Courage, True Hearts: Sailing in Search of Fortune
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"I often think, boys, that it must be very hard to have to die at sea, especially if homeward bound; all the bustle and stir of ship's work going on around you; the songs of the men, the joking and laughing, and the din-for silence can seldom be long maintained.
"Jack Wright of ours-captain of the main-top-might have been called a tar of the real Tom Bowling type. He, too, like Nat Wildman, whom I mentioned above, was a very great favourite with his mess-mates. He was always kind and merry, but ever good, obedient, and brave. We were coming home in the old T-. Dirty weather began shortly after we left Madeira, and while assisting in taking in sail one forenoon, poor Jack fell from aloft. His injuries were of so serious a nature that his life was despaired of from the first. He lost much blood, and never rallied.
"This sailor had a young wife, who was to have met him at Plymouth. She was in his thoughts in his last hours. I was assisting the doctor just at that time of my life, a kind of loblolly-boy, and I heard the man say, as he looked wistfully in the surgeon's face: 'It seems a kind o' hard, doctor, but I've always done my duty-I've always obeyed orders without asking questions. I'm ready when the Great Captain calls, though-yes, it do seem a kind o' hard.'
"He appeared to doze off, and I sat still for an hour. It was well on in the middle watch, and the ship was under easy sail; there was now and then a word of command, but no trampling overhead, for even the officers liked and respected Jack. I sat still for an hour, then took his wrist in my hand. There was no pulse there. He was gone.
"I covered him up and went on deck, for something was rising and choking me. It was a heavenly night-bright stars shining, and a round silvery moon, with the waves all sparkling to leeward of us.
"'It does seem hard,' I couldn't help muttering.
"As the beautiful burial service was being read over poor Jack Wright, and his body dropped into the sea, many a tear fell that those who shed them needn't have taken much pains to hide.
"At Plymouth we were in quarantine for some time, and no one was allowed on board, but there were boats enough with friends and relations in them hanging around. In one of them was a beautiful young woman and an elderly dame, probably her mother. The whisper-it was nothing else-soon passed round: 'Yonder is poor Jack's wife.'
"Long before she came on board she was in tears; her sailor lad was not even at a port to wave a handkerchief. 'He must be ill,' she would have thought.
"'The doctor wishes to speak to you in his cabin,' a midshipman said, when she appeared on deck.
She came tottering in, supported by the old dame.
"'Jack's ill!' she cried.
"The doctor did not reply.
"'Jack is dead!' she moaned. 'My Jack!'
"We did not answer. How could we?
"Heigho! I've seen grief many times since, but I never witnessed anything to equal that of poor Jack Wright's young wife.
"But I'm saddening you, boys.Here, steward, if there is a dram more punch left, just send it round.
"And now, lads, I'll tell you one more true yarn, and I think I may just call it:
"AN ADVENTURE IN SEARCH OF A QUID,
"For, from the very time Dawson and I shoved off in the dinghy boat until we set foot on Her Majesty's quarter-deck with the 'baccy, it was all adventure together. Our ship was the saucy Seamew, only a gun-boat, to be sure, but a most bewitching little thing all over; lay like a duck in the water, and, on a wind, nothing could touch her. Our cruising-ground was the east coast of Africa, well north, where the fighting dhows floated in the water, and the savage Somalis on shore speared each other when they hadn't any white men to practise on. We never provoked a fight, but when we did show our teeth, and that wasn't seldom, we peppered away in good earnest I assure you. Now, in such a ship in such a climate we might have been as happy as the day was long, but we had just one drawback to general jollity. Our skipper was the devil. That's putting it plain and straight, but I've no other English for it. He was one of your sea lawyers, and lawed it and lorded it over his officers. No matter whether a thing was done rightly or wrongly, you got growled at all the same. There wasn't an officer he hadn't been at loggerheads with, and walked to windward of, too; and there wasn't a man forward he had not punished during the cruise. We had a regular flogging Friday, a most unlucky day for many a poor fellow on board the Seamew. There was, therefore, no love lost between the ward-room and the after-cabin, where the skipper lived in solitary grandeur; and the men would have given him to the sharks, if chance had thrown him in their way, and if the sharks were hungry. I remember once, at Johanna, a happy thought struck the skipper and a few of the petty officers at one and the same time: they thought they would treat themselves to a few fowls by way of change from the junk. The latter, therefore, asked permission of the former to make the purchase. 'Certainly not,' was the curt reply, 'unless you bring them dead on board.' Now, dead they wouldn't keep a day, so they were not bought; but the skipper's poultry were brought on board the same evening, and two nicely-filled hen-coops they were. Well, about the middle of the morning-watch, when the skipper slumbered peacefully in his cot, two figures might have been seen stealthily approaching those hen-coops. 'Softly does it,' said one.
'Right you are, Bill,' replied the other. Then something dark and square rose slowly over the bulwarks, and dropped with a dull splash into the sea; and this happened twice. And next morning when the skipper arose, happy in the prospect of 'spatch cock for breakfast, behold! there wasn't cock nor hen on board to spatch. But I should tire you were I to tell a tithe of the dirty tricks the skipper of the Seamew played his men and officers, so I will content myself with relating the one that bears reference to my story. Once, then, we were in terrible straits for grog and tobacco; we hadn't a drop of the one or a quid of the other on board-at least not in our mess-and hadn't had for over a month. Now, nobody liked a glass of rum better than the skipper, though he didn't smoke; so, as long as his own spirits held out, he didn't care anything for the dearth in the ward-room. But one day he rejoiced us all by informing us he would run down to Zanzibar and take in stores. Well, anyhow, he took us in nicely, for no sooner had we dropped anchor before the long white town, than he called away his gig and landed on the sands. He was back again in two hours with the important intelligence, which we had received, that a three-masted slave-ship was then cruising in the neighbourhood of the little island of Chak-Chak. There wasn't a moment to be lost-it was, 'All hands on deck, up anchor and off.' There wasn't a moment to be lost; but, mark you this, that beggarly skipper, who drank but did not smoke, came off with his gig laden to the gunwale with dainties, spirits included, but not a morsel of the 'baccy our souls were longing to sniff. We never saw the three-masted slave-ship either.
"Well, as you doubtless know, there is a town on the east coast, pretty nigh on the equator, called Lamoo, a half, or, rather, wholly savage kind of place, ruled over by an Arab sultan. It lies not close to the sea, but about ten miles up a broad-bosomed river. Like all African rivers, it is belted off from the sea by a sand-bar, on which the water is shallow, and the green breakers tumble over it houses high. We had been up this river only once before, but the little Seamewgot such a terrible bumping on the bar that our skipper had resolved never to try the same experiment again. But, one beautiful, clear-skied, moonlight night, we found ourselves just outside this bar once more, and, rather to our astonishment, the order was given to heave the ship to until morning. Of course we were delighted, thinking that boats might be sent up stream for fruit, and we might get a chance of the coveted quid; but we were doomed to disappointment, for the whole of next day was spent in taking soundings, and in the evening we were told that next morning we should complete the survey, and then cruise away north once more. So the ship was hove-to on the second evening. Dawson and I were at the time on the sick-list, not that there was anything the matter with us, but the skipper had been bullying us, and this was the method, with the assistance of the friendly surgeon, which we took to avenge ourselves. At this time the tobacco mania was at its worst. Our assistant-paymaster had been heard to mutter that, if the devil tempted him, he would be inclined to sell his soul for a bundle of whiffs, and Dawson had openly asserted that he would give ten years of his life for the sight of a snuff-box. But Dawson looked terribly like a conspirator, when he came stealthily into the ward-room on the evening of the first day's surveying.
"'Hush! messmates, hush!' he whispered mysteriously, and we all crowded round him. 'I have it,' he continued. 'My friend and I are on the list. We cannot be missed.'
"'Yes, yes; go on,' we cried in a breath.
"'While he dines, we will take a boat and steal up the river to Lamoo, and bring down 'bacca and grogs.'
"The skipper didn't know the meaning of that 'Hurrah!' that shook the Seamew from stem to stern. No wilder shout ever rang out as we boarded a dhow 'mid smoke and blood.
"By seven o'clock the skipper was just mixing his third tumbler. By seven o'clock everything was in readiness: the oars were muffled and the rudder so shipped that it wouldn't unship by the under-kick of a breaker on the bar. Then, from well-greased blocks the boat was lowered, and silently, but swiftly, glided shorewards to the dreaded bar. We took with us but two trusty men, and two trusty sacks. Soon the white crests of the breakers were in view, and we could hear their vicious, sullen boom. Not easy work this crossing of bars, as you are aware. Presently we were heading for the only dark gate in this ocean of breakers, I steering, Dawson with one helping hand on each of the oars. Now we have entered the gate. "Steady now, men!" A wave catches us up behind and hurls our tiny boat first heavenward, then, with inconceivable speed, onwards, through a swirl of surf, and, a few moments afterwards we are in smooth water, wet but safe.
"'Well done,' said Dawson; 'but if we had capsized, the sharks would have been dining on us at this present moment."
"'Beggin' yer pardons, gentlemen,' said one of the rowers, 'but I'd rather be three days and three nights in the belly of a shark, like Jonah was, than one whole blessed month athout tobaccer.'
"'That were a whale, Jim,' said his mate. 'I don't care a dime,' said the first speaker; 'I knows I likes my pipe, and I likes a quid. Now, in a night like this, for instance, what a blessing it would be to light up, and-and-why, it won't abear thinkin' on, hanged if it will.'
"'Now lay on your oars, men,' I said. 'I want to see what is inside a little bottle of medical comforts the doctor stowed away under here.'
"It was a bottle of sick-mess sherry, which we all shared, and pronounced the best ever we had tasted, and the doctor 'a brick'.
"Onwards now we sped, as fast as oars could pull us, Dawson and I occasionally relieving the men and taking a spell at the oars. It was moonlight, I said, and until we were fairly in the river this was in favour of us; now, however, it was all against us. None hate the English more than does your fighting Arab of slave proclivities. At any moment we might fall in with a slave dhow, and the crew thereof would certainly not miss such a favourable opportunity of paying off old scores. We had lots of arms on board, and so we meant, if attacked, to peg away at the beggars to the bitter end. However, discretion is the better part of valour, so we kept right in the centre of the stream, where we could be least seen. This was slow work, but safe.
"It must have been past ten o'clock, and we were well up the river, when, on rounding a point, we came suddenly in sight of a large-armed dhow, slowly going down stream. My first intention was to alter our course. 'No, no,' said Dawson, who is no end of a clever fellow, 'that will only create suspicion. Let me hail her;' and he did so in good Arabic. If suspicion was excited on board the strange dhow, it was, I feel sure, lulled again when Dawson began, in stentorian tones, to sing a well-known Arab boating chant. The song, I feel sure, saved us, and so we kept it up nearly all the way to Lamoo.
"About a mile from the town we crept inshore and hid our boat in the bush, leaving one man in her. Now there is but one or two European merchants in the town, and one of these we knew, but the way to his house we were ignorant of; but we knew where Comoro Jack lived in the outskirts. He had been our guide before, so thither we went, and happily found Jack at home: a tall young savage, arrayed only in a waist belt, and an enormous (42nd Highlander's) busby on, and a tall spear in one hand.
"'Well, you blessed Englishmen, what you want wid Jack?' Such was our greeting. We hastily told him, and the amount, and-
"'Comoro Jack will go like a shot,' said the savage. The sandy streets were well-nigh deserted, and Comoro Jack, as he strode on beside us, thought himself no end of a fine fellow.
"'London is one ver' good place,' he informed us, 'as big as Lamoo, and streets better pave, and girls better dress. You see it was like this: the French they take Myotta; poor king ob de island he go to London to see de British Queen of England, and I go too among de body-guard. But when the poor king come to de palace, 'Will you fight for me de dam French?' he say. 'Very sorry,' said the British Queen of England, 'but I cannot fight de dam French."
"'And who', we asked, 'gave you the bonnet and plumes?'
"'De British Queen ob England,' said Comoro Jack. 'She soon spot me out among de niggers, and she put it on my head. 'Here, poor chile,' she say, 'you not catch cold wid that."
"The house Comoro Jack led us to was that of a French merchant, and his hospitality was unbounded; but we refused all refreshment until we had first smoked a pipe. Oh, didn't that pipe make men of us. We spent a very pleasant half-hour with the merchant; then we filled our sacks and returned to our boat happier, surely, than Joseph's brethren could have been coming up, corn-laden, from the land of the Pharaohs. We had one or two little escapades going down stream, caught it wet and nasty on the bar, but got safely and quietly on board the Seamew one hour before sunrise, and to witness the joy on our mess-mates' faces when we cracked a bottle of rum and opened a box of Havanas, more than repaid us for all we had come through.
"Next morning, to his intense disgust, the skipper found us all smoking, and looking funny and jolly. But he never knew where we found the 'baccy."
CHAPTER IX. – TONGUES OF LURID FIRE, BLUE, GREEN, AND DEEPEST CRIMSON
Very little was talked of during the next few days except the coming ascent of Mount Terror. In the saloon mess non-success was not even dreamt of. It was only forward about the galley fire that doubts were mooted.
"Our skipper is just about as plucky as they make them nowadays," said old Jack Forbes, taking his short pipe from his mouth, "but, bless ye, boys, look what's before 'em."
"True for you, Jack," said a mate of his, "they'll be all frozen to death, and that'll be the way of it. Hope they won't ask me to go and help to carry things."
"Nor me," said another.
Nearer and nearer to the western land drew the bonnie barque, and in the beautiful sunshine she anchored at last in a bay close under the shadow of the mountain they were to attempt to scale.
Captain Talbot made all preparations at once. There was indeed but little time to lose now, for ere long the frosts would set in, and if not clear of the southern ice ere then, hard indeed might be their lot.
When going upon a dangerous expedition it is the duty of every brave man to do all in his power to guard against failure. Talbot, therefore, left not a stone unturned to ensure success; whether he secured it or not, he seemed determined to merit it.
Alpen-stocks were made for the purpose, and so, too, were ice-axes, though these latter were necessarily primitive.
Very little ammunition and few arms were to be taken. In the lone recesses of the hills and in that wild mountain, they had nothing to fear from savage man or beast. The land in here was as desolate and barren of everything but snow and ice as that worn-out world, the moon itself.
Ropes were also to be taken, they might come in handy in many ways. The skipper was an old Alpine-club man, and well did he know his way about.
Provisions for a whole week, and just a little rum in case of illness or over-exertion, for in the bitter cold of upper regions like those they were about to visit, exhaustion may often come on soon and sudden.
The captain himself made choice of three brave sturdy fellows to accompany the expedition and carry the necessaries as well as instruments of observation.
"And now, youngsters," said Talbot one evening, "which two of the three of you are to be of the party."
"I think," he added, "you better toss for it. I daresay you are all burning to come."
Duncan and Conal smiled and nodded, but Frank shook his head.
"I expect," he said, "there will be precious little burning high up yonder unless you happen to take a header into the crater. I'm not going to get frozen, I can assure you. I want to stick to all my toes, so toss away if you like, sir. Perhaps an Irishman or two might suit you best."
"Why, Frank?" said Duncan.
"Why? Because they're all fond of a drop of the crater (crayture), don't you see?"
"How could you make so vile a pun, old Frank?"
Vike seemed to know that an expedition of some kind was being got up. He put one great paw on Duncan's knee and looked appealingly up into his face.
"You might want my assistance," he seemed to say.
"No, doggie, no, not this journey," said Duncan, smoothing his bonnie head.
So Vike lay down before the fire, heaving a deep sigh as he did so.
Although all dogs sigh more or less-their intimate association with mankind being the usual cause-still sighing seems to be an especial characteristic of the noble breed we term Newfoundland.
Everything was ready and packed, including, of course, a long plank and a light but strong rope-ladder many fathoms in length.
It was a very bright and beautiful morning when the little expedition started; the crew manning the rigging and giving three times three of those ringing British cheers that are heard wherever our ensign-red, blue, or navy-white-flutters out on the breeze.
It was but little past sunrise. The oriel windows of the glorious S.E. were still painted in colours rare and radiant, but hardly a breath of air blew across the untrodden fields of snow that now stretched out and away to the westward-a good ten miles, until bounded at last by the great rising hills.
Silence now as deep as death.
They were deserted even by the birds.
But in a great snow-clad wilderness like this, with unseen, unheard-of dangers, mayhap, ahead, what a comfort it is to know that He who made the universe is ever near to all those who call upon Him even in thought, if in spirit and in truth.
The ship was out of sight now, hidden by bluffy ice-covered rocks; and Talbot was acting as guide to the party, taking the direction which he believed would lead him to the side of the mountain which appeared to be most accessible.
For more than a mile the "road" was rugged indeed.
"There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip," says the old adage. But here was many a slip 'tween the toes and the lip and many a stumble also. Soon, however, they came to a wide and level plain of snow.
"Cheerily does it now, lads," cried the skipper. "Who is going to give us some music?"
A stirring old song was soon rising high on the morning air, and everyone joined in the chorus.
But when the last notes had died away, Duncan produced his great Highland bagpipes and began to get them into position across his broad right shoulder.
The skipper laughed.
"I declare," he said, "there is no end to the enthusiasm and patriotic feelings of you Scots. But tune up, lad."
Duncan strutted on in front and soon started the Gordon Highlanders' march.
The bold and beautiful notes put life and spirit into every heart.
Then he played all kinds of airs, not forgetting either the pibroch or quick-step. But not the coronach. That wild wail is-
and all must now be brave and cheerful.
Twelve miles as the crow flies they marched. And now they were at the foot of the wondrous mountain, and a halt was called for breakfast. Water was boiled with methylated spirits, and savoury coffee with bread and meat galore soon made all hands forget their fatigue.
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