The Blue lagoon: A Romance
by H. de Vere Stacpoole
by Edward A. Malone
University of Missouri-Rolla
Born on April 9, 1863, in Kingstown, Ireland, Henry de Vere Stacpoole grew up in a household dominated by his mother and three older sisters. William C. Stacpoole, a doctor of divinity from Trinity College and headmaster of Kingstown school, died some time before his son's eighth birthday, leaving the responsibility of supporting the family to his Canadian-born wife, Charlotte Augusta Mountjoy Stacpoole. At a young age, Charlotte had been led out of the Canadian backwoods by her widowed mother and taken to Ireland, where their relatives lived. This experience had strengthened her character and prepared her for single parenthood.
Charlotte cared passionately for her children and was perhaps overly protective of her son. As a child, Henry suffered from severe respiratory problems, misdiagnosed as chronic bronchitis by his physician, who in the winter of 1871 advised that the boy be taken to Southern France for his health. With her entire family in tow, Charlotte made the long journey from Kingstown to London to Paris, where signs of the Franco-Prussian War were still evident, settling at last in Nice at the Hotel des Iles Britannique. Nice was like paradise to Henry, who marveled at the city's affluence and beauty as he played in the warm sun.
After several more excursions to the continent, Stacpoole was sent to Portarlington, a bleak boarding school more than 100 miles from Kingstown. In contrast to his sisters, the Portarlington boys were noisy and uncouth. As Stacpoole writes in his autobiograhy Men and Mice, 1863-1942 (1942), the boys abused him mentally and physically, making him feel like "a little Arthur in a cage of baboons." One night, he escaped through an adjacent girls' school and returned to Kingstown, only to be betrayed by his family and dragged back to school by his eldest sister.
When his family moved to London, he was taken out of Portarlington and enrolled at Malvern College, a progressive school with refined students and plenty of air and sunshine. Stacpoole thoroughly enjoyed his new surroundings, which he associated with the description of Malvern Hills in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh (1857): "Keepers of Piers Plowman's visions / Through the sunshine and the snow." This environment encouraged his interest in literature and writing.
The idyll ended, however, when Stacpoole began his medical training. At his mother's prodding, he entered the medical school at St. George's Hospital. Twice a day, he had to traverse a park frequented by perambulating nursemaids, and he became romantically involved with one of them. When his mother discovered their affair, she insisted that he transfer to University College, and he complied.
More interested in literature than corpses, Stacpoole began to neglect his studies and miss classes, especially the required dissections. Finally, the dean of the medical school confronted him, and their argument drove Stacpoole to St. Mary's Hospital, where he completed his medical training and qualified L. S. A. in 1891. At some point after this date, Stacpoole made several sea voyages into the tropics (at least once as a doctor aboard a cable-mending ship), collecting information for future stories.
Stacpoole's literary career, which he once described as being "more like a Malay fishing prahu than an honest-to-God English literary vessel," began inauspiciously with the publication of The Intended (1894), a tragic novel about two look-alikes, one rich, the other poor, who switch places on a whim. Bewildered by the novel's lack of success, Stacpoole consulted his friendly muse, Pearl Craigie, alias John Oliver Hobbes, who suggested a comic rather than tragic treatment. Years later, Stacpoole retold the story in The Man Who Lost Himself (1918), a commercially successful comic novel about a down-and-out American who impersonates his wealthy look-alike in England.
Set in France during the Franco-Prussian War, Stacpoole's second novel, Pierrot (1896), recounts a French boy's eerie relationship with a patricidal doppelganger. Like its predecessor, it was a commercial failure, and it was at this point, perhaps, that Stacpoole began to view literary success only in terms of sales figures and numbers of editions.
A strange tale of reincarnation, cross dressing, and uxoricide, Stacpoole's third novel, Death, the Knight, and the Lady (1897), purports to be the deathbed confession of Beatrice Sinclair, who is both a reincarnated murderer (male) and a descendant of the murder victim (female). She falls in love with Gerald Wilder, a man disguised as a woman, who is both a reincarnated murder victim (female) and the descendant of the murderer (male). Despite its originality, the novel was killed by "Public Indifference" (Stacpoole's term), which also killed The Rapin (1899), a novel about an art student in Paris.
Stacpoole spent the summer of 1898 in Sommerset, where he took over the medical practice of an ailing country doctor. So peaceful were his days in this pastoral setting that he had time to write The Doctor (1899), a novel about an old-fashioned physician practicing medicine in rural England. "It is the best book I have written," Stacpoole declared more than forty years later. He could also say, in retrospect, that the book's weak sales were a disguised blessing, "for I hadn't ballast on board in those days to stand up to the gale of success, which means incidentally money." He would be spared the gale of success for nine more years, during which he published seven books, including a collection of children's stories and two collaborative novels with his friend William Alexander Bryce.
In 1907, two events occurred that altered the course of Stacpoole's life: he wrote The Blue Lagoon and he married Margaret Robson. Unable to sleep one night, he found himself thinking about and envying the caveman, who in his primitiveness was able to marvel at such commonplace phenomena as sunsets and thunderstorms. Civilized, technological man had unveiled these mysteries with his telescopes and weather balloons, so that they were no longer "nameless wonders" to be feared and contemplated. As a doctor, Stacpoole had witnessed countless births and deaths, and these events no longer seemed miraculous to him. He conceived the idea of two children growing up alone on an island and experiencing storms, death, and birth in almost complete ignorance and innocence. The next morning, he started writing The Blue Lagoon. The exercise was therapeutic because he was able to experience the wonders of life and death vicariously through his characters.
The Blue Lagoon is the story of two cousins, Dicky and Emmeline Lestrange, stranded on a remote island with a beautiful lagoon. As children, they are cared for by Paddy Button, a portly sailor who drinks himself to death after only two and a half years in paradise. Frightened and confused by the man's gruesome corpse, the children flee to another part of Palm Tree Island. Over a period of five years, they grow up and eventually fall in love. Sex and birth are as mysterious to them as death, but they manage to copulate instinctively and conceive a child. The birth is especially remarkable: fifteen-year-old Emmeline, alone in the jungle, loses consciousness and awakes to find a baby boy on the ground near her. Naming the boy Hannah (an example of Stacpoole's penchant for gender reversals), the Lestranges live in familial bliss until they are unexpectedly expelled from their tropical Eden.
The parallels between The Blue Lagoon and the Biblical story of Adam and Eve are obvious and intentional, but Stacpoole was also influenced by Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), which he invokes in a passage describing the castaways' approach Palm Tree Island:
"One could see the water swirling round the coral piers, for the tide was flooding into the lagoon; it had seized the little dinghy and was bearing it along far swifter than the sculls could have driven it. Seagulls screamed about them, the boat rocked and swayed. Dick shouted with excitement, and Emmeline shut her eyes TIGHT.
"Then, as though a door had been swiftly and silently closed, the sound of the surf became suddenly less. The boat floated on an even keel; she opened her eyes and found herself in Wonderland."
This direct reference to Wonderland prepares the reader for the many parallels that follow. When their adventures begin, both girls are about the same age, Alice seven and a half, Emmeline exactly eight. Just as Alice joins a tea party in Wonderland, Emmeline plays with her tiny tea set on the beach after they land. Emmeline's former pet, like the Cheshire Cat, "had white stripes and a white chest, and rings down its tail" and died "showing its teeth." Whereas Alice looks for a poison label on a bottle that says "Drink Me," Emmeline innocently tries to eat "the never-wake-up berries" and receives a stern rebuke and a lecture about poison from Paddy Button. "The Poetry of Learning" chapter echoes Alice's dialogue with the caterpillar. Like the wily creature smoking a hookah, Paddy smokes a pipe and shouts "Hurroo!" as the children teach him to write his name in the sand. The children lose "all count of time," just as the Mad Hatter does. Whereas Alice grows nine feet taller, Dick sprouts "two inches taller" and Emmeline "twice as plump." Like the baby in the "Pig and Pepper," Hannah sneezes at the first sight of Dicky. The novel is artfully littered with references to wonder, curiosity, and strangeness—all evidence of Stacpoole's conscious effort to invoke and honor his Victorian predecessor.
Stacpoole presented The Blue Lagoon to Publisher T. Fisher Unwin in September 1907 and went to Cumberland to assist another ailing doctor in his practice. Every day from Eden Vue in Langwathby, Stacpoole wrote to his fiancee, Margaret Robson (or Maggie, as he called her), and waited anxiously for their wedding day. On December 17, 1907, the couple were married and spent their honeymoon at Stebbing Park, a friend's country house in Essex, about three miles from the village of Stebbing. It was there that they stumbled upon Rose Cottage, where Stacpoole lived for several years before he moved to Cliff Dene on the Isle of Wight in the 1920s.
Published in January 1908, The Blue Lagoon was an immediate success, both with reviewers and the public. "[This] tale of the discovery of love, and innocent mating, is as fresh as the ozone that made them strong," declared one reviewer. Another claimed that "for once the title of 'romance,' found in so many modern stories, is really justified." The novel was reprinted more than twenty times in the next twelve years and remained popular in other forms for more than eighty years. Norman MacOwen and Charlton Mann adapted the story as a play, which ran for 263 performances in London from August 28, 1920, to April 16, 1921. Film versions of the novel were made in 1923, 1949, and 1980.
Stacpoole also wrote two successful sequels: The Garden of God (1923) and The Gates of Morning (1925). These three books and two others were combined to form The Blue Lagoon Omnibus in 1933. The Garden of God was filmed as Return to the Blue Lagoon in 1992.
This Gutenberg etext of The Blue Lagoon: A Romance is based on the 1908 first American edition published by J. B. Lippincott Company of Philadelphia.
The Blue lagoon: A Romance
by H. de Vere Stacpoole
I. WHERE THE SLUSH LAMP BURNS II. UNDER THE STARS III. THE SHADOW AND THE FIRE IV. AND LIKE A DREAM DISSOLVED V. VOICES HEARD IN THE MIST VI. DAWN ON A WIDE, WIDE SEA VII. STORY OF THE PIG AND THE BILLY-GOAT VIII. "S-H-E-N-A-N-D-O-A-H" IX. SHADOWS IN THE MOONLIGHT X. THE TRAGEDY OF THE BOATS
XI. THE ISLAND XII. THE LAKE OF AZURE XIII. DEATH VEILED WITH LICHEN XIV. ECHOES OF FAIRY-LAND XV. FAIR PICTURES IN THE BLUE
XVI. THE POETRY OF LEARNING XVII. THE DEVIL'S CASK XVIII. THE RAT HUNT XIX. STARLIGHT ON THE FOAM XX. THE DREAMER ON THE REEF XXI. THE GARLAND OF FLOWERS XXII. ALONE XXIII. THEY MOVE AWAY
I. UNDER THE ARTU TREE II. HALF CHILD-HALF SAVAGE III. THE DEMON OF THE REEF IV. WHAT BEAUTY CONCEALED V. THE SOUND OF A DRUM VI. SAILS UPON THE SEA VII. THE SCHOONER VIII. LOVE STEPS IN IX. THE SLEEP OF PARADISE
X. AN ISLAND HONEYMOON XI. THE VANISHING OF EMMELINE XII. THE VANISHING OF EMMELINE (CONTINUED) XIII. THE NEWCOMER XIV. HANNAH XV. THE LAGOON OF FIRE XVI. THE CYCLONE XVII. THE STRICKEN WOODS XVIII. A FALLEN IDOL XIX. THE EXPEDITION XX. THE KEEPER OF THE LAGOON XXI. THE HAND OF THE SEA XXII. TOGETHER
I. MAD LESTRANGE II. THE SECRET OF THE AZURE III. CAPTAIN FOUNTAIN IV. DUE SOUTH
THE BLUE LAGOON
WHERE THE SLUSH LAMP BURNS
Mr Button was seated on a sea-chest with a fiddle under his left ear. He was playing the "Shan van vaught," and accompanying the tune, punctuating it, with blows of his left heel on the fo'cs'le deck.
"O the Frinch are in the bay, Says the Shan van vaught."
He was dressed in dungaree trousers, a striped shirt, and a jacket baize—green in parts from the influence of sun and salt. A typical old shell-back, round-shouldered, hooked of finger; a figure with strong hints of a crab about it.
His face was like a moon, seen red through tropical mists; and as he played it wore an expression of strained attention as though the fiddle were telling him tales much more marvellous than the old bald statement about Bantry Bay.
"Left-handed Pat," was his fo'cs'le name; not because he was left-handed, but simply because everything he did he did wrong—or nearly so. Reefing or furling, or handling a slush tub—if a mistake was to be made, he made it.
He was a Celt, and all the salt seas that had flowed between him and Connaught these forty years and more had not washed the Celtic element from his blood, nor the belief in fairies from his soul. The Celtic nature is a fast dye, and Mr Button's nature was such that though he had been shanghaied by Larry Marr in 'Frisco, though he had got drunk in most ports of the world, though he had sailed with Yankee captains and been man-handled by Yankee mates, he still carried his fairies about with him—they, and a very large stock of original innocence.
Nearly over the musician's head swung a hammock from which hung a leg; other hammocks hanging in the semi-gloom called up suggestions of lemurs and arboreal bats. The swinging kerosene lamp cast its light forward past the heel of the bowsprit to the knightheads, lighting here a naked foot hanging over the side of a bunk, here a face from which protruded a pipe, here a breast covered with dark mossy hair, here an arm tattooed.
It was in the days before double topsail yards had reduced ships' crews, and the fo'cs'le of the Northumberland had a full company: a crowd of packet rats such as often is to be found on a Cape Horner "Dutchmen" [sic] Americans—men who were farm labourers and tending pigs in Ohio three months back, old seasoned sailors like Paddy Button—a mixture of the best and the worst of the earth, such as you find nowhere else in so small a space as in a ship's fo'cs'le.
The Northumberland had experienced a terrible rounding of the Horn. Bound from New Orleans to 'Frisco she had spent thirty days battling with head-winds and storms—down there, where the seas are so vast that three waves may cover with their amplitude more than a mile of sea space; thirty days she had passed off Cape Stiff, and just now, at the moment of this story, she was locked in a calm south of the line.
Mr Button finished his tune with a sweep of the bow, and drew his right coat sleeve across his forehead. Then he took out a sooty pipe, filled it with tobacco, and lit it.
"Pawthrick," drawled a voice from the hammock above, from which depended the leg, "what was that yarn you wiz beginnin' to spin ter night 'bout a lip-me-dawn?"
"A which me-dawn?" asked Mr Button, cocking his eye up at the bottom of the hammock while he held the match to his pipe.
"It vas about a green thing," came a sleepy Dutch voice from a bunk.
"Oh, a Leprachaun, you mane. Sure, me mother's sister had one down in Connaught."
"Vat vas it like?" asked the dreamy Dutch voice—a voice seemingly possessed by the calm that had made the sea like a mirror for the last three days, reducing the whole ship's company meanwhile to the level of wasters.
"Like? Sure, it was like a Leprachaun; and what else would it be like?"
"What like vas that?" persisted the voice.
"It was like a little man no bigger than a big forked radish, an' as green as a cabbidge. Me a'nt had one in her house down in Connaught in the ould days. O musha! musha! the ould days, the ould days! Now, you may b'lave me or b'lave me not, but you could have put him in your pocket, and the grass-green head of him wouldn't more than'v stuck out. She kept him in a cupboard, and out of the cupboard he'd pop if it was a crack open, an' into the milk pans he'd be, or under the beds, or pullin' the stool from under you, or at some other divarsion. He'd chase the pig—the crathur!—till it'd be all ribs like an ould umbrilla with the fright, an' as thin as a greyhound with the runnin' by the marnin; he'd addle the eggs so the cocks an' hens wouldn't know what they wis afther wid the chickens comin' out wid two heads on them, an' twinty-seven legs fore and aft. And you'd start to chase him, an' then it'd be main-sail haul, and away he'd go, you behint him, till you'd landed tail over snout in a ditch, an' he'd be back in the cupboard."
"He was a Troll," murmured the Dutch voice.
"I'm tellin' you he was a Leprachaun, and there's no knowin' the divilments he'd be up to. He'd pull the cabbidge, maybe, out of the pot boilin' on the fire forenint your eyes, and baste you in the face with it; and thin, maybe, you'd hold out your fist to him, and he'd put a goulden soverin in it."
"Wisht he was here!" murmured a voice from a bunk near the knightheads.
"Pawthrick," drawled the voice from the hammock above, "what'd you do first if you found y'self with twenty pound in your pocket?"
"What's the use of askin' me?" replied Mr Button. "What's the use of twenty pound to a sayman at say, where the grog's all wather an' the beef's all horse? Gimme it ashore, an' you'd see what I'd do wid it!"
"I guess the nearest grog-shop keeper wouldn't see you comin' for dust," said a voice from Ohio.
"He would not," said Mr Button; "nor you afther me. Be damned to the grog and thim that sells it!"
"It's all darned easy to talk," said Ohio. "You curse the grog at sea when you can't get it; set you ashore, and you're bung full."
"I likes me dhrunk," said Mr Button, "I'm free to admit; an' I'm the divil when it's in me, and it'll be the end of me yet, or me ould mother was a liar. 'Pat,' she says, first time I come home from say rowlin', 'storms you may escape, an wimmen you may escape, but the potheen 'ill have you.' Forty year ago—forty year ago!"
"Well," said Ohio, "it hasn't had you yet."
"No," replied Mr Button, "but it will."
UNDER THE STARS
It was a wonderful night up on deck, filled with all the majesty and beauty of starlight and a tropic calm.
The Pacific slept; a vast, vague swell flowing from far away down south under the night, lifted the Northumberland on its undulations to the rattling sound of the reef points and the occasional creak of the rudder; whilst overhead, near the fiery arch of the Milky Way, hung the Southern Cross like a broken kite.
Stars in the sky, stars in the sea, stars by the million and the million; so many lamps ablaze that the firmament filled the mind with the idea of a vast and populous city—yet from all that living and flashing splendour not a sound.
Down in the cabin—or saloon, as it was called by courtesy—were seated the three passengers of the ship; one reading at the table, two playing on the floor.
The man at the table, Arthur Lestrange, was seated with his large, deep-sunken eyes fixed on a book. He was most evidently in consumption—very near, indeed, to reaping the result of that last and most desperate remedy, a long sea voyage.
Emmeline Lestrange, his little niece—eight years of age, a mysterious mite, small for her age, with thoughts of her own, wide-pupilled eyes that seemed the doors for visions, and a face that seemed just to have peeped into this world for a moment ere it was as suddenly withdrawn—sat in a corner nursing something in her arms, and rocking herself to the tune of her own thoughts.
Dick, Lestrange's little son, eight and a bit, was somewhere under the table. They were Bostonians, bound for San Francisco, or rather for the sun and splendour of Los Angeles, where Lestrange had bought a small estate, hoping there to enjoy the life whose lease would be renewed by the long sea voyage.
As he sat reading, the cabin door opened, and appeared an angular female form. This was Mrs Stannard, the stewardess, and Mrs Stannard meant bedtime.
"Dicky," said Mr Lestrange, closing his book, and raising the table-cloth a few inches, "bedtime."
"Oh, not yet, daddy!" came a sleep-freighted voice from under the table; "I ain't ready. I dunno want to go to bed, I— Hi yow!"
Stannard, who knew her work, had stooped under the table, seized him by the foot, and hauled him out kicking and fighting and blubbering all at the same time.
As for Emmeline, she having glanced up and recognised the inevitable, rose to her feet, and, holding the hideous rag-doll she had been nursing, head down and dangling in one hand, she stood waiting till Dicky, after a few last perfunctory bellows, suddenly dried his eyes and held up a tear-wet face for his father to kiss. Then she presented her brow solemnly to her uncle, received a kiss, and vanished, led by the hand into a cabin on the port side of the saloon.
Mr Lestrange returned to his book, but he had not read for long when the cabin door was opened, and Emmeline, in her nightdress, reappeared, holding a brown paper parcel in her hand, a parcel of about the same size as the book you are reading.
"My box," said she; and as she spoke, holding it up as if to prove its safety, the little plain face altered to the face of an angel.
She had smiled.
When Emmeline Lestrange smiled it was absolutely as if the light of Paradise had suddenly flashed upon her face: the happiest form of childish beauty suddenly appeared before your eyes, dazzled them and was gone.
Then she vanished with her box, and Mr Lestrange resumed his book.
This box of Emmeline's, I may say in parenthesis, had given more trouble aboard ship than all of the rest of the passengers' luggage put together.
It had been presented to her on her departure from Boston by a lady friend, and what it contained was a dark secret to all on board, save its owner and her uncle; she was a woman, or, at all events, the beginning of a woman, yet she kept this secret to herself—a fact which you will please note.
The trouble of the thing was that it was frequently being lost. Suspecting herself, maybe, as an unpractical dreamer in a world filled with robbers, she would cart it about with her for safety, sit down behind a coil of rope and fall into a fit of abstraction; be recalled to life by the evolutions of the crew reefing or furling or what not, rise to superintend the operations—and then suddenly find she had lost her box.
Then she would absolutely haunt the ship. Wide-eyed and distressed of face she would wander hither and thither, peeping into the galley, peeping down the forescuttle, never uttering a word or wail, searching like an uneasy ghost, but dumb.
She seemed ashamed to tell of her loss, ashamed to let any one know of it; but every one knew of it directly they saw her, to use Mr Button's expression, "on the wandher," and every one hunted for it.
Strangely enough it was Paddy Button who usually found it. He who was always doing the wrong thing in the eyes of men, generally did the right thing in the eyes of children. Children, in fact, when they could get at Mr Button, went for him con amore. He was as attractive to them as a Punch and Judy show or a German band—almost.
Mr Lestrange after a while closed the book he was reading, looked around him and sighed.
The cabin of the Northumberland was a cheerful enough place, pierced by the polished shaft of the mizzen mast, carpeted with an Axminster carpet, and garnished with mirrors let into the white pine panelling. Lestrange was staring at the reflection of his own face in one of these mirrors fixed just opposite to where he sat.
His emaciation was terrible, and it was just perhaps at this moment that he first recognised the fact that he must not only die, but die soon.
He turned from the mirror and sat for a while with his chin resting upon his hand, and his eyes fixed on an ink spot upon the table-cloth; then he arose, and crossing the cabin climbed laboriously up the companionway to the deck.
As he leaned against the bulwark rail to recover his breath, the splendour and beauty of the Southern night struck him to the heart with a cruel pang. He took his seat on a deck chair and gazed up at the Milky Way, that great triumphal arch built of suns that the dawn would sweep away like a dream.
In the Milky Way, near the Southern Cross, occurs a terrible circular abyss, the Coal Sack. So sharply defined is it, so suggestive of a void and bottomless cavern, that the contemplation of it afflicts the imaginative mind with vertigo. To the naked eye it is as black and as dismal as death, but the smallest telescope reveals it beautiful and populous with stars.
Lestrange's eyes travelled from this mystery to the burning cross, and the nameless and numberless stars reaching to the sea-line, where they paled and vanished in the light of the rising moon. Then he became aware of a figure promenading the quarterdeck. It was the "Old Man."
A sea captain is always the "old man," be his age what it may. Captain Le Farges' age might have been forty-five. He was a sailor of the Jean Bart type, of French descent, but a naturalised American.
"I don't know where the wind's gone," said the captain as he drew near the man in the deck chair. "I guess it's blown a hole in the firmament, and escaped somewheres to the back of beyond."
"It's been a long voyage," said Lestrange; "and I'm thinking, Captain, it will be a very long voyage for me. My port's not 'Frisco; I feel it."
"Don't you be thinking that sort of thing," said the other, taking his seat in a chair close by. "There's no manner of use forecastin' the weather a month ahead. Now we're in warm latitoods, your glass will rise steady, and you'll be as right and spry as any one of us, before we fetch the Golden Gates."
"I'm thinking about the children," said Lestrange, seeming not to hear the captain's words. "Should anything happen to me before we reach port, I should like you to do something for me. It's only this: dispose of my body without—without the children knowing. It has been in my mind to ask you this for some days. Captain, those children know nothing of death."
Le Farge moved uneasily in his chair.
"Little Emmeline's mother died when she was two. Her father—my brother—died before she was born. Dicky never knew a mother; she died giving him birth. My God, Captain, death has laid a heavy hand on my family; can you wonder that I have hid his very name from those two creatures that I love!"
"Ay, ay," said Le Farge, "it's sad! it's sad!"
"When I was quite a child," went on Lestrange, "a child no older than Dicky, my nurse used to terrify me with tales about dead people. I was told I'd go to hell when I died if I wasn't a good child. I cannot tell you how much that has poisoned my life, for the thoughts we think in childhood, Captain, are the fathers of the thoughts we think when we are grown up. And can a diseased father have healthy children?"
"I guess not."
"So I just said, when these two tiny creatures came into my care, that I would do all in my power to protect them from the terrors of life—or rather, I should say, from the terror of death. I don't know whether I have done right, but I have done it for the best. They had a cat, and one day Dicky came in to me and said: 'Father, pussy's in the garden asleep, and I can't wake her.' So I just took him out for a walk; there was a circus in the town, and I took him to it. It so filled his mind that he quite forgot the cat. Next day he asked for her. I did not tell him she was buried in the garden, I just said she must have run away. In a week he had forgotten all about her—children soon forget."
"Ay, that's true," said the sea captain. "But 'pears to me they must learn some time they've got to die."
"Should I pay the penalty before we reach land, and be cast into that great, vast sea, I would not wish the children's dreams to be haunted by the thought: just tell them I've gone on board another ship. You will take them back to Boston; I have here, in a letter, the name of a lady who will care for them. Dicky will be well off, as far as worldly goods are concerned, and so will Emmeline. Just tell them I've gone on board another ship—children soon forget."
"I'll do what you ask," said the seaman.
The moon was over the horizon now, and the Northumberland lay adrift in a river of silver. Every spar was distinct, every reef point on the great sails, and the decks lay like spaces of frost cut by shadows black as ebony.
As the two men sat without speaking, thinking their own thoughts, a little white figure emerged from the saloon hatch. It was Emmeline. She was a professed sleepwalker—a past mistress of the art.
Scarcely had she stepped into dreamland than she had lost her precious box, and now she was hunting for it on the decks of the Northumberland.
Mr Lestrange put his finger to his lips, took off his shoes and silently followed her. She searched behind a coil of rope, she tried to open the galley door; hither and thither she wandered, wide-eyed and troubled of face, till at last, in the shadow of the hencoop, she found her visionary treasure. Then back she came, holding up her little nightdress with one hand, so as not to trip, and vanished down the saloon companion very hurriedly, as if anxious to get back to bed, her uncle close behind, with one hand outstretched so as to catch her in case she stumbled.
THE SHADOW AND THE FIRE
It was the fourth day of the long calm. An awning had been rigged up on the poop for the passengers, and under it sat Lestrange, trying to read, and the children trying to play. The heat and monotony had reduced even Dicky to just a surly mass, languid in movement as a grub. As for Emmeline, she seemed dazed. The rag-doll lay a yard away from her on the poop deck, unnursed; even the wretched box and its whereabouts she seemed to have quite forgotten.
"Daddy!" suddenly cried Dick, who had clambered up, and was looking over the after-rail.
Lestrange rose to his feet, came aft and looked over the rail.
Down in the vague green of the water something moved, something pale and long—a ghastly form. It vanished; and yet another came, neared the surface, and displayed itself more fully. Lestrange saw its eyes, he saw the dark fin, and the whole hideous length of the creature; a shudder ran through him as he clasped Dicky.
"Ain't he fine?" said the child. "I guess, daddy, I'd pull him aboard if I had a hook. Why haven't I a hook, daddy? Why haven't I a hook, daddy?— Ow, you're SQUEEZIN' me!"
Something plucked at Lestrange's coat: it was Emmeline—she also wanted to look. He lifted her up in his arms; her little pale face peeped over the rail, but there was nothing to see: the forms of terror had vanished, leaving the green depths untroubled and unstained.
"What's they called, daddy?" persisted Dick, as his father took him down from the rail, and led him back to the chair.
"Sharks," said Lestrange, whose face was covered with perspiration.
He picked up the book he had been reading—it was a volume of Tennyson—and he sat with it on his knees staring at the white sunlit main-deck barred with the white shadows of the standing rigging.
The sea had disclosed to him a vision. Poetry, Philosophy, Beauty, Art, the love and joy of life—was it possible that these should exist in the same world as those?
He glanced at the book upon his knees, and contrasted the beautiful things in it which he remembered with the terrible things he had just seen, the things that were waiting for their food under the keel of the ship.
It was three bells—half-past three in the afternoon—and the ship's bell had just rung out. The stewardess appeared to take the children below; and as they vanished down the saloon companionway, Captain Le Farge came aft, on to the poop, and stood for a moment looking over the sea on the port side, where a bank of fog had suddenly appeared like the spectre of a country.
"The sun has dimmed a bit," said he; "I can a'most look at it. Glass steady enough—there's a fog coming up—ever seen a Pacific fog?"
"Well, you won't want to see another," replied the mariner, shading his eyes and fixing them upon the sea-line. The sea-line away to starboard had lost somewhat its distinctness, and over the day an almost imperceptible shade had crept.
The captain suddenly turned from his contemplation of the sea and sky, raised his head and sniffed.
"Something is burning somewhere—smell it? Seems to me like an old mat or summat. It's that swab of a steward, maybe; if he isn't breaking glass, he's upsetting lamps and burning holes in the carpet. Bless MY soul, I'd sooner have a dozen Mary Anns an' their dustpans round the place than one tomfool steward like Jenkins." He went to the saloon hatch. "Below there!"
"Ay, ay, sir."
"What are you burning?"
"I an't burnin' northen, sir."
"Tell you, I smell it!"
"There's northen burnin' here, sir."
"Neither is there; it's all on deck. Something in the galley, maybe—rags, most likely, they've thrown on the fire."
"Captain!" said Lestrange.
"Come here, please."
Le Farge climbed on to the poop.
"I don't know whether it's my weakness that's affecting my eyes, but there seems to me something strange about the main-mast."
The main-mast near where it entered the deck, and for some distance up, seemed in motion—a corkscrew movement most strange to watch from the shelter of the awning.
This apparent movement was caused by a spiral haze of smoke so vague that one could only tell of its existence from the mirage-like tremor of the mast round which it curled.
"My God!" cried Le Farge, as he sprang from the poop and rushed forward.
Lestrange followed him slowly, stopping every moment to clutch the bulwark rail and pant for breath. He heard the shrill bird-like notes of the bosun's pipe. He saw the hands emerging from the forecastle, like bees out of a hive; he watched them surrounding the main-hatch. He watched the tarpaulin and locking-bars removed. He saw the hatch opened, and a burst of smoke—black, villainous smoke—ascend to the sky, solid as a plume in the windless air.
Lestrange was a man of a highly nervous temperament, and it is just this sort of man who keeps his head in an emergency, whilst your level-headed, phlegmatic individual loses his balance. His first thought was of the children, his second of the boats.
In the battering off Cape Horn the Northumberland lost several of her boats. There were left the long-boat, a quarter-boat, and the dinghy. He heard Le Farge's voice ordering the hatch to be closed and the pumps manned, so as to flood the hold; and, knowing that he could do nothing on deck, he made as swiftly as he could for the saloon companionway.
Mrs Stannard was just coming out of the children's cabin.
"Are the children lying down, Mrs Stannard?" asked Lestrange, almost breathless from the excitement and exertion of the last few minutes.
The woman glanced at him with frightened eyes. He looked like the very herald of disaster.
"For if they are, and you have undressed them, then you must put their clothes on again. The ship is on fire, Mrs Stannard."
"Good God, sir!"
"Listen!" said Lestrange.
From a distance, thin, and dreary as the crying of sea-gulls on a desolate beach, came the clanking of the pumps.
AND LIKE A DREAM DISSOLVED
Before the woman had time to speak a thunderous step was heard on the companion stairs, and Le Farge broke into the saloon. The man's face was injected with blood, his eyes were fixed and glassy like the eyes of a drunkard, and the veins stood on his temples like twisted cords.
"Get those children ready!" he shouted, as he rushed into his own cabin. "Get you all ready—boats are being swung out and victualled. Ho! where are those papers?"
They heard him furiously searching and collecting things in his cabin—the ship's papers, accounts, things the master mariner clings to as he clings to his life; and as he searched, and found, and packed, he kept bellowing orders for the children to be got on deck. Half mad he seemed, and half mad he was with the knowledge of the terrible thing that was stowed amidst the cargo.
Up on deck the crew, under the direction of the first mate, were working in an orderly manner, and with a will, utterly unconscious of there being anything beneath their feet but an ordinary cargo on fire. The covers had been stripped from the boats, kegs of water and bags of biscuit placed in them. The dinghy, smallest of the boats and most easily got away, was hanging at the port quarter-boat davits flush with the bulwarks; and Paddy Button was in the act of stowing a keg of water in her, when Le Farge broke on to the deck, followed by the stewardess carrying Emmeline, and Mr Lestrange leading Dick. The dinghy was rather a larger boat than the ordinary ships' dinghy, and possessed a small mast and long sail. Two sailors stood ready to man the falls, and Paddy Button was just turning to trundle forward again when the captain seized him.
"Into the dinghy with you," he cried, "and row these children and the passenger out a mile from the ship—two miles, three miles, make an offing."
"Sure, Captain dear, I've left me fiddle in the—"
Le Farge dropped the bundle of things he was holding under his left arm, seized the old sailor and rushed him against the bulwarks, as if he meant to fling him into the sea THROUGH the bulwarks.
Next moment Mr Button was in the boat. Emmeline was handed to him, pale of face and wide-eyed, and clasping something wrapped in a little shawl; then Dick, and then Mr Lestrange was helped over.
"No room for more!" cried Le Farge. "Your place will be in the long-boat, Mrs Stannard, if we have to leave the ship. Lower away, lower away!"
The boat sank towards the smooth blue sea, kissed it and was afloat.
Now Mr Button, before joining the ship at Boston, had spent a good while lingering by the quay, having no money wherewith to enjoy himself in a tavern. He had seen something of the lading of the Northumberland, and heard more from a stevedore. No sooner had he cast off the falls and seized the oars, than his knowledge awoke in his mind, living and lurid. He gave a whoop that brought the two sailors leaning over the side.
"Run for your lives I've just rimimbered—there's two bar'ls of blastin' powther in the houldt."
Then he bent to his oars, as no man ever bent before. Lestrange, sitting in the stern-sheets clasping Emmeline and Dick, saw nothing for a moment after hearing these words. The children, who knew nothing of blasting powder or its effects, though half frightened by all the bustle and excitement, were still amused and pleased at finding themselves in the little boat so close to the blue pretty sea.
Dick put his finger over the side, so that it made a ripple in the water (the most delightful experience of childhood). Emmeline, with one hand clasped in her uncle's, watched Mr Button with a grave sort of half pleasure.
He certainly was a sight worth watching. His soul was filled with tragedy and terror. His Celtic imagination heard the ship blowing up, saw himself and the little dinghy blown to pieces—nay, saw himself in hell, being toasted by "divils."
But tragedy and terror could find no room for expression on his fortunate or unfortunate face. He puffed and he blew, bulging his cheeks out at the sky as he tugged at the oars, making a hundred and one grimaces—all the outcome of agony of mind, but none expressing it. Behind lay the ship, a picture not without its lighter side. The long-boat and the quarter-boat, lowered with a rush and seaborne by the mercy of Providence, were floating by the side of the Northumberland.
From the ship men were casting themselves overboard like water-rats, swimming in the water like ducks, scrambling on board the boats anyhow.
From the half-opened main-hatch the black smoke, mixed now with sparks, rose steadily and swiftly and spitefully, as if driven through the half-closed teeth of a dragon.
A mile away beyond the Northumberland stood the fog bank. It looked solid, like a vast country that had suddenly and strangely built itself on the sea—a country where no birds sang and no trees grew. A country with white, precipitous cliffs, solid to look at as the cliffs of Dover.
"I'm spint!" suddenly gasped the oarsman, resting the oar handles under the crook of his knees, and bending down as if he was preparing to butt at the passengers in the stern-sheets. "Blow up or blow down, I'm spint, don't ax me, I'm spint."
Mr Lestrange, white as a ghost, but recovered somewhat from his first horror, gave the Spent One time to recover himself and turned to look at the ship. She seemed a great distance off, and the boats, well away from her, were making at a furious pace towards the dinghy. Dick was still playing with the water, but Emmeline's eyes were entirely occupied with Paddy Button. New things were always of vast interest to her contemplative mind, and these evolutions of her old friend were eminently new.
She had seen him swilling the decks, she had seen him dancing a jig, she had seen him going round the main deck on all fours with Dick on his back, but she had never seen him going on like this before.
She perceived now that he was exhausted, and in trouble about something, and, putting her hand in the pocket of her dress, she searched for something that she knew was there. She produced a Tangerine orange, and leaning forward she touched the Spent One's head with it.
Mr Button raised his head, stared vacantly for a second, saw the proffered orange, and at the sight of it the thought of "the childer" and their innocence, himself and the blasting powder, cleared his dazzled wits, and he took to the sculls again.
"Daddy," said Dick, who had been looking astern, "there's clouds near the ship."
In an incredibly short space of time the solid cliffs of fog had broken. The faint wind that had banked it had pierced it, and was now making pictures and devices of it, most wonderful and weird to see. Horsemen of the mist rode on the water, and were dissolved; billows rolled on the sea, yet were not of the sea; blankets and spirals of vapour ascended to high heaven. And all with a terrible languor of movement. Vast and lazy and sinister, yet steadfast of purpose as Fate or Death, the fog advanced, taking the world for its own.
Against this grey and indescribably sombre background stood the smouldering ship with the breeze already shivering in her sails, and the smoke from her main-hatch blowing and beckoning as if to the retreating boats.
"Why's the ship smoking like that?" asked Dick. "And look at those boats coming—when are we going back, daddy?"
"Uncle," said Emmeline, putting her hand in his, as she gazed towards the ship and beyond it, "I'm 'fraid."
"What frightens you, Emmy?" he asked, drawing her to him.
"Shapes," replied Emmeline, nestling up to his side.
"Oh, Glory be to God!" gasped the old sailor, suddenly resting on his oars. "Will yiz look at the fog that's comin'—"
"I think we had better wait here for the boats," said Mr Lestrange; "we are far enough now to be safe if anything happens."
"Ay, ay," replied the oarsman, whose wits had returned. "Blow up or blow down, she won't hit us from here."
"Daddy," said Dick, "when are we going back? I want my tea."
"We aren't going back, my child," replied his father. "The ship's on fire; we are waiting for another ship."
"Where's the other ship?" asked the child, looking round at the horizon that was clear.
"We can't see it yet," replied the unhappy man, "but it will come."
The long-boat and the quarter-boat were slowly approaching. They looked like beetles crawling over the water, and after them across the glittering surface came a dullness that took the sparkle from the sea—a dullness that swept and spread like an eclipse shadow.
Now the wind struck the dinghy. It was like a wind from fairyland, almost imperceptible, chill, and dimming the sun. A wind from Lilliput. As it struck the dinghy, the fog took the distant ship.
It was a most extraordinary sight, for in less than thirty seconds the ship of wood became a ship of gauze, a tracery flickered, and was gone forever from the sight of man.
VOICES HEARD IN THE MIST
The sun became fainter still, and vanished. Though the air round the dinghy seemed quite clear, the on-coming boats were hazy and dim, and that part of the horizon that had been fairly clear was now blotted out.
The long-boat was leading by a good way. When she was within hailing distance the captain's voice came.
"Fetch alongside here!"
The long-boat ceased rowing to wait for the quarter-boat that was slowly creeping up. She was a heavy boat to pull at all times, and now she was overloaded.
The wrath of Captain Le Farge with Paddy Button for the way he had stampeded the crew was profound, but he had not time to give vent to it.
"Here, get aboard us, Mr Lestrange!" said he, when the dinghy was alongside; "we have room for one. Mrs Stannard is in the quarter-boat, and it's overcrowded; she's better aboard the dinghy, for she can look after the kids. Come, hurry up, the smother is coming down on us fast. Ahoy!"—to the quarter-boat, "hurry up, hurry up."
The quarter-boat had suddenly vanished.
Mr Lestrange climbed into the long-boat. Paddy pushed the dinghy a few yards away with the tip of a scull, and then lay on his oars waiting.
"Ahoy! ahoy!" cried Le Farge.
"Ahoy!" came from the fog bank.
Next moment the long-boat and the dinghy vanished from each other's sight: the great fog bank had taken them.
Now a couple of strokes of the port scull would have brought Mr Button alongside the long-boat, so close was he; but the quarter-boat was in his mind, or rather imagination, so what must he do but take three powerful strokes in the direction in which he fancied the quarter-boat to be.
The rest was voices.
"Don't be shoutin' together, or I'll not know which way to pull. Quarter-boat ahoy! where are yez?"
"Port your helm!"
"Ay, ay!" putting his helm, so to speak, to starboard—"I'll be wid yiz in wan minute, two or three minutes' hard pulling."
"Ahoy!"—much more faint.
"What d'ye mane rowin' away from me?"—a dozen strokes.
"Ahoy!" fainter still.
Mr Button rested on his oars.
"Divil mend them I b'lave that was the long-boat shoutin'."
He took to his oars again and pulled vigorously.
"Paddy," came Dick's small voice, apparently from nowhere, "where are we now?"
"Sure, we're in a fog; where else would we be? Don't you be affeared."
"I ain't affeared, but Em's shivering."
"Give her me coat," said the oarsman, resting on his oars and taking it off. "Wrap it round her; and when it's round her we'll all let one big halloo together. There's an ould shawl som'er in the boat, but I can't be after lookin' for it now."
He held out the coat and an almost invisible hand took it; at the same moment a tremendous report shook the sea and sky.
"There she goes," said Mr Button; "an' me old fiddle an' all. Don't be frightened, childer; it's only a gun they're firin' for divarsion. Now we'll all halloo togither—are yiz ready?"
"Ay, ay," said Dick, who was a picker-up of sea terms.
"Halloo!" yelled Pat.
"Halloo! Halloo!" piped Dick and Emmeline.
A faint reply came, but from where, it was difficult to say. The old man rowed a few strokes and then paused on his oars. So still was the surface of the sea that the chuckling of the water at the boat's bow as she drove forward under the impetus of the last powerful stroke could be heard distinctly. It died out as she lost way, and silence closed round them like a ring.
The light from above, a light that seemed to come through a vast scuttle of deeply muffed glass, faint though it was, almost to extinction, still varied as the little boat floated through the strata of the mist.
A great sea fog is not homogeneous—its density varies: it is honeycombed with streets, it has its caves of clear air, its cliffs of solid vapour, all shifting and changing place with the subtlety of legerdemain. It has also this wizard peculiarity, that it grows with the sinking of the sun and the approach of darkness.
The sun, could they have seen it, was now leaving the horizon.
They called again. Then they waited, but there was no response.
"There's no use bawlin' like bulls to chaps that's deaf as adders," said the old sailor, shipping his oars; immediately upon which declaration he gave another shout, with the same result as far as eliciting a reply.
"Mr Button!" came Emmeline's voice.
"What is it, honey?"
"You wait wan minit till I find the shawl—here it is, by the same token!—an' I'll wrap you up in it."
He crept cautiously aft to the stern-sheets and took Emmeline in his arms.
"Don't want the shawl," said Emmeline; "I'm not so much afraid in your coat." The rough, tobacco-smelling old coat gave her courage somehow.
"Well, thin, keep it on. Dicky, are you cowld?"
"I've got into daddy's great coat; he left it behind him."
"Well, thin, I'll put the shawl round me own shoulders, for it's cowld I am. Are ya hungray, childer?"
"No," said Dick, "but I'm direfully slapy?"
"Slapy, is it? Well, down you get in the bottom of the boat, and here's the shawl for a pilla. I'll be rowin' again in a minit to keep meself warm."
He buttoned the top button of the coat.
"I'm a'right," murmured Emmeline in a dreamy voice.
"Shut your eyes tight," replied Mr Button, "or Billy Winker will be dridgin' sand in them.
'Shoheen, shoheen, shoheen, shoheen, Sho-hu-lo, sho-hu-lo. Shoheen, shoheen, shoheen, shoheen, Hush a by the babby O.'"
It was the tag of an old nursery folk-song they sing in the hovels of the Achill coast fixed in his memory, along with the rain and the wind and the smell of the burning turf, and the grunting of the pig and the knickety-knock of a rocking cradle.
"She's off," murmured Mr Button to himself, as the form in his arms relaxed. Then he laid her gently down beside Dick. He shifted forward, moving like a crab. Then he put his hand to his pocket for his pipe and tobacco and tinder box. They were in his coat pocket, but Emmeline was in his coat. To search for them would be to awaken her.
The darkness of night was now adding itself to the blindness of the fog. The oarsman could not see even the thole pins. He sat adrift mind and body. He was, to use his own expression, "moithered." Haunted by the mist, tormented by "shapes."
It was just in a fog like this that the Merrows could be heard disporting in Dunbeg bay, and off the Achill coast. Sporting and laughing, and hallooing through the mist, to lead unfortunate fishermen astray.
Merrows are not altogether evil, but they have green hair and teeth, fishes' tails and fins for arms; and to hear them walloping in the water around you like salmon, and you alone in a small boat, with the dread of one coming floundering on board, is enough to turn a man's hair grey.
For a moment he thought of awakening the children to keep him company, but he was ashamed. Then he took to the sculls again, and rowed "by the feel of the water." The creak of the oars was like a companion's voice, the exercise lulled his fears. Now and again, forgetful of the sleeping children, he gave a halloo, and paused to listen. But no answer came.
Then he continued rowing, long, steady, laborious strokes, each taking him further and further from the boats that he was never destined to sight again.
DAWN ON A WIDE, WIDE SEA
"Is it aslape I've been?" said Mr Button, suddenly awaking with a start.
He had shipped his oars just for a minute's rest. He must have slept for hours, for now, behold, a warm, gentle wind was blowing, the moon was shining, and the fog was gone.
"Is it dhraming I've been?" continued the awakened one.
"Where am I at all, at all? O musha! sure, here I am. O wirra! wirra! I dreamt I'd gone aslape on the main-hatch and the ship was blown up with powther, and it's all come true."
"Mr Button!" came a small voice from the stern-sheets (Emmeline's).
"What is it, honey?"
"Where are we now?"
"Sure, we're afloat on the say, acushla; where else would we be?"
"He's beyant there in the long-boat—he'll be afther us in a minit."
"I want a drink."
He filled a tin pannikin that was by the beaker of water, and gave her a drink. Then he took his pipe and tobacco from his coat pocket.
She almost immediately fell asleep again beside Dick, who had not stirred or moved; and the old sailor, standing up and steadying himself, cast his eyes round the horizon. Not a sign of sail or boat was there on all the moonlit sea.
From the low elevation of an open boat one has a very small horizon, and in the vague world of moonlight somewhere round about it was possible that the boats might be near enough to show up at daybreak.
But open boats a few miles apart may be separated by long leagues in the course of a few hours. Nothing is more mysterious than the currents of the sea.
The ocean is an ocean of rivers, some swiftly flowing, some slow, and a league from where you are drifting at the rate of a mile an hour another boat may be drifting two.
A slight warm breeze was frosting the water, blending moonshine and star shimmer; the ocean lay like a lake, yet the nearest mainland was perhaps a thousand miles away.
The thoughts of youth may be long, long thoughts, but not longer than the thoughts of this old sailor man smoking his pipe under the stars. Thoughts as long as the world is round. Blazing bar rooms in Callao—harbours over whose oily surfaces the sampans slipped like water-beetles—the lights of Macao—the docks of London. Scarcely ever a sea picture, pure and simple, for why should an old seaman care to think about the sea, where life is all into the fo'cs'le and out again, where one voyage blends and jumbles with another, where after forty-five years of reefing topsails you can't well remember off which ship it was Jack Rafferty fell overboard, or who it was killed who in the fo'cs'le of what, though you can still see, as in a mirror darkly, the fight, and the bloody face over which a man is holding a kerosene lamp.
I doubt if Paddy Button could have told you the name of the first ship he ever sailed in. If you had asked him, he would probably have replied: "I disremimber; it was to the Baltic, and cruel cowld weather, and I was say-sick till I near brought me boots up; and it was 'O for ould Ireland!' I was cryin' all the time, an' the captin dhrummin me back with a rope's end to the tune uv it—but the name of the hooker—I disremimber—bad luck to her, whoever she was!"
So he sat smoking his pipe, whilst the candles of heaven burned above him, and calling to mind roaring drunken scenes and palmshadowed harbours, and the men and the women he had known—such men and such women! The derelicts of the earth and the ocean. Then he nodded off to sleep again, and when he awoke the moon had gone.
Now in the eastern sky might have been seen a pale fan of light, vague as the wing of an ephemera. It vanished and changed back to darkness.
Presently, and almost at a stroke, a pencil of fire ruled a line along the eastern horizon, and the eastern sky became more beautiful than a rose leaf plucked in May. The line of fire contracted into one increasing spot, the rim of the rising sun.
As the light increased the sky above became of a blue impossible to imagine unless seen, a wan blue, yet living and sparkling as if born of the impalpable dust of sapphires. Then the whole sea flashed like the harp of Apollo touched by the fingers of the god. The light was music to the soul. It was day.
"Daddy!" suddenly cried Dick, sitting up in the sunlight and rubbing his eyes with his open palms. "Where are we?"
"All right, Dicky, me son!" cried the old sailor, who had been standing up casting his eyes round in a vain endeavour to sight the boats. "Your daddy's as safe as if he was in hivin; he'll be wid us in a minit, an' bring another ship along with him. So you're awake, are you, Em'line?"
Emmeline, sitting up in the old pilot coat, nodded in reply without speaking. Another child might have supplemented Dick's enquiries as to her uncle by questions of her own, but she did not.
Did she guess that there was some subterfuge in Mr Button's answer, and that things were different from what he was making them out to be? Who can tell?
She was wearing an old cap of Dick's, which Mrs Stannard in the hurry and confusion had popped on her head. It was pushed to one side, and she made a quaint enough little figure as she sat up in the early morning brightness, dressed in the old salt-stained coat beside Dick, whose straw hat was somewhere in the bottom of the boat, and whose auburn locks were blowing in the faint breeze.
"Hurroo!" cried Dick, looking around at the blue and sparkling water, and banging with a stretcher on the bottom of the boat. "I'm goin' to be a sailor, aren't I, Paddy? You'll let me sail the boat, won't you, Paddy, an' show me how to row?"
"Aisy does it," said Paddy, taking hold of the child. "I haven't a sponge or towel, but I'll just wash your face in salt wather and lave you to dry in the sun."
He filled the bailing tin with sea water.
"I don't want to wash!" shouted Dick.
"Stick your face into the water in the tin," commanded Paddy. "You wouldn't be going about the place with your face like a sut-bag, would you?"
"Stick yours in!" commanded the other.
Button did so, and made a hub-bubbling noise in the water; then he lifted a wet and streaming face, and flung the contents of the bailing tin overboard.
"Now you've lost your chance," said this arch nursery strategist, "all the water's gone."
"There's more in the sea."
"There's no more to wash with, not till to-morrow—the fishes don't allow it."
"I want to wash," grumbled Dick. "I want to stick my face in the tin, same's you did; 'sides, Em hasn't washed."
"I don't mind," murmured Emmeline.
"Well, thin," said Mr Button, as if making a sudden resolve, "I'll ax the sharks." He leaned over the boat's side, his face close to the surface of the water. "Halloo there!" he shouted, and then bent his head sideways to listen; the children also looked over the side, deeply interested.
"Halloo there! Are y'aslape? Oh, there y'are! Here's a spalpeen with a dhirty face, an's wishful to wash it; may I take a bailin' tin of— Oh, thank your 'arner, thank your 'arner—good day to you, and my respects."
"What did the shark say, Mr Button?" asked Emmeline.
"He said: 'Take a bar'l full, an' welcome, Mister Button; an' it's wishful I am I had a drop of the crathur to offer you this fine marnin'.' Thin he popped his head under his fin and went aslape agin; leastwise, I heard him snore."
Emmeline nearly always "Mr Buttoned" her friend; sometimes she called him "Mr Paddy." As for Dick, it was always "Paddy," pure and simple. Children have etiquettes of their own.
It must often strike landsmen and landswomen that the most terrible experience when cast away at sea in an open boat is the total absence of privacy. It seems an outrage on decency on the part of Providence to herd people together so. But, whoever has gone through the experience will bear me out that the human mind enlarges, and things that would shock us ashore are as nothing out there, face to face with eternity.
If so with grown-up people, how much more so with this old shell-back and his two charges?
And indeed Mr Button was a person who called a spade a spade, had no more conventions than a walrus, and looked after his two charges just as a nursemaid might look after her charges, or a walrus after its young.
There was a large bag of biscuits in the boat, and some tinned stuff—mostly sardines.
I have known a sailor to open a box of sardines with a tin tack. He was in prison, the sardines had been smuggled into him, and he had no can-opener. Only his genius and a tin tack.
Paddy had a jack-knife, however, and in a marvellously short time a box of sardines was opened, and placed on the stern-sheets beside some biscuits.
These, with some water and Emmeline's Tangerine orange, which she produced and added to the common store, formed the feast, and they fell to. When they had finished, the remains were put carefully away, and they proceeded to step the tiny mast.
The sailor, when the mast was in its place, stood for a moment resting his hand on it, and gazing around him over the vast and voiceless blue.
The Pacific has three blues: the blue of morning, the blue of midday, and the blue of evening. But the blue of morning is the happiest: the happiest thing in colour—sparkling, vague, newborn—the blue of heaven and youth.
"What are you looking for, Paddy?" asked Dick.
"Say-gulls," replied the prevaricator; then to himself: "Not a sight or a sound of them! Musha! musha! which way will I steer—north, south, aist, or west? It's all wan, for if I steer to the aist, they may be in the west; and if I steer to the west, they may be in the aist; and I can't steer to the west, for I'd be steering right in the wind's eye. Aist it is; I'll make a soldier's wind of it, and thrust to chance."
He set the sail and came aft with the sheet. Then he shifted the rudder, lit a pipe, leaned luxuriously back and gave the bellying sail to the gentle breeze.
It was part of his profession, part of his nature, that, steering, maybe, straight towards death by starvation and thirst, he was as unconcerned as if he were taking the children for a summer's sail. His imagination dealt little with the future; almost entirely influenced by his immediate surroundings, it could conjure up no fears from the scene now before it. The children were the same.
Never was there a happier starting, more joy in a little boat. During breakfast the seaman had given his charges to understand that if Dick did not meet his father and Emmeline her uncle in a "while or two," it was because he had gone on board a ship, and he'd be along presently. The terror of their position was as deeply veiled from them as eternity is veiled from you or me.
The Pacific was still bound by one of those glacial calms that can only occur when the sea has been free from storms for a vast extent of its surface, for a hurricane down by the Horn will send its swell and disturbance beyond the Marquesas. De Bois in his table of amplitudes points out that more than half the sea disturbances at any given space are caused, not by the wind, but by storms at a great distance.
But the sleep of the Pacific is only apparent. This placid lake, over which the dinghy was pursuing the running ripple, was heaving to an imperceptible swell and breaking on the shores of the Low Archipelago, and the Marquesas in foam and thunder.
Emmeline's rag-doll was a shocking affair from a hygienic or artistic standpoint. Its face was just inked on, it had no features, no arms; yet not for all the dolls in the world would she have exchanged this filthy and nearly formless thing. It was a fetish.
She sat nursing it on one side of the helmsman, whilst Dick, on the other side, hung his nose over the water, on the look-out for fish.
"Why do you smoke, Mr Button?" asked Emmeline, who had been watching her friend for some time in silence.
"To aise me thrubbles," replied Paddy.
He was leaning back with one eye shut and the other fixed on the luff of the sail. He was in his element: nothing to do but steer and smoke, warmed by the sun and cooled by the breeze. A landsman would have been half demented in his condition, many a sailor would have been taciturn and surly, on the look-out for sails, and alternately damning his soul and praying to his God. Paddy smoked.
"Whoop!" cried Dick. "Look, Paddy!"
An albicore a few cables-lengths to port had taken a flying leap from the flashing sea, turned a complete somersault and vanished.
"It's an albicore takin' a buck lep. Hundreds I've seen before this; he's bein' chased."
"What's chasing him, Paddy?"
"What's chasin' him? why, what else but the gibly-gobly ums!"
Before Dick could enquire as to the personal appearance and habits of the latter, a shoal of silver arrow heads passed the boat and flittered into the water with a hissing sound.
"Thim's flyin' fish. What are you sayin'?—fish can't fly! Where's the eyes in your head?"
"Are the gibblyums chasing them too?" asked Emmeline fearfully.
"No; 'tis the Billy balloos that's afther thim. Don't be axin' me any more questions now, or I'll be tellin' you lies in a minit."
Emmeline, it will be remembered, had brought a small parcel with her done up in a little shawl; it was under the boat seat, and every now and then she would stoop down to see if it were safe.
STORY OF THE PIG AND THE BILLY-GOAT
Every hour or so Mr Button would shake his lethargy off, and rise and look round for "seagulls," but the prospect was sail-less as the prehistoric sea, wingless, voiceless. When Dick would fret now and then, the old sailor would always devise some means of amusing him. He made him fishing tackle out of a bent pin and some small twine that happened to be in the boat, and told him to fish for "pinkeens"; and Dick, with the pathetic faith of childhood, fished.
Then he told them things. He had spent a year at Deal long ago, where a cousin of his was married to a boatman.
Mr Button had put in a year as a longshoreman at Deal, and he had got a great lot to tell of his cousin and her husband, and more especially of one, Hannah; Hannah was his cousin's baby—a most marvellous child, who was born with its "buck" teeth fully developed, and whose first unnatural act on entering the world was to make a snap at the "docther." "Hung on to his fist like a bull-dog, and him bawlin' 'Murther!'"
"Mrs James," said Emmeline, referring to a Boston acquaintance, "had a little baby, and it was pink."
"Ay, ay," said Paddy; "they're mostly pink to start with, but they fade whin they're washed."
"It'd no teeth," said Emmeline, "for I put my finger in to see."
"The doctor brought it in a bag," put in Dick, who was still steadily fishing—"dug it out of a cabbage patch; an' I got a trow'l and dug all our cabbage patch up, but there weren't any babies but there were no end of worms."
"I wish I had a baby," said Emmeline, "and I wouldn't send it back to the cabbage patch.
"The doctor," explained Dick, "took it back and planted it again; and Mrs James cried when I asked her, and daddy said it was put back to grow and turn into an angel."
"Angels have wings," said Emmeline dreamily.
"And," pursued Dick, "I told cook, and she said to Jane [that] daddy was always stuffing children up with—something or 'nother. And I asked daddy to let me see him stuffing up a child—and daddy said cook'd have to go away for saying that, and she went away next day."
"She had three big trunks and a box for her bonnet," said Emmeline, with a far-away look as she recalled the incident.
"And the cabman asked her hadn't she any more trunks to put on his cab, and hadn't she forgot the parrot cage," said Dick.
"I wish I had a parrot in a cage," murmured Emmeline, moving slightly so as to get more in the shadow of the sail.
"And what in the world would you be doin' with a par't in a cage?" asked Mr Button.
"I'd let it out," replied Emmeline.
"Spakin' about lettin' par'ts out of cages, I remimber me grandfather had an ould pig," said Paddy (they were all talking seriously together like equals). "I was a spalpeen no bigger than the height of me knee, and I'd go to the sty door, and he'd come to the door, and grunt an' blow wid his nose undher it; an' I'd grunt back to vex him, an' hammer wid me fist on it, an' shout 'Halloo there! halloo there!' and 'Halloo to you!' he'd say, spakin' the pigs' language. 'Let me out,' he'd say, 'and I'll give yiz a silver shilling.'
"'Pass it under the door,' I'd answer him. Thin he'd stick the snout of him undher the door an' I'd hit it a clip with a stick, and he'd yell murther Irish. An' me mother'd come out an' baste me, an' well I desarved it.
"Well, wan day I opened the sty door, an' out he boulted and away and beyant, over hill and hollo he goes till he gets to the edge of the cliff overlookin' the say, and there he meets a billy-goat, and he and the billy-goat has a division of opinion.
"'Away wid yiz!' says the billy-goat.
"'Away wid yourself!' says he.
"'Whose you talkin' to?' says t'other.
"'Yourself,' says him.
"'Who stole the eggs?' says the billy-goat.
"'Ax your ould grandmother!' says the pig.
"'Ax me ould WHICH mother?' says the billy-goat.
"'Oh, ax me—' And before he could complete the sintence, ram, blam, the ould billygoat butts him in the chist, and away goes the both of thim whirtlin' into the say below.
"Thin me ould grandfather comes out, and collars me by the scruff, and 'Into the sty with you!' says he; and into the sty I wint, and there they kep' me for a fortnit on bran mash and skim milk—and well I desarved it."
They dined somewhere about eleven o'clock, and at noon Paddy unstepped the mast and made a sort of little tent or awning with the sail in the bow of the boat to protect the children from the rays of the vertical sun.
Then he took his place in the bottom of the boat, in the stern, stuck Dick's straw hat over his face to preserve it from the sun, kicked about a bit to get a comfortable position, and fell asleep.
He had slept an hour and more when he was brought to his senses by a thin and prolonged shriek. It was Emmeline in a nightmare, or more properly a day-mare, brought on by a meal of sardines and the haunting memory of the gibbly-gobbly-ums. When she was shaken (it always took a considerable time to bring her to, from these seizures) and comforted, the mast was restepped.
As Mr Button stood with his hand on the spar looking round him before going aft with the sheet, an object struck his eye some three miles ahead. Objects rather, for they were the masts and spars of a small ship rising from the water. Not a vestige of sail, just the naked spars. It might have been a couple of old skeleton trees jutting out of the water for all a landsman could have told.
He stared at this sight for twenty or thirty seconds without speaking, his head projected like the head of a tortoise. Then he gave a wild "Hurroo!"
"What is it, Paddy?" asked Dick.
"Hurroo!" replied Button. "Ship ahoy! ship ahoy! Lie to till I be afther boardin' you. Sure, they are lyin' to—divil a rag of canvas on her—are they aslape or dhramin'? Here, Dick, let me get aft wid the sheet; the wind'll take us up to her quicker than we'll row."
He crawled aft and took the tiller; the breeze took the sail, and the boat forged ahead.
"Is it daddy's ship?" asked Dick, who was almost as excited as his friend.
"I dinno; we'll see when we fetch her."
"Shall we go on her, Mr Button?" asked Emmeline.
"Ay will we, honey."
Emmeline bent down, and fetching her parcel from under the seat, held it in her lap.
As they drew nearer, the outlines of the ship became more apparent. She was a small brig, with stump topmasts, from the spars a few rags of canvas fluttered. It was apparent soon to the old sailor's eye what was amiss with her.
"She's derelick, bad cess to her!" he muttered; "derelick and done for—just me luck!"
"I can't see any people on the ship," cried Dick, who had crept forward to the bow. "Daddy's not there."
The old sailor let the boat off a point or two, so as to get a view of the brig more fully; when they were within twenty cable lengths or so he unstepped the mast and took to the sculls.
The little brig floated very low on the water, and presented a mournful enough appearance; her running rigging all slack, shreds of canvas flapping at the yards, and no boats hanging at her davits. It was easy enough to see that she was a timber ship, and that she had started a butt, flooded herself and been abandoned.
Paddy lay on his oars within a few strokes of her. She was floating as placidly as though she were in the harbour of San Francisco; the green water showed in her shadow, and in the green water waved the tropic weeds that were growing from her copper. Her paint was blistered and burnt absolutely as though a hot iron had been passed over it, and over her taffrail hung a large rope whose end was lost to sight in the water.
A few strokes brought them under the stern. The name of the ship was there in faded letters, also the port to which she belonged.
"Shenandoah. Martha's Vineyard."
"There's letters on her," said Mr Button. "But I can't make thim out. I've no larnin'."
"I can read them," said Dick.
"So c'n I," murmured Emmeline.
"S-H-E-N-A-N-D-O-A-H," spelt Dick.
"What's that?" enquired Paddy.
"I don't know," replied Dick, rather downcastedly.
"There you are!" cried the oarsman in a disgusted manner, pulling the boat round to the starboard side of the brig. "They pritind to tache letters to childer in schools, pickin' their eyes out wid book-readin', and here's letters as big as me face an' they can't make hid or tail of them—be dashed to book-readin'!"
The brig had old-fashioned wide channels, regular platforms; and she floated so low in the water that they were scarcely a foot above the level of the dinghy.
Mr Button secured the boat by passing the painter through a channel plate, then, with Emmeline and her parcel in his arms or rather in one arm, he clambered over the channel and passed her over the rail on to the deck. Then it was Dick's turn, and the children stood waiting whilst the old sailor brought the beaker of water, the biscuit, and the tinned stuff on board.
It was a place to delight the heart of a boy, the deck of the Shenandoah; forward right from the main hatchway it was laden with timber. Running rigging lay loose on the deck in coils, and nearly the whole of the quarter-deck was occupied by a deck-house. The place had a delightful smell of sea-beach, decaying wood, tar, and mystery. Bights of buntline and other ropes were dangling from above, only waiting to be swung from. A bell was hung just forward of the foremast. In half a moment Dick was forward hammering at the bell with a belaying pin he had picked from the deck.
Mr Button shouted to him to desist; the sound of the bell jarred on his nerves. It sounded like a summons, and a summons on that deserted craft was quite out of place. Who knew what mightn't answer it in the way of the supernatural?
Dick dropped the belaying pin and ran forward. He took the disengaged hand, and the three went aft to the door of the deck-house. The door was open, and they peeped in.
The place had three windows on the starboard side, and through the windows the sun was shining in a mournful manner. There was a table in the middle of the place. A seat was pushed away from the table as if someone had risen in a hurry. On the table lay the remains of a meal, a teapot, two teacups, two plates. On one of the plates rested a fork with a bit of putrifying bacon upon it that some one had evidently been conveying to his mouth when something had happened. Near the teapot stood a tin of condensed milk, haggled open. Some old salt had just been in the act of putting milk in his tea when the mysterious something had occurred. Never did a lot of dead things speak so eloquently as these things spoke.
One could conjure it all up. The skipper, most likely, had finished his tea, and the mate was hard at work at his, when the leak had been discovered, or some derelict had been run into, or whatever it was had happened—happened.
One thing was evident, that since the abandonment of the brig she had experienced fine weather, else the things would not have been left standing so trimly on the table.
Mr Button and Dick entered the place to prosecute enquiries, but Emmeline remained at the door. The charm of the old brig appealed to her almost as much as to Dick, but she had a feeling about it quite unknown to him. A ship where no one was had about it suggestions of "other things."
She was afraid to enter the gloomy deckhouse, and afraid to remain alone outside; she compromised matters by sitting down on the deck. Then she placed the small bundle beside her, and hurriedly took the rag-doll from her pocket, into which it was stuffed head down, pulled its calico skirt from over its head, propped it up against the coaming of the door, and told it not to be afraid.
There was not much to be found in the deck-house, but aft of it were two small cabins like rabbit hutches, once inhabited by the skipper and his mate. Here there were great findings in the way of rubbish. Old clothes, old boots, an old top-hat of that extraordinary pattern you may see in the streets of Pernambuco, immensely tall, and narrowing towards the brim. A telescope without a lens, a volume of Hoyt, a nautical almanac, a great bolt of striped flannel shirting, a box of fish hooks. And in one corner—glorious find!—a coil of what seemed to be ten yards or so of black rope.
"Baccy, begorra!" shouted Pat, seizing upon his treasure. It was pigtail. You may see coils of it in the tobacconists' windows of seaport towns. A pipe full of it would make a hippopotamus vomit, yet old sailors chew it and smoke it and revel in it.
"We'll bring all the lot of the things out on deck, and see what's worth keepin' an' what's worth leavin'," said Mr Button, taking an immense armful of the old truck; whilst Dick, carrying the top-hat, upon which he had instantly seized as his own special booty, led the way.
"Em," shouted Dick, as he emerged from the doorway, "see what I've got!"
He popped the awful-looking structure over his head. It went right down to his shoulders.
Emmeline gave a shriek.
"It smells funny," said Dick, taking it off and applying his nose to the inside of it—"smells like an old hair brush. Here, you try it on."
Emmeline scrambled away as far as she could, till she reached the starboard bulwarks, where she sat in the scupper, breathless and speechless and wide-eyed. She was always dumb when frightened (unless it were a nightmare or a very sudden shock), and this hat suddenly seen half covering Dick frightened her out of her wits. Besides, it was a black thing, and she hated black things—black cats, black horses; worst of all, black dogs.
She had once seen a hearse in the streets of Boston, an old-time hearse with black plumes, trappings and all complete. The sight had nearly given her a fit, though she did not know in the least the meaning of it.
Meanwhile Mr Button was conveying armful after armful of stuff on deck. When the heap was complete, he sat down beside it in the glorious afternoon sunshine, and lit his pipe.
He had searched neither for food or water as yet; content with the treasure God had given him, for the moment the material things of life were forgotten. And, indeed, if he had searched he would have found only half a sack of potatoes in the caboose, for the lazarette was awash, and the water in the scuttle-butt was stinking.
Emmeline, seeing what was in progress, crept up, Dick promising not to put the hat on her, and they all sat round the pile.
"Thim pair of brogues," said the old man, holding a pair of old boots up for inspection like an auctioneer, "would fetch half a dollar any day in the wake in any sayport in the world. Put them beside you, Dick, and lay hold of this pair of britches by the ends of em'—stritch them."
The trousers were stretched out, examined and approved of, and laid beside the boots.
"Here's a tiliscope wid wan eye shut," said Mr Button, examining the broken telescope and pulling it in and out like a concertina. "Stick it beside the brogues; it may come in handy for somethin'. Here's a book"—tossing the nautical almanac to the boy. "Tell me what it says."
Dick examined the pages of figures hopelessly.
"I can't read 'em," said Dick; "it's numbers."
"Buzz it overboard," said Mr Button.
Dick did what he was told joyfully, and the proceedings resumed.
He tried on the tall hat, and the children laughed. On her old friend's head the thing ceased to have terror for Emmeline.
She had two methods of laughing. The angelic smile before mentioned—a rare thing—and, almost as rare, a laugh in which she showed her little white teeth, whilst she pressed her hands together, the left one tight shut, and the right clasped over it.
He put the hat on one side, and continued the sorting, searching all the pockets of the clothes and finding nothing. When he had arranged what to keep, they flung the rest overboard, and the valuables were conveyed to the captain's cabin, there to remain till wanted.
Then the idea that food might turn up useful as well as old clothes in their present condition struck the imaginative mind of Mr Button, and he proceeded to search.
The lazarette was simply a cistern full of sea water; what else it might contain, not being a diver, he could not say. In the copper of the caboose lay a great lump of putrifying pork or meat of some sort. The harness cask contained nothing except huge crystals of salt. All the meat had been taken away. Still, the provisions and water brought on board from the dinghy would be sufficient to last them some ten days or so, and in the course of ten days a lot of things might happen.
Mr Button leaned over the side. The dinghy was nestling beside the brig like a duckling beside a duck; the broad channel might have been likened to the duck's wing half extended. He got on the channel to see if the painter was safely attached. Having made all secure, he climbed slowly up to the main-yard arm, and looked round upon the sea.
SHADOWS IN THE MOONLIGHT
"Daddy's a long time coming," said Dick all of a sudden.
They were seated on the baulks of timber that cumbered the deck of the brig on either side of the caboose. An ideal perch. The sun was setting over Australia way, in a sea that seemed like a sea of boiling gold. Some mystery of mirage caused the water to heave and tremble as if troubled by fervent heat.
"Ay, is he," said Mr Button; "but it's better late than never. Now don't be thinkin' of him, for that won't bring him. Look at the sun goin' into the wather, and don't be spakin' a word, now, but listen and you'll hear it hiss."
The children gazed and listened, Paddy also. All three were mute as the great blazing shield touched the water that leapt to meet it.
You COULD hear the water hiss—if you had imagination enough. Once having touched the water, the sun went down behind it, as swiftly as a man in a hurry going down a ladder. As he vanished a ghostly and golden twilight spread over the sea, a light exquisite but immensely forlorn. Then the sea became a violet shadow, the west darkened as if to a closing door, and the stars rushed over the sky.
"Mr Button," said Emmeline, nodding towards the sun as he vanished, "where's over there?"
"The west," replied he, staring at the sunset. "Chainy and Injee and all away beyant."
"Where's the sun gone to now, Paddy?" asked Dick.
"He's gone chasin' the moon, an' she's skedadlin' wid her dress brailed up for all she's worth; she'll be along up in a minit. He's always afther her, but he's never caught her yet."
"What would he do to her if he caught her?" asked Emmeline.
"Faith, an' maybe he'd fetch her a skelp an' well she'd desarve it."
"Why'd she deserve it?" asked Dick, who was in one of his questioning moods.
"Because she's always delutherin' people an' leadin' thim asthray. Girls or men, she moidhers thim all once she gets the comeither on them; same as she did Buck M'Cann."
"Buck M'Cann? Faith, he was the village ijit where I used to live in the ould days."
"Hould your whisht, an' don't be axin' questions. He was always wantin' the moon, though he was twinty an' six feet four. He'd a gob on him that hung open like a rat-trap with a broken spring, and he was as thin as a barber's pole, you could a' tied a reef knot in the middle of 'um; and whin the moon was full there was no houldin' him." Mr Button gazed at the reflection of the sunset on the water for a moment as if recalling some form from the past, and then proceeded. "He'd sit on the grass starin' at her, an' thin he'd start to chase her over the hills, and they'd find him at last, maybe a day or two later, lost in the mountains, grazin' on berries, and as green as a cabbidge from the hunger an' the cowld, till it got so bad at long last they had to hobble him."
"I've seen a donkey hobbled," cried Dick.
"Thin you've seen the twin brother of Buck M'Cann. Well, one night me elder brother Tim was sittin' over the fire, smokin' his dudeen an' thinkin' of his sins, when in comes Buck with the hobbles on him.
"'Tim,' says he, 'I've got her at last!'
"'Got who?' says Tim.
"'The moon,' says he.
"'Got her where?' says Tim.
"'In a bucket down by the pond,' says t'other, 'safe an' sound an' not a scratch on her; you come and look,' says he. So Tim follows him, he hobblin', and they goes to the pond side, and there, sure enough, stood a tin bucket full of wather, an' on the wather the refliction of the moon.
"'I dridged her out of the pond,' whispers Buck. 'Aisy now,' says he, 'an' I'll dribble the water out gently,' says he, 'an' we'll catch her alive at the bottom of it like a trout.' So he drains the wather out gently of the bucket till it was near all gone, an' then he looks into the bucket expectin' to find the moon flounderin' in the bottom of it like a flat fish.
"'She's gone, bad 'cess to her!' says he.
"'Try again,' says me brother, and Buck fills the bucket again, and there was the moon sure enough when the water came to stand still.
"'Go on,' says me brother. 'Drain out the wather, but go gentle, or she'll give yiz the slip again.'
"'Wan minit,' says Buck, 'I've got an idea,' says he; 'she won't give me the slip this time,' says he. 'You wait for me,' says he; and off he hobbles to his old mother's cabin a stone's-throw away, and back he comes with a sieve.
"'You hold the sieve,' says Buck, 'and I'll drain the water into it; if she 'scapes from the bucket we'll have her in the sieve.' And he pours the wather out of the bucket as gentle as if it was crame out of a jug. When all the wather was out he turns the bucket bottom up, and shook it.
"'Ran dan the thing!' he cries, 'she's gone again'; an' wid that he flings the bucket into the pond, and the sieve afther the bucket, when up comes his old mother hobbling on her stick.
"'Where's me bucket?' says she.
"'In the pond,' say Buck.
"'And me sieve?' says she.
"'Gone afther the bucket.'
"'I'll give yiz a bucketin!' says she; and she up with the stick and landed him a skelp, an' driv him roarin' and hobblin' before her, and locked him up in the cabin, an' kep' him on bread an' wather for a wake to get the moon out of his head; but she might have saved her thruble, for that day month in it was agin. . . . There she comes!"
The moon, argent and splendid, was breaking from the water. She was full, and her light was powerful almost as the light of day. The shadows of the children and the queer shadow of Mr Button were cast on the wall of the caboose hard and black as silhouettes.
"Look at our shadows!" cried Dick, taking off his broad-brimmed straw hat and waving it.
Emmeline held up her doll to see ITS shadow, and Mr Button held up his pipe.
"Come now," said he, putting the pipe back in his mouth, and making to rise, "and shadda off to bed; it's time you were aslape, the both of you."
Dick began to yowl.
"I don't want to go to bed; I aint tired, Paddy—les's stay a little longer."
"Not a minit," said the other, with all the decision of a nurse; "not a minit afther me pipe's out!"
"Fill it again," said Dick.
Mr Button made no reply. The pipe gurgled as he puffed at it—a kind of death-rattle speaking of almost immediate extinction.
"Mr Button!" said Emmeline. She was holding her nose in the air and sniffing; seated to windward of the smoker, and out of the pigtail-poisoned air, her delicate sense of smell perceived something lost to the others.
"What is it, acushla?"
"I smell something."
"What d'ye say you smell?"
"What's it like?" asked Dick, sniffing hard. "I don't smell anything."
Emmeline sniffed again to make sure.
"Flowers," said she.
The breeze, which had shifted several points since midday, was bearing with it a faint, faint odour: a perfume of vanilla and spice so faint as to be imperceptible to all but the most acute olfactory sense.
"Flowers!" said the old sailor, tapping the ashes cut of his pipe against the heel of his boot. "And where'd you get flowers in middle of the say? It's dhramin' you are. Come now—to bed wid yiz!"
"Fill it again," wailed Dick, referring to the pipe.
"It's a spankin' I'll give you," replied his guardian, lifting him down from the timber baulks, and then assisting Emmeline, "in two ticks if you don't behave. Come along, Em'line."
He started aft, a small hand in each of his, Dick bellowing.
As they passed the ship's bell, Dick stretched towards the belaying pin that was still lying on the deck, seized it, and hit the bell a mighty bang. It was the last pleasure to be snatched before sleep, and he snatched it.
Paddy had made up beds for himself and his charges in the deck-house; he had cleared the stuff off the table, broken open the windows to get the musty smell away, and placed the mattresses from the captain and mate's cabins on the floor.
When the children were in bed and asleep, he went to the starboard rail, and, leaning on it, looked over the moonlit sea. He was thinking of ships as his wandering eye roved over the sea spaces, little dreaming of the message that the perfumed breeze was bearing him. The message that had been received and dimly understood by Emmeline. Then he leaned with his back to the rail and his hands in his pockets. He was not thinking now, he was ruminating.
The basis of the Irish character as exemplified by Paddy Button is a profound laziness mixed with a profound melancholy. Yet Paddy, in his left-handed way, was as hard a worker as any man on board ship; and as for melancholy, he was the life and soul of the fo'cs'le. Yet there they were, the laziness and the melancholy, only waiting to be tapped.
As he stood with his hands thrust deep in his pockets, longshore fashion, counting the dowels in the planking of the deck by the moonlight, he was reviewing the "old days." The tale of Buck M'Cann had recalled them, and across all the salt seas he could see the moonlight on the Connemara mountains, and hear the seagulls crying on the thunderous beach where each wave has behind it three thousand miles of sea.
Suddenly Mr Button came back from the mountains of Connemara to find himself on the deck of the Shenandoah; and he instantly became possessed by fears. Beyond the white deserted deck, barred by the shadows of the standing rigging, he could see the door of the caboose. Suppose he should suddenly see a head pop out or, worse, a shadowy form go in?
He turned to the deck-house, where the children were sound asleep, and where, in a few minutes, he, too, was sound asleep beside them, whilst all night long the brig rocked to the gentle swell of the Pacific, and the breeze blew, bringing with it the perfume of flowers.
THE TRAGEDY OF THE BOATS
When the fog lifted after midnight the people in the long-boat saw the quarter-boat half a mile to starboard of them.
"Can you see the dinghy?" asked Lestrange of the captain, who was standing up searching the horizon.
"Not a speck," answered Le Farge. "DAMN that Irishman! but for him I'd have got the boats away properly victualled and all; as it is I don't know what we've got aboard. You, Jenkins, what have you got forward there?"
"Two bags of bread and a breaker of water," answered the steward.
"A breaker of water be sugared!" came another voice; "a breaker half full, you mean."
Then the steward's voice: "So it is; there's not more than a couple of gallons in her."
"My God!" said Le Farge. "DAMN that Irishman!"
"There's not more than'll give us two half pannikins apiece all round," said the steward.
"Maybe," said Le Farge, "the quarter-boat's better stocked; pull for her."
"She's pulling for us," said the stroke oar.
"Captain," asked Lestrange, "are you sure there's no sight of the dinghy?"
"None," replied Le Farge.
The unfortunate man's head sank on his breast. He had little time to brood over his troubles, however, for a tragedy was beginning to unfold around him, the most shocking, perhaps, in the annals of the sea—a tragedy to be hinted at rather than spoken of.
When the boats were within hailing distance, a man in the bow of the long-boat rose up.
"How much water have you?"