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'I'll speak to him,' said the baronet.
Tripshore, tell Purchase
to come to me the moment he has worked out his reckoning, and request him to bring his chart.'
The mate went below.
'Sir Mordaunt,' said I, 'will you tell me how Lady Brookes does? Is she better to-day?"
She is not worse, Walton; but you will find her thin, and sadly changed. I have made up my mind to do as you suggested. I'll go home with her in one of the mail steamers, and Purchase can sail the yacht to England. We will settle the matter later on. Only let this dreadful swell go down. I can hardly collect my thoughts.'
He said this at an instant when an unusually heavy mountain of water heeled the yacht over until she lay almost on her beam ends; the spray shot in a fury of smoke through the submerged scupperholes, and the toppling sea rose above the level of the bulwark rail. Had we let go at that moment we should have whisked overboard as neatly as a man holding on to the gutter of a roof would drop into the road by relaxing his grasp. The wildness of the tumble appeared to daze the baronet, whose ashen-grey face showed such ravages from the worry, anxiety, and alarm that had possessed him during the storm, as I never should have believed the human countenance capable of receiving the imprint of in so short a period.
As I stood looking at him, Mrs. Stretton came up the companion. I helped her up, and gave her a rope's end to hold by. She was very pale, and seemed worn out; her eyes had lost their brilliancy, and she reminded me of the appearance she had presented on the day of her rescue.
'You are wise to come on deck,' exclaimed Sir Mordaunt. 'I am afraid you have suffered much from your confinement below and your devoted attention to my wife. Believe me deeply sensible of the sympathy and kindness you have shown her.'
'I owe you my life,' she replied, simply. I shall never be able to repay you-nor you, Mr. Walton.' And then looking at the sea, she cried, 'The wind is gone, and yet in the cabin it feels sometimes as if the yacht were rolling over.'
'We have seen the worst of it,' said I; though I should prefer the sunshine to that mist which is gathering around us. Is Miss Tuke coming up?'
'No, as Lady Brookes is asleep, Miss Tuke has gone to lie down,' she answered. What a brave lady she is! In the worst of the gale she never showed the least fear. Oh, I should tell you, Sir Mordaunt, that before Lady Brookes fell asleep we got her to eat a plate of cold chicken and drink some brandy and water.'
'I am glad to hear that; the food will put some strength into her,' exclaimed the poor gentleman, with a little show of cheerfulness in his manner that to me somehow made his aspect and tones exceedingly pathetic.
'Her ladyship is no longer afraid of you, then,' said I softly in the widow's ear.
'No; but Mr. Norie was very wise to keep me banished whilst there was a chance of my frightening her,' she replied, whispering. 'You cannot imagine what a dreadful condition her nerves are in. Her behaviour during the gale was like that of a mad woman. What would have been my sufferings had I been as timid as she when I was with the poor men on the wreck?' She shuddered, and sighed convulsively, and added, "I am so weary of the sea! It is so cold, so cruel, so merciless! Would to God it had spared my poor love to me! The loss of all that we owned in the world would have been a little matter then.'
Here Tripshore came on deck.
'Will Purchase be long?' called out Sir Mordaunt.
'I don't think so, sir,' answered the mate, giving me a queer look, the meaning of which I could not guess.
All this while we lay floundering and wallowing under our lowermasts, with not a fragment of canvas showing. Sail was of no use to us until some wind came. An hour's idle beating and flogging upon those shooting, staggering, and swinging spars, would have done our canvas more harm than three months of fair wear. The schooner lay broadside to the swell, that now and again depressed her so sharply that the green water poured over the bulwark-rail on to the deck, and went washing as high as a man's knee over to the other side with the send of the vessel; and the jerking and straining of the masts was so violent, that it would not have greatly surprised me had the chain plates drawn, and the lofty sticks gone away overboard.
About twenty minutes after Sir Mordaunt had sent, for him, Purchase emerged, and came clawing and lurching along to where we stood. He had a chart under his arm and a sheet of paper in one hand. His face was unusually red, his cap was drawn low down over his forehead, and fake upon fake of blue spotted neckcloth coiled round his neck gave him such a strangled look as was disagreeable
'Purchase,' said Sir Mordaunt, I am anxious to know what you make our position. We must have been driven a good many leagues to the westward, and the weather looks very ugly-very ugly yet, Purchase. No sign of the sun, and no promise of a star to-night; and he stared upwards and then around him with a dismal shake of the head.
The old man made no answer to this, but leaning against the skylight so as to balance himself, he opened the chart.
Here, Mr. Tripshore,' he exclaimed, in somewhat thick accents, come and put your hand upon this chart where it curls up.'
This was done, and Sir Mordaunt drew near the skipper, holding tightly by the skylight. I stood on the other side, but the chart was intelligible to me though inverted. Likewise I had a good view of
Purchase, who, the moment I looked at him close, I could see had been drinking. Sir Mordaunt found this out also in a moment, no doubt by the smell of the man's breath (for he stood next him). He drew up suddenly and stared at him, and then glanced at me, but said nothing.
'Here's the place where I makes the yacht to be,' said Purchase, pressing his square thumb upon the chart. the chart. Ye can read the latitood and longitood,' he added, speaking in a greasy, neutral, low-comedian sort of voice, and surveying me with his small wandering eyes.
'What do you make it?' demanded Sir Mordaunt, with a sternness I had never seen in him before, nor should have believed him capable of.
The old fellow raised the sheet of paper to his face, and after bothering over the figures, answered, Latitood, twenty-five degrees ten minutes; longitood, seventy-three degrees five minutes.'
'What drift have you allowed for the three days?' I inquired. He made no reply.
'Don't you hear Mr. Walton's question?' cried Sir Mordaunt. 'I've got northen to do with Mr. Walton, sir,' he answered. "You're my master.'
The baronet repeated my question.
'About thirty mile,' he answered, keeping his thumb stuck upon the chart in the queerest posture, as though he wanted to spin his hand.
'You may add another sixty miles to that, Sir Mordaunt, and then be within the mark,' said I.
The old skipper looked at me with wandering eyes and a most evil expression in his face. I waited for him to insult me, when I should have told him he was drunk, and talked to him as I should have known how from my old sea training; but he held his peace, perhaps because he saw my intention.
'Here I see is the Crooked Island Passage,' said Sir Mordaunt, after pausing to give Purchase time to answer my objection. 'Bearing south by west-half-west,' said Purchase. • "Taint my idee to try for that passage, sir. I shall haul away to the east'ards under heasy canvas till the weather clears.'
'That's just what you suggested, Walton,' said Sir Mordaunt, with a gleam of satisfaction on his face.
Purchase looked at me and was about to speak, but the yacht dipping heavily, he gave with it, lost his balance, and went rolling like a barrel down against the bulwarks. This was an accident that might easily have befallen him even had he been perfectly sober; but as we all perceived he was partially intoxicated, his tumble was like an emphasis upon his condition, and Sir Mordaunt looked away with an air of great disgust and irritation from the square scrambling figure as the old noodle got up and lurched towards the skylight, with a purple face shining with perspiration.
Mrs. Stretton whispered, 'He is intoxicated, Mr. Walton.
not in a fit state to talk to Sir Mordaunt, and explain his navigation.'
6 This is not the first time,' I replied, in a low voice. But Sir Mordaunt will see him with my eyes now, I hope. He is less qualified in my opinion to command this vessel than the cook.' 'That will do,' said the baronet to Purchase. the chart below again.'
You can take
'That's what I makes it, sir,' replied the man, again reading the sheet of paper, and trying to steady his voice and comport himself as though he would have us see his fall was no evidence of unsteady legs. Latitood, twenty-five ten; longitood, seventy-three five.' And so saying, he rolled up the chart very slowly, and deliberately took a prolonged view of the sea, and, watching his chance, sheered over to the starboard bulwarks, and clawed himself abreast of the hatchway, down which he disappeared.
Sir Mordaunt stood near me in moody silence, until Mrs. Stretton, who grew fatigued by her posture, asked me to hand her to the companion. I assisted her to descend the steps, and then returned.
I am afraid you are right in your views of Purchase,' said Sir Mordaunt. 'He is again in liquor, and I fear the abominable habit is confirmed. Three times we have detected him, and who knows how often he may have been intoxicated in the night time, when we were asleep? I am greatly deceived and disappointed. I could not have believed he would misbehave again after the conversation I had with him. But I shall say nothing to him. Let him carry the yacht to Kingston, which I have no doubt he'll be able to manage, and I will hand the vessel over to some agents to send to England. We have all had enough of this cruise. For myself, I can honestly say the last week has cured me of my taste for ocean sailing. Henceforth-if I am spared for any more yachting—I shall never go a mile beyond English waters.'
'Well, as you say, the man has navigated us so far, and he may be able to accomplish the rest; and perhaps you are wise in resolving to say nothing to him,' said I. 'But he is out in his dead reckoning -of that I am positive; though, as he means to stand to the eastward, his miscalculations ought not to greatly matter.'
When should we make Jamaica, think you?'
'This day week, with anything of a breeze,' I answered. 'I am assuming, of course, that Purchase's latitude is correct. His longitude I am sure is wrong.'
After his conduct to-day I shall stand no more on ceremony, said he. 'I'll not consult the fellow's feelings. If you will take an observation of course, if a chance occurs,' casting a forlorn look at the sky- you'll greatly oblige me.'
'I can take a star in his watch below. He needn't know that I am topping him.'
'Why didn't you suggest that before?' asked he, reproachfully.
'Pray remember how sensitive you have been about the man. You staved off all criticism.'
'Because I had confidence. And mind, Walton, I am only shaken now because he has broken his promise, and I find him drunk again. But you will do as you suggest? It will ease both our minds to know that his reckoning tallies with ours. And though he should have underestimated our drift to the west, that will not make his observations incorrect.'
'Certainly not,' said I. 'But look there-and there! We shall get no stars to-night. The horizon's not a mile off; and did mortal man ever see the water of so hideously ugly a colour before?'
The thick mist that had been slowly gathering round, coming up from every point of the compass, like the four walls and ceiling which met and crushed the miserable prisoner in the story, had made the visible sea a mere narrow circle of water, which every moment was growing smaller and smaller. The swell, however, was fast falling, though it was still ponderous enough in all conscience; and, owing to the diminished compass of the deep, had a more formidable appearance than it wore even when at its worst, owing to the majestic waving of the near horizon. The decks were full of currents of air, caused by the wallowing of the schooner, but there was no wind on the sea. The folds of the swell were as polished as glass. Yet the creeping girdle of mist, and the violent panting of the ocean, and the malignant, sallow, bluish tint of the water, as though it was putrified, and the lowering lead of the sullen, motionless sky over our staggering masts, filled the mind with a spirit of foreboding miserable to feel and impossible to express.
When the luncheon hour arrived I followed Sir Mordaunt into the cabin, where we found Miss Tuke and Mrs. Stretton. Before taking his seat, Sir Mordaunt went to his wife's berth, and then returned, accompanied by Norie, who, although greatly nauseated by the detestable rolling, was making a manful fight with it. He had been in attendance on Lady Brookes for the greater part of the morning. This was the first time I had seen him for many hours, and we shook hands like people meeting after a long absence.
I found that Mrs. Stretton was to lunch with us, which I attributed to Miss Tuke's invitation. But now that she was constantly with Lady Brookes, there was no reason why she should not make one of our party, and drop her furtive life in Carey's cabin, and her secret meals with that lady's-maid. I was heartily pleased to see her among us. I had all along felt that Norie's banishment of her, merely because Lady Brookes might take fright at any reference to the horrors of the time spent upon the water-logged barque, was cruel usage to give to the poor shipwrecked woman, whose sex and loneliness, and the dreadful sufferings she had endured, gave her a powerful claim upon our tenderness.
'Do you think we shall have any more stormy weather, Mr. Walton?' asked Miss Tuke.