And so we cannot be astonished to find the three lads sitting together, in solemn conclave, on a bright summer's forenoon, far away on a green brae that overlooked Glenvoie.
Indeed, they had come here seriously to discuss their future.
Viking was lying close to Duncan with his great loving lump of a head on the boy's lap.
"You see," Duncan was saying, "it is precious hard for lads like us, who haven't any money to get a kind of a start in the world. If we could only get a beginning, I feel certain we should need no more. But our father is poor, Frank!"
"Heigho!" sighed Frank, "and so, alas! is mine."
"I know," continued Duncan, "that he would scrape the needful together somehow if we asked him. He could not sell any portion of the estate, because it is entailed, but I know that father would try hard to raise enough money to send Conal and me to sea as apprentices."
"And you really think you'll go to sea?" said Frank.
"As certain as sunrise, Frank. Mind I don't expect to find things quite so rosy as books paint them, but to sea I go for all that, and so will Conal."
"And so will I," cried Frank determinedly. "For my father is poorer far than yours. But I won't go before the mast, as I think you mean to."
"No! because I have an uncle who has already promised to give me a little lift in life, and I haven't got so much Highland pride as you, so I'll ask him to apprentice me.
"I wonder," he added, "if dear old Captain Talbot would have me?"
"Oh," cried Duncan, "I had entirely forgotten. I have a letter from Talbot. He has given up the coasting trade, and is now in the Mediterranean, sailing betwixt London and Italy, a merchant ship, and I'm sure he will be glad to take you. He'll be back at the port of London in September. Why, Frank, old man, you're in luck.
"And as for Conal and I, we shall go before the mast."
"I'm sorry for you, boys."
"But you needn't be. Not the slightest wee bit. Many an officer in the merchant service, ay, and in the Royal Navy as well, has entered through the hawsehole."
"That means risen from the ranks, doesn't it?"
"Something very like it."
"Well," said Conal, "is it all arranged?"
"I think so," replied Duncan. "And the sooner we set about putting our resolves into force the better, I think."
Then he sighed as he bent down and gave poor Vike's honest head a good hug, and I'm not sure there wasn't a tear in his eye as he said:
"Poor Vike! your master is going away where he can't take you. But you'll be good, won't you, till we come back again, and look well after your little mistress, Flora. I know you will, doggie."
If ever grief was depicted in a dog's looks, and we know it often is, you might have seen it in Viking's now. I do not mean to say that he knew all his master said. He was too young for that, but he could tell from the mere intonation of Duncan's voice that grief was in store for all.
Chief M'Vayne was much averse at first to his sons becoming mere boys before the mast, but Duncan and Conal were determined, and so he came round at last and gave his consent.
I am going to say just as little as I can about the parting.
Not only the boys but M'Vayne himself were heroic. It does not do for clansmen to show weakness, but the mother's tears fell thick and fast, and poor Flora was to be pitied.
It was the first cloud of sorrow that had fallen upon her young life, and she felt desolate in the extreme. She believed she would never survive it. She would have no pleasure or joy now in wandering over the hills and through the forests dark and wild.
"I will pray for you both." These were about the last words she said.
"And for me too, Florie," said Frank sadly.
"Oh, yes, and for you."
Then he kissed her.
For the first time-wondering to himself, if it would be the last.
He had gotten a pretty little ring for her, with blue stones and an anchor on it. And of this she was very proud.
"Mind," he said, "you're a sailor's sweetheart now."
Then they mounted the trap that was to drive them to the nearest station, and away they went, waving hands and handkerchiefs, of course, until a bend in the road and a few pine-trees shut the dear old home from their view.
Long months have passed away since that sad parting at Glenvoie; a parting that seemed to raise our young heroes at once from the careless happiness of boyhood to the serious earnestness of man's estate.
They had stayed in town until Captain Talbot arrived. He was just the same brave and jolly sailor that Duncan had first known.
Would he take Frank as his apprentice?
Why, he would be glad to have the whole three. They were so bold and bright, there was not the least fear of their not getting on.
Wouldn't they come? His present ship was not so large as he would like it to be, but he would make shift somehow.
But Duncan, while he thanked him, was firm.
"Well," said Talbot, "I'll tell you what I'll do for you, for somehow I have acquired a liking for you all Frank here, then, shall come with me, not as an apprentice belonging to the owners, but as a friend who wishes to get well up in seamanship and eventually pass even for master-mariner. You see, Frank, you will be rated as apprentice to me, and not to the company, else they would hold you to the same ship for years. And my reason is this: in about a year or a little over, I shall, please God, have a ship of my own. It is to be a great project, but I am promised assistance, and many of the savants in London say the project is well worthy of the greatest success. I shall voyage first to the Antarctic regions, and come home with a paying voyage of oil and skins of the sea-elephants, and this shall smooth my way to exploring further south than any ship has yet reached.
"So you see, Duncan, as you and your brother will not be bound to any tie as regards apprenticeship, you can both sail with me to the South Pole, and who knows but you may yet become the Nansens of the Antarctic."
"Too good to be true," said Duncan laughing; "but I'm just determined to do my best, and no one can do more."
"Bravo, lad!" cried the colonel, laying his hand on Duncan's shoulder. "And you remember what the poet says:
"''T is not in mortals to command success,
But we'll do more…; we'll deserve it'"
"Brave words, Colonel Trelawney," cried Talbot. "Why, sir, scraps of heroic verse have helped me along all through life. I'm a ship-master now, with a bit in bank. But my first voyage was to the Arctic and I had hardly clothes enough to keep out the terrible weather. My mother was a poor widow in Dundee, and I-being determined to go to sea-became a stowaway. I hid in a coal-bunker, and it came on to blow, so that I was very nearly killed with the shifting coals that cannonaded against my ribs.
"Luckily the storm did not last long, but when they hauled me out at last I was as black as a chimney-sweep and covered with blood.
"I was too ill to be lifted and landed at Lerwick. The doctor said I was dying. The first mate, who was never sober, said, 'Serve the young beggar right!' But, boys, I knew better. Dundee boys don't die worth shucks, and so I was on deck in ten days' time. There were two dogs on board, and my duty was to feed and look after them, and also to assist the cook.
"I roughed it, I can tell you, lads; but, Lord bless you, it did me a power of good. We were out for six months, and by that time I was as strong as a young mule. How old was I? Oh, not more than sixteen. But I felt a man. And I could reef and steer now, and splice a rope, and do all sorts of things. For the bo's'n had taken me in hand, and right kind he was.
"Ah! but that rascally mate! A long black, red-cheeked chap he was, and not a bit like a sailor, but he kept up his spite against me, and, when half-seas over-which he always was when not completely drunk-he would let fly at me with a belaying-pin, a marling-spike, or anything else he could lay his hands on.
"'Why don't you land him one," said the bo's'n one day, 'right from the shoulder?'
"'That would be mutiny, wouldn't it?' said I.
"'Nonsense, lad, the skipper likes you, and he wouldn't log you for it.'
"I determined to take the bo's'n's advice next time the drunken mate hit me.
"Well, I hadn't long to wait. You see I had come to really love the dogs under my charge. So one day the mate kicked one of them rather roughly out of his way.
"'Don't you dare kick that dog,' I cried; 'they are both in my charge.'
"How well do I remember that forenoon. We were on the return voyage, running before a light breeze, with every scrap of canvas set, low and aloft, and the sun shining bonnie and warm.
"But the mate grew purple with rage when I checked him. He could hardly speak. He could only stutter.
"'You, you beggar's brat,' he shouted, 'I'll give you a lesson.'
"He rushed to pull out a belaying-pin.
"I tossed off my jacket and threw it on the top of the capstan.
"I twisted the belaying-pin out of his hands before you could have said 'knife'.
"'Fight fair, you drunken scamp!' I cried.
"Pistols and rifles lay ready loaded in boxes at the top of the cabin companion, and he made a stride or two as if to take one out.
"'Mutiny!' he muttered, 'rank mutiny!'
"I sprang between him and the box, and dealt him a square left-hander that made him reel. I followed this up with a rib-starter, then with one on the nose.
"Down he went, and he actually prayed for mercy.
"That bulbous nose of his was well tapped, and there was no fear of him taking apoplexy for a while anyhow.
"But when I let him up he seemed to lose control of his senses, for the demon drink was now in the ascendant. He faced me no longer, however, but rushed for poor, faithful Collie, and before I could prevent it, had seized and pitched him overboard.
"The men, untold, rushed to haul the foreyard aback and to lower a boat.
"But he checked them.
"'What! lower a boat for a dog?' he cried.
"'Lower a boat for a man then,' I shouted, 'and just as I was I leapt upon the bulwark and dived off it. Next minute I was alongside Collie. Ay, lads, and alongside something else. A huge shark sailed past us, and passed us so near I could almost have touched him. He must have been fully fifteen feet long.33
The Scymnus borealis, or Greenland shark, is often eighteen to twenty feet in length.
[Закрыть] I knew that nothing but splashing and shouting could keep him at bay, and I did both as well as I knew how to.'"
"But the boat came quickly to our rescue, and we were soon safe on board. The skipper liked me, and did not log my mutinous conduct. In fact he became my friend, and I was apprenticed to his very ship. So I had many and many a voyage to the Sea of Ice after this.
"There is a glamour about this weird and wonderful frozen ocean, boys, that none can resist who have ever been under its bewitching spell. It is on me now, and this it is which has determined me to seek soon for adventures in the Antarctic, which very few have ever sought to explore.
"Now, Duncan and Conal, I'll tell you what I shall do with you. There is a big Australian ship to sail from Southampton in about a month. The captain is a personal friend of mine, and will do anything for you. I shall give you a letter.
"Mind this, he is strict service, and if you do your duty, as I'm sure you will, you'll soon have a friend on the quarter-deck."
Captain Talbot-or Master-mariner Talbot as he liked best to be called-had been as good as his word, and now our young heroes were far away at sea.
The Ocean's Pride was a full-rigged Aberdeen clipper-built vessel, and could show a pair of clean heels to almost any other ship in the trade. The skipper and his two mates were all thorough sailors, and gentlemen at heart. The skipper, whose name was Wilson, soon began to take an interest in Duncan and Conal, and knowing that they were studying in their idle moments, invited them to come daily to his own cabin, and there for a whole hour he used to teach them all he could.
Duncan could soon be trusted to take sights, and even "lunars", and gave every evidence of possessing the steadiness and grit that goes so far to make a thorough British sailor.
They touched at the Cape in due time, and Conal acted as clerk or "tally-boy" while cargo was being landed and fresh stock taken on board.
The boys found time to have a look at the town. They went with one of the mates who had been often here before.
Well, the hills all around, clad in their summer coats of dazzling heaths and geraniums, were quite a sight to see. But the town itself they voted dismally slow, and so I myself have found it, there being so many heavy-headed Dutchmen therein.
They were not a bit sorry, therefore, when they found themselves once more on the heaving billows.
And the billows around the Cape of Good Hope do heave too with a vengeance.
Such mountain waves Duncan could not have believed existed anywhere. Tall and raking though she was, the Ocean's Pride was all but buried when down in the trough of the waves.
There was but a six-knot breeze when they started to stretch away and away across that seemingly illimitable ocean betwixt the Cape and Australia. Oh such a lonesome sea it is, reader! Six thousand miles of water, water, water, and often never a sign of life in the sky above or in the sea below.
There was, as I have said, but a light wind to begin with, and it was dead astern, so that stunsails were set, and the great ship looked like some wonderful bird of the main, as she sailed, with her wings out-spread, eastward and eastward ho!
But before noon the sky in the west began to darken, and great rock-shaped or castellated clouds rolled up from the horizon. Snow-white were they on top, where the sun's rays struck them, but dark and black below.
"Snug ship!" was the order now.
In came the stunsails, the men working right merrily, and singing as they worked. In came royals and top-gallant sails, and close-reefed were the topsails. The captain was no coward, but right well he knew that the storm coming quickly up astern would be no child's play.
Nor was it.
A vivid flash of lightning and great-gun thunder first indicated the approach of the gale.
Then away in the west a long line of foam was seen approaching. In an inconceivably short space of time it struck the ship with fearful violence, and though she sprung forward like a frightened deer and dipped her prow into a huge wave, she seemed engulfed in raging seas. The skipper had battened down, but so much water had been taken on board that the good clipper could not for a time shake herself clear. Perhaps the shivered bulwarks helped to save the ship.
In a few minutes she was rushing before the wind at a good twelve knots an hour.
"What a blessing it is," said Captain Wilson, "that we got snug in time!"
"Yes, sir," said the mate, "and it's an ill wind that blows nobody good. Why, this gale is all in our favour, and will help us along."
Our heroes had far from a pleasant time, however, for the next few days. Then wind and sea went down, and peace reigned once more on the decks, and in the rigging of the good ship Ocean's Pride.
The splendid cities they visited when the vessel at last arrived in Australia quite dazzled our boys. And as the English language was spoken everywhere they felt quite at home.
Captain Wilson seemed to take a pride in having Duncan and Conal with him, and he introduced them as friends wherever he went.
Both lads were handsome, and in the city of Melbourne a rumour got abroad that they were of noble birth, and were serving before the mast for the mere romance of the thing. Well, even the Earl of Aberdeen was once found in the guise of an ordinary seaman; but there was something more than romance in our heroes' situation. However, the report, which they always contradicted, did them no harm, and they were invited to more houses than one, being asked, moreover, to come in their sailor's clothes.
The boys obeyed. In fact they had none other, but they had a kind of best suit, and very well the broad blue collar and black sailor's-knotted handkerchief became their handsome young faces.
I don't think I am far wrong in saying that some of the Australian ladies fell in love with them.
But that is a mere detail.
Now, having reached Australia, Duncan had about half a mind, more or less, to try his luck at the gold diggings.
He broached the subject to Captain Wilson.
"Well," replied the skipper, "mind, though I should be grieved to part with you, I would rather put another spoke in your wheel than hinder you, if I thought there was the ghost of a chance of your making your fortune. But I don't think there is."
"Then we shall be advised by you," said Duncan.
So after a very pleasant time spent in Australia theOcean's Pride spread her wings once more to the breeze and sailed for distant Japan.
Thence homewards round stormy Cape Horn. It took them six weeks to weather the Cape, so close was the ice.
But worse was to befall them, alas! than this.
They were now bearing up for home. Right cheerily too, for they had caught the trades, and finally fell into the doldrums in crossing the equator.
Here they tumbled about for no less than three weeks, not a breath of wind blowing all this time to help them along.
But it came at last, and they were free.
Once more the Ocean's Pride was spanking along before a delightful breeze with the dark blue sea sparkling in the sunlight around her, and Mother Carey's chickens, as sailors call the stormy petrels, flitting past and re-past her stern.
Seamen say these birds are always the forerunners of storm and tempest. This is not so, but in this case the prophecy turned out to be a correct one. A fearful hurricane or tornado struck the ship, and raged for days and days.
There was no such thing as battling against it. So it ended in their being driven far away to the west into unknown or little frequented seas. I am wrong in saying it ended. For the end was of a far more terrible nature than anything I ever heard of before, or ever experienced.
On the fourth day the tempest seemed almost played out, and the sky was brightening somewhat in the east.
The skipper was rubbing his hands and saying to his mate:
"I think we shall be able to shake a reef out before long."
"So do I," was the cheery answer.
Both the young fellows M'Vayne were below at present, and the vessel was battened down.
"Oh, look, look!" cried the mate, seizing the skipper by the arm and pointing fearfully towards the east.
"Good Lord preserve us!" said Captain Wilson in terror.
And well he might be so, for yonder, quite blotting out the clear strip of sky, a huge wave or bore had arisen. It was of semi-lunar shape, and must have been fifty feet high at the very least. The top all along was one mass of foam.
Nearer and nearer it came!
The sailor men crouched in fear, or hastened to make themselves fast by ropes' ends to rigging or shroud.
And now the fine vessel is struck-is wallowing in the midst of that hurricane-tossed turmoil of waters-is on her beam-ends, without any apparent hope of recovery.
But recover she did after a time, and the ocean wave swept on.
What a wreck! The half-drowned men, or those who were left alive, gasped for breath as they stared wildly around. Two masts gone by the boards, only the pitiful foremast left standing; every boat staved and washed away, bulwarks gaping like sheep hurdles, and the poop crushed in.
And the officers where were they? Gone!
Yes-and my story is told from the life and the death-not only bold Captain Wilson himself but both his mates had been swept overboard and drowned.
Five men were missing; nor had all escaped down below. The cook was severely injured, and but for the presence of mind and speed of two ordinary seamen, the ship would have caught fire, for the blazing coals had been dashed out of the range and ignited ropes and twine that lay not far off.
And poor Duncan! He had been dashed to leeward and so stunned that his brother and a sailor who had picked him up, believed him to be dead.
For three days he lay unconscious, but in two more days he was to all appearance himself again.
Although suffering from a bad scalp wound, he was able to go on deck.
And sad indeed was the sight he now beheld. With the binnacle washed away, without an officer to guide or direct the vessel; and the men, in almost hourly expectation of death should the wind spring up again once more, had allowed the ship to drift with the current. They were helpless, ay, and hopeless.
And I am sorry to add that many of them had found their way to the spirit room, and were lying on deck drunk and asleep.
Duncan now proved himself the right man-or boy, for he was but little over seventeen-in the right place.
He called the hands aft.
"Men," he said, "we cannot continue in this state; some effort must be made to save our lives and the valuable cargo."
"Ah! young sir," said the bo's'n sadly, "all our officers are dead. There is no one to guide or navigate the ship. We must drift on till we strike reef or rock and so go to pieces.