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       My Danish Sweetheart: A Novel. Volume 2 of 3, p.8
 

         Part #2 of 3 of My Danish Sweetheart: A Novel series by William Clark Russell
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  CHAPTER VIII.

  A CREW OF MALAYS.

  We sat chatting thus until something after nine. The comfort of thiscabin after the lugger, the knowledge that Helga and I would each have acomfortable bed, comparatively speaking, to lie in, the conviction thatour stay in the barque must be short, and that a very few hours mightsee us homeward bound, coupled with a sense of security such as neverpossessed me in the open lugger, not to mention the influence of my onepretty big tumbler of rum punch, had put me into a good humour.

  'Is not this better than the lugger?' I said to Helga, as I motionedwith my cigar round the cabin, and pointed to the slippers upon my feet.'Think of my little windy bed under that boat's deck, Helga, andrecollect your black forepeak.'

  She seemed to acquiesce. The Captain's countenance was bland withgratification.

  'You tell me you have not travelled, Mr. Tregarthen?' said he.

  'I have not,' I replied.

  'But you would like to see the world? All young men should see theworld. Does not the poet tell us that home-keeping youths have everhomely wits?' and here he harangued me for a little with commonplaces onthe advantage of travel; then, addressing Helga very smilingly, he said,'_You_ have seen much of the world?'

  'Not very much,' she answered.

  'South America?'

  'I was once at Rio,' she answered. 'I was also at Port Royal, inJamaica, and have accompanied my father in short voyages to one or twoPortuguese and Mediterranean ports.'

  'Come, there is extensive observation, even in that,' said he, 'in oneso--in one whose years are still few! Did you ever visit Table Bay?'

  She answered 'No.'

  He smoked meditatively.

  'Helga,' said I, 'you look tired. Would you like to go to your cabin?'

  'I should, Hugh.'

  'Well, I shall be glad to turn in myself, Captain. Will you forgive ourearly retreat?'

  'By all means,' he exclaimed. 'Let me show you the cabins.'

  He went to the cuddy door and bawled for Punmeamootty. 'Light alantern,' I heard him say, 'and bring it aft!'

  After a minute or two the steward made his appearance with a lanternswinging in his hand. The Captain took it from him, and we passed out onto the quarter-deck where the hatch lay. After the warmth of the cuddyinterior, the wind, chilled as it had been with the damp of the squall,seemed to blow with an edge of frost. The rays of the lantern danced inthe blackness of the wet planks. The vessel was rolling slowly andplunging heavily, and there were many heavy, complaining, strainingnoises aloft amid the invisible spaces of canvas swinging through thestarless gloom. The cold, bleak roar of seething waters alongsiderecalled the raft, and there was a sort of sobbing all along the duskclose under either line of bulwarks.

  'Let me help you through this little hatch, Miss Nielsen,' said theCaptain, dangling the lantern over it that we might see the aperture.

  If she answered him, I did not hear her; she peered a moment, then puther foot over and vanished. The steps were perpendicular--pieces of woodnailed to the bulkhead--yet she had descended this up-and-down ladder inan instant, and almost as she vanished was calling to me from below tosay that she was safe.

  'What extraordinary nimbleness in a young lady!' cried the Captain, in avoice of unaffected admiration. 'What an exquisite sailor! Now, Mr.Tregarthen!'

  I shuffled down, keeping a tight hold on the edge of the hatch, and feltmy feet before there was occasion to let go with my hands. There wasvery little to be seen of this interior by the lantern light. It was theforepart of the steerage, so far as I could gather, with two rows ofbulkheads forming a little corridor, at the extremity of which, aft, Icould faintly distinguish the glimmering outlines of cases of lightcargo. Forward of the hatch, through which we had descended, there stooda solid bulkhead, so there was nothing to be seen that way. The doors ofthe cabins opened out of the little corridor; they were merepigeon-holes; but then these 'tweendecks were very low, and while Istood erect I felt the crown of the wideawake I wore brushing theplanks.

  Never could I have imagined so much noise in a ship as was here--thesqueaking, the grinding, the groaning; the jar and shock of the rudderupon its post; the thump of the seas outside, and the responsivethrobbing within; the sullen, muffled roar of the Atlantic surge washingpast; all these notes were blended into such a confusion of sounds as isnot to be expressed. The lantern swayed in the Captain's hand, and theshadows at our feet sprang from side to side. There were shadows, too,all round about, wildly playing upon the walls and bulkheads of thevessel with a mopping and mowing of them that might have filled a lonelyand unaccustomed soul down here with horrible imaginations of seamonsters and ocean spectres.

  'I heartily wish, Miss Nielsen,' cried the Captain--and, in truth, hehad need to exert his voice to be audible amid that bewilderingclamour--'that you had suffered me to provide you with betteraccommodation than this. Jones could have done very well down here.However, for to-night this will be your cabin. To-morrow I hope you willchange your mind, and consent to sleep above.'

  So saying, he opened the foremost of the little doors on the port side.It was a mere hole indeed, yet it somehow took the civilized look of anordinary ship's berth from the round scuttle or thickly-glazed portholewhich lay in an embrasure deep enough to comfortably warrant thethickness of the vessel's side. Under this porthole was a narrow bunk,and in it a bolster, and, as I might suppose, blankets, over which wasspread a very handsome rug. I swiftly took note of one or twoconveniences--a looking-glass, a washstand secured to the bulkhead (thispiece of furniture, I made no doubt, had come direct from the Captain'scabin); there was also a little table, and upon it a comb and brush, andon the cabin deck was a square of carpet.

  'Very poor quarters for you, Miss Nielsen,' said the Captain, lookinground, his nose and whiskers appearing twice as long in the fluctuationsof the lantern light and his fixed smile odd beyond words, with thetumbling of the shadows over his face.

  'The cabin is very comfortable, and you are very kind!' exclaimed Helga.

  'You are good to say so. I wish you a good night and pleasant dreams.'

  He extended his hand, and held hers, I thought, rather longer than merecourtesy demanded.

  'That will be your cabin, Mr. Tregarthen,' said he, going to the door.

  I bade Helga good-night. It was hard to interpret her looks by thatlight, yet I fancied she had something to say, and bent my ear to hermouth; but instead of speaking, she hurriedly passed her right hand downmy sleeve, by no means caressingly, but as though she desired to cleanseor dry her fingers. I looked at her, and she turned away.

  'Good-night, Helga!' said I.

  'Good-night, Hugh!' she answered.

  'You will find a bolt to your door, Miss Nielsen,' called the Captain.'Oh, by the way,' he added, 'I do not mean that you shall undress in thedark. There is an opening over your door; I will hang the lanternamidships here. It will shed light enough to see by, and in half anhour, if that will not be too soon, Punmeamootty will remove it.Good-night, Mr. Tregarthen!'

  He left me, after hanging up the lantern by a hook fixed in a beamamidships of the corridor. I waited until his figure had disappeared upthe steps of the hatch and then called to Helga. She heard me instantly,and cried, 'What is it, Hugh?'

  'Did not you want to say something to me just now?' I exclaimed.

  She opened the door and repeated, 'What is it, Hugh? I cannot hear you!'

  'I thought you wished to speak to me just now,' said I, 'but werehindered by the Captain's presence.'

  'No, I have nothing to say,' she answered, looking very pale in thefrolic of shadows made by the swinging lantern.

  'Why did you stroke down my arm? Was it a rebuke? Have I offended you?'

  'Oh, Hugh!' she cried; then exclaimed: 'Could not you see what I meant?I acted what I could not speak.'

  'I do not understand,' said I.

  'I wished to wipe off the grasp of that man's hand,' she exclaimed.

  'Poor wretch! Is he so soiling as all t
hat, Helga? And yet howconsiderate he is! I believe he has half denuded his own cabin for you.'

  'Well, good-night once more,' said she, and closed the door of her berthupon herself.

  I entered my cabin wondering like a fool. I could witness nothing butgroundless aversion in her thoughts of this Captain Bunting, and feltvexed by her behaviour; for first I considered that, as in the lugger,so here--some days, ay, and even some weeks, might pass withoutproviding us with the chance of being conveyed on board a homeward-boundship. I do not say I believed this; but it was a probable thing, andthere was that degree of risk, therefore, in it. Then I reflected thatit was in the power of Captain Bunting to render our stay in his vesseleither as agreeable as he had the power to make it, or entirelyuncomfortable and wretched by neglect, insolence, bad-humour, and thelike. I therefore regarded Helga's behaviour as impolitic, and, nothaving the sense to see into it so as to arrive at a reason, I allowedit to tease me as a piece of silly girlish caprice.

  This was in my mind as I entered my cabin. There was light enough toenable me to master the interior, and a glance around satisfied me thatI was not to be so well used as Helga. There were a pair of blankets inthe bunk, and an old pewter basin on the deck that was sliding to andfro with the motions of the vessel. This I ended by throwing the concerninto the next cabin, which, so far as I could tell, was half full ofbolts of canvas and odds and ends of gear, which emitted a very strongsmell of tar. However, I was sleepier than I was sensible of while Iused my legs, for I had no sooner stretched my length in the bunk, usingthe Captain's slippers rolled up in my monkey-jacket as a pillow, than Ifell asleep, though five minutes before I should have believed thatthere was nothing in opium to induce slumber in the face of thecomplicated noise which filled that interior.

  I slept heavily right through the night, and awoke at half-past seven. Isaw Punmeamootty standing in the door, and believe I should not haveawakened but for his being there and staring at me. I lay a minutebefore I could bring my mind to its bearings; and I have somerecollection of stupidly and drowsily imagining that I had been setashore on an island by Captain Bunting, that I had taken refuge in acave, and that the owner of that cave, a yellow wild man, had looked in,and, finding me there, was meditating how best to despatch me.

  'Hallo?' said I. 'What is it?'

  'You wantchee water, sah?' said the man.

  'Yes.' said I, now in possession of all my wits. 'You will find thebasin belonging to this berth next door. A little cold water, if youplease, and, if you can possibly manage it, Punmeamootty, a small bit ofsoap and a towel.'

  He withdrew, and in a few minutes returned with the articles I required.

  'How is the weather?' said I, with a glance at the screwed-up porthole,the glass of which lay as dusky with grime as the scuttle of a whalerthat has been three years afishing.

  'Very proper wedder, sah,' he answered.

  'Captain Bunting up?'

  'No, sah.'

  'You will be glad to get to Cape Town, I dare say,' said I, scrubbing atmy face, and willing to talk since I noticed a disposition in the fellowto linger. 'Do you hail from that settlement, Punmeamootty?'

  'No, sah: I 'long to Ceylon,' he answered.

  'How many Cingalese are there aboard?'

  'Tree,' he answered.

  'Do the rest belong to the Cape?'

  He shook his head and replied, 'No; one Burmah man, anoder Penang,anoder Singapore--allee like that.'

  'But your work in this ship ends at Cape Town?'

  'Yes, sah,' he answered, swiftly and fiercely.

  'Are you all Mahometans?'

  'Yes, allee Mussulmans.'

  I understood by _allee_ that he meant all. He fastened his dusky eyesupon me with an expression of expectation that I would pursue thesubject: finding me silent, he looked behind him, and then said, in aspecies of English that was not 'pigeon' and that I can but feeblyreproduce, though, to be sure, what was most remarkable in it came fromthe colour it took through his intonation, and that glitter in his eyeswhich had made them visible to me in the dusk of the previous evening,'You have been wrecked, sah?' I nodded. 'But you sabbee nabigation?'

  I could not restrain a laugh. 'I know nothing of navigation,' said I;'but I was not wrecked for the want of it, Punmeamootty.'

  'But de beautiful young lady, she sabbee nabigation?' said he, with anapologetic, conciliatory grin that laid bare a wide range of hisgleaming white teeth.

  'How do you know that?' said I, struck by the question.

  'Me hear you tell de captain, sah.'

  'Yes,' said I, 'I believe she can navigate a ship.' He tossed his handsand rolled up his eyes in ludicrous imitation, as I thought, of hisCaptain's behaviour when he desired to express admiration. 'Shebeautiful young lady,' he exclaimed, 'and werry good--kind smile, andberry sorry for poor Mussulmans, sah.'

  'I know what you mean, Punmeamootty,' said I. 'We are both very sorry,believe me! The Captain means well'--the man's teeth met in a suddensnap as I said this--'the man means well,' I repeated, eyeing himsteadily; 'but it is a mistaken kindness. The lady and I will endeavourto influence him; though, at the same time, we trust to be out of theship very soon, possibly too soon to be of any use. Anything in sight?'

  'No, sah!'

  He loitered still, as though he had more to say. Finding me silent, hemade an odd sort of obeisance and disappeared.

  Helga's cabin-door was shut. I listened, but could not collect amid thecreaking noises that she was stirring within. It was likely she hadpassed an uneasy night and was now sleeping, and in that belief I gainedthe hatchway and mounted on deck.

  The first person I saw was Helga. She was talking to the two boatmen atthe foot of the little poop ladder, under the lee of the bulwarks, whichwere very nearly the height of a man. The decks were still dark withthe swabbing-up of the brine with which they had been scoured. Thegalley chimney was hospitably smoking. A group of the coloured seamenlounged to leeward of the galley, with steaming pannikins and biscuitsin their hands, and, as they ate and drank, they talked incessantly. Thefellow named Nakier stood on the forecastle with his arms folded,persistently staring aft, as it seemed to me, at Helga and the boatmen.The sun was about half an hour above the horizon; the sky was verydelicately shaded with a frosty network of cloud, full of choice andtender tints, as though the sun were a prism flooding the heavens withmany-coloured radiance. Over the lee-rail the sea was running in a finerich blue streaked with foam, and the wind was a moderate breeze fromwhich the completely clothed masts of the barque were leaning with theyards braced forward, for, so far as I could tell by the sun, the windwas about south-east.

  All these details my eye took in as I stepped out of the hatch. Helgaadvanced to meet me, and I held her hand.

  'You are looking very bonny this morning,' said I. 'Your sleep has doneyou good. Good-morning, Abraham; and how are you, Jacob? You two are themen I just now want to see.'

  'Marning, Mr. Tregarthen,' exclaimed Abraham. 'How are _you_, sir? Don'tMiss Nielsen look first-rate? Why, she ain't the same lady she was whenwe first fell in with ye.'

  'It is true, Helga,' said I. 'Did Captain Bunting smuggle some cosmeticsinto your cabin, along with his washstand?'

  'Oh, do not joke, Hugh,' said she. 'Look around the ocean: it is stillbare.'

  'I've bin a-telling Miss Nielsen,' exclaimed Abraham, 'that themcoloured chaps forrads are a-talking about her as if she were adiwinity.'

  'A angel,' said Jacob.

  'A diwinity,' said Abraham, looking at his mate. 'The cove they callsboss--that there Nakier yonder, him as is a-looking at us as if hisheart was agoing to bust--what d'ye think he says--ay, and in fust-classEnglish, too? "That there gal," says he, "ain't no Englishwoman. I'mglad to know it. She's got too sweet a hoye for an Englishwoman." "Whatd'ye know about hoyes?" says I. "English bad, bad," says he; "somegood," here he holds up his thumb as if a-counting wan; "but many vereebad, veree bad," he says, says he, and here he holds up his fowerfingers, like a little sprouting of
o'er-ripe plantains, meaning fowerto one, I allow.'

  'It's pork as is at the bottom o' them feelin's,' said Jacob.

  'Abraham,' said I, in a low voice, for I had no desire to be overheardby the mate, who came and went at the rim of the poop overhead in hiswalk from the taffrail to the break of the deck, 'before you acceptCaptain Bunting's offer----'

  'I _have_ accepted it, Mr. Tregarthen,' he interrupted.

  'When?'

  'Last noight, or call it this marning. He was up and down while I kep' alook-out, and wanst he says to me, "Are you agreeable, Vise?" says he;and I says, "Yes, sir," having talked the matter o'er with Jacob.'

  'I hope the pair of you have thought the offer well out,' said I, witha glance at the Captain's cabin, from which, however, we stood too farto be audible to him in it. 'I saw Nakier haranguing you yesterdayafternoon, and, though you told me you didn't quite understand him, yetsurely by this time you will have seen enough to make you guess that ifthe Captain insists on forcing pork down those men's throats his ship isnot going to continue a floating Garden of Eden!'

  'Whoy, that may be roight enough,' answered Abraham; 'but them colouredchaps' grievances han't got nothen to do with Jacob an' me. What Iconsidered is this: here am I offered fower pound a month, and there'sJacob, who's to go upon the articles for three pound; that'll be sevenpound 'twixt us tew men. Ain't that money good enough for the likes ofus, Mr. Tregarthen? Where's the _Airly Marn_? Where's my fifteen poundvorth o' property? Where's Jacob's height pound vorth--ay, every fardenof height pound?' he exclaimed, looking at Jacob, who confirmed hisassurance with a prodigious nod. 'As to them leather-colouredcovies----' he continued, with a contemptuous look forwards; thenpausing, he cried out, ''Soides, whoy _shouldn't_ they eat pork? Ifit's good enough for me and Jacob, ain't it good enough for the likes o'such a poor little parcel o' sickly flesh as that there Nakier and hismates?'

  'It is a question of religion with them,' said I.

  'Religion!' grumbled Jacob. 'Religion, Mr. Tregarthen, don't lie here,sir,' putting his hand upon his waistcoat, 'but here,' pointing with atarry-looking finger to where he imagined his heart was. 'There hain'tno religion in dishes. I've heerd of chaps a-preaching in tubs, but Inever heerd of religion lying pickled in a cask. Don't you let themchaps gammon you, sir. 'Tain't pork: it's a detarmination to findfault.'

  'But have they not said enough in your hearing to persuade you they arein earnest?' said Helga.

  'Why, ye see, lady,' answered Abraham, 'that their language is a sort o'conversation which there's ne'er a man along Deal beach as has ever beeneddicated in, howe'er it may be along o' your part o' the coast, Mr.Tregarthen. What they says among themselves I don't onderstand.'

  'But have they not complained to you,' persisted Helga gently, 'ofbeing obliged by the Captain either to go without food every other dayor to eat meat that is forbidden to them by their religion?'

  'That there Nakier,' replied Abraham, 'spun a long yarn yesterday toJacob and me whilst we lay agin the galley feeling werry ordinary--werryordinary indeed--arter that there bad job of the _Airly Marn_; but hetalked so fast, and so soft tew, that all that I could tell ye of hisyarn, miss, is that he and his mates don't fancy themselves ascomfortable as they might be.'

  I said quietly, for Mr. Jones had come to a halt at the rail above us:'Well, Abraham, my advice to you both is, look about you a little whilelonger before you allow your names to be put upon the articles of thisship.'

  At that moment the Captain came out of the door of the cuddy, and thetwo boatmen, with a flourish of their hands to Helga, went rollingforward. He came up to us, all smiles and politeness. It was easy to seethat he had taken some trouble in dressing himself; his whiskers werecarefully brushed; he wore a new purple-satin scarf; his ample blackwaistcoat hinted that it belonged to his Sunday suit, or 'best things,'as servants call it; his boots were well polished; he showed anabundance of white cuff; and his wideawake sat somewhat jauntily uponhis head. His two or three chins went rolling and disappearing like aground swell betwixt the opening of a pair of tall starched collars--anunusual embellishment, I should have imagined at sea, where starch is asscarce as newspapers. He hoped Helga had slept well; he trusted that thenoises of straining and creaking below had not disturbed her. She mustreally change her mind, and occupy Mr. Jones's cabin. After shaking meby the hand, he seemed to forget that I stood by, so busy was he in hisattention to Helga. He asked her to step on to the poop or upper deck.

  'These planks are not yet dry,' said he; 'and besides,' he went onsmiling always, 'your proper place, my dear young lady, is aft, wherethere is, at all events, seclusion, though, alas! I am unable to offeryou the elegances and luxuries of an ocean mail steamer.'

  We mounted the ladder, and he came to a stand to survey the sea.

  'What a mighty waste, is it not, Miss Nielsen? Nothing in sight. Allhopelessly sterile. But it is not for me to complain,' he addedsignificantly.

  He then called to Mr. Jones, and all very blandly, with the gentlemanlyairs and graces which one associates with the counter, he asked him howthe weather had been since eight bells, if any vessels had been sighted,and so forth, talking with a marked reference to Helga being near andlistening to him.

  Mr. Jones, with his purple pimple of a nose of the shape of a woman'sthimble standing out from the middle of his pale face, with a small butextraordinary light-blue eye twinkling on either side of it understraw-coloured lashes and eyebrows resembling oakum, listened to andaddressed the Captain with the utmost degree of respect. There was anair of shabbiness and of hard usage about his apparel that bespoke him aman whose locker was not likely to be overburthened with shot. His walkwas something of a shamble, that was heightened by the loose pair of oldcarpet slippers he wore, and by the frayed heels of his breeches. Hisage was probably thirty. He impressed me as a man whose appearancewould tell against him among owners and shipmasters, who would thereforeobtain a berth with difficulty, but who when once in possession wouldhold on tight by all possible strenuous effort of fawning, of agreeing,of submissively undertaking more work than a captain had a right to puthim to.

  While we thus stood I sent a look around the little _Light of the World_to see what sort of a ship we were aboard of, for down to this time Ihad scarcely had an opportunity of inspecting her. She was an oldvessel, probably forty years old. This I might, have guessed from theexistence of the cabins in the steerage; but her beam and the roundnessof her bows and a universal worn air, that answered to the wrinkles uponthe human countenance, likewise spoke her age very plainly. Her fittingswere of the homeliest: there was no brasswork here to glitter upon theeye; her deck furniture was, indeed, as coarse and plain as a smack's,with scars about the skylight, about the companion hatch-cover, aboutthe drumhead of the little quarter-deck capstan, and about the line ofthe poop and bulwark rail, as though they had been used over and overagain by generations of seamen for cutting up plug tobacco upon. She hada very short forecastle-deck forward, under which you saw the heel ofthe bowsprit and the heaped mass of windlass; but the men's sleepingquarters were in the deck beneath, to which access was to be had only bywhat is commonly called a fore-scuttle--that is to say, a little hatchwith a cover to it, which could be bolted and padlocked at will. Abaftthe galley lay the long-boat, a squab tub of a fabric like the motherwhose daughter she was. It rested in chocks, on its keel, and was lashedto bolts in the deck. There were some spare booms secured on top of it,but the boat's one use now was as a receptacle for poultry for theCaptain's table. On either side of the poop hung a quarter-boat indavits--plain structures, sharp-ended like whaling-boats. Add a fewdetails, such as a scuttle-butt for holding fresh water for the crew todrink from; a harness-cask against the cuddy-front, for storing thesalted meats for current use; the square of the main-hatch tarpaulinedand battened down; and then the yards mounting the masts and rising fromcourses to royals, spars and gear looking as old as the rest of theship, though the sails seemed new, and shone very white as the windswelled their breasts to th
e sun, and you have as good a picture as Ican put before you of this _Light of the World_ that was bearing Helgaand me hour by hour farther and deeper into the heart of the greatAtlantic, and that was also to be the theatre of one of the strangestand wildest of the events which furnished forth this trying anddesperate passage of my life.

  Captain Bunting moved away with an invitation in his manner to Helga towalk. I lingered to exchange a word with the mate from the mere desireto be civil. Helga called me with her eyes to accompany her, then,hearing me speak to Mr. Jones, she joined the Captain and paced by hisside. I spied him making an angle of his arm for her to take, but shelooked away, and he let fall his hand.

  'If Abraham Wise,' said I, 'agrees to sail with you, Mr. Jones, you willhave a very likely lively fellow to relieve you in keeping watch.'

  'Yes; he seems a good man. It is a treat to see a white face knockingabout this vessel's deck,' he answered in a spiritless way, as though hefound little to interest him when his Captain's back was turned.

  'You certainly have a very odd-looking crew,' said I. 'I believe Ishould not have the courage to send myself adrift along with one whiteman only aboard a craft full of Malays.'

  'There were three of us,' he answered, 'but Winstanley disappearedshortly after we had sailed.'

  As he spoke, Nakier, on the forecastle, struck a little silver-tonedbell eight times, signifying eight o'clock.

  'Who is that copper-coloured, scowling-looking fellow at the wheel?' Iasked, indicating the man who had been at the helm when Helga and I cameaboard on the preceding day.

  'His name is Ong Kew Ho,' he answered. 'A rare beauty, ain't he?' headded, with a little life coming into his eyes. 'His face looks rottenwith ripeness. Sorry to say he's in my watch, and he's the one of themall that I never feel very easy with of a dark night when he's where heis now and I'm alone here.'

  'But the looks of those Asiatic folk don't always express their minds,'said I. 'I remember boarding a ship off the town I belong to andnoticing among the crew the most hideous, savage-looking creature itwould be possible to imagine: eyes asquint, a flat nose with nostrilsgoing to either cheek, black hair wriggling past his ears like snakes,and a mouth like a terrible wound; indeed, he is not to be described;yet the captain assured me that he was the gentlest, best-behaved man hehad ever had under him, and the one favourite of the crew.'

  'He wasn't a Malay,' said Mr. Jones drily.

  'The captain didn't know his country,' said I.

  Here Abraham arrived to take charge of the deck. He had polished himselfup to the best of his ability, and mounted the ladder with an air ofimportance. He took a slow, merchant-sailor-like, deep-sea survey of thehorizon, following on with an equally deliberate gaze aloft at thecanvas, then knuckled his brow to Mr. Jones, who gave him the course andexchanged a few words with him, and immediately after left the deck,howling out an irrepressible yawn as he descended the ladder.

  It was not for me to engage Abraham in conversation. He was now on duty,and I understood the sea-discipline well enough to know that he must beleft alone. I thereupon joined Helga and Captain Bunting, not a littleamused secretly by the quarter-deck strut the worthy boatman put on, bythe knowing, consequential expression in his eyes as they met in asquint in the compass-bowl, by his slow look at the sea over thetaffrail and the twist in his pursed-up lips as he went rolling forwardsto the break of the poop, viewing the sails as though anxious to findsomething wrong, that he might give an order and prove his zeal.

  At half-past eight Punmeamootty rang a little bell in the cabin, and wewent down to breakfast. The repast, it was to be easily seen, was thebest the ship's larder could furnish, and in excess of what was commonlyplaced upon the table. There was a good ham, there was a piece of ship'scorned beef, and I recollect a jar of marmalade, some white biscuit, anda pot of hot coffee. The coloured steward waited nimbly, with a singularswiftness and eagerness of manner when attending to Helga, at whom Iwould catch him furtively gazing askant, with an expression in hisfiery, dusky eyes that was more of wonder and respect, I thought, thanof admiration. At times he would send a sideways look at the Captainthat put the fancy of a flourished knife into one's head, so keen andsudden and gleaming was it. Mr. Jones had apparently breakfasted andwithdrawn to his cabin, thankful, no doubt, for a chance to stretch hislegs upon a mattress.

  In the course of the meal Helga inquired the situation of the ship.

  'We are, as nearly as possible,' answered the Captain, 'on the latitudeof the island of Madeira, and, roundly speaking, some hundred and twentymiles to the eastward of it. But you know how to take an observation ofthe sun, Mr. Tregarthen informed me. I have a spare sextant, and at noonyou and I will together find out the latitude. I should very well liketo have my reckoning confirmed by you;' and he leaned towards her, andsmiled and looked at her.

  She coloured, and said that, though her father had taught hernavigation, her calculations could not be depended upon. But for herwish to please me, I believe she would not have troubled herself togive him that answer, but coldly proceeded with the question she nowput:

  'Since we are so close to Madeira, Captain Bunting, would it beinconveniencing you to sail your barque to that island, where we aresure to find a steamer to carry us home?'

  He softly shook his head with an expression of bland concern, while hesentimentally lifted his eyes to the tell-tale compass above his head.

  'You ask too much, Helga,' said I. 'You must know that the deviation ofa ship from her course may vitiate her policy of insurance, shoulddisaster follow.'

  'Just so!' exclaimed the Captain, with a thankful and smilinginclination of his head at me.

  'Besides, Helga,' said I gently, 'supposing, on our arrival at Madeira,we should find no steamer going to England for some days, what should wedo? There are no houses of charity in that island of Portuguese beggars,I fear; and Captain Bunting may readily guess how it happens that I leftmy purse at home.'

  'Just so!' he repeated, giving me such another nod as he had beforebestowed.

  The subject dropped. The Captain made some remark about the part of theocean we were in being abundantly navigated by homeward-bound craft,then talked of other matters; but whatever he said, though directlyaddressed to me, seemed to my ear to be spoken for the girl, as though,indeed, were she absent, he would talk little or in another strain.

 
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