Imágenes de páginas

deck for half an hour, the sight of the rich, comfortable, bright cabin, as I saw it through the skylight, tempted me beyond resistance. I waited until another heave of the lead assured me that there was nothing to be felt at eighty fathoms, and then I went below.

I believe our going below and sitting in the cabin reassured Miss Tuke. Besides, I was cheerful enough now that I had had my way, and Sir Mordaunt was likewise heartier and brighter in manner, as though his mind took its posture from my behaviour. They say that coming events cast their shadows before; but I can answer for our little company aft that not for a fortnight past had we been in a calmer and pleasanter mood. Besides, there was good news from Lady Brookes' cabin. Her spirits had recovered something of their tone, the smoother passage of the vessel had briskened her up, and Sir Mordaunt said that if the weather was fine to-morrow he hoped to have her on deck.

We were all careful to keep our conversation away from topics likely to recall what we did not wish to remember-the death of the mastiff, the water-logged barque, the terrible gale we had been struggling with. We talked chiefly of England, how strange it was to be without newspapers, and not to know what had happened in the time we had been away.


'Yes,' says Norie, think of the accumulated by the time we return.

mass of news that will have Most of it we shall never hear.' 'All my dresses will have become old-fashioned,' said Miss Tuke. 'How do the ladies dress in the West Indies, Mrs. Stretton ?'

'In the newest styles,' she answered. But I believe they look for their fashions to New Orleans and the American cities.'

"Who import them from Paris,' said Sir Mordaunt. So, Ada, you'll not find yourself behind.'

'But you'll give us no time for judging, Uncle Mordaunt,' exclaimed Miss Tuke.

'Well, well, never mind about that now,' said he. And then looking up at the compass, he turned to me and said, Is this part of the Atlantic much frequented by vessels, Walton?'

'Not just hereabouts, I fancy. We're too far north for the West Indian steamers, and hardly in the track, I should say, for vessels bound to the Gulf.'

'Pray let us talk of dress,' exclaimed Norie. 'We've been so fearfully nautical lately, that it's quite a relief to think of shops and shore matters. Mrs. Stretton, you were saying-.' - And here we jabbered about West India dress fashions, and so plied the poor woman with questions that presently we were all talking about dress.

In this way passed the evening, until Miss Tuke, looking at her watch, said it was ten o'clock, and that she would go to her aunt and then to bed. Mrs. Stretton and she then wished us good night, and withdrew. Shortly afterwards Norie, who never showed any disposition to linger over the grog when Miss Tuke was gone, delivered himself of a loud yawn, shook hands, and went to his cabin. Sir Mor

daunt lighted a cigar, I a pipe, and we sat for a while smoking in silence, listening to the stifled hissing of the water washing along the sides of the yacht, and to the straining of the bulkheads as the vessel rose and sank.

Presently, and without speaking, the baronet went to the foot of the companion steps and looked up.

[ocr errors]

The night remains terribly dark,' said he, coming back. I had hoped to see a star. Surely such a fog as this must be very unusual here at this time of the year.'


You must be surprised at nothing that happens in the way of weather at sea,' I replied. "I remember the master of a brig telling me that he once made a voyage from London to Barbadoes without meeting with the North-East Trades.'

This dreadful thickness makes one think of collisions, Walton.' 'I suspected that was in your mind,' said I, 'when you asked me that question about this part of the Atlantic being frequented by ships.'

But what do you think?' he inquired nervously.

'I should not allow any fear of that kind to trouble me,' I replied. 'The odds are a thousand to one against a collision in a great sea like this.'

"You always put a hearty face on those ideas,' he said, relaxing. 'No doubt you are right; but this last week has tried me severely. Purchase, too, has worried me greatly; and such is my mood at this moment, that I would gladly give five hundred pounds to be safe in harbour at Kingston or anywhere else.'

'I hoped you had recovered your spirits,' said I, grieved by this breaking down in him. You have been very cheerful for the last hour or two.'

He filled a tumbler with brandy and water, and swallowed a copious draught, and then sat silent, uneasily combing down bis beard with his fingers, and holding his extinguished cigar, which he looked at without relighting.

'Shall you go on deck again?'

I answered, 'Yes, to have a last look round.'

He glanced at the skylight, as if he had a mind to go too; but, guessing his intention, I advised him to keep below, to go to bed indeed. The chances are,' said I, 'that when you wake the sky will be blue, and the yacht buzzing merrily along under a bright sun to Jamaica.'

[ocr errors]

'Ay,' said he, but do Tripshore and Burton know the course.' 'The schooner is in my hands,' said I. Only let the sun shine, and I'll engage that Tripshore and Burton run the vessel correctly. While this fog and this wind hold, we have nothing to do but to keep as we go.'

He looked at me with a musing expression, and then, holding forth his hand, he said, 'Very well, Walton; I'll obey your orders and go to bed. I commit our safety to you and Tripshore.'

We shook hands cordially, and he went along the cabin, pausing, when under the skylight, to look out, and then closing the door softly after him.

I put on my waterproof coat and went on deck. It wanted twenty minutes to eleven. I thought the fog had thinned somewhat, and I crossed the deck to look to windward. Yet though the mist was undoubtedly less dense, gazing over the side was like staring at a black wall. The driving fog of fine rain made my eyes tingle, for the wind was strong, though so warm that it felt like the gushing of air from the engine-room of a steamer. Nothing of the water was visible but the boiling foam churned up by the yacht's bows thickly interlaced with long fibres of phosphorescent light. Sometimes, when a wave broke a short distance from the vessel, the flash of its foaming crest shone out through the mist, but nothing else of it was distinguishable.

Burton was in charge. I called to him, and told him that he must keep the schooner heading as she went. Let her lie as close

I would rather she

as she'll ratch,' said I, 'and shake it out of her. crawled than ran, until the horizon clears. Those will be your instructions to Tripshore.'

'Right, sir.'

'How many men have you on the look-out?' 'Two, sir.'

'Do your lights burn brightly?'

'I was forward just now, and they're as bright as the mist 'll let 'em be.'

'Tell Tripshore to see to that, will you? and to keep a sharp look-out. I'd give a deal of money, Burton, to know within ten miles where we are. This fog is a bad job after our long westerly drift. Have you any notion of the currents hereabouts?'

'No, sir,' he answered. But we should be right as we go. I was looking at the chart along with Mr. Tripshore, and it shows northen but open water to the east'ards.'

'I shall be up and down all night,' said I. 'I may take some rest upon one of the cabin lockers, ready for a call. It may clear up suddenly, and you or Tripshore must have me up at the first sight of a star. Add that to your instructions, lest I forget to tell him.'

We stood talking thus, and flitting about the deck, stopping now and again for five minutes at a time to look ahead into the pitchblack void, straining our eyes against the needle-like rain, in the hope of catching sight of a flaw, to let us know that the mist was breaking, until eight bells-midnight-were struck. The men forward thumped the fore-hatch, and bawled to the watch below to rouse out. Tripshore came aft. We heard him calling, otherwise we should not have known he was on deck.

'Here!' answered Burton.

The mate, groping his way in the direction of the man's voice, walked up against me.

'Is this Burton?' says he, feeling me, as a blind man would. 'No,' I answered; he's to the left of me.'

He begged my pardon, and said, "That scowbank of a steward's turned down the cabin lights. Had he let 'em a be, the sheen of the skylight would have helped a man to see. It's like being smothered up in a blanket, Bill. I plumped agin the mainmast as I came along, and allow I've lifted a bump the size of a hen's egg over my right eye.'

Burton repeated my instructions, and, after hanging about us a few minutes, wished us good-night and went below.

I was weary enough myself. A man usually is when he would rather not feel sleepy. The ten years I had spent away from the sea had robbed me of the old seasoning. The wet and the wind bothered and tried me. Nevertheless I remained on deck another hour, occasionally conversing with Tripshore, but for the main part hanging over the rail, first to windward, then to leeward, vainly striving to see a fathom beyond my nose, and watching for the want of something to rest the sight upon and relieve it from the oppression of the heavy darkness-the pallid quivering of the rushing foam alongside, until the play of it, and the shooting and throbbing of the whirling fires in it, made my eyes reel.

Even if I had not been predisposed to lowness of spirits, this spell of loneliness, and the foul black weather, and the groaning and moaning of the invisible deep, with now and again the shriek of a block-sheave high aloft, and the hollow flap of the hidden canvas, and the numerous disturbing and startling sounds which were jerked out of the rigging and spars in the blackness overhead by the sharp yerking and jumping of the schooner, were quite enough to depress me.

But at last my eyelids felt as if they were made of lead. Once, while looking over the lee rail, I found myself dropping asleep, and awoke with a kind of horror at the closeness of the hissing foam. I could resist the inclination to sleep no longer, and, calling to Tripshore, told him I was going to lie down in the cabin, and that he would find me on one of the lockers on the port side coming abreast of the companion steps.

I then went below, removed my waterproof coat, and, putting a soft pillow on the locker, laid myself along, completely dressed, and ready to jump up at a moment's notice. The cabin lamps had been turned down, and yielded a very feeble light. I could have sworn I should drop asleep the moment my head touched the pillow; yet for at least twenty minutes did I lie, looking at the feeble lamps swinging to the motion of the vessel, and listening to the sounds in the cabin, and struggling to work out a kind of reckoning to myself, so that I might figure the yacht's position.

In the midst of this idle problemising I fell into a deep slumber.


I WAS awakened by a violent concussion. So heavy was the sleep from which I had been aroused, that I remained for a considerable space in a state of stupefaction. On my senses becoming active, I found myself sprawling on my back upon the cabin floor. I now supposed that I had been rolled off the locker by a heave of the vessel, and that the sensation of a strong concussion having taken place was due to my fall. I scrambled on to my feet, but scarcely was I upright when a terrible grinding and rending shock pitched me sideways on to the locker on which I had been lying. Men's voices were shouting overhead. I also heard the tramping of feet, the violent beating of canvas-above all, the roaring and rushing of water.

I sprang to the companion steps, and as I gained them there was another tearing shock-I know not how to describe it. To say that it was like the vessel going to pieces, will convey no image to your mind. Rather figure your sitting in a house, and one side of it sinking suddenly a foot or two, and every joist and strong fastening cracking and shrieking, and the roof and the whole structure trembling and groaning, as if the building must crash in. I stopped, struck to the very heart by the unbearable and soul-sickening sensation. At that moment I was grasped from behind. I turned, and saw Sir Mordaunt, dressed only in his shirt and trousers.

'What has happened?' he cried.

"We have either been run into or we are ashore-the latter, I think,' I answered. For God's sake get the women dressed, and bring them into the cabin;' and, releasing myself from his clutch, I sprang on to the deck. As my head came level with the companion, the vessel heeled over-over-over yet! I crouched down, breathless and waiting, convinced that the yacht was going. I heard the men shrieking in the blackness as they fetched away with the angle of the decks, and fell helplessly into the lee scuppers.

When on her beam ends the schooner remained stationary. I knew by the bursting of the seas against her side, and by the fierce sounds. of sweeping water over my head, that she had beaten round with her broadside to the sea, and so lay. At the top of my voice I shouted out the name of Tripshore, but it was like speaking when a gun explodes. The main sheet must have parted, for the sail I supposed lay fore and aft to the wind, and the slatting of it was like the crashing of thunder. The sea to leeward was as white as milk, and the noise of its boiling was alone enough to deafen a man. Added to this, every sea that struck the weather side of the vessel boomed with a deep and hollow note, and was followed by a wild splashing and tearing of water upon the deck. Had I not kept the shelter of the companion when the vessel stopped at her sickening heel, I must have gone overboard, for a sea came pouring over the bulwarks that

« AnteriorContinuar »