Mr Plowden selected for me a large school near London; it was considered a first-rate one. There were a good many sons of noblemen and men of landed property, as also of officers of the East India Company's service, of West India proprietors, and of merchants. It was a little world in itself, influenced, however, by the opinions of the greater planet within which it revolved. The boys took rank according to that of their parents, except that a few, either from their talents, their independent spirits, or from their sycophantish qualifications, had become the more intimate associates of those generally considered their superiors.
The proprietor was considered an excellent school-master. I do not say he was a bad one, though he was not capable of teaching much himself. He, however, paid liberally for good ushers, and thus his pupils were tolerably well instructed in Greek and Latin; but as the junior master was appointed to teach geography, history, and other branches of useful science, of which he had a very superficial knowledge, they gained but little information on those subjects. It struck me, also, that they were not sufficiently instructed in their future duties and responsibilities in life. It was not sufficiently impressed on those destined to become landed proprietors, that they should consider themselves in the light of stewards over their estates, and guardians and advisers of their tenantry; and that it was as much, if not more, their duty to study hard to fit themselves for the station of life, to which they were called, as it was that of those boys who had to fight their way through the world.
Though I was not older than many of the boys, I had far greater experience and knowledge of mankind than they had; and I accordingly made observations on many things which escaped their notice. Little attention was paid to the moral cultivation of the boys, and still less to their physical development.
Gymnastic exercises were not thought of; and, except cricket, they had no manly games to strengthen their muscles and improve their forms. There was a dancing-master; but as he had the art of making a toil of a pleasure, few of the boys learned. A drill-sergeant came once a week, but few seemed to benefit by his lessons. However, as every care was taken to fill the heads of the boys with as large an amount of Greek and Latin as they would hold, the school was considered a very good one; indeed, as they were tolerably well fed, and not flogged over much, and as the bedrooms were clean and airy, and as a respectable matron presided over the establishment, no complaints were made, and parents and friends were pleased with all they saw.
It must be understood that I think Greek and Latin very important branches of a gentleman's education but, at the same time, there are many other things which should on no account be neglected, and which are so too often.
The knowledge I possessed was of too varied a kind to enable me to take my place in any class; and I therefore sometimes did duty with one and sometimes with another, generally getting to the top in a very short time. Of mathematics, history, and modern languages I knew more than the oldest boys, while some of the younger ones surpassed me in making verses, and in Latin and Greek. In consequence of my accomplishments and information, I was a general favourite with most of my companions, whom I used to teach to fence, to knot, and splice, which I learned on my voyage home, and to some I imparted a few words of Hindustanee.
I also entered into all their amusements; and as I had a great dislike to anything like bullying, I would never allow those I could master to ill-treat the weaker ones, and I, on more than one occasion, stood up against a boy much stronger than myself, to defend a little fellow he was going to thrash. We fought, and though he got the best of it, he suffered so severely that he never again attempt to interfere with me. I thus gained all the advantage a victory could have given me. I was not unhappy at the school; but I found the life rather irksome after the freedom I had been accustomed to enjoy, and I studied as hard as I was able, to emancipate myself from it.
Although I had many friends, I had few intimates—indeed, to no one did I confide the story of my being discovered at sea in a boat with my sister; and I was supposed to be the nephew of Sir Charles Plowden. Among the boys I liked best, was one called Walter Blount. He was almost friendless, though his birth was good; and he had fortune sufficient to enable him to be sent to this school, with the intention of his proceeding afterwards to Oxford or Cambridge. He was a fine-spirited lad. He was nearly two years younger than I was, and accordingly looked up to me as his superior. I first gained his friendship by saving him from a thrashing which Hardman, the greatest bully in the school, was about to give him.
"If you touch him you will have to fight us both," I exclaimed; "and I alone am not afraid of you."
The bully doubled his fists, and looked very fierce, but stalked away without striking a blow. I got Blount out of several scrapes; once he had been letting off fireworks in a part of the garden not seen from the house, and being disturbed by the report that one of the ushers was coming, he thrust a handful of touchpaper, part of which was ignited, into his pocket. I luckily met him as he was passing the washing-room, and turning him as he was smoking away, I tore out his burning pockets, and plunged them into the water. We afterwards had to cut away the burnt lining, and to sew up his pockets, so that what had happened might not be discovered.
Another time, he, with a dozen or more other boys, had planned an expedition into the master's garden at night to get fruit. He did not join it, I am sure, for the object of obtaining the fruit, but merely for the sake of the excitement. Another boy, who had been asked to join, told me of it directly after the party had set out. I immediately dressed and followed in their track, determined to bring them back before they had committed the robbery. I, however, only fell in with Blount, who had been separated from the rest; and, with some difficulty, I induced him to return. We had got back to our rooms, when one of the ushers discovered the whole party. The master was called up, and, with birch in hand, went round the room, and inflicted summary punishment on all offenders. The next morning they were called up by name, their crime announced, and severe tasks being inflicted, they were all sent to Coventry for a fortnight. As the whole punishment was very disagreeable and irksome, Blount was very much obliged to me for having saved him from it.
The winter holidays I spent with Mr Plowden in London, and in the summer he took me on a tour through a considerable portion of England, Scotland, and Ireland. I thus became acquainted with what I was taught to consider my native land, and was able to compare other countries with it. I own that, although I have always felt proud of the name of an Englishman, and of what Englishmen have done, yet there are many things in which the people of other nations are their superiors. Some of the faults of the English, as they appeared to me, were a want of unostentatious hospitality, a due respect to parents and superiors in age, and a churlishness of behaviour to those of the same rank, with an unwarrantable suspicion of their motives, and an inclination to criticise and find fault with their behaviour and appearance.
My summer holidays I enjoyed very much; but I was not fond of London; though, I believe, had I made a point of visiting all the spots of interest contained within it, and of gaining information about their history, I might have passed my time more profitably than I did. In those days there were fewer sights, so called, than at present; and the great lion was Exeter Change, truly a den of wild beasts. It was, indeed, painful to see animals deprived, not only of liberty, but of fresh air. I, who had faced the royal Bengal tiger and the fierce lion in their native wilds, could not help feeling some amount of contempt for the exhibition.
When I got back to school, I was welcomed by all the boys, especially by Blount and by John Prior, one of the oldest and most steady of them. He was, indeed, more particularly my friend and my constant companion. He was the son of a merchant connected with India, and reputed to be of great wealth. Of his father he said little, but his constant theme was his mother, who must have been a very excellent person. He averred that he had gained from her all the good in his composition; and certainly, judging from what I saw of him, she might well be content with the result of her prayers to Heaven for his improvement in virtue, and her own watchful and constant exertions. I do not mean to say that any one is perfect; but certainly John Prior was, in the true sense of the word, one of the best fellows I ever met. He gave me much of that advice and instruction which I have ever since found so important. He knew the great aim of life; he saw things in their true light, and taught me to see them also; he called things by their proper names; and while he could make ample allowance for the faults of others, he never attempted to extenuate his own errors; nor did he mistake vice for virtue, or the semblance of virtue for the reality. From the companionship of such a person I could not fail to reap much benefit. I did not enjoy it long. We afterwards met under very different circumstances in a far-off region, which he at that time did not dream of visiting. I had many other friends; I mention Prior and Blount because they will appear again in my narrative. I was pursuing my usual course of study, when one day I was summoned into the study. Mr Liston held an open letter in his hand.
"This is from your uncle, I mean Mr Plowden," he began: "Sir Charles is ill, and wishes to have you with him. You are to return to India immediately, unless you desire the contrary."
The first feeling this announcement created was somewhat selfish, I am afraid, or rather I did not realise the fact of my kind guardian's illness; and my heart leaped at the thought of returning to India, with which country all my pleasantest recollections were associated.
"I wish to go, sir, as soon as I can," I replied.
"You do not appear to regret leaving your school-fellows, and your other friends here," observed Mr Liston, who naturally wished that all his boys should be fond of his school; and as he was making his fortune by means of it, had taught himself to believe that they must regard it with the same eyes of affection that he did.
"Yes, sir, I am though. I am sorry to leave many of the fellows; but you know Sir Charles is my oldest friend. Does he say that he is very ill, sir?"
"No; he talks of his declining strength, and of his wish to have some one about him, in whom he can thoroughly confide," said Mr Liston, fixing his eyes on me, as if he would read every thought passing in my mind.
"I long to be with him," I answered quickly. "And, sir, if you knew what a kind and indulgent friend he has been to me, you would not be surprised."
"Well, well, I hope that you will find him in better health than he now is," said Mr Liston, in a kinder tone than usual. "Mr Plowden has also written to say that your old friend, Captain Willis, is on the point of sailing, and that a cabin in his ship will be secured for you. Now go and wish your friends good-bye, for you have no time to lose, as you must go up to London this afternoon to get your outfit."
On being thus dismissed, I hurried off into the playground.
"I am very, very sorry that you are going, Seaworth," said Prior, leaning on my shoulder as we walked up and down apart from the rest. "Do remember all the things I have often talked to you about. The more I think of them the more I feel their importance, and so will you, I am sure, if you continue to think; but you are going to join in the active busy world, with men of all shades of religion, and some without religion and thought—I mean serious thought; and reflection and earnest prayer may be forgotten."
As I never knew my mother, it seemed as if God had sent me this friend to afford me the inestimable precepts which he had received through his parent. Soon afterwards Blount came up, and wringing my hand, burst into tears.
"I wish that I was going with you," he exclaimed. "I would follow you everywhere. I can't stay behind you, that is very certain—you'll see."
The other boys now crowded round us, and in a thick mass we continued walking up and down, talking of the wonders I was to see, and all expressing regret at my going. Thus the play-hours flew quickly away. I did not remark it at the time, but I now distinctly recollect that there was a subdued tone among all the boys; there was no wrangling or loud shouting; and a few of the little fellows, whom I had at times befriended and aided, were in tears. It was very gratifying to me; and it showed me what a little exertion of power in a right cause will effect. Whether as schoolboys or in manhood, we shall do well to remember this. We talk of being repaid for good actions: now I think that the very feeling which results from doing good, more than amply repays us for the trouble to which we may have been put. The remaining result is a gift Heaven kindly bestows as an incentive to virtue, but in no way gained by us.
I was allowed to pack up my books during school hours. The greater number, however, with some trifles I possessed, I distributed among my friends, as parting tokens. When I went round to wish the ushers good-bye, they shook my hand warmly, and wished me happiness and prosperity; and as I passed up the schoolroom to the door, there was a general shout of "Good-bye, Seaworth; good-bye, old fellow. We'll not forget you." The tears rose to my eyes, and I could say nothing in return.
Prior, Blount, and a few others accompanied me to the coach; and by them I sent back my last remembrances to all the rest. In less than an hour I stepped into a hackney coach at the White Horse Cellar, Piccadilly, and was rumbling away to Mr Plowden's house.
Once more I was on the deck of the Governor Harcourt, her bows turned towards the south, ploughing up the waters of the Atlantic. It was the last voyage Captain Willis intended to make, as he had now realised a handsome competency, and hoped to be able to retire and enjoy it with his family in the country of his birth. We had very different people going out to those who were on board on our homeward voyage—or rather, they were the same sort of people at a different period of their lives. There were a few civil and military officers, and ladies, who had before been to India; but the greater number were young men just emancipated from school or college—griffins, as they are called—who knew nothing of the world or its ways, though they fancied that they knew a great deal, the most ignorant generally appearing the most conceited. There was also a number of young ladies, going out to their relations and friends in India. As Captain Willis was well-known for the excellent care he took of his lady passengers, they had been committed to his especial charge.
For some time nothing of importance occurred, nor did we see any land to distract our attention from the varying line of sky and sea. At last, one morning, at an early hour, when Captain Willis said we were near the island of Madeira, the cry of "Land ahead!" was raised, and in a short time we were passing between that beautiful place and a group of rocks called the Desertas. They are about ten miles from the mainland, and extend for almost fifteen miles from north-west to south-east. Some of the seamen told me that they are called the Desertas, because they have deserted from the mainland to stick out in the ocean by themselves; but the true origin of their name is, that they are desert or barren rocks.
The island, when first seen, looked dusky and gloomy; but, as the sun rose, his rays dispersed the mist, and the mountains, and hills, and valleys, and orange groves, and picturesque shore, and the plantations, and neat white villas and small villages, burst forth in all their beauty. As we rounded the southern side, the town of Funchal, the capital, opened to our view, backed by an amphitheatre of hills, covered with the variegated tints of a luxuriant vegetation, the whole forming a lovely scene which we longed to visit.
As we did not require fresh provisions, Captain Willis wished to proceed. Madeira belongs to Portugal, and is inhabited by Portuguese. Their costume is different, and they are generally inferior to the inhabitants of the parent state.
I have heard people say that they cannot find amusement on board ship. I can reply that I have found abundant matter of interest for many a long voyage, both under the sea and on the sea. I remember, on one calm day, when the ship was scarcely moving through the water, a boat was lowered to enable us to capture some of the Physalia, or Portuguese men-of-war, which were seen in unusual numbers gliding over the surface of the deep. Several of the passengers, among whom were three of the cadets, formed the party intent on scientific discovery. One, whose name was Jellico, but who was more generally called by his companions Jellybag, was among them.
Some of my readers may wonder what is meant by a "Portuguese man-of-war," and think that, notwithstanding the daring of British seamen, we were bound on rather a hazardous expedition, in attempting to attack one in a jolly-boat. The truth is, that it is the name given to a beautiful molluscous animal, which by means of a sort of sail, the wind blows along as if it were a real boat. It consists of a bladder, tinted with various hues, and this keeps it afloat; while long tentaculae, of a deep purple colour, extend beneath, some of them several feet in length, with which it captures its prey. This animal must not be confounded with the Nautilus, from which it is totally different, though one is often mistaken for the other.
Our friend Jellybag did not exactly know what he was to see, but he expected to find something uncommon. We had not rowed many strokes before one of the Physalia was observed floating by, its back ornamented with a fringe tinted with light-blue, delicate sea-green, and crimson.
"I'll have it," exclaimed Jellybag, leaning over the bows and grasping hold of it, regardless of the injury he was inflicting.
Scarcely had he got it on board, then he flung it down at the bottom of the boat, with a loud cry, exclaiming, "The horrid beast has stung me, as if it were a great nettle!" So it was, for it had thrown round his fingers its long tentaculae, discharging, at the same time, an acrid fluid from them, which caused the pain he felt. We all laughed at him at first very much; but he suffered so considerably during the day from the effects of the sting, that the more humane really pitied him, in spite of the ridiculous complaints he made.
"Catch me taking hold of strange fish again in these outlandish places," he observed, as he twisted his arm about with pain. "If a little thing like that hurts one so much, I should think a whale or a dolphin would be enough to poison a whole regiment." By the next day, however, he had recovered, and only felt a slight sensation of numbness, which in two days completely left him.
The next land we saw was the lofty mountain of Saint Antonio, on the island of Saint Jago. The summit was covered with clouds, which rolled away as the sun rose, and we coasted along the somewhat barren shores. In the afternoon we anchored off Porto Praya, the capital. It is a small town, without any buildings worthy of notice. As we looked over the side of the ship, we were amused by the way the fishermen caught their prey. There were several boats fishing. They first sprinkled something which looked like crumbs of bread on the water, and this seemed to attract the fish in large shoals to the surface. The fishermen then swept among them a long stick, to which a number of short lines and hooks were attached; the fish eagerly seizing the bait, several were caught at each cast. The women in each boat were busily engaged, as they were on board, in cleansing and salting them.
We landed next day, and enjoyed a pretty view from the town, looking down on the harbour; but my impression of the island is, that, with the exception of a few cultivated spots, it is a very barren, uninteresting place. We visited, however, the plantation of the sugar-cane; and among a variety of tropical trees, such as the guava, tamarind, plantain, and custard-apple, there was a species of the monkey-bread tree, which struck us as very curious. This tree was about sixty feet high and forty feet in circumference; the bark was smooth, and of a greyish colour, and the boughs were entirely destitute of leaves. This fruit hung thickly at the end of twisted, spongy stalks, from one to two feet long. The fruit is of an oval form, about six inches in length, and three or four inches in diameter; and the outer shell being broken, it contains a farinaceous substance, enveloping dark brown seeds of an agreeable acidulated taste.
On entering the tropics, we used to watch the flights of the flying-fish, several of which, at different times, were caught leaping through our ports, or into the boats towing astern in calm weather. We saw some bonitoes in chase of a large shoal. The flying-fish made an audible rustling noise as they arose before their pursuers, who, in eager chase, often sprang several yards out of the water. Besides their finny enemies, the former had to encounter in their flight armies of boobies, gannets, and other tropical birds, which hovered over them, and secured many of them before our eyes. Notwithstanding this, I do not suppose that flying-fish are more unhappy or more persecuted than their less agile brethren; and while they live they probably have a keener enjoyment of existence. I believe that, in the minutest details of creation, the all-beneficent God metes out to all living beings the advantages and disadvantages of existence for some great end, which it is not His will to disclose to man.
One of the most beautiful subjects of interest is the phosphorescent light seen at night on the ocean, as the ship ploughs her way through the waters. Some of the passengers tried to persuade Jellybag that it was caused by the ends of cigars, and the ashes of tobacco-pipes, thrown overboard from a fleet ahead. It no doubt arises from the quantity of dead animal matter, with which the sea water is loaded. The wake of the ship appeared one broad sheet of phosphoric matter, so brilliant as to cast a dull pale light over the stern; the foaming surges, as they gracefully curled on each side of the bow, look like rolling masses of liquid phosphorus; whilst in the distance, even to the horizon, it seemed an ocean of fire, the far-off waves giving out a light of inconceivable beauty and brilliancy.
Albicores, bonitoes, and dolphins followed the ship for several days in succession; and one albicore, which had a mark on his back, from which we knew it, followed us from 3 degrees north latitude to 10 degrees south latitude, a distance of eight hundred and forty miles. An immense whale rose close to us one day, like an island emerging from the deep. Farther south Cape petrels appeared; and still farther, large numbers of the powerful albatross came gliding round us on their wide-spreading wings.
The Cape of Storms was rounded without a storm; and once more the Governor Harcourt entered the Hoogly. It appeared to me as if a lifetime had passed away since I was last at Calcutta, though scarcely two years had elapsed since I left it.
My first inquiries, on the pilot's coming on board, were for Sir Charles. With breathless anxiety I listened for his answer.
"Sir Charles—Oh ay—Sir Charles Plowden, you mean, sir. I haven't heard of his death; so I suppose he is still alive, though he is very sickly, I know. But perhaps you are his son, sir, and I am speaking carelessly."
"No, I am not his son, my friend, but I love him as if I were," I replied. "And I earnestly wish that you could recollect when you last heard of him."
The pilot stopped to consider for some minutes. "Now I come to think of it, sir, I do remember but last night hearing that Sir Charles was going on much as usual; but I did not mark at the time what Sir Charles was spoken of," was the vague answer, with which I was obliged to be satisfied.
The wind falling to a dead calm, it was necessary to bring the ship to an anchor. To save time, therefore, as I was very eager to be on shore, I, with some of the other passengers, hired a country boat, in which we proceeded up to Calcutta. On landing, some in palanquins, others in carriages, or on horseback, proceeded to their various destinations. Hotels were not so common in those days as at present; so that people went at once to the houses of those to whom they had introductions, who aided them in establishing themselves in their quarters.
I threw myself on a horse, and galloped, in spite of the hot sun, as fast as he could go, to the house, or rather to the palace, where Sir Charles resided. There was more than the usual Oriental stillness about the building as I entered. A few servants were flitting about noiselessly among the pillars of the vast hall, and through the open doors of the chambers leading from it. Others were reposing on mats in the shade. Although I had grown considerably, I was soon recognised. The words, "The young sahib has returned! the young sahib has returned!" were soon echoed among them; and those who had known me, hurried forward to meet me. Their kind looks and expressions cheered my heart, which was heavy with fear as to the information I was about to receive.
From my inquiries I learned that Sir Charles was still alive, though the medical man entertained but slight hopes of his recovery. He had frequently asked for me, and had desired that as soon as I arrived I should be conducted into his presence. In another minute I was by the bedside of my benefactor. By the pale light which was admitted into the room, I could perceive the alteration which sickness had wrought on his countenance; and I, too truly, feared that the hand of death had already stamped its mark upon it.
My name was mentioned; he recognised me instantly, and stretched out his hand affectionately to press mine. Tears started into my eyes, and my heart swelled with the pain I tried to conceal, lest it should distress him.
"I am glad you are come in time, my dear boy," he said in a weak voice. "I have much to speak of, and my hours are numbered. I would recommend you to these kind friends, for you will want comfort and aid, though they would give it unasked."
At these words I looked up, and for the first time perceived that some other persons were in the room—a gentleman and a lady. The first I did not know; but I soon, to my infinite satisfaction, recognised in the other my old and charming playmate—once Ellen Barrow, now Mrs Northcote—not less charming, but more matronly than before. She and her husband shook hands most kindly with me; but we had no time for conversation before I was again summoned to the bedside of Sir Charles. His looks showed that he wished to speak on some matter of importance; but his voice was so low that it was scarcely audible. He beckoned me to lean forward to listen to him.
"My dear Mark," he whispered, "I am the only person in the world you know of, on whom you have any claim; and let it be a consolation to you, that I think you have amply repaid me for my care of you. Remember my last words: Fear God, and trust to his goodness: never forget Him. Be honest, and show charity to your fellow-men; be kind to those below you, and thoughtful of their welfare, and you will obtain contentment and competency—a mind at peace, if not wealth. What would now be to me all the honours I have gained without peace of mind—a trust in God's mercy through our Saviour's merits? Never repine at what He orders; be prepared for reverses, and pray for fortitude to bear them. Your friends will tell you what has happened, and you will have need of all the fortitude you possess. I cannot tell you the sad history; but remember that God, who careth for the young birds, will not neglect you if you trust in Him. To Him, in faith, I commit my soul. He is merciful, my boy—He is everywhere—"
Sir Charles was silent—his hand, which had held mine, relaxed—his spirit had fled, and I was alone in the world. I could scarcely believe what had happened; but the medical man in attendance assured us of the reality of the sad event, and Mrs Northcote was led weeping from the room.
I had lost more than a father, and, as far as I knew, I, who had been brought up to enjoy all the luxuries wealth can afford, was not only penniless, but without any friends on whom I had claim beyond what their charity might induce them to afford me. I did not think of this at the time, all my feelings were engrossed with grief at the death of my benefactor. Very soon, however, my real position was suggested to me. Even to the Northcotes Sir Charles had never spoken of any provision he had made for me. He had, they thought, intended to tell them, when my coming interrupted him, and before he could finish what he wished to say, death overtook him.
I was too much absorbed by grief at the death of Sir Charles to ask Captain and Mrs Northcote any questions during that day as to the misfortune to which he had alluded; but during the night the matter several times occurred to me, and next morning I could no longer restrain the curiosity I naturally felt to learn the truth. I ought to say that Sir Charles had some time before begged them to come and stay with him; and when he became dangerously ill, they had remained to nurse him. Captain Northcote had gone out to make arrangements about the funeral, and I therefore asked Mrs Northcote to give me the information I required. Tears came into her eyes as she spoke.
"It must be told, so that it is better now than later," she observed. "You have heard that Major Clayton was unwell, and that a voyage was recommended to him. At that time an uncle of his, a merchant, residing at Macao, was seized with a severe illness. His uncle having sent for him, he resolved to take a voyage to that place, in the hopes of being of use to his relative, and at the same time of benefiting his own health. We saw him as he was on the point of embarking, when he appeared so much debilitated that I even then feared that he could not recover. Poor Mrs Clayton, too, could not bear the thought of parting from your sweet little sister, who, it was resolved, should accompany them. They sailed in an English ship, which was to touch at Singapore, and from thence to proceed direct to Macao. The voyage did Major Clayton some good; and in a letter I received from his wife, at the former place, she said that she entertained great hopes of his recovery. However, I regret to say that, by the accounts received by the next ship which sailed from Macao after their arrival, my worst forebodings were fulfilled—Major Clayton had gradually sunk, and a few days after his uncle had breathed his last, he also died, leaving his poor wife and your little sister to return home without any relative, or any friend on whom they had claims, to protect them."
"What!" I exclaimed, bursting into tears I could not restrain, "is Major Clayton dead? Then do tell me where are dear Mrs Clayton and my own darling little Eva. I will fly to them immediately."
Mrs Northcote shook her head, and looked more grave than before, as she replied, "You must, indeed, be prepared for a very sad history. I cannot tell you where your sister and your friend are. You shall hear. On the death of her husband, it was natural to suppose that Mrs Clayton would wish to return to England; but it was absolutely necessary that she should first visit India, where her property had been left, with arrangements made only for a short absence. No ship was, however, sailing direct to Calcutta at that time; and as she was anxious to leave Macao at once, she secured accommodation on board a small fast-sailing brig, bound to Singapore, whence she hoped to find the means of reaching India. A few days only, therefore, after her husband's death, she sailed, carrying with her a considerable amount of property, which had been left to him by his uncle, and which was now his. Thus much we have heard from the merchants at Macao; but I regret to say, that no accounts have been received of the arrival of the brig at Singapore, and serious fears are entertained that some misfortune has happened to her. Either she has been wrecked, or has been run away with by her crew, or has been attacked and carried off or destroyed by pirates. The latter conjecture is but too probable, as, from her small size, those marauders of the sea are likely, if they have fallen in with her, to have been tempted to capture her."
"I must go and find them," I exclaimed, jumping up as if I would start off immediately. "It is too dreadful to think of, to suppose that those dear ones should be in the power of such ruffians. But why do you talk of their being carried off by pirates? Is it not just as likely that the brig may have been wrecked?"
"I wish that I could say so; for then we might hope to discover them on one of the thousand islands of that thickly-studded sea," was her answer. "At first we hoped that such might prove the case, and we half expected to hear of the arrival of our friends on some Chinese junk or Malay prahu at Singapore; but accounts were afterwards received by two ships, stating that a brig, exactly answering her description, was seen steering for the Billiton passage, on the western coast of Borneo; so that either her crew must have turned pirates, or she must have been in the hands of the Malays, if the vessel seen was the one supposed. Of that, however, we can be in no way certain; indeed, the whole circumstance remains wrapped in the most painful mystery."
"I must solve it, or perish in the attempt," I exclaimed, jumping up, and walking about the room in a state of agitation more easily conceived than described. "I must find them—I will find them—nothing shall stop me in the search. I must consider how I can accomplish the undertaking."
"You will have many, many difficulties to undergo; I fear they will be insuperable," observed Mrs Northcote. She said this not to deter me, but because she was considering how I could possibly perform the work. "You will, in the first place, require large funds to carry out the search efficiently. The first difficulty will be to provide them; for, though we would most gladly aid you, I regret to say that Captain Northcote has not the means to do so to any extent; and we have great fears that Sir Charles has left no provision for you."
I stopped in my walk, and meditated on what my friend had said. My thoughts immediately flew to a subject which I had not before considered. How was I to exist in the future? I had been brought up in luxury, with a supply of everything that I required, and I had literally never thought of the future. I had a vague idea that Sir Charles would find me a post in the civil or military service of the East India Company, but I never supposed, as my friends appear to have done, that he would have left me any fortune. That he had not done so, under any other circumstances, would not have caused me any disappointment. Now that money was of so great importance to me, I keenly felt the want of it.
"I will go, then, as a seaman before the mast," I cried energetically. "I will work my passage from place to place; I will go in every sort of craft, from the Chinese junk to the Malay prahu and sampan. I will wander through every portion of the Indian seas till I discover those dear ones, or gain tidings of their fate."
"I do not see how you can accomplish the work; but consult with Captain Northcote. If there is a way, he will advise you," said the lady.
"There must be a way," I replied vehemently. "I will consult with him how I am to begin the work; but not whether it is to be performed—on that I am determined."
"I pray Heaven that you may succeed," said Mrs Northcote. "I feel as anxious as you do for your success; but I dread to see you risk your life on an almost hopeless undertaking in those strange lands, among lawless and bloodthirsty people, who would not for a moment hesitate to destroy you."
"I fear no danger or difficulty," I replied. "I remember Sir Charles's last words, 'God is everywhere.' In a just cause He will protect me."
Such was the spirit and such the feeling with which I resolved to set out on my undertaking; and God did protect me. When Captain Northcote returned, I discussed the matter in every point with him. He pointed out to me that I should lose the chance of employment in the Company's service; that, after wandering about, as I must do, I should be unfit for any steady employment, and that I should be without funds to enable me to commence any profession should the Company not afford me an opening. He soon, however, saw that it would be useless to attempt to dissuade me, and he then most generously told me that he would place at my disposal all the means he could possibly spare, and that he would endeavour to interest other friends who might enable me to prosecute the search.
After the funeral of my kind benefactor had taken place, search was made for his will. It was discovered without difficulty, when it appeared that the bulk of his property was left to his relatives in England. But on looking over his papers a codicil was found, by which the sum of ten thousand pounds was bequeathed to me, and five thousand to my sister, should she survive, naming us as the children found in a boat at sea by the ship Governor Harcourt, and named Mark and Eva Seaworth; while a further sum of two thousand pounds was left to me to be expressly expended in searching, as he named it, for his dear friend Mrs Clayton, and her young charge Eva Seaworth. I was much affected by this unexpected mark of his regard. I found also that a writership would, from his application, be given me on my return; and I ought to say that any surplus from the two thousand pounds was to be expended in prosecuting inquiries respecting my birth, whenever I should return to England, should I continue to feel any anxiety on the subject; though he advised me not to waste my energies in an inquiry which would probably prove unavailing. The first difficulty was thus got over. My friends offered no further opposition to my plan, and I immediately set about making active preparations for my departure.
Singapore was my first destination; from thence I intended to sail north or south as I found most advisable; and to one of the most reputable merchants there I transferred a considerable sum of money to meet the expenses which I expected to incur. I found a fast-sailing schooner on the point of starting, and at once engaged a passage on board her. Wishing the Northcotes good-bye, and many other friends who warmly sympathised with me, I was the very next morning on board the schooner, and dropping down the Hoogly. Having now commenced the more interesting portion of my adventures, I must be more minute than I have hitherto been in my descriptions. While the schooner, the Nelly, is gliding down towards Diamond Harbour, I will describe her and her officers. She measured about one hundred and sixty tons, was low, with great breadth of beam, and very sharp bows, and a clean run aft. Her master, Captain Griffin, was a young man, not more than twenty-four or twenty-five, perhaps; strongly though slightly built, with a profusion of light crispy curling hair, and a complexion which would have been fair had it not been thoroughly tanned by the sun. He had polished manners, great primness, and was a thorough seaman. He had once been in the Royal Navy; but had left the service for some reason, which he did not explain to me, and was now engaged in the opium trade, or, in other words, he smuggled opium into China. At first I was much pleased with him; but when I came to be more thoroughly acquainted with him, I found that I could not approve of the principles which guided him, or many of the acts he committed without compunction. I have, however, seldom met any one who, at first sight, was more likely to win confidence and regard. I have frequently met people like him; and I consider them much more dangerous companions than men with inferior manners and education. His first officer was a dark, large-whiskered, tall man, with an expression of countenance not in any way prepossessing—he was called Mr Laffan. He was a bold seaman, and not without education. The second mate was a young man of very active and enterprising disposition, and who, I think, was formed for better things than to serve in an opium smuggler. There was an important officer on board who was called the gunner, though his duties were similar to those of a boatswain; he was of Portuguese descent, a native of Macao, though as dark as an Indian. He was especially placed over the Lascars, of whom we had twelve on board. The rest of the crew were Europeans, or of European parentage—mostly English—all picked men, and of tried courage: such qualities were necessary, for, in the prosecution of their lawless trade, they often had to fight their way through the Chinese junks sent to capture them. We were some time getting down the river, for the wind was too light to enable us to stem the tide, and we therefore had to anchor during each flood. It consequently took us five days before we got down to Diamond Harbour. Weighing at daylight the next morning, we got a little below the Silvertree, where we anchored. The next day we passed Kedgeree, and anchored in Saugur Roads; furled sails, and veered to forty fathoms. On the following day we passed the Torch, the floating light vessel, which is moored in the eastern channel of the tail of the Saugur sand, for the purpose of guiding vessels up the river during both monsoons. When we once more got into blue water, I felt that I had really commenced my undertaking. I am not going to copy out my log, and I must run quickly over the incidents of my voyage. In standing through the straits of Malacca, we sighted the beautiful island of Paulo Penang, or Prince of Wales' Island, a British possession, on the coast of Tenasserim, a part of the Malay Peninsula. It is hilly and well wooded, and is considered very healthy. It is inhabited by a few British, and people from all parts of India, China, and the neighbouring islands. Nothing of importance occurred on our passage to Singapore. I found cruising in a clipper schooner very different work to sailing on board a steady-going old Indiaman; and had a constant source of amusement in the accounts of the wild adventures, in which the master and his officers had been engaged, and their numberless narrow escapes from Chinese custom-house junks, Malay pirates, New Guinea cannibals, storms, rocks, fire and water.
I was surprised, when anchoring in Singapore Roads, to find myself before so large and handsome a town, remembering, as I did, how short a time had passed since its foundation by Sir Stamford Raffles. It stands on the banks of a salt-water creek, which has been dignified by the name of the Singapore River; one side contains the warehouses, offices, stores, etcetera, of the merchants and shopkeepers, with fine and extensive wharves; and on the same side are the native streets and bazaars. Opposite to it is an extensive plain, adorned by numerous elegant mansions; and beyond is the Kampong Glam and Malay town, with the residence of the Sultan of Jahore and his followers. From this chief the British Government purchased the island, with an agreement to pay him an annual stipend.
Beyond them, again, is an undulating country, backed by thickly-timbered hills, which add much to the beauty of the landscape. It may truly be called a town of palaces from the handsome appearance of its colonnaded buildings, and, still more justly, a city of all nations; for here are to be found representatives of every people under the sun engaged in commercial pursuits. The costumes of Europe, Arabia, Persia, all parts of India, China, Siam, and all the islands of the Archipelago, may be seen in the streets together, while their flags wave above the residences of their consuls, or at the mast-heads of the barks which crowd the harbour. Even at the time of which I speak, there were upwards of twenty thousand inhabitants, while in no place are so many flourishing merchants to be found. A few years ago this place was a mere swamp, with a few huts on it, inhabited by barbarians. It will be asked, What has worked this change? I reply, Commerce. Its position on a great highway of trade—a strong government, and protection to all comers, and perfect freedom to well-doers. Besides those attracted by trade, numbers take refuge here from all parts of the Archipelago, from the tyranny and misrule of their chiefs; and were other ports established by the English, they would, from similar causes, be peopled with equal rapidity.
The river near where we lay presented an animated scene, from the arrival and departure of native boats, with fruit, vegetables, and live stock, as well as from the numbers of neat sampans plying for hire, or attending upon the commanders of vessels; while at anchor were numbers of the Cochin-Chinese, Siamese, and Chinese junks, as well as the Bugis and other prahus from all the far-surrounding islands.
I went on shore as soon as we dropped our anchor, to endeavour to obtain information regarding the object of my search. I saw several merchants to whom I had letters, and they were all very anxious to aid me; but I could learn nothing, and therefore resolved to proceed to Macao, and to commence my inquiries from thence.
Once more at sea, away we flew over the light curling waves, thrown up by the fresh but favouring breeze. In ten days we came in sight of the Ladrone Islands, off Macao, at the entrance of the Tigris river, on which Canton is situated. The captain and crew were now on the alert to guard against surprise from any of their enemies, either from the pirates who take shelter among the islands I have named, or from the Chinese revenue cruisers—not that the latter are much feared. We ran into the harbour of Cap-sing-moon, and went alongside a large opium-receiving ship, into which we were to discharge our cargo. From this ship it would, I learned, be conveyed up to Canton in Chinese smuggling boats. These boats are well manned and armed; and if they cannot get away from the mandarin boats, the crews will often fight very desperately.
I, in the meantime, proceeded to Macao. This ancient colony of the Portuguese in China has a very picturesque appearance from the sea, and has received its name from the supposed resemblance of the peninsula, on which it stands to a mallet, of which macao is the Portuguese name. The streets are narrow, dirty, and ill-paved, but the houses of the merchants are large and commodious. Besides the Portuguese and Chinese, there are a large number of English and also American residents. Of course I had but little time or inclination for visiting the objects which usually interest strangers. I managed, however, to take a glance at the Cave of Camoens, the poet of Portugal, where it is said he composed his immortal Lusiad. It is rather a pile of granite rocks than a cave; and the garden in which it is situated is full of shrubs and magnificent trees—a romantic spot, fit for a poet's meditations.
After many inquiries, I found that the vessel in which my friends left Macao had been consigned to a Mr Reuben Noakes, an American merchant; and to him I accordingly went, in the hopes of gaining some information to guide me. His counting-house had not an attractive appearance; nor did I like the expression of countenance of two clerks who were busily writing in an outer room. When I asked for Mr Noakes, one of them pointed with the feather of his pen to a door before me, but did not get up. I accordingly knocked at the door, and was told to come in.
"Well, stranger, what's your business?" was the question asked me by the occupant of the room, a tall lank man, with a cadaverous countenance. He was lolling back in an easy chair, with a cigar in his mouth, a jug and tumbler, containing some potent mixture, by his side, and account books and papers before him.
Wishing to be as concise as he was in his questions, I asked, without attempting to look for a chair, (he did not offer me one):—
"Were you the consignee of the Emu brig, which sailed from here last year, and has not since been heard of?"
"Well, if I was, and what then?" said he.
"I wish to know full particulars about her," I replied.
"By what authority do you ask me?" he said, looking suspiciously from under his eyebrows.
"I had friends on board her, and wish to know what has become of them," I answered.
"Oh, you do, do you? Well, I wish, stranger, I could tell you; good morning."
I soon saw the sort of man with whom I had to deal.
"Now, to be frank with you, Mr Noakes, I have not come all the way from Calcutta to Macao to be put off with such an answer as you have given me," I said, looking him full in the face. "I have determined to learn what has become of my friends; and if I find them I shall find the brig, or learn what has become of her; and at all events I will take care that you are not the loser."
"I see that you are a young man of sense," he remarked, looking up at me with one eye. "What is it you want to know about the Emu? But I guess, you smoke now?"
"No, I do not touch tobacco," I answered. "But I wish to know if a Mrs Clayton, a little girl, and servant embarked on board her."
"I'd have sold you a chest of fine cheroots, if you did," he observed. "Yes, those people embarked on board her; and what then?"
"I wish to know who was her commander; what sort of a man he was; and what sort of a crew he had," I replied.
"Oh, well, then, her master was one Stephen Spinks. He wasn't a bad seaman, seeing he was raised for the shore; but he had a first-rate hand for a mate, an old salt, who knew a trick or two, I calculate; and had a crew of five whites—Yankees, Britishers, and Portuguese—and ten Lascars; so the brig wasn't badly manned at all events. She sailed for a trading voyage, to touch wherever Spinks thought he could pick up a cargo, or do a bit of barter. There never was a better hand at that work than Spinks."
When Mr Noakes had got thus far, it seemed to have occurred to him that it would be but civil to ask me to sit down; and by degrees he became more communicative than I at first expected. From the information I gained from him, and from other merchants of whom I made inquiries, I learned that Captain Stephen Spinks was a very respectable man in appearance and manner; and that Mrs Clayton, having met him, was induced to take a passage in his brig, just on the point of sailing. There were, however, some suspicious circumstances connected with the history of his first mate: stories were told of ships, on board which he served, being insured to large amounts and cast away; of his captain being found dead in his cabin; of a ship having caught fire from an inexplicable cause, and of bags of dollars unaccountably disappearing.
"I would not have allowed the fellow to have put foot on board any ship, in which I was interested," said Mr Randall, a merchant to whom I had a letter. "He was bad enough to corrupt a whole crew. Who knows what sort of fellows he had with him? Captain Spinks might have been very respectable, though not much of a seaman, and so may be Mr Noakes, though I know little about him, except that he can drive a hard bargain, and likes to get things done cheap. This made him engage that suspicious fellow, Kidd, who was ready to sail without wages—Richard Kidd was his name—an ominous one rather; and when I saw poor Mrs Clayton and your little sister on board, I so disliked the looks of the crew that I was much inclined to persuade her to wait for another ship."
This account gave a fresh colouring to the matter. If Kidd was the character described, he might probably have run away with the Emu for the sake of the dollars on board, and have carried her into a Dutch or Spanish settlement, where he could have sold her.
This also gave a wider range to the field of my search. Had she been captured by pirates, I should have looked for my friends in their haunts in the Sooloo Archipelago, and on the coast of Borneo; now I should have to search from Java, among all the islands to the east, up to Luzon, in the north. I was resolved to leave no spot unvisited; and the circumstance of a brig like the Emu having been seen to the west of Borneo determined me on visiting the Dutch settlement first. I have not attempted to describe my feelings all this time. I felt that I was engaged in a sacred duty, and I was rather calm and braced up for the work than in any way excited. I held my object, distant though it might be, clearly in view, and nothing could turn me away from it. I do not think I could have persevered as I did, had I been influenced by what is called enthusiasm or excitement.
Having resolved to undertake a work, the first point to be considered is how it is to be performed. I therefore immediately made every inquiry in my power, and found a Dutch brig sailing direct for Batavia. My intention, on arriving there, was to prosecute my inquiries for the Emu, and then to continue my voyage to the eastward, on board any craft I could find.
When I paid my last visit to Mr Noakes, he winked his eye at me with a most knowing look, observing, "I guess you've got some little trading spec in hand, or you wouldn't be running your nose into those outlandish places. Well, good-bye, young one, you're a 'cute lad; and I hope you'll turn a cent or so before you get home."
The worldly trader could not believe that my sole object was to look for my sweet little sister. Wishing farewell to all my friends, I went on board the Cowlitz, Captain Van Deck. Both he and his crew spoke English; indeed, besides the Dutch, there were Englishmen or Americans, with the usual number of Malays to do the hard work.
The captain had his wife on board—his frow, as he called her; and Mrs Van Deck appeared to take no inconsiderable part in the government of the ship. She had her husband's niece with her, a very pretty girl, whom she used to make attend on her like a servant; and there were two lady passengers, a mother and daughter, also Dutch, going to their family. So, as may be supposed, we had plenty of ladies to make tea in the cabin. Unfortunately none would agree whose duty it was to perform that office; and though Miss Van Deck, the captain's niece, was ready enough to do it, her aunt would not let her; and so we ran a great risk of going without it altogether, till the captain volunteered in order to keep concord within the bulkhead. As the disputes were carried on in Dutch, I could only partly understand what was said; but the gestures of the speakers made me fully comprehend the whole matter; especially as the worthy master used to relieve his feelings with a running commentary in English, and sundry winks of the eye next to me, and shrugs of the shoulder, expressive of his resignation to his fate.
"My good frow is a very excellent woman," he used to say. "We all have our tempers, and she has hers. It might be better—we none of us are perfect. I took her for better and for worse, and so—"
He never finished the sentence, but shrugged his shoulders; and if he was smoking, which he generally was when he spoke on this delicate subject, he blew out a double quantity of vapour. His was true philosophy: he was very fond of saying, "What we cannot cure, we must endure, and hope for better times."
Although Captain Van Deck was a philosopher, he was not much of a seaman, nor was his personal courage of first-rate order. He was only perfectly confident when he had a coast he knew well on his weather beam; and then he was rather apt to boast of his knowledge of seamanship and navigation. Fortunately the first mate of the Cowlitz was a better seaman than the master, or she would not have been able to find her way from one port to another even as well as she did.
The second mate was an Englishman of a respectable family. He had run away to sea because he did not like learning or the discipline of school; but he acknowledged to me that he had more to learn, and was kept much more strictly, on board ship than on shore. His former ship had been cast away on the coast of Java; when, finding the Cowlitz, he had joined her, and had since remained in her.
I liked Adam Fairburn very much. He had certainly been wild, careless, and indifferent to religion; but adversity had sobered him, and allowed his thoughts to dwell on holy and high objects. The many misfortunes he had met with, he assured me, were, he felt, sent by a kind Providence for his benefit. Far from repining, he received them gratefully. I found his advice and counsel of great assistance; indeed, he was the only person on board whom I could truly consider as a companion.
I need not describe the rest of the crew; but there was a little personage on board who must not be forgotten. He went by the name of Ungka; and though he did not speak, as one looked at his intelligent countenance, and watched his expressive gestures, one could scarcely help believing that he could do so, if he was not afraid of being compelled to work. Ungka was in fact a baboon from the wilds of Sumatra. He had been caught young by a Malay lad, who sold him to Captain Van Deck. He was about two feet and a half high, and the span of his arms was four feet. His face was perfectly free from hair, except at the sides, where it grew like whiskers. It also rather projected over his forehead, but he had very little beard. His coat was jet black, as was the skin of his face. His hands and fingers were long, narrow, and tapering; and both feet and hands had great prehensile power, as he used to prove by the fearless way in which he swung himself from rope to rope. He used to walk about the deck with great steadiness, let the ship roll ever so much, though with rather a waddling gait, and with a quick step, sometimes with his arms hung down, but at others over his head, ready to seize a rope, and to swing himself up the rigging. His eyes were very close together, of a hazel colour, and with eye-lashes only on the upper lid. He had a nose, but a very little one; his mouth was large, and his ears small; but what he seemed most to pride himself in, was having no tail, or even the rudiment of one.
One of his chief amusements used to be attacking two other monkeys who had longer tails. He would watch his opportunity, and, catching hold of little Jacko's tail, would haul him up the rigging after him at a great rate. Ungka would all the time keep the most perfect gravity of countenance, while poor little Jacko grinned, chattered, and twisted about in a vain endeavour to escape. The tormentor, at last, tired of what was very great fun to him and the spectators, but not at all so to the little monkey, would suddenly let him go, to the great risk of cracking his skull on deck. Ungka, having nothing which his brethren could seize in return, very well knew that they could not retaliate. At last they grew too wary for him, and then he set himself to work in the rather hopeless task of endeavouring to straighten the crisply curling tail of a Chinese pig, which was among our live stock. He always came to dinner, and sat in a chair with all due propriety, unless he saw something very tempting before him, when he could not always refrain from jumping across the table and seizing it. He was, however, well aware that he was acting wrongly; and one day, moved by the angry look of the captain, he went back and put the tempting fruit in the dish, from which he had taken it. He had as great an objection to being made the subject of ridicule as have most human beings; and if any one laughed at his ludicrous actions at dinner, he would utter a hollow barking noise, looking up at them with a most serious expression till they had ceased, when he would quietly resume his dinner. He and I got on very well; but he was most attached to little Maria Van Deck, his constant playmate, as also to a young Malay, who brought him on board. He seemed to consider the captain a person worthy of confidence, and he would let no one else take him in their arms. He certainly had a great antipathy to the captain's frow and the lady passengers. His general sleeping-place was in the main-top; but if the weather looked threatening, he would come down and take up his berth on a rug in my cabin. So much for poor little Ungka.
We had been some days at sea, delayed by light baffling winds. The captain began to grow impatient; his wife scolded him more than ever; and the lady passengers began to inquire when they were likely to see their homes, while I began to regret that I had not taken some more rapid means of conveyance. It now first occurred to me that it would have been better had I secured a small vessel to myself, so that I might at once sail in any direction I might deem advisable.
I was one evening walking the deck with the second mate, Adam Fairburn, when he stopped, and I saw him look earnestly ahead. He immediately took a telescope to watch the object which had attracted his attention.
"What is that you see?" I asked.
"Why it may be the curl of some wave, or a low shore, with some scattered trees on it, or a fleet of prahus; or it may be only fancy, for this uncertain light deceives one," he replied. "However, I'll go aloft and take a better look before I tell the master, and frighten him and the ladies out of their wits."
Saying this he sprung into the rigging and ascended to the fore-topgallant mast-head. When he came down, I asked him what he had seen.
"A fleet of Malay craft, of some sort or other, there is no doubt of it," he answered. "They may be honest traders; but they may be Illanon pirates from Sooloo, on the coast of Borneo, bound on some plundering expedition. The rascals often venture into the China seas, and sometimes right up the strait of Malacca, though they like best to skulk about their own coasts, and steal out on any craft passing that way. If there is a good breeze we need not fear them; but they are fellows not to be trifled with. I must tell the master."
Captain Van Deck was seen hurrying from his cabin and ascending to the mast-head. His countenance on his return showed what he thought about the matter; and summoning his mates, he held earnest consultation with them. Fairburn was for standing boldly on and running past them in the night, keeping a look-out, to give them a warm reception should they come near us; but the Dutchman thought that the safest plan would be to keep altogether out of their way. As they were steering about south-west, our course was altered to south-east. We soon, however, perceived that we were seen and watched, for some of their prahus shortly tacked and stood in a direction to cut us off—so thought Captain Van Deck. On this his trepidation became excessive, not a little increased by the alarm expressed by his better half. He saw that the safest plan was to keep well to windward of the enemy; so he ordered the yards to be braced sharp up, and we stood away on a north-east course.
The breeze was fresh, and we might hope before morning, even should the prahus attempt to follow us, to run them out of sight; so Captain Van Deck lighted his pipe and betook himself to a bottle of his favourite schiedam. None of the officers were disposed, nor was I, as may be surmised, to turn in during the night, for the Sooloo pirates were not fellows to be trifled with. In those days they plundered every craft; and if they did not destroy their prisoners, they sold them into captivity, whence there was no hope of redemption. Since then, thanks to the enlightened plans of Sir James Brooke, aided by the British ships of war in those seas, their depredations have been somewhat lessened; but much must be done before their destructive power is completely destroyed, and the surrounding people can enjoy to the full the blessings of unrestricted commerce. The night was sufficiently light to enable us to see a considerable distance. Our captain walked the deck with an uneasy step, his night-glass constantly to his eye, and he declared that he could distinguish in the far distance the suspicious prahus, as they were endeavouring to beat up to capture us. The more he looked the more alarmed and agitated he became, till at last he appeared to lose all command over himself. With a groan he rushed down to console himself with a glass of his favourite schiedam. Taking the telescope which he had left on deck, I looked towards the spot where the Malay vessels were last seen. I looked for some time, but could make nothing out on the dark horizon. I then handed the glass to Fairburn.
"I begin to doubt whether the prahus are there at all," I observed. "I trust they are conjured up by the skipper's fears."
His answer was a low laugh; but he, notwithstanding, swept the telescope carefully round the southern horizon.
"Whether the skipper's fears conjured them up or not, I don't know; but there they are, sure enough," he quietly remarked, turning my hand in the proper direction. His practical eye had discovered what I had neglected, and as I now looked I saw what appeared a number of black spots floating on the water.
"If the wind holds good we may laugh at them," he remarked; "but if it should chance to fall calm, the rascals would very soon be up with us."
"But could we not fight?" I asked. "We have boarding-nettings, and plenty of hands, and muskets, and two guns; surely we might beat them off."
"From what I have seen of the captain, he is not a fighting man," answered Fairburn. "I trust the breeze will hold; but if not, we shall run a very great chance of having our throats cut by those fellows, if they do not think we shall make good slaves to their friends in Borneo."
"You surely are not serious," I remarked. "The captain would not yield without a struggle for life and liberty. But if he will not fight, we certainly have a right to make him; and I have no doubt the men will be ready enough to second us."
Fairburn shook his head. "I fear not," he said. "But here he comes again, with some Dutch courage in him, I suspect."
The captain paced the deck all night in great anxiety; and I certainly do not think he could have used better means than he did to get away from the enemy. We knew that they must have been in force, and that they felt sure of being able to overcome a vessel of our size, which they were well able to distinguish to be only a merchantman. I cannot say that I felt afraid of the result, though I did not shut my eyes to it; but my hope of escaping was the strongest feeling.
The breeze rather freshened than fell as the morning came on; and as the brig had every stitch of canvas she could carry set on her, she went through the water far more rapidly than was her custom. The night was bright and clear, the stars shone forth from the sky with a brilliancy unknown in the northern latitudes, and ever and anon flashes of light burst from the ocean, and, as the ship ploughed her onward way, she left a golden thread in her wake. I could scarcely persuade myself that we were in any danger, or that we were no longer pursuing our voyage in the direction we wished to go.
The ladies remained below, trembling with fear; for the captain, for the sake of having some one more alarmed than himself, had taken care to tell them that a whole fleet of pirates were rowing as fast as they could after us. Little Maria Van Deck was the only one who behaved heroically. When I went below, I found her in the cabin, offering up prayers to Him who had power to protect us. I watched her as she knelt, the lights from the cabin-lamp falling on her upturned childish countenance. She was too much absorbed to observe me. At length she rose from her knees. She smiled when I spoke to her, and thanked her for setting so good an example.
"Oh, I have no fear," she answered; "God is good, and will not allow us to be injured."
Reminded of my duty by the little girl, I also knelt and prayed earnestly for our safety. Returning on deck, I waited till the rising sun should show us the position of our enemies, or assure us that we were beyond their reach. The first mate went aloft with the glass in his hand directly the first faint streak of day appeared in the sky, to look-out for the prahus the moment the rays of the sun, striking on their sails, should enable him to see them. The captain, meantime, paced the deck in a state of no little agitation. We all watched anxiously for the mate's report, as the coming sun gradually lighted up the whole sky with a glow of brightness. Each instant it grew more intense, till all near objects could be clearly distinguished, but still the mate gave no announcement from his lofty perch. Had not the matter been too serious for laughter, I could have laughed heartily at the poor master's ludicrous expression of countenance, so full was it of fear, doubt, and anxiety, as he turned up his eyes to the mast-head, to watch for any signal which might relieve his mind. The mate kept his glass sweeping round the southern horizon, till at last he seemed satisfied.
"Nothing in sight in any quarter," he shouted from aloft.
"What! are you sure—nothing?" exclaimed the master, scarcely believing his senses. "Then we shall not this time have to dig yams for the blackamoors." And he gave a grunt of satisfaction, so loud that I thought he had exploded, while he sank down on a gun, overcome by his feelings. He now became much braver than he had been all the night, and talked boldly of how we would have treated the pirates if they had dared to attack us. We, however, still continued standing to the northward. At last Fairburn, to whom he had been addressing himself, lost patience.
"Well, sir," he exclaimed, "if we keep away, and make all sail after them, there is little doubt we shall fall in with them before long."
This silenced the captain for the time; but he again broke out when he found himself in the cabin with the ladies, till he made them believe that he was a very brave man, except his wife, who knew him too well to be so deceived. All day we continued standing away from where the captain thought the pirates might be, and it was not till night that he was persuaded again to stand on his proper course.
I did not repine at the increased length of the voyage as much as might be expected; for my time was busily employed in studying the geography of the Archipelago, the productions of the islands, the habits and manners of the people, and more particularly the Malay language, which I knew, in order to obtain my object, it would be important for me to speak well. With so powerful a stimulus, aided by a Malay seaman on board, I acquired a fair knowledge of it with great rapidity. I also studied Dutch, which I knew I should also find useful.
The Cowlitz was once more on her course, with the wind nearly right aft. I guessed, however, from the observations I saw the captain attempting to take, and his more frequent attention to the chart, that he was somewhat out of his reckoning. That part of the China seas is tolerably free from shoals and reefs; but still there are some about midway between Cochin China and the islands of Luzon, Palawan, and Borneo, in the neighbourhood of which, after our flight from the pirates, we must clearly have been.
The navigation among coral reefs is very dangerous; because, as they rise like mountains of various heights from the depths of the ocean, and frequently do not appear above the surface, a ship may be among them, and having passed over some, may too late discover her danger, without the power of extricating herself. In fine weather, with a clear sky, they may, from the different colour of the water over them, be perceived at a distance; but at night, or with thick weather, their neighbourhood is only known by the noise of the sea dashing over them, or by the white crests of the breakers rising either ahead, upon either beam of the ship.
We continued running on all that night, without taking more than the usual precaution of keeping a look-out ahead. Towards the end of the morning watch, I came on deck to enjoy the freshness of the air, when, as I was looking over the side, I observed that the water, broad on the starboard bow, was of an unusually dark colour. I watched it attentively, when, turning round, and looking over the larboard quarter, I there perceived a similar appearance. I felt certain that it could arise but from one cause—either a sand-bank or a coral reef; for there was not a cloud in the sky to cast a shadow on the water. I called the attention of Fairburn to it, as he fortunately just then came on deck to relieve the first mate. He instantly sprang aloft; and, after taking a hurried glance all around, he ordered the cabin boy to call the captain, directing two men to station themselves at each fore-yard arm. The captain's face exhibited no little consternation, when he saw the position in which we were placed; but we could now do nothing except stand on, and keep our eyes about us.
"This is the consequence of not keeping a careful reckoning," said Fairburn, as I stood beside him. "The poor master, afraid of a fancied danger, has managed to run us into a real one. However, if the weather holds good, I think we may yet do well."
"I trust so," I said. "I should think there can be little danger while we can see the reef as clearly as we now do."
"Oh, you know, there is nothing a sailor hates so much as reefs and shoals," he replied; "and with good reason. We may see the larger reefs, but there are some come up almost like the point of a needle, and if there is a ripple on the water, I defy the sharpest eye to make them out." He was all this time looking sharply ahead, and urging the men stationed aloft to do the same.
We had frequently to alter our course to avoid the reefs which appeared ahead; and at last we seemed to be almost surrounded by them, as we threaded our course through a narrow channel, where we certainly had no business to be. Everybody was on deck looking out; for even the ladies were acquainted with our position, though the master took care to tell them that it was not his fault we had got into it. However, the sky was so bright, and the sea so calm and sparkling, that, as we glided slowly and calmly on, it was difficult to believe the real state of the case. In time, we even got accustomed to it; and when the steward came to summon us to breakfast, we went into the cuddy with our usual appetites not in the slightest degree blunted.
On my return, I went forward to look for Fairburn. "I think we must be pretty well clear by this time," he observed. "The reefs off that island there, do not extend to any great distance." He pointed, as he spoke, to a low little island which I had not before observed. It had a few trees on it, which seemed growing out of the water, and were clearly of recent growth. "It does not do, however, to be too certain in a hurry. Keep a sharp look-out there, my men," he continued, hailing the people on the fore-yard. Scarcely had he spoken, when the breeze having freshened somewhat, and the brig going rapidly through the water, a tremendous blow was felt forward, which almost threw us from our feet, and her way was instantly stopped. The masts groaned and rocked as if they would have fallen, and the sails bulging out, fixed the vessel only faster on the pinnacle on which she had struck. Instantly, loud cries rose from many of the crew, the master pulled his hair, and puffed out four times more smoke than usual from the meerschaum he had in his mouth, while the ladies shrieked and cried with terror. Captain Van Deck did not seem to know what to do himself, or to order his crew to do; but Fairburn rushed here and there, calling the people together, and soon got the sails clewed up.
"What is to be done?" I asked.
"We must carry a kedge out astern, and try and haul her off; and if we succeed we must get a thrummed sail under her bows, and then pump out the water which will have got into her, for it will not do to stick here always."
He had scarcely spoken, when the Dutch carpenter came from below with a face full of consternation.
"The ship will never move from this except to go to the bottom," he exclaimed, as he heard the order given to get the kedge out. "We had better think of lowering the boat and saving our lives, for the water is rushing in like a cataract, and it will very soon be up to the decks."
This was indeed disastrous information, and I soon found it to be too true, by going myself below to see the state of affairs. I quickly beat a retreat again on deck, where the ladies and all hands were now assembled. I must do the master the justice to say, that now the danger had actually occurred, he behaved far better than I could have expected. He certainly took things very phlegmatically. Calling the crew aft, he slowly made them a speech, telling them, that as there was no chance of the ship's carrying them on farther, they must now take to the boats, and that he hoped they would all behave well. He then ordered the boats to be lowered, and the gangway ladder to be rigged, to enable the ladies to descend with ease. We had three boats—the long-boat, the jolly-boat, and a skiff. It was arranged that the captain should go in the long-boat, the first mate in the jolly-boat, and the second mate, whom I volunteered to accompany, in the skiff, which, though small, was a very seaworthy boat; and I preferred trusting myself to his seamanship. The captain and mates then chose the crew in the same way as is customary in forming a watch—namely, one officer selects a man, and then the next, and so on till the crew are disposed of. The ladies were, of course, taken into the long-boat, in which there were in all fourteen people, and eight in each of the other boats; and it was agreed that we should keep close together, that we might afford assistance to each other in case of necessity. Before embarking, we had to arrange a very important business, the selection of the articles we should take with us. Fairburn hurried on the people, and urged me to do the same, whispering in my ear, that any moment the vessel might slip off the reef, and that we might be engulfed before we were ready. The first thing we did was to get the ladies into the long-boat; and fortunately it was so calm that there was no difficulty in so doing, except that Mrs Van Deck insisted on not being parted from her husband.
"Wait a minute, my dear frow," he shouted to her in return. "I must not desert my people till I have seen them in safety."
We all agreed that no private property should be taken; but only the necessary water and provisions, clothing to shelter us from the weather, arms to defend ourselves, and charts and instruments to guide our course. Some time was required to select the articles, and during it I observed that several of the seamen were missing. I mentioned it to Fairburn.
"The fools!" he exclaimed. "They cannot resist the seaman's curse—even at this moment they have gone to put an enemy into their mouths to steal away their wits. Come and help me, we must put a stop to it."
Saying this, he rushed below, seizing an axe, in which I imitated him. Five of the men had broached a cask of rum, and were drinking from it as rapidly as they could, while two others were about to join them. Fairburn, on seeing this, instantly stove in the cask with his axe before they could prevent him, which they attempted to do; and there being three others near at hand, we destroyed them likewise.
"Madmen!" exclaimed the mate, "you would throw away your own lives, and risk those of your shipmates for the sake of a moment's beastly enjoyment. On deck now, and attend to your duty. I will brain the first man who lingers."
This determined conduct had the desired effect. The men had not drunk enough to become intoxicated, and his resolute manner at once awed them into obedience. Like sulky dogs driven away from a bone, they ascended on deck. Among the articles selected for the long-boat were three casks of water, some biscuits, salt beef, pork, hams, and cheese, tea and sugar, four jars of Hollands, some cooking utensils, a lantern, candles, tinder-box, and matches, a keg of gunpowder, some muskets and cutlasses, a chronometer, sextants, quadrants, a compass and necessary books of navigation; a topgallant studding-sail, boom, and fore-royal were also thrown into her for a mast and sail; a little canvas, tarpauling, and some deal boards were not forgotten; and the carpenter was enjoined to take such of his tools as might prove useful. One boat and the jolly-boat had their barrels likewise filled with water, and each of us was provided with our proportion of the same articles, except that we had fewer arms or blankets; and indeed so small was our stowage room, that we had to depend on the long-boat for some of our provisions. While all these preparations were going forward, my sensations were far from pleasant; for I could not help feeling that any moment the ship might slide off into deep water, and carry us all down with her. The captain thought differently, and nothing would hurry him. At length her stern perceptibly sunk, and this was the signal for a general rush towards the boats.
"Stay!" exclaimed the captain; "I tell you she will not go yet; and have I not a right to know? There is plenty of time to get quietly into the boats; you will be tired enough of them before you get out of them again. We must see that we have left nothing we may want behind."
Fairburn volunteered for this duty, and one by one the men were told off into the other boats. They then examined everything that was in the boats; a few trifling articles were suggested as likely to prove useful; we searched for them, and then took our places in the skiff. As we pulled round under the bows, we could see, through the clear water, the immense hole which the coral had made through the stout planking; at the same time so securely hooked did she appear, that I doubt whether she could have sunk unless the coral point on which she hung had broken off, or the sea had knocked her to pieces.
In the hurry of getting into the boats at the last moment everybody had forgotten poor Ungka, who was seen leaning over the bows looking most imploringly and mournfully at us. Little Maria was the first to draw our attention to him.
"Oh! Ungka, poor Ungka! we must not go without him," she exclaimed.
Her appeal was not to be resisted. We in the skiff, pulled back, and Ungka, seizing a rope which hung from the bowsprit, lowered himself into the boat, as we pulled under him. The other three monkeys, seeing where he had gone, attempted to follow his example. One was in so great a hurry that he fell into the water, but we picked him out; the other two reached us without wetting their jackets. Ungka looked at them very seriously, and seemed to think that they ought to have been left behind. At Maria's solicitation, we sent Ungka into the long-boat, and while we were alongside the others leaped in after him. But to more serious matters. A short hour ago we were sailing securely on with a good ship under us—now we were homeless wanderers on the wide ocean, at a time of the year when storms might be expected, and in the neighbourhood of coasts inhabited by piratical tribes, who would show us but little mercy if we fell into their hands.
After pulling some little distance from the ship, we lay on our oars, of one accord, to give her a last parting glance, and we then all came close together to consult what course we should steer. The nearest port where we should find civilised people was the Spanish settlement of Manilla, in Luzon; but that was nearly to windward, and if we failed to make it we might be driven on some shore where we might find no means of escape. The next place was Singapore, which, though much farther off than Manilla, was to leeward, and from thence the Dutch people were certain of finding an easy means of return to Batavia.
Some of the crew wished to pull to the little island we had passed, in order to refit the boats, and by raising the gunwales, better to prepare them for encountering any rough seas; but Captain Van Deck did not think this necessary, and was, besides, unwilling to lose the advantage of the favourable breeze which was now blowing, and the smooth water which would render our voyage easy. We lost sight of the Cowlitz just as the sun sunk in the western wave. We were now gliding calmly over the starlit sea—the beautiful firmament above us shining with a splendour peculiar to the torrid zone. The boats sailed well, and kept company easily together.
"This is one of the vicissitudes to which a seaman is exposed, Mr Seaworth," observed Adam Fairburn, as I sat by his side. "I have been so knocked about, and have met with so many, that to me it does not seem strange; but it must so to you."
"Not so much as you may suppose," I answered. "I have read so constantly of shipwrecks and disasters at sea, that I am scarcely surprised to find myself an actor in one of them. How soon shall we reach Singapore, do you think?"
"It may take us eight or ten days, or less if the wind holds fair; but even that seems a long time to sit in an open boat, and yet people have passed as many weeks, with a scarcity of food, and have been preserved."
"I have no fear of the future, even did not the present calm weather almost preclude the sensation of fear; for I have been taught that God is everywhere, and has power to preserve us if He so will it." I said this in answer to Fairburn's remark.
"Do you know," he observed, "that when I am at sea especially, as now, in an open boat, or in a small craft, or during the raging of a storm, that I always feel more clearly that I am in the hands of the Almighty, or perhaps, I might say, a sense of man's perfect helplessness. We are too apt to forget this when roving on shore, in the full enjoyment of high health and spirits; yet, if we consider how small an injury is sufficient to make the strongest man as feeble as an infant, we should cease to boast of any strength which is in us."
Such was the style of our conversation, as we sat side by side hour by hour, in the boat. I gave Fairburn an outline of my history, and he in return related to me his own adventures, which were romantic in the extreme; indeed, since he came to sea, not a week had passed away without affording him matters worthy of note.
We had run on some hours, when, as the skiff was in the wake of the long-boat, we observed that the people in her were, by their movements, in a great state of alarm. Some were hard at work baling, while the ladies were turning round as if imploring our help. We instantly got out our oars, and pulled up to her as fast as we could. We found that she was leaking very much, from having been long out of the water, and that it required the constant labours of the crew to keep her free. As the jolly-boat and skiff were already as full as was safe for them, we could do nothing to assist our consort, though we would have run every risk rather than see them perish, yet it was utterly impossible to take them on board with the slightest hope of saving our lives, should any bad weather come on. While we were almost in despair what to do, one of the men, whose duty it was to keep a look-out, declared that he saw land ahead. We all turned our eyes in the same direction, and there, sure enough, was a grove of trees just rising out of the water. This raised our spirits, and enabled the crew of the long-boat to renew their exertions. We ran on, when by degrees the stems of the trees appeared, and we saw before us a small but thickly-wooded island. The breeze had freshened up, and though the sea was tolerably smooth, a heavy surf was breaking along the whole northern coast. To the eastward, a reef extended a considerable way; so we stood more to the west, and hauled round the island, in the hopes of finding a spot on which we could land. After sailing along for a mile, we observed a yellow sand beach in a little bay, free from rocks, where the boats might be hauled up free from danger. We joyfully entered it, and scarcely had our keels touched the shore, than the crews leapt out, rejoicing at the feeling that they were at liberty, even although it was on a desert island. A tent was first made with our boats' sails, by the aid of boughs, for the ladies, and we then set to work to repair the long-boat. The carpenter pronounced some of the planks so rotten and worm-eaten, as to make it surprising that she had not at once gone to the bottom, and he was afraid of doing anything to them lest he should make matters worse. Our only means, therefore, of stopping the leaks, was to nail some canvas we fortunately had with us over the bottom of the boat; having first carefully inserted some oakum between the planks, and rubbed them over with tallow.
Everybody was busily employed: some were drying the bread, which had got wet by being carelessly thrown into the bottom of the boat; others were gathering oysters, of which a large number were found; and the largest number were scouring the island in search of water, lest our present stock should fall short; while little Maria Van Deck was amusing herself by taking care of poor Ungka, who appeared fully to comprehend the nature of our disaster. A chain had been fastened to him to prevent his escaping when we landed, though he seemed to have no inclination to leave his human companions; but no sooner did the other little fellows find themselves on shore, than off they set towards the nearest trees, and leaped and frolicked about in the full enjoyment of unrestrained liberty. Off they went, springing up from bough to bough; and when any one approached, they redoubled their exertions, showing clearly that they did not intend again to trust themselves to the dangers of the deep.
To make the boats more seaworthy, we formed bulwarks of canvas all the way round them, and converted the fore-royal into a lug and a jib for the long-boat. We then again launched them; and as they floated securely in the little bay, we rejoiced to find that none of them leaked sufficiently to cause uneasiness.
Our work being over, we assembled to take our last meal on shore; and, as we sat round the fire we had lighted to dress our provisions, we looked more like a picnic party than a set of shipwrecked people. The ladies had recovered their spirits, and Mrs Van Deck presided at the feast with becoming dignity. The captain then made the people a speech. He told them that they had behaved very well, and that he hoped they would continue to do so; and drawing the boats to shore, we finished loading them, and stepping in, once more continued our voyage.
The breeze held favourable, though lighter than we required it; and the setting sun gave every indication, as we thought, of a continuance of the fine weather. The long-boat led the way, and the other two boats were stationed on either quarter; and, as the stars shone brightly, we had no difficulty in steering our course, while we should have been able to distinguish any coral reefs which might have appeared. We thus ran on all night, at the rate of from three to four knots an hour. Two people kept watch at a time, while the rest slept—one steered while the other looked out. I relieved Fairburn at the helm; for I had now gained so much practical experience in seamanship, that he had more confidence in me than in the crew, some of whom were careless about keeping the proper course. The boatswain had the first watch, Fairburn had the middle, and I was to take the morning one. The first passed away as I have described. Soon after Fairburn took the helm, I awoke, and felt very little inclination to go to sleep again; indeed the very snoring of the boatswain, who was a Dutchman of the stoutest build, and my near proximity to him, contributed much to drive sleep from my eyelids.
"I have been thinking, Fairburn," said I, "that I will no longer trust to the chance means of getting about from place to place but, as soon as we reach a port, I propose to look-out for some small fast-sailing craft, which I shall arm well for self-defence, and then I shall be independent. What do you think of my plan?"
"I like it much," he replied. "You must get a good hand as a master, who knows these seas; or do you propose to go master yourself?"
"I am not so conceited with my seamanship as to trust entirely to myself," I answered. "The idea has occurred to me, that you might like to go as master, and I am sure you would make a good one."
"Nothing I should like better in the world," he exclaimed in a tone of delight. "I assure you that I am most grateful to you for thinking of me. The life I have often had to lead under inferiors, often tyrannical, rude, and uneducated, has been very irksome, and has at times nearly driven me to desperation; but with you I shall have all the pleasures of a roving life, without any of the drawbacks I so much hate."
"Well, then, it is settled, Fairburn," I said, equally pleased with him. "We will not lose an instant, when we get into port, in looking after a vessel, and picking up a good crew." So we went on, hour after hour, talking on the subject till the watch was worn out, and daylight began to appear.
"We must get into port first, however, on the old principle of catching a hare before cooking it," he remarked, laughing.
A hail from the long-boat interrupted us. We were some little way astern, and we saw her lower her sail, the jolly-boat doing the same. We stood on till we got up to her.
"Down with your canvas—down!" exclaimed the captain vehemently—"Don't you see that ahead?"
We had been quietly following the long-boat, and had not looked beyond her. We now did so, and by the uncertain light of the coming dawn, we could see the dark sails of several large prahus standing directly across our course from the eastward. Had we been a little farther advanced, we should have been directly under their stems. If they were pirates, our position was perilous in the extreme. The captain proposed that we should instantly put about, and pull away from them to the northward and east; but then it was argued that the moment the sun got up the flashing of our oar-blades in the water would inevitably betray us, and that our best mode of proceeding was to be perfectly quiet, so that they might pass without perceiving us. The last proposal was carried, Fairburn, whose opinion was always of weight, voting for it. The oars were accordingly laid in, and we all crouched down at the bottom of the boats, no one's head being allowed to appear above the gunwales. We hoped thus, if the Malays should see the boats, that they would fancy they were without occupants, and would not think it worth their while to go out of their way to examine them. The canvas of the bulwark, at the bow, was lifted a little to enable one person to look through, in order to watch the proceedings of the prahus. Our preparations were made before it was quite light; and now came the most trying time, when the sun, as he rose from the water, should first shed his rays across its surface. That is the period when seamen of every nation are more particularly accustomed to take a steady scrutinising glance round the horizon, to see what ships or land may be in sight. We could observe the sails of the prahus gliding by to the westward like silent phantoms in the cold pale light of the morning. We were to the eastward of the greater part of the fleet, and we began to hope that all might pass us, when Fairburn and I simultaneously perceived three others, more to the north than the rest, and directly to the eastward of us. Being thus more to windward than the rest, they came down rapidly towards us.