小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Will Weatherhelm » Chapter Nine.
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
Chapter Nine.
Voyage in the smack—Gale springs up—Washed overboard—Saved on a spar—Dreadful fears for my wife’s safety—The kind-hearted fisherman—Find the smack—Account of her escape—Journey on land—Coach upset—Again preserved—Reach home—Old Jerry again—His adventure with the bears.

I was walking the deck one night, while my wife was below, and thinking of the events of my past life, when the recollection of my rash oath came across me like a thunder-clap in summer, when just before the whole sky overhead has appeared of the purest blue. “Is my dreadful fate still to pursue me?” I thought. “Rather than she should be torn from me, let me perish with her.” The weather was fine, the wind was light and fair, and there was not the slightest cause for any apprehension of danger. Had I been by myself, such an idea would not, I believe, have crossed my mind; but now that I had so precious a being under my charge, I was timid as a mother with her first-born child. At last I went below, and the night passed away in quietness. The next morning was bright and lovely as ever an early summer has had to exhibit, and I felt ashamed of my thoughts of the previous evening, as if I had been ungrateful for the blessings I had received, and mistrustful of God’s merciful providence. Still the ideas I had entertained came back again during the forenoon, and haunted me at times throughout the day. Had I been able to speak to my wife on the subject, I doubt not I should have relieved my mind; but I was afraid of frightening her and making her nervous, so I kept them to myself. As the evening drew on, dark clouds were seen banking up on the horizon. I watched them with an anxiety I had never before experienced at sea, for I had never before been on the ocean with a freight I prized so much. They continued rapidly to increase, and before night closed in had formed a thick canopy overhead, while dark heaving seas came rolling in towards us across the full width of the German Ocean, and the increasing breeze moaned and whistled in our rigging. The smack heeled over to the force of the wind till her lee-bulwarks were under water, but still the master was unwilling to shorten sail. We were on a lee shore, and he was anxious to haul off sufficiently to make his passage good for the Firth of Forth. We might even then have run back for the Moray Firth, where, as the wind was from the southward of east, we should have got under the lee of the land; but then we might have been detained there, very certainly for many days and perhaps for several weeks, so he resolved, at all hazards, to keep the sea. Under a close-reefed mainsail and storm-jib, the little vessel continued her course, looking bravely up to the increasing gale. Still, at times she plunged heavily into the seas, and it often seemed, as I stood on her deck, as if she would never rise again above them. I sat, while I could, by my wife in the cabin, to try and comfort and protect her; but I could not help rushing on deck every now and then to ascertain how matters were proceeding. The report, however, I had to give when I returned below was anything but encouraging. I had no idea of deceiving people, as some persons do, when danger is threatening. I am certain that the more a person can contemplate the possibility of danger, the better able they will be to encounter it when it comes, if they have employed the meantime in reflection and in considering the best means to meet it.

We were off the Scotch coast, somewhere between Stonehaven and Montrose, I fancy, when the gale came down upon us with greater force than ever, and the old master thought if he could get the try-sail on the vessel, as we had by this time gained a considerable offing, that he should be able to heave her to and weather it out till it blew over. As he was about to shift the sails the wind lulled a little, and once more he hoped that he should be able to hold on his course. He forgot that all this time, though he was certainly getting more to the southward, the vessel was also drifting nearer and nearer inshore. At last the gale, as if it had rested merely to gain strength, breezed up again with greater fury than ever. I was below at the time. “We must get the try-sail on her, my lads,” I heard the old man sing out. Securing my wife to a sofa in the cabin, I sprang on deck to lend a hand, for I knew that all the strength that could be obtained would be required, and that every moment of delay added to our danger. Many as were the gales I had been in, I had never beheld a more terrific-looking scene than that by which I now found myself surrounded. Vivid flashes of lightning every now and then revealed the dark wall-like waves which rose up with their crests of foam on every side around us, and threatened to engulf the little craft struggling helplessly among them. Still no one stopped a moment to think of all this—the work to be done was to get the mainsail off her and to set the try-sail. I thought at the time that we were much nearer inshore than the old master fancied. The try-sail was almost set, and we were hauling out the sheet, when I heard the old man sing out, “Hold on, my lads! hold on! Here comes a sea which will give her a shake.” On it came. I was to leeward. I felt myself torn from the rope to which I held, and my feet lifted off the deck. The wild waves surrounded me. There was a tumult in my ears. With horror and agony I discovered that the sea had carried me overboard. I shrieked out instinctively for help, though I knew that none could be afforded. In vain I struggled to regain the vessel.

My real condition presented itself with terrific clearness to my mind. For my own life I cared not, but I thought of my wife—of her agony and despair when she discovered that I was lost. I would have given worlds to have got once more on board that little sea-tossed bark. I was always a good swimmer. Even amid those tossing waves I found that I could keep my head above water. Still the unequal struggle could not have lasted long, when at the moment I was losing the dim outline of the little vessel in the darkness, I found myself thrown against some floating object. A hope that I might possibly preserve my life sprung up in my bosom. I grasped the object, and found that it was part of the mast and top of a large vessel. I clambered upon it and held fast while I recovered my breath. Though it was violently tossed about by the seas, which threatened every moment to sweep me off from it, still I held on. My first thought was to endeavour to discover how far off was the smack, on board which was all I prized in life. I could nowhere see her. I have heard of people’s hair turning white in a single night from grief—I felt that mine might have done so from the agony of mind I endured. Would the smack weather out the gale? or would my dear wife survive the shock when she discovered that I had been so suddenly torn from her? “I have often been punished, and justly, but this is the most severe punishment of all,” I thought to myself. A voice whispered in my ear, “Curse God, and die,”—the same voice which had whispered the same words into the ear of the Patriarch Job many ages ago, and has been whispering the like into the ears of thousands of human beings ever since. “Oh God, have mercy on me and support me!” I ejaculated, and the tempter fled from me.

Scarcely able to breathe from the dense masses of spray surrounding me, and from the waves which kept continually washing over me, I still clung on to the wreck. I fancied that the shattered mast was being floated onward. I do not remember now what reason I had for supposing so. It contributed, at all events, to keep up my hope of being ultimately rescued. How slowly and painfully the hours passed by! Often I thought that, from very exhaustion and cold, I must be swept from my hold. At length, as I was looking upwards at the sky to try and discover any break in the clouds which might afford me an indication that the gale was abating, I beheld the first faint streaks of dawn appearing in the eastward. The clouds seemed to lift like a thick curtain to let in the light of day. I looked round towards the land; I could distinguish its dim outline through the darkness which still hung over it. This convinced me that the mast must have drifted much nearer than when I first got hold of it. This fact, however, tended to increase my anxiety for the fate of the smack. What if she has been driven on the rocks, and, as would probably be the case, all on board have perished! “Oh, why, why was not I allowed to remain with my dear wife, to perish with her, or to be the means of saving her!” I exclaimed, in the agony of my spirit. The intensity of my feelings almost overcame me. As daylight increased, I saw that the summer gale had considerably lessened, and every minute the wind seemed to be going down. I could now clearly make out the shore, the yellow sands, with their fringe of dark rocks, over which the surf was breaking with almost unabated fury. “What chance of escaping with my life will there be, if I am drifted in among those wild rocks?” I thought to myself. Now there could be no doubt that I was drifting, and rapidly too, towards the shore. With an anxious, piercing gaze, I looked round to the southward to see if I could discover any signs of the smack, half dreading to find her driven in among the rocks, yet still praying and hoping that she might be riding safely at anchor behind some sheltering reef, or within some little harbour on the coast. Not a sign of her could I discover. I looked seaward. Two or three sails were seen, rising and falling in the offing, but too far off to allow me to hope that she could be one of them. On drove the mast; its course was altered, and it was evidently drifting along shore to the southward. I judged that I was not more than three or four hundred fathoms from the breakers. I discovered that by climbing a little further on the mast, I could stand upright without its turning over with me. Finding this, I untied a silk handkerchief I had about my neck, and waved it around my head. I continued waving, hoping that some one would see my signal. I waited anxiously, looking along the shore. At so early an hour few people were out. At last the head of a man appeared above a sand-hill. I waved more vehemently, and shouted, forgetting that my voice could not be heard above the roar of the breakers. Soon I saw him standing on the top of the hill, and looking through a spy-glass at me, and then he waved his hand in return, and, pointing to the southward, ran on. Directly afterwards I saw two or three other people running in the same direction, carrying oars over their shoulders, and a boat-hook. I guessed that they were making for some little harbour or sandy cove, where their boats were drawn up. I prayed that they might come to my aid quickly, for every instant the wreck of the mast drove nearer and nearer to the rocks. Still I cannot say that I felt much doubt about being saved after having already been so mercifully preserved during the night from dangers so terrific. Yet it appeared an age before I saw a boat darting out from an opening in the rocks. Putting her head to the seas, she dashed up towards me. She had not come a minute too soon.

“Stand by, mon! stand by to leap aboard!” I heard a voice sing out, as the bow of the boat came up close to where I was hanging on.

I did not require a second order; at the same time, my limbs were so stiff and benumbed that I could scarcely have obeyed, had not two of the men in the bow of the boat caught me by the collar, and hauled me on board.

“Noo, round wi’ her, laddies! round wi’ her! we’ll hear a’ aboot it by and by,” cried the man at the helm.

The boat was at the time scarcely half-a-dozen fathoms from the surf, and any sea rolling in, and breaking sooner than usual, might have rolled her over and over and drowned all hands. With hearty tugs the men who had so bravely rescued me pulled the boat round and out to sea, while the mast was directly afterwards carried among the surf, and hurled round and round, till it was cast in fragments on the rocks. I shuddered when I saw what my fate might have been. There was little time to exchange many words with the fishermen before the boat was pulled into a little sandy cove, and they all, springing out, ran her up high and dry on the beach.

“You maun be weet, laddie,” said the old master of the boat, helping me out of her with the aid of two of the other men. “Come up to my hoose, and we’ll put dry duds on ye, and then you’ll tell us how ye came to be floating on that bit of wreck there. She maun hae been a large ship ye belonged to, I’m thinking, and ye were the only one saved? it’s sad to think of it.”

Under some circumstances I should have been amused by the eagerness of the old man to hear the account I had to give, at the same time that his kind heart prompted him not to fatigue me by asking questions. I was still more anxious to know if he could give me any account of the smack. As we were going up to the cottage I described her exactly, but he shook his head.

“We were up late last night, looking along the shore on account of the gale, and we were not out so early this morning as usual,” was the reply.

Having satisfied the curiosity of my host with an account of my own adventure, I entreated that, as soon as my clothes were dried, I might be allowed to proceed to the southward along the coast, to try and gain tidings of the smack. My hopes revived within me when the fisherman told me that we were not far from the mouth of the Firth of Tay, and that perhaps the smack might have been driven in there.

“Still ye should know that there is a danger there which has proved fatal to many a tall ship,” said the old man. “It is called the Inchcape Rock. There’s a bell made fast to it, which, whenever a gale is blowing, tolls by the tossing of the seas as they drive against it. You’ve heard tell, maybe, of the pirate, who, in the wantonness of his wickedness, carried the bell away, and who, although another was placed in its stead, was lost, with all his companions, on that very rock. Heaven finds out sinners of high and low degree, at some time or other, however they may endeavour to escape its vengeance.”

I thought to myself, “True, indeed, is that. How often have I been found out and punished for my one great sin!”

Ill and weak as I was, I insisted, as I had had some food on starting, to proceed along the coast to try and obtain tidings of the smack. If she had not foundered, she must have been cast on shore or taken shelter in some harbour at the mouth of the Tay.

“No, no,” said the old man; “young blood fancies that it can do anything, but I tell ye that ye have no strength to go on now without rest. I’ll send my laddies along the coast, both north and south, and they will make inquiries and bring back any tidings they can obtain; you will have news of the vessel more speedily in that way than any other.”

Still I insisted on putting on my own clothes and setting off; but when I attempted to get up, I found that I could scarcely walk across the room, much less could I hope to trudge over the links, and rough rocks and sand which lined the shore along which I wished to proceed. I was obliged, therefore, to consent to go to bed, and to try and sleep. At first I thought that would be impossible, but my old sailor habits triumphed over the anxiety I felt, and the rest I so much needed came to me.

In less than four hours I awoke. I found myself alone; so I sprang up and put on my clothes, resolved that nothing should stop me from proceeding on my journey. I felt far stronger than I could have expected.

“Stay till my laddies come in, and hear what account they have to give ye,” said the kind-hearted old fisherman, making me sit down once more in the porch in front of his cottage.

The roof was the bow of a small boat, which made a good shelter from the sun, and the supporting-posts the jawbones of a whale which had been stranded on the shore.

That I might have something to distract my mind he gave me a stick that I might fashion it to support my steps as I walked along. When I had cut it to the required length I sprang up, saying I would go on some little way, at all events, begging his son to follow me; when we saw the young man approaching the cottage from the north, I ran forward to meet him.

“Have you heard anything of the smack?” I inquired, in breathless haste.

“No; not a sign of her. There was a big ship lost with all hands—not a soul escaped—in the early part of the night; but often when the big ship goes down the small one swims; ye ken that, mon,” was the answer.

Although he had been out for some hours, he insisted on accompanying me when he found that I had resolved on proceeding, till we should fall in with his brothers. The old man gave me his blessing, and the old wife and the rest of the family parted most kindly with me—they were all so much interested in the account I had given them of myself. As to receiving any remuneration, they would not hear of it.

We toiled on over the links; sometimes I thought that my knees would have given way under me. At last the old weather-beaten tower of Broughty Castle appeared in sight, the ancient guardian to the entrance of the Tay. “We’ll just sit down here till the ferry-boat is ready to cross,” said my companion, throwing himself on the grass bank under the crumbling walls. “Maybe my brother will be coming over just now, and he will tell us what he has learned.”

I suggested that the smack might have run up to Dundee, but he said that was not in the least likely. If she had come in there she would have brought up off Broughty itself. We made inquiries, before sitting down, of some fishermen who had been on the shore all the morning, and certainly no vessel, they said, answering the description of the smack had come in. At any other time my eye would have dwelt with pleasure on the scenery which is presented by the beautiful estuary of the Tay, but now I could only think of the object of my search. I was leaning back on the grass, hoping to recover strength to proceed, when my companion jumped up and ran down toward the water’s edge.

“What news, Sandy! what news do ye bring?”

“The vessel is safe,” was the answer. “Thank Heaven for its mercy!” I ejaculated; and springing up and running towards the young fisherman, “Tell me, lad, tell me, how is my wife!”

“The puir young leddy was taken very bad—very bad indeed, when she found that you had gone overboard, and all on board thought that she could not live. No one could give her any comfort, for no one thought you could have escaped. The rest on board, indeed, had soon to think of themselves. The vessel drove past the Inchcape Rock, and all heard the tolling of the bell, and believed that they were going to strike on it.

“While others were bemoaning their fate, and crying out for mercy, and expecting to be drowned, she sat up and seemed to have forgotten the cause of her own grief.

“‘Ah,’ she said with a smile, ‘what makes you miserable, gives me joy. You fear death. I look forward to it as a happiness, because I shall soon be joined to him who has been torn from me.’

“Ay, sir, the bell tolled louder and louder, and each toll that it gave made her heart beat quicker with joy, while it drove the life-blood away from the hearts of those who feared death as the greatest of evils. On drifted the vessel—darkness was around them—still that solemn bell kept tolling and tolling, but yet the expected shock was not felt. The bell tolled on, but the sounds grew fainter and fainter, and the master told them that they had no longer cause to fear, and might thank Heaven for their preservation, for that he knew where they were, and could take them into a port in safety. Well, but of your wife, I know that you will want to hear.”

“Yes! yes!” I exclaimed, “tell me how is she—where is she!” We wore all the time the young fisherman was speaking hurrying down towards the ferry-boat.

“That is just what I was about to tell ye,” he answered, with the deliberate way in which the inhabitants of that part of Scotland of his rank generally speak. “The young leddy, they told me, no sooner heard that the vessel was in safety, than she gave way to a sorrow which it was pitiful to witness. They tried to comfort her, but she was not to be comforted. She had gone off into a sort of trance when the vessel brought up this morning under Saint Ann’s Head.

“The master was thinking about putting to sea when I got on board. He and all the people were very much surprised to hear that you had escaped; but the difficulty seemed to be to break the news to your wife. The master promised not to sail till you appeared, and I promised to come and hurry you on.”

“Thank ye, thank ye, my kind friend!” I exclaimed, shaking him by the hand. “But my wife—tell me about my wife. How did she bear the sudden reaction?”

“It did her all the good in the world,” he answered cheerfully. “The old master, who is a canny man, went down into the cabin and began to talk of the wonderful things which had occurred to his knowledge at sea—how people had been kept alive floating on a spar for a couple of days, and how others had swam a dozen miles or more, or been washed from the deck of one vessel right aboard another, and fallen overboard, and been picked up floating on a grating, or an oar, by a vessel coming up astern hours afterwards.

“Suddenly the young lady lifted herself up, showing, that though she had appeared to be asleep, she had been listening to every word that had been said.

“‘Captain,’ said she, ‘in mercy tell me whether you believe that my husband’s life has been preserved by any of the means you speak of. Do not deceive me. Do not keep me in doubt.’

“‘Not for all the world would I deceive you, young leddy,’ said the master; ‘I will tell you what I believe to be the truth, that your husband got floated on shore last night, and that he is not a great way off, to prove to you that what I say is true.’

“Oh, did not she cry out with joy and thankfulness, and then the old master told me what he had said, and charged me to come on here as fast as I could to bring you on board.”

My two young friends insisted on accompanying me all the way back to the vessel, about three miles along the southern shores of the Firth, and thankful indeed was I for their support. It showed me how an old man must feel when his strength is failing him, and he has a long journey to perform. It taught me always to have more compassion for advancing age than I had before been inclined to feel.

I cannot describe the unspeakable joy it was to my wife and me to meet each other again, after the dreadful anxiety we had both of us experienced, and the dangers we had gone through. I was unwilling to trust her again on the treacherous ocean, even for the short passage round to Leith; but she entreated me not to be so mistrustful of Providence, who had been so merciful to us, and urged me to continue the voyage. I felt at the time that she was right, and that, instead of considering myself as under a curse, I ought to acknowledge that each time I had been shipwrecked, I had received a special mark of God’s favour, for my life had been preserved, while so many others of my fellow-creatures had lost theirs. Instead, therefore, of taking her on shore, and going on to Saint Andrews, as I had at first proposed doing, I agreed to remain on board the smack. I could not sufficiently thank the two young fishermen for the labour and trouble they had taken for my sake. They laughed when I talked about it.

“Hoot! it’s just nothing. We ken by your looks that you would do the same for us, so say no more about it, mon,” was the answer they both gave. I hope they were right in the favourable opinion they had formed of me.

In the afternoon, the weather having completely moderated, we sailed. What a contrast did the next night afford to the previous one! The stars came out, and the moon shone forth, playing brightly on the tranquil waters, just rippled over with a light breeze, which sent us along smoothly on our course. Margaret sat on the deck with me, watching the scene with a delighted eye and thankful heart. Our conversation was far too solemn for repetition.

“Oh, Willand, never let us again doubt God’s mercy and kindness towards us. At this hour last night how stormy and dark was the ocean; how full of anguish and misery were our hearts; how utterly hopeless did everything appear; not a gleam burst forth to give us consolation! We were violently torn from each other, it seemed, never to be united again on earth, neither of us knowing what had become of the other; and now see how the face of nature smiles! Once more we are united, and all our prospects appear bright and happy.”

Thus we talked on, and, thankful for the present, did not dream that storms of adversity might yet be in store for us, yet not sent without a gracious and merciful object to try and improve our hearts.

We reached Leith in safety, and as neither of us had before been in Edinburgh, we spent some days there to view that beautiful and interesting city. Such it was even in those days; but though it has lost somewhat in picturesque effect, it has since then been greatly improved.

It may seem strange that a sailor should be afraid of trusting himself at sea; but reason as I might, I could not bring myself to take my wife to the south by water. I therefore prepared to convey her to London by coach, and from thence to Portsmouth. The expense was very great; but I promised her that I would toil hard in whatever occupation I undertook to make it up, and at last she acceded to my wishes. We calculated that we should be about a week or ten days getting to London, for those were times when even the coaches on the great northern road went very leisurely along, and it was not for some time after that they were superseded by the fast London and Edinburgh mail. Times have indeed changed with all of us.

We left Edinburgh one morning at daybreak, and proceeded south to Berwick, where we stopped. Our next stage was York. There we rested the greater part of the day, for my wife seemed very much fatigued, and when I saw how fine the weather continued, I began to repent that I had not gone, as she wished, by sea. I had placed her inside, while I went on the top of the coach. I observed that our fat old coachman, who, although it was summer weather, was muffled up in a greatcoat, with a red comforter up to his eyes, whenever we stopped to change horses went into the bar of the roadside inn and took a pretty stiff glass of brandy and water to keep out the damp, as he told his passengers. At last four rather frisky horses were brought out and harnessed to the coach.

“Steady now, Mr Currycomb; we have some ugly hills to go up and down,” remarked one of the passengers who had watched his drinking proceedings with some little anxiety.

“Oh, never fear me, sir,” answered the old man, in a thick, husky voice. “I’ve driven this road, man and boy, for the last fifty years, and I should think I know how to take a coach along it without anybody telling me how to do it, do you see. If I thinks it’s best to trot down a hill, why I’ll do it, and no one shall tell me not. That’s what I’ve got to say.”

I have frequently met the same sort of obstinate characters among seamen, the very men who manage to get their ships cast away; but I fancied that they were not to be found among those who live among the civilising influences of the shore.

For some time we went on pretty well, though now and then the overloaded coach going down a hill rocked to and fro pretty violently. When we stopped the next time, a gentleman who had gone in the inside, because there was no place on the outside, said that he had never been accustomed to travel inside, and that it made him very ill, and asked if any gentleman would be willing to change places with him, and that, as he had already paid his fare, it would not put anybody who would so oblige him to further cost.

I at once said, that as my wife was inside, I should be very happy to be the means of accommodating him, so he mounted on the top of the coach, and I joined Margaret inside. Away we went once more rattling along over the road. The gentleman, I found, whose seat I had got had no idea that the coachman was the worse for liquor, but fancied that the rocking of the coach, which I had observed so palpably from the outside, was only the usual motion, and that he would be free from it outside. Suddenly I felt that we were going on much faster than usual.

“What is the matter?” exclaimed Margaret, as clouds of dust arose on each hand, and we saw people starting aside and looking anxiously after us as we were whirled along. “Oh, the horses have run away!”

We heard the passengers hallooing and shouting to the coachman to stop his horses, to pull up; but he either did not heed them or could not obey them. On we dashed at a furious rate. We saw by the appearance of some small, red-brick houses, scattered here and there, that we were approaching a town. I placed myself by Margaret’s side, and held her tightly down.

On we whirled. Round went the huge vehicle with a swing. There was a terrific crash. We felt the coach dragged some little way; groans and shrieks and cries arose around us. The coach stopped. The traces had been cut, and the horses galloped off. I looked with intense anxiety at my wife’s countenance. She was pale, but she assured me that she was unhurt. I had held her firmly, so as to break the shock when the coach went over.

People came to help us out, and my wife was conducted into a house close at hand, to which the owner invited us. But dreadful indeed was the scene which met my eyes as I glanced round over the wreck of the coach. The gentleman who had just changed places with me was lying dead on the pavement, with three or four other passengers; the old coachman lay a corpse, mangled horribly by the heels of the horses, over which he had been thrown, and not one of the passengers had escaped some severe injury; while the poor guard had his arm broken, and his horn doubled up under him.

I went into the house, and sat down. “Wife,” said I, “you are right; God watches over us at sea as well as on land, and accidents may occur on shore as well as on the ocean. Why He has thought fit to preserve us, while others have been allowed to perish, I know not; I can only take the cup of blessing and be thankful. I will never again attempt to escape out of His hand by endeavouring to avoid a possible danger.”

The gentleman and his wife were very much interested in the account Margaret and I gave of ourselves, and invited us to remain a whole day with them, that she might recover from her fatigue. It is one of the pleasantest things in life to thus receive unexpected kindness from strangers, who can have no thought or hope of recompense. It is satisfactory at the time, and makes one think better of the common human nature which unites us to our fellow-beings. I told our new friend of all the shipwrecks I had suffered.

“Ah! there are as many on shore, depend upon it, as on the ocean,” he answered. “On shore they are the worst, because they occur generally through our own folly and ignorance and vice. How many a young man has started fairly in life, and yet before many years have passed he has made a complete shipwreck of all the bright promises on which his friends trusted, with himself alone to blame, because he refused to consult or to be guided by the only sure chart and compass which could guide him aright! For what purpose did the wise King of Israel—the wisest of the kings of the earth—write his proverbs, do you think? Not for his own satisfaction or amusement, but because he felt it a sacred duty he owed to posterity to give the result of his own meditations, of his observations, and of his own bitter experience. Yet how few men, comparatively, go to that book of books for counsel, for guidance, and direction? Where can be found more ample directions for getting on in life, as the phrase is, for making money, for becoming great in this world even, than the Book of Solomon affords?”

I agreed with my kind and thoughtful host, and promised to study that work more than I had ever before done. I ought to have said that I would begin and study it—for, alas! how completely had I before neglected it.

After this extraordinary incident, I believe that had I been near a port, I should have again embarked for London; but as it was, we agreed to continue our journey by land. We reached London in safety.

We did not stay there long. The bustle and noise, and seeming confusion, after the complete quiet of our Shetland life, was so wearying, that, having seen some of the chief lions of that great city, we were glad to set off by the coach for Portsmouth.

Aunt Bretta was delighted to receive us, and my jovial, kind-hearted uncle welcomed us most cordially. I thought Aunt Bretta would never have ceased asking questions about dear old Shetland. A stranger would have supposed from her expressions about it, that there did not exist a more delightful spot on earth.

Margaret, however, was never weary of replying to all the inquiries made. I never saw two people suit each other so well as my aunt and wife,—the one so hearty, full of life and spirits, and brimming over with the milk of human kindness,—the other so tranquil, so sensible, and sweet-tempered.

My uncle and I also got on capitally together. I admired his jovial, frank, hearty, and kind disposition, his thorough uprightness and hatred of deceit, while he found in me enough good qualities to like, and was pleased because I admired him and was able to talk with him frankly and openly on all subjects. That is, I believe, the great secret of friendship. Mutual esteem and perfect confidence is the only foundation on which it can be built up and made perfect. Both parties to the bond must feel that they appreciate each other’s motives and objects, and that every allowance will be made for what they say, and the best possible construction put on their words. When two people meet between whom such qualifications exist, their friendship is lasting.

My uncle told me, that as he knew I should not wish to be idle, he had obtained a situation for me, which he thought I should like, as suitable to my former habits.

“It is in a private dockyard, where, if you are steady and attentive you will, I am certain, obtain a still more lucrative employment,” he remarked; “had it been war time I should have tried to obtain an appointment in the Royal Dockyard, because you would then have had protection from the pressgang; but now you need have no fear of that.”

Two days after that, war again broke out with France! It was arranged to our mutual satisfaction that Margaret and I should permanently take up our abode with our relatives. They had a couple of spare rooms, which they had at times let to lodgers, so that we in no way incommoded them.

Never was there a more happy family party. We were not over-refined; we did not set up for people of that sort, it must be remembered, or call ourselves gentlemen and ladies. Nor did our guests. They were, however, always well-behaved, civil people, who would on no account have committed any real solecism in good manners.

Old Jerry Vincent used to look in, as before, very frequently, with a budget of his funny stories, to which other neighbours gladly came to listen. There was invariably much laughter, and no small amount of tea and tobacco consumed, not to speak occasionally of some more potent compound; but my uncle took good care that none of his guests should pass the limits of sobriety, though he had at times some little difficulty in keeping old Jerry in order. I should remark that old Jerry was an exception to the general character of our guests, who were as a rule of a much higher rank in the social scale. I remember especially one of the old man’s stories which is worth recording.

“You must know, mates,” said he, “once upon a time I belonged to a brig of war on the Newfoundland station. It isn’t just the place, in my opinion, that a man would wish to spend his life in. Too much frost and fog, and wind and rain, to be pleasant. But bad as it was, I thought there was a worse place to be in, and that was aboard my own ship. We never know when we are well off. I don’t think I was right, do ye see; but rather, I am very well convinced, that I was a fool. Young men sometimes don’t find that out till it’s too late. Howsomedever, I found another fool as big as myself, which is never very difficult when you look for him, and he and I agreed to run from the ship. Now, before I go on with my story, I’ll just ask one or two of you young men, have any of you ever seen the biggest fool in the world? Well, I thought not; you can’t say that you have, and, what’s more, you never will. If you think that you have got hold of him, you may be sure that you’ll fall in with a bigger before long somewhere else. That is my philosophy, and I am not far wrong, depend on it.

“Well, where was I? Oh, I know. My mate’s name—t’other fool, I mean—was Abraham Coxe. The ship had put into Saint John’s, Newfoundland. He and I belonged to the same boat’s crew. Soon after we got there we were sent on shore to water. After some time, as the rest of our party were rolling the casks down to the beach, we managed to slip away, and made a run of it for a mile or more, till we could stow ourselves snug inside the walls of an old cottage. As soon as it was dark we came out, and set off as hard as we could go right into the country. We thought some one was following us, but we were wrong. The officers knew better than we did what sort of a place we had got into, and calculated that we shouldn’t be long before wishing ourselves back again.

“At night we reached a cottage, where the good people treated us kindly, for, do ye see, we spun them a long yarn, which hadn’t a word of truth in it, about our being sent away up there to look after a shipmate who had lost his senses. So, after we had eaten and drunken and taken a good snooze, we set off again towards the mountains, for we had a notion that we should find our way somehow or other into America. We expected to fall in with another village, but we were mistaken, and by dinner-time we began to feel very peckish. There was no use standing still, so we walked on and on till we got further up among the mountains, and as the sun was hid by clouds, and there was no wind, we very soon lost our way.

“Now, do ye see, to lose your way with a full stomach is not altogether pleasant, but to lose it on an empty one, and not to know where a dinner is to be found, is worse any day than to get three dozen. That’s got quickly over, and you know the worst. We had no baccy neither, and the air up there sharpened our teeth till we were ready to bite our tongues out.

“‘Well, mate,’ says I to Abraham Coxe, ‘I wish that I were safe aboard again. I don’t by no manner of means like these short commons.’

“‘Wait a bit till we have been knocking about for two or three days more, and then cry out, my bo’,’ says he, for he was a regular Job’s comforter, that he was.

“Well, evening was coming on, and as we couldn’t find our way out of the mountains, nor get any food either, we thought that we might as well look out for a warm berth to sleep in at night. At last we saw a small hole in a rock, which looked like the mouth of a cave.

“‘There will be a comfortable bed-place inside that place, mate,’ says I, as I poked my head into the hole, while Abraham stood outside. It was almost dark inside, but still there was light enough to make out that, there was a good big place further in. I was going along on my hands and knees, when what should I see but several animals like biggish pigs crawling about. I was wondering what they were, when I heard Abraham Coxe sing out.

“‘Quick, Jerry, quick, get out of the cave, for there is a great big bear coming along the valley, and she’s close aboard of us!’

“It was all very well for Coxe to say, get out of the cave; but that was more than I could do in a hurry without turning round, when I might have had all the young bears attacking my rump, saving your presence, ladies. Coxe also didn’t stop to help me, but scampered off as hard as his legs could carry him. I was going to make the best of my way after him, when I saw a big white bear not three fathoms off, evidently steering for the very place itself.

“There was no use trying to get out, for to a certainty the brute would have grappled me in a moment; so I drew back, thinking to remain concealed. Just then I remembered the beasts I had seen inside, and I guessed that they were the bear’s cubs, and that I had taken possession of her abode. It was not a pleasant idea, certainly, but there was no help for it. In another minute the great big she-bear came snuffing up to the hole where I lay. I thought that it was all up with me, and expected every moment to be made into a supper for the bear and her cubs. The little beasts were all the time licking my heels just to have a taste, I thought, of what was to come. The bear began to growl, I fancied because she found me inside; but I believe it was just her way of talking to her cubs. Thinks I to myself, I’ll have a fight for it; so I doubled my fists, intending to give her a good lick on the eye before she ate me, when, just as I thought that she was going to make a grab at me, she slewed round and began to back into the cave stern foremost.

“‘Ho! ho!’ says I to myself, ‘if you goes to make a stern-board, old gal, I’ll rake you before you shows your broadside to me again;’ so on that I whips out my long knife, which I had tucked away in my belt, with a lanyard round my neck, and drove it with all my force right into her. The more she backed, and the louder she growled, the harder and faster I drove in the knife. Still she came backing and backing, and I didn’t like the prospect at all. I thought to myself, ‘If she drives me up against the end of the cave, she’ll squeeze all the breath out of my body, to a certainty.’

“At last, however, when she got to the narrowest part of the hole, she sank down from loss of blood. I thought she would perhaps begin to move on again, but she didn’t. After she had given a few growls, which grew fainter and fainter, I made sure she was dead.

“As I was pretty nigh famished, thinks I to myself, ‘I’ll have some steaks out of you, old gal, at all events;’ so I cut three or four fine steaks out of her rump (saving your pardon, Mrs Kelson, and ladies all), and precious juicy and nice to look at they were; but how to dress them was the job. At first I thought that I should have to eat them raw, as I had often done salt beef; but on hunting about on a higher part of the cave, I found a quantity of dry sticks and leaves which had served the bears for a bed, I suppose. Piling up some of them, I struck a light, and made a fire to dress the steaks, while the young cubs kept rubbing against me, and couldn’t make out whether I was their mother or their daddy I believe. I gave them each a bit of steak, which they seemed to think not bad sucking.

“You see I was inside the cave, though there was just room to look out over the body of the dead bear, but scarcely space enough for me to have squeezed myself out if I had wished it. I didn’t just then wish to go out, for I was very comfortable; I had a dry roof over my head, and company too, and plenty to eat; only I should have liked a glass of grog to wash down the food.

“Well, as I was eating the bear’s steak, I thought to myself, ‘It would have been better for Abraham Coxe if he had stuck to his old shipmate instead of running away at sight of danger.’

“I had just finished supper, and was thinking of turning in for the night, when I heard a loud growl at the mouth of the cave. I made sure that it was the she-bear come to life again, for I was getting drowsy, and I began to think what she would say to me for having stolen her steaks. However, at last I got up and looked out, and there I saw a great big he-bear walking about in front of the cave, and I have no doubt scolding his wife for not getting out of his way to let him in. At last he began to back astern, but he couldn’t make her move.

“‘Growl away, my bo’,’ says I. ‘If you keep on at that game, I’ll make steaks of you before long.’

“I sat as quiet as possible, picking my teeth with the point of my knife, for the steaks were rather tough, you may guess. The little bears, playful like, were running about round me, while the old bear was grumbling away outside, thinking maybe that his wife had taken a drop too much, and couldn’t get up. All of a sudden I heard a great hullabaloo, and several shots were fired, and down came the old bear as dead as a door nail in front of the cave.

“Among other voices, I recognised that of Abraham Coxe. ‘My poor mate is killed, and eaten by the bears,’ says he; ‘but I may as well have his knife, and his baccy-box and buttons, if they ain’t eaten too.’

“‘No, I ain’t eaten nor dead either, you cowardly rascal, and I hope a better man nor you may have my traps when I do go,’ I sings out, for I was in a towering rage at being deserted.

“At first the people were going to run away, thinking it was my ghost that was speaking; but when I sang out again, and told them that I was a living man, some of them took courage, and came and dragged the two old bears out of the way. At last I crawled out, followed by the young cubs, to the great astonishment of all who saw us. To make a long story short, this was the way how the people had come to my rescue. When Coxe ran away, not knowing where he went, he ran right into the village, which was all the time close to us. When the villagers heard what had happened, they all came out to have a shot at the bears, not expecting to find me alive. They seemed very glad I had escaped, and carried me back in triumph to the village. As it was through our means they got two bears and a number of cubs, they treated us very kindly, and pressed us to stay with them. When, however, we found that we should never reach America by going over the mountains, and as we had no fancy to spend a winter in this outlandish sort of a place, seeing that the summer wasn’t very pleasant, we judged it best to go back to our ship and give ourselves up. We got three dozen a-piece, which I can only say we richly deserved, and neither of us ever attempted to desert again. ‘Let well alone,’ I used to say. ‘If I do get away, I shall only find myself before long on board another ship, and worse off than before, probably.’”

Jerry’s advice was very sound. Many a man deserts to obtain an uncertain good, and finds, when too late, that he has secured a certain ill.

Those truly were pleasant evenings at our quiet little house. I wish that I could recollect all old Jerry’s stories I may perhaps call to mind a few more another day, for I think that they are well worthy of repetition.



欢迎访问英文小说网http://novel.tingroom.com

©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533

鲁ICP备05031204号