My danish sweetheart a.., p.2
My Danish Sweetheart: A Novel. Volume 2 of 3,
Part #2 of 3 of My Danish Sweetheart: A Novel series by William Clark Russell
Just then Helga rose through the hatch. I caught an expression ofadmiration in Abraham's face at her floating, graceful manner of passingthrough the little aperture.
'She might ha' been born and bred in a lugger,' said he to me in ahoarse whisper. 'Whoy, with the werry choicest and elegantest o' femalesit 'ud be no more 'n an awkward scramble to squeeze through that hole.Has she wings to her feet? I didn't see her use her elbows, did you?And, my precious limbs! how easily she takes them thwarts!' by which hemeant her manner of passing over the seats of the boat.
Perhaps now I could find heart to admire the girl's figure. Certainly Ihad had but small spirit for observation of that kind aboard the raft,and THERE only had her shape been revealed to me; for in the barque nohint was conveyed by her boyish attire of the charms it rudely andheavily concealed. The sparkling brine with which she had refreshed herface had put something of life into her pale cheeks, and there was afaint bloom in her complexion that was slightly deepened by a delicateglow as she smiled in response to my smile, and took a seat at my side.
'Them rashers smells first-class,' said Abraham, with a hungry snuffle.'It must be prime ham as 'll steal to the nose, while cooking, dead inthe vind's eye.'
'Before breakfast is ready,' said I, 'I'll imitate Miss Nielsen'sexample;' and with that I went forward, drew a bucket of water, droppedinto the forepeak, and enjoyed the most refreshing wash that I can callto mind. One needs to be shipwrecked to appreciate these seemingtrifles. For my own part, I could scarcely realize that, saving myoilskin-coat, I had not removed a stitch of my clothes since I had runfrom my mother's house to the lifeboat. I came into the light thatstreamed into the little hatch, and took a view of myself in thelooking-glass, and was surprised to find how trifling were the marks Ibore of the severe, I may truly say the desperate, experiences I hadpassed through. My eyes retained their brightness, my cheeks theircolour. I was bearded, and therefore able to emerge triumphantly from aprolonged passage of marine disaster without requiring to use a razor.It is the stubbled chin that completes the gauntness of the shipwreckedcountenance.
I have a lively recollection of that breakfast--our first meal aboardthe _Early Morn_. Rashers of ham hissed in the frying-pan: each of usgrasped a thick china mug full of black coffee; the bag of biscuits wehad brought with us from the barque lay yawning at our feet, andeveryone helped himself. The boatmen chawed away solemnly, as thoughthey were masticating quids of tobacco, each man falling to with a hugeclasp-knife that doubtless communicated a distinct flavour of tarredhemp to whatever the blade came in contact with. Indeed, they cut uptheir victuals as they might cut up tobacco: working at it with extendedarms and backward-leaning posture, putting bits of the food together asthough to fit their mouths, and then whipping the morsel on the tips oftheir knives through their leathery lips with a slow chaw-chaw of theirunder-jaws that made one think of a cow busy with the cud. Theirleisurely behaviour carried me in imagination to the English seaside;for these were the sort of men who, swift as might be their movements inan hour of necessity, were the most loafing of loungers in times ofidleness--men who could not stand upright, who polished the hardestgranite by constant friction with their fearnaught trousers, but whowere yet the fittest central objects imaginable for that prospect ofgolden sand, calm blue sea, marble-white pier and terraces of clifflifting their summits of sloping green high into the sweet clearatmosphere which one has in mind when one thinks of the holiday coast ofthe old home.
The man named Thomas, having cooked the breakfast, had taken the helm,but the obligation of steering did not interfere with his eating. Infact, I observed that he steered with the small of his back, helping thehelm now and again by a slight touch of the tiller with his elbow, whilehe fell to on the plate upon his knee. For my part, I was as hungry asa wolf, and fed heartily, as the old voyagers would have said. Helga,too, did very well; indeed, her grief had half starved her; and mightyglad was I to see this fair and dainty little heart of oak making ameal, for it was a good assurance in its way that she was fighting withher sorrow and was beginning to look at the future without the bittersadness that was in her gaze yesterday.
But while we sat eating and chatting, the wind continued to slowlyfreshen; the foresheet had tautened to the rigidity of iron, and now andagain the lugger made a plunge that would send a bright mass of whitewater rolling away from either bow. The wind, however, was almost overthe stern, and we bowled along before it on a level keel, save when somescend of sea, lifting her under the quarter, threw the little fabricalong with a slanting mast and a sharper drum-like rolling out of theheart of the distended canvas as the lugger recovered herself with asaucy swing to starboard.
'Who says we ain't going to reach Australey?' exclaimed Abraham, pullingout a short pipe and filling it, with a slow, satisfied grin at theyeasty dazzle over the lee-rail, to which the eye, fastened upon it,was stooped at times so close that the brain seemed to dance to the wildand brilliant gyrations of the milky race.
'A strange fancy,' said I, 'for a man to buy a Deal lugger for SydneyBay.'
'If it warn't for strange fancies,' said Thomas, with a sour glance, 'it'ud be a poor look-out for the likes of such as me.'
'Tell ye what I'm agoing to miss in this here ramble,' exclaimed Jacob.'That's beer, mates!'
'Beer 'll come the sweeter for the want of it,' said Abraham, with asympathetic face. 'Still, I must say, when a man feels down there'snothin' like a point o' beer.'
'What's drunk in your country, mum?' said Jacob.
'Everything that you drink in England,' Helga answered.
'But I allow,' grunted Thomas, fixing a morose eye upon the horizon,'that the Scandinavians, as the Danes and likevise the Svedes, alongwith other nations, incloodin' of the Roosians, is called, ben't soparticular in the matter o' drink as the English, to say nothen o' Dealmen. Whoy,' he added, with a voice of contempt, 'they're often contentto do without it. Capt'ns and owners know that. The Scandinavian fanciesis so cheap that you may fill your fo'k'sle with twenty sailors on tarmsthat'ud starve six Englishmen.'
'The Danes are good sailors,' said Helga, looking at him, 'and they arethe better sailors because they are a sober people.'
'I've got nothen to say agin 'em as sailors,' retorted Thomas; 'but theyships too cheap, mum--they ships too cheap.'
'They will take what an Englishman will take!' exclaimed Helga, with alittle sparkle in her eye.
'So they will, mum--so they will!' exclaimed Abraham soothingly. 'TheDane's a fust-class sailor and a temperate man, and when Tommy there'llgive me an opportunity of saying as much for _him_ I'll proclaim it.'
I was standing up, peering round the sea, for perhaps the tenth timethat morning, when, happening to have my eyes directed astern, as thelugger ran in one of her graceful, buoyant, soaring launches to thesummit of a little surge--for the freshening of the wind had alreadyset the water running in heaps, noticeable even now for weight andvelocity aboard that open craft of eighteen tons, though from the heightof a big ship the seas would have been no more than a pleasant wrinklingof the northerly swell--I say, happening to look astern at that moment,I caught sight of a flake of white poised starlike over the rim of theocean. The lugger sank, then rose again, and again I spied that blandmoonlike point of canvas.
'A sail!' said I; 'but unhappily in chase of us. Always, in such timesas these, whatever shows shows at the wrong end.'
Abraham stood up to look, saw the object, and seated himself in silence.
'How are you heading the lugger?' cried I.
'Sou'-sou'-west,' he answered.
'What course have you determined on?' said I, anxious to gather from thecharacter of his navigation what might be our chances of falling in withthe homeward-bounders.
'Why, keep on heading as we go,' he answered, 'till we strike thenorth-east trades, which are to be met with a-blowing at abouttwo-and-twenty degrees no'the; then bring the _Airly Marn_ to aboutsouth. When the hequator's c
'No,' I answered, which was true enough, though I was not so whollyignorant of the art of conducting a ship from one place to another, asnot to listen with the utmost degree of astonishment to this simpleboatman's programme of the voyage to Australia.
He whipped open the same locker from which he had taken the rough toiletarticles, and extracted a little blue-backed track-chart of the world,which he opened and laid across his knees.
'I suppose ye can read, sir?' said he, not at all designing to beoffensive, as was readily gatherable from his countenance, merelyputting the question, as I easily saw, out of his experience of theculture of Deal beach.
'Yes, I can read a little,' said I.
'Well, then,' said he, laying a twisted stump of thumb upon the chart,'here's the whole blooming woyage wrote down by Capt'n Israel Brown, ofthe _Turk's Head_, a wessel that was in the Downs when my mates and meagreed for to undertake this job. He took me into his cabin, and pullingout this here chart he marked these lines as you see down upon it."There, Abraham!" he says, says he; "you steer according to these heredirections, and your lugger 'll hit Sydney Bay like threading aneedle."'
I looked at the chart, and discovered that the course marked upon itwould carry the lugger to the westward of Madeira. It was not suggestedby the indications that any port was to be touched at, or, indeed, anyland to be made until Table Bay was reached. The two men, Jacob andTommy, were eyeing me eagerly, as though thirsting for an argument. Thisdetermined me not to hazard any criticism. I merely said:
'I understood from you, I think, that you depend upon ships supplyingyou with your wants.'
Abraham responded with an emphatic nod.
Well, thought I, I suppose the fellows know what they are about; but inthe face of that chart I could not but feel mightily thankful that Helgaand I stood the chance of being transhipped long before experienceshould have taught the men that charity was as little to be dependedupon at sea as ashore. They talked of five months, and even of six, inmaking the run, and who was to question such a possibility when thedistance, the size of the boat, the vast areas of furious tempest and ofrotting calm which lay ahead, were considered? The mere notion of thesense of profound tediousness, of sickening wearisomeness, which mustspeedily come, sent a shudder through me when I looked at the opencraft, whose length might have been measured by an active jumper in acouple of bounds, in which there was no space for walking, and, for thematter of that, not very much room for moving, what with the contiguityof the thwarts and the incumbrances of lockers, spare masts and oars,the pump, the stove, the little deck forward, the boat, and the rest ofthe furniture.
I asked Abraham how they managed in the matter of keeping a look-out.
'One tarns in for four hours, and t'other two keep the watch, onea-steering for two hours and the other relieving him arterwards.'
'That gives you eight hours on deck and four hours' sleep,' said Helga.
'Quite right, mum.'
'Eight hours of deck is too much,' she cried; 'there should have beenfour of you. Then it would have been watch and watch.'
'Ay, and another share to bring down ourn,' exclaimed Thomas.
'Mr. Abraham,' said Helga, 'Mr. Tregarthen has told you that I cansteer. I promise you that while I am at the helm the lugger's courseshall be as true as a hair, as you sailors say. I can also keep alook-out. Many and many a time have I kept watch on board my father'sship. While we are with you, you must let me make one of your crew.'
'I, too, am reckoned a middling hand at the helm,' said I; 'so while weare here, there will be five of us to do the lugger's work.'
Abraham looked at the girl admiringly.
'You're werry good, lady,' he said: 'I dorn't doubt your willingness.On board a ship I shouldn't doubt your capacity; but the handling ofthese here luggers is a job as needs the eddication of years. Us Dealboatmen are born into the work, and them as ain't, commonly perish whenthey tries their hand at it.'
''Sides, it's a long woyage,' growled Thomas, 'and if more shares is tobe made of it I'm for going home.'
'You're always a-thinking of the shares, Tommy,' cried Abraham; 'thegent and the lady means nothing but koindness. No, mum, thanking you allthe same,' continued he, giving Helga an ungainly but respectfulsea-bow. 'You're shipwrecked passengers, and our duty is to put ye inthe way of getting home. That's what you expect of us; and what weexpect of you is that you'll make your minds easy and keep comfortableontil ye leave us.'
I thanked him warmly, and then stood up to take another look at thevessel that was overhauling us astern. She was rising fast, alreadydashing the sky past the blue ridges of the ocean with a broad gleam ofcanvas.
'Helga,' said I softly, 'there's a large ship rapidly coming up astern.Shall we ask these men to put us aboard her?'
She fastened her pretty blue eyes thoughtfully upon me.
'She is not going home, Hugh.'
'No, nor is the lugger. That ship should make us a more comfortable homethan this little craft, until we can get aboard another vessel.'
She continued to eye me thoughtfully, and then said: 'This lugger willgive us a better chance of getting home quickly than that ship. Thesemen will run down to a vessel, or even chase one to oblige us and to getrid of us; but a ship like that,' said she, looking astern, 'is alwaysin a hurry when the wind blows, and is rarely very willing to back hertopsail. And then think what a swift ship she must be, to judge from hermanner of overtaking us! The swifter, the worse for us, Hugh--I mean,the farther you will be carried away from your home.'
She met my eyes with a faint wistful smile upon her face, as though shefeared I would think her forward.
'You are right, Helga,' said I. 'You are every inch a sailor. We willstick to the lugger.'
Abraham went forward to lie down, after instructing Jacob to arouse himat a quarter before noon, that he might shoot the sun. Thomas sat with asulky countenance at the helm, and Jacob overhung the rail close againstthe foresheet, his chin upon his hairy wrist, and his gaze levelled atthe horizon, after the mechanical fashion of the 'longshoreman afloat.At intervals the wind continued to freshen in small 'guns,' to use theexpressive old term--in little blasts or shocks of squall, which flashedwith a shriek into the concavity of the lug, leaving the wind steadyagain, but stronger, with a higher tone in the moan of it above and astormier boiling of the waters round about the lugger, that seemed to beswirling along as though a comet had got her in tow, though this senseof speed was no doubt sharpened by the closeness of the hissing whitewaters to the rail. Yet shortly after ten o'clock the ship astern hadrisen to her waterline, and was picking us up as though, forsooth, wewere riding to a sea-anchor.
A nobler ocean picture never delighted a landsman's vision. Thesnow-white spires of the oncoming ship swayed with solemn and statelymotions to the underrun of the quartering sea. She had studdingsails outto starboard, one mounting to another in a very pyramid of soft milkycloths, and her wings of jibs, almost becalmed, floated airily frommasthead to bowsprit and jibboom-end like symmetric fragments of fleecycloud rent from the stately mass of fabric that soared behind thembrilliant in the flashing sunshine. Each time our lugger was hoveupwards I would spy the dazzling smother of the foam, which the shearingcutwater of the clipper, driven by a power greater than steam, waspiling to the hawse-pipes, even to the very burying of theforecastle-head to some of the majestic structure's curtseys.
Helga watched her with clasped hands and parted lips and glowing blueeyes full of spirit and delight. The glorious sea-piece seemed tosuspend memory in her; all look of grief was gone out of her face; hervery being appeared to have blent itself with that windy, flying,triumphant oceanic show, and her looks of elation--t
Jacob, who had been eyeing the ship listlessly, suddenly started into anair of life and astonishment.
'Whoy, Tommy,' cried he, grasping the rail and staring over the stern,out of his hunched shoulders, 'pisen me, mate, if she ain't the_Thermoppilly_!'
Thomas slowly and sulkily turned his chin upon his shoulder, and after ashort stare, put his back again on the ship, and said: 'Yes, that's the_Thermoppilly_, right enough!'
'The _Thermopylae_?' said I. 'Do you mean the famous Aberdeen clipper?'
'Ay,' cried Jacob, 'that's her! Ain't she a beauty? My oye, what a run!What's agoing to touch her? Look at them mastheads! Tall enough to foulthe stars, Tommy, and _de_-range the blooming solar system.'
He beat his thigh in his enjoyment of the sight, and continued todeliver himself of a number of nautical observations expressive of hisadmiration and of the merits of the approaching vessel.
She had slightly shifted her helm, as I might take it, to have a look atus, and would pass us close. The thunder of the wind in her toweringheights came along to our ears in the sweep of the air in a lowcontinuous note of thunder. You could hear the boiling of the waterbursting and pouring from her bows: her copper gleamed to everystarboard roll on the white peaks of the sea along her bends in dullflashes as of a stormy sunset, with a frequent starlike sparkling abouther from brass or glass. How swiftly she was passing us I could not haveimagined until she was on our quarter, and then abreast of us--so closethat I could distinguish the face of a man standing aft looking at us,of the fellow at the wheel, of a man at the break of the short poopsinging out orders in a voice whose every syllable rang clearly to ourhearing. A crowd of seamen were engaged in getting in the lowerstuddingsail, and this great sail went melting out against the hardmottled-blue of the sky as the clipper stormed past.
Jacob sprang on to a thwart, and in an ecstasy of greeting that made avery windmill of his arms shrieked rather than roared out, 'How d'ye do,sir?--how d'ye do, sir? How are ye, sir? Glad to see ye, sir!'
The man that he addressed stared a moment, and hastily withdrew, andreturned with a binocular glass which he levelled at us for a moment,then flourished his hand.
'What are you doing down here, Jacob?' he bawled.
'Going to Australey!' shouted Jacob.
'_Where?_' roared the other.
'To Sydney, New South Vales!' shouted Jacob.
The man, who was probably the captain, put his finger against his noseand wagged his head; but further speech was no longer possible.
'He don't believe us!' roared Jacob to his mate, and forthwith fell tomaking twenty extravagant gestures towards the ship in notification ofhis sincerity.
The wonderful squareness of the ship's canvas stole out as she gave usher stern, with the foam of her wake rushing from under the counter liketo the dazzling backwash of a huge paddle-wheel, and she seemed to fillthe south-west heaven with her cloths, so high and broad did thosecomplicated pinions, soaring to the trucks, look to us from the low seatof the bounding and sputtering lugger.
'Lord now!' cried Jacob, 'if she'd only give us the end of a tow-rope!'
'Yes,' said I, gazing with admiration at the beautiful figure of theship rapidly forging ahead, and already diminishing into an exquisitedaintiness and delicacy of shape and tint, 'you would not, in that case,have to talk of five and six months to Australia.'
At a quarter before twelve she was the merest toy ahead--just a glanceof mother-of-pearl upon the horizon; but by this hour it was blowing astrong breeze of wind, and when Abraham came out of the forepeak hecalled to Jacob, and between them they eased up the fore-halliards andhooked the sheet to the second staken--in other words, to a sort ofcringle or loop, of which there were four; then, having knotted the reefpoints, Abraham came aft to seek for the sun.
My humour was not a little pensive, for the sea that was now runningwas a verification of the boatman's words to me, and I could not keep mythoughts away from what must have happened to Helga and me had we notbeen mercifully taken off the raft. The lugger rose buoyantly to eachflickering, seething head; but, in spite of my lifeboat experiences, Icould not help watching with a certain anxiety the headlong rush of foamto her counter, nor could I feel the wild, ball-like toss the strongAtlantic surge would give to our eggshell of a boat, without misgivingas to the sort of weather she was likely to make should such anotherstorm as had foundered the _Anine_ come down upon the ocean. I was alsovexed to the heart by the speed at which we were driving, and by theassurance--I was seafarer enough to understand--that in such a lump of asea as was now running there would be a very small probability indeed ofour being able to board, or even to get alongside of, ahomeward-bounder, though twenty vessels, close-hauled for England,should travel past us in an hour. How far were we to be transported intothis great ocean before the luck of the sea should put us in the way ofreturning home? These were considerations to greatly subdue my spirits;and there was also the horror that memory brought when I glanced at therushing headlong waters and thought of the raft.
I looked at Helga: her eyes were slowly sweeping the horizon, and ontheir coming to mine the tender blue of them seemed to darken to agentle smile. Whatever her heart might be thinking of, assuredly notrace of the misgivings which were worrying me were discernible in her.The shadow of the grief that had been upon her face during the morninghad returned with the passing away of the life the noble picture of theship had kindled in her; but there was nothing in it to weaken in herlineaments their characteristic expression of firmness and resolutionand spirit. Her tremorless lips lay parted to the sweep of the wind; heradmirable little figure yielded to the bounding, often violent, jerkingmotions of the lugger with the grace of a consummate horsewoman, who isone with the brave swift creature she rides; her short yellow hairtrembled under the dark velvet-like skin of her turban-shaped hat, asthough each gust raised a showering of gold-dust about her neck andcheeks.
Yet I believe, had I been under sentence of death, I must have laughedoutright at the spectacle of Abraham bobbing at the sun with anold-fashioned quadrant that might well have been in use for forty years.He stood up on straddled legs, with the aged instrument at his eye,mopping and mowing at the luminary in the south, and biting hard in hispuzzlement and efforts at a piece of tobacco that stood out in hischeeks like a knob.
'He's a blazing long time in making height bells, hain't he, to-day!'said Jacob, addressing Abraham, and referring to the sun.
'He's all right,' answered Abraham, talking with his eye at the littletelescope. 'You leave him to me, mate; keep you quiet, and I'll betelling you what o'clock it is presently.'
Helga turned her head to conceal her face, and, indeed, no countenancemore comical than Abraham's could be imagined, what with the masticationof his jaws, which kept his ears and the muscles of his forehead moving,and what with the intensity of the screwed-up expression of his closedeye and the slow wagging of his beard, like the tail of a pigeon newlyalighted.
'Height bells!' he suddenly roared in a voice of triumph, at the sametime whipping out a huge silver watch, at which he stared for somemoments, holding the watch out at arm's-length, as though time was notto be very easily read. 'Blowed if it ben't one o'clock at Deal!' hecried. 'Only fancy being able to make or lose time as ye loike. Werryuseful ashore, sir, that 'ud be, 'ticularly when you've got a billafalling doo.'
He then seated himself in the stern-sheets, and, producing a small bookand a lead pencil from the locker, went to work to calculate hislatitude. It was a very rough, ready, and primitive sort of reckoning.He eyed the paper with a knowing face, often scratching the hair overhis ear and looking up at the sky with counting lips; then, beingsatisfied, he administered a nod all round, took out his chart, and,having made a mark upon it, exclaimed, while he returned it to thelocker, 'There, t
'How d'ye spell _Thermoppilly_?' said he, addressing us generally.
I told him.
'Just want to state here that we sighted her, that's all,' said he;'this here space with "Remarks" wrote atop has got to be filled up, Isuppose? At about wan o'clock this marning,' he exclaimed, speaking veryslowly, and writing as he spoke, 'fell in with a raft--how's raft spelt,master?--two r's?' I spelt the word for him.--'Thank'ee! Fell in with araft, and took off a lady and gent. There, that'll be the noose fortwenty-four hours! Now let's go to dinner.'
This mid-day meal was composed of a piece of corned beef, some ship'sbiscuit and cheese. I might have found a better appetite had there beenless wind, and had the boat's head been pointed the other way. All thetime now the lugger was swarming through it at the rate of steam. Therewas already a strong sea running too, the storminess of which we shouldhave felt had we had it on the bow; but our arrowy speeding before itsoftened the fierceness of its sweeping hurls, and the wind for the samereason came with half the weight it really had, though we must have beenreefed down to a mere strip of canvas had we been close-hauled. The sunshone with a dim and windy light out of the sky that was hard with apie-balding of cloud.
'What is the weather going to prove?' I asked Abraham.
He munched leisurely, with a slow look to windward, and answered,''Tain't going to be worse nor ye see it.'
'Have you a barometer?' said I.
'No,' he answered; 'they're no good. In a boat arter this here pattern,what's the use of knowing what's agoing to come? It's only a-letting goa rope an' you're under bare poles. Marcury's all very well in a bigship, where ye may be taken aback clean out o' the sky, and lose everyspar down to the stumps of the lower masts.'
Though I constantly kept a look-out, sending my eyes roaming over eitherbow past the smooth and foaming curves of seas rushing ahead of us, Iwas very sensible, as I have said, that nothing was to be done in suchhollow waters as we were now rushing through, though we should sight ascore of homeward-bounders. Yet, spite of the wonderful life that strongnortherly wind swept into the ocean, nothing whatever showed during therest of the day, if I except a single tip of canvas that hovered forabout a quarter of an hour some two or three leagues down in the east,like a little wreath of mountain mist. The incessant pouring of the windpast the ear, the shouting and whistling of it as it flashed spray-ladenoff each foaming peak in chase of us, grew inexpressibly sickening andwearying to me, coming as it did after our long exposure to the fierceweather of the earlier days. The thwarts or lockers brought our headsabove the line of the gunwale, and to remedy this I asked leave to draga spare sail aft into the bottom of the boat, and there Helga and I sat,somewhat sheltered at least, and capable of conversing without beingobliged to cry out.
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