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After this, Helen Rolleston and Mr. Hazel never spoke. She walked past him on the deck with cold and haughty contempt.
He quietly submitted to it; and never presumed to say one word to her again. Only, as his determination was equal to his delicacy, Miss Rolleston found, one day, a paper on her table, containing advice as to the treatment of disordered lungs, expressed with apparent coldness, and backed by a string of medical authorities, quoted memoriter.
She sent this back directly, indorsed with a line, in pencil, that she would try hard to live, now she had a friend to protect from calumny; but should use her own judgment as to the means.
Yet women will be women. She had carefully taken a copy of his advice before she cast it out with scorn.
He replied, "Live with whatever motive you please; only live."
To this she vouchsafed no answer; nor did this unhappy man trouble her again, until an occasion of a very different kind arose.
One fine night he sat on the deck, with his back against the mainmast, in deep melancholy and listlessness, and fell, at last, into a doze, from which he was wakened by a peculiar sound below. It was a beautiful and stilly night; all sounds were magnified; and the father of all rats seemed to be gnawing the ship down below.
Hazel's curiosity was excited, and he went softly down the ladder to see what the sound really was. But that was not so easy, for it proved to be below decks; but he saw a light glimmering through a small scuttle abaft the mate's cabin, and the sounds were in the neighborhood of that light.
It now flashed upon Mr. Hazel that this was the very quarter where he had heard that mysterious knocking when the ship was lying to in the gale.
Upon this a certain degree of vague suspicion began to mingle with his curiosity.
He stood still a moment, listening acutely; then took off his shoes very quietly, and moved with noiseless foot toward the scuttle.
The gnawing still continued.
He put his head through the scuttle, and peered into a dark, dismal place, whose very existence was new to him. It was, in fact, a vacant space between the cargo and the ship's run. This wooden cavern was very narrow, but not less than fifteen feet long. The candle was at the further end, and between it and Hazel a man was working, with his flank turned toward the spectator. This partly intercepted the light; but still it revealed in a fitful way the huge ribs of the ship, and her inner skin, that formed the right-hand partition, so to speak, of this black cavern; and close outside those gaunt timbers was heard the wash of the sea.
There was something solemn in the close proximity of that tremendous element and the narrowness of the wooden barrier.
The bare place, and the gentle, monotonous wash of the liquid monster, on that calm night, conveyed to Mr. Hazel's mind a thought akin to David's.
"As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death."
Judge whether that thought grew weaker or stronger, when, after straining his eyes for some time, to understand what was going on at that midnight hour, in that hidden place, he saw who was the workman and what was his occupation.
It was Joseph Wylie, the mate. His profile was illuminated by the candle, and looked ghastly. He had in his hands an auger of enormous size, and with this he was drilling a great hole through the ship's side, just below the water-mark; an act, the effect of which would be to let the sea bodily into the ship and sink her, with every soul on board, to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
* * * * * * *
"I was stupefied; and my hairs stood on end, and my tongue clove to my jaws."
Thus does one of Virgil's characters describe the effect his mind produced upon his body in a terrible situation.
Mr. Hazel had always ridiculed that trite line as a pure exaggeration; but he altered his opinion after that eventful night.
When he first saw what Wylie was doing, obstupuit, he was merely benumbed; but, as his mind realized the fiendish nature of the act, and its tremendous consequences, his hair actually bristled, and for a few minutes at least he could not utter a word.
In that interval of stupor, matters took another turn. The auger went in up to the haft. Then Wylie caught up with his left hand a wooden plug he had got ready, jerked the auger away, caught up a hammer, and swiftly inserted the plug.
Rapid as he was, a single jet of water came squirting viciously in. But Wylie lost no time; he tapped the plug smartly with his hammer several times, and then, lifting a mallet with both hands, rained heavy blows on it that drove it in, and shook the ship's side.
Then Hazel found his voice, and he uttered an ejaculation that made the mate look round; he glared at the man who was glaring at him, and, staggering backward, trod on the light, and all was darkness and dead silence.
All but the wash of the sea outside, and that louder than ever.
* * * * * * *
But a short interval sufficed to restore one of the parties to his natural self-possession.
"Lord, sir," said Wylie, "how you startled me! You should not come upon a man at his work like that. We might have had an accident."
"What were you doing?" said Hazel, in a voice that quavered in spite of him.
"Repairing the ship. Found a crack or two in her inner skin. There, let me get a light, and I'll explain it to you, sir."
He groped his way out, and invited Mr. Hazel into his cabin. There he struck a light, and, with great civility, tendered an explanation. The ship, he said, had labored a good deal in the last gale, and he had discovered one or two flaws in her, which were of no immediate importance; but experience had taught him that in calm weather a ship ought to be kept tight. "As they say ashore, a stitch in time saves nine."
"But drilling holes in her is not the way," said Hazel sternly.
The mate laughed. "Why, sir," said he, "what other way is there? We cannot stop an irregular crack; we can frame nothing to fit it. The way is to get ready a plug measured a trifle larger than the aperture you are going to make; then drill a round hole and force in the plug. I know no other way than that; and I was a ship's carpenter for ten years before I was a mate."
This explanation, and the manner in which it was given, removed Mr. Hazel's apprehensions for the time being. "It was very alarming," said he; "but I suppose you know your business."
"Nobody better, sir," said Wylie. "Why, it is not one seaman in three that would trouble his head about a flaw in a ship's inner skin; but I'm a man that looks ahead. Will you have a glass of grog, sir, now you are here? I keep that under my eye, too; between ourselves, if the skipper had as much in his cabin as I have here, that might be worse for us all than a crack or two in the ship's inner skin."
Mr. Hazel declined to drink grog at that time in the morning, but wished him good-night and left him with a better opinion of him than he had ever had till then.
Wylie, when he was gone, drew a tumbler of neat spirits, drank half, and carried the rest back to his work.
Yet Wylie was a very sober man in a general way. Rum was his tool; not his master.
When Hazel came to think of it all next day, he did not feel quite so easy as he had done. The inner skin! But, when Wylie withdrew his auger, the wafer had squirted in furiously. He felt it hard to believe that this keen jet of water could be caused by a small quantity that had found its way between the skin of the ship and her copper, or her top booting; it seemed rather to be due to the direct pressure of the liquid monster outside.
He went to the captain that afternoon, and first told him what he had seen, offering no solution. The captain, on that occasion, was in an amphibious state; neither wet nor dry; and his reply was altogether exceptional. He received the communication with pompous civility; then swore a great oath, and said he would put the mate in irons. "Confound the lubber! he will be through the ship's bottom."
"But, stop a moment," said Mr. Hazel, "it is only fair you should also hear how he accounts for his proceeding."
The captain listened attentively to the explanation, and altered his tone. "Oh, that is a different matter," said he. "You need be under no alarm, sir; the thundering lubber knows what he is about, at that work. Why, he has been a ship's carpenter all his life. Him a seaman! If anything ever happens to me, and Joe Wylie is set to navigate this ship, then you may say your prayers. He isn't fit to sail a wash-tub across a duck-pond. But I'll tell you what it is," added this worthy, with more pomposity than neatness of articulation, "here's a respeckable passenger brought me a report; do my duty to m' employers, and--take a look at the well."
He accordingly chalked a plumb-line, and went and sounded the well.
There were eight inches of water. Hudson told him that was no more than all ships contained from various causes: "In fact," said he, "our pumps suck, and will not draw, at eight inches." Then suddenly grasping Mr. Hazel's hand, he said, in tearful accents, "Don't you trouble your head about Joe Wylie, or any such scum. I'm skipper of the Proserpine, and a man that does his duty to 'z employers. Mr. Hazel, sir, I'd come to my last anchor in that well this moment, if my duty to m' employers required it. D-- my eyes if I wouldn't lie down there this minute, and never move to all eternity and a day after, if it was my duty to m' employers!"
"No doubt," said Hazel dryly. "But I think you can serve your employers better in other parts of the ship." He then left him, with a piece of advice; "to keep his eye upon that Wylie."
Mr. Hazel kept his own eye on Wylie so constantly, that at eleven o'clock P.M. he saw that worthy go into the captain's cabin with a quart bottle of rum.
The coast was clear; the temptation great. These men then were still deceiving him with a feigned antagonism. He listened at the keyhole, not without some compunction; which, however, became less and less as fragments of the dialogue reached his ear.
For a long time the only speaker was Hudson, and his discourse ran upon his own exploits at sea. But suddenly Wylie's voice broke in with an unmistakable tone of superiority. "Belay all that chat, and listen to me. It is time we settled something. I'll hear what you have got to say; and then you'll do what I say. Better keep your hands off the bottle a minute you have had enough for the present; this is business. I know you are good for jaw; but what are you game to do for the governor 's money? Anything?"
"More than you have ever seen or heard tell of, ye lubber," replied the irritated skipper. "Who has ever served his employers like Hiram Hudson?"
"Keep that song for your quarter-deck," retorted the mate, contemptuously. "No; on second thoughts, just tell me how you have served your employers, you old humbug. Give me chapter and verse to choose from. Come now, the Neptune?"
"Well, the Neptune; she caught fire a hundred leagues from land."
"How came she to do that?"
"That is my business. Well, I put her head before the wind, and ran for the Azores; and I stuck to her, sir, till she was as black as a coal, and we couldn't stand on deck, but kept hopping like parched peas; and fire belching out of her portholes forward. Then we took to the boats, and saved a few bales of silk by way of sample of her cargo, and got ashore; and she'd have come ashore too next tide and told tales, but somebody left a keg of gunpowder in the cabin, with a long fuse, and blew a hole in her old ribs, that the water came in, and down she went, hissing like ten thousand sarpints, and nobody the wiser."
"Who lighted the fuse, I wonder?" said Wylie.
"Didn't I tell ye it was 'Somebody'?" said Hudson. "Hand me the stiff." He replenished his glass, and, after taking a sip or two, asked Wylie if he had ever had the luck to be boarded by pirates.
"No," said Wylie. "Have you?"
"Ay; and they rescued me from a watery grave, as the lubbers call it. Ye see, I was employed by Downes & Co., down at the Havanna, and cleared for Vera Cruz with some boxes of old worn-out printer's type"
"To print psalm-books for the darkies, no doubt," suggested Wylie.
"Insured as specie," continued Hudson, ignoring the interruption. "Well, just at daybreak one morning, all of a sudden there was a rakish-looking craft on our weather-bow. Lets fly a nine-pounder across our forefoot, and was alongside before my men could tumble up from below. I got knocked into the sea by the boom and fell between the ships; and the pirate he got hold of me and poured hot grog down my throat to bring me to my senses."
"That is not what you use it for in general," said Wylie. "Civil sort of pirate, though."
"Pirate be d--d. That was my consort rigged out with a black flag, and mounted with four nine-pounders on one side, and five dummies on the other. He blustered a bit, and swore, and took our type and our cabbages (I complained to Downes ashore about the vagabond taking the vegetables), and ordered us to leeward under all canvas, and we never saw him again--not till he had shaved off his mustaches, and called on Downes to condole and say the varmint had chased his ship fifty leagues out of her course; but he had got clear of him. Downes complimented me publicly. Says he, 'This skipper boarded the pirate single-handed; only he jumped short, and fell between the two ships; and here he is by a miracle.' Then he takes out his handkerchief, and flops his head on my shoulder. 'His merciful preservation almost reconciles me to the loss of my gold,' says the thundering crocodile. Cleared seventy thousand dollars, he did, out of the Manhattan Marine, and gave the pirate and me but two hundred pounds between us both."
"The Rose?" said Wylie.
"What a hurry you are in! Pass the grog. Well, the Rose; she lay off Ushant. We canted her to wash the decks; lucky she had a careful commander; not like Kempenfelt, whose eye was in his pocket, and his fingers held the pen, so he went to the bottom, with Lord knows how many men. I noticed the squalls came very sudden; so I sent most of my men ashore and got the boats ready in case of accident. A squall did strike her, and she was on her beam-ends in a moment. We pulled ashore with two bales of silk by way of salvage, and sample of what warn't in her hold when she settled down. We landed; and the Frenchmen were dancing about with excitement. 'Captain,' says one, 'you have much sang fraw.' 'Insured, munseer,' says I. 'Bone,' says he.
"Then there was the Antelope, lost in charge of a pilot off the Hooghly. I knew the water as well as he did. We were on the port tack, standing toward the shoal. Weather it, as we should have done next tack, and I should have failed in my duty to my employers. Anything but that! 'Look out!' said I. 'Pilot, she fore-reaches in stays.' Pilot was smoking; those sandhead pilots smoke in bed and asleep. He takes his cigar out of his mouth for one moment. 'Ready about,' says he. 'Hands 'bout ship. Helm's a-lee. Raise tacks and sheets.' Round she was coming like a top. Pilot smoking. Just as he was going to haul the mainsel Somebody tripped against him, and shoved the hot cigar in his eye. He sung out and swore, and there was no mainsel haul. Ship in irons, tide running hard on to the shoal, and before we could clear away for anchoring, bump!--there she was hard and fast. A stiff breeze got up at sunrise, and she broke up. Next day I was sipping my grog and reading the Bengal Courier, and it told the disastrous wreck of the brig Antelope, wrecked in charge of a pilot; 'but no lives lost, and the owners fully insured.' Then there was the bark Sally. Why, you saw her yourself distressed on a lee shore."
"Yes," said Wylie. "I was in that tub, the Grampus, and we contrived to claw off the Scillies; yet you, in your smart Sally, got ashore. What luck!"
"Luck be blowed!" cried Hudson, angrily. "Somebody got into the chains to sound, and cut the weather halyards. Next tack the masts went over the side; and I had done my duty."
"Lives were lost that time, eh?" said Wylie, gravely.
"What is that to you?" replied Hudson, with the sudden ire of a drunken man. "Mind your own business. Pass me the bottle."
* * * * * * *
"Yes, lives was lost; and always will be lost in sea-going ships, where the skipper does his duty. There was a sight more lost at Trafalgar, owing to every man doing his duty. Lives lost, ye lubber? And why not mine? Because their time was come and mine wasn't. For I'll tell you one thing, Joe Wylie--if she takes fire and runs before the wind till she is as black as coal, and belching flame through all her port-holes, and then explodes, and goes aloft in ten thousand pieces no bigger than my hat, or your knowledge of navigation, Hudson is the last man to leave her. Duty! If she goes on her beam-ends and founders, Hudson sees the last of her, and reports it to his employers. Duty! If she goes grinding on Scilly, Hudson is the last man to leave her bones. Duty! Some day perhaps I shall be swamped myself along with the craft. I have escaped till now, owing to not being insured; but if ever my time should come, and you should get clear, promise me, Joe, to see the owners, and tell 'em Hudson did his duty."
Here a few tears quenched his noble ardor for a moment. But he soon recovered, and said, with some little heat, "You have got the bottle again. I never saw such a fellow to get hold of the bottle. Come, here's 'Duty to our employers!' And now I'll tell you how we managed with the Carysbrook, and the Amelia."
This promise was followed by fresh narratives; in particular, of a vessel he had run upon the Florida reef at night, where wreckers had been retained in advance to look out for signals, and come on board and quarrel on pretense and set fire to the vessel, insured at thrice her value.
Hudson got quite excited with the memory of these exploits, and told each successive feat louder and louder.
But now it was Wylie's turn. "Well," said he, very gravely, "all this was child's play."
There was a pause that marked Hudson's astonishment. Then he broke out, "Child's play, ye lubber! If you had been there your gills would have been as white as your Sunday shirt; and a d--d deal whiter."
"Come, be civil," said Wylie, "I tell you all the ways you have told me are too suspicious. Our governor is a highflyer. He pays like a prince, and, in return, he must not be blown on, if it is ever so little. 'Wylie,' says he, 'a breath of suspicion would kill me.' 'Make it so much,' says I, 'and that breath shall never blow on you. No, no, skipper; none of those ways will do for us; they have all been worked twice too often. It must be done in fair weather, and in a way-- Fill your glass and I'll fill mine-- Capital rum this. You talk of my gills turning white; before long we shall see whose keeps their color best, mine or yours, my boy."
There was a silence, during which Hudson was probably asking himself what Wylie meant; for presently he broke out in a loud but somewhat quivering voice: "Why, you mad, drunken devil of a ship's carpenter, red-hot from hell, I see what you are at, now; you are going--"
"Hush!" cried Wylie, alarmed in his turn. "Is this the sort of thing to bellow out for the watch to hear? Whisper, now."
This was followed by the earnest mutterings of two voices. In vain did the listener send his very soul into his ear to hear. He could catch no single word. Yet he could tell, by the very tones of the speakers, that the dialogue was one of mystery and importance.
Here was a situation at once irritating and alarming; but there was no help for it. The best thing, now, seemed to be to withdraw unobserved, and wait for another opportunity. He did so; and he had not long retired, when the mate came out staggering and flushed with liquor, and that was a thing that had never occurred before. He left the cabin door open and went into his own room.
Soon after sounds issued from the cabin--peculiar sounds, something between grunting and snoring.
Mr. Hazel came and entered the cabin. There he found the captain of the Proserpine in a position very unfavorable to longevity. His legs were crooked over the seat of his chair, and his head was on the ground. His handkerchief was tight round his neck, and the man himself dead drunk, and purple in the face.
Mr. Hazel instantly undid his stock, on which the gallant seaman muttered inarticulately. He then took his feet off the chair and laid them on the ground, and put the empty bottle under the animal's neck.
But he had no sooner done all this than he had a serious misgiving. Would not this man's death have been a blessing? Might not his life prove fatal?
The thought infuriated him, and he gave the prostrate figure a heavy kick that almost turned it over, and the words, "Duty to employers," gurgled out of its mouth directly.
It really seemed as if these sounds were independent of the mind, and resided at the tip of Hudson's tongue, so that a thorough good kick could, at any time, shake them out of his inanimate body.
Thus do things ludicrous and things terrible mingle in the real world; only to those who are in the arena, the ludicrous passes unnoticed, being overshadowed by its terrible neighbor.
And so it was with Hazel. He saw nothing absurd in all this; and in that prostrate, insensible hog, commanding the ship, forsooth, and carrying all their lives in his hands, he saw the mysterious and alarming only; saw them so, and felt them, that he lay awake all night thinking what he should do, and early next day he went into the mate's cabin, and said to him: "Mr. Wylie, in any other ship I should speak to the captain, and not to the mate; but here that would be no use, for you are the master, and he is your servant."
"Don't tell him so, sir, for he doesn't think small beer of himself."
"I shall waste no more words on him. It is to you I speak, and you know I speak the truth. Here is a ship, in which, for certain reasons known to yourself, the captain is under the mate."
"Well, sir," said Wylie good-humoredly, "it is no use trying to deceive a gentleman like you. Our skipper is an excellent seaman, but he has got a fault." Then Wylie imitated, with his hand, the action of a person filling his glass.
"And you are here to keep him sober, eh?"
"Then why do you ply him with liquor?"
"I don't, sir."
"You do. I have seen you do it a dozen times. And last night you took rum into his room, and made him so drunk, he would have died where he lay if I had not loosed his handkerchief."
"I am sorry to hear that, sir; but he was sober when I left him. The fool must have got to the bottle the moment I was gone."
"But that bottle you put in his way; I saw you. And what was your object? To deaden his conscience with liquor, his and your own, while you made him your fiendish proposal. Man, man, do you believe in God, and in a judgment to come for the deeds done in the body, that you can plan in cold blood to destroy a vessel with nineteen souls on board, besides the live stock, the innocent animals that God pitied and spared when he raised his hand in wrath over Nineveh of old?"
While the clergyman was speaking, with flashing eyes and commanding voice, the seaman turned ashy pale, and drew his shoulders together like a cat preparing to defend her life.
"I plan to destroy a vessel, sir! You never heard me say such a word; and don't you hint such a thing in the ship, or you will get yourself into trouble."
"That depends on you."
"How so, sir?"
"I have long suspected you."
"You need not tell me that, sir."
"But I have not communicated my suspicions. And now that they are certainties, I come first to you. In one word, will you forego your intention, since it is found out?"
"How can I forego what never was in my head?" said Wylie. "Cast away the ship! Why, there's no land within two thousand miles. Founder a vessel in the Pacific! Do you think my life is not as sweet to me as yours is to you?"
Wylie eyed him keenly to see the effect of these words, and, by a puzzled expression that came over his face, saw at once he had assumed a more exact knowledge than he really possessed.
Hazel replied that he had said nothing about foundering the ship; but there were many ways of destroying one. "For instance," said he, "I know how the Neptune was destroyed--and so do you; how the Rose and the Antelope were cast away--and so do you."
At this enumeration Wylie lost his color and self-possession for a moment; he saw Hazel had been listening. Hazel followed up his blow. "Promise me now, by all you hold sacred, to forego this villainy; and I hold my tongue. Attempt to defy me, or to throw dust in my eyes, and I go instantly among the crew, and denounce both you and Hudson to them."
"Good Heavens!" cried Wylie, in unfeigned terror. "Why, the men would mutiny on the spot."
"I can't help that," said Hazel, firmly; and took a step toward the door.
"Stop a bit," said the mate. "Don't be in such a 'nation hurry; for, if you do, it will be bad for me, but worse for you." The above was said so gravely and with such evident sincerity that Mr. Hazel was struck and showed it. Wylie followed up that trifling advantage. "Sit down a minute, sir, if you please, and listen to me. You never saw a mutiny on board ship, I'll be bound. It is a worse thing than any gale that ever blew; begins fair enough, sometimes; but how does it end? In breaking into the spirit-room and drinking to madness, plundering the ship, ravishing the women, and cutting a throat or so for certain. You don't seem so fond of the picture as you was of the idea. And then they might turn a deaf ear to you after all. Ship is well found in all stores; provisions served out freely; men in good humor; and I have got their ear. And now I'll tell you why it won't suit your little game to blacken me to the crew, upon the bare chance of a mutiny." He paused for a moment, then resumed in a lower tone, and revealed himself the extraordinary man he was.
"You see, sir," said he, "when a man is very ready to suspect me, I always suspect him. Now you was uncommon ready to suspect me. You didn't wait till you came on board; you began the game ashore. Oh, what, that makes you open one eye, does it? You thought I didn't know you again. Knew you, my man, the moment you came aboard. I never forget a face; and disguises don't pass on me."
It was now Hazel's turn to look anxious and discomposed.
"So, then, the moment I saw you suspected me I was down upon you. Well, you come aboard under false colors. We didn't want a chap like you in the ship; but you would come. 'What is the bloke after?' says I, and watches. You was so intent suspecting me of this, that, and t'other, that you unguarded yourself, and that is common too. I'm blowed if it isn't the lady you are after. With all my heart; only she might do better, and I don't see how she could do worse, unless she went to Old Nick for a mate. Now, I'll tell you what it is, my man. I've been in trouble myself, and don't want to be hard on a poor devil, just because he sails under an alias, and lies as near the wind as he can, to weather on the beaks and the bobbies. But one good turn deserves another. Keep your dirty suspicions to yourself; for if you dare to open your lips to the men, in five minutes, or less than that, you shall be in irons and confined to your cabin; and we'll put you ashore at the first port that flies the British flag, and hand you over to the authorities, till one of her Majesty's cruisers sends in a boat for you."
At this threat Mr. Hazel hung his head in confusion and dismay.
"Come, get out of my cabin, Parson Alias," shouted the mate; "and belay your foul tongue in this ship, and don't make an enemy of Joe Wylie, a man that will eat you up else, and spit you out again, and never brag. Sheer off, I say, and be d--d to you."
Mr. Hazel, with a pale face and sick heart, looked aghast at this dangerous man, who could be fox or tiger, as the occasion demanded.
Surprised, alarmed, outwitted and out-menaced, he retired with disordered countenance and uneven steps and hid himself in his own cabin.
The more he weighed the whole situation, the more clearly did he see that he was utterly powerless in the hands of Wylie. A skipper is an emperor; and Hudson had the power to iron him, and set him on shore at the nearest port. The right to do it was another matter; but even on that head Wylie could furnish a plausible excuse for the act. Retribution, if it came at all, would not be severe, and would be three or four years coming. And who fears it much, when it, is so dilatory, and so weak, and so doubtful into the bargain?
He succumbed in silence for two days; and then, in spite of Wylie's threat, he made one timid attempt to approach the subject with Welch and Cooper; but a sailor came up instantly, and sent them forward to reef topsails. And, whenever he tried to enter into conversation with the pair, some sailor or other was sure to come up and listen.
Then he saw that he was spotted; or, as we say nowadays, picketed.
He was at his wit's end.
He tried his last throw. He wrote a few lines to Miss Rolleston, requesting an interview. Aware of the difficulties he had to encounter here, he stilled his heart by main force, and wrote in terms carefully measured. He begged her to believe he had no design to intrude upon her, without absolute necessity, and for her own good. Respect for her own wishes forbade this, and also his self-respect.
"But," said he, "I have made a terrible discovery. The mate and the captain certainly intend to cast away this ship. No doubt they will try and not sacrifice their own lives and ours; but risk them they must, in the very nature of things. Before troubling you, I have tried all I could, in the way of persuasion and menace; but am defeated. So now it rests with you. You alone can save us all. I will tell you how, if you will restrain your repugnance, and accord me a short interview. Need I say that no other subject shall be introduced by me? In England, should we ever reach it, I may perhaps try to take measures to regain your good opinion; but here, I am aware, that is impossible; and I shall make no attempt in that direction, upon my honor."
To this came a prompt and feminine reply.
"The ship is Mr. Arthur Wardlaw's. The captain and the mate are able men, appointed by him. Your suspicions of these poor men are calumnies, and of a piece with your other monstrous slanders.
"I really must insist on your holding no further communications of any sort with one to whom your character is revealed and odious.
This letter benumbed his heart at first. A letter? It was a blow; a blow from her he loved, and she hated him!
His long-suffering love gave way at last. What folly and cruelty combined! He could no longer make allowances for the spite of a woman whose lover had been traduced. Rage and despair seized him; he bit his nails and tore his hair with fury, and prayed Heaven to help him hate her as she deserved, "the blind, insolent idiot!" Yes, these bitter words actually came out of his mouth, in a torrent of injury.
But to note down all he said in his rage would be useless; and might mislead, for this was a gust of fury; and, while it lasted, the long-suffering man was no longer himself.
As a proof how little this state of mind was natural to him, it stirred up all the bile in his body, and brought on a severe attack of yellow jaundice, accompanied by the settled dejection that marks that disorder.
Meantime the Proserpine glided on, with a fair wind, and a contented crew. She was well found in stores, and they were served out ungrudgingly.
Every face on board beamed with jollity, except poor Hazel's. He crept about, yellow as a guinea; a very scarecrow.
The surgeon, a humane man, urged him to drink sherry, and take strong exercise.
But persons afflicted with that distressing malady are obstinately set against those things which tend to cure it; this is a feature of the disease. Mr. Hazel was no exception. And then his heart had received so many blows it had no power left to resist the depressing effect of his disorder. He took no exercise; he ate little food. He lay, listless and dejected, about the deck, and let disease do what it pleased with him.
The surgeon shook his head and told Hudson the parson was booked.
"And good riddance of bad rubbish!" was that worthy's gracious comment.
The ship now encountered an adverse gale, and for three whole days was under close-reefed topsails; she was always a wet ship under stress of weather, and she took in a good deal of water on this occasion. On the fourth day it fell calm, and Captain Hudson, having examined the well and found three feet of water, ordered the men to the pumps.
After working through one watch the well was sounded again, and the water was so much reduced that the gangs were taken off; and the ship being now becalmed and the weather lovely, the men were allowed to dance upon deck to the boatswain's fiddle.
While this pastime went on, the sun, large and red, reached the horizon, and diffused a roseate light over the entire ocean.
Not one of the current descriptions of heaven approached the actual grandeur and beauty of the blue sky, flecked with ruby and gold, and its liquid mirror that lay below, calm, dimpled and glorified by that translucent, rosy tint.
While the eye was yet charmed with this enchanting bridal of the sea and sky, and the ear amused with the merry fiddle and the nimble feet that tapped the sounding deck so deftly at every note, Cooper, who had been sounding the well, ran forward all of a sudden and flung a thunderbolt in the midst.
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