Chapter XVIII.
 

"This is nice. The boat does not upset or tumble as it did. It only courtesies and plunges. I like it."

"The sea has not got up yet, miss," said Jack.

"Hasn't it? the waves seem very large."

"Lord love you, wait till we have had four or five hours more of this."

"Belay your jaw, Jack."

"Ay, ay, sir."

"Why so, Mr. Dodd?" objected Lucy gently. "I am not so weak as you think me. Do not keep the truth from me. I share the danger; let me share the sense of danger, too. You shall not blush for me."

"Danger? There is not a grain of it, unless we make danger by inattention--and babbling."

"You will not do that," said Lucy.

Equivoque missed fire.

"Not while you are on board," replied David, simply.

Lucy felt inclined to give him her hand. She had it out half-way; but he had lately asked her to marry him, so she drew it back, and her eyes rested on the bottom of the boat.

The wind rose higher. The masts bent so that each sail had every possible reef taken in. Her canvas thus reduced she scudded as fast as before, such was now the fury of the gale. The sea rose so that the boat seemed to mount with each wave as high as the second story of a house, and go down again to the cellar at every plunge. Talboys, prostrated by seasickness in the forehold, lay curled but motionless, like a crooked log, and almost as indifferent to life or death. Lucy, pale but firm, put no more questions that she felt would not be answered, but scanned David Dodd's face furtively yet closely. The result was encouraging to her. His cheek was not pale, as she felt her own. On the contrary, it was slightly flushed; his eye bright and watchful, but lion-like. He gave a word or two of command to Jack every now and then very sharply, but without the slightest shade of agitation, and Jack's "ay, ay" came back as sharply, but cheerfully.

The principal feature she discerned in both sailors was a very attentive, business-like manner. The romantic air with which heroes face danger in story was entirely absent; and so, being convinced by his yarns that David was a hero, she inferred that their situation could not be dangerous, but, as David himself had inferred, merely one in which watchfulness was requisite.

The sun went down red and angry. The night came on dark and howling. No moon. A murky sky, like a black bellying curtain above, and huge ebony waves, that in the appalling blackness seemed all crested with devouring fire, hemmed in the tossing boat, and growled, and snarled, and raged above, below, and around her.

Then, in that awful hour, Lucy Fountain felt her littleness and the littleness of man. She cowered and trembled.

The sailors, rough but tender nurses, wrapped shawls round her one above the other, "to make her snug for the night," they said. They seemed to her to be mocking her. "Snug? Who could hope to outlive such a fearful night? and what did it matter whether she was drowned in one shawl or a dozen?"

David being amidships, bailing the boat out, and Jack at the helm, she took the opportunity, and got very close to the latter, and said in his ear--

"Mr. Jack, we are in danger."

"Not exactly in danger, miss; but, of course, we must mind our eye. But I have often been where I have had to mind my eye, and hope to be again."

"Mr. Jack," said Lucy, shivering, "what is our danger? Tell me the nature of it, then I shall not be so cowardly; will the boat break?"

"Lord bless you, no."

"Will it upset?"

"No fear of that."

"Will not the sea swallow us?"

"No, miss. How can the sea swallow us? She rides like a cork, and there is the skipper bailing her out, to make her lighter still. No; I'll tell you, miss; all we have got to mind is two things; we must not let her broach to, and we must not get pooped."

"But why must we not?"

"Why? Because we mustn't."

"But I mean, what would be the consequence of--broaching to?"

Jack opened his eyes in astonishment. "Why, the sea would run over her quarter, and swamp her."

"Oh!! And if we get pooped?"

"We shall go to Davy Jones, like a bullet."

"Who is Davy Jones?"

"The Old One, you know--down below. Leastways you won't go there, miss; you will go aloft, and perhaps the skipper; but Davy will have me; so I won't give him a chance, if I can help it."

Lucy cried.

"Where are we, Mr. Jack?"

"British Channel."

"I know that; but whereabouts?"

"Heaven knows; and no doubt the skipper, he knows; but I don't. I am only a common sailor. Shall I hail the skipper? he will tell you."

"No, no, no. He is so angry if we speak."

"He won't be angry if you speak to him, miss," said Jack, with a sly grin, that brought a faint color into Lucy's cheek; "you should have seen him, how anxious he was about you before we came alongside; and the moment that lubber went forward to dip the lug, says he, 'Jack, there will be mischief; up mainsail and run down to them. I have no confidence in that tall boy.' (He do seem a long, weedy, useless sort of lubber.) Lord bless you, miss, we luffed, and were running down to you long before you made the signal of distress with your little white flag." Lucy's cheeks got redder. "No, miss, if the skipper speaks severe to you, Jack Painter is blind with one eye, and can't see with t'other."

Lucy's cheeks were carnation.

But the next moment they were white, for a terrible event interrupted this chat. Two huge waves rolled one behind the other, an occurrence which luckily is not frequent; the boat, descending into the valley of the sea, had the wind taken out of her sails by the high wave that was coming. Her sails flapped, she lost her speed, and, as she rose again, the second wave was a moment too quick for her, and its combing crest caught her. The first thing Lucy saw was Jack running from the helm with a loud cry of fear, followed by what looked an arch of fire, but sounded like a lion rushing, growling on its prey, and directly her feet and ankles were in a pool of water. David bounded aft, swearing and splashing through it, and it turned into sparks of white fire flying this way and that. He seized the helm, and discharged a loud volley of curses at Jack.

"Fling out ballast, ye d--d cowardly, useless lubber," cried he; and while Jack, who had recoiled into his normal state of nerves with almost ridiculous rapidity, was heaving out ballast, David discharged another rolling volley at him.

"Oh, pray don't!" cried Lucy, trembling like an aspen leaf. "Oh, think! we shall soon be in the presence of our Maker--of Him whose name you--"

"Not we," cried David, with broad, cheerful incredulity; "we have lots more mischief to do--that lubber and I. And if he thinks he is going there, let him end like a man, not like a skulking lubber, running from the helm, and letting the craft come up in the wind."

"No, no, it was the sea he ran from. Who would not?"

"The lubber! If it had been a tiger or a bear I'd say nothing; but what is the use of trying to run from the sea? Should have stuck to his post, and set that thundering back of his up--it's broad enough--and kept the sea out of your boots. The sea, indeed! I have seen the sea come on board me, and clear the deck fore and aft, but it didn't come in the shape of a cupful o' water and a spoonful o' foam." Here David's wrath and contempt were interrupted by Jack singing waggishly at his work,

           "Cease--rude Boreas--blustering--railer!!"

At which sly hit David was pleased, and burst into a loud, boisterous laugh.

Lucy put her hands to her ears. "Oh, don't! don't! this is worse than your blasphemies--laughing on the brink of eternity; these are not men--they are devils."

"Do you hear that, Jack? Come, you behave!" roared David.

A faint snarl from Talboys. The water had penetrated him, and roused him from a state of sick torpor; he lay in a tidy little pool some eight inches deep.

The boat was bailed and lightened, but Lucy's fears were not set at rest. What was to hinder the recurrence of the same danger, and with more fatal effect? She timidly asked David's permission to let her keep the sea out. Instead of snubbing her as she expected, David consented with a sort of paternal benevolence tinged with incredulity. She then developed her plan; it was, that David, Jack, and she should sit in a triangle, and hold the tarpaulin out to windward and fence the ocean out. Jack, being summoned aft to council, burst into a hoarse laugh; but David checked him.

"There is more in it than you see, Jack--more than she sees, perhaps. My only doubt is whether it is possible; but you can try."

Lucy and Jack then tried to get the tarpaulin out to windward; instead of which, it carried them to leeward by the force of the wind. The mast brought them up, or Heaven knows where their new invention would have taken them. With infinite difficulty they got it down and kneeled upon it, and even then it struggled. But Lucy would not be defeated; she made Jack gather it up in the middle, and roll it first to the right, then to the left, till it became a solid roll with two narrow open edges. They then carried it abaft, and lowered it vertically over the stern-port; then suddenly turned it round, and sat down. "Crack!" the wind opened it, and wrapped it round the boat and the trio.

"Hallo!" cried David, "it is foul of the rudder;" and, he whipped out his knife and made a slit in the stuff. It now clung like a blister.

"There, Mr. Dodd, will not that keep the sea out?" asked Lucy, triumphantly.

"At any rate, it may help to keep us ahead of the sea. Why, Jack, I seem to feel it lift her; it is as good as a mizzen."

"But, oh, Mr. Dodd, there is another danger. We may broach to."

"How can she broach to when I am at the helm? Here is the arm that won't let her broach to."

"Then I feel safe."

"You are as safe as on your own sofa; it is the discomfort you are put to that worries me."

"Don't think so meanly of me, Mr. Dodd. If it was not for my cowardice, I should enjoy this voyage far more than the luxurious ease you think so dear to me. I despise it."

"Mr. Dodd, now I am no longer afraid. I am, oh, so sleepy."

"No wonder--go to sleep. It is the best thing you can do."

"Thank you, sir. I am aware my conversation is not very interesting." Having administered this sudden bloodless scratch, to show that, at sea or ashore, in fair weather or foul, she retained her sex, Lucy disposed herself to sleep.

David, steering the boat with his left hand, arranged the cushion with his right. She settled herself to sleep, for an irresistible drowsiness had followed the many hours of excitement she had gone through. Twice the heavy plunging sea brought her into light contact with David. She instantly awoke, and apologized to him with gentle dismay for taking so audacious a liberty with that great man, commander of the vessel; the third time she said nothing, a sure sign she was unconscious.

Then David, for fear she might hurt herself, curled his arm around her, and let her head decline upon his shoulder. Her bonnet fell off; he put it reverently on the other side the helm. The air now cleared, but the gale increased rather than diminished. And now the moon rose large and bright. The boat and masts stood out like white stone-work against the flint-colored sky, and the silver light played on Lucy's face. There she lay, all unconscious of her posture, on the man's shoulder who loved her, and whom she had refused; her head thrown back in sweet helplessness, her rich hair streaming over David's shoulder, her eyes closed, but the long, lovely lashes meeting so that the double fringe was as speaking as most eyes, and her lips half open in an innocent smile. The storm was no storm to her now. She slept the sleep of childhood, of innocence and peace; and David gazed and gazed on her, and joy and tenderness almost more than human thrilled through him, and the storm was no storm to him either; he forgot the past, despised the future, and in the delirium of his joy blessed the sea and the wind, and wished for nothing but, instead of the Channel, a boundless ocean, and to sail upon it thus, her bosom tenderly grazing him, and her lovely head resting on his shoulder, for ever, and ever, and ever.

Thus they sailed on two hours and more, and Jack now began to nod.

All of a sudden Lucy awoke, and, opening her eyes, surprised David gazing at her with tenderness unspeakable. Awaking possessed with the notion that she was sleeping at home on a bed of down, she looked dumfounded an instant; but David's eyes soon sent the blood into her cheek. Her whole supple person turned eel-like, and she glided quickly, but not the least bruskly, from him; the latter might have seemed discourteous.

"Oh, Mr. Dodd," she cried, "what am I doing?"

"You have been getting a nice sleep, thank Heaven."

"Yes, and making use of you even in my sleep; but we all impose on your goodness."

"Why did you awake? You were happy; you felt no care, and I was happy seeing you so."

Lucy's eyes filled. "Kind, true friend," she murmured, "how can I ever thank you as I ought? I little deserved that you should watch over my safety as you have done, and, alas! risk your own. Any other but you would have borne me malice, and let me perish, and said, 'It serves her right.'"

"Malice! Miss Lucy. What for, in Heaven's name?"

"For--for the affront I put upon you; for the--the honor I declined."

"Hate cannot lie alongside love in a true heart."

"I see it cannot in a noble one. And then you are so generous. You have never once recurred to that unfortunate topic; yet you have gained a right to request me--to reconsider--Mr. Dodd, you have saved my life!!"

"What! do you praise me because I don't take a mean advantage? That would not be behaving like a man."

"I don't know that. You overrate your sex--and mine. We don't deserve such generosity. The proof is, we reward those who are not so--delicate."

"I don't trouble my head about your sex. They are nothing to me, and never will be. If you think I have done my duty like a man, and as much like a gentleman as my homely education permits, that is enough for me, and I shall sail for China as happy as anything on earth can make me now."

Lucy answered this by crying gently, silently, tenderly.

"Don't ye cry. Have I said something to vex you?"

"Oh no, no."

"Are you alarmed still?"

"Oh, no; I have such faith in you."

"Then go to sleep again, like a lamb."

"I will; then I shall not tease you with my conversation."

"Now there is a way to put it."

"Forgive me."

"That I will, if you will take some repose. There, I will lash you to my arm with this handkerchief; then you can lie the other way, and hold on by the handkerchief--there."

She closed her eyes and fell apparently to sleep, but really to thinking.

Then David nudged Jack, and waked him. "Speak low now, Jack."

"What is it, sir?"

"Land ahead."

Jack looked out, and there was a mountain of jet rising out of the sea, and, to a landsman's eye, within a stone's throw of them.

"Is it the French coast, sir? I must have been asleep."

"French coast? no, Channel Island--smallest of the lot."

"Better give it a wide berth, sir. We shall go smash like a teacup if we run on to one of them rocky islands."

"Why, Jack," said David, reproachfully, "am I the man to run upon a leeshore, and such a night as this?"

"Not likely. You will keep her head for Cherbourg or St. Malo, sir; it is our only chance."

"It is not our only chance, nor our best. We have been running a little ahead of this gale, Jack; there is worse in store for us; the sea is rolling mountains high on the French coast this morning, I know. We are like enough to be pooped before we get there, or swamped on some harbor-bar at last."

"Well, sir, we must take our chance."

"Take our chance? What! with heads on our shoulders, and an angel on board that Heaven has given us charge of? No, I sha'n't take my chance. I shall try all I know, and hang on to life by my eyelids. Listen to me. 'Knowledge is gold;' a little of it goes a long way. I don't know much myself, but I do know the soundings of the British Channel. I have made them my study. On the south side of this rocky point there is forty fathoms water close to the shore, and good anchorage-ground."

"Then I wish we could jump over the thundering island, and drop on the lee side of it; but, as we can't, what's the use?"

"We may be able to round the point."

"There will be an awful sea running off that point, sir."

"Of course there will. I mean to try it, for all that."

"So be it, sir; that is what I like to hear. I hate palaver. Let one give his orders, and the rest obey them. We are not above half a mile from it now."

"You had better wake the landsman. We must have a third hand for this."

"No," said a woman's voice, sweet, but clear and unwavering. "I shall be the third hand."

"Curse it," cried David, "she has heard us."

"Every word. And I have no confidence in Mr. Talboys; and, believe me, I am more to be trusted than he is. See, my cowardice is all worn out. Do but trust me, and you shall find I want neither courage nor intelligence."

David eyed her keenly, and full in the face. She met his glance calmly, with her fine nostrils slightly expanding, and her compressed lip curving proudly.

"It is all right, Jack. It is not a flash in the pan. She is as steady as a rock." He then addressed her rapidly and business-like, but with deference. "You will stand by the helm on this side, and the moment I run forward, you will take the helm and hold it in this position. That will require all your strength. Come, try it. Well done."

"How the sea struggles with me! But I am strong, you see," cried Lucy, her brow flushed with the battle.

"Very good; you are strong, and, what is better, resolute. Now, observe me: this is port, this is starboard, and this is amidships."

"I see; but how am I to know which to do?"'

"I shall give you the word of command."

"And all I have to do is to obey it?"

"That is all; but you will find it enough, because the sea will seem to fight you. It will shake the boat to make you leave go, and will perhaps dash in your face to make you leave go."

"Forewarned, forearmed, Mr. Dodd. I will not let go. I will hold on by my eyelids sooner than add to your danger."

"Jack, she is on fire; she gives me double heart."

"So she does me. She makes it a pleasure."

They were now near enough the point to judge what they had to do, and the appearance of the sea was truly terrible; the waves were all broken, and a surge of devouring fire seemed to rage and roar round the point, and oppose an impassable barrier between them and the inky pool beyond, where safety lay under the lee of the high rocks.

"I don't like it," said David. "It looks to me like going through a strip of hell fire."

"But it is narrow," said Lucy.

"That is our chance; and the tide is coming in. We will try it. She will drench us, but I don't much think she will swamp us. Are you ready, all hands?"

"Oh! please wait a minute, till I do up my hair."

"Take a minute, but no more."

"There, it is done. Mr. Dodd, one word. If all should fail, and death be inevitable, tell me so just before we perish, and I shall have something to say to you. Now, I am ready."

"Jump forward, Jack."

"Yes, sir."

"Stand by to jibe the foresail."

"Ay, ay, sir."

"See our sweeps all clear."

"Ay."

David now handled the main sheet, and at the same time looked earnestly at Lucy, who met his eye with a look of eager attention.

"Starboard a little. That will do. Steady--steady as you go," As the boat yielded to the helm, Jack gathered in on the sheet, took two turns round the cleat, and eased away till the sail drew its best: so far so good. Both sails were now on the same side of the boat, the wind on her port quarter; but now came the dangerous operation of coming to the wind, in a rough and broken sea, among the eddies of wind and tide so prevalent off headlands. David, with the main sheet in his right hand, directed Lucy with his left as well as his voice.

"Starboard the helm--starboard yet--now meet her--so!" and, as she rounded to Jack and he kept hauling the sheets aft, and the boat, her course and trim altered, darted among the breakers like a brave man attacking danger. After the first plunge she went up and down like a pickax, coming down almost where she went up; but she held her course, with the waves roaring round her like a pack of hell-hounds.

More than half the terrible strip was passed. "Starboard yet," cried David; and she headed toward the high mainland under whose lee was calm and safety. Alas! at this moment a snorter of a sea broke under her broadside, and hove her to leeward like a cork, and a tide eddy catching her under the counter, she came to more than two points, and her canvas, thus emptied, shook enough to tear the masts out of her by the board.

"Port your helm! PORT! PORT!" roared David, in a voice like the roar of a wounded lion; and, in his anxiety, he bounded to the helm himself; but Lucy obeyed orders at half a word, and David, seeing this, sprang forward to help Jack flatten in the foresheet. The boat, which all through answered the helm beautifully, fell off the moment Lucy ported the helm, and thus they escaped the impending and terrible danger of her making sternway. "Helm amidships!" and all drew again: the black water was in sight. But will they ever reach it? She tosses like a cork. Bang! A breaker caught her bows, and drenched David and Jack to the very bone. She quivered like an aspen-leaf but held on.

"Starboard one point," cried David, sitting down, and lifting an oar out from the boat; but just as Lucy, in obeying the order, leaned a little over the lee gunwale with the tiller, a breaker broke like a shell upon the boat's broadside abaft, stove in her upper plank, and filled her with water; some flew and slapped Lucy in the face like an open hand. She screamed, but clung to the gunwale, and griped the helm: her arm seemed iron, and her heart was steel. While she clung thus to her work, blinded by the spray, and expecting death, she heard oars splash into the water, and mellow stentorian voices burst out singing.

In amazement she turned, squeezed the brine out of her eyes, and looked all round, and lo! the boat was in a trifling bobble of a sea, and close astern was the surge of fire raging, and growling, and blazing in vain, and the two sailors were pulling the boat, with superhuman strength and inspiration, into a monster mill-pool that now lay right ahead, black as ink and smooth as oil, singing loudly as they rowed:

         "Cheerily oh oh! (pull) cheerily oh oh! (pull)
          To port we go oh (pull), to port we go (pull)."

FLARE!! a great flaming eye opened on them in the center of the universal blackness.

"Look! look!" cried Lucy; "a fire in the mountain."

It was the lantern of a French sloop anchored close to the shore. The crew had heard the sailors' voices. At sight of it David and Jack cheered so lustily that Talboys crawled out of the water and glared vaguely. The sailors pulled under the sloop's lee quarter: a couple of ropes were instantly lowered, the lantern held aloft, ruby heads and hands clustered at the gangway, and in another minute the boat's party were all upon deck, under a hailstorm of French, and the boat fast to her stern.