OR, THE AFRICAN QUADROON A STORY OF THE SLAVE COAST.
BY LIEUTENANT MURRAY.
I. OUTWARD BOUND. II. CAPTAIN WILL RATLIN. III. THE GALE. IV. BRAMBLE PARK. V. THE NAVAL OFFICER. VI. THE WRECK. VII. THE SEA WITCH. VIII. THE QUADROON. IX. THE ATTACK. X. THE DUEL. XI. THE HUES OF LOVE. XII. THE CONFLICT. XIII. THE TRIAL. XIV. THE BROTHERS. XV. THE ESCAPE. XVI. THE CANNIBALS. XVII. THE POISONED BARB. XVIII. THE DENOUEMENT.
LA TARANTULA. BY GIDDINGS H. BALLOU. THE GOLDSMITH OF PARIS. BY H. W. LORING. MISS HENDERSON'S THANKSGIVING DAY. BY HORATIO ALGER, JR. THE FIREMAN. BY MISS M. C. MONTAIGNE.
LET the reader peruse the following story with the same spirit in which it was written, and not conceive that it is either a pro-slavery or anti-slavery tale. The "peculiar institution" which is herein introduced, is brought forward simply as an auxiliary, and not as a feature of the story. It is only referred to where the plot and locality upon the slave coast have rendered this necessary, and the careful reader will observe that the subject is treated with entire impartiality. These few remarks are introduced, because we desire to appear consistent. Our paper shall neither directly nor indirectly further any sectional policy or doctrine, and in its conduct shall be neutral, free and independent.—Editor of The Flag of our Union.
OUR story opens in that broad, far-reaching expanse of water which lies deep and blue between the two hemispheres, some fifteen degrees north of the equator, in the latitude of Cuba and the Cape Verd Islands. The delightful trade winds had not fanned the sea on a finer summer's day for a twelvemonth, and the waves were daintily swelling upon the heaving bosom of the deep, as though indicating the respiration of the ocean. It was scarcely a day's sail beyond the flow of the Caribbean Sea, that one of those noblest results of man's handiwork, a fine ship, might have been seen gracefully ploughing her course through the sky-blue waters of the Atlantic. She was close-hauled on the larboard tack, steering east-southeast, and to a sailor's eye presented a certain indescribable something that gave her taut rig and saucy air a dash of mystery, which would have set him to speculating at once as to her character and the trade she followed.
Few things can be named that more potently challenge our admiration than a full-sized ship under way; her myriad of ropes, sails and appointments, all so complete and well-controlled, the power of her volition, the promptness with which she obeys the slightest movement of the helm, the majestic grace of her inclination to the power of the winds, and the foaming prow and long glistening wake, all go to make up the charm and peculiarity of a nautical picture. There is true poetry in such a scene as this, beauty fit to move the heart of an anchorite. No wonder the sailor loves his ship like a mistress; no wonder he discourses of her charms with the eloquence of true love and confiding trust; no landsman can be more enamored of his promised bride.
But the craft to which we especially refer at the present writing, was a coquette of the first class, beautiful in the extreme, and richly meriting the name that her owners had placed in golden letters on her stern—the "Sea Witch." She was one of that class of vessels known as flat upon the floor, a model that caused her to draw but little water, and enabled her to run free over a sandbar or into an inlet, where an ordinary ship's long boat would have grounded. She was very long and sharp, with graceful concave lines, and might have measured some five hundred tons. Speed had evidently been the main object aimed at in her construction, the flatness of her floor giving her great buoyancy, and her length ensuring fleetness. These were points that would at once have struck a sailor's eye, as he beheld the ship bowling gracefully on her course by the power of the trade winds that so constantly befriend the mariners in these latitudes.
We have said that the "Sea Witch" was of peculiar model, and so indeed she was. Contrary to the usual rig of what are called clipper ships, her masts, instead of raking, were perfectly upright, for the purpose of enabling her to carry more press of sail when need be, and to hold on longer when speed should be of vital importance—that the straighter construction of the masts furthers this object, is a fact long since proven in naval architecture. She was very low, too, in her rigging, having tremendous square yards; enabling the canvass to act more immediately upon the hull, instead of operating as a lever aloft, and keeping the ship constantly off an even keel. Though low in the waist, yet her ends rose gracefully in a curve towards the terminations fore and aft, making her very dry on either the quarter-deck or forecastle. She might have numbered fifty men for her crew, and if you had looked in board over her bulwarks you would have seen that her complement was made up of men. There were none there but real able-bodied seamen—sea dogs, who had roughed it in all weather, and on all sorts of allowance.
There was a quiet and orderly mien about the deck and among the watch, that spoke of the silent yet potent arm of authority. The men spoke to each other now and then, but it was in an under tone, and there was no open levity. A few men were lounging about the heel of the bowsprit on the forecastle, one or two were busy in the waist coiling cable; an officer of second or third caste a quiet, but decided character, to judge from his features, stood with folded arms just abaft the mizzen-mast, and a youthful figure, almost too young seemingly for so responsible a post, leaned idly against the monkey-rail, near the sage old tar who was at the helm. At first you might have supposed him a supercargo, an owner's son as passenger, or something of that sort, from the quite-at-home air he exhibited; but now and then he cast one of those searching and understanding glances aloft and fore and aft, taking in the whole range of the ship's trim, and the way she did her duty, that you realized at once the fact of his position; and you could not mistake the fact that he was her commander.
He wore a glazed tarpaulin hat of coarse texture, and his dress was of little better material than that of the crew he commanded, but it set it somehow quite jauntily upon his fine, well-developed form, and there was an unmistakable air of conscious authority about him that showed him to be no stranger to control, or the position which he filled. The hair, escaping in glossy curls from beneath his hat, added to a set of very regular features a fine effect, while a clear, full blue eye, and an open, ingenuous expression of countenance, told of manliness of heart and chivalric hardihood of character. Exposure to the elements had bronzed his skin, but there were no wrinkles there, and Captain Will Ratlin could not have seen more than two and twenty years, though most of them had doubtless been passed upon the ocean, for his well-knit form showed him to be one thoroughly inured to service.
"She does her work daintily, Captain Ratlin," said he who was evidently an officer, and who had been standing by the mainmast, but now walked aft.
"Yes, Mr. Faulkner, 'daintily' is the word. I wish our beauty could be a little more spunky, time is money in our business, sir," was the prompt reply.
"But the willing craft does all she can, sir."
"I don't know, Mr. Faulkner, we can make her do almost anything."
"But talk," added the mate.
"Ay, she will do that in her own way, and eloquently, too," continued his superior.
"In coming out of Matanzas, when you made her back and fill like a saddle horse, I thought she was little less than a human being," said the mate, honestly.
"She minds her helm like a beauty, and feels the slightest pull upon her sheets."
"I never saw a vessel lie closer to the wind," said the mate; "she eats right into it, and yet has not shaken a foot of canvass this half hour."
"That is well."
"It's uncommon, sir," continued the other.
"She must and can do better, though," said the young commander, with an air of slight impatience. "Call the watch below, Mr. Faulkner, we will treat our mistress to a new dress this bright day, and flatter her pride a little; she is of the coquette school, and will bear a little dalliance."
"Ay, ay, sir," responded the officer, without further parley, walking forward to the fore hatch, and with a few quick blows with a handspike, and a clear call, he summoned that portion of the crew whose hours of release from duty permitted them below. The signal rang sharply through the ship, and caused an instant response.
A score of dark forms issued forth from the forecastle, embracing representatives from nearly half the nations of the globe; but they were sturdy sailors, and used to obey the word of command, men to be relied upon in an emergency, rough in exterior, but within either soft as women or hard as steel, according to the occasion.
Now it was that an observer not conversant with the "Sea Witch," and looking at her from a distance, would have naturally concluded that she was most appropriately named, for how else could her singular manouvres and the result that followed be explained? Suddenly the mizzen royal disappeared, followed by the top-gallant sail, topsail, and cross-jack courses, seeming to melt away under the eye like a misty veil, while, almost in a moment of time, there appeared a spanker, gaff topsail and gaff top-gallantsail in their place, while the vessel still held on her course.
A moment later, and the royal top-gallantsail, topsail and mainsail disappear from the main mast, upon which appears a regular fore and aft suit of canvass, consisting of mainsail, gaff topsail, and gaff top-gallantsail, reducing the vessel to a square rig forward, and a plain fore and aft rig aft. A few minutes more, and the foremast passed through the same metamorphose, leaving the "Sea Witch" a three-masted schooner, with fore and aft sails on every mast and every stay. All this had been accomplished with a celerity that showed the crew to be no strangers to the manouvres through which they had just passed, each man requiring to work with marked intelligence. Fifty well drilled men, thorough sea dogs, can turn a five hundred ton ship "inside out," if the controlling mind understands his position on the quarter-deck.
"She wears that dress as though it suited her taste exactly, Mr. Faulkner," said the captain, running his eye over the vessel, and glancing over the side to mark her headway.
"Any rig becomes the 'Sea Witch,'" answered the officer, with evident pride.
"That is true," returned the captain. "Luff, sir, luff a bit, so, well," he continued to the man at the helm; "we will have all of her weatherly points that site will give."
"The wind is rather more unsteady than it was an hour past," said Mr. Faulkner.
"Rather puffy, and twice I thought it would haul right about, but here we have it still from the north'rd and east'rd," replied the captain.
"Here it is again," added the mate, as the wind hauled once more.
The immediate object of the change in the vessel's rig, which we have described, was at once apparent, enabling the vessel to lie nearer the wind in her course, as well its giving her increased velocity by bringing more canvass to draw than a square rig could do when close hauled. But a shrewd observer would have been led to ask, what other reason, save that of disguise, could have been the actuating motive in thus giving to the "Sea Witch" a double character in her rig? For though temporary and somewhat important advantage could at times be thus gained, as we have seen, yet such an object alone would not have warranted the increased outlay that was necessarily incurred, to say nothing of the imperative necessity of a vessel's being very strongly manned in order to enable her to thus change her entire aspect with any ordinary degree of celerity, and as had just been accomplished.
CAPTAIN WILL RATLIN.
THE watch below, after completing the work which had summoned them for the time being on deck, tumbled helter-skelter down the fore hatch once more, and left on the deck of the "Sea Witch" about a dozen able seamen who formed the watch upon deck. A number of these were now gathered in a knot on the forecastle, and while they were sitting cross-legged, picking old rope, and preparing it in suitable form for caulking the ship's seams, one of their number was spinning a yarn, the hero of which was evidently him who now filled the post of commander on board their vessel. The object of their remarks, meanwhile, stood once more quietly leaning over the monkey-rail on the weather side of the quarter-deck, quite unconscious that he was supplying a theme of entertainment to the forecastle.
There was an absent expression in his handsome face, a look as though his heart was far distant from the scene about him, and yet a habit of watchful caution seemed ever and anon to recall his senses, and his quick, keen glance would run over the craft from stem to stern with a searching and comprehensive power that showed him master of his profession, and worthy his trust. Trust?—what was the trust he held? Surely, no legitimate commerce could warrant the outfit of such a vessel as he controlled. A man-of-war could hardly have been more fully equipped with means of offence and defence. Amidship, beneath that long boat, was a long, heavy metalled gun that worked on a traverse, and which could command nearly every point of the compass, while the ship kept her course. Just inside the rise of the low quarter-deck—the cabin being entered from the deck by the descent of a couple of steps—there were ranged boarding pikes, muskets, cutlasses and pistols, ready for instant use. In shape they formed stars, hearts and diamonds, dangerous but fantastic ornaments.
The brightness of these arms, and the handy way in which they were arranged in the sockets made to receive them, showed at once that they were designed for use, while the various other fixtures of the cabin and docks plainly bespoke preparation for conflict. A strong and lofty boarding-netting being stowed, also, told of the readiness of the "Sea Witch" to repel boarders. That all these preparations had been made merely as ordinary precautions in a peaceful trade was by no means probable; and yet there they were, and there stood the bright-eyed, handsome and youthful commander upon the quarter-deck, but he did not look the desperado—such a term would have poorly accorded with his open and manly countenance, hie quiet and gentlemanly mien. A pirate would hardly have dared to lay the course he steered in these latitudes, where an English or French cruiser was very likely to cross his track.
"He handles a ship as prettily as ever a true blue did yet," said one of the forecastle group, in replying to some remark of a comrade concerning the commander.
"That's true," answered another; "he seems to have a sort of natural way with him, as though he'd been born aboard and never seed the land at all; and as to that matter, there may be them on board who say as much of him."
"That isn't far from the truth," answered Bill Marline, "seein' he started so arly on the sea he can't tell when he wasn't there himself."
"How was that matter, Bill?" asked one of his messmates. "They say you have kept the captain's reckoning, man and boy, these fifteen years."
"That have I, and never a truer heart floated than the man you see yonder leaning over the rail on the quarterdeck, where he belongs," answered Bill Marline.
"How did you first fall in with him, Bill?—Tell us that," said one of the crew.
"Well, do ye see, messmates, it must have been the matter of thirteen years ago, there or thereabouts, but I can't exactly say, seeing's I never have kept a log and can't write; but must have been about that length of time, when I was a foremast hand on board the 'Sea Lion,' as fine an Indiaman as you would wish to see. We were lying in the Liverpool docks, with sails bent and cargo stowed, under sailing orders, when one afternoon there strolled alongside a boy rather ragged and dirty, but with such eyes and such a countenance as would make him a passport anywhere. Well, do ye see, we were lazing away time on board, and waiting the captain's coming before we hauled out into the stream, and so we coaxed the lad aboard. He either didn't know where he came from or wouldn't tell, and when we proposed to take him to sea with us, he readily agreed, and sure enough he sailed in the 'Sea Lion.'"
"Well, heave ahead, Bill," said one of the group, as the narrator stopped to stove a fresh instalment of the Virginia weed in his larboard cheek.
"We hadn't got fairly clear of the channel," continued Bill Marline, "before the boy had become a general favorite all over the ship. We washed him up and bent on a new suit of toggery on him, with a reg'lar tarpaulin, and there was almost a fight whether the forecastle or the cabin should have him. At last it was left to the boy himself, and he chose to remain with us in the forecastle. The boy wasn't sick an hour on the passage until after we left the Cape of Good Hope, when the flag halliards getting fouled, he was sent up to the peak to loosen it, and by some lurch of the ship was throw upon deck. Why it didn't kill him was the wonder of all, but the boy was crazy for near a month from the blow on his head, which he got in falling, but he gradually got cured under our captain's care.
"Well, do ye see, our captain was a regular whole-souled fellow, though he did sometimes work up a hand's old iron pretty close for him, and so he took the boy into the cabin and gave him a berth alongside his own, and as he grew better took to teaching him the use of his instruments, and mathematics, and the like. The boy they said was wonderful ready, and learned like a book, and could take the sun and work up the ship's course as well as the captain; but what was the funniest of all was that, after he got well, he didn't know one of us, he had forgotten or even how he came on board the ship, the injury had put such a stopper on his brain that he had forgotten all that ever occurred before it. To my mind, howdsomever, it wasn't much to forget, seeing he was little better than a baby, and hadn't been to sea at all, and you know there aint anything worth knowing on shore, more'n one can overhaul in a day's leave, more or less, within hail of the sea."
"That's true," growled one or two of his messmates.
"Our ship was a first class freighter and passage vessel, and on the home voyage we had plenty of ladies. 'Twas surprisin' to see how natural like the boy took to 'em, and how they all liked him. He was constantly learning something, and soon got so he could parley vou like a real frog-eating Frenchman. And then, as I said before, he took the sun and worked up the the ship's reckoning like a commodore. Well, do ye se, messmates, we made a second and third voyage together in that ship, and when master Will Ratlin—for that was a name we give him when he first came on board, and he's kept it ever since—was a matter of fourteen years, he was nearly as big as he is now, and acted as mate, and through I say it, who ought to know somewhat about those things, I never seed a better seaman of twice his years, always savin' present company, messmates."
"In course, Bill," growled three or four of his messmates, heartily.
"Well, do ye see, messmates, we continued together in the same ship for the matter of five years, and then master Will and I shipped in another Indiaman, and we were in the 'Birmingham' for three years or more. One day we lay off the Cape on the home passage, and a half dozen of us got shore leave for a few hours, and I among the rest, and somehow I got rather more grog aboard than I could stow, and when I came off, the captain swore at me like a pirate, and after I got sober triced me up to the main rigging for a round dozen. When all hands were called to witness punishment, shiver my timbers, if master Will Ratlin, who was the first mate, didn't walk boldly up to the captain, and say, blunt and honest:
"'Captain Brace, Marline is an old and favorite seaman, and if you will let this offence pass without further punishment, I will answer for his future good behaviour, at all times. I ask it, sir, as a personal favor.'
"'But discipline, discipline must be observed, Mr. Ratlin.'
"'I acknowledge he's in fault, sir,' said our mate.
"'And deserves the punishment,' said the captain.
"'I fear he does, sir; but yet I can't bear to see a good seaman flogged, said the mate, apologetically.
"'Nor I either,' said the captain; 'but Bill Marline deserves the cat, though as you make it a personal matter, why I'll let him off this time, Mr. Ratlin.'
"The captain didn't wish to let me go, but he said he wished to gratify his mate, and so I was cast loose, and after a broadside of advice, and a hurricane of oaths, was turned over to duty again. I didn't forget that favor, messmates, and sink me if I wouldn't go to the bottom to serve him any time. He commanded a brig in the South American trade after that, and would have made a mate of me, but somehow I've got a weakness for grog that isn't very safe, and so he knows 'twont do. You see him there now, messmates, as calm as a lady; but he's awake when there's need of it. The man don't live that can handle a ship better than he; and as for fighting, do ye see, messmates, we were running on this here same tack, just off the—but avast upon that, I haven't any more to say, messmates," said the speaker, demurely.
Bill Marline evidently found himself treading upon dangerous ground, and wisely cut short his yarn, thereby creating a vast amount of curiosity among his messmates, but he sternly refused to speak further upon the subject. Either his commander had prohibited him, or he found that by speaking he should in some way compromise the credit or honor of one upon whom he evidently looked as being little less than one of a superior order of beings to himself.
"But what do you bring up so sudden for? Pay out, old fellow, there's plenty of sea-room, and no land-sharks to fear," said one of the group, encouragingly.
"Never you mind, messmates, there's nothing like keeping a civil tongue in your head, especially being quiet about other people's business," added Bill.
"What think you, Bill, of this present vocation, eh?" asked another companion.
"I shipped for six months, that's all I know, and no questions asked. I understand very well that Captain Ratlin wouldn't ship me where he wouldn't go himself."
"Well, do you see, Bill, most of us are new on board here, though we have knocked about long enough to get the number of our mess and to work ship together, and don't perhaps feel so well satisfied as you do."
"Why, look ye, messmates, arnt you satisfied so long as the articles you signed are kept by captain and crew?" asked Bill Marline, somewhat tartly.
"Why, yes, as to that matter; but where are we bound, Bill?" asked the other.
"Any boy in the ship can make out the 'Sea Witch's' course," said the old tar, evasively. "We're in these here Northern Trades, close-hauled, and heading, according to my reckoning, due east, and any man who has stood his trick at the wheel of a ship, knows that such a course steered from the West Indies will, if well followed, run down the Cape Verds; that's all I know."
"Port Praya and a port; that was in the articles sure enough," answered he who had questioned Bill Marline; "but the 'Sea Witch' will scarce anchor there before she is off again, according to my reckoning."
That the old tar knew more than he chose to divulge, however, was apparent to his comrades, but they knew him to be fixed when he chose, and so did not endeavor by importunity to gather anything further from him; so the conversation gradually changed into some other channel.
In the meantime, while the crew gathered about Bill Marline were thus speculating, the vessel bowled along gracefully, with a speed that was in itself exhilarating to her young commander, who still gazed idly at the passing current. Once or twice a slight frown clouded his features, and his lips moved as though he was striving within himself either against real or imaginary evil, and then the same calm, placid manliness of countenance radiated his handsome features, and his lips were composed.
Now he turned to issue some necessary order, which was uttered in that calm, manly distinctness that challenges obedience, and then he resumed his idle gaze over the vessel's side, once more losing himself in his day dream.
"THE Wind seems to be hauling," said the mate, walking aft, and addressing his superior.
"Keep her a good full," said the captain, to the man at the helm.
"Ay, ay, sir," said the old tar, as he tried to make the sails draw by altering the vessel's course a point or two more free.
"Here it is, sure enough," said the captain, "from the southwest. Up with the men forward once more, Mr. Faulkner!—we must humor our beauty."
"All hands oil deck!" shouted the mate at the hatch—an order which as before was perfectly obeyed.
Almost as quickly as the foremast had been stripped of the square rig it had at first borne, it was once more clothed again with its topsail and mainsail, and in less than fifteen minutes the "Sea Witch" was under a cloud of canvass, with studd'nsails out on both sides, while the fore and aft sails on the main and mizzen were boomed out wing and wing dead before the wind. The staysails and jibs were hauled down now as useless, and the vessel flew like a courser. The change of wind had brought the sea up, and the vessel had a gradual roll, causing the waves now and then to come gracefully in over the waist, while the extreme fore and aft parts of the handsome craft were perfectly dry.
"It has set her to waltzing, Mr. Faulkner," said his superior; "but she improves her speed upon to it, and I think the breeze freshens from this new quarter."
"Yes, sir. Do you see the long bank of white hereaway to the south-southwest; it looks like a fog bank, but may be a squall," said the mate.
"There are few squalls in these latitudes, Mr. Faulkner, and yet I don't like the looks of the weather in the southern board," said the captain, as he gazed to windward, with a quick, searching glance.
While he spoke, the wind came fresher and fresher, and now and then a damp puff and lull, that were too significant tokens for a seaman to disregard. Captain Ratlin jumped upon the inner braces of the taffrail, and shading his eyes with his hands for a moment, looked steadily to windward, then glanced at his well-filled sails as though he was loth to lose even a minute of such a fair wind. He delayed, however, but a second, when jumping down to the deck again, he issued his orders in those brief but significant tones of voice, which at the same time imparts promptness and confidence in a waiting crew on shipboard.
"In studd'nsails, gaff-topsails, fore royal and top-gallantsails, with a will, men, cheerily, cheerily O!"
These were tones that the crew of the "Sea Witch" were no strangers to, and sounds they loved, for they betokened a thorough and complete feeling of confidence between commander and men, and they worked with spirit.
"Lay aft here, and brail the spanker up!" continued the captain, promptly.
"Ay, ay, sir!" was the response of a half dozen ready hands, as they sprang to do his bidding.
The vessel was thus, by the consummation of these orders, quickly reduced to her mainsail, foresail, and foretopsail, while she flew before the on-coming gale at the rate of seventeen or eighteen knots an hour, being actually much faster than the sea. It was now evident to every one on board that a severe gale of wind was gathering, and its force was momentarily more powerfully exercised upon the vessel.
"She staggers under it, Mr. Faulkner," said his superior, with a calmness that evinced perfect self-reliance and coolness, while he regarded the increasing gale.
"Ay, sir, you can drive her at almost any speed," answered the mate. "She's like a mettled courser, sir, and loves the fleet track."
"Scud while you can, Mr. Faulkner, it's a true nautical rule. Some men will always heave a ship to if there is a cap fill of—"
"Double-reef the mainsail!" shouted the captain, interrupting himself, to give an order that he saw was imperative.
"—Wind, but I believe in scudding, if you can," he added.
"Double-reef foretopsail! and look ye, Mr. Faulkner, have presenter sheets bent on the foresail, this wind is in earnest," said his superior, more seriously, as he jumped into the mizzen shrouds and scanned the sea to windward again.
The gale still increased, and everything being now made snug on board the "Sea Witch," she was run before it with almost incredible speed. It would have been a study to have regarded the calm self-possession and complete coolness of the young commander during this startling gale; he never once left his post, every inch of the vessel seemed under his eye, and not the least trifle of duty was for a moment forgotten. If possible, he was more particular than usual that his orders in the smallest item were strictly observed, and thus with his iron will and strong intelligence he mastered every contingency of the hour, imparting that indispensable confidence among his people so requisite to perfect control. There was a firmness now expressed in the compressed lips, and a sternness in the eye, that had not before been manifested, while there was a breathing of authority in his smallest order.
In an instant more the scene was changed! With terrific violence the vessel flew up in the wind with the rapidity of thought, and a report like that of a score of cannons fired at the same moment, was heard above the roar of the winds.
"What lubberly trick is this?" shouted the captain, fiercely, to the old tar who held his station at the wheel, and on whose faithfulness everything depended.
"The wheel rope has parted on the larboard side, your honor," was the reply.
"That is no man's fault," said his commander. "Bear a hand here, Mr. Faulkner, and bend on a fresh wheel rope. Be lively; sir, be lively!"
The sails had been blown from the bolt-ropes, in an instant of time, and the vessel now lay wallowing in the sea. Now once more was seen the power of discipline and the coolness of the young commander, whose word was law in that floating community. Fifty voices were raised in shouts above the storm, suggesting this expedient and that, but that agile figure, which we have already described, sprang lightly into the mizzen shrouds, and with a voice that was heard by every soul on board the "Sea Witch," shouted sternly:
"Silence in the ship!"
Not a voice was heard, and every man quietly awaited his order, looking abashed that there had been a tongue heard save his who had the right alone to speak.
"Cast the gasket off the foot of the fore and aft foresail."
"Ay, ay, sir!" responded the mate, who having secured the rudder, now hastened by his commander, followed by a dozen hands, to execute the order.
"Haul the sheet to port!"
"Ay, ay, sir!"
As the vessel felt the power of the canvass thus opportunely loosed and brought to bear, she gradually paid off before the wind, and once more had steerage way. Another foresail was now bent, and this time double-reefed, the foretopsail, too, was bent, close-reefed and furled, while the fore and aft foresail was once more stowed, leaving the "Sea Witch" to scud under double-reefed foresail.
Five days of steady blow continued before the vessel could again show more than a small portion of her canvass. Then the wind once more hauled to the northwest, and the "Sea Witch" donned heir fore and aft rig on all her masts steering close-hauled again due cast, until the lofty headlands of the Cape de Verds hove gradually in sight, and the fleet clipper craft made her anchorage in the harbor of Port Praya.
The "Sea Witch," whatever her business in this harbor, seemed able to transact it without venturing inside the forts, or taking stronger moorings than a single anchor could afford her. At this she rode with mysterious quiet. Not a soul of the full complement of men on board were visible from the shore; now and then perhaps the head of some taller hand than his fellows might loom up above the bulwarks at the waist, or a solitary seaman creep quietly aloft to reave a sheet through some block, or secure some portion of the rigging. The captain scarcely waited for his land-tackle to hold the vessel before a quarter-boat was lowered away, and with a half-dozen sturdy fellows as its crew pulled boldly towards the main landing, where he stepped ashore and disappeared.
A suspicious eye would have marked the manner in which the sails upon the "Sea Witch" had been secured, and the way in which she was moored. If need be, three minutes would have covered her with canvass, and slipping her cable she could in that space of time, had the order been issued from her quarter deck, have been under way and looking once more seaward. Whatever her business, it was very clear that promptness, secrecy, and large precaution were elements of its success.
Nor had these characteristics, which we have named, escaped entire observation of the people on shore, for at the nearest point of land a group of idlers were visible, who stood gazing at and discussing the character of the vessel, while at the same moment her young commander was seen with his boat's crew pulling back from the landing to his craft. His business was brief enough, for even now the anchor is once more away. The gallant ship spreads her broad wings one by one, and gracefully bending to the power of the breeze, glides, like a fleet courser, over the fathomless depths of the sea, while the mind that controls her motions again assumes his reverie on the quarter-deck.
CHANGING the field of our story from the blue waves to that of land, we must ask the reader to go back with us for a period of years from that wherein our story has opened, to the fertile country and highly-cultivated lands in the neighborhood of Manchester, England. Sir Robert Bramble's estate was some eight miles from the large manufacturing town just named, and embraced within its grounds some of the most delightfully situated spots within a day's ride in any direction. Parks, gardens, ponds, groves, stables and fine animals; in short, every accompaniment to a fine English estate. Sir Robert was a man of not much force of character, had inherited his estates, and had partly exhausted his income so far as to render a degree of economy imperatively necessary, a fact which was not calculated to render any more amiable a naturally irritable disposition.
The family at Bramble Park, as the estate was called, consisted of Sir Robert and his lady, a weak-minded, but once beautiful woman, and two sons, Robert and Charles, the eldest at this period some twelve years of age, the youngest about nine; the usual number of servants, in doors and out; made up the household. Sir Robert's could hardly be said to be a very happy household, notwithstanding there seemed to be every element and requisite to be found there for peaceful domestic happiness; and perhaps it would have puzzled a casual observer to have ascertained wherein laid the root of that evil, which, like a poisonous upas, seemed to spread its branches through the household.
There was a cloud apparently shadowing each face there; there was constantly some trouble of a domestic character. Sir Robert and Lady Bramble seemed to be not on the best of terms with each other, and the servants wore a hang-dog look, as though they expected at any moment to be called to account for some piece of rascality. There was, however, one pleasant face in that household, though even that seemed tempered by sadness; this was the youngest brother, Charles. He was, or rather would have been, a cheerful, happy boy, but for the malign influence of his brother Robert, who seemed his opposite in almost everything. Robert was jealous, irritable and revengeful; Charles was open-hearted, mild and forgiving. Robert was cruel to both servants and animals; Charles was kind to all, and a favorite with all; even the dumb animals avoided one and adhered to the other, instinctively knowing a friend.
Robert was the first born and the favorite with his mother, whom he ruled literally in all things, while Sir Robert, looking upon him as the legal heir and representative of his name, of course considered him in a somewhat different light from that in which he regarded Charles. At times it seemed as though an evil spirit had taken possession of Robert's heart, and he delighted in oppressing, domineering over and abusing his brother, who, though he did not lack for spirit, yet could never bring it to bear against Robert. He meekly bore his reproaches and abuse, and even at times had suffered personal chastisement at his hands without complaint to his parents, rather than irritate both them and himself by referring to so disagreeable a matter. With a naturally patient disposition, he suffered much without complaint.
Sir Robert and Lady Bramble seemed blind to the fact that the unbounded indulgence which they yielded to their eldest child was rendering still worse a disposition and habit which were already an affliction in themselves. But Robert was persevering, and would always carry his point, let it be what it might, teasing and cajoling the mother until she granted his wishes however absurd they might be. He domineered over every one, mother, father, servant maids and servant men; he was the terror of all.
Charles added to his light-heartedness and cheerfulness of spirit, great agility, and for a boy of his age, remarkable strength, in which matters Robert was deficient, and here his jealousy found ample scope. Charles, too, was remarkably apt with his studies, whereas Robert generally ended his lessons by quarrelling with his tutor, and setting both father and mother against him, by which reason the worthy who filled that post at Bramble Park was usually changed at least once in six or eight weeks, and thus were matters at the period to which we refer. It seemed as though Robert was never happy unless he was doing some one harm, or distressing some of the many pet animals about the spacious grounds; in this latter occupation he passed much of his leisure time, and was a great adept at the business.
A fine St. Charles spaniel, belonging to Lady Bramble, had one day, after being teased beyond forbearance by Robert, at last in self-defence, snapped at and lightly bit him, in revenge for which the violent tempered boy vowed to kill him, and the very next opportunity he had, he seized upon the little pet, and tying a string and stone about its neck, bore the dog to the large pond in the centre of the part, where he threw him into the deepest part. Charles at that moment came in sight, and at once saw the act. Without pausing to take off his clothes or any part of them, he sprang at once into the pond and dove down for the dog; but he found the stone about its neck too heavy for him to bring to the surface, though he struggled long and stoutly to do so before he yielded.
Swimming to the shore, Charles took his knife from his pocket, and once more dashed in; and this time diving down he cut the cord, and releasing the dog from the bottom swam with him to the opposite shore from where Robert stood, all the while threatening him. Here his younger brother smoothed the water from the dog's coat, and instinctively rubbing its benumbed limbs until it became quite resuscitated, and after a short time, following close to Charles for protection, it returned to his mother's side in her boudoir. But Robert had been there before him, and had already manufactured a story redounding to Charles's discredit, and provoking both his mother's and father's anger, the latter of whom at Robert's instance, even struck the gallant-hearted boy a severe blow with the flat of his hand as a punishment for what he denominated an interference with his brother's sport.
Charles said nothing; he knew the prejudice which Robert's constant misrepresentations had created against him in his parents' breasts; he realized too, young as he was, that it was useless for him to attempt to explain, though he felt the injustice of this treatment; and so with a quivering lip he turned away from the scene and went in his wet clothes to the servants' hall where he might dry them. He said nothing, but looked much sadder than usual as he stood there before the fire. A coarse but honest servant, Leonard Hust, who had been born on the estate, and whose father before him had been a servant in Sir Robert's household, came stealthily to Charles's side and busied himself in helping him to arrange his clothes and dry them, while he smoothed the boy's hair and wiped his face.
"Never mind, master Charles," said the honest fellow, noticing the trembling lips of the handsome boy; "never mind, it's a gallant act in you, and though I say it, who shouldn't, perhaps, master Robert never would have dared to do it; he hasn't got half your courage and strength, though he's bigger and older."
A tear was all the answer that the boy vouchsafed to his honest effort at consolation. He too proud to make a confidant of the servant, or to confide to him of his father's conduct, or even that of Robert. Leonard Hust watched the boy carefully, and entered keenly into his feelings, until at last he said:
"I wasn't the only one who saw you save her ladyship's pet, master Charles."
"It wasn't father or mother that saw it?" asked Charles, quickly, as he recalled the injustice he had just experienced at their hands, under Robert's prompting.
"No, master Charles."
"Was it cousin Helen?" continued the boy.
"Yes, master Charles," answered Leonard Hust, with a knowing smile.
"O," said the boy, as a glow of pleasure lit up his features for a moment.
It was evident that the knowledge of the said cousin Helen's having seen his exertions to save the little favorite spaniel, gave Charles not a little satisfaction. Now cousin Helen—as a little blue-eyed child of eight years, the daughter of the family whose estate joined that of Bramble Park, was called—was no cousin at all, but the children had thus nicknamed each other, and they were most happy playmates together. Robert, who was three years his brother's senior, was more fond of little Helen than of anybody else; indeed, in spite of his ill temper, he was wont to try and please her at any cost. But the child, who was as beautiful as a little fairy, did not respond at all to his advances of friendship, while to Charles she was all tenderness and confiding in everything, kissing him with childish fervor and truth whenever they parted, a familiarity she never permitted to his brother.
The truth was, Robert to his great discomfiture, was aware that Charles's manly and courageous act of saving the dog had been witnessed by Helen, though his brother knew it not until told by Leonard Hust. This had aggravated Robert so much that he had hastened home, and fabricating a story of Charles having thrown the dog into the pond, and wet himself completely, preparing his parents for a rough reception of his brother when he should return, and hence the treatment he received. Leonard made his young master change his clothes, and after making him comfortable, left him to amuse himself in the open park with his ball, where the light-hearted Charles was soon thoughtlessly happy, and forgetful of the unkindness of Robert and the injustice of his parents. So light are the cares and mishaps of youth, so easily forgotten are its hardships, either seeming or real. Happy childhood!
Whether little cousin Helen had been on the watch for Charley, or whether she was there by accident, it matters not, suffice it to say that the two soon met in their headlong career of fun and frolic, and two more joyous or merry spirits never met on the soft green sward than these. Now they tire of the play at ball and sit down together close by the brink of the clear, deep pond, next the rich flower beds that shed their grateful fragrance around the spot. Cousin Helen, still panting from the exertion of the play, looked thoughtfully into the almost transparent water, and involuntarily heaved a sigh that did not escape her companion's notice.
"Art sick, cousin Helen?" asked Charles, quickly.
"Nay, not I," said the pleasant-voiced child, "not I, Charley."
"But you sighed as though you were very tired or in pain," he continued.
"Did I?" said the child, thoughtfully; "well, I believe I did."
"And what for, cousin Helen?" said Charles, tenderly, parting her natural ringlets back from her beautiful and radiant face—doubly radiant now as she looked up into his, so confidingly and so affectionately.
"I was thinking," she said, ingenuously, "how cruel Robert was to your mother's pet. I don't see how he could do such a thing, do you, Charley?"
"Robert is quick-tempered," said his brother, "and perhaps regrets it now. I guess the dog bit him, or something of that sort."
He was too generous, too manly, to complain of Robert's cruel treatment of him, or to mention the unkindness he had experienced from his parents. But he had not forgotten these occurrences, and his lip once more quivered with emotion, and his clear, handsome eyes were suffused with tears. Quick as thought his little companion divined with womanly instinct the cause, for she was not ignorant of the state of affairs, young as she was, that existed at Bramble Park. Drawing nearer to his side, she threw one arm tenderly and with childish abandon over his neck, and with the other brushed away the gathering tears, until Charles smiled again and leaned over and kissed her sweet little lips as a brother might have done! And then together they plucked a beautiful bouquet, and busied themselves in arranging it and classifying the various plants by their botanical names, for both children were well versed in this delightful study, young as they were.
While they were thus engaged, Robert came up and angrily discovered the two children thus happy together. Saying some rude things to Charles, he pushed him away from his playmate's side with rude and brutal force, throwing Charles to the ground. This was too much, even for his forbearing spirit, and the injured and outraged boy, smarting under the previous injury he had endured, rose quickly to his feet, and with one blow knocked Robert heavily upon the ground. The blow had been a severe one, and the boy was faint and unable to stand for a moment. Charles looked at him for an instant, then helped to raise him up, and waited until he was again sufficiently conscious to walk. Then he saw him walk angrily toward the house, where he knew very well what would follow on his return there. All the while his little companion had stood regarding first one and then the other. Now Charles stepped to her side, and said:
"I am sorry, Helen; but it is very, very hard to bear."
She shook her little head as he spoke, but held up her lips for the kiss he offered, and saw him turn away from home towards the distant town.
THE NAVAL OFFICER.
THE reader will think that seven league boots—the storyteller's prerogative—are in special demand as it regards our story, for once more we must return through a period of years to the date, or thereabouts, on which our story opens. It was on one of those close, sultry afternoons that characterize the climate of summer in India, that two of our characters were seated together in a graceful and rather elegant villa in the environs of Calcutta. The air of the lady—for the couple were of either sex, was one of beauty in repose. She was evidently listening to the gallant speech of her companion with respect, but without interest, while on his part the most casual observer might have read in his voice, his features, and his words, the accent, the bearing, the language of love.
The lady was a gentle being of surpassing beauty, with black eyes, jetty hair and brilliant complexion; there was little of the characteristics of the East in her appearance, though she seemed to be quite at home beneath the Indian Sun. She was of the middle height, perhaps a little too slender and delicate in form to meet a painter's idea of perfection, but yet just such an idol as a poet would have worshipped. She was strikingly handsome, and there was a brilliancy and spirit in the glance of her dark eyes that told of much character, and much depth of feeling; and while you gazed at her now, sitting beneath the broad piazza, you would have detected a shadow ever and anon cross her brow, as though the words of him by her side aroused some unpleasant memory, and diverted her thoughts rather to past scenes than to the consideration of his immediate remarks.
The gentleman who seemed to be pleading an unsuccessful suit, wore the undress uniform of the English navy, and in the outer harbor, in view of the very spot where they sat, there rode a sloop-of-war with St. George's cross floating at her peak. The officer was young, but bore the insignia of his rank upon his person, which showed him to be the captain of yonder proud vessel. He might have been five or six and twenty, but scarcely more, and bore about him those unmistakable tokens of gentle birth which will shine through the coarsest as well as the finest attire. The lady was not regarding him now; her eyes were bent on the distant sea, but still he pleaded, still urged in gentle tones the suit he brought.
"I see, Miss Huntington has some more favored swain on whom to bestow her favors; but I am sure that she has no truer friend, or more ardent admirer."
"You are altogether mistaken in your premises," she said, coolly, as she tossed her fragrant fan of sandal wood, perfuming the soft atmosphere about them.
"A subject who sues for a favor at court, Miss Huntington, if he is unsuccessful, thinks himself at least entitled to know the reason why he is denied."
"But suppose the Court declines to give him a reason," said the lady, still coolly.
"Its decision admits of no appeal, I must acknowledge," replied her suitor.
"Then reason I have none, captain; and so pray let that suffice."
"But, Miss Huntington, surely—"
"Nay, captain," she said, at last, weary of his importunity, "you know well my feelings. Far be it from me to play for one moment the coquette's part. I thank you for the compliment you pay me by these assurances, but you are fully aware that I can never encourage a suit that finds no response in my heart. I trust that no word or act of mine has ever deceived you for one moment."
"No, Miss Huntington, you have ever been thus cold and impassive towards me, ever turning a deaf ear to my prayer. Why, why can you not love me?"
"Nay, captain, we will not enter into particulars; it is needless, it is worse than needless, and a matter that is exceedingly unpleasant to me. I must earnestly beg, sir, that you will not again refer to this subject under any circumstance."
"Your commands are law to me, Miss Huntington," answered the discomfited lover, as he rose from the seat he had occupied by her side, and turned partially away.
It was well he did so, for had she seen the demoniac expression of his countenance as he struggled to control the vehemence of his feelings, she would have feared that he might do either her or himself violence.
"May I not hope that years of fond attachment, years of continued assiduity, may yet outweigh your indifference, Miss Huntington?" he said earnestly.
"Indeed, indeed no. You do but pain me by this continuance of a subject that—Ah, mother!" she said, interrupting herself, "I have been looking at the captain's ship, yonder; is she not a noble craft? And how daintily she floats upon the waters?"
"A ship is always a beautiful sight, my child; and especially so when she bears the flag that we see flaunting gracefully from that vessel."
"When do you sail, captain?" asked Mrs. Huntington, who had just joined her daughter on the piazza, and did not observe the officer's confusion.
"The ship rides by a single anchor, madam, and only waits her commander," he replied, rather mechanically than otherwise, as he turned his glance seaward.
"So soon? I had hoped you were to favor us with a longer stay," said she mother.
The officer looked towards the daughter, as though he wished it had been her that had expressed such a desire. But she still gazed at the distant ship, and he saw no change in her handsome features.
"We officers are not masters of our own time, madam, and can rarely consult our own wishes as to a cruising ground; but I frankly own that it was something more than mere accident which brought me this time to Calcutta."
As he said this, his eyes again wandered towards her daughter's face, but it was still cold, impassive and beautiful as before, while she gazed on that distant sea. He paused for a moment more, almost trembling with suppressed emotions of disappointment, chagrin and anger, and seemed at a loss what to say further; he felt constrained, and wished that he might have seen the daughter for a moment more alone.
"Farewell is an unpleasant word to say, ladies," he said, at last, still controlling his feelings with a masterly effort. Then offerings a hand to the mother, he bowed respectfully and said "Good-by;" and to her, who now turned with evident feeling evinced in her lovely face at the idea of a long parting, he offered his hand, which was frankly pressed, while he said: "I carry away a heavy heart to sea with me, Miss Huntington; could it be weighed, it would overballast yonder ship."
"Farewell, captain; a happy and safe voyage to you," she answered, with assumed gaiety of tone; but there was no reply. He bowed low and hastened away, with a spirit of disappointment clouding his sun-burned features.
The view which might be had from the window commanded a continuous sight of the road that the young officer must traverse to reach the ship, and though she had treated him thus coldly, and had so decidedly declined his suit, yet here lingered some strange interest about him in her mind, as was evinced by her now repairing to the window, and sitting behind the broad shadow of its painted screen, where she watched his approach to she landing, near the city gates, and saw the sturdy boatmen dip their oars in regular time, propelling the boat with arrow-like speed to the ship's side, where its master hastened upon deck and disappeared, while the boat was hoisted to the quarter-davits.
Anon she saw the sheets fall from the ponderous yards, and sheeted home, the anchor gradually raised to her bow, the yards squared to bring her with her head to the sea, and then a clear white cloud of smoke burst from her bows as she gathered steerage-way, and a dull heavy report of distant ordinance boomed upon the ear of the listening girl, unanswered by a deep sigh from her own bosom—a sigh not for him who had just left her, but for some kindred association that his presence aroused.
The villa where we have introduced the reader was that of the late Edward Huntington, a successful English merchant, who had resided many years in India and had realized a fortune, which he had proposed to return to his native land to enjoy with his wife and only child. But death had stepped in to put an abrupt end to his hopes, and to render abortive all his well-arranged plans, some twelve months previous to the period of which we have spoken. Mrs. Huntington, the widow, had remained in Calcutta to settle up her husband's affairs, and this done, she determined to embark at once with her daughter for England, where her relatives, friends and early associations were all located.
Miss Huntington, as the reader may have gathered, was no coquette; her great beauty and real loveliness of character had challenged the admiration of many a rich grandee and many an eminent character among her own countrymen in this distant land. But no one had seemed to mate the least impression upon her heart; the gayest and wittiest found in her one quite their equal; the thoughtful and pathetic were equally at home by her side; but her heart, to them, seemed encased in iron, so cold and immovable it continued to all the assaults that gallantry made against its fastness, and yet no one who knew her really doubted the tenderness of her feelings and the sensibility of her heart.
Her beauty was quite matured—that is she must have numbered at least twenty years; but there was still a girlish loveliness, a childlike parity and sincerity in all she said and did, that showed the real freshness of her heart and innocence of her mind. Far too pure and good and gentle was she for him who had so earnestly sued for her hand, as we have seen. Beneath a gentlemanly exterior, that other, whom we have seen depart from her side under such peculiar circumstances, hid a spirit of petty meanness and violence of temper, a soul that hardly merited the name, and which made him enemies everywhere, friends nowhere.
Robert Bramble—for this was he, the same whom the reader has seen as a boy at home in Bramble Park—had not improved in spirit or manliness by advance in years. The declining pecuniary fortune of his father's house, to which we have before alluded, had led him early to seek employment in the navy, and by dint of influence and attention to his profession, he had gradually risen to the position in which we have found him, as a commander in her majesty's service on the India station. That he loved the widow's daughter was true—that is to say, as sincerely as he was capable of loving any one; but his soul was too selfish to entertain true love for another.
The same spirit that had led him to the petty oppressions and the ceaseless annoyances which he had exercised towards his younger brother in childhood, still actuated him, and there was not a gleam of that chivalric spirit which his profession usually inspires in those who adopt it as a calling, shining within the recesses of his breast. Entirely unlike Miss Huntington in every particular, we have yet seen that he exercised some singular power over her—that is, so far as to really interest her beyond even a degree that she was willing to exhibit before him. What and why this was so must more clearly appear in the course of the story as it progresses.
Mrs. Huntington was a lady of polished manner and cultivated intellect, belonging to what might be termed the old school of English gentlewomen. She had reared her only child with jealous care and assiduous attention, so that her mind had been richly stored in classic lore, and her hands duly instructed in domestic duties. There was no mock-modesty about the mother, she was straightforward and literal in all she said or did; evidently of excellent family, she was sufficiently assured of her position not to be sensitive about its recognition by others, and preferred to instil into her daughter's mind sound wholesome principles to useless and giddy accomplishments. And yet the daughter was accomplished, an excellent musician upon the piano and harp, and a vocalist of rare sweetness and perfection of execution, as well as mistress of other usual studies of her sex.
But the idea we would convey is, that the mother had rather endeavored to fill her child's mind with real information and knowledge, than to teach her that the chief end and aim of life were to learn how to captivate a husband; she preferred to make her daughter a true and noble-hearted woman, possessed of intrinsic excellence, rather than to make her marketable for matrimonial sale; to give her something that would prove to her under any and all circumstances, a reliance viz., sound principles and an excellent education.
"Mother, how long before we shall turn our face towards England?" said the daughter, soon after the scene which we have described of the sailing ship and her commander.
"Within the month I hope, my child. I have already directed the solicitor to close up all his business relative to your father's estate, and the next homeward-bound ship may bear us in it."
"I shall feel sad to leave our peaceful home here, mother, for, save my dear father's death, has been very pleasant, very happy to be here."
"There are many dear associations that must ever hang about its memory, my dear; but after all, we shall be returning to our native land, and that is a sweet thought. It is some twelve years since we lost sight of English soil."
"I remember it most vividly," said the child, recalling the past; "ay, as though it were but yesterday!"
That night, as she lay sleeping in her daintily-furnished apartment, into which the soft night-air was admitted through sweet geranium and mignonette, which bloomed and shed their perfume with rare sweetness, she dreamed of her native land, of him who had that day left her so disappointed, of her childhood, and all its happy memories, and of much that we will not refer to lest we anticipate our story.
ABOUT a fortnight subsequent to the period of the last chapter, Mrs. Huntington and her daughter, with a single attendant found themselves embarked on board the Bengal, a large, well-found Indiaman, bound for Liverpool. The ship belonged to the East India Company, was a good carrier, but calculated more for freight than speed. She was a new ship and strong as iron and wood could be put together, and the widow and her child found their quarters on board of an exceedingly comfortable nature. They were the only passengers on board, but the vessel had a heavy freight list, and as she moved out from her anchorage to lay her course to sea, her draft of water was very deep.
The Bengal fortunately encountered none but the most favorable winds and tides for many a long and to those on board somewhat monotonous days, and the sun rose out of the sea clear and bright, and sunk again beneath its surface in gorgeous splendor with every diurnal rotation, until at length the ship touched at the Cape of Good Hope, where, having taken fresh water and provisions on board, she cleared direct for Liverpool. Every hour now seemed more especially to draw the ship nearer her port of destination, and a fresh spirit was infused among passengers and crew, in cabin and forecastle; but it was a long distance yet, and the widow and her daughter found time for much study and reading, for which they were amply supplied, and thus the time was lightened in its progress and also well improved.
But the ocean is a treacherous element, and the fair weather which had so long characterized their voyage, was to be varied now by fierce and angry gales. It was the season of the year when they might expect this, and the captain had kept a sharp lookout. It was the middle of a fine afternoon that there was observed a singular phenomenon in the wind which appeared to come from half a dozen points at the same moment. The ship of course lost her steerage way, and the sea began most singularly to get up from all points in heavy cross waves. It was evident that they were either in the course of a whirlwind or close to its track, and every now and then gusts came first larboard then starboard, and again bows on and stern on, with a force that snapped the rigging like pipe stems, and tore the canvass from the bolt ropes, notwithstanding the prompt orders and nimble efforts of the seamen, before it could be secured. Half an hour of this strange weather nearly stripped the ship of her standing rigging, leaving her comparatively a helpless wreck upon the waters, a mere log at the mercy of the wind and waves.
The worst had not yet come, however, for the ship was sound still in her hull, and save that she was now wallowing in the trough of the sea, she was comparatively safe; she had sprung no leak, but her heavy freight tested her powers fearfully, and the captain was fain to acknowledge that there was nought to be done but abide the raging of the storm until it was over. His attempt to rig a jury mast, on which to bend sail enough to give the ship steerage way, was perfectly fruitless; she rolled and pitched so fearfully that no effort of the kind could succeed, but the crew were kept busy throwing over the heavier at tiles of freight to case the ship.
As right came on with its intense darkness relieved only by now and then a terrible flash of liquid fire, all on board expected each moment might be their last. Prayers were said, and all tried to compose their minds as far as possible to meet that death which seemed to be fast approaching them, when suddenly the cry ran, fore and aft that the captain was lost overboard! This added to the general gloom; and now a cry was heard "there goes the Flying Dutchman," as was seen by several on board the Indiaman, during the interval of the vivid lightning, a large ship dash by them almost within cable's length, with a single topsail close reefed running before the gale with the speed of the wind. It did indeed look like a phantom craft. All was snug on board, not a soul was in sight, everything battened down, save one dark form apparently lashed to the wheel stanchions and steadily bent upon keeping the ship before the storm; it was a sight that added to the terror of those on board the Indiaman, and its effect was at once visible.
The ignorant and superstitious seamen, ever ready to argue evil from any strange occurrence, now felt assured of their destruction, declaring that the strange appearance of the phantom-ship was but a warning to foretell the fate that was preparing for them. Thus actuated, all discipline was gone, and no connected efforts were further made to protect the ship or render her in any degree safer from the power of the storm. To add still more to the critical condition on board, the ship after straining and laboring so long, now began to leak and rapidly to fill. In this desperate state of affairs several of the crew, whose numbers were already thinned by being washed overboard, got into the spirit room and in a condition of wild desperation became beastly intoxicated, resolving to die insensible to danger! and at intervals their crazy oaths and incoherent songs were heard above the gale.
At this crisis, as is generally the case, two or three sterling spirits among the crew (and there is never a ship's company without some such among its members), one, the second mate, and a couple of foremast hands, came into the cabin and assured the widow and her daughter that they would protect them to the last, and that they were even now preparing the long boat with compass, water and food, so that should the storm abate and the sea become less agitated before the ship should fill and go down, they might launch it, and with the ladies and such of them as desired, attempt to save themselves in this frail bark. With heartfelt gratitude the mother and child accepted their protection and awaited the crisis; but not without solemnly kneeling together upon the cabin floor and committing themselves to the care of Divine Providence.
The second mate of the Bengal was the only officer left, but he was a good sailor, a man of cool nerve and great personal strength. He now went calmly to work, sounded the well and found four feet of water in the ship, made his calculations how long it would require for the ship to fill at the rate she then made water, and then set to work with his two companions to rig a triangle with spars above the long boat, so as to lift and launch it just when the proper moment should arrive, but this he found to be impracticable. As the morning broke in the cast the gale subsided, but the sea still kept up its angry commotion, though that too, gradually subsided, the waves growing less and less, and the ship becoming more and more quiet, enabling those on board to keep at least upon their feet.
In the meantime, the ship had gradually settled so that the water was already on the cabin floor. In vain were the entreaties of the mate and his companions for the four or five hands who had possessed themselves of the key of the spirit room to come on deck and save themselves; they could neither be persuaded nor forced to move, but lay in a state of beastly intoxication. Everything had been done that was possible, to prepare for launching the long boat, and the widow and her daughter had already by the mate's sanction taken their seats within it, while one of the seamen secured and carefully stored the few articles of necessity which had been selected.
The two masts of the boat were stepped and carefully secured, the gripes that secured the boat in its place were cut, leaving it standing upright in its wooden bed, but entirely free from the deck of the ship. Already had the ship sunk so low that all communication with the cabin was cut off, and the poor inebriated wretches who had there sought oblivion in intoxication also found their tomb. Food, water and compass were properly disposed, so that any sudden movement of the boat should not dislodge them, oars and sails in readiness, and a careful examination had, lest some straggling rope might in some way connect the boat with the wreck, so as to draw them under when the floundering mass should at last go down. The crisis which they now expected seemed strangely protracted, and their fearful suspense was almost unbearable. The mate had placed one of his hands at the bows, another amidships, while himself and the two passengers occupied the stern; the precaution having also been taken to secure the ladies by ropes to the boat.
The weather had now entirely moderated, and the sea was comparatively calm, except that now and then a heavy swell would lift the waterlogged craft and surge about the hull, causing it to groan as though conscious of its approaching fate. Moments assumed the length of hours now, and the countenance of each was a picture of agonized suspense and momentary expectation, no one spoke above their breath. Again the heavy swell caused the hull to lurch and pitch until her bows were almost buried, and the water was even with the scuppers—the moment was approaching.
"Steady, all," said the mate, calmly, as he saw another approaching swell, which he knew must cause the vessel to lift and settle again, and probably this time prove the signal for her final plunge altogether. "Steady, I say, and hold on to the boat stoutly now. Don't let go, ladies, for an instant!"
The seaman was right, the heavy hull was ful this surge came on, burying her for an instant, and actually sweeping the boat clear of her bulwarks out upon the sea, a most fortunate circumstance, which was instantly taken advantage of, by pulling with the oars for a single instant, and still further clearing the wreck, which now rose high at the bows for a moment as the stern settled and gradually sunk, causing a vortex which would certainly have engulfed the boat, had it not been able thus to pull a short distance away, and which even now drew it rapidly back to the spot where the ship had laid, and causing it to toss fearfully for a while, but in a few moments more all was quiet.
"Thank God, that is over," said the mate, earnestly; "it was little short of a miracle that we did not all of us go down with the ship."
The widow covered her face with her hands and breathed a silent prayer of thankfulness. It was already night again, and steering by the stars the mate laid his course, after affording a spare sail to cover the mother and her daughter, who having partaken of some needed refreshment, the first for many hours, were soon lost in sleep, induced by the great bodily fatigue and physical exertion they had so lately encountered in this emergency.
The men stood watch and watch, relieving each other at intervals throughout the night, while the boat with its two lugger sails crept on steadily upon its course.
It was remarkable to observe the delicacy observed by those three seamen towards the widow and her daughter, to mark their assiduity towards them as to their necessities and their wants; while they, on their part, were patient, uncomplaining and grateful. The second and third day passed on, when the mate calculated they were steering direct for the nearest point of land which they could not fail to reach in another day, it being the coast of Africa. His calculations were made under disadvantages, but he felt confident of their correctness. The weather, fortunately, had been very calm and pleasant thus far, since the gale had subsided, and the frail craft thus exposed upon the ocean had really proved quite comfortable and weatherly for the time being. A snug little apology for a cabin had been constructed over the forward part of the boat, into which the ladies could retire at nightfall, and become secure from the weather and be entirely by themselves; and under the circumstances they were really quite comfortable, that is to say, they experienced little exposure to the elements at night, and slept securely in their narrow quarters.
In leaving the ship, the mother had been more thoughtful than many persons would have been, and had taken the box which contained her valuables and such papers as comprised her heavy bills of credit on England, in which way she was transporting the bulk of her husband's late valuable estate to her native land. At first she had taken especial pains not to have the fact known to the men that she had any great amount of valuables with her, lest it should prove a temptation to them, and lead to some tragical result as it regarded the safety of herself and child. But she need not have feared, those hearty sons of the ocean were true as steel; and it was only the second day that having laid the casket down carelessly in the boat, she had retired to the little forecastle forgetting it, when it was brought to her again by one of them who remarked, that he presumed it was something of particular value by its appearance.
According to the mate's reckoning, the time had already arrived when the land should heave in sight, and the three seamen were constantly on the lookout for it in the supposed direction where it should appear; but all their search for it proved in vain, there was the same endless expanse of ocean before them day after day, bounded only by the dim horizon, and unrelieved by any object, while the same hope reigned in their hearts. The exposure they endured, though not very severe, yet began to tell upon them all, and especially the mate and two seamen, and the cheeks of the seamen already looked sunken, their eyes less spirited. This was the combined result of their feelings of disappointment with physical labor, for they worked several hours at the oars every day, aiding the sailing power of the boat, in the hopes of reaching the land before another gale or storm should occur. Now, however, they began to discard the oars, and to feel less and less courage to labor in propelling the boat.
The widow who was not a little of a philosopher and a woman of good sound mind, determined to do something to amuse the men, and cheer them up in their emergency; she saw how sadly they needed some such influence, and telling her daughter of her purpose, when night again came on she induced her to sing some of her sweetest airs with all her power of execution, and to repeat them to the real joy and delight of these hardy men, who at once gathered an agency from this music, and declared it was the harbinger of good. Whether it was so in the way they supposed or not, it certainly was a harbinger of good as it regarded its cheering effects upon them, and their hearts were again filled with hope, and their sinews bent once more to toil at the oars.
THE SEA WITCH.
WHILE those sweet notes were being uttered under these peculiar circumstances, and the soft thrilling voice of, the English girl floated over the sea, and the stars looked down coldly upon those wrecked adventurers, the mate who sat at the helm was observed to be peering in the boat's wake, as though looking for some coming object that would soon overtake them. Leaning over the boat's stern, he placed his cars as near the surface of the water as possible and listened. This he repeated several times, with increased earnestness, then partially shading his eyes with his hands, he gazed back into the dim night air with intense interest, while the rest in the boat regarded him silently, wondering what could be the import of his movements.
"Either there is a big fish in our wake, or I hear the ripple of a ship's cut-water. But I cannot see hull or canvass in this darkness," said the mate, after a brief but searching gaze in the direction from whence they had come.
"It cannot be that you could hear the movement of a ship upon the water, farther than you could see her even in this light," said the mother.
"It may have been the hauling of a ship's yards, or some rickety block, but sound I did hear that came from on ship board," said the mate, with assurance.
"See, see," said the daughter, at that moment, "what is that?" pointing off nearly in the wake of the boat into the darkness.
"A ship!" said the mate, quickly; "a ship, as true as heaven!" adding, "shout, shout together now, or she will run us down."
As he spoke, all eyes were bent on the dim object that was now fast approaching them, and steering as nearly on the same course with themselves as possible. Only a cloud of canvass was visible now, but soon the dark hull of a vessel appeared, and the mate hastened to light a lantern and hoist it to attract their attention. The signal was seemingly observed in an instant on board the stranger, and the hoarse deep order to heave the ship to, rolled over the waters and rang a welcome sound in the cars of those in the boat.
"I know not what sort of craft she is," said the mate; "and this is a latitude where pirates intercept the homeward bound ships sometimes, though according to ny reckoning, we are too well in for the land to be in that track."
"I trust there is no danger in accepting the assistance that the ship appears willing to give?" said the mother anxiously, to the mate.
"It is not more dangerous than to pass another night in this open boat, madam, at all events," replied the mate, frankly.
"Stand by, to take this tow-line," shouted a voice from the bulwarks of the ship, as the vessel drifted with a side impetus towards the tiny craft, while the figure of a man was observed in the mizzen shrouds with a coil of line ready to heave, at the word of command.
"Ay, ay," answered the mate, steering his boat so as to bring her side on to the ship, and opening his arms to catch the line, which he saw was about to be thrown.
"Heave, heave clear of all," shouted a stern, manly voice from the quarter-deck of the ship at this moment; "heave with a will."
And a stout tow-line rattled through the air with a whizzing sound and lay between the mate's extended arms. This was instantly seized upon, and while one of the men took a turn about the stanchion in the bow of the boat, those on board the ship gathered in the line until the boat was safely moored under her quarter. No words were exchanged, until the ladies, first, and the seamen next, were taken on board: the fact of their being wrecked and in distress being too apparent to require questioning. The valuables in the boat were quickly transferred to the ship, and the little craft which had proved an ark of safety to the adventurers, was then cut adrift, and soon lay a mere speck upon the waters, unguided and alone.
As the boat drifted for a moment astern of the vessel before the party were taken on board, the mate rend her name on the stern in golden letters, "The Sea Witch." The foremast hands who had been saved from the wreck soon mingled with the crew on the forecastle of the "Sea Witch," and told their story there, while the mate and the ladies were received in the most hospitable manner in the cabin, where the captain endeavored to offer them every comfort the ship afforded, and to place every resource entirely at their command.
Mrs. Huntington and her daughter were at first too tearful and full of gratitude for their preservation to converse, and soon took advantage of the kind offer which placed the captain's private apartments entirely at their service, while the mate explained their adventures in detail, not forgetting the phantom ship which passed them in the gale, and which had caused such consternation on board the wrecked Indiaman. But his story in this particular was unfortunately spoiled, when Captain Ratlin told him positively that he was at that moment on board the very craft which he had designated as the Flying Dutchman. A remark that for a moment puzzled the honest seaman and led him to look suspiciously about him; but a few corroborating remarks soon placed the subject at rest in even the mate's credulous mind.
The fact was, that the same gale which had made a wreck of the Indiaman, had driven the "Sea Witch" two days' sail or more out of her course, and had thus brought her in sight of the Bengal at that critical moment when it would have been impossible to have rendered her the least assistance. The continuance of the gale had carried the ship far to the southward, from whence she was now returning.
It was early morning upon the day succeeding that auspicious night for the party in the boat, that Miss Huntington and her mother made their appearance upon the quarter-deck, and tendered their thanks for the service rendered. Captain Ratlin received them there with a frank, manly air, assured them of full protection, and that he would land them at some port from whence they could take ship for England. A very few hours placed him on the best of terms with his passengers, for there was that frank, and open discourse of manner with him, which his countenance promised, while he felt irresistibly drawn towards the gentle and beautiful girl whose protector he had thus strangely and suddenly become. Not one point of her sweet beauty was lost upon the young commander, and her every word and movement he seemed to dwell upon, and to consider with a tenacious degree of interest.
On her part, Miss Huntington looked upon him as her preserver, and did not hesitate to accord him that confidence which the circumstances of her situation would so naturally lead to, being delighted and entertained by the sketches he gave her of sea life and wild adventure upon the ocean, elicited by her suggestion. The mother, too, was well-pleased with the profound respect and polite attention which herself and daughter received from him, and accorded him that cordial countenance in his intercourse with her child which placed him quite at ease.
"We have not even asked you, Captain Ratlin, what trade you are in," said the mother, as they sat together, her daughter and the young commander, upon the quarter-deck beneath an awning which had been rigged for their comfort.
"Ahem! madam!" hesitated the young officer, "we are, that is, yes, we are on a trading voyage to the coast—just at the present time."
Whether the mother saw that the subject was not one which was of an agreeable nature to him, or otherwise, she at once changed the subject, and congenial themes were discussed, to the delight of the daughter, who dwelt with evident pleasure upon the manly tones of the captain's voice, which seemed to have some secret charm upon her. Even her mother noticed this, and seemed to regard her with sensitive watchfulness while the captain was near, though there was no well defined suspicion or fear in her mind.