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the sun's up you'll want no lucifer-matches. You'll get fire and to spare with e'er a one of them magnifiers.'
I had not thought of this; but it made the glass so precious that, in my delight at possessing it, I grasped Tripshore by the hand, and gripped it rather too cordially, I remember, for when I let go, the poor fellow turned his back upon me, in order to chafe away the pain
of the squeeze.
But the dew was falling very heavily, and the night air had that peculiar chilliness which any man who knows those latitudes will recall. Our damp clothes rendered us very sensitive to the swift change of temperature. I advised Sir Mordaunt and the women to enter the hut, and take their rest for the night. But first the baronet asked us to join him in a prayer. We readily assented, and knelt in a circle, Sir Mordaunt kneeling in the midst of us. Of all moving moments, I never experienced the like of that short time in which we knelt, whilst my poor friend prayed aloud. Our knowing the agony of mind his wife's death caused him, made us find such a pathos in every tone of his, as none of us could hear without dim eyes. He struggled hard to steady his voice whilst he offered up thanks for our merciful salvation, and implored God's continued protection of the lives He had preserved. But he would pray for his wife too, which taxed him beyond endurance, for he utterly broke down at that part of his prayer, and sobbed so lamentably that it seemed he must break his heart.
When he had recovered his composure, I urged the women to withdraw to their part of the hut, and gave them some pieces of canvas to use for coverlets. I then rolled up a short breadth of the side of the sail that we had spread upon the grass to serve as a pillow, and made Sir Mordaunt put his head upon it, and when he was laid down I covered his shoulders with Hunter's jacket-I mean the jacket that had covered his wife's face. Norie lay down beside him, and the dog crouched at their feet.
It was quite dark in the hut, but the white sail spread in the bottom of it made a kind of glimmer, and helped us somewhat. I went into the open with the two seamen, and though I was reluctant to keep them standing and talking after the sufferings and labour of the day, I could not forbear to call a council of them now that all was still, the peace and the radiance of the night upon us, the wind gone, and nothing to distract our minds from close contemplation of our position.
First, I told them that it was necessary we should keep watch. Although we had no means of signalling a passing vessel, yet it would be a thousand pities if one should pass when we were asleep. For what we desired to know was, was this part of the sea navigable, and did vessels ever traverse it within sight of the island? If we could be sure on this head our hopes would gain strength, and we should have good reason for making a smoke in the day and burning a flare at night.
'Ay, sir, a look-out must be kept,' said Tripshore.
'There are three of us,' said I.
'But how'll the man on duty know when his watch is up?' inquired Hunter.
This was a poser; for, as I have told you, we were without the means of calculating the passage of time. At last I said
'We must do the best we can by guessing. The moon will help us for a spell. If we make a three hours' watch, each man will get some hours' rest. We must reckon how the time goes as best we
They were very willing, they said; and so that matter was settled, and it was agreed that I should keep the first look-out.
'And now,' said I, ' how are we to get away from this island? Our stock of food is very small, though more may wash ashore. But let as much as may come, it will not last eight men and women long; and we're bound to starve if we stop here.'
There's only one thing to be done,' said Hunter. We must turn to and build a raft-something that'll float-with a life-line around it, and likewise a mast. We must make the best job we can -something that'll steer-and one or two of us 'll have to go adrift in it, and take our chance of bein' picked up, and getting the wessel as picks us up to call for the others."
I shook my head. If,' said I, we could be sure that the land some of you have seen was inhabited, why then, though it should be fifty miles distant, one or two of us, as you say, Hunter, might venture for it on a raft. But to risk our lives, merely to be stranded on such another rock as this, would be a mad thing. You'll get no raft to do more than swoosh along straight with the wind, and I see no good to come of going adrift, with the certain chance of being blown away to sea, and either foundering or dying of want.'
'You're right, sir,' said Tripshore, gravely. A raft 'ud be sartin death, Tom.'
'But it's sartin death if we stop here, too!' exclaimed Hunter. Though a raft 'ud give us a poor chance, it 'ud still be a chance; but this blooming island gives us no chance at all.'
'Why not rig up a raft-a dummy-a small 'un, with a mast and sail, and a board at the masthead wrote on to signify that there are eight shipwrecked persons aboard this island, and send it adrift, with the chance of some wessel overhauling it?' exclaimed Tripshore.
The idea was original and striking. I said at once
'Yes, we can do that. It shall be our first job in the morning. With a cloth or two of canvas set square on a well-stayed mast, a raft is bound to blow along; and if our chance lies in her being seen by a vessel, then she'll answer our purpose better than if she were manned, for she'll risk no lives.'
Hunter turned his head, and, looking towards the beach, said, in a low voice, 'Would it be a bad job to lash one of them dead bodies in the sand yonder to it? She'd make a likelier arrand for us with a
body aboard than if she went naked. A ship 'ud stop if they sighted a body, but if they saw northen on the raft, maybe they'd pass on without heeding the board at the masthead."
The suggestion offended me for a moment, but only for a moment. What Hunter had said was perfectly true. A body on the raft would twenty-fold increase our chance, by inducing a vessel to approach it; whereas, if the people of the vessel saw only a bare raft, they might pass on. What would it matter to the dead, whether he was left in the sand there, or sent adrift to find a grave in the bottom of the deep? Life was dearer to us than sentiment. We must be succoured or we must perish. A dead man would make a ghastly messenger, but we should send him forth in God's name; and whether he should be swept away or be encountered by a ship, he was sure of ultimately finding a resting-place in the sea.
We stood talking briskly a full ten minutes over this scheme, and then, there being nothing more to say, I told the men to turn in, but first to take a sup of sherry. This they did, and entered the hut, and I was left alone.
As I had foreseen, the wind had died away with the sun. I could feel only the lightest current of air. Here and there a white cloud floated, scarcely moving athwart the stars, and some of them carrying delicate and phantom-like rainbows in the parts they turned to the moon. Some of the stars were very large and beautiful, and the deep, unspeakable, blue-black depths of the heavens seemed tremulous with the incessant showering of meteors. There was still a heavy swell rolling along the path of the vanished gale, and as these majestic and foamless coils of ebony water passed under the moon, they flashed into mountains of quicksilver. The reef hindered the run of these rollers on our side of the island, but there was surf enough along the beach to fill the night with a most lamentable moaning noise. It was as though the sea in mockery gave our misery a voice. It was a most depressing sound to stand and idly listen to, and cruelly brought home to me our desolate condition, and our lonely and helpless plight in the midst of this dark water, with its sullen rollers and its lamenting voice wailing close at
As I looked at the moon and the peaceful sky, I thought with bitterness that had such a night as this come to us twenty-four hours sooner, the Lady Maud' would still have been afloat. I pictured how her decks would have shown, and imagined Lady Brookes in her invalid's chair near the skylight, and Ada Tuke flitting from one side of the deck to the other in the moonlight, and Sir Mordaunt pacing to and fro, and so on, and so on. I say I stood dreaming forth a whole picture of the schooner as she would have appeared on such a night as this, until I broke away with a shudder from the dreadful contrast of our position, and walked down to the beach, in the hope of distracting my mind in a hunt after more relics of the wreck.
The tide was lower by many feet down the beach, and though I
could not see the reef on which the yacht had struck, yet I guessed, by the play of white water there, that when the sea was calm at low tide the reef would be visible. There was a dark object almost abreast of the hut upon the gleaming coral sand, and on approaching it I discovered it to be a full cask, but what it contained I could not tell. There could be no doubt, however, from its appearance, that it held provisions of some sort, so I set to work to clear away the sand that buried it by about a foot and a half, and tumbling it on its bilge, I managed to roll it some distance above high-water mark, where it would be safe from the sea.
I returned again close to the surf, and slowly followed the line of it as it trended away to the north-east, and then into the south-east, where it terminated in the bight of the limb of land. The moon shone brilliantly, and I could see very plainly. Presently, and at about three hundred paces from the spot where I had found the cask, I saw a square black object in the water, which covered and exposed it as the rollers came in and ran back. I was much puzzled to know what it could be, until, after looking for some time, I perceived that it was the yacht's piano!
A little further on was a pile of fragments of timber high and dry; and just beyond again was a spare fore-topmast, and the yacht's fore-top-gallant and topsail yards, the sails bent and the gaskets holding tight. These, it will be remembered, had been sent down during the gale. I thought that we might come to require those spars, but they were too heavy for me to drag up the beach; so, after having carried a quantity of timber up the shore, I went to the trees where the hut stood, and hauled in the line by which Sir Mordaunt and the others had been dragged from the yacht, and which had parted close to the vessel when she went to pieces. With this end of stuff I returned to the spars, hitched the line round them, and made the end fast up the beach, so that the tide should not carry them away.
All this was very hard work, but not to be neglected. I was tired, and was going to sit down, when I spied a dead body on the sand about fifty yards this side of where the beach terminated in the creek. It lay on its back, with its arms out, and its head on its right shoulder, in the very posture of a crucified figure. I recognised it as a man named Martin Jewell, a young man, in life fresh-faced and smiling, and a very willing sailor. He looked to be asleep, so easy was the appearance of his face in the moonlight, though his eyes were open. I know not why his quiet look should have made me think this dead man frightful; but I should have been less shocked and scared had he presented the usual dreadful appearance of the drowned. Maybe, it was my knowing him to be stone-dead, and his looking lifelike and sleeping, that made me recoil and tremble. And you must add the surroundings, too: the breezeless atmosphere, the moaning of the sea, the steady white fires of the moon upon the water, the swell sparkling like silver as it ran across the wake of the orb, the large stars looking down, with the shining dust of meteors quivering and fading
among them. I say, figure this scene, and then think of the stirless dead body lying like a dreaming man, looking straight up at the sky, as though he followed the flight of his spirit.
I shook off the feelings which possessed me, and fetching a piece of jagged plank from the pile beyond, I dug a hole in the sand, which occupied me about ten minutes; but when I tried to put down the outstretched arms of the body, I found they would not yield. So I had to dig afresh and turn out two grooves, if I may so say, to receive the arms; and then I laid him in his grave, in the very posture in which he had died, with his arms stretched above his head, and so covered him over.
This miserable and sad duty discharged, I walked languidly towards the hillock, meaning to rest on top of it, where I should command the sea. Having reached the summit, I threw myself down and ran my eye over the sea; but though there had been a ship a mile off in the south or west, I believe I should not have seen her, owing to the confusing light of the moon and the play of the swell, that perplexed the eye with alternations of radiance and shadow. I carefully looked along the horizon, but could see nothing but the sea and the stars in the north and east, and the flashing moonlight in the other quarters. Here I sat for hard upon half an hour, when, feeling drowsy, and afraid of falling asleep, which would have been a bad thing for me in the heavy dew, I got up and walked across the top of the little hill, as far as the incline that faced in the direction of the well.
Whilst I stood looking towards the sea in the north, my eye was caught by an object at the bottom of the declivity close against the bushes. I could just make out, after peering a bit, that it was a human figure, and that it excitedly moved its arms, which were white. I recollected that Lady Brookes was buried in that place, and I frankly confess that for a moment or two I was possessed by a weak and idle consternation, and stared like a fascinated man. But unless it were a ghost, it must be one of our people, so putting my hand to the side of my mouth I called out, 'Who is that there?'
No answer being returned, I called again, and went down the hill.
It is I, Walton,' said a voice that I recognised as Sir Mordaunt's. I hastened forward, and found my poor friend on his knees beside his wife's grave.
'I could not rest without offering up a prayer over her,' said he. 'But, for God's sake, take care of your own health,' said I. 'The dew falls like rain, and you are in your shirt-sleeves.'
He repeated that he could not rest until he had prayed over her. 'But we can hold a service to-morrow,' I exclaimed.
'Ay,' said he; but think of her lying in this unconsecrated grave. Don't reproach me, Walton. She was very dear to me. I have lost her for ever.'