Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

and turned to gaze at one another, and I observed that Mrs. Stretton was crying, but very silently, and in a way that made us see that any notice taken of her would pain her.

'We shall have the moon with us for the greater part of the night,' said I; and that beautiful sky cannot deceive us. It is full of good promise.'

'How fast are we sailing, Mr. Walton?' asked Miss Tuke. I answered about three and a half miles an hour. 'How short the twilight is!' cried Norie. Look behind you, Walton. The sky is full of stars. The darkness in the east and that brightness in the west give you night and day side by side.' 'Couldn't you spin a yarn, Mr. Walton?' said Tripshore. There's northen like stories and songs to keep the heart up.'

6

'But our hearts are not down, Tripshore,' I replied. 'Our chances are too good for that. Can you sing?'

6

'A trifle,' he said. But if it's to be singing, I'd rather not be first.'

'Well, I'll break ground by telling an adventure,' said I; and when I'm done you'll give us a song.'

'Right, sir.'

I reflected a bit, and then spun them a yarn about an adventure I met with at a little Chinese village up the Yellow River. Three or four of us, being ashore, had missed our way, and coming to this village, endeavoured to obtain beds for the night, but were everywhere repulsed. Being determined not to lie in the fields, we forcibly took possession of a little house, and went to bed in it. In the middle of the night I and one of my companions, who lay with me on the top of a mattress, felt it moving, and getting up and tumbling it over, we found the owner of the house and his wife under it, half dead with fear and suffocation.

When we dragged them out, they made such a noise that a crowd of the villagers came to the house. We feared for our lives, but there was no light, and we had to grope our way. I missed the way, and coming to a door, opened it, and put out my hand to feel, and stroked my fingers down a Chinaman's face, the door I had opened being a cupboard, and the man in it hiding there in terror of us. I made them laugh with my description of the horror I felt when I stroked down this naked face. I took it to be a dead man, but not being sure, half closed the door to prevent him coming out, and felt for him again, till I came to his bit of a nose, which I pulled until he screeched out, on which I scrambled across the room, and coming to a door, made out of the house by a back way, and ran for my life.

This story put Norie in mind of a hospital adventure, and when he was done Tripshore sang. He had a strong voice and a correct ear, and his song was a sailor's song, the melody of which was the windlass chorus, Across the Western Ocean.' Hunter and I knew the air, and guessing at the words, we helped Tripshore by joining in at the end of every verse.

6

6

By this time the night was all about us, the moon brightly shining, and the great stars flaking the sea with their trickling silver. These crystalline reflections were made exceedingly beautiful by the play of the phosphorus in the sea. The mysterious fires rolled with the swell, and resembled puffs of green steam. The water broken by the boat's stem tinkled through our voices like the bubbling of a fountain, but so strongly phosphorescent was the sea, that our wake was a line of fire; and when Miss Tuke leaned over to look at it, I saw it shining in her eyes and shimmering upon her face, as though phosphorus had been rubbed over her skin.

Our story-telling and singing not only killed the time, but did us good by distracting our thoughts from our position. I kept the ball spinning as long as I could, and then we fell into a general conversation, in the midst of which, and whilst the seamen in the forward part of the boat were arguing upon the bearings of the island we had left, and whilst Norie, who had taken a seat next to Miss Tuke, was talking with her in low tones, I found myself asking Mrs. Stretton what would be her plans when she arrived at Kingston.

“I hardly know, Mr. Walton. I feel like an ocean stray. Besides, I may not be able to get to Kingston, for, should we be picked up by a vessel, we can scarcely suppose that she will be bound to that place.'

· Have you no friends in Ireland ? ' I asked.

Yes, but they are poor. They will be able to do nothing for me.'

You have other friends who are not poor,' said Sir Mordaunt, gently. Your future need give you no anxiety.'

She held her peace, perhaps scarcely understanding him. But I did. Indeed, I had all along suspected that if our lives were preserved my great-hearted friend would stand by this poor woman whom he had been instrumental in rescuing from a horrible death.

I thought the hour would now be about nine, or even later, and counselled the women to lie down and take rest whilst the boat ran quietly. There was room for all three of them to lie upon the sail in the bottom of the boat, and as Miss Tuke hung back, I got Carey to set the example. She crouched down and got under the thwarts, and when she had stretched herself along the sail she said she was very comfortable. Then Mrs. Stretton lay down, and, after a little persuasion from her uncle, Miss Tuke crept under the thwarts. So there were the three of them, snug enough. The end of the sail rolled

up furnished them with a pillow, and the other end was turned over them. The thwarts, overshadowing their faces, protected them from the moonlight and the dew.

As for us men, there was nothing for it but to sleep as we could. The seamen and I divided ourselves into watches, as we had done on the island, it being arranged that I should steer and keep a look-out for the first two hours. These fellows made no trouble about sleeping. Tripshore put his back against the mast, folded his arms,

6

a

dropped his head, and was asleep in a few moments. Hunter was bothered at first to pose himself comfortably. He tried first one place, then another, until at last he hit upon a posture that pleased him—in the eyes, with his face looking aft, and the dog bolstering him on the right side, and in a short time he was as motionless as the other.

But neither Sir Mordaunt nor Norie could go to sleep for some time, though the doctor closed his eyes and kept his head hung. Sir Mordaunt, indeed, did not try to sleep for a while, but sat close against me, speaking in whispers. We had much to talk about our cruise, our shipwreck, Lady Brookes' death, our present position, and our chances of preservation. At last weariness mastered him, his voice failed him, and he began to nod, and soon, by his regular breathing, I knew he was asleep.

The breeze held steady; a little more weight had come into it before Sir Mordaunt fell asleep, and the sail pulled well. The narrow furrows of the sea ran in short flashes of foam and broke up the starlight in the water, but gave instead a brilliant surface of phosphoric radiance. On our starboard beam the ocean was a tremulous field of moonlight, but the horizon in the north was very dark, though the lustre of the moon made the sky pale to a long distance beyond the zenith. The water seethed at the boat's stem, and the sobbing sounds caused by the eddies in the wake were very mournful for me, a solitary listener, to hearken to. Indeed, it was a solemn time. It was not only the thoughts of the narrow planks which lay between us and eternity, nor the speculation as to the future, that was for ever active in me. It was the being surrounded by sleepers; it was looking into the bottom of the boat and seeing the glimmering faces of the women in the darkness there; on one side of me the baronet, with the moonlight shining on his hollow countenance, in which all the anguish of the past few days had left an imprint cruelly visible, even in that colourless light; on the other side Norie, who had met misfortune as a gallant man should, helping us all as heartily as was in his power, peacefully resting, with his chin upon his breast and his arm hanging idly down ; and forward the figures of the two men

; and the dog, dark as bronze statues, and as motionless. I say, it was the looking first at those silent and unconscious beings, and then away at the leagues of sea, and the serene stars, and the silver moon, poised in the silvery blue ether, that made this watch of mine as solemn to me as a long prayer. The sense of loneliness no pen could express. The slumber of the people about me heightened it. Now and again one would mutter softly; once there came a laugh from the bottom of the boat; frequently I would hear a deep sigh, that sounded above the mild complaining of the wind in the sail and the delicate hissing of the passing water.

Again and again I stood up to search the water, and shortly before I called Tripshore I thought I saw a darkness on the sky over

[ocr errors]

the starboard bow; but when I pointed the telescope at it I could see the stars there shining down to the very level of the deep.

But the bright moon was very comforting. It enabled me to see all my companions, and to command a wide expanse of water, which was like giving the soul breathing room, for nothing is more terrible than darkness to persons placed as we were. It seems to cloak and muffle up the instincts, and fold up the spirit as though it were death's mantle. Besides, I could watch the compass, and know how we were heading.

I held my place longer than two hours, as I believe, wishing Tripshore to get all the refreshment he could out of his spell of sleep; but I grew so drowsy at last that, lest I should unconsciously fall asleep myself, I was forced to arouse him. I had to awaken Norie, to hold the tiller, whilst I went forward to call Tripshore, not choosing to sing out to him and disturb the others. But before doing this I made a calculation of the distance run since we had left the island, and scribbled the figures down on the thwart.

At the first touch the seaman started up. I whispered to him that his watch had come round; and then telling him to keep the boat dead as she was going, to look smartly about for ships, and to call me if the wind drew ahead or the weather changed, I took his place, and speedily fell asleep.

CHAPTER XX.

a

WHEN I opened my eyes again, the dawn was just breaking, and I discovered, to my wonder, that I had slept right through the night. No one had aroused me. My limbs were as stiff as broomsticks, from having been kept in one posture for so many hours, and my clothes were saturated with dew. I gaped with something of astonishment at the scene of sky and ocean, for it was not easy to immediately realise our position. And then again the sight my eyes encountered was very striking for a man whose senses were struggling out of the cocoon of sleep to behold; for the dawn in the east lay in the sky like a sheet of delicately green glass, faintly illuminated at the water line, and melting into blackness as it approached the zenith. But the rest of the heavens were wrapped in night, and the sea was of a pitchy black, even under the dawn, which made the horizon stand out against it with fearful distinctness.

But, even as my eye rested on that strange, cold, pallid green light, it changed its colour into primrose, the sky brightened into sapphire and gold, and the sun showed his flaming head.

Hunter was at the helm, and Tripshore asleep in the bows of the boat, but the sun woke him up; and as I sat rubbing my legs, to get the blood to circulate, and looking around me, Sir Mordaunt called good-morning to me, and then Norie; and glancing at the bottom of the boat, I perceived that everybody was awake.

I scrambled off my perch and helped the women on to their feet, and was glad to learn that they had all managed to get some sleep. Then, taking the glass, I planted my back against the mast and searched the sea, that was now brightly illuminated by the soaring sun, but to no purpose: there was nothing to be seen.

The breeze that was propelling us when I fell asleep still blew, the water was smooth, and the morning had broken with a cloudless sky. Both Hunter and Tripshore told me there had been no change of wind or weather in their watches, and when therefore I made a calculation to jot down upon the thwart, I reckoned that we could not have run less than forty miles from the time of our leaving the island.

6

"It is impossible,' I exclaimed, that we can go on sailing very much longer without sighting land. That we have not made land sooner, I can only account for by supposing that the island on which we were wrecked must be lying further to the eastwards than we have imagined.'

In that case, ought we not to steer more to the westward, Walton?' asked Sir Mordaunt.

"I hardly think so,' I replied. Our object is to meet with ships, and not to box ourselves up among a mass of reefs and cays and uninhabited islands.'

'Is the compass right, sir, d'ye think?' inquired Hunter.

'Yes,' I said, 'judging from the bearings of the stars, and the rise and set of the sun,'

'Oh, Mr. Walton,' cried Miss Tuke, 'I hope we shall not have to pass another night in this boat!'

6

6

Courage, Ada, courage!' exclaimed the baronet. See what a beautiful day has come. Let us think of ourselves as a pleasure party blown out to sea further than we intended to go. There is no danger; a little patience, my love, and all will be well;' and he looked at her, lightly shaking his head, and smiling mournfully.

sea.

I glanced at her, to see how she bore all this hard usage of the Her roughened hair, her pale face full of deep anxiety and grief, her apparel creased and defaced by the wet and the wear and tear of shipwreck, did not in my sight, at all events, in the least degree impair her beauty. Indeed, I could not help thinking that all this disorder of attire, and the wild sparkle in her pretty eyes, and the restlessness of her movements and glances, gave her charms a character that accentuated them with a fresh and fascinating picturesqueness. Norie appeared to share in this opinion, for he would frequently look at her with fervent admiration.

Mrs. Stretton, on the other hand, was much more passive. She gazed dreamily at us with her fine dark eyes as we conversed, yet was always quick to give a smile to any of us who met her glance. She had a rougher appearance than Miss Tuke, owing to her black hair, which, as I have elsewhere said, was remarkably abundant, and hard to stow away without combs and hairpins and such things.

« AnteriorContinuar »