So Mr Patterson and Harris, carrying with them the official log of the Enchantress, went with Curtis, and wrote the book up, and had it signed by Captain Sinclair and his chief officer. Then, with Torre, they returned to where, by now, on a grating, sewn up in canvas, with the Red Ensign over them, lay the remains of the ill-fated master ready for burial.
The sun was low as Sinclair read, "Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live and is full of misery. . . . In the midst of life we are in death. . . . Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of His great mercy to take unto Himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the deep: in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ."
The ships were nearly alongside each other, their flags half mast, and their bells tolling; along the Cumberland's rail her company stood bareheaded; around the gangway of the Enchantress was grouped her crew, genuinely sorry, to judge by their faces, at the miserable end of one who, without doubt, until the responsibility of those ice-bound nights and days proved too much for his mind, was, as Harris had said, "a good seaman and a kind-hearted gentleman." And what better epitaph could any sailor wish for?
"Bli' me, sir," said Sam, as he wrung Torre's hand, "I can stand a lot, but this larst week's knocked me an' all of us outer time. Poor ole skipper, I bears 'im no grutch, but he was wearin'. An', lor, there weren't no gittin' next anigh 'im! He cud hit a feller in the dark. Why, 'e plunked Bill Jones in the arm fer only grinnin' whilst he was tellin' us o' the Messidge what the Hangel fetched 'im. An' Bill stannin' behind me! An' it were in the first watch—four bells an' black's a dawg's mouth! Gates o' heaven, he cud shoot!"
Then old Horn had his say, and brought Turnips and Mag for inspection. "I am," he remarked, "gittin' too old in the horn to be made a targit of. So I was ter'ble glad to see ye, sir, turnin' up in the nick o' time to save my skin an' our salwage; fer I reckon he'd ha' sacriwised ship, cargy, an' all 'ands afore he'd finished. An' still he were a gen'leman ivery hinch ov 'im. An' he treated us like gen'lemen right up to this larst week. We 'ad a rotten nasty time, ye see, sir, in the hice; an' that knocked 'im. If he'd been a bad skipper somethin' strikes me as we'd had him overboard afore this—long afore this. But, ye see, him roundin' on us wi' his Messidge all ov a suddent, the way he done, took us fair aback. An' he cud shoot. By gum!"
And, presently, in the saloon so familiar to Torre, a health was quietly drunk to the new Captain, and good wishes interchanged for a prosperous passage home.
But as the Cumberlands regained their ship, Torre could not forbear looking apprehensively around. He had not forgotten the re-appearing of his betrothed's father—dead Captain Darnell. But, on this occasion, the sailmaker had apparently done his work thoroughly, for there was no hideously bobbing object in view to send superstitious panic careering through men's souls.
And already the Enchantress was beginning to let fall and sheet home; with Harris, as chief mate now, on the forecastle-head, and old Horn, as second, aft, closely attended by Mag. But there was no singing or shouting. Poor Captain Maybury's death, and the manner of it, had cast a gloom over the ship, so that even the topsail yards were mastheaded to nothing more than a low throaty rumble as the men walked the halliards along the deck.
Already the Cumberland had set sail again and drawn ahead. But she had not gone a mile before the barque came gliding along like a racehorse, overhauling and passing her with the greatest ease. Her men were crossing royal yards, and she looked a fine sight as she slid along before the gentle breeze with a little mound of white water curling up at her sharp forefoot, every sail doing its proper work, and every yard trimmed to an exact angle with its fellow. All along her chequered side could be seen great streaks and scratches where bergs had hugged her to their rough bosoms. Otherwise she had suffered nowhere.
"As much a dandy clipper, in her way, as the Yank we met the other day," remarked Curtis. "Poor chap! poor chap! I wonder what would have come of it all if we hadn't taken a hand in the game. He had them fairly cowed. Well, I suppose it couldn't be helped. He'd ha' shot me if I hadn't twisted his arm. Anyhow, it's an ill wind that blows—you know the rest. And there's the new skipper going to speak us. He can handle her, anyhow. That's one comfort."
Putting his helm up, Captain Patterson swung his fore-yards and came as close alongside as he could.
"Thank you once more, very much," he shouted, taking off his hat to the little group on the Cumberland's poop. "We may meet again before we reach London."
"Not much chance," replied Sinclair, "unless you give us a tow. You sail like a steamer. Fare you well!" And the half-mast ensigns dipped, whilst the yards came round again amidst a chorus of goodbyes and waving of hats, as the clipper turned on her heel and, sheeting home her royals, drew away so fast that, when the afternoon watch came on deck, a white cloud-like patch on the horizon alone remained to tell of the ocean tragedy so lately enacted.
Pike, in his rating of third mate, had for some time apparently been doing his best to improve himself under Curtis's tuition. He had also applied to be transferred to the Enchantress as second in place of Harris; but Captain Sinclair could not see his way clear to recommend him for a post in another vessel that he did not consider him fit to hold upon his own. So, presently, Mr Pike grew sulky again, and made himself disagreeable, especially to Torre whom he regarded as his supplanter.
Although far from being a pugnacious young man, the latter, but for his knowledge that Captain Sinclair was disposed to overlook much in Pike's conduct, and to do his best for his owner's nephew, was sorely tempted more than once to try and thump some sense into the other's stupid head, as the only way of stopping his long tongue from wagging so freely at his expense.
Reduced though he was, Pike seemed to have got the better completely of his earlier feelings of shame, and to consider that his relationship gave him the right to openly and freely criticise the working of the ship, and particularly Torre's share in it. Curtis was scarcely a fit subject to stand this kind of thing. Nor was Torre who was duty-perfect in most things that pertained to working his watch; and who, if he were at a loss on any little practical point, was not ashamed to ask Pugh—a fact, this latter, made much of by Pike.
But Captain Sinclair, although, in most respects, a determined man, with a very strict sense of duty, was, on this matter of his useless ex-second mate, more or less undecided and over-lenient. Mr Devine had confided his nephew specially to the Captain's care, and asked for his good offices towards him. And Sinclair had promised, little thinking that he was committing himself to the charge of an ill-conditioned, incompetent incubus; one who, however, possessed a capital record endorsed on his Indentures by the firm with which he had served his time; a fact that naturally gave his uncle great hopes of his future.
Thus, all parties, except perhaps Pike, were relieved when, presently, the latter's permanent unfitness for ever pursuing the profession of a sailor was proved beyond doubt.
"There's a green light on the port bow, sir," remarked Pike one night to Mr Curtis, as, almost in the same instant, the look-out man shouted, "Red light two points on the port bow, sir!"
"Now that's curious," remarked the mate. "Which is it to be, Pike? Can't very well be both, you know."
"Green," persisted Pike after another long stare. "Man for'ard's colour-blind."
"Red, I say," replied Curtis, "and it strikes me, young fellow, that the boot's on the other foot. Didn't they test you?"
"Of course they did," answered the other sulkily, "or I couldn't have passed, could I?"
"Well, then," retorted Curtis, "you fluked through by chance. That's a red light, and there's only one visible."
"It's a green light," replied the other doggedly.
"All right," said Curtis pleasantly; "only it's a good thing to discover your trouble in time before any mischief comes of it. I fancy your seafaring days are done, anyhow."
And so it proved, for when, next day, he picked up green wool and swore it was red, and vice versa, the fact was established beyond doubt that he was very badly colour-blind; and, as such, a distinct danger at sea in any capacity whatever.
"I've known similar cases," remarked the Captain, "but very very rare ones, where men have passed in spite of the defect. I wonder, in the old days—not so long ago either—how many a good ship's gone to the bottom from the very same unsuspected cause? However, in this instance, as you may perhaps guess, it's a weight off my mind. I'll have him examined professionally in London, just for his uncle's satisfaction. All the same, eyes or no eyes, he'd never have made a sailor."
So Mr Pike, convinced at last, and after all, perhaps not very much against his will, took no further interest in anything or anybody, and quietly subsided into a passenger, which position, as Pugh remarked, "fitted him to a bloomin' T."
They caught the S. E. Trades early but light; and for days and nights together they sailed along without starting a rope-yarn, anglice, touching braces or halliards. And during this time Torre read and studied steadily, at the same time applying himself so thoroughly to the practical part of things, that at last Pugh, the best seaman on board, swore that he could teach him nothing more. Captain Sinclair, too, who was a scientific navigator, learned in the law of storms, deviations of the compass, and stellar, lunar and solar observations, gave him lessons and hints invaluable; whilst Curtis, who knew a good deal about steam, and had laid in a stock of books on the subject, read it up with him to their mutual profit. Thus, altogether, now that Pike was quietened, a pleasanter ship fore and aft than the Cumberland it would have been difficult to find. Moore, Devine and Co., as became Australian owners, had victualled her well and liberally. In the forecastle the motto was "Plenty but no waste." Swallow and Ariell's white biscuits, butter, pickles, Adelaide jams, Rockhampton preserved meat, and pies or puddings of Mildura dried fruits three times a week, made up a table such as few sailing ships possessed. And the cook, a Frenchman, called "Louis," took a pride in showing what he could do with such varied material. "Darn my rags," said one of the English A.B's., "if it ain't a treat to git 'old on a lump o' salt 'orse or a pint o' pea soup now an' agin fer a change. Fat an' bilious we're girtin' wi' this high livin' that I never seen the likes of afore at sea—an' I ain't no chicken at the game. So help me, but a feller as wouldn't jump to a call, night or day, fer owners as feeds him up in sich style ain't wuth kickin'."
And every night, for those who cared about it, there was "Grog ho!" which, however, only a few went aft for. The modern merchant seaman has in this respect, undergone a radical change and is—the majority of him at any rate—no longer the drunken careless creature of the novelist, but a steady-going, generally sober customer, with, as like as not, a Savings' Bank pass-book; tailor-made clothes and white shirts in his chest; and, often, a gold watch and chain to wear with them. One of the Cumberland's A.B's. owned a cottage and an allotment of ground in a Sydney suburb for which he received ten shillings a week; another owned a share in a Johnstone's Bay fishing boat, and so on, and so on; whilst almost any of them, although perhaps, not averse to a "nip" or a glass of beer, or two or three now and again, would have utterly scouted the notion of going on a "spree" after the old immemorial ascribed fashion. But then, as a rule, you won't find the British sailor man under canvas. He has gone into steam, and left his bunks in the sailors' forecastles to the foreigner—"Dutchmen and Dagoes." In the steamer, cargo or passenger, he gets better fed, better paid, better treated in every way than in the average sailing ship, of which the Cumberland represented one out of a thousand, and the Andromeda the balance. In the steamer it is "Coffee in the morning and no fore-royal," i.e., no going aloft to speak of; no crawling up slippery rattlines o' stormy nights, and laying out on swaying footropes along slippery yards, whilst iron-hard ridges of canvas bang and flap at Jack's head, and reef-points flog his numbed fingers. No; British Merchant Jack has learned a little sense within the last ten years, and has almost entirely deserted the deep water "lime-juicers," and cheerfully made way for Hans and Carl, Diego and Luigi, grimy stolid persons who commend themselves to the British shipmaster by their submissiveness to all sorts of curious treatment, and possess an accommodating appetite to which the worst provisions obtainable as condemned stores never seem to come amiss. Still, there have been occasions on which those same skippers would have given their right arms for the certainty that their crews would answer to a call in plain English, even if only with a growl.
"Ay," said Pugh one day to Torre, "this is my last v'yge in a sailer. The skipper's promised to take me in the steamer he's a-goin' to get. An' if you'll take my advice, sir, you'll sling it, too, as soon as you done another year or so. There ain't nothin' in it, fore nor aft. What's a secon' mate—beggin' your pardon, sir—in mos' ships, but an inwidious sort of an officer which isn't neither fish, fowl, nor good red 'errin'. A 'greaser' they calls him, and, 'a sailors' loblolly boy.' He's bullied by the skipper an' mate, an' ain't respected by the men. If there's any dirty work to be done, he's the one it falls on. I'm talkin' o' the general run o' sailin' ships. And the 'arder he works the less he's thought on. The secon' mate on a big steamer's a gentleman. 'E's a bloomin' Hearl an' a Dook rolled together by comparison. Lor! the secon' mates I've seed! Why him—that Pike—ain't a patch on some of 'em for general uselessness. An' I've seed a few—a werry few—A wunners. But I was wi' one in the Mary Hopkins, a hot ship, too, as was the dead finish. He come aboard in a bell topper, an' carryin' of a white humberella to keep the sun off—it was at Singapore. He weared gloves, too, an' a collar like a mast-coat. The secon' we'd brought wi' us from Boston had been took ill—belayin' pin fever, caught from the mate—an' 'ad to go to the 'ospital. A poor useless creetur—one o' them London firm's 'ard bargains, same's that Pike. An' 'im havin' the cheek to ship in a Yankee Packet! Good lor!" And Pugh chuckled for a minute to himself as he paused to let Torre take in the full enormity of the thing. "Well," continued the boatswain, "he got done bad o' course—knocked about like a paper man in a gale o' wind. An' this other fellow comes in his place. Skipper an' mate was both ashore at the Police Court fixin' things up in respec' o' that there belayin' pin business. But, as we heard arter, the skipper goes first to the Shippin' Office and arsts for a secon' mate. Whips of 'em, you bet! But the Old Man was detarmined to get one as knowed a little this time. So he arsts each as they come up—says he, arter a few other questions—'Waal, mister,' says he, 'kin you, s'posin the needcessity comes on suddent, kin you make a hurlyquecurlyque accordin' to Cocker? 'Cause if you can't, you're no darned good to me?'
"Well, Mr Leigh, none o' them toes the mark except this joker as just come aboard, like I was tellin' ye, wi' the humbereller an' gloves; an' he says, bold as brass, 'Why cert'nly,' says he, 'made dozens of 'em.'
"The h—ll you hev!' says the skipper, a bit flabbergasted hisself. 'Waal then, you go on board, right away, an' fix one up ready for me by time I get back.' An' the Old Man winks at the mate as much as to say 'We're a-goin' to have some fun, I guess, with this 'ere tenderfoot.'
"Well, o' course, we thought he was a passinger.
But all of a suddent he furls his humberella an' roars like a bull calf: 'Now then you loafin', hadjective, hadjective gentlemen-shellbacks! I'm your new secon' mate! Rouse along now! All the rope in the ship on deck—every inch of it. Bo'sun, where are you? Look sharp, now, an' no tricks.' Well," continued Pugh, grinning at the recollection, "I wasn't bo'sun then. But the fellow, as was nat'-rally looked a bit doubtful. An' says he, 'The Captain's ashore; an'—' 'I knows that,' says the other, catchin' of 'im up quickly, 'an' I'm aboard, an' if you don't obey orders I'll shake the liver outer you!' An' he makes a step for'ard—a big broad-shouldered, red-'eaded customer as would ha' eaten the bo'sun in one hact. So at last we turns to an' gits up coil arter coil, dozens an' dozens of 'em. An' he makes us carry the rope—bolt an' rattlin', big an' small,—aloft, an' lead it back'ard an' for'ard, an' for'ard an' back'ard, an' upen' down, an' crissways an' crossways atween her masts till she looked like a bloomin' spider's web. Such a hurrah's nest you never seen in all your born days! An' he wasn't satisfied till the last strand in the ship were expended. Then he walks up an' down wi' a big seegar in his mouth a-smilin' to hisself, an' watchin' fer the skipper's boat. An' when the Old Man did come he meets him at the gangway where he stud starin' an' starin' aloft as if he cudn't believe his own eyesight. 'An',' says the Old Man at last, 'What,' says he, 'is this hadjective, hadjective, blanky-blanky, blank mess you've made outer my ship?' An' says the other fellow, touchin' his 'at, werry perlite, 'That, sir,' says he, 'is the hurlyquecurlyque as you hordered. Not quite accordin' to Cocker, I'm sorry to say, but as near as I cud git it with the materials to 'and.' "Well, the Old Man stares fer a minnit, an' then he busts out a-larfin', an', says he, 'I think you'll do, Mister. I'll give you a show, anyhow. Take it all down an' put it away agen. It's as near bein' a hurlyquecurlyque as I'm earin' about.'
"There was no flies on that secon' mate," continued Pugh. "An' he was a fust class sailor-man all over; so he'd stan' no nonsense aft, an', bein' open an' willin' to thump any two men for'ard, he got on A 1. But the best o' the joke was its bein' all a lark. You see, sir, the Mary Hopkins had got a real bad name about them parts fer a hot ship. An' this chap talkin' about her, one day some of his swell friends makes him a bet, an' a heavy one, as he's not game to take the place o' the secon' mate as is lyin' bashed up in the 'ospital. Well, this gent—who's owner an' skipper himself of a fine topsail-schooner yacht then lyin' in the harbour—takes the wager, leavin' word for her to come on round to Hong Kong where we was bound. She got there before us, though; an' we'd no sooner dropped anchor than a dandy boat like a man-o'-war's pulls alongside; an' says our big secon' mate, calm an' cool: 'Goodbye, Captain,' says he, 'sorry to leave you. Had a real good time, an' I've won a couple o' hundred over you. 'Ere, bo'sun, 'ere's a tenner fer the men—very good crowd indeed.' An' as skipper an' mate stan's wi' their mouths open an' their heyes a-bulgin', up jumps a young feller in brass-bound togs, an' touches his cap wi' 'Gig's alongside, Sir Charles, if you please!' An' 'All right,' says the Baronite—fer that's what he was. 'Come an' have a glass o' wine, Captain, wi' me to-night to meet some friends,' says he, 'I'm a-stayin' at the "Horiental." ' An' orf he goes, an' we never sees him no more—the toffiest, jolliest, darin'est secon' mate I ever come acrost. Tain't a new yarn," concluded Pugh, "an' you'll hear it told lots o' roads, but I was there, an' ought to know the rights of it."
ONE morning, in about 20° South, those on the Cumberland espied a faint stain of smoke athwart the sky right astern. But it was past noon ere they made the vessel out to be a small, white-painted, paddle-wheel steamer that came panting, puffing, and churning along just a little faster than they were sailing themselves. At last with feeble puffs, as if rendered quite breathless by the hoarse roarings of her long chase, she caught them and chunked alongside with four or five people on her bridge all chattering at once. She was a Spanish gun boat—a dirty, ill-kept, sloppy, old tub armed with four or five guns that might have been at Trafalgar, so obsolete were they and their furniture.
"De sip!" hailed an officer in a dingy, white drill suit ornamented with big silver buttons.
"Ay, ay," said Captain Sinclair, "what's the matter with you?" Then came a babel of which no one could make sense at all.
"Sop! sop!" screamed some one presently from her bridge, waving his arms furiously.
"He means 'stop' I suppose," said Curtis, laughing, "but they've got the worst lot of English amongst them that I ever heard. Hoist the Ensign, Mr Leigh, for fear they fire upon us and hurt themselves."
"Is there anybody on board can speak a little Spanish?" asked Sinclair as the row recommenced,
"I suppose we must be civil, as they've saluted the flag."
And, indeed, the gaudy flag of Old Castille had promptly been lowered and raised again as the Red Ensign fluttered up the halliards to the Cumberland's gaff-end.
"Well, sir," replied Pugh, "I knows a few words, but I'm doubtful about bein' able to carry on very long wi' 'em."
"All right!" said the Captain, "it doesn't matter much, I daresay. Make your stock go as far as you can."
So Pugh, getting on to the rail, roared "El Capitan!"
"Yash! yash! yash! si! si!" replied a very excited little man, slapping his breast repeatedly.
"Oh, all right—Tres bueno" said Pugh; "keep cool! There's no hurry!" And then in a breath: "Quien es buenos dias amigos vaya mi dios mil gracias demonio no entiende."
"There," said the boatswain, "that's about the length o' my line, I do believe. It only means, 'What do you want? Sorry we can't understand. Good-day, and many thanks,' or something like that."
"Well, it's a word long enough to mean a lot," remarked Torre, "and it seems to have tickled the Dons a good deal more than a broadside would have done." And, indeed, fore and aft the gunboat all hands were simply shrieking with laughter, the sallow crew for'ard actually rolling on the deck in ecstacies of merriment.
"You must have said something you didn't quite mean to," laughed Curtis.
"What I meant to say, sir," replied the boatswain, "was to the effeck that, as we couldn't make out what they wanted, why the next best thing was to say good-day an' up helium. But o' course you can't expec' them dirty garlic-eatin' furriners to take a 'int." And Pugh withdrew in dudgeon, remarking that he "hadn't done as well by lengths as the quartermaster o' the old Resolution."
But the Spaniard seemed to have had enough of it, for he presently did "up helium," and with a profusion of bows and smiles, and another salute, chunked away to the westward.
"Couldn't have been anything very important," said Curtis philosophically, "and, if they'd wanted to tell us that the British Empire had been swallowed up by an earthquake, we should be just as wise as we are now."
"No, I don't suppose it mattered much," acquiesced Torre, "although they did seem so excited over their news, whatever it was."
But Torre was wrong, so far as regarded himself at any rate. It would have interested him to know that the Spaniard had asked if anything had been seen of a large fore-and-aft schooner-yacht, painted green with a gold stripe, that a party of sea-thieves had lately stolen out of the harbour of Funchal, leaving their own worthless vessel in its place. The yacht, it appeared, belonged to a Spanish nobleman who had been cruising about the islands. And, strange to say, these desperadoes had either kidnapped or persuaded an English family living near Funchal to accompany them in the stolen vessel. Matter, this, to have given Torre some food for thought, had greater lingual proficiency existed between the Cumberland and His most Catholic Majesty of Spain's war-ship, Nostra Senhora del Carmen.
"What did you mean, bo'sun," asked Torre later on, "by mentioning the quartermaster of the Resolution; and that you hadn't done as well?"
"Lor' bless you, sir," replied Pugh, laughing; "did you never hear the yarn? This hincident wi' them Spanish coves made me think ov it—only the Q.M. knowed even less o' the lingo than I did. But what I said as made 'em go into highstrikes o' larfin' that way I can't think. Well, about the Resolution, it's a old Sarvice yarn as was told long afore I joined Johnny War as a nipper o' twelve. You see, sir, the frigate lost her main-yard in the Bay, a-goin' out to the China station. Well, the commander had a spar on board that he cud make do on a pinch; but knowing there was a good dockyard at Cadiz he drops in there on chance of gettin' fitted quicker'n an' better'n he cud ha' done it hisself. But, misfortunately, jist the same as it might be us, this evenin', there was none of the officers cud parlez vous a word o' Spanish. At last and at long, however, amongst the ship's company they finds a quartermaster who wolunteers to make the dockyard man understand what's wanted. So they brings him along; and he opens out, losing no time:—
" 'Squarey-cum-squarey,' says he, 'roundey-cum-roundey; one mainyardy for John Ingliteray?'
" 'No entiende, señor,' says the Spaniard, grinnin' an' bowin'—meaning, o' course, as he couldn't understand such gibberidge. So back goes the noble Q.M. to the Captain, and, says he, 'He reckons, sir, as it couldn't be done in ten days.'
" 'Oh, nonsense,' says the skipper, 'I can't wait. Must make our own do.'
"But ever after," concluded Pugh, "that quartermaster had a fine character for Spanish, which is more'n I'll have, I'm frightened."
When, the next morning at eight bells, Torre came on deck, he found the ship becalmed, and all hands staring at a fore-and-aft schooner that lay barely half a mile away, with her topsails stowed; but fore and mainsails hauled down and lying in heaps across their booms, whilst a jib and staysail hung all in a ruck along the stays, as if the halliards had been let go and then hurriedly left. She was very deep, and rolled sluggish and dead to the gentle heave of the sea.
"A fine little boat," remarked the Captain, putting down his glass. "Seems to me as if she was half full of water, though. Anyway, there's nobody visible on her."
"Not much sign of a change, sir," said Torre, who had been staring at her through his glass, "and there might be something worth saving. She looks above the general cut of a vessel you'd expect to see about here—small traders from the Cape to St Helena or the Brazils."
"Oh, well, yes," replied Sinclair, "if you like, you and the bo'sun and a couple of hands can take the gig and pull across to her. As you say, there may be something worth saving. She's a pretty thing, too," he continued, peering through the glass again, "but she never came out of a British yard."
"Hello! Another Spanisher or Portugee!" exclaimed Pugh, as the gig pulled round the stern, and its occupants saw the name "Ysabel" in gilt letters surrounded by scroll work. "But, by jingo, she ain't got long to float! All the salwage we'll git won't do us much good."
And, indeed, the schooner was settling so fast that, without any trouble, the men stepped from the boat on to her rail. She was of about 150 tons burden, flush fore and aft, and her deck furniture of the finest and best—skylights, companion, and even galley and forward-house, being of some heavy, bright, polished wood like mahogany, clamped with brasswork, and the two latter lit by brass-bound bullseyes of stained glass. Her wheel and binnacle were actual works of art; whilst the brass belaying pins around the mainmast each represented a curiously moulded snake or lizard.
"Pah!" exclaimed the intolerant Pugh, as he took it all in at a glance, "looks more like a bloomin' chapel nor a ship. That's the wust o' them furriners—they must have their religion allus a-stickin' out. See that there brass crooshifix on the hub o' the wheel, well, that's what they prays to in a calm—goes down on their marrers an' says, 'Blow, good Sent Antonio,' they says, 'an' blow the sticks outen her!' Then, presen'ly, when it comes on a reg'lar roarin' snifter the tune changes to 'Gently, gently, dear, good Sent Antonio! What for you blow like that? We was only gammon.' I'll bet, now," continued the boatswain, kicking heavily against the companion door, "as down below's chock full o' pitchers o' Sents o' all sorts an' sizes, an' that you kin still smell the stink o' the hincense they burns to 'em. This is one o' them swell religious yachts belongin' to a Dook or a Hearl, like enough." But here he broke off abruptly, jumping back as if he had trodden on a snake.
"What's the matter, now?" asked Torre.
"Didn't you hear it, sir," replied Pugh; "somebody's knockin' in there."
"One of the Saints you've been insulting, bo'sun," returned Torre with a laugh.
But the boatswain was already pulling at the sliding hood of the companion.
"Why, it's fastened wi' nails," he shouted presently; "now can ye hear the knockin'?" And, sure enough, everybody plainly could—a dull, quick, hammering sound, apparently coming from the saloon below.
"There's somebody there, all right!" exclaimed Torre. "Quick, lads, never mind the companion! Rouse the mainsail off the skylight, and let's try and open that."
This was soon done, and the skylight—a V-shaped, mahogany frame set with coloured glass of great thickness protected by chased bars of flat copper—exposed to view. But this also was found to be carefully secured by big six inch spike nails driven almost to their heads in the tough wood.
"Somethin' fishy here," said the boatswain, as the knocking still continued; "an', by God, we've got to look slippy! See, she's dipping her nose into it! Another twenty minutes an' it's all u.p. with her! Run for'ard, a hand, an' git one o' them big capstan bars—bring a couple while you're about it."
Using these and a long iron bolt somebody found, the cover was soon battered and prised off, only, however, showing the excited workers against time, three steps leading into a small apartment fitted up as a smoking-room. Out of this a solid door of mahogany, locked on their side, led into the main saloon. Light came in through glass lozenges let into the deck. Luckily, for it would have taken an hour to batter down the door, Torre picked up a key lying on the carpet and at once unlocked it and peered in with the boatswain's head over his shoulder. But the sickening close air that rushed out made them both draw back hastily. Lamps they had seen were burning dimly inside, and by their light, when they again looked, they perceived a woman sitting on the floor with a bottle in her hand, still beating monotonously on the richly decorated panelling of the mainmast, whilst a man seemed to be asleep on a velvet covered lounge close by. As they stared, from behind the mast rushed a wild-eyed figure, pale, with a mop of tangled, sandy hair, that cried shrilly, "Save me! save me! the ship's sinking!"
"Well," retorted Pugh, "we knows that! An', anyhow, you ain't the only one what wants savin', aperiently. Let 'im go, sir," as Torre tried to stop what, as refreshed by the outer air, the lamps burned up, they saw was a stout, young man with a white flabby face around which grew a fringe of light whiskers, and whose every feature betokened craven fear. "Let 'im go, sir," said Pugh; "'e won't commit soosancide afore we hike this lady-drummer an' t'other 'un up. What did I say about pitchers an' haltars an' sich?" continued the boatswain, as he lifted the woman from the floor, whilst Torre went over to the man on the couch. And glancing around, he saw that not only did paintings, mostly of saints and martyrs, cover the polished panellings, but that at the far end of the cabin an immense crucifix stood upright against an altar-piece of white marble.
But there was little time to examine things and as a cry from the deck was passed down to them of "Look sharp! She's sinking by the head!" Pugh caught up the woman and undeterred by her screams bundled her up the steps; whilst Torre, finding the man insensible and very light, carried him bodily to the boat. And none too soon, for they had scarcely got a cable's length away before the schooner gave a plunge for'ard, lifted a little aft, and then slowly settled down quite upright. As the trucks of her lofty topmasts disappeared and Torre turned to look at the rescued ones, an exclamation broke from him when he recognised in the sharp-faced, gray-haired woman, his aunt, Mrs Bovey. Like a flash it dawned upon him that the young man must be Laban, and the old one, lying in the bows with his head in the woman's lap, his uncle.
A strange meeting truly!
But where was Edie? Could there be any one else on board? And he blanched at the thought, as he sharply put the question to Mrs Bovey who was staring with scared eyes at the spot lately occupied by the schooner.
"No, no one," she answered miserably; "my stepdaughter was with us, but they took her away in the boat when they left us to drown. Oh!" she exclaimed vindictively, with something of the old fire coming into her eyes, "if I ever get hold of that Don Sebastian, I'll—I'll——" and she choked with passion at the thought.
"Oh, yes, mar, you'll do a lot, won't you?" put in the flabby youth sneeringly; "if it hadn't been for you, we'd never ha' been coaxed on board that infernal boat, or lost Edie, and left to drown like rats in a drain. You an' your Spanish nobles with their estates in South America, and their gold and diamond mines!"
"And who drank with them, and gambled with them, and lost my money to them, I'd like to know, only a soft fool like you?" retorted Mrs Bovey fiercely, in the sharp angry tone that Torre knew so well.
"But the other lady?" he interposed anxiously.
"Well, young man," replied his aunt, in a voice that made Pugh grin, "she's gone with Don Sebastian and the rest of 'em. And that's an end of it, I suppose. They, however, left us only yesterday morning, so they can't be very far away. The brutes, to desert us like that!"
"They was, marm," put in Pugh gravely, "all out, to desart a lady in that fashion. An' if it 'adn't been for your drummin', marm, you'd all ha' been at the bottom by now."
"Very likely, my good man," replied Mrs Bovey almost complacently. "Mr Bovey, here, as you see, is helpless, and my son equally so."
By this time they were alongside, and Torre, leaving the others to the care of the steward, carried his uncle into his own berth and tried to revive him by small doses of spirit. The poor old man was wasted to a mere shadow of his former stout and rotund figure, and when at last he opened his eyes, it was evident that his mind wandered, for he babbled of Newton Pomeroy, Edie, and Torre himself, after a fashion that brought tears to the latter's eyes.
But, presently, Mrs Bovey came in, asking rather sharply why her husband had been taken there.
"Well, aunt," replied Torre, "as you didn't seem to care much what became of him, I thought I'd better see what I could do myself. You've lost Edie, apparently. And now you don't appear to trouble a great deal whether you lose your husband or not, into the bargain."
For a moment Mrs Bovey stared in bewildered surprise at the tall, handsome young fellow who dared to speak to her in such fashion. But soon recovering herself, she said coldly, "I thought when first I heard your voice that there was something familiarly unpleasant about it. You are Torre Leigh, poor Mr Bovey's scapegrace nephew, who used to make mine and my poor son's lives miserable, and wound up by running away from his employers. I remember writing to say that I knew you would never do any good for yourself. And I request that you will not address me as 'aunt.' "
"Oh, all right, Mrs Bovey," returned Torre pleasantly; "and as for the other matter, perhaps I've done as well as your son, judging at least from what you said to him in the boat just now; and who, I see, from the way he bolted out of the schooner's cabin, and left his mother to shift for herself, is in nowise altered from the cur he was as a boy. But now, madam," and Torre's voice grew stern, and his dark eyes glittered ominously, "I must ask you for some news of my cousin. Where is Edie? Between you and your precious cub you have, I truly believe, worried and tormented this poor old man to his death. And I am not by any means certain that it has not been by your connivance and with your consent that his daughter has been kidnapped, or possibly worse. You will please remember, madam, that I am no longer a boy and at your mercy; also that I am an officer on board this ship; that the captain and mate are my personal friends; and if you won't tell me the whole story, we'll find means to make you."
"Oh, you will, will you?" retorted Mrs Bovey scornfully, but with an uneasy look around. "And how will you do it? Flog me, eh? Torture me, eh? Starve me, eh?"
"Not at all, madam," replied Torre. "We won't touch you. But we'll tie a rope round Mr Laban's waist, and tow him behind the ship. And sharks are numerous hereabouts."
Mrs Bovey turned pale. Torre guessed that, in spite of her hard words, she still idolized her son; and that, remembering the everlasting feud between them as lads, she would well believe him capable of doing what he threatened. Hence his bit of bounce. Which might have succeeded or might not. But an unexpected incident turned the scale. As Torre stood looking sternly at Mrs Bovey, he saw her face change, and, turning, found that; his uncle had worked himself to a sitting posture in the bunk, and was gazing at them with eyes of recognition. Perhaps he had heard and understood some of their conversation, for he said weakly, but in the old kind voice, as Torre grasped his outstretched hand, "That's you, isn't it, my lad? She's a bad woman, Torre. She made me write that cruel letter to you. Oh, yes, I remember. A bad woman, Torre. And now she's killed your little Edie. She's gone; we'll never see her any more, my boy. A bad, hard woman, Torre!" And the tears ran down the old man's face as he finished speaking, and falling back on the pillow began to wander again.
"It's a lie!" exclaimed Mrs Bovey sulkily, and thoroughly frightened into the bargain by the look on Torre's face—for the latter really half believed, now, that there had been foul play somewhere. "It's a lie. I'm sure the girl's safe enough. I was shamefully deceived myself by Don Sebastian and his companions. The Don was paying attentions to Edie, and, considering the state of her father's health, and other matters, I thought that perhaps she might do worse than marry a nobleman, although he was a foreigner. So, when Don Sebastian invited us all to visit his estates in South America, I agreed without hesitation. The vessel they arrived at Funchal in, it appeared, was not large enough to accommodate all of us. So, as the Don informed us, it was sold, and the Ysabel bought from the Duke of Medina Sidonia. From what I heard on board I know that the yacht, which was laid up for a time, was stolen and the two men left in charge of her killed and their bodies thrown overboard. But not until we had been a week at sea did we discover that we were in the power of a gang of ruffians and murderers; for then, the Don, throwing off all disguise, openly declared his intention of taking Edie with him and leaving us to sink on the Ysabel, into which he bored holes and secured us, as you saw. He knew that a ship would be sent after him, and intended with the yacht's boat to reach the South American coast. I believe also that there was a very large sum of money on board the yacht, and to steal this had been their first motive in coming to Madeira. Then, when Don Sebastian fell in love with Edie he thought he might as well kill two birds with the one stone."
"And yet you have the heart to say, knowing what company the poor girl is in," exclaimed Torre indignantly, "that she's 'safe enough.' Why, you haven't got the common feeling of a woman about you! The plain fact of the matter, I expect, is, so eager were you to get rid of her, that you absolutely flung her at that Spanish cut-throat's head. No wonder my uncle says you killed her! And yourself and your son saw him take her away without a word of protest! Oh, a nice pair! I'm almost sorry I ever thought of pulling over to the yacht!"
"We had no chance to protest," retorted Mrs Bovey, with a glance of hatred. "The three of us were below, when suddenly we heard a great knocking on deck. Then Edie screamed two or three times; and when we tried to get out we couldn't. Then, after a while, the Don came to one of the little round windows and shouted to us that we might now begin to say our prayers, because in a few hours we should be at the bottom, and that we were to take good care of everything in the cabin and not let too much water come in. We thought at first he was joking. But, presently, we saw the boat sailing away from us. Still, we didn't believe we were sinking until, during the night, we were obliged to shut the little windows to stop the water from flooding the cabin. At last, thinking I heard steps overhead, I took up an empty bottle and began to knock on the mast."
But Torre hardly listened. His thoughts were with Edie, and he ground his teeth and stamped his foot with rage and pity at his own impotence for help in her terrible plight. Then, taking no further notice of his aunt, he went straight to Captain Sinclair and told him the story.
"I shouldn't wonder if that's what the gunboat wanted to ask us about," commented the captain. "Poor young lady! It's a hard case. But what can we do? Here we are without as much wind as would lift a lace veil. And even if we had a breeze and could go in pursuit, the chances are we'd miss the boat. All the same, I'd have a go for it, notwithstanding the passage, heaven knows, bids fair to be long enough as it is. Thundering curious, Leigh, that you should have found these relations of yours in such a fix. Gad, you only got them out just in time! And, anyhow, I'm afraid your uncle isn't going to last much longer. Old lady looks as if she had a will of her own."
"Too much will altogether," replied Torre gloomily, as he stared up at the flattened sails hanging limply from their yards, and swore under his breath—for he was in a hot rage with thoughts and fears that burned within him like coals of fire. Thus, when Laban Freeman, having heard from his mother who the second mate of the Cumberland was, sauntered up and with a condescending smile on his smug, bloated face offered his hand to Torre, the latter struck it fiercely from him, and with a stare of utter disdain and contempt walked away.
"And sarve him right, the swab," chuckled Pugh; "he bolted like a bloomin' rabbit, and left his old mar to work out her own salwation. An' if so be as her is a bit of a tartar, I 'spect she's been an all right un to him."
And, presently, as the story got wind of how Mrs Bovey had tried to force her step-daughter into marrying "a dirty Dago," and with that end in view, had actually allowed herself to be persuaded into going for a cruise with a whole gang of them, the pair found "cold shoulder" their portion fore and aft on board the Cumberland. Even Pike, who was pining for company, gave Laban no encouragement in the advances the other made to him.
As for Mrs Bovey, she kept pretty closely to her cabin, in attendance on her husband, whose flickering life grew lower almost hourly. Nor did he ever regain sufficient possession of his senses to recognise Torre ere that last hot breathless morning when he died. And Torre mourned very sincerely for the poor, weak old man who had always been kind to him as much as lay in the power of one so dominated by the stronger-willed woman who called him husband, but showed no grief, nor pretended to any at his loss. So they buried him.
And the calm still held, and the heat drove the pitch out of the deck-seams, and turned the water in the scuttle-butt thick and warm and slimy, and the standing rigging grey, and blistered the paint, even through the awnings, making men pant like thirsty dogs, and sending Torre nearly crazy with horrible thoughts of that open boat lying in the eye of the pitiless, scorching sun, perhaps not more than fifty miles away; possibly only just over the flat, gleaming ring of the horizon yonder. Poor Edie! poor dear Edie! his loving little playmate come to such a pass! Adrift in this weather in a small boat with a pack of scoundrels! No, it would not bear thinking of! But there are thoughts that will not let themselves be put away; and the young fellow's face grew strangely drawn and haggard during these terrible days with the intrusion of them.
With his aunt he held no communication whatever. Indeed, both she and her son kept well out of Torre's path, so menacing was his expression when it fell on either of them. And on board ship, of all places in the world, it is perhaps the most difficult for people to escape from each other except by walking overboard. Therefore the pair, mother and son, were not at all comfortable; for, although the seaman of to-day is little more superstitious than the average landsman, still, there were not wanting those amongst the crew of the Cumberland who muttered "Jonahs!" and in the privacy of their fok'sle cursed Mrs Bovey and Laban as primary causes of that tormenting calm and heat, so that black and unfriendly looks were their portion from the men. And, although the captain and Curtis were polite enough to their guests, they sympathised with their young shipmate far too much to render their politeness other than of that chilly, negative description that hurts. Besides, a calm at sea, when unduly prolonged, like a drought on a station, renders all hands and the cook ill-tempered, and the best friends abrupt and curt in their communications. So that outsiders, and more especially obnoxious outsiders, are apt to be regarded as intruders, and treated as such. Thus the weather also indirectly helped to make Mrs Bovey and her son feel very far from at home on the Cumberland.
BUT most things have an end; and so it proved with the calm. One night, at sundown, sun and glass went down together, and all hands started to work with a will to shorten sail for the expected blow. Anything was better than the inaction of the last week, during which Torre at least had eaten his heart out in impotent wrath and weariness. By the time they had the vessel under her lower topsails the heavens were black as pitch; so black that the men coming down from the hot yards felt about with their feet like blind people as they descended the hot rattlines, and stumbled against each other as they fumbled along the hot decks, groping for and coiling up the running gear. Suddenly came a tremendous crash of thunder, and from the copper domes of her big steel lighthouses on the break of the forecastle to her taffrail, the Cumberland flamed again with a white intense blaze that made everything for just a second as bright as strong sunlight could have done, and caused her men to stagger and shut their eyes to the blinding brilliancy of it, then feel themselves hurriedly to make sure they were unhurt, and stare hopelessly into the woolly blackness in an attempt to discover whether their sight was gone or not. And the curious thing about this illumination was that from half-way up her lower-masts all was dark as ever. It seemed quite unlike ordinary lightning, resembling more a sheet of snow-white flame that had passed completely and harmlessly along her decks fore and aft. Five minutes more of anxious waiting and suspense, and then suddenly, as if a trap-door in some riverbed had been opened above and directly over the ship, down poured a roaring mass of water—falling not in drops but in thick heavy sheets, drumming on thirsty decks and woodwork, and almost beating to their knees the men who already stood up to their knees in it. Scuppers were powerless to carry off such a deluge, and with much trouble, and not before the water was four feet deep on the main deck, some of the large ports were got open, through which it poured as through the cleft bank of a dam. Then all of a sudden the fall ceased in instantaneous uncanny fashion, as if the trap-door had been slammed down, and at once stillness reigned again, broken only by the drippings from drenched sails and the choking gurgles of the scuppers.
"Next!" muttered the boatswain, shaking himself, as with all hands he stood on the quarter-deck. "This is another five minnit hinterlood, I presoome. Wind, I s'pose, 'll be the next hact of the drammer. But where from, when all's as black as the Herl o' Hell's ridin' boots, it's 'ard to say! Is that you, Mr Leigh?" as a step descended the poop ladder.
"Yes, bo'sun," replied Torre. "Stand by your starboard braces some of you, and the others lie aft and clew up the mizzen topsail and stow it."
"Glass still a-fallin', sir?" asked Pugh, in the low undertone that all men spoke in, if they spoke at all.
"Ay, bo'sun," said Torre in a hoarse whisper.
"Ay, ay, sir," muttered the other sympathisingly, for he knew exactly what Torre was thinking about. "I'm afraid it'll be a case wi' her. There's a blow comin' that no open boat as ever was built 'll be able to stan' agen. The only chanst is that they've been picked up."
The last man was scarcely off the yard when a light puff took the fore and main topsails aback. It was the first wind for ten days, and it struck their wet faces as if it came out of an oven.
Hardly were the yards trimmed than the sails were again flattened into the mast, the wind seeming to shift all round the compass. Away to the southwest there could be now heard a continuous low moaning like the sound of breakers afar off on a quiet night crooning against a coral reef.
"Thank heaven!" said Captain Sinclair. "At last we know where we're to get it from! I thought it never was going to make up its mind. Brace up on the port tack to meet it, Mr Leigh; set the mizzen staysail, and send another man to the wheel."
"It's getting clearer away to the south'ard," remarked Torre to the bo'sun.
"That ain't light, sir," replied the other grimly, "it's the reflection o' the white 'orses a-gallopin', as you sees, a-comin' roarin' an' tearin' an' foamin' to try an' scoff us in a single mouthful, as one might put it. Good lor', what a sea! Hold on, sir, she'll be near on her beam-ends when it hits her. Hold on all!" he roared along the decks, only a minute before that dull moaning, becoming louder and louder, suddenly burst into a thunderous tumult of raging wind and wave that seemed at one bound to leap on to the Cumberland, trusting in that mad and furious onset to whelm and destroy her instantly. Over, over, over, reeled the ship till the water poured in floods over her rail, louder and shriller shrieked the wind through the rigging; great masses of flying foam and spindrift hurtled clean across her hull from windward, making a sort of phantasmal glimmer in the darkness that helped to render the devilish rancour of wind and sea more shocking, as the storm actually screamed and yelled with what sounded, to the terrified crew hanging on for dear life, like the veritable voice of some huge demon of the air.
Salt, or coals, or railway iron, or even wheat, or perhaps anything but the lively and immovable wool she carried, and the chances are that the ship would never have recovered herself as she presently did, coming up slowly but surely right in the face of the sea-fury that hurled itself at her with that first awful voice split up now into a thousand strident shoutings and bellowings, and lifted her great bows triumphantly to their attack, careless of resounding shocks that made her whole fabric tremble and shudder. An heroic sentient being indeed does a ship appear that emerges victor and scatheless from such a battle as for half an hour the Cumberland fought against an elemental charge that no man there had ever seen the like of before.
All that night and next day the gale raged, but with nothing near its first fury, nor was it felt to any appreciable extent, for the yards had been squared, and foresail and upper topsails set, and the Cumberland now ran before wind and sea fast to the northward.
"I'm sorry, Leigh," the captain had said to Torre, "but in such weather it would be useless to search for the boat, even if she were still afloat, which is more than doubtful. Nor have we the slightest notion in which direction to steer. You see, she's just as likely to be ahead as astern, to port as to starboard. If the wind had come light, I'd have kept my promise and run over nearly to the South American coast on spec. But now!"
And Torre knew that Captain Sinclair was not only correct in his deductions, but quite hopeless as to the safety of the boat and its people. So with a heavy heart he went about his work, feeling in some sort as if he had seen Edie murdered before his eyes.
Strong winds carried the Cumberland to about 10° North, when, gradually breaking off and drawing ahead, they resolved themselves into steady North East trades.
Of course the Boveys had been unable to save a thing from the Ysabel; but it seemed that they really had taken very little luggage of any kind with them, so hurried was their departure. Don Sebastian, so Sinclair gathered, had represented the trip as merely a short excursion, lasting no more than a week or so at the outside, and they had gone aboard the yacht, which was moored just below their villa, at midnight, helped up her sides by hands fresh from the murder of the two unfortunate seamen who had charge. A big religious festival was in progress at Funchal just then, presided over by the Duke of Medina Sidonia in person, and thus they sailed unmolested and unchallenged. And Mrs Bovey also volunteered the statement that her stepdaughter, far from being in any way coerced, was very pleased to leave the island. Don Sebastian, she represented, too, as a person of most engaging manners and handsome presence, between whom and Edie there had at least been friendship, if nothing more. Indeed, it appeared that it was almost solely on the girl's account that Mrs Bovey had been induced to make the trip, hoping that the outcome of it might be a brilliant alliance between Edie and the alleged Spanish noble. Thus the widow, on more than one occasion, to Sinclair listening gravely and without comment, as she went on to bewail the wickedness of the plot to which they had been made victims; concluding always by warning the captain against Torre, whose conduct she assured him was primarily responsible for the death of her poor husband. She certainly wept when told of the almost inevitable fate of the boat and those in her, but this appearance of sorrow was curiously discounted by her son, who blurted, "Well, then, mar, you've got the five hundred a year after all!"
And then it transpired that by the terms of Mr Bovey's will, drawn up at the time of his marriage with the widow Freeman, Edie was to have had that sum paid out of the estate, otherwise settled wholly on his wife. But in case of his daughter's death, or on her making a marriage that should render such provision unnecessary, it was to revert to Mrs Bovey.
This discovery set Sinclair thinking, and though he was unwilling to believe that the woman had deliberately laid herself out to bring about the former contingency, still he was pretty sure that she had urged and hounded the poor girl on to receive the attentions of a man whom she hated. And although he said nothing to Torre about the matter, he hereafter shunned Mrs Bovey, and had as little to say to her as possible.
"Get your best Spanish ready again, bo'sun," said Curtis one day in the tail of the trades, "for if I'm not mistaken, here's our friend the gunboat tubbing along after us once more." Pugh grinned as he stared astern to where under a smoke wreath something gleamed white against the blue background. "No, thankee, sir," said he, "my wocabulary ain't hextensive enough for another go. An' they mus' be lion 'earted men to dar' tackle us agin, arter what I give 'em larst time."
"It's the gunboat, right enough," said the captain, as he got her in his glass. "And she wants another talk, evidently. Or else it's the King of Spain's birthday, for she's got half the Code flying."
"Maybe, sir, she's heard something of the boat, or picked up somebody belonging to her!" said Curtis.
"By Jove," replied the captain, "I'd forgotten! So she may. But, even then, Curtis, I don't see how she knows it can affect us in any way. Unless she's got the girl. What a chance that would be! Where's Leigh? Below? Oh, well, let him sleep. He's had worry enough over the business already. And, yes, you may back your foreyards or she won't catch us till night. I'm rather curious. Pity we're none of us dabs at any lingo except our own."
"The Boveys, sir," suggested Curtis, "may have enough of the language to find out what the Spaniard wants—the Cub, especially, seems to have chummed up a good deal with those villains of the Ysabel." And on Laban being applied to, he declared, sure enough, that he had acquired a sufficient smattering of Spanish to make himself a rough and ready interpreter.
It was a beautiful morning, with a light warm breeze blowing, before which the water rippled into wavelets sparkling in the sun. Flying fish by the hundred took their jerky aerial flight and fell spattering back into the sea; porpoises plunged and leapt in uncouth frolicsome play around the bows, and ocean seemed to smile a great, warm, cheerful smile as the asthmatic cough of the gunboat's high-pressure engines drew nearer and more near.
Mrs Bovey sat close to her son, who was somewhat nervously fingering a Spanish "conversation" book, for which, however, as it proved, there was to be no use.
As the Nostra Senhora del Carmen approached, it was observed that her black funnel was coated with a thick crust of salt, and that her paddle boxes showed ugly rents in them. But the significance of this was lost in the extraordinary spectacle her forward deck presented as she drew alongside the Cumberland. To a stout iron bar running right across it were fettered by heavy irons around waist and ankle six ruffianly-looking men at sight of whom Mrs Bovey, who had risen from her seat and walked over to the rail, uttered a little cry and hurriedly drew back, whilst her son stared open-mouthed and open-eyed as the six lifted their manacled hands in momentary wonder and dismay when they recognised the features of their supposed victims.
"By G—d, they've got 'em, I do believe!" exclaimed Curtis in his excitement; "but where's the girl? Yes, by the Holy Sailor, there's a lady coming up on to the bridge now! It must be she!"
"Hoorore!" all at once shouted somebody on the main deck, and in a trice a great cheer arose that awoke Torre and brought him on the scene in a very short time. "It's her, I'll swear, Mr Leigh, sir!" exclaimed the bo'sun, pointing and waving his cap as Torre stared at the tall slight figure on the bridge and then rushed on to the poop.
"Is that Edie?" he exclaimed, roughly shaking the still motionless Laban by the shoulder.
"Yes—yes," stammered the other, apparently unable to take his eyes off the prisoners, who, now recovered from their astonishment, jeered at him with insulting words and gestures. "It's Edie, of course; and number three, counting from here, is the Don."
As he spoke, his mother ran to the side with a double-barrelled gun in her hand, which she aimed full at the latter, who screamed and dragged himself along the bar amidst his equally terrified companions, whilst the Spanish sailors scattered right and left. Luckily the captain was close to her, and rushing up he snatched the weapon, which she had taken out of his own room, from the infuriated woman, who thereupon abused him in unmeasured terms and was presently haled to her berth and locked up, still raving.
Meanwhile, the Spaniards had got a boat into the water and, with Edie, had pulled round to the starboard gangway, where Torre met and introduced himself to her, seeing much in the dark face and eyes, sensitive lips and firmly rounded chin, to remind him of his little playmate of long ago. She looked well, too, in spite of a certain sadness of expression; she was also an undeniably pretty, almost beautiful girl. And as Torre walked up to the captain holding her by the hand, he felt proud of her, and his heart was light within him for the relief and joy of her rescue.
Actually, the man o' war had fallen in with the Ysabel's boat on the second day after leaving the Cumberland, and whilst making towards the coast. There had been a scuffle, also, in which two of the band had been so badly hurt that they died almost at once. But Edie had been well cared for. Indeed, they had rigged up a sort of canvas shelter for her, and treated her with some show of respect as their leader's future wife. She was to have been compelled to marry Don Sebastian on their arrival at Paranagua. That worthy's name and title, by the way, was only one of a dozen aliases. He was a tenfold murderer; an escaped convict; in fact, a felon of the first water, pre-eminent even amongst the felon crew he led, everyone of whom was utterly certain of the garotte.
After seizing the boat, the Senhora had called at Trinidad, and then making homeward been caught in the same hurricane that the Cumberland weathered so nobly, and driven many leagues out of her course. Would, indeed, but for the merciful interposition of "Our Lady of the Sea," have certainly gone to the bottom. All this from the Spanish officers and Edie, who interpreted fluently, and was evidently an object of much admiration to them. In honour of the occasion champagne had been opened, and it and talk flowed at the saloon table. Edie had grieved for her father, of whose death and that of the others she had felt assured. And she was astonished beyond measure to hear not only that Mr Bovey had been rescued to die on the Cumberland, but that his wife and her son were even now on board.
"They have been worse than unkind to me, Torre," she said. "But when I saw those wretches fastening them up in the Ysabel to drown slowly, whilst wagering amongst themselves how long it would take for her to sink, I freely forgave them. As for poor dear father his days were numbered; he was for long intervals unconscious, knowing nobody, and I had taught myself to look forward to his release from misery as almost a desirable thing. But not in that way! Not in that way! And, oh, I can't express to you how happy it has made me to know that although he may not have been aware of it, he had you with him at the last. Even his wife, cold and selfish as she is, must have felt grateful for such a wonderful rescue from such a death."
"She didn't show it then, Edie, I can assure you," replied Torre, smiling a little, "nor did the Cub, as they call him here. Took it, indeed, very much as a matter of course."
"I will never go back and live with them, Torre," said the girl. "Do you know, at times I almost feel wicked enough to think that Mrs Bovey wants the money poor father left me. Surely she has enough of her own."
And then for the first time Torre heard of what Captain Sinclair had already discovered. And his jaw set and his eyes glittered ominously as he listened, whilst Edie went on to tell him of the persecution she had been exposed to in the matter of the ci-devant Don Sebastian; and how at last she was decoyed on board the yacht by a pretence that the doctor had ordered her father to be taken a sea trip at once, for which purpose, Mrs Bovey told her, Don Sebastian had kindly offered his vessel. The Don himself, she learnt from the same source, in place of accompanying them, was going to the other side of the island. And only too pleased to be free of him, she consented without demur.
"I have an idea, Miss Bovey," said Curtis, presently, as he listened. "Let us get rid of the pair—if our Spanish friends will take them. I don't think they'll be sorry to go. And I'm certain we shan't mind losing them. In any case, of course, we should keep you, but it will be more comfortable for you without them. And that woman's not safe. Another minute and she'd have riddled the Don with buckshot. I'm really half sorry, now I've heard your story, that the skipper didn't let her do it."
"A capital notion, Mr Curtis," said Torre eagerly. "If you'll ask these Spaniards, Edie, I think I can answer for Laban and his mother."
And presently it was so arranged, mother and son being well pleased to be clear of the Cumberland. Mrs Bovey, in particular, gloating over the notion of being able to watch the captivity of her late confederate—the man she had tried to make a tool of, but who had turned the tables on her with such almost fatal effect. She said no word of farewell to either Edie or Torre, but got into the boat with a grim, expectant, satisfied expression, as of one who sees a dear wish realised and proceeds to the enjoyment of it.
After a ceremonious farewell, the Spanish officers took their departure, and amidst a volley of cheers the gunboat's paddles revolved; the chained ladrones howled and clanked their fetters, watched greedily from the bridge by a woman who appeared to have eyes for nothing else, whilst with a sigh of relief Torre turned to Edie, saying, "I hope, dear, you'll never see those two any more. You shall come and live with May and me on board our ship."
"Thank you, Torre," replied Edie, "but if it's all the same to you, I think I prefer dry land. Come into your berth, you big, grave, engaged-to-be-married man, and tell me all about your May, and everything that has been doing and happening." They talked all through Torre's watch below, and Edie looked curiously at the enlarged and framed photograph of May Darnell that hung at the foot of Torre's bunk, and praised the face, which she could well afford to do, seeing that it was not nearly as pretty as her own with its rich, dark colouring and regular features. Still, even in the cold photo, the rare beauty of the eyes seemed to light up the whole picture. And Edie hit the mark when she said it was a comely face, and a face that grew and gained on one the more it was looked at. They had much to talk of, these two so strangely met; and, day by day, Torre was glad to see the girl becoming more cheerful and losing the sad, wistful look that had been the first thing to strike him in her expression. And presently he began to see that all direction of her future would be taken out of his hands by Curtis, who had fallen head over heels in love with Edie, and whose suit seemed to be prospering. Torre was pleased, for he knew what a good and genuine fellow the chief mate was—"white all through," as Pugh put it. Feeling in loco parentis, he would, without scruple, have interfered had it been somebody he could not approve of.
But in his friend's case there was no call for interference, and Torre, with the rest of the ship, looked on sympathetically enough till the crisis came, and he was told as a great secret by Edie what for a long time had been very patent to all hands except the pair themselves.
They had struck English ground that very day—not with the ship, but with the deep sea lead which had brought some of it to upper air in the shape of white sand and small shells, letting them know they really were in the Fairway of the English Channel, and groping their track correctly through the thick fog. This, however, presently cleared, and off Plymouth they took a tug and practically finished a not uneventful voyage.
The Enchantress, they found, had arrived a fortnight before them; and proceedings were about to commence in the Admiralty Court with regard to the salvage claims. A heap of letters, many of them from May, made Torre happy. Edie went home with Captain Sinclair to his mother, who lived at Stoke Newington. Curtis and she, it had been settled, were to be married as soon as he passed his examination for Master. Edie wished him to leave the sea. They would be able to live, she said, quietly on her money. But Curtis, although not loving the sea for its own sake like Torre and May, could not see his way to do this. So Edie gave in, somewhat consoled by the reflection that when he took command of the promised steamer of Fibre and Co.'s, the trips would be short, and that she might often accompany him if she wished.
In a week or so Torre went up and passed. The viva voce examiner was a rather crusty old captain who regarded the majority of second mates with suspicion, looking hard at their cuffs, and noting how often they opened watches in whose cases might be concealed hints respecting the reeving of Spanish burtons, or the cunningly devised question anent the upper side of a lower-brace block.
But soon discovering that in Torre he had different metal to deal with, he went at him con amore, forgetting quite when to stop. That morning he had sent four young men back to sea for six months more practice. It was near his lunch time, and he had made up his mind to serve Torre in the same way. Instead, he became interested, and wandered away from the "Rule of the Road" to unshipping a rudder, management of ground tackle, etc., etc. The former was an operation which Torre, although describing correctly, admitted he had never seen; but, considering his somewhat limited experience, he passed a very good chief officer's viva voce in addition to a second mate's.
"Yes," said the examiner, at length consulting his watch with a start of surprise, "you've done very well indeed, sir,—and ruined my lunch. If you were up for chief mate, and you had got through the clerical part, I certainly should have passed you here. You'll have no trouble whatever when your time entitles you to come up again for another certificate. With decent luck you'll be Master in a couple or three years. And you evidently are fond of the sea. I wish some of the other people who come here and torment me were so too."
A week later Curtis also passed for Master, with a supplementary pass in steam. And shortly afterwards he and Edie were married and went away to the Lakes for their honeymoon, Torre taking his place on board the Cumberland.
The Enchantress had gone into a private dock, a good way up the river. But, one day, Harris and Sam and old Horn travelled to the South West India Dock half beside themselves with excitement and eagerness to discharge the great news they were laden with. Torre caught sight of them whilst they were yet some distance away—Harris well ahead, the others waddling and rolling in his wake. All three, as soon as they saw him standing at the main hatchway of the Cumberland, took off their hats and waved them and roared at him, whilst Harris broke into a run and, disdaining gangways, leapt the rail and exclaimed breathlessly, "Three each for us, old chap! And FOUR for you! Such luck!" and then he got hold of Torre's hand and began to shake it frantically.
"Well, what's the matter now?" laughed Torre, although with a shrewd guess at the news. "Three—four, what?"
"Thousan' pounds!" panted the others, arriving simultaneously and reaching in turns for Torre's hand.
"Salvage awards just out," said Harris, beaming with smiles and speaking very distinctly and slowly. "Four thousand pounds for you; three thousand each for the rest of us, and the same for Fibre and Co. Case never went into Court at all, my boy. Settled by mutual consent. And I think it's liberal, don't you?"
"Much more than I expected," replied Torre as he placed decanters on the table. "You'll all be able now to come home with me as passengers in the Cumberland," he added half jokingly.
"Eh? what!" exclaimed Harris staring, with a glass arrested at his lips. "No thank you! Mail steamer for us, I think. What d'you say, Horn?"
Old Horn smiled till all his brown, lean face seemed a mass of leathery wrinkles. "Three—thousan'—poun's!" said he very slowly and lovingly, "An' to go back in a blasted lime-juicer! No, Mister Leigh, sir. That there Enchantress give me a bellyful o' win' jammers. Sartainly, she've paid for it. But onless ye makes a pint of it, I'm for gittin' home as quick as steam can take me. Ye see, sir, I'm not as young as I was, an' the sooner I gits settled in a leetle cottage I knows on in Balmain, close to Mat Bacon's, the better for my 'ealth. There's a garden an' a fowl run an' a flagstaff an' a fine view o' the Harbour. But, as I says, if ye makes—"
"Nonsense," said Torre, laughing, "I was only joking, old friend. Get away as soon as you can and have a well-earned rest for the remainder of your days. Where's Mat?"
"He was coming with us," replied the old man, drawing a long breath of relief on finding that his loyalty to Torre was, after all, not to be put to the test in such a disagreeable fashion, "only he ain't very well. Fust thing he does, carryin' on like any bloomin' Dook, he telegrafts a couple o' hundred poun's to the ole woman in Balmain. Then he takes his passidge in the nex' steamer. Then he gits too full to walk or talk or wink. So we has to leave 'im. But he'll be down bimebye to see ye, sir. Bolivar an' Turnips an' Mag is all well. An' glad they'll be to git away outer these fogs an' the everlastin' drizzle an' slush."
"But, Leigh," broke in Harris impatiently, "surely you'll come with us? Fancy a second mate with a fortune! Why, it's an anomaly—an utter absurdity! It's worse—a crime!"
"It's not a fortune," replied Torre. "And surely you don't think I'd throw up my profession for a few thousand pounds, do you? Just as I've got a fair start after all my troubles?"
"Quite mad!" exclaimed Harris. "Raving!"
"Well," laughed Torre, "that's a matter of opinion. I'm never so happy as when at sea. It must have got into my soul when I was born, I suppose. And, after all, it hasn't served me so very badly."
"All the more reason then for leaving the treacherous thing before it turns on you," urged Harris. "For my part I hardly like trusting it to take me back again to Annie."
"And the book?" asked Torre.
"Oh, I'd almost forgotten that," replied Harris naively. "Anyhow, I daresay it'll keep until after the honeymoon. Probably we shall settle down on a bit of ground in the country. Annie's great on poultry-farming and dairying and bees and things. And how about yourselves, Torre?" he added significantly.
"Stettle down at sea, the pair of us," replied Torre decidedly, and affecting not to hear the muttered reference his friend made to Gladesville.1
1 A lunatic asylum near Sydney.
"And what are you going to do with your pile, Sam?" asked Torre.
"Bli me, sir, but I 'ardly knows just yit," replied Sam grinning, "'cept that there ain't no more deep water fer this child. Not much! I was thinkin' 'bout startin' to run a bit ov a pub, only I'm scared o' bein' too good a customer meself. But, arter all, I reckon it'll be a tug. Mat's arst me to go mates in the spec. An' there's room in Port Jackson fer another good boat. An'," concluded he emphatically, "wotever we does, you kin pound on us not to forgit him as all our luck comes through."
"Thank you, Sam," replied Torre, "but all that was only chance. And there was no chance work about what you did for the poor runaway kiddy who came to you on board the old Yatala!"
So, in a few more days, Torre saw his old mates of the Mary Robinson off in the R.M.S. Orizaba, bound back again for the shores of sunny New South Wales. And presently, the Cumberland herself spread her great wings and started on the long stretch round Good Hope. And she carried, too, in spite of all precedent, a newly married chief officer and his wife. But Captain Sinclair knew it was safe to accord this privilege to Curtis.
* * * * * *
"Gabo Island; passed ship Cumberland from London to Sydney. Asks to be reported 'all well,' " was the message that, many weeks later, met some anxious eyes as they scanned the daily newspaper.
And thus it happened that whilst the Heads of Port Jackson lay still a good eighty miles to the northward, and long before she could be expected in the usual order of things, there hove in sight a big double-funnelled boat steaming straight for the ship.
"Can't be a tug yet, surely," said the captain. "They never run down this far. And she's like a fair with flags!" he added, staring through his glass.
"Oh, Torre," exclaimed Mrs Curtis, who stood near, radiant with health and happiness, "if it should be May coming to meet you!"
"Nonsense, Edie," replied Torre, laughing, but nevertheless with a hopeful face and beating heart. "That would be too much to expect so far out."
"By jingo, I see dresses fluttering, anyhow!" said Curtis, putting down his binoculars and glancing quizzically at Torre. "And, my word, how they're sending her!"
"Our House-flag at the steamer's foremast, sir," all at once said Torre to the captain.
"Ay, ay, Mr Leigh," laughed Sinclair, "and unless I'm very much mistaken, your House-flag aft! Mr Curtis, get all the light canvas off the ship. Mr Leigh, hoist the Ensign and House-flag, and send some hands to rig the starboard gangway."
As the boat, a large and powerful screw-tug, approached, and the Cumberland lay to and backed her yards for her, a whole crowd of familiar faces could be seen amidst the waving of hats, bunting, and handkerchiefs. Aft stood Mr Moore and Barker, and Mrs Barker and May. On the bridge alongside Mat Bacon, who was evidently the captain, were Harris and Sam and old Horn, shouting themselves hoarse as they recognised Torre. And of all people in the world with a tenacious hatred of the sea, rather limp, but mustering energy enough to flourish an umbrella wildly, was Jenkins.
And presently, up the Cumberland's weather-worn side they came, received by her officers in full fig at the gangway in regular big ship style, whilst Pugh and all hands looked on with much interest from the main deck. "Eighty-four days, captain," said Mr Moore, shaking Sinclair's hand. "Splendid passage, sir! Didn't believe it was in her!"
"Why, Torre, how you have grown!" exclaimed Mrs Barker, bestowing a hearty maternal kiss upon him.
And so they all crowded round with congratulations and welcomings, making it difficult for Torre to escape to where May stood a little distance away.
But, at last, slipping out of the group, he joined his sweetheart. And as he marked with delight how the dear face blushed rosy red at his approach, and then as quickly grew pale again with emotion, Torre hesitated for a moment as he took her hand half timidly, almost unable to credit that a rough sailor like himself should have any claim or share to such a dainty bit of female perfection as this one appeared. But when he saw the love light shining in those deep grey eyes he had so often dreamt of during lonely sea-watches, and noted the trembling of the scarlet lips so often pressed to his, he plucked up courage, and clasping her in his arms, took toll of them again and again, unperceived for a moment by any of the rest.
Then old Horn, catching sight of them, suddenly roared "Hooroar fer a sailor an' a sailor's sweetheart!" and Edie, glancing across, swooped down on May, and, unheeding Torre's protest, haled her away to her own state-room "for a good talk."
"Never mind, my boy," said Mr Barker, "you'll have lots of time for that sort of thing presently. I've got news for you. The missus has let down the slip-rails, removed the embargo, you know. She sees it's no use hanging on for that other twelve months. So you can order the parson and trimmings as soon as you like. With your peculiar notions I suppose you'll be married in an open boat outside the Heads, eh?"
But Torre was too happy to listen to the old squatter's chaff, and as the tug caught hold of the Cumberland, and began to drag her homeward he dived below for another minute's sight of May.
And here I will leave my son of the sea, young, sanguine, prosperous; happy with his friends around him; on the point of realising his dearest hope; and of still continuing in his loved profession.
Faithfully I have endeavoured to take my readers through the early years of a career that may be fairly termed one of incident and worthy of record. Yet not by any means an impossible one; inasmuch as for almost every scene and character in the little drama, no resort to fiction has been necessary.
So for awhile, in the words of the fine old chanty that will ring round the world's seas whilst ever the Red Ensign flies from sailers' peak, and British Merchant Jack still finds a home in British forecastles, "Good-bye, fare you well."
TURNBULL AND SPEARS, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH.
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