Frozen Margit by Arthur Quiller-Couch
A Narrative of the sufferings of Mr. Obed Lanyon, of Vellingey-Saint Agnes, Cornwall; Margit Lanyon, his wife; and seventeen persons (mostly Americans) shipwrecked among the Quinaiult Tribes of the N.W. Coast of America, in the winter of 1807-8. With some remarkable Experiences of the said Margit Lanyon, formerly Pedersen. Written by the Survivor, Edom Lanyon, sometime a Commander in the service of the Honourable East India Company.
My twin brother Obed and I were born on the 21st of March, 1759 (he being the elder by a few minutes), at Vellingey-St. Agnes, or St. Ann's, a farm on the north coast of Cornwall, owned and cultivated by our father Renatus Lanyon. Our mother was a Falmouth woman, daughter of a ship's captain of that port: and I suppose it was this inclined us to a sea-faring life. At any rate, soon after our fifteenth birthday we sailed (rather against our father's wish) on a short coasting voyage with our grandfather--whose name was William Dustow.
A second voyage in the early summer of 1776 took us as far as the Thames. It happened that the famous Captain Cook was just then recruiting for his third and (as it proved) his last voyage of discovery. This set us talking and planning, and the end was that we stole ashore and offered ourselves. Obed had the luck to be picked. Though very like in face, I was already the taller by two inches; and no doubt the Captain judged I had outgrown my strength. But it surprised me to be rejected when Obed was taken; and disappointed me more: for, letting alone the prospect of the voyage, we two (as twins, and our parents' only children) were fond of each other out of the common degree, and had never thought to be separated.
To speak first of Obed:--Captain Cook put some questions, and finding that we were under our grandfather's care, would do nothing without his consent. We returned to the ship and confessed to the old man, who pretended to be much annoyed. But next day he put on his best clothes and went in search of the great seaman, to Whitehall; and so the matter was arranged. Obed sailed in July on board the Discovery; shared the dangers of that voyage, in which the ships followed up the N.W. Coast of America and pushed into Behring's Strait beyond the 70th parallel; was a witness, on February 4th, 1779, of his commander's tragical end; and returned to England in October, 1780. Eleven years later he made another voyage to the same N.W. American Coast; this time as master's mate under Vancouver, who had kept an interest in him since they sailed together under Cook, and thought highly of him as a practical navigator and draughtsman. It was my brother who, under Vancouver, drew up the first chart of the Straits of Fuca, which Cook had missed: and I have been told (by a Mr. G--, a clerk to the Admiralty) that on his return he stood well for a lieutenant's commission--the rule of the Service being stretched now and then to favour these circumnavigating seamen, many of whom worked their way aft from the hawse-hole to the quarter deck. But my father and mother dying just then, and the former having slipped a particular request into his will, Obed threw up the sea and settled down in Vellingey as a quiet yeoman farmer.
Meanwhile, in 1779, I had entered the sea service of the Honourable East India Company; and with passable good fortune had risen in it pretty fast. Enough to say, that by the spring of 1796 I was looking forward to the command of a ship. Just then my fortune deserted me. In a sudden fear of French invasion, our Government bought the four new ships which the Company had building (and a bad bargain they proved). This put a stop for the time to all chance of promotion; and a sharp attack of jaundice falling on top of my disappointments, I took the usual decrease of pay and the Board's promise to remember my services on a proper occasion, and hauled ashore to Vellingey for a holiday and a thorough refit of health.
I believe that the eight or nine following months which Obed and I spent together were the happiest in our two lives. He was glad enough to shoulder off the small business of the farm and turn--as I have seen so many men play, in a manner, at the professions they have given over--to his favourite amusement of sounding the coast of Vellingey and correcting the printed charts. He kept a small lugger mainly for this purpose, and plied her so briskly that he promised to know the sea-bottom between Kelsey Head and Godrevy Rock better than his own fields. As for me, after years of salt water and stumping decks, I asked nothing better than to steer a plough and smell broken soil, and drowse after supper in an armchair, with good tobacco and Obed for company.
In this way we passed the winter of 1796-7; until the lambing season, which fell midway in February. The year opened wet, with fresh south westerly winds, which in the second week chopped suddenly; and for four days a continuous freezing gale blew on us from the N.W. It was then that the lambs began to drop; and for three nights I exchanged pipe and fireside for a lantern and the lower corner of Friar's Parc at the back of the towans, where the ewes were gathered in the lew. They kept us so busy that for forty-eight hours we neither changed our clothes (at least, I did not) nor sat down to a meal. The sand about Vellingey is always driving, more or less; and the gale so mixed it up with fine snow that we made our journeys to and from the house, so to speak, blindfold, and took our chance of the drifts. But the evening of the 11th promised better. The wind dropped, and in an hour fell to a flat calm: then, after another hour, began to draw easily off shore--the draught itself being less noticeable than the way in which it smoothed down the heavy sea running. Though the cold did not lift, the weather grew tolerable once more: and each time I crossed the townplace with a lamb in my arms, I heard the surf running lower and lower in the porth below Vellingey.
By day-break (the 12th) it was fallen to nothing: the sky still holding snow, but sky and sea the same colour; a heavy blueish grey, like steel. I was coming over the towans, just then, with a lamb under either arm (making twelve, that night) when I happened to look seaward, and there saw a boat tossing, about a gunshot from the shore.
She was a long boat, painted white; very low in the sheer, and curved at stem and stern like a Norwegian; her stem rounded off without a transom, and scarcely bluffer than her bows. She carried a mast, stepped right forward; but no sail. She was full of people. I counted five sitting, all white with snow--one by the mast, three amidships, and one in the stern sheets, steering. At least, he had a hand on the tiller: but the people had given over pulling, and the boat without steerage-way was drifting broadside-on towards the shore with the set of the tide.
While I stood conning her, up at the house the back-door opened, and my brother stepped out and across the yard to milk the cows. His milk-pails struck against the door-post, and sounded as clear as bells. I shouted to him and pointed towards the boat: and after looking a moment, he set down his pails and started off at a run, down towards the porth. I then hurried towards the house, where I found Selina, our old housekeeper, in the kitchen, tending the lambs with warm milk. Handing the new-comers over to her, I caught up a line and made off hot-foot after Obed.
At low-water (and the tide had now scarcely an hour to ebb) the sands in Vellingey Porth measure a good half-mile from the footbridge at its head to the sea at its base. My legs were longer than Obed's; but I dare say he had arrived five minutes ahead of me. He was standing and calling to the boat's crew to get out an oar and pull her head-to-sea: for although the smoothing wind had taken most of the danger out of the breakers, they were quite able to capsize and roll over any boat that beached herself in that lubberly fashion.
I ran up panting, and shouted with him--"Pull her round head-to-sea, and back her in!"
Not a man moved or lifted a hand. The next moment, a wave tilted and ran a dozen yards with her, but mercifully passed before it broke. A smaller one curved on the back-draught and splashed in over her gunwale as she took ground. But what knocked the wind out of our sails was this--As the first wave canted her up, two men had rolled out of her like logs; and the others, sitting like logs, had never so much as stirred to help!
"Good Lord!" I called out, and fumbled with my line. "What's the meaning of it?"
"The meaning is," said Obed, "they're dead men, every mother's son. They're frozen," said he: "I've seen frozen seamen before now."
"I'll have in the boat, anyway," I said. "Here, catch hold and pay out!" Running in, I reached her just as she lifted again; and managed to slew her nose in-shore, but not in time to prevent half-a-hogshead pouring over her quarter. This wave knocked her broadside-on again, and the water shipped made her heavier to handle. But by whipping my end of the line round the thwart in which her mast was stepped, for Obed to haul upon, and myself heaving at her bows, we fetched her partly round as she lifted again, and ran her into the second line of breakers, which were pretty well harmless.
"How many on board?" Obed sang out.
"Five!" called I, having counted them. Up to this I had had enough to do with the boat; besides looking after myself. For twice the heave had tilled me up to the armpits, and once lifted me clean off my feet; and I had no wish to try swimming in my sea-boots. "Five," said I; "and two overboard--that makes seven. Come and look here!"
"Tend to the boat first," he said. "I've seen frozen seamen."
"You never saw the likes of this," I answered. So he ran in beside me.
The boat had her name (or that of the ship she belonged to) painted in yellow and black on the gunwale strake by her port quarter-- "MARGIT PEDERSEN, BERGEN": but by their faces we could not miss knowing to what country the poor creatures belonged. They were--
While we stood there the tide drained back, leaving the bows of the boat high and dry. As I remember, Obed was the first to speak; and he said "She has beautiful hair." This was the bare truth: a great lock of it lay along the bottom-board like a stream of guineas poured out of a sack. He climbed into the boat and lifted the shawl from her face.
Those neighbours of ours, friends and acquaintances, who afterwards saw Margit Pedersen at Vellingey, and for whom this account is mainly written, will not need a description of her. Many disliked her: but nobody denied that she was a lovely woman; and I am certain that nobody could see her face and afterwards forget it. It was, then and always, very pale: but this had nothing to do with ill health. In fact I am not sure it would have been noticeable but for the warm colour of her hair and her red lips and (especially) her eyebrows and lashes, of a deep brown that seemed almost black. Her lips were blue with the cold, just now: but the contrast between her eyebrows and her pale face and yellow hair struck me at once and kept me wondering: until Obed startled me by dropping the shawl and falling on his knees beside her. "Good God, Dom!" he sang out: "the girl's alive!"
The next moment, of course, I was as wild as he. "Get her out, then," I cried, "and up to the house at once!"
"I can't loosen the man's arms!" Though less than a yard apart, we both shouted at the top of our voices.
"Nonsense!" I answered: but it was true all the same--as I found out when I stepped in to Obed's help. "We must carry up the pair as they are," I said. "There's no time to lose."
We lifted them out, and making a chair of our hands and wrists, carried them up to Vellingey; leaving the others in the boat, now for an hour well above reach of the tide. And here I must tell of something that happened on the way: the first sign of Obed's madness, as I may call it. All of a sudden he stopped and panted, from the weight of our load, I supposed. "Dom," he said, "I believe that nine men out of ten would kiss her!"
I told him not to be a fool, and we walked on. In the town-place we happened on the shepherd, Reuben Santo, and sent him off for help, and to look after the frozen people in the boat. The sight of us at the door nearly scared Selina into her grave: but we allowed her no time for hysterics. We laid the pair on a blanket before the open fire, and very soon Obed was trying to force some warm milk and brandy between the girl's lips. I think she swallowed a little: but the first time she opened her eyes was when one of the lambs (which everyone had neglected for twenty minutes or so) tottered across the kitchen on his foolish legs and began to nuzzle at her face. Obed at the moment was trying to disengage the dead man's arms. A thought struck Selina at once. "Put the lamb close against her heart," she said. "That'll warm her more than any fire."
So we did, making the lamb lie down close beside her; and it had a wonderful effect. In less than half-an-hour her pulse grew moderately firm and she had even contrived to speak a word or two, but in Norwegian, which none of us understood. Obed by this time had loosened the dead man's arms; and we thought it best to get her upstairs to bed before the full sense of her misfortune should afflict her. Obed carried her up to the spare-room and there left her to Selina; while I saddled horse and rode in to Truro, for Doctor Mitchell.
Much of what followed is matter of public knowledge. Our folks carried the dead Norwegians up to Church-town, including one of the two that had fallen overboard (the next tide washed him in; the other never came to land); and there buried them, two days later, in separate graves, but all close together. The boat being worthless, we sawed it in two just abaft the mast and set the fore-part over the centre grave, which was that of Captain Pedersen, the young man we had carried up with Margit. The mast rotted and fell, some years ago, although carefully stayed: but the boat, with the names painted on it, remains to this day. Also we set up a small wooden cross by each man's grave, with his name upon it. Margit was able, from our description, to plan out the right name for each.
On the third day an interpreter came over from Penzance. Margit could not yet leave her bed: and before he stepped up to question her, I took him aside and showed a small Norwegian Bible we had found in the pocket of the seaman's jacket to which she owed her life. On the first page was some foreign writing which I could not make out. The interpreter translated it: first the names "Margit Hansen to Nils Pedersen": and after them, this strange verse from the Song of Solomon--strange, I mean, to find written in such a place--"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine."
The interpreter, Mr. Scammel, went upstairs, and she told him her story. "Our vessel," she said (I give it in brief) "was the Margit Pedersen, brig. She belonged to me and was called after me. We were bound for the Tagus with a cargo of salted fish which I had bought at Bergen from the Lofoden smacks--fish for the Roman Catholics to eat in Lent. Nils Pedersen, the captain, was my husband: Knud Lote was mate." Mr. Scammell having expressed some surprise that so young a man should have been captain, she explained, "He was twenty-two. I made him captain. My father and mother died: they had not wished me to marry him. They were proud. But they left very little money, considering; and with it I bought the brig and cargo. She was an old craft, half rotten. We had fair weather, mostly, down the English Channel and almost to Ushant. There we met a strong southerly gale, and in the middle of it a pintle of our rudder gave way and the loose rudder damaged our stern-post. We tried to bear up for Falmouth, but she would not steer; and we drove up towards the Irish Coast, just missing Scilly. On the 8th the wind changed to N.W. and increased. That night, as Nils tried to lay to, she carried away her fore-mast, which had been shaky for days. She was now leaking fast. At noon on the 9th we managed to launch a boat, and abandoned her. She sank at four o'clock: we saw her go down. The weather grew colder, that night. I think it snowed all the time: and the seas were too heavy to let the boat run. The men pulled to keep her nose to them and the wind, and so she drifted. I forget when they gave over pulling. For a night and a day I baled steadily. After that I lay most of the time in the bottom of the boat. Our food was almost done. It was very cold. That is all I can remember."
And this, I think, was all we ever heard from her. On his return to Penzance, Mr. Scammell sent me a Norwegian dictionary; and with the help of it Obed and I soon managed to talk a little with her, in a mixture of Norwegian and English. But she never wanted to speak of the past, and fell silent whenever we spoke of it. What astonished me more was that, though she told us the names of the dead men, she showed no further interest in them. At first, knowing how weak she was, and fearing to distress her, I fought shy of the subject; but one day, towards the end of the third week--she being strong enough to walk a moderate distance-- I plucked up courage and asked if she cared to come with me to the churchyard. She agreed, and that afternoon, after a heavy shower, we walked thither together. I feared what effect the first sight of her husband's grave might work on her feelings; and all the way kept wishing that we had omitted to set up the boat and mast. But she looked at them calmly, and at the graves. "That is good," she said: "you have done great kindness to them. I will not come any more." And so she prepared to walk away.
I own that this seemed to me unfeeling. Outside the churchyard I pulled from my pocket the small Bible. "This belongs to you," I said: "I have kept it to help me with your language"--but I held it open at the fly-leaf. She glanced at it, "Oh yes, I gave it to Nils, my husband. You wish to keep it?"
"You were very fond of him, to judge from this," I said; and halted, expecting her to be angry. But she halted too, and said quite coolly-- looking at me straight--"Yes? Oh yes; very much."
That same evening I spoke to Obed as we sat alone with our pipes. "I suppose," said I as carelessly as I could, "Margit Pedersen will be leaving us before long." He looked up sharply, and began to shift the logs on the hearth. "What makes you say so?" he asked. "Well, she will have friends in Bergen, and business--" "Has she written to her friends?" he interrupted. "Not to my knowledge: but she won't be staying here for ever, I suppose." "When she chooses to go, she can. Are you proposing to turn her out? If so, I'd have you to mind that Vellingey is my house, and I am master here."
This was an unworthy thing to say, and he said it with a fury that surprised me. Obed and I had not quarrelled since we were boys. I put a stopper on my tongue, and went on smoking: and after a while he began to talk again in his natural way on ordinary matters.
Margit stayed on; and to all appearance our life at Vellingey fell back into its old groove. As a matter of fact there was all the difference in the world--a difference felt before it was seen, and not to be summed up by saying that a woman sat at our table. I believe I may quite fairly lay the blame on Obed. For the first time in our lives he kept a part of his mind hidden from me; he made show enough of frankness in his talk, but I knew him far too well to miss the suspicion behind it. And his suspicion bred suspicion in me. Yet though I searched, I could find nothing amiss in his outward bearing. If he were indeed in love with the girl--her age, she told us, was twenty-one--he gave no sign upon which one could lay hold. And certainly Margit's bearing towards us was cool and friendly and impartial as the strictest could desire. Of the two, I had, perhaps, more of her company, simply because Obed spent most of his time in the lugger, while I worked in the fields and within easy reach of an afternoon's stroll. Margit would be busy with housework most of the morning, or in the kitchen, helping Selina--"domineering," Selina preferred to call it.
For, whatever our feelings, Selina had set her face against the new-comer from the first. She started, no doubt, with the old woman's whiddle that no good ever comes of a person saved from the sea. But as time went on she picked up plenty of other reasons for dislike. Margit took charge from the day she came downstairs, and had a cold way of seeing that her orders were attended to. With about twenty words of English she at once gave battle to Selina, who had bullied us two men from childhood; and routed her. The old woman kept up a running fight for a week before appealing to Obed, and this delay cost her everything. Obed flew in a rage that more than equalled her own, and had the advantage to be unusual and quite unexpected by her. She ran from him to the kitchen, in tears; and thenceforth was a beaten woman, however much she might grumble at the "foreigner" and "interloper."
For me, I will confess, and have done with it, that before a month was out my interest in this pale foreign woman, who moved about the house so quietly and surely, had grown to a degree that troubled me. That Obed had suspected me before he had any cause made it no easier now to play a concealed game at cross-purposes; and no pleasanter. In the two months that followed I hated myself pretty often, and at times came near to despise myself for the thought that before long I might be hating Obed. This would never have done: and luckily I saw it in time. Towards the end of June I made application to the Board: and left Vellingey in July, to sail for Bombay on board the Warren Hastings, in my old capacity of first mate. My abandoning the field to Obed would deserve some credit, had Margit ever by word or look given me the slightest reason to hope. But she had not; indeed I hoped that she had never guessed the state of my feelings.
Eighteen months passed before I returned to Vellingey--this time on a short leave. Obed had written constantly and with all the old familiarity; a good deal concerning Margit--her health, her walks, her household business--everything, in short, but what I expected and dreaded to hear. "Come," I said to myself, "five minutes' start in life and eighteen months in courtship is no such bad allowance for Obed. Perhaps he will allow me now to have my turn."
I had this thought in my head as I drew near Vellingey in a light gig hired from the Truro post-master. It was a rainy afternoon in January, and a boisterous north-wester blew the Atlantic weather in our teeth as we mounted the rise over Vellingey churchtown. My head being bent down, I did not observe the figure of a woman coming up the village street, but looked up on hearing the sound of her clogs close beside the gig. It was Selina, tearful, carrying a bundle.
"Whatever is the matter?" I asked, on pulling up.
"They've turned me to door!" she moaned. "My dear, they've turned me to door!"
She was tramping home to her cousins in St. Day parish. Not another night would she sleep at Vellingey--to be trampled on. Of course she accused the "foreign woman ": but I, it seemed, had started the quarrel this time; or, rather, it started over the preparations for my home-coming--some trifling matter of cookery. Selina knew my tastes. Margit professed to know them better. Such are women.
I own that as I sent the poor soul on her way, with a promise that the gig should carry back her boxes from Vellingey and a secret resolve that she should return to us within a week, I could not avoid a foolish pleasure in the thought that Margit deemed my coming of such importance. Then it occurred to me that her position now as a single woman alone at Vellingey lay open to scandal. The sooner I tested my growing hopes, the better.
I did so, the second evening, after supper. Obed had stepped out to make the round of the farm buildings and lock up. Margit had removed the white cloth, and was setting the brass candlesticks and tobacco jar on the uncovered table.
"What is going to happen about Selina?" I asked, from my chair.
Margit set down a candlestick. "Selina has gone," she said quietly.
"But people will talk, if you stay here alone with us, or with Obed. You mustn't mind my saying this."
"Oh, no. I suppose they will talk."
I stood up. "I take it," said I, "you cannot be quite blind to my feelings, Margit. I came home on purpose to speak to you: but perhaps, if it had not been for this, I might have put off speaking for some days. If you care for me at all, though, I think you can answer. My dear, if you will marry me it will make me a happy man."
She was fingering the candle-base, just touching the brass with her finger-tips and withdrawing them gently. She looked up. "I rather thought," she said, "you would have spoken last night. Obed asked me this morning--he gave you that chance: and I have promised to marry him."
"Good Lord! but this is a question of loving a man!"
"I have never said that I like you better. I shall make Obed a very good wife."
Less than a minute later, Obed came into the room, after slamming the back-door loudly. He did not look at our faces: but I am sure that he knew exactly what had happened.
They were married in April, a fortnight after my leaving England on another voyage. We parted the best of friends; and in the course of the next seven years I spent most of my holidays with them. No married life could well be smoother than was Obed's and Margit's in all this time. He worshipped her to fondness; and she, without the least parade of affection, seemed to make his comfort and well-being the business of her life. It hardly needs to be said that my unfortunate proposal was ignored by all of us as a thing that had never happened.
In October, 1802, I reached the height of my ambition, being appointed to the command of the Company's ship Macartney, engaged in the China traffic. I call her the Macartney: but the reader will presently see that I have reasons for not wishing to make public the actual name of this vessel, which, however, will be sufficiently familiar to all who knew me at that time and who have therefore what I may call a private interest in this narrative. For the same reason I shall say no more of her than that she was a new ship, Thames-built, and more than commonly fast; and that I commanded her from October 1802 to June 1806.
She carried passengers, of course: and in the autumn of 1805 it surprised and delighted me to hear from Obed that he and Margit had determined on a sea voyage, and wished to book their passages to the Canton River and back in the Macartney. I had often given this invitation in jest: but such voyages merely for health and pleasure were then far from common. Yet there was no single impediment to their going. They had no children: they were well-to-do: they had now a hind, or steward (one Stephens), to whose care they might comfortably leave the farm. To be short, they sailed with me.
On the 2nd of May 1806, the Macartney dropped anchor in the Canton River after a fast and prosperous voyage. The events I have now to relate will appear least extraordinary to the reader who best understands under what conditions the English carry on their trade with China. Let me say, then, that in its jealousy of us foreign barbarians the Chinese government confines our ships to the one port of Canton and reserves the right of nominating such persons as shall be permitted to trade with us. These Hong merchants (in number less than a dozen) are each and all responsible to the Emperor for any disturbance that may be committed by a person belonging to a foreign ship: and they in turn look for compensation to the European factors. So that, a Chinese mob being the most insolent in the world, and the spirit of British seamen proverbial, these factors often find themselves in situations of great delicacy, and sometimes of more than a little danger.
It happened that on the next day after our arrival a small party of us-- Margit and Obed, the second officer, Mr. Tomlinson, and I--had taken a short stroll ashore and were returning to the boat, which lay ready by the landing, manned by six seamen. The coxswain brought the boat alongside: and I, on the lowest step of the landing-stage, stooped to hold her steady while Margit embarked. She and Obed waited on the step next above, with Mr. Tomlinson close behind. A small crowd had followed us: and just then one dirty Chinaman reached forward and with a word or two (no doubt indecent) laid his open palm on the back of Margit's neck. Quick as thought, she lifted a hand and dealt him a rousing box in the ear. I sprang up and pushed him back as he recovered. He slipped on the green ooze of the steps and fell: this was all I saw, for the crowd made a rush and closed. Obed and Mr. Tomlinson had hurried Margit into the boat: I leapt after them: and we pushed off under a brisk shower of dirt and stones. We were soon out of range, and reached the ship without mishap.
Knowing the nature of a Chinese rabble, I felt glad enough that the affair had proved no worse; and thought little more of it until early next morning, when Mr. Findlater, the first officer, came with a puzzled face and reported that during the night someone had attached a boat, with a dead Chinaman in it, to the chain of our small bower anchor.
I went on deck at once. A good look at the corpse relieved me: for as far as my recollection served, it bore no resemblance to the man I had pushed on the landing. I told off two of the rowers of the previous day--the two whose position in the bows had given them the best view of the scuffle--to cut the thing adrift. They did so and came back with the report that they had never seen the dead man before in their lives. So I tried to feel easy.
But soon after breakfast, and almost in the full heat of the day, there came off a galley with two of the Hong merchants and no less a person than Mr. '--', the Chief of the H.E.I.C.'s factory. He brought serious news. The boat had drifted up the river and had been recovered by a crowd of Chinese, who took out the dead man and laid him on the doorstep of the factory, clamouring that he had been killed, the day before, by an Englishwoman; and threatening, unless she were given up, to seize the first supercargo that came out and carry him off to be strangled.
I answered, describing the scuffle and declaring my readiness to swear that the body bore no resemblance to the fellow whose ear Margit had boxed. But I knew how little this testimony would avail in a Chinese court. The two Hong merchants assured me that their brother, the Macartney's guarantor, was already in the hands of the magistrates, who had handcuffed him and were threatening him with the bamboo: that an interdiction lay on the Macartney's cargo, and Mr. '--' himself ran no small risk of imprisonment.
Our position was at once absurd and extremely serious. To do him justice, Mr. '--' at once agreed that there could be no question of delivering up Margit: the penalty of her offence, if proved to the satisfaction of the Chinese magistrates, being--I can hardly bring myself to write it--nothing short of strangulation. He could only promise to accept for the while the risks of delay and do his utmost to bribe the magistrates into compromising the matter for a small fine.
He proved as good as his word. For five weeks the Macartney lay at anchor without discharging a pennyweight of her cargo; and every day brought a new threat, edict, or proclamation. At the end of the first week the security merchant was allowed to send his agents to offer a reward of 10,000 dollars to any man of our crew who would swear to having seen the Englishwoman strike the deceased. The agents conducted their parley from a boat, and only made off on being threatened with a bucket of slops. I kept the ship's guns loaded, and set on a double watch, night and day. His wife's peril threw Obed into a state of apprehension so pitiable that I began to fear for his mind. Margit, on the other hand, behaved with the coolest composure: and I had some trouble in persuading her to remain below decks and out of sight. She relied cheerfully on us and on the crew, every man of whom she had bound to her (I suppose by her remarkable beauty) in the completest loyalty.
In five weeks Mr. '--' had spent at least as many thousands of pounds; and still matters were at a stand when, one day, Mr. Tomlinson reported a boat under our quarter demanding speech with us. I went to the side and saw a tall lank-haired man, in a suit of white duck, standing in the stern-sheets with the tiller-lines in his hands.
"No pigtail on me, Cap!" he bawled. "I'm Oliphant Q. Wills, of the American barque Independence: and I want to come aboard." He pointed to his vessel, which had entered the river soon after us, and now lay, ready for sea, two cables distant from us.
I saw no reason for refusing; and in less than a minute he came running up the ladder, and introduced himself again. "Business," said he; so I led him to my cabin.
"Hullo!" said he, looking over the floor. "I observe you don't chew." He glanced at the stern-window. I opened it. Our talk then ran as follows:
Capt. W. "I've come to trade."
Self. "Then you have come, sir, to a very bad ship."
Capt. W. "I allowed you would say that. I know all about it, and came in consequence. I never miss a chance."
Self. "You wish to buy, of course."
Capt. W. "Not at all. I'm here to sell."
Self. "What, pray?"
Capt. W. "A half-hogshead cask of pretty ordinary Geneva: with a Dutchwoman inside."
Self. "Now, where on earth could you have picked that up?"
Capt. W. (spitting out of window). "In latitude 28 degrees; in a flat calm; off a Dutch East Indiaman. The name I have at home on a bit of paper: you shall have it as warranty with the cask. The captain was drunk, and I traded with the mate. I never miss a chance. The mate said nothing of the woman inside. I believe her to be his captain's wife, preserved for burial ashore. This is painful for me to speak about; for I had the worst of the deal, and such is not my reputation. But I allowed I would sell that cask at a profit if I carried it around for a hundred years."
Self. "What do you ask?"
Capt. W. "Well, I have been enquiring of Mr. '--', your Chief Factor here; and he tells me that your brother, Mr. Obed Lanyon, was with Cook and Vancouver, and knows the coast from Cape Flattery northwards and round by the Aleutians like the palm of his hand. Now it happens I have business up there among the Russian settlements--part trade, part exploring-- I needn't say more, for the United States' Government didn't send me to tell secrets. A man like your brother would be money in my pocket all the way: and at the end of the job I would undertake to deliver him and his wife safely at any American port within reason, with money to take them home like princes, and a trifle over. I'm a square man: and if I weren't, you couldn't be in a worse fix than you are."
"I think," said I, "if you do not mind waiting a few minutes, we will trade, Mr. Wills." With this I went on deck and hoisted my private signal for Mr. '--', who came alongside in less than half-an-hour. He was a practical man, and at once saw the prospect of escape held out by the American's offer, ridiculous as it may seem to those who know little of Chinese law and custom. Indeed one of the magistrates had frankly appealed to Mr. '--' to hire a substitute for Margit among the negro women at Macao: and our friend engaged that by spending a few hundred additional dollars he would get the Dutchwoman's corpse accepted as full discharge for the offence, provided that Mrs. Lanyon could be smuggled out of the Canton River. This Captain Wills readily undertook to do. Mr. '--' then suggested that his negotiations would be made easier by the disappearance of all implicated in the scuffle--i.e. Mr. Tomlinson and myself, as well as Obed and Mrs. Lanyon. Mr. Findlater, my first officer, could take command and work the Macartney home; and Mr. '--' engaged to make our case right with the Company, though at the cost to me of the indirect profits which a commander looks to make from a homeward voyage. We discussed this for some while, and in the end agreed to it. Captain Wills, being short-handed, was even generous enough to offer me a small sum for my services in assisting him with the navigation.
To be short, all was arranged. That same night a boat from the Independence brought the famous cask of Geneva alongside, and took us four English people in exchange, and by 4 a.m. we were under weigh and heading for the open sea.
The Independence steered through the Formosa Strait, across the Eastern Sea, and on the 25th of July entered the bay of Nangasaki under Russian colours, which she thenceforth continued to fly. Like most European captains, our American kept his straightforward dealing for certain races only. He produced his trading articles: but the Japanese wanted nothing, and demanded to know what brought him there? He answered that he wanted water and fresh provisions (we had a plenty of both), and to prove it, ordered several butts to be started, and brought empty on deck. This was enough for the hospitable Japanese; who next day brought supplies of hogs, fish, and vegetables, for which they asked no payment; besides four dozen large tubs of water, which Captain Wills emptied on deck, stopping the scuppers, and removing the plugs at night so that the water might not be perceived. On the fourth day we got under weigh again; our deluded friends even going so far in kindness as to tow us out of the bay, and parting from us with cheers and much waving of hats and hands.
From Nangasaki we made for Kamschatka and thence for the Aleutian Islands and the American coast. On his way Captain Wills sedulously prosecuted the business for which his vessel had been chartered by the Russian American Company, and distributed his cargo of nankeens, silks, tea, sugar, etc., among the Russian settlements dotted among the islands. So far, Obed's services had been in little request: and I, too, had leisure to observe and wonder at a certain remarkable change that had come over Margit--as it seemed to me, from the time of our entering the parallels above 50 degrees. Her usual calm bearing had given way to succeeding fits of restlessness and apathy. At times she would sit dejected for hours together; at others, she would walk the deck without pause, her cloak thrown open to the cold wind, which she seemed to drink like a thirsty creature. One day, the vessel being awkwardly becalmed within a mile of an ugly-looking iceberg, her excitement rose to something like a frenzy. The weather being hazy, Obed--who was busy with the captain taking soundings--asked me to run below for his glass; and there I almost fell Over Margit, who lay on the cabin floor, her whole body writhing, her hands tightly clenched upon a handkerchief which she had torn to rags. Of course I asked what ailed her, and offered to bring help, medicines, anything. She rose in confusion. 'It was a pain at the heart,' she said; 'nothing more: it would quickly pass: the cold brought it on, she thought. I would oblige her by going away; and, above all, by saying nothing to Obed.'
To what extent Obed remarked the change, I cannot tell. He now began to be pretty busy with his soundings and sketches of the coast. We had left Kadjak on the 9th of October, and on the last day of the month were cruising off Queen Charlotte's Island. So far, considering the lateness of the season, we had enjoyed remarkable weather. The natives, too, were friendly beyond expectation. The sight of our vessel brought them off in great numbers and at times we had as many as a hundred canoes about us, the largest holding perhaps a dozen, some armed with muskets, but the most with lances and forks pointed with stags' antlers and a kind of scimetar made of whale-rib. We suffered but two or three persons to board us at a time, and traded with them for dried fish, sea-otters, beaver and reindeer skins. A string of glass beads (blue was the favourite colour) would buy a salmon of 20 pounds weight: but for beaver they would take nothing less valuable than China stuffs.
Obed had warned us against the natives of Queen Charlotte's Island, as likely to prove stronger and less friendly than any we had encountered. We felt a reasonable anxiety, therefore, when, almost as soon as we sighted the island, a thick fog came up with some wind and a heavy swell from the south and hid the coast completely. This lasted until November 2nd at daybreak, when the weather lifted and we saw land at about eight miles' distance. Unhappily the wind dropped at once, while the motion of the waves continued, and our sails being useless, we found ourselves drifting rapidly shoreward with the set of the current. In the height of our dismay, however, a breeze sprang up from the north-west, and we worked off.
But we were over-hasty in blessing this breeze, which before midnight grew to a violent gale: and for two days we drove before it in much distress--Obed and I taking turns at conning the ship, since Captain Wills had received an awkward blow between the shoulders from the swinging of a loose block, and lay below in considerable pain and occasionally spitting blood, which made us fear some inward hurt. During the night of the 4th, the wind moderated; but the weather turning thick again, we were hardly reassured.
Early on the 6th Captain Wills appeared once more on deck and sent me below to get some sleep. I believe indeed that, had fate allowed, I could have slept round the clock. But at ten that morning a violent shock pitched me clean out of my berth. The Independence was aground.
The place of our shipwreck you will find in 47 degrees 66 minutes N. lat., between Vancouver's Cape Flattery and the mouth of the Columbia River, but nearer to the former. Luckily the Independence had run in upon soft ground and at high water: so that when the tide dropped she still held together, though badly shaken and gaping in all her lower seams. To save her was out of the question. We therefore made the best of our way ashore in the dense fog, taking with us all our guns and the best part of our ammunition, as well as provisions and a quantity of sails and spars for rigging up tents. On no side of us could we see further than twenty paces. Of the inhabitants of this dreary spot--if indeed it had inhabitants--we knew nothing. So we first of all cleaned and loaded our firearms, and then set to work to light a fire and erect a shelter. We had done better, as it turned out, to have divided our company, and told off a fairly strong party to protect the ship. As it was, Captain Wills remained on board with three men to cut away and take down some of the heavier tackling.
We had set up one tent and were at work on the second, when I heard an exclamation from Margit, who stood by the big cauldron, a few paces off, cooking our dinner of salt pork. Looking up I saw a ring of savages all about us on the edge of the fog.
They were brown undersized men, clothed for the most part in dirty blankets and armed with short lances shod with iron, though one or two carried muskets. These last I soon discovered to be toens, or elders, of the tribe. They stood and observed us with great gravity (indeed in all my acquaintance with them I never knew one to smile) and in absolute silence. I could not tell how many the fog concealed. They made no aggressive movement.
I called to Margit, bidding her leave the cauldron and walk quietly towards us; and she did so. Almost at once a savage thrust his lance into the pot, drew out our dinner on the end of it, and laid it on the sand. One of the toens then cut up the pork with his knife and handed the portions round, retaining a large lump for himself.
Seeing this, some of our men were for hostilities: but I restrained them and we made our meal from a barrel of biscuit, eating in silence while the natives chewed away at the pork. The meal over, we fell to work and finished the second tent without opposition, though curiosity drew some of our visitors so near as to hamper the workmen. When thrust aside they showed no resentment, but after a minute drew near again and impeded us as badly as ever.
Towards nightfall the main body drew off--whither, the fog did not reveal: but one or two entered the tents with us, hung around while we supped, and without the least invitation stretched themselves down to sleep. I own that this impudence tried my temper sorely, and Obed--the only one of us who knew some scraps of the language of these Indians-- went so far as to remonstrate with them. But if they understood, they gave no sign of understanding: and we resolved to forbear from violence, at least so long as Captain Wills and his three comrades remained away from our main body and exposed to any vengeance these savages might wreak.
And our fears for the Captain were justified about 4 a.m. by a report of firearms in the direction of the ship. I sprang to the door and waved a torch, and in a minute or so our comrades came running in through a shower of stones and lances, several of which struck the tents. The natives, it appeared, had attempted to plunder the ship. At great risk Obed ran out to seek one of the toens and reason with him: but the mischief happened too quickly. Some of our men caught up their muskets and fired. Our assailants at once broke up and fled; and half-a-dozen of us charged down to the water's edge, where we saw a score and more with torches, busily setting fire to the ship. They too dispersed before us, leaving two of their number dead on the field and carrying off several wounded. But we came too late to save the Independence, which was already ablaze in a dozen different places; nor could we make any effort against the flames, for we knew not how sorely we might be wanted at the tents.
So we returned and spent the rest of the night in great discomfort, the blaze of the ship colouring the fog all around, but showing us nothing. Soon after daybreak the weather lifted a little, and what we saw discouraged us yet further. For, except the beach on which we were encamped, we found the whole coast covered with thick forest to the water's edge; while our boats, in which we might have made shift to escape, had been either fired or taken off by the savages. At 10 a.m., therefore, Captain Wills called a council of war, and informed us that he could think of no better plan than to push on for a harbour (its name, if I mistake not, was Gray's Harbour) lying about seventy miles to the southward, where a ship of the Company was due to call early in the spring. Obed remembered it, and added that the journey might be quickly made, since his map showed no creek or river that promised to impede us, and the Indians were not likely to annoy us while the camp and the remains of the barque afforded any plunder. Accordingly we packed up, and having destroyed what muskets and weapons we did not want and thrown our spare gunpowder into the sea, shortly after noon began our march through the forest.
We were nineteen persons in all: and each of us carried two muskets, a pistol and some pounds of ammunition, besides his share of the provisions. The only ones more lightly laden were Margit and Captain Wills. The latter, indeed, could with pain manage to walk at all, and so clogged the pace of the party that we made but eight miles before night-fall, when we halted in an open space, set watches, and passed the night with no more discomfort than came from the severe cold.
In the morning we started early and made a good ten miles before noon. The Captain now seemed at the end of his powers and we allowed him an hour's rest while we cleaned our firearms. Margit gave no sign of fatigue: but I observed that she walked alone and in silence. Indeed she had scarcely spoken since our shipwreck.
The ground chosen for our halt lay about mid-way down a stiff slope by which the forest descended to the sea, visible here and there between the stems of the trees below us. Shortly before two o'clock, when we were preparing to start again, a big stone came crashing down among our stores; and, as we scattered in alarm, two or three others followed. Looking up, I caught sight of a couple of Indians on the crest of the slope, and fired off my rifle to frighten them. They desisted at once: but to prevent further annoyance we made for the crest, where the rocky ground made walking difficult, so that we added but another five miles or so before nightfall.
During this night the wind rose, and at length it blew and snowed so hard as to drive us off the ridge. Luckily, however, one of the men discovered a shallow cave in the hillside, and here we huddled and continued all the next day and night, waiting for the storm to abate; which no sooner happened than we were assailed again by a perfect bombardment of big stones. These, however, flew harmlessly over our shelter.
I was dozing at daybreak on the 10th when a seaman named Hogue woke me and called my attention to the Captain. He was stiff and cold, and had died in the night without complaint and, as far as could be learnt, without sound. The rain of stones not being resumed with daylight, we left his body in the cave, and pushed on over the snow in sad and sorry condition: for our provisions now began to run short.
Obed assumed the lead, with the consent of all. Once or twice in the course of the morning I observed him to pause, as if listening. The cause of this became apparent at about one in the afternoon, when I, too, heard the sound of running water: and an hour later we halted on the edge of a broad valley, with a swift stream running through it, black between banks of snow, and on the near bank a few huts and a crowd of three hundred Indians at least.
They had already caught sight of us: so we judged it better to advance, after looking to our arms. We were met by a toen (the same that had cut up the pork) and a chief of taller stature and pleasanter features than we had hitherto happened on in the country. It now appeared that the previous silence of these people had been deliberate: for the toen at once began to talk in a language fairly intelligible to Obed. He proposed to supply us with boats to cross the river, if we would give up our muskets in payment. This, of course, we refused: but offered him the whole collection of beads and trinkets that we had brought with us in the hope of trafficking for food. After some haggling--to which the handsome chief, Yootramaki, listened with seeming disdain--the toen undertook to let us have the boats; and presently one appeared, paddled by three naked savages. As this would barely hold a dozen passengers, we begged for another, that we might all cross together. The toen complied, and sent a second, but much smaller boat. In these we allowed ourselves to be distributed--Obed and I with ten others in the larger, and Margit with five seamen in the smaller.
The boats pushed out into the stream, the larger leading. The current ran deep and swift: and when, about half-way across, the nearest savage ceased paddling, I supposed he did so that the others on the starboard side might more easily bring the bows round to it. Before one could guess his true intention he had stooped and whipped out a plug from the boat's bottom, at the same time calling to his comrades, who leapt up and flung themselves overboard. The next moment he was after them, and the whole party swimming to shore. The current swept us down and carried us so near to a spit of the shore we had left, that the savages, who now pelted us with arrows, succeeded in killing one seaman, and wounding four others: but here most fortunately it set right across for the opposite bank, where we contrived to land just as our boat sank beneath us. Those in the smaller boat, however, fell into our enemy's hands, who clubbed the five seamen on the head, sparing only Margit; and then, supposing our muskets to be wet and useless, crossed over in a canoe to attack us.
But as Providence would have it, we had four muskets left dry--they being slung round us in bandoliers--and the greater part of our powder unspoiled. We met the foe with a volley which disposed of three and sank the canoe. The survivors swam for it, and I dare say reached shore. A second canoe put off, and from the bows of it the rascally toen (cause of all this misfortune, as we deemed) hailed Obed and offered to let us go in peace and even restore Margit if we would surrender our firearms.
I think the coldest heart must have pitied my poor brother then. He paced the bank like a mad creature, silent, directing the most agonised looks at his comrades and at me in particular. We turned our faces aside; for his wishes were madness, yet we were asking him to sacrifice what was dearest to him in the world. In his distraction then he tore off most of his clothes, and piling them in a heap besought the toen to take them for the ransom; and we too stripped and stood all but naked, adding our prayers to his. But the scoundrel, without regard of our offering, spoke to his men, and was paddled away.
I will pass over the hour that followed. We quieted Obed's ravings at length; or rather, they ceased out of pure exhaustion. We were all starving in fact, and the food left in our wallets would not keep a cat alive for another forty-eight hours. Retiring to a clump of firs about 100 yards back from the river's bank, we scooped a hole in the snow and entrenched ourselves as well as we could for the night. Some of us managed to sleep a little; the others tried to allay the pangs of hunger by chewing their musket-covers, the sponges on their ramrods, even their boot-soles.
At midnight came my turn for watching. In my weakness I may have dozed, or perhaps was light-headed. At any rate, turning after some time to glance at the sleepers, I missed Obed. An ugly suspicion seized me; I counted the muskets. Two of these were missing. After shaking one of the sleepers by the elbow and bidding him watch, I leaped over our low breastwork and ran towards the river in the track of my brother's footsteps. Almost as I started, a flash and a report of a musket right ahead changed the current of my fears. By the light of the young moon I saw two figures struggling and rolling together on the river's brink. They were Obed and our peculiar enemy, the toen. The body of a dead Indian lad was stretched some ten paces off beside a small canoe which lay moored by the bank.
Our comrades came running up as I flung myself into the struggle, and we quickly secured the toen. I believe Obed would have killed him. "Don't be a fool!" said I; "cannot you see that we now have a hostage for Margit?" I ought at the same time to have begged his pardon for my suspicions. As the reader already knows, Obed had a far keener ear than I, and it had warned him of the canoe's approach. It turned out afterwards that the toen had planned this little reconnoitring expedition on his own account, and on the chance perhaps of filching a musket or two.
We quickly laid our plans; and at daybreak flung my gentleman, bound hand and foot, into his own canoe, which Obed and I paddled into mid-stream, while our party stood on the bank and watched. The village opposite seemed deserted: but at Obed's hail an Indian woman ran out of the largest hut, and returning, must have summoned the good-looking chief Yootramaki; who emerged in a minute or so, and came slowly down the bank. By this time several groups of Indians had gathered and stood looking on, in all perhaps eighty or a hundred people.
Obed pointed to our prisoner and made his demand. I understood him to ask for the immediate ransom of Margit, and a supply of salmon and other provisions to take us on our journey. The chief stood considering for a while; then spoke to a native boy, who ran to the house; and in a minute or so Margit herself appeared, with the native woman who had first taken word of us. She came down the bank, and Yootramaki signed to Obed to address her; which he did.
"Margit," said he, pointing to the toen, "I believe that in this scoundrel here God has provided a way out of all our troubles. We caught him last night, and have brought him along as ransom for you. But stand close to the water and be ready to jump for the boat if they mean treachery. Edom and I will see that you come to no harm."
"My dear husband," she answered, very quiet and slow, "I think you are wasting your time. I am sorry, but I shall not go with you."
Obed turned a dazed look on me, and then, supposing he had not heard aright, began again--
"Stand close by the water, and jump when I give the word. All may depend on your quickness--only be bold, my dear. I will explain after."
"But it is I that must explain. I am not going with you: really I am not."
Obed turned again to me, this time with wide eyes. "God of mercy!" he cried hoarsely; "her troubles have driven her mad!"
Margit heard. "Oh no," she said; "I am not mad. The chief here has taken me: he seems to be the most powerful man in this tribe, and at least he is kind. I should be mad, rather, to wander with you through the forests, and in the end fall into worse hands, or perhaps die of starvation or cold. I do not want to be frozen--again. Go away now, when you have bartered the man there for food. You have been very good to me, but this cannot be helped."
Obed lifted his gun: then lowered it. "Dom," he muttered, "can you shoot her? I cannot!"
I was using all my strength, just then, to keep paddling the canoe against the current. I caught a glimpse of our comrades on the further bank: and then exactly what happened I know not. Perhaps Margit, having given her answer, turned back towards the house. At any rate, shrilly crying her name, Obed sprang up and discharged his musket. The shot went wide. With a second furious cry he stooped, caught up the helpless toen, and held him high in air. The canoe lurched heavily, and the next instant I was in the water.
I never saw Obed again: and the toen must have gone down like a stone. For me, I struck out for the far shore, but the current swept me down on the sandy spit where we had nearly come to shipwreck, the day before. Several Indians had gathered there. One ran into the water, waist-high, lifting a club. I turned and made a last effort to swim from him, but he flung himself on my back and bore me under.
I recovered to find myself in an Indian hut. Margit had persuaded them to spare me, and I was now, in name at least, a slave in Yootramaki's possession. As a matter of fact, however, I was allowed to do pretty much as I liked; and my employment (absurd as it may sound) for the most part consisted in designing kites and other toys for the natives, who in mind and disposition resemble children rather than grown people--sullen and rather vicious children, I should say.
I believe that Obed's body never came to land. Panic-stricken by his death (I was told), our surviving comrades turned and fled into the woods: and from that hour no more was heard of them. Probably they perished of weariness and hunger; it is at least unlikely in the extreme that they found their way back among civilised men.
Though I accompanied my master and his household northward to the village near Cape Flattery, where his chief residence lay, and remained more than three months in his service, I could never obtain speech with Margit. But I have reason to believe she accepted her new life with absolute contentment. No doubt, though, she found the sight of me an irksome reminder: and one day early in April Yootramaki took me aside and promised me my liberty if I would travel with him as far as the Strait, where an American brig had lately arrived. Of course I accepted his offer with gratitude; and we set forth next day. The captain of this brig (the Cordelia) was a Mr. Best, and his business in those parts seemed to consist in trading old American muskets in exchange for furs and dried fish. The Indians have no notion of repairing a gun which has got out of order, and Captain Best actually carried a gunsmith on board, whose knowledge enabled him to buy up at one place all the guns that wanted repairing, and sell them as new pieces at another.
It only remains to add that the Cordelia conveyed me to Valparaiso, whence I shipped for England, reaching the Downs in safety on the 4th of April, 1809.
 Shelter from the wind.