My danish sweetheart a.., p.6
My Danish Sweetheart: A Novel. Volume 2 of 3,
Part #2 of 3 of My Danish Sweetheart: A Novel series by William Clark Russell
CAPTAIN JOPPA BUNTING.
There were four or five coloured seamen standing near, looking on.Though I could not have been sure, I guessed them to be Malays by thesomewhat Chinese cast of their features. I had seen such faces oncebefore, discolouring a huddle of white countenances of European seamenlooking over the side of a ship, anchored in our bay, at the lifeboat Iwas in charge of for an hour or two of practice. I also caught thefierce lemon-coloured creature at the wheel following the Captain, as hemoved about, with his stealthy dusky eyes; but more than this I had nottime to take notice of.
'Abraham,' I exclaimed, approaching him, 'this is a bad business.'
'Ay,' he muttered, drying his lips upon his knuckles. 'There's nothento do now but to get home again. I laid out fifteen pound for myself onthis here job, an it's gone, and gone's, too, the money we was to takeup. Oh, Jacob, matey! how came it about? how came it about?' he cried,in a voice of bitter grief that was without the least hint of temper orreproach.
'Ye've heard, Abraham,' answered the other, speaking brokenly. 'Gord Heknows how it happened. I'd ha' given ten toimes ower the money we was toairn that this here mucking job had been yourn instead o' mine, that Imight feel as sorry for ye, Abey, as ye are for me, mate.'
'Is she clean gone?' cried Captain Bunting, looking over the quarter.'Yes, clean. Nothing but her boat floating, and a few spars. It is spiltmilk, and not to be recovered by tears. You two men will have to goalong with us till we can send the four of you home. Mr. Jones, fill onyour topsail, if you please. Hi! you Pallunappachelly, swab up that wetthere, d'ye hear? Now Moona, now Yong Soon Wat, and you, ShayooSaibo--maintopsail-brace, and bear a hand!'
While the topsail-yard was in the act of swinging I observed thatAbraham's countenance suddenly changed. A fit of temper, resembling hisoutbreak when the Hamburger had passed us, darkened his face. He rolledhis eyes fiercely, then, plucking off his cap, flung it savagely downupon the deck, and, while he tumbled and sprawled about in a sort of maddance, he bawled at the top of his voice:
'I says it _can't_ be true! What I says is, it's a dream--a blooming,measly dream! The _Airly Marn_ foundered!' Here he gave his cap a kickthat sent it flying the length of the poop. 'It's a loie, I says. It wasto ha' been seventy-foive pound a man, and there was two gone, whoseshares would ha' been ourn. And where's moy fifteen pound vorth o'goods? Cuss the hour, I says, that ever we fell in with this barque!'
He raved in this fashion for some minutes, the Captain meanwhile eyeinghim with his head on one side, as though striving to find out whether hewas drunk or mad. He then rushed to the side with an impetuosity thatmade me fear he meant to spring overboard, and, looking down for amoment, he bellowed forth, shaking his clenched fist at the sea:
'Yes, then she _is_ gone, and 'tain't a dream!'
He fetched his thigh a mighty slap, and, wheeling round, stared at us inthe manner of one temporarily bereft of his senses by the apparition ofsomething he finds horrible.
'These Deal boatmen have excitable natures!' said Captain Joppa Bunting,addressing me, fixedly smiling, and passing his fingers through awhisker as he spoke.
'I trust you will bear with the poor fellows,' said I: 'it is a heavyloss to the men, and a death-blow to big expectations.'
'Temper is excusable occasionally at sea,' observed the Captain; 'butlanguage I never permit. Yet that unhappy Christian soul ought to beborne with, as you say, seeing that he is a poor ignorant man verysorely tried. Abraham Vise, come here!' he called.
'His name is Wise,' said I.
'Wise, come here!' he shouted.
Abraham approached us with a slow, rolling gait, and a face in whichtemper was now somewhat clouded by bewilderment.
'Abraham,' said the Captain, looking from him to Jacob, who leaned, wetthrough, against the rail with a dogged face and his eyes rooted uponthe deck, 'you have met with one of those severe reverses which happenentirely for the good of the sufferer, however he may object to takethat view. Depend upon it, my man, that the loss of your lugger is forsome wise purpose.'
Abraham looked at him with an eye whose gaze delivered the word _damn_as articulately as ever his lips could have uttered the oath.
'You two men were going in that small open boat to Australia,' continuedthe Captain, with a paternal air and a nasal voice, and smiling always.'Do you suppose you would ever have reached that distant coast?'
'Sartainly I dew, sir,' cried Abraham hoarsely, with a vehement nod.
'I say _no_, then!' thundered the Captain. '_Two_ of you! Why, I'vefallen in with smaller luggers than yours cruising in the Channel witheight of a crew.'
'Ay!' shouted Abraham. 'And vy? Only ask yourself the question! 'Causethey carry men to ship as pilots. But tew can handle a lugger.'
'I say no!' thundered the Captain again. 'What? All the way from theChops to Sydney Bay. Who's your navigator?'
'Oy am,' answered Abraham.
The Captain curved his odd, double-lipped mouth into a sneer, that yetsomehow did not disguise or alter his habitual or congenital smile,while he ran his eye over the boatman's figure.
'You!' he cried, pausing and bursting into a loud laugh; then, resuminghis nasal intonation, he continued. 'Mark you this now. The loss of yourlugger alongside my barque is a miracle wrought by a bountiful Heaven toextend your existence, which you were deliberately attempting to cutshort by a dreadful act of folly, so dreadful that had you perished by alike behaviour ashore you would have been buried with a stake throughyour middle.'
He turned up his eyes till little more than the whites of them werevisible. Grieved as I was for poor Abraham, I scarcely saved myself frombursting out laughing, so ludicrous were the shifting emotions whichworked in his face, and so absurd Jacob's fixed stare of astonishmentand wrath.
'Now, men,' continued the Captain, 'you can go forward. What's _your_name?'
'Jacob Minnikin, sir,' answered the boatman, speaking thickly and withdifficulty.
'Get you to the galley, Jacob Minnikin,' said the Captain, 'and dry yourclothes. The chief mate will show you where to find a couple of sparebunks in the forecastle. Go and warm yourselves and get something toeat. You'll be willing to work, I hope, in return for my keeping youuntil I can send you home?'
Abraham sullenly mumbled, 'Yes, sir.'
'All right. We may not be long together; but while I have you I shall bethankful for you. We are a black crew, and the sight of a couple ofwhite faces forward will do me good. Off you go, now!'
Without another word the two men trudged off the poop; but I could hearthem muttering to each other as they went down the ladder.
Some time before this sail had been trimmed, and the barque was onceagain clumsily breaking the seas, making a deal of noisy sputtering ather cutwater to the stoop of her apple-shaped bows, and rolling andplunging as though she were contending with the surge of Agulhas or theHorn. I sent my sight around the ocean, but there was nothing to beseen. The atmosphere had slightly thickened, and it was blowing fresh,but the wind was on the quarter, and the mate had found nothing in theweather to hinder him from showing the mainsail to it again with theport clew up. But the Captain's talk prevented me from making furtherobservations at that time.
'Those two men,' said he, 'have very good, honest, substantial,Scriptural names. Abraham and Jacob,' he smacked his lips. 'I like 'em.I consider myself fortunate in the name of Joppa,' he continued, lookingfrom me to Helga. 'I _might_ have been called Robert.'
You would have thought that the smile which accompanied this speech wasdesigned to point it as a joke, but a moment's observation assured methat it was a fixed expression.
'I have observed,' he went on, 'that the lower orders are very dull andtardy in arriving at an appreciation of the misfortunes which befallthem. Those two men, sir, are not in the least degree grateful for theloss of their lugger, by which, as I told them, their lives have beenundoubtedly preserved.'
'They are poor men,' said Helga, 'and do not know how to be grateful
He looked at her smilingly, with a glance down her figure, andexclaimed, 'I am quite sure that when your poor dear father's barquesank _you_ did not resent the decree of Heaven.'
Helga held her peace.
'Was she insured, madam?' he asked.
She answered briefly 'Yes,' not choosing to enter into explanations.
He surveyed her thoughtfully, with his head on one side; then,addressing me, he said:
'The man Abraham, now. I take it he was skipper of the lugger?'
'Yes, he was so,' said I.
'Is it possible that he knows anything of navigation?'
'I fear his acquaintance with that art is small. He can blunder upon thelatitude with the aid of an old quadrant, but he leaves his longitudeto dead reckoning.'
'And yet he was going to Australia!' cried the Captain, tossing hispale, fleshly hands and upturning his eyes. 'Still, he is a respectableman?'
'A large-hearted, good man,' cried Helga warmly.
He surveyed her again thoughtfully with his head on one side, slowlycombing down one whisker, then addressing me:
'I am rather awkwardly situated,' said he. 'Mr. Ephraim Jones and myselfare the only two white men aboard this vessel. Jones is an only mate.You know what that means?'
I shook my head in my ignorance, with a glance at Helga.
'Captain Bunting means,' she answered, smiling, 'that only mate isliterally the only mate that is carried in a ship.'
He stared at her with lifted eyebrows, and then gave her a bow.
'Right, madam,' said he. 'And when you are married, dear lady, you willtake all care, I trust, that your husband shall be _your_ only mate.'
She slightly coloured, and as she swayed to the rolling deck I caughtsight of her little foot petulantly beating the plank for a moment. Itwas clear that Captain Bunting was not going to commend himself to heradmiration by his wit.
'You were talking about Abraham,' said I.
'No, I was talking about Jones,' he answered, 'and attempting to explainthe somewhat unpleasant fix I am in. The man who acted as second matewas the carpenter of the barque, a fellow named Winstanley. I fear hewent mad, after we were a day out. Whether he jumped overboard or felloverboard, I cannot say.' He made a wild grimace, as though therecollection shocked him. 'There was nothing for it but to pursue thevoyage with my only mate; and I, of course, have to keep watch-and-watchwith him--a very great inconvenience to me. I believe Abraham Wise--orVise, as he calls himself--would excellently fill Winstanley's place.'
'He wants to get home,' said I.
'Yet I might tempt him to remain with me,' said he, smiling. 'There's nomelody so alluring to a Deal boatman's ears as the jingling of silverdollars.'
'You will find him thoroughly trustworthy,' said Helga.
'We will wait a little--we will wait a little!' he exclaimed blandly.
'Of course, Captain Bunting,' said I, 'your views in the direction ofAbraham will not, I am sure, hinder you from sending Miss Nielsen andmyself to England at the very earliest opportunity.' And I found my eyegoing seawards over the barque's bow as I spoke.
'The very first vessel that comes along you shall be sent aboard of,providing, to be sure, she will receive you.'
I thanked him heartily, and also added, in the most delicate manner Icould contrive on the instant, that all expense incurred by his keepingus should be defrayed. He flourished his fat hand.
'That is language to address to the Pharisee, sir--not to theSamaritan.'
All this was exceedingly gratifying. My spirits rose, and I felt in avery good humour with him. He looked at his watch.
'Five o'clock,' said he. 'Mr. Jones,' he called to the mate, who wasstanding forward at the head of the little poop ladder, 'you can gobelow and get your supper, then relieve me. Tell Punmeamootty to putsome cold beef and pickles on the table. Better let him set the ham ontoo, and tell the fool that it won't bite him. Punmeamootty can makesome coffee, Mr. Jones; or perhaps you drink tea?' said he, turning toHelga. 'Well, _both_, Mr. Jones, _both_,' he shouted: 'tea _and_ coffee.Make a good meal, sir, and then come and relieve me.'
The mate vanished. Captain Bunting drew back by a step or two to cast alook aloft. He then, and with a sailorly eye methought, despite hiswhiskers and dingy fleshy face and fixed smile, sent a searching glanceto windward, following it on with a cautious survey of the horizon. Henext took a peep at the compass, and said something to amahogany-coloured man who had replaced the fierce-looking fellow at thewheel. I observed that when the Captain approached the man stirreduneasily in his shoes, 'twixt which and the foot of his blue dungareebreeches there lay visible the bare, yellow flesh of his ankles.
I said softly and quickly to Helga, 'This is a very extraordinaryshipmaster.'
'Something in him repels me,' she answered.
'He is behaving kindly and hospitably, though.'
'Yes, Hugh; still, I shall be glad to leave the barque. What a verystrange crew the ship carries! What are they?'
'I will ask him,' said I, and at that moment he rejoined us.
'Captain,' I exclaimed, 'what countrymen are your sailors, pray?'
'Mostly Malays, with a few Cingalese among them,' he answered. 'I gotthem on a sudden, and was glad of them, I can tell you. I had shipped anordinary European crew in the Thames; and in the Downs, where we laywind-bound for three days, every man-jack of them, saving Mr. Jones andWinstanley, lowered that quarter-boat,' said he, nodding to it, 'onedark night, chucked their traps in and went away for Dover round theSouth Foreland. I recovered the boat, and was told that there was a crewof Malays lodged at the Sailors' Home at Dover. A vessel from Ceylonthat had touched at the Cape and taken in some coloured seamen therehad stranded, a night or two before my men ran, somewhere off the SouthSand Head. She was completely wrecked, and her crew were brought toDover. There were eleven of them in all, with a boss or bo's'n orserang, call him what you will--there he is!' He pointed to adark-skinned fellow on the forecastle. 'Well, to cut the story short,when these fellows heard I was bound to the Cape they were all eager toship. They offered their services for very little money--very littlemoney indeed,' he added, smiling, 'their object being to get home. I hadno idea of being detained in the Downs for a crew, and I had no heart,believe me, to swallow another dose of the British merchant sailor, so Ihad them brought aboard--and there they are!' he exclaimed, gazingcomplacently forward and aft, 'but they are black inside and out.They're Mahometans, to a man, and now I'm sorry I shipped them, though Ihope to do good--yes,' said he, nodding at me, 'I hope to do good.'
He communicated to this final sentence all the significance that it wasin the power of his countenance and manner to bestow; but what he meantI did not trouble myself to inquire. Mr. Jones remained below about tenminutes: he then arrived, and the Captain, who was asking Helgaquestions about her father's ship, the cause of her loss, and the like,instantly broke off on seeing the mate, and asked us to follow him tothe cabin.
The homely interior looked very hospitable, with its table cleanlydraped and pleasantly equipped with provisions. The coloured man whoapparently acted as steward, and who bore the singular name ofPunmeamootty, stood, a dusky shadow, near the cabin-door. In spite of asmoky sunset in the western windy haze, the gloom of the evening in theeast was already upon the ocean, and the cabin, as we entered it, showedsomewhat darksome to the sight; yet though the figure of the Malay, as Ihave already said, was no more than a shadow, I could distinctly see hisgleaming eyes even from the distance of the companion steps; and Ibelieve had it been much darker still I should have beheld his eyeslooking at us from the other end of the cabin.
'Light the lamp, Punmeamootty!' said the Captain. 'Now, let me see,'said he, throwing his wideawake on to a locker; 'at sea we call thelast meal supper, Miss Nielsen.'
'Yes, I know that,' she answered.
'Before we go to supper,' he continued, 'you would like to refreshyourself in a cabin. How about a
'And Mr. Tregarthen?' said Helga.
'Oh, I'll set some of our darkeys after supper to make ready one of theberths below for him.'
'I do not wish to be separated from Mr. Tregarthen,' said Helga.
Captain Bunting looked at her, then at me, then at her left hand, forthe coloured steward had now lighted the lamp and we were conversingclose to it.
'You are Miss Nielsen?' said the Captain. 'Have I mistaken?'
The blood rose to the girl's cheek.
'No, you have not mistaken,' said I; 'Miss Nielsen and I have now forsome days been fellow-sufferers, and, for acquaintance's sake, shewishes her berth to be near mine!'
This I said soothingly, for I thought the skipper's brow looked a littleclouded.
'Be it so,' said he, with a bland flourish of both hands: 'meanwhile,madam, such conveniences as my cabin affords are at your service forimmediate use.'
She hesitated, but on meeting my eye seemed immediately to catch whatwas in my mind, and, smiling prettily, she thanked him, and went at onceto his cabin.
'The fact is, sir,' said he nasally, dragging at the wristband of hisshirt and looking at his nails, 'man at the best is but a very selfishanimal, and cruelly neglectful of the comfort and happiness of women.Pardon my frankness: your charming companion has been exposed forseveral days to the horrors of what was really no better than an openboat. What more natural than that she should wish to adjust her hair andtake a peep at herself in a looking-glass? And yet'--here he smiledprofoundly--'the suggestion that she should withdraw did not come from_you_.'
'The kindness of your reception of us,' I answered, 'assured me that youwould do everything that is necessary.'
'Quite so,' he answered; 'and now, Mr. Tregarthen, I dare say a brush-upwill comfort you too. You will find all that you require in Mr. Jones'scabin.'
I thanked him, and at once entered the berth, hardly knowing as yetwhether to be amused or astonished by the singular character of thislong-whiskered, blandly smiling, and, as I might fairly believe,religious sea-captain.
There was a little window in the berth that looked on to thequarter-deck. On peering through it I spied Abraham and Jacob with theirarms buried to the elbow in their breeches' pockets, leaning, withdogged mien, in the true loafing, lounging, 'longshore posture, againstthe side of the caboose or galley. The whole ship's company seemed tohave gathered about them. I counted nine men. There was a rusty tinge inthe atmosphere that gave me a tolerable sight of all those people. Itwas the first dog-watch, when the men would be free to hang about thedecks and smoke and talk. The coloured sailors formed a group, in thatdull hectic light, to dwell upon the memory--one with a yellowsou'-wester, another with a soldier's forage-cap on his head, a third ina straw hat, along with divers scarecrow-like costumes of dungaree andcoarse canvas jumpers--here a jacket resembling an evening-dress coatthat had been robbed of its tails, there a pair of flapping skirts, ared wool comforter, half-wellington boots, old shoes, and I know notwhat besides.
The man that had been pointed out to me as 'boss'--to employ CaptainBunting's term--was addressing the two boatmen as I looked. He wastalking in a low voice, and not the slightest growl of his accentsreached me. Now and again he would smite his hands and act as thoughbetrayed by temper into a sudden vehement delivery, from which heswiftly recovered himself, so to speak, with an eager look aft at thepoop-deck, where, I might suppose, the mate stood watching them, orwhere, at all events, he would certainly be walking, on the look-out.While he addressed the boatmen, the others stood doggedly looking on,all, apparently, intent upon the countenances of our Deal friends, whoseattitude was one of contemptuous inattention.
However, by this time I had refreshed myself with a wash, and nowquitted the cabin after a slight look round, in which I took notice ofthe portrait of a stout lady cut out in black paper and pasted upon awhite card, a telescope, a sextant case, a little battery of pipes in arack over the bunk.
Helga arrived, holding her sealskin hat in her hand. Her amber-colouredhair--for sometimes I would think it of this hue, at others a pale gold,then a very fine delicate yellow--showed with a little roughness in it,as though she were fresh from the blowing of the wind. But had she beenan artist she could not have expressed more choiceness in her fashion ofneglect. She had heartened and brightened greatly since our rescue fromthe raft, and, though there were still many traces of her grief andsufferings in her face, there was likewise the promise that she neededbut a very short term of good usage from life to bloom into as sweet,modest, and gentle a maiden as a man's heart could wish to hold toitself.
The Captain, motioning us to our places, took his seat at the head ofthe table with a large air of hospitality in his manner of drawing outhis whiskers and inflating his waistcoat. The vessel creaked and groanednoisily as she pitched and rolled, so slanting the table that, but forthe rough, well-used fiddles, every article upon it would have speedilytumbled on to the deck. The lamp burned brightly, and almost eclipsedthe rusty complexion of daylight that lay upon the glass of the littleskylight directly over our heads.
Punmeamootty waited nimbly upon us, though my immediate impression wasthat his alacrity was not a little animated by fear and dislike. As theCaptain sat smilingly recommending the ham that he was carving--dwellingmuch upon it, and talking of the pig as an animal on the whole moreserviceable to man than the cow--I caught the coloured steward watchinghim as he stood some little distance away upon the skipper's left, withhis dusky shining eyes in the corner of their sockets. It reminded me ofthe look I had observed the fierce-looking fellow at the wheel fastenupon the Captain. It was as though the fellow cursed him with his duskygaze. Yet there was nothing forbidding in his face, despite hisugliness. His skin was of the colour of the yolk of an egg, and he had acoarse heavy nose, which made me suspect a Dutch hand in the man'screation. His hair was coal black, long, and lank, after the Chinesepattern. It would have been hard to guess his age from such a mask of aface as he carried; but the few bristles on his upper lip suggestedyouth, and I dare say I was right in thinking him about two-and-twenty.
The Captain talked freely; sometimes he omitted his nasal twang; but hisconversation was threaded with pious reflections, and I took notice of atendency in the man to sermonize, as though little in the most familiartalk could occur out of which a salutary moral was not to be squeezed.He seemed to be very well pleased to have us on board, not perhaps somuch because our company was a break as because it provided him with anopportunity to philosophize, and to air his sentiments. I shall not bethought very grateful for thus speaking of a man who had rescued us froma trying and distressful situation, and who was entertaining us kindly,and, I may say, bountifully; but my desire is to give you the truth--todescribe exactly as best I can what I saw and suffered in this strangepassage of my life, and the portrait I am attempting of Captain JoppaBunting is as the eyes of my head, and of my mind too, beheld him.
As I looked at him sitting at the table, of a veal-like complexion inthat light, blandly gesticulating with his fat hands, expressing himselfwith a nasal gravity that was at times diverting with the smile thataccompanied it, it seemed difficult to believe that he was a merchantcaptain, the master of as commonplace an old ocean waggon as evercrushed a sea with a round bow. I asked him how long he had followed thelife, and he astonished me by answering that he was now forty-four, andthat he had been apprenticed to the sea at the age of twelve.
'You will have seen a very great deal in that time, Captain,' said I.
'I believe there is no wonder of the Lord visible upon the face of thedeep which I have not v
On this I observed that Helga eyed him with interest, yet I seemed to besensible, too, of an expression of recoil in her face, if I may thusexpress what I do not know how better to define.
'You have worn wonderfully well,' said I.
'I have taken care of myself,' he answered, smiling.
'Is this your ship, sir?'
'I have a large interest in her,' he replied. 'I am very well content tofollow the sea. The sense of being watched over is comforting, and oftenexhilarating; but I wish,' he exclaimed, with a solemn wagging of hishead, 'that the obligation to make money in this life was less, muchless, than it is.'
'It is the only life in which we shall require money,' said Helga.
'True, madam,' said he, with an apparently careless but puzzling glanceat her; 'but let me tell you that the obligation of money-making soilsthe soul. I am not surprised that the godliest of the good men of oldtook up their abode in caves, were satisfied with roots for dinner, andwere as happy in a sheep's-skin as a dandy in a costume by Poole. I defya man to practise virtue and make money too. Punmeamootty, put some wineinto the lady's glass!'
Helga declined. The Malay was moving swiftly to execute the order, butstopped dead on her saying no, and with insensible and mouse-likemovements regained his former post, where he stood watching the Captainas before.
'Yes,' said I, 'this world would be a pleasant one if we could managewithout money.'
'For myself,' said he, casting his eyes over the table, 'I could do verywell with a crust of bread and a glass of water; but I have a daughter,Judith Ruby, and I have to work for her.'
This brought a little expression of sympathy into Helga's face.
'Is she your only daughter, Captain Bunting?' she asked.
'My only daughter,' he answered, with a momentary softening of hisvoice. 'I wish I had her here!' said he. 'You would find her, MissNielsen, a good, kind, religious girl. She is lonely in her home when Iam away. I am a widower. My dear wife fell asleep six years ago.'
He sighed, but he was smiling too as he did so.
The windows of the skylight had now turned into gleaming ebony againstthe darkness of the evening outside, and reflected the white table-clothand the sparkling glass and our figures as though it were a blackpolished mirror over our heads. I had taken notice of a sharperinclination in the heel of the barque when she rolled to leeward, and,though I was no sailor, yet my ears, accustomed to the noises of thecoast, had caught a keener edge in the hum of the wind outside, a morefretful hiss in the stroke of every sea smiting the bends. An order wasdelivered from the deck above us and shortly afterwards, a singularsound of howling arose, accompanied with the slatting and flapping ofcanvas.
'Mr. Jones is taking the mainsail off her,' said the Captain, 'but theglass is very steady. We shall have a fine night,' he added, smiling atHelga.
'Is that strange wailing noise made by the crew?' she asked.
'It is, madam. The Malays are scarcely to be called nightingales. Theyare pulling at the ropes, and they sing as they pull. It is a habitamong sailors--but you do not require me to tell you that.'
'I believe there is very little in seamanship, Captain Bunting,' said I,'that even you, with your long experience, could teach Miss Nielsen.'
She looked somewhat wistfully at me, as though she would discourage anyreferences to her.
'Indeed!' he exclaimed. 'I should like to hear your nauticalaccomplishments.'
'It was my humour to assist my father when at sea,' she said, with hereyes fixed on the table.
'Now, what can you do?' said he, watching her. 'Pray tell me? Aknowledge of the sea among your sex is so rare that a sailor could nevervalue it too greatly in a lady.'
'Let me answer for Miss Nielsen, Captain,' I exclaimed carelessly, witha glance at the Malay steward, whose gaze, like the Captain's, was alsodirected at Helga. 'She can put a ship about, she can steer, she canloose a jib, and run aloft as nimbly as the smartest sailor; she canstand a watch and work a ship in it, and she can take sights and giveyou a vessel's place on the chart--within a mile shall I say, Helga?'
He looked at me on my pronouncing the word 'Helga.' I do not know that Ihad before called the girl thus familiarly in his presence.
'You are joking, Mr. Tregarthen!' said he.
A little smile of appeal to me parted Helga's lips.
'No, no,' said I, 'I am not joking. It is all true. She is the mostheroical of girls, besides. We owe our preservation to her courage andknowledge. Helga, may God bless you, and grant us a safe and speedyreturn to a home where, if the dear heart in it is still beating, weshall meet with a sweet welcome, be sure.'
'But you must not be in a hurry to return home,' exclaimed the Captain,turning his smiling countenance to Helga; 'you must give me time totempt you to remain on board _The Light of the World_. Yourqualifications as a sailor should make you an excellent mate, and youwill tell me how much a month you will take to serve in that capacity?'
I observed the same look of recoil in her face that I had before seen init. A woman's instincts, thought I, are often amazingly keen in theinterpretation of men's minds. Or is she merely nervous and sensitivewith a gentle, pretty modesty and bashfulness which render directallusions to her after this pattern distressing? For my part, I couldfind no more than what the French call badinage in the Captain's speech,with nothing to render it significant outside the bare meaning of thewords in his looks or manner.
She did not answer him, and by way of changing the subject, being alsoweary of sitting at that table, for we had finished the meal some time,though the Malay continued to look on, as though waiting for the orderto clear away, I pulled out my watch.
'A quarter to seven,' I exclaimed. 'You will not wish to be lateto-night, Helga. You require a good long sleep. By this time to-morrowwe may have shifted our quarters; but we shall always gratefullyremember Captain Bunting's goodness.'
'That reminds me,' said he, 'your cabins must be got ready.Punmeamootty, go forward and tell Nakier to send a couple of hands aftto clear out two of the berths below. No! tell Nakier I want him, andthen come aft and clear the table.'
The man, gliding softly but moving swiftly, passed through the door thatled on to the quarter-deck.
'I wish I could tempt you, Miss Nielsen,' continued the Captain, 'totake Mr. Jones's cabin. You will be so very much more comfortablethere.'
'I would rather be near Mr. Tregarthen, thank you,' she answered.
'You are a fortunate man to be so favoured!' he exclaimed, smiling atme. 'However, every convenience that my cabin can supply shall be placedat Miss Nielsen's disposal. Alas! now, if my dear Judith were here! Shewould improve, by many womanly suggestions, my humble attempts as aSamaritan. Our proper business in this world, Mr. Tregarthen, is to dogood to one another. But the difficulty,' he exclaimed with a sweep ofhis hand, 'is to do _all_ the good that can be done! Now, for instance,I am at a loss. How am I to supply Miss Nielsen's needs?'
'They are of the simplest--are not they, Helga?' said I.
'Quite the simplest, Captain Bunting,' she answered, and then, lookingat him anxiously, she added: 'My one great desire now is to get toEngland. I have been the cause of taking Mr. Tregarthen from his mother,and I shall not feel happy until they are together again!'
'Charity forbid,' exclaimed the Captain, 'that I should question for aninstant the heroism of Mr. Tregarthen's behaviour! But,' said he,slightly lowering his voice and stooping his smiling face at her, so tosay, 'when your brave friend put off in the lifeboat he did not, I maytake it, know that you were on board?'
'But I _was_ on board,' she answered quickly: 'and he has saved my life,and I wish him to return to his mother, who may believe him drowned andbe mourning him as dead!'
My Danish Sweetheart: A Novel. Volume 2 of 3 by William Clark Russell / Romance & Love have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes