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I answered that it would be very unusual if we met with another gale, as this was not hurricane month. The air,' said I, 'is very thick, but a little wind may scatter that, and expose the blue sky again, which I for one shall be glad to see.'
'The motion of the yacht is much less violent than it was,' said Sir Mordaunt. The swell goes down fast, thank Heaven.'
'Walton,' cried Norie, you do not catch me coming to sea again. An old sailor once said to me, Master, a square foot of dry land is better than an acre of shipboard." And often did that observation rise in my mind whilst I was praying in the gale, and wondering how long a stout young fellow like me would take to
If your fright was so great, I wonder your hair preserved its colour,' said Miss Tuke.
'My fright was very great; I don't deny it. Several times I thought we had upset,' he answered.
"That's an honest admission for our friend to make in the face of such courage as you and Mrs. Stretton showed,' said I to Miss Tuke.
'The bravery was Mrs. Stretton's,' she answered. Had she not encouraged me, I should have been as frightened as Mr. Norie.'
The fog must be upon us,' said the baronet. How uncommonly dark the cabin has become.'
'Hark! What are they doing on deck?' cried Norie, whose nerves were in a condition to be easily alarmed.
Making sail,' I answered, hearing the tramp of feet and the sounds of coils of running gear flung down. There is a breeze coming, or arrived.'
In a few moments the vessel heeled over to starboard, sure evidence that canvas was on her and that wind was blowing. The inclination greatly steadied her, and there was a sensation of buoyancy in her movements as she swung over the swell.
'Can you read that tell-tale over your head, Sir Mordaunt?' I called out.
He stood up and looked at the compass with a pair of glasses. that dangled on his waistcoat. The gloom was so deep that he had' some difficulty to decipher the points. After a little, he said — "We are heading south-east-by-east.'
I reflected, and said
That is not our course. Tripshore should be advised not to make any southing. We have a whole nest of islands under our lee." He interrupted me.
'Let us go on deck, Walton, and see what they are about.'
I threw down my knife and fork, and ran for my hat. Had it not been for the tepid temperature, emerging through the companion into the open air would have been like shooting into a London November day. The mist was as thick as smoke, greyish rather than white, owing to the sun being buried; and had you flung a bis
cuit over the yacht's side, it would have disappeared before it touched the water, so short was the span of visible sea from the yacht to the concealing folds of vapour. The mist was like a driving rain, and the decks were dark with the saturation of it. The breeze was sweeping the vapour in masses along with it, and whitening the close water with streaks and glancings of foam. The yacht was close-hauled. They had set the double-reefed mainsail and standing and outer jibs, and this canvas was as flat as pancakes under the tautly-bowsed sheets. Indeed, our main boom was very nearly amidships. The scud of the head swell stopped the schooner's way, and she was jammed too close to the wind to take much propulsion from the canvas that was stretched like drum-skins fore and aft her. I was bitterly vexed to find the wind sticking in the east. Tripshore came up to us the moment we appeared.
'Do you think you are wise in making any southing?' I asked him.
'Why, sir,' he answered, "if Mr. Purchase's reckoning is right,. we have plenty of sea room with our head at this.'
'But Mr. Walton is persuaded that we are further to the westward than Purchase allows,' said Sir Mordaunt.
'Give the matter a moment's consideration, Tripshore,' said I. 'Will you agree with Purchase that our drift during the gale was only thirty miles?'
'I'm agreeable to double that, sir,' he answered. then there's nothing in the way, heading as we go.'
'Fetch the chart,' exclaimed Sir Mordaunt. 'There's only one road to be taken-and that's the right one.'
The man quitted the deck, and I walked aft, to see what leeway we were making. The wake was short, broad, and oily, and veered away on our weather quarter. With my hand upon the compass. card, I made it about two points. This was as much leeway as one would look for in a ship under close-reefed topsails. It did not surprise me, however. I knew, under certain conditions, that few schooners could hold their own on a wind better than the 'Lady Maud,' but the luff choked her. She was under small canvas, and, looking as she was almost right in the wind's eye, it was wonderful that she made any headway at all.
To save this leeway, I thought it would be advisable to ease off the sheets a trifle; but the responsibility of making any suggestion in the midst of weather as thick as mud, and in the face of my complete doubts of Purchase's accuracy as to the position he affirmed us to be in, weighed down my anxiety, and determined me to hold my peace for the present. The weather, I said to myself, may clear before nightfall, and then I shall be able to find out where
After a brief absence, Tripshore returned with the chart. We laid it upon the skylight and bent over it.
You see, sir,' said the mate to me, if Mr. Purchase be out
even by three times the drift he allows for, this here course of southeast-by-east heads us well into the open, away from that there raffle,' indicating the Bahama group to the south of Providence Channel.
'But suppose our longitude should be to the west of 74°?' said I 'Go and look over the stern and mark the leeway, and then take notice of this island,' pointing to the island of San Salvador.
'Ay, Walton,' exclaimed Sir Mordaunt; but why do you want to give us so much west longitude. Allowing that Purchase is out as far as you say, you don't believe that he is further out still?'
'I don't know,' said I. 'I have no faith in his calculations. Who can swear that his latitude is right?'
Sir Mordaunt peered at the chart, and then said
'What do you propose, Walton?'
'Since you ask me plump,' I answered, 'I should like to see the yacht on the starboard tack.'
That 'ud be running away from where you want to go to, sir, wouldn't it?' said Tripshore, smiling, and speaking as if he thought me needlessly nervous.
"We certainly don't want to do that,' cried Sir Mordaunt, quickly. 'We must get to Kingston as soon as ever we can.'
I made no answer to this. Though Tripshore meant no offence whatever by smiling, he had annoyed me, nevertheless, by doing so.
'Go and call Purchase up,' said Sir Mordaunt to the mate, and tell him to bring the log-book, that we may go into the matter thoroughly. The fellow is not too drunk, I suppose, to explain his workings,' he added aside to me.
I noticed that the mate hesitated.
'Cut along now, Tripshore!' exclaimed the baronet, impatiently. This is an anxious time, and I must have Purchase on deck.'
The man went away. At this juncture Miss Tuke and Norie showed their heads above the companion.
'Don't come on deck, Ada, don't come on deck!' instantly called out Sir Mordaunt. This mist will wet you through. Norie, oblige me by handing my niece below; and keep the ladies amused there, will you?'
With pleasure,' answered the doctor. But I say, Sir Mordaunt, if it's too damp for us, it's too damp for you and that fragile creature Walton. The air is full of rheumatism."
'Yes, yes; we'll be following you shortly. Away with you, Ada.' And as they disappeared he said, 'I don't want them to suspect any grounds for anxiety. My wife knows that the gale is gone, and is much easier in her mind. Ada's eyes are like a carpenter's drill. And faith, Walton, she does not need to be so sharp either, for your face looks as full of trouble as an egg is full of meat.'
'I am bothered,' I answered. It's a devilish bad job, Sir Mordaunt, to be with a skipper you can't trust, and whose calculations you are sure are wrong, in weather of this kind, and with those
And do you
leagues of Bahama Islands dead to leeward of us. know, the wind freshens. It's breezed up since we have been on deck.'
"Why doesn't Purchase come?' he exclaimed impatiently.
Just then the mate came along. He looked greatly worried, but without any hesitation he marched up to Sir Mordaunt and said, 'I'm sorry to say I can't rouse Mr. Purchase up, sir.'
Sir Mordaunt looked at him with astonishment, and then muttered, 'It's too bad! it's too bad!'
'Has he been drinking since he went below, Tripshore?' I asked.
'He has, sir. His cabin is full of the smell of liquor. It's not pleasant for me to peach on a shipmate, but if ye'll go below, gentlemen, you'll see it all with your own eyes. He bargained for a four hours' spell, and has nipt fit to last him that time.'
Sir Mordaunt took two or three impetuous strides. "What's to be done?' he said, confronting me.
'What's to be done?' I ejaculated, almost contemptuously, I fear. Why, break the drunken rascal out of hand, and take care to set the Board of Trade at him when you get ashore; so that, by depriving the incompetent 'longshoreman of his certificate, you may put it out of his power to imperil human life.'
My poor friend eyed me anxiously, and then turned to the
and was about to speak.
For God's sake let us have no refusal,' cried Sir Mordaunt, quickly. Mr. Walton will navigate the vessel.'
The run is only to Jamaica, Mr. Tripshore,' said I. week of sailing at the outside, I hope. If you like, I will keep watch and watch with you. Sir Mordaunt knows I have had confidence in you as a seaman from the beginning. You owe me something for my good opinion, so oblige me by giving the baronet the answer he wants.'
The man still hung in the wind; but after thinking a little, he said, 'All right, sir. I'll take charge. You may depend on my doing my best."
At four o'clock the watch below will be turned up, Sir Mordaunt,' said I, and the crew had then better lay aft, that they may be told of the new arrangement.'
'Certainly. Do whatever you think proper,' he answered, looking harassed to death by this new bother.
I went below to consult the glass, but it offered no promise of improvement in the weather. Norie and Miss Tuke sat in the cabin, and the former wanted to know why Sir Mordaunt and I kept in the drizzle. I made some answer and went up the steps, envious enough
of the doctor's quiet enjoyment of Miss Ada's company to make me willing to call him aside and alarm him with a representation of our situation, and so stop his pleasure.
I went over to the chart again, and studied it attentively for some time, whilst Sir Mordaunt stood talking with Tripshore. The real trouble to me was, not being able to depend upon the observations Purchase had taken on the day before the gale. It is necessary that I should dwell upon this, that the sequel may be clear to you. Could I have been sure that his sights on that day were accurate, I should have been able to work out our position by the dead reckoning of those stormy days, so as to come near enough to the truth. But how was I to trust such data as an illiterate seaman like Purchase could furnish me with from his sextant? A trifling error by being repeated would bring him fearfully wide of the mark in a corner of the Atlantic that is studded with dangerous reefs and lowlying islands. I own I now sincerely deplored my want of resolution in not insisting upon checking the man's calculations by observations of my own. I had acted mistakenly in suffering Sir Mordaunt to put me off discharging what was a duty owing to every person in that yacht by his weak and unwise tenderness for Purchase's 'feelings.' And I was also greatly to blame in not having ascertained the latitude and longitude from the steamer into which the rescued men had been conveyed, so that we might have compared her reckoning with Purchase's.
But ten years' absence from sea had very greatly disqualified me professionally, as any man may suppose; and the weight of my present responsibility was not a little increased by this sense of my deficiency.
My disposition now was to put the schooner on the starboard tack. With her head at north-east, the whole clear North Atlantic (as I then believed) would be under our bows. Yet Sir Mordaunt's unwillingness to go north when our way lay south influenced me in spite of myself, and I could not forget Tripshore's quiet smile that was like ridiculing my anxiety.
I rolled up the chart, and going over to the mate, advised him to ke a heave of the lead.
'Very good, sir,' he answered, and went forward to give the necessary instructions.
After a little the deep-sea lead was got up, and the line stretched along. The vessel's way was stopped by her head being shoved into the wind and the lead dropped overboard. The Watch O watch!' rang mournfully on the breeze as the fakes fell from the men's hands, until it came to Tripshore, who was stationed right aft. Seventyfour fathoms went overboard without giving us any soundings-hard upon four hundred and fifty feet, and no bottom.
'That looks as if the ocean was still under us, sir,' said the mate cheerfully, as the line was snatched in a block, and the watch tailed on to haul it in.