Sail Ho! or, A Boy at Sea, by George Manville Fenn.
This appears to be one of Fenn's later novels, and is just as exciting and full of tension as are his earlier ones. The hero is a seventeen-year-old boy called Alison Dale. We have never heard of a boy called Alison before, but this one is pretty tough, and already knew a lot about seamanship even before he went to sea, on account of having often sailed in his father's large yachts.
Hopefully most boys on their first cruise to sea won't have anything like the adventures that befell Master Alison. The skipper was not a pleasant man, and there was a mutiny, led by a nasty piece of work called Jarette, who was half-French.
The story progresses through various degrees of terror, beginning when the ship is taken over by the mutineers, leaving the passengers and officers isolated. Finally most of the latter are cast adrift to die, but leaving two of their number on board. Attempts are made to rescue these.
Eventually the drunken mutineers manage accidentally to set fire to the vessel, and flee it. But the heroic party of officers and passengers come back to recover the missing two, get on board, and manage to put the fire out. This is noticed by the mutineers, who are just over the horizon, and who row back. There is then a good old battle in which eventually Jarette is killed, and life begins to be restored to normal.
The edition used was very difficult to work with. It is a longish book which was squished into less than 160 pages. The pages were large, the typeface was very small, and there were two columns of text per page. There were actually 130 lines of text per page, with the lines being about two-thirds the normal length. However, the Athelstane system of e-book editing was not fazed, and we hope there won't be too many errors found in what we present.
SAIL HO! OR, A BOY AT SEA, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
A BOY AT SEA.
Many many years ago seem like yesterday, and I hope it will always be the same. For, just to be serious for a moment, what is the full stretch of the oldest man's life to time? Just one star-wink, if the astronomers are right about the passage of light, and that the glitter of stars that we see now are only the rays which started from them away there in space long before we were born.
Don't be frightened, I'm not going to talk astronomy, but about my old ship, the first I ever sailed in, after having a kind of training in my father's little yachts, beginning with the shoulder-of-mutton sail; and next with the Cornish lugger, which he bought at Newlyn, on beyond Penzance, when Penwalloc went wrong, and his two boats with all their gear, and about two miles of drift mackerel and pilchard nets, were sold by auction.
Father bought the Brine, and had her decked and newly rigged, and many's the cruise I had with him and old Tom Sanders, we three managing the two big sails well enough. After that came the cutter, when we had to have two men and a boy, for the mainsail was pretty big to manage, and took some hauling and setting in a breeze, and some strength to tackle in one of the squalls that come rushing out of the gullies and combes down along our Cornish coast, where the great peninsula or promontory, or whatever you call it, is scored across and across almost from sea to sea with deep valleys; just as you see a loin of pork cut with a sharp knife before it is put down to roast.
There, I'm not going to talk about Cornwall this time, but my adventures on the high seas in the Burgh Castle.
So to begin:—
"Hi! you sirs!"
"Look out! Run!"
Quite a little chorus of warnings, and then—
And directly after—
One of the yards being hoisted up to its place across the main-topgallant mast of the Burgh Castle lying in the East India Docks, and still in the hands of the riggers, had slipped from the slings, through carelessness, and come down from high, up aloft to strike the deck wich one end, and then fall flat within a foot of where two lads dressed as midshipmen in the merchant service had been standing, but who at the first shout had rushed in different directions, one to stumble over a coil of rope, perform an evolution like the leap of a frog, and come down flat on his front; the other to butt his head right into the chest of a big, burly, sunburnt man, who gave vent to a sound between a bellow and a roar.
"Where are—Hi! aloft there!—oh, my wind! Ahoy there, you—!"
Then followed, as the big burly man recovered his breath, a startling volley of words—expletives and sea terms, in which he denounced the gang of men aloft as sea-cooks and lubbers, and threatened divers punishments and penalties for their carelessness.
Then he turned to another man who was bigger, burlier, redder, and browner, especially about the nose, and made certain exceedingly impolite inquiries as to what he was about, to allow the owner's tackle to be smashed about in that fashion. To which the bigger and browner man growled out a retort that he'd nothing to do with the gang, as things hadn't been handed over to him yet. And then he grew frantic too, and kicked the fallen yard, and yelled up to the riggers that the said piece of wood was sprung, that they'd have to get another yard, for he wasn't going to sea with a main-top-galn'sl-yard fished and spliced.
Meantime the first brown man had turned to the two lads, and cooling down, nodded to them.
"Come on board then, eh?"
"Yes, sir—yes, sir."
"Lucky for you that you both hopped out of the way, youngsters, or I should have had to send one of you back home with a hole through him, and t'other broke in half."
I was the boy who would have been sent home with a hole through him—I the boy who write this—and the other boy who would have been broken in half, was one whom I had encountered at the dock-gates, where we had both arrived together, that miserable, mizzly morning, in four-wheeled cabs with our sea-chests on the top, and both in mortal dread—and yet somehow hopeful—that we should be too late, and that the good ship Burgh Castle had sailed.
I had been very anxious to go to sea. I loved it, and all through the preparations I was eagerness itself; but somehow, when it came to the morning that I started from the hotel where I had slept for the one night in London, a curious feeling of despondency came over me, a feeling which grew worse as I passed through the city, and then along the water-side streets, where there were shops displaying tarpaulins, canvas, and ropes; others dealing in ships' stores; and again others whose windows glittered with compass, sextant, and patent logs, not wooden, but brass.
Perhaps it was seeing all this through the steamy, misty rain.
"What a while he is!" I said to myself, "and what a dismal place!"
Just then, as we were going down the muddiest street I ever saw, I became aware of a dirty, ragged-looking fellow of eighteen or nineteen trotting along beside the cab, and directly after of one on the other side, who kept up persistently till at last we reached the docks and the cabman drew up.
"Drive on," I shouted.
"Don't go no further," was the reply, and I stepped out into the drizzle to see about my chest and pay the man, just as a sharp quarrel was going on close by, and I saw a lad a little bigger than myself scuffling with two more rough-looking fellows who had seized upon his chest, and insisted upon carrying it.
The next moment I was engaged with the pair who had trotted by my cab, and who had fastened most officiously upon mine.
"You touch it again," came sharply, "and I'll let you know."
"Leave the box alone," I said, "I don't want your help."
"Carry it in, sir. I was fust, sir. Yah! you get out."
"Don't let 'em take it," shouted the lad who was squabbling with the first pair, and I was just beginning to think that I should have to fight for my belongings, when a dock policeman came to our help, the cabmen were paid, and our chests were placed upon a truck, while the cab touts pressed upon us and insisted on being paid for doing nothing.
"You must have got plenty of tin," said my companion in difficulties, after I had compromised matters by giving each of the ragged touts a shilling; "you won't do that next voyage. I did first time I came."
"Have you been to sea before, then?" I said, looking at the speaker with interest.
"Rather. Are you going in the Burgh Castle? Yes, I can see you are."
"How?" I asked, as I saw him glance at my new cap, which I knew was beginning to be soaked by the rain.
"By that," he said, nodding at the embroidered flag and star upon the front. "We're going to be shipmates, then."
"I am glad," I said; but as I uttered the words it did not seem as if I were uttering the truth, for I felt anything but joyful, and my companion did not impress me favourably. For he looked sour, yellow, and discontented as we tramped over the wet stones along by towering warehouses, stacks of chests, and huge buttresses of barrels on one side, and with the great basins of water choked with shipping, all apparently in the most inextricable confusion, till we reached a great loftily masted ship and passed up the sloping gangway on to her deck.
Here every one was busy—officers, sailors, dockmen; hatches were off and bales of lading and stores were being lowered down, and we were just standing together looking out for some one to show us our quarters and to carry down our chests, when the warning shouts came from aloft, and we had so narrow an escape of being laid low.
No one paid any more attention to us, and we still stood looking about, with my companion more helpless than myself, in spite of his having been to sea before, still wanting to get out of the rain and save my new clothes, I began to exert myself, with the result that at last I found a sailor who told me where I could find the steward.
That functionary was too busy, he said, but at the sight of a shilling he thought he could spare a minute, and at the end of five we two damp, miserable, low-spirited lads were seated on our sea-chests in a little dark cabin, after doubling up our mackintoshes to make dry cushions for the wet seats.
There was not much room, our chests doing a good deal towards filling up the narrow space, and hence our knees were pretty close together as we sat and tried to look at each other, not at all an easy job, for the round window was pretty close to the great stone wall of the basin, and a gangway ran across from the wharf up to the deck, shutting out the little light which would have come in if the way had been clear.
"Cheerful, ain't it?" said my companion.
"It's such a horrid day," I said.
"Beastly. It always is in London. Ain't you glad you're going to sea?"
"Not very," I said, after a pause. "It'll be better when it's fine."
"Will it?" said my companion, mockingly. "You'll see. I don't know how a chap can be such a jolly fool as to go to sea."
"Why, you went!" I said.
"Yes, I went," grumbled my companion; "but of course I didn't know."
"Did you go out in this ship?"
"Course I didn't, else I should have known where our bunks were. My last voyage was in the Hull."
"Oh!" I said, looking at him as one of great experience; "and did you go your other voyages in the Hull?"
"What other voyages?"
"That you went."
"Who said I went any other voyages? I don't brag. I only went that once, and it was enough for me. She's being new rigged—and time, too. That's why I'm to go out in this boat."
"Then you don't know the captain and officers?"
"I know you," he replied, with a grin.
There was a period of silence, which my companion utilised by biting the sides of his nails, till I said—
"Shall we have to do anything to-day?"
"I d'know. I shan't. Not likely. Don't think much of this ship."
"Don't you think it's a good one?" I ventured to ask, with the deference due to so much experience.
"No. See how that rotten old yard came down. She looks to me like a regular tub. Sort of old craft as would melt away like butter if she touched the sands. I say, how should you like to be shipwrecked?"
"Not at all. Were you ever wrecked?"
"Not yet. Dessay I shall be some day. I say, you're in for it. Sure to be pretty rough going down Channel. You'll have the mully-grubs pretty stiff."
"Oh! I don't know," I said quietly.
"Don't you? Then I do. Oh, Stooard! won't you be bad! Ever seen the sea?"
"Lots of times."
"But you've never been on it?"
"Oh yes, I have."
"And been sick?"
"I was once when we went across to Havre, but that's years ago, when my father had the Swallow."
"Had the what?"
"His first little yacht. The one he has now—the Swift—is four times as big."
"Oh, then you have been to sea?" said my companion, in a disappointed way.
"Dozens of times," I said; "and all about our coast—it's often rough enough there."
My companion stared hard at me. "What's your name?"
"How old are you?"
"I'm seventeen," he cried.
"And what's your name?"
"Nicholas Walters; and as I'm senior, you'll have to bustle about a bit. I won't be too hard on you, but you'll have to look sharp and pick up things. I dare say I can put you up to a good deal of seamanship."
"Thank you," I said quietly.
"Of course, I don't know what sort of officers we've got here; but you and I can swing together, and I'll help to make it as easy for you as I can. It's rather hard for a boy making his first voyage."
"I suppose so," I said; "but I shall try not to mind."
"Look here; is your father a gentleman?"
"Oh yes; he was in the army till he was invalided."
"Then he's an invalid?"
"No, no, not now. He was badly wounded in the Crimea, and had to retire from the service."
"Then why didn't you go in the army? 'Fraid of getting wounded in the Crimea?"
"No; I wanted to go to sea?"
"Then why didn't you go in the Royal Navy?"
"Because my father had a better opportunity for getting me in the merchant service."
I felt as if I should never like Mr Nicholas Walters, for he was rather consequential in his way, and seemed disposed to lord it over me on the strength of having made one voyage. But I consoled myself with the thought that it was hard for any one to make himself agreeable on a day like that; and then as we sat listening to the banging and thumping about overhead, I began to think of my promise to my father, for I had promised to make the best of things all through the voyage, and not be easily damped.
My musings were cut short by my companion.
"I say," he cried, "you seem a lively sort of officer."
"One can't feel very lively just coming away from home amongst strangers," I replied.
"Bosh! You're talking like a boarding-school girl. What do you think of the skipper?"
"The captain? I haven't seen him yet."
"Yes, you have. That was he who let go at the men up aloft. He's a rough 'un, and no mistake. Berriman—I don't think much of him nor of the ship; I shall shift into another line after this trip. It isn't good enough for me."
"I wonder whether I shall talk like that," I thought to myself, "when I've been on a voyage." Then aloud: "Shall we go on deck for a bit, and see if we can do anything?"
"Not likely," was the shortly uttered reply. "What's the good? Get wet through in this mizzling rain. Let's wait for lunch. There'll be a good one, because of the passengers' friends being on board. Some say they'll go down to Gravesend with us. Here, you're all green yet; you leave everything to me, and I'll tell you what to do."
I said "Thankye," and he went on cross-examining me.
"Smoke?" he said.
I shook my head.
"Never mind, I'll teach you; and, look here, if it's fine this afternoon, I'll take you round and introduce you to all the officers and people."
"But I thought you were as strange as I am," I said.
"Well, I don't know the people themselves, but I know which will be the mates and doctor and boatswain, and I can show you all about the ship, and take you aloft, can't I?"
"Oh yes, of course," I said.
"You'll find I can be a deal of use to you if you stick to me, and I can take your part if any of the other middies try to bounce you."
"Will there be any other midshipmen?" I asked.
"P'raps. But it's all gammon calling us middies. We are only a kind of apprentices, you know. It isn't like being in a man-o'-war."
As it happened, a gleam of sunshine tried about half-an-hour after—just as I was growing terribly sick of my companion's patronising ways—to get in at the little cabin-window, and failed; but it gave notice that the weather was lifting, and I was glad to go on deck, where the planks soon began to show white patches as the sailors began to use their swabs; but the bustle and confusion was worse than ever. For the deck was littered with packages of cargo, which had arrived late, with Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand, painted upon them in black letters, and some of these appeared to be boxes of seeds, and others crates of agricultural implements.
Then we were warped out of the dock into the river, a steam-tug made fast to the tow-rope ahead, and another hooked herself on to the port side of the great ship to steady her, as she began to glide slowly with the tide, now just beginning to ebb, along through the hundreds of craft on either side.
I looked sharply round for that monarch of our little floating world— the captain; but he had gone ashore to see the owners again, so my new friend told me, and would come aboard again at Gravesend. But I had a good view of the crew, and was not favourably impressed, for they appeared to be a very rough lot. A great many of them had been drinking, and showed it; others looked sour and low-spirited; and there was a shabby, untidy aspect about them, which was not at all what I had expected to see in the smart crew of a clipper ship, while my surprise was greater still when I saw that four of the men evidently hailed from China, and as many more were the yellow, duck-eyed, peculiar-looking people commonly spoken of on board ship as Lascars.
The mates were so busy and hot, trying to get the decks cleared, and succeeding very slowly with the unpromising material at their command, that we saw very little of them, and I looked eagerly round to see what our passengers were like; but there were so many people on board that it was hard to pick out who was for the other side of the world and who was to stay on this.
The time passed, and I ate as good a dinner as my companion that evening, the first mate taking the head of the table; and that night, when all the visitors had said good-bye, and were gone ashore, and I had retired to my bunk, it seemed as if I had been on board for days. I lay there longing to throw shoes or brushes at Walters, who was lying on his back just under me, and breathing so exceedingly hard, that it was as if he kept on saying Snork in a nasty spiteful manner on purpose to keep me awake. And it did keep me awake for some time. At last I dropped asleep for about a minute, as it seemed to me, and then started up and knocked my head against the woodwork.
"Only cold water, lad," said a voice. "I say, you, been to sea, and not know how to tumble out of your berth without knocking your pumpkin."
I was confused for the moment by my intense sleepiness, and the blow I had given my head, so that I could hardly make out where I was. Then as I awoke to the fact that my brother middy was half-dressed, and that he had been holding his dripping sponge to my face, I crawled out, or rather lowered my legs down, and began to dress.
"Look sharp," said my companion; "don't stop to shave."
"Well, youngsters!" saluted us as soon as we stepped on deck, and the bluff, brown-faced captain gave me a searching look. "Ready for work?"
"That's right. Well, I don't want you yet. Run about the ship, and keep out of my way. That'll do for the present. Be off!"
He was rather rough, but it was in a good-tempered fashion, and I felt as if I should like the captain in spite of a whisper from Walters which sounded like "boor."
Then feeling free for the day, I upset my new friend and patron by going amongst the men and passengers as they came on deck.
"Here, don't you be so fast," said Walters, as I was hurrying from place to place asking questions of the sailors, and finding interest in everything on board, where, though bearing a certain similarity, all was so different to the arrangements upon a yacht.
"Fast!" I said, wonderingly.
"Yes," said Walters, shortly. "You'll be getting into trouble. You'd better, now you're so new, let me lead, and I'll tell you all that you want to know."
"Mind your eyes, youngsters," sang out a good-looking, youngish man, "Now, my lads, right under, and lash it fast."
"Second mate," whispered Walters to me, as about a dozen men dragged a great spar, evidently an extra top-mast, close under the bulwarks, to secure it tight out of the way.
"Quite right, youngster," said the officer, who seemed to have exceedingly sharp ears, and then he gave me a nod.
"Hang him and his youngsters," grumbled Walters as we went forward. "He has no business to speak like that before the men."
"Oh, what does it matter?" I said. "Look there, at that thin gentleman and the young lady who came on board yesterday evening. He must be ill. Oh! mind," I cried, and I sprang forward just in time to catch the gentleman's arm, for as he came out of the cabin entrance, looking very pale, and leaning upon the arm of the lady, he caught his foot in a rope being drawn along the deck, and in spite of the lady clinging to him he would have fallen if I had not run up.
"Don't!" he cried angrily, turning upon me. "Why do you leave your ropes about like that?"
Only those two words, spoken in a gentle reproachful tone, and the young lady turned to me and smiled.
"Thank you," she said; "my brother has been very ill, and is weak yet."
"Lena," he cried, "don't parade it before everybody;" but as he turned his eyes with an irritable look to the lady and encountered hers, a change came over him, and he clung to my arm, which he had thrust away.
"Thank you," he said. "Give me a hand to the side there. My legs are shaky yet." Then with a smile which made his thin yellow face light up, and gave him something the look of his sister, as he glanced at my uniform—"You're not the captain, are you? Ah, that's better," he sighed, as he leaned his arms on the bulwark, and drew a deep breath. "Thank you. Just wait till we've been a month at sea, and I'll race you all through the rigging."
"All right," I said, "you shall. My father says there's nothing like a sea trip when you've been ill. He took me in his yacht after I had had fever."
"And you got well in no time, didn't you?"
I nodded, as I looked at his wasted figure, and noted his eager, anxious way.
"There, Lena, hear that," he said quickly. "I told you so." Then turning to me again—"Come and sit near us in the cabin; I shan't be so nasty and snappish when I've had my breakfast."
He laughed in a forced way, and promising that I would if I could, I drew back to leave the brother and sister together, for Walters gave my jacket a twitch.
"I say, I shall never get you round the ship," he said, in an ill-used tone. "Now look here," he began, "this is the saloon-deck, that's the mizzen-mast, and come along here and I'll show you the binnacle."
"Why, I know all these," I said, laughing merrily. "Come, I'll box the compass with you."
"Tuppens as you can't do it right, young gent," said a rough-looking elderly sailor, who was coiling down the rope which had nearly overset the sick passenger.
"You keep your place, sir, and speak when you're spoken to," said Walters, sharply.
"Certeny, sir. Beg pardon, sir, of course. Here, you Neb Dumlow, and you Barney Blane," cried the man to a couple of his fellows, who were busy tightening the tarpaulin over a boat which swung from the davits.
The two men, whose lower jaws were working ox-fashion as they ruminated over their tobacco, left off and faced round; the first addressed, a big, ugly fellow, with a terrific squint which made his eyes look as if they were trying to join each other under the Roman nose, held a tarry hand up to his ear and growled—
"What say, mate?"
"These here's our two noo orficers, and you've got to be wery 'spectful when you speaks."
"Look here, young man," said Walters, haughtily, "I've been to sea before, and know a thing or two. If you give me any of your cheek I'll report you to the first mate. Come on, Dale."
He turned away, and the bluff-looking sailor winked at me solemnly as I followed, and muttered the words, "Oh my!"
"Nothing like keeping the sailors in their places," continued Walters, "and—"
"Morning," said a handsome, keen-looking man of about thirty.
"Our two new middies, eh? Well, shall you want me to-morrow?"
He looked at me as he spoke.
"Want you, sir!" I replied. "Are you one of the mates?"
"Every man's mate when he's on his back," was the laughing reply. "I'm the doctor."
"Oh!" I cried, catching his meaning, "I hope not, sir, unless it's very rough, but I think I can stand it."
"So do a good many folks," he continued. "Morning."
This was to a big, heavy-looking gentleman of about eight-and-twenty, who came up just then and shook hands with the doctor, holding on to him it seemed to me in a weak, helpless, amiable fashion, as if he was so glad he had found a friend that he didn't like to let go.
"Good—good-morning, doctor," he said, and as he spoke, I felt as if I must laugh, for his voice was a regular high-pitched squeak, and it sounded so queer coming from a big, stoutish, smooth-faced man of six feet high.
Walters looked at me with a grin.
"Oh, here's a Tommy soft," he whispered.
"Don't," I said with my eyes, as I screwed up my face quite firmly.
"I'm so glad I met you, as every one is so strange, and I don't like to question the servants—I mean the stewards—because they are all so busy. How long will it be to breakfast?"
"Quite half-an-hour," said the doctor, smiling, as he looked at his watch. "Hungry?"
"Oh no; I wanted to know if there would be time to see to my little charges first."
"Your little—Oh yes, I remember the captain told me. You have quite a collection."
"Yes, very large, and I am anxious to get them all across safely."
"I wish you success, I'm sure," said the doctor quietly. "You naturalists take a great deal of pains over your studies."
"Oh, we do our best," said the big man mildly, and it was just as if a girl was speaking. "Perhaps your two young gentlemen would like to see them."
"To be sure they would," said the doctor. "Let me introduce them. Let me see, your name is—"
"To be sure, you told me last night in the cabin. Then here are two of our embryo captains, Mr—"
"Nicholas Walters," said my companion, trying to speak gruffly.
"That's right; I like to know the name of my patients present or to be. Let me make you known to Mr Arthur Preddle, FZS."
"And FLS," said the big passenger, mildly.
"To be sure, forgive my ignorance," said the doctor. "Now let's go and see the fish."
Mr Preddle led the way—that is, his words and looks were eager, but his body was very slow and lumbering as he walked with us to the steps, and then down to the main-deck, and forward; and all the time, as he moved his feet, I could not for the life of me help thinking about the way in which an elephant walked onward in his slow, soft way. It put one in mind of india-rubber, and all the time our new acquaintance gave a peculiar roll from side to side.
There was still a great deal of lumber about the deck, but the officers were rapidly getting everything cleared, and we soon reached a well-protected and sheltered spot forwards, where several large frames had been fitted up on purpose, and the boards which had been screwed on when they were brought on board having been removed, there they were, several shallow trays of little fish swimming hurriedly about in shoals in the clear water, but ready enough to dash at the tiny scraps of food Mr Preddle threw in.
"For fresh food, sir?" said Walters. "Won't they be very small?"
The doctor laughed, while the naturalist's eyes opened very wide and round, so did his mouth.
"For food, my dear young friend?" he said in his quiet way. "They are being sent out by an acclimatisation society, in the hope that they will assist to furnish Australia and New Zealand with a good supply of salmon and trout. Look at the little beauties, how strong and healthy, and bright and well they seem!"
I was afraid to look at Walters for fear he should make me laugh, so I stood staring first in one tray then in the other, till it was time for breakfast, and Walters whispered as we hung back to the last—
"I say, how I should like to kick that fish chap."
"Why?" I asked.
"Because he is so soft and fat."
By this time we were up by the cabin-door, and as we entered rather awkwardly, the captain shouted to us from the other end—
"Here, youngsters, you can find a seat at this table," and just then I saw my sick acquaintance standing up, and he beckoned to me.
"Come and sit by me," he said; "you will not mind, Captain Berriman?"
"Not I, sir," said that gentleman bluffly, and as I moved towards where my new friend was seated, Walters said sharply in my ear, "Oh, that's it, is it? Well, you are a sneak!"
These were the people I saw most of, on that first day. The next I did not see any of them, for when I awoke next morning, it was to feel that there was a heavy sea on, which somehow, from experience, I took quite as a matter of course; but a deep groan below me, and sounding very startling, taught me that some one else was not taking it in the same fashion.
"That you, Dale?" came piteously.
"Yes; what's the matter?"
"Oh, pray go and fetch the doctor. Some of that meat we had has upset me."
I looked at him, and certainly he seemed very ill, as I hurriedly began to dress.
"Oh dear, oh dear," he groaned, "I never felt so bad as this before."
"I shan't be long," I said; "when did you begins to feel bad?"
"Don't, don't ask any questions," he cried, half-angrily; "do you want to see me die?"
"Poor fellow!" I muttered, as I fought hard to get buttons through their proper holes, after a desperate struggle with my trousers, into which I got one leg, and had to try again and again to get in the other as I stood; but so sure as I raised the second limb the ship gave a lurch, and I either went against the bulk-head or banged up against our bunks.
"You're doing that on purpose," groaned Walters. "Oh, do, do call for help."
"No, I'd better run and fetch Mr—Mr—what's the doctor's name?"
"We never heard his name," moaned my messmate; "fetch him. I knew how it would be. It's a shame to poison officers with bad preserved meat."
"But I ate a lot of it," I said, as I triumphantly finished fastening my second brace.
"Ah, you'll have it directly. Oh dear, oh dear! I am so bad—why did I ever come to sea?"
A wave had struck the ship, and we could hear the water flying over us, as, after a tremendous effort to keep on my legs, I came down, sitting on my sea-chest; and then, instead of springing up again, I sat rolling from side to side, laughing silently and trying hard to master the intense desire to break forth into a tremendous roar.
Walters did not see it for a few moments, but kept on bemoaning his condition.
"I'll complain to the owners myself, if the captain doesn't take it up. It's too bad. Oh, do make haste—the doctor—the doctor—I'm dying." Then with a good deal of energy he cried, "Why, you're laughing."
"Of course I am," I said, giving way now to my mirth. "Why, you're only a bit sea-sick."
"I'm not," he snapped out; "I'm poisoned by that bad meat we had. Oh, the doctor, the doctor!"
"You're not," I said. "It's only sea-sickness. Why, I should have thought you could stand it."
"Hush, don't make that noise!" I cried.
"Then fetch the doctor, oh, pray, pray!"
I hesitated no longer, but hurried out, and one of the first I encountered on deck was the bluff-looking sailor, whom my companion had snubbed.
"Look here," I cried quickly, "Mr Walters is very ill. Where's the doctor's cabin?"
Just then the ship made a lurch, and so did I, but by giving a kind of hop and jump and getting my legs apart, I preserved my balance.
"Well done, youngster," cried the man. "You've been at sea before."
"Yes, often," I replied, "but where's the doctor?"
"I'll show you, sir. Number three's his cabin. Next but two to the skipper's. But your messmate's only got the Channel chump, has he?"
"I think he's only sea-sick, but he says it was the meat last night."
It was a curious sound that one cannot spell any nearer, partly laugh, partly cry of derision.
"That's what they all says, sir," he continued. "Sea-sick, sure as my name's Bob Hampton." As he spoke he had descended with me, and ended by pointing out number three.
"There you are, sir; two rollers at night, and a shake the bottle in the morning. That's Mr Frewen's cabin; I must get back on deck."
The next minute I was knocking at the doctor's door.
"Hullo!" came instantly.
"Would you get up, please, sir? Walters is very bad."
"So will some more be," I heard him say, "with this sea on." Then, louder, "Wait a minute."
I waited a minute and then a bolt was drawn.
I entered, to find the young doctor hurriedly dressing.
"I thought it was your voice," he said, "What is it?"
"He thinks the meat we had last night has poisoned him, sir!"
"Rubbish! The rough sea. But I'll come and have a look at him directly."
I ran back to our cabin, which I reached this time without going first on deck.
"How are you now?" I said.
"Is he coming soon?" moaned Walters. "Oh dear! He'll be too late. I know I'm dying; and if I do, don't—don't let 'em throw me overboard."
"You're not so bad as that," I said, trying to cheer him up.
"Oh, you don't know. Go and tell him to make haste before he is too late."
To my surprise and delight the door was opened, and the doctor with a very rough head came in.
"Now, squire," he cried, "what's the matter?"
"Ah, doctor, oh!"
"Ah, doctor, oh! Don't make that noise like an old woman of sixty. Pretty sort of a fellow you are to come to sea."
"Oh dear, oh dear! I know I'm dying."
"Then you are precious clever, my lad. Bah! There's nothing the matter with you but the sea tossing you up and down. Lie still, you'll soon come round."
"It—isn't—sea—sick—ick—ickness," moaned Walters.
"Then it's uncommonly like it, that's all I can say," cried the doctor, laughing. Then, turning to me—"There, you needn't be alarmed about him, my lad."
"I wasn't sir," I replied. "I told him that was what ailed him."
"And quite right. I suppose you'll have a turn next if this rough weather keeps on."
"But do, do give me something, doctor," groaned Walters.
"Your messmate will get you some tea presently," said the doctor, quietly. "There, I must go and finish dressing." And he left the cabin, while a good deal of my first work at sea was attending on poor Walters, who was about as bad as he could be for the next few days, during which the only passenger I saw was Mr Preddle, who came out of his cabin twice a day, looking miserably ill, and having hard work to stand; but Hampton the sailor and I used to help him go right forward to attend to his fish and then help him back again.
"It's so good of you," he used to say; "I'm not used to the sea, and if I get worse, do please go and see to my poor fish."
"Yes, they shan't be neglected," I said. "But I think the sea's going down, and you'll be all right, sir, then."
He shook his head sorrowfully, and when I helped him to lie down again— no easy task, for he was so big—he shut his eyes and whispered, "How is our sick friend?" he said.
"What, Walters, my messmate?"
"No, no, the passenger, Mr Denning."
"I haven't seen him, but the steward said he seemed pretty well, sir."
"Impossible. In such a delicate state of health. Have you seen the lady?"
"No, she has not been on deck."
"No. It would be too rough," sighed the poor fellow. "What's that?" he cried, excitedly, "something wrong?"
"I'll go and see," I said; for there had reached us the sound of an angry voice, and then a noise as of something falling overhead, and as I hurried out and on deck, I could hear the captain storming furiously, evidently at one of the men.
"And sarve him jolly well right," growled Hampton, looking at me as I hurried forward to where Captain Berriman was following up one of the sailors, who, with his hand to his bleeding cheek, was gazing fiercely at his officer and backing away toward the forecastle.
"Yes," shouted the captain, "get down below and don't show yourself to me again to-day, you scoundrel. Call yourself a sailor, and haven't learned the first line of a sailor's catechism—obedience to his officer."
The captain's face was flushed and the veins in his brow were knotted, but the aspect of his countenance changed directly, as in backing away from him the man did not allow for the heaving of the ship, and the consequence was that he stumbled, tried to save himself, and then fell heavily and rolled over into the lee-scuppers, but picked himself up and then hurried forward and out of sight.
As I looked back at the captain, it was to see his rugged face twinkling now with mirth, and he turned to Mr Frewen the doctor, who had hurried on deck at the noise.
"There, doctor," he said, "you see the old Burgh Castle wouldn't rest easy, and see her skipper insulted. Pitched the scoundrel off his legs. That comes of having these mongrel sort of fellows aboard. He's half a Frenchman. Shipped in a hurry. An insolent dog. Got my blood up; for as long as I walk this deck, right or wrong, I'll be obeyed. Perhaps I ought to have put him in irons though, instead of being so handy with my fists. You'll have to go and stick half-a-yard of plaster on his cheek: it's cut."
"What was the matter?" said the doctor, as soon as the captain gave him an opportunity.
"Brymer told him and another of the men to go up aloft, and he refused. I heard him, and ordered him to go at once, and he said, loud enough for Miss Denning to hear—never mind what. Here she comes;—and I knocked him down."
"Ah, my dear young lady," he continued, taking off his cap, "I apologise to you for that scene. But a captain must be master of his ship."
"I am very sorry too," she replied sadly. "It seemed so shocking for you to strike the man."
"Now, now, now, my dear, don't you scold me, an old fellow who has to play the part of father to you and your brother on this voyage. It was a pity perhaps, but I was obliged. But there, there, it's all over now."
"Hope it be," grumbled a voice behind me, and I turned sharply to see that Hampton was close alongside. "Yes, sir," he said again, "I hope it be, but chaps who wears earrings has got tempers like spiteful women, and that chap Jarette arn't the sort to forget a blow."
"Did the captain hit him very hard?" I said, after a glance over my shoulder, to see that the officers were walking aft talking to Miss Denning.
"Hard? Did the skipper hit him hard, sir? What says you, Barney, and you, Neb Dumlow?"
This was to the two sailors who were generally pretty close to his heels, all three men being thorough messmates, and having, as I afterwards learned, sailed together for years.
"Did he hit him hard?" said Barney, slowly, and giving his mouth a rub with the back of his hand.
"That's what I said, messmate; don't get chewin' o' my words over five hundred times to show off afore our young orficer. Did he hit him hard?"
"Orfle!" said Barney.
"Then why didn't you say so afore, 'stead o' getting into bad habits, a-saying things for the sake o' talking. Now, Neb Dumlow, just look the young gent straight in the face and say what you thinks."
"Couldn't ha' hit him no harder," growled the great fellow in his deep bass voice.
"Not with one hand," acquiesced Hampton; "but you needn't ha' screwed both your eyes out o' sight to say it, matey. Bad habit o' hisn, sir," he continued, turning to me, "but I'm a-trying to break him on it. Neb's a good sort o' chap if you could straighten his eyes; arn't you Neb?"
"Dunno," growled the man.
"Then it's a good job for you as I do, mate. Ay, the skipper did give Master Jarette a floorer, and I'm sorry for it."
"Why," I said, "if he deserved it?"
"Well, you see, sir, it's like this; if me or Neb or Barney there had scared one of the officers, and the skipper had knocked us down, why, we shouldn't ha' liked it—eh, mates?"
"No," came in a growl.
"Course not; but then we're Englishmen, and knowing as we was in the wrong, why, next day we should have forgot all about it."
"Ay, ay," growled Dumlow, and Barney nodded his acquiescence.
"But strikes me, sir—you needn't tell the skipper I says so, because p'r'aps I'm wrong—strikes me as that chap won't forget it, and I should be sorry for there to be any more rows with ladies on board, 'cause they don't like it. But I say, sir!"
"Yes, Hampton," I replied.
"I thought as Mr Walters as had been to sea afore was going to put you through it all. When's he going to show on deck?"
"Oh, he'll come up as soon as he's well enough," I said.
"If I was skipper, he'd be well enough now," said the sailor, roughly. "More you gives way to being sea-sick, more you may. I don't say as it's nice, far from it; but if a man shows fight, he soon gets too many for it. Here's him been a voyage, and you arn't. He lies below, below, below in his bunk, and you goes about just as if you was at home."
"Because I haven't been ill," I said, laughing.
"No, sir, you arn't; but if I was you, I'd soon go down and cure him."
"How?" I said, expecting to hear of some good old remedy.
"Yes, what physic?" I said.
"Bucket o' water, sir,—take a hair o' the dog as bit you, as the Scotch chaps say,—fresh dipped."
"Rubbish, Bob Hampton; how could he drink a bucket of salt water?"
"Who said anything about drinking it, sir? I meant as lotion, 'Outward application only,' as Mr Frewen puts on his bottles o' stuff sometimes."
"What! bathe him with salt water?"
"Yes, sir, on'y we calls it dowsin'. Sharp and sudden like. Furst dollop fails, give him another, and keep it up till he walks on deck to get dry; then call me to swab up the cabin, and he's all right."
"I'll tell Mr Walters what you say, Hampton."
"No, sir, I wouldn't do that; 'cause if you do, he'll have his knife into me. I on'y meant it as good advice. He on'y wants rousin' up. Why, if you was to set some of us to rattle a chain over his head, and then make a rash, and you went down and telled him the ship was sinking, he'd be quite well, thank ye, and come on deck and look out for a place in the first boat."
"You're too hard upon him," I said, and not liking to hear the man talk in this way, which sounded like an attempt to, what my father used to call, curry favour, I went aft to find that the invalid passenger, Mr John Denning, had been helped out on to the poop-deck by his sister and the steward, and was now having a cane-chair lashed for him close up by the mizzen-mast.
He beckoned as he caught sight of me, just as he was being lowered into his place, and I went up slowly, for the captain and Mr Frewen were by his side, and as I approached I heard him say rather irritably—
"Thank you, doctor. If I feel unwell I will ask you to help me. I'm quite right, only half-suffocated by being down so long."
"Very good, Mr Denning. I only thought you might wish to avail yourself of my services."
"Thank you; yes—of course."
I saw Miss Denning look pained, and press her brother's arm.
He turned upon her impatiently.
"Yes, yes, Lena, I know," he said; "and I have thanked Mr Frewen for his attention. Now I want to be alone."
Mr Frewen raised his cap, and walked forward, descending to the main-deck, and the invalid said something angrily to his sister which made her eyes fill with tears.
I was passing on, but Mr Denning made a sharp gesture.
"No, no, I want you," he cried sharply.
"Then I'll say good-morning," said the captain, smiling at Miss Denning. "I only wanted to say I was glad to see you on deck, sir."
"Thank you, captain; but don't go. I can't help being a bit irritable; I've had so much to do with doctors that I hate them."
"Well, so I do, Lena. I was dying for want of some fresh air, and as soon as I get on deck, captain, down swoops the doctor as if he were a vulture and I was so much carrion."
"Oh, come, come, my lad, you won't talk like that when you've been on deck a bit. Nothing like fresh air, sir. Keep yourself warm, though, and we mustn't have you wet."
"Now, captain, don't, pray," cried the invalid.
"All right, then, I won't. Look here, then. If it gets too rough, come into my cabin and have a cigar and a chat. You won't mind a little smoke, my dear?"
"Oh no, Captain Berriman; not at all."
"That's right. You know where my cabin is, and don't you mind me calling you my dear. I've got three girls at home as old or older than you, and a son as big as Mr Denning."
Miss Denning smiled in his face, while I felt as if I wished he would be as fatherly with me.
"Look here," he continued, with a twinkle of the eye. "I've just had a telegram from old Neptune. He says the gale's pretty well over, and he's going to give us some fine weather now. He was obliged to blow up a bit because the waves were getting sulky and idle, and the winds were all gone to sleep."
It did not seem like the same man who was so fierce with the sailor a short time before.
"And look here, Mr Denning," he continued, turning back after taking a few steps toward the man at the wheel; "you're quite right, sir; pitch the doctor overboard, and I'll prescribe for you. I've got a bottle or two of prime port wine and burgundy on board,—you understand? And as soon as the weather mends you must try some fishing; I dare say I can fit you up, and young Dale here will lend a hand."
"Oh yes," I said eagerly.
"And don't know anything about it, eh?"
I stared at him in surprise.
"Why, I've fished at sea hundreds of times, sir," I said. "Whiffing, long line, trot, and bulter; and we used to go out to the rocks off Falmouth to set small trammels."
"Why, you're quite a sailor, Dale," said the captain. "All right, my lad, you'll do."
"I like Captain Berriman, Lena," said Mr Denning, thoughtfully; "but I will not have that doctor always hanging about my chair."
I saw Miss Denning look sadly at me and colour a little as she glanced back at her brother, who nodded sharply and turned to me, and changed the conversation. "Were you on deck when there was that disturbance?"
"The captain knocked the man down, didn't he?"
"Yes; sent him sprawling upon the deck."
I saw the young man's eyes flash, and there was a slight flush upon his sallow cheek as he laid a thin hand on my arm, and went on eagerly—
"I wish I had been on deck."
"Oh, there wasn't much to see," I said. "His cheek was cut, and bled."
"So much the better. Let Mr Frewen go and attend him. But the man was insolent, wasn't he?"
"Very, I believe; and Captain Berriman said he would have proper discipline in his ship."
"Yes, of course. I should have liked to see the captain knock him down. Perhaps it will make him spiteful."
I looked at him wonderingly, and he smiled.
"Well, why shouldn't I?" he said. "One likes to see a few exciting scenes now and then. Life is so dull."
He was holding on by the arms of the chair, for the ship rose and fell, and rolled a good deal in the short, choppy sea; but he seemed to like it, and as his sister stood with her hands resting on the back of the chair, balancing herself and yielding to the motion of the ship, her eyes brightened, and she gazed away over the foaming sea, where the sun had come through the clouds, and made the spray sparkle like diamonds as the waves curled over and broke.
They neither of them spoke to me, and I walked slowly away to see that the captain had raised his hand.
"You can spend a little time with the sick passenger, Dale," he said; "I mean when he wants you. Poor fellow, I'm afraid he's in a bad way."
He walked back toward the group by the mizzen as he spoke, and then as we drew near he changed the conversation.
"Look here, Dale," he said; "you'd better go down and pull your messmate out of his bunk by the hind leg. Time he was on deck now. And look here, go and see how that Mr Preddle is. He's keeping below, too, when a touch of this brisk breeze would set him up. Go down, and tell him the fish are fighting—ah, fighting—that will be more like the truth. They're sure to fight. That will bring him on deck."
"Shall I, sir?"
"Yes; off with you."
As I started I saw that Mr Denning was frowning, and that his sister looked troubled. But it was only a momentary glance, and a minute or two later I approached the door of Mr Preddle's cabin and knocked.
There was a groan, and in spite of its pitiful nature I could not help smiling, and I knocked again.
"Come in," I heard in quite a squeak; and then as I opened the door—"Is that Doctor Frewen?"
"No, sir," I replied. "I've come to ask you to get up and come on deck."
"On deck! Is there any danger?"
The speaker raised himself upon his elbow, and looked at me eagerly.
"Oh no," I replied; "the sea's going down, and the captain thinks an hour or two on deck would do you good."
"Too ill, too much prostrated," sighed the great fellow, who lay, as I thought, like a sick elephant, when he had dropped back on to the pillow.
"Captain Berriman said something about seeing to your fish, sir."
"My fish! Ah, yes; you shall look at them for me."
"But it really is nice and fresh on deck, sir."
"Yes, for you."
"And it seems to be doing Mr Denning and his sister ever so much good."
Mr Preddle rose suddenly to his elbow.
"Miss—They are not on deck?" he said eagerly. "What, Mr and Miss Denning?"
"Yes," I said, looking at him wonderingly, for he appeared to be so excited. "Oh yes; he's sitting up there, looking at the sea, and his sister's standing by his chair."
"Would—would you mind helping me on with a few of my things, Mr Dale?" he said hurriedly, as he began to creep out of his berth. "It's so awkward dressing when the ship sways about so. It makes me feel giddy."
"Oh yes; I'll help you," I said.
"Thank you; it's very kind of you. The captain is quite right, and I'm not doing what I ought about those fish. I will go and see to them. So much time and expense was devoted to—oh, my gracious!"
I tried to save him, but he was too heavy, and we went down together with him half over me; but I didn't feel it much, for he was very soft. You see he had got one leg half-way into his trousers, when the Burgh Castle gave a lurch, and bang he went up against the bulk-head, and then on to the floor.
"Hurt yourself much, sir?" I said, as we both struggled up.
"Oh, horri—no, no, not much, thank you," he muttered. "I—I—haven't quite got my sea-legs yet, as you sailors call it. That's better. Now if you wouldn't mind, Mr Dale."
I didn't mind, of course, and I helped him all I could, thinking all the while he was like a big fat boy we used to have at school, only Mr Preddle was nearly three times the size. And all the time, though he must have felt very faint and poorly, he kept a good face upon his troubles, trying to laugh and make light of them, till I said, merrily—
"That's the way, Mr Preddle. Now, if you get up on deck and don't think about the ship rolling, you will soon be better."
"Yes," he said; "I believe I should if I only could keep from thinking about the ship rolling. But it won't let me." This was while he was rubbing his big, round, smooth face, which looked as good-natured as possible, though the smile upon it was only forced.
"Oh, but you'll soon get over it," I cried. "I'll stop and help you up."
"Yes, do please stop," he said hurriedly; "but don't try and help me up. I'm going to walk up and balance myself. I shall keep close to the bulwarks, don't you call them, and hold on. Which is the best side?"
"I should go along on the weather side," I replied. "You may get splashed a bit; but you'll soon learn not to mind that. I've often been drenched when out in the yacht with father, but one soon got dry again."
"Didn't you catch a bad cold?" he said, out of the towel.
Then he looked in his little glass as he steadied himself with one hand, and then in his highly-pitched voice he said, as he looked round at me with a faint laugh, and passed his hand over his chin—
"It's a very good job, isn't it, that I don't have to shave? I'm sure I couldn't use a razor with the ship rising and falling like this."
The little round window was darkened for a few moments, and Mr Preddle held on with both hands.
"What's that?" he cried, excitedly. "Is there any danger?"
"Danger? No," I said with a laugh. "It was only a wave. Good job you hadn't opened your window. Don't you ever shave, then, sir?"
"No," he said with a sigh; "my beard never came."
"Then it never will," I remember thinking to myself as I looked at his smooth cheeks and chin, while he carefully combed and brushed his hair as he stood in his trousers and shirt, and then opened a little box and took out three neckerchiefs, all different in colour.
"Which one would you wear, Mr Dale?" he said, as he looked up at me.
"Oh, I don't know," I cried merrily; "which you like best—the blue one. There's plenty of blue sky and blue sea now."
"Yes, you're right," he said, eagerly. "And—you wouldn't mind, would you?"
"Mind what, sir?"
"Showing me how to tie a sailor's knot. I never could manage it properly."
I showed him, and then he put on a white waistcoat and a blue serge jacket, like that worn by a yachting-man, buttoned up tightly, and looked at me again.
"It's very kind of you to help me," he said; "but do you think it's fine enough for a straw hat?"
I shook my head as I pictured his round, plump, white face under the straight brim, and thought how comic it would look.
"I should wear that," I said, pointing to a yachtsman's blue woollen peaked cap. "There's so much wind, and it will keep on better."
"Of course; you are quite right," he said. "It's because you have had so much experience of the sea. But it isn't quite so becoming as the straw, is it?"
I stared at him wonderingly as I thought how vain he must be; but I said it looked right enough.
"I should keep the straw hat for when we get down into the hot parts, sir," I said.
"To be sure; so I will. Do you know, that wash seems to have done me a lot of good, Mr Dale. I really think I feel better."
"Then you'll be all right now, sir. I should get the steward to give me a basin of soup."
He shuddered, and gave me a look of horror.
"I couldn't touch it," he whispered. "Don't ask me. Not now."
"Wait till you've been on deck a bit, sir."
"Yes, yes," he said, excitedly; and after another look in the glass he told me he was ready, and we went out to go on deck: but he declined to go up the steps to where the captain would be with the other passengers, and said he would go forward to have a look at the fish; but before he had gone many steps, he altered his mind.
"I do feel better, Mr Dale," he said, with a half-laugh, "and I think I will go up and pay my respects to the captain and—and the other passengers," and then, talking eagerly to me about his fish, and carefully preserving his balance, we went up on the poop-deck, with the ship gliding along swiftly and more easily.
The captain saw us, and came to meet him along with Mr Brymer, the first mate, and both shook hands warmly.
"Glad, to see you on deck, sir. There, you've got over your bit of trouble. It was rather a rough beginning."
"Yes, and of course I'm not much used to the sea, Captain Berriman," said Mr Preddle, as he walked on by his side with legs rather widely apart, I following behind with Mr Brymer.
It seemed to me then that Mr Preddle was managing so as to get up to where Mr Denning sat with his sister, and the next minute they were abreast of them, and the captain said in his bluff way—
"There, Mr Denning, another of your fellow-passengers has found out the advantage of coming on deck."
"Yes," said Mr Preddle, hastily, as he took off his cap to Miss Denning, and then bowed to her brother. "So fresh and bright after the clo—clo—clo—Oh dear me!"
I was obliged to laugh, and though Mr Denning looked angry, I saw Miss Denning turn away to hide a smile, for the captain and Mr Brymer laughed as merrily as I did. And no wonder, for just as Mr Preddle was bowing and smiling and talking hurriedly, the ship gave another sudden lurch; he made a wild grasp at the captain, missed him; another at Mr Denning's chair; and then sat down involuntarily on the deck, to look up ruefully at me, his eyes seeming to say, "Oh, how can you laugh!"
"All right, sir, not hurt, I hope?" said the captain, and he and the first mate helped our stout passenger to rise.
"No, not at all, thanks; sadly awkward though at first," he said, rather piteously. "Mr Dale—would you mind?"
I hurriedly offered him my arm, and he gave a quick look round.
"A little weak and giddy," he continued, with his eyes resting on Miss Denning, who held out her hand, and in a quiet sweet way, said—
"Yes, we have been rather unwell too. I turned quite giddy once."
Mr Denning looked at her angrily, and Mr Preddle shook hands very awkwardly before walking away with me, and as I helped him down the ladder, he said in a whisper—
"Are they all laughing at me? Look."
"Oh no," I said, after a hasty glance. "I'm afraid we were all very rude, but every one meets with these accidents at sea."
I fancied he muttered something about "disgraced," but he was very silent, and hardly noticed the men who touched their caps to him as we went forward, where he stayed with the fish for a few minutes, and lifted out a couple which lay floating wrong side up, with a tiny landing-net; and then walked back without me towards his cabin. I let him get nearly to the companion-way, and then ran after him with my face burning.
"I beg your pardon for laughing at you, Mr Preddle," I said.
He turned his piteous face toward me, and smiled in a simple, good-natured way, as he held out his hand.
"You couldn't help it," he said; "I suppose I did look very ridiculous. It's because I'm so stout; p'r'aps being at sea will take it down."
He nodded and went on, leaving me thinking.
It was awkward, just too as he wanted to show how well he was. Then I started and looked round, for some one clapped me on the shoulder.
"You and Mr Preddle seem to be getting capital friends, Dale; how smart he had made himself look!"
"Yes, sir," I said; "but he had quite an accident on deck," and I looked half-smilingly in the young doctor's face, for it was he.
"Accident? Hurt?" he said, eagerly.
"Oh no, sir. He was going up to speak to Miss Denning and her brother, and the ship lurched, and he came down sitting."
"Oh!" said the doctor, and it struck me at the time that he looked rather pleased.
The next morning broke bright and glorious. We were right away in the open sea now, going south before a brisk north-west breeze, which was just enough to make the water dance and glitter in the sunshine, as the Burgh Castle with a full press of sail careened gently over. While feeling fresh and eager, I thought how delightful the ocean looked, and was eager to see what the tropic waters would have to show.
"Here, Dale," said the captain, "this sort of thing won't do. Where's your messmate—Walters?"
"He's a little better this morning, sir, but not out of his bunk."
"You go down and tell him that if he is not up on deck in a quarter of an hour, I'll send two of the men down to fetch him."
"Yes, sir," and I went and delivered my message to the poor, miserable-looking, yellow-faced fellow, as he lay with his face screwed up, only half seen in his bunk.
"I don't care. Let him send if he dares. I can't get up. I'll complain to the owners. It's a cruel shame, and it's a wonder I haven't died, left neglected down here."
"That you haven't been," I cried; "why, I've regularly nursed you, and the steward couldn't have been kinder."
"Who said he could?" cried Walters, with plenty of animation now. "But where's the doctor? What's a doctor carried on a ship for if he isn't to attend to the sick people?"
"Oh, but you're not sick," I said.
"What?" he cried fiercely.
"Well, not now," I replied, laughing. "Of course you were, but you're only qualmy now. Here, this place does smell stuffy. I'll open the window."
"That you won't; I don't want to catch a bad cold. Wish I hadn't come to sea in such a miserable ship."
"Nonsense. Get up and dress."
"But you'd feel ever so much better."
"How do you know? You go and tell the captain he's a brute, and I'm not going to get up till I'm better."
"Not I. It would only be a lie," I said.
"You are ever so much better. Shall I ask the steward to make you some tea?"
"No, I couldn't touch it, and he wouldn't make it if you did. This ain't a London hotel."
"Of course it isn't; but he'd make a cup if I asked him."
"No, he wouldn't. They're all brutes here."
"Look here," I cried, as I saw how argumentative he could be, and that if he roused himself up he'd be better, "if you don't jump into your trousers I'll be a brute too."
"What do you mean?" he said, sharply.
"I'll lay hold of one leg, and pull you out on to the floor."
"You dare to touch me, and I'll give you the biggest hiding you ever had in your life."
"Not you. Come, get up, or the skipper will send down two fellows to fetch you out."
"Let him at his peril," snarled my messmate, pulling the clothes higher.
"Shall I go and tell him that?"
"If you dare."
"Oh, I dare," I said, "but I wouldn't be such a sneak. But he really will send after you, if you don't get up."
"Come, you are better."
"I'm not; I'm half dead."
"I am, you unfeeling brute; I am so weak, I can't stir."
"You said you were strong enough to give me a good hiding."
"Yes, when I'm better."
"You're better now, so get out."
"Am I to pull you out?"
"You dare to touch me, and I'll half-kill you."
"Here goes, then!" I cried, and diving my hand under the blanket, I caught hold of him by his leg, and with one good tug had him out on the floor of the narrow cabin, kicking and struggling to get from beneath the clothes. As soon as he was free he flew at me, hitting out fiercely, while I only closed with him to keep him from hurting.
Then for about a minute we had a combined wrestle and fight about the cabin, with the result that I, being dressed and in better condition, got him down and sat upon his chest, panting heavily, to get my breath, while I could feel the saddle upon which I sat move sharply up and down.
"There," I said good-temperedly, "I knew you weren't bad. Will you dress yourself, and come on deck if I get off?"
"I'll half-kill you!" he snarled through his set teeth.
"Then I'll sit here till you change your mind."
He drew up his knees, so as to get his heels as near me as he could, then placed his hands close to his ribs, waited a few moments to get his breath, and at a moment when he thought I was quite off my guard, he raised his chest so as to make a bow of his spine, and giving a sudden quick heave, tried to throw me off sidewise.
But I had too good a seat for my restive steed, and nipping him tightly, held on while he frantically tried the same movement again and again, till he was compelled to stop from lack of breath. And all the time his face grew blacker with fury, while mine was puckered up by mirth, for I was thoroughly enjoying the fun of the thing, and not in the least alarmed by his threats.
"You beast!" he snarled. "Only wait till my turn comes, and you shall have it for this."
"Not I, my lad," I cried merrily. "You'll be as pleased as can be to-morrow, and thank me for doing you so much good. Why, Walters, old chap, you're growing stronger every minute. I thought you were so faint you couldn't move."
"So I am, and you're suffocating me by sitting on my chest, you cowardly wretch."
"Not I. It makes the bellows work better," I cried, as I bumped gently up and down. "Good for you after lying there so long. Ready for another try?"
I gave so heavy a bump that he yelled out, but I only laughed, for every doubt of his condition had passed away, as he proved to me in our struggle that he was as strong and well able to be about as I.
"Now then, if I get off, will you wash and dress?"
"I'll thrash you till you can't stand," he snarled.
"Not you. Be too grateful; and if you speak like that again I'll nip your ribs twice as hard."
"You wait till I get up."
"You're not going to get up," I said, "till you promise to behave yourself."
"I'll make you sorry for this, my fine fellow, as soon as I'm well."
"Then you had better do it at once," I said, "if you can."
He gave another heave, but I was too firmly settled, and he subsided again, and lay panting and glaring at me fiercely.
"There, let's have no more nonsense," I said at last; "don't be so silly. I only did it all in fun to get you to make an effort. Will you get up quietly and shake hands?"
"No!" he roared, and he gave such a jerk that I had hard work to keep my seat, while he struck at me savagely with his doubled fists.
"Wo ho!" I cried, as I managed to secure his wrists, and now as I saw his malignant look, I began to feel uncomfortable, and to wish that I had gone some other way to work to bring him round.
"You shall repent all this, you wretch!" he cried.
"Pooh!" I said contemptuously, for my own temper was rising; "I am not afraid. There, get up and dress at once, and don't make an idiot of yourself."
As I spoke I gathered myself together, and with one effort I sprang to my feet, being quite on my guard, but expecting the greater part of what he had said was talk, and that he would not dress himself. But to my astonishment he leaped up, dashed at me, striking out right and left, and the next minute there would have been an angry fight on the way, if the door had not suddenly darkened and a voice which I recognised as Mr Brymer's exclaimed—
"Hullo! what's all this?"
My rising anger was checked on the instant as Walters started back, and the chief mate and Mr Frewen came in.
"Walters has got a fit, sir," I said, laughing.
"I haven't," he cried furiously; "this cowardly beast has been dragging me out of my bunk when I was so ill I could hardly move myself."
"The captain said he was to get up, sir," I pleaded; "and I tried to coax him first, but he wouldn't stir. Then I did pull him out, but he's been going on like mad ever since."
"Let me see," said Mr Frewen, seriously, and he felt Walters' pulse. "Let me look at your tongue, sir," he continued; "no, no, not the tip. Out with it. Hah! And so you had the heart to drag this poor fellow out of his bed, Dale, when he was as weak as a baby?"
"Why, I could hardly hold him, sir," I protested. "He's stronger than I am, only I got him down and sat upon him."
"Sat upon him—got him down! Why, you might have killed him."
"I didn't think he was bad, sir," I said. "You should have seen him a little while ago."
"Oh!" groaned Walters, piteously, and he lowered the lids of his eyes, and then let them wander feebly about the cabin.
"He's looking for his breeches," said the doctor, changing his tone. "There, dress yourself, you cowardly sham!" he cried. "A great strong healthy lad like you, who has been to sea for eighteen months, to lay up like a sickly weak girl. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
Walters opened his eyes widely and stared.
"Dale ought to have tugged you out a couple of days ago, and given you a bucket of water. There, nothing whatever's the matter with him, Brymer. Come along, and I'll report the case to the captain."
"Well, to see the way he was showing fight," said the mate, "didn't seem to me like being weak."
"Weak? Pish! You did quite right, Dale. I'm sympathetic enough with any poor fellow who is really bad, but if there is anything that raises my dander it's a cowardly pitiful fellow who gives up for nothing. Look here, sir, if you're not on deck in a quarter of an hour, I shall suggest strong measures to the captain in answer to his order to come down and see how you were."
He stepped out of the little cabin, but put his head in again.
"Open that window, Dale, my lad, this place is stifling."
"Yes," said the first mate. "On deck in a quarter of an hour, sir, or you'll wish yourself on shore."
They both left the cabin, and I only made poor Walters more bitter against me by bursting out laughing as he began to dress quickly.
"A set of brutes!" he grumbled; "a set of unfeeling brutes!"
"There, drop it now," I cried; "I shall stop and help you."
"You'll stop till I help you," he said through his clenched teeth. "I shan't forget this."
"All right," I replied, and I left him to himself to cool down; but feeling sorry for him, and thinking that I had been unfeeling, I hurried off to the cook, who was pretending to be very busy in the galley, and who gave me a suspicious look as soon as I showed myself at the door.
"I say, have you got any beef-tea?" I asked.
"Beef-tea, sir!" he said, giving the lad with him a sharp look. "Anything else, sir?—Turtle, sir; gravy, spring, or asparagus soup,— like it now?"
I stared for a moment, then seeing that the man was poking fun at me, I changed my tone and slipped a shilling in his hand.
"Look here," I cried; "Mr Walters has been very queer and he's now getting up, can't you give me a basin of soup for him?"
"Soup, sir! Ah, now you're talking wisdom. I'll see what I can do; but to talk about beef-tea just when the butcher's shop round the corner's shut up—butcher's shop is shut up, arn't it, Tom?" he continued, turning to his assistant.
"Yes; all gone wrong. Trade was so bad."
"Now, no chaff," I said; "you will get me a basin of something?"
"I should think so, sir. Here, Tom, strain off some of the liquor from that Irish stoo."
A lid was lifted off, and a pleasant savoury steam arose as a basinful of good soup was ladled out, strained into another, and then the man turned to me—
"Like to try one yourself, sir?"
"Yes," I cried eagerly, for the odour was tempting. "No," I said, resisting the temptation. "Give us hold," and the next minute I was on my way back with the basin and a spoon toward the cabin aft.
I don't know how it is, but so sure as you don't want to be seen doing anything, everyone is on the way to meet you. It was so then. I was carefully balancing the steaming basin so as not to spill any of its contents on the white deck, as the ship rose and fell, when I came upon the doctor, who laughed. The next minute Mr Brymer popped upon me.
"Hullo!" he said, "who's that for?"
"Mr Walters, sir."
I went on watching the surface of the soup, which kept on threatening to slop over, when a rough voice said—
"Thankye, sir. I'll have it here. Did you put in the salt?"
I gave the speaker, Bob Hampton, a sharp look, and saw that the two men who were generally near him, Barney Blane and Dumlow, were showing all their teeth as they indulged in hard grins; and then I was close upon the cabin-door, but started and stopped short as I heard a cough, and looking up, there was the captain leaning over the rail and watching me.
"That's not your duty, is it, my lad?" he said.
"No, sir. For Walters, sir, before he comes on deck."
"Oh!" he ejaculated with a grim look, and he turned away, while I dived in through the door and made my way to the cabin, where I could hear that Walters was having a good wash.
"Here, I've brought you something to take," I cried.
He glanced round sharply, saw what I had, and took no more notice, but went on with his washing.
"Better have it while it's hot," I said.
He took up the towel and began to rub.
"Look sharp, you must take it," I cried. "If I stand it down, it will slop over the side."
"Oh, well, if you won't," I cried at last, "I shall eat it myself."
He threw down the towel, turned, half-snatched the basin away, and held it as if he were going to throw the contents in my face.
His action was so sudden that I flinched.
"Ah, you know you deserve it," he cried, sourly.
"Yes, shall I eat it?" I replied, recovering myself.
"Bah!" he snarled out, and feeling that I had done all that was necessary, I backed away and went up on deck, from whence I saw my messmate come out of the cabin about ten minutes after, and as the captain signed to him to come near, I slipped down out of curiosity, hurried to the cabin, and found that the basin was emptied to the last drop.
I ran forward and popped my head in at the galley.
"Send a boy to fetch the empty basin from our cabin," I said quickly.
"All right, sir," was the reply, and I went aft, just as Walters was leaving the cabin, but he took care not to come near me, and I went on with my work.
Down south we sailed as swiftly as favouring gales and plenty of sail could take us, and in course of time we had passed below the Azores, and every one on board was waking up to the fact that we were getting into latitudes where the weather grew hotter and more sunshiny day by day.
All the foul winds and rough seas had been left far behind in the north, and anything more delightful than the life on board it would have been impossible to conceive.
There were troubles, of course, and I used to think that the captain was unnecessarily severe on Jarette and several of the other men; but I set it down to a desire to preserve good discipline, and of course I felt that he must know best how to manage his crew.
The passengers passed the greater part of their time on deck, coming up early to bathe in the bright sunshine which made the metal look too hot to touch, and the tar to glisten in little beads all along beneath the ropes and about the seams of the deck, and they stayed late at night in the brilliant moonlight, till I used to think that our voyage was going to be one long time of pleasure; for every one—no, not every one— seemed to be happy and cheerful, and I made no end of friends. I had plenty to do, but even in their strictest moments the officers were pleasant to me, and I thought, thanks to the breaking in I had had with my father on his yacht, going to sea in a big clipper ship one of the most delightful of lives.
But there was some bitter in it. Walters and I never grew to be warm friends, though I did my best. He did not get on with the officers either, but used to seize every opportunity to get away and talk to some of the sailors, particularly with the Frenchman Jarette, who was in trouble with the captain just after our starting, but who, thanks to the severe treatment he had received, now proved to be one of the smartest of the crew.
He spoke English as well as I did, but if ever I drew near when Walters had gone to lean over the bulwarks and talk to him, I could hear that it was in French—bad French, spoken very slowly on Walters' part, and he used to have to make Jarette say what he had to say two or three times over before he could quite make it out.
"No business of mine," I thought. "I might do the same and practise up my French," which needed it badly enough, for I had pretty well forgotten all I had learned.
Things were not quite happy either on deck. I did not thoroughly understand why, and attributed it to Mr Denning's ill-temper, consequent upon his being unwell, for he was haughty and distant with Mr Frewen whenever he tried to be friendly, and I used to set it down to his having had so much to do with doctors that he quite hated them; but there seemed to be no reason why he should snub Mr Preddle so whenever the big stout fellow approached him and his sister and tried to enter into conversation.
Mr Preddle used to complain to me about it when I went with him to see to the aerating and giving fresh water to the fish, which needed a great deal of attention, and in spite of all our care would insist in turning wrong side up, to paddle about slowly and helplessly for a while, and then make a vigorous effort and swim naturally.
But the next minute they were back down and white up, and so they would go on till they were too weak to move, and a few minutes after they would die.
"Yes, it's sad business, Alison Dale," Mr Preddle would say with a sigh, as he lifted a little trout out of one tray, or a tiny salmon from another. "I'm afraid that I shall not have many left by the time I arrive over in New Zealand."
"Perhaps they will get on better when we are in warmer parts."
"I'm afraid they'll die faster then," he said, taking something out of a locked-up box under one of the water-troughs, and to my surprise I saw that it was an ordinary pair of kitchen bellows.
"What! are you going to light a fire to warm them, sir?" I said.
"No, no; don't you know that fish require plenty of air?"
"Yes, I've heard something of the kind, and that if a pond is frozen over, and the ice is not broken, the fish die."
"Exactly, for want of air. Look at those fish in that trough."
"Yes, they're hungry," I said, for in one corner a number of them were putting their mouths nearly out of the water, and opening and shutting them.
"No, they want air; there is not enough in the water. Now you'll see."
He thrust the nozzle of the bellows beneath the surface, and began puffing away till the water boiled and bubbled and was covered with foam, while after the first few puffs the fish swam about more vigorously and left the surface.
"There, you see," he said, "there is plenty of air now," and he served the other troughs the same. "Now, look here, Alison Dale," he said, as he replaced the bellows, and locked the box, "I'll leave the key behind this trough, and if you would not mind, I should be greatly obliged if you would give the fish a little air now and then just to help me, for I should dearly like to keep the poor things alive."
"Oh yes," I said, "I'll do it whenever I have a chance, but I don't quite understand; I thought fish breathed water."
"With air in it. If there is no air to mingle with the water, the fish soon die."
"But air over the water, you mean," I said.
"No; in the water; it will hold an enormous deal of air or gas. Look at soda-water, for instance, how full of gas that is, and how the tiny beads come bubbling out as soon as the pressure is removed. Now, if I only had a few fish in these troughs, there would be plenty of air for them naturally in the water, but with so many in my charge," he sighed, "it must be supplied artificially."
"All right, then, we'll supply it artificially; but it looks very comic to be blowing the water with bellows instead of the fire, and if Walters catches me at it, he'll tell everybody that I've gone mad."
"Then you will help me?" he said, appealingly.
"Oh yes, I'll help you," I replied, and he looked so big and boyish that I felt as if I ought to slap him over the back and call him "old chap."
"Thank you, thank you," he said in his mild way; "and—er—er—"
Then he stopped, with his mouth opening and shutting; and as I stared at him, I could not help thinking how like he was to one of his fish.
"Yes," I said; "you were going to say something."
"Eh? Was I?" he said, looking quite red in the face, and uneasy. "Oh, it was nothing—nothing—I—er—I hardly know what I was about to say. Yes, I do," he cried, desperately; "I remember now. You were close to us this morning when Mr Denning spoke to me. Did you hear what he said?"
"No, I was too far off," I replied; "but he seemed to be speaking snappishly."
"Yes, he does sometimes; I'm afraid that he does not like me."
"You worry him," I thought to myself, "by hanging about him so, and talking to Miss Denning when he wants her to read to him."
"Yes?" said Mr Preddle; "what were you thinking?"
"Oh, about what you said. He is irritable, you know, from bad health."
"Yes," he said, quite in a whisper, "irritable from bad health, poor fellow."
He stood with the little landing-net in his hand, gazing down into the trough nearest to us as if watching the little trout; but his thoughts were, I dare say, of something else, and I did not like to disturb him, but stood giving a side look now and then at him, but for the most part watching his charge, and thinking how thoroughly man had imitated the shape of a fish in making a ship, even to the tail to steer it with. Then all at once I looked up, for there were voices outside, and I knew it was Jarette the Frenchman saying something very earnestly to Walters.
I did not hear what either of them said, for they spoke in a very low tone, and in French. But I caught just the last words which were uttered by Jarette, and they were these—
"Mais prenez-garde, mon ami. Prenez-garde."
Then they had passed on, and all was silent again, with Mr Preddle still watching the fish.
"'But take care, my friend, take care.' That's what he said," I thought to myself; "I know French enough for that. Take care of what? And why does he call Walters 'my friend'? He's only a common sailor, and a midshipman even in a merchantman oughtn't to be friends in that way with the men."
Then I laughed silently to myself as I thought of how fond I was of leaning over the bulwarks and talking to old Bob Hampton when he had the watch, and listening to his sea-tales about storms and pirates.
"How ready one is to find fault with people one doesn't like," I said to myself.
"I beg your pardon," said Mr Preddle.
"I didn't speak, sir."
"No; but I had gone into a brown study. There, the fish will do now."
We both went on deck, and somehow when I was alone I too went into a brown study, and began wondering at Mr Preddle's curious ways, and thinking what a pity it was that a gentleman like Mr Denning, who was on a voyage for the sake of his health, should take such a dislike to Mr Frewen and Mr Preddle too. It hardly seemed to be like irritability, for after all he was as merry and friendly with the officers as he was with me. I never went near him without his beckoning to me to come to his side, and both he and his sister were quite affectionate to me, making my first long voyage wonderfully pleasant, and the captain encouraged it.
"He must have heard something about them," I thought, and then I began to think about Walters and the French sailor and the other sailors, of those who seemed to form one party all to themselves, and of the others who kept more along with Bob Hampton and his two friends, who had sailed together for so many years.
"There, what does it matter?" I said to myself, as I roused myself from my musings. "Walters doesn't like Bob Hampton because Bob laughed at him, and that's why he hangs toward Jarette; pities him, perhaps, because they both got into trouble with the officers, and birds of a feather flock together."
These were all dreamy thoughts, like clouds in my mind. I could not understand them. I grew wiser later on when the troubles came.
I had so many things to take up my attention that I forgot all about hearing Jarette and Walters talking together. Perhaps it came to mind once or twice afterwards, but it made no impression then, however much I may have thought about it afterwards. For then I was trying to learn my duties, studying up a little navigation, helping Mr Preddle with his fish that were to stock the New Zealand rivers with trout, and attending to Mr Denning. I suppose it was attending upon him, but to me it was all one jolly time of amusement, during which the poor fellow seemed to forget all about his bad health, and became as interested as a boy with our various bits of sport.