Title: Joan of the Pilchard Author: Mary Gaunt * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1600591h.html Language: English Date first posted: April 2016 Most recent update: April 2016 This eBook was produced by: Maurie and Lyn Mulcahy 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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TO MY BROTHER
ADMIRAL SIR GUY GAUNT
I dedicate this book, with grateful thanks for the trouble he has taken with it. Had he not sailed the Bounty's boat from Tahiti to the Great Barrier, had he not told me what the Great Barrier was like, I could never have written it. I hope he will take it as a remembrance of the pleasant time we two spent in Polperro together many years ago.
Also I would warmly thank Sir Robert Roden, the late Chief Justice of Honduras, who helped me with his legal knowledge, and my friend Mrs. Lang, whose drastic criticism is always a godsend to me.
'They that go down to the sea in
That do business in great waters. . . .'
'A fine evening, skipper,' said Lieutenant Thomas Quested.
The setting sun shone on all the bravery of his blue and gold, for men wore their uniforms habitually at the end of the eighteenth century, even as they did later in the days of the Great War.
The naval officer would hardly have thought of addressing the skipper of the Reaper, even though she was a fine brig and he was her owner and a man of property besides, but Daniel Reynell had on his arm a very pretty girl in a red cloak. He knew now, to his own dismay, did Thomas Quested, he would do a great deal for Loveday Corthew. And Loveday Corthew was to wed the sailor man at the New Year.
'It's not going to last,' said Reynell looking round. 'There's a body of rain coming up from the south soon. If we get it at the spring tide the town is like to be flooded again.'
A careless speech made in an idle moment!
Years after Daniel Reynell, looking back, remembering that December night, knew it was that prophecy which altered the whole course of his life. It was the gentle thoughtless push which set the overwhelming avalanche in motion.
To many of us in our lives come such moments. It is only afterwards that we recognise them—only when, for weal or for woe, the deed is done, the passing years have set their seal upon it, and it is too late to alter.
'Is the town often flooded?' asked Quested curiously. It was as if a devil were crying, 'Here is your opportunity!' 'It must make a lot of confusion, I should think.'
'It does,' said the skipper of the Reaper.
The wind was coming up in little puffs from the south-west, a warm, wet wind. At the foot of the Peak the white water was showing on the Rocks. There was a mist over the sea, too, the clouds hung low and the sea birds swept down with a piteous wail in their cries.
The pilchard boats, one after the other, were slipping out of the harbour, making long stretches first to the east and then away to the west because of the head wind. Presently he would have to go and do a kindly act; but he hesitated about leaving Loveday Corthew with the navy man, who spoke to him indeed, but whose eyes never left the face of the fair-haired girl beside him.
'But it doesn't often happen,' he went on. 'It wants a high wind from the south, a spring tide and a heavy fall of rain to fill up the stream.'
'It's near the new moon now,' said Quested thoughtfully.
'Friday,' said Reynell, 'but we don't always flood the town with a spring tide. I hope for the housewives' sakes we won't this time. Good evening to you.'
Quested saw the roses in Loveday's cheeks deepen as she dropped her laughing hazel eyes before the look in his dark ones. They glowed dangerously though he did not know it. She found it necessary to remind herself she was to wed Daniel Reynell at the New Year, and Lieutenant Quested was nothing at all to her.
He looked back at Chaple Rock. It was the usual thing at Polperro to sit on Chaple Rock and smoke in the evening. He might as well watch the fishing boats. Then he caught sight of a girl leaning over the half-door of the Pilchard, a girl with a mop of hair dark as the raven's wing, deep sad eyes blue as the sea, red lips, teeth like pearls, and skin that had the delicate cream of the magnolia, the makings of a lovely woman, thought the man who knew the world. The fisher folk of Polperro did not recognise the beauty in their midst. It was too uncanny for their simple taste. They only saw in Joan of the Pilchard an alien. They laughed even when she claimed her father's name. Oh they remembered him well enough. He had been wrecked on the cruel Cornish coast, and had taken away with him the daughter of old Tom Olivier, the poorest, most feckless fisherman in the little town.
When she came back thirteen years after, with what, to Polperro, was plenty of money in her pocket, and a tall lanky girl of twelve by her side, Polperro shook its head over her. It did not believe, what Joan knew was the simple truth, that José d'Ath had honestly married the girl and done his very best to make a good husband and father.
The fisher girl had wearied of the gentleman long before he had thoroughly wakened to the awful mistake he had made. When he died she had joyfully and thankfully taken her inheritance and her child—because she was only a girl her father's people had let her go—and gone back to the place of her birth.
The money in her pocket took the sting out of scornful looks. She bought the Pilchard, and married a man who was much more to her taste. Husband and wife were cheerful, if not boisterous, on their own ale by noon; by four o'clock they were stupid.
To Joan had come the bitterness.
She had been torn away from the class to which she belonged, from the comfort and refinement of her Spanish home, and set down in a little low fishermen's tavern. She resented the tavern, resented the coarse stepfather, resented the tone the fisherfolk in their unco righteousness took towards herself, resented her lot with a dumb child's resentment, never fitted into the new environment.
The environment scorned and treated her, the girl who had the blood of proud Spanish nobles in her veins, simply as the drudge of the Pilchard.
She was the drudge. Gradually, as her mother and stepfather gave way to their besetting sin, all the burden of the inn fell on her young shoulders. She took it up and worked, from dawn till dark worked sullenly, hopelessly, with that smouldering bitterness in her heart behind all she did.
As she leaned over the half door this December day she looked the ill-tempered slave she was. Her feet were bare; her short winsey skirt of a dark dull red was dirty and torn, the jacket open at the round young throat was not set off by a kerchief. The deep sea-blue eyes watched the young couple go down the street, then they wandered to the young man in uniform who was also watching.
He did not look in silence. He cursed aloud.
Why, she wondered idly, should Lieutenant Quested swear. If she, Joan, had cursed——But she was inarticulate. Reynell was the light of her eyes and the desire of her heart.
She was under no delusion with regard to him. Joan always saw things clearly. He had chucked her under the chin, turned her face up to his, said she had eyes like the sea on a summer's day and kissed her. Once even, when the Reaper had come back from France, he had brought her an orange scarf which he said would set off her dark hair. It didn't suit her. She knew it, but that scarf was her greatest treasure, folded away as too precious to wear save on great occasions that never came into her poor starved, drab life.
Daniel Reynell never looked at her now. He was going to marry Loveday Corthew, whom he had known ever since she was a baby, and whom he had courted ever since she had blossomed into the belle of the district round. Joan's sorrow was beyond all tears, a dull aching, hopelessness that could never be put into words.
Lieutenant Quested was vehement in the language he used. He was a fine-looking fellow, not as tall or as handsome or as broad shouldered as Daniel Reynell; but then the fisherman's jersey could not compare with the blue and gold of the navy, and his powdered hair made his eyes look dark.
He saw Joan looking at him and sombrely crossed the street.
'What's offended you, my maid?' he asked, seeing his own chagrin reflected on her face. He put his hand on her shoulder.
'Naught,' said Joan sullenly, 'an' a'll thank 'ee to keep hands to 'eeself.'
Joan's Spanish was that of a lady. Her English that of the fisher class to which she belonged.
'He's a pretty lad, eh, Joan?' the King's man went on, though it was of the maid he was thinking. Because he could do nothing, there was some easement to be got out of talking to this girl whom he thought could not understand his feelings.
There Lieutenant Quested made a mistake. The maid of the inn read him through and through.
'She's a winsome maid,' he went on.
Joan said nothing. The matter did not seem to call for remark.
'He ought to be in his Majesty's navy.'
'Her's skipper and owner of Reaper in harbour there. Her's not for Navy,' said Joan. 'Her hath a permit.'
'And the pretty maid? What about her?'
'Her'll wed she at New Year,' said Joan as if every word were wrung from her. She noticed that the other flinched. The New Year was so close.
'He'd make a good King's man, wouldn't he, Joan?' said Quested again, because having plunged into the conversation he was not minded to leave it just as the words he hated had been said.
'Her hath a permit,' said Joan again.
'Oh her hath a hermit, hath her?' mimicked Quested, showing Joan the fault in her own speech, 'but if her were serving the King her couldn't marry that other pretty maid, eh my wench, what think you of that?' and he scorned himself for saying it, scorned himself for so nearly putting his desire into words.
Joan raised to him a pair of blue eyes into which something flashed that let a light into his own soul.
He turned away silent and sullen as Joan herself.
If Daniel Reynell, who had a permit, were serving in his Majesty's Navy he could not wed Loveday Corthew on New Year's Day, and if Loveday were not wed on New Year's Day who knew but that—and Lieutenant Quested cursed again. Why did he think of Loveday Corthew? Suppose she were free to wed him—suppose he could win her—suppose he married her. That would end his career in the Navy. And he did not want to leave the Navy. He was quite sure of that.
But Loveday had bonny curling hair, she had dancing hazel eyes, and laughing lips. She would stick in a man's mind. Did she love Daniel Reynell? Did she know what love meant? He was sure she did not. He was sure, too, that the only man who could teach her properly was not Daniel Reynell, but the man who was vowing to himself he would think of her no more.
He would not take Daniel Reynell. He meant to have Polperro men though. Men the King's ships must have. He had a very special order for four, and what better men than these capable Cornish fishermen? By fair means or foul he intended to have them. That hint about the spring tide was well worth considering.
To do him all justice, Thomas Quested firmly believed it was a step up in the social scale to join the Navy. Since they were not willing, of course, it must be managed. The men who resisted most were content enough before the year was out. There was plenty of excitement, plenty of prize money. Ordinarily I am afraid he would not have hesitated one moment to disregard even a permit. Now the fact of Reynell's permit only troubled him because he stood in the position of a rival, and it was his instinct to give him fair play. If Loveday Corthew really loved him best—he was the last man—the very last man. But did she love him best?
She did not know what love meant! And if her wedding day had not been fixed——Not for a moment did he think any ill of Loveday Corthew. She was dear and sweet and good, but she had seen nothing of the world. She had known the master of the Reaper all her life. He was backed by the approval of her father, an excellent match. It was a family affair. But she would never love Daniel Reynell, whereas she was his born mate. He had known it from the moment he had looked into her winsome face. This man stood in the way. It was bitter—bitter.
If he had only known it Loveday's thoughts were straying in much the same direction though she had not realized it herself. Her trousseau was ready, even the cake was baked, and she knew she had been the happiest girl in the world when Daniel Reynell had asked her. It was a triumph that had echoed along the coast, had reached Looe, and even, it was whispered, was talked about in Plymouth itself. No wonder she had been pleased and proud.
Was she fickle for thinking now what might have been?
Loveday considered a fickle woman something mean and despicable. She ought not to think of Lieutenant Quested who had come longing too late. In fact, of course, she did not think about him.
But she shivered in spite of herself, and her lover would have drawn her closer. She held back gently. She was in no mood for lovemaking.
'Not here—in the street,' she said. She was so wise—so kind, but Reynell was repelled. Did not this girl he loved and longed for, take things a little too calmly? Would she ever waken and respond to his passion? Just for a moment it flashed through his mind that she never had. She had always been the dear little girl, the dearest little girl in the world ever since he had known her. Of course things would be different when they were married.
'I rather mistrust a King's man in a fishing town,' he said, tearing his thoughts away from his doubts and fears.
'Why?' she asked. 'He will not harm you. He is Parson Trevenick's friend.'
'Parson's friend or not,' said Reynell a little savagely, 'when a navy man comes poking round he generally wants recruits, and when he wants recruits he's not over particular how he gets them.'
'Oh but Lieutenant Quested,' began Loveday. She felt she could explain easily enough why Lieutenant Quested lingered in Polperro. She hardly thought he was thinking of recruits. Then she stopped. The explanation might not please her lover.
Perhaps it was lucky that a fisher boy running up interrupted them at that moment.
'Cap'en Toms sent I along, Skipper. Hers already.'
Reynell caught the girl's arm and held it so tightly he hurt her.
'I must go,' he said, 'I promised old Cap'en Toms to go out with him to-night. There aren't likely to be many more nights when he can go out. His son has a catarrh and he can't cast the net alone. You will not let Lieutenant Quested walk back with you, will you?'
'But, Dan,' she protested, 'how can I help it if you are not there. And,' she added with spirit, 'if he offers to carry my fish 'tis only courtesy on his part.'
'I'll not go with Toms,' said Reynell jealously.
'Fie on you,' she laughed, 'and we to wed on New Year's Day! What sort of life shall I have with a man who is jealous of a shadow! If you can't trust him, can't you trust me?'
She looked at him smiling roguishly. How winsome she was! Of course he ought to trust her he thought miserably. She was right too about the kiss. The place was too public for such kisses as he wanted.
She stood a moment watching his stalwart figure clad in fisherman's jersey and high sea boots as he strode away reluctantly to the little quay where the fishing boats lay.
His handsome face was tanned with sun and wind; those blue eyes that looked so straight into hers were honest and true; his fair hair curled in tight little rings all over his uncovered head. Of course, she loved him, this great stalwart man, was he not the man of her childish dreams?
Because she was so sure that she loved him she felt she might allow herself a little latitude. To reward herself for her own good intentions, she smiled at Lieutenant Quested when he joined her.
Looking back Daniel Reynell saw them both at the fish scales and cursed the good nature that had pledged him to a night at sea.
Lieutenant Quested not only helped her buy mackerel but carried it for her all the way to Raphiel Farm a good half hour's walk away.
By way of keeping his thoughts from straying to another man's promised bride, Lieutenant Quested talked of Polperro, and gained a great deal of information that was likely to be useful to him. By the time he had reached the farm he knew all about the behaviour of the fisherfolk when the town was flooded. That, he told himself, was so strictly business, that when the farmer invited him to stay to supper, he allowed himself to be persuaded.
By the end of the evening the farmer had supplied him with a great deal more information.
So Lieutenant Quested spent an evening that was not only pleasant to himself but was likely to be profitable to his King.
As for Loveday she was well content. She saw her father's pride in her—felt it was deserved. Was she not going to wed the handsomest, most sought-after man along all the Cornish coast, and here was the King's officer looking at her with—well she was a good girl. But even a good girl could not fail to know he was looking at her with eyes of desire. She was flattered.
She went to bed deliriously happy. Quested had wakened in her that which Reynell had failed to stir. She had known nothing of a woman's passion and longing. It was Thomas Quested who was teaching her, not her affianced lover.
As yet it was only intoxicating, not disquieting.
She fell asleep at last happy, and without a thought of fear for the future.
'What hath man of all his labour, and
of the vexation of his heart,
wherein he had laboured under the sun?'
The body of rain Reynell prophesied came in torrents the next day. The hills that made the Coombe were hidden in mist. A wild wind tore up the gully, driving before it the spring tide. In the harbour the men gave all their attention to the fastening of their boats. In the town the women slipped in the boards at the front doors to keep out the water. The waves were tumbling in great green seas over the quay, and the stout stone wall that ran round the harbour on the west threatened every moment to give way. For the sea was as high as the Peak itself. There seemed no chance that it would go down.
Reynell, with young Quiller and Robert Trevenick, the parson's son, stood at the fish scales watching the rising water. From the half-door of the Pilchard, Joan, with a shawl thrown over her head, watched them. Seen by the dim light on the fish scales, she only recognized Reynell by his height. But the others were nothing to her.
She had just made a discovery, a discovery of vital import. There was a band of navy men, how many she was not quite sure, crouching on the slope of the hill just behind the tavern. They could rush it when they pleased, break through the doors, and be in the street in a moment. That, she was fairly sure, was what they intended to do. Even half a dozen men, catching the fishermen unawares, might take heavy toll in the storm.
She knew well enough what she ought to do. She had only to raise the alarm from the half-door where she stood and all would be well. However many there were, and of course there were others besides those she had seen, once the fishermen were warned they could look after themselves.
But Polperro had not been kind to Joan. Let them be pressed. Only that stalwart figure, blurred by the driving rain, pulled at her heart strings. At any time she would have given much for an opportunity of speech with Daniel Reynell, and here was such an opportunity made right to her hand. She would tell him, and tell him only. For once in her starved life she would be looked upon by the man she loved with all the strength of her passionate repressed nature as of some account, as the woman who kept her eyes open and helped the town.
The thought of his commendation sent the hot blood racing through her veins. She pulled the shawl tighter over her head, opened the half-door and stepped out on to the cobble stones of the roadway, where already the water was washing a foot deep. It was a very turmoil outside, dark as pitch but for the evil-smelling pilchard oil lamps that hung, one on the fish scales, and one in the doorway of the tavern. Not a star was to be seen. The clouds, driven before the south-west wind, hid all the heavens, only the white water on top of the waves that broke over the quay showed a line like cruel teeth. The roar of it rushing down the Peak, mingling with the shriek of the wind tearing up the gully, drowned all other sounds.
It took strength, Joan found, to keep her feet even on the cobble stones in front of the inn where she was, in a measure, sheltered. What faint light there was fell on Reynell's face under his sou'wester. She made her way to him, and in her tense excitement laid her hand on his arm. Never before had she done such a thing. Now it seemed to her the occasion warranted what she had only dared think of before with bated breath. He would understand. He would praise——
'Why, Joan,' he said smiling, 'the very lass I'm looking for. Canst send a message for me?'
His eyes looked straight down into hers. She felt for a moment a sense of companionship and friendliness that warmed her heart and steadied her nerves.
'Iss, that a' can,' she said eagerly, and the delight of pleasing him made her hesitate just one moment before giving him the warning. Those men on the hillside would not act just yet. She would prolong the delight of this proximity. Perhaps she could persuade him to come into the tavern. How could she say the words that would send him racing from her to organise Polperro. Just a moment——
With a careless hand he smashed her poor little dream of bliss.
'Get me someone, my lass, will run up to Raphiel Farm and tell them I cannot be there to-night. It's going to be a dirty night and I must stay near the harbour.'
The words choked in Joan's throat. She literally could not answer.
There was no need.
A small boy ran past. Reynell caught him and promised him a penny if he delivered his message. Then he put his hand to his face and looked out to sea again.
The very devils of hell raged in the girl's heart. He had forgotten her very existence. He had looked kindly at her just because he wanted to send a message to his sweetheart, just that——And Loveday Corthew would be as happy with Lieutenant Quested, or Robert Trevenick, or with young Quiller there for that matter. She was a good girl. She would make any decent man a good wife.
Joan lingered a moment. Perhaps he would look round.
But his head was full of the business of the town. If he thought of any woman at all it was of Loveday Corthew waiting for him at Raphiel Farm. Joan was less than nothing to him. He had sent his message. He turned to Bob Trevenick as if she had never been.
'What about the lamps at the head of the quay?'
So he sealed his own fate, and hers too, though he did not know it. Not from her should he hear of the cutter's crew on the hillside.
'They be knocked about proper,' said young Quiller. 'It's no good thinking of they. There be no boats out to-night. If so be's they's out, out they'll have to stay. How long to high water?'
'Not for a couple of hours yet,' said Reynell anxiously.
'Then by all that's holy the town had better clear to the hills in double quick time,' said Trevenick as a swirl of water came racing round their knees. 'It'll take some of the women all they know to fetch it.'
Not one of them gave a second thought to the girl standing swaying beside them. She could not see their faces, only the light of the little lamp on the fish scales shone on the gleaming sou'-westers of the two tall men and Bob Trevenick, sturdy but hardly up to their shoulders. She looked down the street. It was black as a wolf's maw; the driving rain blotted out everything, and the light from the pilchard oil lamps in the windows, which was all the lighting Polperro got in the ninth decade of the eighteenth century, came out as a dim gleam here and there fitful and uncertain. Another gust and out went the lamp over the door of the tavern.
The only one that counted now was the one at the fish scales.
Another swirl of water came; another; and another.
The three young men shouted at the top of their voices.
'The water! The water is in! The water is in!'
There was no doubt about it. This was no stray wave. The water was in. The town was flooding fast.
'Rouse out! Lee! Garrett! Ross! Look alive there! Rouse out, men. You can't hold the houses against the sea! Best take the women and children to the upper town. Rouse out! Rouse out!'
Not one of them remembered Joan. They rushed to the nearest house and pounded on the door.
'Take the houses up Chaple Rock way, Quiller. Some of them are in danger,' ordered Reynell. 'Bob, you take the houses on the right of the street up to the Green. I'll take those on the left.'
Above the roaring of the storm Joan heard him shout. Never one word for her, never one thought though she had stood beside him a moment ago. She was a capable girl, quick to think and quick to act. Had she not been hampered by her love she could have called attention to herself as equal in this emergency as any man to help. But that love somehow bound her hands. She could think of nothing but that she was naught to him.
The storm was growing. It was difficult to hear each other's voices. But it was self-evident they must warn the town, for this was no ordinary gale, that might merely flood out the kitchens of the housewives till the tide turned. This would drown children and women and men too, for that matter, unless they cleared out quickly.
The people were loath to leave their possessions. They might be small, but they were all they had. Reynell, standing still, sheltering one moment at the tavern door where Joan had relighted the lamp, knew there was a good night's work before him. Then Joan made her last bid for happiness for many a long day.
'Dan'el Reynell! Dan'el Reynell. Come an' help I.'
'What, Joan! A strapping wench like you!'
With a laugh he stepped back into the swirling water, knowing nothing of the raging anger in the girl's heart.
She would never tell him now of the men hidden up on the hill behind the tavern. If they liked to rush down through the bar they might for all she cared. The other women were being helped; no one was giving thought to her difficulties. Yet all Polperro might have known them. Her mother and stepfather were half drunk as usual. Betsey, the girl who helped her, was not all there. And yet she could have grappled with them if only Daniel Reynell had seen fit to give her one kindly word of encouragement. She was no weakling. But it was hard he should not even care what became of her when he was ready to help every other woman in the town.
The door of the next house was open. By a little lamp hung on a bracket on the wall high above the flood Reynell saw a man with a woman in his arms step out into the street which was running like a river now. Two little crying children were looking helplessly at the water running in and out among the chairs and tables, threatening every moment to upset the form on which they stood. He remembered then that Hugh Ross's wife had been very sick indeed. He stepped inside and picked up the babies in his arms.
'Any more, Hugh Ross?' he asked.
'No, thank God,' said the man, and they toiled up the street among a confused crowd of shrieking women, cursing men and wailing children, across the Green, feeling their way in the dark and driving rain till the hill rose. A door opened, a light streamed out, and, what was much more to the purpose, showed a room comfortable and dry. A woman's voice begged them to come inside.
Reynell, with a cheering word, put down the children and raced back. There were probably others needing help.
The street, knee deep in water, was alive with people. The rain driven before the howling wind was like a dark sheet; the forms huddled against the wet and cold showed as darker bulks in the gloom, now crushed together, an indistinguishable mass, now in single figures, blurred and indistinct. None could say who was who.
From the disorderly crowd struggling up the hillside came shrieks and curses and the shrill wail of terrified children, for such a night had not been known in Polperro in the memory of any living.
As the storm waxed the turmoil grew worse. The wind took charge the moment a door was opened, and blew out the lamps fixed against the walls. Only occasionally from a sheltered corner a man's face, set and strenuous, showed up as he crossed; a woman bent before the storm, her shawl held close; a chair floated along; a broken table; a bundle of clothing. But it would hardly have been possible for anyone who was watching—and no one was watching—to say who were the figures that drifted past, indefinite, shadowy, mysterious as figures in a dream.
When first the men of Polperro were aware that strangers were helping them they could hardly have said. Glad enough were they of that help, they were not stopping to ask questions. A strong arm picked up a girl who had slipped and fallen; another rescued a good dame's precious feather bed; and yet again a pair of stout arms helped a young woman carry her possessions up the hill, and when a light showed her comeliness, snatched a kiss as payment. No one said aught, least of all the lady herself.
But the disaster had come upon them so suddenly there was no method in the work. The driving rain, the howling wind, the rising water and the roaring of the sea took charge, deadening and belittling all other sounds. Rescuers and rescued could not see each other's faces save by chance; shouts and shrieks and wails were feeble things before the roaring of the storm; every man could only do what seemed best in his own eyes. The obvious thing was to get the helpless and such furniture as they could lay hands on to the higher houses in the upper town.
Confusion there was bound to be.
But it seemed to Reynell, as the night wore on, that the confusion, instead of settling itself, grew worse. He raced along from house to house and satisfied himself that they were empty; there was no danger of anyone being drowned even if the houses fell.
There came a sudden lull, as if sea and wind had hushed for a moment. The worst had passed?
Then to his surprise a cry arose out of the darkness that the chains had broken, and the boats were adrift.
Down came the wind again with a wild shriek. But even above it was the cry.
'The boats! The boats! The boats are adrift!'
It was an ominous cry, for by the boats the little fishing town lived. If the boats were lost then starvation stared Polperro in the face.
Daniel Reynell was close to the upper town when it reached his ears. He raced for the harbour. The cry of alarm rang louder and louder. He could hear it above the howl of the storm.
'The boats! The boats! The boats! Look to the boats!'
'The boats are all right!' he shouted. 'The boats are all right! I saw to them myself. Ross, Trevenick, Quiller, the chains are fast, I tell you. The chains are fast. Garrett,' he shouted to the man next him, 'what is the meaning of this? Tell them the boats are all right. Yell, man, yell. You don't know what may happen if they lose their heads.'
They passed the long pencil of light that came through an open door. Just for a moment it fell on the face of the man beside him. It was not Amos Garrett, as he had supposed, but a total stranger. They plunged into darkness again. The rain beat cutting on his face. He put out his hand and laid it on the stranger's shoulder.
'And who the devil——' he began, for he knew every creature in the town, where he had lived all his days, and he was surprised to see a stranger on a night like this.
'All right, Skipper,' said the man with a laugh. 'Any port in a storm. I'll help if I am a stranger. They boats are adrift they say——'
'The boats are not adrift,' said Reynell, still racing towards the harbour and glancing at his other side.
There was another man there. Of course it was——But no, a light streamed from another door, a comparatively bright light this time, for someone had made a flare with a rope soaked in pitch. This man too was a stranger.
Something was wrong. Conviction came. Something was very wrong. It was from the group round him the alarm about the boats was coming. But what in heaven's name was their object? The women were safe as far as he knew, and to send the men racing back to the quay——
In a flash he knew—he knew.
'The press gang!' he yelled. 'The press gang! Look to it there! The press gang.'
He did not fear for himself. He had a permit, but his sympathies were with these fishermen who would be rudely torn from their homes. He raced on with the men beside him till the street opened out at the head of the harbour. There he paused, for the water rose to his waist. Unless he swam he could go no farther. Besides, there was no object in going farther. He turned. And found a man still on either side.
'Clear out!' he swore angrily, 'and be damned to you!'
He ran back to the fish scales still shouting, 'The press gang! The press gang!'
The night was ideal for their purpose.
He would warn all he could. He heard above the tumult the man beside him laugh derisively and fear just touched him with his cold breath. These two strangers, sailor men by the cut of their jib, were after his stalwart proportions. Once taken could he convince any one he was skipper and owner of the Reaper, a man with a permit? It would take time. Such men had been taken before—had been killed before the mistake had been rectified. And he was to be married on New Year's Day! Lieutenant Quested had not lingered in the little town for nothing.
He grew hot with anger and wild with anxiety.
Not a fortnight to his wedding day! But surely it was simple enough to get away!
He made for the narrow lane that ran by the Pilchard. Once there he reckoned on the steep slippery steps that led uphill to baffle his pursuers. He was familiar with them. They were not. He turned and hit out furiously. The thought of Loveday's bright eyes lent strength to his arms. One man dodged him. The other slipped and stumbled on the cobble stones. He took advantage of the momentary hold up to put on a spurt that brought him right into the narrow passage between the Pilchard and the house opposite.
Now was his chance. He was fresh still, for all his hard work. Once on the hillside of which he knew every inch, every stick and stone and turn——He could have shouted with laughter at the thought of the dance he would lead the poor beggars, saving some poor fishermen from their unwelcome attentions too. They had put their money on the wrong horse when they thought to take the owner of the Reaper under cover of the night. There would be some sick and sorry sailor men——
If Joan had arranged things on purpose to vent her spite on him she could not have arranged it better. The door of the little tavern opened, and there tumbled out into the narrow street the landlord and landlady of the inn, both somewhat dazed with sleep and drink, followed by Betsey, the stupid serving maid. Between them they bore a great feather bed, with, heaped among its folds, pillows and blankets and various other odds and ends. Joan stood just above.
By the lamp which flickered and died down and rose again in the wind he saw her face, and saw too, to his dismay that the whole way was blocked. Turn he could not. It would be running right into the arms of his pursuers. His only hope now was that he might slip through into the inn. He looked back.
Against the white water tumbling over the sea wall loomed the bulk of men, friend or foe he was not sure which. He dared not chance anything. If only the first comers were enemies they were more than he could tackle.
'Gangway there,' he cried. 'Gangway! Joan, clear them for God's sake or there'll be no wedding for me at the New Year!'
A simple soul was Daniel Reynell!
He looked forward to his wedding. To him it seemed the very strongest reason why he should preserve his freedom. He felt the girl would recognise it as such. It was an appeal not to be gainsaid.
Joan stood like a block of wood looking down on the three people struggling so futilely with the great smothering bed. Her stepfather was cursing as usual; her mother was whining; while Betsey was giggling and groaning alternately.
But Reynell's voice dominated all the rest.
'Gangway there! Gangway there!' The sodden landlord stood staring stupidly. As Reynell ran he stepped out of his way but he still clung to the bed, brought it right across the fugitive's path, and before he could stop himself he was on top of it. The three people clinging to it collapsed on top of him, and on top of them came the men who were racing up the street.
For a brief second the human wails were smothered by the water.
Joan, looking on, knew she would have helped if he had not mentioned his wedding day. She did not want him wed. That stayed her hand.
The men on top were up, cursing and laughing and spitting out water; Betsey, shrieking, made a grab at her mistress, and Reynell, scrambling up half drowned out of the knee-deep water, hit out wildly and, catching the landlord one on the mouth, turned him into an active enemy.
For a moment it was pandemonium. The light from the inn fell directly on the struggling crowd. The girl, looking on, saw legs and arms and heads bobbing up in the water in the midst of the smothering feather bed that kept coming up in unexpected places. Every head that rose up swore aloud. She could hear the angry voices even above the howling of the gale. For a moment she thought Reynell was going to fight his way free. She was prepared to help him; to shut the tavern door and hold it in the face of all comers. Unluckily, as she stepped forward Reynell saw her and guessed her intention.
'Good girl, Joan! For my girl's sake——'
One of the men caught his legs and pulled him under water again. When he got his head up four men had him in their grasp.
'Got un at last,' said one with an oath. 'My word, Bill! But he's a dandy to fight! Look out, Bill!'
But Bill wasn't quick enough. Their victim managed to wrench an arm free, clenched his fist and hit Bill a clout between the eyes that sent him reeling under water.
Now was Joan's opportunity.
But instead of flinging herself upon his captors as she might well have done, as he fully expected her to do—she and Betsey might easily have made a diversion in his favour—she stood there looking down idly in the flaring lamplight as if it were no business of hers.
'Oh, curse the girl! Why was she such a fool when so much was at stake! If these four people at the Pilchard would only fight for him—Joan standing there must see how little it would take——'
'Joan! Joan! Give a helping hand for Loveday Corthew's sake! Rouse the lads! If I can't get away——'
The thought that he might after all be carried away overwhelmed him. Such things had been. Such things would be again. With set teeth he wrestled with these men who were cursing him with all the fervour and fluency of which the lower deck of the navy of those days was capable. Their remarks were torrid and to the point. They were using their fists. He was getting the worst of it.
And the woman to whom he was all the world looked on dully. Why should she save him for another woman? They had his arms. They had his legs. He turned his face to the girl standing there.
'Tell them up at Raphiel Farm——'
As he mentioned the farm that held all he cared for, he gave another last struggle. His captors, with an oath that rang above the storm, dragged him down under water again. His message ended in a sobbing gurgle.
'I made me great works; I builded me
houses; I planted me vineyards;
I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kinds of fruit;
I made me pools of water to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees;
and behold all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.'
Daniel Reynell came to himself on the narrow track that led round the cliff in the direction of Talland. Through the pelting rain the wind off the sea drove in his face, but dimly by the light of a ship's lantern he saw three men bending over him. The rough, sea-worn, sun-tanned faces did not look unkindly, though the mouth of one man was bleeding and another had a huge bruise over his eye.
Half dazed as he was, he guessed he had fought hard for his liberty.
'He's all right, Bill,' said the leader, with an oath of satisfaction. 'Damned if I didn't think you'd finished un. Come on, mate. You's a weighty parcel. Dost think 'ee could walk a bit.'
'I can walk my own way,' said Reynell. 'Let me up like good chaps.'
'Aha, mate, but it's our way you must walk,' and Bill, as if to impress on him his helplessness, turned the lantern slowly—its light all blurred by the rain—first on one and then on another of the party.
They were four stalwart men young and strong. The rain dripped in great drops from the edges of their sou'-westers, and ran down their oilskins in little rivers.
'I am skipper and owner of the Reaper,' said their captive struggling into a sitting position, 'with a protection. When I am found missing there will be a great shindy.'
'I reckon we'll take that risk,' said the leader serenely. 'Come along quiet now.'
Quiet in the clutches of the merciless press gang! And his wedding day fixed!
The thought drove him frantic! With clenched fists he rose to his knees only to realise he was a child in their hands.
He had worked hard all the evening; he had run; he had fought; now he was done. If he could walk it was all he could do. They were four to one. It was no good attempting to defy them.
Bill of the black eye looked down at him with a twinkle in the other as if he understood all about it. Probably he did.
'You come along 'o us mate and to-morrow you can put that there protection to the Lootenant.'
He struggled to his feet. It was lonely here on the hillside. There was absolutely no hope of help. The sea was beating on the cliffs below; the gale shrieked as it rushed inland. No sound of life was there. But they were breasting the steep hill that led up to old Talland church. His hopes rose again when he made sure which way they were taking him. Once he spoke to Parson Trevenick all would be well. These men were regarding the parson as Quested's friend—doubtless he was. But he knew Daniel Reynell, the son of his lifelong friend; he had christened him; prepared him for confirmation; was going to marry him next Wednesday week. He would not see him wronged.
He could have shouted aloud so relieved was he. Already he was seeing this night as but an incident for memory and laughter.
It was a stiff pull, but with a mind almost at rest his strength was coming back to him. By the time they reached the church porch he felt equal to making a bolt of it with some hopes of success.
As they turned into shelter he looked back into the wild night. Doubtless one of them would go for the key and the parson would come out himself. He knew Parson Trevenick was not the man to let anyone shelter in his church. Now—now——Oh it would be worth it all when he sat in the parson's study over a pipe and a glass of grog. Or no, he would go straight to Polperro. What did he care about the wild night so long as he was free?
Then, like a puff of cold wind, came the first breath of doubt. Bill held up the lantern so that its light—the water on the horn made it nebulous—fell on the stone wall to the right. There, on a little hook, hung the church key.
The leader took it and opened the door. Reynell, almost mechanically hung back and looked over his shoulder.
'None of yer little games now,' said the man beside him, giving him a shove forward which sent him stumbling into the church.
He put a curb upon his temper.
'I must speak to the parson.'
'Oh you must, must you? Wantin' the banns put up, I presume. Well, the Bounty's bound for the South Seas, an' then for Jaimacy, an' then—an' then—we'll call it three year.'
And only this afternoon he had looked into Loveday's dancing hazel eyes.
'God! Man! It's not much to ask. I want to see the parson.'
He had come up the hill happily believing he should. If they prevented him now——He felt as if a band were drawn tightly round his chest cramping his breathing.
The leader turned round.
'Well, Parson's away to Looe on some jinks. How d'ye think we got the key else? We squared the wench, a right smart wench she is. I guess you'll have to wait for the Lootenant.'
And he laughed. It was nothing to him.
These sailor men, friendly enough, had not the slightest intention of allowing him to escape. Laughing, they hustled him to the end of the church, set their little lantern on the big square knight's tomb, and—despite his struggles, and he struggled all he knew, they succeeded in binding his legs and arms with good stout rope which was coiled up there ready for that very purpose. Then he was helpless and he knew it.
'Us can't afford to take no risks,' said Bill half apologetically. 'There's others acomin' along. Bless you, mate, in a week you won't mind. It ain't three months since I was pressed meself.'
'But I have a permit, and I'm to be married Wednesday week!'
'Married!' It was a great joke. They were doubled up with merriment.
'Then I guess,' put in the leader, 'we're adoin' you a service, mate. Lord! You'll be sayin' hallelujahs in six months' time. I wisht some kind friend had a pressed me a fortnight afore I was tied up.'
The others guffawed. The jokes they made were unprintable.
At last Bill said soothingly, 'You put it to the Lootenant, mate.'
Reynell suppressed a groan.
It was a jest to them, a trifling thing.
The bitter part was he was but two miles from Polperro. The whole town would turn out to his help did they know his predicament. But if they missed him in the town they would think he was at Raphiel Farm. At Raphiel Farm they would not come down to the harbour so long as the bad weather lasted. No one knew.
Then, with a glow of thankfulness, he thought of Joan of the Pilchard. It was no good counting on Bet or the landlord or his wife. They would only know a man had been taken. But Joan had recognised him. She not only knew he had been taken but the way he had gone—of that he felt sure. She would give the alarm. An important man like him—the whole town would be simmering. He only wondered he had not been found before. He was sure the Polperro men were scouring the country looking for him. The moment they saw the light in the church they would come to find out the reason. Any moment they might be here now.
He strained his ears to listen for their coming.
They would come—they must come—not a fortnight to his wedding—the Fates would surely never be so cruel. He must be rescued.
Presently there came trampling of feet. His heart beat high.
His captors took it too coolly. Other men came in, bringing in two prisoners, three in fact, but one was a dead man. They flung the body down in a heap.
The chief of the men who had captured him turned on them angrily.
'What did you bring him for? Much use he is to the King! The orders was not to hurt any one, damn you.'
'That's all very well,' grumbled one of the culprits, 'but it were just a scrappin' match an' Job here has stout fistes of his own.'
One of the prisoners seized the lantern and flashed it on the dead man's face. Reynell saw that it was young Amos Garrett, who had married pretty Lavinia Curtis only this autumn and had been repenting the deed ever since.
'Good Lord! Poor Garrett!' he said. 'Well that settles his matrimonial difficulties anyhow.'
'Why, Bob Trevenick! You don't mean to say they've taken you!'
'Went to a deal of trouble about it too,' laughed Trevenick, a little ruefully. 'And a nice mess I've made of my friend's face here. All for nothing, for the King might have had me for the asking. Who's the other unfortunate?'
The other man was a fisherman from Polruan, who, unluckily for himself, was spending the night in Polperro. He had fought desperately for his liberty, and was now nursing a bruised shoulder tenderly.
'The skipper here has a protection,' went on Trevenick, 'I'd have come if the King had asked me nicely without all this scrapping. My father'll be glad to get rid of me for a bit. The old gentleman finds my presence upsetting in a quiet parsonage, and as for this poor chap——'
The Polruan man turned to his friend in affliction.
'An' Kitty wi the twinses,' he groaned, 'how'll her do wi'out I? 'A lost the boat last week——'
'Oh, did you,' said cheerful Bob Trevenick, whom even the sight of death could not damp for long. 'Well, his Majesty's not unfeeling. If you'll sign on quiet I've no doubt he'll send half your pay home to Kitty, and when you come back the twins'll be over their teething. It'll be a power of trouble saved.'
'Will her? Will her?' The Polruan man cheered up at once.
Trevenick clapped the leader of the press gang on the back.
'By my soul, mate,' he begun.
'I'm a bos'un,' said that worthy gruffly. 'You'll call me "Mr. Thompson," and you'll keep your paws to yourself.'
Evidently he was not too pleased with his night's work.
'Well; Mr. Thompson,' went on Trevenick unabashed, 'I don't wonder you feel it. You've gone to a great deal of trouble for nothing, and you've done for poor Amos Garrett. Why the poor fellow'd have gone cheerful if you'd only explained the matter to him. The wench he married had a tongue and——'
'For heaven's sake quit fooling, Bob,' said Reynell anxiously. He could hear no sound of the rescue party. They could not take him. Yet such things had happened. 'What are they planning to do with us?'
'Do with us? Don't you know? Here's the Bounty put in at Spithead bound for the South Seas. Four of her men had the bad taste to desert, so Captain Bligh, recalling the gallant men of Cornwall, suggests that Captain Quested should pick him out four men of Polperro and—why, bless you, it's as easy as falling down a hatchway. Clap us on board the Alert, and if this wind holds ten hours we ought to have the Nab behind us—and once on board the Bounty——'
'I have a protection,' said Reynell again. He had said it so often this evening. Trevenick shrugged his shoulders. 'Reckon a captain short of men and in blue water practically——'
One of the sailors interrupted. 'Mr. Thompson,' he said, 'there's some un at the door.'
'If it's one man let un in,' said the bos'un. 'We're short. And take that', pointing to poor Garrett, 'out, and if Job don't want to get into trouble over it——'
They opened the door, and there came in, not a man, but a woman muffled to the eyes in a dripping red shawl. She stood looking round her in a dazed sort of way.
For one wild moment Reynell thought it might be Loveday Corthew. Only for a moment though. She was much too tall for Loveday.
Dropping her shawl she came straight towards him. By the feeble light of the lantern he saw it was Joan of the Pilchard. Thank God!
'Why Joan, my pretty maid!' said Trevenick, who was still excited.
'Joan! Joan!' cried Reynell, too anxious to pay compliments, besides he didn't think Joan exactly pretty, 'did you raise the town?'
But, of course, his mind went on arguing, she wouldn't own to it if she had. That would be sheer foolishness. Still she might give some sign, some look—something to let him understand instead of standing there like a stuck pig—surely——
'A' followed 'ee,' said Joan. 'A' was afeared a' might miss 'ee.'
His heart sank. But of course, what else could she say? She had followed him. That was something. It was a line thrown to the wreck on which men were drowning. Now to make use of that line.
'An' here she stops,' said the bo'sun, 'till we've gone. We're not going to have the Polperro men down on us. Please God they've plenty on hand to-night, an' they won't be troubling over much for a day or two about a missing man. But Joan won't sell us, will you, my wench?'
Joan turned round gravely and looked at him in silence.
Reynell, commending her, felt it was policy on her part to keep on friendly terms with their captors. They were not bad-hearted. Evidently they thought these two were lovers.
'Here, Bill, Tom, let 'un alone,' said the bo'sun. ''Tis a three year voyage, an' the wench has followed un. Let be, on'y see as he don't give us leg bail.'
He drew off the men towards the door. Light-hearted Bob Trevenick burst out laughing.
'Well, I don't know if Mistress Loveday Corthew be jealous,' he began, 'but upon my word——'
Reynell could not chaff. Things were too serious.
'Joan,' he asked, 'are you sure the Polperro men don't know what's happened?'
'It was powerful dark,' hesitated Joan. She had begun to be painfully conscious of her slipshod English. She wished this man could hear her Spanish. But he had no tongue but his own, 'a', had all a' cud do to follow 'ee.'
'Follow me!' And he swore an oath he would have gulped down in Loveday's presence. 'It would have been much more to the purpose if you'd got someone else to follow me.'
Poor Joan! Dumbly she had faced the storm because she liked to be near him—because she had some vague idea that the sight of a friendly face might soften him towards her. But his voice sounded as she had felt when she let the men surround him—bitter—yes, bitter. Then he had given no thought at all to her. Now he was thinking of her—reviling her—feeling she had failed in doing all she might. She had failed too. She was no fool. It would have been much better for him if she had sent the Polperro men.
Of course then she would have stepped aside—for ever.
A careless word of thanks tossed to her as he prepared for his wedding would have been all her reward.
She would rather it was this way. Of course she wanted to be first with him. To be the one to whom he should turn as his only help. Oh, delicious thought—this grand man—this one man out of all the world should turn to her for help—to her, the despised drudge of the tavern. But he was angry—and his anger hurt.
'A' mocht help,' she said, sullenly twisting her fingers in and out of the fringe of her dripping shawl.
Reynell laughed, but there was no mirth in his laughter.
'You might,' he said, 'and my friend the bo'sun might let me go.'
Trevenick, the carefree, laughed too, laughed lightly.
'Come, Dan, old chap, don't be so damnably bitter. I daresay there's ways and means of turning the bo'sun's heart if we only knew them. Twenty pounds down now and he'd see your protection written all over you.'
In a moment Reynell had hitched himself into a sitting position despite his bonds.
'Twenty pounds! Well, of course——'
'I'm afraid it would have to be cash down,' said Trevenick, extinguishing the hope as soon as he'd raised it, 'for lieutenants ain't too pleased with bo'suns who see protections too quickly.'
'I haven't five shillings in my pocket,' said Reynell, sinking back again, 'but when the bank opens to-morrow——'
'I'm afraid,' said Trevenick, 'you'll be in blue water before the bank opens. But we could get it from my dad. Or, better still, he'll point out the iniquity of taking you, and you'll be twenty pounds to the good.'
'And how am I to get at your dad?'
'Why not send a message by Joan? He's in Looe. He'll swear to you, and Bligh himself wouldn't dare to keep you.'
'Joan, will you? Joan, will you?'
Reynell's voice was eager and full of hope again. The eagerness went straight to her heart.
'Iss, surely, that a' will,' she said. 'Deed, 'an 'deed a' will.'
'There now,' said Trevenick. 'Can you ride?'
There was a little twinkle in his eyes, for he had seen Joan helping to run contraband. He knew that at any rate she was at home on a quiet horse.
'Well you beg, borrow, or steal a nag and off to the parsonage at Looe, the church close by the harbour, any one'll tell you. Put the whole thing to my dad, and tell him he must catch the Alert before she sails. Think you're up to the job?'
He looked the dripping girl up and down with eyes that seemed to condemn her as a useless drudge.
Her soul rose up in revolt. She would save this man.
She crept closer to Reynell. The thought that she might count for something in his life transfigured her face for a moment.
By the dim horn lantern on the Knight's tomb Reynell saw, and wondered a passing wonder—that he had not done full justice to her good looks before.
'A'll do all a' can for 'ee.'
'Penrhyn's got the bay mare,' said Reynell seeing how simply it might be done. 'You must borrow Kitty. Tell him I sent you for her, and if he isn't there just take her. The main thing is to get to Looe. I'll make it all right with Penrhyn afterwards. Ride, like a good wench, the moment you get the chance.'
'A'd do a deal for 'ee.'
'Good girl.' His eyes looked kind, and his voice softened, for he was thinking of another woman. 'If, by the worst of luck, you don't catch the parson, and I'm carried off, you'll tell Mistress Loveday Corthew at Raphiel Farm—that—that—tell her——'
It is not very easy when you come to think of it to send a message of love by the drudge of a fisherman's tavern. Reynell felt the difficulty. In those days paper and pencil came not readily to every man's hand. He had neither. Neither had Trevenick.
'Oh, don't worry. Joan'll get the mare.'
'Mind, if Dick Penrhyn isn't there just take her, Joan,' insisted Reynell. 'The great thing is not to waste time.'
'Don't be afraid. The skipper here'll see you through,' declared Trevenick. 'He's a good friend of Penrhyn's.'
'You understand?' said Reynell anxiously.
'Iss,' said the girl, dragging her shawl over her face. He was glad, for he felt all his love and longing must be written on his face. Yet that it had any interest for her never occurred to him.
'And if you don't get me free in time—if I'm taken you'll tell Mistress Corthew——'
'A'd a deal rather free 'ee.'
'Oh, if you could do that!' and his face lighted.
'That's the ticket,' said Trevenick cheerfully. 'Once you set eyes on that mare, Joan, you stick to her till you've told the sorrowful story to my governor. Get the mare and ride her for all you're worth. Have you got that clear, Joan?'
Trevenick was not particularly anxious to be freed. Things were likely to be troublous at home. There was a certain bill falling due—want of the necessary suggested that absence—that top'sle sheets in fact, would settle it better than any other way he could think of. Reynell's freedom was another matter. That Joan should be able to manage. He curled himself up and went to sleep. The Polruan man, comforted by the thought that his Kitty would get half his wages, and that the teething of the twins would not bother him, followed his example. Most of their captors were already snoring.
Joan sank down on the stones at Reynell's feet, drew her shawl over her face, and, though he did not know it, feasted her eyes on him. Never before in all her starved, miserable life had she been so close to the man she loved. She had only to put out her hand and she could lay it on his feet. She was cold; she was weary; but she would have been more than content if the night had stretched itself out to twice its normal length.
Reynell lay on his back, with his head resting on a step; gazed at the lantern; thought of Loveday; and feared. The light was so dim he could not see the beams in the roof of the old church—everything was nebulous like his future. Yet Joan should be able to get the parson on board the Alert before they sailed. It all seemed quite simple. Why fear? Surely Fate could not deal a man such a cruel blow!
The thought of what he might lose filled his whole mind, to the exclusion of everything else.
'There is no sorrow, like unto my sorrow.' We have all said it once we have left our childhood behind, nay even children feel it, and always it seems to us it is we alone who suffer.
Reynell would have been amazed could he have known that his trouble was but a small thing beside the agony of the girl crouching there on the floor. She was nothing to him—nothing but a dull, stupid lass who had not done all she might to save him. He felt impatient at having to trust her. But there was no one else.
And she knew—knew with gladness—there was no one else.
At last the bo'sun rose up, pushed the girl aside, and began to unfasten the ropes that bound the prisoner.
'Now then,' he said roughly, 'we're goin' to start. You'd better come along quiet like, or it'll be so much the worse for you. Here, you wench, out of the way. I guess you can't bring help till we're safe on board the Alert. If the Polperro men come there we'll know what to do with them. Stir yourselves now. Come along, mates, stir yourselves. Look lively now, Amos Garrett, up with you,' and he caught Reynell by the shoulder.
'I am not Amos Garrett,' said Reynell. 'My name is Daniel Reynell, skipper of the Reaper. I have a protection.'
'Reynell, is it? Well, I guess now, we have just buried Daniel Reynell and his protection in the churchyard here. A mighty handy thing is a churchyard. But if you don't like your own name you're perfectly at liberty to take another. Get a move on you, mates. March!'
'The grave is mine house;
I have made my bed in the darkness.'
Joan, left behind, stood watching the lantern bobbing down the steep path in the direction of Looe. The wind, carrying great spurts of rain, was still coming up in sighing gusts, but a star or two peeped out from among the flying clouds. Whenever the wind died down in a momentary lull she could hear the rain falling on the sodden dead leaves that lay round the porch door. A long trail of ivy had been torn away. It swayed up and down in the wind, thrashing against the wall. Already it was battered—crushed.
All her life she remembered that night. The scent of wet autumn leaves pressed into the earth and decaying, the acrid odour of ivy, torn and broken, always spelled to her hopeless despair.
Nowadays, when a woman has some standing, at least in the British Empire, it is somewhat difficult for us to realize the position of a girl of the labouring classes in the end of the eighteenth century. She counted for absolutely nothing in the cosmogony. Had she beauty—beauty that attracted—she might possibly have some standing in her own little circle as long as it lasted; but if she had none she was of no importance at all save to those who loved her.
No one saw Joan's beauty, and she was aware that no one loved her. Her mother had insisted on bringing her away from the comfort—nay the luxury—of her Spanish home: for love she said.
That was six long years ago. If she had loved her then that love had long since died.
She was alone in the world. The wind that stormed round the church mournfully wailed it. The cold rain pattering on the brown leaves drove the fact home. No one wanted her, no one cared for her. Daniel Reynell was willing to use her simply because he could get no one else. He only wanted some one to take a message. She could not deceive herself. The most worthless little scamp of a boy hanging round the boats on the lookout for odd jobs would have been more to his mind.
Well, she would show him that she could do better for him than most, better than pretty Loveday Corthew, who would love any man who was good to her.
Joan, though she did not even know it herself, was extremely capable. She had an orderly mind. Given a fair chance—no, less than a fair chance, given some little opportunity, she would certainly make the most of it.
As she stood watching the departing lantern, she might mourn, but she was arranging things in her own mind, deciding what she should do. She could not bear to think that Daniel Reynell should go right out of her life—three years in the South Seas was certainly a life-time to the girl not yet nineteen. If she saved him he would certainly marry Loveday Corthew—but—if she, Joan, could save him—the glory of it—Joan the despised drudge of the Pilchard!
And she would! Her mind refused to go any further. She would.
It is wise to take short views. If we give our minds wholly to the thing we have in hand it is generally the best policy. There are the far-seeing, of course, but often those peering for possibilities in the future are apt to neglect the means for good that lie ready to their hand.
Joan crossed the churchyard; made her way through the wild parsonage garden and, emerged close to Penrhyn's farm. She decided definitely she would not appeal to the Corthews or to Polperro. She could manage this thing alone.
For her own glory she chose. She did not realize—she was not to realize for many a long day—that she was altering the lives of four people. Only one of them gave her a passing thought. For Reynell she was a means to an end, and a very inadequate means at that.
At Penrhyn's farm she paused at the broken gate that led into a muddy yard in the middle of which was a great midden. Penrhyn was a hopeless farmer, untidy, drunken. His whole interests lay in the free traders, and the tiny woodland that attached to the farm gave him a bit of shooting occasionally. He cheerfully broke the law with regard to smuggling, and, like many of his betters, upheld it with regard to poaching. The only difference was that he was so active a free trader that when he came into Looe to seek the help of the law, because he had evidence his pheasants and rabbits were in danger, and he wanted to take the culprits red-handed, the coast-guard indulged in ribald merriment and declared they might sleep peacefully in their beds that night at least.
His only really valuable possession was the bay mare. It was an open secret that Kitty was on the forlorn farm because she was useful when there was a cargo to be run. She was a well known horse in the countryside was Kitty Penrhyn. She was quiet too. Joan knew she could manage her. The only question was would Penrhyn lend. She thought he would, because Reynell stood high in his esteem, but there were times when he was abominably surly.
If he would not, there would still be time to make her way either to Raphiel Farm or to Polperro. There she would find those who would make it their business to reach the Alert before it was too late.
But she wanted to go herself.
She ran splashing across the yard and beat against the door.
Rap! Rap! Rap! No sound but the wind in the eaves and the rain beating against the walls. Rap! Rap! Rap! Joan was painfully conscious of the passing of time. It was ages since she had watched the lantern go down the steep hillside; Daniel Reynell must be half way to Looe by now. He would think she had forgotten.
She must get a message through before dawn. Oh God! Where was Dick Penrhyn? It would be cruel if she had to walk to Raphiel Farm and then drop out of the picture.
Why didn't Dick Penrhyn answer? There was no cargo to be run to-night. She could hear the mare moving uneasily in her ramshackle stable. She knew where the key was kept. It would be the simplest thing in the world to do as Reynell had told her to do—just take the mare. Horse stealing had been rife round Polperro of late, in spite of the fact that the penalty was death. Still, Looe once reached, not only would it be all right but she would be covered with glory.
'Mr. Penrhyn! Mr. Penrhyn!'
There came over her that eerie feeling that does come over us if we raise our voice alone in the night and no one answers. For the first time this evening she was terrified. She pulled herself together. Mrs. Penrhyn might easily have gone to her sister's, and quite likely her husband was dead drunk, lost to the world. She leaned against the door. It gave.
She went inside, and found herself in the dark kitchen with the last embers of the fire glowing red on the hearth. Her dire need gave her courage. She felt about for some wood, and stirred the glowing coals into a blaze.
No one here.
She found a candle; lighted it and held it above her head.
No sign of the farmer. His boots were not there. No sign of Mrs. Penrhyn. Should she go upstairs in search of them?
But the need of haste kept pressing on her.
She found the key of the stable in its accustomed place. It would be quite simple to return the mare when she had found Parson Trevenick. Penrhyn would never go to the stable again to-night. She would have loads of time to do the job she had on hand and be back before daybreak. In that case the farmer need never know—or if he must—oh, glorious thought, Daniel Reynell would stand by her side, knowing he owed his freedom to her pluck and promptitude.
That settled it. Guarding the candle, she went to the stable. To her dismay there was neither saddle nor bridle. It struck her as curious.
Looking round she found the bridle of the old plough horse, and slipped that over the mare's head. The plough horse was not there. Penrhyn was a careless man; he must have forgotten poor old Dobbin, and left him in the field.
She looked about carefully. Not a sign of a saddle.
These little hitches worried her, and made her hot over. The Alert would not sail before dawn. Dawn was late in December, but she knew well enough the Alert would not lose a moment. Even when she found the parson he had to be got on board.
A saddle——Well she must manage without a saddle. She threw a sack across the mare and mounted, gathering her petticoats about her and sitting astride.
The stars were peeping fitfully now and then between the storm clouds. She found the gate again, and got into the wet road that dipped down between the hawthorn hedges.
Kitty picked her way strangely soberly for Kitty. But Joan could only be thankful for that. Her seat was precarious, and the rain had worn this side road into ruts and holes. She would be able to go more quickly once she reached the high road.
She was desperately impatient, but her sound common sense told her that any accident to herself or the mare would wreck her project. She tried to calculate what time she had. It seemed like years and years since she had seen Reynell struggling with the press-gang outside the Pilchard, but it could not yet be midnight.
Her eyes were accustomed to the gloom by the time she reached the turning into the high road. She could see the wet road and the dripping hedges quite plainly.
She expected an empty road at this time of the night, but to her surprise there were two men riding towards her. She was suddenly conscious of her petticoats huddled round her waist for convenience. She drew rein instinctively, and, as if divining her discomfort, the rain came down again heavily. Joan sighed a sigh of relief. She could see the two riders as dark masses on the roadway. If they had not moved they would have been indistinguishable from the hedges on either hand. She could not make up her mind whether to call to them for help or whether to wait where she was.
After all she could manage by herself.
She drew a little into the hedge. For a moment it seemed they would pass her. The rain stopped again, and just as they drew abreast the mare moved uneasily. One of the passing horses whinnied loudly. Both the men came to a full stop.
Concealment was useless now. Time pressed. She dug her heels into the mare's flank.
'Kitty!' An oath! It was Penrhyn's voice, 'The devil! Stolen by Gom! Out in the wet! It'll be the death o' she! Ater un Clayton!'
The two men wheeled.
Before Joan, slow of speech, could make up her mind what she was to say they were one on each side of her. She felt the fiery fumes of the farmer's breath.
'Mr. Penrhyn! Mr. Penrhyn! 'Tis Joan of the Pilchard! You know I.' She had wit enough to know she must make her excuses as quickly as possible. 'The press gang ha' taken the Polperro men—Daniel Reynell, and I mun ride to Parson Trevenick at Looe!'
'It'll be the death o' thiccy mare,' roared the farmer. 'Her'n had a narrer squeak of it. We's gotten this un red-handed. Grab un, Clayton.'
Clayton, being evidently a man slow at the uptake, he himself lugged Joan so roughly from the mare's back she fell on her face in the muddy roadway. Her long black hair came down and was dabbled in the mud and water.
She scrambled up, the one thought uppermost that she must not be stopped.
'Mr. Penrhyn! Mr. Penrhyn!' she begged wildly, 'if 'ee' wunnot let I go, go 'ee 'ee'self. The press gang got 'em, an' they be off to the South Seas 'less Parson Trevenick be there to speak for un. Oh, Mr. Penrhyn! A'm Joan of the Pilchard!'
'A' niver heerd no good o' the Pilchard,' said the other man with portentous solemnity. Joan began to realize that these two were far gone in liquor, but not drunk enough, unluckily, to be helpless; yet seeing they were two strapping big Cornish-men in the pride of their manhood quite drunk enough to stupidly hinder her. They paid no attention to her prayer.
Penrhyn shook her again and again, pouring out a torrent of angry words, which ended on a triumphant note.
She gathered that the mare had been sick; that accounted for her sluggishness. Mrs. Penrhyn was away, and Penrhyn had ridden the old plough horse to fetch his neighbour, Clayton, who was skilled in all things veterinary, to help him. Now they had taken a horse thief red-handed. Clayton could swear to it. Not for a moment did they listen to Joan's wild prayers.
'Be 'est goin' to give she in charge, varmer?' asked Clayton, putting his great hand on her shoulder.
'Dom'd if I ain't. It's a bit of good luck you's along o' I. Fair caught red-handed!'
'Oh, Mr. Penrhyn,' prayed Joan, 'for God's sake,' and then she did what she had never thought to do. 'If so be 'ee won't let I go, send word to Raphiel Farm. 'Tis for Skipper Daniel Reynell.'
'I'll Raphiel Farm 'ee,' roared the farmer. 'An' maybe thiccy mare done to death, eh, Clayton?'
'Likely as not from what you'm tellin',' said Clayton sombrely.
At the thought of his worst fears being confirmed, the farmer waxed more wrath. Letting go Dobbin he laid both hands on Joan.
'Ee'll just come along o' we, ee' limb o' Satan,' he said. 'Ee'll hang for this.'
Not yet did fear for herself come to Joan. The only thing that she could think of was that she was failing Daniel Reynell. If they would not let her ride then she must get to Polperro and let someone else save him. There was time enough yet if she could get quit of these men. She must not fail him.
With that thought uppermost she fought—fought with all her strength. She kicked, she bit, she cursed, she used her hands; she was just such a wild termagant as any sensible man would have expected to come out of the little low pot-house.
There were two angry men before three minutes had passed.
In another three minutes they had her down; had tied her hands, and were cursing her for a wild cat. They made her walk back to the farm.
Once there, paying no heed to her passionate pleading, they tied her up to the great four poster in an alcove in the kitchen and, lighting a lantern, they both went out to attend to the mare.
That night stretched itself into years.
She was firmly tied. She had no more chance of escaping than Reynell himself. Less, for he had right on his side when all was said and done, while, look at it what way she would, she had to admit, with the sound common sense that was at the back of all Joan did that she was in the wrong. If the farmer were not inclined to mercy, she might very easily be very much in the wrong.
Yet her intentions were so good she could not bring herself to believe that either he or Ted Clayton would really think she had intended to steal the mare.
They came in and out; mixed what seemed to her messes in saucepans; warmed them at the fire; burnt them and cursed. Each time the farmer came in he was an angrier man. For things were going badly with the mare.
Joan was cramped, sick, wet, heartbroken and hopeless. She was so young. And she had failed in the only great thing that it had ever come her way to do. She tried again and again to put the case to the men as they came in. They paid no heed. Their minds were concentrated on the fact that she had stolen the sick mare; she had taken her out of her warm stable; she had actually ridden her. They would not listen to what she said. They told her, angrily, what they would do to her if the mare died.
They came in at last, stamping, and shaking the rain from their clothes. Threatening her with their fists, they said the mare was dead. She should swing for the night's work. They steamed in the warmth. They refreshed themselves from the great barrel that stood in the corner. When it was finished they were only a little more muddled.
The dawn broke sullen and grey.
Joan knew the Alert must be sailing from Looe. Her heart sank. But not for herself. She did not mind being cursed. She was accustomed to discomfort and misery of all sorts, and the blazing fire made the room warm.
Her real grief was that she had failed. The thought that Daniel Reynell would go away cursing her crushed the very heart out of her. There was nothing to live for—nothing. He would hate her—hate her. Her utter misery was greater than she could bear, even death could bring her no comfort. And she had to live on, live a life in which she could see not a ray of light breaking through the darkness.
'Oh that my grief were thoroughly
weighed, and my calamity laid in the balances together.
For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea.'
The press gang went straight to Looe to the coast-guard station, turned their prisoners into a room with heavily barred windows, and, making sure there was no possibility of escape, locked the door and left them. No officer came near them. In truth that gentleman felt that the less he knew about the capture of the press gang the simpler for him.
All the livelong night Reynell hoped and Trevenick, being a kindly soul, roused himself from his slumbers again and again to speak a word of comfort.
'But if Joan had seen your father,' said Reynell gloomily, 'he'd have been here by now.'
'Not he,' said Bob cheerfully, against his own convictions. 'The old boy'll spend the night comfortably in the parsonage. No good routing out a naval captain till he has to. It'll be simpler to interview him as he's interviewing us.'
'But if he spoke to the officer of the coast-guard here——'
'And how the dickens is he to know we're at the coast-guard? Joan would tell him Talland Church and he'd know better than to go there.'
Reynell dropped into an uneasy sleep at last, for he was very weary. Hardly had his eyes closed it seemed to him when Thompson the bos'un roused them out again. They were embarked in the pinnace, and just as the sullen winter's dawn was breaking, they were passed on board the Alert.
Reynell looked round eagerly. Where was Parson Trevenick? The ship's lanterns struggled with the gloomy daylight. One glance showed no one there who had not business on board.
'He's below,' said Trevenick, hopeful to the last.
But Reynell knew he was not below. Joan had failed him. He had known she would. He cursed—not her—she was too slight a thing in his mind to curse—but his own evil fate.
His comrade, seeing in the dim light his strained face, knew he was taking it worse than even he had expected. Truly he was in the depths of despair.
But Trevenick was wrong. Reynell still hoped. There lay the pain. It is when we have nothing to hope for that turmoil ceases.
'See the captain,' urged Bob. 'Quested knows all about you, and he's a very decent chap, though you've never done him justice?'
He might have been a decent chap—he was in fact—but he had no mind to see the Polperro men in the toils. He was making the most of an attack of fever. His senior officer—on leave—very obligingly undertook to take the Alert round to Portsmouth. It was he—roused out from his sleep—who received the pressed men.
Nothing was said about the dead man, dead and buried in Talland churchyard. He looked at the three stalwart young men, in the prime of their manhood, with satisfied eyes.
'Only three,' he said. 'Bligh wanted another man. However, we must manage. Now, my lads, you've got to obey orders, serve the King and——'
'Sir,' said Reynell angrily, 'I protest. I am Daniel Reynell, skipper and owner of the Reaper. I must protest——'
'Oh you protest, do you?' Captain Maitland pushed back his wig and rubbed his forehead to assist thought. It didn't help him much so he turned to the paper in his hand.
'Robert Trevenick, resigned and willing, George Simpson, the same wants his pay sent to Kitty Simpson, opposite the town pump, Polruan. All right, George Simpson. We'll make a man of you. Amos Garrett, discontented, very troublesome and anxious to escape. All right, Amos Garrett, we will curb that little desire on your part and see if we cannot induce a serene content. Take Amos Garrett to the fo'c'sle, lash him in his hammock there and keep him there till he's in a more reasonable frame of mind—or, hold on, shove him in the forepeak and put him one leg in irons. He'll have time to cool there, and we'll let Captain Bligh settle his little difficulties for him. I guess it'll interest both him and Amos Garrett more than it does me. I'll put his name on the list, and his wife shall have half his pay. The King is ever considerate to his servants—willing or unwilling.'
'I am Daniel Reynell,' shouted the unlucky captive, struggling with might and main, and dragging four sailors across the bulwarks in a wild struggle to throw himself overboard, 'you have no more right to take me than you have to take the King himself. Let go, I say, damn you, let go. I would rather be dead than go now.'
'The young cock's mighty anxious to part with his life,' panted the bos'un, 'an' ater all we yerd about this wife of his, too. Come quiet, my lad, come quiet now, for come you must. There ain't no gainsaying the skipper when he gives an order. Into the forepeak you're goin' an' ironed you'll be. Speak to Trevenick and get him to send a message.'
It was wisdom. All he could hope for now was to send a message to Raphiel Farm. His heart was sick and cold within him. Since he must stay—and he knew he must—it was no good incensing these men against him. The thought stayed his hand as he was about to hit a sailor in the face.
'Bob,' he called, 'Bob, send a message for me. If you don't care yourself at least remember——'
The light was growing. Through the pouring rain they could see a boat approaching. It might, thought Reynell, be Quested.
'Bos'un,' came the angry order, 'remove the prisoner. Take the others to the fo'c'sle.'
Maitland knew well enough if this man's story was true he had no right to take him. But pressed men told all sorts of lies. They all settled down in the end. To do him justice, he did not think he was doing him any particular harm. And he was just the sort of man Bligh would be glad of. A merchant skipper and owner! He was dressed as a fisherman! Let Bligh do the investigating. When Amos Garrett came back from the West Indies three years hence Amos Garrett would have quietly settled into his place—risen to be a warrant officer probably—he knew a good seamen when he saw him—and would have forgotten any unpleasantness at the beginning of his career. As for the girl he wanted to marry—well, Captain Maitland was married himself to the best little woman in the world but—if any one had had the foresight to send him to sea on a three years' cruise a fortnight before his wedding day he knew very well he would have had a better chance of——Oh well, he wasn't doing this man any great harm even if his story was true. And having seen his recruits disposed of so that no messages could possibly be sent, he, with the comfortable feeling that he had nobly done his duty, turned to meet the newcomer.
'Let me stay on deck,' pleaded Reynell, feeling keenly the mistake he had made. Had he come quietly he had had a better chance to get a message off—to speak to this man who was coming on board. 'I'll stay quiet on deck.'
'You should have thought on that afore, me lad,' said the bo'sun laughing. ''Tis three dozen for disobeying of orders, an' no questions asted. Come along.'
There was nothing else for it. He went. They pushed him into a small dark forepeak on to a pile of spare rope and canvas, dragged him along and soon had his leg secured to the bar.
'Remind Trevenick, for God's sake, remind Trevenick,' pleaded Reynell, and he was not accustomed to plead, 'to send a message for me.'
'I will, my lad, I will that,' said the bo'sun, relieved to find his unruly prisoner quiet at last. Then they shoved on the hatch and he was in darkness.
For a moment he was tempted to shout for assistance, to shout to whoever was this man coming on board, Quested perhaps, that he would be taking a mean advantage of him if he left him to be carried to sea there against his will. But resistance had not served him well as yet, so he reversed his policy just when shouting and calling attention to his wrongs would have brought an investigation. Truly the Fates were against the union of Daniel Reynell and Loveday Corthew.
He sat down on a corner of rope, putting strong pressure upon himself and waited. It could not be long. They were putting to sea at once. Some one would come for him in a moment. When the man he had seen coming on board heard the story he would surely send for him and ask a few pertinent questions. All naval officers were not as callous as Captain Maitland.
The time was not really long—it only seemed long to him because he was so desperately anxious, because he was here in the dark, and so very much depended on his getting away.
It was pitchy dark. He could not see a gleam of light. He could hear the vague sea noises; the grinding of a boat against the cutter's side; the rattle of ropes; the tramp of bare feet overhead, and the inevitable bustle and confusion attendant on a ship just about to go to sea.
But no one came to him. He waited. Then he fell into a panic. Suppose this last chance should fail. And he was tied by the leg—literally.
'Lieutenant Quested!' he shouted, raising his voice to the utmost, 'Lieutenant Quested!' It must be Quested. But his voice died away. It was lost among other sounds. He paused for a moment listening painfully. Surely—surely——Trevenick would get a message through and that officer—whoever he was—would send for him. It was his last chance—his very last chance. He grew hot and cold and sick with anxiety as he found himself here helpless and it slipping away from him.
'Shove off, for'ard.'
The order rang out clear. He heard the rattle of the boat-hooks along the cutter's side, and knew that the other naval man, Quested, or not Quested, was gone—gone without seeing him. He shouted aloud and dashed himself against the side. This thing could not happen—it could not—it could not. But it was happening. He felt the Alert moving, slipping along through the water. His last hope died.
All now depended on the captain of the Bounty. And what consideration could he expect from a man already short handed and anxious to get to sea?
Oh, Loveday! Loveday! He went over their time together. He had known her as a little child. He had slipped into being her lover, when he could hardly have told. Had he ever made her understand how much she was to him? There were a thousand things he might have said, a thousand things he had left unsaid. He had always thought—I can tell her when we are wed.
His house was ready. The Reaper was all prepared. There were the bunks in the cabin—the little fireplace in the cuddy—the carpet that her dainty feet might not be cold. His wife would come to sea with him oftener than not.
He could not bear it. It was more than mortal man could stand. The unshed tears burned hot beneath his eyelids. And three long dreary years at the very least must pass before he saw her again.
Oh, Loveday! Loveday!
By and by a man brought him some dinner. He hung up a little horn lantern on a nail so that he might have some light by which to eat it. But he knew nothing, or pretended to know nothing, save that they expected to be alongside the Bounty a little after six, and that the prisoners were to be handed over then. He came back for the light after a time.
In darkness the wretched man spent the rest of the afternoon calculating his chances of making Captain Bligh understand the situation and, because there was just still the slenderest chance, it was agonizing work.
It seemed as if he had been there years when the hatch was lifted off, a light was flashed in his face, and, while he sat there blinking, the padlock was taken off the irons and he was told to follow his guide to the upper deck. It was pouring with rain, pitch dark, icy cold. The lanterns gleamed on the black sides of a ship, the Bounty of course. He saw Trevenick and the Polruan man ahead of him. But when he would have spoken the sailors held him back. He watched them clamber up the dangling rope ladder. Then his turn came. Every precaution was taken that he should not throw himself overboard.
Once on the Bounty's deck he was painfully aware that his character had preceded him. He was received by the master-at-arms and three bluejackets. Not an officer was in sight. He was hustled forward into the fo'c'sle.
'I want to see the captain,' protested Reynell.
'Captain!' said the ship's corporal, grinning, 'Not so much of your chin music, mate. The captain sees request men on Fridays, same as all other ships. The forepeak's your slinging billet for a bit, matey.'
He gave up hope then. Gave it up utterly. Nothing short of a miracle could save him now. No good fighting them. The end was a foregone conclusion. He was done. He had toiled; he had fought; and then he had hoped. Perhaps the vain hoping had been the most wearing.
He was replaced in irons. It might have been the Alert over again. They put on the hatch and left him to his own reflections.
It seemed to him he had been thinking for ages, going over and over again all his chances, and now there were no chances save the possibility of the Bounty being wrecked on the Cornish coast. It did not want a fortnight to his wedding day. Loveday had said nothing could happen in a fortnight. Loveday would wait, he knew she would wait, he never doubted that for a moment, but was it fair to ask a girl to wait for him for three long years. Besides, when she had waited the years he might never come back, none knew that better than he. He knew the dangers of the seas round the English coast, and he was bound to unknown parts where the dangers were trebled.
A letter—well he had small chance of posting a letter, and if it were posted there was no trusting the mails in these unknown parts.
No; there was nothing to depend on but the message he had sent through Joan of the Pilchard. It added to his torment that he could not remember exactly what he had said; that he could only think how much better he might have said it. If only the time were to come over again——
There came the sound of the working of the cables right over his head.
He had expected no less; yet it was like executing the sentence.
Now there really was no hope.
The bustle on deck increased. He heard the sobbing of a woman, and guessed one of the wives had transgressed orders and come down in the miserable cold December darkness to bid her husband farewell. If he might only have had a last word!
Commands came thick and fast. At last he heard the order given to man the capstan. That meant they were just about to start. He heard the capstan manned and the song of the men as they put their weight on the bars. They didn't usually sing chanties in the navy, but the Bounty was an exception. Bligh felt his men required all the cheering they could get.
'Come rise up Jack, let John sit
For you're outward bound, you're outward bound.'
Possibly the only man on board who really wanted to go was the captain, that is among the regular seamen. There was no enthusiasm among the sailors, and their mournful chanty floated drearily over the water of the harbour, telling the watching wives they must be widows for three long years.
To the prisoner in the forepeak it sounded a death knell. The good ship Bounty was fairly on her way. She had made many starts, but this was not likely to be a false one. He heard the sharp orders to the helmsman, and then again the chanty of the men as they manned the yards and loosened the sails. There is always a sad ring about a sailors' chanty, and these were going into unknown lands and might never return. Very hopeless it sounded in the ears of the unwilling member of the crew, a prisoner in the forepeak. His very life was going from him. It was no good then, it was no good. He must resign himself to his fate.
Suddenly he felt that he was very weary. He had compressed the emotions of a life-time into the last thirty-six hours. It was no good trying to keep up any longer. It was all over. There was nothing left for which to hope. He felt he should never see Loveday again.
All he wanted now was a little air—a little air. He was suffocating down here in this cold and darkness.
A little air!
The ship gave a sudden lurch as the wind caught her sails. Falling forward, he remembered no more.
A few minutes later the ship's corporal came to release him. He found his prisoner insensible on the deck.
'The sorrows of hell compassed me
the snares of death prevented me.'
Everything was against Joan of the Pilchard that night. The farmer had just drunk enough to want to get very drunk. Had he been able to do that all might have been well. But unluckily the barrel was low. It was soon empty, and, dismayed at the loss of the mare, short of his usual cheerer, it was an angry man that hitched poor Dobbin to the cart, put the barrel in it, Joan beside it—Clayton, after a feeble protest, helped—and drove straight to Looe.
Joan was as miserable as he, though she did not at first grasp the full meaning of her tragedy. Her cheek was bleeding from a gash where a stone had cut it, but that was a mere trifle beside the fact that she had utterly failed Daniel Reynell; that he had gone out of her life; that she had lost even the little glory that might have come to her had she helped him. There was nothing now to look forward to but the weary drudgery at the Pilchard. As for stealing Kitty, she was so conscious of her innocence that she felt she had only to explain the circumstances to someone who was not fuddled with drink to be instantly released.
Dick Penrhyn might take her to Looe if it pleased him. She wanted to go to Looe. That she sat at the bottom of a cart with her hands tied was a mere detail. She wanted to see if the Alert was there. What she proposed to do if she were she hardly knew herself.
All the way into Looe, in the dim breaking of the unwilling winter's day, she wondered—wondered—had the Alert sailed? She had.
The wind was driving before it the heavy rain, and everything, houses, trees, hedges, the grey sea with the white topped waves, the fishing boats drawn up on the foreshore, Joan saw through the misty blurr. But the King's cutter was gone.
She huddled back then under the sacking Clayton had thrown over her, and noticed nothing till the cart drew up at a little dirty-looking stone house. Out came the old man who was the town constable. Penrhyn gave her in charge. Then, indeed, she raised a protest against the ways of men in general and drunken Dick Penrhyn in particular.
'Dost think a'd touch mare? A'd other things on mind! An' Dick Penrhyn be'est——' She let herself go pouring out the vials of her wrath in the language learned in the fishermen's tavern.
It was not pretty. But perhaps in the end it made no difference. The grim old constable, who was accustomed to wildly incoherent women loudly proclaiming a stainless innocence, cut the ropes that bound her hands and thrust her into a grimy little cell. Next day they took her to the house of the nearest Justice of the Peace, the most important man in the neighbourhood.
He had made a night of it the night before, had drank too much smuggled brandy, and lost more than he could afford at cards to a man cleverer than himself. The little party was ushered into the cavernous kitchen where was an appetizing smell of cooking bacon.
There the great man interviewed them, his aching head tied up in a large silk handkerchief. The odours of the breakfast he had no mind for he found extremely upsetting. Naturally they deepened his conviction that the growing criminality of the lower classes must be checked as speedily as possible.
He gave scant attention to the accuser. He suspected he had been drinking, which was unpardonable in a man in his position, and he did not feel called upon to listen to Joan. She was an ugly, dirty, lowering wench. Anyway he saw no beauty in a dark woman. He pinned his faith on the constable. A decent man, who never gave any trouble.
The constable had the story pat.
The farmer and his friend had caught the girl riding away with the horse. Penrhyn was an honest man. He knew him well. He did. Dick Penrhyn never forgot the constable when he had a successful run and was even good for an occasional rabbit. It was well to be in with the representative of the law even if he were an old man. The girl's excuse was she had borrowed the mare to let the people of Polperro know that the press gang had taken Daniel Reynell. They were to raise a rescue party.
The Justice was scandalised. How dare she try and interfere with the just working of the law, the policy of her betters. The navy must have men. Kidneys were grilling now. The odour seemed appetising, specially to those who had no chance of partaking. But the master of the proceedings felt it nauseating. It increased his disapprobation of the criminally inclined.
The constable went on calmly.
They all knew the skipper of the Reaper. He had a permit. The press gang would not have taken him. He had seen the men taken off to the Alert. Two went willingly; the third was bound. The coast guard officer who was just coming in would give their names. He had asked the lieutenant to come because of the fuss the wench was making.
'Quite right, quite right,' said his worship. 'It is the policy of the age, a right one, to give the criminal every chance.'
The lieutenant in charge of the coast-guard station was a young man who was courting the daughter the Justice. He was always anxious to make things go smoothly for that gentleman.
Here he was precise in his information. Three men had been taken by the press gang in the execution of their duty. Amos Garrett and Robert Trevenick were the names of the two Polperro men. They had not taken Daniel Reynell. He had heard no mention of him. He had their names from the bo'sun. Presumably they knew their own names. He had heard no mention of Daniel Reynell. If by chance they had taken a man with a permit he would be instantly released.
He never said he had not personally interviewed the prisoners. To do him justice, he did not think it a matter of any consequence. The bo'sun was a man to be trusted. Besides, he couldn't know their names by intuition. He himself had interviewed Captain Maitland before the Alert sailed. The pressed men could have asked to see him if they had wanted to. Captain Maitland would have had a great deal to say if they had brought him a man with a permit.
'So what is all this fuss about?' asked the Justice, who felt himself a much tried man.
'Her sneaked mare and killed her,' said Dick Penrhyn, who also felt himself aggrieved, and with more reason.
No one gave a thought to Joan's feelings.
'I suspect,' said the lieutenant, who hoped to be asked to breakfast, 'the girl took the mare and, being caught, fetched in Daniel Reynell as a good excuse. We all know the skipper of the Reaper, an honest man. But a pretty hopeless excuse, doesn't your worship think so?'
His worship's sense of scandal deepened the more he enquired into the case. Squire Polsett had lost two horses only last week. Evidently a gang of thieves operating in the neighbourhood. The girl was probably a member. Not only had she stolen the mare but she must needs bring a slur upon a decent man's name. Declaring she wanted to obstruct the press gang too! There was only one thing for such hardened villainy.
The Justice sent for his clerk, and in all due form committed Juana d'Ath—that, she said, was her name, and they all smiled—to trial at the Plymouth Assizes; treated the constable to beer; asked the naval man to the breakfast he could not eat himself; and retired to his own room with the warm feeling at his heart that he had nobly done his duty at no little cost to himself.
Afterwards Joan thought of those weeks in jail as a ghastly dream.
Life at the Pilchard had been hard, but at least there was much work she must do. Work is the best of anodynes. Here there was nothing—nothing to break the monotony. The place was overcrowded, fetid, horrible; the women, who were her companions, rankly gave their opinion of what her sentence would be.
In the dark, cold, sleepless nights, in the overcrowded room, she lay staring up at the ceiling, feeling already the hard rope round her neck and the cruel choking that should end her life. She spent days and nights of torture. She gave no heed to her personal appearance. She was unwashed, unkempt, a mockery and an object of derision to the hardened women round her.
Then—curious are the ways of God—one day something happened.
Mrs. Treherne, the jailer's wife, who had charge of these women, was helping one of them who was very sick. Taking her out of the ward she stumbled. The woman caught at her dress and loosened a little turquoise brooch. It fell upon Joan's ragged skirt, making no noise. It was not missed by its owner.
Joan picked it up. Those who saw her looked to see her hide it.
'Ma'am,' said Joan quickly, 'ee's lost a jewel pin.'
A jewel indeed! A poor little thing! But the woman valued it. Her man, who had been a sailor, had brought it to her from India in his courting days. She took it back with an impatient oath. When she was gone the other women jeered Joan. Why had she been such a fool? The woman did not know she had dropped it. There were ways and means of making a little on that pin and judging by her looks——
But Joan sank back drearily. She would not steal. The daughter of old Spain had not fallen as low as all that. But she couldn't—and wouldn't—explain to these women whom she despised.
When Mrs. Treherne came back a couple of hours later she sought out Joan, looking her up and down with critical eyes. She saw a tall girl with a mop of untidy dusky hair, who stood up with a slouch. There was a half-healed wound on her cheek; there were shadows round her eyes, and a world of hopeless weariness in their depths. She was ragged, dirty, unkempt, as bad as any woman there, and God knows they were a disgrace to civilization.
''Ee didn't pinch the pin?'
Joan only looked at her, and made a little impatient movement with her fingers. These people would never understand that her father's daughter did not steal. What was the good of explaining? Perhaps something of her thoughts was written on her face, for the jailer went on in a kindlier tone.
'An' yet 'ee wunt wash they face an' comb thy hair.'
It was a truth put before Joan in an unexpected manner. Her father—who would have been shocked at her stealing—would have been equally shocked at her dirt. The startled look on her face told the woman the shaft had gone right home.
There was a trough for washing in the yard. But the inmates of the women's portion of the prison were only allowed out there at certain times.
'I'll let 'ee out an' 'ee can wash.'
She unlocked the door, and Joan followed her out into the cold stony yard, where a bitter wind was blowing. The woman gave her a piece of soap and an old towel.
There the girl, without any conveniences whatever, in the icy cold water of the trough by the pump, washed herself well. Not only herself, but her stockings and her ragged petticoat and underclothes. How she was to get them dry she did not know. But it was Joan's nature to do a thing whole-heartedly. She tied her clothes to a line the woman had there. They flapped forlornly in the bitter wind. The girl herself took such shelter as she could in the angle of the door and combed out her wet hair.
There the jailer found her with white face and chattering teeth. But the little kindness had comforted her. The woman saw at once an improvement in this forlorn object.
'Why, Joan,' she said wondering,' 'ee's been a handsome lass!'
'Has been!' At eighteen! But Joan did not see the irony of it.
'A'm proper clean,' she said and tried to smile though she shivered.
'Get 'ee inside, lass. 'Ee's perisht.'
Joan indicated her wet things. They were not much, but they were nearly all that she possessed.
'I'll see as they're safe. Get in.'
The freezing girl was thankful enough for the fetid ward. It was cold but it was warmer than outside. She wrapped herself in the rough blanket that was her bedding.
The trifling kindness—for her life had been very bare of kindness since her father's death—warmed Joan's heart. She held herself more upright; she combed out her long dark hair; always had it neatly wound round her head; and always she had a smile for the jailer's wife.
The woman began to take a queer interest in her, and, seeing how forlorn and bedraggled were her clothes in spite of all her efforts at cleanliness, she one day gave her a blue dress. It was a linen of a hard, bright colour that its former owner found most unbecoming. It appealed to Joan.
It was with a funny little feeling of pleasure that was pathetic, seeing she was in prison on a capital charge, that she put on that dress. The gift made her feel as if a warm, friendly hand had been stretched out to her in the cold darkness of her life. She made the very best of herself. With the optimism of youth, she began to hope for better things. If Daniel Reynell were gone away he could not marry Loveday Corthew—not for three years. And if Loveday Corthew married somebody else——She would—of course, she would. If Daniel Reynell could only see her in this dress.
The next time Mrs. Treherne visited her charges Joan held herself straight and smiling shyly—Joan was not accustomed to smiling—thanked her warmly for her gift.
The metamorphosis in the girl astonished the woman. The weird beauty that she had dimly seen before took her breath away. The despised blue exactly set off Joan's dusky hair and vivid red lips; it toned with the sea blue of long lashed eyes that looked out from under dark level brows; it made a proper setting for clean-cut nose and chin. When the red lips parted in a smile that showed the milk-white teeth, the woman looking at her, the hardened jailer, was fain to confess the girl was lovely beyond words. The cut in her cheek had healed; but it had left behind a scar that masqueraded as a dimple, and gave to her smile a curiously haunting effect.
Mrs. Treherne felt there was something uncanny in the change in her, and never guessed that the only sorcery was the magic of her own kindness.
Joan's mother came to see her. She brought her some clothes, the forlornest rags, and reviled her for bringing disgrace on the tavern. She had drunk too much as usual, and would not listen to Joan's eager questions about the press gang, and swept aside carelessly her struggles to send a belated message to Raphiel Farm. 'Everyone knew,' she said, 'that Skipper Reynell was dead.' On that she went away, leaving the girl sunk in the blackest woe.
For the moment.
But only for the moment. Had not she herself seen Daniel Reynell in the hands of the press gang. He would be away for three long years if no one rescued him. Of course no one would stop him writing. At Raphiel Farm they probably knew all about it by now. But if Loveday Corthew should think him dead—if only she thought he had gone away for three long years—Loveday was not the sort to wait. So Joan read her. She was a pretty girl with many admirers. She would marry somebody else long before Daniel Reynell's three long years were up. Joan was almost happy again in the thought.
Her mother never came again. No one else came near her. She did not know she had any rights and did not expect any one. Probably the whole fishing village thought her guilty.
It did as a matter of fact. But it gave less attention to the matter than would usually have been the case because it was taken up with the disappearance of Daniel Reynell and the carrying off of Bob Trevenick and Amos Garrett. It occurred to no one to connect Joan with the matter.
'Have you no friends?' asked Mrs. Treherne.
Joan thought a moment. She was not sullen to this woman who had been kind. Polperro would not have known her gentle. She wanted to have friends because Mrs. Treherne seemed to expect it.
'No,' she said sadly.
'But the others?'
Joan looked at her puzzled.
'My mother'll be drunk when a' ain't home an' stepfather her'll be drunk too. 'Sides her'll be main glad to be shut o' I.'
'But I meant,' said the woman gently; and, like Joan, she was unaccustomed to being gentle, 'the others of the gang.'
Joan did not know she was reckoned a member of a clever gang of clever horse thieves, taken red-handed, certain to be condemned to death.
'What gang?' she asked in all innocence.
Mrs. Treherne thought she was shielding her mates, and thought no worse of her for that.
'But they ought to get counsel for you,' she said.
'There's no money for counsel,' said Joan dispiritedly, thinking how difficult she had always found it to meet the calls of quarter day; knowing that her mother and stepfather would find it still harder.
So the days went on to the Assizes.
The Judge and Sheriff came to the port with all pomp and circumstance, with a band to welcome them, a company of soldiers to guard them, and a chaplain to pray for them. They went to church, and the next day in solemn array to the Courthouse, for the trial of some miserable wretches who had never had a chance in life, and were really much better men and women than might have been expected considering their surroundings.
There was just a hint of the coming spring in the day. But the Law Courts were cold and dark, so built that only here and there could a ray of watery sunshine find its way through the long narrow windows. One lighted up the coat of arms of England behind the bench just over the Judge's head. The heraldic lion and unicorn and the crown they upheld were in gold against a background of scarlet. The craftsman who had fashioned them had made weird beasts. They were very elongated with very long waists. In order to be quite fair he had given the lion as well as the unicorn a horn in his forehead. At the end of each horn was a little star, the facets of which caught the sun's rays and twinkled like diamonds. There was a collar of stars round each beast's neck, so that it seemed all the lights in the court were focussed over the Judge's long grey wig.
He, in his scarlet and ermine, looked gravely down into the well of the Court crowded with people, mostly unwashed. He saw no way of remedying the reek that rose from them. He did not look on it from the point of view of the sufferers, but as one of the penalties attached to his high estate. And he was human enough to fear jail fever. In front of him was a bunch of herbs in a pot, while he had hidden in his hand a small gold box that, beneath a chased cover, held a piece of cloth steeped in aromatic vinegar.
The bar sat below at their table. There, too, were a couple of bunches of sweet herbs.
Two men had been sentenced to death before Joan's case came on, one for having wounded a man in a poaching fray, and the other for having stuck up a man and taken from him 2s. 3d. He had pleaded he was starving, but that was no excuse in the eyes of outraged law.
The jailer's wife, to her own amazement, had been good to Joan. She had given her the chance to wash and iron the blue dress, provided her with a neat mob cap of white muslin and a kerchief to fold across her breast.
It had a curiously heartening effect upon the girl. The woman spoke to her abruptly because she was afraid of her own impulses.
But it is the thought that really matters. Joan felt the kindliness, and was wildly, passionately grateful. It cheered and comforted her on the way to the Courthouse.
She caused a little sensation there, though she did not know it. Even Dick Penrhyn, strictly sober, and with his black hair neatly plastered down with soap and water, looked at the stately young woman behind the bars of the dock with some amazement. He had to look again. Was this the wild cat whose hands he had tied and whom he had flung into the cart?
She gave her name as Juana d'Ath. Polperro would have guffawed. But so potent is the effect of a good appearance that the court did not smile. The name suited this dignified young woman.
'Had she no friends?' asked the Judge.
The Judge looked round the court and spoke very gravely in his dignified voice.
'I sit here to administer justice. It is the earnest wish of this Court that every man or woman accused here, however deeply they may have sunk in iniquity, may have every facility to put their case before the jury. I therefore call upon my learned friend Mr. James Henniker Hilton to defend Juana d'Ath.'
Now it is the usual routine for the Judge to call upon the junior member of the Bar present to defend a prisoner who has no counsel. But one hundred and forty years ago they were not so particular. It was the prisoner's affair to see to his own defence. This Judge, however, was broad minded. He was anxious, too, to help his young friend just called to the Bar.
James Henniker Hilton, pleased at the judge's notice, glad to be concerned in the defence of so good-looking a girl, moved over to consult the prisoner. Joan, leaning over the bars of the dock, told him as quickly as possible how she had indeed taken the mare feeling sure of Penrhyn's consent because it was for the rescue of Daniel Reynell.
The young man, listening to the low voice, very musical if it did speak in patois, saw himself making a great success of his first case, glorified in the sight of the judge who had appointed him. He was an ardent believer in truth. In his cross-examination he would bring everything out.
But alas!—and alas! He was unused to the ways of Courts. He made a shocking bungle of things.
Prosecution for the Crown provided two respectable farmers who swore to taking the girl red-handed.
Counsel for the defence, questioning in search of Daniel Reynell, found that he had not been taken by the press gang; that the press gang had no right to take him; if they had by chance they would immediately have released him. All the men taken had been recognised; Robert Trevenick, the parson's son; George Simpson, from Polruan; and Amos Garrett, a fisherman from Polperro. The wives of these last were already drawing their pay, and Parson Trevenick had no doubt about his son having been taken; he had received notice from the Admiralty. No one had seen or heard of Daniel Reynell in connection with the press gang; nor was there any reason why this girl should be interested in him. He was missing.
Counsel for the prosecution felt sure that was why she had used his name. His hint threatened darker possibilities.
Counsel for the defence, in his efforts to improve matters, succeeded in proving that his client had a bad reputation in Polperro. This he rammed home by calling her mother and stepfather.
Counsel for the prosecution called attention to the fact that horse-stealing had been rife in the district; but it was the defence that successfully brought to the notice of the court the fact that the suspected leaders of the gang were known to meet at the Pilchard, and that very low class fishermen's tavern was run, in spite of her youth, by Joan. It was due to her that it had paid better of late because these suspected people had made their headquarters there.
This was all news to the listening girl. Never had she known so much about herself before.
She had welcomed those strange men gladly—that was true enough. Because of their coming she had been able to look forward to quarter day for the first time since she had taken over the tavern with a comparatively quiet mind.
The Judge asked her what reply she had to make to these accusations. Pathetically she turned towards her counsel. His eyes were kind, and she did not know how much he had already damaged her case.
He looked at the Judge eagerly, for he was an eloquent young man; the girl's beauty had moved him, and here he could have helped her.
But the law of England in those days did not allow anyone accused of felony to employ counsel to make his defence in court. All counsel could do was to examine and cross-examine witnesses.
The Judge was a not unkindly man in his own way. But he was there to administer the law, not to question it. And he was a stickler for the dignity of the court.
'The prisoner,' he said, his tones were leisurely, precise, cultivated, impartial, cold, 'must answer counsel herself. My learned friend,' he looked at the defending counsel tolerantly, he knew a good man, and knew he would do well when he had had a little more experience 'has done all he can. The law does not allow him to speak for the prisoner. Juana d'Ath, what have you to say?'
Could even a girl of modern times under such circumstances have defended herself? Joan certainly could not. She was terrified; she was illiterate; she was at the best of times slow of speech, and she was utterly ignorant. She looked from her counsel to the Judge; back at Dick Penrhyn pleadingly and finally stammered out,
'A' never took mare.'
And that in the face of her having been caught on the mare's back at dead of night!
The Court laughed.
The usher called threateningly for silence.
The Judge felt impatient. But, being a conscientious man, he was prepared to give the criminal classes every chance.
'Prisoner at the Bar that is all you have to say.'
It was all unless she burst into a torrent of abuse such as she had been wont to indulge in.
But Joan was never to do that again. Prison had subdued her. And to-day she had come in contact with men and manners such as she had not met since her father died. The young man who had tried to defend her was a gentleman; the Judge was a gentleman. Something in their manner so impressed the girl that wild ungoverned speeches froze on her lips. She bowed her head in dignified, stately fashion, and stood there with eyelids cast down. Her counsel noted how beautiful were the long dark lashes that lay on her white cheeks. She was trembling, but nothing in her demeanour showed her terror.
The Judge charged the jury. She heard herself painted in the blackest colours, yet realized that this man thought she was of some account; she might be a danger to society. It was a new thought to Joan that she might be of weight even if it were only for evil.
They led her away to await the verdict in one of the low dark cells below the Court. No one thought of giving her anything to eat or drink; was she not a criminal bound to be sentenced to death? It seemed to the Judge and to almost every one else including counsel for the defence that there could be no need for discussion. Had she not been taken actually riding the horse away.
But one of the jury was contrary, a man who was always making excuses for the people. He thought that there might have been more inquiries made about this Daniel Reynell. The girl was young. It was hardly possible she could have made up the whole story. Perhaps it was true this Daniel Reynell had told her she could safely borrow the mare in his name. She might have done it in all innocence.
The eleven good men and true laughed him to scorn, though it was dark before they succeeded in convincing him they were only asked to say whether she had taken the horse or not. Clearly she had. There was really only one verdict to be given, and it was no good staying there all night.
The Courthouse was dimly lighted by candles and evil-smelling lamps when Judge and jury, prisoner and counsel, all came filing back for the last scene. All the lights from the candles seemed to be caught by the golden stars on the weird beasts of the coat of arms of England. There was a coruscation of light above the head of the dispenser of English justice, the handsome, clean-shaven Judge in his great wig and his scarlet and ermine.
Joan fixed her eyes on his face. The well-cut thin lips were pressed closely together.
'How say you?' asked the Associate turning to the jury, and his tones rang through the Court, 'Guilty or not Guilty?'
Joan, listening intently, answered in her own mind. Of course, 'Not Guilty.' How could she be guilty? Why even Dick Penrhyn had said he was surprised when he had got her into the light. Of course she was not guilty. The Judge looked calm and self-possessed, but not stern or angry.
Such a child we should think her nowadays, an irresponsible child, needing care and training. But most of that Court saw a good-looking young woman with handsome, regular features under her big mob cap, a woman whose feet were set on a dangerous path, who quite easily might be a peril to the community. There was not much pity in the realm of Christian England in the end of the eighteenth century.
'Guilty, my lord,' said the foreman.
Joan clutched tight at the bars to prevent herself from shrieking aloud.
But this was only the jury. The Judge looked like a man who would know better.
She could not guess that he placed all such as she in one category, 'The Lower Orders.' The Lower Orders would be a danger to the well-being of the community unless they were kept in their proper place. A good-looking girl like this would be doubly a danger. He was in the place where it was required of him to do his duty by society. He did it to the very best of his ability.
Joan watched him put a black cap on the top of his grey wig. The sparkling lights crowned it with a halo. They seemed to her to speak of hope. She heard him saying something in his gravely musical voice.
The first words made no impression so stunned was she by the verdict. Then it seemed they boomed out, roaring in her ears, filling the whole court.
'Hanged by the neck till you be dead. And the Lord have mercy upon your soul.'
'In all labour there is profit.'
'So, Amos Garrett, they have manhandled you.'
A strongly-made young fellow, in the uniform of a master's mate, dark-eyed and brown-faced, was looking down at the sick man with not unkindly eyes.
'I am not Amos Garrett,' said Reynell a little wearily. He was tired of repeating it.
Fletcher Christian took him up sharply.
'And if you are not Amos Garrett who the devil are you then?'
That little spark of interest was better than the cordial the master's mate held in his hand. Reynell struggled up to a sitting position and told his story. Christian listened with interest.
'So that's the way the cat jumps,' said he. 'Bligh's got this expedition on the brain. He'd kidnap his own father if it brought him a mite nearer his blessed breadfruit trees. The Lord knows if they'll ever be worth the trouble he's taking.'
If Christian could only see the mountain sides of Jamaica now! Perhaps he does.
'We've had the devil's own luck,' he went on, 'first one thing and then another delaying us. Then these four beggars to run. Well, even if Maitland didn't give him a hint—and I'd not put it past him—Bligh would be sure not to inquire into anything till we are in blue water. All he'd want to know is that the men are sound.'
Reynell looked at him gloomily under his frowning brows. Black before him stretched the years—years—and he had been counting the hours to his wedding on Wednesday week.
'Here, drink this,' went on Christian. 'The surgeon sent it when he had you carried into the fo'c'sle. Not a chance for you, I'm afraid.' His voice was friendly. 'Here we are in the Chops of the Channel with no possibility of seeing old England for three long years to come. Suppose you write from the Canaries or Rio.'
'Did you ever hear of a letter fetching from those Dago countries?' asked the unwilling recruit.
'Well, I don't know. You might be lucky.'
Reynell flipped his fingers. He had no faith. And as a matter of fact though he did write both from Teneriffe and Rio no letter from him or any telling of his whereabouts ever reached Polperro.
The Bounty was bowling along before a keen east wind. Though she was only under courses and tops'les Reynell knew that every moment was taking him farther and farther from his home and all that he held dear.
'See here, mate,' said Christian when they had spoken of the hopelessness of letters, 'the only advice I can give you is to make the best of it.'
'Would you? Would you? If your wedding day was fixed, the ring bought, the house and the ship ready and the maid waiting for you?'
'I—I——' laughed the other, 'I'd like to see the lass 'ud bother me. Man, there's an old salt of Cook's aboard here tells me the wenches at our final port of call are all bronze nymphs—he didn't put it in those words exactly—and, bless you, they're waiting with open arms.'
Reynell turned away disgusted. The thought that another woman might smile on him did not stir his blood. He wanted the fair face, with laughing hazel eyes and golden curls; he wanted only the decent, ordered life he had always worked for; that one woman sitting by his fireside, his honoured wife, her children at his knee.
'Cheer up, mate,' went on Christian kindly enough. 'Nothing so bad but it might be worse. I see Bligh's booked you as leading seaman already. Next step will make you a petty officer. I don't think you'll have much difficulty in getting there by what I see. What? The prospect doesn't allure you? Look here, man, don't throw away your chances. Make a friend of Bligh. He's a jolly good friend once you get him, but, by the living Jingo, he's a damned ruthless enemy.'
'I shall do him a bad turn,' said Reynell sombrely.
'Well, don't tell me,' said Christian laughing, 'because it's rank mutiny. I can't afford that, not being prepared to cut myself off from old England yet awhile. Besides, Bligh's on top now. You make the best of it. That's my advice,' and he strolled away humming a tune.
It is a great thing to see but one path ahead. Reynell could not lie moaning in the fo'c'sle like a sick girl. Presently, cheered in spite of himself by Fletcher Christian's sympathy, he fell asleep.
He was young, strong and worn out. He slept profoundly.
When he wakened, because he so thoroughly realised his own helplessness, he bowed to his fate and went quietly to his work.
The Bounty was 250 tons burden, ship rigged, a quaintly unwieldy vessel. Also, because internally she had been prepared to receive fruit trees, all the comfort of the ship's company—and heaven knows it was not much considered long after the Bounty's time—was disregarded. Reynell, thinking of his own dainty Reaper, disliked her from the first. He was a silent, embittered, disappointed man. Still he worked, did his duty and more than his duty. He had not handled the Reaper in wild winter weather in the Channel and all round the stormy British coast without thoroughly understanding his business.
Bligh, a critical man, had his eyes upon all his crew, but he took no personal notice of his new leading seaman till the day a wild easterly gale drove before it a sea that stove in part of the stern of the labouring ship and tore all the planks from the large cutter's bows. But for Reynell's promptness and skill the boat would have been washed overboard.
When all had been made taut again, and the gale had passed, Bligh called him out on the quarter-deck and publicly praised him.
'You are a thorough seaman, Amos Garrett,' he ended on a note of commendation.
'Thank you, sir.'
Though many of the men hated Bligh, and Reynell thought he hated him worst of all, yet they all felt his praise was worth having.
'But I am not Amos Garrett.'
'Not Amos Garrett?' Bligh's steely eyes snapped and his thin lips shut closely together, 'then who the dickens are you?'
'Daniel Reynell, skipper and owner of the Reaper with a protection.' He drew himself up, and stood before his captain a tall, fair, bronzed young giant.
'So,' said Bligh, 'so,' and he looked him up and down as if appraising at their full worth his inches and his brawn, 'then we stole you and had no right to you?'
'No, sir, you had no right.'
'And you made no protest? There, there,' he put out his hand. 'I remember now, you did protest. I know about how much good it would be protesting to the bo'sun of the Alert.'
'Yes, sir.' Reynell spoke dully. The memory of those hours was bitter still.
'Then, Daniel Reynell, since it has happened I am glad the Bounty has the good fortune to have you on her books.'
Reynell was pleased in spite of himself. It is always something to earn praise when the standard set is high. He remembered the fight; the long vigil in the church; the weary day on the Alert; the hopeless, feverish night that followed; the morning when the clank of the anchor chains had beaten in on his brain; the wedding day that was long past now; and instead of bursting into angry execration now that he had the ear of authority—and authority was sympathetic—he merely saluted.
'I have tried to do my best, sir, though God knows I have wanted to sink the ship and drown the lot of you.' But he spoke quite respectfully.
'I understand. I should have felt the same.'
'You're getting on, man, you're getting on,' said Christian cheerfully. Reynell was in his watch, and they had many opportunities of speech. Reynell was an educated man whom Christian liked. Bligh, with extraordinary wisdom, had divided his crew into three watches instead of the ordinary two. The master's mate was head of one of them.
They went southward, ever southward, through the seas that have been known since the days when the Phœnicians wandered south and came back to tell an unbelieving world they had found the sun in the north. The weather grew warmer and warmer; the wild winds died away; the sun overhead was overpowering; below decks it was like an oven; the men went languidly about their work and the very pitch in the seams was melting.
It was calms and little puffs of wind, and contrary winds; but still they went on little by little southward. They called at Rio; they failed to round the Horn; they went back by the Cape of Good Hope.
The weather grew cool once more, and the days were sunny and pleasant.
Then again it was cold, bitter cold. The gallant west wind came strong astern of them, driving them into unknown seas. Lonely, lonely seas, grey and empty seas, with a sky grey and lowering above and great grey birds, swooping on outstretched wings following the ship day after day. The albatross cried to them they were intruders into these far places; they were straying beyond the edge of the world and might go sailing on and on till——
But that was a question the men leaning over the quarters looking into the empty world of sea and sky could not answer. They hushed their voices as they watched the racing seas and the towering white topped waves, greater waves than any one of them had ever seen before.
A puny thing was the good ship Bounty as she sank into the trough, and they towered above her, taking the wind out of her sails, punier still when she rose to the crest and they looked down over a waste of grey water with never a sail; where they could not expect a sail; where it would have been a phenomenon, perhaps, to fear; never a sign of land; only the strange birds, graceful but uncanny, beings from another plane—following—following—waiting—some of the men said with a shiver.
For the unknown had them in its thrall, and some feared—all, perhaps, feared a little, they had hardly been human else, but the spell was upon them. They accepted the fear because of the wonder. And they told tales of the Flying Dutchman who came out of the mists, sailing against the wind and brought misfortune; of lovely maidens who dwelt at the bottom of the sea, coming up to tempt men to their destruction—of bishop fish that could swallow a greater fish than the Bounty at one gulp—of the kraken—and the sea serpent only less to be feared than the bishop fish.
They were staunch, brave men, as have always been British seamen, but one thing was certain, the empty horizon voiced it, if anything befell there was no hope of succour but in themselves. They must face it alone.
The wonder was not that Bligh had been delayed because four men had run, but that he had any crew at all with which to work his ship.
All his life Reynell had lived and worked within the narrow seas. He was an educated man, but once he had left school he had had small use for books. He had been content; he had been more than content. He thought every day how thankfully he would go back and yet, though he did not know it himself, the witchery that holds the explorer was upon him.
'Something lost and something calling .
Come and find me.'
He looked out into the emptiness round, up to the heavy grey clouds that hung threatening overhead. He listened to the wild tales of the men. He thought of the girl who was waiting for him. He began to count—hopefully now. So many weeks behind him, and what a tale he would have to tell her when he came back!
Never for one moment did it occur to him that Loveday Corthew would never understand that tale. From beginning to end the glamour of this voyage, the glamour that held him, would be a sealed book to her. She would think of these men ploughing the seas, seeking—seeking—as men pining for their firesides and for the loving arms that should enfold them. She would be tender and sweet and true and roguish and merry, all almost that a dear woman should be, but—she would never understand.
That, luckily, perhaps, Reynell did not know.
What he did, he did for her sake. She was the star to which he had hitched his wagon. He felt he would come back to her, not the narrow-minded ship master, skipper of the Reaper, satisfied with his successful trading in the well-known tracks, but a man who had been to the ends of the earth, who had indeed seen the glory of God in the deep.
He hardly realized himself on what broader lines he was now planning his life. He felt that if he pleased Bligh, a man who was bound to rise to greater things, he would rise with him.
And he was pleasing Bligh—it delighted him to please such a man.
He took to reading the books that Bligh lent gladly. He realized for the first time in his life, how books might help and come into the scheme of things. He worked to improve himself in his spare time. He dreamed his dreams, and was happy, though he would have laughed at any one who had told him so. For contentment is not stagnation as so many would have us believe. It is the knowledge that we are certainly on the right road to still better things.
Christian was his good friend. A wild, dare-devil young fellow he was. Strangely enough, considering how their friendship had begun before they reached Van Diemen's Land, it was Reynell who was preaching patience to him, showing him how much wiser it would be to keep in Bligh's good graces. It was Reynell who was pointing out the wonder of the business on which they were bound; the glory that would be theirs down to the smallest cabin boy if they succeeded in transplanting the breadfruit, the fruit of which Cook had spoken so highly, to the West Indies.
'Damn the breadfruit!' said Christian heartily, as he thrust his hands well down into his pockets. 'Damn the Bounty, damn all the beastly South Seas! Why the devil you take such an interest in it all, Reynell, I'm blest if I know. What a damned fool I was not to run like the others when I had the chance.'
'Do you mean to say you're not glad to be in it?' asked Reynell astonished.
'Do you mean to tell me you are?' asked Christian in his turn.
Reynell stopped short in his march up and down the deck.
'Of course I wanted to be married,' he said. 'No man likes to be haled away leaving his woman on the altar steps. But hang it all! It's a great business! It's a proud man I shall be when we come sailing into Plymouth Sound.'
'The devil! The devil!' said Christian. 'I shall be finding you loving Bligh next.'
'Well, he's wonderful!' with conviction. 'Wonderful!'
'You've forgotten how you cursed him?'
'No,' said Reynell, looking out over the sea and speaking slowly, as if he were groping in his own mind for something which he could not exactly lay hold of, 'it gives me a pain to think of the old life and all it promised. But this is a great thing this man is doing, that we are all doing. If I can only hold out and wait,' he drew a long breath, 'it seems to me I shall have the old life back with—with, hang it all—I'm not much of a scholar, but with the wider horizon, sir, what all this will give.'
Christian stared at him.
'Give me a good mug of wine in a nice little seaport town, with my mates all round me, a buxom wench to bring it, a fresh one every evening for choice—to hell with your faithfulness, it's boring—and your wider horizon may go to pot for all I care.'
'I'm afraid we'll find neither the wine nor the buxom wench in Van Diemen's Land.'
Nevertheless, Reynell was the first to acknowledge they found a lovely land there.
Their water was fetid. They wanted wood and fresh meat badly.
But Bligh would only give them one day. Time pressed. However, he gave leave freely, for he knew quite well no man would stay behind.
It was a park-like land, lying there beneath a sky of Italian blue. The grass was fresh and green; there was a sound of murmuring waters; the soft wind bore on its breath the fresh aromatic scent of the untouched bush vibrant with the coming of spring. Oh, a lovely land!
The sea-worn men wandered about for that whole day; rejoiced in it; wished the captain would stay a week at least.
But Bligh was adamant. They had a great business on hand. Soon, not so very long now, they would come to a still more enticing land. There they would stay for a spell.
Reynell, looking at his stern face, felt there was not another man in England could have managed this voyage as this man was managing it. He vowed that he would follow him to the mouth of hell.
He said so to Christian as they watched the shores of Van Diemen's Land grow dim in the haze of the early morning.
Christian saw the sparkle of enthusiasm in his blue eyes.
'So that's what you've come to,' said he moodily, looking at the fast receding land. 'Well, for my part, I'm ready to swear an oath, so help me God, I'll never sail with Bligh again. Think of the stinking water we've had the last few days. Faugh!'
'That was but a passing incident and not Bligh's fault.'
'It belongs to him. Mark you, the man who follows Bligh will have to drink stinking water without a murmur sometime or other in the course of his following.'
'That is a tribute to a great leader.'
The steady west wind swept them onwards. Van Diemen's Land saw the last of the bad water for many a long day. They were in summer seas now. The going was delightful. Once they cleared the southern point of Australia they sailed north-east. It was neither too hot nor too cold. There was a cloudless blue sky, and a pleasant following breeze. Soon they began passing islands set like jewels in a sapphire sea.
'The men say the Garden of Eden is hereabout,' reported Reynell to his friend the next time he got the chance, 'or they think possibly we're getting to heaven unawares.'
'Well, I don't know what drawbacks there are to heaven, but I reckon we'll find a serpent in Eden somewhere before we're done, specially with Bligh at the helm.'
But no one could complain of Bligh's harshness now. Eager as he was to push on, whenever they approached an island he hove to and traded with the natives, who looked upon the white men with awe and wonder and bartered eagerly fruit and vegetables and fish for the precious things they brought them; beads and axe heads and knives, and very occasionally an old musket with a small store of powder and shot for a very important chief.
Whatever came on board Bligh shared out equally, so that they were in clover. Great content reigned. For, very naturally perhaps, a large portion of a sailor's heart is in his stomach. These men were living better now than most of them had ever lived in their lives.
At length, one bright, fine tropical morning, when the scent of the land came strong and good to the men's nostrils, and the hills, clothed in feathery palms, stood clean cut against a deep blue cloudless sky, the Bounty reached her port in Tahiti. There came the clang of the anchor chains running out; the anchor fell with an air of finality. They had arrived at their destination.
When that anchor came up, thought Reynell, they would be homeward bound. He had taken a great step forward.
'I have come into my garden, my
sister, my spouse;
I have gathered my myrrh with my spice;
I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey;
I have drunk my wine with my milk.'
The Garden of Eden the men thought Tahiti. Truly it is a glorious land now, when steam has brought the Tropics within a day or two of our shores, and we are more or less accustomed to them; then, naturally, to these men, fresh from the rigours of the seas further south, it was a very Paradise.
Bligh, too, relaxed the iron discipline in which he had held them for the last ten months. As far as the working of the ship allowed—a ship at anchor in a safe harbour does not ask for much labour—his crew were free to do pretty much as they pleased. Their leader had now shifted his point of view. Instead of the stickler for naval discipline they found, no little to their surprise, a man absorbed in the problem of how best to plant and stow young breadfruit trees for their long journey down into the icy south and back into warmer seas again.
All honour to Bligh.
Anyone who has ever seen the tall, spreading, broad-leaved breadfruit trees that grow in thousands on every mountain side and round every little cabin in Jamaica, can but respect the man who, at tremendous cost to himself, provided the West Indies, not only with one of its handsomest trees, but with an almost inexhaustible food supply.
The Bounty carried a botanist and a gardener. But their keenness was as nothing to the keenness of the Bounty's commander. These three, aided by Reynell, worked assiduously—anybody under Bligh was bound to work—but for most of the crew this was the land of the Lotus Eaters, a land of plenty. The brown, lithe-limbed islanders were the friendliest people in the world. There was no need to ask. Everything they had was freely offered. The houses, clean, palm-thatched, nestling among the greenery, fragrant with the scent of the sea and the scent of the bush, were theirs to command. Heaped on the decks were always shining, silvery fish fresh from the sea, yams that, boiled and mashed, heaped up snowy white, rivalled the best potatoes, scented, delicious bananas, yellow and pink, coconuts that, green, gave a cooling drink, and ripe, a crisp, firm nut, better in that climate than any flesh. There were all manner of fruits, such as these men from the north had never heard of before. Every brown man picked out one of the crew for special attention. Nothing was denied his 'brother.'
The Englishmen accepted the homage calmly, for such is the custom of the English.
They sail into some strange place. If the inhabitants are not agreeable they accept it as all in the day's work, 'the blighters know no better,' and fight for all they want, wood, or water, or food. But if the inhabitants do all in their power to make them welcome, they are also calm about it. They graciously allow themselves to be welcomed, feeling that, somehow, they are not quite clear why, it is only their due.
The Bounty's men felt the Tahitians had evidently realized, what they had always dimly felt themselves, their superior worth.
Graceful girls, with softly-rounded limbs, clear golden skins, tantalizingly half-hidden in wreaths of flowers and leaves, long dark hair garlanded with hibiscus, languishing dark eyes and pearly teeth, whispered in soft, liquid voices words that required no translating.
Who could resist such houris?
With wives and sweethearts very far in the background, and a long stretch of sea between, the crew of the Bounty found them irresistible. The gardener, so absorbed in the heart of his garden, was allowing just outside its walls the little weed to grow apace that presently was to come to such proportions as to smother the whole enterprise.
Like true sailors, careless of the future so long as the present is good, the majority of the men set up housekeeping. Daniel Reynell, looking at the homes of his shipmates, set in the shade of handsome, spreading breadfruit trees, with every broad green leaf glittering in the tropical sunlight, with stately coconut palms and clumps of plantains and bananas offering bounteous plenty, was fain to confess that these homes in their own way compared most favourably with those from which these men had come; these wives of an idle hour were as loving as ever English wives could have been. Nay, more, no English wife would have been so submissive to her husband, so open in her devotion, as these half-savage girls of the South Seas. Whether they expected these strangers who had come among them to remain he did not know. Probably they were like the sailors; they, too, were living only for the present, taking no heed for the future.
Bligh seemed to see nothing—or when he saw merely laughed his grim laugh.
Reynell, because he had not succumbed to the general fascination, seemed to be drawn closer to his commander. He was a quartermaster now. The distance between a quartermaster and the commander of a ship was great even in those days, when ratings were not so clearly defined. But the one thing these two had in common in a measure bridged it.
'Look at that, Reynell,' said Bligh, thrusting out a long spear he carried, 'what d'ye think of that?'
Bob Trevenick scrambled to his feet shamefacedly. He had been caught stretched out on the warm sands in the shade of a group of coconut palms. A golden-skinned girl bent over him and gave him coconut milk to drink.
'It's no business of mine,' said Reynell soberly, 'but I assure you, sir, it is worrying me not a little.'
'The exuberance of youth. I am not entirely without insides as I believe the men think.' He knew everything, did Bligh. 'We must relax a little after a voyage like ours. It's only skin deep with most of them. Tops'le sheets'll cure it.'
'Do you think so, sir? Sometimes I'm afraid——'
'Damn you, Reynell!' Reynell knew he was highly favoured. 'There are always two sides to a thing. I prefer to look at the one I like best. A sailor's expected to have a wife in every port. You and I have not succumbed.'
'You took me,' said Reynell with sudden sombreness, 'when my woman was waiting for me on the altar steps. I know she's waiting there still, and I'm going back to her.'
'So,' Bligh laid his hand on his quartermaster's shoulder. Bligh was a man whose touch gave honour, 'my friend, she will get back a man far better worth having.'
A light sprang into Reynell's eyes.
'Thank you, sir. I do believe, strange as it seems——' he hesitated for the right word. 'You've made a man of me, as the bos'un of the Alert said you would.'
'Ah, the man was none of my making. He was there before. But we have shown the man something of the world worth seeing. This voyage will mark an epoch in your life.'
'A step upward,' said Reynell. He hardly knew how earnest were his own words.
'Well we are not going to stop there,' said Bligh, 'make your mind easy as to that. I think the quartermaster will share and share largely in the Bounty's honours.'
His listener was more than content. It seemed to him that all the weariness of the struggle was behind him; before him lay a future alluring in its vagueness. All, all was to be laid at the feet of a girl with laughing hazel eyes and golden hair. Even the one little misgiving was but a thing of the moment. It would pass.
Christian brought it back again. On another occasion he, too, pointed out Bob Trevenick, Bob lazily in the shade, with his head on a flower-wreathed girl's lap.
'How would that girl look, d'ye think, dressed just as she is in green leaves and scarlet hibiscus in the old Talland Church parsonage?'
He laughed aloud at the picture he had conjured up.
''Tis all very well to laugh,' said Reynell gravely, 'but it's a serious matter. What are you going to do with Lola when we sail? The breadfruit trees are nearly all collected. We must sail soon.'
He expected some laughing answer about Jack returning to the true love of his heart. Trevenick had given him that answer a dozen times. But he had never before ventured the question with his superior officer.
To his surprise no such answer came. Glancing round, he saw Fletcher Christian, with very tender eyes, was looking across to where he could just see his own little palm-leaf hut.
'Mr. Christian! Sir!'
'That's the question, Reynell. That's the question. We have put down roots here. How are we ever going to tear them up again—ruthlessly—ruthlessly?'
'It is not as bad as that surely?' said Reynell, speaking lightly, for there was that in Christian's face that made him turn his eyes away.
'It is as bad as can be,' said Christian, sombre as Reynell himself had been many a time. 'Sometimes I feel, quartermaster, that I can't go back.'
Reynell was amazed.
He turned it off lightly.
'Who's talking rank mutiny now, sir?' he asked.
'Mutiny,' repeated Christian. 'Oh, no! It needn't come to that. They could do without me. Why, you could take my place easily.'
'You wouldn't ruin your whole career for a dark-skinned girl, surely?'
'Damn it all, Reynell,' said Christian fiercely, 'do you think I want to ruin my career? Do you think I don't lie awake at nights counting the cost, seeking a way out? But what other way is there? I can't take her, that's clear enough. And how can I leave her? My God! How can I leave her! Think of the loving trust in those soft eyes! She believes in me, man! She thinks there's no one in the world like me! Why, her eyes would haunt me all the days of my life! I should never see a little child——'
Reynell whistled a little in his dismay.
'Would you take everything given so trustfully—so freely—would you use the woman who loved you for your own convenience, then sail away without the faintest prospect of ever coming back again? Is that a nice thing for a decent man to contemplate doing?'
'No,' said Reynell slowly and reluctantly. He thought of Loveday Corthew. Was it possible this man loved this dark girl, Lola, as he loved Loveday Corthew? He dared not say to this fierce young man, who was taking the matter so seriously, that he had considered these connections as something purely temporary. The others were not half as much in earnest he was sure. He had scented danger, because he felt they were entranced with the sensuous life, that contrasted so wonderfully with the hard life of a sailor; but he was sure they did not love those who ministered to their delights. This was putting the matter on an entirely different plane. This man was desperately troubled. He tried to bring him back to normal.
'You'll come on board to-night, sir, won't you?'
'Why should I? Bligh has never asked for me. Reynell, Reynell, the days are flying so quickly. I count them. I lie awake counting them.'
'He asked for you last night.'
'Well, he said nothing when he found I wasn't there.'
Christian turned away in the direction of his native home, and the quartermaster returned on board the Bounty very troubled indeed.
That night Bligh, strolling along the deck, stopped opposite Reynell. The tropic moon was at its full, and high overhead; the waters of the harbour were golden; the great feathery tops of the palms leaning over the sea were shimmering in her light; every rope and yard was outlined in inky black on the snowy decks. The faint land wind, so faint as hardly to ruffle the surface of the sea, yet brought with it a nameless fragrance, balmy, enticing. Reynell, leaning idly over the quarter, was drawing in long breaths, thinking of Loveday. How she would love this. Because he was counting the days till they should be homeward bound his thoughts ran on to Christian and his predicament.
But a brown girl—a brown girl!
Across his thoughts came cutting Bligh's voice; hardly friendly now, somewhat harsh and metallic, with just perhaps a touch of anxiety in it.
'Quartermaster, where is Mr. Christian?'
'Sir,' Reynell started, 'in his bunk.'
'You know very well he is not. Go and fetch him.'
'Sir,' in protest.
'That'll do, Reynell. You know and I know he isn't on board. Go and fetch him.'
Bligh was not a man to be trifled with, still Reynell dared to linger a moment. He sought vainly some excuse for Christian.
'Fetch him in double quick time,' thundered Bligh, and Reynell knew that the misgivings that had assailed him had taken firm hold of his commander also.
There was nothing for it but to fetch him. With a sinking heart he went ashore and made his way to Christian's hut. He stood outside in the scented moonlight and looked at the little place covered in a smother of hibiscus and starry passion-flowers. The purple cross in the centre of the blossoms stood out black against the waxen white wide-open petals.
'Mr. Christian! Mr. Christian!'
The stillness was not broken for a moment. He could hear the roar of the breakers on the outer reef; the faint rustic of the fronds of the coconut palms; but here all was still; not a sound; not a breath. His heart was heavy. He had never enjoyed these gorgeous tropics to their full, always he had counted them but as a means to an end. Now some presentiment of evil had hold of him.
This was the beginning of the end. Success was as vital to Daniel Reynell as it was to Bligh himself. As he stood there in the moonlight he feared he knew not what.
'Mr. Christian! Mr. Christian!'
'Ay, ay,' came the answer at last. 'What is it?'
'Sir, the captain has sent me for you.'
'The devil! At this time of night! What's his little game?'
'He sent me to fetch you,' repeated Reynell.
He heard a few words in the soft language of Tahiti; then Christian joined him, evidently troubled. His anxiety showed itself in a display of temper.
'What does the brute mean by sending for me at this hour of the night, eh, Reynell?'
'I suspect,' said Reynell soberly, 'he's beginning to gather things in ready for departure. The breadfruit trees are nearly all on board you know. He wants to get his officers and men accustomed to being on board again. It is very necessary,' he added significantly.
'My God!' groaned Christian, half to himself. 'What is a man to do?'
Bligh was not a man who could ever wait quietly, even though, as now, he had expected to wait. Besides, he had been employing his time in going over the situation, and he didn't like the look of it. There was not a man on board who by any excuse could be on shore. There was not an officer on watch.
They found him marching up and down the little poop deck.
'What is the meaning of this, Mr. Christian?' he said. 'How is it I have to send ashore when I want an officer? A son of a sea cook you are. A damned lazy, skulking hound——' and for the next two minutes he poured on the astonished young man's head a torrent of wild sea epithets.
Christian stood still a moment too utterly astonished to speak. Indeed he had no apology to offer. He had no right to be absent from his ship without leave. His only excuse was that Bligh had seemed to wink at it.
Reynell slipped away out of sight, but not out of earshot. He was quite aware that he, as an onlooker, an impartial man, understood the feelings of these two better than they, at the moment, did themselves. Bligh, now that he began to think of departure, was appalled at the state of affairs his own slackness had brought about.
He checked himself by the time he had thoroughly roused Christian to wrath.
'Where were you, Mr. Christian?' he asked.
'I was with my wife, sir.'
'Your what? Your what?' Bligh asked significantly.
'With my wife, sir,' said Christian, a note of defiance in his respectful voice.
Bligh looked at him, standing there in the golden moonlight, as if he were inspecting some rare and extraordinary thing he had this moment seen for the first time. There was really more insult in his attitude than in his angry and abusive words of a moment before.
'Pardon me, Mr. Christian.' There was no one could be so rude as Bligh when occasion offered. 'Pardon me, I didn't quite catch what you said. Doubtless you have some good excuse to offer. Where did you say you were?'
Christian's anger was rising.
'I said I was with my wife.' He laid a slight emphasis on the 'wife'.
'Do I hear aright?'
'You did, sir.'
'Your wife. Come, I like that.' Bligh laughed disagreeably. In the bright moonlight the young man could see he was not in the least amused. 'Your wife! A dark-skinned girl, whose best gown is merely a wreath of hibiscus, the wife of an officer in his Majesty's navy! It's the best joke I've heard for a long time. What do you propose to do with the lady when your duties call you to sea once more? It strikes me the Admiralty will have some little difficulty in sending her share of your pay. Have you thought of any little arrangement that might be made?'
Christian had been thinking of nothing else, day and night—since—since—well, it seemed to him since he had held Lola in his arms, felt her yielding to his embrace. He loved her with all the fervour of hot-blooded five-and-twenty. The thought of parting made him sick with misery. And Bligh was making a joke of the matter.
'She is my wife, sir,' he said as soberly as his passion would allow. 'She is as certainly my wife as if we had been wed by the priest. I cannot help it that there is none here to do it. We have been married by the rites of her own people.'
'Faith, those need never trouble you nor anybody else,' laughed Bligh. He felt a little relief in getting the matter aired. His temper was passing. 'They hold such bonds lightly hereabouts. Now, Mr. Christian, I choose to have my officers on board at night, so, unless by my express leave, you will be on board by sundown every night for the future. Do you hear?'
'Yes, sir,' said Christian as if his thoughts were miles away.
'Your wife,' with a little emphasis on the word, 'will easily find some one to console her, and will——'
But he did not finish the sentence. Christian was on him in a moment. Lithe and strong and sinewy, he was shaking him as a terrier shakes a rat.
'The heart knoweth his own
and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy?'
Loveday Corthew was a good girl, a sweet, loving girl, who would make any man, who did not look for enterprise in a woman, an excellent wife. Very naturally, seeing she was a woman, she liked attention from men.
Daniel Reynell had been her willing slave ever since she had budded into womanhood. She had been proud at the thought of marrying him. To disquiet and excite her came Thomas Quested, in all the glory of his blue and gold. He said nothing with his lips, but his eyes told his story.
They moved her, shamed her a little, because they had power to move her, and yet filled her with a certain curious pride in herself, because she barely responded and firmly intended to be true to Daniel Reynell.
Then came the day of the storm, the high tide and the raid of the press gang. She had spent that night safe in the farmhouse, listening to the shriek of the wind, not guessing at the destruction that was going on below; rising with the pleasant thought that she would meet one lover, perhaps two that day.
No lover came—not even the one she had a right to expect.
'My maid,' comforted her father, 'look at the weather.'
It took a day or two to discover that Daniel Reynell was not there to come. Another day or two, and it was plain he had vanished from the district.
Uncertainty is a very hard cross to bear.
Loveday's face grew white and worn, for if she did not yet realize how desperately a woman might love, this man she was to wed had been her playmate and friend ever since she could remember, and she had a deep affection for him.
Where was he?
He was not on board the Reaper. His two mates were looking for him. His housekeeper had seen nothing of him since the storm. He was nowhere in Polperro. He had not been pressed, they were sure of that. Loveday falteringly suggested they should ask Lieutenant Quested.
But Lieutenant Quested had left the town. Men had been pressed. Their names had been sent in. They knew them all. Three had gone to the Bounty and three to the fleet at Plymouth. It was a serious loss to the town. But Daniel Reynell was not among them. Anyhow they would not take him. He had a protection. Taken, he would have been instantly released.
Joan of the Pilchard had been taken for horse-stealing that same night. But no one gave more than a passing thought to the drudge of the little low fishermen's tavern. Her mother was drinking worse than ever now she was gone. Some one said she had taken Joan clothes, but that was simple waste, for Joan was sure to be hanged. No one connected her with Daniel Reynell, not even her mother and stepfather, who, if they had used their wits, might have remembered they had seen him taken.
'Where, in God's name, can he be?' asked the farmer. 'There's my maid well nigh crazy with the uncertainty of it, and the day fixed for next week!'
There the curtain dropped. At one fell swoop Loveday had lost both her lovers.
The farmer was sorry.
But he was mortal. His house was a dreary place with only a mourning daughter for company. He hastened his wooing of Mistress Treluan, the buxom widow of his neighbour, and brought her home to the farm on the pretext that it would be good for his little maid to have the company of another woman.
Loveday had ruled in her father's house ever since she was a small child. The new Mrs. Corthew, a woman of the world, knew it would be bitter for her to take second place. She meant very well by her husband's daughter. She had married her own very satisfactorily and did not doubt she could do the same for his. Since Daniel Reynell was, if not dead, apparently gone out of the girl's life, she felt it well that Lieutenant Quested should be encouraged. All Polperro knew how he had looked at Loveday Corthew. The girl was very sweet, and should be easily won.
But not too easily. Her kindly stepmother meant to take care of that. She set about the business of matchmaking skilfully, and with right good will.
Poor Loveday. She had lost her lover, and her father no longer had need of her. She, who had been the head of the household, was displaced, loved most dearly, but the third person. That was a trouble she could not put into words. Where she had given orders she had now to take them. She had lost everything. Even the dignity that comes from great grief she found but a passing thing.
That was a truth Mrs. Corthew let sink in. She had every intention of mending things, but she must have the soil ready. Midsummer came, and a white-faced little girl sat beneath the trees idly sewing for the baby that was coming, the baby that would set her still farther from her father, who had been hers only. Harvest and the heat tired her, and nothing had come to fill the blank in her life.
Mrs. Corthew felt the time was ripe. She suggested to the son she had left at Treluan that he should invite Lieutenant Quested down for the shooting. Reuben Treluan fell into line right heartily.
His invitation was accepted with alacrity. The sailor had not forgotten the girl he had found so charming. Of course a lieutenant in the navy was better without a wife.
But possibly he was going to the ends of the earth. He would like to take with him the remembrance of a sweet rosebud of an English girl. He felt pathetic about it.
In fact, Lieutenant Thomas Quested was a good deal more in love than he himself realized. Certainly Reuben Treluan was a little surprised at the insistence of his guest that it was his bounden duty to pay his respects to Mrs. Corthew at once.
Afterwards the thing explained itself to Mr. Treluan's laughing eyes.
At first Loveday accepted his attentions languidly. But she did accept. He made her feel she was first with him, and that was a position Loveday had not held since Daniel Reynell had disappeared. She would be of less account than ever on the farm if the baby were the son the farmer was counting on, an heir to carry on the old name.
What is the position of a sister more than eighteen years older than her brother? All her life she must stand aside.
A woman need not be very selfish if such an outlook does not appeal to her.
So Lieutenant Quested was comforting because he undoubtedly thought a great deal of her, and was much more anxious to sit under she trees with Mrs. Corthew's stepdaughter than to go shooting pheasants with Mrs. Corthew's son.
Indeed, he found himself a great deal more in love than he had ever intended to be. Day and night he thought of nothing but those hazel eyes with the wistful, pathetic look in them. If he could make her laugh he counted the day a red-letter one.
Before his visit was over he had spoken. He was quite convinced in his own mind now, that a naval officer was better married. It steadied him. He planned he would come back during his Christmas leave and put the momentous question.
He couldn't wait.
He asked her, stammering and stuttering like a schoolboy, the day before he intended to post to Plymouth.
'Loveday—Loveday—I—I—won't—won't you—will you—I mean——'
Oh what need of words!
The sun fell full on the opposite bank of the lane, on the trailing blackberry wreathed with white convolvulus and honeysuckle, on meadowsweet and blue corn cobs and on a tuft of oak just touched by the finger of autumn. A bee droned drowsily in the air, and a big black beetle tried vainly to climb over the handle of Loveday's basket. They supposed themselves to be blackberrying.
'Loveday! Loveday!' She felt his breath on her cheek; saw the eagerness in his eyes. She turned away, and buried her face in the bank at her side, crushing the wild thyme against her cheek.
'Oh don't! Oh don't!'
'I can't help it,' he said desperately, and his voice broke. 'I love you. Whether you love me or not I shall always love you.'
It was the break in his voice that did it.
'Oh!' She frankly broke down sobbing. 'But there is Daniel Reynell. How could I be so mean!'
Thomas Quested could have sung a pæan of joy. Only a dead man stood in the way now, and, spite of a twinge of jealousy, a dead man is not a tangible rival.
'He is dead, my dear,' he said very, very tenderly. What woman is not won by tenderness. 'If he were alive could he have stayed away from you? I want to take care of you, my darling. Loveday, I will not ask more at first—just let me take care of you.'
A modest man! He might have asked more.
He held her in his arms, and she clung to him, just a little ashamed. A little over nine months since Daniel Reynell had gone out of her life and she was in another man's arms. All the convention of the time was against it, and convention, whether we will or no, does, in a way, guide our lives.
He soothed her.
'I am only asking to take care of you. You cannot mourn all your days.'
Had she not always loved him best? The thought was in his mind and in hers. A comforting thought to them both though neither spoke it aloud.
'But if he should come back,' she breathed.
The thought came to Quested that she did not want him back. The poor dead! Their place is filled. No, it was not that. He knew he could always have won Loveday Corthew.
Loveday cried on then, cried away all the grief, all the discomfort, all the vague, unexplainable tribulations of the last nine months, with her head on his shoulder.
Before night they had confided in a sympathetic and kindly stepmother, who approved highly, and understood so thoroughly that she succeeded in putting the girl on very good terms with herself. The farmer was pleased, and even Quested got a word of comfort.
'She thinks of Reynell still,' he had said as a man states a fact he hopes will be denied.
'My dear boy,' said the wise stepmother, 'never grudge her such thoughts as she gives the man who first came courting her. I saw her with him and I know. The day you two are wed Daniel Reynell will be but a dim shadow.'
He went away a glad and happy man. He was to come back at Christmas and they would fix the wedding day.
He came before that. He marched into the sitting-room one stormy day early in December, when the farmer was bending happily over the wooden cradle where lay the son of his old age. His daughter was looking on a little forlornly.
The farmer wanted to talk about his son. His wife was wiser.
'We are very glad to see Lieutenant Thomas Quested,' said she, 'but we do wonder what gives us the pleasure so soon.'
'I am Captain Quested, at last,' he said proudly, and his eyes danced, for he had seen the light come into Loveday's face as he entered, 'I, a man without a spark of influence.'
'Congratulations, my boy. Loveday, give him a kiss for that.'
The sailor slipped his arm round her waist lightly.
'Will you let her come across the sea with me?' he asked.
'Nay, nay,' said the farmer, 'we cannot part with our little maid. You will get you a house in Plymouth. Then she can come across, and see how the boy and the old folks are getting on.'
'But,' said Quested, 'they are fitting out ships to take the convicts to New Holland. The captain of the Venus has died, and they have offered his place to me.'
'New Holland!' said the farmer vaguely. 'New Holland!'
Farmers in Cornwall knew little about Australia in those days.
'The plantations are to be there now we've lost Virginia.'
'But 'tis the other side of the world!' He felt much as we should feel if some enterprising young lover were to speak of taking his bride to Mars.
'Yes,' said Quested with a motion of his hand, 'away in the South Seas. Captain Cook says it is a goodly land.'
'But you cannot take our little maid there!'
There was a finality about the farmer. For a moment Quested looked cast down.
'We might come back in two years,' he said.
'Two years!' said the farmer. 'No, no. When you come back we'll think about it. Loveday is needed at home.'
Loveday thought, was she? They were good to her. They loved her, but was she needed now? Did not the farmer and his wife and the little son make a perfect trio? Thomas Quested gave her dignity, put purpose into her life. She would be first with him. How could she decline to go? The future looked dark without Captain Quested. Two long years playing second fiddle to the baby.
She was a loyal little soul, and would not for the world have put her thoughts into such words. But that idea lay behind. She wanted Captain Quested. She had not before realized how much she wanted him.
'Oh, father,' she said, 'I want to go!'
After a night's discussion the farmer gave in, and there went to bed that night a wildly, deliriously happy sailor man.
The Venus was to sail in two months' time, and Mr. Corthew had promised that he should wed his daughter and take her out with him.
Best of all! The moving spirit in the decision had been that daughter herself.
'He that soweth iniquity shall reap
and the rod of his anger shall fail.'
Just for one moment Christian held his superior officer by the throat, as if he would do murder. Then he let him go, and, with a sweeping bow, apologized.
'I beg your pardon, sir. I am sure you will forgive a man who cannot allow even his commanding officer to speak ill of his wife.'
Bligh's face worked. He seized the young man by the shoulders.
Then he looked round. There had been no witnesses.
He stepped back and shook his clenched fists. A set look came over his face. In the clear moonlight the man before him saw it like a mask, and guessed the meaning of it.
In truth, he was remembering that most of the other men had formed ties just as this young fellow had done. If they chose to insist upon the permanence of those ties his expedition was ruined. Here he was, at their mercy. True, he could come back with a cruiser and teach them that there was no limit to the reach of England's power. But that could only be for the future. His breadfruit trees, collected with so much care and trouble, would be lost by a quarrel with his officers. Already he was not on good terms with his master. He must try more subtle means.
'Mr. Christian,' he said coldly, 'I am surprised at you. You surely remember it is rank mutiny to lay hands on your superior officer?'
'Yes, sir.' Christian was shaking with anger, and spoke rarely above his breath. Even Bligh could see he was putting a bridle upon his passion. 'I could murder the man who spoke ill of my wife.'
'I see,' said Bligh. 'Some allowance must be made for a lad's foolish infatuation. You will know better as you grow older. Go below, Mr. Christian, and consider yourself under arrest till to-morrow morning.'
Christian hesitated. Looked round over the moonlit sea; then obeyed quietly.
As for Bligh, he walked up and down the poop half the night before he, too, went below.
Next morning he had decided on the course he should take. As soon as he had breakfasted he sent for Christian.
'Mr. Christian,' as if he had entirely forgotten the painful incident of the night before, 'you will be glad to hear we are pretty near homeward bound at last. You will take the longboat and sail along outside the reef to the village where we got those last breadfruit trees'—it was a good twelve hours away—'and see about laying in a store of vegetables for the voyage. We've eaten the country out round here.'
It was a perfectly reasonable request. Christian knew he was getting off very lightly. But he looked moody as he came on deck and gave the necessary orders. Reynell saw him and begged to be taken.
For a moment Christian hesitated.
'No, Reynell, I won't take you. I don't trust him somehow. He's got something up his sleeve for me. Stay here and look after my little wife, will you? If aught ill should come to her——'
'You will have to leave her, sir, next week.' Reynell did not look at him.
'Ay, but how I'm to do it I do not know.'
Reynell laughed a little bitterly.
'We manage to do a good many things we do not like.' Then he smiled, for homeward bound meant to him the green hills round Polperro and the laughing eyes of Loveday Corthew.
When Christian was gone Bligh went ashore and wandered up to the hut Christian had called his home.
They lay close in. Plainly from the Bounty's deck Reynell could see him standing there talking to Christian's wife, who had come out and stood shyly before him. He took her by the chin and looked down into her face critically.
Peter Heywood, a midshipman of seventeen, a dare-devil young scamp from the Isle of Man, speaking broad Manx, laughed openly. It was odd to see their Captain with a girl's face between his hands. But Charles Stewart, an older man though still a midshipman, shook his head.
'Christian would half kill him if he could see. The girl is right enough. She thinks it's her duty to be civil to Christian's captain. I wonder what she dare refuse him. They've different standards from us. If I catch him so much as looking at my Tolea, by the nine gods, I'll skin him alive.'
'My dear,' said Peter Heywood, 'we'd best be givin' her a hint to be hidin' in the bush till her man's back.'
'Upon my word,' said Stewart, 'I believe it'ud save bloodshed.'
Reynell, listening, decided if they did not he would.
When Bligh left the girl and strolled away to the village he turned to Stewart who was the officer of the watch in Christian's absence. For six months no watches had been kept. This morning Bligh had set them again. He was tightening things up. The men chafed, but it was very necessary, seeing how soon they would be at sea again.
'May I go ashore for a moment, sir?'
'What d'ye want to go ashore for, Reynell? Strict orders none of the watches to be allowed ashore unless they're sent.'
'Couldn't you send me, sir?'
'Well, I like that. I could, of course. What do you want ashore?'
'To——' Reynell checked himself. 'No harm, sir,' he said earnestly. He knew very well the other two knew he had heard their conversation. As a superior man, in the general relaxation of discipline he was on very friendly terms with the young officers, 'only maybe it's as well you shouldn't know aught about it.'
'Mysterious,' said Stewart. 'Well, really——'
'It's as well,' said Reynell, looking at Christian's little hut, 'to avoid all causes of quarrel.'
Peter Heywood grinned. Stewart, smiling, said,
'Perhaps it would be as well if I kept an eye seaward when I send you ashore to tell Trevenick, whom I see doing himself very well over there, that the brasswork about the capstan head demands his immediate attention.'
'Thank you, sir.'
Promptly Reynell was ashore delivering the message to Trevenick, who swore he intended to cut such a dog's life at the first opportunity. Reynell did not stay to listen, but made for Christian's hut. Not standing on ceremony, he stepped inside, for he did not want Bligh to catch him.
Lola, Christian had called his wife, because he swore she was a Spanish beauty. She was a pretty girl of sixteen, with a golden brown skin, soft, melting brown eyes, streaming dark hair, and softly rounded limbs. Her manner was gentle and confiding. For the moment Reynell fully entered into Christian's feelings. How was he to leave this young thing who loved him?
'Lola, what did the Captain say when he spoke to you just now? Quick, my child, quick.'
He spoke in the soft Tahitian tongue. She answered, looking at him with frank innocent eyes.
'He said I was pretty. He said I had lovely eyes and I must come on board the Bounty. He will send a boat for me to-night. Fletcher will be there?' she asked.
'Lola,' said Reynell quickly. Bligh might be acting with the best intentions, but he suspected him of wanting to show Christian his wife as a frail thing. 'You must get away to the bush and stay there, Lola; stay there till Christian comes back. You must not do what the captain tells you. Christian will be miserable if you spend a night on board the Bounty and he not there.'
'He will be there,' said the girl, her eyes lighting up. 'He cannot come ashore at night now.'
'He will not be there. He has gone along the reef. You must see for yourself it is an utter impossibility that he should be there.'
The girl's face grew piteous.
'Fletcher'—he had taken such trouble to make her learn how to pronounce his harsh name—'told me I must never go aboard without him.'
'Certainly not. And you must not disobey the captain. Hide yourself, Lola. Trust some one to tell you when Christian returns. Mind, I am his friend, and I tell you for his good. The captain is not his friend. Hide, Lola, hide,' and, afraid of lingering, Reynell returned on board, wondering whether he had made the simple little girl understand his meaning.
Towards evening Bligh gave an order to Heywood.
'Go to that little hut there, Mr. Heywood, and bring me off the girl you will find there. I promised to send for her this evening.'
'Is it Mr. Christian's girl you're invitin', sir?' asked Heywood, in his broad Manx, which was so like Irish.
'I did not ask you who the girl was, Mr. Heywood. I told you to bring her.'
Heywood's dismay was comical.
'Upon my word, sir,' said he, 'there isn't a sign of her,' and he gently insinuated that, if his captain's mind was set in that direction, he could find a dozen girls who would be deeply honoured by his notice. That particular one, however, was away to the bush. Her husband was the only person who could wile her back.
'Her husband?' questioned Bligh, as if surprised.
'Mr. Christian, sir.' There was a little twinkle in Heywood's eye. Bligh caught him by the shoulder and shook him angrily.
'You are all mad, crew and officers alike! You'll be telling me you have a wife next.'
'Sure, sir,' said Heywood coolly, 'I'm a general lover. But there's some of the lads have fixed thimselves up pretty tight.'
Bligh looked furious.
'Bless you, sir, tops'le sheets'll work a wondrous cure.'
'You be hanged for an impudent young scamp,' said Bligh recovering himself, 'blessing your betters. Come now, has this girl any relations?'
'Lashings of 'em. There's her brother, that gossoon on the rock there.'
A boy of fourteen was sitting idly fishing.
'Fetch him here.'
Heywood was glad to be given something he really could do.
In a very short time the lad was on deck, smiling all over his face, for he had never been here before that some good had not come to him.
This time Bligh frowned at him.
'Where is your sister?' he asked harshly.
'Master of men,' said the boy softly, 'I don't know. She has doubtless gone to the bush till her husband returns.'
'But where is she?'
'Leader of men, I do not know.' The boy held out a deprecating hand.
'Oh, you don't know, don't you? We'll arrange that. McKoy, bring a lashing here.'
'Sir, sir,' protested the master, the only man who dared to speak, 'in all probability the lad speaks the truth. If you will pardon me reminding you, yourself taught us the necessity for being on friendly terms with the natives.'
'The necessity is nearly over,' said Bligh curtly. 'The breadfruit is all on board. I will not be defied. McKoy, trice me up this lad and use the rope's-end on him when I tell you. Now, my lad,' he said again in Tahitian, 'where is your sister?'
The boy cast an imploring glance round. He wrestled with the bonds that bound his wrists.
'Leader of men,' he wailed, 'I do not know.'
Bligh made a sign.
McKoy stood with the rope's-end raised in the air. At his sign down it came on the brown young back, raising a broad weal.
Frankly, the South Sea Islanders are pleasure lovers, basking in eternal sunshine. The boy was no Stoic. He gave a long wailing cry.
There was dismay among the onlookers, for the great majority had allied themselves with these people.
But it takes a good deal to make men oppose a man who holds the power of life and death, from whose decision only open rebellion can save them.
Reynell sought the surgeon, whom, unluckily, he could not find at first.
'Where is your sister?' asked Bligh again, calm and judicial.
The lad writhed.
'Leader of men, I do not know. She has gone to the bush.'
Bligh lifted his hand. Down came the rope's end again. Another weal. The boy screamed.
The same question brought the same answer mingled with wild prayer for mercy.
So the little tragedy went on till the boy's wails sank to low moans.
Bligh looked on calmly. It was nothing to him that the crew were wrathful. He was pleased to show his authority.
The boy's back was all raw before Reynell came back with the surgeon, Mr. Ledward.
He glanced down at the boy and caught McKoy's arm upraised for another blow.
'If you do not wish to kill him, sir, he has had enough.'
'See he's put ashore, Mr. Stewart. His sister will have something to do making a salve for a sore back. They will all learn it is not well to defy William Bligh.'
He went below to his own cabin.
With his going tongues were loosened. Officers and men, even the staid old master, joined in the universal disapprobation. The surgeon had the boy cut free and called for some one to run to his cabin for restoratives. McKoy, who had delivered the lashes, scratched his head ruefully.
'A' give it un mild, a' did. A' sutinly laid it on mild.'
'If you hadn't, man,' said the surgeon, 'he certainly would be dead. These islanders can't stand much. Carry him below, and we'll see what can be done.'
When the surgeon had done what he could for him, Reynell put the boy in his own hammock. The crew came and sympathized, making little offerings, and disclaiming, each for himself, all part and parcel in the captain's cruelty.
The boy looked round him with wide, wondering eyes. His back pained him; he felt sick and ill; this was the work of the white man whom he had trusted. Yet these others were kind. It was more than his simple, untutored mind could understand. He closed his eyes wearily.
Charles Stewart, looking at him, shook his head.
'Is he much hurt, Reynell? Will he get over it?'
'Mr. Ledward says he will, sir.'
'It's a bad business. Upon my word it's a bad business. How the devil Bligh comes to be such a fool passes me! Why, more than three quarters of us are only too anxious to stop here as it is. If it comes to a row—or if they depart for the woods——'
'They can't do much without a leader, sir,' said Reynell, daring since Stewart spoke so openly. 'I'm afraid, though, of what Mr. Christian will say. And do. He will imagine all sorts of insults were intended for his wife, and if any one insults his wife——'
He really thought Christian would kill Bligh.
'Oh, Christian!' Stewart gave a long whistle. 'Christian will raise Cain. And he will be back to-morrow night.'
'Boast not thyself of to-morrow for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.'
Bligh was excited in his dour way. The last hundred breadfruit trees were being brought aboard. He had sacrificed the comfort of the whole ship's company, but not another one could he have stowed. Still fifteen hundred! He might count surely on at least half surviving. If only a quarter got through——Once he got them to Jamaica he had little doubt but all would be well.
Now the great thing was speed. He was hustling the men. He felt they, too, should understand the importance of the matter in hand.
'Gardener,' he said, 'we want a few stays.'
'A few more sticks wouldn't come amiss——'
The gardener stopped as the master came down the companionway. He was a middle-aged man, older than Bligh, whom he held in some awe.
'Sir,' he reported a little anxiously, 'a couple of men, Muspratt and Churchill, got away with the cutter.'
Bligh looked thunder. The pacific master quailed.
'And what was the master doing, may I ask, to permit such a thing?'
'I was arranging a place for the trees,' he said deprecatingly. 'By your orders the chest of arms was left in the gangway there to make room. They took it.'
'I suppose you can send after them,' very curtly.
'Mr. Stewart has just brought them in, sir. I felt it my duty to report to you.'
'You did get as far as that, did you? Well, I'll attend to Messrs Muspratt and Churchill to-morrow.'
Bligh went on deck. He was troubled. But he did not say so. He had been too lax with the men. This should be mended.
On deck Reynell was coiling down a rope end.
'Tell Mr. Heywood I want him.'
'Mr. Heywood, take a boat's crew ashore and fetch me a few stout sticks for stays. There's an empty hut over there. Just pull that down and bring me the timber.'
Heywood rubbed his eyes.
'Mr. Christian's hut, sir?'
Bligh laughed and his laugh was not pleasant.
'You yourself assured me it was empty last night.'
Heywood still looked troubled.
'We are off in less than a week,' Bligh explained elaborately, and when Bligh explained there was trouble in the air, 'Mr. Christian will not be wanting a hut any longer. No more shore leave. Mr. Heywood,' he rapped out sharply, 'do you intend to obey me? If I choose to pull down an empty hut I shall.'
There was nothing more to be said.
'Quartermaster,' called Heywood to Reynell.
They got together a crew and made for the hut. Heywood stepped inside and told the men to take out anything that seemed of value.
Before they were half through their work of salvage there came a hail from the ship telling them not to be all night over the job.
Heywood looked ruefully at his quartermaster.
''Tisn't any fault of yours, sir,' Reynell comforted him. 'Mr. Christian'll know you did your best. Look lively now, men.'
They levelled the little house to the ground in less than five minutes.
It was dark when Christian got aboard from his trip. His request to go ashore was curtly refused, so it was not till morning that he saw the destruction of his property. He turned angrily and went straight for Bligh's cabin. Reynell made bold to stop him.
'Sir, sir, is it your hut you're thinking about?'
'My hut! My home, you mean, Reynell! I must go ashore at once. Where——! How——!'
'Your wife is all right, sir. Upon my honour I believe she is all right. She's away to the bush. The hut was empty and the captain had it pulled down for stays.'
'He knew it was mine,' said Christian. 'The whole ship knew it was mine. It is a piece of wanton destruction to spite me.'
'Never mind,' said Charles Stewart's soothing voice, 'you'll be even with him before you're done. Let it go now, old man, let it go.'
He took Christian by the arm and walked him below, evidently putting as good a face upon things as he could. But there was yet the beating of the boy and the driving away of Christian's wife to be explained.
The ship seemed to be in a state of suppressed ferment.
Bligh had been anxious at first that his crew should be on friendly relations, should even form ties with the islanders; now he seemed as anxious to show his scorn for those ties. Reynell would have given a great deal to have the Bounty a week away from Tahiti and all well with her.
In the afternoon Christian got ashore.
The whole ship waited for his coming back. But the sun went down and it was well on into the night before he came.
The deck was in darkness, the moon had not yet risen, only the lantern at the companion showed a dim light. As its rays fell on Fletcher Christian's face, Reynell, lounging on deck, saw that it was dark with passion.
Straight to Bligh's cabin he went. Reynell heard voices raised in anger. He expected next a call for a file of marines to put Mr. Christian under arrest. Would it be the signal for a general mutiny, for all the ship sympathized with Christian?
Perhaps Bligh understood that, for the order never came.
Christian came out, went down the ship's side without a word to any one, into a native canoe that was waiting, and back to the shore again. Reynell wondered if he were gone for good.
But no. Next day he came aboard and resumed his duties. Stewart patted him on the back.
'By Jingo! I thought you'd turned nigger and the Bounty had lost you!'
'I'm not so sure,' said Christian grimly, 'that she hasn't. It wouldn't be a bad life here, and Bligh is enough to harry the life out of a man.'
'You appear to have got the better of him. He don't allow any one else ashore at night.'
'I told him I'd wreck the whole expedition in revenge for my wrecked hut unless he let me go my own way.'
'And he didn't send for the jaundy?' asked Stewart amazed.
'He didn't,' said Christian. 'Muspratt and Churchill did me a good turn, poor beggars. If he's to land those breadfruit trees safely in Jamaica he'd better go a bit easy.'
Charles Stewart shook his head over things.
'Will we get away, sir?' asked Reynell voicing his anxiety. 'I'd give ten years of my life to be sure of seeing old England again.'
'And why shouldn't you see it?'
'I hope I shall, sir. But there's something unrestful in the air. I wish the Captain had let Mr. Christian's wife alone.'
'And her brother. And her hut. He's not over kind, but as a rule he's not wanton.'
'He had to show his power,' hazarded Reynell. It was to his mind the only explanation of Bligh's conduct.
'He must have been possessed to meddle with Christian,' opined Stewart.
'I assure you it isn't wise to meddle with Christian,' said that gentleman laughing grimly. 'The meddler generally comes off worst.'
'Well,' said Stewart, 'I'd as soon touch a hedgehog with his prickles out.'
Christian smiled. He was grave as a man who has made up his mind to a momentous step. But he was not unhappy about it.
'I shall tell you, Stewart,' he went on, 'and you, too, Reynell, because you have both been sympathetic and friendly. I shall give messages to you both to deliver in England. I have a brother and sister there. I don't want them to think I've forgotten them.'
'But——' Stewart and Reynell spoke in a breath.
Christian held up his hand.
'No, I shan't be there as soon as you will. I had it out with Bligh the other night. It was very nearly all over with him. I let him off on one condition.'
Stewart stared at him. Reynell was not so very much surprised. He had seen Christian come up that night.
'That you should stay behind,' he asked. 'You'd surely never be so foolish. Your prospects——'
'My prospects pretty well wrecked themselves, I should say, when I held that knife to Bligh's throat. He takes it coolly here because he's bound to, but once in English waters I wouldn't give much for my prospects in the navy. The alternative—is—ah well, it's worth it.'
'Don't,' implored Stewart, 'don't. You are ruining your life.'
'Gaining it! Gaining it! Stewart, I've never in my life been so happy as I've been the last six months.'
'It won't last. You're like a god to these people now, but by and by—when the ship is gone——'
'I'll chance it,' said Christian, leaning over the side and hailing a canoe that had been waiting for that hail, for he meant to spend the night ashore as usual.
'Reynell, keep a quiet tongue in your head,' warned Stewart anxiously. 'It won't do to let the rest of the men get wind of this. I don't know what'll be the end of it.'
'The mischief is,' said Reynell, 'that half the crew would give their eyes to do the same.'
There was no way to alter things.
The preparation for departure went on apace. The men were sullen and discontented. Bligh, noticing it, said to his officers that that was to be expected after so long a spell of freedom ashore. Blue water would cure it.
At last the fateful 4th of April dawned, bright and sunny. They expected nothing else of the weather in that part of the world. Little by little, Christian had taken most of his things ashore, until now his little cabin was bare and empty. He wrote two letters, and gave one to Stewart and one to Reynell.
'So if one don't reach old England, the other will,' he said. 'I'm keen on them getting those letters.'
'And you're going to-day,'said Stewart. 'You're really sure you're going to-day. It's so unlike Bligh.'
'Exactly,' said Christian, 'but I had my knife at his throat.'
'Still he has something up his sleeve for you, I warrant.'
'Ah, man, you're thinking of the navy and promotion. I have cut all that. I am going to be a naked savage. Perhaps he thinks I will find that punishment enough.'
'So you will,' said Reynell sombrely.
Christian laughed, and beckoned to a canoe that was close in shore in which was the girl Lola, his wife.
On board all was bustle. The men were shortening in. Round the ship was a fleet of canoes filled with weeping women. They might not mourn long, these light-hearted islanders, but they were mourning most sincerely. Only the stern commands of Bligh and his officers kept the men from running every moment to the ship's side to look over and shout tender words in answer to the loving ones that in a soft language were shouted at them.
'Sail loosers 'way aloft,' came the order. The pipes of the bo'sun's mate sounded shrilly across the harbour.
'The anchor's away, sir,' came the cry from for'ard.
Slowly the ship paid off, heading towards the passage in the reef. As the men tramped round the capstan their shanty rose sadly on the air for all they were homeward bound and it should have been a cheerful song.
'For, oh I never will forget ye.'
'Tofa my phalangi, tofa so e tua,' responded the people in the canoes, setting their own words to the air, words that said that the strangers, the white men whom they loved, were leaving them, and they were desolate.
As the anchor rose Christian stepped forward and prepared to slip over the side. It had been agreed he should not leave till the very last moment. He would just drop down quietly into the canoe that was waiting for him; Lola's canoe. In the bustle he reckoned that no one would notice him, or if they did, it would be too late to follow his example.
He had his hand on the rail when the master-at-arms and a couple of sailors appeared beside him.
'Cap'en's orders, sir. He says you'm agoin' to desert.'
For one moment Christian was speechless with dismay. Bligh had had the last word, as Stewart had said he would. It was checkmate. He was losing everything.
Then he fought madly.
But the master-at-arms called another man to his aid. It took but a moment to overpower him.
The anchor was up. The breeze had filled the sails. The Bounty was forging ahead through the water at a rate that threatened quickly to leave all the canoes behind. They would have dragged Christian below but he, remembering that Lola would think he had purposely deceived her, begged and prayed them to let him stay on deck. Gladly enough would they have deserted themselves, but they saw no reason why he should have what they were denied, so they held him, a sailor on each arm, the master-at-arms behind him. He could look over at the receding land, while those in the canoes must see he was a prisoner.
He saw only the little brown canoe with the outrigger, and the girl in it, with her frightened, anxious face turned towards the ship that was fast going out to sea.
'My love, my dear, my wife,' he cried, 'they are taking me by force. I will come back. Fear not, I will come back. Trust me I will come!'
'Master-at-arms,' called Bligh, a curious note of triumph in his voice, 'take the prisoner below, and set a sentry at his door.'
The sails were full now, the Bounty looked like a great white bird tearing her way through the water. Daniel Reynell's heart swelled with thankfulness. Half his probation was over. He was homeward bound. Loveday Corthew would be waiting for him.
They dragged Fletcher Christian past him.
'I told you, I told you,' said Stewart. 'I knew that Bligh would never let him stop. Now he has lost promotion and everything.'
'I have not lost everything,' shouted Christian, as if he guessed what they were thinking, 'not yet. I am not the only one that wants to stay behind.'
Bligh broke in angrily, asking if they were going to be all day over the job. The little party reached the gangway and disappeared from sight.
'For to him that is joined to all the
living there is hope;
for a living dog is better than a dead lion.'
It was the custom, I believe, at the end of the eighteenth century, or, at any rate, it was a very general practice after a prisoner had been declared guilty, for the judge to inflict the very highest penalty allowed by the law. Afterwards they might consider a little mercy.
The law in those days was a fierce thing. Since the death penalty could be, and was, inflicted for stealing from the person anything over a shilling in value, the woman who stole a valuable horse might be considered to have well earned it. Perhaps, in any case, it would not have been carried out.
Luckily for Joan, the young barrister who had defended her and the older man who had prosecuted for the Crown, were both so struck by her beauty that they came together and talked the case over.
Dick Penrhyn's wife, too, was properly shocked. She was a pious woman, and, though she thought it very wicked indeed to have killed the mare, she could not bear to think that the blood of a girl she had known would be on her husband's head.
She stopped the two men as they were walking down the street.
'You'uns,' and she looked pointedly at the junior, 'done she to death. Her ah had a mortal fright. Couldn't you 'uns beg she off?'
'That's an idea,' said the junior with a sigh of relief.
'Years of imprisonment, that's the alternative,' mused the elder, 'her youth and that strange beauty gone. 'Pon my word I'd rather be dead.'
But then, of course, it wasn't he who was sentenced to be hanged by the neck till he was dead. He might have held a different opinion if it had been.
'There's transportation,' said the junior thoughtfully.
'I dunno,' said Mrs. Penrhyn, 'as it ud be a bad thing for Joan to put the world atween she an' that good for naught mother of hers.'
The two men laughed.
'Well, if we get her off,' said the Crown Prosecutor, 'will you get her a few little comforts for the voyage?'
'Iss, iss, sure,' then more cautiously, 'a'm a poor woman an' my man, he's a bit tight fisted, but a'll do best a' can.'
'Get her off,' said the junior counsel looking at his elder, 'and I'll gladly provide her with some clothes and necessaries myself.'
So it came that after long days in the condemned cell that made her feel she had died a thousand deaths, and left her numb and broken, Mrs. Treherne came to Joan at last.
She was lying on her pallet staring at a faint ray of watery sunshine that found its way through the Judas hole in the door, and she was saying to herself that she supposed she would not see many more rays of sunshine. It behoved her to make the most of it. Yet how could she when day and night she was thinking that she would be choked to death—for a crime of which she felt herself entirely innocent. Just because Dick Penrhyn had not been reasonable she must die—and die horribly.
'Get up, Joan. I've good news for 'ee. Well, maybe——' the woman hesitated.
Joan got up wearily. She was a brave woman, ashamed to be found bewailing herself.
'What is it?' she asked. 'Will they shoot I? 'Twould be easier.'
'A' has na to die,' said Mrs. Treherne, sitting down on the pallet and letting herself go with a sob. It was no little thing, she found, to tell a girl she was reprieved. Joan put out her hands blindly and caught the woman's. She could not speak and she would not cry out.
'There! There! Poor maid! Poor maid! An' long years of jail afore ye.'
But Joan did not think of that for the moment. The rope—the horror she had dreaded so unspeakably had been taken away! She looked at the woman, afraid to believe so great a good had come to her. Then, seeing her jailer's face, she slipped to her knees and sobbed out her gratitude in that dirty lap. Mrs. Treherne had had naught to do with the reprieve, but she liked the gratitude. It made her take an interest in the girl though, to her, her future looked terribly dark.
Then there came a present for Joan, money to buy a dress, underclothes, everything a girl could need, with a request that the dress should be blue.
It was the sentimental junior who desired to see the girl he had been instrumental in saving, and who did not wish the picture to be spoiled by the sight of her bedraggled and dirty as he knew only too well weeks of jail in those days was bound to make her.
The jailer's wife did her best, though she shook her head over what she thought Joan's future was likely to be. After all, her own life had been no bed of roses, who was she to deprive the girl of any scrap of pleasure that was likely to come her way. Besides, things might be made profitable for Susan Treherne.
When a fortnight later, the junior counsel, after a little struggle with himself, and quite against his better judgment, made a special journey to Plymouth just to see her, Mrs. Treherne smiled a knowing smile, and saw that the girl was clean and neat, and dressed in the new clothes when she was sent in to see him.
Joan counted him her saviour. A fortnight's freedom from the shadow of the gallows had brought back the clear pallor to her cheeks, the colour to her lips, and the brightness to her eyes. It was a stately, good-looking young woman who stood before him, thanking him gravely and with desperate gratitude for all he had done for her.
The grace and charm of this daughter of the people took his breath away. Her voice, though she spoke broadest dialect, was rich, low and melodious. He could not know that it was his own manner and that of the judge who had condemned her, that reminded her of the dignity that was her father's, and that, she realised, was so much better a thing than the noisy manners of the tavern where she had spent the last six years of her life. Not that she had ever been noisy except when she let herself go in furious anger. She had taken refuge in a sullen silence.
'It is long years for you,' said the junior counsel regretfully, 'unless——' he paused.
''Tis better than hangin',' said Joan with a shudder, 'an' when a' had no mind to steal mare——'
'There's no good going into that,' he said hastily. What a sin it was this stately young woman should be soiled and smirched by a life in jail. Was it possible—transportation——But the American colonies had been lost to England; Jamaica and Barbadoes no longer needed white bond-women, having their wants in that direction supplied by West Africa. They were sending convicts to Captain Cook's land in the South Seas. It was a sin to send so handsome a girl so far away. And yet——
He conquered his own desires, like the decent fellow he was. He knew very well he would never marry a woman of the people and a jailbird at that. Some other man would take her, he supposed, but the sin should not be on his shoulders.
'Joan, you would not like to go to the South Seas?'
He was amazed at the light that sprang into the girl's sea blue eyes. Her whole face glowed with hope and delight. He felt for a moment he could not let this lovely woman go out of his life. There were ways——
'A'd be main glad—I would like to go to the South Seas,' she said, trying to model her speech on his.
Daniel Reynell had gone to the South Seas!
In these days of swift communication, when the world is open to every one, many speak of Australia as if it were all comprised in a ring fence, and people bound to Port Darwin and Hobart are within visiting distance. What wonder, then, if an ignorant girl whose only ideas of geography had been imparted by the nuns at the convent school at Cadiz, should think that here would lie her chance of meeting the one man in the world for her. The one man still! This good-looking young fellow, before whom she was willing to abase herself in gratitude, could never be anything but a means to an end. Hope was born again. If this man would help her to go to the South Seas——
'Away from all your friends? Never to see them again perhaps? Wouldn't you rather stay in England, Joan? I think perhaps——'
'I have no friends,' said Joan speaking deliberately, to try and get her words right, just as this man spoke them. 'None had been good to me but you and Mistress Treherne.'
'So you think I have been good to you?'
'You have been very good to me,' said Joan gravely, 'I ha' no words to thank 'ee.' She made a little curtsey, and the deep grave eyes looked straight into his.
He sighed because he thought he was being a fool.
'Well, Joan, we must try and make it as easy for you as possible. Now be a good girl, don't despair, and I'll do all I can to make the voyage smooth and the landing comfortable for you. If you're grateful, to me you may put up a little prayer occasionally that I find a wife as beautiful as you.'
He drew her towards him, looked gravely into her face—she was tall as he—and he, though no giant, was above the medium height—and drew her towards him. He stood so a moment, his hands on her shoulders. And it was his heart that beat to suffocation. He put a very grave kiss on her forehead and let her go.
Joan walked on air back to the fetid ward. So—he thought her beautiful, this good-looking young man—he had treated her with courtesy—he had kissed her. She was to go to the South Seas—to begin a new life—and—hope whispered it—she did not know how utterly improbable it was—she might meet Daniel Reynell there.
'All things come alike to all:
there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked;
to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean;
to him that sacrificeth and to him that sacrificeth not;
as is the good, so is the sinner.'
Not till they were well out of Tahitian waters and the islands, and the lotus-eating life was becoming, it seemed, a mere memory, did Bligh release Christian and send for him to his cabin.
Christian, entering, found his captain sitting at the table with a pistol beside him.
'Well, Mr. Christian, are you prepared to admit I have won in the little game?'
'Yes, sir,' he spoke coldly, bitterly—'but you will also admit, I suppose, you hardly played fair. I was to desert at the last moment, you will remember.'
'Exactly. You were good enough to inform me of your intention with your knife at my throat, you will remember. We also agreed to let things take their natural course. The natural course was for me to have all ready to insure proper discipline on board my ship. Checkmate, Mr. Christian, checkmate.'
Christian manifestly only kept himself under control with an effort.
Bligh went on.
'Now, Mr. Christian, you are a good officer, an excellent officer. I need excellent officers. We will let bygones be bygones. You must admit you assaulted me in a manner which,—well, upon my word, I have seen men hanged for much less. On my part I will admit that possibly I was a little hard on you. That was for your own good, Mr. Christian, entirely for your own good. Six months hence you will thank me for my conduct. Long before you are my age you will feel that you cannot be grateful enough. Now, Mr. Christian, you may go back to your duty.'
'And a lucky dog you may think yourself,' was Stewart's comment. 'He's got some guts, Bligh, after all.'
'Do you think he means it?' asked Christian.
'Why, yes. Why shouldn't he?'
'Because he is not the man to forgive that knife. Oh, no, he will not log it because it won't read well if he tells the truth. But he will never forgive me all the same.'
Still, he seemed not only to have forgiven but to have entirely forgotten. He allowed Christian to resume his position as head of the third watch. He even asked him to dinner, and as a man who had lived for the past six months under their shadow, he consulted him about the precious breadfruit trees. The unfortunate episodes of the last days at Tahiti seemed to be entirely blotted out.
The change was in Christian.
Reynell, of whom from the very first he had made something of a friend, could not but notice it. He was irritable and bad tempered. That might be set down to his grief for the girl he had left behind him. It was only natural. But in another way he had changed too. He had made a friend of Reynell when he was only a leading seaman. But then Reynell was a man of some education. So far out of the world as they were, it was excusable that a man should take a companion where he could find him. With the rest of the crew he had preserved the distance expected from an officer.
Now that was changed.
Reynell noted, uneasily, that Christian seemed to be on the friendliest and most intimate terms with Muspratt and all the discontented spirits on board. So troubled was he, he even went so far as to point it out to Stewart.
That young man laughed.
'Poor beggar! He's got it bad, very bad! We all of us felt the parting a wrench, but on the whole I shouldn't, myself, fly to William Muspratt for distraction and consolation. Still we all of us take things differently. And time cures all things we're told. We're getting on. More than three weeks out, Reynell. Some of us are beginning to wonder what the Jamaican girls are like.'
As a matter of miles, they were really not so very far from Tahiti. Calms and contrary winds had delayed them.
The work of the ship went on quietly. The iron discipline of a man of war was never for a moment relaxed, though the cabin was full of young breadfruit trees. The men seemed to be settling down far better than Reynell had dared hope, seeing the freedom they had enjoyed for the last six months.
As the 27th April drew to a close, and the light breeze was dying with the daylight, Bligh beckoned Reynell.
'Quartermaster, give my compliments to Mr. Christian, and tell him I expect him to sup with me.'
'Tell him to go to hell,' was Christian's comment when the message was delivered.
'I can't very well take that for an answer,' said Reynell uneasily, 'can I, sir?'
'Say what you please. I'm not going. I'm turning in.' Christian moodily shut the door of his cabin.
So he was still mourning the girl in Tahiti. Because they were well on their way home Reynell felt a certain measure of sympathy.
'Mr. Christian's compliments,' he reported to Bligh, 'he regrets very much he is too unwell to come to supper.'
'What! Sick! What are these young men coming to! I'd have had to be dying when I was a youngster before I refused an invitation from my captain.'
'Mr. Christian has turned in, sir,' ventured Reynell. 'He looked very sick,' was the way he translated Christian's moody face.
'Lovesick, I suppose, you mean, eh, Reynell?' said Bligh with a little twinkle in his eyes. 'Hasn't he got over that yet?' Bligh liked Reynell, and when they were entirely alone sometimes relaxed with him. Reynell, in his turn, liked Bligh, in spite of his brutality on occasion. He was so capable a man, so efficient, he felt he could forgive him his many sins.
'It was a bad case, sir. But top s'le sheets, they say—and—every day——'
'Not quite as far as I could wish, Reynell,' said the commander. 'Still we are getting on. That young man will live to know I'm right. But he isn't taking his medicine quite as I'd like.'
The wind was light, and died away altogether as, in purple and gold, the sun sank into the sea. It was still and calm. There wasn't a ripple on the waters. A long line of golden light stretched up to the moon in her first quarter. She hung, a golden crescent, in the Western sky. Reynell lay in the shadow of the cook-house. It was his watch below, but the fo'c'sle was a stifling, noisome place, unbearable in the tropics. In the pleasant warmth he could sleep quite comfortably on deck.
The gunner had charge of the watch. Reynell, turning over sleepily, saw him walking up and down the poop. The moonlight showed him the clean white deck still encumbered with some of the yams and other produce brought from Tahiti, for there was no room below. He heard voices, someone talking in the cook-house; but he did not hear what they were saying, he did not want to hear; only the subdued voices mingled pleasantly with the sob of the waters against the ship's sides, and the sound of the sails idly flapping against the masts.
Then a voice was raised emphatically. The words fell distinctly on his ears.
'We must do it to-night, Muspratt. Once we get a strong wind she'll walk. Then every hour'll take us farther and farther away.'
The voice was the voice of Fletcher Christian. Reynell had supposed Christian in his berth. Not ill, of course, but a man does not openly flaunt his disrespect for his commanding officer whatever he may feel. Yet here he was talking to Muspratt, one of the most notoriously discontented spirits on board.
'It's a ticklish job, a mighty ticklish job,' said the man thoughtfully.
'It's quite easy once we make up our minds to go through with it. I tell you we're not far off as the crow flies. Is there a sentry at Bligh's door?'
'And Churchill understands he's to be ready the moment eight bells strike?'
He was listening to some conspiracy. And Christian was in it. For the moment that was the only thing Reynell grasped. Christian was in it! If he had only given himself a moment to think he would have kept quiet and gone on sleeping as the wisest thing to do.
If this was a conspiracy that would be the simplest way to thwart it. But Christian had always been his friend. It seemed only natural to remonstrate with him. In a moment he was in the cook-house.
'Good Lord!' cried Christian startled.
The other man with an oath drew a knife.
'Dead cocks can't crow,' said he.
Christian pushed it aside.
'Why, man, Reynell's a pressed man! Bligh's only just given him back his name and they're stealing half his pay. He's much more likely to be with us than against us.'
'What are you up to?' asked Reynell, only half mollified. Was it mutiny? Christian hated Bligh. He would stick at nothing.
'Well, it's a treasonable matter,' said Christian. 'If I didn't count you a friend, Reynell, I'd be like Muspratt here, looking for some way to stop your mouth.'
'Oh, I'm your friend. You ought to know that. But we're homeward bound now, and half my time's worked off. I wouldn't for the world,' he added, afraid of he hardly knew what, 'join you in anything that would delay for a moment my home-coming.'
'I told you,' grumbled Muspratt, 'he'll wreck it.'
Still Christian checked him.
'You reckon that Bligh'll get you home quicker than any man. I'm not saying he won't. But you must know that the same thing that makes you want to go makes me and my mates want to stay here.' Reynell felt it strangely unnatural that Christian should speak of Muspratt and his lot as 'my mates.' 'Bligh broke his word and baulked me. By heaven he shan't have the chance again. Now, Reynell if you're thinking about betraying us——'
Reynell felt that in that case his friendship with Christian would be a thing of naught. Still there were limits.
'You're not thinking about destroying the seaworthiness of the ship?' he asked. Why had he barged in? He could not make up his mind what he ought to do now. It was almost his duty to have lain still and listened.
'Good Lord! No. The last thing I'd dream of. Ships like this are mighty useful in these seas, and not over plentiful.' He laughed, but there was something uncomfortable in his laughter. 'Half a dozen of us, you can guess who, can't stand the life. We're going to steal the long boat and clear to-night. We've squared the gunner. You'd better sleep and know nothing about it. We're going, if we die for it.'
'It's the maddest thing I ever heard of,' remonstrated Reynell. 'If you'd done it three weeks ago there might have been some sense in it. Why, you'll never fetch Tahiti!'
'You bet we know what we're about! Now, Reynell, go quietly to your hammock, unless you like to join us.'
'You know I won't join you,' said Reynell roughly. 'I ought to tell the Captain.'
In truth he was troubled. For he liked his first friend on board, owed him much and had no mind to embroil him further with Bligh.
'If you've got another weasand you may,' threatened Muspratt.
Christian laid a not unkindly hand on his shoulder.
'Now, like a good fellow, go down and turn in. There'll be row enough by and by. Best let things take their course. I've sworn back to England Bligh shall not take me, and I'm keeping my word.'
'Will you leave enough men to man the ship?'
'Oh, sure! Most of the ship's company, I'll swear.'
'I should think so. It's a mad venture.'
Christian laughed. 'Not so mad, I assure you.'
'If I sleep like the dead will you promise to do things quietly? Muspratt is too ready with his knife. He'll be a drawback in your Eden, I'm thinking.'
Christian was suddenly gloomy.
'We can't have all we want in this world. Bligh should have let me go when he promised. I'm bound to go back. I promised Lola, and I keep my promises, whatever Bligh may do.'
'Pray God you don't repent,' said Reynell. 'But I feel that Bligh was right. Give it up, man, give it up. The worst is over now.'
'The worst isn't over. Good-bye, Reynell, sleep like the dead.'
Daniel Reynell saw that remonstrance was useless. Here was a young man wrecking his life. Even if he betrayed him to Bligh—if he could betray him which would not be easy—matters would not be mended. He held out his hand to Christian. Christian apparently did not see it.
'Get on, man, to your hammock,' he said somewhat roughly, 'and good luck to you. Remember I gave you the chance to join us.'
Reynell tumbled into his hammock in the hot and fetid fo'c'sle.
But he could not sleep, much as he desired to do so. There was a dim light swinging from the deck above. He could see John Norton, one of the quartermasters, snoring in the next hammock, and the light fell full on Robert Tinkler's sleeping face. Several of the hammocks were empty. Quite likely their owners, as he himself had done, thought the fo'c'sle too stifling on a night like this.
As eight bells struck he saw the master-at-arms go to the hammock of a gunner's mate. He roused out John Mills. The pair went quietly on deck. It was Christian's watch now. Reynell listened intently.
How were they to launch the boat? Who was going to keep Bligh in his cabin while they brought the ship to?
He was half minded to go to the cockpit and see what Charles Stewart thought of the situation. But that would be risky. Perhaps it was best to know nothing. Asleep in his hammock he could know nothing. He closed his eyes.
He was desperately anxious. So little would wreck all his hopes. So long as Christian, with his wild longing after the brown girl, and Muspratt and Churchill, with their longing for freedom of any sort, were on board, he felt there was no security that the ship would ever arrive at her destination. Bligh elected to behave as if his crew were one contented family. He must know better in his heart. Something was going to happen. Reynell lay and looked at the lamp and wondered what.
Time went on. Regularly the good ship rose; regularly she slipped down again into the trough of the waves; the lamp swayed backwards and forwards as if it had been worked by machinery; the hammock swayed, too. It was Reynell's watch on deck. He would have to plead illness, and Christian's express permission. But the fact made him uneasy, though the gentle swaying of the ship was like the rocking of a cradle.
It was so important to him to keep in with Bligh. Should he slip on deck, disregarding Muspratt's threats?
His doubts were settled by a wild hullabaloo; the sound of many voices; the grounding of arms; the rush of feet across the deck. One voice above others rose in protest.
It was the voice of Captain Bligh.
So he had caught and stopped them. Poor beggars! Reynell went up the companion ladder. He had to risk things now. It was better Bligh should find him on deck.
There, instead of confusion reigning, apparently the greatest order prevailed. The dawn had broken; in the east, lines of gold were heralding the sunrise. Reynell looked to see Christian between a couple of seamen with the master-at-arms in charge of him.
His eyes fell on Bligh behind the mizzen, bound, and in his shirt, with two men armed with muskets standing over him. Christian, a drawn cutlass in his hand, was shouting orders to bring the ship to.
For a moment Reynell rubbed his eyes. Surely Christian couldn't have deceived him. Instinctively he made a step towards Bligh. In a moment Muspratt's musket was at his breast.
'You move and you're dead meat.'
'It's all right, Reynell,' said Christian kindly enough. 'That little arrangement I told you of wasn't practicable. We're going take the ship back. That's best.'
'But,' blurted out Reynell, 'I don't want to go back!'
'Well, that's a little unlucky for you. It's impossible to please everybody. The majority of us do. However there's an alternative. Bos'un,' he shouted, 'pipe all hands to get out the launch.'
The bos'un hesitated. He was an old man with a good record.
'We're not standing on ceremony here,' said Christian bitterly. 'If you don't jump to it, bos'un, you can jump overboard.'
He waved his hand, and a seaman presented his musket ready cocked at the old man's head.
The bos'un raised his whistle to his lips. Half a dozen seamen jumped into the boat to clear her away.
The ship came to quietly; the ropes rattled through the blocks; the launch touched the water.
'Now,' said Christian quietly, 'where are those three lads? Have you got them?'
Three seamen, with muskets and cutlasses, pushed forward a couple of the youngest midshipmen and the ship's clerk, Mr. Samuels. They seemed dazed, as if they did not quite understand what had happened. Indeed, it was only natural, roused as they had been from their slumbers in the grey of the morning.
'Will you go back with us, lads?' asked Christian. 'We are going back to Tahiti. Or will you go with your commander in the boat there?'
'Mr. Christian,' remonstrated Bligh, 'this is mutiny. This is a hanging matter. Samuels, Mr. Hallett, rouse out the master. We will not give in like this.'
'Hold your tongue, sir,' said Christian angrily, 'or you are a dead man this minute. Men, if he so much as opens his lips you know what to do. I have warned him twice. I shan't warn him again. Some of you jump below and fetch up the master and the gunner.'
The master was an old man; the gunner a man in the prime of life.
The sun had risen now. His golden beams lighted up the decks, white as holystoning could make them; the masts cast long shadows for'ard, the air began to be warmed a little, for even in the tropics here it was a little fresh at night.
'I take it,' said Christian very politely, looking at Mr. Fryer, the master, 'you prefer to go with your commander.'
The old man said nothing. The gunner said scornfully,
'You don't take it that we want to keep company with gallows birds, do you?'
Christian waved his hand.
'Into the boat with you. We've made our choice. We none of us can have exactly what we want in this world. Now then, who else is below?'
One by one they fetched them up; the surgeon and the botanist, the cooks and the butcher, Elphinstone, the other master's mate, and the rest of the crew who would not join the mutineers.
Reynell saw, with a sinking heart, that the best of the men were staying behind, the old men and the boys kept straight, and those they had been in the habit of regarding as weaklings. He looked down at the little launch already crowded and shockingly low in the water. What chance, what possible chance could that little boat have of reaching safety? Why, he would not have put out in her so heavily laden from Polperro to go for Fowey; he would certainly never have attempted to cross to France in her! Yet here they were thousands of miles from any place, far, far from all the tracks of shipping——
'Christian,' he burst out, 'this is rank murder!'
'The fault is that of those who brought me here. I have wished myself far enough away, God knows. Now will you join us, Reynell?'
'Join you,' said Reynell hotly, and he felt as he had felt when first the Bounty rose to the swell of the Channel and all hope of rescue was gone, 'join you! When all I want is to get to England!'
'Step down then,' said Christian pointing to the boat, ''tis the only craft I know likely to be bound in that direction.'
'Mr. Christian! It is murder!'
For a moment there came into Christian's eyes a look that made Reynell think he repented. But, surely, if ever a man had gone too far he had. He turned away with a sigh.
'I've offered you the alternative. You may stay, Reynell.'
'And turn savage? And never hold up my head again?'
'I have told you you may stay,' said Christian, with a curious little wistful ring in his voice, 'I've always been friendly to you, Reynell,' he added.
Reynell looked again at the boat. Should he go below for his few possessions? But she was gunwale deep already. Everything they could do without must be left behind. That was evident.
'The first gale,' said Reynell like a man speaking his thoughts aloud——.
'I have told you you may stay,' but Christian's voice was cold now. Perhaps he, too, was regretting.
'I'm no mutineer,' said Reynell, and slipped down the rope without another word.
Trevenick leaned over the side.
'Come on,' said Reynell.
'Old man,' said that laughing young gentleman, grave for once, 'I'm no mutineer either. But it's too big a contract. Since it's a choice between the girls of Tahiti and a watery grave——'
Christian pushed him away.
'Now, Mr. Bligh,' he said, 'your officers are all in the boat, will you join them?'
'Mr. Christian, men,' said Bligh earnestly, 'don't do this thing. I don't ask you because it is practically murder. How do you suppose we can all live in a little boat like that, but even for your own sakes you couldn't do a worse thing. Believe me, there is no happiness in a life of licence. None. None. Now you have begun there is no knowing where you will stop. You have deposed me. How long will you obey Mr. Christian? Whose life will be safe? Men, come back to your duty, not for my sake but for your own. It is the best thing you can do. England never forgets. She will seek you out in the ends of the earth!'
'I tell you,' growled Muspratt, 'the yardarm's the place for a cock like him. Too spry altogether. We'll never be safe with him above ground.'
'Mr. Christian,' said Reynell reproachfully, 'is this the man you take for a mate? For your wife's sake—think—think——'
For a moment Christian seemed to hesitate.
'I've been in hell, Daniel Reynell, in hell the last three weeks. I promised her I'd come back. This is the only way to keep my word.'
He raised his hand and brought down his cutlass on the deck with a clash.
Bligh would have spoken again, but Muspratt caught him by the shoulder.
'Come now, we've had enough of your chin music. Slip there, lively now.'
The others laughed. It was an exquisite joke to see their commander, the man who had ruled them with a rod of iron on occasion, slip down the rope into the boat in his night shirt just as he had been aroused from his sleep.
Christian, half shamefacedly, gave an order. His clothes were flung after him and some small possessions. His pocket book, a pencil, his watch.
Now the boat hung by a single rope and they drifted astern.
The forlorn men settled themselves drearily.
Bligh sent his keen eyes searching round the boat. Reynell was lost in admiration at the way he pulled himself together.
'Are there any provisions in the boat? They'd surely never be such brutes as to set us adrift without? Mr. Hallett, what's that bag by you?'
'Bread, sir,' said Hallett.
'The breakers are full of water,' said Reynell, 'and those four little barricoes, if it rains, or if we land anywhere, would hold a little. But we want meat Christian. Mr. Christian? You will not be inhuman? You are going back to plenty.'
He caught Bligh's eye. There was approval in it. It said plainer than words, 'Go ahead. He's more likely to pay attention to you.'
Christian put his head over the ship's side and spoke drearily, like a man sunk in the deepest melancholy.
'There's wine and rum there,' he said. 'You'll find it under the thwarts. Here, Smith,' to the man afterwards known as Adams, 'bring along that pork.'
The pork was in pieces weighing about a couple of pounds apiece. It was flung at them loose. Reynell caught it, and stowed it in one of the empty barricoes.
The men were leaning over the sides of the ship now, making a great display of the cutlasses and muskets with which they were armed. Already there was no discipline on board. It seemed to Reynell they had taken on a piratical cut-throat air.
But nothing was to be gained by defying them. He could only speak them fair.
'Mates,' he said, making the best of it, 'if you're bound for Tahiti and we for London town ours is bound to be the longer voyage. You couldn't in decency part the carpenter from his chest.'
There was a roar of laughter from the men above.
'Oh, come, I say,' protested Muspratt, 'you forget you've got Bligh on board. I'll be damned if he doesn't find his way home if he gets nothing more with him.'
Bligh seemed about to reply in kind, but Reynell's eyes implored him to let him take charge.
'Well, mates, I really can't see it will matter to you,' he said. 'Tahiti's a long way off. Come now, we've all been decent shipmates, never a quarrel. Though we don't happen to want to go back to Tahiti, give us a chance for our lives. It's murder to turn us out without a tool.'
There was a storm of argument above. It was clear that had Bligh alone been considered, he would have had nothing.
'Damn my eyes,' said Muspratt, 'but he'll have a vessel built in a month.'
Reynell was meditating on his own folly. Why hadn't he betrayed them the moment Christian had left him? A deliberate crime Bligh would have considered his conduct. He was sure now that Bligh was right. As he came to that conclusion the carpenter's chest was lowered.
'Thank you, mates,' said he, 'that lifts a load from my mind. Now what about arms? You'll give us some arms. I see you've plenty and to spare.'
They hauled themselves in a little on the rope. The sea was dead calm or their position would have been fraught with danger. The sunlight shone on the anxious faces of the men who looked up, at the fierce bearded faces of the seamen who looked down. They laughed, most of them. But it was pitiless laughter. Only Christian's stern face promised to Reynell a measure of mercy.
'Mr. Christian,' began Bligh again.
'Hold your tongue, sir,' said Christian. 'You have brought it on yourself.'
Reynell's look again implored his commander not to provoke this man further.
'Well, the rest of us haven't harmed you,' said he bitterly. 'Why are you sending us to our deaths merely because we've been law-abiding. I thought Mr. Stewart and Mr. Heywood might at least have been trusted to join us.'
A grim smile broke over Christian's face.
'They're not very happy just at present,' said he. 'But they'll thank us by and by. You may hear Mr. Heywood protesting, if you listen.'
'I'll remember,' said Bligh with deliberation.
Reynell wished he wouldn't interfere. He felt it was not well for them that these men should think the future of those left on board could be affected one way or another by any man in the boat there.
Perhaps Bligh thought the same. He glanced from the helpless people in the little boat to the bristling array of muskets and cutlasses above. Nineteen unarmed men against at least twenty heavily armed there in the ship. He understood the hopelessness of angering them. Diplomacy was the only thing. He smiled at Reynell, as much as to say he left it in his capable hands.
'Come, man, a couple of cutlasses won't be missed, and may make all the difference to us.'
'I'll be hanged if I don't go wid 'em,' said an Irish voice. ''Tis they have the pluck, me bhoys, goin' so quiet.' Michael Byrne made as if he would have climbed down the ropes. A dozen pairs of hands held him back.
Opposition made him still more determined.
'Ye'll remimber, Captain Bligh, ye'll remimber, I wanted to join ye.'
'I'll remember,' said Bligh.
Again Reynell's eyes implored him not to behave as if what he did or thought was likely to make any difference to these men.
'A couple of cutlasses,' begged Reynell. 'I think you owe me that, Christian.'
'Upon my word I think I do,' said Christian. 'Here, Muspratt.' He seized his cutlass and that of Milward, who stood beside him.
'He'll be back in Tahiti before you can turn round,' remonstrated Muspratt.
Christian paid no attention.
The men in the boat, without any orders, hauled on the rope till they were close alongside again. Christian handed down the cutlasses. Churchill threw in a couple more.
'There you are,' said Christian. 'Cast them off. A pleasant voyage to you. Reynell, you can still come aboard if you like.'
Reynell shook his head.
'Be a little more pitiful. We've nothing to navigate by.'
'You're asking a good deal,' said Christian.
He left the deck for a moment. Returning, he handed down a book of nautical tables and his own sextant.
'That book is sufficient for every purpose,' he said. 'And you know,' and he looked at Bligh, 'my sextant is a good one.'
'Thank you. Now——'
'Cast off,' said Christian curtly. He did not wait for his order to be obeyed. With his own hands he cast loose the rope, and they were adrift.
There came a jeering yell from the ship.
'Lay along there, men,' shouted Christian. 'Hands to stations. 'Ware ship.'
In a moment the Bounty was a thing of life. The soft breeze filled her sails, snowy white in the brilliant sunshine. She swept round, and, nodding and curtseying as she met the waves, she started on her course to Tahiti.
Fletcher Christian was keeping his word, ruining his life for a girl of the wilds. Those who had stood in his path were adrift in an open boat, with provisions that, in the ordinary course of events, would last them five days at the very most.
The nearest civilized land was thousands of miles away.
A long sigh, like a moan, went up from the forlorn boat's company.
'Upon my word,' said Reynell, 'we're better away from such a piratical company. A pack of ruffians. They'll be cutting each other's throats next. I bet you the captain gets us through.'
'Thank you, Reynell. I'll remember that to you. Yes, I generally do what I want. We'll get through if you all back me. They had need to be afraid. That lot haven't done with us yet.'
'Counsel is mine and sound
I am understanding; I have strength.'
'Don't look after the ship,' said Reynell as cheerfully as he could. 'No good looking back. We, thank God, are bound for old England, aren't we, sir?'
'We are, Reynell,' said Bligh, huddling on his clothes, 'and we'll get there if the rest of them take it as you are doing.'
Looking round, Reynell could not help knowing—and he felt that Bligh was thinking the same thing—they had got the old men and the weaklings.
'The older men have knowledge.' He put his thoughts in the most favourable shape. He had never before known himself as a diplomat, 'and the younger ones will have the common sense to obey them. I've been skipper of a ship in the stormy north seas, and I know how necessary it is one man should have supreme command if we're to get through. Now, who amongst us has most sea sense and can judge best?'
'You,' said a voice.
Reynell laughed, and purposely laughed loud.
'Leading seaman and quartermaster,' said he. 'It's just taught me how much the quartermaster does not know. Now, if I, a pressed man, believe in the captain, have been proud to please him——'
He half turned to Bligh respectfully, as coolly as if they had been on the deck of the Bounty instead of all crowded together in a little boat thousands of miles from their destination.
Bligh acknowledged his courtesy with a friendly smile.
'Men,' said he, 'I need not tell you we are in desperate straits. You can see that for yourselves. But there is one thing I must impress upon you, the only way we can get out of this is by the maintenance of a perfect discipline. You must give implicit obedience to the man who can judge best, and can carry out his judgments. Naturally I should be that man. But I see now that some of you have been very discontented with my authority. If any of you know a better man you had best make him your leader.'
His eyes for a moment wandered to the master, John Fryer.
There had always from the very first been friction between him and the master.
'Only, mark you this, whoever is leader must be obeyed even to death.'
He paused, looking round at the wide expanse of sea, the ship so rapidly drawing away, then brought his eyes back to the eighteen faces, all grave, some very troubled, that were looking at him.
'I think I am the best man.' His voice was incisive. 'Will you have me for a leader?'
Reynell waited for the master to speak. But there was silence.
'Most surely we will,' he said without undue haste, but as one who thoroughly realized and weighed up the gravity of the situation.
'We will,' said the master, 'I speak for the officers.'
'And I have spoken for the men,' said Reynell. 'Ay, men.'
'Ay! Ay! Ay!' The response came willingly, gladly.
The men hardly knew how desperate was the situation. Bligh's confidence and that of Daniel Reynell, a fo'c'sle hand, and one of themselves, but an educated man and a good seaman, cheered them.
Reynell knew Bligh, with all his harshness, perhaps because of his harshness, was the man to hold them together. He repeated again firmly and loudly,
'We will have you for a leader.'
'Very well then,' said Bligh with his own air of authority, 'I shall be a hard leader, but it will be for your own good. Be sure I shall not spare myself. Now we must divide ourselves into watches. Mr. Fryer, I shall pick my watch. You will take what I leave. But I shall pick fair, so that our strength is evenly divided. I am going to give you Daniel Reynell, who is a good man.'
'Yes, sir,' said Fryer dully.
Bligh's look at Reynell seemed to be saying he would be virtual head of the master's watch.
'Now,' he ordered when the choice was made, 'you and your watch, Mr. Fryer, will lie down on the bottom boards of the boat, it is the only way to secure that she be properly worked.'
Reynell laid himself down. The boat was leaking a little, and the water came washing around him. They were desperately crowded. His knees were drawn up. He could turn over on his side, but, without inconveniencing the man next him, he could do nothing else but stare up at the sky overhead. At first it had been bright with sunshine, but the clouds were gathering, and the blue growing less and less. It was a relief; a tropical sun pouring down on them was unbearable. Yet it was bound to come.
From this position he saw the faces of the men above him from a new angle. His head rested against Bligh's feet. His pointed chin seemed to be emphasized. Hallett's tired little face looked girlish in its prettiness.
The sea was almost smooth, yet the boat moved up and clown on the swell so the faces above moved up and down. First there was a background of blue sky; then a background of cloud; then came the sky again. Every now and again the swell rose so high it was a background of sea that seemed about to overwhelm them. They could not escape. They were right down at the bottom of a great depression. The sea must come in.
'Shut your eyes,' said Bligh, 'you will soon get accustomed to it.'
He understood. He was a marvellous man, this man who had such a capacity for making men hate him. If any one could bring them through he could. How he had hated him, when first he was dragged on board. Now—did he hate Christian? It was cruel, it was bitter, but Christian's motives were human and understandable. Lying there cramped and weary, Reynell still felt he could spare a certain amount of sympathy for Christian, torn from the woman he loved, made to seem forsworn in her eyes. If that woman had been Loveday——He moved uneasily. He dared not think of Loveday. It was too cruel, baulked a second time.
Bligh gave the order to take stock of the provisions. They found they had 16 pieces of pork, each weighing about 2 lbs., 150 lbs. of bread, 6 quarts of rum, 6 bottles of wine and 28 gallons of water.
'We must keep our stock intact,' said Bligh. 'If possible we must not break in on those provisions while we are among the islands. We will want them when we get a long stretch of sea. We must land somewhere and see if we cannot get coconuts and fish.'
'Whereabouts are we?' asked a dozen voices.
'East of the Friendly Isles,' said Bligh, 'Tofoa should be hereabouts.'
'It's a long while since supper last night,' suggested Hallett, with a quiver in his voice.
'It is, my lad, it is, so the sooner we reach Tofoa the better, but it is nothing to fast for a day.'
Poor little Hallett's face fell. Reynell, opening his eyes, looked at him pityingly. He was glad he was not leader. He would have felt sorely tempted to give the child a piece of bread. Bligh would not be tempted that way, he knew. In his heart he was thankful. It would want a strong man to carry them through.
'Where shall you make for?' asked the master.
'Tofoa, Mr. Fryer.'
'And after, sir. You will not stay at Tofoa,' said Reynell.
'No, Reynell,' said Bligh, slowly, as if he were weighing his words, 'If the people are friendly, and if it is a fertile land, it is possible I may leave half of us there. The rest of us will go on to the Dutch East Indies.'
'God Almighty!' the master swore, 'it's thousands of miles away.'
'Nevertheless it is the nearest civilised land. There is nothing else to be done.'
'It can never be done,' said Fryer despairingly.
A moan went round the crew. Reynell opened his eyes again, and watched to see what Bligh would say next.
'Men,'—he raised his voice a little—'It can be done. More than one hundred years ago it was done. By men who had not the conveniences we have nowadays. Listen to me. About one hundred and fifty years ago a ship called the Batavia was wrecked on the coast of New Holland, on a reef known as Houtman's Abrolhos. Her crew escaped to the surrounding islands. You do not know the west coast of New Holland. It is a barren desert, incapable of supporting life. The captain, Francis Pelsart, in the longboat sailed to Batavia, brought help to the crew, and took the survivors back to Holland. Now what Dutchmen can do Englishmen need not fear.'
That voyage of the Dutchman, dead long ago, gave them something to think about. Reynell felt his admiration deepen. It was discussed in all its points by the men lying down and the men who were working the boat. They debated whether the Dutchman had sailed farther or whether they would have the farthest to sail; and whether the chances were in their favour.
Bligh settled that point promptly.
'It is easier done this side of New Holland,' he said. 'There is some chance of falling in with land where we may get food. The west of New Holland, all men are agreed, is a barren desert.'
The discussion went on. Each man added some little information, or told some tale of suffering and endurance from his own knowledge.
But the time was terribly long. Thinking it over afterwards, Reynell decided that of all the long and weary days they spent in that boat that first was perhaps the hardest to bear.
As the day wore on the watches were changed. The men grew hungrier—thirstier. They reviled their shipmates bitterly, calling down curses on men who could wantonly abandon messmates with whom they had not the shadow of a quarrel.
'You need not curse,' said Bligh grimly. 'Believe me, lawlessness is its own punishment. Not one of those men——'
'You are going to say "will die in his bed,"' said Fryer laughing forlornly, 'but at present we don't care much how they die; what we are concerned with is how to keep alive ourselves.'
'That we will manage, I doubt not for a moment,' said Bligh.
The watch was changed again. Reynell watched the sun till he sank beneath Lebogue's back, making a halo of glorious rays round the old sail-maker's head. The light vanished suddenly. It was all dark. Presently he was watching the stars, trying to think of the old home in Cornwall; the house he had furnished with such care on the heights above Polperro; the Reaper, swept before a northerly gale—anything—everything—to try and deaden the hunger that was gnawing at his vitals—the thirst that was making his throat dry and his tongue parched. Only he did not let his thoughts dwell on Loveday Corthew's hazel eyes. He did not dare do that yet. By and by, when he felt sure they had a chance of getting through, the thought of her would comfort him. But that was not yet.
All through the night they sailed steadily, changing watches as regularly as if they had been on board the Bounty.
At dawn of day there went up a great cry of rejoicing. There was land, rugged and mountainous, a great high peak three points on the starboard bow.
The men shouted as if they were sighting the Lizard itself. Then came Bligh's voice, cool, and calm.
'Steady, men, steady. Shake another reef out of the sail, bo'sun. She'll stand it.'
In a couple of hours they had run into a little rocky cove. A safe enough harbour, but the rocks round the beach were steep and high. There was not a sign of human habitation, unless some rough ladders, made of the natural vines, were signs.
'Yes,' said Bligh, 'yes, the Indians have certainly been here. But the country inland looks poor. Now, Norton, and you, Hallett, and you, Lebogue, must stay by the boat. The rest of us will go look for water and food, and at least some sign of human habitation. There are coconuts at least.'
There were about thirty trees on the top of a cliff, steep as the wall of a house. Hallett looked imploringly at Bligh.
'If we might have a drink of water, sir.'
Bligh pointed to the palms.
'There is meat and drink, Mr Hallett. Let me remind you again, if we are to be saved we must keep all our food and water intact till we have left the islands.'
At the foot of that cliff the surf roared. The only way to reach those coconuts was a long climb round.
'Come,' said Reynell kindly, his hand on the boy's shoulder, 'I believe we can get them.'
Reynell felt he might think of Loveday Corthew again when he helped young Elphinstone gather and throw them into the surf whence they dragged them into the boat.
There were only twenty. But at least it was meat and drink, the first they had had since the Bounty had cast them adrift. All the hungry faces looked a little more hopeful.
Bligh was a stern taskmaster.
'We must save them,' he said, when the men looked to have one apiece, 'just a little to each.'
So quietly they took it these starving men that Reynell could only wonder again that any one could have been found to oppose Bligh. If Christian had not been there—had not had such a strong motive——
But what was the good of going over it all again. Christian had been there, at first, Reynell admitted it, a justly incensed man. His guile opposed to Bligh's will had worked their destruction. He ate the fragment of coconut and drank the very small drop of milk that fell to his share, and wondered if he did not feel more hungry after it had gone.
'We must certainly not break in on our bread till we are absolutely obliged. We are thousands of miles from help,' said Bligh quietly, as if he felt there might be discontent.
There was wisdom in what he said.
But it was very hard.
That night it blew a gale from the east-south-east.
They dare not venture to sea. When at last the wind died down they had to row along the coast. The keen air and the exercise increased their hunger. The wind got up again, and there was nothing for it but to return to the cove.
Hallett was moaning pitifully with hunger. No one took any notice. Every now and again he apologized.
'I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I can't help it. I can only think of the scones my mother bakes and the butter in the dairy.'
'Hush, lad,' said Reynell sharply, though the lad was his officer. 'We can't stand talk like that.'
'We're fair clemmed,' said the boy.
Bligh was lying on the bottom of the boat. He rose, and slowly and gravely as if they were in the midst of abundance, doled out to each person a morsel of bread and a spoonful of rum. Though they were in the tropics, the wind blew keen and cold, and they were wet through, so that the rum sent a little glow through their bodies. Some of them for the moment took more hopeful views. Poor little Hallett, leaned up against Reynell and dropped into an uneasy sleep.
Reynell tried to follow his example. But he had more on his mind than hunger and thirst.
Presently the sea calmed a little.
'Now, men,' said Bligh, 'up with you and see if some one's sharp eyes can't find water.'
But it was a desolate country, covered with lava. Away in the distance they could see smoke and flame. A wild yell broke from the little company.
'May I be forgiven,' said the master, 'but I believe we have found the entrance to the bottomless pit.'
Ledward, the surgeon, was a man of knowledge and education. In his desire to see the unknown world, he had shipped before the mast. Bligh had raised him to his present position when his original surgeon fell ill.
''Tis a burning mountain, man,' he said. 'A thing mighty curious to see. And there—there's a hut for you at last.'
'And a plantain walk,' said Reynell with a shout.
'Be careful, be careful now, Reynell,' warned Bligh. 'It'll never do to offend the Indians.'
'Those huts are deserted,' said Reynell taking a good look around. 'And there are only three little bunches of plantains left, I reckon, because they aren't worth taking.'
'I think we may be glad of them,' said Bligh with a sigh of satisfaction.
Reynell could not but admire how faithfully the men kept their promise to this leader. Those plantains were carried off and carefully lowered down the cliff, no man touching them.
They found a cave with a pleasant sandy bottom.
'My watch will go ashore and sleep there,' said Bligh.
'Why not all of us?' asked the master.
'Because, Mr. Fryer, it is necessary,' said Bligh, 'to be watchful. If the Indians come upon us unawares they may be friendly, or it may be we have been putting ourselves to unnecessary pain. If they knock us on the head that bread and pork will have been wasted as far as we are concerned.'
The grim pleasantry set them laughing. That night all rested comfortably. Hallett hoped that Bligh would let them eat all the bananas.
'I could eat the whole blooming lot myself,' he whispered to Reynell.
'One will keep life in you, lad. And I fear it's all you will get.'
'I'm beginning to doubt if it's worth keeping,' said the boy with a sad little laugh.
He felt better next morning when the natives found them out, just as Bligh was doling out that wretched plantain apiece.
Remembering the kindly people of Tahiti, the men hailed them with delight. But these people were not like the Tahitians. They were a shade darker in colour and rougher in their manners.
They brought breadfruit and coconuts to trade. The men parted with their own scanty possessions; their clothes; their pocket knives; their buttons. Even stern Bligh could only see wisdom in eating their fill.
They bought provisions for the voyage, too: breadfruit and coconuts, perishable, certainly, but it would save their bread and pork.
'By Jove, we are in luck,' said the surgeon as he lay back and drank luxuriously of coconut milk.
'I wouldn't be too sure,' said Bligh. 'I don't quite like the look of them. If they get wind we're shipwrecked I wouldn't give much for our lives. Get up, Mr. Ledward, you must go, a party of you, and get water, if you have to carry it in coconut shells. Eight of you will stop with me to guard the boat. See, for your own sakes, you don't get separated one from another. I warn you, these men are not Tahitians or anything like them.'
The dark men and women, in their petticoats of yellow grass and their necklaces of shell and sharks' teeth, kept bringing breadfruit, coconuts, and plantains, till a goodly heap lay on the floor of the cave. The men grew more and more cheerful. Young Hallett began shouting a gay chanty.
Then the women did not come any more.
Reynell cast an anxious glance round. Where was Mr. Fryer and his party. He saw two men knocking stones together, a little surreptitiously it was true. But it was a certain sign of hostility.
'Sir, did you see that?'
'I did. Where is Mr. Fryer? At sunset we must be off. They are coming in crowds. Not a woman amongst them. Close up, men. Don't let them get behind you. Where the devil is Mr. Fryer?'
Reynell gave more than one hail before it was answered. Down the vines they came, hand over hand, each man guarding carefully a coconut-shell full of water.
'And of all the darned cussed ways of cartin' water,' said John Norton as, with a sigh of relief, he emptied his into one of the little casks.
'Are you all here?' came Bligh's voice. To Reynell there sounded a note of anxiety in it.
'All here, sir,' said Reynell. 'Shall we make a break for it?'
'The sooner we get away the better. Quietly, now, men, quietly. Each man take something and put it in the boat.'
The natives were crowding round them, chattering and gesticulating.
There was a clash.
Stones beating one against the other.
Like an electric flash it went through the little band they were in danger. They were outnumbered two to one. If the enemy made a rush, unarmed as the sailors were, they were undone. The boat was a very little way off. Four of the crew were already in her. They had been stowing the stuff brought by the others.
'Steadily, men, steadily.' Bligh's voice was quite calm.
He approached the chief, after the fashion they had all used in Tahiti. He slipped his arm through his, and, taking his hand, began leading him towards the boat, talking all the while suavely, saying the politest things in Tahitian—which he hoped the other might dimly understand. He regretted the necessity for departure; thanked the chief for his courtesy; said he would come again.
If he had not held the chief's brown hand fast in his neither he nor any one else would have reached that boat unmolested.
'Get in quietly, men,' he said. 'I can't hold this beggar long. He's getting restive.'
'All in, sir,' reported Reynell, jumping in himself.
Bligh bid the chief a fervent farewell, perhaps a little hurriedly and followed him.
'Haul off,' said Reynell, taking upon himself to give the order, for the master had said nothing. 'Haul off.'
The others were all watching Bligh in silent horror. If the chief had not been beside him they knew he would never have reached the boat in safety.
They were still attached by a stern rope to a rock.
'Pull, men, pull; we can't afford to lose the rope,' said the master.
'Damn it,' said John Norton, 'I know a trick worth two of that.' He was overboard and running up the beach.
It might almost have been the signal for attack. Like a flash three savages were upon him. While his startled cry of 'Mates' was ringing in their ears they had beaten him to the ground with their clubs. His blood was dyeing the wet sand. He was surely dead. Not that they could have rescued him if he had not been.
The natives got the stern rope and pulled at it.
Without waiting for orders, Reynell bent over and cut it with his seaman's knife.
'Promptly done,' came Bligh's rare praise.
Indeed, it was not a moment too soon. Heavy stones came showering among them like so many shot. The men who had been providing them with provisions so short a time before were yelling like demons, greeting each successful shot with a howl that showed them the savages they were.
Down went Mr. Ledward. The blood was streaming from Mr. Elphinstone's face; young Hallett had a cut in his shoulder. Reynell, hauling off to the grapnel, got one on the back of his hand that covered it with blood.
That grapnel stuck.
All the canoes the natives had come in lay along the beach. The white men saw them filling them with stones. Before they were clear, round and round them those canoes were paddling, bombarding them with stones.
They had nothing to return the fire with but the stones that fell in the boat. And they were no match at the game. The fierce, brown-skinned men, now thirsting for their blood, could run rings round them.
Still that grapnel held.
With the veins on his forehead bursting, Reynell pulled. Three men behind him were putting their weight on to it. Savage shouts of triumph were ringing in his ears. He had little doubt what their fate would be were they taken.
Suddenly the fluke broke.
Back they fell in a heap in the boat. But she was free at last.
'Out oars,' cried Bligh. 'Out oars and close with them. It's our only chance!'
'They are fainthearted;
there is sorrow on the sea;
it cannot be quiet.'
The boat was deep in the water—lumbered. The men of Tofoa, nimble adversaries, rowed yelling round it, raining stones upon such an excellent mark. If this went on the white men had small chance of their lives.
'It's like to be short and sharp,' muttered Elphinstone, wiping the blood from his eyes. 'My faith! But I wish we hadn't wasted that bread.'
Reynell snatched the cap from his head and a coat of Bligh's that lay on the thwart and tossed them overboard.
The first canoe came to a full stop.
'That's right,' shouted Bligh. 'Anything you can spare. Quick men. Heave them overboard. It'll be dark in a few moments. We can get away to sea.'
Every man contributed a garment, flinging them all round the boat.
They bent to the oars and shot out to sea. To their relief the canoes made no effort to follow.
'Make the best of the respite,' urged Bligh. 'They'll be after us before you can say knife.'
The light was dying fast; the canoes were but dim shadows on the water; the land behind was becoming just a darker mass against the dark sky. For ten minutes they pulled with every ounce of strength they possessed, men fleeing for their lives. Then Reynell drew a long breath. There was no sign of pursuit.
'I think we're safe. I hope we are, for I'm done.'
'In oars,' said Bligh. 'We'll set sail. It is evident,' he added thoughtfully, 'we must exercise extreme caution before we mingle with the natives again. It is all very well to trust them when we are heavily armed, and have a ship at our back, but as it is——'
'What can we do, then?' asked the Master.
That was the question. Here they were, eighteen men adrift in an open boat, twenty-three feet long, without even a chart to guide them. Bligh had been in these seas before, once with Cook; but all that meant was he could give very general directions. Their stoppage at Tofoa had cost them one man's life, had gained them a little, a very little, water, a few coconuts and some breadfruit, all trampled now in the heat of the fight.
It was coming on a dirty night.
'It'll swamp the canoes, thank heaven, if they attempt to follow us up,' said the surgeon with a sigh of relief.
'It might be more of a consolation,' said Elphinstone, 'if we could be sure it wouldn't swamp us too.'
'She ought to stand the foresail with a reef in it,' said Bligh. 'Anyhow, we must risk it.'
It might have been other reasons than greed for European clothes had prevented the savages from following them.
The moment they were out from under the shelter of the land they got the full force of the storm. The wind strengthened. First it came in puffs; presently it was a wild hurricane.
The sea rose and rose.
The wind came with a rush that carried them on to the top of the wave.
Reynell sat at the sheet and Bligh held the tiller; the rest were soon crouching in the boat watching, awestruck, the waves. Up, up, up the racing sea carried them.
'Ease your sheet a bit,' yelled Bligh, 'ease your sheet. For God's sake, don't let her jibe!'
High above the sea they looked down a precipice of inky-black water, which the faint moonbeams touched here and there. Down that precipice they rushed. It seemed impossible they could ever rise again. Down, down till the seas towered over them on either side, and the sail hung slack, becalmed, for the wind that shrieked overhead could not reach them.
'Bale! Bale! For your lives bale!' urged Reynell, as the following sea curled up over their stern and more than half filled the boat.
'Hayward, Simpson, Linkletter,' called Bligh, calm still. 'Everything must go overboard except the provisions. Ropes, sails, spare clothes. Everything but the carpenter's chest. We'll hold on to that as long as we can. The rest of you bale! Bale! Ease the sheet, Reynell. For your life don't let her jibe!'
Overboard went all the men's treasures, little things precious to men in such straits. It lightened the boat somewhat, gave them a little more room to bale.
'Half of us had better go overboard too,' said Linkletter grimly. 'It's the only chance of safety.'
'No,' said Bligh quietly. 'We'll see it through together.'
They rose on the wave again. The gale was shrieking in their ears, drowning every other sound.
Not till half the night was through did that storm blow itself out. Even when the wind had gone down there was the great sea to be reckoned with.
The master took the tiller, and Bligh served out all round a teaspoonful of rum to each man. It put heart into them, and helped the time to pass.
At long last the day broke, grim and unwilling, more like a dawn in cold, northern latitudes than anything they had been accustomed to in those Southern seas. It showed the faces of the men weary and worn, like those of men who have come through a great trial.
'But we are through,' said Bligh, as if voicing their thoughts, 'we are through. If this launch can weather a sea like last night's, she can weather anything. I am proud of you, men. You behaved like Englishmen. Reynell, you managed that sail well, we owe you thanks,' and though their chances were so miserably small Reynell felt himself honoured.
Bligh went through the provisions. Taking out his pocket book sodden with wet, he began making some calculations.
'We must make those provisions last eight weeks,' he announced.
The master laughed bitterly.
'God!' he said, 'what sort of scarecrows'll we be at the end of it?'
'What else have you to suggest, Mr. Fryer? We dare not land at any islands. We are less able to defend ourselves than we were at Tofoa. We may get a little fish or a bird or two, but what we have here will keep life in us. We are not doing any hard work.'
'We can't even stretch our legs properly,' said Fryer.
'But you all agree there is nothing else to be done.'
'There is nothing else to be done,' said the men wearily.
'Reynell, take the tiller. Keep her nor' west by west. 'Twill take us somewhere by the Fijis, I think.'
He dropped down into the bottom of the boat and began busily making a pair of scales with a piece of twine and a couple of halves of coconut-shell.
When it was completed he held up a pistol bullet. Pistol bullets in those days were fairly large things. Twenty-five went to the pound.
'Do you see that, men? I propose that each of us shall have the weight of that pistol bullet in bread, breakfast and dinner, and we will make the pork and damaged breadfruit go as far as we can. You understand. It cannot possibly last long.'
They understood, and assented without enthusiasm.
'As for the water, we will have a quarter of a pint each three times a day; but the coconuts should last, I think, with care, at least three days.'
Then the long, weary voyage began.
They were cold; they were wet; they were parched with thirst; their limbs were cramped; the sea water raised sores on their flesh; their faces grew hollow, pinched, wolfish.
But no one murmured. They did not even curse the shipmates who had driven them to this. They were past all that.
The days were cloudy. Luckily perhaps. The nights were actually cold. As each man waked in the morning from his troubled sleep he painfully made such efforts as he could in the crowded boat to stretch his cramped limbs. Bligh served to each one a spoonful of rum before giving them their breakfast of broken breadfruit, and afterwards the fragment of bread—that is hard ship's biscuit—that was represented by one pistol bullet.
That teaspoonful of rum was the one treat they had in the long dreary round of hours. It added to their thirst afterwards, but for the moment it sent a warm glow through their numbed, aching bodies. Some thanked God for it. Some cursed aloud at their fate. But to all it was the one thing in the day worth having.
Always one half sat up, and always the other half lay on the bottom of the boat, crouched together, not only for warmth but because there was so little room.
Once Reynell hooked a fish, a great fish. Then even those lying in the bottom of the boat were obliged, in their excitement, to kneel up and watch, for a great fish like that would have supplied them with food for a day or more—would have allayed, in no small measure, the cravings of hunger. Closer and closer he came. Reynell played with him steadily.
'He's too big for the tackle, I fear,' he said.
They could see him now, a great, long-finned angelfish. Reynell pulled steadily. Up. Nearer. Nearer. He was almost within reach of the hands outstretched to catch him.
Then the tackle broke! He was gone!
There went up a moan from the eager men. Reynell dropped back to his seat and covered his face. He wondered if he had felt anything so much since they had ironed him in the fore peak of the Bounty.
The bitterness of it was that they were in a world of islands. Hungry, thirsty, weary, and again and again a bright green island, whereon they could see the coconut palms that meant life to them, rose up out of the sea.
'Land oh! Land oh!' was the cry more than once in the course of a day.
Eager faces turned to Bligh. But he always shook his head.
'We daren't. We daren't. After Tofoa we daren't.'
There was sound common sense in what he said. The eagerness died out of their faces.
All differences of rank had disappeared now. They were comrades in misfortune, only Bligh was their leader, the man to whom they looked for orders and suggestions.
Once they were chased by two sailing canoes full of armed men. It was close to a mountainous island that seemed to invite the sea-weary men to land and rest. The brown men made signs to them that they were friends. But they dare not risk it, and they pushed on for the open sea.
'I know the water is trickling down those hillsides,' said Fryer wistfully.
'Don't, man,' said Reynell sharply, for the thirst was unbearable.
When they had reached breaking point, and want of water was driving them to risk their lives by landing, there came on a storm of rain. The heavens opened and it came down in sheets that beat the sea flat. Sea and sky were blotted out by the falling water; there was no sound in their ears but the roar of the rain. It took their breath away. They were wet to the skin in a moment. But for the first time since they had been adrift they quenched their thirst.
'Spread the sail thwarts,' cried Bligh. 'Reynell, Fryer, Elphinstone, Linkletter, spread the sail. We ought to catch enough to last us to the coast of New Holland.'
Hardly had they the sail spread before it was full to overflowing with water. They emptied it into one of the little baricoes and spread it again. And again. And again.
Before the rain stopped, as suddenly as it had come down, they had added thirty-four gallons of good, sweet rainwater to their store, and every man had thoroughly quenched his thirst.
Now for a space the weather was calmer. They fitted a pair of shrouds to each mast, and contrived, from one of the sails, a canvas weather cloth round the boat, nailed on the gun'als round the seats; thus raising the quarters about nine inches.
'Ah,' said Reynell with a sigh of satisfaction, as he held the canvass while the carpenter knocked in the last nail, 'I don't think we'll have such a time baling next time we have a storm. But maybe we won't have another storm. We ought to be getting into warmer waters.'
'It don't feel much like warm waters,' said the carpenter. 'I'm friz to the marrer, and there ain't a pound weight's blow in me arms.'
It was cold, dark and gloomy. The rain came so often that their clothes were drenched with water that felt icy to their ill-fed bodies.
Bligh put his hand in the sea and dabbled.
'The sea is warmer men,' he said. 'Take off your shirts and dip them. They're wet anyway.'
The sea was warmer. With their clothes soaked in sea water they were not so cold. But the garments were harder to dry again when the sun did appear.
'But the gloomy weather is a blessing, a blessing,' repeated Bligh over and over again. 'See the rain that has fallen. Thirty-four gallons one day, twenty another. I assure you, men, we could not have lived had the sun blazed in the sky as he did the last time I was in these seas.'
Nevertheless, there were no more ardent sunworshippers than those poor, starving castaways. They greeted the reappearance of the Lord of light with frantic joy. Not unnaturally, seeing that such broken rest as they could get must be taken lying in the water, for even continuous baling could not keep the boat dry.
Presently all extra provisions had given out. They were reduced to one twenty-fifth of a pound of bread and an ounce of salt pork apiece twice a day. It kept life in them. But that was all.
Reynell, looking at the worn and weary faces, haggard and thin and half dead, noticing the painfully slow movements—to move a hand or a foot seemed agony—thought that never in his life had he seen such a horrible boatload of creatures masquerading in wet rags as human beings.
Judging by himself, active hunger seemed to have passed; the weather was so wet the thirst had gone completely; but there remained a restless gnawing that refused to let him rest. He did not feel as if he wanted meat. He wondered what he did want.
'How much more can we stand?' he asked the surgeon.
'Faith 'tis impossible to say. 'Tis wonderful how long a man, given water, can hold out. You can't call this living, it's bare existing, and if it wasn't for a certain little daughter I have in Portsmouth there——'
'If it weren't for the girl in Cornwall waiting for me——'
'Ah, I suppose we all have something. I suppose it's worth it. I know my little maid is.'
'Some of us, I'm afraid, won't see it through.' Reynell spoke for the surgeon's ear alone. 'This boy is dying.'
Little Hallett was leaning against his knees, apparently only about half conscious. His white face was turned up to the sky. His eyes were half shut.
The surgeon looked at him curiously, not unkindly, but with a remote sort of manner, as if the case were entirely beyond him. He shook his head.
'I shall ask the skipper for a scrap of pork for him.'
'You might as well ask the nether millstone.'
Fryer was steering. Bligh was in the bottom of the boat. His eyes had sunken; his mouth had fallen in; his beard had grown, but it could not hide the deep lines that ran down from his nose to his mouth. Reynell bent forward.
'Sir. Sir. A little bit of pork for the lad. He is dying of hunger.'
Bligh hardly looked at the boy.
'He has had his allowance for to-day,' he said.
'But, sir—but, sir—he is dying. No one would grudge him a small piece to put a little life in him.'
'If I gave in to you, Reynell,' said Bligh quietly, so quietly they could not tell whether he felt any pity for the boy or not, 'the same plea could be put forth by sixteen others in less than half an hour,' and he dropped his chin on his breast again as if there the discussion ended.
'I told you he had no bowels,' said Ledward.
'He'd never have got us so far if he had,' said Reynell justly.
Cruel as it was, he felt that Bligh was right. In the interest of the majority the boy must take his chance with the rest.
Still, Hallett did not die. During his watch below Reynell took him in his arms and held him close, trying to put a little of his own warmth into him.
The night was a bad one. They were obliged to run before the sea, watching the helm with care, for the least error would have been disastrous. When morning dawned, dull and lowering, Hallett was still alive. Boobies and noddies were breasting the waves round the boat.
Bligh looked round on the heaving, lead-coloured sea.
'Land,' said he tersely. He looked so near death's door Reynell thought the land would be only useful as a burial place.
The master gave a sobbing sigh.
'If we could land,' he said, 'I don't believe I could lift a leg to get out of the boat. I'm that crippled with rheumatism.'
'There's an open sore on me leg,' said Lebogue, 'you could put your fist in.'
They were all crippled with aching pains, stiff joints and open sores. They spoke about it dully, the pains inside and out, the unbearable aching that allowed no rest. Perhaps it was the thought of land so near and yet so unattainable that opened their lips.
'What's the good,' asked Elphinstone, 'of tantalizing us with the thought of land. We daren't go ashore.'
Bligh roused himself with an effort.
'I think,' said he, slowly and deliberately, 'we must be approaching the great reefs off the coast of New Holland.'
To most of the men it meant much the same as if he had mentioned the coasts of Laputa or the Delectable Mountains. It was something in his tone that gave them hope.
'Could we land there?' It came like one shout.
'Ay,' said Bligh. 'We might land there. In safety.'
'My God!' said Reynell. There was something in his leader's face that sent his own poor starved blood racing through his veins. All his future spread out once more fair before him. The worst was over. Was it possible the worst was over? Had he fairly covered the cruel first stage of the road that led straight to the arms of the woman he loved? To the girl who had been his star and his hope? She seemed quite near now.
'I take it,' went on Bligh with deliberation, 'we may not only land there in safety but we shall find there some sort of food——'
His voice was drowned in jubilation, thin and hectic; the men were sobbing like children, but it was jubilation for all that. They caught a glimpse of the end of the long, weary voyage.
'My God, sir!' cried Reynell, and his voice was shaking, 'if we get there we get home!'
'I thought you understood,' said Bligh, harshly perhaps to hide his own emotion, 'we are bound for England.'
'Now men see not the bright light
which is in the clouds;
but the wind passeth and cleanseth them.'
Mistress Corthew did her duty by her husband's daughter. It seemed to the farmer she laid in clothes to last a life-time.
But the last stitch was put in the last garment; linen; dresses; house-linen, and many a thing the far-seeing woman imagined might be useful in a land where nothing could be bought, were all laid away in lavender in stout oak chests, which were carried down to Polperro and there shipped aboard the Reaper which was bound for Wapping. It was surely the irony of fate that Reynell's old ship should carry those boxes, all neatly labelled, 'Captain Quested, R.N., H.M.S. Venus, Deptford.'
On the 1st February, 1789, when all the paths were like glass, and the bare hedges were white and heavy with snow that had fallen the night before, they went across to Lansallos Church and married Loveday Corthew to Thomas Quested.
The bride's face was white as the snow itself, but the winter sunshine streamed through the leaded windows and fell on her golden curls. Polperro said it was a good sign.
'If it rest with me,' said Quested fervently, 'if it rest with me——'
To Loveday it was all like a dream—a happy dream, though she would not have said so. It was the convention of the time to be sentimental. She was not regarded as a child. She was a woman—a woman who should have mourned her lost lover longer. Or—since it would have been folly to let such a good offer of marriage go by, she was expected to be pensive about it—to marry Captain Quested because—her heart being dead—she might as well be kind and save him from misery. As for enjoying it—no; she was not supposed to enjoy her wedding, and a wedding under such circumstances——
So in a dream she was wed; in a dream she cut the cake and sat out the feasting; in a dream she kissed her father and her baby brother, and the stepmother to whom she owed far more than she realized; in a dream she went horseback behind her husband to Fowey, there to take ship in the Lottery to London. Her new life had begun.
There she saw the ship that was to be her home for the long, long voyage. The Venus was only three hundred tons burden, but she was a great ship to the girl whose husband was as proud of his new command as he was of his bride. Her quarters were astern, cramped and small Loveday thought them at first, palatial she felt they were when she saw how narrowly the rest of the company were stowed.
They were women, sixty of them, so ten marines and a sergeant in charge were considered ample to insure good order. Gloomy and dreary looked their quarters to the carefree girl peeping in. On either side of the deck were small cells to be used either for refractory prisoners or as rewards for good conduct, which the sergeant had not yet decided. Otherwise there was just the deck, at each end doors with iron bars like those to a wild beast's cage. That deck was bare and clean as stout sailor arms and holystoning could make it. Other preparations for the passengers there were none. Beyond the convicts' quarters for'ard, and before those of the crew were reached, there was a galley, where sundry tin pots and messkids hung.
'But where will they sleep?' asked Loveday.
'There, there on the deck, my darling,' said Quested.
'On the bare boards?' The girl thought of the feather bed and other comforts that had been provided for her.
'Well we have been told to provide nothing but pannikins, messkids and a few tin plates and spoons. They are convicts, you know.'
He did not like his dainty wife to see any blemishes in his new command.
'Oh poor, poor things,' said the country girl.
She said, 'Poor things' again, when, on a dull dark February day, their unwilling passengers came aboard. A bitter north wind drove before it an icy sleet; the river looked grey and forbidding; the thermometer was down just below freezing point; it seemed as if the sun would never shine again.
Down through the mist, chained together, two and two, came a line of figures, each bearing some sort of bundle. They were the women whom England was sending away from her shores to start life in a new land. Not that England was in the least concerned about their starting a new life, all she wanted was to get rid of them. Not six had any pretensions to youth—most of the sixty were decrepit.
In those hard old days a woman of their class aged very quickly. There was no decent, happy, contented middle-age for her, when she was comely as became her years. She was young—then presently she was old—that was all the difference. The wiseacres who chose the convicts for New South Wales sent out old women. Possibly they thought it well that the future nation should be born of free women. Most of them were toothless: their mouths had fallen in; their unkempt grey hair straggled across their dirty faces; their clothes were torn and soiled, mere rags most of them, soaked with the cold February rain. Each woman had a rough blanket, but otherwise their bundles seemed woefully small. And the voyage would take at least nine months, perhaps a year.
On the wharf stood ten or a dozen onlookers. One or two seemed to recognize acquaintances among the convicts. They made little offerings—of tobacco mostly. It was received, sometimes with a jeer, sometimes with tears. The women seem too despairing to speak, but now and again one would call to another some derisive word respecting their miserable condition.
A well-dressed young man stood a little apart, watching them. The jailers were hustling them, anxious to get the business of embarkation over and to get out of the wet. It was a pitiable sight.
Quested looked at his wife's face and then, with a little dismay, at his passengers. The two foremost were at the bottom of the gangway which was too narrow to admit of the passage of the two chained women and their belongings.
'Dump those bundles! Dump those bundles!' called Quested. 'Here, Quartermaster, send along a couple of men to hand up that dunnage.'
But the women objected to parting with their poor possessions. They trusted no one. The sergeant of Marines came forward angrily. Quested was more merciful.
'Oh, my God! Poor wretches. It isn't much they've got. Let us see that each gets her own. Send along half a dozen more hands, Quartermaster. When's the rest of their baggage coming?' he asked.
The head jailer hitched his head at the miserable women.
'They've got all their traps there,' he said.
Quested swore an impatient oath. He was a kindly man, old enough to be pitiful, and he did not like to think of the unfortunate wretches shut up on that cold, bleak deck, wet and uncomfortable, and likely to remain so till they got into warmer waters. He saw, too, that his wife was looking troubled.
'Go below, my darling, and get warm.'
'There's a gentleman wants to come on board to speak to you,' reported the quartermaster.
'I thought we'd done with England for a bit,' said Quested, smiling at the wife who stood beside him so proudly. It was wonderful to be wife to the man who ruled this great ship. 'Ask him to come on board.'
It was the junior counsel who had defended Joan, come to take a last look at the girl who had interested him so deeply. He was even a little ashamed of his own interest.
He came up that gangway after the convict women and stood before the ship's captain, a goodly young man in a three-cornered hat and a neat wig. He made a bow to Captain Quested, a deeper bow with his hand on his heart before the pretty little lady who stood beside him.
'And what can I do for you, sir? My time is short. We go in less than half an hour.'
'I have not much to say, sir,' said the other young man, a little stiffly. 'I take an interest in one of your unfortunate passengers. Oh, nothing that your lady may not hear,' he added quickly with a glance and another little bow to Loveday, 'but I defended Juana d'Ath at the Plymouth Assizes. She was convicted of horse-stealing and sentenced to death, but reprieved. Now I have reason to think that there has been—hardly a miscarriage of justice—but some misunderstanding. I believe, though unfortunately I could get neither the judge nor the jury to agree with me, that she took the horse under some misapprehension. She felt she was doing the right thing. She wanted to rescue—her lover, I suppose, from the press gang.'
Quested laughed. He knew all about the press gang, and the name Juana d'Ath conveyed nothing to him.
'Yes,' he said, 'I could understand the situation.'
'Well, that being so, I want to give the girl a chance. I have ventured to order a few comforts to be sent,' he glanced over the side to where a porter was standing with a bundle, 'that might be useful for the voyage, and I thought if I gave you £5 perhaps you would take charge and might lay it out in the new country. It would give the girl a chance to start a fresh life.'
'Why, you are goodness itself,' said Quested. 'Where is this Juana d'Ath? She shall come and thank you herself.'
'It is hardly necessary,' said the junior counsel smiling. 'I have only met her in the Court and the jail. But to tell you the truth,' he said deprecatingly, as a man apologizes for a great folly, 'she was so beautiful her face haunted me. I felt it was a shame she had not a better chance, and I thought I'd like, with your aid, to help her. By your leave, sir.'
He beckoned the porter to come on board.
On the main deck they were knocking off the women's fetters. They could hear plainly the clank of the irons as they fell on the boards, and a confused murmur, the women raising their voices, the marines trying to keep them in order and yet not make them heard above by authority.
'Quartermaster,' ordered Quested, 'tell the Sergeant of Marines to take off her irons and send Juana d'Ath along to the cuddy. You will come below, sir, will you not, and drink to our good fortune on our long voyage. My wife will be honoured.'
They bowed to each other, and Loveday happily felt herself a very great lady indeed, the simple maid of the farm was left very far behind. It was all pure delight, touched, but not to hurt her, with pity for the women who were to be their passengers.
Into the cuddy, quite a comfortable place in the stern of the ship, with walls panelled in carved teak, came Joan. Her dress was wet round the skirts, but her shoes, thanks to the junior counsel, were stout, and she had been wrapped in a shawl, also thanks to him. As the cuddy was warm she slipped it off and stood before them, tall and stately and silent.
She knew them all.
There came to her a moment of exquisite joy. This Captain Quested was the captain of the ship, and beside him was Loveday Corthew!
So she had been right. Loveday Corthew had married—had married the man who had been virtually courting her in those days that seemed so long ago at Polperro. Joan had said she would marry. But to be sure of it! The joy of it!
The look on her face was misinterpreted. The junior counsel felt his own heart miss a throb, for she was very good to look upon, and he thought it was for him, as indeed—not unnaturally—did the other two.
Then Loveday recognized her.
'Why, 'tis Joan,' she cried wonderingly, 'Joan of the Pilchard!'
She had heard indeed that Joan of the Pilchard had been condemned for horse stealing; but the drudge of the fishermen's tavern had had small place in her thoughts among her own sorrows—and joys. She did not even know whether she was alive or dead.
This was Joan truly, but Joan with a difference.
How should a simple little soul like kindly Loveday Quested even dimly grasp what had gone to the making of a handsome woman out of the sullen girl. She would have wilted and shrivelled before the storm that had effected such a change for the better in Joan. Very naturally, too, in addition to the gladness of seeing Loveday married, came the flattering thought that the junior counsel had found it worth while to come and see her, to bring her gifts at this her parting with the old life. Never, surely, had a convict had such a good send-off. No wonder Joan held up her head and felt as few convicts can have felt that the world was at her feet.
'But Joan, Joan,' said Loveday, quite glad to see a face from Polperro, 'surely you never stole a horse.'
Joan spoke deliberately, remembering the decent speech that this man before her, the man who had defended her, had first brought to her notice.
'I took Dick Penrhyn's mare to let you know they had pressed Daniel Reynell!'
'Daniel Reynell!' It was Quested who winced.
'Daniel Reynell!' cried Loveday, brought back to earth from her heaven. She had forgotten Daniel Reynell. He was far, far away. She was realizing it.
'Dost mean to say,' for the moment Joan forgot her efforts at culture, 'hast forgot Daniel Reynell!'
Mr. Henniker Hilton looked at these people in amazement. It seemed to him he had dropped a bomb amongst them. Then he took charge.
'Joan was sentenced,' he said, 'because a farmer accused her of stealing his horse. She admitted she took it, but her plea that this man Reynell had told her she might safely take it was not admitted, because it was proved that Daniel Reynell was not pressed.'
'He was,' said Joan, looking at them all gravely, and speaking slowly and impressively. 'He was. I saw him in Talland Church myself. He told me to take the mare. He was sure Dick Penrhyn would lend when he knew how keen he was to get a message'—she turned to Loveday—'to the parson to get him off and to Raphiel Farm—to you.'
Loveday crumpled up and burst out crying.
'He sent a message to me—to me. He is dead—drowned dead.'
'Oh no,' said Joan, still thinking of her speech, 'he has gone to the South Seas in the Bounty. Dick Penrhyn,' she drifted into colloquialism, 'her give I in charge, and if Parson did na speak for her her a gone for sure.'
'Impossible!' said Quested.
''A saw men take her,' went on Joan, implacable as fate, 'in lane by Pilchard. 'A followed she.'
Loveday had covered her face now.
'So it seems there was truth in her story.'
Quested stood silent for a moment. 'I cannot understand it. Three men from Polperro were taken to Talland Church.'
'Four,' said Joan, thinking of her speech again. 'But Amos Garrett was dead.'
'Ah!' said Quested, and the thing was clear to him. 'I understand now. But it was no doing of mine.'
He looked from Joan to Mr. Henniker Hilton and then to his wife.
But he was captain of this ship. Whatever his private feelings there was much to do. He was starting for a new world in twenty minutes.
'It may be true, or it may not. Sir, we will do our best for your protégée, but I fear we must be sailing. You will bid her good-bye now.'
The junior counsel turned to Joan.
'I have done my best for you, Juana d'Ath,' he said. 'I am leaving with the captain's lady a little money and a parcel of clothes to help you on your journey and when you land. There is nothing to be done now, but in a year or so the Bounty will be back. Then I shall make inquiries for Daniel Reynell, and if your story be true—but'—he finished up hurriedly—'unfortunately you did take the mare.'
Joan smiled. For a moment she was a very happy woman.
'I thank you with all my heart,' said she. 'I did take the mare and I'd do it again.'
'Oh, come, come. You are incorrigible.'
He did not understand what Joan had said that had so upset the captain of the ship and his wife, and he was at a loss to explain the joy that was written so plainly on this girl's face. It was not for him—or was it? Well, his own behaviour gave him a comfortable glow. He took her hand.
'A happy ending to all your tribulations,' said he. 'The captain here has my card and if at any time I can help——A pleasant voyage, sir, to you and your lady,' and he bowed low, ignoring the tear-stained face that Loveday raised. No, he thought, whatever it was that had disturbed her, it was not a tragedy, only a summer storm.
When he was gone Quested curtly dismissed Joan.
'Mrs. Quested will speak to you again,' he said.
The girl walked on air to be locked in her wretched quarters.
Quested turned to his wife and spoke to her constrainedly.
'We are just casting off,' said he. His voice sounded strange in her ears, 'you'll understand I must be at my post.'
'Oh, Captain Quested!'
They were formal days. My own grandmother, a generation after that, never called that gallant sailor man, her husband, anything but 'Mr. Palmer' all her married life. Loveday still thought of and called her husband 'Captain Quested.'
'Are you—are you angry with me?'
'Angry with you! My darling! My darling!' He gathered her up in his arms and held her close, and looked down at her passionately out of his dark eyes.
'You will despise me, and think me fickle that I love you so,' she whispered with a sob.
'Love me! Did you say you love me!'
She did not answer, only clung to him closer, hiding her face against his rough peajacket.
'Oh, Loveday! Loveday! I must go!'
He put her gently down on to the cushioned locker, and went about his business of leaving old England behind, up on the deck there, glad and happy and triumphant as Joan was in her miserable quarters below.
'He that is slow to anger is better
than the mighty,
and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.'
At first even Reynell had looked at the birds with dull half-interested eyes. It seemed mere waste of labour to try and catch them. Labour of any sort was a thing to be avoided when it took so great an effort even to move when movement was absolutely necessary. Now, with hope re-born, he felt he must try for one of those noddies that were swooping around them.
'A thread from your coat,' he begged of Ledward. The surgeon had on a wreck of a coat that had once been red.
'Oh, help yourself,' said he hopelessly. 'I'm not ungenerous with England in the offing.'
Reynell leaned over and cut away a fragment of the cloth where the colour was brightest. He fastened it to his line and threw it overboard as he had done a hundred times already.
He cast again.
With no result. Why weary himself?
With almost hysterical joy he found he had caught a noddy, a bird about the size of a pigeon.
'Elphinstone!' he shouted.
But there was no need to shout. The weary, half-dead men roused themselves eagerly. Elphinstone caught the poor fluttering thing and wrung its neck.
Bligh sat up alert and stern as ever.
'We must divide it,' said he.
'Only the blood for the boy,' pleaded the captor. 'It may put life in poor little Hallett.'
'I was going to suggest it was your due,' said Bligh dryly.
'I will give it to him,' said Reynell. He paused a moment, 'gladly.'
This was but a small thing to do. If the boy improved it would surely add glory to the day, a day that would stand out above all others; the day that marked the turning point in a long, weary lane.
So he cut a slit in the neck of the bird, put it to the boy's lips, and told him to suck.
Mechanically he obeyed.
Reynell was rewarded by a faint brightening on the haggard young face. He handed the noddy over to Lebogue who divided it into eighteen small portions. Very small they were. The eyes that looked at them were wolfish for each man knew he could have eaten three or four birds such as that.
He turned his back on it and Bligh asked,
'Who shall have this?'
So it went on. As each man's name was mentioned he snatched at the tiny fragment of flesh and crammed it in his mouth.
It was horrible; it was terrible; yet, if there had been any one there to see, there was a certain dignity about it. These famishing men had control over themselves; they could wait. If they were to be saved surely such self-control should save them. There was a little half-remorseful titter when the feet and beak fell to Reynell himself.
He laughed ruefully.
'After all, anything the rest of you got don't count.'
'It has saved the boy's life,' said Ledward.
'We must get another.'
Now, men who had been thinking only of the severe racking pains in their bones forgot those pains to watch the birds, and speculate on the chances of getting another. Next day they did get another, a booby, the size of a large duck.
It came in the nick of time. Lebogue, the old sail-maker, Hallett, the midshipman, and Nelson, the botanist, were sinking fast. The blood revived them, while the meat they divided as they had done the day before.
Now the birds began to be more numerous. They caught four.
Branches of trees were seen in the sea, and they passed much other drift wood. Certainly, Bligh declared, they were approaching the reefs round New Holland.
Next day, when they saw white water—the breakers that beat ceaselessly on the Great Barrier Reef—the forlorn, hollowed-eyed little band raised a heartbreaking cheer for the first stage of the journey thus safely behind them.
The anxiety with which they sought an opening was piteous.
They found it at last, and by noon were sailing through to water that lay smooth as some great blue lake beyond. Straight for the first island that lay in their course they went.
Round the island grew mangroves, their glossy leaves bright in the sunshine. In their branches, sheltering in the heat of noonday, they saw the brilliant gleam of parrots' gay plumage and numerous great pigeons. But they were too weary to hunt.
'I see no coconut palms,' said Ledward anxiously.
'And I see no native huts or canoes, which is a matter of quite as much importance,' said Bligh.
They drew closer and closer, seeking a place among the mangrove to land. At last they came on a strip of sandy beach. As the water shallowed Reynell slipped overboard.
So weak was he that it was all that he could do to keep from falling face forward in the water. As for pulling up the boat, he had not the strength of a baby in his arms.
But the wind and the water took her on.
One by one those weak, weary wrecks of humanity fell overboard, and, crawling out of the water, lay stretched at full length on the warm sand.
'The boat,' said Bligh, 'we must safeguard the boat.'
But all they could find strength to do was to take ashore a rope and wind it round a tree trunk. Then they fell back on the sand again.
Young Hallett was Reynell's chief concern. He lay there, a little apart, like a dead thing. There must be food here surely. If there were not then they must all perish. But if there were, then it was a shame to let the lad die without some attempt to succour him. So cramped was he, he felt that he could not go in search of that food.
He crawled to Bligh's side. Like the rest, he was lying spread out on the warm sand, as if rejoicing at being able to stretch his limbs to their full length after a month in the cramped space of the boat.
'Sir, sir, the lad will die if you do not give him something. A morsel of bread, a scrap of pork! We must surely find something here to make up for it.'
Bligh shut up his mouth as if it had been a trap.
'Reynell, I explained to you before, we all share alike. It is waste of breath to ask me.'
'I will give him my share gladly.'
'To-morrow morning then. You have had your share for to-day.'
'Sir, sir! He is dying!'
'So are we all. Fast I think. If he were my son I should say the same.' He closed his eyes. The discussion was at an end.
Reynell crawled back to the lad. Lying there he looked at the point of death. Even the warmth of the sand did not seem to help him. He was not dozing as the others were doing. The excitement of landing had been more than the weakened frame could bear. He was sinking—sinking from starvation. Yet could he have had some strong broth—some blood even—Reynell felt sure he would revive.
But till he himself was rested he had no strength to seek out a bird. Presently——He looked again at the lad.
Presently would be too late for him. And, he, Reynell, was going back to the woman he loved, to Loveday of the laughing hazel eyes and sunny hair. Surely there would be a cloud over their meeting if he let this lad die now that he knew so little would save him.
The bread was in the carpenter's chest along with the bottles of wine. Bligh had the key. The only thing he could get at was the pork.
Should he steal some?
The crime was terrible. To steal from starving men! A pigeon cooed in the manchineel tree above, and was answered by its mate in the pandanus palm opposite. Once these men were rested they would not be starving long. But the boy would be dead and his death—it seemed to him now he had thought of it—would be at his door.
He crawled back to the boat and cut off a large slice of the pork.
He was a starving man. It cost him a great effort to refrain from putting it in his own mouth. He looked at his companions sleeping, or at least drowsily resting in the shade, for the sun was hot now, and they were dry for the first time since they had left the Bounty. Not for himself would he have robbed them. But Hallett was in extremity.
He went back to the boy lying moaning under a pandanus palm.
'Mr. Hallett! Mr. Hallett! See here, lad.'
He put the pork to his lips. The boy opened his eyes.
'It's no good, Quartermaster,' he whispered. 'I can't hold out any longer.'
'Eat this, lad. For God's sake eat it quick!'
It was cruel to keep him in such temptation.
'Eat this. It will pull you together.'
The boy took the meat languidly. Heaven knows the fat salt pork was an untempting morsel enough, but to see the boy eating slowly made the mouth of the starving man, looking on, water. He had to repress the strong temptation that came to him to snatch it away from the nerveless fingers and crowd it into his own greedy mouth. When it was all gone he turned away, shaking and trembling, for the effort had been terrible.
He made his way to Bligh's side.
'Captain Bligh, sir. I have stolen some of your pork.'
'I did not think,' Bligh looked at him reproachfully. 'Daniel Reynell capable of so mean a theft.'
His voice was hollow and cold, and cutting.
'Before God I have not touched a scrap. It was to save the boy's life.'
Reynell's voice was shaking.
There came a light into Bligh's eyes for a moment that almost made Reynell feel that his sin had been worth while. But others were listening, and the voice that answered him was colder than ever.
'I trust you will find it has been worth your while, for most certainly I shall find a punishment to fit the crime. It is a terrible thing to steal from starving men.' The words rang sad and bitter.
Reynell's heart sank. Had he lost a friend, a friend he valued?
Bligh closed his tired eyes. Reynell went back and stretched himself out alongside young Hallett. In the pleasant warmth he grew drowsy and dozed till the chattering birds overhead awoke him. He watched for a moment the bright-hued parrots, red and blue and green and yellow, flashing in and out among the bushes opposite.
He sat up.
They were eating berries that grew plentifully on a vine, yellow berries streaked with red, something like a gooseberry.
What birds could eat could surely not be harmful to men! He crept across and tasted. They were pleasant and agreeable. He gathered a handful and ate eagerly. Here was food that was better than raw pork! Fool that he had been to commit a crime before looking round.
But if there were plenty of food here it was not such a terrible crime. He took some berries to young Hallett.
The boy ate, then struggled to his feet and joined him. He shouted to the others. The wrecks and shadows of humanity rose up and picked too.
The birds were flitting in and out, parrots and wild pigeons half as large again as an ordinary pigeon. They were so tame they hardly troubled to get out of the men's way.
But they had no firearms, and the weak hands had no skill with a stick or a stone.
''Tis a pity,' said Ledward ruefully as he missed a red and green parrot that flew shrieking from the branch he had hit, 'for what we want is meat.'
'Let us look along the rocks,' suggested Reynell, 'maybe we shall come across some shell fish. If we could make a fire then we might find a use for that copper pot Linkletter has stuck to for so long.'
Along the rocks, growing even on the branches of the trees that overhung the water, to their great joy, they found oysters in plenty. Could there be anything better for starving men? There went up a great cry. One by one the men came hastening to join in the search. There was plenty for all. No need to stint or divide! At last they might eat their fill. The men fairly sobbed with delight.
Even Bligh was stirred.
'Get a little brushwood together,' he said. 'I think I can start a fire with this little magnifying glass.'
Cheerfully the fire crackled. They built it in a hollow, where there were plenty of shrubs round to act as a screen, for they had no mind to call attention to their whereabouts if there should be any inhabitants to see.
Bligh brought out the pork. There was about two pounds left.
'Someone has pilfered,' he said, looking meaningly at Reynell. Hallett had apparently quite forgotten that he had had any, 'we will put the remainder into the stew. Then there will be no further temptation.'
Reynell's heart lightened. He took that to mean that Bligh, in view of their present plenty, was going to overlook the past, and let bygones be bygones.
That night they fed well. It was wonderful how the lines smoothed out of hollow faces, and the colour crept back to deathlike cheeks. They cracked jokes and laughed light-heartedly, as sailors will, sailors who are like so many children, living only in the present, forgetting the miserable past, never looking forward into the future.
'The worst is past, men,' said Bligh, 'the very worst. I congratulate you. It will be a trifle to reach Timor since we have come so far,' and the sailors agreed with him and talked as if it might be a day's journey off.
That night Reynell slept comforted.
They were in the midst of plenty: oysters, clams, dogfish, turtle, pigeons, parrots, and plenty of berries. What more was there to be feared? Bligh spoke to him gaily. The worst had passed for him indeed. The long weary voyage that began when they carried him to the chapel at Talland was over; he was homeward bound, a man with his mind broadened by suffering and travel; with his foot on the rungs of a ladder that was to lead upward, right upward; that would be so much easier to mount because he had just a little money behind him and Bligh's good will to aid him.
Then the blow fell.
The men, who had been so patient and obedient when death was ever at their elbow, leaning over their shoulder, now became careless and disobedient, ripe for mutiny. Purcell, the carpenter, was the leader.
'Me,' said he, 'I'm as good as Bligh any day.'
'No,' Reynell discouraged him. 'No one but Bligh could have brought us here.'
'Much you care for Bligh. Think we don't tumble to it t'was you sneaked the blooming pork. An' he just said nuthin'. Dassent, I guess.'
His sin to find him out now! Reynell quailed.
'I had to do it,' he said quietly. 'I swear I never touched any for myself. I'm afraid Bligh will find a punishment. He said he would.'
'Dassent, my bloke, dassent,' said Purcell. 'If he does you call on me.'
'What for?' asked a quiet voice that cut like a knife.
'I was just mentioning,' but the carpenter's voice was not quite so confident, 'as you'd be the fudst to say one man's as good as another now.'
Without one word Bligh took a step forward, shot out a fist and struck the carpenter a blow in the face. He was weak from long starvation, so Purcell only staggered back.
'Mates,' he whined, 'he's killin' me!'
'Not at all.' Bligh snatched a cutlass from Mr. Fryer and thrust it into the carpenter's hand. 'Now, if one man's as good as another and you feel aggrieved you just defend yourself.'
'He knows I ain't no hand agin a trained man,' whined the unlucky carpenter. 'He'll kill me an' let off the man as sucks up to him, the quartermaster. We mun clem, but he may scoff the pork.'
'Come on, you dog.' Bligh raised his sword threateningly.
The carpenter gave in at once, and dropped to his knees.
Bligh looked at him contemptuously, then turned away.
'You see, Reynell, the necessity for a stern discipline.' His voice rang sadly. 'If I'm to get to Timor I must keep my word.'
Reynell said nothing. What could he say?
Death was to have been the punishment for any man tampering with the provisions.
That night Reynell lay and looked into the glowing coals and wondered how Bligh would punish him.
Punished he would be, he knew it now. But, surely, in the midst of plenty, it could not be death.
Next morning he knew.
They were all awake with the dawn, cheerful and light-hearted. Bligh set them gathering oysters and berries for the voyage.
'For we start to-day, men. We start to-day. We must not linger.'
'Shall we land on the mainland, sir?' asked Reynell, for the mainland of Australia was so close they could see the shore quite plainly. It was apparently about half a mile away.
Reynell was desperately uneasy. What was his punishment to be? He would bear anything, anything, so long as he was taken on to England. Surely Bligh would not kill him. But would he take him in irons? Not that they had any irons in the boat—but he might use some humiliating form of restraint. The uncertainty nearly drove him mad.
Bligh looked at him. Reynell saw great pity in that look. Then he was again the man who had held them together through that cruel month in the cramped boat. He spoke harshly.
'We shall not land on the mainland, Quartermaster,' he said giving him his official rating again, 'I do not know what you may do.'
Reynell's heart grew heavy as lead. Why should his doings be separated from those of the others?
By noon they were ready to start.
They had been well fed. They had a goodly collection of clams, oysters and birds all cooked ready for the voyage, and a great quantity of berries. The men were grumbling good-humouredly at having to resume their cramped quarters again.
Bligh took a turn up and down the sand. Reynell watched him feverishly. Now. Now. What was his punishment to be?
Three times he marched up and down. Then he stopped in front of them and spoke with deliberation and without a note of regret or pity in his voice. Knowing the man, Reynell had not expected pity. But what—what was his decision?
'Men,' began Bligh, 'could anyone have led you as I have led you, brought you out of the very jaws of death?'
'No, sir. No, no, sir.'
'And do you remember when you chose me for a leader you invested me with the powers of life and death?'
'Ay, ay, sir.'
'You have no desire that I should abrogate that authority? You would not, for instance, prefer Mr. Purcell here for your leader?'
'No, sir. No, no, sir.' The response was unanimous.
'You remember we have still a long and weary voyage to go? Not so bad as that we have come through, but possibly bad enough, though it will not be so long, please God.'
'Ay, ay, sir.' The men were getting a little impatient. Where was all this leading to?
'And now we come to the point. Do you not think that the man who pilfers from a starving community, for whatever purpose, is worthy of death?'
'Ay, ay, indeed yes.'
And there had been berries within reach. All the while there had been berries within reach. Reynell felt as if he had been looking into the bottomless pit. He held his breath. Life was sweet! He would make a fight for it, if he had to kill Bligh and take the leadership himself.
'The quartermaster, by his own confession, has pilfered the pork.'
Bligh's voice was cold, a little harsh, entirely devoid of emotion.
For a moment there was dead silence.
'Not for myself,' Reynell heard his own voice speaking in strangled tones, 'not for myself.' He did not want his shipmates to think him guilty of a mean action.
The silence was profound.
He could hear the slop of the little wavelets on the shore, the soft cooing of a great pigeon overhead, the raucous screech of a parrot as it flew from one tree to another; even the long-drawn breaths of the listening men.
'Now for that,' went on Bligh relentlessly, 'he should surely die. But, I put it to you, great mercy has been extended to us. We are here safe, we have every chance of reaching Timor, do you not think we can afford to be merciful?'
A great load was lifted from Reynell's heart. He raised his head and a sob burst from his lips. To be allowed to go on—to Loveday. The men gave a shout. Purcell, the rebel, snapped a contemptuous finger and thumb. Bligh saw it. Reynell saw it. The seed of the spirit of rebellion! If this went on——
Reynell's head fell forward again. Bligh would never overlook that. He could not. But surely—surely he would not order his death.
'I am glad you agree with me.' Bligh went on calmly as if he had noticed nothing. 'We will give this man his life.' Reynell drew a long sobbing breath. 'You understand men are often reprieved at the foot of the gallows, and they are transported. Once they were sent to the plantations in America. Now I hear they are making preparations to send such men to plantations in New South Wales. This New Holland,' he waved his hand to the mainland, 'is part of New South Wales. Somewhere here, Captain Phillip, in the Sirius, is making a settlement, probably about a thousand miles to the south. Now you understand we cannot take this man with us lest the evil spread. But we can afford to be merciful, we can afford to make a thank-offering of his life to the great God who has brought us so far in safety. We will maroon him here. Here we have found food in plenty, his plight will not be much worse than ours, and he may perhaps make his way down to the convict settlement at Botany Bay. He has earned death by our own decree. But we will be merciful. Launch the boat, men.'
For a moment Reynell stood stunned. He hardly knew what he had expected, but not a living death like this. To be left alone on an island off the coast of a land where, as far as he knew, only one ship had ever been since the world was created. Should he protest? Would Bligh, since he was obviously only condemning him to uphold his own authority, be open to a plea for mercy?
He looked at his leader.
His face was dark and shadowed.
Should he try and raise the men against him?
Perhaps Bligh, looking at him, read his thoughts.
'Let me remind you, men!' came his incisive voice, 'once we have dissension we are wrecked.'
The men moved slowly toward the boat.
'What is this, Quartermaster?' Ledward touched his arm.
'It is true,' gasped Reynell. 'I took the pork . . . for the boy. ... He was dying. . . . I swear I never touched a fragment. . . . I told Bligh myself. . . . I asked him first, and when he would not give it I stole it. And there were the berries. . . . God, there were the berries . . . better than the stinking pork. . . . But I was too done.'
Ledward turned to Bligh.
'Sir,' he began.
But Purcell, beside him, was listening eagerly. Reynell knew there was to be no lightening of his sentence.
'It is expedient,' came Bligh's harsh voice, with a ring of pain in it, 'that one man should die for the people. Only he will not die. There is plenty here for a hundred men. He can make his way along the coast to the new colony. He has as good a chance as we have. It will be no greater feat than we have accomplished already.'
He turned away.
'Listen to that,' said Ledward, 'he could do it. So can you.'
'Alone?' Reynell's voice was hopeless.
The surgeon held out his hand.
'Can I take any message for you, Daniel Reynell, though I would not give much for either of our chances?'
'If you get back,' said the lonely man, and he felt as if his tongue could never, in the time at his command, give all the last messages of which his heart was full; he was dying—dying, 'send to Polperro, in Cornwall, to a maid called Loveday Corthew. . . . She will be waiting . . . waiting . . . and tell her I never for one moment forgot——'
'Mr. Ledward, we are waiting for you,' said Bligh.
Young Hallett ran back sobbing.
'It was for me,' he sobbed. 'I ate the pork. I will stay, too!'
Reynell started. Two men together they might manage it. It would be no greater feat, as Ledward said, than they had already accomplished.
But he put the temptation from him. It would ruin the boy to come with him. Surely he had not saved him for that. He was dying. He would die with dignity. The bitterness was the parting with Loveday Corthew—he was giving her up again. That could not be altered by ruining a boy's life.
'No, lad, no. You mustn't. I won't forget your offer, but your staying would be the death of me. You aren't strong enough. Go you and rise in the Navy, and think of the men sometimes, and don't let them say I stole meanly. I swear I never touched a bit of pork myself. Good-bye, lad, good-bye. I'm glad I did it.'
'Here is my knife,' sobbed the boy, 'and Linkletter is leaving his copper pot and Mr. Fryer sends his coat and——'
'Mr. Hallett! Mr. Ledward!' called Bligh, who understood the danger of delay, 'are we to understand that you, too, desire to remain on this key. Mr. Ledward, you will cast off the rope.'
Reynell pulled himself together.
'I will cast off the rope,' he said, and his voice rang firm. There was not a quiver in it.
Bligh looked at him.
He was heartened, for he saw admiration in that look.
Ledward and Hallett shook hands again and got into the boat.
Reynell stood till they were safe in her. Then he cast off the rope.
Bligh took the tiller.
'Up jib. Keep the sheet to win'ard.'
The boat went astern, and as her head slowly paid off, 'Hoist the foresail,' he ordered.
Reynell fancied that his voice was thick and uncertain.
For the only time on that long and weary voyage his men disregarded him.
'Three cheers for Daniel Reynell,' shouted Ledward.
They stood up in the boat and faced him, even Bligh himself, and sent up a feeble cheer. The sun shone down on the sparkling waters as he stood, his back to a fan palm, looking at them yearningly; a lonely, abandoned man, with all his hopes destroyed, and hardly a chance of seeing his fellows again.
'Hip, hip, hip, hurrah!' they shouted. The tones were feeble enough, but their earnestness brought the tears to his eyes. These his messmates, were doing him all the honour they could, 'Hip, hip, hurrah!'
The wind caught their sails. They steered northward.
He dropped down on the sand, covering his face, and felt that he had tasted the very bitterness of death.
'Wisdom is a defence and Money is a
but the excellency of Knowledge is,
that Wisdom giveth Life to them that have it.'
Eleven long months the Venus took to reach Port Jackson. She stopped at the Canaries; she slanted across to Rio; she came back again and spent a fortnight at the Cape, taking in stock and plants, and preparing for the struggle in the roaring forties; then down—down south, to round the southernmost point of Van Diemen's Land, which they thought was part of Australia.
And at last, north again, with hope in their hearts, for were they not nearing their destination?
Many were sick; four of the old women died, and two of the sailors. The poor little bride was so prostrate with sea-sickness for the first month that Quested was thankful to find he could safely trust her to Joan of the Pilchard when he could not be with her himself—and he could not most of the time. But Juana d'Ath, who had been condemned to death for horse stealing, was a very pillar of strength.
Loveday forgot her crime soon. Loveday always lived in the present. When she found Joan was more capable of making her comfortable than the husband who loved her so dearly, she insisted on having her with her always. Quested had a small store-room opening out of the cuddy cleared; Joan took up her quarters there, and was recognised as one of the afterguard.
Her conviction, extraordinary as it seemed, terrible as it was, had opened the door for her to better things.
Her childhood had been spent in luxury in her Spanish home, so she appreciated the comfort that her association with Quested's beloved young wife brought her. Such comfort she knew well enough she never could have attained to in Polperro.
Her stately beauty brought the men of the ship to her feet. Possibly but for those terrible days in jail under sentence of death, her head might have been turned. But she knew that in the eyes of the law she was a convict, no better than the miserable old women on the main deck there; only the partiality of Loveday Quested had rescued her from their lot. She was sure that not one of those ship's officials who tried to make love to her—her life had early brought her knowledge—would have married her.
Yet the hopeless bitterness that had been hers as the drudge of the Pilchard had passed. She was comfortably lodged, thanks to Quested; thanks to the junior counsel she was well dressed; and, perhaps, best of all, her trial had given her a good opinion of herself.
The Judge who condemned her had thought she might be a power for evil; her counsel, and she blessed him every day for it, had had a higher opinion of her. She was determined, if she could, to justify that good opinion.
They both, Judge and counsel, had spoken a different English to that to which she had been accustomed. So did Quested. Loveday's speech emphasized this. It smacked of her native Cornwall. Quested thought it quaint in a pretty girl. Joan, seeing the difference, modelled her speech on Quested's.
She was far older than her nineteen years. It was as if the cruel experience she had gone through had crushed all the youth out of her. She knew too much. She knew that this wonderful beauty that attracted all men was a gift to rejoice over; but a gift that compelled her in all things to walk warily. The universal admiration steadied her, and neutralized itself. Not one of these men was a match for Daniel Reynell, the man she had given her heart to, the man who had never looked at her. She could not forget. She was not the sort that forgets. Vaguely, she hoped to meet him again, for were they not all bound to the South Seas! A very shadowy hope, but worlds have been conquered on hopes as shadowy!
One great consolation she had. Quested told her he had heard there were no jails in the new land. The convicts were 'assigned' for service to the settlers. He hoped to keep her as part of his household, for she was necessary to Loveday's comfort, more necessary than ever now, for a baby was coming.
Loveday was a kind mistress, indeed she, a friendly little soul, made of her a companion and confidante, pouring into her patient ears all the tale of her woes. She was proud of her husband and her position as the wife of the captain of a big ship, but she was wretchedly sea-sick—only happy those weeks, all too short, they spent in port. She was miserable down in the forties, between Africa and Australia. The seas towering above what, to her, was a great ship, sent her shuddering to her cabin to hide her face in her pillows wailing with terror. She was despairing, as despairing as any of the convict women, when at last Quested came to her with the glad tidings that they had sighted the Australian coast, and that the days of their voyage were nearly numbered.
She cried a little then, and to Joan she confided.
'I shall never be able to go back, never, never. I shall never see Daddy and the boy again.'
'Oh yes, you will,' said Joan comforting. 'You know well enough why you have been so sick and miserably frightened. You will stay till your baby is born and then you will gladly——'
Joan stopped. The gladness that was to be this woman's might never be hers. She could not look forward to going back to England, the man she loved beside her, his child in her arms.
'Do you think it is that?'
'Why, what else? Of course. Come on deck and look at the land. Captain Quested will be pleased. It is lovely.'
It was not exactly lovely. There are those who have been heard to say that there is a great monotony in the Australian shores seen from the sea. But the bright blue sky overhead, the deep blue sea below, these people of the Venus had been accustomed to for so long that they hailed with joy the long line of blue grey coast to the west.
After all these long months here was the land. Somewhere here was their harbour.
Quested took his wife's hand. Joan brought up cushions and rugs; a quartermaster came behind with more; Loveday was a very great lady.
'Oh, this is really New Holland,' she sighed.
'New South Wales, they are calling it.'
The foolish name has stuck.
'And when shall we land?'
That is what Quested was asking himself. Here or hereabouts must be Botany Bay. But there was no sign of a settlement.
'Nowadays, with wireless, cables, aeroplanes and swift steamers, we can hardly realize what coming to the journey's end after an eleven months' voyage was like. Suppose the settlement had been attacked and destroyed by a superior power, or even wiped out by savages? It was quite a possible contingency. No one knew what manner of inhabitants dwelt in the interior of New Holland.
All the ship's company, from Quested himself to the feeblest old crone on the main deck, and the smallest ship's boy in the fo'c'sle, was on the look out for the settlement.
Quested's anxiety was sickening. He was heartened by a cry from aloft, but presently his heart was in his boots again.
High on a cliff he saw a flagstaff with the Union Jack flying, and on the shore a tiny hut. Two men were launching a boat.
Was this all that was left of the new plantation?
He turned away so that his wife could not see his face. He would know presently. They were coming quickly.
'Boat ahoy!' yelled Quested between his hands.
'Ship ahoy!' came back the answer in regular nautical tones. 'What ship's that?'
'Brig Venus. With convicts. Captain Quested. Bound for Botany Bay. Where's the settlement?'
They had flung the boat a rope now. The two men scrambled aboard and prepared to tow the boat.
'Settlement? The settlement's all snug, only a bit hungry. Have you brought any provisions? Any salt meat?'
'A little,' said Quested. 'But where is the settlement?' for he only saw what, save for the flagstaff and the hut, looked like untouched woods.
'Inside Port Jackson there. It's a glorious harbour, the finest in the world,' declared the man in a ragged seaman's frock, with all the pride of possession, the very first of Sydney's inhabitants to dilate on the beauties of her harbour. 'Two of us are always on watch to look out for passing ships.'
'We have not seen a ship since we left Table Bay. Can you pilot us in? Can so big a ship get in?'
The newcomer looked the little sea-worn Venus up and down from stem to stern.
'The biggest battle-ship that ever was built, the biggest that ever was thought of, could lie right along side the wharf, that is when there is a wharf.'
'Then for heaven's sake pilot us in for we are weary of the sea.'
He turned to his wife.
'Darling! Darling!' he said incoherently, and kissed her and left her to Joan.
Joan's own heart was beating madly. What was this new life holding for her?
'Oh, Joan! Joan! Joan!' Loveday was sobbing unrestrainedly, 'thank God we have arrived! And you mustn't leave me, Joan. We'll like it. We'll surely like it very much. And I couldn't get on without you now.'
'How do I know what they'll do with me?' said Joan with a little shiver. No one was likely to take thought for her.
So they sailed through the frowning heads of Port Jackson, and the harbour full of wooded islands and points of land set in a sparkling sea lay stretched before them in all the glory of the golden summer sunshine. There was mercifully a cool breeze from the south; the very smell of the earth was a delight; the fresh scent of the bush was entrancing.
At last they saw the settlement.
Rough little houses built of any odd planks and of grass trees plastered with mud, roofs that might have been thatched in Devon; a bigger house, slightly bigger, a little apart for the Governor, Captain Phillip; another building for a store house; occasional tents here and there. There were strange trees growing in the irregular unmade streets; there were stumps left where the trees had been cut down; there was a field of wheat white to the harvest, because the hot dry sunshine of Australia bleaches the ears. Behind all was park-like land that rose in gentle undulations, and right down between the houses trickled a stream that fell into the Cove right opposite them.
A lovely land! A land of promise it seemed to the tired voyagers.
'I shall love it!' cried Loveday, happy as she had not been since first the Venus rose to the swell of the Channel.
'I may hope,' thought Joan to herself.
At the landing-place were red-coated marines; sailors and ragged prisoners, some one or two chained to heavy planks; there were just a sprinkling of women; there were some better-dressed men, the officials; and way was made for Captain Phillip, who, in spite of the heat, was in his naval uniform and cocked hat.
All the white population of New South Wales was crowding down to see the ship that had come from 'home,' that brought news—eleven months' old news—from the dear old land.
His Honour the Governor was first aboard.
'Welcome to you, Captain Quested and your lady. A brave woman! You are to be envied, and I am pleased indeed to see her.'
The Governor, addressing Mrs. Quested, let his eyes wander to the tall young woman in a striking blue gown standing a little behind her.
Joan was excited. Her eyes were bright, her lips red, there was even a trace of delicate colour in her cheeks. In truth, her beauty was such as to take a man's breath away, though Quested, with eyes only for his wife, never saw it. As she was not introduced to him, the Governor guessed she was not of any importance, and went on,
'I am glad to see you have brought us some young women. We need young women if this colony is to succeed.'
'But I am afraid we haven't,' said Quested. 'My passengers are shockingly old; only a few young ones amongst them, and they are not of much account.'
'Indeed, I should have thought——'
'Oh, you are thinking of Joan, my wife's maid. I am hoping they will let her stay with my wife. She has been most useful, and I am inclined to think she has been wrongly condemned.'
'They all have—they all have. I never met a convict yet who was justly condemned,' laughed the Governor. 'But some, I admit, promise well. I shall have all the place wanting to marry that girl. Have you brought any salt meat?'
'You, too, sir! That was our salutation!'
'I'm sorry,' said Phillip, half apologetically.
'We have about twenty casks,' said Quested, a little damped.
'Two cows we have. One died, I'm sorry to say. We brought them from the Cape. They are in rather poor condition. And that ewe—she may be useful if you have a ram.'
Phillip shook his head.
'Sheep don't seem to thrive here. Nor will things grow well. I cannot help thinking Sir Joseph Banks was mistaken in thinking so much of this country. There is no soil like we have in the West of England. Have you any poultry?'
'Ten ducks, three turkeys, two geese, about a score of hens, all from the Cape. Nice work I have had to get them so far. If it hadn't been for my wife I should have eaten them and thrown the coops overboard.'
'My thanks to Mrs. Quested. I am glad you didn't.'
It was Joan's forethought, but no one thought of giving her credit in those days.
'Could that pretty girl actually contemplate settling?' thought the Governor astonished, and dismissed the thought.
He regarded this lovely land as a prison—a prison from which there was no escaping. Though he strove to hide his feelings, for he had the welfare of the colony at heart, his opinion impressed itself upon every one he came in contact with.
'We can land the convicts?' asked Quested, a little damped.
'There are three huts down by the brickfields we can clear out for them.' Phillip turned to the Judge Advocate who had followed him on board, 'We can serve them out a ration of flour and salt meat, and they must make shift to gather their own sticks for their fires. By and bye we'll get some of them drafted out as hutkeepers. But at present that is all we can do.'
'All!' said Quested. 'Why it's freedom! They'll be more than content.'
'They'll be a marked contrast to the rest of the colony then. Wait till they're hungry!'
'They won't be hungry surely?'
'Won't they? We're all hungry here. You'll be hungry yourself if you stay here long enough. Come to Government House and dine this afternoon. I am sorry to say I shall have to ask you to bring your own bread. We are obliged to ration ourselves very strictly. And if Madam will honour me——'
Loveday excused herself, blushing.
'Well you must allow me to place the hospitality of the house at your service when you land to-morrow. You must stay until we can find you a place of your own. Or perhaps you'd rather not leave your comfortable quarters here. We can give you nothing approaching this at Government House.'
'Oh, I never want to see a ship again,' declared Loveday fervently.
At five that evening, when the heat was still great, Quested, having put all things in train for the landing on the morrow, went to Government House to dine.
He found himself at the right hand of the Governor, with Lieutenant King opposite and the Judge Advocate at the other end of the table.
The walls of the dining-room were made of rough slabs, unpolished and unpapered, the floors were bare save for an occasional kangaroo's skin. Quested was soon to learn that to have a floor at all was to live in the lap of luxury; the heavy oak chairs and tables brought from England were solid and good; the napery was dainty and white; the silver was exquisite.
The house stood on a bit of ground from which all the timber had been cleared. Through the open windows was a lovely view of the cove, sparkling in the sunshine. There was not much of a garden, only clumps of geranium blossomed, a brilliant scarlet, and a white convolvulus had climbed up the wall and was peeping through the window.
Quested was charmed with everything. He said so in the somewhat stilted and flowery language of the time.
'And my wife is delighted. She loves a farmyard, and thought if we could have a few acres here——'
It did not seem to require this modest way of putting it, since here were some millions of acres lying untilled and unwanted, but Quested approached the matter delicately.
'You would settle?' asked Phillip. His surprise was apparent.
'Well, it would require a little thinking about. I don't want to decide hastily—with your Honour's permission. But I was country bred, my wife comes of farming stock, we cannot see why things should not grow here.'
'It is too far away—too far away,' sighed Phillip, as if that had anything to do with it.
'I was to place myself at your Honour's disposal when I arrived,' said Quested.
'And I am minded to send the Venus to Timor for provisions,' said Phillip, 'but if you would settle——' He paused.
It seemed to him so unlikely that this nice-looking young couple would actually consent to stay in this land which had brought him nothing but disappointment. His sad eyes looked him up and down.
'Your Honour will understand,' said Quested, flushing, 'I would gladly have a billet ashore, at least for a while. I would like to be with my wife till her baby is born. She is so young and in a strange land——'
'I understand,' said Phillip. 'Of course it rests with the people at home, but I cannot see why you should not have land, and I can assure you you shall both have the warmest welcome.'
But he did not really think a man who was free to go would actually elect to stay in New South Wales.
'My wife is enchanted with the look of the place, and detests and fears the sea,' said Quested, fearing lest he should take the offer and then repent.
'It is a lovely land,' said the Judge Advocate, speaking rather apologetically. 'We have had nine months of gorgeous weather, and three too hot. Even then, when we make up our minds to sleep outside, the nights are divine. As for farms not flourishing, I have sometimes wondered whether we do not lack skill and want of farming knowledge. Besides, conditions are different. Once we understand the conditions——'
Phillip's sad eyes looked at him a little amused. How could any place be good where conditions differed from those that prevailed in the dear homeland so far away?
'It should be something to begin in a new land,' said Quested, also a little apologetically, for men do not differ from a Governor easily.
He knew now the command of a convict ship was not likely to lead him anywhere. Without influence his advancement in the Navy was very problematical. It seemed to him there should be more possibilities here for a family man than in England. Even if he elected to take his chance in the Navy it would be a miserable life for him, with Loveday always tugging at his heart strings. She wanted caring for. What had these men found wrong with this country?
The response to his last remark was cordial.
'You shall try it, man. King shall take the Venus to Timor. You shall stay here, and if you don't make good you shall be free to take her back to England. You and your wife and that good-looking girl you have as maid are exactly the people the country wants as settlers. If this country does succeed, as once I hoped it would, you should rise to wealth, as the early settlers did in Virginia. Look at Mr. Washington. The grandson of a settler no better placed than you are.'
'I am not thinking of my grandsons,' said Quested, a little damped.
'Ah, man, but you'll care for the son who'll be here presently. If you choose to stay I'll get you a grant of land, and do my best to help you.'
Quested asked if he might put it before his wife. But he knew very well what she would say. There was a light in his eyes that made the Governor feel he was sure of his new settler. King, too, was well content. He wanted to go to Timor.
That night Loveday and he made their decision.
The next day, in all the dewy freshness of the early morning, she and Joan landed. Loveday vowed she could not wait a moment longer.
To these sea-weary women the solid feel of the land beneath their feet was a delight. The cloudless sky above, far, far away, seemed to show them ethereal depths, there were trees and the sound of trickling water where the Tank stream found its way to the sea. The faint breeze that came from the west bore on its breath an aromatic scent from the mighty forests that lay away in the unknown beyond there.
The two young women drew it into their lungs, hoped for great things and saw nothing pitiful in the two little streets of mean wooden houses with thatched roofs, and window holes protected with a lattice work of twigs in lieu of leaded glass. They never noticed the trampled grass and the broken stumps of trees, marking man's sordid possession. They only saw the park-like land beyond; the harbour full of islands crowned with green; they only listened to the rich, haunting song of the magpies, and the ringing laughter of the kookaburras, that spoke to them of hope.
'Lovely! Lovely!' cried Joan in a burst of enthusiasm. 'It is surely a great thing to be able to begin.'
It was more than two years since she had stood a free woman greeting the midsummer morning. True, she was a convict, but she was happier than she had been since her father had died and left her a lonely little girl at the mercy of a selfish peasant mother. The freedom of the new life and the new land gripped her. She was wise beyond her years. She forgot for a moment her servitude and the lowly position which made any exhibition of feeling out of place.
But the other two hailed with delight an enthusiasm that marched with their own. For them a new life was beginning. They were not to be parted.
'Right, right, my girl,' said Quested, seeing the colour in his wife's pale checks. 'We are going to make a success of it. This is only the beginning. Now, think you, you can take Madam up to the Governor's house there. There it is, the greatest house, you cannot miss it. He said she would be welcome any time. It was better to come in the early morning, before the heat of the day. I am taking him at his word. Say I will send a man up with her traps presently.'
They went together to the Governor's house, a house where there were actually windows, a house where dwelt the man who governed from Cape York, in Torres Straits, to the southernmost point of land in Van Diemen's Land; from the Pacific Ocean to the 135 deg. of longitude, though most of those places knew just about as much about their new Governor as he knew about them—which was nothing at all.
There Mrs. Quested, being young in a land where young women were at a premium, was received with such a welcome as overflowed, and left Juana d'Ath with a feeling that it was a very good thing to be alive.
'Give instruction to a wise man, and
he will be yet wiser;
teach a just man and he will increase in learning.'
For a brief space Reynell lay on the sand, then he scrambled to his feet.
The boat was going! He was missing her!
Already she was a good bit from the shore. He could not distinguish the faces of the men, the friendly faces that had been his close companions through the long weary days.
In the end they had deserted him. For such a trifle. Foremast hands should have stood by a comrade better!
But even as he blamed he understood.
Half of them were not foremast hands. They were men of education. They thoroughly realized that there must be no dissension amongst them. He could not even blame Bligh. Gladly would that stern disciplinarian have reprieved him, but, had he shown himself tender with the falling away of the man he had always favoured, how was he to make sure of other men's obedience in the next crisis?
It was the foremast hand who had done him to death.
Other crises there would be. That, Daniel Reynell, even in his unutterable misery, knew well. Why had he confessed to pilfering the pork? Once they found themselves in the midst of plenty a trifle like that might have been overlooked. He had done what seemed to be right. Now he must take the consequences.
He stood there straining his eyes across the empty sea, which the little boat made more empty.
He spoke aloud the names of his mates, as if he already feared he should forget them, should forget perhaps how to speak. First low—lest they should hear him repining—then louder and louder as the fear of loneliness grew upon him, and he cared not what any one thought. Perhaps Bligh would feel he had shown his authority, and would take him aboard. He lost all control of himself. He ran along the beach shouting for the boat come back.
His voice was swallowed up by the sighing of the sea.
The boat grew smaller and smaller, till she was but a tiny speck on the horizon. She was lost to him behind a great clump of pandanus palm that grew on another key.
He flung himself down on the ground again. Life had surely ended for him now. He was broken. He lay cold and dead in the shadow. The warm sun was beyond. But he only beat his hands on the ground. There was no one to hear him, no one to see him, there never would be anyone again. It was not worth while to move. He was outcast, abandoned, forgotten.
His emotion wore him out.
He had been well fed. The sun coming round the bushes comforted him with his pleasant warmth. At last, soothed, he slept—so soundly that when he wakened darkness had fallen. He could only see the loom of the bush round him, and the white crests of the surf breaking on the reef. Overhead the bright stars of the Australian tropics were twinkling. He noted mechanically, as a sailor would, the glittering belt of Orion, and the upper stars of the Bear lifting above the horizon. Another thought came to him as he looked at the stars. The fire! The fire they had lighted this morning! If he did not look to it, it would be black out.
He realized, with dismay, that he had left it so long it would be the merest chance if there were a live ember left.
He gave himself no time to wonder at his sudden interest in life, but ran to the little hollow.
It was all black. He could not see even a spark.
He cursed his own folly, for he had made life harder than it need have been. He thought with horror of the way he had eaten raw flesh in the boat, yet that must be his fate unless he could get a fire going.
Then he laughed grimly.
So after all hope was not quite dead. He still thought how he could make life bearable. He was walking about feverishly in the darkness, moving circumspectly, trying with his feet to find out if there were not a spark of fire lingering.
He found the place where the fire had been, black but not cold. He could feel warmth yet.
He dropped on his knees, and as he knelt he felt the sharp stinging pain of a burn! Never was pain more welcome. The fire was not dead then! Hurrah! Hurrah! He found an ember with a tiny spark of life in it still! Again hurrah! The hands that gathered cinders and half-charred sticks round that ember trembled with excitement. The cinders were hot to his hands; once or twice too hot to hold.
He did not waste time wondering at his own thankfulness. He searched for the dried frond of a pandanus and split it into long straws. Delicately he built a lightly enlaced structure with the live coal for its heart. Then he added a dry leaf or two and blew softly upon his handiwork. The core glowed and deepened, a straw or two caught.
He held his breath and blew again. The little flame grew. He threw upon it leaves so dry they crumpled at his touch. The whole thing went like gunpowder. A little sheet of flame!
He gave a shout of triumph that sounded weird on this lonely key. Another leaf caught! The sticks caught!
There was no fear now. The fire was burning brightly, a jewel on the darkness of the night. The first bitterness of loneliness was conquered!
He fed that fire till it was burning bravely as if it knew it was the only comfort of a desolate man. He lay looking into the glowing coals, that danced and beckoned to him in such friendly fashion. He fed them till he began to fear lest the fire should be too bright and attract those who might take advantage of his unprotected position.
He went out into the darkness and made the circuit of the little hollow.
From a little distance away the fire could not be seen; the bushes and the contour of the ground hid it completely. Re-assured, he filled his handkerchief with oysters. The bright little fire welcomed him back as a friend. He baked the shellfish in their own shells. He would like to have gathered some berries, but it was too dark. After all, to the man who but a short time before had been only too grateful for a morsel of sea bird's flesh, raw, leathery and fishy, the baked oysters were a dish for a king. He ate till his teeth gritted on something hard.
He was about to spit out the offending scrap. A sudden thought stopped him. He caught it in his palm. Something round and smooth.
What——? He held it in the dancing firelight.
A man in his position knew little enough about jewels—only he did associate pearls with oysters. He had even seen small pink pearls got on the Scottish coast. But here, in the palm of his hand, lay such a gem as he had never before dreamed of. The firelight gleamed on its softly polished surface. His excellent teeth had made no mark upon it. Such a pearl might surely be worth a king's ransom.
He might as well throw it away!
He lifted his hand to fling.
Then he paused.
Why throw away a good thing that had been given him? Perhaps this was a sign and a token that all should be well with him.
Of course he was alone. Fear stalked behind there in the dark. If he but stumbled and hurt his foot he must die a miserable death. Even if no harm came to him, he might linger out a dreary existence, day after day, day after day, till, an old man, he died alone in the wilderness.
Why then had this pearl of price been sent?
He thought of Loveday Corthew—mistily as a man might think of the joys of his childhood. She was so far away. Yet this pearl seemed to bring her nearer. Here, surely, would be a competency for her—and—he thought softly—her children, their children. He lay back and held the pearl close. They said pearls were tears. But this spoke of hope. A promise for the future!
All the way out on the long, long voyage he had thought of her. How sweet—and kind—and dear she was. In the islands for her sweet sake he had been deaf to the seductions of the island women. He always remembered—sometimes a little ruefully—how she had never seemed to understand his passion, had shrunk from it indeed, had gently put it aside. When she was older——When he returned——
Then in the struggle for life in the boat—he thought of it now—he had not thought much of her, save as a creature apart, one who should always be sheltered from the roughness and bitterness of life.
He would never be able to tell her the sordid horror of it. Never. Never.
He would think of her—a little—not too much—as a beacon light to which he was struggling. He was cut off from all his fellows. He must face life as it presented itself to him. He lay and looked into the glowing red embers, the dancing flames, blue and purple and orange, the friendly flames.
He began to calculate as a seaman calculates.
Where was he?
Bligh himself had said coldly but with meaning—he might reach the new plantations in New South Wales.
Would it be possible?
He remembered the last observation Bligh had taken. Botany Bay was about latitude 32 deg. He was sure of that to a degree or two; 17 deg. of latitude away or perhaps 18 deg., with the coast of New Holland, trending—from here—south with something of easterly in it.
Yes, he was sure of that. He nodded to the flames. What was 17 deg. of latitude? 1,000 miles. A little more. Say 1,500. Could he do 1,500 miles alone—on foot? They had done 1,000 in the boat, cramped and starved, and always in danger of swamping in stormy seas. Say he had to traverse double that distance, for he could not go in a straight line! Say it took him a year?
He laughed aloud. The laugh sounded weird and unearthly in the stillness of the night.
He was dismayed because he found he had reduced things to a year! He was evidently making very sure of striking the new settlement some time or other.
He tore a rag from his ragged shirt, put the pearl in it carefully, plaited a string from some of the vines round by which to sling it about his neck. There it should stay till he reached civilization. An emblem of hope! A dowry for the woman he loved!
When a man has been starved; when he has been wet and sore, and cramped in every limb; when he has snatched a broken sleep, wakening always with the still unsatisfied craving gnawing at his vitals; when this has gone on for days and days—for interminable weeks, till he has almost reached breaking point—then one day he wakes to find himself by a glowing fire, well fed, comfortable, the cramp gone from his limbs, thoroughly at ease. The horror of loneliness may be very great, but the mere sensation of well-being, of comfort, will tell.
Before long Reynell was sleepily wondering if he were not better off than those who had gone in the boat. If only he had allowed Hallett to stay!
A drowsiness stole over him.
He could surely do that land journey even if he were alone.
Trying to calculate how best to arrange things, he fell asleep. He slept soundly—dreamlessly.
Once he wakened to put wood on the fire. Then, carefree for the moment, slept again till the bird chorus of the dawn wove itself into his waking, and the sunbeam's golden path on the calm blue sea brought him a message of hope.
A glorious tropical morning!
His eye caught sight of something white, or something that had once been white, stuck in one of the shrubs, something that had not been there the night before. Something that had been left for him by one of the men, for even rags were too precious to be lightly discarded.
He went across and unrolled a shirt, ragged and much worn, but still a shirt. It was wrapped round a tool, perhaps in those days the most precious a seaman could have, an adze.
Then Reynell knew that Bligh himself must have left it, for they only had two adzes, both locked in the carpenter's chest, of which Bligh had the key. He had given his shirt, too, the only shirt he had.
Reynell lifted it up with the deepest gratitude, seeking some scrap of writing.
There was something hard in paper in the sleeve. It was the glass of Bligh's watch.
On the paper was written, evidently very hurriedly.
'With an adze and a burning glass a seaman may go anywhere. You should rise to honourable rank in the Navy. Call on me at the Admiralty and we will see what can be done.'
It was signed 'William Bligh.'
Not one word of pity, not one word in justification of his own harshness, merely the assumption that they two would meet again in England and that he, Bligh, would not only help, but thought him well worthy of helping.
With an adze and his knife—why he could make a canoe, not as good as those he had seen in the South Seas, but a perfectly useful craft on this smooth water. And Bligh had thought of this for him.
He felt the tears burning behind his eyeballs, but for the moment he no longer felt outcast and abandoned.
Such an awakening he had not had for weeks.
The sunshine was everywhere. A little soft breeze, a very baby breeze, rippled the calm waters into tiny wavelets that broke on the sand at his feet, a miniature of the surf that thundered on the weather side of the reef.
Innumerable birds, beings of rare beauty, greeted the new-born day. With the dawn came flocks of white cockatoos, with sulphur crests, screaming from the mainland; in the manchineel trees and the pandanus palms great pigeons, black and white, stirred; others joined them, clad in shimmering green, with crests like gay flowers; he saw a hawk in the blue above and two kookaburras, solemn grey birds with heavy heads laughed at him gaily in human fashion. There were birds scuttering in the scrub that reminded him of the housewives' chickens in Polperro; and numberless smaller birds that flitted in the trees like brilliant jewels. There were great graceful black swans with coral feet and coral beaks sailing in and out along the seashore; there were sea birds beyond count; and teal in plenty; he even saw a great sea eagle questing for his prey. And he saw two turtle. Truly a goodly land. He had awakened to a glorious day in the land of plenty.
And he had awakened to such awful days of long drawn out misery.
He certainly was not physically miserable now. Bligh considered he might hope.
Why should he not? All nature seemed to be saying it was good to be alive. The pigeons overhead were murmuring it softly; the magpie wove it into his haunting melody; the little birds, more impudent, chirped it cheerfully. A right royal day. A day on which to begin a new life.
He walked along the reef looking for oysters and other shellfish. The pools in the rocks were gorgeous sea gardens, brilliant in colours, red and purple, gold and green. The fish that swam in those pools glittered in all the colours of the rainbow. They could not escape now the tide was out. He tried to catch them.
But it is no easy thing to take a fish with one's hands. More than once the fish slipped away and went swimming down a narrow channel, so shallow that half the fish was out of the water. This gave Reynell an idea, he blocked the channel where the water raced swiftly, and with a piece of stick carefully guided his fish into it.
When it reached his barrier and found itself unable to turn in the narrow channel he caught it, a long narrow, scaleless fish, like an eel, weighing at least three pounds, he knew now that at low tide he had an ample larder ready to his hand so long as he stayed here.
That fish, with berries, made an excellent breakfast. His drink was water fresh from the tiny creek that trickled to the sea down from the thick bush covering the heart of the island. There was plenty—plenty of everything for a sea-weary man.
The mainland was only half a mile off. He could swim it easily if he were put to it. But he decided, since he was so far from all civilization, to stay here and recruit. Not till he had recovered from the hardships of the last month—not till he was thoroughly strong, would he set forth to face the unknown dangers that must await him on his journey through unknown lands.
After his breakfast, cutting himself a stout stick, he explored the key. He judged it to be about three square miles in extent, and well watered. He found no less than three running creeks, as future Australians were to call all smaller streams. A goodly place. He did not wonder the birds loved it.
Just as he was getting back to his camping place he made another discovery—a bark canoe. It was very badly made originally, and so damaged it had probably been left derelict because it was useless. Still, its presence disquieted him a little.
He marched away from it very cautiously.
Then he went back again.
Clearly no one had been near that canoe for a long time. He examined it carefully. He had meditated making a canoe, why not patch up this one for the time being? It would certainly carry him on the smooth waters inside the reef. Afterwards he might improve on it.
He did not know how far south the smooth waters extended; he thought Bligh had said about 600 miles, but whether it was 600 altogether or 600 miles south of this point he could not remember. At any rate, he would go from here to the next key, which he could see about a couple of miles off. The water was smooth as an inland lake.
He went back and carried the canoe nearer his camp. Then he set to work to make himself a stout club, ornamenting the end with jagged pieces of oyster-shell and coral. It took him two days, and when it was done it was something of a formidable weapon. All this time he had not seen a human being. Now he felt more prepared to meet them.
He mended the canoe, stripping for the purpose the largest tree on the island of its bark, and sewing it together with the fibres from the pandanus palm. He could not have been prouder if he had built a cruiser. Though it was not equal to the graceful boats of the South Sea Islanders, at least it would float. And it would serve.
It took him a week to fashion the paddles.
Full of pride, he launched himself in his canoe, and found he had still much to learn. Paddling and directing a canoe does not come by nature, to a white man at least. It was only with infinite labour he paddled himself the length of his own island.
Still he did it.
He was in the wildest spirits when he had accomplished so much. He began to dream again of Loveday Corthew—of home and happiness far away at the other side of the world. He might be back even before Bligh and his men in the launch, at least he might reach the modified civilization of the plantations of New South Wales. Why not?
He felt strong and well, capable of anything now. He had filled out the last few days. The strength had come back to his arms, and the lightness to his heart. In truth, though he did not know it himself—did not think about such things—he was leading an ideally healthy life. The sun, that great physician, bathed him in his life-giving rays. He had plenty to occupy his mind in the present; something to hope for in the future; and he spent comfortable, peaceful nights in the balmy, perfumed air, with the little fire dancing and gleaming beside him. Plenty to eat he had; oysters and shellfish, and fish; berries and pigeons and bush fowl. The pigeons were so tame he felt it a shame to take advantage of their trustfulness. But luckily for them, feeding as they did, on the pandanus, they were tough, and stringy. The grey bush fowl, on the contrary, were like tender chickens. They built great mounds, too, and in colonies laid there their very large eggs. When he got them fresh they were excellent.
So well, indeed, was the island provided with all that a castaway needed to live that he felt some compunction about leaving it.
But he could not stay here for ever. There were moments when he was desperate for the sound of a human voice.
At last the day arrived when he built up the fire so that it would last many hours in case he might have to return and put a patch of hard clay surrounded by sand in the stern of his canoe for his fire-stick. Then with his heart in his mouth he left his first shelter to paddle to the next key.
His arrival there was a veritable triumph.
It was not unlike the first one, only a little smaller—two miles to the south. He was fairly on his way. The great adventure had begun.
Looking back, he saw that voyage in a series of pictures, vivid pictures, where every little action, every hope and fear, stood out sharp cut as the scenery—the sea and the land—the pandanus and the tea tree and the bird life, stood with outlines defined in this clear Australian atmosphere.
He guarded his fire carefully. To be sure he had successfully started a fire with the help of the watch glass, but he was always a little afraid lest that means should fail him. The glass was a frail thing, easily broken. Besides he knew very well that even in this land of sunshine he could not always count on the lord of day. He always carried a fire stick. When he left a key he left a good fire behind him. Landed on another his first care was to start a fresh one.
He was hardly unhappy, for he was so occupied during the day he had not time to think. At night he was so healthily tired that once he had eaten and made up his fire he fell into a dreamless sleep.
There came a day when he struck an islet upon which he found no water. His precious copper pot was empty. The only island he could see was the one he had left on the far horizon to the north. Without water he could not stay. He must go back.
But his canoe leaked. Feverishly he worked upon her. While he worked a wind arose—a strong wind. He dare not put to sea. His heart sank as he saw the sea rising and the blue sky overspread with clouds. He could not face the voyage back in the frail canoe. It might be the wind would go down. But suppose it lasted a week!
The heavenly blue of the Australian sky—than which there is none more lovely in the world—was overcast. Blacker it grew and blacker. The wind dropped and—almost to his surprise—it began to rain.
He had not expected that solution to his difficulty.
Mercifully it rained. How it rained! Straight down tropical rain! He was thankful to see it. Yet it depressed him.
He scooped a hole in the rocks, watched it fill, filled his copper pot and gave way to melancholy.
He would never see the plantations. There were no plantations. He could never hope to see England again. Looking out through the rain he could see the long line of breakers, their tops white and threatening against the grey of the sea.
He found a place sheltered and dry for the fire among the dense scrub and sand. He watched it anxiously, and as the hours passed and he grew drowsy, he piled it with brushwood and heavy logs, taking care that it should not spread, for he feared it might do so though it was raining.
His depression grew.
He found himself conjuring up all the terrors he might meet.
He had heard of men with their eyes between their shoulders and no heads. Bligh had laughed at the idea as a phantasy. Reynell was not a well read man, but he had a certain seaman's wisdom, and he thought that a score of savages armed with bows and arrows would be much more dangerous. He was not quite sure whether the dragon was a fabulous beast, and whether its haunts might extend to New Holland. He wished he did know. It would not be pleasant to see a dragon coming out of the sea in the driving rain. It would not be pleasant in the sunshine either for that matter. But he had given it no thought in the sunshine.
It rained for two days. Then it cleared as suddenly as it had begun. The sun came out in all his glory. All nature was revived.
But there were no more islands dotting the edge of the reef.
He must have made 150 miles southing. Reynell put his trust in Bligh, and determined to go on seeking the settlement.
He broke into a new world when for the first time he landed on the Australian coast.
Very troubled he was when he paddled his fragile little canoe into a creek the mouth of which was set about with blue grey mangrove, that curious tree that delights in the saline mud, a condition which would kill other vegetation. It began to rain again, and he went a couple of miles up the stream till he could land on a little sandy beach. Forlorn it looked in the driving rain.
It was warm rain, but the terror of loneliness seized on him again. He trembled at every sound. An alligator rose up out of the water like a great muddy log.
Another danger. Men who had traded to West Africa had told him of such things, but this was the first he had ever seen. He grasped his club for he did not want to leave his canoe; but it turned off and left him untouched.
His fire-stick was only a spark by now, and there was no sun. He gave his mind to finding dry tinder and lighting a fire, for he was wet and aching in every limb. Never before had he paddled so far. He was too weary to seek other food than the oysters he had brought with him. He feared lest the fire he had set going might prove a false friend, betraying him to the savages. The duck he saw on the creek were wild. He argued they had been hunted. The thought made him anxious and troubled.
But he had to sleep.
The dawn broke gloriously.
He had to rest that day. He was too weary to paddle. He had a hook in the collar of his seaman's frock that he had been carefully guarding. But now there was no reef with the friendly holes in it where he might catch his fish by hand. He baited the hook with a mussel and found he could catch as many fish as he wanted.
The land rose up from the seashore heavily timbered with trees that were unknown to him; mighty trees, tall and straight, and bound together with many a trailing creeper. The heat was damp and steamy, but there was a pleasant scent of warm and growing things, an aromatic scent and a smell of musk, with across it a sharp tang of the sea.
A magpie, a pied crow, sat on a dead branch of a tree and poured out liquid notes that made a song more delicious than anything he had ever heard before.
A wholesome place, he thought, if he had not been afraid. How should he not fear?
He rose up to listen, and suddenly there stood in his path a tall, naked black man, with great wheals across his chest. He held a threatening spear; his bushy beard was out-thrust. He peered out at the first white man he had ever seen with little bloodshot eyes, from under the overhanging brows of a man of the Stone Age.
For the moment Reynell's fears left him. If this were an enemy he was a very ordinary one. He tore down a branch in sign of amity, and with that in one hand and his club in the other, advanced on the stranger.
The black fellow threw the spear, half-heartedly he knew afterwards. It whizzed past his head. With a howl the thrower turned and fled.
He picked up the spear. It was barbed, and made of stout hard-wood. He returned to his canoe, and slept that night—because he must.
When he wakened the ache had gone from his bones, and the chorus of birds from the trees spoke to him again of hope. Still he was more downhearted than ever, for if savages, like his friend of yesterday, came after him in any numbers how was he to stand up against them!
What was the good of saving his pearl? Loveday Corthew was remote—far, far away.
But an unexpected pleasure awaited him. He found, to his delight, he had thoroughly mastered the art of paddling. The little canoe shot ahead easily, and went the way he wished her to go. Greatly elated he went down the creek and out into the open sea again, paddling on till presently the outer reef was once more dotted with islands.
He began again what, for him, was the old life now, paddling along easily from island to island. Sometimes he saw canoe-loads of savages but he always avoided them. Apparently they were not curious, or possibly they were afraid, for they never approached him.
His days were wonderfully alike. It was generally fair, bright, warm weather, with occasional tropical squalls of rain that came with such force they compelled him to bale the little canoe.
Early in the morning he hunted for food. As the sun dropped to the west, away over the unknown land, he began to look out for some place where he might sleep. Having found it, he made a fire and hunted for food before he lay down to rest.
There was not much difficulty about the food.
For vegetable food, if he could find nothing else, there were always the cones of the pandanus. Not that he liked it, but beggars may not be choosers. Fish and sea slugs he liked. Snakes and lizards he ate for the same reason that he ate the pandanus cones. He could not afford to be particular. On the reef he often found sea birds' eggs, very palatable when they were fresh. And there was a never ending supply of oysters, different varieties, some mud, large and coarse, and some rock, a delicacy fit for an epicure.
Never again did he find any pearls. Indeed he had done well. Though he did not know it, the pearls that are plentiful further north are seldom found as far south as was that that Reynell treasured round his neck.
His canoe was old when it came into his possession. With his useful adze he had mended it and mended it, but the day came at last when he felt it was beyond mending.
He made his way to the mainland in search of materials to make another.
He was spared the trouble.
The fates were good to him, or perhaps they were unkind to some one else. As he sought a suitable tree for his purpose he came across, dragged high and dry on the sandy beach, a new canoe, sound and whole, not as good, certainly, as those made by the South Sea Islanders, but good enough for his purpose. Better than the one he had made shift with for so long.
It was too much for a desperate man's probity.
He looked round. No owner seemed in sight.
Hurriedly he transferred his belongings, launched the new canoe and paddled away as quickly as he could, fearing every moment lest the owner should overtake him and claim his property.
He paddled on till darkness fell, and landed on an islet by moonlight with a fire-stick black out. Not till midday did he get a fire going again. But the day was warm and pleasant. He breakfasted on oysters, and put in time paddling to the next key, pleased indeed with his find. It steered much more easily than his old canoe.
He pushed on that day, anxious to put the miles between himself and the late owner of his new canoe.
Indeed he was always anxious to push on. He had lost count of the days. But what matter? If he arrived at the plantations they would know the day. If he didn't what matter what day he died?
Strangely, he found he was growing accustomed to the life. Fear was not ever at his right hand. The wheeling sea birds were his friends. Sea and sky he had been accustomed to all his life, but this was a sea and sky more gorgeous than anything he had ever before known. Even the rain, when it came, was warm and life-giving.
There is truly no more fascinating place in all the world than the Great Barrier Reef on the Queensland coast.
Still, naturally there came to Reynell sometimes qualms. It was so long since he had spoken to a living creature, and the new colony of New South Wales—the plantations—seemed as far off as ever.
Was it a myth? Was it a dream?
Only his faith in Bligh kept him with his face turned south.
He was a mighty man now, a great tall man of powerful frame, sound in mind and body. No wonder the savages who saw him propelling his canoe through the calm waters within the reef kept out of his way.
When he had almost given up hope of a change, the change came.
One afternoon he landed on a sandy island; not that he particularly wanted to land, only it came right in his way. He drew up his canoe, and with a lively recollection of how he himself had stolen her, took care not to leave her in too conspicuous a place. Then he walked across the island. The open ocean was on the other side. The surf was beating in in great rollers. No canoe could live in such a sea, at least not with him at the paddles.
He came back and paddled along the coast all the afternoon. He camped for the night; sought his supper and slept. The next day he resumed his voyage. The island was still there. When at last he saw the end of it he knew that his pleasant voyage or his dreary voyage or at any rate his easy-going voyage, had come to an end.
For the reef that goes up north for 1,250 miles of the Queensland coast ended here.
If he would go further south he must take to the bush and walk.
His heart sank at the prospect. The sea was a familiar danger now, but what terrors might not lie behind that fringe of greenery.
From very fear of the unknown future he spent all that day on the island, gathering half idly a large store of sea slugs, oysters, crayfish and other shellfish. But when he waked next morning to another day he remembered he was not twenty miles nearer his goal, that Loveday Corthew was just as far off as she had been yesterday.
It was curious that a man, cast away as he was, should feel this a matter of great moment, but he did so feel it. Immediately he paddled to the mainland, gave himself no time to think, took from his canoe all he felt he really needed; made a pack, and slung it on his paddle, secreted the canoe in case he should need her again—afterwards he realized there was no hiding from the sharp eyes that were likely to look for her—and started to walk along the coast.
Reynell found tramping a far, far harder mode of progression than paddling. The soil was loose and rough, untrodden by foot of man, or hoof of beast; the vegetation was dense, tropical in its luxuriance. He knew so little of the real danger of the Australian bush—woods—was the word he used—that he did not know he should have been thankful for the damp weather that gave him plenty of water.
He grumbled, for he was often cold and wet at night, and when a wide river mouth turned him far inland he was still more injured.
But he soon learned that most of these rivers of New South Wales had a bar at their mouths; only for the larger streams had he to go inland; very often, waiting for low tide, he could actually jump across the narrow stream that broke through the bar.
There came a day when, with a creepy, eerie feeling, he knew himself watched—followed without being able to see who was stalking him. When the darkness fell he lighted with many misgivings, a fire, and kept himself well beyond the range of the firelight. He had set a snare in the darkness without much hope of catching anything, but his larder was low.
In the morning, waking from an uneasy doze, he heard something struggling and looked to his snare. He found he had caught an animal new to him. It was only a wallaby, a small kangaroo, a little beast with pathetic eyes in its deer's head.
He put it out of its misery swiftly with his knife.
Then up round him rose five or six black fellows, lithe savages, with beetling brows, bearded chins, touzly heads, bodies ornamented with cicatrices, bits of bone in their noses, and long spears in their hands. They looked at him out of little bloodshot eyes, but they did not attempt to harm him.
By way of being friendly he offered them the wallaby, though he wanted its skin to make moccasins, for his boots were done.
They took it casually, as if it were not a matter of great moment. Indeed they considered it theirs, for he was trespassing on their hunting grounds. They broiled steaks on his fire, laughing and jabbering to each other.
When the rough meal was finished they made signs to him to come with them. Gathering up his belongings, for he was afraid to leave them, he followed.
The blacks' camp was by a waterhole. To Reynell, remembering the flower-clad homes of the South Sea Islands, these rough shelters of bark, leaning casually against a tree trunk, looked most miserable. Nomads were these people, he was to find out presently, with no need of a home. Their possessions were a few spears and throwing sticks, woomeras, while the very repulsive-looking women, whom he was not allowed to approach, counted as their own the neatly-made grass baskets so closely woven they would carry water.
There were some skins of animals about, some quite large.
Reynell looked at them with interest. He thought they were, perhaps, dangerous though, save the alligator he had seen further north, he had never in his life met a dangerous animal. But surely there must be dangerous animals in this vast land. He might learn of these people. Indeed he might learn many things of them. He would stay with them a day or two.
The first night he was anxious.
But no one molested him. Each unit, almost each individual, had a little fire for himself; only the children snuggled up to their mothers. When the darkness fell in the hills behind, he heard, as he had heard at other times, a quavering cry, weird, threatening, long drawn out, and he wondered—as he had wondered before—could it be wolves? Were the little fires protection against them. He had so considered this.
He followed the custom, only he made rather a larger fire, and made it a little apart. Yes, in view of that cry from the ranges he must certainly stay a day or two.
At the end of a day or two he had found out several things. That quavering cry, that sounded so terrifying, came from the dingo, the native dog. He did not hunt in packs but singly, and though he might be dangerous to a sick man alone, or a child if he were hungry, they did not fear him. They feared something intangible at night. He was rather inclined to think it was something not of this world. In that case he thought it did not concern him. He had plenty to trouble him without worrying about a ghostly enemy.
One trouble—and a pressing one—was that the blacks would not let him go. The moment he made a move away from them one or two of the bucks gently shepherded him back.
There was no mistaking their action. They intended he should say.
The Australian savage has always been the most improvident creature on earth, with scarcely an idea of personal property. Reynell might have rugs, skins, baskets; they gave him the best of everything they had to offer, eggs and meat and fish; they introduced him to the delights of wild honey—almost anything they had he was welcome to take save only a woman or a spear.
They wandered, hunting and fishing, along the coast, exactly the way he wished to go. The trouble was they went too slowly.
But he knew now, a valuable knowledge—exactly what would be most useful to him to know in this life, and he set himself diligently to learn their woodcraft. If they would not let him go, he would at least profit by his captivity.
Keen as he was to get on, he found much to interest him in this enforced companionship. Never had he dreamed it possible men could track as these men tracked. They could tell the movements of a man or beast, by the mere bending of a blade of grass. A hair, a broken leaf, a bent twig, a displaced stone, were as the opening of an encyclopaedia to them. His heart sank as he felt the impossibility of getting away from such experts. Still he persevered, learning, because each day brought its new lesson—but sometimes learning hopelessly.
Only not entirely despairing because he was in such rude health.
The weeks stretched into a month—two months. It seemed to him the last vestiges of civilization were dropping away from him. He was a savage of the savages. He could understand and make himself understood. He told them stories of the white men just like him they would find further south if they would only go on a little faster.
They listened. They shook their dirty heads, adorned with fish guts and other abominations to keep off the heat of the sun.
There was a river they told him they would arrive at presently. Across that they dare not go because it was the hunting ground of a fierce and strong tribe who objected to trespassers—forcibly. Arrived there they would turn north again. There would be a great feast and he, Daniel Reynell, should be initiated into the tribe. Then he might take a wife and be one of them.
That initiation, besides the loss of one of his excellent front teeth, included various unpleasant, not to say dangerous proceedings.
Reynell decided that he would not, with his own consent, take any part in that feast. Whatever happened he had to cross that river and risk the fierce strong tribe who objected to trespassers.
He was nearly mad with impatience and anxiety before they arrived at a great wide estuary. The tribe turned inland, skirting the shores. His heart sank when he found himself facing west going towards the heart of this great empty land. Suppose—suppose it was impossible to get further south.
Greatly to his content the estuary became a river.
He made his preparations. Every night he lay down with his gear ready for flight. At last, after a week's waiting, when the river had narrowed considerably, he decided that the time had come. In the morning his place should be vacant.
It was a still, warm night, without a moon. He made his camp, as usual, apart.
After a couple of hours he rose up softly. The glittering constellations of the southern heavens were, he felt, almost too bright for his purpose. He looked out over the camp. Each little dark humpy had a tiny fire in front of it, not because it was cold—it was pleasantly warm—but in all probability the inhabitants were sleeping soundly. It would be no darker.
Now was the time.
He only hoped that what they had told him was true, and they dared not cross the river. If they could he knew well enough he could not elude their vigilance for a moment. Also—it was a disquieting thought—he might easily come upon savages who would not be so amiably disposed to him.
But he had to risk something. Here he could stay no longer.
The night was full of sound. He could hear the river singing to itself. Occasionally there would be a splash, some nocturnal beast or fish, possibly an alligator. The thought made him shudder. But it did not turn him from his purpose. An owl hooted softly.
'M-o-r-e p-o-r-k! M-o-r-e-p-o-r-k!' cried another night bird again and again.
'Q-u-a-r-t p-o-t! Q-u-a-r-t p-o-t!' croaked the leader of the frog's chorus on a deep, low note. His call was taken up by the others in a higher key. He heard the pigeons sleepily murmuring to each other in the trees, and the quavering cry of the dingoes in the ranges behind. It was eerie in the extreme. Familiarity with conditions made him feel safe this side. Now, once more he was daring the unknown.
A branch broke in the bush behind, falling with a great crash.
Daniel Reynell gathered together all his possessions, for he knew that would keep his too exacting hosts closer in their lairs.
He slipped into the river, breaking up the dark mirror that reflected the shining stars on high. The water was not cold. He got across without any difficulty, and, clambering up on the other bank, the air that was soft and balmy caressed his naked body.
Now he was his own man again, better equipped, after his weeks of detention, to tackle the difficulties of a life in the wilds. Far better equipped. It had been a hard school, but he had learned much. If there were a settlement—plantations—and there must be—there must be—he would find it.
He thrust the thought of other savages aside. For the moment he was triumphant. He was freed from the unutterable dullness of savage life. Now once more he could progress swiftly. He had a strong sense of well-being. He set his face towards the east again, and made for the sea.
In a couple of days he was once more looking out over the Pacific. A little saddened, a little depressed. Then he cheered. The sparkling sea held a welcome for him. He was well to the south, and more capable of journeying in the bush than ever he had dreamed possible. He set out with high hopes. He must reach that plantation—that settlement, even if it were as far south as that pleasant land where the Bounty had lingered a day—ages ago it seemed to him—in another world.
'Joy and gladness shall be found
thanksgiving and the voice of melody.'
'The brute has gone!' Quested spoke sharply. 'Corporal what a devil possessed you to strike him.'
The corporal of Marines scratched his head.
'Sir, t'was the littlest tap,' he said perplexedly 'There's never a man in the regiment 'ud have heeded it. An' they're the cussedest, contrariest varmints——'
'But they do know their way through these woods, and I'm blest if any of the rest of us do.'
Quested was taken with the colony. Under Loveday's loving care, the vegetables, the wheat, the peach trees, the apricots and the vines he had brought from the Cape were prospering. She declared herself more than content with the little four-roomed cottage, with walls of grass trees plastered with mud, a roof of thatch, and windows guarded with the lattice of twigs. She knew now that Government House held the only floor in the colony, but she was satisfied with the skins her husband laid over the beaten earth. When her baby came, in March, she urged him to leave the Navy for good and throw in his lot in the new land.
She laughed very much at a sailor man on a farm, and made very merry indeed—privately—over the well-meant efforts of the Governor and his staff. The land was a good land. Her sailor man should not make the like mistakes if she could help it.
Joan followed in her footsteps at first. But she was a cleverer woman, more observant, so that she soon knew more than her teacher.
Presently, so well were they doing that the Governor allowed them, tentatively, and subject to the approval of the home authorities, to take up land at Rose Hill as a farm. Loveday, much as she hated to part with her, put Joan in the two-roomed hut to run the place, going there herself whenever occasion offered. Success to them was vital, and whom could they trust as they could trust Joan. She was better than any man, and she could manage men. Beautiful as she was, these two forgot to see her beauty. She had impressed upon them that she was capable and trustworthy. And Loveday loved her. When she found herself alone she always took the boy and had herself rowed up to Rose Hill to be with Joan. Besides the companionship she felt safer with her when her husband was away.
It was a happy man who went out with the Governor seeking some trace of the cattle lost by a careless herd soon after they were landed. Cows in this place would be a godsend. Quested, a family man now, had been urging this expedition ever since there had arrived the most precious of children in a land where every child was an asset.
With two black fellows as guides, they had gone on and on through the tall gum trees and feathery wattle and black currajong, wondering—wondering, for this was a new land and what might they not meet?
There was the Governor, gracious, kindly Phillip, a slim young Irish officer, Devereux by name; Quested, as a most interested settler, and a corporal's guard of marines.
They had seen no sign of the lost cattle, but the country was fair; lovely the man who had given up the Navy to settle was glad to think it. They were trusting the aborigines, taking but scant note of the way they had passed.
As the future Australians were to do through the years, they were travelling light, with besides the Governor's just one pack-horse for the equipment. Now the corporal had struck one of the guides, and these irresponsible people had incontinently departed, leaving the little expedition to shift for itself.
'Well, that settles it,' said the Governor. 'After all we have gone far enough. We must go back.'
It seemed simple enough. Just turn back in their tracks.
'And we must keep a bright look out,' opined Quested. 'Those Indians are treacherous brutes.'
'We'll follow the tracks of the horses.'
'Better get back to the waterhole where we spent last night,' said Governor Phillip, as so many, many men in the bush have said since.
'South by west, I think.' Quested looked up at the sky where the clouds were gathering. 'We can't be more than thirty miles from Rose Hill, at the very most.'
They none of them as yet were bushmen. Not one had grasped the difficulties of the country. Though the soil was loose, and here and there the horses had left traces, hoof marks and droppings, they soon lost all sign of them. By nightfall they were still seeking that waterhole, seeking it somewhat feverishly. They were weary, but they were also very thirsty. It was impossible to camp without water. Already their mouths were dry.
Here was the darkness upon them.
The grass grew in little tufts and tussocks, scanty beneath the great trees, whose spreading roots made walking a penance even when they could see the way.
They camped because they must. Phillip tried to cheer them with promise of what to-morrow would bring. But his words had little weight. This was the fourth night they had been out, and they had not intended to be away more than two at the very most.
By dawn the thirst was bad. Not a sign of their passing anywhere. Everyone was suffering, but the leaders had no remedy to suggest. They must make for the sea and follow down the coast. Eventually this must bring them to the settlement—if they could find water, and the country did not claim them as victims first.
The dawn came sullen—unlike a February dawn. It was as if some malicious devil were tormenting them, for it was unusual that the sky should be so overcast, the clouds so heavy, as to show no sign of the sun. Whichever way they looked aisles of giant trees, with their curious, long, blue-green scythe-shaped leaves, seemed to radiate from them. They were the centre of a circle from which they could not escape.
Monotonous! Terrifying! The air was heavy. The birds were silent. A magpie began his liquid note, and let it die into silence as if afraid; far in the distance a bell-bird called. It might have cheered them with hopes of civilization, but they had been taken in before; the parrots, blue and red and green, flew away into the bush and hushed their usual screaming; one or two lizards scuttered lazily out of their path; but nowhere could they see traces of their own passing yesterday. Their eyes were the blind eyes of civilization.
'We must go on,' said the Governor. 'It is no good sitting still.'
It would have been better than going, as they were, right out into the wilderness.
It was park-like country, with here and there a little undergrowth. Every now and again they came on a hollow where were tree ferns that rose out of a dense jungle of undergrowth; tea-tree, and supplejack, and hart's tongue, and dainty maidenhair. Everything was growing riotously; there was a damp smell of fragrant musk in the air that promised water. But they could find no water.
Again and again they came to such hollows. The sight of their freshness aggravated their thirst. 'Faith,' said Devereux, 'here's a patch of fern again. 'Tis good to look at, but——'
'We've passed that place before,' said Quested.
'We have. Now I come to think of it this is the fourth time we've passed it. See, here where the corporal sat down in this clump of maidenhair.'
'But that was this morning,' said the Governor.
'Yes. This morning. I'm afraid it was the first time we passed. I can only blame myself for being a fool.'
'We're witched,' cried the corporal. 'I've hearn on it afore. Black Davy, when he bolted, lost hisself, an' he said as he went round and round like a squirrel on a cage. He only tumbled to it when he come on his breeches he'd taken off an' left, being a bit off his head like. He'd a died only the Captain here comes across him. The country's bewitched.'
The Governor looked at Quested.
'It's true, sir.' He spoke reluctantly, for Black Davy had not been six miles from his own farm at Rose Hill. Incidentally he had started to go to China.
'Sit down,' said Phillip, dismounting, 'sit down. Let's take counsel together. Of course we are not bewitched.'
'Of course not,' echoed Quested, 'only careless. We must——'
He stopped. For he was not careless. He was incompetent to deal with such a country. Whichever way he looked he seemed to be looking down an aisle among the great trees. This to the right—this to the left—straight in front of him—they all looked equally possible. They couldn't be lost.
Yet all points of the compass couldn't be the right way.
The thirst was maddening.
He was chewing the astringent leaves, but his mouth was parched and dry. He stood there looking up at the heavy clouds overhead. Perhaps it would rain. That would save them for the moment.
But those clouds prevented him from knowing north from south; or from east or west for that matter.
The air was very heavy—and very still. Only the shrill stridulation of the cicadas seemed to emphasize the heat and the dryness.
'We will unload the pack-horse,' said Phillip's voice, carefully modulated, featureless like the country. He, like Quested, was afraid, for he, too, had those dear to him and dependent on him, though they were not in this country. 'We will put a halter round his neck and tie a note to his mane. He will go back to his stable.'
But there was no need to finish. It seemed to Quested as if he were emphasizing their desperate plight. Even if the horse went home and they raised a search party with black fellows as guides, what chance of their arriving in time? And their situation did not admit of delay. Men could not live long without water in this heat.
Fear clutched at Quested's heart. He had been in danger more than once, but this was a danger he felt himself incapable of grappling with. He was a child—they were all children in the grip of the wilds. The whole country was resenting the effort to fix on it the chains of civilization.
'Whatever we do must be done quickly,' said Phillip, taking out his pocket book and beginning to write in it.
They stripped the horse of all but a rope halter which they loosely knotted round his neck so that it could be easily grasped. They tied the white note in his mane so that it stood out markedly, not to be missed; they led him out and smacked him on the rump and so set him off. They cheered as they saw him disappearing into the trees.
Perhaps he would have better luck than they had.
How long would they have to wait? Should they still try and push on?
In half an hour that horse was back with them whinnying and rubbing his muzzle against his mate.
They looked at one another with something like consternation in their faces. What sort of a country was this? A horse that must be thirsty, given his freedom, and he would not go back to his stable, where his wants would be supplied. Men more conversant with the ways of beasts would have seen that this horse was no longer thirsty, and would have known how to make use of the fact.
'The darned place bewitches the bosses too,' said the corporal gloomily.
'Lead him out a little way, Quested,' suggested the Governor. 'Once he gets right away——'
Quested took the halter in his hand.
'Call to me,' he said, 'call to me.'
He did not understand how he could have gone in a circle and done it more than once—he who had a seaman's sense of direction. This bush was getting on his nerves. There was all this great wild land—and that little settlement that they could not find—set somewhere—somewhere——
They called. Down through the echoing aisles of great tree trunks came their voices,
'Quested! Mr. Quested! Captain Quested!'
Now so low that if he was to have any hope of finding his companions again he must turn back. He turned the horse's head the way he thought he ought to go; wound the halter round his neck; hit him a sounding blow; saw him jump forward.
Then he turned back and was glad and thankful when the calling voices, hoarse with thirst, rose loud on the air again.
'I have done the best I can,' he told them. 'The nag certainly started at a good pace. What next? Still for the sea?'
'It is all I can think of,' said Phillip.
They staggered on.
It was purposeless walking. Men who walked like that, thought Quested, were never likely to get anywhere. Chance could not favour them.
Then they heard behind them a rustling, the tramp of a horse.
It brought them to a full stop. All turned, facing the danger. Slack they were because they did not understand, but no cowards.
There, coming through the aisles of tree trunks, was the horse Quested had driven from him so short a time before.
But this time he did not come alone.
He was being led by a tall man with an opossum-skin rug slung round him. He walked as if the world belonged to him.
'He has brought the horse,' said Governor Phillip. 'Perhaps we can persuade him to take us——'
The man was advancing, a great broad-shouldered fellow, with a shock of fair curling hair and a beard that covered his chest.
A shout went up from the lost men.
On came Daniel Reynell.
At last! At last! At long last! He had arrived! These were men from the plantations! After all the toil—all the weariness—all the hope long deferred he had struck men from the tiny spot that lay in a vast waste of lonely land. His heart was beating to suffocation. His head was in a whirl. His knees trembled. He could not find his voice.
How long had he been alone? Six months? Seven months? More than seven months, surely, since he had seen a white face, heard a voice that spoke to him in the clear tones of his own people. It must be a dream. Or he must be going off his head, imagining the whole thing. For it seemed to him the man who was addressing him was Quested, the naval lieutenant whom he had last seen standing besides the scales with Loveday Corthew, long, long ago in Polperro, at the other end of the world!
Was he mad? Had loneliness reduced him to this?
He tried to speak to reassure himself. But so much was at stake his voice broke, and died away in something like a sob.
'A white savage!' cried the Governor in surprise, and broke the spell.
'The devil!' cried Quested.
Reynell's heart missed a beat. It was not a dream then. He was not mad. This was Quested!
'Bejabers!' said Devereux, 'it wouldn't be meself 'ud like to be meetin' the likes av him by me lonesome.'
Then Reynell found his tongue.
'I'm no savage,' said he, 'only a castaway at your service. The real savages have been following you for a couple of days. They sent and let me know you were here.' His voice was shaking. 'Is this the settlement at Botany Bay Bligh told me to make for?'
Discipline was forgotten. All the little company broke into comment. One of Bligh's men! A castaway! He wanted help then more than they did! The disappointment was intense.
'The nearest house is at Rose Hill,' said the Governor, and he took credit to himself that he spoke calmly, and explained things courteously to this man who was putting off their only hope of rescue by bringing back the horse, 'all of thirty miles away. But we are lost. We hoped the horse would find his way to his stable and there they would see the note tied to his mane——'
Reynell looked at the horse. There was a red wound ploughed along his crest. It was only skin deep, but that white note had made an excellent target for a spear.
'The Indians have been watching you,' said Reynell. He drew a long sigh of relief. It would have been so very easy to have come upon the scene after the frightened savages had worked their will on these white strangers who were invading their hunting grounds. 'He never would have reached his stable. They would have speared him long before. Is the settlement really only thirty miles away? I have been hearing rumours of strangers—but I have been disappointed so often—I have hoped for so long——'
He could have flung himself on the ground and cried and sobbed like a child. And Quested——Was this Quested? He must put it to the test?
'Are you Lieutenant Quested?'
Quested stared at him, startled.
'Yes, of course. But how do you——?'
'And I am not dreaming! Do you remember the fish scales at Polperro? And the night when the wind came up from the south with a spring tide? Oh, but you were not there that night?'
'I—Polperro——We are dying of thirst and I am going off my head,' cried Quested.
'No. I can mend the thirst though, and I am Daniel Reynell, from Polperro. Didn't you hear of me? And now I come from the Great Barrier Reef, and before that from Bligh's ship, the Bounty. But how are you lost?'
'Get us to water,' came the Governor's eager voice, 'then we can explain things.'
'In twenty minutes,' said Reynell, 'less if you walk fast. Follow me, but don't meddle with the Indians. I don't think they will harm you now. They could have killed you any time they pleased these last two days. Your only chance would be to slip away in the dark.'
'Faith, it's far we'd get in the dark,' said Devereux. 'With all the daylight we could get we've tangled ourselves up nicely. And not so much as a hair have we seen of the Indians. It's scared we'd have been if we'd known they were on the watch without showing up.'
Quite simply and easily Reynell led them to a waterhole set in the midst of great blue gums. There were the waxen cups of waterlilies, blue and white, floating on its surface; there was fresh green maidenhair fern growing among the reeds and tall rushes on its banks. The parched men flung themselves face downwards and drank and drank.
Daniel Reynell come to life! What would Loveday say! But Quested did not doubt his wife's feelings.
'And now we can eat,' said Devereux. 'And then perhaps our preserver can show us the nearest way home.'
'Can you?' asked the Governor. 'But how should you, when we don't know the way ourselves?'
'But your tracks should be easily followed. I've been following them for half a day.'
'Impossible! We've lost them, or we didn't make any.'
'Oh, you made them. I've wasted some months of my life if I can't take you home.'
'Tell us how you came here,' suggested the Governor, as the corporal directed by young Devereux, spread out the scanty remnant of their food before them.
So Reynell, watching them eat, and eating when he was offered civilized food, told them the tale of his pressing; of the long voyage of the Bounty; of the shipping of the breadfruit: of the mutiny; of the long, long voyage in the boat, and then of his crime and its punishment. In proof of the truth of his statement he produced Bligh's letter.
Nothing he hid. He told the story to Phillip, but his eyes kept wandering to Quested; Quested who knew Polperro, who knew Loveday; Quested of whom he had been jealous.
He felt like a man in a dream.
He kept saying to himself, so far have I got. The very worst is over. I am on the home stretch. I am reaching the last port of call, and Loveday—Loveday——
Oh, Loveday filled all his thoughts. He wanted to ask Quested about her. But he had wanted so much he was shy now at mentioning her name. Besides, he had waited so long now he could wait a little longer for the opportunity that was sure to come.
She filled all Quested's thoughts, too. He could not but remember that unlucky engagement. Surely Reynell was not thinking of Loveday now, after all these years. Whatever he was thinking he could not rush at him and say,
'I have married the girl to whom you were engaged. She thought you were dead.'
He might have said that all Polperro had mourned him as dead, but somehow he didn't. He only felt uncomfortable and guilty. Yet he was thankful. This man said he could take them back. He remembered that day in Polperro when he had looked at his stalwart proportions and wanted him for the King's ships. So the King's ship had got him. And if he had not turned up in the very nick of time Loveday would surely have been a widow and her child—his child—fatherless.
'But how can you tell north from south when there is no sun, as there was none all yesterday?'
'Even you can tell on which side of the trees the sun falls once you think about it. See here. And here.'
So simple as that! Well, every thing is simple once you know the way. The way to tell this man he had married Loveday Corthew would perhaps come as simply if he waited. Possibly he, too, had forgotten. So strenuous a time must have driven all other desires from a man's heart. Those South Sea women were seductive. Reynell had acknowledged that.
But Loveday was charming, thought her loyal husband, thankful and feeling guilty at the same time.
'Be the powers,' said Devereux, 'I beg to suggest that we get this gentleman to display the tracking ability he talks of so lightly. It's meself is just wearying to be sure of seeing the farms at Rose Hill. Not that I'm doubting him,' he laughed, saluting Reynell, 'but it's trying time we've put in, an' I'd like to be sure.'
Reynell echoed his laugh. Now he came to think of it, he had not laughed aloud for a very long time.
'If you only knew,' he said, 'I'd like to be sure myself. I have hoped so long I can't help being afraid this may be all a dream. I'll wake to find myself by a black fellow's fire, or paddling along the Great Barrier. To meet Captain Quested here! And I saw him last in Polperro!'
Quested waved his hand.
'Will you lead then? We will follow.'
Could he have said, 'And Captain Quested has married your sweetheart?'
No. He couldn't. Alone, he would have found it difficult. Before these others it was distinctly impossible. All sorts of things stood in the way. Reynell was a lower deck hand, too. He did not like putting himself in the position of rival to a lower deck hand.
But he was so uncomfortable that he found himself managing that Reynell could not have speech alone with him.
The Governor marvelled at this man's skill. He showed them their own tracks when they doubted. Next day they found themselves in country that they, unobservant as they were, remembered. Towards late afternoon it was quite familiar. Reynell's own heart was beating high, for he saw at last signs he had looked for in vain ever since he had landed on Australian shores, the signs of the white man's presence, of his destroying hand. Never had such signs been so welcome.
'Rose Hill,' they cried with one voice.
Reynell sat clown, for he felt the earth rising up to hit his face.
He had come through. At last he had come through. It was no dream.
'You have tracked like an Indian himself,' said the Governor, much moved. 'How are we to thank you!'
'You need not thank me at all, sir. It is you who have done me a far greater service than ever I have done you. Any of the black fellows could have done the same had you asked them.'
'You must remember we didn't even know the Indians were there. I'm inclined to think we might have been somewhat alarmed if we had known it. To be watched without being able to get a glimpse of the watchers.'
He shrugged his shoulders. Governor Phillip had hoped great things for this colony. But more than once he had found himself up against circumstances that were too much for him.
'Faith,' said cheerful young Devereux, 'your lady'll be thanking this gentleman for bringing her husband back to her. Did you say she'd be waiting for us at Rose Hill?'
'And very anxious and troubled I'm afraid she'll be,' said Quested, carefully keeping his eyes from Reynell. 'I never thought to be away so long.'
So Quested was married! Good luck to him! And he had actually been jealous of him!
'I'd like,' said Reynell, smiling and turning to Quested, 'to get hold of some garments before you present me to your lady.'
'And where are we to get hold of anything to cover so fine a specimen of manhood in this poor colony,' mused the Governor. 'We'll have to appeal to Joan, I suppose, as usual.'
Yes, they really had arrived. These men were at their ease at last, making the little jokes that grow up in a family, that only please when men's minds are at rest.
And Quested said nothing. How could he indeed? It was an impossible situation. He was uneasy. Had this man forgotten? He was quite sure about Loveday. Only what would she say?
Reynell was walking on air.
'Many pastors have destroyed my
they have trodden my portion underfoot,
they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.'
Just as the sun was declining to his setting, from a little rise Daniel Reynell—thankfully—caught his first glimpse of the beginnings of the civilization from which he had been parted for so long.
It was a very humble beginning, really just a spoiling of a beautiful picture. The Parramatta River was at the very head of Port Jackson and there—just where the fresh water began—close down to it—for water was the great necessity of the settler—was a hut of slabs with a bark roof that Quested considered was a great advance on the ordinary roof of thatch. It was quite a large hut, as huts went in those days, ten feet by twenty, two rooms, with a little lean-to behind for a kitchen, and window places with shutters of wood, to be closed when it rained.
Some of the 'native trees' as they called the eucalyptus and wattle, had been cut down to build the hut and clear the place for a garden. About a couple of acres were surrounded by a rough bush fence of logs and odd roots and branches. It was February, and spite of all Joan's care some of the garden was a little parched though the part she managed to keep watered grew riotously.
There was the rich dark green of half-a-dozen little orange trees; the scent of their white bridal blossom was in the air; the little apricot and peach trees were in full leaf, with a fruit or two nestling among the greenery; there were some spikes of maize ready for cutting, and about an acre of wheat was already in stooks waiting to be stacked. It was a late harvest, but they were late with things for many a long day after the early pioneers, for they had a habit of regarding this country as the Antipodes, where things must be exactly opposite to what they were in England. Therefore had they arranged for their harvest to be in February which they considered the same as an English August. Even a sailor knows that August is the month for harvest.
Stock had not been forgotten. There was a black and white nanny goat tethered in one corner, and in another, carefully fenced off, some chickens were scratching. There were turkeys too, and tame ducks, and some geese on the river. A settler's home.
Reynell's heart beat high.
How thankful he was to see these crude beginnings, so thankful he had no words. But most of all did that little house appeal to him, the little house where Quested, the lucky beggar, had a wife. A geranium from the Cape climbed up the wall; one corner was smothered to the roof with its scented green leaves and scarlet flowers, while on the other side the close-growing vivid green of a dolichos creeper was even covering the bark roof itself with its mat of triangular pale green leaves.
'Ah!' cried the Governor, as they came on at a run, 'why, I declare there are ladies to welcome us! Mrs. Quested——'
The door had opened, and there came out into the evening sunlight a little woman, dainty in white muslin with cherry-coloured ribbons, and a tall and stately woman with a child in her arms. The little woman ran towards them with arms outstretched. There were traces of tears on her cheeks. But she looked glad and happy now.
'Oh, I have been so frightened, Captain Quested,' she called, 'but Joan said—Joan said——'
Reynell stopped still. Loveday! Loveday! Impossible! What should Loveday be doing here! He had dreamed of her so long that he saw her in the first white woman he had seen in three long years. He was thankful it was not Loveday. He would not meet her like a wild man of the woods.
Yet the girlish voice was ringing in his ears, prattling on.
The voice he knew so well.
'Oh I am thankful to see you! And his honour, too! We will do our best for him! And here is little Tom wearying to see his Daddy. And you so late! We thought it was going to rain and spoil your jaunt! And what a great Indian you have brought back with you! Oh, don't let him come near little Tom! Joan! Joan! have a care of my baby!'
So she thought he was one of the Indians! Her baby!
Could it possibly be Loveday? Her baby? Yes, surely it was Loveday. There could not be two people in the world so much alike. He knew all those little tricks with her hands, and the very toss of her head. That other tall and stately woman was surely Mrs. Quested. Lucky beggar Quested! If only he had not been such a scarecrow——
But how can a man clad in skins—inadequately clad, for the weather was hot, rush forward and claim a dainty little lady who apparently is unconscious of his existence, not only unconscious but quite content and happy, and very much taken up with another man?
The tall woman she called Joan must be Quested's wife. She must be. He would not let himself think anything else was possible.
But it was Loveday who flew across to him, caught his arm in both her hands, looked up at him with adoring eyes. The man looking on could not help seeing that. There was no other man in the world for the girl Daniel Reynell had been treasuring in his heart but Thomas Quested, some time captain in his Majesty's Navy, now, for love of her sweet face, settler in his Majesty's new colony of New South Wales.
Quested was utterly thankful. There would be no need of words, awkward explanations. His wife's attitude explained the situation. He never raised his eyes to Reynell, only bent over his wife, murmuring a little incoherently words of endearment such as seemed natural to the other men, seeing he had come back to her from the Gates of Death.
The Governor and young Devereux turned quite naturally to Joan.
It was she who saw; she who realized; she who knew.
The man she had loved dumbly and hopelessly in Cornwall had come here—here—was standing bewildered—looking on while his old love greeted her husband, telling him plainly—plainly that he held no place in her heart.
Joan did not know how it came about that he was there or what had happened. But she did grasp the important facts. And she was no longer the dumb, sullen, frightened girl who had stood by the fish scales afraid to assert herself, unable to help herself or anyone else—three years ago in Polperro.
She was a convict certainly. But she was a very beautiful young woman in a land where any woman was a precious possession. She was accustomed to make decisions and command. Even the Governor thought much of her. It never occurred to her to be shy now, to wait for someone else to act.
She put the baby in his mother's arms.
'Madam there is much to be done. Will you take little Tom?'
Loveday was very proud of her boy.
'Come to his mother, then, darling.' She held him up to the Governor, sure he would be admired.
'Here's my little Tom to welcome your honour, and to thank you for bringing his Daddy safe home again.'
Reynell, dumb, stunned, was listening.
He had been saved for this. To see Loveday holding up a child—her child—to a man she called his Daddy. Loveday happy, joyous even.
He heard a soft, rich voice addressing him, and looked into a pair of sea-blue eyes. A tall woman, a match for his own stature, a lovely woman, even in the midst of his stinging pain he thought her beautiful, this woman with masses of dusky hair growing a little low on her forehead, a clear creamy complexion, like a magnolia, and ripe red lips, who was addressing him.
'Daniel Reynell,' she said, and her voice shook.
For her pain was great, too. This was the man she had loved so faithfully, come to her out of the sea after three long years. She had come to the South Seas to meet him; deliberately chosen when she had not realized how shadowy was the hope she was building upon—and here he was looking with miserable eyes at the woman who had forgotten him long, long ago—the woman who had never really loved him.
She, Joan, was bound to remember she was a convict who had been sentenced to death.
'Yes,' he said dully, 'yes.'
That was Loveday there with the child in her arms. Surely the Loveday he had known had been more beautiful. This Loveday——
'You don't remember Joan, Joan of the Pilchard, Daniel Reynell. Your honour,' she curtseyed to the Governor, 'I knew Skipper Daniel Reynell in Polperro—in another world.'
Joan of the Pilchard talking like that! Joan of the Pilchard! He remembered her, but he could not connect her with this young woman!
He swore an astonished oath.
'I am mad, I think. It must be a dream!'
Whatever happened Joan was sure of herself.
'You remember you told me to take Dick Penrhyn's mare. I couldn't find him to ask so I took her. He caught me and gave me in charge for horse stealing. No one heeded what I said. No one would take my message. I was naught. She thought,' she dropped her voice, and the Governor turned away, 'you were dead, and she married Captain Quested. Come with me. I am sure I can find you some clothes.'
Well, clothes the Governor understood.
'That's right, Joan,' he said, 'we'll trust you to look after our preserver.'
'He couldn't be in better hands,' came Quested's cordial voice, warmer and more contented than it had yet been. Matters were explaining themselves very comfortably. 'Rout in the store, Joan. I'm sure you'll find something for our friend.'
He would not say his name—not yet. He did not want to startle his wife. He would tell her when he got her all to himself.
Once Joan had laid her hand on Reynell's feet and thrilled at the touch. She thrilled, as of old, as she laid her hand on his arm. She was shy but not at a loss.
'Do come,' she said. 'I can help you a little here, though I failed you that time.'
He was at a disadvantage, she was feeling keenly, standing there like a savage.
He followed her meekly. He was worn out. He had fought and struggled and endured, upheld by his one high hope. He had come through and it was dust and ashes in his mouth. The clouds gathered. The setting sun was hidden; there came a breath of wind from the south, and drops of rain fell on his head.
'It is going to rain,' said Joan, 'and, oh, the wheat is not in yet. Come in, come in. Captain Quested, sir. Can't the marines help stack the wheat? Job and Michael will never get it done in time, and 'tis a sin to let it spoil.'
'Forgive me,' she turned to Reynell, 'but the wheat is vital in this new country.'
'Of course. I can help.'
'Not at all,' came Quested's courteous voice. 'There are plenty of us. You have earned a little rest. Joan will find you a razor and cut your hair for you. She always cuts mine. And, Joan, there are some blue serge slops you might——'
'In the cedar chest,' said Loveday. 'Oh, Joan can manage all right.' She was looking at Reynell, and smiling kindly at him. 'Little Tom and I will give his Honour and Mr. Devereaux some rum to cheer them after their long journeying.'
Joan drew Reynell into the little lean-to she used as a kitchen.
'I know,' she spoke very tenderly. She did not know how tenderly. 'We come through things. I do not know how, but we do. There, sit down. I will trim your hair and your beard. Then there is hot water. You can wash and shave.'
Such a soft, soothing voice. She was kind—she was beautiful—this woman, Joan—Joan of the Pilchard. He had not thought of her for years save as a vehicle for carrying a message and doing it badly. To her own hurt apparently. But she had not been much hurt surely. He remembered a rough, surly, peasant girl. This woman——
She was very quick.
She got out the serge slops, very ordinary garments, but they seemed wonderful to him. She was deftly fitting, ripping—letting out and sewing, doing it—though he did not know it—with a great gladness in her heart. For this—for this—to serve this man had she been sent to the South Seas. For this she had improved herself, remembered her birth and early training—for this——
No. She would not look ahead, nor back in the past. What was the good of remembering far-off unhappy things.
She cut his hair and brought him her own brush and comb and little glass.
'Rather short,' she said, keeping a strong hand on herself, 'but it is so much more handy in this country. Now, there is a good lather, and I'll go out while you shave. Presently I'll bring you this jacket. It will serve. To-night I will make it better.'
He came out of that kitchen a different man. Joan drew in a quick breath and her heart stopped a beat. She had been right to love this man. If it never came to anything—if she walked lonely all her days—she had honoured herself by loving him.
Reynell held up his head. It was raining a little. But many hands had made light work. The marines with Quested, Job and the other assigned man had stacked that precious wheat, and were now drawing over the little stack the canvas that Quested had stored up so carefully against his first harvest home.
Because it was hot inside Loveday had put the rough table under the overhanging roof that made a sort of veranda and a protection from the falling rain. The lamp shed its yellow light on her happy face with the matronly white cap on her pretty curls. She had got over her emotion and was important, entertaining the Governor. Reynell stood and looked at her.
Then he looked at Joan, whom he could hardly see in the gathering darkness.
He hesitated a moment. Not so had he thought to meet his love again. It seemed to him his life was in ruins round him. Yet this was not the woman he had dreamed of.
'Get it over,' suggested Joan's quiet voice. 'Why not go and report yourself? If it had not been for you——'
He stepped forward into the lamplight, and, raising his hand to his forehead, saluted the Governor.
'Come on board, sir,' he said because he really could not think of what a man should say under the circumstances.
'Well done, Reynell,' said Phillip kindly, 'Joan has metamorphosed you. I knew she would.'
'Reynell!' cried Loveday.
He found himself being sorry for her. Surely he had done wrong to startle her like this.
But no. It had never gone deep enough to hurt her. In a moment she had recovered herself. She remembered she was a lady, the wife of a man who had been a captain in the Royal Navy. She must think for him her husband, the man she loved. She must bring no slur, even a passing one, on his name. But Daniel Reynell had been her childhood's friend. She could not remember when she had not known him.
'Oh, Daniel Reynell,' she cried again, 'where have you been? And we have mourned you for dead! And to think I thought you a savage! Forgive me!' She was half laughing, half crying. 'I cannot remember when I did not know Daniel Reynell, your honour. When I was a tiny child he made dolls for me.'
So that was the way she elected to take it! Not a word of their plighted faith; not a thought, apparently, of the wedding that was to have been on New Year's Day, 1788. All his longing, all his waiting, all his agony, were so much waste. They might never have been. Better for him if they had not been.
Quested was looking at his wife with tender eyes. A wife after his own heart! Not only a dear, loving little girl, but one who was capable of saving his face in what might have been an awkward situation.
Against his breast Reynell felt the pearl he had saved for her; to make life smooth and easy for her.
She wanted nothing from him.
Yes, she did. He saw in her eyes the fear that he would give her away, tell the Governor of the Colony, a man she wanted to stand well with, of their former relations. That was all that was left of the thing that had been his life. She was begging him to forget.
He took her outstretched hand lightly in his own and, stooping, laid a kiss upon it such as any gallant of the time might have done.
'I never thought to meet my little playmate grown into a great lady at this end of the world,' he said quite simply. 'They tell me I have given your husband back to you. Indeed I am glad that my long and dreary voyage was of so great a service to my old friend.'
Then she broke down, sobbing and clasping his hand in both hers.
'Oh, indeed, I can't thank you enough! If Captain Quested had never come back—and his honour says—Oh, Daniel Reynell——'
Was she not a pearl of a wife? Quested put his arm round her.
She turned and hid her face quite naturally on his shoulder.
'There, there, my dear. There is no need to cry now. Daniel Reynell, your honour, as I have already told you, was an important man in Polperro, skipper and owner of a fine brig. They had no right to press him. I had no hand in it. If I had known——'
He looked at Reynell and spoke very earnestly.
'All to get me out of a terrible mess apparently,' said the Governor genially. 'It was no ordinary man who could do that. By your leave, Captain Quested. We drink to you, Daniel Reynell, and you will drink with us. You must tell me what we can do to make your stay in this colony pleasant, for I fear there is no ship as yet to take you home.'
'I've been so long away,' said Reynell, stumbling a little in his speech, for he felt that the ship had lost her rudder, 'that it really seems as if a year more or less——'
'Ah, youth,' said the Governor a little enviously. But he should have known better. It is age that feels like that. 'Well, here are our grateful thanks to you, Daniel Reynell.'
Very gravely he stood up and drank a toast.
'You have saved the lives of eight men. If you want anything that it is in my power to give you I can assure you I am at your service.'
What he wanted was the years he had wasted longing for the woman who was leaning her head on her husband's shoulder, looking at him contentedly from that vantage point.
'I thank your honour,' he said, lifting the glass the Governor had filled to his lips. 'For the moment I feel I have had as much as any man could want.'
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