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THE LADY MAUD.'
TIL the morning of the
th of July, that day making it over
five weeks since we had sailed from Southampton, nothing happened that is worth recording. But on that morning the 'Lady Maud,' being then under a mainsail, foresail, and two jibs, the wind to the northward-of-east, and fresh, a squall blew up, and half an hour after a heavy gale of wind had stripped us of every fragment of canvas, saving the close-reefed foresail; but the wind increasing in fury, this had to be furled, and we lay breasting the monstrous seas under bare poles, our topmasts struck, and the yards on deck.
Taking it altogether, the gale was as fierce a one of its kind as ever I can remember; never indeed approaching the force of a cyclone, though at midnight it came very near to being a hurricane. For hours and hours the ocean was like wool and the sky like ink. The heavy seas which rolled up carried the yacht bodily away to the westward, and I reckoned that the average drift of the vessel was not less than one and three-quarter nautical miles an hour for hard upon seventy-two hours of storm.
The gale blew for three days, and they were the worst three days that ever I had passed. The Lady Maud,' though a powerful boat, and large for her class, was but a small craft to fight such a sea as then ran; nor did she make the weather we might have hoped from her beam and sheer. There were times when her plunges left nothing of her visible but her after-deck down to a few feet before the mainmast; she looked to be smothered in a boiling cauldron; and one of those seas tore up the whole length of starboard hencoops, and shot the fragments overboard like a flight of arrows, and robbed us of two dozens of fine poultry.
Our condition below was truly pitiable. It was the worst part of the storm. The gale was like a sirocco for the temperature of it, and the cabin, with the skylight closed and the companion shut to prevent the water from washing down, was hot enough to bake a joint in. But add to this intolerable atmosphere the frightful pitching, No. 631 (xo. CLI. N. s.)
the sensation of being shot into the air with terrific force and velocity, and then falling with such headlong, sickeningly swift descent, as to make you hold your breath, with the belief that the hull would split open as it crashed into the deafening hollow; whilst the whole fabric rang with the howling and roaring of the tormented seas outside, and the furious blast raged along the dark sky; and every now and again there would be a deadly pause in the yacht's motion after one of her wild plunges, as if the sea she had shipped over her bows, and that had washed aft in a tempest of foam, had proved too much for her, and she was going down. Add this, I say!
No skill, no experience was of any avail at a time like this. The yacht lay to under bare poles, and the helm lashed, and whoever happened to be on deck to watch her stood right aft, for the seas which swept the forecastle made that part of the vessel as perilous as a raft, and no man could have stayed there without being lashed; nay, even then he would have stood the chance of being drowned by the perpetual flying of water over him.
But our miserable condition below was lamentably aggravated by Lady Brookes' agony of apprehension. I believe, had the gale lasted another day, she would have died outright of fright. No food that I heard of passed her lips. She lay upon her swinging bed, moaning and screaming, until the power of making those noises failed her. At one period, indeed, her mind grew deranged, for I afterwards learnt that she had charged her husband with bringing her on this voyage merely to kill her, and stormed and raved at him, until he ran in a state of distraction from her cabin.
His distress was truly deplorable. Between the horror of the gale on one hand, and the alarming state of his wife on the other, he lost all nerve. I remember on one of those evenings being alone in the cabin, listening to the terrifying and thrilling bursting of the seas against the groaning, struggling, staggering hull, and very gravely doubting whether any of us would ever see the sun rise again, when Sir Mordaunt came through the door that led to the sleeping berths, and passing his arm round an iron stanchion, stood looking at me without speaking a word, and his face as white as death. There was an expression of horror in his eyes which made them singularly brilliant and affecting to see, and I then took notice that he appeared to have aged by at least ten years since the morning.
Come, come,' I exclaimed, encouragingly, let us keep up our hearts, if only for the sake of the women. You know Jack's old saying-" ing "While she creaks she holds.""
That may be,' he replied, in a wild manner; but oh, Walton, it's killing my wife! it's killing her! it's killing her!' he repeated. As I had not seen her, she having kept her cabin from the first hour of the gale, I could not offer an opinion; but had she been anybody else but his wife, I believe I should have told him that a woman who could make such a hullabaloo as she had raised was not a person to die off in a hurry.
'Oh, Walton,' he continued, it's a dreadful blow to have my cherished hopes defeated in this way. I brought her against her will, and yet God knows I acted as I thought for the best. Even should this miserable gale leave us alive, it will have upset all the good she has derived from the cruise.'
'I should strongly recommend you,' said I, 'to abandon all thoughts of returning home in the "Lady Maud." Your wisest course will be to land your wife at Kingston, and accompany her to England in one of the mail steamers. It is quite clear that Lady Brookes' nerves will not suffer her to receive any benefit from the sea.'
And can you be surprised?' he cried. Feel this now!' and as he spoke, the yacht seemed to jump clean out of the water, reeling in her somersault until the edge of the swinging-trays touched the upper deck, and I, from the port side of the cabin, looked down at Sir Mordaunt as though my head was out of window and I was surveying a man on the pavement below. And then came one of those falls which always filled me with dread. The crash of the hull striking the water was as heart-shaking as the explosion of a great piece of ordnance, and the thunder of the near surges roared like the echo of the report. The deadly pause followed; you could have heard the foam upon the deck seething and hissing to the very doors of the companion, and presently, when the brave little vessel lifted again, my face was wet with sweat. Ay, call me what name you please, my fine fellow; but had you sat in that stifling cabin, and felt that prodigious heave and fall, and waited through that frightful pause to see if she would lift again, you must have a stronger head and heart than I, not to have perspired at every pore as I did.
It was impossible to go on talking. Even the few sentences we had exchanged had to be shouted, so wild and mixed were the sounds in the cabin. Norie lay sick and stupefied in his bunk; he had been there since the preceding day. Miss Tuke and Mrs. Stretton were with Lady Brookes. The widow, I had heard from Sir Mordaunt, had been unremitting in her attentions to her ladyship, and Miss Tuke had borne herself with great courage. Indeed, these two women were the real heroes of that gale; we men made but poor figures by comparison.
But to cut this part of my log short: the gale left us at noon on a day that made three days of furious storm. The wind fined down with astonishing rapidity. It seemed, indeed, to drop completely and at once. I went on deck to look about me, and stood transfixed and absolutely awed by the appearance of the swell. The height and power of the liquid mountains pass all power of description in words. The monstrous acclivities took their colour from the sky, and wore the appearance of molten lead. They poured their gigantic folds along without a break of foam to relieve the livid, heaving, unnatural aspect; and such was the rolling of the yacht, that with every dip of her gunwales she seemed to lay her masts along the
water, and it was as much as a man's life was worth for him to let go his hold.
Figure such a sea, without a breath of air to ruffle the gigantic oil-smooth coils! The small rise in the glass did not encourage me to believe that we were going to have it all our own way yet. Clinging to the companion, I gazed around me, to see what damage the gale had done us. Forward I could trace no mischief beyond the loss of the hencoops; but, on looking at the davits, I saw that the fine quarter-boat with which we had rescued the survivors of the barque's crew had been smashed to pieces-she was no more than a mere skeleton, the stem and stern-posts hanging by the tackles. But the long boat amidships on chocks was safe, though it was strange that it should have escaped the seas which had washed over the bows.
The first to come on deck was Sir Mordaunt. around him with the utmost astonishment.
He stood looking
I can hardly credit my senses!' he exclaimed. Why, just now it was blowing fit to tear the masts out! Is this only a lull, Walton? It may burst upon us from another quarter in a minute.' 'I hope not,' said I, and I hardly think so. Once in my experience it was in my first voyage-a gale left us as this has done, blew itself clean out, and fell dead. But I remember that it left a better sky than that,' I continued, casting my eye on the sooty stooping pall, and noticing the gradual thickening up of the horizon all round.
'How frightfully the yacht rolls!' he cried. 'I hope we may not swing our masts overboard. To be reduced to a sheer hulk would about complete the misery of the last three days.'
'No fear of that,' I answered, with those topmasts housed and those preventer backstays set up. Is that your doing, Mr. Tripshore?' I called, pointing to those additional supports to the masts, and addressing the mate, who stood holding on to one of the belaying pins which girdled the foot of the mainmast.
'Yes, sir,' he replied, and they're all wanted. If there was any chance of this here tumbling lasting, I don't know but what I'd recommend Mr. Purchase to swifter in the rigging. But now the wind's gone the swell will go too.'
'Are we booked for any more bad weather, think you?' asked Sir Mordaunt.
'Well, it's hard to say, sir,' said the mate, throwing a look round.. 'It's drawing on thick, but if any wind comes, it won't come hard whilst that fog hangs.'
6 Below, sir, working out his dead reckoning.'
'We ought to know what he makes it,' said I. We've been blown by a long slant to the westwards, and if the last observation he took four days since, mind-was correct, his course should be due east until he can get sights.'