Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/The iceberg - Part 1
BY A. STEWART HARRISON.
“You’ve been a whaler, Ben?”
“Ay, sir, I have; many long years ago, tho’.”
“Now, what do you think of as the most perilous of your enterprises?”
“D’you mean what I think most difficult—wonderful-like?”
“Well, sir, I’ve been pitched out of a boat many a time; once, I recollect, that I was pitched out and got a touch with his tail as well. Lord bless you! it gave me a head-ache for a month, to say nothing of the ducking.”
“Ever seen any ice?”
“I should say I had. There’s a note-book in that corner drawer—no; that one under the further end—that’s got something about ice in it. Ay! that’s it, pictures and all. Why I drawed these five-and-twenty year ago. Hardly seems like it, tho’. It’s a rum story, it is—sort of Robinson Crusoe like. You’ve read that?”
“A good many times. Did you ever know anybody who hadn’t?”
“I never knew a youngster that hadn’t. I believe that book ’s been the cause of more boys going to sea than any that was ever written.”
“Suppose we look over your note-book; I should like to see your story.”
“Oh! it isn’t written so that you could understand it; but I’ll look at it, and tell you the story, if you like—but I must begin at the beginning, as they say. You must know I once felt a kind of liking for a girl; call her Esther Thompson—I don’t say that’s her real name, but that’ll do. She didn’t care much for me, and I was only second-mate then. I thought it was that, so I tried to get a first-mate’s berth as soon as I came home from a short voyage I’d agreed to go to make up my time to the owners. She said she’d wait and not marry anyone till I came back. With that I went off. When I came home I went there and she was gone they didn’t know where. I soon learned that, about a month after I left, there had been a handsome sailor-fellow after her, and she seemed took with him rather much. I’d been gone about eight months. I talked to mother about it, and after a little I found that she thought Esther was not fairly done by by this chap, Montague Fitzjames, as he called himself. In short, she was ruined, and had run away. I went nearly mad at this, and set out to find her, and after about three months I found her at Manchester. I didn’t go into her place at first, but asked some questions about her in the neighbourhood, and found she’d got a child—a boy—and was working at shirt-making for a living, and was quite a decent woman. I knew she’d have died rather than be what some would have turned to in her case. So I went up and saw her. She was dreadfully thin, and her eyes bright and far back in her head. The baby was lying in a cradle by the fire—such a little bit it hardly kept the room warm.
“‘Esther,’ says I, ‘do you know me?’
“She looked up and saw me.
“‘Ben!’ says she, and then fainted off dead in her chair.
“I took some water out of the basin, and sprinkled her face a bit, undid the top hooks of her gown, and took off her bit of velvet round the neck. She came to, and broke out:
“‘Oh! Ben, Ben! I’ve done wrong, I know it, but I’ve suffered the punishment. I’ve not seen him now for four months, come Wednesday, and the child’s a month old to-morrow. Oh, Ben! I know I’ve done wrong! You must forgive me; he was such a handsome man and so fond of me. I know he didn’t mean to wrong me.’
“It was a queer notion of hers that I should forgive her ’cause he was such a handsome chap. I was rather, till the small-pox spoilt my phiz. I says to her:
“‘Esther, you’ve done wrong, I know, but it’s not for me to punish you. God has begun that, and there ain’t wanting them as will be willing enough to help Him punish a woman, if they ain’t willing to help Him any other way. I’m sorry for you, Esther. I’m not going to blame you, I want you to go home again.’
“‘No, no, Ben! I can’t do that. Why all the girls of the place will mock me.’
“Says I, ‘I can’t help it, Esther; but think of the old man and the old woman at home. I came home three months ago, and have been looking for you ever since. I saw them not two weeks back, and, if you’d have heard him ask if I’d found you, you’d go back.’
“‘I can’t—they’ll curse me! I know they will. I can’t go back. Father was so looked up to like amongst them all. No, Ben! I can’t go back.’
“‘Esther, they won’t curse you, I know. I found ’em just mad when I went to them first, but I went to the new curate, who was just come to the place instead of old Jenkins, and told him about it, and he came down to see them, and read them that chapter about the prodigal son and about the lost sheep, and talked to ’em, and old mother cried—I saw him wipe his eyes, too,—so they won’t curse you. Come, Esther, go back with me—do now.’
“‘Back with you, Ben? No, not that. Why, they’d speak against me, Ben—say I was soon suited again.’
“‘Go back, then, anyhow, will you? I tell you if you don’t, you’ll kill the old folks.’
“She began to hesitate at this, so I left her to herself a bit, for I know enough of woman-kind to know that when they hesitate it’s best to let ’em alone—let ’em seem to choose of themselves.
“Well, she agreed to go at last: then came another difficulty; she was a fortnight behind in rent. I told her I would lend her some money. I knew she would not take it as a gift, so I made her sign a paper for 1l., and she paid, and next day we came home. I took her to the old folks, and then left them all together. I was not one of the family, you know. After a day or two I went down, and then they were all gratitude to me. I took it all as matter-of-fact as possible, though I could have blubbered my eyes out. Then came another hitch: they had inquired, and no one would employ her. I hadn’t thought of this, but I didn’t say anything about it then; but when I left I went to the curate again. I don’t know what made me take a fancy to him, for I was not a regular pious man, never could see it that way as some people do; I suppose we ain’t made all alike; but one day I saw him pick up a child that had tumbled down in the road just outside the village; pull out his white handkerchief and wipe the mud off its knees and hands, then find a clean place to wipe its eyes with, give it a penny, I suppose, and then walk a little way with it back, holding his hand. I didn’t know then he was the curate, for his clothes were not black, but a sort of reddish grey; no white choker either, but just a sailor’s knot and the ends flying. Well, thinks I, when I heard who it was, that beats me—his white handkerchief too—he’s the sort of Christian I like, so I went to hear him at church, and I liked him there too. Well, as I was saying, I went to him next day about eleven o’clock; he asked me in, and his wife was sitting there. She was a little grey-eyed woman, very pale and thin, more like a little girl than a woman, till you noticed her.
“‘Alice, dear, this is Mr. Stevens, that I told you about.’
“‘I remember; I hope you found her, Mr. Stevens.’
“‘Yes, ma’am, I have—I’ve come about her.’
“‘Sit down, Ben,’ says he. I do like a fellow who calls you by your Christian name—seems more friendly than Mr. So I sat down. ‘Now, what can we do for you, eh?’
“I told him that nobody would employ her here, as she’d lost her character, and that her father and mother could not keep her, though she might live with them. So I asked him if he’d mind paying her to make shirts for a man in Liverpool I knew? He’d pay sixpence each for the making of the shirts, and I’d leave her my half-pay, for I made up my mind to go a long voyage, if he’d make it out so that it should seem as if she was earning more for the shirts than the sixpence, for I knew she’d never take the money of me. Well, he agreed to do it. ‘For,’ says I, ‘I think we are all of us too much down on a woman when she goes wrong. What would it be,’ says I, ‘if people were to serve us men in the same way? A good many of us would have to beg.’
“‘Ben,’ says he, ‘you’re right there!’ starting from his chair quite excited like; ‘you’re right, man!’ and he groaned as if he was in pain.
“‘My dear Walter,’ said his wife, and she put her hand on his shoulder. He sat down, trembling like.
“‘I meant no offence,’ says I, ‘none, sir. I—’
“‘No, Ben, I know it; but a random-shot tells sometimes.’
“I noticed that she’d let her hand slide down from his shoulder, and had caught hold of his hand with both hers. She was sitting just a little behind him, as he sat back in the easy chair. She thought I could not see in the shadow of the chair, but I could see, and she was holding his hand as hard as she could.
“‘No, Ben,’ says he; ‘but we’re none of us better than we should be, and ought therefore to be less harsh than we are. I’ve no reason to complain though, thank God.’ He turned and looked back at her.
“I never saw such a change come over a woman’s face before. She opened her grey eyes and looked at him in a way that put me in mind of a flash of sheet lightning in the twilight in summer—when it’s not quite dark, you know—and the light of it makes it seem as though day was come back again. I never saw such a look; it said as plain as words, she knew all, and forgave him, and loved him enough to die for him. It did me good did that look, and when I’ve been inclined to joke about women being censorious and fault-finding, I’ve thought of it. I think she must have had what some women would call ‘good cause’ to find fault from the way he spoke, but she didn’t. So they agreed to give Esther my half-pay, so that she should think it came from the shirts.
“I went down to Esther just before I left to say ‘good-bye,’ and tell her about the work.
“‘Esther,’ says I, ‘I’m going a long voyage—perhaps four years—whaling. You know I went two or three voyages before. Now don’t leave the old folks again, there’s a good girl. You’ll never find that—’
“I was going to say ‘fellow,’ but I didn’t; for you can’t do yourself more harm in a woman’s eyes than to call her lover names.
“‘You’ll never find Fitzjames, unless he comes back here, I know; so don’t leave them.’
“‘Ben,’ says she, and the tears were in her eyes, ‘you’ve been a friend to me. I’ll never forget it. I know he’ll come back—I’m sure of it, and if he don’t I’ll never marry another man. He never meant to do me a wrong like this, I know. He got into mischief through drink;—he never meant me to come to this, I know.’
“‘God bless you, Esther. Good bye.’
“She came up to me, put her arms round my neck and kissed me.
“‘Ben,’ says she, ‘you always seem like a brother to me—always did, and that’s why I kiss you. You’ve been a good brother to me; I wish you’d never have tried to be more.’
“‘Good-bye, Esther,’ and I kissed her for the first time in my life.”
My friend, Ben Stevens, has a cough which obliges him to use his handkerchief now and then. The red and yellow Bandana was in vigorous action for a few seconds now.
“So I determined to go on a whaling-voyage, as that was the hardest life I knew, and hard work keeps a man from thinking of himself and his feelings. Taking in the foresail with a north-east gale blowing, don’t leave a fellow much time to look inside himself, neither does harpooning, when you like to do it like a man.
“Well, I went, you see, to Aberdeen, and shipped for mate in the Belle of Aberdeen, Captain Macaulay. We left in March and reached Cape Farewell about the middle of April, but as the wind fell dead as we left the harbour we got into the Spitzbergen drift, and were carried with it as far as 66° north; then we met with a regular northerly breeze that chilled you through to sniff it.
“Of course it froze us up, being early in the season, and there we were till nearly the end of May, the wind north the whole time.
“One morning, after breakfast, the captain says to me:
“‘Mr. Stevens, there’s a little west in the wind this morning; it may go round south, so that we can get out of this perhaps if the ice breaks up with it.’
“‘I was in the nest this morning,’ said Cummins, our second-mate, and it seemed to me that that shore-lane reached open water.’
“‘Might be worth while to cut a bit to get into it, in case this don’t get southerly,’ said the captain.
“‘Might be worth while to track it and see. We could get some game perhaps if we didn’t find what we want about the lane,’ says I.
“‘That’s true,’ says the captain. ‘We’ll see how the wind is in an hour, and then get up a party to go.’
“The wind shifted a little to the north’ard, so we got up the party; the Captain, of course, couldn’t leave the ship, so I was one, and he told me to take my pick of the men.
“‘I chose a fellow, I think,’ said Ben, reflectively, ‘the handsomest chap I ever set eyes on, His eyes seemed to dance when he smiled; and a jollier, more good-natured fellow I never knew. Lord, what songs he used to sing—anything—comic or love-songs! Why, to hear him sing My Pretty Jane, in the forecastle of a night, was a regular treat. I’ve heard many a one at the singing-gaffs at Liverpool that couldn’t come near him. And dance! I never saw a fellow so smart on his legs. He used to do the Lancashire clog-dance in an old pair of cut-down sea-boots, and you’d hear the clatter in the ice hills like the muskets at a review. I quite loved the fellow,—he did his work so easy—wanted no telling—saw your drift in a minute, and I don’t think he missed the weather-earing once the whole voyage. Jack Sands, he called himself.
“There was another I took with me, ‘Sleepy Sam,’ they called him. I’ve known him to go fast asleep on the look-out, and the ship pitching no small way neither.
“We took a bag with some grub, and our pannikins, in case we should have to spend the night out.
“It was not so mighty cold as you’d think in the daytime, for we were only just inside the winter ice-line, and with a south-wind that would shift to the north’ard past us.
“Just as we were going over the side a lad we had on board wanted to go with us. He was the owner’s son, and had been sent aboard to cure him of a desire to go to sea. There’s as many gets the desire for life that way as gets cured. Captain said he couldn’t go, but he begged so hard that I asked leave for him, and said I’d take care of him; so he came with us three.
“We traced the lane till night, and then got under the cliff, lit a bit of fire with the drift wood, pulled out the coffee and biscuits, and so did pretty well. We laid down round the fire, one keeping watch. I found it precious cold with only the blanket and my pea-jacket; and I was obliged to hug up the youngster, he felt so bad. I don’t know but what both were warmer for it. In the morning we had some more coffee and some pork. It got light enough about eight bells to go on; and when we got into the wind it was dead south, and felt as warm as summer. We got on, and had some dinner, and started again; we could see the water sky ahead, so pushed on. The lane was open nearly all the way; here and there we should have to cut a bit, but not much.
“About two o’clock, we sighted the water itself. There was a good deal of surface-drift to the edge of the pack, but the thaw was going on fast; right ahead there was a biggish berg; so we left ‘Sleepy Sam’ at the bottom, and climbed up,—I, and Sands, and the boy.
“‘Can’t get back to-night if we try for it,’ said Sands. ‘Anyhow we’d best stop, and make a long day of it to-morrow.’
“I thought this was a good plan; so we went down again, expecting to find Sam.
“He was gone—clean gone! not a trace of him anywhere. We shouted and fired our guns, but could hear nothing in return.
“‘Must stay now,’ said the boy; ‘it’s getting dark, and we shan’t do any good stumbling over the hummocks to-night.’
“So we stayed.
“‘Best get up on the berg again,’ said Sands. ‘He’ll stand more chance of seeing us, and we him.’
“We got a few sticks, and lit a fire again; and I said I’d watch for the first spell. Sands and the youngster lay down, and I watched.
“I never rightly knew how it was, but I was waked up by falling right on my face. I crawled up, and found that the berg was adrift from the pack, and had risen at least ten feet higher, and all on one side.
“Sands and the boy woke up as soon as I did, and, says Sands,
“‘She’s adrift, Stevens!’
“He looked awful pale, he did; for we could see it was just morning. True enough she was adrift, and knocking about in the small ice in a way that made us hold on fast to anything to keep our feet.
“She kept slowly drifting to the east’ard along the edge of the pack, breaking it up as she went; so that there was no chance of our getting off it on to the main fast ice to reach the ship.
“About an hour or two after she started, the youngster says to me,
“‘Drop the “Mr.”,’ says I; ‘it don’t sound natural.’
“‘Well, Stevens, then; there’s Sam.’
“True enough, there he was, running along the edge of the pack, like a racehorse; but he soon stopped. We signalled him that it was no use, and motioned him to go back to the ship for help, though there was small chance of his finding his way there in time to do us any good.
“So he went back; and it made us feel queer, I can tell you, to see his back get smaller and smaller, till he was nothing but a little black mark the size of your finger on the ice; and then, worst of all, he went over a hummock that quite hid him.
“All this while, till night-fall, we were drifting to the east’ard; whether it was the current or the wind I can’t tell, but away we went, jerking and shaking now and then fit to shake us off.
“‘Cheer up,’ says I to the youngster; ‘there’s many a man been adrift before; it’ll make something to tell the governor when you get home.’
“‘How are we to get home?’ says he, quite mournful-like, almost crying; that ‘home’ of his didn’t sound common-like when he said it.
“‘Oh!’ says Sands; ‘all right. Make ourselves jolly till we’re taken off it; she’ll lodge down against a bit there—look, Stevens.’
“He pointed out a bit of a bay, with a long piece of floe fast to the main, right athwart our bows as she was then going.
“‘We’d best get down there,’ says I, ‘so as to be ready.’
“So we got down on the nearest point, as we thought, ready. She squeezed up the small ice as she neared it, so that we were obliged to get up higher.
But we could have reached the floe, and got to the ship, when the youngster slipped down, and called out,
“‘Stevens,’ says he, ‘I’m gone!’
“And, sure enough, he would have gone slap down into the open water if his gun hadn’t stuck in a crack.
“He was so badly bruised—for he’d slipped over a dozen blocks, that he couldn’t walk.
“‘What’s to be done now?’
“‘Done!’ says Sands, quite savage. ‘Why the devil didn’t you keep your feet, you young fool?’ and he picked him up, and we might almost have done it, when I sung out,
“‘Hold hard, Sands! she’s adrift again!’
“She was, too; the floe piece had parted from the main, and was going on before us; and it swung us round right into the stream again.
“‘There now,’ says he, ‘that’s your damned clumsiness has done that job; we should have done it if it hadn’t been for you, and I could do it now if I was by myself.’
“And I think he could, for the end of the piece was still touching the pack about a quarter of a mile off.
“‘Well,’ says I, ‘it’s no use growling; he didn’t mean to fall, I suppose.’
“’Cause, you see, I never could see the good of blaming a fellow when he’d got to suffer for himself.
“‘All right!’ says Sands, ‘I was a little out, but it’s all over. Let’s make ourselves comfortable for the night—it’s no use grumbling, Stevens, as you say.’
“So we got the grub and ate it. Of course we had no fire, and felt precious cold as the wind fell. We all went to sleep, and in the morning I woke first.
“‘Sands,’ says I, ‘here’s a go.’
“‘We’ve got in the north current,’ says he.
“So we had. There was not a bit of ice within a hundred yards of us; we could just see the blink in the distance.
“‘No getting back to the ship now, Sands.’
“‘No,’ says he; ‘ship must come to us—we’re in for it—it’s infernally cold, tho’, let’s get round to the wind’ard.’
“We took the youngster’s arm, for he could walk a little now, and got round to wind’ard. Here it was better—not quite so cold. We had breakfast; no fire again tho’, and sucking a bit of ice is a poor make-up for a cup of hot coffee, let alone the flavour, even.
“‘Now,’ says I, ‘look here, boys; we’re likely to be here a goodish bit, we may as well see what we’ve got.’”
Here Ben took the note-book from the table, and turned over the pages, muttering “Lost fore-topsail sheet-block,” “Monk sprained his ankle,” “spoke the Mary Anne,” “ice seen,” “left ship,” “adrift,” “Oh! here, that’s it.”
“You see,” said Ben, addressing me, “I always had to keep the log, and I used to keep a log of my own at the same time, till at last it got such a way with me that I felt as if I hadn’t done my duty if there was no log kept—got to be a regular thing with me. Lord, sir! there’s in that bottom cupboard the logs—‘diaries’ is printed on the back: I call ’em logs—of all I’ve done since I left the sea. I do it every day after tea, and can’t quite be happy without it. I heard the minister say some poetry about that kind of thing—
“‘Use doth breed a habit in a man,’
“I think it was.
“Now this here, as I said, is the log of my voyage in ‘the floating island,’ as I called it in joke once to the missus. She said it was so good a name that it’s always been called so since.”
“Well,” said I, “what had you got when you came to count up?”
“Three guns—one was rifled—that was the boy’s—fine handsome stock it had, too, very light, tho’; but, Lord! they let these only sons have anything. Two hatchets—short handles—the boy hadn’t got one. Then there was three blankets and our clothes we’d got on. There was in the three bags about twelve pounds of fat pork, cooked, and about the same of biscuit. Sands had some tea, but Sleepy Sam had got all the coffee in his bag, so we’d none with us. I’d got a bit of lanyard in my jacket pocket. One large fish-hook—that was the queerest thing. Sands says to the boy:
“‘What’s that in the corner of your bag?’
“‘Oh! it’s a hook to catch shark with. Aunt Nelly gave it me.’
“Sure enough it was a big barbed hook with a cork on the end—he was a careful boy that—and a bit of chain to it, about two feet.
“‘And what did you bring it here for?‘says I. ‘Expect to catch sharks?’
“Lord! how Sands laughed.
“‘No,’ says the boy; ‘only the captain said you’d most likely shoot some seals, so I thought that would stick into them to drag them along over the ice.’
“It wasn’t such a bad notion, you see; so Sands gave over laughing. I think that was about all we’d got with us, and a poor lookout it was, too. There was food enough, on short allowance, to last us about five days. By that time, we thought, if we had got into what they call the Arctic cold-current, we should get down to about 61° or so, and fall in with some whalers. So we made up our minds to it, and set about getting a little to rights. The first point was to get warm, because the cold is not only unpleasant, but makes you eat more, if you’ve got it, and want more if you haven’t.
“The wind still kept south, and soon we could see nothing but our own bit of ice all round. When we got to wind’ard it felt warm, so we took all the things round to wind’ard, and cut a hole in the ice to put them in, with a small gutter leading from it so as to keep ’em from the wet. Then we cut a sort of platform level to stand on, but it was dreadfully sloppy; the ice was melting as fast as it could—running down in streams from the top, as the sun shone on it, and making the air quite damp.
“Next morning, we resolved on a search of “the island,” as we called it. Sands and I, with the two guns, went; the boy stayed on the platform to look out.”
“How large was it, Stevens, altogether?”
“I should say about three times as big as a thousand-ton vessel—of course, of a different shape. Here’s the sketch I made of it; it’s as near as I could remember. You see there were two peaks and a bit of floe at the bottom. It wasn’t so big, by a long chalk, as some I’ve seen, you know.
“Let’s see—where was I? O, I know. Sands and I went down to the floe-piece, and says I to Sands, ‘That’ll break off soon; it can’t stand the wash;’ for it was only about six feet through, quite new ice. So we went round the base of the pyramid, keeping as close in as possible, and holding on every step, for it was sloppy and slippy as possible.
“‘Hist!’ says Sands; ‘listen.’
“I listened, and heard something different to the plash of the waves—more splash and splutter-like.
“‘Seals,’ says Sands.
“And it was, too—three fine ones; they’d been regularly trapped like us. Their holes were up six or eight feet above them; they’d come through the holes and lay on the edges before the bit broke off the main pack and canted; so they slid down till they stopped where the berg began, in a place like the angle of the letter V. They stared at us, and we stared at them; but we soon gave over that; for we knocked ’em on the head.
“But the job was, what to do with them; so Sands and I went back, and got the boy’s hook; and with the bit of cord I’d got, we got ’em all three on the platform where the boy was.
“It got dark by this time, and we put off skinning them and cutting them up till next day.
“Next day we cut ’em up and skinned ’em.
“‘I say, Stevens,’ says the youngster, ‘can’t you make some shoes out of the skin with the hair downwards on the soles; they’d have a better hold on the ice—and you can cut them into strips crossways, like this—see?’ And he scratched on the ice with his knife like this.
“We made them to go over the boot, and soon found we could walk about as easily again. The flesh we put in our ‘ice-chest,’ as Sands called it, for he laughed at everything now the boy was well.
“We made some oil, too, tho’ it was a tedious job, for we’d only got three pannikins; however, we turned one into a lamp with some shreds of the cotton shirt Sands had. Of course we could get a light with our gun-flints and damp powder; and then boiled it down half a pint at a time, and made a hole in the ice to keep it in; for if the water melted, it only went to the bottom of the hole and settled, while the oil floated.
“Five days went on, and the biscuit was all gone; so was the pork. We had nothing but the seal beef, but there was enough of that to last a month.
“That same evening, I says to Sands and the boy, ‘Look here, now; suppose anything passes at night, we can’t see it, and they can’t see us. Suppose we take watch and watch to look out; for there’s no knowing how long this game’s to last.’
“‘Won’t last long,’ says Sands, ‘if it keeps this breeze from the south’ard; it’s melting fast day and night, and there’ll be nothing left in a week or two, when we get down into the sun; not much fear of crossing the line in this ship. I’ve left many a ship,’ says he, ‘but I never had a ship leave me like this seems to be going to.’
“He was right enough; the whole thing would melt before we could get off it. It kept rising out of the water more and more; for the air was warmer than the water a good deal, and it melted it fast.
“‘Look here, Stevens; suppose anything does see us, they’ll give us as wide a berth as possible; you can’t make ’em hear a mile off, you know.’
“‘No,’ said I, ‘but we can make ’em see three miles off.’
“So we set to work, and made three-lamps out of the skulls of the seals, and very good lamps they made too; a bit of old shirt made the wick, and then we had to cut a track to each lamp. We put them as near as we could guess to the four points of the compass, and lighted them next night; it was a pretty sight to see the reflection in the water; the ice being white showed the light beautifully. The oil lasted about six hours in each, for we didn’t have a big wick. The pannikin lamp we kept where we slept, and then had to go round to the others to see them all safe. We kept the wind off with blocks of ice.
“One night, it must have been on the 12th out, the boy was on the look-out, and came to me; ‘Stevens,’ says he, ‘I see a sail I think.’ I didn’t call out, ’cause of waking Sands, he seemed getting dull-like. I started up, and looked where he pointed, and, sure enough, there she was, about half a mile to wind’ard; the wind had shifted a little to the east. I shouted and waked Sands. Poor fellow! he was nearly mad, screaming and shouting frightfully.
“‘I tell you what it is, Sands,’ says I. ‘You’re doing yourself no good by this—we must make ’em see us if we’re to do any good. Get some more of that shirt of yours for a bigger wick to this, and then go round to fetch the other lamps.’
“He got a bit of the shirt and we got the lamps together; it must have made ’em see I should have thought, but they didn’t seem to; and after about half an hour they steered away from us.
“You see it was about the last thing to think of that any one should be on an iceberg so far south as we were, and a berg’s a thing to steer clear of if you can.
“It gave us all a queer feeling when we lost sight of her. The boy and Sands cried. I saw it was no use being down-hearted about it, though I’m afraid I cursed the skipper of that vessel pretty much; so I made ’em take the lamps back to their places, and took the rest of the boy’s watch myself.
“Poor youngster—he cried himself to sleep. You see we’d had twelve days of it, and not a dry rag on us since the first day. Our skins were quite sore and covered all over with little pimples; and round the waist and neck, where the clothes rubbed, there were quite sores. You try a poultice anywhere for twelve days, and see what it’ll do for you. Poor Sands—he was worse than either of us.
“So we went on, day after day—plenty of food—seal beef.
“Some days we saw ships, some days none. It was weary work, but I kept ’em up to it: there’s nothing like regular work to keep you from brooding over unpleasantness—nothing. Sometimes we got a shot at some birds, but more than half fell in the water.
“On the eighteenth day we were nearly thrown down by the breaking off of the small pointed piece you see in the sketch.
“It broke off and splashed into the water with an awful noise, and almost sunk, and then came up again, and shook us to pieces as it rubbed against our piece. Next day it separated and got farther off, and on the second day it was hull down, and we lost it at night.
“That was the twenty-first day, and the sun was hot—not warm, but hot. We got a few dry clothes by stretching them out to wind’ard on the ramrods, but they got sopped again at night.
“Sands gave up on this night—he couldn’t take his watch, he was so bad. We must have got into warmer water, too, for instead of rising out of the water it began to sink—more one side than the other, too, so that the tracks were getting too slippy to be safe. Another thing I noticed was, that the whole affair turned round sometimes with the sun, sometimes the other way, and then again was quite still for a day at a time.
“On the twenty-fourth day—the boy was gone to light the lamps. Sands says to me, ‘How long will he be gone?’
“‘A half an hour,’ says I.
“‘Stevens,’ says he.
“I told him to say Ben.
“‘Ben, then,’ says he, ‘I’m not going to last much longer. I feel it here, somehow—sort of warning.’
“He did look awful bad, but I told him to cheer up; we might get taken off any time for we were just in the track now.
“‘No, no,’ says he, ‘it’s all over with me, I feel it here,’ and he put his hand on his breast. Lord, what a hand it was to what I first knew it! Thin and lean, and the bones making the skin look shiny over them. Soft, too, as a woman’s!
“‘There’s a thing I want you to do, Ben, if you get off this at all.’
“I told him I’d do anything for him I could.
“‘Now listen, Ben,’ says he, ‘for I ain’t got much wind left.’
“‘The voyage before last I came home with a lot of money, and made up my mind for a spree; so I went ashore, and got a flashy suit of clothes. Well, I didn’t like the name of Sands, so I took another, and had a regular game. I’m very sorry now; but you see, when a fellow’s been three years amongst the coolies it seems as though he ought to have a little freedom when he gets amongst white people again. Well, I went down to the sea side to a village I knew, and there I saw a girl at church. She seemed took with me, so I struck up an acquaintance with her for a lark. She took it quite serious, and was regularly in love with me, and I got at last to be in love with her. Well, I didn’t mean no harm to the girl, I meant to marry her. I did, as true as God,’ says he. ‘Well, we went wrong, and one night she said I had been cruel to her—and got cross—and then told me we must be found out soon. I was savage at that and at her being cross—poor girl, she’d cause to be. So I said I’d never see her again, and went off in a huff.
“‘I meant to come back, I did, Ben. I swear it. Instead of that, I met a messmate of mine, and he got me drunk, and shipped me on a West India trader, and when I came to myself I was too far from shore to get back, so I sulked, and shirked duty. The Captain says to me:
“‘My man, it’s no use—you’re here, and you’ll be paid. You can’t get back any quicker than with me; so do your work like a man, and we shall be back in a couple of months or so, at least.’
“‘So I did my work. When we got to Kingston I took the fever, and was in the hospital near two months, and he left me there, paying me for the voyage out; and then I came home and heard that she’d gone away, nobody knew where.
“‘Well, I set to work to find her, and tried all ways till the money was gone, and then had to ship in the Belle of Aberdeen, for I’m pretty good at whaling, and knew I could get money; and I wished to go back and find her, and get married to her.’
“Here he was took with spasms, so bad that I brought out my case-bottle of brandy and gave him a little. I’d just put in the cork, when the boy came running to me and fell down all of a heap close by me.
“‘What’s the matter?’ says I.
“He opened his mouth once or twice, and at last got out:
“‘A sail! It’s close by—I can see ’em on the deck,’ and he fainted right dead off.
“I told Sands.
“‘A sail!’ says he, and tried to get up. Lord! he’d no more strength than a baby, and fell down directly, looking as dead as could be. I wanted to know more about him, so I gave him some more brandy, and asked him the girl’s name.
“‘The sail,’ says the boy, for he’d come to, and would say nothing else. ‘Oh, the sail!’
“‘What’s her name?’ says I to Sands. He stared at me as if he didn’t hear.
“‘The sail!’ screamed the boy; ‘you’ll miss it, and we shall die.’
“I gave him some more brandy, and asked him again as loud as I could:
“‘What’s her name? What’s the girl’s name?’
“‘Esther Th——,’ and he couldn’t finish.
“I gave him all that was left now, and asked him again.
“‘Esther Thompson,’ says he.
“Esther Thompson! Then this was Fitzjames. This chap, sir, that I’d loved as if he’d been my brother, and loved him still—by G—d, sir!” said Ben, striking the table with his fist, “this chap was my greatest enemy—had been the seducer of Esther—and yet I couldn’t hate him.
“The boy kept screaming, ‘Sail! Sail!’ and I was half mad.
“‘Ben,’ says he, ‘do you know her?’
“‘Know her! She’s all that’s dear to me, you d—d villain.’
“‘No, no,’ says he, quite strong again, “not villain. I meant no harm to the girl. I meant—I swear I did—to marry her, and nobody would have known anything about it, if it hadn’t been for that drink, Ben;’ and all the while the boy kept crying, ‘Sail! Sail!’
“‘If you ever see her again, tell her that I didn’t mean to be a villain. I didn’t mean to wrong her. Promise me that.’
“I saw he was going fast, and I promised him I’d tell her.
“‘One more thing,’ says he. ‘Ben, here’s something sown in my flannel—cut it out.’
“I cut it out—it was half a sixpence, all crooked and bent.
“‘She gave me that,’ says he, looking at it as fond as if it was her, and kissing it. ‘Give it her back, and tell her I meant to marry her.’
“‘I will,’ says I, ‘Sands, I will; and may God forgive you, as I do.’
“The boy kept on screaming; so, seeing Sands quiet, I went round to the other side to look at the sail. I was too late; she was out of all chance of making her hear or see.
“When I came back Sands was gone: the bit of the sixpence was in his hand; I took it out, and took care of it, and then went to the boy. He was almost as dead as Sands. It was an awful sight to see them both lying so still—Sands quite dead, and the boy so near it that you could hardly bel’eve he wasn’t. Not a drop of brandy either—Sands had it all.
- see cut, page 412.