THE WRECK OF THE "GROSVENOR."
WRECK OF THE "GROSVENOR:"
AN ACCOUNT OF
THE MUTINY OF THE CREW AND THE
LOSS OF THE SHIP
WHEN TRYING TO MAKE THE BERMUDAS.
IN THREE VOLUMES.
SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON, SEARLE & RIVINGTON,
CROWN BUILDINGS, 188, FLEET STREET.
(All rights reserved.)
PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS,
STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.
There was every appearance of a south-westerly wind. The coast of France, which had been standing high and shining upon the horizon on the port bow, and so magnified by the clear northerly air that you could discern, even at that distance, the dim emerald sheen of the upper slopes and the streaky shadows thrown by projecting points and elbows on the white ground, was fast fading, though the sun still stood within an hour of its setting beyond the bleak Foreland. The north wind, which had rattled us with an acre of foam at our bows right away down the river, and had now brought us well abreast of the Gull lightship, was dropping fast. There was barely enough air to keep the royals full, and the ship's number, which I had just hoisted at the peak—a string of gaudy flags which made a brilliant figure against the white canvas of the spanker—shook their folds sluggishly.
The whole stretch of scene, from the North Foreland down to the vanishing French headlands miles away yonder, was lovely at that moment—full of the great peace of an ocean falling asleep, of gently moving vessels, of the solemn gathering of shadows. The town of Deal was upon the starboard bow, a warm cluster of houses, with a windmill on the green hills turning drowsily, here and there a window glittering with a sudden beam of light, an inclined beach in the foreground with groups of boats high and dry upon it, and a line of foam at its base which sang upon the shingle so that you could hear it plainly amid intervals of silence on board the ship. The evening sun shining over the giant brow of the South Foreland struck the grey outline of the cliff deep in the still water, but the clear red blaze fell far and wide over the dry white downs of Sandwich and the outlying plains, and threw the distant country into such bold relief against the blue sky that, from the sea, it looked close at hand, and but a short walk from the shore.
There were three or four dozen vessels at anchor in the Downs waiting for a change of wind or anticipating a dead calm for some hours. A few others, like ourselves, were swimming stealthily over the slack tide, with every foot of their canvas piled upon them with the effort to reach safe anchorage before the wind wholly failed and the tide turned. A large ship, with her sails stowed and her masts and rigging showing with the fineness of ivory-tracing against the sky, was being towed up Channel, and the slapping of the water by the paddles of the tug, in fast capricious revolutions, was quite audible, though both ship and steamer were a long league distant. Here and there small boats were rowing away from the anchored ships for the shore. Now and again you could hear the faint distant choruses of seamen furling a big sail or paying out more cable, the clank, clank of which was as pretty as music. Down in the east the heavens were a deep blue, flecked along the water line with white sails, which glowed in the sunshine like beacons.
I was in a proper mood to appreciate this beautiful tranquil scene. I was leaving England for a long spell, and the sight of that quiet little town of Deal and the grand old Foreland cliffs shutting out the sky, and the pale white shores we had left far astern, went right to my heart. Well, it was just a quiet leave-taking of the old country without words or sobs.
"The pilot means to bring up. I have just heard him tell the skipper to stand by for a light sou'-westerly breeze. This is a most confounded nuisance! All hands, perhaps, in the middle watch to get under way."
"I expected as much," said I, turning and confronting a short, squarely-built man, with a power of red hair under his chin, and a skin like yellow leather through thirty years exposure to sun and wind and dirt all over the world. This was the chief mate, Mr. Ephraim Duckling, confidently assumed by me to be a Yankee, though he didn't talk with his nose. I had looked at this gentleman with some doubt when I first met him in the West India Docks. He had blue eyes, with a cast in the port optic; this somehow made him humorous, whether or no, when he meant to be droll, so he had an advantage over other wits. He had hair so dense, coarse, and red withal, that he might have been safely scalped for a door-mat. His legs were short, and his body very long and broad, and I guessed his strength by the way his arm filled out, and threatened to burst up the sleeve of his coat when he bent it. So far he had been polite enough to me, in a mighty rough fashion indeed; and as to the men, there had been little occasion for him to give orders as yet.
"I expected as much," said I. "I have been watching the coast of France for the last quarter of an hour, and the moisture has nearly shut it out altogether. I doubt if we'll fetch the Downs before the calm falls."
"There's a little wind over the land, though, or that mill wouldn't be turning."
He turned his eyes up aloft; then went to the ship's side, and looked over. I followed him. The clear green water was slipping slowly past, and now and again a string of sea-weed went by, or a big, transparent jelly-fish, or a great crab floating on the top of the water. A thin ripple shot out in a semicircle from the ship's bow, and, at all events, we might tell that we were moving by watching the mast of the Gull lightship sliding by the canvas of a vessel hull below the horizon to the eastward of the sands.
Some of the hands were on the forecastle, looking and pointing towards the shore. Others stood in a group near the galley, talking with the cook, a fat, pale man, with flannel shirt-sleeves rolled above his elbows. The pigs in the long-boat grunted an accompaniment to the chattering of a mass of hens cooped under the long-boat. There was no movement in the sea, and the great sails overhead hung without flapping, and nothing stirred aloft but the light canvas of the royals, which sometimes shook against the masts lazily, and with a fine distant sound.
The skipper stood on the weather-side of the poop, against the starboard quarter-boat, conversing with the pilot.
Have before you a tall, well-shaped man, with iron-grey hair, a thin aquiline nose, a short compressed mouth, small dark eyes, which looked at you imperiously from under a perfect hedge of eyebrow, and whitish whiskers, which slanted across his cheeks; dressed in a tall hat, a long monkey-jacket, and square-toed boots.
Captain Coxon was a decidedly good-looking man, not in the smallest degree approaching the conventional notion of the merchant-skipper. Happily, it is no condition of good seamanship that a man should have bow-legs, and a coppery nose, and groggy eyes; and that he should prefer a dish of junk to a savoury kickshaw, and screeching rum to good wine.