The Missing Merchantman
By Harry Collingwood Harry Collingwood is a superlatively good writer of books about the sea because he was himself a working designer of ships, and a shipwright. This makes his style extremely authoritative.
In this book the crew of a vessel, meaning in this case the deckhands, got it into their heads that the captain and officers of merchant vessels were paid far too much, and that ordinary deckhands ought to be paid on the same scale. In other hands they had been "robbed of fair wages" for hundreds of years. They quite forgot the education and skill that goes into the training of an officer, as well as the taking of responsibility. So they take the ship, making themselves essentially into pirates. The officers and passengers, being resourceful people, manage somehow to work their way out of this predicament, and eventually to bring their ship back home, where she had been posted as "Missing" for some considerable time.
As always with this author the book makes an excellent audiobook. THE MISSING MERCHANTMAN
BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD
This story opens on a glorious day about the middle of July; and Weymouth, with its charming bay, was looking its very best. A gentle southerly breeze was blowing; the air was clear—just warm enough to render a dip in the sea the quintessence of luxury—and so laden with ozone and the wholesome scent of the sea that to breathe it was like imbibing a draught of elixir vitae. The east land was in itself a picture as it stretched across the horizon in front of the town, its lofty chalk-cliffs and swelling downs, the latter dotted here and there with a solitary farm-house or a clump of trees, gleaming softly through the clear transparent atmosphere in a thousand varied hues of green, and creamy white, and ruddy neutral, which gradually merged into a series of delicate pearly-greys as the eye followed the bold outline to where Saint Alban's Head sloped down into the azure sea. The noble bay, gently ruffled by the morning breeze, shimmered and sparkled brilliantly in the strong unclouded sunlight, its rippling wavelets chasing each other shoreward in long lines until they plashed with a soothing murmur into mimic breakers upon the broad, smooth, firm expanse of sand, whereon happy children were disporting themselves, bare-footed, with boat, and spade, and bucket, to their innocent hearts' content.
The proprietors of the bathing-vans were doing an excellent business, their lumbering vehicles jolting noisily down into the water with scarcely a moment's intermission. The band, drawn up in front of the hideous statue to George the Fourth, which so greatly disfigures the town, was discoursing, fairly well, a selection of good music; a long line of chairs on the sands was fully occupied by loungers, mostly ladies, reading, or amusing themselves by watching the antics of the thronging children; the broad promenade was crowded with people on pleasure bent. Light skiffs and neat well-appointed sailing boats were darting hither and thither along the surface of the glancing waters; and farther out, at a distance of about a mile from the shore, some half-a- dozen or more yachts of various rigs and tonnage were lying at anchor, with their club burgees gaily fluttering in the breeze, and most of them with mainsail hoisted, or with other preparations actively going forward toward getting under weigh for a day's cruise.
The delightful little watering-place, it has been said, was looking its best; or at least this was the opinion expressed by a young man who, accompanied by his father and sister, walked up the esplanade on that particular morning, on his way to the railway-station en route for London by the ten o'clock South-Western express—his luggage having preceded him on a hand-truck.
As the young man happens to be the hero of the present story, it may not be amiss to describe him somewhat particularly.
Edward Damerell, then—for that was his name—was, at the date of our introduction to him, within a month of reaching his nineteenth year; and he had hoped to spend his birthday at home with his father and sister, the only relatives he possessed on earth, but circumstances had ordered it otherwise. He stood just five feet seven inches in his stockings; was as stout-built and shapely a youth as one need wish to see, though it was evident that he had not yet attained his full growth; his frank, handsome, albeit sunburnt face was lighted up by a pair of keen, honest grey eyes and crowned by a close-cut crop of crisp, curly, flaxen hair— a good-tempered, pleasant-looking fellow enough, true as steel, brave as true, and, having been already three years at sea, as smart a seaman as ever trod a plank.
His father was his exact counterpart, with the comparatively trifling difference that he was not quite so tall as Ned; was broader in the beam, and, as of course might be expected, much older-looking, though the appearance of age was due principally to the grey with which his hair and bushy whiskers (which latter appendages, by the by, Ned was still without) was thickly dashed; the old gentleman's eye being as keen and bright as his son's, and his step almost as springy.
Edward Damerell, senior, it may be as well to mention, was a naval lieutenant, retired upon half-pay. He had seen a great deal of service in his youth, principally on the West Coast of Africa and in the China seas, and had been fairly fortunate in the matter of acquiring prize- money—to which circumstance he was indebted for the exceedingly comfortable little cottage on the hill overlooking Newton's Cove, which he had inhabited for some twenty-five years, having purchased and settled down in it upon his marriage and retirement from the service.
His daughter Eva was a beautiful girl, as good as she was beautiful, and the very apple of her father's eye—which is all that need be said of her, as she plays no part in the events which it is the purpose of this narrative to chronicle.
Young Edward Damerell, born and brought up within sight and sound of the sea, early manifested a natural desire to tread in his father's footsteps by following the same profession. To this the old gentleman made no very serious objection, but he would not hear of his son entering the navy. The service, he insisted, had been ruined by the introduction of steam and armour-plates. Moreover, he had discovered, to his cost, that without money and influence, and plenty of both, a man stood but little chance, in these piping times of peace, of making any great amount of headway up the ratlins of promotion. "So," said he, "if Ned chooses to go to sea, he will have to enter the merchant service, where good seamen are still, and always will be, required."
And this Ned did under the most advantageous circumstances, as "midshipman-apprentice" on board an Australian clipper belonging to the "Bruce" line, in which employ he was duly serving his time—very creditably, indeed, to himself and to the officers who had the training of him, if the report of the skipper, Captain Blyth, was to be believed. And he was now, on this particular morning, leaving home once more, after a month's leave, to join a brand-new steel-built clipper called the Flying Cloud, the latest addition to the "Bruce" fleet, of which ship Captain Blyth had been given the command.
As the lad arrived opposite King Street, the point where he would have to turn off and leave the esplanade and the "front," as the inhabitants term it, he paused a moment, looked longingly to right and left of him at the long terraces of neat houses facing the sea, at the "Nothe" on the opposite side of the harbour, at the sands, the bay, and the long stretch of bold coast to the northward and eastward, and sighed regretfully at the thought that he was about to leave the place once more for so long a time. He was enthusiastically attached to his profession—as every lad must be if he would make his way in the world— but he was also attached to the place of his birth, and infinitely more was he attached to his father and sister; and though he was too manly to express sorrow at his departure, the feeling was there and would not be altogether ignored. It was, therefore, with but an indifferently successful assumption of cheerfulness that he exclaimed:
"Well, good-bye, old town! Who knows how many weary leagues I shall have to travel, and through what hardships and perils I may have to pass, before I tread your streets again!"
And, linking his arms in those of his father and sister, he crossed the road and passed down the street to the railway-station.
Poor Ned! when he spoke so lightly he little knew that the words had so prophetic a meaning.
In due course he arrived in London, and, chartering a cab, made the best of his way to his new ship, which was taking in cargo in the London Docks. On arriving alongside his first act was naturally to give a scrutinising look at the craft and to mentally compare her with the Bride of Abydos, his former ship; and much as he thought of the latter, he was almost reluctantly compelled to admit that the Flying Cloud greatly excelled her in every point most highly prized by a seaman. She was the very latest exponent of the shipbuilder's art, and of the success which has attended the efforts of the naval architect to combine, in the highest degree, a large carrying capacity with perfect sea-going powers and super-excellence in point of speed. She was just a nice, comfortable, handy size—twelve hundred tons register—steel- built, and of exceptional strength, classed 100 A1 at Lloyd's; a beamy rather than a deep vessel, with very fine ends. And an innovation had been introduced in her construction in the shape of a pair of deep bilge-keels, which her designer asserted would not only very greatly modify her rolling, but would also cause her to hang to windward like a yacht. She was an exceptionally pretty model, with a full poop, and was full-rigged, her stability being most satisfactorily demonstrated by the fact that her skysail-yards were aloft and crossed notwithstanding the circumstance that she had only just begun to receive her cargo. She was painted grey, with a broad white riband and painted ports, her top-sides being black. She carried a very handsome, well-executed carving of a woman, with long, streaming hair and fluttering drapery, under her bowsprit, by way of figurehead; and Ned noted with deep satisfaction, that instead of the double topsail-yards now so common in large ships, she was fitted with single revolving yards for patent reefing topsails.
He was interrupted in the midst of his admiring scrutiny by a hail from Mr Bryce, the chief-mate, who, after a somewhat off-hand welcome, informed him that he was wanted to assist in receiving and taking account of the cargo, which was coming down too rapidly to be dealt with by one man. Stowing away his "dunnage," therefore, in the after deck- house, and flinging his bedding into the berth which he selected for his own occupation, he quickly rejoined the mate, who furnished him with book and pencil, and stationed him at the after hatchway to take account of everything which passed down that receptacle.
As soon as the work of the day was over and the hatches had been put on and secured, Ned made his way to Captain Blyth's lodgings, and reported himself as having returned to duty.
He had observed, with some surprise, that the stevedores had left a large vacant space in the centre of the main hatchway, and at the very bottom of the ship; and he had once or twice wondered, during the course of the afternoon, what could be the nature of the cargo for which this space was being reserved. That it must be something heavy he knew, from the fact that the bottom of the hold had been selected for its stowage. The secret, however (if secret there was), came out next morning, when several very heavy cases of peculiar shape were brought alongside; which cases turned out to contain twelve steel 14-pounder breech-loading rifled field-pieces, with mountings, etcetera, complete, and several hundred rifles, sword-bayonets, etcetera, for the use of the colonial volunteers. The nature and destination of the contents were legibly enough set forth in stencilled lettering on the outside of the cases, and they very naturally attracted a considerable amount of curiosity as they were carefully hoisted out of the trucks and lowered into the ship's hold. Among the onlookers Ned soon noticed a swarthy- complexioned man, who wore gold rings in his ears, and was dressed in a very natty suit of dark blue cloth—evidently a seaman in shore-going togs—who manifested quite an unusual amount of interest in the cases and their handling, and who finally climbed into the trucks and lent a hand in the slinging of them, exhibiting in the performance of his self- imposed task a very considerable amount of smartness and seamanlike dexterity. And when the cases were all at length safely deposited in their destined place on the dunnage in the bottom of the hold, the man was observed narrowly scrutinising the ship herself—hull, spars, and rigging—with just that appearance of intelligent and appreciative interest which a smart seaman would be likely to bestow upon so handsome and well-appointed a craft as was the Flying Cloud.
The cargo came alongside with very satisfactory rapidity, and on the morning of the eighth day from that on which Ned joined, hopes were entertained that the evening would see the loading of the ship completed and the hatches put on for good and all. The swarthy-complexioned man had been seen on the quay alongside two or three times since the loading of the guns. He had evidently taken a fancy to the ship; and Ned was therefore by no means surprised when, on the morning in question, he again appeared, and, seeing Captain Blyth on the poop, stepped on board, and approaching the skipper asked if the crew had all been shipped. They had not, as it happened; so, after a short conversation, which seemed to give complete satisfaction to both parties concerned, the man was instructed to present himself at noon that day at the shipping office to sign articles.
"Rather a smart fellow, that," observed the skipper to the chief-mate, as the man swung himself lightly on to the rail and stepped thence ashore. "I'm very glad to have fallen in with him; he is an A.B., and has been twice round the Horn, so he ought to know his business. And he tells me that there are five other men, former shipmates of his, and good, smart, active, willing men, staying at the same boarding-house with himself, who, he believes, will be willing to ship with us for the voyage; so I hope we shall have a good crew."
Mr Bryce assented, and dutifully echoed the skipper's wish; but it was with a tone and manner which seemed to indicate that he did not feel very greatly interested in the matter; and Captain Blyth, when he went ashore shortly afterwards, felt more than ever sorry that his former mates were not to be with him on the forthcoming voyage. For, it must be explained, the late chief-mate of the Bride of Abydos had been promoted to the post of master of that ship—or captain, as the masters of merchant ships like to be called—and the second-mate had met with an accident, and was lying disabled in an hospital. However, it could not be helped, and Captain Blyth was obliged to content himself with the hope that Mr Bryce—who had come to him with a very good recommendation—would turn out to be a better chief-mate than, at the moment, seemed likely.
The Flying Cloud's crew were shipped that day, and they comprised a second-mate, a steward, a cook, a carpenter, a sailmaker, a boatswain and boatswain's-mate, eight A.B.'s (or able seamen), including the swarthy man—whose name, by the way, was entered upon the articles as Joshua Williams—and his five shipmates, and ten ordinary seamen. These, with the captain, chief-mate, and four midshipmen-apprentices, made up a crew of thirty-one, all told; which, exclusive of the captain, cook, steward, carpenter, and sailmaker, neither of whom kept watch, made up a crew of thirteen hands in a watch, none too many for a full- rigged ship of the size of the Flying Cloud, with such a spread of canvas as she could show to the breeze.
During the afternoon Ned made a little journey up into the Minories, to the studio of a clever marine artist to whom he had given a commission to paint the portrait of the ship; and when he reached the place he was much gratified to find that not only was the picture finished, but also that it was a capital representation of the Flying Cloud as she would appear at sea under all plain sail upon a taut bowline. Her ensign was shown flying from the peak; the house-flag—a large square white flag, with blue border, blue Saint Andrew's cross, and a large letter B in red in the centre—floated from the main-skysail-mast-head, and her number from the mizen, in response to a signal from another ship seen in the distance. It was a very spirited picture, and as Ned paid down its price, and gave instructions for its immediate despatch to his father's address, he felt that the money had been well laid out.
The hatches were put on, and, with the exception of the after-hatch, battened down that evening; and, whilst this was being done, Captain Blyth made his appearance on board, accompanied by a friend, a certain Captain Spence, who had been invited to take a farewell glass of wine in the Flying Cloud's saloon. Captain Spence was in command of a very fine ship, named the Southern Cross, some two hundred tons larger than the Flying Cloud. She also was in the Australian trade; and though the two ships belonged to rival lines, and there was intense emulation between the skippers of the "Bruce" and the "Constellation" clippers, Captains Blyth and Spence were old and sincere friends, and the rivalry between them was all in good part. They had long been secretly anxious to have a fair race together; but hitherto circumstances had been against them. Now, however, their opportunity had come, for the Southern Cross had also been loading in the London docks for Melbourne, the port to which the Flying Cloud was bound, and, like the latter, was to haul out of dock with the morrow's tide; and the two skippers had each made a bet of a new hat that his own ship would make the passage from Gravesend to Port Phillip Heads in a less number of hours than the other, which bet was now to be ratified over their parting glass of wine. The Southern Cross, however, would get the start by about one day, as the Flying Cloud was to call at Tilbury Fort to take on board a quantity of ammunition for the guns and rifles which she was carrying out, and Captain Spence was cherishing an inward hope that a fine easterly breeze which had been blowing for some days would carry him well down channel and then chop round from the southward in good time to baffle his old friend during the passage of the Flying Cloud through the Downs. A somewhat curious and amusing characteristic of the friendly rivalry between the skippers was that, whilst each implicitly believed in his own ship, he affected a faith in the superior qualities of the other, and framed his remarks accordingly. So when the little farewell chat and the parting bottle of wine had come to an end, and Captain Spence rose to go, he held out his hand with:
"Well, good-bye, Blyth, and a pleasant passage to you. You will catch us somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Line, I expect, if not before; and, should the weather be fine, I hope you will come on board and dine with me, and make the acquaintance of my passengers, who, I assure you, seem to be very capital people."
"Thank you very much," was the response; "but you know very well that this poor little ship has no chance whatever with such a spanking craft as the Southern Cross. Look how deep we are in the water; and we don't even know our proper trim. Then, too, the glass seems inclined to drop a little, which probably means that the wind is going to haul round from the southward, which, with the twenty-four hours' start you will have, will carry you down channel nicely enough, whilst we shall be hung up in the Downs. So that, altogether, I consider you ought to reach Melbourne about eight days, at least, ahead of us, which will give you ample time to tell them that we are coming."
And so, with mutual protestations of disbelief in each other's prognostications, the rival skippers laughingly shook hands and parted.
On the following morning the two ships hauled out of dock, the Southern Cross leading, and proceeded down the river in tow, the one anchoring off Gravesend to take her passengers on board, whilst the other went alongside the wharf at Tilbury Fort. The ammunition was all ready for shipment, as it happened; and, securely packed in copper-lined cases, was that same afternoon carefully stowed on top of all in the after hatchway, whence, if necessary, it could be easily and quickly removed and launched overboard in case of an outbreak of fire. The Southern Cross, meanwhile, with her tug hanging on to her, had only paused long enough to allow of her captain going on shore and fetching off her passengers, when she had proceeded. The Flying Cloud, on the other hand, having now completed her cargo, and battened down everything, shifted her berth and anchored off Gravesend pier; but, as it had not been expected that she would receive quite such quick despatch at Tilbury, the passengers would not be on board until the following morning, so there was no alternative but to wait for them. In the meantime there was plenty for the crew to do in getting the decks cleaned up and everything made ship-shape; and this task was so satisfactorily performed, under the supervision of the mates, that Captain Blyth's spirits rose, and he began to hope that he had secured not only a good crew, but good officers as well. He was also particularly pleased to notice that the steerage passengers—twelve in number, all men, who had joined the ship in the docks on the preceding evening—though a rough-looking lot, were scarcely as bad as they looked, evincing a distinct inclination to make themselves useful and to assist the crew as much as possible.
On the following morning, directly after breakfast, Captain Blyth proceeded on shore in his gig to look up his passengers; and about ten o'clock they were seen approaching the ship, a shore-boat being in attendance with the trunks, portmanteaux, etcetera, which contained their immediate necessaries (the bulk of their luggage having been sent on board whilst the ship was in dock). Upon this, the windlass was at once manned, the cable hove short, and the tug signalled to come alongside and take the tow-rope. These preparations were still actively in progress when the two boats pulled alongside the ship; and by the time that the passengers had reached the decks and their luggage had been passed up, the tug had received the tow-rope and had passed ahead, and the anchor was reported ready for tripping. The shore-boat was then discharged, the gig hoisted up, the windlass was again manned, the paddles of the tug began to revolve, the anchor was broken out of the ground, and the long voyage had at length actually commenced.
The saloon passengers were seven in number (quite a pleasant little family party, Captain Blyth averred), and they consisted of a Doctor and Mrs Henderson, with their daughter, Lucille, aged six; Miss Sibylla Stanhope, Mrs Henderson's sister; Mr and Mrs Gaunt, and their son, Percy, aged seven.
Dr Henderson was a medical man who, notwithstanding his undoubted ability, had found it difficult to establish a satisfactory practice in England, and was therefore going to try his fortune in the southern hemisphere, taking his family and his wife's orphan sister with him; and Mr Gaunt was a civil engineer on his way to the colony to take up a lucrative professional appointment. They were both clever, quiet, unassuming men, very gentlemanly in manner, but with nothing particularly striking in their appearance; the kind of men, in fact, of whom it is impossible to predict whether they will, in case of emergency, turn out to be heroes or mere useless incumbrances.
The ladies were very much more interesting. Mrs Henderson was a very handsome, dark-eyed young matron of medium height, and a temper as perfect as her form; in short, a very charming person altogether. Miss Stanhope bore a very marked resemblance to her sister, except that she was much younger, being barely eighteen years of age; but there were not wanting indications that her charms would one day even surpass those of the lovely Mrs Henderson Mrs Gaunt was a petite blonde, very pretty and engaging, and an excellent foil to Mrs Henderson, the two ladies being of exactly opposite types of beauty. Of the children no more need be said than that they were light-hearted, joyous, and just well-behaved enough to show that their parents did not intend to spoil them if it could possibly be helped.
The first act of the saloon passengers, on reaching the deck, was to inquire for their respective cabins, of which they at once took possession, and forthwith set about arranging in such manner as they judged would prove most convenient during the long journey they had before them. The trunks uncorded, and the heavier work done, the gentlemen had it gently insinuated to them by their fair partners that they were rather in the way than otherwise; and they accordingly adjourned to the poop with the youngsters, where, over a cigar, they soon made acquaintance with each other and with the ship's officers. By luncheon-time they had mutually arrived at the conclusion that they were likely to get on exceedingly well together, that the captain was a capital fellow, the mates but so-so, the midshipmen very gentlemanly lads, and the ship everything that could be wished; and that, on the whole, they were justified in expecting the passage to be as pleasant as it was likely to prove long. The ladies, meanwhile, had been busy below, and had found time not only to convert their somewhat cramped quarters into perfect bowers of comfort and convenience, but also to follow the gentlemen's example, by cultivating mutually friendly relations; so that when the little party sat down to luncheon they felt almost as much at home with each other as though they had been acquainted for the best part of their lives, instead of for a few hours only.
ON BOARD THE "FLYING CLOUD."
The weather was gloriously fine; much too fine, indeed, to suit Captain Blyth, for, as he and his friend Captain Spence had foreseen, the easterly breeze which had prevailed for so long had at length died completely away, leaving the surface of the river as smooth as a sheet of polished silver. The air had grown much warmer, a sure precursor of a southerly wind; and the ladies had, in consequence, changed their dresses immediately after luncheon, discarding the woollen fabrics in which they had embarked and substituting for them dainty costumes of cool, light, flimsy material, arrayed in which they established themselves for the afternoon on the poop.
It was somewhat late that night when the Flying Cloud rounded the North Foreland; and, as Captain Blyth had feared, the little breeze which had sprung up with the setting of the sun was all out from the southward. There was, however, a capital moon, almost full; the tide, too, was in their favour. So, instead of anchoring in the Downs until next day, as had been his first intention, he determined to keep on; and all sail was accordingly made upon the ship as soon as the tug had cast off the tow-rope. A stretch was made across the channel towards the French coast, in the direction of Gravelines; and great was the satisfaction of all hands when they found that the ship, on a taut bowline, and with only wind enough to heel her some six inches under every stitch of plain sail they could set upon her, was slipping along through the water at the rate of fully five knots, and that, too, so cleanly that the ripple under the bows was inaudible to the men on the forecastle unless they put their heads over the side and listened for it, whilst scarcely a whirl or a bubble was to be seen in the long smooth wake which she left behind her.
The breeze continued scant all night, notwithstanding which the Flying Cloud was, at eight o'clock next morning, as close to the French coast as Captain Blyth cared to take her, and she was accordingly hove about, the wind so far favouring her that it was confidently hoped she would weather Beachy Head and so pass out clear of everything. With the rising of the sun the wind gave promise of freshening, which promise was so far fulfilled that by noon the ship was skimming along at a pace of over nine knots an hour, she being at the time just abreast of Calais. The breeze still increasing, and the tide being again in their favour, Cape Grisnez was passed little more than an hour later; and then, running out from under the lee of the land, the swell of the channel almost immediately began to make itself felt. The full strength of the wind at the same time also became apparent, and the ship, now heeling over sufficiently to send the water spouting up through the scupper- holes with every lee-roll, increased her pace to a fair, honest ten knots, steering "full and by." Captain Blyth was simply enchanted with the performance of his new command, feeling fully convinced (though he did not yet venture to give utterance to his conviction) that in her, that hitherto invincible clipper, the Southern Cross, would at length assuredly find she had met her match. By three o'clock Dungeness was broad on the lee-bow; by four o'clock it was fairly abaft the beam; and when the passengers went on deck after dinner they found the ship in the act of weathering Beachy, though without very much room to spare, the wind evincing an inclination to veer round from the westward. At eight o'clock next morning, when Ned came on deck to keep the forenoon watch, he saw that he was on familiar ground, the ship being about midway between Saint Catherine's Point and Saint Alban's Head, the high land at the east end of the Isle of Wight looming like a white cloud on the horizon astern, or rather on the starboard quarter, whilst Saint Alban's gleamed brilliantly in the bright sunlight on the starboard bow. The ship was still close-hauled on the larboard tack and going about six knots, the wind having headed her somewhat during the night and fallen lighter. The weather was magnificent, and everybody was in capital spirits. Captain Blyth was pleased because, though the ship was not just then travelling at any great speed, he had at all events got half- way down the channel; the passengers were pleased because they were having such a splendid view of the coast—with the prospect of getting a still better view later on in the day, as Ned informed them—and most pleased of all was Ned himself, because he not only looked forward to getting one more glimpse of dear old Weymouth itself, but also hoped to be able to make his near vicinity known to his father.
Noon found the Flying Cloud abreast of Saint Alban's Head and within half a mile of the shore; and, this bold promontory once rounded, all hands found themselves face to face with that magnificent panorama of rolling downs, smiling valleys, tiny strips of snow-white beach, and lofty precipitous chalk-cliffs, which help to make the scenery of Weymouth Bay one of the fairest prospects within the boundaries of the British island.
The ship was reaching right down along the coast at a distance of little more than two miles from the shore, and though it was now his watch below, Ned undertook to point out the various objects of interest as they crept into view, such as Warbarrow Bay, with Lulworth Castle nestling among its surrounding trees; Lulworth Cove, with its bold, rocky entrance; the noble natural archway of Durdle Door; the curious Burning Cliff, and so on; and when they were off the latter he made bold to ask Captain Blyth's permission to hoist the ship's colours, explaining that he would like his father to see the vessel and to know that he was so near at hand. Ned was a very great favourite with the skipper; moreover, the latter and Ned's father were old friends. The cheery answer given to this request, therefore, was:
"Yes, certainly, my lad; show our bunting by all means. We shall then be reported as having passed, and the owners will be glad to learn that we have crept so far on our way."
Armed with this permission Ned lost no time in getting out the flags and hoisting them exactly as they were represented in the picture he had sent to his father, and which he knew must be in the old gentleman's possession by this time.
That afternoon old Mr Damerell and his daughter were, according to their usual custom, on the Nothe, Eva with a piece of dainty embroidery work wherewith to amuse herself, and her father with his somewhat ancient but trusty telescope, without which, indeed, he was scarcely ever seen out of doors. They had hardly reached the old gentleman's favourite point of look-out when his quick eye detected the ship reaching down along the east land, and even before he had adjusted the telescope he had a presentiment that she might be the Flying Cloud. He had received a hastily-scribbled line or two from Ned—forwarded by means of the shore-boat, which had taken off the passengers' luggage at Gravesend—which had made him acquainted with the day and hour of the ship's sailing; and his long experience and intimate acquaintance with the navigation of the Channel, aided by his habitual observation of the weather, enabled him to follow the subsequent movements of the Flying Cloud almost as unerringly as though his eye had been on her the whole time. In one particular only had his calculations been inaccurate, and that was in the speed of the ship; he had not reckoned on her being either so fast or so weatherly as she had proved to be, and his reckoning located her as being at that moment within sight of but to the eastward of the Wight. When, however, he saw a large ship, loaded, and evidently by the course she was steering, bound out of the channel, and when he further noted the clean, white, new appearance of the stranger's canvas, the peculiar painting of her hull, and the very marked similarity of appearance which she bore to the picture at that moment hanging in the place of honour on the walls of his snug little parlour, he was quite prepared to admit a possible error in his calculations sufficient to account for the appearance of the ship where she actually was; and when he saw the colours hoisted, he had, of course, no further doubt upon the matter. The ship, it is true, was heading so obliquely towards him that he could only see the house-flag at her main-skysail- mast-head; but that was quite sufficient. The broad snow-white field, the blue border and cross, and the large red B in the centre, were plainly distinguishable through his telescope; and turning to his daughter he said, with just a faint tremor of excitement in his voice:
"Eva, do you see that ship reaching down under the east land, yonder?"
"The one you have been watching so intently, father? Yes, I see her," was the reply. "What a noble object she looks, with her white canvas gleaming in the sun! It is not often that we see such large ships as that so close in with the land, is it? I wonder where she is going!"
"She is bound to Melbourne. She is called the Flying Cloud, and she has a young gentleman named Edward Damerell on board her, who, I'll be bound, is at this moment intently looking in this direction," answered the old gentleman decisively.
"Oh, father, you can't mean it!" exclaimed the young lady impetuously, though she knew very well that her father did mean it. "Pray let us make haste down to the boat and go out to meet him."
Her father looked irresolute, took another glance at the ship, then shook his head sorrowfully.
"It would be of no use, my dear," he said. "Before we could reach the boat and get her under weigh yonder ship will have tacked, and fast as the Eva is she would never catch her in this light breeze. No; we must be satisfied to remain here and see as much of the Flying Cloud as we can. Perhaps when the ship goes about we may even succeed in catching a glimpse of dear Ned himself through the glass."
At this moment the loud clanging of a bell, which was being rung somewhere down in the harbour, smote noisily upon their ears.
"The very thing!" exclaimed Eva, starting eagerly to her feet. "Come, father, we have not a moment to lose! That is the first bell. The Victoria is to make an excursion to the Bill this afternoon, and if we go on the trip we shall surely pass not very far from Ned's ship."
"Capital!" exclaimed the old man cheerily. "Come along, my girl; we are neither of us rigged exactly in a style suited to our mingling with swells; but never mind, we shall both pass muster, I dare say, and, whether or no, we have no time to shift our canvas."
And away went the pair, without more ado, making the best of their way toward the steps which lead down the side of the hill to the quay, whence they took a boat across the harbour, the second bell from the steamer admonishing them that they had no time to spare. They reached the pay-gate in good time, however, took their tickets, and ascended to the hurricane-deck just as the captain of the boat climbed to his own private bridge. The last bell rang, a few belated excursionists came rushing breathlessly down, and whilst they were scrambling for their tickets the Flying Cloud, now within two miles of the town, was seen to tack. The laggards hurried on board, the gang-plank was drawn ashore, the ropes were cast off, the engines made a revolution or two astern to cant the steamer's head toward the centre of the harbour, and then away the excursion party went, the band on board at the same moment striking up a lively tune.
By the time that the Victoria had reached the harbour's mouth Mr Damerell was able to see that they had started at exactly the right time. The Flying Cloud—a beautiful sight, as she now appeared broadside-on to them, reaching across the bay, with the afternoon sun gleaming brilliantly upon her immense spread of canvas—was slipping along through the water at a speed of about six knots, and it was apparent she would pass the breakwater-end at about the same moment as the Victoria. But the excursion steamer's usual course was through the opening in the breakwater, and not out round its end; and if she now took that direction the trip would be spoiled, so far, at least, as Mr Damerell and his daughter were concerned. The old gentleman looked round, and saw that Captain Cosens, the veteran commodore of the little pleasure fleet, was in command, and to him he determined to make his wishes known. The captain was talking to some of his lady passengers when Mr Damerell approached him, but looked up at once and spoke on recognising an old friend.
"Good-morning, Mr Damerell," said he. "What fair wind blows you on board the Victoria? It is not often that you favour us with your company. A noble vessel that, isn't she?" indicating the Flying Cloud. "I take it she is an Australian liner."
"Yes," said Mr Damerell, "that is the Flying Cloud, my son's ship, you know, Captain—"
"What! your son aboard?" interrupted the commodore. "Starboard, Tom, starboard a bit, boy! and pass as close to leeward of that ship as you safely can. It's not often we have the opportunity to treat our passengers to a sight of a clipper under all plain sail, so, as the water is smooth, and we can do so with safety, we will do it to-day; it will be something of a novelty for them. And perhaps," he added, his kindly grey eyes beaming sympathetically, "you may be able to get another glimpse of Ned as we pass. Come upon my bridge, Mr Damerell, you will see better, and he will see you all the quicker too."
The ship and the steamer now rapidly approached each other; and soon after passing the breakwater-end, the latter shot across the stern of the former and ranged up on her lee quarter. The word to "ease her" was passed below into the Victoria's engine-room; and Mr Damerell and Eva had the opportunity of not only seeing, but also of exchanging a few words with Ned, who had soon espied them on the steamer's bridge, and had placed himself in the mizen-rigging for the purpose. The pleasure party on board the steamer were meanwhile thoroughly enjoying the unwonted sight which the Flying Cloud presented, with her ponderous but shapely hull, lavishly adorned with gilding at the bow and stern; her clean, well-ordered decks resplendent with glittering brass-work, and polished teak and mahogany fittings; her handsome boats, fresh painted, with the house-flag emblazoned on their bows, and canvas covers neatly lashed over them from gunwale to gunwale; the lofty masts, the orderly but intricate maze of standing and running-rigging; and the towering spread of canvas which seemed to reach almost to the clouds. Many of them had never in their lives before seen a ship of any size under her canvas and fairly at sea; and now they were brought into close proximity with one which was not only "a clipper," but, as the affable captain of the steamer explained to his numerous questioners, one of the finest, if not the largest, of that class of vessels afloat. The little group of passengers on the poop, seemingly so thoroughly comfortable and so completely at home, naturally attracted a considerable amount of attention, the children especially; and one enthusiastic lady on board the steamer was so completely carried away by the influences of the moment, that she tossed to little Percy Gaunt a basket of freshly- gathered flowers which she happened to have with her, which the little fellow deftly caught, and with a laughing "Thank you very much!" at once handed to his mother. Then, the brief conversation between father and son being brought to an end, the signal for "full speed" was given, and the steamer drew ahead, the band on board playing "A life on the ocean wave," and the vessels separated with much waving of hats and handkerchiefs on both sides. The steamer was of course the first to reach the Bill, the Flying Cloud being partially becalmed under the high land of Portland; and when the pleasure party again passed her, it was at a distance of about a mile, the ship steering a course which would take her well clear of the Shambles shoal.
"Bill," said Captain Cosens, when the two vessels were again abreast, "jump aft, my lad, and dip the ensign!"
The ensign was dipped three times, the salutation being promptly responded to by the clipper; and then her colours were hauled down as, catching a freshening breeze, she gracefully inclined to it, and swept grandly out to seaward.
Such was Mr Damerell's last farewell to his son, on this eventful occasion at least. Poor old gentleman! well was it for him that he so little dreamed of what that son was destined to pass through before they two again should meet! Little, as they lost sight of her, did the light-hearted throng on board the Victoria guess at the horrors of which that noble ship was to be the theatre.
On clearing the Bill of Portland, and once more getting the true breeze, it was found by those on board the Flying Cloud that the wind had veered some points further to the westward, and was now almost dead in the teeth of their course down channel. There was a red-hot ebb tide running, however, which was so much in their favour, and Captain Blyth held on upon the same tack, pushing out toward mid-channel so as to get the full benefit of it. The ship was heading well up to windward of the Channel Islands, so that she was not doing at all badly; and the wind having veered so far, the skipper was in hopes it would veer still further, and so give him a favourable slant down channel after his next reach in for the land. Nor was he disappointed; for tacking at six o'clock to avoid the flood, which he knew would soon be making, he found himself, at ten o'clock that night, some four miles to the westward of Beer Head, the wind heading him more and more as he drew in with the land. On again tacking, it was found that the ship was heading well up for the Start, which was passed about four bells in the morning watch; when, feeling themselves at length safe for a fair run out of the channel, the ship's departure was taken, together with a small pull upon the weather braces. A course was given the helmsman which would carry the ship well clear of Cape Finisterre, and away went the Flying Cloud to the southward and westward, reeling eleven knots off the log with all three skysails set. By three o'clock in the afternoon, Captain Blyth's reckoning placed the ship off Ushant. They now began to feel the regular Atlantic roll, and shortly afterwards the wind, continuing to veer, worked round so far to the northward of west, that they were not only enabled to get another good pull upon the weather braces, but also to set studding-sails on the starboard side, when away went the ship plunging and rolling across the Bay of Biscay at a pace which amply justified her name, and sent all hands into ecstasies of delight. And the climax of their happiness was reached when, just about sunset, a large steamer, which had been in sight ahead since noon, was triumphantly overhauled and passed, though she, like themselves, was under all the canvas she could show. Captain Blyth was simply in a beatitude of bliss; he walked the poop to and fro, rubbing his hands gleefully, chuckling, and audibly murmuring little congratulatory ejaculations to himself, fragments of which—such as—"new hat—astonish that fellow Spence above a trifle, I flatter myself—reach the Heads a clear week before him," etcetera etcetera—Ned Damerell caught from time to time as the skipper trotted past him.
In the forecastle, too, there was great jubilation that evening. Jack dearly loves a speedy ship; and now that they had had an exemplification of what the Flying Cloud really could do when she had a fair chance, all hands were fully agreed that she was by far the fastest ship they had ever sailed in.
Williams, the man who had assisted at the loading of the guns on board, was especially enthusiastic upon the subject.
"My eyes! mates, what a pirate-ship this craft would make!" he ejaculated when at length all hands' catalogue of praises seemed to be about exhausted. "Why, if she was mine I'd make my fortune—ay, and that of all hands belonging to her in less than six months!"
This remark produced a general laugh. "Why, Josh, bo! you don't mean to say as how you'd go piratin' if so be as this here pretty little ship was yourn, do you?" asked Tim Parsons, a great burly, bushy-whiskered seaman, who was seated on a sea-chest on the opposite side of the forecastle.
"Why—no, I don't perhaps exactly mean that," was the reply. "And yet—I don't know—why shouldn't I? There's worse trades than pirating, let me tell you, boys?"
"Ay, ay? Is there? I should like to hear you name a few of 'em," objected Parsons.
"Well, then," said Williams, warming to the subject, "to go no further than this identical fo'c's'le where we're now sitting, I mean to say that the trade of sailor-men like ourselves is a precious sight worse. We're hard worked, badly fed, badly paid—not, mind you, that I'm finding fault with the treatment we're getting aboard here—far from it—the grub's good enough for anybody; and, as to work—well, we haven't seen much of that yet. But this I will say, I don't like the looks of either of the mates, and as for the skipper, why, he's a good enough man, but this ship is going to spoil him. Now you mark my words if she don't—he's just finding out that he's got a flyer under him, and what will be the consequence? Why, he'll be everlastingly carrying on, driving the ship all she'll bear, carrying on to the very last minute, and then it'll be 'all hands shorten sail' to save the spars, instead of handing his canvas in good time, by which means the watch could do all the work. Now, you wait a bit, mates, and you'll see I'm right."
There were several melancholy shakes of the head at this, indicative of a belief on the part of the shakers that these prognostications would prove only too true.
"But what's all this got to do with piratin'?" persisted Parsons.
"Oh—well—why, everything," returned Williams. "Here we are, as I was saying, hard worked, badly fed, and badly paid; whilst if we was the crew of a pirate clipper we should have nothing to do but trim sails, we should live upon the fat of the land, and in six months, if our cruise was a lucky one, we could chuck up the sea and live like princes ashore for the rest of our days."
Parsons burst into a hearty laugh.
"Why, Williams," he said, "I wouldn't ha' believed you was such a greenhorn. You can't mean what you're sayin', shipmate. I don't suppose you've ever been a pirate, and I'm precious certain I never have—or I don't believe we should either of us be sittin' in this here snug fo'c's'le to-night—so I reckon neither of us knows very much about the business. But anybody, not a born fool, must understand without much tellin' that a pirate's life wouldn't be worth havin'. As to work, he'd have to work just as hard as any of us, with the chance of bein' shot at a minute's notice by the skipper or either of the mates, if he didn't happen to do his work just exactly to their likin'. Then he'd be in constant dread of bein' overhauled by a man-o'-war, and mayhap strung up to the yard-arm; he daresn't venture into a civilised port, to save his life. And then, what about the murders he has to commit? Faugh! no piratin' for me, thank 'ee."
"Nobody's wanting you, Tim Parsons, or anybody else, to go pirating" was the rejoinder. "I was only talking about the thing in a general sort of a way. But, though, as you say, I never was a pirate myself, I happen to know that the trade ain't quite such a bad one as you'd make out after all. First and foremost, there's no occasion for murdering at all. 'Dead men tell no tales,' we know; but there's ways of stopping the telling of tales without cutting men's throats. There's islands enough scattered about here and there quite out of the regular tracks of ships, the natives of which don't see the colour of canvas once in a lifetime; what's to prevent a pirate-ship landing her prisoners there? They'd have a jolly enough life of it in such a place, and be out of harm's way. Then, as to work, I should keep just enough prisoners aboard to do all the rough, dirty work, and let my regular crew have easy times of it. And with such a ship as this, for instance, what need to be afraid of a man-o'-war, even if there weren't a dozen ways of bamboozling the 'gold-buttons,' which there are. Then, as to going into port—that's easy enough managed by a man with a good head-piece on his shoulders; and, as I was saying, a lucky six months' cruise, and your fortune's made. Then, what do you do? Why, you watches your chance, scuttles your ship some fine night when the weather's favourable, and goes ashore with your swag, as a castaway seaman whose ship has sprung a leak and foundered. Pooh! don't tell me. The thing could be easy enough done."
"Then, I s'pose you're one o' those chaps who wouldn't mind layin' hands on other people's goods?" quietly inquired Parsons.
"Ah! I see you've misunderstood me altogether, or you wouldn't ask such a question as that, shipmate," replied Williams. "No—if you mean by 'laying my hands on other people's goods,' would I go to any of your chests and help myself—I would not. I'm not a thief; I'm as honest as ever a man here. You've got nothing in any of your chests, I reckon, but what I call necessaries—things a man needs and has a right to have. But—it may seem a strange thing to say, mates, yet it's what I think—no man has a right to more than he needs of anything whilst other people have to go short. Why, for example, should some people have more cash than they know how to spend—and that, too, without working for it—whilst we poor sailor-men have to strive night and day, in fair weather and foul, just to keep soul and body from parting company? I say it ain't fair; things ain't evenly divided, as they should be. We've just as much right to ride about in a carriage as any of them swells ashore—we're just as good men as they are—and if I had the chance I'd think I was doing no wrong to help myself to a little of their spare cash to make myself comfortable with. That's what I think about it."
"Ay, ay," muttered one or two, "that sounds fair enough when you come to overhaul the thing in all its bearings."
Others maintained silence; they instinctively recognised the falsity of Williams' logic though their intellects were not acute enough to enable them to put their fingers on the weak spot. Others, again, shook their heads dissentingly. But Parsons, the irrepressible, after looking at Williams in blank surprise for a moment or two, broke out in a tone of mingled contempt and raillery:
"There, there, you've said enough, man; and now you'd better clap a stopper over all. You're an uncommon smart man, Williams,—I won't deny it—almost too smart, it seems to me,—and you've just been talking like this to give us an idee, as it were, of your smartness. You argufy like a lawyer, shipmate, there's no mistake about that; but you can't persuade me that you believe a single word of what you've been sayin'. Why, man, if you hadn't already proved yourself to be the primest seaman and the most willing hand aboard this here dandy little hooker I'm blest if I shouldn't almost be inclined to believe you was a Socialist. Pah!" and he spat contemptuously on the floor of the forecastle.
"There goes eight bells," he continued, "and on deck we goes, the starboard watch. Whose wheel is it?"
THE PLOTTER AT HIS WORK.
The little forecastle conclave made their way out on deck without waiting for the formality of a call; and, there happening to be no sail- trimming to attend to, and every prospect of a fine night, they made themselves as comfortable as circumstances would permit under the shelter of the bulwarks and elsewhere, excepting, of course, the man whose trick at the wheel it was and the look-out, the latter of whom stationed himself on the topgallant-forecastle, to windward, whilst the former went aft. The men broke up into little knots, some to smoke, some to chat, and some to snatch a cat-nap—if they could elude the vigilance of the second-mate, which they had already discovered was no very difficult achievement. The two apprentices in the watch were keeping a look-out in the waist, the one to windward and the other to leeward.
Williams and another man, named Rogers, lighted their pipes and settled themselves on the lee side of the deck, just forward of the fore- rigging, where they maintained a sort of perfunctory look-out on the lee-bow whilst smoking and chatting.
"I say, Josh," began Rogers, in a low tone of voice, "don't you think you pitched matters just a trifle too strong in the fo'c's'le just now? Seems to me, mate, that you spoke out plainer than was altogether wise by way of a starter. If 't had been me, now, I should ha' felt my way a bit; talked more in a general sort of a way, you know. I tell you it fairly took my breath away to hear you rap out about piratin' right off the reel. I'm afraid that chap Parsons 'll get suspicious next time any thing's said."
"Yes," Williams admitted, "I did overrun my ground-tackle a trifle; no mistake about that. Parsons sort of provoked me into it. But don't you trouble; it'll give the thing a start, and set the hands talking together; and as for Parsons, you'll see I'll put everything right next time we have a yarn together. He called me 'smart,' and he's right; I'm a precious sight smarter than he gives me credit for being, 'cute as he is. And there's no harm done; I could see that I've given some of 'em a new idea or two to overhaul and think about. I think that, even now, I could name three or four in our watch who'll prove all right when the time comes."
There was a great deal more said in the same strain which need not be repeated; the pith of the conversation has been given, and will suffice to suggest to the intelligent reader the idea that, even thus early in her first voyage, there was something radically wrong on board the Flying Cloud.
To the superficial eye, however, everything seemed to point to a prosperous voyage. The wind continued slowly but steadily to haul round from the northward, and by nine o'clock in the evening of the fifth day out the good ship, with a breeze at about due north and fresh enough to necessitate the stowing of all three skysails, was off Cape Finisterre and bowling along upon her course with studding, sails, from the royals down, set to windward, and reeling off her knots in a manner which caused the mates to stare incredulously at the line every time they hove the log.
As for the little party of passengers in the saloon, they were delighted—charmed with each other, with the captain, with the midshipmen, with the crew—who seemed to them an exceptionally smart and steady set of men—with the ship, and with the weather; with everything and every body, in fact, but the two mates, who both proved to be very disagreeable men. There had not been a single symptom of mal de mer among them, though the motion had been pretty lively during the passage across the Bay of Biscay; and by this time they had thoroughly settled down and become almost as perfectly at home in the ship as though they had been born on salt water. The gentlemen chatted, smoked, walked the poop, and played chess together, romped with the children, or read aloud to the ladies whilst they reclined in their deck-chairs and pretended to work, and otherwise made themselves generally useful. This was the usual disposition of their day from about nine a.m. to about eight o'clock p.m., the married ladies very frequently joining in their husbands' post-prandial promenade on the poop until the latter hour, when, the air getting cool, the whole party would adjourn to the saloon, and, Dr and Mrs Henderson producing their violins and Mr Gaunt his flute, Mrs Gaunt or Miss Stanhope would open the piano which formed part of the saloon furniture, and the sounds of a very capital chamber concert would float out upon the evening air, to the great delectation of Captain Blyth, the officer of the watch, the helmsman, and—in a lesser degree, because less perfectly heard by them—the watch clustered forward on the forecastle-head.
In this quiet, methodical way life went on with the occupants of the saloon for some time; but at length ambition entered into and seized upon the imagination of Miss Stanhope, and she determined to learn to steer. Hour after hour had she watched the helmsmen standing in more or less graceful attitudes at the wheel, with their sinewy hands upon the spokes, now drawing them gently toward them a few inches only to push them as far away again a minute or two later. It looked ridiculously easy; yet there was grandeur in the thought that, by these simple, effortless movements, the destiny of the ship and all within her was to a large extent controlled. There was something almost sublime, to her imagination, in the ability to "guide the furrowing keel on its way along the trackless deep," as she expressed it to herself; and she determined she would learn how to do it.
At length, making her way up on the poop one glorious evening after dinner—the ship being at the time about in the latitude of Madeira, and close-hauled on the starboard tack, with a nice little eight-knot breeze blowing, and everything set that would draw, from the skysail down, and with the water as smooth as it ever is under such circumstances—she descried Ned standing aft at the wheel, with his left arm resting on its rim, his right hand lightly grasping a spoke at arm's-length, and his eye on the weather leach of the main-skysail, as he softly hummed to himself the air of a song she had sung a night or two before; and the young lady at once arrived at the conclusion that this afforded an excellent opportunity for her to take her first lesson. So she walked aft, and opened the negotiations by saying:
"Good evening, Ned." (Everybody on board, fore and aft, called the lad Ned; so she naturally did the same.)
"Good evening, Miss Stanhope," replied Ned, straightening himself up and doffing his cap with a sweep which would not have disgraced a—a—well, let us say, a Frenchman; "what splendid weather we are having! Here is another glorious evening, with every prospect of the breeze lasting, and perhaps freshening a bit when the sun goes down. If it only holds for forty-eight hours longer I hope it will run us fairly into the trades."
"I hope it will, I am sure," said Miss Stanhope, "if 'running fairly into the trades' is going to do us any good. I presume you are referring to the trade winds, about which Captain Blyth has been talking during dinner."
"Precisely," acknowledged Ned.
"Could you not tie that wheel, and sit down comfortably, instead of standing there holding it as you are doing?" inquired Sibylla, by way of leading up gradually to the proposal she intended to make.
Ned laughed. "It looks as though one might as well do so," he said. "But you've no idea how capricious a ship is. I've not moved the wheel for the last ten minutes, and look how straight our wake is. Yet, if I were to lash this wheel exactly as it is now, it would not be half a minute before the ship would be shooting up into the wind."
"How very curious!" remarked Sibylla. "And yet, so long as you hold the wheel the ship goes perfectly straight. How do you account for that?"
"I watch her," answered Ned, "and the moment I detect a disposition to deviate from the right course I check her with a movement of the wheel. The slightest touch is sufficient in such fine weather as we are having at present."
"I see," remarked the young lady. "The ship is as obedient to her guide as a well-trained child. And it seems easy enough to guide her. I believe I could do it myself."
"Certainly you could. Would you like to try?" said Ned, who at length fancied he could see the drift of his fair interlocutor's remarks.
"I should very much," answered Miss Stanhope. "But I did not like to ask, fearing that such a request would be a transgression against nautical etiquette."
"By no means," said Ned. "Captain Blyth is one of the most gallant of men; he would never dream of opposing so very reasonable a desire on the part of a lady—at least, not now, when no possible harm can come of it. If you will take my place on this raised grating, I shall be delighted to initiate you into the art. This side, please—the helmsman always stands on the weather side. That is right. Now grasp this spoke with your left hand, and this with your right, so—that is precisely the right attitude. Now, you feel a slight tremor in the wheel, do you not? That indicates that the water is pressing gently against the rudder—the ship carries a small weather-helm, as a well- modelled and properly rigged ship should—and if you were to release the wheel it would move a spoke or two to the right, and the ship would run up into the wind. Now, at present we are steering 'full and by,' which means that we are to steer as near the wind as possible, and at the same time to keep all the sails full. You see that small sail right at the top of all on the mainmast? That is the main-skysail. It is braced a shade less fore and aft than the other sails; so if you keep it full you will be certain to also have all the rest of the canvas full. Now you will observe an occasional gentle flapping movement of the weather leach of that sail—the edge of it, I mean. That indicates that the sail is just full and no more; and you must keep your eye on that weather leach and maintain just precisely that gentle flapping movement. If it ceases, the sail is unnecessarily full, and you are not keeping a good 'luff,' and you must turn the wheel a shade to the right; if it increases, you are sailing rather too near the wind, and must press the wheel a trifle to the left. Do you understand me?"
"I think so," answered Sibylla, compressing her lips, grasping the spokes tightly, and concentrating her whole attention upon the weather leach of the skysail.
She proved an apt pupil; and though for the first ten minutes or so the course of the ship was a trifle erratic, and steering in a straight line proved to be not quite so simple and easy a matter as she had deemed it, Miss Sibylla soon caught the knack, and at the end of half an hour the Flying Cloud was making as straight a wake again as though the best helmsman in the ship had her in hand.
"Why, this is splendid!" exclaimed Ned. "You are evidently a born helmsman—or helmswoman, rather—Miss Stanhope. Permit me to congratulate you on your success. Not a man in the ship could do better than you are now doing. I foresee that, before long, whenever any extra fine steering has to be done, we shall have to request you to take the wheel."
"Thank you; that is a very neatly turned compliment," remarked Sibylla. "But I am afraid I do not wholly deserve it. For the last five minutes I have been steering, not by the little sail up there, as you told me, but by that small dark object right ahead. It is so much easier—"
"Small dark object! where away?" interrupted Ned. "Ah! I see it. Sail ho! right ahead Mr Bryce," he reported to the chief-mate.
The mate, who was sitting smoking on a hen-coop, to leeward, close to the break of the poop, rose slowly to his feet, walked to the weather side of the deck, and, shading his eyes with his hand, looked ahead, but was apparently unable to see anything.
"There she is, just over the weather cat-head!" exclaimed Ned, as he placed himself in line with the mate.
"All right! I see her," responded the mate, as he at length caught sight of the small purple-grey spot on the south-western horizon, and he sauntered back to his seat.
At this moment Captain Blyth made his appearance on the poop. "Did I hear a sail reported ahead, Mr Bryce?" he asked, as he reached the poop.
"Very likely. There is one," answered the mate, without offering to point her out.
Captain Blyth looked annoyed at this boorishness of speech and conduct, but it was habitual with the mate—he apparently knew no better—the skipper was becoming accustomed to it by this time, and, without noticing it, he walked aft and said:
"Where is she, Ned?"
Ned pointed her out.
"Ah, yes," said the skipper. "Is she coming this way, think you?"
"I should fancy not, sir," answered Ned. "It was Miss Stanhope who first sighted her; she has been steering by her for fully five minutes; and had yonder ship been coming this way I think we should see her more distinctly by this time than we do."
"I'll bet any money that it's the Southern Cross!" exclaimed the skipper with animation. "Get your glass, Ned, my boy, and slip up as far as the fore royal-yard, and see what you can make of her. I'll stay here, meanwhile, and see that Miss Stanhope doesn't run away with the ship."
And as Ned hurried away to execute his errand, Captain Blyth turned to Sibylla and laughingly began to banter her upon her new accomplishment.
Active as a cat, Ned soon reached the royal-yard, upon which he composedly seated himself, preparatory to bringing his telescope to bear upon the stranger. A little manoeuvring sufficed him to find her; but she was so far away—quite fifteen miles—that he could make out nothing beyond the fact that she was apparently a ship of about the same size as the Flying Cloud. He remained on his elevated perch watching her for fully a quarter of an hour, a period long enough to satisfy him that both ships were standing in the same direction, and then he descended.
"Well; what do you make of her?" demanded the skipper, as the lad joined him on the poop.
Ned stated fully all that he had seen and all that he surmised—for a sailor is often able to shrewdly guess at a great deal when he sees but little; and when he had replied to the somewhat severe cross-examination to which he was subjected, Captain Blyth reiterated his former opinion:
"It is the Southern Cross, for a cool hundred! Mr Bryce"—to the mate—"be good enough to muster the watch, sir, and see if you cannot get those sails to set something less like so many bags than they are at present."
There had been a pretty heavy shower earlier on in the evening, which had sensibly stretched the new canvas, and now that it was again dry it hung from the spars and stays, as the skipper had said, "like so many bags"—a terrible eye-sore to a smart seaman—yet the mate had apparently not noticed it; or, at all events, had made no attempt to have the matter rectified.
Mr Bryce made no reply; but, rising nonchalantly from his seat, he went slowly down the poop ladder and sauntered into the waist, where he came to a halt, and shouted:
"For'ard, there! lay aft here, all hands, and take a pull upon these sheets and halliards, will ye!"
"Confound the fellow!" muttered Captain Blyth. "I told him to muster the watch; and he must needs set all hands to work."
The men moved aft, very deliberately, clearly in no amiable mood at being given such a job in the second dog-watch, and began upon the main tack and sheet, gradually working their way upward, and from thence forward.
"What did I say, mates?" commented Williams, as they slowly brought the canvas into better trim. "This is the 'old man's' work—this swigging away upon sheets and halliards just upon night-fall; and there he is upon the poop looking as black as thunder, because, I suppose, we're not more lively over the job. And what's it all for? Why, simply because that young sprig, Ned, happens to sight a sail ahead of us; and because we happen to be a smart ship the skipper won't be satisfied until we've overhauled her. This is just the beginning of it; it'll be like this every time we happen to see anything ahead; you mark my words."
"D'ye twig the new helmsman?" laughed another, jerking his head aft to direct attention to Sibylla, who still held the wheel.
"Ay, ay, mate; we see her," answered Williams, who seemed to think himself called upon to play the part of spokesman. "We see her; and a pretty creature she is. But do you think, mates, she'll ever give any of us a spell when it's our trick? Not she! It's all very well when it's a smart young sprig of an apprentice—or midshipman, as they call themselves—that she can laugh and talk with; but it's a different matter with us poor shell-backs. The swells won't have anything to say to its."
"Now, you're wrong there, Josh, old shipmate, as I can testify," spoke up Jack Simpson, a smart young A.B. "Mrs Henderson and Mrs Gaunt has both spoke to me; and it was only a night or two ago that, when it was my wheel, Mr Gaunt gived me a cigar; and a precious good one it was too, I can tell ye."
"Ay; and I suppose when he handed it to you he made you feel as if you was a dog that he was giving a bone to; didn't he?" said Williams.
"No, he didn't; not by a long ways," answered Jack. "He looked and spoke like a thorough-bred gentleman; but he was as perlite and civil as ever a man could be."
"Civil!" grunted Rogers. "Well, I don't make no account of that; it's his business to be civil. He's what they calls a civil engineer; though hang me if I know what an engineer wants aboard of a sailing ship."
"How come you to know he's a civil engineer?" demanded another man.
"Because, d'ye see, mate," replied Rogers, "I was one of the hands as was told off to pass the dunnage up when the passengers came alongside; and I read on one of the boxes 'Mr William Gaunt, C.E.' The mate saw it, too; and he says to the skipper, as was standin' close alongside of him, says he:—
"'Mr William Gaunt, C.E.'—what does C.E. stand for? And the skipper, he says: 'What, don't you know? Why, C.E. stands for Civil Engineer, which is the gentleman's purfession,' says he. And that's how I come to know it, matey."
"Well, civil or not civil, I maintain he ain't a bit better than any of us," insisted Williams; "and I want to know by what right he or anybody else is to be allowed to give themselves airs over the likes of us. Can he do anything that any of us can't do? Answer me that if you can," he demanded defiantly.
"Ay, that can he, my lad," spoke up Parsons, promptly. "Why, he's one of them people that builds railroads and bridges and harbours, and the likes of that. Civil engineers is among a sailor's best friends, shipmates. Look at the scores of snug harbours they've built where there was nothing but open roadsteads before. There's Colombo, for instance. Look what a snug spot they've made of that. Why, mates, I was lying at Colombo once before that harbour was built, and we had to keep watch and watch all the time we was there, just the same as if we was at sea, just to take care that the ship didn't strike adrift and go ashore. And now, look at the place! Why, you're moored head and starn; and some ships don't keep even so much as an anchor watch all the time they're there. Don't tell me! A civil engineer's a man of eddication, boys; and that's where he goes to wind'ard of chaps like us. Look at the skipper, again. Any one of us could take him up and toss him over the rail, so far as hard work's concerned. But you give him his charts, and chronometers, and sextants, and things; put him aboard of a ship, and tell him to take her clear round the world and bring her back again to the same place, and he can do it. Why? Eddication again. It's eddication, mates, that makes swells of men, that enables 'em to earn big pay, and makes 'em of consequence in the world. There'll be no such thing as equality in this world, Josh, as long as one man lets another get ahead of him in the matter of eddication. Them's my sentiments."
And Parsons was right, lads. Simple, homely, and unpolished as was his language, he had succeeded in giving utterance to a grand truth; one which all boys will do well to lay to heart and profit by to the utmost extent of their opportunities.
It occupied the men fully until eight bells to get the canvas trimmed to Captain Blyth's satisfaction; after which the watch below retired to the forecastle and to their hammocks.
During the night the wind freshened somewhat, hauled a trifle, and came a point or two free, in consequence of which, when the passengers made their appearance on deck next morning to get a breath or two of the fresh sea air before breakfast, they found the ship bowling along at a regular racing pace, with weather braces checked, sheets eased off, and every possible studding-sail set on the weather side. The strange sail was in sight, and still ahead—a shade on the Flying Cloud's lee-bow, if anything—but the distance between the two ships had been reduced to something like nine miles. Like the Flying Cloud, the stranger was covered with canvas from her trucks down; and it was evident, from the circumstance of her still being ahead, that she was a remarkably fast vessel. Captain Blyth had been on deck from shortly after sunrise, and, notwithstanding a somewhat windy look in the sky, had himself ordered the setting of much of the additional canvas which his ship now carried. After getting matters in this direction to his mind, he had gone up into the fore-top with his telescope and spent fully half an hour there inspecting the stranger; and when he descended and met his passengers on the poop, he announced that though still too far distant to permit of actual identification, he was convinced that his first supposition was correct, and that the stranger ahead was none other than the Southern Cross.
"And he knows us, too," he added with a chuckle; "recognised us at daybreak, and at once turned-to and set his stunsails. But let him, ladies and gentlemen; we have the heels of him in this weather, and we'll be abreast of him in time to exchange numbers before sunset to- night."
In this assertion, however, Captain Blyth proved to be reckoning without his host; for as the morning wore on the breeze freshened considerably, obliging him to clew up and furl his skysails one after the other, and then his royals, which seemed to give the leading ship an advantage. For, whilst by noon the distance between the two vessels had been reduced to about seven miles, after that hour the stranger was, by the aid of Captain Blyth's sextant, conclusively proved to be holding her own. It was an exciting occasion for all hands; the passengers entering fully into the spirit of the time and exciting Captain Blyth's warmest admiration by the sympathetic interest with which they listened over and over again to his story of the long-standing rivalry existing between himself and the skipper of the Southern Cross, with its culmination in the bet of a new hat upon the result of the passage then in progress. Mr Gaunt even went so far as to unpack his own sextant—an exceptionally fine instrument—and to spend most of the time between luncheon and dinner on the topgallant forecastle, in company with the skipper, measuring the angle between the stranger's mast-heads and the horizon. Sometimes this angle grew a few seconds wider, showing the Flying Cloud to be gaining a trifle, then it lessened again; but when dinner was announced the two enthusiasts were reluctantly compelled to admit that, if gain there was on their side, it did not amount to more than a quarter of a mile.
Captain Blyth, however, though somewhat crestfallen at the non- fulfilment of his boast, was still confident in the powers of the ship; but the weather, he explained, had been rather against them that day, the wind had been just a trifle too strong for the Cloud to put out her best paces, whilst it had been all in favour of the other and more powerful ship. But the wind had continued to haul during the day, working more round upon the weather quarter with every hour that passed, and he was of opinion that they had caught the trades; the sky looked like a "trades'" sky, and, if his opinion proved correct, he anticipated that as the wind hauled further aft, so would the Flying Cloud decrease the distance between herself and her antagonist.
A MEETING IN MID-OCEAN.
Mr Bryce, the chief-mate of the Flying Cloud, was one of those unfortunate men who are always more or less in an ill humour. He was, like poor Mrs Gummidge, "contrairy," and so disputatious that it was almost impossible for anyone to make a statement that he would not either deny outright or strive to prove fallacious. He had a permanent quarrel with Fate, which he considered had not treated him in accordance with his high deserts; but as Fate was rather too intangible for him to satisfactorily vent his spleen upon it, he made his fellow creatures Fate's substitute, and never missed an opportunity to vent his spleen upon them instead. And, as he was a vulgar, surly, ill-bred fellow, he was able to make himself excessively disagreeable when he seriously set about the attempt, as he did when he discovered Captain Blyth's anxiety to overhaul the ship ahead. He did not—he dared not—set himself in opposition to the skipper, because that would have made matters unpleasant for himself; but he promptly saw that, by affecting to share the captain's anxiety, he could at one and the same time inflict great annoyance upon him and a large amount of unnecessary labour upon the crew, or at least upon that portion of it which constituted the larboard watch. Luckily for this watch it happened that they had to do deck duty only from midnight until four o'clock a.m. on this particular night, so Mr Bryce had only four hours in which to worry them. But during that four hours he did it most thoroughly. His first act on taking charge of the deck at midnight was to glance aloft, then he looked into the binnacle, after which he walked forward and had a look for the Southern Cross. That ship, or at least the ship which Captain Blyth averred to be the Southern Cross, was just discernible, a faint dark blot upon the star-lit sky; but in that imperfect light it was quite impossible to say whether she was gaining or being gained upon. The chief-mate, however, affected to believe the former, and exclaiming, loud enough for the men to hear him:
"Tut, tut, this will never do! the stranger is walking away from us, and the skipper will make a pretty fuss in the morning," he there and then began forward with the flying-jib, and made the watch sweat up every halliard throughout the ship, and the same with the sheets of the square canvas. Then, the wind having hauled still further aft, a pull was taken upon all the weather braces; the jib, staysail, and trysail sheets were next eased up a trifle; and, finally, all three skysails were set, only to be clewed up and furled again just before the expiration of the watch. This kept the men pretty busy for the greater part of their four hours on deck, highly exasperating them—which was what the mate intended to do—and producing a general fit of grumbling among them, for which he cared not one iota.
Whether Mr Bryce's excessive zeal was productive of good results or not it is scarcely possible to say—the alterations he effected in the set of the canvas were so trifling that, with the ship running off the wind, it is probable they were not—but, be this as it may, the fact remains that at daylight next morning the stranger, still ahead, had been neared to within about four miles.
Captain Blyth, as might be expected, was on deck early that morning— before, in fact, the watch had begun to wash down the decks—and, observing that the stranger was carrying skysails, he immediately ordered his own to be set, the sails, small as they were, being capable of doing good service now that the wind was so far aft. He was in the most amiable of humours; for not only was he getting a trifle the best in the race, but the look of the sky was such as to convince him that he had undoubtedly caught the north-east trades, and that he was therefore certain of a good run at least as far as the line. His enthusiasm at the breakfast-table became almost wearisome, though his passengers listened to him with the most indulgent good-nature; but it was a distinct relief to them when he rose from the table to superintend on deck the setting of the larboard studding-sails, which had now become possible through the wind drawing dead aft.
This change of wind was slightly disadvantageous to both ships, much of the fore-and-aft canvas becoming useless, whilst even the square canvas on the foremast was partially becalmed by that on the main; but it soon became evident that, relatively, the Flying Cloud was a gainer by it, the distance between the two ships now lessening perceptibly. By noon they were separated by a space of barely half a mile, by which time the identity of the stranger had been established beyond all doubt. Captain Blyth hastened, therefore, to get and work up his meridian altitude, hoisted his ensign at the peak, and, as both ships appeared to be steering admirably, proceeded to edge down within hailing distance of the Southern Cross.
By half an hour after noon the two ships were abreast of each other, and divided by a space of little more than a hundred feet of water. The passengers—of whom the Southern Cross carried twenty in her saloon— were mustered, in their fine-weather toggery, on the poops of the two ships, eyeing each other curiously at intervals, but chiefly intent upon the impending ceremony of "speaking," the two captains having established themselves in their respective mizen-rigging. At length, when the two craft were as close to each other as it was prudent to take them, Captain Blyth took off his cap, bowed, and said:
"Good-morning, Captain Spence! This is a pleasant surprise for us; we scarcely hoped to see you before reaching Melbourne. What has happened to detain you on the way?"
"Good-morning, Captain Blyth! I am very glad we have fallen in with each other so early in the voyage," answered Captain Spence. "I have been looking out for you during the last three or four days, for, with such very fine weather as we have had lately, I expected you would completely outsail us. How has the wind been with you? We have had it light and shy, so far, during the entire voyage, except for the little slant we got down channel on our first day out."
"Ah, yes!" remarked Captain Blyth; "you had the advantage of us there. We had to beat the whole way from the Foreland to the Start."
"An advantage which is more than counterbalanced by your beautiful model and your brand-new canvas," observed Spence. "Our sails are so worn and thin that we can almost see through them; the wind goes through them like water through a sieve. But I am just about to shift them for a new suit, when I hope we shall be able to keep company with you at least as far as the line, where, if, as is most probable, we fall in with calms, I hope you and your passengers will do me the favour to come on board and dine with us."
"That we will, with the greatest pleasure; and you and your passengers will, I hope, favour us with a return visit—if, when you have bent your new canvas, you do not run away from us altogether," retorted Blyth. "Meanwhile," he continued, raising his voice as the Flying Cloud drew gradually ahead of the Southern Cross, "I am afraid we must say good-bye for the present, as we seem to be slipping past you."
With this parting shot Captain Blyth again raised his cap politely, and stepped down out of the rigging on to a hen-coop, and from thence to the poop; and so the little verbal sparring match between the rival skippers ended, each flattering himself that he had had the best of it, and that he had come out well in the eyes of the little audience before which he had been performing.
One thing, however, was certain, the Southern Cross had sailed twenty- four hours before her rival, and had by that rival been overtaken and passed—fairly outsailed; and whether Captain Spence's somewhat laboured explanation of this circumstance satisfied his passengers or not, it assuredly did not satisfy himself. He was fain to confess—to himself— that the hitherto invincible Southern Cross had at length been subjected to the ignominy of defeat. The thought was unendurable; there could be no more happiness for him until the stain had been wiped from his tarnished laurels. And to do this with the least possible loss of time he at once went about the task of shifting his canvas, for which, as the ship was now running dead before the wind, he could not have a better opportunity. It was a heavy task, and all hands were set to work upon it, the steerage passengers—ay, and some of the gentlemen in the saloon also—so far identifying their own interests with that of the ship as to volunteer their services in the pulling and hauling part of the work, which enabled the skipper to send two strong gangs aloft. But it was all of no use—just then, at least. The fact was that the older suit of canvas was not nearly so unserviceable as Captain Spence chose to consider it, and the substitution of the new suit was therefore without appreciable effect—the result being that when night closed down upon the little comedy the people on board the Southern Cross had the mortification of seeing the rival ship hovering on the very verge of the horizon ahead of them.
On board the Flying Cloud, on the other hand, apart from her commander there was no very great amount of enthusiasm. The passengers were merely placidly satisfied at having outsailed a notoriously fast vessel; whilst the mates and crew were, or affected to be, supremely indifferent to the circumstance. Captain Blyth, however, made ample amends in his own person for the indifference of everybody else. He was simply exultant. Whatever might happen in the future, nothing could rob him of the right to boast that he had beaten the Southern Cross in a fair trial of sailing, with the two ships side by side. And with regard to the future, also, he was tolerably sanguine. It had been conclusively demonstrated that the Flying Cloud was the faster ship of the two before the wind and in ordinary trades weather, which weather he could now depend upon until he reached the region of the calms about the line; and it was also possible that, walking away from the Southern Cross at his present rate, he might get a slant across the calm belt which the other ship would miss, and a consequent start from thence into the south-east trades of nobody could say how many days. And if the worst came to the worst and he were overtaken in the calm belt, the two ships would at least make a fair start of it again from the line, when he was not without hopes that the extraordinary weatherliness of his own ship would enable him to keep the advantage already won. So that, looking at the matter in all its bearings, he was not only fully satisfied with the past and present, but hopeful for the future. At the same time, knowing by his recent experience how hard a ship to beat was the Southern Cross, he fully realised that he must neglect no means within his power to secure to himself the victory. Nor did he. Had his life and fortune both been staked on the result of the race, he could scarcely have manifested more eagerness. Indeed, he rather overdid it, imperilling his spars by carrying a heavy press of canvas up to the last moment possible; which, as the north-east trades happened to be blowing rather fresh, involved a great deal of clewing up, hauling down, furling, and subsequently re-setting of his lighter sails, and a consequent amount of extra work for the crew which was anything but to their taste.