Tales of Daring and Danger by G. A. Henty
And do you really mean that we are to cross by the steamer, Mr. Virtue, while you go over in the Seabird? I do not approve of that at all. Fanny, why do you not rebel, and say we won't be put ashore? I call it horrid, after a fortnight on board this dear little yacht, to have to get on to a crowded steamer, with no accommodation and lots of sea-sick women, perhaps, and crying children. You surely cannot be in earnest?"
"I do not like it any more than you do, Minnie; but, as Tom says we had better do it, and my husband agrees with him, I am afraid we must submit. Do you really think it is quite necessary, Mr. Virtue? Minnie and I are both good sailors, you know; and we would much rather have a little extra tossing about on board the Seabird than the discomforts of a steamer."
'I certainly think that it will be best, Mrs. Grantham. You know very well we would rather have you on board, and that we shall suffer from your loss more than you will by going the other way; but there's no doubt the wind is getting up, and though we don't feel it much here, it must be blowing pretty hard outside. The Seabird is as good a sea-boat as anything of her size that floats, but you don't know what it is to be out in anything like a heavy sea in a thirty-tonner. It would be impossible for you to stay on deck, and we should have our hands full, and should not be able to give you the benefit of our society. Personally, I should not mind being out in the Seabird in any weather, but I would certainly rather not have ladies on board."
"You don't think we should scream, or do anything foolish, Mr. Virtue?" Minnie Graham said indignantly.
"Not at all, Miss Graham. Still, I repeat, the knowledge that there are women on board, delightful at other times, does not tend to comfort in bad weather. Of course, if you prefer it, we can put off our start till this puff of wind has blown itself out. It may have dropped before morning. It may last some little time. I don't think myself that it will drop, for the glass has fallen, and I am afraid we may have a spell of broken weather."
"Oh no; don't put it off," Mrs. Grantham said; "we have only another fortnight before James must be back again in London, and it would be a great pity to lose three or four days perhaps; and we have been looking forward to cruising about among the Channel Islands, and to St. Malo, and all those places. Oh no; I think the other is much the better plan--that is, if you won't take us with you."
"It would be bad manners to say that I won't, Mrs. Grantham; but I must say I would rather not. It will be a very short separation. Grantham will take you on shore at once, and as soon as the boat comes back I shall be off. You will start in the steamer this evening, and get into Jersey at nine or ten o'clock to-morrow morning; and if I am not there before you, I shall not be many hours after you."
"Well, if it must be it must," Mrs. Grantham said, with an air of resignation. "Come, Minnie, let us put a few things into a hand-bag for to-night. You see the skipper is not to be moved by our pleadings."
"That is the worst of you married women, Fanny," Miss Graham said, with a little pout. "You get into the way of doing as you are ordered. I call it too bad. Here have we been cruising about for the last fortnight, with scarcely a breath of wind, and longing for a good brisk breeze and a little change and excitement, and now it comes at last, we are to be packed off in a steamer. I call it horrid of you, Mr. Virtue. You may laugh, but I do"
Tom Virtue laughed, but he showed no signs of giving way, and ten minutes later Mr. and Mrs. Grantham and Miss Graham took their places in the gig, and were rowed into Southampton Harbour, off which the Seabird was lying.
The last fortnight had been a very pleasant one, and it had cost the owner of the Seabird as much as his guests to come to the conclusion that it was better to break up the party for a few hours.
Tom Virtue had, up to the age of five-and-twenty, been possessed of a sufficient income for his wants. He had entered at the bar, not that he felt any particular vocation in that direction, but because he thought it incumbent upon him to do something. Then, at the death of an uncle, he had come into a considerable fortune, and was able to indulge his taste for yachting, which was the sole amusement for which he really cared, to the fullest.
He sold the little five-tonner he had formerly possessed, and purchased the Seabird. He could well have afforded a much larger craft, but he knew that there was far more real enjoyment in sailing to be obtained from a small craft than a large one, for in the latter he would be obliged to have a regular skipper, and would be little more than a passenger, whereas on board the Seabird, although his first hand was dignified by the name of skipper, he was himself the absolute master. The boat carried the aforesaid skipper, three hands, and a steward, and with them he had twice been up the Mediterranean, across to Norway, and had several times made the circuit of the British Isles.
He had unlimited confidence in his boat, and cared not what weather he was out in her. This was the first time since his ownership of her that the Seabird had carried lady passengers. His friend Grantham, an old school and college chum, was a hard-working barrister, and Virtue had proposed to him to take a month's holiday on board the Seabird.
"Put aside your books, old man," he said. "You look fagged and overworked; a month's blow will do you all the good in the world"
"Thank you, Tom; I have made up my mind for a month's holiday, but I can't accept your invitation, though I should enjoy it of all things. But it would not be fair to my wife; she doesn't get very much of my society, and she has been looking forward to our having a run together. So I must decline."
Virtue hesitated a moment. He was not very fond of ladies' society, and thought them especially in the way on board a yacht; but he had a great liking for his friend's wife, and was almost as much at home in his house as in his own chambers.
"Why not bring the wife with you?" he said, as soon as his mind was made up. "It will be a nice change for her too; and I have heard her say that she is a good sailor. The accommodation is not extensive, but the after-cabin is a pretty good size, and I would do all I could to make her comfortable. Perhaps she would like another lady with her; if so by all means bring one. They could have the after-cabin, you could have the little state-room, and I could sleep in the saloon."
"It is very good of you, Tom, especially as I know that it will put you out frightfully; but the offer is a very tempting one. I will speak to Fanny, and let you have an answer in the morning."
"That will be delightful, James," Mrs. Grantham said, when the invitation was repeated to her. "I should like it of all things; and I am sure the rest and quiet and the sea air will be just the thing for you. It is wonderful, Tom Virtue making the offer; and I take it as a great personal compliment, for he certainly is not what is generally called a lady's man. It is very nice, too, of him to think of my having another lady on board. Whom shall we ask? Oh, I know," she said suddenly; "that will be the thing of all others. We will ask my cousin Minnie; she is full of fun and life, and will make a charming wife for Tom!"
James Grantham laughed.
"What schemers you all are, Fanny! Now I should call it downright treachery to take anyone on board the Seabird with the idea of capturing its master."
"Nonsense, treachery!" Mrs. Grantham said indignantly; "Minnie is the nicest girl I know, and it would do Tom a world of good to have a wife to look after him. Why, he is thirty now, and will be settling down into a confirmed old bachelor before long. It's the greatest kindness we could do him, to take Minnie on board; and I am sure he is the sort of man any girl might fall in love with when she gets to know him. The fact is, he's shy! He never had any sisters, and spends all his time in winter at that horrid club; so that really he has never had any women's society, and even with us he will never come unless he knows we are alone. I call it a great pity, for I don't know a pleasanter fellow than he is. I think it will be doing him a real service in asking Minnie; so that's settled. I will sit down and write him a note."
"In for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose," was Tom Virtue's comment when he received Mrs. Grantham's letter, thanking him warmly for the invitation, and saying that she would bring her cousin, Miss Graham, with her, if that young lady was disengaged.
As a matter of self-defence he at once invited Jack Harvey, who was a mutual friend of himself and Grantham, to be of the party.
"Jack can help Grantham to amuse the women," he said to himself; "that will be more in his line than mine. I will run down to Cowes to-morrow and have a chat with Johnson; we shall want a different sort of stores altogether to those we generally carry, and I suppose we must do her up a bit below."
Having made up his mind to the infliction of female passengers, Tom Virtue did it handsomely, and when the party came on board at Ryde they were delighted with the aspect of the yacht below. She had been repainted, the saloon and ladies' cabin were decorated in delicate shades of gray, picked out with gold; and the upholsterer, into whose hands the owner of the Seabird had placed her, had done his work with taste and judgment, and the ladies' cabin resembled a little boudoir.
"Why, Tom, I should have hardly known her!" Grantham, who had often spent a day on board the Seabird, said.
"I hardly know her myself," Tom said, rather ruefully; "but I hope she's all right, Mrs. Grantham, and that you and Miss Graham will find everything you want."
"It is charming!" Mrs. Grantham said enthusiastically. "It's awfully good of you, Tom, and we appreciate it; don't we, Minnie? It is such a surprise, too; for James said that while I should find everything very comfortable, I must not expect that a small yacht would be got up like a palace."
So a fortnight had passed; they had cruised along the coast as far as Plymouth, anchoring at night at the various ports on the way. Then they had returned to Southampton, and it had been settled that as none of the party, with the exception of Virtue himself, had been to the Channel Islands, the last fortnight of the trip should be spent there. The weather had been delightful, save that there had been some deficiency in wind, and throughout the cruise the Seabird had been under all the sail she could spread. But when the gentlemen came on deck early in the morning a considerable change had taken place; the sky was gray and the clouds flying fast overhead.
"We are going to have dirty weather," Tom Virtue said at once. "I don't think it's going to be a gale, but there will be more sea on than will be pleasant for ladies. I tell you what, Grantham; the best thing will be for you to go on shore with the two ladies, and cross by the boat to-night. If you don't mind going directly after breakfast I will start at once, and shall be at St. Helier's as soon as you are."
And so it had been agreed, but not, as has been seen, without opposition and protest on the part of the ladies.
Mrs. Grantham's chief reason for objecting had not been given. The little scheme on which she had set her mind seemed to be working satisfactorily. From the first day Tom Virtue had exerted himself to play the part of host satisfactorily, and had ere long shaken off any shyness he may have felt towards the one stranger of the party, and he and Miss Graham had speedily got on friendly terms. So things were going on as well as Mrs. Grantham could have expected.
No sooner had his guests left the side of the yacht than her owner began to make his preparations for a start.
"What do you think of the weather, Watkins?" he asked his skipper.
"It's going to blow hard, sir; that's my view of it, and if I was you I shouldn't up anchor today. Still, it's just as you likes; the Seabird won't mind it if we don't. She has had a rough time of it before now; still, it will be a case of wet jackets, and no mistake."
"Yes, I expect we shall have a rough time of it, Watkins, but I want to get across. We don't often let ourselves be weather-bound, and I am not going to begin it to-day. We had better house the topmast at once, and get two reefs in the main-sail. We can get the other down when we get clear of the island. Get number three jib up, and the leg-of-mutton mizzen; put two reefs in the foresail."
Tom and his friend Harvey, who was a good sailor, assisted the crew in reefing down the sails, and a few minutes after the gig had returned and been hoisted in, the yawl was running rapidly down Southampton waters.
"We need hardly have reefed quite so closely," Jack Harvey said, as he puffed away at his pipe.
"Not yet, Jack; but you will see she has as much as she can carry before long. It's all the better to make all snug before starting; it saves a lot of trouble afterwards, and the extra canvas would not have made ten minutes' difference to us at the outside. We shall have pretty nearly a dead beat down the Solent. Fortunately tide will be running strong with us, but there will be a nasty kick-up there. You will see we shall feel the short choppy seas there more than we shall when we get outside. She is a grand boat in a really heavy sea, but in short waves she puts her nose into it with a will. Now, if you will take my advice, you will do as I am going to do, put on a pair of fisherman's boots and oilskin and sou'-wester. There are several sets for you to choose from below."
As her owner had predicted, the Seabird put her bowsprit under pretty frequently in the Solent; the wind was blowing half a gale, and as it met the tide it knocked up a short, angry sea, crested with white heads, and Jack Harvey agreed that she had quite as much sail on her as she wanted. The cabin doors were bolted, and all made snug to prevent the water getting below before they got to the race off Hurst Castle; and it was well that they did so, for she was as much under water as she was above.
"I think if I had given way to the ladies and brought them with us they would have changed their minds by this time, Jack," Tom Virtue said, with a laugh.
"I should think so," his friend agreed; "this is not a day for a fair-weather sailor. Look what a sea is breaking on the shingles!"
"Yes, five minutes there would knock her into matchwood. Another ten minutes and we shall be fairly out; and I sha'n't be sorry; one feels as if one was playing football, only just at present the Seabird is the ball and the waves the kickers."
Another quarter of an hour and they had passed the Needles.
"That is more pleasant, Jack," as the short, chopping motion was exchanged for a regular rise and fall; "this is what I enjoy--a steady wind and a regular sea. The Seabird goes over it like one of her namesakes; she is not taking a teacupful now over her bows.
"Watkins, you may as well take the helm for a spell, while we go down to lunch. I am not sorry to give it up for a bit, for it has been jerking like the kick of a horse.
"That's right, Jack, hang up your oilskin there. Johnson, give us a couple of towels; we have been pretty well smothered up there on deck. Now what have you got for us?"
"There is some soup ready, sir, and that cold pie you had for dinner yesterday."
"That will do; open a couple of bottles of stout."
Lunch over, they went on deck again.
"She likes a good blow as well as we do," Virtue said, enthusiastically, as the yawl rose lightly over each wave. "What do you think of it, Watkins? Is the wind going to lull a bit as the sun goes down?"
"I think not, sir. It seems to me it's blowing harder than it was."
"Then we will prepare for the worst, Watkins; get the try-sail up on deck. When you are ready we will bring her up into the wind and set it. That's the comfort of a yawl, Jack; one can always lie to without any bother, and one hasn't got such a tremendous boom to handle."
The try-sail was soon on deck, and then the Seabird was brought up into the wind, the weather fore-sheet hauled aft, the mizzen sheeted almost fore and aft, and the Seabird lay, head to wind, rising and falling with a gentle motion, in strong contrast to her impetuous rushes when under sail.
"She would ride out anything like that," her owner said. "Last time we came through the Bay on our way from Gib., we were caught in a gale strong enough to blow the hair off one's head, and we lay to for nearly three days, and didn't ship a bucket of water all the time. Now let us lend a hand to get the mainsail stowed."
Ten minutes' work and it was securely fastened and its cover on; two reefs were put in the trysail. Two hands went to each of the halliards, while, as the sail rose, Tom Virtue fastened the toggles round the mast.
"All ready, Watkins?"
"All ready, sir."
"Slack off the weather fore-sheet, then, and haul aft the leeward. Slack out the mizzen-sheet a little, Jack. That's it; now she's off again, like a duck."
The Seabird felt the relief from the pressure of the heavy boom to leeward and rose easily and lightly over the waves.
"She certainly is a splendid sea-boat, Tom; I don't wonder you are ready to go anywhere in her. I thought we were rather fools for starting this morning, although I enjoy a good blow; but now I don't care how hard it comes on."
By night it was blowing a downright gale.
"We will lie to till morning, Watkins. So that we get in by daylight to-morrow evening, that is all we want. See our side-lights are burning well, and you had better get up a couple of blue lights, in case anything comes running up Channel and don't see our lights. We had better divide into two watches; I will keep one with Matthews and Dawson, Mr. Harvey will go in your watch with Nicholls. We had better get the try-sail down altogether, and lie to under the foresail and mizzen, but don't put many lashings on the trysail, one will be enough, and have it ready to cast off in a moment, in case we want to hoist the sail in a hurry. I will go down and have a glass of hot grog first, and then I will take my watch to begin with. Let the two hands with me go down; the steward will serve them out a tot each. Jack, you had better turn in at once." Virtue was soon on deck again, muffled up in his oilskins.
"Now, Watkins, you can go below and turn in."
"I sha'n't go below to-night, sir--not to lie down. There's nothing much to do here, but I couldn't sleep, if I did lie down."
"Very well; you had better go below and get a glass of grog; tell the steward to give you a big pipe with a cover like this, out of the locker; and there's plenty of chewing tobacco, if the men are short."
"I will take that instead of a pipe," Watkins said; "there's nothing like a quid in weather like this, it ain't never in your way, and it lasts. Even with a cover a pipe would soon be out."
"Please yourself, Watkins; tell the two hands forward to keep a bright look-out for lights."
The night passed slowly. Occasionally a sea heavier than usual came on board, curling over the bow and falling with a heavy thud on the deck, but for the most part the Seabird breasted the waves easily; the bowsprit had been reefed in to its fullest, thereby adding to the lightness and buoyancy of the boat. Tom Virtue did not go below when his friend came up to relieve him at the change of watch, but sat smoking and doing much talking in the short intervals between the gusts.
The morning broke gray and misty, driving sleet came along on the wind, and the horizon was closed in as by a dull curtain.
"How far can we see, do you think, Watkins?"
"Perhaps a couple of miles, sir."
"That will be enough. I think we both know the position of every reef to within a hundred yards, so we will shape our course for Guernsey. If we happen to hit it off, we can hold on to St Helier; but if when we think we ought to be within sight of Guernsey we see nothing of it, we must lie to again, till the storm has blown itself out or the clouds lift. It would never do to go groping our way along with such currents as run among the islands. Put the last reef in the try-sail before you hoist it. I think you had better get the foresail down altogether, and run up the spit-fire jib."
The Seabird was soon under way again.
"Now, Watkins, you take the helm; we will go down and have a cup of hot coffee, and I will see that the steward has a good supply for you and the hands, but first, do you take the helm, Jack, whilst Watkins and I have a look at the chart, and try and work out where we are, and the course we had better lie for Guernsey."
Five minutes were spent over the chart, then Watkins went up and Jack Harvey came down.
"You have got the coffee ready, I hope, Johnson?"
"Yes, sir, coffee and chocolate. I didn't know which you would like."
"Chocolate, by all means. Jack, I recommend the chocolate. Bring two full-sized bowls, Johnson, and put that cold pie on the table, and a couple of knives and forks; never mind about a cloth; but first of all bring a couple of basins of hot water, we shall enjoy our food more after a wash."
The early breakfast was eaten, dry coats and mufflers put on, pipes lighted, and they then went up upon deck. Tom took the helm.
"What time do you calculate we ought to make Guernsey, Tom?"
"About twelve. The wind is freer than it was, and we are walking along at a good pace. Matthews, cast the log, and let's see what we are doing. About seven knots, I should say."
"Seven and a quarter, sir," the man said, when he checked the line.
"Not a bad guess, Tom; it's always difficult to judge pace in a heavy sea."
At eleven o'clock the mist ceased.
"That's fortunate," Tom Virtue said; "I shouldn't be surprised if we get a glimpse of the sun between the clouds, presently. Will you get my sextant and the chronometer up, Jack, and put them handy?"
Jack Harvey did as he was asked, but there was no occasion to use the instruments, for ten minutes later, Watkins, who was standing near the bow gazing fixedly ahead, shouted:
"There's Guernsey, sir, on her lee bow, about six miles away, I should say."
"That's it, sure enough," Tom agreed, as he gazed in the direction in which Watkins was pointing. "There's a gleam of sunshine on it, or we shouldn't have seen it yet. Yes, I think you are about right as to the distance. Now let us take its bearings, we may lose it again directly."
Having taken the bearings of the island they went below, and marked off their position on the chart, and they shaped their course for Cape Grosnez, the north-western point of Jersey. The gleam of sunshine was transient--the clouds closed in again overhead, darker and grayer than before. Soon the drops of rain came flying before the wind, the horizon closed in, and they could not see half a mile away, but, though the sea was heavy, the Seabird was making capital weather of it, and the two friends agreed that, after all, the excitement of a sail like this was worth a month of pottering about in calms.
"We must keep a bright look-out presently," the skipper said; "there are some nasty rocks off the coast of Jersey. We must give them a wide berth. We had best make round to the south of the island, and lay to there till we can pick up a pilot to take us into St. Helier. I don't think it will be worth while trying to get into St. Aubyn's Bay by ourselves."
"I think so, too, Watkins, but we will see what it is like before it gets dark; if we can pick up a pilot all the better; if not, we will lie to till morning, if the weather keeps thick; but if it clears so that we can make out all the lights we ought to be able to get into the bay anyhow."
An hour later the rain ceased and the sky appeared somewhat clearer. Suddenly Watkins exclaimed, "There is a wreck, sir! There, three miles away to leeward. She is on the Paternosters."
"Good heavens! she is a steamer," Tom exclaimed, as he caught sight of her the next time the Seabird lifted on a wave. "Can she be the Southampton boat, do you think?"
"Like enough, sir, she may have had it thicker than we had, and may not have calculated enough for the current."
"Up helm, Jack, and bear away towards her. Shall we shake out a reef, Watkins?"
"I wouldn't, sir; she has got as much as she can carry on her now. We must mind what we are doing, sir; the currents run like a millstream, and if we get that reef under our lee, and the wind and current both setting us on to it, it will be all up with us in no time."
"Yes, I know that, Watkins. Jack, take the helm a minute while we run down and look at the chart.
"Our only chance, Watkins, is to work up behind the reef, and try and get so that they can either fasten a line to a buoy and let it float down to us, or get into a boat, if they have one left, and drift to us."
"They are an awful group of rocks," Watkins said, as they examined the chart; "you see some of them show merely at high tide, and a lot of them are above at low water. It will be an awful business to get among them rocks, sir, just about as near certain death as a thing can be."
"Well, it's got to be done, Watkins," Tom said, firmly. "I see the danger as well as you do, but whatever the risk, it must be tried. Mr. Grantham and the two ladies went on board by my persuasion, and I should never forgive myself if anything happened to them. But I will speak to the men."
He went on deck again and called the men to him. "Look here, lads; you see that steamer ashore on the Paternosters. In such a sea as this she may go to pieces in half an hour. I am determined to make an effort to save the lives of those on board. As you can see for yourselves there is no lying to weather of her, with the current and wind driving us on to the reef; we must beat up from behind. Now, lads, the sea there is full of rocks, and the chances are ten to one we strike on to them and go to pieces; but, anyhow I am going to try; but I won't take you unless you are willing. The boat is a good one, and the zinc chambers will keep her afloat if she fills; well managed, you ought to be able to make the coast of Jersey in her. Mr. Harvey, Watkins, and I can handle the yacht, so you can take the boat if you like."
The men replied that they would stick to the yacht wherever Mr. Virtue chose to take her, and muttered something about the ladies, for the pleasant faces of Mrs. Grantham and Miss Graham had, during the fortnight they had been on board, won the men's hearts.
"Very well, lads, I am glad to find you will stick by me; if we pull safely through it I will give each of you three months' wages. Now set to work with a will and get the gig out. We will tow her after us, and take to her if we make a smash of it."
They were now near enough to see the white breakers, in the middle of which the ship was lying. She was fast breaking up. The jagged outline showed that the stern had been beaten in. The masts and funnel were gone, and the waves seemed to make a clean breach over her, almost hiding her from sight in a white cloud of spray.
"Wood and iron can't stand that much longer," Jack Harvey said; "another hour and I should say there won't be two planks left together."
"It is awful, Jack; I would give all I have in the world if I had not persuaded them to go on board. Keep her off a little more, Watkins."
The Seabird passed within a cable's-length of the breakers at the northern end of the reef.
"Now, lads, take your places at the sheets, ready to haul or let go as I give the word." So saying, Tom Virtue took his place in the bow, holding on by the forestay.
The wind was full on the Seabird's beam as she entered the broken water. Here and there the dark heads of the rocks showed above the water. These were easy enough to avoid, the danger lay in those hidden beneath its surface, and whose position was indicated only by the occasional break of a sea as it passed over them. Every time the Seabird sank on a wave those on board involuntarily held their breath, but the water here was comparatively smooth, the sea having spent its first force upon the outer reef. With a wave of his hand Tom directed the helmsman as to his course, and the little yacht was admirably handled through the dangers.
"I begin to think we shall do it," Tom said to Jack Harvey, who was standing close to him. "Another five minutes and we shall be within reach of her."
It could be seen now that there was a group of people clustered in the bow of the wreck. Two or three light lines were coiled in readiness for throwing.
"Now, Watkins," Tom said, going aft, "make straight for the wreck. I see no broken water between us and them, and possibly there may be deep water under their bow."
It was an anxious moment, as, with the sails flattened in, the yawl forged up nearly in the eye of the wind towards the wreck. Her progress was slow, for she was now stemming the current.
Tom stood with a coil of line in his hand in the bow.
"You get ready to throw, Jack, if I miss."
Nearer and nearer the yacht approached the wreck, until the bowsprit of the latter seemed to stand almost over her. Then Tom threw the line. It fell over the bowsprit, and a cheer broke from those on board the wreck and from the sailors of the Seabird. A stronger line was at once fastened to that thrown, and to this a strong hawser was attached.
"Down with the helm, Watkins. Now, lads, lower away the try-sail as fast as you can. Now, one of you, clear that hawser as they haul on it. Now out with the anchors."
These had been got into readiness; it was not thought that they would get any hold on the rocky bottom, still they might catch on a projecting ledge, and at any rate their weight and that of the chain cable would relieve the strain upon the hawser.
Two sailors had run out on the bowsprit of the wreck as soon as the line was thrown, and the end of the hawser was now on board the steamer.
"Thank God, there's Grantham!" Jack Harvey exclaimed; "do you see him waving his hand?"
"I see him," Tom said, "but I don't see the ladies."
"They are there, no doubt," Jack said, confidently; "crouching down, I expect. He would not be there if they weren't, you may be sure. Yes, there they are; those two muffled-up figures. There, one of them has thrown back her cloak and is waving her arm."
The two young men waved their caps.
"Are the anchors holding, Watkins? There's a tremendous strain on that hawser."
"I think so, sir; they are both tight."
"Put them round the windlass, and give a turn or two, we must relieve the strain on that hawser."
Since they had first seen the wreck the waves had made great progress in the work of destruction, and the steamer had broken in two just aft of the engines.
"Get over the spare spars, Watkins, and fasten them to float in front of her bows like a triangle. Matthews, catch hold of that boat-hook and try to fend off any piece of timber that comes along. You get hold of the sweeps, lads, and do the same. They would stave her in like a nut-shell if they struck her.
"Thank God, here comes the first of them!"
Those on board the steamer had not been idle. As soon as the yawl was seen approaching slings were prepared, and no sooner was the hawser securely fixed, than the slings were attached to it and a woman placed in them. The hawser was tight and the descent sharp, and without a check the figure ran down to the deck of the Seabird. She was lifted out of the slings by Tom and Jack Harvey, who found she was an old woman and had entirely lost consciousness.
"Two of you carry her down below; tell Johnson to pour a little brandy down her throat. Give her some hot soup as soon as she comes to."
Another woman was lowered and helped below. The next to descend was Mrs. Grantham.
"Thank God, you are rescued!" Tom said, as he helped her out of the sling.
"Thank God, indeed," Mrs. Grantham said, "and thank you all! Oh, Tom, we have had a terrible time of it, and had lost all hope till we saw your sail, and even then the captain said that he was afraid nothing could be done. Minnie was the first to make out it was you, and then we began to hope. She has been so brave, dear girl. Ah! here she comes."
But Minnie's firmness came to an end now that she felt the need for it was over. She was unable to stand when she was lifted from the slings, and Tom carried her below.
"Are there any more women, Mrs. Grantham?"
"No; there was only one other lady passenger and the stewardess."
"Then you had better take possession of your own cabin. I ordered Johnson to spread a couple more mattresses and some bedding on the floor, so you will all four be able to turn in. There's plenty of hot coffee and soup. I should advise soup with two or three spoonfuls of brandy in it. Now, excuse me; I must go upon deck."
Twelve men descended by the hawser, one of them with both legs broken by the fall of the mizzen. The last to come was the captain.
"Is that all?" Tom asked.
"That is all," the captain said. "Six men were swept overboard when she first struck, and two were killed by the fall of the funnel. Fortunately we had only three gentlemen passengers and three ladies on board. The weather looked so wild when we started that no one else cared about making the passage. God bless you, sir, for what you have done! Another half-hour and it would have been all over with us. But it seems like a miracle your getting safe through the rocks to us."
"It was fortunate indeed that we came along," Tom said; "three of the passengers are dear friends of mine; and as it was by my persuasion that they came across in the steamer instead of in the yacht, I should never have forgiven myself if they had been lost. Take all your men below, captain; you will find plenty of hot soup there. Now, Watkins, let us be off; that steamer won't hold together many minutes longer, so there's no time to lose. We will go back as we came. Give me a hatchet. Now, lads, two of you stand at the chain-cables; knock out the shackles the moment I cut the hawser. Watkins, you take the helm and let her head pay off till the jib fills. Jack, you lend a hand to the other two, and get up the try-sail again as soon as we are free."
In a moment all were at their stations. The helm was put on the yacht, and she payed off on the opposite tack to that on which she had before been sailing. As soon as the jib filled, Tom gave two vigorous blows with his hatchet on the hawser, and, as he lifted his hand for a third, it parted. Then came the sharp rattle of the chains as they ran round the hawser-holes. The try-sail was hoisted and sheeted home, and the Seabird was under way again. Tom, as before, conned the ship from the bow. Several times she was in close proximity to the rocks, but each time she avoided them. A shout of gladness rose from all on deck as she passed the last patch of white water. Then she tacked and bore away for Jersey.
Tom had now time to go down below and look after his passengers. They consisted of the captain and two sailors--the sole survivors of those who had been on deck when the vessel struck--three male passengers, and six engineers and stokers.
"I have not had time to shake you by the hand before, Tom," Grantham said, as Tom Virtue entered; "and I thought you would not want me on deck at present. God bless you, old fellow! we all owe you our lives."
"How did it happen, captain?" Tom asked, as the captain also came up to him.
"It was the currents, I suppose," the captain said; "it was so thick we could not see a quarter of a mile any way. The weather was so wild I would not put into Guernsey, and passed the island without seeing it. I steered my usual course, but the gale must have altered the currents, for I thought I was three miles away from the reef, when we saw it on our beam, not a hundred yards away. It was too late to avoid it then, and in another minute we ran upon it, and the waves were sweeping over us. Every one behaved well. I got all, except those who had been swept overboard or crushed by the funnel, up into the bow of the ship, and there we waited. There was nothing to be done. No boat would live for a moment in the sea on that reef, and all I could advise was, that when she went to pieces every one should try to get hold of a floating fragment; but I doubt whether a man would have been alive a quarter of an hour after she went to pieces."
"Perhaps, captain, you will come on deck with me and give me the benefit of your advice. My skipper and I know the islands pretty well, but no doubt you know them a good deal better, and I don't want another mishap."
But the Seabird avoided all further dangers, and as it became dark, the lights of St. Helier's were in sight, and an hour later the yacht brought up in the port and landed her involuntary passengers.
A fortnight afterwards the Seabird returned to England, and two months later Mrs. Grantham had the satisfaction of being present at the ceremony which was the successful consummation of her little scheme in inviting Minnie Graham to be her companion on board the Seabird.
"Well, my dear," her husband said, when she indulged in a little natural triumph, "I do not say that it has not turned out well, and I am heartily glad for both Tom and Minnie's sake it has so; but you must allow that it very nearly had a disastrous ending, and I think if I were you I should leave matters to take their natural course in future. I have accepted Tom's invitation for the same party to take a cruise in the Seabird next summer, but I have bargained that next time a storm is brewing up we shall stop quietly in port."
"That's all very well, James," Mrs. Grantham said saucily; "but you must remember that Tom Virtue will only be first-mate of the Seabird in future."
"That I shall be able to tell you better, my dear, after our next cruise. All husbands are not as docile and easily led as I am."