great eagerness he said, "Will you put into one of the West India Islands? I am known at Kingston; I have shipped largely to a firm there, Messieurs Raymondi and Company. Why, my dear, we shall be very well received, and we shall be able to purchase fresh clothes," he continued, holding up his arm and looking at it with a melancholy smile, "and go home in one of the fine mail packets. Ha! ha! ha! how things come about!"
He lay back upon his pillow with this short mirthless laugh, and remained silent. I do not say that his mind was unhinged, but his intellect was unquestionably impaired by the horrors he had witnessed and the sufferings he had endured. But then he was an old man—nearer seventy than sixty, I took him to be; whilst his daughter, whom a little rest had put upon the high road to recovery, did not appear to be above twenty years old.
As the time was passing rapidly, I determined to seize the opportunity of the carpenter being on deck to do what I could to make these sufferers comfortable. I therefore left them and sang out to the steward, who came with terrified promptitude, casting the while and almost at every step, fearful glances in the direction of the main-deck, where some of the hands were visible.
I gave him the captain's hair-brush to wash, and covered a tray with the various toilet conveniences with which the ill-fated skipper had provided himself. These I dispatched by the steward to Miss Robertson, and I then made the man prepare a tray with a substantial breakfast, consisting of cold fowl, fine white biscuit, ham, preserved fruit, and some tea, which I boiled in the pantry by means of a spirit-lamp that belonged to me.
I took an immense pleasure in supplying these new friends' wants, and almost forgot the perilous situation I was in, in the agreeable labour of devising means to comfort the girl, whose life and her father's, thanks to God, I had been instrumental in preserving.
I made a thorough overhaul of Coxon's effects, holding myself fully privileged to use them for the benefit of poor Mr. Robertson, and sent to his cabin a good suit of clothes, some clean linen, and a warm overcoat.
The steward obeyed me humbly and officiously. He considered his life still in great danger, and that he must fall a sacrifice to the fury of the crew if he quitted the cuddy. However, I found him very useful, for he furnished me with some very good hints, and, among other things, he, to my great delight, informed me that he had in the steerage a box of woman's underclothing, which had been made by his wife's hand for a sister living in Valparaiso, to whom he was taking out the box as a gift, and that I was very welcome to the contents.
I requested him at once to descend with me and get the box out; but this job took us over twenty minutes, for the box was right aft, and we had to clear away upwards of five hundred bird-cages, and a mass of light wooden packages of toys and dolls to come at it. We succeeded at last in hauling it into the cuddy, and he fetched the key and raised the lid; but burst into tears when he saw a letter from his wife, addressed to his sister, lying on top of the linen.
I told him to put the letter in his pocket, and to be sure that his sister would be liberally compensated, if all went well with us, for this appropriation of her property.
"I am not thinking of the clothes, sir," whined the poor fellow, "but of my wife and child, who I may never see again."
"Nonsense," I exclaimed; "try to understand that a man is never dead until the breath is out of his body. You are as well off as I am, and those poor people in the cabin there. What we have to do now is to help each other, and put a bold face on our troubles. The worst hasn't arrived yet, and it won't do to go mad with anticipating it. Wait till it comes, and if there's a road out of it, I'll take it, trust me. Cock this box under your arm, and take it to Miss Robertson."
I had now done everything that was possible, and to my perfect satisfaction; for besides having furnished the old gentleman with a complete change of clothes, I had supplied his daughter with what I knew she would appreciate as a great luxury—a quantity of warm, dry underclothing.
It may strike the reader as ludicrous to find me descending into such trivialities, and perhaps I smiled myself when I thought over the business that had kept me employed since six o'clock. But shipwreck is a terrible leveller, and cold and hunger and misery know but little dignity. How would it seem to Miss Robertson, the daughter of a man obviously opulent, to find herself destitute of clothing, and accepting with gratitude such rude articles of dress as one poor workwoman would make for another of her condition? She, with the memory in her of abundant wardrobes, of costly silks, and furs, and jewellery, of rich attire, and the plentiful apparel of an heiress! But the sea pays but little attention to such claims, and would as lief strip a monarch as a poor sailor, and set him afloat naked to struggle awhile and drown.
At seven bells, that is, half an hour before eight, I heard the carpenter's voice shouting down the companion for the steward. I instantly opened the cabin door to tell the man to go at once, as I believed that Stevens merely called to give him orders about the men's breakfast.
This proved to be the case, as I presently learnt on going on deck, whither I repaired (although it was my watch below) in order to see what the carpenter was about.
I found him lying upon one of the skylights, with a signal-flag under his head, smoking a pipe, whilst three or four of the men sat round him smoking also. All plain sail had been made, as I had directed, and the ship heading west-south-west under a glorious sky, and all around a brilliantly clear horizon and an azure sea.
Away on our lee quarter was a large steamer steering south, brig-rigged, bound, I took it, to the west coast of Africa. The men about the carpenter made a movement when they saw me, as though they would leave the poop, but one of them made some remark in a low voice, which kept them all still. The carpenter, seeing me watching the steamer, called out—
"She wouldn't take long to catch us, would she? I hope there's no man on board this wessel as 'ud like to see her alongside, or would do anything to bring her near. I wouldn't like to be the man as 'ud do it—would you, Joe?"
"Well, I'd rather ha' made my vill fust than forgot it, if so it were that I was that man," responded the fellow questioned.
"We're glad you've come up," continued the carpenter, addressing me, though without shifting his posture, "for blowed if I know what to do if she should get askin' us any questions. What 'll you do, Mr. Royle?"
"Let her signal us first," I replied, quite alive to the sinister suggestiveness of these questions.
"Put the helm up and go astern of her—that's what my advice is," said one of the men.
"You'll provoke suspicion if you do that," I exclaimed. "However, you can act as you please."
"Mr. Royle's quite right," said the man addressed as Joe. "Why can't you leave him alone? He knows more about it than us, mates."
"She's going twelve knots," I said, "and will cross our bows soon enough. Let her signal, we're not bound to answer."
The men, in