Saved by the Lifeboat, by R.M. Ballantyne.
This book is mainly to describe the lifeboat service, and how private individuals can donate the money for building a new lifeboat.
We start off with a wreck just occurring near a little seaside village, and how the local men rushed down to the beach to do what they could to save life. We then move to the offices of a mean grasping shipowner, who will do anything to avoid properly equipping his ships with what they would need if disaster struck. Eventually he is brought to a more sensible state of mind, and donates money for a new lifeboat.
There is a good fund-raising chapter, and it is interesting how very much the same today's appeals for the lifeboat service are, though of course today's lifeboat is a very different item to the lifeboats of over a hundred years ago.
SAVED BY THE LIFEBOAT, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.
THE WRECK IN THE BAY.
On a dark November afternoon, not many years ago, Captain Boyns sat smoking his pipe in his own chimney-corner, gazing with a somewhat anxious expression at the fire. There was cause for anxiety, for there raged at the time one of the fiercest storms that ever blew on the shores of England.
The wind was howling in the chimney with wild fury; slates and tiles were being swept off the roofs of the fishermen's huts and whirled up into the air as if they had been chips of wood; and rain swept down and along the ground in great sheets of water, or whirled madly in the air and mingled with the salt spray that came direct from the English Channel; while, high and loud above all other sounds, rose the loud plunging roar of the mighty sea.
"I fear there will be a call before long, Nancy, for the services of the new lifeboat," said Captain Boyns, rising and taking down an oilcloth coat and sou'-wester, which he began to put on leisurely; "I'll go down to the beach and see what's doin' at the Cove."
The captain was a fine specimen of a British sailor. He was a massive man, of iron build, and so tall that his sou'-wester almost touched the ceiling of his low-roofed parlour. His face was eminently masculine, and his usual expression was a compound of sternness, gravity, and good-humour. He was about forty years of age, and, unlike the men of his class at that time, wore a short curly black beard and moustache, which, with his deeply bronzed countenance, gave him the aspect of a foreigner.
"God help those on the sea," said Mrs Boyns, in reply to her husband's remark; "I'm thankful, Dan, that you are on shore this night."
Nancy was a good-looking, lady-like woman of thirty-three or thereabouts, without anything particularly noteworthy about her. She was busy with her needle at the time we introduce her, and relapsed into silence, while her stalwart husband pulled on a pair of huge sea-boots.
"Did you hear a gun, Nancy?" cried the captain, as a terrific blast shook every timber in the cottage—"there! ain't that it again?"
Nancy listened intently, but could hear nothing save the raging of the storm. The captain completed his toilet, and was about to leave the room when the door suddenly burst open, and a lad of about fourteen years of age sprang in.
"Father," he cried, his eyes flashing with excitement, "there's a brig on the sands, and they are going to launch the new lifeboat!"
"Whereaway is't, lad?" asked Boyns, as he buttoned up his coat.
"To lee'ard of the breakwater."
"Oh Harry, don't be too venturesome," cried Mrs Boyns earnestly, as her strapping boy was about to follow his father out into the pelting storm.
Harry, who was tall and strong for his age, and very like his father in many respects, turning round with a hearty smile, cried, "No fear, mother," and next instant was gone.
The scene on the beach when father and son reached it was very impressive. So furious was the gale that it tore up sand and gravel and hurled it against the faces of the hardy men who dared to brave the storm. At times there were blasts so terrible that a wild shriek, as if of a storm-fiend, rent the air, and flakes of foam were whirled madly about. But the most awful sight of all was the seething of the sea as it advanced in a succession of great breaking "rollers" into the bay, and churned itself white among the rocks.
Out among these billows, scarce visible in the midst of the conflicting elements, were seen the dark hull, shattered masts, and riven sails of a large brig, over which the waves made clear breaches continually.
In the little harbour of the seaport, which was named Covelly, a number of strong men were engaged in hastily launching a new lifeboat, which had been placed at that station only three weeks before, while, clustering about the pier, and behind every sheltered nook along the shore, were hundreds of excited spectators, not a few of whom were women.
Much earnest talk had there been among the gossips in the town when the lifeboat referred to arrived. Deep, and nautically learned, were the discussions that had been held as to her capabilities, and great the longing for a stiffish gale in order that her powers might be fairly tested in rough weather, for in those days lifeboats were not so numerous as, happily, they now are. Many of the town's-people had only heard of such boats; few had seen, and not one had ever had experience of them. After her arrival the weather had continued tantalisingly calm and fine until the day of the storm above referred to, when at length it changed, and a gale burst forth with such violence that the bravest men in the place shook their heads, and said that no boat of any kind whatever could live in such a sea.
When, however, the brig before referred to was seen to rush helplessly into the bay and to strike on the sands where the seas ran most furiously, all lent a willing hand to launch the new lifeboat into the harbour, and a few men, leaping in, pulled her across to the stairs near the entrance, where a number of seamen were congregated, holding on under the lee of the parapet-wall, and gazing anxiously at the fearful scene outside.
"Impossible!" said one; "no boat could live in such a sea for half a minute."
"The moment she shows her nose outside the breakwater she'll capsize," observed another.
"We'll have to risk it, anyhow," remarked a stout young fellow, "for I see men in the foreshrouds of the wreck, and I, for one, won't stand by and see them lost while we've got a lifeboat by us. Why, wot's the use o' callin' it a lifeboat if it can't do more than other boats?"
As he spoke there came an unusually furious gust which sent a wave right over the pier, and well-nigh swept away one or two of them. The argument of the storm was more powerful than that of the young sailor— no one responded to his appeal, and when the boat came alongside the stairs, none moved to enter her except himself.
"That's right, Bob Gaston," cried one of the four men who had jumped into the boat when she was launched, "I know'd you would be the first."
"And I won't be the last either," said young Gaston, looking back at the men on the pier with a smile.
"Right, lad!" cried Captain Boyns, who came up at the instant and leaped into the boat. "Come, lads, we want four more hands—no, no, Harry," he added, pushing back his son; "your arms are not yet strong enough; come lads, we've no time to lose."
As he spoke, a faint cry was heard coming from the wreck, and it was seen that one of the masts had gone by the board, carrying, it was feared, several poor fellows along with it. Instantly there was a rush to the lifeboat! All thought of personal danger appeared to have been banished from the minds of the fishermen when the cry of distress broke on their ears. The boat was overmanned, and old Jacobs, the coxswain, had to order several of them to go ashore again. In another minute they were at the mouth of the harbour, and the men paused an instant as if to gather strength for the mortal struggle before quitting the shelter of the breakwater, and facing the fury of wind and waves.
"Give way, lads! give way!" shouted old Jacobs, as he stood up in the stern-sheets and grasped the steering oar.
The men bent to the oars with all their might, and the boat leaped out into the boiling sea. This was not one of those splendid boats which now line the shores of the United Kingdom; nevertheless, it was a noble craft—one of the good, stable, insubmergible and self-emptying kind which were known as the Greathead lifeboats, and which for many years did good service on our coasts. It sat on the raging waters like a swan, and although the seas broke over it again and again, it rose out of the water buoyantly, and, with the brine pouring from its sides, kept end-on to the seas, surmounting them or dashing right through them, while her gallant crew strained every muscle and slowly urged her on towards the wreck.
At first the men on shore gazed at her in breathless anxiety, expecting every moment to see her overturned and their comrades left to perish in the waves; but when they saw her reappear from each overwhelming billow, their hearts rose with a rebound, and loud prolonged huzzas cheered the lifeboat on her course. They became silent again, however, when distance and the intervening haze of spray and rain rendered her motions indistinct, and their feelings of anxiety became more and more intense as they saw her draw nearer and nearer to the wreck.
At last they reached it, but no one on the pier could tell with what success their efforts were attended. Through the blinding spray they saw her faintly, now rising on the crest of a huge wave, then overwhelmed by tons of water. At last she appeared to get close under the stern of the brig, and was lost to view.
"They're all gone," said a fisherman on the pier, as he wiped the salt water off his face; "I know'd that no boat that ever wos built could live in that sea."
"Ye don't know much yet, Bill, 'bout anything a'most," replied an old man near him. "Why, I've see'd boats in the East, not much better than two planks, as could go through a worse surf than that."
"May be so," retorted Bill, "but I know—hallo! is that her coming off?"
"That's her," cried several voices—"all right, my hearties."
"Not so sure o' that," observed another of the excited band of men who watched every motion of the little craft intently,—"there—why—I do believe there are more in her now than went out in her, what think 'ee, Dick?"
Dick did not reply, for by that time the boat, having got clear of the wreck, was making for the shore, and the observers were all too intent in using their eyes to make use of their tongues. Coming as she did before the wind, the progress of the lifeboat was very different from what it had been when she set out. In a few minutes she became distinctly visible, careering on the crest of the waves towards the harbour mouth, and then it was ascertained beyond doubt that some at least, if not all, of the crew of the brig had been rescued. A short sharp Hurrah! burst from the men on the outlook when this became certain, but they relapsed into deep silence again, for the return of the boat was more critical than its departure had been. There is much more danger in running before a heavy sea than in pulling against it. Every roaring billow that came into the bay near the Cove like a green wall broke in thunder on the sands before reaching the wreck, and as it continued its furious career towards the beach it seemed to gather fresh strength, so that the steersman of the lifeboat had to keep her stern carefully towards it to prevent her from turning broadside on—or, as it is nautically expressed, broaching to. Had she done so, the death of all on board would have been almost inevitable. Knowing this, the men on the pier gazed with breathless anxiety as each wave roared under the boat's stern, lifted it up until it appeared perpendicular; carried it forward a few yards with fearful velocity, and then let it slip back into the trough of the sea.
But the boat was admirably managed, and it was seen, as she drew near, that the steering oar was held in the firm grip of Captain Boyns. On it came before the gale with lightning speed towards the harbour mouth; and here a new danger had to be faced, for the entrance was narrow, and the seas were sweeping not into but athwart it, thereby rendering the danger of being dashed against the pier-end very great indeed.
"Missed it!" burst from several mouths as the boat flew round the head of the breakwater and was overwhelmed by a heavy sea which rendered her for one moment unmanageable, but almost as soon as filled she was again emptied through the discharging tubes in her floor.
"No fear of father missing it," exclaimed young Harry Boyns, with a proud look and flashing eye as he saw the stalwart form of the captain standing firm in the midst of the foam with his breast pressed hard against the steering oar.
"Back your starboard oars! Hold water hard!" shouted several voices.
"She's round! hurrah!" cried Harry, as the boat almost leaped out of the foam and sprang into the comparatively smooth water at the harbour mouth. The rowers gave vent to a short shout of triumph, and several worn, exhausted seamen in the bottom of the boat were seen to wave their hands feebly. At the same time, Captain Boyns shouted in a deep loud voice—"All saved, thank God!" as they swept towards the land.
Then did there arise from the hundreds of people assembled on and near the pier a ringing cheer, the like of which had never been heard before in Covelly. Again and again it was repeated while the lifeboat shot up on the beach, and was fairly dragged out of the sea, high and dry, by many eager hands that were immediately afterwards extended to assist the saved crew of the brig to land.
"Are all saved, father?" asked Harry Boyns, who was first at the side of the boat.
"Ay, lad, every one. Fifteen all told, includin' a woman and a little girl. Lend a hand to get the poor things up to our house, Harry," said the captain, lifting the apparently inanimate form of a young girl over the side as he spoke; "she ain't dead—only benumbed a little with the cold."
Many hands were stretched out, but Harry thrust all others aside, and, receiving the light form of the child in his strong arms, bore her off to his father's cottage, leaving his comrades to attend to the wants of the others.
"Oh Harry!" exclaimed Mrs Boyns, when her son burst into the house, "is your father safe?"
"Ay, safe and well," he cried. "Look sharp, mother—get hot blankets and things ready, for here's a little girl almost dead with cold. She has just been rescued from a wreck—saved by the new lifeboat!"
DESCRIBES A MERCHANT AND HIS GOD, AND CONCLUDES WITH "A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA."
A close-fisted, hard-hearted, narrow-minded, poor-spirited man was John Webster, Esquire, merchant and shipowner, of Ingot Lane, Liverpool. And yet he was not altogether without good points. Indeed, it might be said of him that if he had been reared under more favourable circumstances he might have been an ornament to society and a blessing to his country, for he was intelligent and sociable, and susceptible to some extent of tender influences, when the indulging of amiable feelings did not interfere with his private interests. In youth he had even gone the length of holding some good principles, and was known to have done one or two noble things—but all this had passed away, for as he grew older the hopeful springs were dried up, one by one, by an all-absorbing passion—the love of money—which ultimately made him what he was, a disgrace to the class to which he belonged, and literally (though not, it would seem, in the eye of law) a wholesale murderer!
At first he began by holding, and frequently stating, the opinion that the possession of much money was a most desirable thing; which undoubtedly was—and is, and will be as long as the world lasts— perfectly true, if the possession be accompanied with God's blessing. But Mr Webster did not even pretend to look at the thing in that light. He scorned to make use of the worldly man's "Oh, of course, of course," when that idea was sometimes suggested to him by Christian friends. On the contrary, he boldly and coldly asserted his belief that "God, if there was a God at all, did not interfere in such matters, and that for his part he would be quite satisfied to let anybody else who wanted it have the blessing if he only got the money." And so it pleased God to give John Webster much money without a blessing.
The immediate result was that he fell in love with it, and, following the natural laws attached to that vehement passion, he hugged it to his bosom, became blind to everything else, and gave himself entirely up to it with a self-denying devotion that robbed him of much of his natural rest, of nearly all his graces, and most of his happiness—leaving him with no hope in this world, save that of increasing his stores of money, and with no hope for the world to come at all.
The abode of Mr Webster's soul was a dingy little office with dirty little windows, a miserable little fireplace, and filthy little chairs and tables—all which were quite in keeping with the little occupant of the place. The abode of his body was a palatial residence in the suburbs of the city. Although Mr Webster's soul was little, his body was large—much too large indeed for the jewel which it enshrined, and which was so terribly knocked about inside its large casket that its usual position was awry, and it never managed to become upright by any chance whatever.
To the former abode Mr Webster went, body and soul, one dark November morning. Having seated himself before his desk, he threw himself back in his chair and began to open his letters—gazing with a placid smile, as he did so, at the portrait of his deceased wife's father—a very wealthy old gentleman—which hung over the fireplace.
We omitted to mention, by the way, that Mr Webster had once been married. This trifling little event of his life occurred when he was about forty-eight years of age, and was a mercantile transaction of an extremely successful kind, inasmuch as it had brought him, after deducting lawyers' fees, stamps, duties, lost time in courtship, wedding-tour expenses, doctor's fees, deathbed expenses, etcetera, a clear profit of sixty thousand pounds. To be sure there were also the additional expenses of four years of married life, and the permanent board, lodging, and education of a little daughter; but, all things considered, these were scarcely worth speaking of; and in regard to the daughter—Annie by name—she would in time become a marketable commodity, which might, if judiciously disposed of, turn in a considerable profit, besides being, before she was sold, a useful machine for sewing on buttons, making tea, reading the papers aloud, fetching hats and sticks and slippers, etcetera. There had, however, been a slight drawback—a sort of temporary loss—on this concern at first, for the piece of goods became damaged, owing to her mother's death having weighed heavily on a sensitive and loving spirit, which found no comfort or sympathy at home, save in the devoted affection of an old nurse named Niven. When Annie reached the age of six years, the doctors ordered change of air, and recommended a voyage to the West Indies. Their advice was followed. Nothing was easier. Mr Webster had many ships on the sea. These were of two classes. The first class consisted of good, new, well found and manned ships, with valuable cargoes on board which were anxiously watched and longed for; the second class comprised those which were old, worn-out, and unseaworthy, and which, being insured beyond their value, might go to the bottom when they pleased.
One of the best of the first class was selected—the Water Lily, A1 on Lloyd's—and in it Annie, with her nurse, was sent to sea for the benefit of her health. The parting was a somewhat important event in Mr Webster's life, for it convinced him, to his own surprise, that his power to love a human being was not yet utterly gone! Annie's arms clasped convulsively round his neck at the moment of parting—her sobbing "Good-bye, darling papa," had stirred depths which had lain unmoved almost from the days of early manhood. But the memory of this passed away as soon as he turned again to gaze upon the loved countenance of his yellow mistress.
The voyage did Annie much good. The short residence in Demerara, while the vessel was discharging cargo and reloading, wrought wonders, and a letter, forwarded by a ship that sailed a short time after their arrival in "foreign parts," told Mr Webster that he might expect to see his daughter home again, sound and well, in a month or two at the farthest.
But, to return from this digression to the abode of Mr Webster's soul:—
Having looked at the portrait of his late wife's father for a moment and smiled, he glanced at the letter in his hand and frowned. Not because he was displeased, but because the writing was cramped and difficult to read. However, the merchant was accustomed to receive such letters from seafaring men on many subjects of interest; he therefore broke the seal and set himself patiently to decipher it. Immediately his countenance became ghastly pale, then it flushed up and became pale again, while he coughed and gasped once or twice, and started up and sat down abruptly. In fact Mr Webster exhibited all the signs of having received a severe shock, and an eye-witness might have safely concluded that he had just read the news of some great mercantile loss. So it was in one sense— but that was not the ordinary sense.
The letter in question was in the handwriting of a fussy officious "bumble" friend of the wealthy man, who dwelt in the town of Covelly. It ran as follows:
"My dear Sir,—I write in great haste, and in much perturbation, having just heard from my servant of the wreck of your ship, the Water Lily, in Covelly Bay. She does not seem to be quite sure, however, of the name, and says that the only man who has been rescued is scarcely able to speak, so that I do sincerely hope my domestic, who is a stupid old woman, may turn out to be mistaken. I am on the point of hasting down to the shore to ascertain the truth for myself, but am obliged to write to you this brief and unsatisfactory account of what I have heard, in order to save the post, which is just being closed. You shall hear from me again, of course, by the next mail.—I remain, my dear sir, in much anxiety, your most obedient humble servant,
It chanced that at the moment the above letter was handed to the postmaster, and while the wax was being melted before the final sealing of the post-bag, a sailor lad, drenched to the skin and panting vehemently, dashed into the office.
"Stop! stop!" he cried, "a letter—about the wreck—the Water Lily—to the owners—not too late, I hope?"
"No, no, just in time. Here, in with it. There, all right. Now, Jim, off with 'ee."
The postman jumped on his vehicle, the whip cracked, and in another minute the Royal Mail was gone. Thus it came to pass that two epistles reached Mr Webster that morning from Covelly. But in the extreme agitation of his spirit, he did not observe the other letter which lay among the usual morning mass that still awaited examination. After reading the letter twice, and turning it over with trembling hands, as if he wished there were more in it, he pronounced a deep malediction on his "humble" friend, and rang the bell for his confidential clerk, who was an unusually meek, mild, and middle-aged little man, with a bald head, a deprecatory expression of countenance, and a pen behind his ear.
"Mr Grinder," said Mr Webster, putting strong constraint on himself, and pretending to be quite composed, "a letter from Covelly informs me that it is feared the Water Lily has been wrecked in—"
"The Water Lily, sir!" exclaimed Grinder, starting as if he had received an electric shock.
"I spoke audibly, did I not?" said Mr Webster, turning with a sharp look on his confidential clerk.
"Ye-es, sir, but, I—Miss An—" The poor man could get no further, being of a timid, nervous temperament, and Mr Webster, paying no attention to his remark, was going on to say that he intended to go by the mail to Covelly without delay to ascertain the truth for himself, when he was interrupted by the confidential clerk who exclaimed in a burst of agitation—
"There were two letters, sir, from Covelly this morning—did you read—"
He stopped, for already his employer had sought for, found, and torn open the second epistle, which was written in a fair, legible hand. It ran thus:—
"SIR,—My father, Captain Boyns, directs me to inform you that your daughter, Miss Annie, has been saved from the wreck of your brig, the Water Lily, which ran aground here this afternoon, and has become a total wreck. Your daughter's nurse and the crew have also been rescued by our new lifeboat, which is a noble craft, and, with God's blessing, will yet do good service on this coast. I have pleasure in adding, from myself, that it was my father who rescued your child. She fell into the sea when being passed from the wreck into the boat, and sank, but my father dived and brought her up in safety.
"Much of the brig's cargo has been lost, I regret to say, but a good deal of it has been washed ashore and saved in a damaged state. The captain says that defective compasses were the cause of the disaster. There is not time to give you a more particular account, as it is close upon post-time. Miss Annie sends you her kindest love, and bids me say she is none the worse of what she has passed through.—I am, sir, your obedient servant,
"Thank God!" exclaimed Mr Webster fervently. "Why, what are you staring at, Mr Grinder?" he added, on observing that his confidential servant was gazing at him with an expression of considerable surprise.
"Excuse me, sir," stammered the unfortunate man, "I—I—in fact—you have so often told me that you did not believe in God that I fancied— I—wondered—"
"Really, Mr Grinder, I must beg of you to confine your remarks in future entirely to matters of business. The so-called religious observations which you sometimes venture to make in my presence are extremely distasteful, I assure you. In explanation of what I said, however, I may tell you that this letter informs me of my daughter's safety, and I merely used the expression of satisfaction that is usual on such occasions. The phrase, as it is generally understood (except by weak men), commits me to nothing more. But enough of this. I find that the Water Lily has indeed been lost. It was fully insured, I believe?"
"Yes, sir, it was."
"Very well; report the matter without delay. I will go to Covelly to-night, and shall probably be back to-morrow."
Saying this, Mr Webster left the office, and, on the evening of that day, found himself seated in Captain Boyns's parlour, with little Annie on his knee. Her pretty head was on his shoulder, her fair curls straggled over his chest, and her round little arms tightly encircled his large body as far as they could reach, while she sobbed on his bosom and kissed him by turns.
This was quite a new experience in the life of the gold-lover. He had declined to submit to familiar caresses in former years, but on such an occasion as the present, he felt that common propriety demanded the sacrifice of himself to some extent. He therefore allowed Annie to kiss him, and found the operation—performed as she did it—much more bearable than he had anticipated; and when Annie exclaimed with a burst of enthusiasm, "Oh, dear, dear papa, I did feel such a dreadful longing for you when the waves were roaring round us!" and gave him another squeeze, he felt that the market price of the bundle of goods on his knee was rising rapidly.
"Did you think you were going to be drowned, dear?" said Mr Webster with the air of a man who does not know very well what to say.
"I'm not sure what I thought," replied Annie smiling through her tears. "Oh, I was so frightened! You can't think, papa, how very dreadful it is to see the water boiling all round, and sometimes over you; and such awful thumping of the ship, and then the masts breaking; but what I feared most was to see the faces of the sailors, they were so white, and they looked as if they were afraid. Are men ever afraid, papa?"
"Sometimes, Annie; but a white face is not always the sign of fear—that may be caused by anxiety. Did any of them refuse to obey orders?"
"No; they were very obedient."
"Did any of them get into the lifeboat before you and nurse!"
"Oh, no; they all refused to move till we were put into it, and some of them ran to help us, and were very very kind?"
"Then you may be quite sure they were not afraid, however pale their faces were; but what of yourself, Annie—were you afraid?"
"Oh, dreadfully, and so was poor nurse; but once or twice I thought of the text that—that—you know who was so fond of,—'Call upon me in the time of trouble and I will deliver thee,' so I prayed and felt a little better. Then the lifeboat came, and, oh! how my heart did jump, for it seemed just like an answer to my prayer. I never felt any more fear after that, except when I fell into the sea; but even then I was not so frightened as I had been, for I felt somehow that I was sure to be saved, and I was right, you see, for dear Captain Boyns dived for me. I love Captain Boyns!" cried Annie, and here again she kissed her father and held him so tight that he felt quite angry with Mrs Niven, who entered at the moment, and said, apologetically—
"Oh! la, sir, I didn't know as Miss Annie was with you. I only came to say that everythink is ready, sir, for going 'ome."
"We don't intend to go home," said Mr Webster; "at least not for a day or two. I find that Captain Boyns can let us stay here while I look after the wreck, so you can go and arrange with Mrs Boyns."
During the few days that Mr Webster remained at Coral Cottage (Captain Boyns's residence), Mrs Niven found, in the quiet, sympathetic Mrs Boyns, if not a congenial friend, at least a kind and sociable hostess, and Annie found, in Harry Boyns, a delightful companion, who never wearied of taking her to the cliffs, the shore, and all the romantic places of the neighbourhood, while Mr Webster found the captain to be most serviceable in connection with the wreck. One result of all this was that Mr Webster offered Captain Boyns the command of one of his largest vessels, an offer which was gladly accepted, for the captain had, at that time, been thrown out of employment by the failure of a firm, in the service of which he had spent the greater part of his nautical career.
Another result was, that Mr Webster, at Annie's earnest solicitation, agreed to make Covelly his summer quarters next year, instead of Ramsgate, and Mrs Boyns agreed to lodge the family in Coral Cottage.
This having been all settled, Mr Webster asked Captain Boyns, on the morning of his departure for Liverpool, if he could do anything more for him, for he felt that to him his daughter owed her life, and he was anxious to serve him.
"If you could give my son Harry something to do, sir," said Boyns, "you would oblige me very much. Harry is a smart fellow and a good seaman. He has been a short time in the coasting trade; perhaps—"
"Well, yes, I'll see to that," interrupted Mr Webster. "You shall hear from me again as to it."
Now the fact is that Mr Webster did not feel attracted by young Boyns, and he would willingly have had nothing to do with him, but being unable to refuse the request after having invited it, he ultimately gave him a situation in one of his coasting vessels which plied between London and Aberdeen.
About a year after that, Captain Boyns sailed in the Warrior, a large new ship, for the Sandwich Islands and the Chinese seas.
True to his promise, Mr Webster spent the following summer with Annie and Mrs Boyns at Covelly, and young Boyns so managed matters that he got his captain to send him down to Covelly to talk with his employer on business. Of course, being there, it was natural that he should ask and obtain leave to spend a few days with his mother; and, of course, it was quite as natural that, without either asking or obtaining leave, he should spend the whole of these days in roaming about the shore and among the cliffs with Annie Webster.
It would be absurd to say that these two fell in love, seeing that one was only seven and the other fifteen; but there can be no doubt they entertained some sort of regard for each other, of a very powerful nature. The young sailor was wildly enthusiastic, well educated, manly, and good-looking—little wonder that Annie liked him. The child was winning in her ways, simple, yet laughter-loving, and very earnest—less wonderful that Harry liked her!
Another year fled, and again the Websters visited Covelly, and again Harry spent a few days with his mother; and although Mr Webster did not get the length of liking the youth, he at last came to the condition of not disliking him.
Year followed year, and still, each summer, Annie pressed her father to return to the old place, and he agreed, chiefly because it mattered little to him where he went. He regarded the summer trip in the light of a penance to be paid for the sin of being a member of society and the head of a household, and placed every minute so wasted to the debit of the profit and loss account in the mental ledger of his life's affairs, for it must not be supposed that Mr Webster's character was changed by the events which followed the rescue of his child from the sea. True, he had been surprised out of his habitual hardness for a short time, but he soon relapsed, if not quite back to the old position, at least so near to it that the difference was not appreciable.
As time ran on, men begun to look for the return of the Warrior, but that vessel did not make her appearance. Then they began to shake their heads and to grow prophetic, while those who were most deeply interested in the human beings who manned her became uneasy.
"Don't fret over it," said Harry one day to his mother, in a kind, earnest tone; "you may depend upon it father will turn up yet and surprise us. He never lost a ship in his life, and he has sailed in worse ones than the Warrior by a long way."
"It may be so," replied Mrs Boyns, sadly; "but it is a long, long time since he went away. God's will be done. Whether He gives or takes away, I shall try to bless His name."
At last Harry gave over attempting to comfort his mother, for he began to fear that his father's ship was destined to be placed on the dark, dreary list of those of which it is sometimes said, with terrible brevity, in the newspapers, "She sailed from port on such and such a day, and has not since been heard of."
In course of time Harry made one or two trips to the East Indies as first mate of one of Mr Webster's vessels, and ultimately obtained the command of one.
At last a day came when there appeared in a Welsh newspaper a paragraph, which ran thus:—"A Message from the Sea—A bottle, corked and sealed, was found by a woman on the beach, above Conway, North Wales. Inside was a letter containing the following:—
"'Latitude 44, longitude 15, off Tierra del Fuego. If this should ever reach the shores of England, it will announce to friends at home the sad fate of the ship Warrior, which sailed from Liverpool on 13th February 18 hundred and something, bound for China. We have been boarded by pirates: we have been all locked into the cabin, with the assurance that we shall be made to walk the plank in half an hour. Our last act is to put this in a bottle and drop it overboard. Farewell, for this world, my beloved wife and son.'
"'DANIEL BOYNS, Captain.'"
This letter was forwarded to the owner, and by him was sent to poor Mrs Boyns.
Alas! how many sailors' wives, in our sea-girt isle, have received similar "messages from the sea," and lived under the dark cloud of never-ending suspense—hoping against hope that the dear lost ones might yet return!
SHOWS WHAT SOME MEN WILL DO AND DARE FOR MONEY, AND WHAT SOMETIMES COMES OF IT.
We must now beg the reader's permission to allow a few more years to elapse. Eight have come and gone since the dark day when poor Mrs Boyns received that message from the sea, which cast a permanent cloud over her life. Annie Webster has become a beautiful woman, and Harry Boyns a bronzed stalwart man.
But things have changed with time. These two seldom meet now, in consequence of the frequent absence of the latter on long voyages, and when they do meet, there is not the free, frank intercourse that there used to be. In fact, Mr Webster had long ago begun to suspect that his daughter's regard for the handsome young sailor was of a nature that bade fair to interfere with his purposed mercantile transactions in reference to her, so he wisely sent him off on voyages of considerable length, hoping that he might chance to meet with the same fate as his father, and wound up by placing him in command of one of his largest and most unseaworthy East Indiamen, in the full expectation that both captain and vessel would go to the bottom together, and thus enable him, at one stroke, to make a good round sum out of the insurance offices, and get rid of a troublesome servant!
Gloating over these and kindred subjects, Mr Webster sat one morning in his office mending a pen, and smiling in a sardonic fashion to the portrait of his deceased wife's father, when a tap came to the door, and Harry Boyns entered.
"I have come, sir," he said, "to tell you that the repairs done to the Swordfish are not by any means sufficient. There are at least—"
"Please do not waste time, Captain Boyns, by entering upon details," said Mr Webster, interrupting him with a bland smile: "I am really quite ignorant of the technicalities of shipbuilding. If you will state the matter to Mr Cooper, whom I employ expressly for—"
"But, sir," interrupted Harry, with some warmth, "I have spoken to Mr Cooper, and he says the repairs are quite sufficient."
"Well, then, I suppose they are so."
"I assure you, sir," rejoined Harry, "they are not; and as the lives of passengers as well as men depend upon the vessel being in a seaworthy condition, I do trust that you will have her examined by some one more competent to judge than Mr Cooper."
"I have no doubt of Mr Cooper's competence," returned Mr Webster; "but I will order a further examination, as you seem so anxious about it. Meanwhile I hope that the ship is being got ready for sea as quickly as possible."
"There shall be no delay on my part, sir," said Harry, rising; "the ship has been removed from the Birkenhead Docks, in which you are aware she has lain for the last eight months, and is now lying in the Brunswick Dock, taking in cargo. But I think it a very serious matter, which demands looking into, the fact that she had no sooner grounded in the dock, than she sprang a leak which instantly let twenty-eight inches of water into her, and twice, subsequently, as much as forty inches have been sounded. Yet no repairs worthy of the name have been made. All that has been done is the pumping of her out daily by the stevedore's men when their stowing work is finished."
"Has the agent for the underwriters visited her?" inquired Mr Webster.
"He has, sir, but he seems to be of opinion that his responsibility is at an end because a surveyor from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board had previously visited her, and directed that she should not be loaded deeper than twenty-one feet—chalking on the side amidships the six feet six inches clear beneath which she is not to be allowed to sink."
"Well, well," said Mr Webster, somewhat impatiently, "I will have the matter looked into. Good morning, Captain Boyns."
The captain bowed and left the office, and Mr Webster leant back in his chair, clasped his hands, twirled his thumbs, and smiled grimly at the old gentleman over the fireplace.
True to his word, however, he had an inspection made of the Swordfish. The inspector was of a kindred spirit with Mr Webster, so that his report was naturally similar to that of Mr Cooper. Nothing, therefore, was done to the vessel—"nothing being needed"—and the loading went on in spite of the remonstrances of Captain Harry Boyns, who, with all the energy and persistency of his character, continued to annoy, worry, and torment every one who possessed the faintest right or power to interfere in the matter—but all to no purpose; for there are times when neither facts nor fancies, fair words nor foul, fire, fury, folly, nor philosophy, will avail to move some "powers that be!"
In a towering fit of indignation Harry Boyns resolved to throw up his situation; but it occurred to him that this would perhaps be deemed cowardice, so he thought better of it. Then he madly thought of going direct to the President of the Board of Trade and making a solemn protest, backed by a heart-stirring appeal; but gave up that idea on recalling to memory a certain occasion on which a deputation of grave, learned, white-haired gentlemen had gone to London expressly to visit that august functionary of the State, and beseech him, with all the earnestness that the occasion demanded, that he would introduce into Parliament a bill for the better regulation and supervision of ships, and for preventing the possibility of seamen and passengers being seduced on board unseaworthy vessels, carried off to sea, and there murderously drowned in cold blood, as well as in cold water; which deputation received for answer, that "it was not the intention of Government, as at present advised, to introduce a measure for providing more stringent enactments as to the equipments, cargoes, and crews of passenger vessels!"—a reply which was tantamount to saying that if the existing arrangements were inadequate to the ends desired, Government saw no way out of the difficulty, and people must just be left unprotected, and go to sea to be drowned or spared according as chance or the cupidity of shipowners might direct!
This was pretty resolute on the part of Government, considering that above a thousand lives were then, and above two thousand still are, lost annually on the shores of the United Kingdom; a very large number of which—if we may believe the argument of facts and the pretty unanimous voice of the press—are sacrificed because Government refuses to interfere effectively with the murderous tendencies of a certain class of the community!
When Harry Boyns thought of all this he sighed deeply, and made up his mind to remain by the Swordfish, and sink or swim with her. Had he been more of a man of business, perhaps he might have been more successful in finding out how to have prevented the evil he foresaw; but it was the interest of the owner to keep him in the dark as much as possible, for which end Mr Webster kept him out of the ship's way as much as he could, and when that was impossible, he kept him so busily employed that he remained ignorant of a great deal that was said and done in regard to his vessel.
At length the Swordfish left the Brunswick Dock, six inches deeper than the surveyor had directed, and was towed to the Wellington Dock, where she took in 120 tons of coke, and sank still deeper. Harry also discovered that the equipment of the ship was miserably insufficient for the long voyage she was intended to make. This was too much for him to bear. He went at once to Mr Webster's office and said that if a deaf ear was to be turned any longer to his remonstrances he would throw up his appointment.
Poor Harry could scarcely have taken a more effective step to insure the turning of the deaf ear to him.
"Oh!" replied Mr Webster, coolly, "if you refuse to take charge of my vessel, Captain Boyns, I will soon find another to do it."
"I certainly do refuse," said Harry, preparing to leave the office, "and I think you will find some difficulty in getting any other man to go to sea in such a ship."
"I differ from you, Captain Boyns. Good afternoon."
"And if you do, and lives should be lost in consequence," added Harry, grasping the handle of the door, "I warn you solemnly, that murder will have been committed by you, whatever the law may say on the subject."
"Good afternoon, Captain Boyns."
"You've got a hard master," said Harry to Grinder as he passed through the outer office.
The confidential clerk shook his head in a deprecatory way, and smiled.
Next moment Harry Boyns found himself in the street—with nothing to do, and the wide world before him!
Meanwhile, the loading of the Swordfish went on—also the pumping of her. That same day she was visited by a surveyor from the Underwriters' Association, who found her only five feet clear above water, and still taking in cargo. That gentleman called in another surveyor to a consultation, who agreed with him in pronouncing her overladen. She was represented as such to the local Underwriters' Association for which the surveyor acted, but as the Swordfish was insured in London and not with them, the Liverpool underwriters did not consider themselves called upon to interfere. Their surveyor, however, visited the vessel again, a few days later, when he found her "only four feet clear," and declared that, so far from going to Bombay, he should not like to attempt to cross to Dublin in her in anything like rough weather.
Now it must be observed that all these consultations and investigations took place in a quiet way. To the public eye all was "fair and above board." Few among the thousands who visited the docks knew much about deep loading; still less about adequate equipping. They saw nought but a "noble ship," well painted, washed, gilded, and varnished, taking merchandise into her insatiable hold, while the "Yo-heave-ho" of the seamen rang out cheerily to the rattling accompaniment of chains and windlass. Many other ships were there, similarly treated, equally beautiful, and quite as worthy of the titles "good" and "noble" as the whited sepulchre is to be styled pure.
A few days before the Swordfish was ready for sea, a new captain was sent down to her. This captain was not a "bad man" in the worst sense of that term—neither was he a "good" one. Vigour, courage, resolution when acting in accordance with his inclinations—these were among his characteristics. But he was a reckless man, in want of money, out of employment, and without an appreciable conscience. In the circumstances, he was glad to get anything to do, and had been so long ashore and "in trouble," that he would probably have agreed to take command of and go to sea in a washing-tub if part paid beforehand for doing so.
Nevertheless, even this man (Captain Phelps by name) felt some degree of nervous anxiety on getting on board and examining the state of the ship. On further acquaintance with her, he was so dissatisfied that he also resolved to throw up his appointment. But he had obtained the berth through the influence of a friend who happened to be acquainted with Mr Webster. This "friend" wrote him a stern letter, saying, if he ventured to do as he proposed, he should never have a ship out of Liverpool again, as long as he (the friend?) could prevent it!
Captain Phelps was one of those angry men of iron mould, who appear to take pleasure in daring Fate to do her worst. On receipt of the letter, he swore with an awful oath that he would now go to sea in the Swordfish, even if he knew she would go to the bottom in twenty-four hours after weighing anchor. Accordingly, having intrenched himself behind a wall of moral adamant, he went about with quiet indifference, and let things take their course. He made no objection whatever when, in addition to the loading already in the ship, the agents added a deck cargo of some massive pieces of machinery, weighing thirty tons, and a supply of coals, the proper receptacle for which below had been filled with iron goods. Neither did he utter a word when—after the vessel had been taken out into the stream by the riggers—he and the owner, agents, pilot, and crew (only six of which last were A.B.'s), were taken off to her in a tug and put on board with orders to sail immediately.
Only a few passengers were going. These were already on board, but some of their friends went off in the tug to bid them a last farewell.
This was a sad scene, but the captain regarded it with stoical indifference. There was a stout, hale old Indian officer going out on a pleasure trip to his beloved East, and a daughter of the same whom he hoped to get married "offhand, comfortably there." There was a sick nephew of the old officer, going the voyage for the benefit of his health, on whose wan countenance consumption, if not death, had evidently set a deep mark. There were, also, a nurse and a lady's-maid, and two girls of ten or thirteen years of age—sisters—who were going to join their father and mother, besides one or two others. Earnest loving words passed kindly between these and their relatives and friends as the moment of parting drew near.
"Don't forget to remember me to Coleman and the rest of 'ours,'" cried a stout elderly man, waving his hand as the tug moved off.
"That I won't, and I shall expect to shake you by the hand again, old fellow, in a year or two."
"You'll never see him again," thought Captain Phelps, as he stood with compressed lip and frowning eye on the quarter-deck.
"Good-bye, darling Nelly," cried a lady to one of the sobbing girls from whom she was parting; "remember the message to mamma."
"Oh! yes," exclaimed the child, trying to look bright, "and we won't be very long of coming back again."
"You'll never come back again," thought the captain, and he sighed very slightly as the thought passed through his brain.
"Look alive there, lads," exclaimed the pilot, as the tug sheared away.
Soon the anchor was at the bows, the sails were shaken out, and the Swordfish began her voyage.
"There's not a piece of spare rope aboard, sir," said the first mate, coming up to the captain with a blank look; "we can't even get enough to cat and fish the anchor."
"You can unreeve the tops'l halyards," replied the captain, quietly.
This was done, and the anchor was secured therewith.
"How much water in the hold?" asked the captain.
"Three feet, sir; the carpenter has just sounded. It seems that the riggers were at work on the pumps when we came out in the tug, but were stopped by the agents before we got alongside. I fear she is very leaky, sir," said the mate.
"I know she is," replied the captain; "keep the men at the pumps."
That night the weather became what sailors call "dirty," and next morning it was found that the water had mounted to 4 feet 10 inches. The pumps had become almost unworkable, being choked with sand, and it became evident that the voyage thus inauspiciously begun would very soon be ended. During the day the "dirty" weather became gale, so that, although the wind was fair, Captain Phelps determined to run to the nearest port for shelter. With a "good ship" this might have been done easily enough—many a vessel does it during every gale that visits our stormy shores—but the Swordfish was by this time getting water-logged and unmanageable. She drifted helplessly before the gale, and the heavy seas broke over her continually, sweeping away everything moveable. Another night passed, and next morning—Sunday—it became plain that she was settling down so the captain gave orders to get out the long-boat, and told the passengers to get ready. Day had broken some time before this, but the weather was still so thick that nothing could be seen.
"Take a cast of the lead," said the captain.
"Ay, ay, sir," was the prompt reply, but before the order could be obeyed, the roar of breakers was heard above the howling of the storm, and the shout, "Land on the port bow!" was instantly followed by "Down with the helm!" and other orders hurriedly given by the captain and hastily obeyed by the men. All too late! The ship was embayed. As if to make their position more painful, the mists cleared partially away, and revealed the green fields and cottages on shore, with the angry sea—an impassable caldron of boiling foam—between.
Another instant and the ship struck with a convulsive quiver from stem to stern. The billows flew madly over her, the main-mast went by the board—carrying two of the men to their doom along with it—and the Swordfish, "bound for Bombay," was cast, a total wreck, upon the coast of Cornwall.
Fortunate is it for this land that those who war for evil and those who fight for good do so side by side; and well is it for poor humanity that the bane and the antidote grow together. The misanthrope sends his poisonous streams throughout the land, but the philanthropist erects his dams everywhere to stem the foul torrents and turn them aside. The Infidel plants unbelief with reckless hand far and wide, but the Christian scatters the "Word" broadcast over the land. The sordid shipowner strews the coast with wreck and murdered fellow-creatures; but, thank God, the righteous shipowner—along with other like-minded men—sends forth a fleet of lifeboats from almost every bay and cove along the shore to rob the deep of its prey, and rescue the perishing.
In the bay where the Swordfish was stranded there chanced to be a lifeboat. Most of her noble crew were, at the time the vessel struck, in chapel, probably engaged in singing the hymns of the great John Wesley, or listening to the preaching of the "old, old story" of the salvation of souls through faith in Jesus Christ. But there were bodies to be saved that day as well as souls, and the stout arms of the lifeboat crew were needed.
The cry was quickly raised, "A wreck in the bay!" The shout that naturally followed was, "The lifeboat!" A stalwart Cornish gentleman sprang from his pew to serve his Master in another field. He was the Honorary Local Secretary of the Lifeboat Institution—a man brimful of physical energy, and with courage and heart for every good work. No time was lost. Six powerful horses were procured so quickly that it seemed as if they had started ready harnessed into being. Willing hands dragged the lifeboat, mounted on its carriage, from its shed, the horses were attached, and a loud cheer arose as the huge craft was whirled along the road towards the bay. The scene of the wreck was a mile distant, and a large town had to be traversed on the way thither. Hundreds of worshippers were on the streets, returning home, with chastened thoughts and feelings perchance, from church and chapel. There was excitement, however, in their looks, for the echo of that cry, "The lifeboat!" had reached the ears of many, and eager inquiries were being made. Presently the lifeboat itself, with all its peculiar gear, came thundering through the town, rudely dispelling, for a few moments, the solemnity of the Sabbath day. Hundreds of men, women, and children followed in its train, and hundreds more joined at every turn of the main thoroughfare.
"A wreck in the bay!" "Crew in the rigging!" "Mainmast gone!" "She can't hold long together in such a sea!" "We'll be in time yet!" "Hurrah!"
Such were some of the exclamations heard on all sides as the rescuers dashed along, and the excited multitude irresistibly followed. Even females ventured to join the throng, and, holding shawls tightly round their heads and shoulders, went down on the exposed sands and faced the pelting storm.
In less than half an hour after the alarm was given, the lifeboat swept down to the beach, the horses, obedient to the rein, flew round, the boat's bow was presented to the sea, and the carriage thrust as far into the surf as was possible. Then hundreds of willing hands seized the launching ropes, and the boat, with her crew already seated, and the oars out, sprang from her carriage into the hissing flood.
A tremendous billow met her. "Steady lads, give way!" cried the coxswain, on whose steering everything depended at the first plunge. The short oars cracked as the men strained every muscle, and shot the boat, not over, but right through the falling deluge. Of course it was filled, but the discharging tubes freed it in a few seconds, and the cheers of the spectators had scarce burst forth when she rushed out to meet the succeeding breaker. There was another breathless moment, when hundreds of men, eager to vent their surcharged breast in another cheer, could only gaze and gasp—then a roar, a world of falling foam, and the lifeboat was submerged. But the gallant coxswain met the shock straight as an arrow, cleft the billow, and leaped onward—irresistibly onward— over, through, and in the teeth of raging wind and waves, until they were fairly out and dancing on the chaotic ocean.
But, just before this took place, the captain of the Swordfish, ignorant of the fact that the lifeboat was hastening to the rescue, unfortunately took a fatal step. Believing that no boat would venture to put off in such a gale, he ordered the ship's launch to be lowered. This was done, but it was immediately upset and stove against the side. Then the jollyboat was lowered, and nine men and the captain got into it. The old Indian officer, with his daughter and all the women and children, were also, with great difficulty, put on board of it.
Captain Phelps was cool and self-possessed in that hour of danger. He steered the boat with consummate skill, and succeeded in keeping her afloat for some time. On she rushed, as if driven by an irresistible impulse, amid the cheers of the crowd, and the prayers of many that she might safely reach the land. The brave fellows who manned her struggled hard and well, but in vain. When the boat was little more three hundred yards from the shore an immense breaker overtook her.
"She'll be swamped!" "She's gone!" "God save her!" and similar cries burst from those on shore. Next moment the wave had the boat in its powerful grasp, tossed her on its crest, whirled her round, and turned her keel up, leaving her freight of human beings struggling in the sea.
Oh! it was a terrible thing for the thousands on land to stand so close to those drowning men and women without the power of stretching out a hand to save! No one could get near them, although they were so near. They were tossed like straws on the raging surf. Now hurled on the crest of a wave, now sucked into the hollow beneath, and overwhelmed again and again. The frail ones of the hapless crew soon perished. The strong men struggled on with desperate energy to reach the shore. Three of them seized the keel of the boat, but three times were they driven from their hold by the force of the seas. Two or three caught at the floating oars, but most of them were soon carried away by the under-current. The captain, however, with five or six of the men, still struggled powerfully for life, and succeeded in swimming close to the beach.
Up to this point there was one of the spectators who had stood behind the shelter of a bush, surveying, with sorrowful countenance, the tragic scene. He was a short, but fine-looking and very athletic man—a champion Cornish wrestler, named William Jeff. He was a first-rate boatman, and a bold swimmer. Fortunately he also possessed a generous, daring heart. When this man saw Captain Phelps near the shore, he sprang forward, dashed into the surf, at the imminent risk of his life, and caught the captain by the hair. The retreating water well-nigh swept the brave rescuer away, but other men of the town, fearless like himself, leaped forward, joined hands, caught hold of Jeff, and hauled him safe ashore along with the captain, who was carried away in a state of insensibility. Again and again, at the risk of his life, did the champion wrestler wrestle with the waves and conquer them! Aided by his daring comrades he dragged three others from the jaws of death. Of those who entered the jolly-boat of the Swordfish, only five reached the land. These were all sailors, and one of them, Captain Phelps, was so much exhausted by his exertions that, notwithstanding all that cordials, rubbing, and medical skill could effect, he sank in a few minutes, and died.
But while this was occurring on the beach, another scene of disaster was taking place at the wreck. The lifeboat, after a severe pull of more than an hour, reached the vessel. As she was passing under her stern a great sea struck the boat and immediately capsized her. All on board were at once thrown out. The boat was, however, one of those self-righting crafts, which had just at that time been introduced. She immediately righted, emptied herself, and the crew climbed into her by means of the life-lines festooned round her sides; but the brave coxswain was jammed under her by some wreck, and nearly lost his life— having to dive three or four times before he could extricate himself. When at last dragged into the boat by his comrades he was apparently dead. It was then discovered that the man who had pulled the stroke oar had been swept overboard and carried away. His companions believed him to be lost, but he had on one of the cork life-belts of the Lifeboat Institution, and was by it floated to the shore, where a brave fellow swam his horse out through the surf and rescued him.
Meanwhile, the lifeboat men were so much injured and exhausted that they were utterly incapable of making any attempt to rescue those who remained of the crew of the Swordfish. It was as much as they could do to guide the boat again towards the shore, steered by the second coxswain, who, although scarcely able to stand, performed his duty with consummate skill.
Nothing of all this could be seen by the thousands on shore, owing to the spray which thickened the atmosphere, and the distance of the wreck. But when the lifeboat came in sight they soon perceived that something was wrong, and when she drew near they rushed to meet her. Dismay filled every breast when they saw the coxswain carried out apparently dead, with a stream of blood trickling from a wound in his temple, and learned from the worn-out and disabled crew that no rescue had been effected. Immediately the local secretary before mentioned, who had been all this time caring for those already rescued, and preparing for those expected, called for a volunteer crew, and the second coxswain at once shouted, "I'll go again, sir!" This man's bravery produced a wonderful moral effect. He was not permitted to go, being already too much exhausted, but his example caused volunteers to come forward promptly. Among them were men of the coastguard, a body to which the country is deeply indebted for annually saving many lives. Several gentlemen of the town also volunteered. With the new crew, and the chief officer of the coastguard at the helm, the noble boat was launched a second time.
The struggle which followed was tremendous, for they had to pull direct to windward in the teeth of wind and sea. Sometimes the boat would rise almost perpendicularly to the waves, and the spectators gazed with bated breath, fearing that she must turn over; then she would gain a yard or two, and again be checked. Thus, inch by inch, they advanced until the wreck was reached, and the sailors were successfully taken off. But this was not accomplished without damage to the rescuers, one of whom had three ribs broken, while others were more or less injured.
Soon the boat was seen making once more for the beach. On she came on the wings of the wind. As she drew near, the people crowded towards her as far as the angry sea would permit.
"How many saved?" was the anxious question.
As the boat rushed forward, high on the crest of a tumultuous billow, the bowman stood up and shouted, "Nine saved!" and in another moment, amid the ringing cheers of the vast multitude, the lifeboat leaped upon the sand with the rescued men!
"Nine saved!" A pleasant piece of news that was to be read next day in the papers by those who contributed to place that lifeboat on the coast; for nine souls saved implies many more souls gladdened and filled with unutterable gratitude to Almighty God.
But "Twenty lost!" A dismal piece of news this to those at whose door the murders will lie till the day of doom. Even John Webster, Esquire, grew pale when he heard of it, and his hard heart beat harder than usual against his iron ribs as he sat in the habitation of his soul and gazed at his deceased wife's father over the chimney-piece, until he almost thought the canvas image frowned upon him.
There was more, however, behind these twenty lost lives than Mr Webster dreamed of. The links in the chains of Providence are curiously intermingled, and it is impossible to say, when one of them gives way, which, or how many, will fall along with it, as the next chapter will show.
THINGS BECOME SHAKY, SO DOES MR WEBSTER, AND THE RESULTS ARE AN ILLNESS AND A VOYAGE.
The old Indian officer who was drowned, as we have seen, in the wreck of the Swordfish, was in no way connected with Mr John Webster. In fact, the latter gentleman read his name in the list of those lost with feelings of comparative indifference. He was "very sorry indeed," as he himself expressed it, that so many human beings had been swept off the stage of time by that "unfortunate wreck," but it did not add to his sorrow that an old gentleman, whom he had never seen or heard of before, was numbered with the drowned. Had he foreseen the influence that the death of that old officer was to have on his own fortunes, he might have looked a little more anxiously at the announcement of it. But Colonel Green—that was his name—was nothing to John Webster. What mattered his death or life to him? He was, no doubt, a rich old fellow, who had lived in the East Indies when things were conducted in a rather loose style, and when unscrupulous men in power had opportunities of feathering their nests well; but even although that was true it mattered not, for all Colonel Green's fortune, if thrown into the pile or taken from it, would scarcely have made an appreciable difference in the wealth of the great firm of Webster and Company. Not that "Company" had anything to do with it, for there was no Company. There had been one once, but he had long ago passed into the realms where gold has no value.
There was, however, a very large and important firm in Liverpool which was deeply interested in the life of Colonel Green, for he had long been a sleeping partner of the firm, and had, during a course of years, become so deeply indebted to it that the other partners were beginning to feel uneasy about him. Messrs. Wentworth and Hodge would have given a good deal to have got rid of their sleeping partner, but Colonel Green cared not a straw for Wentworth, nor a fig for Hodge, so he went on in his own way until the Swordfish was wrecked, when he went the way of all flesh, and Wentworth and Hodge discovered that, whatever riches he, Colonel Green, might at one time have possessed, he left nothing behind him except a number of heavy debts.
This was serious, because the firm had been rather infirm for some years past, and the consequences of the colonel's death were, that it became still more shaky, and finally came down. Now, it is a well understood fact that men cannot fall alone. You cannot remove a small prop from a large old tree without running the risk of causing the old tree to fall and carry a few of the neighbouring trees, with a host of branches, creeping plants, and parasites, along with it. Especially is this the case in the mercantile world. The death of Colonel Green was a calamity only to a few tradesmen, but the fall of Wentworth and Company was a much more serious matter, because that firm was an important prop to the much greater firm of Dalgetty and Son, which immediately shook in its shoes, and also went down, spreading ruin and consternation in the city. Now, it happened that Dalgetty and Son had extensive dealings with Webster and Company, and their fall involved the latter so deeply, that, despite their great wealth, their idolatrous head was compelled to puzzle his brain considerably in order to see his way out of his difficulties.
But the more he looked, the less he saw of a favourable nature. Some of his evil practices also had of late begun to shed their legitimate fruit on John Webster, and to teach him something of the meaning of those words, "Be sure your sins shall find you out." This complicated matters considerably. He consulted his cash-books, bank-books, bill-books, sales-books, order-books, ledgers, etcetera, etcetera, again and again, for hours at a time, without arriving at any satisfactory result. He went to his diminutive office early in the morning, and sat there late at night; and did not, by so doing, improve his finances a whit, although he succeeded in materially injuring his health. He worried the life of poor meek Grinder to such an extent that that unfortunate man went home one night and told his wife he meant to commit suicide, begged her to go out and purchase a quart of laudanum for that purpose at the fishmonger's, and was not finally induced to give up, or at least to delay, his rash purpose, until he had swallowed a tumbler of mulled port wine and gone to sleep with a bottle of hot water at his feet! In short, Mr Webster did all that it was possible for a man to do in order to retrieve his fortunes—all except pray, and commit his affairs into the hands of his Maker; that he held to be utterly ridiculous. To make use of God's winds, and waves, and natural laws, and the physical and mental powers which had been given him, for the furtherance of his designs, was quite natural, he said; but to make use of God's word and His promises—tut! tut! he said, that was foolishness.
However that may be, the end was, that Webster and Company became very shaky. They did not, indeed, go into the Gazette, but they got into very deep water; and the principal, ere long, having overwrought all his powers, was stricken with a raging fever.
It was then that John Webster found his god to be anything but a comforter, for it sat upon him like a nightmare; and poor Annie, who, assisted by Mrs Niven, was his constant and devoted nurse, was horrified by the terrible forms in which the golden idol assailed him. That fever became to him the philosopher's stone. Everything was transmuted by it into gold. The counting of guineas was the poor man's sole occupation from morning till night, and the numbers to which he attained were sometimes quite bewildering; but he invariably lost the thread at a certain point, and, with a weary sigh, began over again at the beginning. The bed curtains became golden tissue, the quilt golden filigree, the posts golden masts and yards and bowsprits, which now receded from him to immeasurable distance, and anon advanced, until he cried out and put up his hands to shield his face from harm; but, whether they advanced or retired, they invariably ended by being wrecked, and he was left in the raging sea surrounded by drowning men, with whom he grappled and fought like a demon, insomuch that it was found necessary at one time to have a strong man in an adjoining room, to be ready to come in when summoned, and hold him down. Gold, gold, gold was the subject of his thoughts—the theme of his ravings—at that time. He must have read, at some period of his life, and been much impressed by, Hood's celebrated poem on that subject, for he was constantly quoting scraps of it.
"Why don't you help me?" he would cry at times, turning fiercely to his daughter. "How can I remember it if I am not helped? I have counted it all up—one, two, three, on to millions, and billions, and trillions of gold, gold, gold, hammered and rolled, bought and sold, scattered and doled—there, I've lost it again! You are constantly setting me wrong. All the things about me are gold, and the very food you gave me yesterday was gold. Oh! how sick I am of this gold! Why don't you take it away from me?"
And then he would fall into some other train of thought, in which his god, as before, would take the reins and drive him on, ever in the same direction.
At last the crisis of the disease came and passed, and John Webster began slowly to recover. And it was now that he formed a somewhat true estimate of the marketable value of his daughter Annie, inasmuch as he came at length to the conclusion that she was priceless, and that he would not agree to sell her for any sum that could be named!
During this period of convalescence, Annie's patience, gentleness, and powers of endurance were severely tried, and not found wanting. The result was that the conscience of the invalid began to awake and smite him; then his heart began to melt, and, ere long, became knit to that of his child, while she sought to relieve his pains and cheer his spirits she chatted, played, sang, and read to him. Among other books she read the Bible. At first Mr Webster objected to this, on the ground that he did not care for it; but, seeing that Annie was much pained by his refusal, he consented to permit her to read a few verses to him daily. He always listened to them with his eyes shut, but never by look or comment gave the least sign that they made any impression on him.
During the whole period of Mr Webster's illness and convalescence, Captain Harry Boyns found it convenient to have much business to transact in Liverpool, and he was extremely regular in his calls to inquire after the health of his late employer. This was very kind of him, considering the way in which he had been treated! Sometimes on these visits he saw Annie, sometimes he saw Mrs Niven—according as the one or other chanced to be on duty at the time; but, although he was never permitted to do more than exchange a few sentences with either of them, the most careless observer could have told, on each occasion, which he had seen, for he always left the door with a lengthened face and slow step when he had seen Mrs Niven: but ran down the steps with a flushed countenance and sparkling eyes when he had met with Annie!
At last Mr Webster was so much restored that his doctor gave him leave to pay a short visit to his counting-room in the city.
How strangely Mr Webster felt, after his long absence, when he entered once more the temple of his god, and sat down in his old chair. Everything looked so familiar, yet so strange! There were, indeed, the old objects, but not the old arrangements, for advantage had been taken of his absence to have the office "thoroughly cleaned!" There was the same air of quiet, too, and seclusion; but the smells were not so musty as they used to be, and there was something terribly unbusinesslike in the locked desk and the shut books and the utter absence of papers. The portrait of his deceased wife's father was there, however, as grim, silent, and steadfast in its gaze as ever, so Mr Webster smiled, nodded to it, and rang a hand-bell for his confidential clerk, who entered instantly, having been stationed at the back of the door for full ten minutes in expectation of the summons.
"Good morning, Mr Grinder. I have been ill, you see. Glad to get back, however. How has business been going on in my absence? The doctor forbade my making any inquiries while I was ill, so that I have been rather anxious."
"Yes, sir, I am aware—I—in fact I was anxious to see you several times on business, but could not gain admittance."
"H'm! not going on so well as might be desired, I suppose," said Mr Webster.
"Well, not quite; in short, I might even say things are much worse than they were before you took ill, sir; but if a confidential agent were sent to Jamaica to—to—that is, if Messrs. Bright and Early were seen by yourself, sir, and some arrangement made, we might—might—go on for some time longer, and if trade revives, I think—"
"So bad as that!" exclaimed Mr Webster, musing. "Well, well, Grinder, we must do our best to pull through. Are any of our vessels getting ready for sea just now?"
"Yes, sir, the Ocean Queen sails for Jamaica about the end of this month."
"Very well, Grinder, I will go in her. She is one of our best ships, I think. The doctor said something about a short voyage to recruit me, so that's settled. Bring me writing materials, and send a statement of affairs home to me to-night. I have not yet strength to go into details here."
Grinder brought the writing materials and retired. His employer wrote several letters; among them one to the doctor, apprising him of his intention to go to Jamaica, and another to the captain of the Ocean Queen, giving him the same information, and directing him to fit up the two best berths in the cabin for the reception of himself and his daughter, with a berth for an old female servant.
Three weeks thereafter he went on board with Annie and Mrs Niven, and the Ocean Queen, spreading her sails, was soon far out upon the broad bosom of the restless Atlantic.
DESCRIBES THE PRESENTATION OF A NEW LIFEBOAT TO COVELLY, AND TREATS OF THE ROYAL NATIONAL LIFEBOAT INSTITUTION.
We must now change the scene, and beg our readers to accompany us once more to Covelly, where, not long after the events narrated in the last chapter, an interesting ceremony was performed, which called out the inhabitants in vast numbers. This was the presentation of a new lifeboat to the town, and the rewarding of several men who had recently been instrumental in saving life in circumstances of peculiar danger.
The weather was propitious. A bright sun and a calm sea rejoiced the eyes of the hundreds who had turned out to witness the launch. The old boat, which had saved our heroine years before, and had rescued many more since that day from the angry sea, was worn out, and had to be replaced by one of the magnificent new boats built on the self-righting principle, which had but recently been adopted by the Lifeboat Institution. A lady of the neighbourhood, whose only daughter had been saved by the old boat some time before, had presented the purchase-money of the new one (400 pounds) to the Institution; and, with the promptitude which characterises all the movements of that Society, a fine self-righting lifeboat, with all the latest improvements, had been sent at once to the port.
High on her carriage, in the centre of the town, the new lifeboat stood—gay and brilliant in her blue and white paint, the crew with their cork lifebelts on, and a brass band in front, ready to herald her progress to the shore. The mayor of the town, with all the principal men, headed the procession, and a vast concourse of people followed. At the shore the boat was named the Rescue by the young lady whose life had been saved by the old one, and amid the acclamations of the vast multitude, the noble craft was shot off her carriage into the calm sea, where she was rowed about for a considerable time, and very critically examined by her crew; for, although the whole affair was holiday-work to most of those who looked on, the character of the new boat was a matter of serious import to those who manned her, and who might be called on to risk their lives in her every time their shores should be lashed by a stormy sea.
Our hero, Harry Boyns, held the steering oar. He had been appointed by the parent Institution to the position of "Local Secretary of the Covelly Lifeboat Branch," and, of course, was anxious to know the qualities of his vessel.
Harry, we may remark in passing, having lost his situation, and finding that his mother's health was failing, had made up his mind to stay on shore for a year or two, and seek employment in his native town. Being a well-educated man, he obtained this in the office of a mercantile house, one of the partners of which was related to his mother.
The rowing powers of the new boat were soon tested. Then Harry steered to the pier, where a tackle had been prepared for the purpose of upsetting her. This was an interesting point in the proceedings, because few there had seen a self-righting boat, and, as usual, there was a large sprinkling in the crowd of that class of human beings who maintain the plausible, but false, doctrine, that "seeing is believing!"
Considerable difficulty was experienced in getting the boat to overturn. The operation was slowly accomplished; and all through there appeared to be an unwillingness on the part of the boat to upset!—a symptom which gave much satisfaction to her future crew, who stood ready on her gunwale to leap away from her. At last she was raised completely on one side, then she balanced for a moment, and fell forward, keel up, with a tremendous splash, while the men, not a moment too soon, sprang into the sea, and a wild cheer, mingled with laughter, arose from the spectators.
If the upsetting was slow and difficult, the self-righting was magically quick and easy. The boat went right round, and, almost before one could realise what had occurred, she was again on an even keel. Of course she was nearly full of water at the moment of rising; but, in a few seconds, the discharging holes in her bottom had cleared the water completely away. The whole operation of self-righting and self-emptying, from first to last, occupied only seventeen seconds! If there was laughter mingled with the shouts when she overturned and threw her crew into the sea, there was nothing but deep-toned enthusiasm in the prolonged cheer which hailed her on righting, for then it was fully realised, especially by seafaring men, what genuine and valuable qualities the boat possessed, and the cheers became doubly enthusiastic when the crew, grasping the lifelines which were festooned round her sides, clambered on board again, and were reseated at the oars in less than two minutes thereafter.
This done, the boat was hauled up on her carriage, and conveyed to the house near the beach which had been prepared for her reception, there to wait, in constant readiness, until the storm should call her forth to display her peculiar qualities in actual service.
But another, and, if possible, a still more interesting ceremony remained to be performed. This was the presentation of the gold and silver medals of the Institution to several men of the town, who, in a recent storm, had rendered signal service in the saving of human life.
The zealous and indefatigable secretary of the Institution had himself come down from London to present these.
The presentation took place in the new town hall, a large building capable of containing upwards of a thousand people, which, on the occasion, was filled to overflowing.
The mayor presided, of course, and opened proceedings, as many chairmen do, by taking the wind out of the sails of the principal speaker! That is to say, he touched uninterestingly on each topic that was likely to engage the attention of the meeting, and stated many facts and figures in a loose and careless way, which every one knew the secretary would, as a matter of course, afterwards state much better and more correctly than himself. But the mayor was a respected, well-meaning man, and, although his speech was listened to with manifest impatience, his sitting down was hailed with rapturous applause.
At this point—the mayor having in his excitement forgotten to call upon the secretary to speak—a stout man on the platform took advantage of the oversight and started to his feet, calling from a disgusted auditor the expression, "Oh, there's that bore Dowler!" It was indeed that same Joseph who had, on a memorable occasion long past, signed himself the "humble" friend of Mr Webster. Before a word could escape his lips, however, he was greeted with a storm of yells and obliged to sit down. But he did so under protest, and remained watchful for another favourable opportunity of breaking in. Dowler never knew when he was "out of order;" he never felt or believed himself to be "out of order!" In fact, he did not know what "out of order" meant when applied to himself. He was morally a rhinoceros. He could not be shamed by disapprobation; could not be cowed by abuse; never was put out by noise—although he frequently was by the police; nor put down by reason—though he sometimes was by force; spoke everywhere, on all subjects, against the opinions (apparently) of everybody; and lived a life of perpetual public martyrdom and protest.
Silence having been obtained, the secretary of the Lifeboat Institution rose, and, after a few complimentary remarks on the enthusiasm in the good cause shown by the town, and especially by the lady who had presented the boat, he called Captain Harry Boyns to the platform, and presented him with the gold medal of the Institution in an able speech, wherein he related the special act of gallantry for which it was awarded—telling how that, during a terrible gale, on a dark night in December, the gallant young captain, happening to walk homewards along the cliffs, observed a vessel on the rocks, not twenty yards from the land, with the green seas making clean breaches over her; and how that— knowing the tide was rising, and that before he could run to the town, three miles distant, for assistance, the vessel would certainly be dashed to pieces—he plunged into the surf, at the imminent risk of his life, swam to the vessel, and returned to the shore with a rope, by which means a hawser was fixed to the cliffs, and thirty-nine lives were rescued from the sea!
Well did every one present know the minute details of the heroic deed referred to, but they were glad to hear the praises of their townsman re-echoed by one who thoroughly understood the merits of the case, and whose comments thereon brought out more clearly to the minds of many the extent of the danger which the gallant captain had run, so that, when Harry stepped forward to receive the medal, he was greeted with the most enthusiastic cheers. Thereafter, the secretary presented silver medals to two fishermen of the Cove, namely, Old Jacobs and Robert Gaston, both of whom had displayed unusual daring at the rescue of the young lady who was the donor of the lifeboat. He then touched on the value of lifeboats in general, and gave an interesting account of the origin of the Society which he represented; but as this subject deserves somewhat special treatment, we shall turn aside from the thread of our tale for a little, to regard the Work and the Boats of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, assuring our reader that the subject is well worthy the earnest consideration of all men.
The first lifeboat ever launched upon the stormy sea was planned and built by a London coach-builder, named Lionel Lukin, who took out a patent for it in November 1785, and launched it at Bamborough, where it was the means of saving many lives the first year. Although Lukin thus demonstrated the possibility of lives being saved by a boat which could live under circumstances that would have proved fatal to ordinary boats, he was doomed to disappointment. The Prince of Wales (George the Fourth) did indeed befriend him, but the Lords of Admiralty were deaf, and the public were indifferent. Lukin went to his grave unrewarded by man, but stamped with a nobility which can neither be gifted nor inherited, but only won—the nobility which attaches to the character of "national benefactor."