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Title: Alone on a Wide Wide Sea, Vol. I (of 3)
Author: Russell, William Clark
Language: English
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NEW NOVELS.


    THE DUCHESS OF POWYSLAND.  By GRANT ALLEN. 3 vols.

    CORINTHIA MARAZION.  By CECIL GRIFFITH. 3 vols.

    A SONG OF SIXPENCE.  By HENRY MURRAY. 1 vol.

    SANTA BARBARA, &c.  By OUIDA. 1 vol.

    IN THE MIDST OF LIFE.  By AMBROSE BIERCE. 1 vol.

    TRACKED TO DOOM.  By DICK DONOVAN. 1 vol.

    COLONEL STARBOTTLE’S CLIENT, AND SOME OTHER PEOPLE.  By BRET
        HARTE. 1 vol.

    ADVENTURES OF A FAIR REBEL.  By MATT. CRIM. 1 vol.

    IN A STEAMER CHAIR.  By ROBERT BARR. 1 vol.

    THE FOSSICKER: a Romance of Mashonaland.  By ERNEST GLANVILLE.
        1 vol.


London: CHATTO & WINDUS, 214 Piccadilly, W.



  ALONE
  ON A WIDE WIDE SEA

  VOL. I.



  PRINTED BY
  SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE
  LONDON



  ALONE ON A WIDE WIDE SEA

  BY
  W. CLARK RUSSELL

  AUTHOR OF
  MY SHIPMATE LOUISE ‘THE ROMANCE OF JENNY HARLOWE’ ETC.

  [Illustration]

  IN THREE VOLUMES
  VOL. I.

  London
  CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY
  1892



CONTENTS

OF

THE FIRST VOLUME


  CHAPTER                                     PAGE

     I. PIERTOWN                                 1

    II. A BOATING TRIP                          39

   III. ‘WHO AM I?’                             76

    IV. ALPHONSE’S CONJECTURES                 111

     V. ON BOARD ‘NOTRE DAME’                  135

    VI. A TERRIBLE NIGHT                       193

   VII. CAPTAIN FREDERICK LADMORE              225

  VIII. A KIND LITTLE WOMAN                    262



ALONE ON A WIDE WIDE SEA



CHAPTER I

PIERTOWN


In the West of England stands a city surrounded by hills. Its streets
are wide, its shops fine and plentiful, and there are many handsome and
some stately terraces of houses in it. In the heart of the city a gem
of ecclesiastical architecture rears its admirable tower, and this fine
old structure is known everywhere as the Abbey Church.

How am I to convey to one who has never beheld them the beauties of
the scene when viewed from some commanding eminence--say on a rich
autumn afternoon whilst the sun paints every object a tender red, and
before the shadows have grown long in the valley? Orchards colour the
landscape with the dyes of their fruit and leaves. White houses gleam
amidst trees and tracts of vegetation. The violet shadow of a cloud
floats slowly down some dark green distant slope. In the pastures
cattle are feeding, and the noise of the barking of dogs ascends from
the river-side. Rows and crescents of buildings hang in clusters upon
the hills, blending with the various hues of the country and lending
a grace as of nature’s own to the scene. The river flows with a red
glitter in its breast past meadows and gardens and nestling cottages.

Many roads more or less steep conduct to the several eminences, in
the valley of which peacefully stands this western city. One of them
in a somewhat gentle acclivity winds eastwards, and as the wayfarer
proceeds along this road he passes through a long avenue of chestnuts,
which in the heat of the summer cast a delicious shade upon the
dust, and here the air is so pure that it acts upon the spirits like
a cordial. The ocean is not very many miles distant, and you taste
the saltness of its breath in the summer breeze as it blows down the
hill-sides, bringing with it a hundred perfumes, and a hundred musical
sounds from the orchards and the gardens.

About a mile beyond this avenue of chestnuts there stood--I say there
stood, but I do not doubt there still stands--a pretty house of a
modern character, such as would be offered for letting or for selling
as a ‘villa residence.’ I will speak of it as of a thing that is past.
It was situated on the edge of the hill; on one side the white road
wound by it; on the other side its land of about one acre and a half
sloped into meadows and pastures, and this wide space of fields sank
treeless, defined by hedges, well stocked in the seasons with sheep and
cows and other cattle, to the silver line of the river.

Now have I brought you to my home, to the home in which I was living a
little while before the strange and terrible experience that, with the
help of another pen, I am about to relate befel me. And that you may
thoroughly understand the story which I shall almost immediately enter
upon, it is necessary that I should submit a little home picture to you.

It was a Sunday afternoon early in the month of October in a year that
is all too recent for the endurance of memory. A party of four, of
which one was a little boy aged two, were seated at table drinking tea
in the dining-room of the house, which stood a mile beyond the chestnut
avenue. Upon the hearth-rug, where was stretched a soft white blanket,
lay a baby of eight months old, tossing its fat pink legs and dragging
at the tube of a feeding-bottle. A lady sat at the head of the table.

This lady was in her twenty-sixth year--no one better knew the date
of her birth than I. She was a handsome woman, and presently you will
understand why I exhibit no reluctance in speaking of her beauty.
I will be brief in my description of her, but I will invite your
attention to a sketch that, in its relations to this tale, carries, as
you will discover, a deeper significance than ordinarily accompanies
the portraits of the heroes or heroines of romance.

She was in her twenty-sixth year, I say. Her hair was dark, not black.
I am unable to find a name for its peculiar shade. It was so abundant
as to be inconvenient to its owner, whose character was somewhat
impatient, so that every morning’s wrestle with the long thick tresses
was felt as a trouble and often as a cause of vexatious delay. Her
eyebrows were thick and arched, and, as she wore her hair low, but a
very little of her white well-shaped brow was to be seen. Her nose was
after the Roman type, but not too large nor prominent, yet it gave her
an air as though she held her head high, and it also communicated an
expression of eagerness to the whole countenance. Her complexion was a
delicate bloom, her mouth was small, the teeth very white and regular.
She had a good figure, a little above the medium height of women,
with a promise in her shape of stoutness when her years should have
increased. She was simply dressed, and wore but little jewellery, no
more than a thin watch-chain round her neck and a wedding-ring and two
other rings on the same finger.

Such was the lady in her twenty-sixth year who sat at the head of the
tea-table on that October Sunday afternoon.

At her side was her little boy, two years old. He was a beautiful child
with golden hair and dark blue eyes. He sat in a high child’s chair on
his mother’s left, and whilst he waited for her to feed him he beat the
table with a spoon.

At the table on the right sat the husband of this lady, a man entering
upon his thirty-first year. He was tall, thin, and fair, and wore small
whiskers, and his eyes were a dark grey. Handsome he was not, but he
had a well-bred air, and his face expressed a gentle and amiable nature.

Confronting the lady at the head of the table was her twin sister.
Nearly always between twins there is a strong family likeness. I
have heard of twins who resembled each other so closely as to be
mistaken one for the other unless they were together, when, to be
sure, there must be some subtle difference to distinguish them. There
was undoubtedly a family likeness between these two sisters, but it
appeared rather in their smile and in certain small tricks of posture
and of gesture, and in their walk and in the attitudes which they
insensibly fell into when seated; in these things lay a family likeness
rather than in their faces. Their voices did not in the least resemble
each other’s. That of the lady who sat at the head of the table was
somewhat high-pitched; her accents were delivered with impulse and
energy, no matter how trivial might be the subject on which she
discoursed. Her sister, on the other hand, had a sweet, low, musical
voice; she pronounced her words with a charming note of plaintiveness,
and she never spoke much at a time nor often. Her hair was not so
plentiful as her sister’s; it was a light bright brown, with a gloss
upon it like that of the shell of a horse-chestnut, but it had not
the rich deep dye of that nut. She wore it with a simplicity that was
infinitely becoming to her beauty. Beautiful she was, far more so
than her sister; hers was a beauty far more tender and womanly than
her sister’s; you thought of the meekness and the sweetness of the
dove in looking at her, and the expression of her dark-brown eyes was
dove-like. She was shorter than her sister, but equally well shaped,
and she was the younger.

These four sitting at table, and the little baby of eight months
tossing its tiny toes shod with knitted shoes upon a blanket on the
hearth-rug, formed the occupants of that parlour, and were the living
details of the domestic picture that the curtain of the terrible drama
of my life rises upon. The rays of the westering sun streamed upon the
windows of the room, and the atmosphere was warm with crimson light.
One window stood open, but the church bells had not yet begun to ring
for evening service, and the peace of the English Sabbath lay upon
the land outside: a peace scarcely disturbed by the distant barking
of dogs, by the occasional moaning lowing of near cattle, and by the
drowsy murmuring hum of bees and flies amongst the flowers under the
windows.

Who were these people, and what was their name? The name of the
gentleman was John Campbell, and the lady seated at the head of the
table was his wife, Agnes--Agnes Campbell, whose story she herself
now relates, and the sweet sister at the foot of the table was Mary
Hutchinson.

I had been married at the time when my story opens a little above
three years. My father was Colonel Hutchinson, of the Honourable
East India Company’s service. He had distinguished himself in India
in a period of terrible peril, but he had died before he could reap
the reward of his valour and his judgment. He died a poor man, his
whole fortune amounting to no more than five thousand pounds; but the
pension my mother drew, conjointly with the interest of my father’s
little fortune, enabled her to live in tolerable comfort, and after
my father’s death we took up our abode in the noble old city of Bath,
where we dwelt happily, making many friends and enjoying a round of
simple pleasures.

Society in Bath is largely, almost wholly, composed of ladies; young
men are scarce, and marriage at the best is but vaguely dreamed of,
though hope is sufficiently constant to support the spirits.

It chanced that Mary and I were invited one evening to play a round
game of cards at the house of a friend. We went, expecting to find the
company formed entirely of girls like ourselves, with perhaps one or
two old fogeys. But soon after our arrival a gentleman was shown into
the room, and introduced to us as Mr. John Campbell. He was the only
young man present; the other gentlemen were composed of a general, a
colonel, and an admiral, whose united ages I afterwards calculated
would have exactly amounted to two hundred years. I did not notice that
Mr. Campbell paid me much attention that evening. Mary afterwards said
he seldom had his eyes off me, but _that_ I did not observe. On the
contrary, I thought he looked very often and very admiringly at _her_.

Well, he saw us to the door of our house, to use the homely phrase, and
on the following afternoon he called upon us; but if it was love at
first sight on his part, I cannot say that he illustrated his fervour
by his behaviour. He was very polite, very kind, very attentive; seemed
happy in my society, was a frequent visitor at our house, would steal
an hour from business to find himself an excuse to meet us in the
gardens or park where we walked; but that was all.

If I had been led by the reading of novels to suppose that a man looks
love when he means love, I might have searched Mr. Campbell’s face in
vain for any expression of deep-seated sentiment. Indeed, after three
months, I could not have said that he was more in love with me than
with my sister. But by the end of that time I must own that I was very
much in love with him. And though so tenderly did I love my sister that
I would gladly have relinquished him to her, had her love for him been
as mine, yet to no other woman could I have parted with him without the
belief--which to be sure I used to laugh at after I was married--that
my heart would break if he did not make me his. But my heart was not to
be broken because of his not loving me and making me his, for within
six months from the date of our meeting we were married, and I was
the happiest girl in all England, and my sister as happy as I in my
happiness.

My husband was a solicitor. His practice in those days was small and
would not have supported him even as a bachelor; but he had been the
only son of a man who was able to leave him an income of several
hundreds a year. We went abroad for a month, and I returned to find
my poor mother dead. This loss left my sister without a relative in
the world saving myself. It is seldom that this can be said of man or
woman. To be without a relative in this complicated world of aunts
and uncles, of nieces and nephews, and of cousins no matter how far
removed, seems incredible. There may be plenty of people who are alone
in the sense of not knowing who their relatives are, though they would
find they had relations in plenty were they to seek them or were they
to come into a fortune; but it is rare indeed to hear of anyone who
out of his or her perfect knowledge of the family connections can
positively assert, ‘I have not a relative in the world.’

Yet thus it was with my sister and me when my mother died. But I will
not delay my story to explain how this happened. Therefore, being
alone in the world, my sister came to live with my husband and me. How
greatly her making one of us added to my happiness I cannot express.
I will not pretend that it did grieve me to leave my poor mother: no,
nature works forwards; the fruit falls from the tree, the young bird
flutters from its nest; it is nature’s law that a child should part
from its parent, and deep as the sadness of separation may seem at the
time, it will show but as a light-hearted grief at the best when looked
back upon and contrasted with other sorrows of life.

But it was a bitter pain to me to part with my sister. We had grown up
side by side; we were as blossoms upon one stalk, and the sap of the
single stalk fed the two flowers.

And now as we sat drinking tea in the parlour of our house on that fine
October Sunday afternoon, our conversation was as homely as the picture
we made. Nevertheless it involved a topic of considerable interest
to us. My little boy Johnny had been looking somewhat pale, and his
appetite was not as I, his mother, considered it should be. The summer
had been a very hot one, and when it is even moderately warm in most
parts of England, it is commonly very broiling indeed in our city of
the Abbey Church, where there are tall hills to protect the population
from the breeze, where the roads are steep, glaring, and dusty, and
where the width of many of the streets is quite out of proportion to
the stature of the houses, so that you do not know where to look for
shade.

My husband’s business would not suffer him to leave home until the
early autumn, and he could not prevail upon me to go away without him;
but now he was able to take a holiday for a month, and the doctor had
recommended the seaside for little Johnny and the baby, and as we sat
drinking tea we talked of the best place to go to.

‘It does not matter to me what part of the coast you choose,’ said my
husband. ‘I only stipulate that you shall not select a town that is
confidently recommended by the whole of the medical faculty, and whose
medical officer every year sends to the newspapers a statement that
the death-rate is the lowest in England, and that it is the healthiest
seaside resort in the United Kingdom.’

‘Then you shut every seaside town against us,’ said my sister, ‘for
every seaside town is the healthiest in England.’

I named Margate; my husband made a grimace.

‘No,’ he exclaimed, ‘I should not like to return to Bath and say we
have been to Margate. It was only the other day I heard General Cramp
swear that Margate was not the vulgarest place in all England, oh no!
but the vulgarest place in all the world.’

‘Its air is very fine,’ said I, ‘and it is fine air that we want.’ And
here I looked at Johnny. ‘What does it matter to us what sort of people
go to Margate, if its air is good?’

‘I will not go to Margate,’ said my husband.

My sister named two or three towns on the coast.

‘Let us,’ said my husband, ‘go to some place where there is no hotel
and where there is no pier.’

‘And where there is no circulating library,’ cried I, ‘and where there
are two miles of mud when the water is out.’

And then I named several towns as my sister had, but my suggestions
were not regarded. At this point baby began to roar, and my husband
rose to ring for the nurse, but it was nurse’s ‘Sunday out,’ and Mary
and I were taking her place. Mary picked baby up off the blanket, and
holding its cheek to hers, sung softly to it in her low sweet voice.
The darling was instantly silent. The effect of my sister’s plaintive
melodious voice upon fretful children was magical. I remember once
calling with her upon a lady who wished that we should see her baby.
The baby was brought into the room, and the moment it saw us it began
to yell. My sister stepped up to it as it sat on the nurse’s arm, and
looking at it in the face with a smile began to sing, and the infant,
silencing its cries, stared back at her with its mouth wide open in
the very posture of a scream, but as silent as though it had been a
doll. When she ceased to sing and turned from it, it roared again, and
again she silenced it by singing.

My baby lay hushed in her arms, and the sweet eyes of Mary looked at
us over the little fat cheek that she nestled to her throat, and we
continued to discourse upon the best place to go to.

My husband named a small seaside town, and I could see by the
expression of his face he meant that we should go there. It was many
years since he had visited it, but he recollected and described the
beauties of the scenery of the coast with enthusiasm. It was on the
Bristol Channel, at no very considerable distance from the city in
which we dwelt, and he said he wished to go there because, should there
come a call upon him from the office, he would be able to make the
double journey, with plenty of leisure between for all he might have
to do, in a day, computing that day from eight till midnight.

‘Oh! it is a beautiful romantic spot, Agnes,’ said he. ‘Its sands, when
the water is out, are as firm as this floor. It has high, dark cliffs,
magnificently bold and rugged, and when the breaker bursts upon the
sand, the cliffs echo its voice, and you seem to hear the note of an
approaching tempest.’

‘But it is a cheerful place, John? Cliffs and sands are very well, but
in a month one wearies of cliffs and sands, and in a month again how
many days of wet will there be?’

‘It is cheerful--very,’ said my husband. ‘Its cheerfulness is inborn,
like good-nature in a man. It owes nothing of its brightness to
excursionists, to steamboats, to Punch and Judy, and to German bands.
It has three good streets and a number of clean lodging-houses.’

‘Has it a pier and a hotel?’ asked Mary.

‘It has what the cockneys call a jetty,’ answered my husband. ‘I should
prefer to term it a pier. What is the difference between a pier and a
jetty? This jetty is short, massive, very richly tarred, and just the
sort of jetty for Johnny to fall over the edge of if he is not looked
after. There is a wooden canopy at the extremity of it under which,
Mary, you will be able to sit and read your favourite poet without risk
of being intruded upon. The verses of your favourite poet will be set
to music by the rippling of the water among the massive supports of the
pier, and you will have nothing to do but to be happy.’

‘Are there any boats?’ I asked.

‘Many capital boats,’ he answered.

‘Sailing boats?’ said I.

‘Sailing boats and rowing boats,’ said he.

‘I shall often want to go out sailing,’ said I. ‘What is more heavenly
than sailing?’

‘You will have to go alone so far as I am concerned, Agnes,’ said Mary.

‘Yes, but John will often accompany me,’ said I.

‘Not very often,’ he exclaimed. ‘Had I been a lover of sailing I should
have gone to sea, instead of which I am a solicitor, and I spell sails
with an “e” and not with an “i.” Well, is it settled?’ he continued,
drawing a pipe case from his pocket and extracting the pipe from it. ‘I
believe there will be time for half a pipe of tobacco before we go to
church.’

But the nurse being out I could not go to church, and my sister would
not leave me alone with the children, and my husband, instead of
filling half a pipe filled a whole one, and took no heed of the church
bells when their happy peaceful chimes floated through the open
window. Indeed it was _not_ settled; the subject was too interesting to
be swiftly dismissed, yet my husband had his way in the end, as usually
happened, for before evening service was over we had arranged to spend
a month at the little town whose praises he had sung so poetically.

Next day he made a journey to the shores of the Bristol Channel to seek
for lodgings. But the accommodation he required was not to be found in
apartments, and when he returned he told me that he had taken a house
standing near the edge of the cliff in a garden of its own. A few
days later our little family proceeded to the sea coast. We left two
servants behind us to look after the house, and the only domestic we
took with us was the nurse, a person of about my own age, who had been
with me at this time about six weeks, having replaced an excellent,
trustworthy young woman who had left me to get married.

I will call the little place from which dates the story of my terrific
experiences, Piertown.

What with having to change here, and to get out there, and to wait
somewhere else, the journey was a tedious one, and when we arrived it
was raining hard and blowing very strong, and I remember as we drove
from the railway station catching sight through the streaming window
glass of the white waves of the sea rushing like bodies of snow out
of the pale haze of the rain and the spray, and I also remember that
I heard a strange low voice of thunder in the air, made by the huge
breakers as they tumbled in hills of water upon the beach and rushed
backwards into the sea in sheets of froth.

It was so cold that we were very glad to find a cheerful fire in the
parlour, that was rendered yet more hospitable to the sight by the
table being equipped for a two o’clock dinner. The house was small, but
very strongly built, with thick plate-glass windows in the lower rooms,
against which the wind and the rain were hissing as though an engine
were letting off steam close by. A couple of maid-servants had been
left in the house. Never could I have imagined that servants would be
willing to sleep as those two did in one small bed, in a tiny garret
where all the light they had fell through a skylight window about the
size of a book. But I have noticed in the country, that is to say, in
rural parts and quiet towns such as Piertown, servants are grateful and
dutiful for such food and lodging as would cause them to be incessantly
grumbling and changing their places in cities like Bath.

Baby and little Johnny were taken upstairs by the nurse, and my husband
and Mary and I went to the window and stood gazing at the sea. We had
a very clear view of it. The house stood within a few yards of the edge
of the cliff, and the extremity of the garden between was bounded by a
dwarf wall of flint which left the prospect open.

‘What do you think of that sight, Agnes?’ said my husband. ‘Would
sailing be heavenly to-day, do you think?’

‘Never more heavenly if one could feel safe,’ said I. ‘How swiftly a
boat would rush before such a wind as this! Hark to the roaring in the
chimney! It makes me feel as if I were in the cabin of a ship. It is
delightful. It is like being at sea and enjoying the full spirit of it
without suffering the horrors of being tossed and bruised, and without
any chance of being upset and shipwrecked.’

‘You should have married a sailor,’ said my husband dryly.

‘What have you been reading lately, Agnes, to put this sudden love
of the sea into your head?’ said Mary. ‘You used not to care for the
water.’

‘I have been reading nothing to make me love the sea,’ I answered;
‘but when I look at such a sight as that I feel that if I were a man I
should consider that the earth was formed of something more than land,
and that the best part of it is not where trees grow and where houses
are built.’

My husband laughed. ‘One hour of _that_ would cure you,’ said
he pointing. ‘One _hour_, indeed! Ten minutes of it. I tell you
what--there is a very heavy sea running to-day. It _must_ be so, for we
are high-perched here, and look how defined are the shapes of the waves
as they come storming out of the mist towards the land.’

‘I wish a ship would pass,’ said I. ‘I should like to see her roll and
plunge.’

And for some time after my husband and Mary had withdrawn from the
window I stood gazing at the bleared and throbbing scene of ocean,
hoping and longing to see a ship go by, little suspecting that my
wishes were as wicked as though they were those of a wrecker, for had
any ship been close enough in to the coast to enable me to see her
amid the thickness that was upon the face of the streaming and rushing
waters, nothing could have saved her from being driven ashore, where in
all probability her crew would have perished.

But in the afternoon the weather cleared; it continued to blow a strong
wind right upon the land, but the sky opened into many blue lakes, and
changed into a magnificent picture of immense bodies of stately sailing
cream-coloured cloud, upon which the setting sun shone, colouring their
skirts with a dark rich gold, and the horizon expanded to as far as
the eye could pierce, with one staggering and leaning shaft of white
upon the very rim of the sea.

‘Let us go and look at the town,’ said my husband; and Mary and I put
on our hats and jackets and the three of us sallied forth.

We had to walk some distance to reach the little town, and when we
arrived there was not very much to see. The three streets were neither
spacious nor splendid; on the contrary, they struck me as rather mean
and weather-beaten. But then people do not leave cities in order to
view the shops and streets of little seaside towns. Piertown lay in a
sort of chasm. It was as though a party of fishermen in ancient days,
wandering along the coast in search of a good site for the erection of
their cottages, and falling in with this great split in the cliff, as
though an earthquake had not long before happened, had exclaimed, ‘Let
us settle here.’ There was a peculiar smell of salt in the streets, and
the roadways and pavements presented a sort of faint sparkling surface,
as though a great deal of brine had fallen upon them and dried up.
There was also a smell of kippered herring in the strong wind, and it
seemed to proceed from every shop door that we passed.

Very few people were to be seen. We were much stared at by the shopmen
through their windows, and here and there a little knot of lounging men
dressed as boatmen hushed their hoarse voices to intently gaze at us.

‘This is what I like,’ said my husband. ‘Here is all the privacy
that we could desire, and the most delightful primitiveness also. A
professional man when he takes a holiday ought to give crowded places a
very wide berth, and put himself as close to nature--to nature, rugged,
homely and roaring, after this pattern,’ said he with a sweep of his
hand, ‘as his requirements of eating and drinking and sleeping will
permit.’

‘It seems a very dull place,’ said I when, having reached the top of
one of the three steep streets, we turned to retrace our steps. ‘If the
weather does not allow me to have plenty of boating I shall soon wish
myself home again.’

‘You will not find a circulating library here,’ said Mary, looking
around her. ‘I should not suppose that many people belonging to
Piertown are able to read.’

‘The place is made up of grocers’ shops,’ said my husband. ‘What a
queer smell of bloaters!’

I amused myself by counting no less than five grocers’ shops in one
street, and I did not see a single person resembling a customer in any
one of them. I pulled my husband’s arm to stop him opposite a shop in
whose windows I believed I saw three men hanging by the neck. They
proved to be complete suits of oilskins, each surmounted by one of
those nautical helmets called sou’-westers, and at a little distance,
as they dangled in the twilight within the windows, they exactly
resembled three mariners who had committed suicide.

We now walked down to the pier, and there the great plain of the
ocean stretched before us without the dimmest break of land anywhere
along its confines, and the white surf boiled within the toss of a
pebble from us. The pier projected from a short esplanade; along this
esplanade ran a terrace of mean stunted structures, eight in all; and
my husband, after looking and counting, exclaimed: ‘Five of them are
public-houses. Yes! this is the seaside.’

The pier forked straight out for a short distance, then rounded sharply
to the right, thus forming a little harbour, in the shelter of which
lay a cluster of boats of several kinds. The massive piles and supports
of the pier broke the weight of the seas, which rushed hissing white as
milk amongst the black timbers; but the water within was considerably
agitated nevertheless, and the boats hopped and plunged and jumped and
rubbed their sides one against another, straining at the ropes which
held them, as though they were timid living creatures like sheep,
terrified by the noise and appearance of the waters, and desperately
struggling at their tethers in their desire to get on shore.

We stood looking, inhaling deeply and with delight the salt sweetness
of the strong ocean breeze. The land soared on either hand from the
little town, and ran away in dark masses of towering cliff, and far
as the eye could follow went the white line of the surf, with a broad
platform of grey hard sand betwixt it and the base of the cliff. Here
and there in one or another of the public-house windows glimmered a
face whose eyes surveyed us steadfastly. We might make sure by the
manner in which we were looked at, that Piertown was not greatly
troubled by visitors.

There was a wooden post near the entrance of the pier, and upon it
leaned the figure of a man clad in trousers of a stuff resembling
blanket, a rusty coat buttoned up to his neck, around which was a large
shawl, and upon his head he wore a yellow sou’-wester. He might have
been carved out of wood, so motionless was his posture and so intent
his gaze at the horizon, where there was nothing to be seen but water,
though I strained my sight in the hope of perceiving the object which
appeared to fascinate him. A short clay pipe, of the colour of soot,
projected from his lips. He seemed to hold it thus as one might wear
an ornament, for no smoke issued from it.

We drew close, and my husband said: ‘Good afternoon.’

The man looked slowly round, surveyed us one after another, then
readjusting himself upon his post and fastening his eyes afresh upon
the horizon, he responded in a deep voice: ‘Good arternoon.’

‘Is there anything in sight?’ said my husband.

‘No,’ answered the man.

‘Then what are you looking at?’

‘I ain’t looking,’ answered the man; ‘I’m a-thinking.’

‘And what are you thinking of?’

‘Why,’ said the man, ‘I’m a-thinking that I han’t tasted a drop o’ beer
for two days.’

‘This, indeed, is being at the seaside,’ said my husband cheerfully,
and putting his hand in his pocket he produced a sixpence, which he
gave to the man.

The effect was remarkable; the man instantly stood upright, and went
round to the other side of the post to lean over it, so that he might
confront us. And it was remarkable in other ways; for no sooner had my
husband given the man the sixpence than the doors of two or three of
the public-houses opposite opened, and several figures dressed like
this man emerged and approached us very slowly, halting often and
looking much at the weather, and then approaching us by another step,
and all in a manner as though they were acting unconsciously, and
without the least idea whatever that my husband had given the man some
money.

He was a man of about forty-five or fifty years of age, with a
very honest cast of countenance, the expression of which slightly
inclined towards surliness. You will wonder that I should take such
particular notice of a mere lounging boatman; and yet this same plain,
common-looking sailor, was to become the most memorable of all the
persons I had ever met with in my life.



CHAPTER II

A BOATING TRIP


It was not yet evening, but the sun was very low in the west on our
right hand; a large moon would be rising a little while before eight;
the breeze continued to blow strong, and the ocean rolled into the land
in tall dark-green lines of waves, melting as they charged in endless
succession into wide spaces of foam, orange coloured by the sunset.

‘Do you hear that echo of thunder in the cliff I told you about?’ said
my husband.

I listened and said ‘Yes.’

‘It is like a distant firing of guns,’ said Mary.

‘You have some good boats down there dancing beside the pier,’ said my
husband to the boatman.

‘Ay,’ answered the boatman, ‘you’ll need to sail a long way round the
coast to find better boats than them.’

‘That is a pretty boat, Mary,’ said I, pointing to one with two
masts--a tall mast in the fore-part and a short mast at the stern; she
was painted green and red, and she was very clean and white inside, and
she appeared in my eyes the prettiest of all the boats as she dived and
tumbled and leaped buoyantly and not without grace upon the sharp edges
of the broken water.

‘That’s my boat, lady,’ said the sailor.

‘What is her name?’ inquired Mary.

‘The _Mary Hann_, he answered. ‘I named her after my wife. My wife
is gone dead. I’ve got no wife now but she,’ and he pointed with his
thumb backwards at his boat, ‘and she’s but a poor wife too. She airns
little enough for me. T’other kept the home together with taking in
washing, but nobody comes to Piertown now. Folks want what’s called
attractions. But the Local Board’ll do nothen except buy land as
belongs to the men who forms the Local Board, and the likes of me has
to pay for that there land, and when it’s bought fower five times as
much as it’s worth, it’s left waste. Lord, the jobbery! Are you making
any stay here, sir?’

‘Yes,’ answered my husband, ‘we are here for a month.’

‘And when might ye have arrived?’ inquired the boatman.

‘To-day,’ replied my husband.

‘There’s some very good fishing to be had here, sir,’ said the boatman.
‘If I may make so bold, whenever you wants a trip out, whether for
fishing or rowing or sailing, if so be as you’ll ask for me, my name
being William Hitchens, best known as Bill Hitchens, pronounced in
one word Billitchens--for there’s parties here as’ll swear they didn’t
know who you vos asking for if you don’t call me Billitchens--if you
ever want a boat, sir, and you ladies, if you’ll ask for Billitchens,
you’ll meet with satisfaction. There’s nothen to touch the _Mary Hann_
in sailing, whilst for fishing she’s as steady as a rock, as you may
guess, sir, by obsarving her beam.’

‘When I want a boat I will ask for Billitchens,’ said my husband,
glancing at me with a smile in his eye. ‘This lady--my wife--is fonder
of the sea than I am. I dare say she will sometimes take a cruise with
you. But the weather must be fine when she does so.’

‘You trust the weather to me, lady,’ said the boatman. ‘Man and boy
for over forty-eight year I’ve been a-crawling about this beach and
a-studying the weather. You leave him to me. Whenever you want a cruise
you ask for Billitchens and the _Mary Hann_, and if the weather ain’t
promising for the likes of such a lady as you, you shall have the
truth.’

‘What are your charges?’ said my husband.

‘Wan and sixpence an hour,’ answered the boatman cheerfully, ‘but if
you’d like to engage my boat by the week ye shall have her at your own
price, giving me so much every time ye takes me along.’

‘Is she not heavy to row?’ said I.

‘Lord love ye!’ he cried, gazing at his boat with a sour smile of
wonder at the question. ‘A hinfant could send her spinning. ‘Sides,’
he added, ‘I’ll take care to ship a pair o’ light oars for you, lady,
what’s called sculls, nigh as light as this here baccay-pipe.’

‘Well, good afternoon, Mr. Hitchens,’ said my husband, and we strolled
in the direction of our home, for the shadow of the evening was now
upon the sea, and the strong wind seemed to have grown very cold on a
sudden.

However, before we retired to rest the night fell silent, the sea
stretched in a dark sheet, and from our windows, so high seated was the
house, the ocean looked to slope steep into the sky, as though, indeed,
it were the side of a mighty hill. The moon rode over it, and under the
orb lay a column of glorious silver which stirred like the coils of a
moving serpent as the swell or the heave of the water ran through it.
The dark body of a ship passed through that brilliant path of light as
we stood looking, and the sight was beautiful.

My little ones were sleeping well. Johnny slept in our room and the
baby with the nurse, for my husband could not bear to be disturbed in
his sleep. I looked at my boy, and asked my husband to tell me if he
did not think there was already a little bloom on Johnny’s cheek, and
I kissed my child’s sweet brow and golden hair.

But it was long before my eyes closed in sleep. I lay hearkening to
the dull subdued thunder of the surf beating upon the beach far below
at the foot of the cliffs. It was a new strange noise to me, and I
lay listening to it as though to a voice muttering in giant whispers
out of the hush of midnight; and when at last I fell asleep I dreamt
that I was in the _Mary Hann_, and that Bill Hitchens was steering the
boat, and that she was sailing directly up the line of glorious silver
under the moon; and I remember that I asked him in my dream how long it
would take to reach the moon that as we sailed waxed bigger and soared
higher; but instead of answering he put his knuckles into his eyes and
began to sob and cry, and I awoke to hear little Johnny calling to me
to take him into my bed.

And now followed days as happy as light hearts and bright skies
and good health could render them. The weather continued splendid.
Sometimes it was as hot as ever it had been during the month of July
in the city of the Abbey Church. There was a pleasant neighbourhood,
a country of woods and verdant dingles and swelling pastures, and we
made many excursions, and in particular did we enjoy a visit to some
old ruins which had once been an abbey, but now its windows yawned,
its roof was gone, large portions of masonry had fallen, its floor
was a tangled growth of rank grass and weeds. We listened to the wind
whistling through these ruins: we listened with bated breath and with
raised imaginations, for the noise of the wind was like the chanting
of friars intermixed with a thin wailing of women’s voices; and as I
listened I could not help thinking to myself that it was as though the
ghosts of long-departed monks and chaste and holy nuns had viewlessly
assembled round about us to sing some solemn dirge, and that if our
eyes were as fine a sense as our hearing--if, indeed, we could _see_
the invisible as we could _hear_ it--we might behold the vision of the
building itself spread over our heads and on either hand of us, in
roof, in glorious coloured window, in sepulchral monument.

Here it was that my little Johnny, in running from me towards the grass
which grew upon what had been the pavement of this ancient abbey,
tripped and fell and lay screaming as though fearfully hurt. Mary took
him up: he was not hurt. My husband, looking into the grass to observe
what had tripped the child, put his hand upon something grey and picked
up a little skull. ‘Good God!’ he cried, casting it from him with a
shudder, ‘let us get away from this place.’ But Mary remained behind
alone for some minutes, with her eyes bent upon the little skull,
musing upon it.

Though we made several inland excursions our chief haunts were the pier
and the beach. Those were happy days indeed. My sister and I would take
camp-stools down on to the sands, and long mornings did we thus pass,
my husband moving indolently here and there, smoking, examining pools
of water, stooping to pick up a shell; Johnny scooping with a stick at
my side; baby sleeping in the arms of the nurse. There we would sit and
watch the quiet surface of the sea that melted into the blue air where
the sky came down to it, and gaze at the oncoming breaker poising its
tall emerald-green head for a breathless instant, like some huge snake
about to strike, ere tumbling in thunder and snow and roaring seawards
in a cataract of yeast.

We seemed--indeed, I believe we were--the only visitors in the place.
Nobody intruded upon us; the miles of sand were our own. Robinson
Crusoe’s dominion was not more uninterrupted.

The boatman named William Hitchens had called twice at the house early
in the morning to know if we would go for a nice little sail or row
during the day, but the answer I had sent by the servant was, ‘Not
yet.’ I was in no hurry to go for a nice little sail or a row. When
I was on the sands the sea was so close to me that it was almost the
same as being on it; and the novelty of having the sea feathering to
my feet in white and broken waters remained too great an enjoyment for
some days to induce a wish in me for wider experiences. And then again,
neither Mary nor my husband had the least taste for boating, so that
if I went I must go alone. I was not even able to have my children
with me, for the nurse declared that the mere looking from the beach
at a boat rocking upon the water made her feel ill, and I dared not
single-handed take the children, for how could I, holding the baby,
have looked after little Johnny, who was always on the move, crawling
here and creeping there, and who was just the sort of child to wriggle
on to a seat of the boat and tumble overboard whilst my head was turned?

However, after we had been at Piertown five days we walked down to the
sands as usual after breakfast, and as we passed the entrance of the
pier Bill Hitchens approached us, pulling at a grey lock of hair that
hung upon his forehead under an old felt bandit-shaped hat.

‘A beautiful morning for a sail or a row, lady,’ said he, addressing
himself to me as though he had long before made up his mind that there
was no custom to be got out of my husband and my sister, ‘why not
wenture on an hour, mum? There’s as pretty a little offshore wind
a-blowing as could be wished. And look how smooth the water is! Only
let me draw you clear of this here ground swell, and ye won’t know
you’re afloat. Or if you don’t like sailing, I’ll put a small oar into
the boat, and with me rowing agin ye, lady, ye shall see how light a
boat she is.’

‘Go, Agnes,’ said my husband, observing that I looked wistfully at the
water.

‘Come, Mary!’ said I.

‘No, dear,’ she answered, ‘I am certain to suffer from headache
afterwards.’

‘Why don’t _you_ come along, sir?’ said the boatman to my husband.

‘Because I am very well, thank you, Billitchens, and I wish to remain
well,’ answered my husband.

‘I will go,’ said I, and instantly the boatman was in motion. He
ran with uncouth gestures to a ladder that descended the pier-side,
disappeared down it, and presently emerged in a little skiff which
he propelled with an oar over the stern. Having arrived at his boat,
which was moored in the middle of the small harbour, if I may so term
the space of water within the embrace of the crooked arm of the pier,
he freed and brought her to some steps. I entered, perhaps a little
nervously, sat down, and Bill Hitchens throwing his oars over pulled
the boat out to sea. Little Johnny screamed and wept, imagining that
I was leaving him for ever. I kissed my hand and waved it to him, and
Mary, taking the little fellow in her arms, comforted him.

Now out of that simple English scene of coast life, out of the familiar
commonplace experience of a boating trip, what, if it were not death,
what should be able to shape itself so potent in all horror as to
utterly and absolutely shipwreck my happiness and make a frightful
tragedy of my life? Death it might well have been; again and again
small sailing boats are capsizing and their inmates are thrown into
the water and drowned; but worse than death was to befal me. When
I close my eyes and behold with the vision of my mind the scene of
that little town, and the terraces of the cliffs, though I am able to
connect the long chain of circumstance link by link, the memory of the
disaster and all that followed the disaster affects me even at this
instant of time with the violence of a paralysing revelation. I know
the past to be true, and still I gaze dumbly and with terror backwards,
incapable of crediting it.

But the dreadful misfortune that was to overwhelm me did not happen at
once. No: my short excursion that morning I thoroughly enjoyed. All was
safe, well, and delightful. I told the boatman to keep somewhat close
in to the shore, and I held my husband and sister and children in view
all the while. The boatman rowed leisurely, and my dear ones on the
shore kept pace with the boat until they had arrived at their favourite
spot on the sands, where they seated themselves and watched me. I rowed
a little and found the oar the man had placed in the boat for my use
very light and manageable; but I plied it unskilfully; indeed I was but
a wretched oarswoman. Yet it amused me to dip the blade into the water
however clumsily, and to feel that the boat received something of her
impulse from the swing of my figure.

Bill Hitchens talked much, and had I heeded his conversation I might
have found his queer words and odd thoughts and expressions amusing;
but I was too much occupied with my oar, and with looking at the group
on the sands, and with admiring the coast, to attend to his queer
speech. And, indeed, we were at just such a distance from the coast as
enabled me to witness in perfection its incomparable romantic beauties.
The cliffs rose in dark and rugged ramparts, and their gloomy massy
colours were peculiarly defined by the line of white surf which, the
fall of the breakers being continuous, seemed fixed as though painted
along the foot of the coast. The windows of the house we occupied
sparkled over the edge of the heights, but the structure was so high
lodged, the altitude from the sea appeared so prodigious, that spite of
the softening shadow of trees behind it, and spite of its quaint and
cosy shape, it had an odd, wild, windy look to my eyes, and I wondered
as I gazed at it that it had not been levelled long ago by one of the
many hurricanes of wind which Bill Hitchens told me thundered across
the sea and against the land in winter time, blind with snow and black
with flying scud. And the town made me think of Tennyson’s description
of a coastal village, for there was a frosty sparkle upon the houses
as though they were formed of blocks of rock salt. The sky was a deep
blue, and I noticed that it seemed to tremble and thrill where the bend
of it disappeared past the edge of the cliffs, as if the dye of the
cliffs themselves were lifting and sifting into it, and deepening the
beauty of its hue just there. The water was everywhere flashful with
the light wind that was blowing from the land. Presently the boatman
said:

‘Lady, let me gi’ you a bit of a sail?’

I consented, and he took my oar from me and laid it in the boat,
then loosed a big sail that lay upon the seats and hoisted it, and
afterwards he set a little sail at the stern, and then sat down at
the tiller and steered, making the boat skim along on a line with the
beach. My dear ones flourished their hands to me.

This was enjoyment indeed. The boat seemed to me to sail wonderfully
fast; I looked over the stern and perceived that she left behind her
a long furrow as beautiful with its ornamentation of foam and bubble
and eddies as a length of rich lace. Hitchens sailed the boat to and
fro, and all the time he was bidding me observe what a beautiful boat
she was, how there was nothing whatever to be afraid of, how in such a
boat as the _Mary Hann_, as he called her, a party of people might sail
round the United Kingdom in perfect comfort and security.

‘Only make it worth my while,’ said he, ‘and I’d go to Ameriky in
this here boat. Make it worth my while, lady, and I’d double the Harn
in her. Ameriky was discovered by folks as would have swopped their
precious eyes for such a boat as this here to make the voyage in. I
don’t speak of Australey, for Cook he had a ship; but I’ve heered tell
of Columbus; there’s one of us chaps as has read all about that gent
and is always a-yarning about him; and ower and ower I’ve heard him say
that that there Columbus would have swopped his precious eyes for the
likes of such a boat as the _Mary Hann_ for to make his discovery with.’

In this manner Bill Hitchens discoursed about his boat, as he sat
beside the tiller with his head well between his shoulders and his back
rounded like a cat’s at the sight of a dog.

After this I was continually making excursions with Bill Hitchens.
Having got to know him, I never would hire another in his place.
Indeed, he took care that nobody should supplant him, and called for
orders every morning with the punctuality of the butcher or the grocer.
Often I would go out twice a day, so keen was my enjoyment of the
pastime of sailing and rowing. Twice my husband accompanied me, but
after the second time he told me he had had enough, and he went no
more in the boat. Once I coaxed Mary into joining me, and in less than
five minutes the boatman was obliged to put her ashore, and when I
returned two hours later I found her motionless on the sofa with a sick
headache.

The behaviour of the boatman did not belie the character I seemed to
find written in his face. He proved a very honest, civil, deserving
fellow, possessed of a quality of sourness that imparted a particular
relish to his odd manner of speaking. I did not fear to be alone with
this man. I had every confidence in his judgment and prudence. He was
allowed by his comrades of the beach to be one of the smartest boatmen
on the coast. My husband ascertained this, and he also agreed with me
in my opinion of the fellow’s respectability, and day after day I would
enter the boat and my husband would stand watching me without the
faintest misgiving of any sort in either of us.

On several occasions Hitchens carried me out to so great a distance
that the features of the land were indistinguishable, and these long
trips I enjoyed most of all; they were like voyages, and when I stepped
on shore I would feel as though I had just arrived from the other side
of the world.

We had now been a day over three weeks at Piertown. The weather had
continued fine and warm throughout--in truth, a more beautiful October
I never remember--and we had all benefited vastly by the change. But
on the morning of this day my husband received a letter. He opened it,
read it attentively, and exclaimed to me across the breakfast table, ‘I
shall have to leave you for a couple of days.’

‘Why?’ I asked.

He passed the letter to me: it was a business letter, addressed to
him by his clerk. The nature of the business does not concern us;
enough that the call was important and peremptory. The business, my
husband said, would certainly detain him in Bath until the hour of the
departure of a late train on the following night, if indeed he should
be able to return then.

I packed his handbag, and Mary and I walked with him to the railway
station. I kissed him, and we parted.

My sister and I returned home to take the children to the sands. We
passed the morning under the cliffs, talking and reading and playing
with the children. It was a bright day, but I afterwards remembered
noticing that the blue of the heavens was wanting in the beautiful
clear vividness of hue of the preceding days. The azure had a somewhat
dim and soiled look, such as one might fancy it would exhibit in
a very fine, thin dust-storm. I also afterwards remembered having
observed that there was a certain brassiness in the glare of the sun,
as if his light were the reflection of his own pure golden beams cast
by a surface of burnished brass or copper. These things I afterwards
recollected I had noticed, yet I do not remember that I spoke of them
to my sister.

We dined at one o’clock. The road from our house to the sands carried
us past the entrance to the pier. As we leisurely strolled, Bill
Hitchens lifted his breast from the post which he was overhanging, and
approached us with a respectful salutation of his hand to his brow.

‘Will you be going out this afternoon, lady?’ he asked.

‘My husband has been called away,’ I replied, ‘and I do not feel as if
I should care to go upon the water during his absence.’

‘You will find the afternoon tedious, dear,’ said Mary.

‘It’s a beautiful day, lady,’ said the boatman. ‘There’s a nice little
air o’ wind stirring. Couldn’t ask for a prettier day for a sail, lady.’

‘It is somewhat cloudy,’ said I, directing my gaze at the sky.

‘Fine weather clouds, lady,’ said the boatman. ‘Keep your sight upon
’em for a bit and you’ll find they’re scarcely moving.’

‘That is true,’ said I.

‘If you go,’ said Mary, ‘I will take Johnny and baby for a drive.’

‘You’ll soon be leaving Piertown, lady, worse luck!’ said the boatman,
with an insinuating grin. ‘This here fine weather ain’t a-going to last
neither. It won’t be long afore we’ll be laying our boats up. It may be
blowing hard to-morrow, lady, and it may keep on blowing until your
time’s up for retarning.’

I reflected and said, ‘Well, Hitchens, you can get your boat ready
for me by half-past two or a quarter to three. I’ll be back by four,’
said I, addressing Mary, as we walked home, ‘and by that time you’ll
have returned. Do not keep baby out later than four,’ and we talked of
my husband and on home matters as we climbed the road that led to the
level of the cliff.

At a quarter-past two I was ready to walk to the pier for a trip which
I thought might likely enough prove my last, and which was not to
exceed an hour and a quarter. I was dressed in the costume in which I
usually made these excursions--in a blue serge dress, a warm jacket,
and a sailor’s hat of grey straw. An old-fashioned fly stood at the
door waiting for Mary and the nurse and children. I took baby in my
arms and kissed her, and I lifted Johnny and kissed him and saw the
little party into the fly, which drove off.

I lingered a moment or two. A strange sense of loneliness suddenly
possessed me. I cannot imagine what could have caused it if it were
not the silence that followed upon the fly driving off, together with
the thought that my husband was away. I entered the little parlour to
ascertain the time by the clock on the mantelpiece, for my watch had
stopped and I had left it in my bedroom. Upon the table lay a pair
of baby’s shoes, and a horse and cart that my husband had bought for
Johnny was upon the floor. As I looked at these things I was again
visited by an unaccountable feeling of loneliness. But it could possess
no possible signification to me, and passing out of the house I closed
the hall-door and walked briskly down to the pier.

The boat was ready. I entered her, and Hitchens rowed out of the
harbour. The surface of the water was smooth, for the small breeze of
the morning had weakened and was now no more than a draught of air;
but the sea undulated with what sailors call ‘a swell,’ upon which the
boat rose and sank with a sensation of cradling that was singularly
soothing to me. The horizon was somewhat misty, and I observed that the
extremities of the coast on either hand in the distance were blurred,
showing indeed as though they were mirrored in a looking-glass upon
which you had slightly breathed.

‘It looks somewhat foggy out upon the sea,’ said I.

‘Nothen but heat, lady, nothen but heat. I like to see fog myself with
the wind out at Nothe. When that happens with fine weather it sinifies
that fine weather’s a-going to last.’

The figures of a few boatmen idly lounged upon the esplanade. A man
in a white apron, smoking a pipe, stood in the door of one of the
public-houses, watching us as the boat receded. A coastguardsman, stick
in hand, leaned over the edge of the pier, gazing down at the little
cluster of boats which swayed upon the gently heaving water of the
harbour. The sun shone upon some bright gilt sign of a cock, or bird
of some sort, over the door of one of the public-houses; and next door
to this sign was another, the painted head and bust of a woman eagerly
inclining forwards, with the right arm advanced and a wreath in her
hand. It had probably been the figure-head of a ship.

These little details of the picture I remember remarking as I looked at
the shore whilst the boat leisurely drew away. What a dull, motionless
place did Piertown seem! The main street climbing the hill was visible
past the curve of the pier, and only two figures were to be seen
ascending it.

‘I cannot understand how you men get a living,’ said I to Bill Hitchens.

‘We don’t onderstand it ourselves, lady,’ said he.

‘You are boatmen, but nobody hires your boats,’ said I. ‘How do you
live?’

‘It’s a riddle, mum,’ answered Hitchens, ‘and there ain’t no answer to
it.’

‘Yet those boatmen,’ said I, ‘who are standing upon the esplanade are
comfortably dressed, they appear neat and clean, their clothes may be
rough but they are fairly good and warm, they are all smoking and I
suppose they have to pay for the tobacco they smoke; they, and others
like them, are constantly in and out of the public-houses, and the beer
which they drink must cost them money. How do they manage?’

‘I’ve been man and boy getting on for eight and forty years upon that
there beach,’ said Bill Hitchens, ‘and if you ask me to tell you how
me and the likes of me manages, my answer is, lady, I gives it up.’

We were silent, and I continued to look at the shore and to admire the
scene of it.

‘The time was,’ said Bill Hitchens meditatively, ‘when I hoped to live
to see the day as ’ud find me the landlord of a public-house. When
all’s said and done, lady, I don’t know that a plain man like myself
could ask for a more enjoyable berth than a public. Take a dark, wet,
cold night, blowing hard and the air full of snow and hail. Only
think of the pleasure of opening the door just to look out, so as
to be able to step back again into the light and warmth and all the
different smells of the liquors,’ he added, snuffing. ‘Only think how
pleasingly the time flies in yarning with customers. Then, if ever ye
stand in need of a drain, there it is--anything ye like and nothen to
pay; ’cos when a landlord drinks it’s always at the expense of his
customers, whether they knows it or not. Then think again, lady, of
a snug little parlour at the back, all shining with clean glasses and
mugs like silver, with a warm fire and a kettle of boiling water always
ready--ah!’ He broke off with a deep sigh.

‘I’ll take an oar,’ said I.

‘Lor’ bless me!’ he cried, running his eyes over the boat. ‘I’ve
forgotten to ship a pair of sculls for you,’ by which term he signified
the light oars he was in the habit of placing in the boat for my use.

‘The oar you are rowing with will be too heavy for me, I fear,’ said I.

I dorn’t think it will, mum,’ he answered. ‘Suppose ye try it. After
you’re tired of rowing we’ll hoist the sail, for we shall find more
wind stirring when we get out furder.’

He adjusted the oar and I seated myself at it and began to row. He sat
in the bows of the boat near the tall mast and I upon a hinder seat
near to that end of the boat which I had heard him call the ‘stern
sheets.’ I did not find the oar so heavy as I had imagined. The boatman
had placed it so as to fairly balance it and I continued to swing it
without much trouble.

But after I had been rowing a few minutes the pressure of the handle
of the oar in my grasp caused my rings to hurt me. I endured the
inconvenience until it became a pain; then, tilting the oar and
supporting it by my elbow, I pulled off my rings--that is to say, my
wedding-ring and two others, all that I wore--and placed them by my
side on the sail, which lay in a sort of bundle along the seats. I
never had any superstitious feeling about my wedding-ring. Over and
over again had I removed it to wash my hands. With many women, when
once the wedding-ring is on, it is on for ever. Well would it have
been for me had I possessed the sentiment of tender and graceful
superstition that influences most wives in this way.

My rings being removed I applied myself again to the oar, and for about
a quarter of an hour Bill Hitchens and I continued to row the boat out
into the open sea. By this time we had reached a distance of a mile
from the land. The faint air had been slowly freshening into a little
breeze, and the water was rippling briskly against the side of the
boat. I was now tired of rowing, and, asking Bill Hitchens to take the
oar from me, I rose from my seat and sat down near the tiller.

‘May as well hoist the sail now, lady, don’t ye think?’ said Bill
Hitchens.

‘Yes, you can hoist the sail,’ said I, ‘but I do not wish to go too far
from the land. What o’clock is it?’

He extracted an old silver watch from somewhere under his jersey and
gave me the time.

‘I wish to be home by about a quarter past four,’ said I.

He answered that he would see to it, and, seizing hold of a rope
which passed through the top of the mast, he hoisted the sail. He
then came to where I was sitting, and set the little sail upon the
mast at the stern, and when this was done he grasped the tiller, and
the boat, feeling the pressure of the breeze in her broad canvas--for
though she was a small boat she carried a sail that I would think was
disproportionately large for her size--heeled over and cut through the
water on her side very quickly.

‘It’s a nice soldier’s wind for the land, lady,’ said the boatman.

‘What is a soldier’s wind?’ I asked.

‘Why,’ he answered, ‘a wind that allows ye to go there and back
wherever ye may be bound to.’

‘The coast looks a long way off, Hitchens.’

‘It’s vurking up a bit hazy, lady, but there’s nothen to hurt.’

‘I expect the sky will be overcast before sunset,’ said I. ‘Do you
see that bank of clouds hazily peering through the air over the coast
there?’ and I indicated a portion of the land which certainly did not
lie in the direction whence the wind was blowing; so that it was plain
to me, ignorant as I was in all such matters, though my perception had
been sharpened a little by being much upon the water, and by listening
to Bill Hitchens discoursing upon the several aspects of his calling--I
say it was plain to me that those clouds were working their way up over
the land, and that if they did not promise a change of weather they
must certainly betoken a shift of wind.

The boatman cast his eyes carelessly towards the coast and said ‘that
there was nothing to hurt in them clouds, that he rather believed they
were settling away instead of rising,’ and then he changed the subject
by asking me if my husband had gone to London, and if I had ever seen
London, and if it was as big a place as folks pretended it to be.



CHAPTER III

‘WHO AM I?’


I sat looking about me, now watching the pretty wreaths of foam spring
past the sides of the boat, now gazing at the land whose features had
blended into a long, dark, compact, but hazy line, sometimes addressing
questions to Bill Hitchens, and always enjoying what to me was the
exquisitely pleasurable sensation of the boat buoyantly sweeping over
the little feathering ripples, when, my eyes going on a sudden to my
left hand, I cried out, ‘Oh, where are my rings?’

‘Your rings, lady?’ exclaimed the boatman.

‘Yes, my rings. Did you not see me take off my rings? I put them on
the sail that lay near me. Oh, where are they, where are they? I cannot
lose them. One is my wedding-ring and the other two are my husband’s
gifts. Oh, Hitchens, where are they?’ I cried, and, with a passion of
eagerness and fear, I hunted over the bottom of the boat with my eyes,
peering and straining my gaze at every crevice and hollow.

‘Now be calm, lady,’ said Hitchens, ‘it’ll come right. The rings can’t
be fur off. Let me question you. Where did you say you put ’em?’

‘That sail up there lay along the seats, and I put my rings on it, on a
corner of it that was close to me. I believed that they would be safe
there. They could not slide off canvas.’

The man’s face fell as he looked into the bottom of the boat.

‘If you’ll catch hold of this here tiller, lady,’ said he, ‘I’ll have
a search. They can’t be fur off, I hope,’ he added in a voice meant to
encourage me.

I put my hand on the tiller, but hardly knew what more to do with it
than to keep it steady. My distress was exquisite. When I looked over
the bottom of the boat and could not see any glitter of my wedding-ring
and the other two rings I shivered as though possessed with a passion
of grief. Oh, if I had been careless in removing my rings, it shocked
me to the heart to think of losing them--of losing my wedding-ring,
that symbol of my wedded love and happiness.

‘Do you see any signs of them?’ I cried to Hitchens. ‘I shall not mind
the loss of the other rings, but I must have my wedding-ring--I must
not lose it--I _cannot_ lose my wedding-ring.’

The poor fellow, with a face of real concern, groped about the bottom
of the boat. He lifted up a board, and carefully felt about with his
hand in some water that lay in a kind of well. But I was sure that if
the rings were not to be seen at once they would not be seen at all,
because there were three of them, and one at least must certainly be
visible: for though there were many crevices in the boat they were all
very shallow, and the gleam of the rings would be instantly perceptible.

‘I am afraid, lady,’ exclaimed the boatman, standing up, ‘that they’ve
gone overboard.’

I moaned.

‘I didn’t,’ he continued, ‘take any notice of ’em, and in my sudden
whipping up of the sail they must have been chucked ower the side. It’s
a bad job true-ly,’ and again he bent his figure to look.

I now realised that I had lost my rings; it had not been a loss to
be instantly felt and understood. My wedding-ring was gone; another
wedding-ring I might easily buy, but the one that was consecrated to
me by memory, the ring with which my husband had made me his wife, was
irrecoverably gone, and as I looked upon my bare hand I wept, and then
for a third time was I visited with a cold heart-subduing feeling of
loneliness.

‘Turn the boat for the land,’ I said to Hitchens. ‘I am miserable and
want to get home.’

As he came to the tiller he directed a look out at the west, or rather
I should say in the direction of the coast, for the haze had thickened
magically within the last ten minutes or so, and though the land was
scarcely above three miles distant it was little more than a dim
shadow, that seemed to be fading out even as we looked. But I was still
so grieved and distracted by the loss of my wedding-ring that I had no
eyes save for my bare hand, and no thoughts save for what was at the
bottom of the sea.

‘The wind’s shifted,’ said Hitchens. ‘It is off the land. You was
right, lady, arter all. Them clouds _was_ a-coming up. We shall have to
ratch home.’

He dragged at some ropes which held the corners of the sails, and,
moving his tiller, caused the boat to turn; but she did not turn so as
to point the head for the land.

‘Why do you not steer for Piertown?’ I said.

‘The wind’s come dead foul, lady. We shall have to ratch home.’

‘What do you mean by “ratch”?’

‘We shall have to tack--we shall have to beat back.’

I did not understand his language, but neither would I tease him by
questions. Now I was sensible that the wind had increased and was still
increasing. I lifted up my eyes and judged that the wind was coming
out of a great heap of cloud which lay over the land--the heap of cloud
whose brows I had noticed rising above the edge of the cliff; but the
mass had since then risen high, and there was a shadow upon it as if
rain were falling. The boat lay sharply over upon her side, and her
stem, as it tore through the water, made a strange stealthy noise of
hissing as though it were red hot.

‘The land is fading out of sight,’ said I.

‘Ay, it’s drawed down thicker than I expected,’ answered the boatman.

‘Is not the wind very high?’

‘It’s blowing a nice sailing breeze,’ he answered; ‘though it’s a pity
it’s shifted, as you’re in a hurry to get home.’

But as he gazed round the sea I seemed to witness an expression of
uneasiness in his face. It appeared to me that he was sailing away
from the land. I was alarmed, and questioned him. He drew a piece of
chalk from his pocket and first marked down upon the seat the situation
of the coast, then the situation of the boat, and then the process of
tacking, and how we should have to sail at angles in order to reach
Piertown harbour.

‘What time is it, Hitchens?’

He looked at his watch and said, ‘Just upon the hour of four.’

‘Oh! how the time has flown! Already four! When shall we arrive, do you
think?’

‘I’m afeared,’ he answered, ‘that I sha’n’t be able to put ye ashore
much before five.’

‘But the atmosphere continues to grow thicker. Look! some parts of the
coast are invisible. If you should lose sight of the coast, how will
you be able to steer for it?’

‘We’ll find our way home all right, lady,’ he exclaimed cheerfully.
‘Don’t be afeared. The loss of them there rings has worried ye, as
well it might, and I’d give half the worth of this boat to be able to
fish ’em up.’

I sat silent and motionless, gazing at the slowly dissolving line of
coast over the gunwale. The water was now streaming in lines, and every
line had its edging of spray, and often from these little foaming
ridges there would flash a handful of glittering crystals, as though
some hand within were hurling diamonds and prisms through the curling
head of the brine. The thickness of the atmosphere lay around the sea,
and so shrunk the plain of water that it looked no more than a lake in
size. There was also the gloom of gathering clouds in the air, not only
of the clouds which were rising off the land, but of vapour forming
overhead and sailing athwart the course of the boat in dirty shreds and
rags of the stuff that is called by sailors ‘scud!’

‘Will you hold the tiller for a moment, lady?’ said the boatman.
‘There’s summat wrong with----’ and he pronounced a technical word
which I do not remember.

I grasped the tiller and he rose and went into the bows of the boat,
where he paused for a moment, looking up; he then got upon the gunwale
of the boat and stood with his back to the sea, with one hand upon a
rope that ran from the front mast down to the bowsprit. He preserved
that posture of standing and supporting himself and looking upwards
whilst one might count ten; then let go of the rope, brought his hands
together over his heart and, with a kind of short rattling groan, fell
backwards.

The boat sat low on the water, and as the poor fellow therefore fell
from no height, he rose to the surface before the boat had gone past
him by her own length; he floated on his back, and made no effort to
swim; I do not remember witnessing a single struggle in him; whence
I judged, when I was able to think, that he had fallen dead from the
gunwale of his little vessel; and the manner in which he had seemed
to clutch at his heart, and the short rattling groan that he had
delivered, confirmed me in this belief.

When he fell I sprang to my feet with a shriek of horror. For some
moments, which would have been precious had he been alive and
struggling, I did not know what to do. My heart stood still, I could
not draw a breath. Then with lightning speed there swept into my head
the thought that if he were drowned I should be alone, and, being
alone, I should be absolutely helpless; and this thought electrified
me, and not only enabled me to reflect, but gave me power to act. For,
far more swiftly than I can relate what I did, yes, even though I was
talking to you instead of writing, I grasped one of the long heavy oars
and launched it towards the figure of the man as a spear is hurled. I
needed, indeed, the strength of terror to accomplish this; at another
time it would have taxed my strength to merely drag the oar to the side
and let it fall.

The boat had been sailing fast when the poor man dropped from the
gunwale, but when I sprang up I released the tiller, which I had
been holding steady, having no knowledge whatever of steering, and
the boat being released from the government of her helm, flew round
into the wind, but not until she had left the body of the man a long
distance behind; and then she stood upright upon the water, with her
sails angrily shaking. Wild with thought and fear, wild with despair
and terror, I kept my eyes fastened upon the body of the man. Oh, I
cried to myself, can he not swim? Will he not attempt to reach the
oar? And I screamed out his name, pointing to the direction where the
oar lay. But as I continued to point and scream out his name the body
sank. It vanished instantly, as though it had been desperately jerked
under water by some hidden grasp or fang below. I stood straining my
gaze, not knowing but that he might rise again, and then it was that
the boat, being pointed a little away from the wind by the beat of the
small, short waves, was smitten by the blast in her forward canvas;
she turned and rushed through the water, whitening it, and lying
dangerously down under the weight of her sails; but after she had
started she, of her own accord, wound round into the wind again and
sat upright, plunging quickly with her canvas rattling, and time after
time this process was repeated, whilst I stood staring round me, seeing
nothing of the land, beholding nothing, but the contracted plain of the
ocean, around which the haze or fog stood as a wall, whilst overhead
the sky was of the colour of slate, shadowed by speeding wings of scud.

It was raining, and when I looked in the direction whence the wind was
blowing, the rain that drove aslant splashed in my face. I thought to
myself, What will next happen? The boat will overset, and I shall be
drowned! What am I to do?--what am I to do? And as I thought thus,
weeping bitterly, and wringing my hands in the extremity of my grief
and fright, the boat heeled over and depressed her side so low that
the white foam she churned up flashed and roared to the level of the
line of her gunwale. I grasped the opposite side to save myself from
falling, by which I no doubt saved my life, because, had I slipped and
staggered to the depressed side, my weight must certainly have capsized
the boat. She rushed like an arrow round again into the wind and then
stopped dead, plunging yet more sharply.

I wrung my hands again and cried aloud, What am I to do? But, happily,
I had sense enough to understand that the very first thing to be done
was to lower the sail, and as I had repeatedly observed poor Hitchens
hoist the tall sheet of canvas, I knew what rope to undo, and, stepping
over the seats, I released the rope, and, the boat being at that moment
with her head pointing into the wind, the sail fell, but in falling
it enveloped me and threw me down, and it was some minutes before I
succeeded in extricating myself.

This, to be sure, was a trifling accident, for I was not in the least
degree hurt, but the being thrown down and smothered by the canvas
immeasurably heightened my distress and terror; I trembled from head
to foot, my knees yielded under me, and I was forced to sit. It was
raining hard, and the wet made the wind feel cruelly cold as it rushed
athwart the boat, whipping the crests off the waves into an angry
showering of spray. But after a little I began to find some faint
comfort in the belief that the boat was stationary. Alas, how great
was my ignorance! Because she did not appear to sail, and because she
no longer lay dangerously over, I believed she was stationary. Yet two
little sails were still set, a triangular sail at the bowsprit and a
small square sail at the stern, and I must have been crazed indeed not
to guess that whilst this canvas remained exposed the light fabric
would be blown along by the wind, either sideways or forward, and that,
as the wind blew directly from the west, every minute was widening my
distance from Piertown.

But not understanding this, I found some heart in the belief that the
boat was stationary, and I tried to comfort myself in other ways.
I said to myself, this rain may be a passing shower, the weather
will brighten presently, the boat will be in view from the coast,
my situation will be guessed at by the boatmen who hang about the
Esplanade, and they will put off to rescue me. And I also said to
myself, even if this weather should not clear up, even if I remain out
here invisible from the land, yet when my sister finds that it grows
dark and I have not returned, she is sure to go down to the harbour and
offer rewards for my rescue, and I may count upon several boats coming
out to search for me.

Thus I thought, striving to give myself heart. But oh, the desolation
of that mist-environed stretch of steel-grey water--chilly, leaping,
and streaming in froth! Oh, the cruel cold of the rain-laden wind
pouring shrilly past my ears and penetrating my wet clothes till my
breast felt like marble! Not even now could I realise my situation. I
knew that I was alone and that I was helpless, but the horizon of my
fears and wretchedness was contained in these simple perceptions. I
did not believe that I should perish. I was sure that succour would
come, and my sufferings now lay in the agony of expectation, in the
present and heart-breaking torment of waiting.

The time passed, the shadow of the evening entered the gloom of the
afternoon. It continued to rain, and the horizon lay shrouded close
to the boat, but I believe there was no increase in the wind: I
noticed no increase. But indeed I was too ignorant, too despairful,
too heartbroken to heed the weather, unless it were to observe, with
eyes half-blind with my own tears and the flying rain that the sea
was darkening, that the thickness lay close around the boat, and that
nothing ever came out of that thickness save the dusky shapes of waves.

‘Am I to be out in this boat all night?’ I thought to myself. ‘If so, I
shall die of cold and exhaustion. I cannot pass the whole long night
alone in this open boat in the rain, and in the bitter cold wind, wet
through to the skin as I already am, without anybody to speak to,
without food or drink, without a ray of light for my eyes to find
comfort in resting on. O God! O God! I cried, and I went down upon my
knees in the boat, and, clasping my hands, I gazed upwards into the
grey, wet shadow of the sky, under which the naked mast of the boat was
reeling, and I prayed to God to be with me, to watch over me, to bring
help to me before I expired of fear and cold, and to return me to my
sister, and to my little ones who were waiting for me.

And now I scarcely know how to proceed. What followed was a passage--a
horribly long passage--of mental suffering incommunicable by the pen,
nay scarcely to be remembered or understood by the sufferer herself.
It fell dark, and the black night came, the blacker because there was
no moon and because of the rain and the mist. I had gathered the wet
cloths of the sail about me as a sort of shelter, and I sat with my
head above the line of the gunwale, for ever looking to left and to
right, and to right and to left, and never seeing more than the pale,
near gleam of froth. At times thought grew maddening, and I shrieked
like one in a fit or like a woman insane. It was not the fear of death
that maddened me, it was not the anguish of the cold and the wet, nor
even the fearful loneliness of my situation, a loneliness that cannot
be imagined, for what magic is there in ink to figure the impenetrable
blackness of the night, to imitate the snapping and sobbing sounds of
the water and the hissing of the wind? No, it was the thought of my
husband and my children; and it was chiefly the thought of my children.
Again and again, when my mind went to them, I would catch myself
moaning, and again and again I shrieked. With the eye of imagination
I saw them sleeping: I saw my darling boy slumbering restfully in his
little bed, I saw my baby asleep in her little cot; I bent over them
in fancy; I kissed the golden hair of my boy, and I kissed the soft
cheek of my baby; and then the yearnings of my heart grew into agony
insupportable.

And there was a dreadful fancy that again and again visited me. Amid
the crawling and blinking foam over the boat’s side I sometimes
imagined I saw the body of Hitchens. It came and went. I knew it was a
deception of the senses, yet I stared as though it were there indeed.
Sometimes there would come a sound in the wind that resembled the groan
he had uttered when he fell overboard.

At some hour of the night, but whether before or after midnight I could
not have told, I was looking over the right side of the boat when a
large shadow burst out of the darkness close to. It swept by wrapped in
gloom. It was a vessel, and she whitened the throbbing dusky surface
over which she passed with a confused tumble of froth. There was not
a single spot of light upon her. Her sails blended with the midnight
obscurity, and were indistinguishable. Indeed she was to be heard
rather than seen, for the noise of the wind was strong and shrill in
her rigging, and the sound of her passage through the water was like
a rending of satin. She was visible, and then she was gone even as I
looked.

All night long it rained, and it was raining at daybreak in a fine thin
drizzle. The sea was shrouded as on the previous afternoon. When the
cold and iron grey of the dawn was upon the atmosphere, I feebly lifted
up my head, marvelling to find myself alive. I looked about me with my
eyes as languid as those of a dying person’s, and beheld nothing but
the streaming waters running out of the haze on one side and vanishing
in the haze on the other side. Had I then possessed the knowledge of
the sea that I afterwards gained, I might have known by the character
of the waves that during the night the boat had been swept a long
distance out. The billows were large and heavy, and the movements of
the boat, whose sails were too small to steady her, were wild. Yet she
rose and fell buoyantly. These things I afterwards recollected.

I was without hunger, but the presence of daylight sharpening my
faculties somewhat I felt thirsty, and no sooner was I conscious of the
sensation of thirst than the perception that it was not to be assuaged
raised it into a torment. There was water in the bottom of the boat; I
dipped my finger into one of the puddles and put the moisture to my
lips. It was brackish, almost indeed as salt as the water of the sea.
I pressed my parched lips to the sodden sail, which I had pulled over
my shoulders, and the moisture of it was as salt as the puddle I had
dipped my finger into.

And now, after this time, I have but a very indistinct recollection of
what followed. All my memories are vague, as though I had dimly dreamed
of what I saw and suffered. I recollect that I felt shockingly ill,
and that I believed I was dying. I recollect that during some hour of
this day I beheld a smudge in the grey shadow of mist and rain on my
right, that it kindled an instant’s hope in me, that I held open with
difficulty my heavy wet eyelids and watched it in a sickly and fainting
way, believing it might prove a boat sent in search of me. I followed
it with my gaze until it melted away in the thickness. I recollect
that the day passed, and that the blackness of a second night came;
but, this remembered, all else is a blank in my brain.

I opened my eyes and found myself in gloom. A few inches above me was
a shelf; I supposed it to be a shelf. Dim as the light was, there was
enough of it to enable me to see that what was stretched just above me
was not part of a ceiling. I lay looking at it. I then turned my head
on to my right cheek and beheld a wall. I touched it to make sure. I
passed my hand slowly over it, and then looked up again at the shelf
that was stretched over my head. I then turned my head and perceived a
little circle of greenish light. I stared at this strange glimmering
disk of light for a long while, again looked upwards, and again feebly
passed my hand over the wall.

I did not ask myself where I was; I felt no curiosity. I was as one in
whom an intellect has been suddenly created, and who passively accepts
what the sight rests on. I lay turning my head from cheek to cheek for
some ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, during which my eyes, having
grown used to the gloom that was faintly touched by that circle of
greenish light, began to distinguish objects. And first I saw that I
was in a very little dark room, lying upon a sort of shelf which, with
the upper shelf, resembled a long box, of which one side was wanting;
and scarcely had I perceived that I was in a little dark room than I
became sensible that I was upon the water: for, as I lay on the shelf,
I felt that my body was rolled from side to side, and I also felt an
upwards motion and then a downwards motion, and I knew that I was at
sea.

Then I thought to myself, I am in the cabin of a ship. But how did I
get here and who am I? Having said to myself _Who am I_? I repeated
the words over and over again; but as yet without surprise, without
terror. The question haunted my mind with languid iteration, but it
induced no emotion. I felt sick and extraordinarily weak. Something
irritated my brow, and, lifting my hand, I found my right temple and
the eyebrow and a portion of the nose as far as the bridge of it pasted
over with some hard substance. I ran my fingers over this substance,
but without wonderment, and then my arm fell exhausted to my side, and
feebly turning my head on to my left cheek, I stared at the glimmering
green disc, whilst I kept on thinking to myself, but without agitation
or fear, _Who am I_?

It did not strike me as in the least degree strange that I should
not know who I was. I lay looking, and I saw a man’s coat swinging
by a nail near the little circle of dim light. I also saw a common
cane-bottom chair and a dark chest, which I have since learnt to call
by its proper name of ‘locker.’ From the ceiling of this little room
there swung, suspended by thin brass chains, a strange-looking lamp,
formed of a globe of metal with a glass chimney. I continued to watch
that lamp swing until my eyelids closed, but whether I fainted or
slumbered I am unable to say.

When I awoke or regained consciousness the glimmering circle of
glass had changed from dim green into bright yellow. It rippled with
brilliance as from the reflection of sunshine upon water, and there
was daylight in the little cabin. I heard the sound of a fiddle and
the voice of a man singing. The sounds were on the other side of the
wall which I had felt over with my hand when I first awoke. Presently
the music ceased, and almost at the moment that it ceased I heard the
rattle of a door-handle and what looked to be a shapeless bulk stood at
my side.

On straining my dim sight I saw that the figure was that of an
immensely fat man. He stood with his back to the circular window, and
for some while I was unable to discern his features. Meanwhile he
stared at me as though there was nothing in my fixed look to satisfy
him that I was alive or dead. His face was perfectly round and his
cheeks puffed out as if he were in the act of blowing. Upon his upper
lip were a few short straggling hairs, iron grey; his hair was scanty
and grizzled; his complexion was a brick red, apparently from exposure
to weather. Yet his fat face was deprived of the expression of stupid
good nature that one commonly finds in such countenances by a pair of
heavy, shaggy, almost white eyebrows, which, coming close together over
the top of his nose, stamped the look of an habitual frown upon his
forehead. His eyes were small, black and piercing, and his age might
have been anything between fifty and sixty. He wore a red cap, the
tasselled point of which fell over his ear, and his dress consisted of
a soiled and well-worn pilot-coat hanging loose over an equally soiled
and well-worn velveteen jacket. A large shawl was wound round his
neck, and there were gold hoops in his ears. These points I afterwards
witnessed. All that I now observed was his large round face of a dusky
crimson and the small black eyes in it fixed upon me.

At last he exclaimed, in a deep voice: ‘Tiens, vous voilà enfin
éveillée, après trois jours de sommeil! Eh bien, j’espère que
maintenant vous soyez en état de prendre quelque nourriture et de me
dire ce que vous êtes. Peste! que n’avez-vous donc échappé! C’est vrai
les femmes peuvent supporter plus que les hommes. Elles ne sont pas si
facilement écrasées que nous autres pauvres diables.’

I listened to these words and understood them, but I did not know they
were French. Yet though I could not have given a name to the tongue
in which the man spoke I knew what he said. My knowledge of French
suffered me to read it and slightly understand it when spoken, but I
was unable to converse in it.

What he had said was: ‘So then you are awake at last! Three days of
sleep! Well, now you will be able to eat and drink, I hope, and tell me
who you are. Peste! what an escape! But women have more endurance than
men. They are not so easily destroyed as us poor devils.’

I gazed at him without answering. He addressed me again in French.

‘What do you say?’ I whispered.

‘Aha! you are Angleesh,’ exclaimed the man in his deep voice, and he
added in French, ‘Stop! I will go and fetch Alphonse.’

His shapeless bulk moved away from the side of the shelf and I lay
motionless, with my eyes fixed upon the bright circle of glass upon
which the reflection of sunny waters without was dancing. But I do not
know what I thought of. I cannot remember that any sort of determinable
idea visited me. My mind seemed empty, with one strange question for
ever dully echoing in it: _Who am I?_ Yet I also seemed to know that
I was not mad. I could not tell who I was, but I felt that I was not
mad. I do not say that my instincts assured me of this; I seemed to be
sensible of it passively. It was a perception independent of all effort
of mind, a knowledge wholly involuntary as the action of the heart is
involuntary.

In a few minutes I heard the door-handle rattle again and two
figures came to the side of the shelf on which I lay. One was the
same stout personage that had previously visited me; the other was
a clean, fresh-looking young man of the age of four or five and
twenty, smoothly shaven, with coal black hair and eyes, his face of
a pronounced French type. He was fairly well dressed in a suit of
grey, and his white shirt collar was buttoned low so as to expose the
whole of his long throat and even a portion of his chest. His posture
suggested an air of habitual attention and respect, and after he had
peered a while and observed that my eyes were open he removed his cap.

‘Speak to her Alphonse,’ said the large stout man.

‘How do you do, madame? How do you now feel?’ said the younger man in
good English, pronouncing the words with an excellent accent.

I answered faintly, ‘I believe I am dying. Where am I?’

‘Oh,’ he exclaimed quickly, ‘you have not eaten, you have not drunken.
It is impossible for people to live unless they eat and drink.’

He then addressed himself hurriedly to the fat man, who acquiesced with
a grunt and a gesture of the hand. The young man went out, whilst the
other remained at my side, fixedly staring at me. Even had I been able
to exert my mind for conversation I could not have found my voice. It
pained me to whisper. The stout man addressed me once in barbarous
English; I languidly gazed at him in silence through my half-closed
eyelids, and no more was said until the young man returned, bearing
in one hand a cup and saucer and in the other hand a tumbler. The cup
contained some warm soup; the tumbler some weak brandy and water. Now
ensued a brief discussion between the two men as to whether the brandy
should be administered before the soup or the soup before the brandy.
The younger man’s views prevailed and, correctly judging that I was
unable to feed myself, he drew the cane-bottom chair to my side, seated
himself and fed me.

The fat man stood with a stolid countenance, looking on. When I had
swallowed the soup the young man applied the tumbler to my lips and I
slowly drank.

‘Now,’ said the young man, ‘do you feel more comfortable?’

I whispered that I felt better.

‘That is right,’ said he. ‘You must keep quiet whether you sleep or
not. I am not a doctor, but I know a thing or two. I will visit you
again in two hours with more soup and _eau-de-vie_.’ And he said to the
fat man in his native tongue, ‘Come, uncle, she will do. She will not
die. Let us leave her.’

They then withdrew.



CHAPTER IV

ALPHONSE’S CONJECTURES


I turned my face to the wall and closed my eyes, and two hours, and
perhaps more than two hours, passed, during which I did not sleep. I
then opened my eyes and looked about me. I had intelligence enough
to observe that my skirt and bodice had been removed and that I was
wrapped in coarse, thick blankets. Then, feeling a kind of pricking
pain about the forehead, I raised my hand to my brow and stroked with
my finger-nails the strips of parchment-like stuff with which it was
plaistered. What can this be? I thought; and then a most awful and
terrible feeling of bewilderment possessed me. ‘Who am I?’ I cried
in a voice that was still no louder than a whisper, ‘and where am I?
And--and--and----’

The young man whom the stout person had called Alphonse entered,
bearing a bowl of soup and a glass of weak brandy and water upon a tray.

‘Have you slept?’ said he. I feebly shook my head. ‘Well,’ he exclaimed
with the characteristic drawl of the Frenchman when he speaks English,
‘it is not to be expected that you should sleep or that you should
require sleep. You have been asleep for three days, and now you shall
drink this soup and afterwards this cognac,’ and, seating himself, he
fed me and gave me to drink as before. He placed the tray upon the deck
of the little cabin, and sat contemplating me for a while with an air
of respect that seemed a habit in him, mingled with an expression of
commiseration.

‘You will get on,’ he said, ‘you will recover. You will be strong by
the time we get to Toulon.’

‘Toulon?’ I said, speaking faintly.

‘Yes, madame, Toulon. We are going to Toulon. This brick is now
proceeding to that port.’

‘Toulon?’ I exclaimed.

‘Madame knows without doubt where Toulon is?’

I gazed at him in silence.

‘Does it fatigue you to speak?’ said the young man whom I will
hereafter call Alphonse, for by no other name did I ever know him.

‘No,’ said I in a whisper.

‘Then tell me, madame, how it happened that you were in the miserable
condition from which we rescued you?’

I tried to think, but I could not think. I forced my gaze inwards, but
beheld nothing but blackness. I strained the vision of my mind, but it
was like straining the balls of the sight at a dark wall in a midnight
of blackness.

‘You do not remember,’ said the young Frenchman, shaking his head, ‘the
circumstances that brought you into the miserable condition from which
we released you?’

‘I can remember nothing,’ I whispered. ‘What was my condition?’

‘Stop till you hear me tell you the story,’ cried Alphonse, holding
up two fingers, ‘and then you will remember it all. This ship is what
is called a brick [brig], and her name is _Notre Dame de Boulogne_.
She belongs to the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer. Her owner and captain is
Pierre Regnier. He is my uncle. He is the gentleman that was here with
me. I, madame, by occupation am a waiter. I am a waiter at the Hôtel
des Bains, Boulogne-sur-Mer. Our customers are nearly all English, and
we _garçons_ are expected to speak English. My native town is Toulon.
My uncle Regnier, hearing that I had a holiday, says, “Come with me,
Alphonse, in my brick to Toulon. That is my first port of destination.”
I consented, and that, madame, explains how it is that I am here. Well,
it was three mornings ago--only think! It was a dark morning, and the
hour was between five and six. It was foggy, and there was a little
rain. One of the sailors saw a boat; it was close to us; before he
could give the alarm we had struck it--slightly only, very luckily,
or, madame, where would you now be? Our ropes tore down the boat’s
mast, and our sailors looking cried out that there was somebody in the
boat. In some way the boat was entangled, and she was drawn along at
our side, but the brick was sailing very slowly and the sea was not
rough. My uncle Regnier commands the sailors to get into the boat,
and they find you lying there. They bring you on board, and by this
time there is a little daylight, and we see that there is blood upon
your face, and that you are hurt here and here,’ and Alphonse, as he
spoke, pointed to his brow and to his nose, above the bridge of it. ‘No
sooner have we taken you on board than the boat liberates herself; she
breaks away, and my uncle says, “Let her go.” Well, we carry you into
the cabin, and I put a mirror to your mouth and find that you breathe.
I am not a doctor, but I know a thing or two. I ask my uncle for
sticking-plaister, and first I wash the wounds and then I strap them
up, and they cease to bleed. No doubt, madame, you were wounded by the
boat’s mast falling upon you. You reclined insensible in the boat when
the mast fell. Was it so? Or was it the blow of the mast that made you
insensible? No, naturally you would not remember. But it was certainly
the mast that produced these wounds, for you lay with the mast upon
you, and the sailors said they saw blood upon the mast. Luckily for
you, madame, the side of the boat prevented all the weight of the mast
from hitting you, or----’ he shrugged his shoulders with a grimace and
extended his hands. ‘That now is all I can tell you.’

‘You found me in a boat?’ I said.

‘Oh yes, madame; certainly, yes.’

‘In a boat? Why was I in a boat? I cannot remember. Oh, what has
happened to me? I have no memory! It has all gone! Where am I? What is
this that has come to me?’

I raised myself upon my elbow, and instantly fell back, weak, sick,
with an overwhelming feeling of horror upon me.

‘Be calm, madame, be calm. I am not a doctor, but I know a thing or
two. What is the memory? Tut! It will return. Chut! Before you arrive
at Toulon you will have your memory. Let me hear your name, madame?’

‘My name?’ I exclaimed, and I thought and thought, and my mind seemed
to wrestle and struggle within me, like something living that has been
buried alive.

A light effort to recollect speedily grows into a sort of pain. This is
true of trifles--as, for instance, a name, the recollection of which
is not important, but you desire to pronounce it; the mind explores
the gallery of the memory in vain for it, and the failure to find it
grows into a worry and presently into a torment. Think, then, how it
was with me when this young Frenchman asked me for my name, and I could
not recall it! Recall it! Oh, that is to speak too mildly. Why, when I
turned my mental gaze inwards it was like looking into a black abysm
of a profundity impenetrable, upon the unreachable bottom of which
was strown the wreckage of my past, were scattered the memorials of my
life, for ever to be hidden from me, as I then believed.

‘Let me hear your name, madame?’ said the young Frenchman.

I thought and thought and answered, ‘I cannot remember my name.’

‘Not remember your name! But that is droll. Does it begin with A? Does
it begin with B?’ and he ran through the alphabet.

I listened, and all these letters sounded as idly upon my ear as the
noise of the wind or the sound of passing waters.

‘But you are English?’ said he.

Again I thought and thought, and replied in a whisper, ‘I cannot tell.’

He ejaculated in French. ‘Will you not ask me some questions?’ said he.
‘Perhaps whilst you ask questions you will be able to recollect.’

‘What shall I ask?’ I answered, ‘I remember nothing to ask.’

‘Ask about the boat we found you in.’

‘Yes, tell me about that boat,’ said I.

‘Aha!’ cried he, ‘you remember then. You know there was a boat?’

‘I remember that you have told me that you took me from a boat.’

‘Bravo! What does that signify? I am not a doctor, but I know a thing
or two. Madame, if you can recollect what I say, memory you must have.
Is it not so? The faculty you have. It is like a snake: all its body is
asleep to the tip of its tail, but it is awake with its eyes. What do
you think of that illustration, madame?’

I listened to him and viewed him in silence. I felt terribly weak
and ill, but far worse to support than this feeling of weakness
and illness was the horror that was upon me--a horror I could not
understand, an inward presence that was made the more dreadful by my
not being able to find a reason for it.

‘Do you ask me about the boat?’ said Alphonse. ‘She had two masts, but
one was broken by us. Beyond that----’ he shrugged his shoulders. ‘She
slipped away when it was still dark. That was a pity. There would no
doubt have been a name upon her.’

He ceased, and I observed that he fastened his eyes upon my hands.
Then, after looking for some little time with attention at my face, he
struck his forehead and cried, ‘What a fool am I not earlier to have
thought of it! An instant, madame. I will go and bring you your memory.’

He departed, and in a few minutes returned, holding a large oval
handglass. ‘Now,’ he exclaimed, smiling, ‘look at yourself, madame,
and, though I am not a doctor, I pronounce that all will return to you.’

He elevated the glass and I looked at myself. But what did I see? Oh,
reader, turn back to the description, in the opening pages of this
story, of the lady seated at the head of the tea-table in the parlour
of the house past the avenue of chestnuts; turn to it, and compare that
face with what I saw reflected in the mirror held before me by the
young Frenchman. The hair was snow-white; one eyebrow was snow-white;
but the other eyebrow was concealed by a wide strip of white
sticking-plaister. There were several such strips, which intersected
each other upon the right brow, and one of them extended to the bridge
of the nose, entirely sheathing the bone or cartilage, and leaving but
little more than the extremity of the nose and the nostrils visible.
The dark eyes were sunk and dim. The cheeks were hollow, and the
complexion a dingy sallow, and as much of the brow as was left exposed
and parts of the flesh of the face were covered with thin lines, as
though traced by the point of a needle.

This was the face that looked out upon me from that hand-mirror. I
stared at it, but I did not know it. Yet it did not terrify me, because
I was unable to remember my former face, and therefore no shock of
discovery attended my inspection. No, the sight of that dreadful face,
with its milk-white hair and plaistered brow, with here and there a
stain of dry blood upon the plaister, did not terrify me. I gazed as
though beholding something that was not myself, and still I knew that
the face that confronted me was my own face, and _this_ it was, and
not the face that deepened the indeterminable feeling of horror by
quickening within me the awful silent question, ‘_Who am I?_’

‘Now, madame,’ exclaimed Alphonse, ‘look steadily, and you will be able
to pronounce your name and to remember.’

I closed my eyes, and when I opened them again he had removed the
glass. I tried to speak, but though he inclined his head he seemed
unable to hear me. On this he put his finger to his lips, and, after
viewing me a while with an expression of pity and astonishment, he went
softly out.

During the greater portion of the day my condition was one of stupor.
Yet there were intervals when my mind was somewhat active. In these
intervals I questioned myself, and I became acutely sensible of the
indescribable feeling of horror that was upon me, and at such times I
beheld, painted upon the gloom of the shelf on which I lay, the strange
face that had gazed at me out of the hand-glass, and again and again
I saw that head of a woman whose snow-white hair lay in long thick
tresses about her shoulders and upon the rude bolster, though a portion
of it was looped up and fastened in coils on the top of the head by
hairpins, whose dark eyes were weak and without light, whose cheeks
were hollow, and the skin of them and of her brow finely lined with
innumerable wrinkles, whilst the whole countenance was rendered wild
and repulsive by the lengths of white sticking-plaister that striped
her temple.

Thrice during that day I was visited by the young Frenchman, who, on
each occasion, brought me soup and some red wine. He was accompanied
on his third visit by the great fat man, his uncle, and by a short
man with an immense moustache and several days’ growth of beard--a
fierce-looking man, with dark knitted eyebrows, and gleaming black
eyes with the savage stare of a gipsy in their intent regard. He was
swathed in a coarse coat of pilot cloth, the skirts of which descended
to his heels, and on his head was a fur cap which he did not remove as
he stood viewing me.

They watched Alphonse feed me; I was scarcely conscious of their
presence, and even if I heeded them, which I doubt, their inspection
caused me no uneasiness, so languid were my faculties, so sick even
unto death did I feel, so profoundly bewildered was I by the questions
I asked myself, and by the blackness which lay upon the face of my mind
when I turned my gaze inwards and searched it.

The fat man, Regnier, addressed Alphonse, who nodded and said to me:
‘Well, madame, have you yet thought of your name?’

I answered, ‘No.’

‘And you cannot positively tell me that you are English?’

‘I am speaking English; I speak no other tongue; I am English, then.’

‘No,’ he exclaimed, smiling, ‘you might be American. And you say you
do not speak any other language than English? How can you tell? You
may have forgotten other languages in which you could converse. For
example: you might be a German who speaks English excellently; and now
by some caprice of the intellect you forget your German, and express
yourself in English. I am not a doctor,’ he added, wagging his head,
‘but I know a thing or two.’

And, turning to the others, he addressed them swiftly and with great
energy.

At some hour of the night I fell asleep. When I awoke, the sunshine was
streaming brilliantly upon the little circular porthole. I lifted up my
head and then raised myself upon my elbows and found myself stronger. I
also felt better; the feeling that had been like approaching death was
gone and the sickness was passed. I heard the sounds of a fiddle and of
a man’s voice singing in the next cabin. I listened to the voice and
knew it to be that of the young Frenchman, Alphonse. The motion of the
vessel was comparatively quiet. She was sailing somewhat on her side,
but she rolled very lightly and the upwards and downwards movement was
trifling. I felt that I had strength enough to sit up, but the upper
shelf was too close to my head to suffer me to do so. I lay still and
tried to think, and my thoughts ran thus:

Who am I? The face that I saw in the mirror yesterday is mine, but
it begets no recollection. I do not recognise it. It is mine, yet it
is a face that I have never before seen. How, then, can it be mine?
But since that unknown face must be mine, who am I? I was found
lying insensible and wounded--and here I laid my fingers upon the
sticking-plaister upon my brow--in an open boat. She had two masts
and that is all they can tell me. How was it that I was in that boat?
When did I enter her? I have been in this ship four days. How long was
I in the boat, and from what part do I come? And then there was such a
struggle of my mind that drops of perspiration started from my brow.
I cannot express the agony that inward conflict caused me. I said to
myself, Am I mad that I do not know who I am? What has happened to
kill in me the power to recollect? What has happened to extinguish
the vision in the eyes of my mind? All is black! I remember nothing
down to the hour of my waking in this cabin; but since then everything
that has happened, everything that has been said I remember. I can
repeat the conversation of Alphonse, I can describe the appearance
of his uncle and of the man who accompanied him; yes, and I can also
describe accurately the face that I yesterday viewed in the glass
which the young Frenchman held up before me. Therefore memory is not
dead, neither can I be mad to be able to reason thus. Why then will not
memory pronounce my name and give me back my past that I may know who I
am, that I may know to what place to return? And I covered my face with
my hands and wept.

Presently my tears ceased to flow. The strains of the fiddle and the
voice of the singer were silent in the adjacent cabin. What is there to
assist me to recover my memory? I thought; and I turned my eyes upon my
figure as I lay stretched upon that sleeping-shelf, and looked at my
ringless hands; and then my gaze ran with wildness over as much as I
could see of the little cabin, but no suggestion came. My mind seemed
torpid, unable of itself to receive or to produce ideas.

Somewhat later I heard a knock on the door. I exclaimed ‘Come in!’ and
found that I had my voice again; yet there was nothing in the tone of
it to help my memory. Alphonse entered and bade me good-morning.

‘You look better, madame,’ said he; ‘do you feel better?’

‘Yes; I feel stronger and better this morning.’

‘Now, what did I tell you? Perhaps to-morrow you will be able to get
up. Are you hungry?’

‘I believe I can eat,’ I said.

He snapped his fingers and instantly went out. When he returned he
brought with him a cup of chocolate, some biscuits, marmalade and
butter, and a boiled egg.

‘What think you of this breakfast, madame, for a little brick? We have
six hens on board, and this is the only egg this morning. Can you eat
without help or shall I feed you?’

‘I think I can eat without help if I sit up.’

On this he put his hand into the shelf over my head and took several
boards out of it. I could now sit up; he placed the tray on my knees
and I ate and drank.

‘You are very good, you are very kind to me,’ said I. ‘What return
shall I be able to make--what acknowledgment----’ and I ceased eating
to press my hand to my brow.

‘Continue your breakfast,’ said he. ‘We will not talk of acknowledgment
here. At Toulon you will obtain excellent medical advice. And now shall
I tell you something?’ added he, with a smile.

I looked at him.

‘You are a lady. Your accent is that of the English lady of birth. I
cannot mistake. I have waited upon many English ladies, and can always
tell a lady of title. Do I assist your memory when I say that you are
a lady of title?’ Seeing that I shook my head, he continued: ‘I call
you madame. Perhaps I should say milady, or perhaps I should say miss.
I beg your pardon, but you have no rings. A lady like you will have
rings. Are they in the pocket of your dress? I ask, because if you saw
your rings you might remember.’

‘Where is my dress?’

‘It is here,’ and he stepped to a part of the cabin near the door and
held up the dress.

I fastened my eyes upon it, but it suggested nothing.

‘Has it a pocket?’ I said.

He felt, and answered, ‘Yes, and there is something in it,’ and
slipping in his hand he brought out a pocket handkerchief and a purse.
‘Aha!’ he cried. He examined the handkerchief and said: ‘Here are two
letters--“A. C.” Pronounce them.’ I did so. ‘Now what do they signify?’

I turned them over and over and over again in my mind. ‘They suggest
nothing,’ I said.

‘Patience!’ he exclaimed, and opening the purse he looked into it.
‘Nothing but money,’ he said, after examining the two or three
divisions. ‘Here is one pound; and here,’ he continued, turning the
money into his hand, ‘are two half-crowns, sixpence, and some pennies.
Is there nothing more?’ He looked again, and exclaimed with a stamp of
his foot: ‘Nothing but money!’



CHAPTER V

ON BOARD ‘NOTRE DAME’


On the afternoon of this second day of my rescue, I found myself
sufficiently strong to rise and repose in an old stuffed arm-chair,
which the young Frenchman brought from an adjoining cabin. My limbs
were weak and I trembled exceedingly. Nevertheless, I contrived to put
on my dress, which had been thoroughly dried, so Alphonse told me,
at the fire in the fore-part of the ship where the sailors’ food was
cooked.

This obliging and most humane young Frenchman also supplied me with
certain toilet requisites of a homely kind indeed; yet the refreshment
of washing my face and hands and of brushing my hair seemed to give me
new life. The young Frenchman hung his oval hand-glass upon the cabin
wall, and when he was gone I surveyed myself.

For a long while I could not lift the brush to my hair. I could only
gaze and dumbly wonder with memory writhing sightless within me. I
took the glass to the circular window; there was a strong yellow glow
in the air outside, and the afternoon light focussed by that circular,
tube-like window, lay upon my face. I intently examined my countenance,
but I witnessed nothing that gave me the least hint of the past. I
beheld a great quantity of snow-white hair, languid and lustreless dark
eyes, the lids of which were half closed, hollow cheeks, a skin scored
with innumerable fine lines, and the whole rendered repulsive by the
stripes of stained plaister. When presently, having washed my face and
hands, I began to brush my hair, many hairs came out on the brush.
I passed my fingers through my tresses, and my hand came away with a
quantity of white hair in it. I sighed and wondered, and trembled with
weakness, and with the miserable horror that again visited me.

But now, instead of wearily thinking over and over again ‘_Who am I?_’
my mind was haunted by those two letters ‘A. C.,’ which the young
Frenchman had found in the corner of my handkerchief. I uttered them
over and over again, fancying that the initials might suddenly expand
into the full name, for I believed that if I could remember my name I
should be able to recollect everything else.

When I had brushed and dressed my hair I drew forth my purse, and held
it in my hand with my gaze riveted to it. But the black conflict in my
mind grew too violent for my strength. I put the purse into my pocket
and rocked myself in my chair, crying and crying until you would have
thought my heart must break.

The Frenchman punctually brought me food and drink. He repeated that
he was certain I was a lady of title; he had waited on too many female
members of the British aristocracy to mistake. ‘You will see that I
am right, madame,’ said he, and with this conviction his politeness
increased, though more respectful his manner could not be.

During the evening I was visited by the uncle, whose speeches the young
man translated.

‘You are better,’ exclaimed this large, fat, stolid man, who could not
speak without nodding. ‘Take the word of Captain Regnier, who is not
often mistaken in his opinion. You are better, and you will soon be
well. But you must recover your memory before we arrive at Toulon, that
the British Consul at that port may be in a position to forward you to
your friends.’

‘But if I cannot remember, what is to become of me?’ said I.

‘Oh,’ he answered, ‘that will be the affair of the British Consul. Why
should not a Consul earn his salary? These gentlemen have very easy
times.’

‘It is settled,’ said Alphonse, ‘that you are English. It will be the
British Consul’s business to find out all about you.’

‘But if I cannot remember?’

‘It will still be his business,’ said Captain Regnier, who understood
me, ‘to find out all about you. My nephew is right. You are undoubtedly
an English lady of distinction,’ and he bowed to me with a strange
motion of his bulky form.

The conversation continued in this strain for some time. They then left
me.

The next afternoon the young Frenchman persuaded me to leave my cabin
for the living room in which Captain Regnier, his nephew, and the mate
Hénin took their meals. The young man gave me his arm and conducted me
to the living room with the grace and tender attention of a perfectly
well-bred gentleman. I found myself in a cabin many times larger
than the tiny berth I had quitted, yet it was a very small apartment
nevertheless. It is necessary that I should describe this interior
that you may be able to understand what befel me later on. Figure a
small square room, the ceiling within easy reach of the hand, the
walls of a grimy colour that might have been either brown or yellow.
In the centre of the ceiling was a large window, or rather several
windows in a frame not unlike those glass frames in which cucumbers
are grown. This window, as I afterwards came to know, would be called
a skylight. There was a square opening in the deck a little distance
behind this skylight, with a short steep flight of steps ascending to
it. This opening would be called the hatch, and the deck was gained by
passing through it. Close behind this ladder or flight of steps were
the doors of two berths, one of which I occupied, and under the steps I
observed a large cask, one end of which came very close to the door of
my berth. Do not suppose that I immediately noticed these details. When
I first entered that grimy and somewhat gloomy living room I took heed
of little indeed. There was a small square table in the middle of the
cabin and on either hand were rough dark fixed boxes termed lockers.
A lamp of a curious pattern swung under a beam overhead. Such was the
cabin of the brig _Notre Dame de Boulogne_.

Alphonse brought the arm-chair from my cabin and placed it near the
table. He then placed a bundle of old numbers of the _Charivari_ on my
lap, and I turned the pages with a mechanical hand, incessantly saying
to myself, ‘What can the letters “A. C.” stand for?’

I might know that it was a very fine evening by the clear crimson light
that tinctured the glass in the frame overhead. The motion of the brig
was easy and the lamp under the ceiling or upper-deck swung softly and
regularly. I heard the murmur of hissing waters, and occasionally the
voice of a man calling out abruptly echoed through the little opening
that conducted to the deck.

I sat alone for some time. After I had been sitting alone for about
half an hour, viewing the French comic paper with an eye that beheld
nothing, since it was for ever inwards turned, Alphonse came out of the
cabin next to mine with a fiddle in his hand.

‘Now madame,’ said he tapping it with the bow, ‘tell me what this is.’

‘It is a fiddle,’ said I.

‘Is not this a proof of memory?’ cried he. ‘How could you call it a
fiddle if you did not know it to be a fiddle? and in this case to know
is to remember.’

‘You reason well,’ I said smiling, and a sad smile I fear it was that I
gave him. ‘You converse as one who has been well educated.’

‘I was very well educated, madame,’ he answered. ‘Those of our
condition in England are not so well educated as we of France. We owe
much to the priests. There are no such schoolmasters in the world.
Otherwise I do not love priests. I am an infidel, and my opinions
coincide with those of Voltaire and Volney. What is your religion,
madame?’

I was unable to answer him. He put his fiddle against his shoulder and
asked if he should play me a tune and sing me a song. I begged him to
do so and forthwith he played and sang. He sang some merry French
rhymes and the air was very lively and pretty.

Hardly had he ended his song when a lad with a dirty face and a
quantity of brown hair hanging over his eyes came shambling down the
stairs, bearing a large teapot and a dish of fried ham. Alphonse
surveyed him with disgust, and withdrew to his cabin to put away his
fiddle. The boy prepared the table for a repast that I afterwards
understood was called supper by the Frenchmen. He lifted the lid of
one of the large dark fixed boxes and brought out some plates and
cups and saucers which he placed upon the table. He breathed hard and
idled in his business of furnishing the table that he might stare at
me. The meal, when ready, consisted of tea, ham, large brown biscuits,
marmalade, and a great piece of cold sausage. Alphonse returned and
stood looking at the table.

‘This would not do for an English milord to sit down to,’ said he, ‘it
would make him swear, and certainly your English milord knows how to
swear. I should not like to wait upon company at such a table as this.
But it is the sea--that sea which the English people love, but about
which they know less than the French, though they talk much of their
dominion maritime. Is there nothing on the table,’ he added with a
comprehensive gesture of the hand, ‘that gives you an idea, madame?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Can you pronounce the names of what you see?’

‘Yes.’

‘How droll! how incredible! _Mon Dieu_, what a thing is the human
intelligence! Because one little nerve or cell in the brain perhaps
is wrong,’ here he tapped his forehead, ‘all is gloom. It is like
turning off the gas. You go into a corner downstairs, you move a key
no longer than that, and a great hotel of seventy bedrooms and thirty
sitting-rooms is instantly plunged in darkness.’

He was interrupted by the arrival of his uncle, who, pulling off his
red cap, gave me a bow and seated himself. I drank a cup of the tea;
there was no milk, yet I found the beverage refreshing. I also ate
some biscuit and marmalade. The conversation was all about myself.
Captain Regnier’s speeches were translated by Alphonse, and my mind
was stimulated by what was said. I found myself capable of asking
questions; but few were the questions I could find to ask. I had
nothing to base them upon save the story of my rescue from an open
boat, as it had been related to me, and the Frenchman had nothing more
to tell me than that she was a boat with two masts.

‘Was I alone in her?’ I asked.

‘Oh yes, you were alone,’ answered Alphonse.

‘How is it possible that I should be alone in an open boat?’ I
exclaimed.

‘It was a pleasure-boat,’ said Captain Regnier; ‘without doubt you
sailed on an excursion from some port, and were blown away to sea.’

‘But alone!’ I cried.

‘You were alone, madame,’ said Alphonse, and, eagerly addressing his
uncle as though a fine idea had occurred to him, he exclaimed; ‘Could
you not tell by the build of the boat what her nationality was?’

Captain Regnier shrugged his shoulders until his ears were hidden.
‘What is there of nationality in a boat of that size?’ he answered.
‘The boats of France, of England, of Europe in general--are they not
very much alike--especially in the dark?’

‘How long will it take you to arrive at Toulon?’ I asked.

Again Captain Regnier, when this inquiry was translated, shrugged his
shoulders and answered that it was a question for the wind.

‘I will fetch the chart,’ said Alphonse, ‘and madame shall remark our
situation for herself.’

He arose and walked to the forward part of the living room. I had
supposed that that part was wholly walled off from the other portion of
the ship. But the young Frenchman, putting his hand upon a ring in the
middle of the wooden wall, drew open a sliding door. Captain Regnier
said in broken English: ‘My cabin is there.’

In a few minutes Alphonse returned with a large map or chart, which he
unrolled upon a part of the table that he cleared to receive it. It was
too dark, however, to read the small print on the chart, and Captain
Regnier, breathing short and heavily with the exertion of moving
his vast shapeless form, lighted the lamp. My feebleness would not
suffer me to rise and bend over the chart, and perceiving this the two
Frenchmen held open before me the wide sheet of cartridge paper.

‘There,’ said Captain Regnier, pointing to a part of the chart with a
large fat forefinger on which glittered a thick silver ring, ‘there,’
said he, ‘is the situation of _Notre Dame de Boulogne_ at the present
moment.’

‘That point of land,’ exclaimed Alphonse after translating, ‘is
Finisterre. The brick then is off Finisterre. Does the name of
Finisterre give you any ideas?’

I continued to think, with my eyes rooted to the chart, and then I
answered, ‘None.’

‘Here is Toulon,’ said Captain Regnier, ‘and this is the course of the
vessel to that port,’ and he ran his fat finger down the chart, past
the coast of Spain and through the Straits of Gibraltar to the Gulf of
Lyons.

‘It is a long way to Toulon,’ said I.

‘Yes,’ answered Alphonse, ‘it is a voyage.’

Captain Regnier addressed his nephew. ‘Superb! Admirable!’ cried the
young Frenchman. ‘Ah, my uncle is a clever man! What do you think he
proposes? That you shall look at the coast of England and read the
names upon it, and if you are an English lady who, as my uncle says,
has been blown away in a pleasure-boat from a port in England, why----’
and with great excitement he pulled the end of the chart out of his
uncle’s hand, rolled it up until only that portion which contained the
English Channel was left open, and then placed the chart thus rolled up
upon my knees.

I looked, and the two Frenchmen stood viewing me. I trembled with
eagerness and fear, for I thought to myself, ‘Here may be the
spark that will flash up the whole of the blackened galleries of my
memory--and yet it may not be here!’ and shiver after shiver ran
through me as I looked.

‘Read aloud, madame; read aloud,’ exclaimed Alphonse.

I read aloud; name after name I pronounced, taking the towns one after
the other, from the Thames to the Land’s End, and then with trembling
finger and whispering lips I traced the coast on the western side, even
to the height of Scotland; and then I continued to read down on the
eastern coast until I came to the River Thames.

‘Ah, my God! my God!’ I cried, and I hid my eyes and sobbed. The chart
rolled from my knees on to the deck.

‘Patience,’ exclaimed Captain Regnier. ‘The memory will return. Give
her some wine, Alphonse.’

I drank, but though I recovered my composure there had happened such a
deadly struggle within me, so fierce and rending a conflict--betwixt,
what shall I say? the spirit, shall I call it, grappling with eyeless
memory?--that I lay back in my chair, prostrated, incapable of speech.
And how am I to convey to you, who are following my story, the effect
produced by the words I read--by the names of the towns I read
aloud--upon my mind? This was the difficulty I foresaw when I undertook
to relate my experiences. But let me do my best. The effect was this:
the names I uttered--that is to say, the names of those towns which I
had heard of; for some little places which I had never heard of were
marked upon the chart--the names, then, of places which I had heard of
and known sounded as familiarly to my ear as my own name would have
sounded before my memory went. But that was all. I could associate
no ideas with them. They presented no images. They were perfectly
familiar _sounds_ and no more. Though the chart was of French, or at
all events of foreign manufacture, all names in Great Britain were
printed as they are spelt by us. Therefore I could not console myself
with reflecting that the words I had read were spelt in the French way,
and without suggestion to one whose memory was gone. No, every word was
in English. Often have I since wondered whether Piertown was included
in that chart. Probably it was not. So insignificant a place would not
be deemed worth marking down.

‘The lady is undoubtedly English,’ said Captain Regnier to his nephew.
‘Only a native of her country could pronounce its tongue as she does.’

‘I am not so sure of that,’ answered Alphonse. ‘I have known Germans
and Danes, and I have known Dutchmen and Swedes who have spoken
English as well as madame. Uncle, I know a thing or two. Be a waiter
and you will learn much to astonish you. But I agree that she is an
Englishwoman, yet not because she speaks English well. Her style is
English, and you will find that she is a lady of rank.’

This conversation I was able to imperfectly follow. I felt too ill, too
miserably sick at heart to sit in that cabin conversing, and begged
Alphonse to conduct me to my berth. He did so with the same gentleness
and courteous attention with which he had led me from it. Before
leaving me he said, ‘If it is fine to-morrow I shall have the pleasure
to take you on deck. The fresh air will do you a great deal of good.
And, who knows? your memory doubtless left you while you were in the
boat. It is, therefore, in the sea, and when you look at the sea it may
come up to you out of it.’

I enjoyed some hours’ sleep that night and awoke refreshed and
stronger. I tried to remember if I had dreamt. Before I fell asleep it
entered my head to fancy that if I dreamt of even a little bit of my
past--that even if in a vision, the merest corner of the black curtain
would rise to enable me to catch a glimpse of what was behind when I
awoke--then by remembering _that_ I should end in remembering all. But
when I tried to think if I had dreamt I found that my slumber had been
without visions. I dwelt upon those dark hours of sleep, but they had
been dreamless, and there was nothing to evoke.

It was a fine bright morning. The vessel was sailing along almost
upright, with a regular succession of floating falls and risings of
that hinder part of her in which my berth was situated. The glory of
the ocean morning was upon the waters; they flashed in blueish silver
windily, and the dazzle rising off them streamed in trembling splendour
through the porthole, and filled the little coarse and homely berth
with ripples of lustre.

Alphonse brought me some soup, biscuit, and a new-laid egg from the
hencoop in which were stocked the few hens which the brig carried. When
I had finished the repast I arose and dressed myself, and entered the
cabin or living-room, where sat Alphonse playing the fiddle, whilst
the mate, Hénin, seated on one of the chests or lockers, with half a
tumbler of claret in one hand and a biscuit in the other, kept time by
nodding.

‘Very good, indeed, madame; very good, indeed!’ cried Alphonse, putting
his fiddle down and clapping his hands. ‘I did not believe you would
get up until the afternoon. Come! you are better, and you will be well
before we arrive at Toulon, where you will find your memory waiting for
you.’

‘I do not understand,’ exclaimed the fierce-looking mate Hénin, staring
at me with gleaming eyes, though he addressed Alphonse and spoke in
French, ‘why it is that the lady does not remember. Can she recollect
yesterday? Undoubtedly,’ he exclaimed with a savage gesture. ‘Then the
brain that can recall yesterday should be able to bring back as many
yesterdays as it needs. Let the lady try, and she will remember.’

‘Bah!’ said Alphonse. ‘Do not mind this man,’ said he. ‘He does not
understand English, and I can say what I like. Do not suppose him
fierce because he looks so. He has a tender heart, and weeps easily.
Yet there is not a more excellent sailor in the French marine; at
least my uncle says so, and my uncle is a very clever man. Shall I now
conduct you on deck?’

‘I should like to go on deck,’ said I.

‘Let me see; you will want a chair. You are not yet able to stand long
or walk very far, and you have no covering for your head.’

I put my hand to my hair and exclaimed, ‘Was I without covering to my
head when you found me?’

‘No. You wore a straw hat. It was crushed by the fall of the mast. When
the sailors raised you to bring you on board, the hat fell off, and
they left it in the boat. One of the men in the bad light saw a dark
mark upon the straw, and he said it might be blood.’

‘It was a straw hat?’ said I. ‘A straw hat?’ and I mused until I began
to _think_ myself into one of those black and frightful conflicts of
mind which had before prostrated me with their unspeakable anguish. I
checked the horrible internal struggle by forcing myself to speak, and
so diverting my thoughts.

‘What is there that I can wear to protect my head?’

The mate Hénin, who continued to stare at me with fiery eyes, said,
‘What does the lady say?’ Alphonse explained. ‘Wait,’ cried Hénin
fiercely, and, putting down his glass and biscuit, he went to the
ring in the forward wall of the cabin, slided the door open, and
disappeared. In a minute he returned with a long cloak hanging over his
arm. He ran his eye over my figure, then held up the cloak to compute
its size. It was a dark green cloak, of a very monkish pattern; it had
a large hood, and was comfortably lined with some sort of delicate fur.

‘Let the lady wear this,’ exclaimed the man. ‘It is almost new, and
therefore clean. She is welcome to it,’ and he flung it into the
outstretched hands of Alphonse, and, with a fierce countenance, resumed
his seat.

I put on the cloak; it was loose, and completely enveloped me. I then
drew the hood over my head, and, assisted by the young Frenchman,
painfully ascended the steep steps and gained the deck. The first
sweep of the fresh sunlit wind almost overpowered me; I reeled and
closed my eyes, but this swooning sensation speedily passed.

The huge fat figure of Captain Regnier stood near the wheel; Alphonse
called to him to give me the support of his arm until the chair was
brought on deck. After the comparative gloom of the cabin the brilliant
morning sunshine nearly blinded me, and for some while I was forced to
keep my eyes half closed. In a few moments Alphonse came up the stairs
with the arm-chair, which he placed in the sunshine, but in a part of
the deck that was sheltered from the wind by the box or hood that was
fitted over the little hatch that conducted to the cabin. And now, my
sight having grown used to the dazzle, I looked about me.

I found myself on the deck of a small vessel, whose shape resembled
that of a box rather than that of a ship. She had two masts, across
which were stretched sheets of patched and discoloured canvas. On the
top of the hinder mast was a small red streamer, surmounted by a little
brass ship that shone like a ray of white fire in the air as it pointed
with its red streamer attached directly in the path along which the
brig was being steered. The planks of the deck were dark, and every
object that the eye rested upon suggested dirt and neglect. I remarked
a boat painted white standing upside down near a little wooden house
like a sentry-box, whose roof was pierced by a chimney from which a
trail of dark smoke was blowing over the bows. I gazed earnestly at
that boat; it seemed a familiar object to me; all else was strange--the
tall masts, the wide-spread sails, the straight black lines of rigging,
the dingy green paint of the bulwarks, the twenty details of rope
hanging in coils, of pumps, of skylight, and I know not what else,
for how should a woman be able to give names to the strange furniture
of the sea? All else was new. I searched my dark mind, and the picture
of this brig sailing along with the wind blowing over her stern into
her dingy wings was as novel as though she were the only vessel in the
world, and I was beholding her for the first time.

But the boat seemed familiar. I could not take my eyes off it for some
minutes. Why should this be? I asked; and then my sightless memory
began to struggle, and I addressed the young Frenchman, who stood at my
side, for the relief to be found in speech.

‘I seem to have seen that boat before.’

‘Impossible, madame.’

‘What does the lady say?’ exclaimed Captain Regnier, who leaned against
the bulwarks with his hands in his pockets opposite me.

Alphonse repeated my words. The large fat man pulled one hand out of
his pocket to emphasise his speech with gestures.

‘My uncle says no. You cannot remember that boat,’ said the young
Frenchman. ‘He has owned this brick twenty years, and the boat is
twenty years old, and in all that time she has belonged to the brick.’

‘Why, then, should she seem familiar to me?’

He reflected, and then put his forefinger to the side of his nose.

‘I think I know. We took you out of a boat; all your sufferings were
in a boat; the idea of a boat has been burnt in upon your mind by pain
and misery; and now when you see a boat you cry out--“Ah! surely I know
her.” You will say that of any boat. It is a very good sign. I say it
is a very good sign that you should think you know that boat.’

He then volubly addressed his uncle, who nodded, and grunted, and
shrugged, and appeared to agree.

I remarked two or three men about the deck in the fore-part of
the brig. They were ill-clad, lean and yellow, and grim, dark and
forbidding for want of the razor. They stared very hard at me, ceasing
in their work to do so, and certainly their curiosity was more than
justified, for I can well believe that I made an extraordinary figure
with my plaistered and withered face, and white hair showing in the
twilight of the large hood, and the rest of me draped by the cloak to
the very plank of the deck.

It was a beautiful morning, the hour about eleven. The ocean was of the
colour of sapphire, and it flowed with the brig in long and regular
lines, and here and there the froth fitfully flashed and faded. The
sky on the left was shaded with a high delicate network of cloud, but
elsewhere the firmament was of purest blue, graced and relieved by
widely scattered little bodies of pearl-like vapour, all sailing our
way. The wind was sweet and mild, and now every breath that I took of
it seemed to give me a new spirit.

‘Look there, madame,’ exclaimed Alphonse, ‘you have not yet seen that
beautiful sight,’ and directing my eyes over the bulwark on the right,
I beheld a stately ship, a large, lovely, and radiant fabric, with
sail upon sail of the milk-white softness of sifted snow swelling and
diminishing one above another to an altitude that made one think of the
little gold buttons on the top of her masts as stars. She was passing
us swiftly. A small white line of foam throbbed along the long red
streak that rose up her side a little above the level of the water.
Soft flames of white fire broke from many parts of her as she swept
her windows and the glass upon the deck and many ornaments of furniture
of polished brass into the direct flash of the sun.

‘Oh! that is a beautiful sight, indeed,’ said I.

‘Does it give you no idea, madame?’ said the young Frenchman; then
finding that I continued to gaze without answering him, he exclaimed:
‘Look now at the sea. Is there not something in the sight of that sea
to make you remember? Figure land yonder, and imagine for yourself a
town upon it. What sort of town shall it be? Come, it must be the town
you sailed from in the boat with two masts. And see now if we cannot
create it. It will have a pier--there will be sands: or say it has no
pier, and the cliffs are white----’

‘Oh God, my heart will break,’ I cried.

Another day and yet another day passed. And now I had been a little
longer than a week on board the French brig.

It was Sunday. The day had broken in gloom, and when I arose and
dressed myself at ten o’clock I could scarcely see in my cabin. There
did not seem to be any wind. The vessel was rolling somewhat heavily,
and alternately she plunged the circular window of my cabin under
water, and then the dusk turned black with nothing but a green glimmer
where the porthole was; and then as she rolled away on the other side
and lifted the little window weeping and roaring out of the swollen
hill of green water, there was a noise as of the explosion of guns; but
no foam flew about the window, whence I judged that the vessel was not
making any progress.

By this time I had grown accustomed to the motions of a ship at sea.
I moved without difficulty, and poised myself to the slanting of the
deck under my feet with something of the ease of habit. When I had
dressed myself on this Sunday morning I put on the cloak that the mate
Hénin had lent me, and entered the little state cabin or living room.
The young Frenchman, Alphonse, sat at the table with an open volume
before him. He looked up as I approached.

‘Well,’ said he, ‘is it as bad as you feared?’

‘Yes,’ I answered; ‘if my hair goes on falling out as it now does, I
shall be bald before we arrive at Toulon.’

He smiled and said: ‘Oh no! You have a great deal of hair. Many ladies
have I seen, but never one with such abundance of hair as you.’

‘I am losing it fast.’

‘It will grow again. It is not as if you were very old.’

‘Very old!’ I exclaimed, ‘what is my age? What do you think it
is? Tell me. I earnestly wish to guess.’ Then, observing a certain
expression to enter his face, I added with vehemence: ‘Do not attempt
to flatter me. Tell me exactly what you believe my age to be. Even out
of _that_ may come an idea to me.’

‘It would not be fair to you to guess,’ said the young man, with the
little French smirk that had entered his face swiftly fading out of
it; ‘look how your forehead is bound up! Figure yourself in good
health--your face entirely visible--_bien coiffée_ besides--but you ask
me for the truth, and I will tell you what I suppose. You are, madame,
about forty-five years old.’

‘It may be so,’ I answered, and my head sank, and for some moments
my senses seemed to leave me, so benumbing was the bewilderment that
possessed me as I tried to think, wondering why I could not remember
my age, wondering why I could not remember my name, wondering whether
the sable curtain before which the hand of calamity had placed me would
ever rise.

‘The French,’ said Alphonse, ‘are hair-dressers in perfection. There
is a hair-dresser of genius at Toulon. He is my friend. I will speak
to him, and it will be strange if he does not possess the secret
of preventing your hair from falling out.’ He closed his book and
continued: ‘I believe you will not much longer require to wear that
plaister, yet I would advise you to keep it on until you are able to
consult a physician. A friend of mine at Toulon is an excellent doctor.
I will speak to him about you. But how gloomy--how gloomy is this day!
I hope there will not be a storm. Would you like to go on deck?’

I mounted the steps and looked about me. The scene of ocean was indeed
a melancholy one. The sea was running in large heaps of ugly green,
and there was not a breath of air to wrinkle the polished slopes. The
sky was a wide and sullen shadow of grey, nowhere broken, and the
sweeping folds of the water worked and throbbed all round the base of
that mighty stretch of shadow as though they washed the foot of a vast
circular wall. The vessel rolled from side to side, and at times her
canvas slapped the mast with a noise like a sudden clap of thunder. At
a distance lay a ship rigged as ours was. She had very little canvas
set, but what she showed was white, and it glared out like the breaking
head of a sea as she swayed her masts.

Mate Hénin was on deck. He stood at the bulwark, and supported his
rocking figure by holding a rope, and the scowl upon his face as he ran
his gleaming eyes over the sea was as dark as the scowl upon the sky.

‘How is this weather to end?’ called Alphonse to him.

‘In wind,’ he answered.

‘Will it be a fair wind?’

‘The devil alone knows. But better a hurricane than this.’ He uttered
a malediction. ‘Is it to be Toulon with us? Or is it to be six months
of the Bay of Biscay? Are we to run short of water and provisions? I
am no oyster, I. Give me a hurricane sooner than six months of the Bay
of Biscay in this tumbling shell.’ He uttered another malediction, and
scowled even yet more fiercely as he looked up at the sky and then
around him.

Alphonse translated his speech with a smile. ‘Do not mind him,’ he
exclaimed; ‘he has a tender heart and no man sheds tears more easily.’

It began to rain and I returned to the cabin. I removed the cloak,
seated myself on a locker and gave myself up to thought. If I could
not remember who I was, what was to become of me? When this brig
arrived at Toulon whither should I proceed for shelter and protection?
Captain Regnier had spoken of the British Consul; but I was a stranger
to the British Consul. I had nothing whatever to communicate to him
about my past, saving that I was found far out at sea in a little
sailing-boat, and rescued by the people of the brig _Notre Dame de
Boulogne_. Would he house me or elsewhere find shelter and food for
me until he had discovered who I was? But how would he be able to
discover who I was? And when he found that inquiry was futile would he
go on sheltering and protecting me? My thoughts filled me with terror.
I was ignorant of the duties of a Consul, and I could not understand
that there might be anything to hope or to expect from him. Then,
again, my memory being gone, I was as much at fault when I reasoned
forwards as when I directed the eyes of my mind backwards. I could not
conceive, for instance, that on my landing at Toulon, and representing
my dreadful and helpless condition to the British Consul, he would
take steps to send me home, because I had no imagination of home. I
could not positively affirm that I was English; I was in the condition
of a mute--nay, I was far worse off than a mute, because a mute has
his memory, and can express what is in his mind by writing or by dumb
show; whereas I had nothing to tell. I could speak, and the words I
pronounced were English; but that was all. However my tale might run,
it would be without meaning: and when I thought of myself as landing
at Toulon, of arriving at a place where I had not a friend--though
if there had been twenty friends there I should not have remembered
them--when I thought of the few shillings my purse contained, that
all the wearing apparel I possessed was upon me, that I should not be
able to say who I was, where I came from, in what part of the world my
home was situated--when I thought thus I trembled in every limb, my
heart felt cold as stone, and I strove to ease the agony of my mind by
weeping; but no tears flowed. I had wept so often of late throughout
the days, and in the dark hours of the nights, that the source of my
tears seemed to have been dried up.

The good-natured Alphonse, observing the dreadful and insupportable
misery in my face and posture, thought to cheer me up; he sat beside
me, entreated me not to fret, and spoke cheerfully of the future. But
my inward anguish was too extreme to suffer me to listen to him, and
after awhile he withdrew to his cabin and played somewhat stealthily
upon his fiddle, thinking, perhaps, I could not hear him, yet wishing
to divert himself.

Shortly before the cabin dinner hour, that is to say, a little before
one o’clock, there was a sudden commotion on deck, a noise of ropes
hastily flung down, the sounds of men running about, accompanied by
Captain Regnier’s bull-like bawlings. In a few minutes I heard a
strange hissing, and the vessel leaned over and continued to lean
down until she had arrived at so sharp an angle that I was only saved
from sliding off the locker by pressing at the whole length of my
arms against the table. The shouts of the men on deck were confused
and incessant. Every man seemed to be roaring out orders on his own
account. There was likewise an alarming noise of canvas violently
shaken. The vessel was plunging heavily, and every now and then she
received a blow from a sea that thrilled through her as a house shakes
when a loaded van is passing the door, and every blow was followed by
a fierce noise of seething like the sound of water poured on fire.

The young Frenchman’s cabin door opened and Alphonse crawled out on his
hands and knees. He climbed up the slope of the deck to the side of the
table at which I sat, and gazed at me with an ashen countenance.

‘This is terrible!’ he cried.

‘What has happened?’ I asked.

‘A frightful storm has burst upon us!’ he answered. ‘Blessed Virgin!
why does not the brick lift herself out of the water?’ and here he
made the sign of the Cross upon his breast, which led me to suppose
that, like many other Frenchmen, and like many other people who are not
Frenchmen, Alphonse was an infidel only in fine weather.

We remained seated, hearkening with terrified ears to the uproar on
deck and to the thunderous beating of the sea against the little
vessel. After some while the brig grew more upright, the halloaing
above ceased, and there was nothing to be heard save the creaking of
the old structure as it pitched and wallowed, and a subdued noise of
angry, raving, foaming waters.

The light in the hatchway was eclipsed, and the immense mass of Captain
Regnier descended the steps. His coat was streaming, and on his gaining
the cabin he pulled off his sodden red cap and flung it with a furious
gesture into a corner.

‘Oh, uncle, what is the matter?’ cried Alphonse, clasping his hands.

‘Matter!’ answered Captain Regnier, ‘why here is a dead foul wind
blowing strong enough, if it lasts for twenty-four hours, to lose us
every league we have gained in the last three days.’

‘Is there any danger?’ asked Alphonse.

The large fat man eyed him in silence for a moment, then, pulling a big
silver watch from the waistband of his trousers, he roared out: ‘Let us
dine or there will be plenty of danger.’

This said he ascended the steps until his head was in the air above the
cover, and having delivered himself of a bull-like shout he returned,
pulled off his great overcoat, and seated himself in his shabby
velveteen jacket.

‘But you will tell me if there is any danger?’ said Alphonse.

‘I will tell you nothing until I have dined,’ answered Captain Regnier.

The young man sat with a white face viewing his uncle wistfully. There
was expression enough in the fat Frenchman’s stolid face to reassure
me; moreover, I could not suppose that he would think of his dinner and
apparently of nothing but his dinner in a time of danger. Yet, had he
informed Alphonse that the brig was in peril I should have listened
to the news with indifference. My dejection was heart-crushing. I was
wretched to the inmost recesses of my spirit with the despair that
comes of hopelessness, and never before had I felt so lonely.

The brig’s movements were horribly uncomfortable. It was blowing very
hard and the sea was growing. I do not know whether the vessel was
sailing--that is to say, whether she was making any progress through
the water--but they were steering her so as to cause her side to form
an angle with the gulfs of the foaming billows, and the dance of the
light structure was as though she must at any moment go to pieces.

Despite the jerky, convulsive, dislocating movements, the grimy French
lad who waited in the cabin contrived to place the dinner upon the
table. The meal was composed largely of soup, and I cannot conceive
how the youth managed. I drank a little soup and ate a piece of
biscuit, and this with a small draught of red wine formed my dinner.
Alphonse ate nothing; he continuously gazed at his uncle, who addressed
himself to the meal with both hands, gradually lying back as he drained
the contents of a large tin dishful of soup, and then placing a bottle
half full of wine at his lips and emptying it, and then grasping a
large piece of sausage with one hand and a whole biscuit with the other
and rapidly devouring them.

‘This is not a moment to think of knives and forks,’ said he; ‘if we
are to perish let us meet our end well lined.’

‘To perish!’ cried Alphonse.

‘Bah!’ exclaimed Captain Regnier, with his mouth full. ‘Did you not
tell me the other day that if I were a waiter I would know a thing or
two? Well, I now imagine myself a waiter, and am talking as one. As
a waiter I pronounce that we shall perish, but as a sailor I say no!
no! we shall not perish this time. There are many napkins remaining
for you to fashion into fans and cocked-hats before you are drowned by
shipwreck.’

The young Frenchman’s vivacity immediately returned to him.

‘It is inspiriting to even think of napkins at such a time,’ said he.
‘They awaken fancies of the hotel, the _table-d’hôte_, of a thousand
agreeable things. After Toulon--the deluge. You do not catch me
returning to Boulogne with you, uncle. Give me the railway. I now
detest the sea. Ciel! how the ship leaps. And remark this poor lady.
How has the sea served her?’ He snapped his fingers, and extended his
hand for a piece of the sausage.

Both men spoke in French, but I understood enough of their discourse to
enable me to repeat the substance of it.

‘If this wind holds,’ said Captain Regnier, ‘it will be the deluge
before Toulon. A thousand thunders! To think that it should come on to
storm dead ahead! What virtue is there in patience when there is no end
to waiting?’

‘Why not sail the ship to a convenient port,’ said Alphonse, ‘and wait
there in comfort and serenity until the weather changes?’

‘Go! you are a sot,’ responded Captain Regnier, scowling at him.

The motion was so excessive that it pained me to sit upright. I spoke
to Alphonse, who addressed his uncle, and the captain, going to my
berth, brought the mattress from the sleeping shelf, and placed it on
one of the chests or lockers on what is called the ‘lee side’--that
is, on the depressed side of the vessel--and when he had fetched the
bolster I lay down.

The afternoon slowly passed away. The skylight was shrouded with wet,
and the shadow of the storm-coloured sky was upon it, and in the cabin
it was so gloomy that Alphonse told the lad who waited at table to
light the lamp. I was not sea-sick, but the swift risings and fallings
of the brig gave me a dreadful headache, and so dimmed my sight that I
could scarcely see.

You who read this may very well know the sea as it is to be experienced
in large ships. You may have rolled and plunged over mountainous waves
in a steam-vessel of vast bulk, whose cabin is radiant with mirrors and
lamps of polished metal, and with furniture as sumptuous as that of the
drawing-rooms of a palace! You have had a luxurious berth to withdraw
to, attentive stewards or stewardesses to minister to you, and all the
while you have been comforted with a sense of incessant progress, with
the assurance of the pulse in everything that you touch, in everything
that you feel, that the noble engines are magnificently doing their
work, and ruthlessly forcing the crushing and shearing stem of the
powerful metal structure along the path that leads to your destination.

But exchange such a ship as this for a brig of small burthen; exchange
the brilliant interior of the great ship for the dingy, snuff-coloured
living-room of a little brig with scarcely light to see by, and
with the air full of the thunder of the warring without. Often the
lamp swung so violently under the beam from which it dangled that I
languidly watched to see it extinguish its own flame against the upper
decks. There was a sickening sound of sobbing waters over my head, and
there were many furious discharges of spray or wet upon the planks,
the noise of which was like the abrupt fall of a terrible hailstorm
liberated from the black breast of a tropical electric cloud.

The afternoon passed and the evening came, and when Captain Regnier
descended from the deck to eat his supper he told his nephew, who had
hidden himself in his berth during the afternoon, that the weather was
moderating, and that, though he expected the night would be very dark,
the wind would enable him to make sail. It befel as he had predicted.
By seven o’clock the wind was no more than what sailors would term a
moderate breeze, and the sea was fast going down, though at this hour
the brig was still plunging heavily. It was pitch dark, however, on
deck. When the mate Hénin came into the cabin to fetch a warm coat to
keep his watch in, or, in other words, to wear whilst he took charge
of the brig from eight o’clock until some late hour of the night, he
addressed a number of sentences with great vehemence and impetuosity to
the young Frenchman, who, on the mate withdrawing, informed me that
Hénin declared that in twenty-eight years’ experience of the sea he had
never remembered such blackness as was at this time upon the ocean.

‘Would you believe it, madame?’ cried Alphonse. ‘Hénin swears that the
very foam which breaks close alongside the brick is not to be seen.
What do you think of that?--I will go and look at the night for myself.’

He ascended the steps, but speedily returned. ‘It is raining,’ said
he, ‘and it is cold too, I can tell you. And does Hénin call it black?
Black is too weak a word. I will tell you what it is like: it is like
the blackness of a stormy night, when you look at it after your eyes
have been fearfully dazzled by a flash of lightning.’

All this while I remained extended upon the mattress upon the locker,
covered by mate Hénin’s cloak, and with head pillowed on the rude
bolster that had been withdrawn from my sleeping-shelf. Soon after the
mate had gone on deck, Captain Regnier came down the stairs. He took
his seat at the table under the lamp, and Alphonse produced a box of
dominos. The captain, who on a previous occasion had learnt that I did
not object to the smell of tobacco, filled a strange pipe formed of a
great Turk’s head and a long curved stem, and smoked. He likewise put
his hand into an adjacent locker and mixed himself a tumbler of white
liquor which, that it might not upset, he placed upon a small tray that
was oscillating above the table. The two men then played with singular
gravity, the fat man smoking with stolid deliberation, whilst the young
man watched the game with impassioned intentness.

The little brig groaned and pitched and tossed; the skylight glass
overhead lay in panes of ebony, and duskily and gleamingly reflected
the figures of the two domino players; through the open hatch that
conducted to the deck came the roaring and hissing noise of conflicting
waters and the whistling of the wind in the rigging. It was raining
hard; the rain-drops lashed the glass of the skylight. I gazed at the
two men, but I did not know that I watched them. All the while I was
asking myself, What can the letters ‘A. C.’ stand for? And I tried to
recollect the names of women, but in vain. Then I said to myself, Am
I English, or is it likely that the young Frenchman was right when
he said that I might be a German who spoke English with a perfect
accent, and who now, by some caprice of the reason cruelly afflicted by
suffering, is compelled to speak in the English tongue, forgetting her
own?

Many extraordinary thoughts or fancies of this kind visited me as I lay
watching those two domino players. Imagine yourself without memory,
not merely unable to recollect in this or in that direction: no. But
imagine your mind without power to suggest a single idea to you, to
submit a single image to you that had existence previous to an hour
comparatively recent!

At nine o’clock I withdrew to my berth. By this hour the two men had
finished with their dominos. Alphonse replaced the mattress and bolster
in my sleeping-shelf, and whilst he was thus occupied I said to him: ‘I
feel a strange horror upon me to-night. There is a sense of loneliness
in me that seems to be breaking my heart.’

‘Madame must cheer up. She will find her memory at Toulon.’

‘My mind is hopelessly dark and silent. I have been all this evening
trying to think, and the struggle has made me ill.’

‘I will fetch you some brandy and water.’

‘No, thank you. What you gave me half an hour ago is sufficient. It
is not that--I dread the darkness of the long night--the fearful
solitude--oh, the fearful solitude! Will not Captain Regnier permit me
to burn a light.’

‘He is timid, and very properly timid,’ answered Alphonse. ‘Conceive
a fire breaking out. A fire at sea, and on such a night as this!’
He shuddered, and then looked up at the strange globular lamp that
depended from the centre of the ceiling of my cabin. We conversed with
the door open, and the lamp that burned in the living room shed a faint
light upon the interior of my berth. ‘But it _is_ lonely,’ the young
Frenchman continued in a voice of pity. ‘I dare say my uncle will not
mind--at all events he need not know.’ He raised his hand to the lamp,
and with a twist removed the metal bowl or compartment for the oil and
mesh out of the globe. ‘I will fill this, and bring it back to you,’
said he.

He returned after a short absence, lighted the wick, and turned it down
that it might burn dimly, then screwed it into the globe. I felt deeply
grateful, and took his hand and held it whilst I thanked him. He left
me, and putting on mate Hénin’s cloak to keep me warm, I got into my
miserable little sleeping shelf and lay down, grateful for, and feeling
even soothed by, being able to see.



CHAPTER VI

A TERRIBLE NIGHT


I may have slept for an hour or two; but for the light of the lamp, I
believe, I should not have closed my eyes in rest, so unendurable would
my spirits have found the heavy burthen of the darkness of the night. I
opened my eyes. The lamp burned dimly. The vessel was rolling somewhat
briskly, and I seemed to hear a louder noise of wind than I had noticed
before falling asleep. The creaking throughout the cabin was ceaseless
and distracting. The rudder jarred heavily upon its hinges, and every
time a billow smote it I felt a shock as though the brig had struck on
a rock.

On a sudden I heard a cry. It came faint and weak to my ears through
the deck and through the door; but I heard it, and I caught the note of
horror in it, and never shall I forget that cry! Whenever I recall it I
think of the wailing scream of some strange wild tropic beast, wounded
to the death and faltering to the edge of a river, and there sending
its death cry into the quiet Indian night.

The sound was re-echoed over my head, followed by a hasty rush of
feet. A few moments later there was a terrific blow. The concussion
was as though the brig had blown up. I heard the rending and smashing
and splintering noises of falling masts and of bulwarks crushed. The
brig heeled over and over, and yet over; one might have supposed that
some mighty hand had grasped her side and was slowly swaying and
pressing her upside down. Fortunately for me the wild and inexpressible
slope of the vessel to one side laid me against the wall to which my
sleeping-shelf was fixed, and so I could not fall out. Had it been the
other way about I must certainly have been flung from my bed, when, in
all probability, I should have broken a limb if not my neck.

Whilst the brig was in the act of heeling over, something heavy
immediately outside my berth gave way, struck the door, which, opening
outwards, was not burst, though the blow it received might well have
demolished the whole of the wooden wall in which the door was hung.
I tried to get out of the sleeping-shelf, but the slope continued so
sharp that I could not stir. There were many noises, but my cabin was
situated in the stern of the brig, and the confused sounds reached my
ears dully. When the vessel leaned over immediately after she had been
struck, the cargo in the hold gave way, raising an instant’s thunder of
rattling and clattering, and shaking the whole structure to its heart.
I strained my ears for human voices, but caught but a dim far-away
shout or two. I could not get out of my sleeping-shelf, and, believing
that the brig was sinking, I screamed to the young Frenchman, who I
supposed was in the next cabin, but got no answer. I screamed again and
yet again, but no reply was returned.

What had happened? Ignorant as I was of the sea, how could I
imagine what had happened? Was Captain Regnier wholly wrong in his
calculations, and had he run his brig ashore? The sea was leaping
angrily over the sloping side in which the little porthole of my cabin
was fixed. It broke over the window as though the hull of the brig
had been an immovable rock, and every billow roared and hissed as it
fell back after its furious leap shattered and boiling. Presently the
vessel regained a somewhat upright posture, but her movements were
terribly staggering. She rose and fell, and rolled from side to side
convulsively. She appeared to be labouring in the heart of an angry sea
that was ridging towards her from all points of the compass.

I was almost out of my mind with terror, and the moment the decreased
slope of the brig enabled me to stir, I sprang from my shelf, and
hastily putting on the few articles of raiment which I had removed,
and clothing myself in mate Hénin’s cloak, I made for the door, too
terrified to appreciate the blessing of having a light to see by or
to guess what my sensations would have been had the berth been in
darkness. I grasped the handle of the door, but the door would not
open. I pushed it with all my might, but it would not stir an inch. I
looked to see if, when I turned the handle, the latch shot back. Yes!
the latch shot back, and if it depended upon the handle, the door was
to be easily opened. Something pressed against it outside, something
that would not yield by the fraction of an inch though I pushed with
the strength of frenzy.

I continued to push and to scream until I was seized with faintness;
my arms sank to my side and my knees gave way. Oh! am I to be left to
drown, locked up in this berth? I cried to myself, and I reeled to the
arm-chair and sat down in it incapable of standing.

The noise caused by the lashing of the sea just outside and the sounds
of cargo rolling about in the hold overwhelmed all that I might else
have heard sounding from above. Whilst I sat panting and half-swooning
a man cried out at my door.

‘Oh, help me! help me!’ I shrieked, and new strength coming to me with
the sound of his voice, I staggered to my feet.

‘Oh my God!’ cried the voice of Alphonse in French, ‘I cannot move
this cask. Help! help!’

Then I could hear the voice of Captain Regnier roaring in the distance
as though he had put his head into the hatchway and was crying to his
nephew through it.

‘Oh, Alphonse, release me, save me, I cannot open the door!’ I shrieked.

He answered in a voice of agony, but what he said I could not catch,
and this was followed by a sound of furious wrestling outside. Another
wild and frantic cry from Captain Regnier rang through the cabin, and
now the words uttered at the top of his powerful voice reached me.
They were, ‘If you do not come instantly we must leave you behind to
perish.’ Again I caught a noise of desperate wrestling. It ceased.

‘Oh, Alphonse, do not leave me!’ I screamed. ‘Do not leave me to be
drowned in this dreadful berth!’ and I strained my ears but I heard
nothing to tell me that the young Frenchman was outside; nevertheless I
stood listening, supporting my tottering and swaying figure by holding
to the handle of the door, for though I had heard his uncle call to him
to hasten on deck or he would be left to perish, I could not believe
that he would leave me to drown--that Alphonse would abandon me to a
dreadful fate though all the others should quit the brig. I thought to
myself, he has rushed on deck to remonstrate with Captain Regnier; he
is now imploring his uncle and the others to descend and help him to
remove the cask and liberate me, for I had heard him exclaim that the
door was blocked by a cask, and I recollected that one immense cask
or barrel had stood under the ladder which conducted to the deck; and
remembering this I supposed that when the brig had violently leaned
over, the cask had torn itself from its fastenings and been hurled
by the slant of the deck against the door of my berth, where it lay
jammed, immovably holding the door.

I stood listening, I say, but the minutes passed and I heard
nothing--nothing, I mean, that resembled a human voice or the movements
of men; otherwise there was no lack of sounds--horrible, dismal,
affrighting noises, a ceaseless thumping as of wreckage pounding
against the sides of the brig, a muffled, most melancholy whistling
and wailing of wind, a constant rattle and roar of cargo in the hold,
a frequent shock of sea smiting the window of my cabin and filling
the air with a sharp hissing and boiling, as of the foot of a great
cataract.

But when, after waiting and listening, I began to understand that
Alphonse had fled with the rest, that there was nobody in the brig to
come to my assistance, that I was imprisoned in a cell from which I
could not break out and which might be slowly settling under water
even as I stood, then was I maddened by an agony of fear and horror. I
uttered shriek after shriek; I dashed at the door with my shoulder; I
wept, and cowering to the chair sank upon it; then I shrieked again,
and falling on my knees upon the chair I buried my face and lay
motionless.

I lay motionless, and after many minutes had passed I lifted up my head
and gazed round the cabin, and a feeling of calmness suddenly settled
upon my spirits. Whence came that feeling of calmness? Not surely from
any faint hope that my life would yet be preserved, because I had not
the least doubt that the vessel was sinking and that the final plunge
must happen at the next moment or the next. The feeling of calmness
came from the Spirit of God. From what other source could it proceed?
But it never occurred to me that the Spirit of God was present in that
little berth; it never occurred to me to pray to Him for succour, or,
seeing that I was convinced I was a dying woman, to pray to Him to make
my last struggles easy and to forgive me for my past, whatever it might
hold--for hidden as that past was, it was human, and must therefore
need forgiveness. It could not occur to me to pray, because I was
without memory and my mind was unable to suggest the thought of God.
But as though I had prayed and as though my prayer had been answered my
mind grew tranquil.

I arose and seated myself afresh in the chair, and clasping my hands
and leaning back my head I fixed my eyes on the lamp for the comfort
of the companionship of the little flame in it. My intelligence was
horribly active, but the singular tranquillity within me was not to
be disturbed by the most dreadful of the imaginations which arose. I
remember that I calmly figured the moment when the brig would sink,
and I imagined a noise of thunder as the water roared in through the
hatchways; and then I had a fancy of the water taking a long while to
drain into the stoutly-enclosed berth, and of my sitting and watching
the flood slowly rising, washing in foam from side to side to the
rolling of the brig, but steadily rising nevertheless. All this I
figured, and many more frightful pictures passed before my inner
vision. Yet I continued calm and sat waiting for my end, supported by a
strength that had come to me without a prayer.

The hours passed and the brig still lived, and still did I remain
seated awaiting the moment that I believed inevitable. No stupor
was upon me: I took heed of what was passing. I remarked that the
brig rolled more gently, that the seas lashed my cabin windows less
spitefully, that the dreary pounding as of wreckage smiting the side
penetrated the fabric with a more softened note.

At last, turning my eyes in the direction of the window, I observed
that the gleaming ebony of it had changed into a faint green, and it
glimmered now as it had glimmered on that morning when I first opened
my eyes on board the brig. I knew that the storm had broken; but if the
vessel had been deserted by her crew, what would daylight signify to
me, who was locked up in a little berth, the sole living creature on
board a wreck--as I _knew_ the brig to be--which passing vessels would
glance at without visiting, and which could not much longer remain
afloat?

I watched the disk of glass change from dim green into clear yellow,
and whilst I continued to gaze, I heard a sound resembling the voice of
a man outside. Before I could make sure that it had been a human voice,
I heard it again. It was the voice of a man calling to another. My
strength returned to me as though I had been electrified, and springing
to my feet I rushed to the door and beat upon it. I smote the door
with all my strength with both hands clenched, and shrieked ‘Help!
help! Save me! Release me!’ in notes preternaturally shrill with the
maddening excitement of the tremendous hope and the desperate fears
which possessed me. In a moment the door was thumped outside, and a man
called out:

‘All right! we’ll see to you--we’ll release you;’ and then I heard
him shout in a roar that was even louder than the bull-like tones of
Captain Regnier, ‘Wilkins, there’s a woman locked up here. For God’s
sake bear a hand and jump on deck, and bring a couple of hands out of
the boat to clear away this cask. Here’s a cask that’s gone adrift and
has got slewed, and it is jammed betwixt the door and the ladder.’ The
man then thumped again upon the door, and cried to me, ‘Are you alone?’

‘Yes, I’m alone,’ I answered.

‘Keep up your heart; we’ll soon have you out of it,’ he cried. ‘How
long have you been locked up here? I cannot hear you. What! all night?
Oh, my God! and a woman too, and alone!’

A distant voice sounded in a sort of halloa.

‘This way,’ cried the man outside my door. ‘Bear a hand, my lads;
here’s a poor woman been locked up in this drowning brig all night.’

This was followed by some hearty English heave-ho’s! and then a
voice cried out, ‘Jump for a handspike, Bill!’ and several strange
exclamations ensued, such as ‘Heave, and raise the dead!’ ‘All
together, now!’ ‘Another heave and the waggon’s started!’

I heard a crash--the rolling of some heavy body--a strong English
oath--and the door flew open.

Four men stood in the doorway in a group staring into the berth. One of
them standing a little forward was a fine, tall, sailorly-looking young
man of a ruddy complexion. He wore small whiskers, and was dressed
plainly in a suit of pilot cloth with brass buttons, and around his
naval cap were two thin bands of brass. The other three were ‘common
sailors,’ as they are called, rough and sturdy fellows, any one of
whom would have been a match for the whole of the four or five poor,
half-starved French seamen who had formed the working part of the crew
of the brig.

The young man with the brass upon his cap stared at me for some
moments, as though dumbfounded with astonishment and pity.

‘Well, well!’ he cried, ‘to think that if I’d been content to merely
sing out to know whether anyone was aboard, I should have overlooked
you!’

‘Regular French job it seems, to leave a poor lady locked up alone
down here arter this fashion,’ exclaimed one of the sailors in a deep
growling voice. ‘Couldn’t they have found time to have shoved that
there cask out of the road of the door?’

The excitement of desperate emotions that had rendered my voice
shrill beyond recognition of my own hearing had passed. The strange
tranquillity which had visited my spirits during the night and
possessed them throughout the awful hours had returned to me. Without
agitation I extended my hand to the young officer, as I took him to be,
and said to him in a quiet voice:

‘Take me away. I have been locked up here all night.’

He took my hand and brought me into the living-room of the little brig.

‘There is no hurry,’ said he; ‘this craft is going to make a good
staunch derelict. I am here to find out if there is life to be saved.
One of you men open the door of that berth there and overhaul it.’

My knees trembled and I sat down. The young mate ran his eye over the
cabin, and, as though directed by peculiar oceanic instinct, walked
to the locker in which Captain Regnier had been wont to keep a little
stock of spirits and wine for present use, lifted the lid of the
locker, and took out a bottle which he uncorked and applied to his nose.

‘This will do,’ said he. ‘Simmonds, I noticed the scuttle-butt abreast
of the main hatchway. Bring the dipper full of water here.’

This was done. The young officer mixed a glass of white spirits--gin
or Hollands--and I drank. Then searching the locker afresh he found a
biscuit which he handed to me. ‘This will serve you,’ he exclaimed,
‘until we get you aboard, and then we will give you something warm and
nourishing.’ I ate a little of the biscuit, but it was dry as saw-dust
and I swallowed with difficulty.

The three sailors stood at the table gazing at me, and their rough
weather-darkened faces were full of sympathy and wonder. There was
nothing to surprise me in their astonishment. My right brow and the
upper part of my nose were still wrapped up with sticking plaister.
Over my head was drawn the hood of mate Hénin’s cloak, and the skirts
of this ample garment enveloped me. My snow-white hair was disordered,
and tresses of it fell past my ears on to my shoulders. And then I
might also suppose that the agony of the night had wrought in my
countenance and made of my face even a stranger mask than that which
had looked out upon me from the handglass which the young Frenchman
had held before it.

‘Can you tell me,’ asked the young officer, ‘how many people were in
this brig last night?’

I reflected and gave him the number.

‘There is no doubt,’ said he, earnestly looking about him and making a
step to peer into the berth which had been occupied by Alphonse, and
which one of the sailors had already examined, ‘that all hands of the
_men_ took the boat and made off after the collision, leaving you, the
only woman aboard, to sink or swim.’

‘One of the Frenchmen tried to save me,’ I answered; ‘he had a good
heart and would not have abandoned me, but he could not remove the
cask, and his uncle, the captain, called to him to make haste and come
on deck or they would leave him behind.’

‘There are some berths yonder, aren’t there?’ said he, pointing to the
forward wall where the sliding door with the ring was.

A seaman took the ring and slided the door open, and the three sailors
passed through.

‘Pray,’ said the young officer, examining me with curiosity, ‘might you
have been the captain’s wife?’

‘No.’

He looked at my left hand. ‘It was not to be expected,’ he continued.
‘I don’t love the French, but I believe they don’t make bad husbands.
Were you a passenger in this vessel?’

I fixed my eyes upon the deck.

‘Where was the brig bound to, can you tell me?’

‘To Toulon.’

‘From where?’

‘From Boulogne-sur-Mer.’

He ran his eyes over me again but was interrupted in what he was about
to say by the emergence of the three sailors.

‘There’s nothin’ living to be seen,’ said one of them.

‘What _is_ to be seen?’ said the young mate.

‘Vy, sir, in both cabins nautical instruments, charts, vearing apparel,
Vellington boots, bedding, and de likes of such things as them.’

‘We have rummaged the brig,’ said the young officer; ‘there’s nothing
left alive in her but this poor woman. Get the boat alongside, men.
Are you strong enough,’ said he, turning to me, ‘to ascend those steps
without aid?’

‘I fear not,’ I answered.

On this he put his arm around me and fairly carried me up the steps on
to the deck.

When I was on deck I looked round. Many large clouds floated under the
sky, and their shadows darkened the face of the ocean; but in the east
was a corner of misty sun with an atmosphere of rose betwixt it and
the sea-line, and a delicate pink glittered on the brows of the swell
as the dusky green folds rolled to the risen luminary. The brig was a
complete wreck. I could not believe that I was on board the same vessel
that had rescued me. There was a great rift in her deck high above the
water, though she sometimes rolled the black chasm dangerously close to
the sea. Many feet of her bulwarks on the left-hand side were smashed
into splinters. Her top-masts were broken, and they were washing at her
side, held by lengths of rope which resembled eels of inordinate length
crawling overboard. The white boat that used to stand in the fore part
of the deck was gone, and the sort of sentry-box in which the food
had been cooked was beaten into pieces. The hull was indeed the most
perfect figure of a wreck that the imagination could conceive.

‘A pretty collision, certainly!’ said the young mate; ‘but these dirty
old coasting foreigners never will show a light.’

At the distance of about a quarter of a mile was a large ship. She was
a far more beautiful vessel than the ship which had passed the brig,
admirably graceful, swelling and swanlike as I had thought her. She was
a long black ship, her sides as glossy as the hide of a well curried
Arabian steed. So mirror-like was her length that the light that was
upon the water trembled in cloudy flames in her sides. There was a
radiant device of gold under the white bowsprit, and a line of gilt ran
under the bulwarks from the radiant device to her stern, that likewise
flamed with decorations in gilt. Her masts were white, and she had
several white boats hanging at the extremities of curved iron bars at
her sides. Some of the sails were pointed one way and some another,
that one set might neutralise the impulse of the rest, and the noble
and swelling and queenly ship lay without progress, softly leaning and
gently bowing upon the swell whilst her spaces of canvas of a cream
white softness showed like a large summer cloud against the shadowed
sky of the horizon. She was close enough to enable me to distinguish a
few figures moving about her, both in her fore and in her after parts.

‘Oh! what is that ship?’ I cried eagerly, the instant I saw her.

‘She is the _Deal Castle_,’ answered the young officer. ‘She is the
vessel that was in collision with this brig last night. After the
collision we hove to, for there was nothing to be seen, and therefore
nothing to be done. It was blowing fresh. We burnt a flare and sent
up rockets, but nothing came of them. If the Frenchmen after launching
their boat were not drowned they must have been blown away to a
distance that lost them the sight of our rockets. Probably they were
picked up in the small hours. There was nothing to be seen of their
boat at daybreak this morning from yonder mastheads.’

He stepped to the side of the brig where the bulwarks were crushed,
looked over, and then turning to me called out: ‘Come along, if you
please.’

I approached him, and looking down saw a large handsome white boat with
five sailors in her, rising and falling at the side of the wreck.

‘Stand by to catch hold of the lady,’ exclaimed the young officer, and
he lifted me over the edge of the wreck into the powerful grasp of a
couple of sailors who received and seated me. In a few moments he had
placed himself at the helm, and the seamen were rowing the boat to the
ship.

I turned my eyes to view the receding brig. How miserable, how forlorn
she looked! The great gap in her side resembled a frightful wound, and
the _pouring_ look of the black rigging streaming overboard made the
ropes look like her life-blood draining from her heart into the ocean.
I thought of the little berth in the hinder part of her, of the lantern
that might still be dimly burning, of the disk of glass changing with
soul-killing slowness from ebony into dim green, and from dim green
into the yellow of daylight, and a sick shudder ran through my frame
and I averted my head, and for a little while held my eyes closed.

‘I should think,’ said the young mate, clearly guessing what was
passing in my mind, ‘that your escape will be the narrowest on record.’

‘I shall remember that I owe my life to you,’ I answered, keeping my
gaze downwards bent; for now the morning light had grown strong, and I
could not bear that my face should be seen. I hung my head and raised
my hand to the hood of the cloak, but the hood was as far forward as
it would sit. However, the distance to be measured was short; the boat
was swept along by the vigorous strokes of the seamen, and the young
officer was too busy in manœuvring to run alongside the leaning and
heaving ship to address or to heed me.

I perceived a group of some eight or ten people standing at the open
rail which protected the edge of the raised deck in the sternmost
portion of the ship. Their gaze was intently fixed upon us as we
approached. Some of them were ladies. Along the line of the ship’s
bulwarks were many heads watching us. A tall man in a frock coat with
brass buttons, detaching himself from the group in the after part,
called to the young officer, who replied; but their speech was in
the language of the sea, and I did not understand it. But even as
we approached, a ladder was dropped over the ship’s side; the young
officer mounted, and then extended his hands to assist me up the steps,
and very quickly I was transferred from the boat on to the deck of the
ship.

I was left for some minutes alone; for, after the young mate had
helped me to climb on board, he descended a ladder that conducted to
the raised deck, on which were several ladies and gentlemen, and,
touching his cap to the tall man in the uniform frock coat, he entered
into conversation, both of them looking towards me as they talked.
A large number of persons of both sexes--sixty or seventy in all, I
dare say--thronged that part of the deck where I had entered the ship,
and whilst I stood alone they gathered close about me, staring and
whispering. They were of the emigrant class, the bulk of them rudely
and poorly attired. A tawny-coloured woman, with braided black hair and
eyes of an Egyptian duskiness, after staring at me awhile, exclaimed,
‘Delicate Jesus, what a face! Shall I tell the sweet lady’s fortune?
And, gorgeous angels! look how her head is bound up.’

‘Hold yer tongue!’ cried a huge red-headed Irish woman, who had been
surveying me with her arms akimbo. ‘Pace ye hay-then!’ she exclaimed,
letting fall her arms and talking with her hands clasped in a posture
of supplication, ‘can’t ye tell who she is? She’s a sister of mercy,
and I know the order she belongs to. Sister, d’ye spake English? If
you spake nothing but French, then give me your blessin’ in French.
Pull out the blessed crucifix from the pocket in which you have hidden
it that ye mightn’t lose it in the dreadful shipwreck, and bless me.
I haven’t heard a prayer since I’ve been on board. Oh! sake the place
for a howly minute only of his sainted riverence, Father Murphy, me
confessor that I shall never see again--oh, that I shall never see
again!--and bless me.’

She spoke loudly, but in the most wailing voice that can be imagined,
and when she ceased there was a sort of thrusting and shoving of a
number of men and women to get near me, as though, poor souls! they
desired to participate with the tall, red-haired virago in the prayer
she had asked me to pronounce.

But whilst I stood surveying the rough and eager faces with alarm, the
young mate came from the upper deck and said, ‘Will you please step
this way?’

I followed him into the saloon--a long, narrow, brilliant interior with
several tables ranged down the centre of it. A number of stewards were
engaged in preparing the tables for breakfast. There were two or three
skylights, like domes, overhead, and there were many mirrors and plated
lamps, and globes in which gold and silver fish were swimming, and rows
of pots containing ferns. It was like passing from a cottage into a
castle to exchange the living room of the little French brig for the
comfort and splendour of the saloon of this noble ship.



CHAPTER VII

CAPTAIN FREDERICK LADMORE


A respectable-looking, pale-faced woman, attired in black, stood at
the head of a staircase that descended through a large hatch in the
forward part of this saloon. The young officer went up to her and said,
‘Mrs. Richards, we have just brought this poor lady off from the brig
that was run down last night. The captain requests that you will take
her below and make her comfortable. She has been locked up--think of
it, Mrs. Richards--she has been locked up all night, without food or
drink, in the berth of a craft that I dare say she supposed at any
moment might sink under her feet. When you have thoroughly refreshed
yourself,’ he exclaimed, addressing me, ‘the captain will be happy to
see you.’

‘I think you had better come to my berth,’ said the person whom the
young mate had called Mrs. Richards.

‘May I ask who you are?’ said I.

‘I am the stewardess,’ she answered.

She then conducted me down the stairs into what I afterwards learnt was
called the steerage. It was a part of the ship that corresponded with
the saloon, only it was not so broad, and there were but two tables
in the central passage or corridor. As in the saloon so here, there
were berths or sleeping compartments ranged on either hand, but these
quarters compared with the saloon were gloomy, and I do not remember
how daylight was obtained to illuminate the place; yet one could see
fairly well even when fresh from the glare of the deck.

The stewardess, opening a cabin door at the after end of the wide
passage, bade me step in, and I found myself in a plain but comfortable
little cabin, lighted by a large porthole, and furnished with two
mahogany sleeping shelves one above the other. Upon a table were one or
two account-books and a number of papers on files.

‘Please to sit down, ma’m,’ said the stewardess, speaking kindly. ‘You
look very weak and ill. Only fancy being locked up all night in that
sinking boat! You are English?---- Yes, the third officer addressed
you in English, and yet you may be French. Let me help you to take off
that heavy cloak. It is a man’s cloak and a handsome one, I declare. I
suppose you snatched at the first thing you could see to wrap yourself
up in when our ship struck yours?’

She paused in her speech to hang up the cloak, and then surveyed me
for a few moments in silence. I particularly observed that she ran
her eye with an expression of surprise over my figure, as though she
could not reconcile my white hair and withered face with my youthful
shape. You will not require me to tell you that I was dressed in the
plain, tight-fitting serge costume that I had worn when I made my last
excursion with the boatman Hitchens. It had not suffered much from
exposure, nor from the rude wear to which it had been subjected. It
looked fairly fresh, and at any time I should have thought it still a
wearable, serviceable dress.

‘You appear to have hurt your head very badly,’ said the stewardess.
‘But the injury does not seem fresh--the plaister is surely older than
last night?’

‘Oh yes,’ I answered.

‘But questioning you is not carrying out the captain’s orders, is it?’
said she cheerfully. ‘Now what shall I get you? What could you fancy?
Would you like a plate of chicken and ham and a fresh crisp roll hot
from the oven and a cup of hot coffee?’

I thanked her. She then pointed to a little fixed washstand in the
corner, and told me to make use of her hair-brushes and whatever else I
might require, and she then left me.

A square looking-glass hung over the washstand. I approached and
looked into it and then shrunk from it. Oh! I could not wonder that
the people in this ship had stared when I came on board. My white
hair that had been thinned by every application of the brush fell
raggedly down my back and upon my shoulders. My sallow complexion was
rendered peculiarly sickly by the pallor that had been put into it by
my sufferings during the night. The plaister was no longer white,
but soiled, and when for the second time I looked at my face, I again
shrank back and the old blind cry of my heart, _Who am I?_ rose dumbly
to my lips.

I sank trembling into a chair, and the words ‘Oh God!’ broke from me.
But the word ‘God’ was no more than the echo of a sound, whose meaning
was eclipsed. Again and again, and yet again, in my agony I had uttered
that holy Name, but with no more sense of the meaning than the babe has
when its tiny lips frame the syllables ‘ma-ma.’

After waiting a little I poured out some water and washed my hands and
face, and I then brushed my hair, but I observed that not so many hairs
came away in the bristles as heretofore. I seated myself again and
looked around me, and with kindling interest at the little furniture
in the stewardess’s berth. Near me hung a framed photograph of two
children, a boy and a girl, and close by it hung another photograph of
a respectably-dressed young woman in a bonnet, with an infant of a few
months old on her knee. At these things I stared, and there followed
an inward struggle that made me frown as I looked, and bite my lip and
pluck at my dress with my fingers.

There were other photographs of grown-up people. I glanced at them, and
at a little row of books, and at a work-basket, and at similar trivial
details. But my eyes went quickly back to the portraits of the two
children and the little baby, and I was still gazing at them when the
stewardess entered, bearing my breakfast.

‘Who are those children?’ I asked her.

‘My little nephew and niece,’ she answered, smiling and lighting up
as she spoke, ‘and that is my only sister with her first-born on her
lap. Oh, such a little cherub as it is! The sweetest baby! One, only
one did I have. He was sweeter, yes, even sweeter than that child,’ she
added, her gaze lingering upon the photograph whilst her voice fell
and her face grew grave. ‘I lost him three months after my husband
died----after he died and left me to ---- to ----. But here is your
breakfast now. Make a good meal. I am sure you need it.’

How much I needed it I did not know until I began to eat. I ate in
silence, and the stewardess did not interrupt me by speech. She moved
here and there, but all the while I was sensible that she eyed me
furtively. When I had finished she said:

‘Do you feel equal to seeing the captain? Or would you rather lie down
and take some rest? You look as if you needed a long sleep.’

‘Is the captain waiting to see me?’ I asked.

She drew out her watch. ‘He wishes to see you after breakfast, and the
passengers will assemble at breakfast in a few minutes. Unless you feel
very exhausted it might be as well that you should see him before you
lie down. He will want to know where you come from, so as to be able to
send you to your friends at the first opportunity. And then again you
will wish to see the doctor? You must have been badly hurt to need so
many straps about your head.’

‘I do not feel exhausted,’ I answered. ‘This meal has greatly
strengthened and refreshed me. I will sit here, if you please, until
the captain is ready to see me.’

‘I shall not be able to sit with you,’ said the stewardess. ‘My hands
are very full. We are not long from port, and some of my ladies have
not yet overcome their sea-sickness. And then I have a sweet, poor
young lady to see after. She is very ill of consumption. I fear she
will not live. Her mother is taking her on a voyage round the world,
but, like most people who are ill of consumption, the young lady has
started too late. At least, I fear so. I have seen too many instances
in my time not to fear so.’

‘Will you tell me,’ said I, ‘where this ship is going to?’

‘To Sydney,’ said she, pausing with her hand upon the door. She
continued to watch me for a few moments, and then with a smile said,
‘You know where Sydney is?’ I held my eyes bent downwards. ‘It is in
Australia,’ said she; ‘in New South Wales. It is a beautiful city, and
most people think that its harbour is the loveliest in the world.’

She opened the door, gave me a friendly nod, and passed out.

I remained seated, lost in such recent and slender thought as my mind
could find to deal with. The ship was moving through the water. I could
tell that by the tremble and hurry of light on the thick glass of the
closed port. The movement was regular, buoyant, and wonderfully easy
after the convulsive motions of the little brig. There was a clatter
of crockery and subdued noise of talk outside in the somewhat darksome
corridor, as I may call it, where some people--those no doubt who
lodged in this part of the ship--were at breakfast. A baby was faintly
crying in an adjacent cabin, but the compartments were stoutly divided,
and every note reached the ear dimly. I sat thinking, and I thought of
the terrible night I had passed, and of my abandonment by the young
Frenchman and his companions, and also of the kind treatment I had met
with on board the little French brig, and I thought of the days I had
spent in her, and how the young Frenchman had said they had found me
lying insensible, wounded, and bleeding in a boat with two masts; and,
one thought leading to another, I suddenly arose and stepped to the
looking-glass and gazed into it, and whilst I was staring at myself the
door opened and the stewardess entered.

‘I have just left the captain,’ said she, ‘and he will be glad to see
you in his cabin if you are equal to the visit.’

‘There are people about,’ I answered; ‘my face is--this plaister----’ I
put my hand to my brow, at a loss to express myself. I was ashamed to
be seen, yet I was not able to say so.

‘You look nicely--oh, you look nicely!’ exclaimed the stewardess
cordially. ‘Consider what you have gone through. How many would look
so well after being wounded as you have, and then locked up in a cabin
all night in a sinking ship? But you will not be seen. There is a
staircase at the end of this steerage, and it opens close against the
cabin door. Come, dear lady!’

She was about to lead the way out when she stopped and said, ‘What name
shall I give when I show you in?’

‘I do not know,’ I answered.

She stared and looked frightened.

‘I have lost my memory,’ I said, and as I pronounced the words, I
clasped my hands and bowed my head and sobbed.

‘Ah, poor lady! God keep your heart! You have passed through a great
deal surely,’ said the kindly creature instantly, with a woman’s
sympathetic perception, witnessing the truth of my assurance and
understanding my condition, and, tenderly taking my arm in her hand,
she conducted me out of the berth.

She led me to a narrow staircase at the end of the corridor. I heard
the voice of people at breakfast at the tables behind me, but I held
my head bowed and saw nothing. We mounted the staircase and emerged at
the aftermost end of the brilliant saloon, that was filled with the hum
and busy with the clinking and clattering noises of passengers talking
and lingering at the breakfast table. The stewardess knocked on the
cabin door, and without waiting for a reply opened it, and we entered.

Two gentlemen arose from their chairs as I stepped in, and the
stewardess, going up to one of them, said quickly but audibly, ‘She has
lost her memory, sir,’ and so saying went out, giving me a smile as she
passed.

The cabin into which I had been introduced was large and cheerful.
It was furnished as a private sitting-room. On a table were a number
of mathematical instruments; the deck was handsomely carpeted, and
but for the movement to be felt, and but for one or two points
of sea equipment, such as a silver telescope in a bracket and a
sleeping-place or bunk that closed as though it were a horizontal
cupboard, it would have been hard to imagine in this fresh, shining,
comfortably furnished room that you were upon the ocean.

One of the gentlemen was the tall man who had been accosted by the
young officer on our arrival. He was a very fine figure of a man
indeed, above six feet tall and proportionately broad. His age was
probably fifty, his complexion fresh, his eyes blue and kindly. There
was but little of the look of the sailor, as we are taught by books to
imagine him, in this man. With his grey whiskers, black-satin cravat,
and dignified air, he might very well have passed for a well-to-do City
banker or a country squire.

His companion on the other hand was a short man with sandy hair
streaked with grey, and a dry, shrewd Scotch face. He was dressed in
a suit of tweed, and I recollect that his boots resembled a pair of
shovels, so square-toed were they.

‘I am happy,’ said the tall gentleman, in a slow, mild voice, after
glancing at me with a mingled expression of pity and anxiety, ‘to have
been the instrument of delivering you from a terrible fate.’ He placed
a chair for me. ‘Pray be seated. My name is Ladmore--Captain Frederick
Ladmore, and I am in command of this ship, the _Deal Castle_. This
gentleman is Mr. McEwan, the ship’s surgeon.’

‘Who strapped your forehead up, may I ask?’ said Mr. McEwan, in a
strong accent incommunicable by the pen, and he came close to me and
stared at the plaister.

‘A young Frenchman who belonged to the vessel from which you rescued
me,’ I answered.

‘And a young ’un he must have been,’ said Mr. McEwan, with a smile
which disclosed gums containing scarcely more than four front teeth.
‘How did he lay those strips on, ma’m? With a trowel?’

‘You seem to have been badly hurt,’ said Captain Ladmore
compassionately.

‘No, no, captain,’ interrupted Mr. McEwan, ‘never make too much of a
woman’s troubles or complaints. There’s nothing to fret over unless the
bridge of the nose be a trifle indented.’

‘How did it happen?’ inquired the captain.

‘I was found in an open boat, lying insensible, with the mast of the
boat across my face.’

‘Oh! you were found in an open boat. By whom?’ inquired the captain.

‘By the people belonging to the French brig.’

‘Now I understand,’ said the captain. ‘I thought you might have
been--in fact, it puzzled me to know what you were doing on board that
little craft. How long were you in the open boat?’

‘I do not know.’

‘What sort of boat was she?’

‘I cannot remember.’

‘But you surely remember how it happened that you were in that boat,
and also how it happened that you were alone in her when rescued?’

‘No, I do not remember,’ I answered, biting my lip, whilst I was
sensible that my inward struggle and agitation was causing me to frown.

The two gentlemen exchanged looks. ‘I need not inquire whether you
are English,’ said the captain; ‘your accent assures me on that head.
And forgive me for saying that no one could hear you speak without
being satisfied as to your station in life. Let me see if I can help
your memory: you are a lady who in all probability engaged a pleasure
boat to take a cruise in, and you were venturesome enough to go alone.
The boat proved too much for you and she ran away with you. Or, dirty
weather came on and blew you out of sight of land.’

I listened to him with my eyes fastened upon the deck, greedily
devouring his speech; but all remained dark. I hearkened and I
understood him, and I believed that it might be as he had said, but
I could not say that it was so. No! no more indeed than had he been
telling me the experience of another of whom I had never heard.

‘In what part was your boat fallen in with?’ he asked after a pause.

‘I cannot tell.’

‘How long were you on board the brig?’

This question I could answer. He rose and took a chart from a corner of
the cabin, and then sat again with his finger upon the open chart.

‘Concede an average of sixty miles a day to that brig,’ said he,
addressing Mr. McEwan. ‘Her weather will have been ours, and we may
take it that her average will not have exceeded sixty miles a day in
the time during which the lady was aboard her.’ His lips moved as he
calculated to himself, and then, passing his finger over the chart,
he said: ‘The situation of the open boat when the French brig fell in
with her would be about----’ and he indicated the place by stating the
latitude and longitude of it.

‘That’ll be clear of the Chops, captain,’ said Mr. McEwan, ‘and at
_that_, though the lady may hail from England, she never can have
sailed from that country.’

‘It certainly would be a prodigious drift for a small boat,’ said the
captain, looking at the chart and speaking in a musing way. ‘It should
signify a week’s drift, unless the boat kept her stern to it with all
sail set. Perhaps I do not allow enough for the brig’s average run.’

‘The lady may have been blown from a French port,’ said Mr. McEwan.

‘What French port?’ inquired the captain, moving the chart that the
surgeon might see it.

‘I have an idea!’ said Mr. McEwan; ‘why must the lady have been blown
from a port at all? And why should the boat in which she was discovered
_necessarily_ have been a pleasure-boat? Who’s to say that she is not
the sole survivor of some disastrous shipwreck? In that case she may
have been coming home from the other side of the world. There’s more
happened to her, Captain Ladmore,’ said he, speaking with his eyes
fixed upon me, ‘than is to be occasioned by misadventure during a
pleasure cruise.’

‘Cannot you describe the boat?’ said the captain to me.

‘The Frenchman told me that she was an open boat and that she had two
masts,’ I answered.

‘Did they notice no more of her than that?’

‘No. She was entangled with the rigging and drove along with the brig
for a short distance. She broke away after I had been taken out of her,
and the Frenchman let her go. It was a little before daybreak, and
there was scarcely any light to see by.’

‘You remember all that!’ exclaimed Mr. McEwan.

‘I remember everything that the Frenchman told me,’ I answered; ‘and I
can remember everything that has happened from the hour of my returning
to consciousness on board the brig.’

‘Would not a ship’s quarter-boat have two masts, captain?’ said Mr.
McEwan. ‘Ye must know it is my theory that ’tis a case of shipwreck,
and that this lady may be the only survivor. Who can tell?’

‘I have known a ship’s long-boat with two masts,’ answered Captain
Ladmore, ‘but I never heard of a quarter-boat so rigged.’

‘Then the boat that the Frenchman fell in with may have been a
long-boat,’ said the surgeon.

‘I wish to find out all about you,’ said the captain gravely and
quietly, glancing at my bare hands and then running his eyes over my
dress, ‘that I may be able to send you home. A home you must have--but
where? Cannot you tell me that it is in England?’

I looked at him, and my swimming eyes sank. I could not speak.

‘This is sad indeed,’ said he. ‘Did you ever hear of so complete a
failure of memory, McEwan?’

‘Oh yes,’ answered the surgeon. ‘I’ll show you fifty examples of utter
failure in a book on the brain which I have in my cabin, and I can give
you half a dozen instances at least out of my own experience. At the
same time,’ he continued, speaking as though I were not present, ‘this
case is peculiar and impressive. But I should regard it as hopeful
on the whole because, ye see, there’s the capacity of recollecting
everything on this side of whatever it may be that occasioned the loss.’

‘Did the Frenchman find nothing in the boat?’ asked the captain gently.

‘Nothing,’ I replied, ‘except a straw hat that was crushed by the fall
of the mast, and stained by my wounds.’

‘It was your hat?’

‘They thought so,’ I answered.

‘Nothing more?’ said he, ‘merely a straw hat? But then to be sure it
was in the dark of the morning, and they were able to see nothing
more.’

He rose from his chair and took several turns about the cabin;
meanwhile Mr. McEwan steadfastly regarded me. His air was one of
professional curiosity. At last his scrutiny grew painful, but he did
not relax it, though my uneasiness must have been clear to him.

‘Can you give me any idea,’ said the captain, ‘of what became of the
French crew?’

‘I cannot,’ I replied.

‘It was barbarous of them to leave you on board a vessel which they
believed was sinking, or they would not have quitted her.’

‘I was kindly treated by them,’ I answered. One of them, a young
Frenchman, endeavoured to release me that I might gain the deck. But he
could not move the cask that was jammed between my door and the steps.
His uncle, the captain, threatened to leave him behind. The young man
would have saved me could he have procured help.’

‘That’s how it always is in a panic at sea,’ said the captain,
addressing Mr. McEwan. ‘I can tell you exactly how it happened with
those foreigners. When the brig was struck the seamen supposed that she
would instantly founder. They launched the boat, probably their only
boat.’

‘They had but one boat,’ I said.

‘Just so,’ exclaimed the captain; ‘they launched their only boat, and
then as they lay alongside they shouted to their skipper that if he
delayed they would leave him. No man has a chance with a cowardly crew
at such a time. I dare say, had it depended upon the French captain
and his nephew, you would have been brought on deck and taken into the
boat. But well for you, poor lady, that they did not stay to release
you! They blew away in the blackness, and in such a sea as was running
it is fifty to one if the boat was not capsized.’

‘Are there no initials upon your linen, ma’m?’ inquired the surgeon.

I produced from my pocket the handkerchief which the young Frenchman
had examined, and handed it to the surgeon, saying, ‘This was in my
pocket when I was rescued, and it must therefore be mine. The letters
“A. C.” are upon it. My under-linen is similarly marked.’

He looked at the initials, and then passed the handkerchief to the
captain.

‘Do not the letters suggest your name to you?’ said the surgeon. I
shook my head. ‘Would you know your name if I were to pronounce it,
d’ye think?’

‘I cannot say.’

‘Have you run over any names for yourself?’

‘I cannot think of any names to run over,’ said I.

‘Ha!’ exclaimed the captain, ‘how great, how awful is the mystery of
life, is the mystery of the mind!’ and as though overcome he stepped
to the porthole and seemed to look out, keeping his back upon us. Mr.
McEwan continued to scrutinise me.

‘Captain,’ he suddenly exclaimed again, speaking as though I were deaf
or absent, ‘the lady’s hair is snow white, d’ye mark? Her hair, as we
see it, doesn’t correspond with her figure. She’s much younger than
the colour of her hair. She is much younger than the look of her face,
captain. She’s a young woman that has been suddenly aged--to the sight.
I can see the youth of her lurking under her countenance, like comely
lineaments under a veil. As she recovers strength and health, her bloom
will return.’ He turned to me. ‘When you entered the boat in which you
were found insensible, your hair, m’am, was black.’

‘But all this is not to the point, McEwan,’ exclaimed the captain,
coming from the porthole before which he had been standing with his
back upon us. ‘The question is, where does this lady live? Has she
friends in England. If so, it is my duty to send her home by the first
ship. But your memory,’ said he to me, ‘may return in a day or two, and
we are not acting kindly in detaining you from the rest which I am sure
you need after such a night as you have endured.’

He opened the door of his cabin, and called to one of the stewards to
send Mrs. Richards to him.

‘You’ll forgive me, ma’m,’ said Mr. McEwan, ‘but I observe that you
have no rings. Now I’m sure you must have had rings on when you were
found in the boat. Were they stolen from you, d’ye think?’

I looked at my hands and answered, ‘I was without rings when my
consciousness returned.’

‘A pity!’ exclaimed the surgeon impatiently; ‘there might be the clue
we seek in a ring of yours. Have ye no jewellery?’

‘I have nothing but this purse,’ I answered, and I gave it to him.

‘English money at all events, captain,’ he cried, emptying the contents
into his hand. ‘But what does that tell? Merely that English money
circulates everywhere.’

The stewardess entered.

‘Mrs. Richards,’ said Captain Ladmore, ‘you will please prepare a
berth for this lady in the steerage. See that she is made perfectly
comfortable, and the conveniences which she stands in need of that the
ship can supply let her have.’

‘I do not know how to thank you,’ I said in a broken voice.

‘Not a word of thanks, if you please,’ he answered. ‘You have suffered
sadly, and for no inconsiderable part of your suffering is this ship
responsible. We must make you all the amends possible.’

He motioned to the stewardess who opened the door.

‘I’ll not worry you now with looking at your head and dressing
it,’ said Mr. McEwan; ‘take some rest first. I’ll call in upon you
by-and-by.’

We passed into the brilliant saloon. The sun was now high, and his
beams glittered gloriously upon the skylights, and were multiplied
in a hundred sparkling prisms in the mirrors, lamps, and globes of
fish. Through the windows of the skylight some of the sails of the
ship were visible, and they rose swelling and towering and of a
surf-like whiteness to the windy sky that lay in a hazy marble over
the mastheads. The stewards were stripping the tables of the breakfast
things, and at the forward end of the saloon stood a group of ladies
conversing, and looking through a window on to the decks beyond, where
a multitude of the emigrant or third-class passengers were assembled.

I held my head bowed, for I was ashamed to be seen. The stewardess took
me to her berth, and when I had entered it I sat down, and putting
my hands to my heart I rocked myself and tried to weep, for my heart
felt swollen as though it would burst, and my head felt full, and my
breathing was difficult; but the tears would not flow. Many hours of
anguish had I passed since consciousness had returned to me on board
the brig, but more exquisite than all those hours of anguish put
together was the agony my spirit underwent as I sat in the stewardess’s
berth rocking myself. No light! no light! Oh, I had hoped for some
faint illumination from the questions which had been asked me, from
the sentences which the captain and the surgeon had exchanged about
me. The blackness was as impenetrable as ever it had been. I groped
with my inward vision over the thick dark curtain, but no glimmer of
light crossed it, no fold stirred. The silence and the blackness were
of the tomb. It was as though I had returned to life to find myself
in a coffin, there to lie straining my eyes against the impenetrable
darkness, and there, in the grave, to lie hearkening to the awful hush
of death.

‘Come, cheer up, dear,’ said the stewardess, putting her hand upon my
shoulder. ‘Stay, I have something that will do you good,’ and going to
a shelf she took down a little decanter of cherry-brandy and gave me a
glassful.

‘They told me things that may be true, and I do not know whether they
are true or not,’ said I.

‘What did they say, dear?’

‘They said that I was young, and that my hair was black before I
lost my memory; and they said that I might be the only survivor of a
shipwreck, and that there was nothing--nothing--oh! _nothing_ to tell
where I came from, where my home was, what my name is----!

‘Now you must have patience, and you must keep up your courage,’ said
the stewardess. ‘Wait till you see poor Miss Lee. You will not think
that yours is the greatest or the only trouble in this world. _She_ is
certainly dying, but you will not die, I hope. You will get strong, and
then your memory will return, and you will go home, and the separation
will not be long, you will find. It is not like dying. There is no
return then,’ said she, glancing at the photograph of the little baby
on the woman’s knee; ‘and besides,’ she continued, looking at my hand,
‘whether you remember or not, you may be sure that you are not married,
and, therefore, have no husband or children wondering what has become
of you. You may, indeed, have a father and mother, and perhaps sisters,
and others like that, but separation from _them_ is not like separation
from husband and children. So, dear, think how much worse it might be,
and go on hoping for the best. And now I am going to prepare a berth
for you, and get a bath ready. There is an empty berth next door, and
you shall have it. And you shall also have what you sadly need, a
comforting change of linen.’

She then left me.

An hour later I was lying, greatly refreshed, in the berth which the
good-hearted Mrs. Richards had got ready for me. A warm salt-water
bath had taken all the aching out of my limbs. No restorative could
have proved so life-giving. It soothed me--Oh! the embrace and
enfoldment of the warm, green, sparkling brine was deliciously grateful
beyond all power of words after the long days which I had passed in my
clothes--in clothes which the rain had soaked through to the skin, and
which had dried upon me. When I had bathed, I replaced my underclothing
by some clean linen lent to me by the stewardess. And when, having
entered my new berth, I had brushed my hair and refreshed my face with
some lavender water which Mrs. Richards had placed with brushes and
other toilet articles upon a little table--when, having done this, I
got into my bunk, or sleeping-shelf, and found myself resting upon a
hair mattress, with a bolster and pillow of down for my head, I felt
as though I had been born into a new life, as though some base and
heavy burden of sordid physical pain and distress had been taken from
me. My mind, too, was resting. The inward weary wrestling had ceased
for a time. I lay watching the lines of golden sunlight rippling upon a
circle of bluish splendour cast by the large circular porthole upon the
polished chestnut-coloured bulkhead near the door, until my eyes closed
and I slumbered.



CHAPTER VIII

A KIND LITTLE WOMAN


When I awoke my gaze was directed at the face of Mr. McEwan, who stood
at the side of my bedplace looking at me. The cabin was full of strong
daylight, but the atmosphere was tinctured with a faint rose, and had I
at that moment given the matter a thought, I should have known that I
had slept far into the afternoon.

In spite of my eyes being open the ship’s surgeon continued to view me
without any change of posture or alteration of countenance. He might
have been waiting to make sure that I was conscious; he scrutinised
me, nevertheless, as though his eyes were gimlets, with which he
could pierce into my brain. He held a volume in his hand, but on his
appearing to make up his mind that I was awake he put the book into the
bunk that was above me, and said, ‘You sleep well.’

‘I have slept well to-day,’ I answered; ‘I bathed and was much
comforted before I lay down.’

‘Do you ever dream?’ he asked.

‘Never.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘My memory on this side of my recovery is good,’ I said; ‘and if I
dreamt I should recollect my dreams. I have longed with passion to
dream, because I have a fancy that my memory may return to me in a
vision.’

‘That is not unlikely,’ said he. He took the book from the upper bunk,
drew a chair close to me, and seated himself.

‘I have been looking at you in your sleep,’ said he, ‘and I am
confirmed in my first opinion--you are a young woman. Your age is
four- or five-and-twenty. You smiled shortly before you awoke, and
your smile was like a light thrown upon your youth hidden behind your
face. Some dream must have produced that smile--but the mere phantom of
a phantom of a dream, too colourless and attenuated for your mind to
recollect. And your hair! Has it been coming out of late?’

‘I have lost a great quantity. It came out in handfuls, but it no
longer falls as it did.’

‘Your hair was black,’ said he, smiling, ‘and very abundant and fine.
Before your calamity--whatever it might be--befell you you were a
handsome young woman, excellently shaped, with dark, speaking eyes, and
a noble growth of hair. Take my word for it. And now think. Do I give
you any ideas?’

I shut my eyes to think, and I thought and thought, but to no purpose.

‘No matter,’ he exclaimed; ‘do not strain your mind. Take things
perfectly easy. I have been reading in several volumes I possess on
cases resembling yours; and here is a book,’ he continued, ‘with some
examples, two of which you shall hear, that you may take heart.’

He balanced a pair of gold glasses on his nose and read as follows,
slowly and deliberately:--

‘A young clergyman, when on the point of being married, suffered
an injury of the head by which his understanding was entirely and
permanently deranged. He lived in this condition till the age of
eighty, and to the last talked of nothing but his approaching wedding,
and expressed impatience of the arrival of the happy day.’

‘What do you think of that?’ said the surgeon.

I did not answer.

‘Do you understand it?’ said he.

‘I understand it,’ I replied, ‘but I do not see what it has to do with
the memory.’

‘There is too much memory in it,’ he exclaimed with a dry smile; ‘but
you are right, and I’m very well satisfied that you should be able to
reason. Now I will read you something that _does_ concern the memory,
and you shall be consoled when you hear it;’ and he read aloud as
follows:--

‘On her recovery from the torpor she appeared to have forgotten nearly
all her previous knowledge: everything seemed new to her, and she did
not recognise a single individual, not even her nearest relatives. In
her behaviour she was restless and inattentive, but very lively and
cheerful: she was delighted with everything she saw and heard, and
altogether resembled a child more than a grown person. At first it was
scarcely possible to engage her in conversation: in place of answering
a question she repeated it aloud in the same words in which it was put.
At first she had very few words. She often made one word answer for
all others which were in any way allied to it: thus, in place of _tea_
she would ask for _juice_. She once or twice had dreams, which she
afterwards related to her friends, and she seemed quite aware of the
difference betwixt a dream and a reality.’

‘Now mark this,’ continued the surgeon, looking at me over his glasses;
and he then read:--

‘After a time Mrs. H---- was able to return to her home in England,
where she passed the rest of her life happily with her husband. She was
in the habit of corresponding by letter with her friends at a distance,
and lived on the most agreeable terms with her immediate neighbours, by
whom she was held in much regard on account of her kindly nature and
charitable work.’

‘So you see,’ said Mr. McEwan, ‘that the poor thing got quite well.’

‘Is that a good book?’ said I, looking at it.

‘It is a first-rate book,’ he answered.

‘But the woman’s memory was not utterly gone, as mine is.’

‘She was far worse than you,’ said he. ‘Be of good cheer. Think of
your brain as a theatre. The curtain has come down with a run, and
the gentleman whose business it is to wind it up is drunk, or absent
through illness. We’ll rout him out by-and-by, and the curtain will
rise again. And now sit up, if you please, that I may look at your
head.’

He was abrupt and off-hand in his speech, with something of the wag
in him, but already was I sensible that there was an abundance of
good-nature and of kindly feeling underlying his manner. He carefully
renewed the plaister and examined the injured brow, then dressed it
with some salve and bandaged it with a tender hand. I asked him if I
was disfigured.

‘An excellent question,’ he explained; ‘a woman’s question. Go on
asking every question that may occur to you; but do not strain your
mind to recollect.’

‘Am I disfigured?’ I asked.

‘That is right,’ said he; ‘go on questioning me.’

‘Let me look at the glass.’

‘No; don’t you see that I am about to bandage you--so! Do not remove
this bandage. There is something that needs to heal, and your young
Frenchman’s sticking-plaister has not helped you.’

The surgeon left me after saying that he would send me a powerful
tonic, which I was to take so many times a day, and when he was gone I
got out of the bunk, in which I had slept fully dressed, and going to
the glass over the washstand looked into it. The face that gazed back
upon me was no longer the forbidding, the almost repulsive countenance
that I remembered. The removal of the darkened and bloodstained strips
of sticking-plaister had made a wonderful difference. In their place
was a snow-white bandage, skilfully fitted. It hid a portion of the
right brow, and descended so as to conceal the bridge of the nose, but
it left my right eye visible; and when I looked at my eyes I observed
that they were no longer leaden and lustreless, but that, on the
contrary, there was the light of life in them, and the dark pupils soft
and liquid.

This I knew by comparing my face with the face with which I had awoke
to consciousness on board the brig; but I remembered no other face than
_that_.

I stood for some while staring in the glass, recalling the assurance
of the surgeon that I was a woman of four- or five-and-twenty, and
contrasting that notion with the belief Alphonse had expressed, that
my age was forty-five, and I kept on saying to myself, _Who am I?_
and silently repeating over and over again the letters A. C. until,
recalling Mr. McEwan’s advice to me not to strain my brain, I broke
away with a sudden horror, as of insanity, from the glass, and went to
the cabin porthole.

I could see very little of the sky and sea, but what I saw was
beautiful with the colouring of the rich dark gold of sunset. I gazed
almost directly west, and as much as I could behold of the heavens
that way was a glowing and a throbbing crimson, barred with streaks of
violet gloriously edged with ruby flames. The sea ran red as the sky;
every ridged head of purple broke into rosy froth. In the heart of this
little circle of western magnificence formed by the porthole was a ship
with orange-coloured sails. I watched her, and thought of the young
Frenchman, and wondered whether the crew of the brig had perished, as
Captain Ladmore supposed, or whether they had been picked up during the
darkness of the night by some vessel that had passed at too great a
distance to be observed by the people of the _Deal Castle_.

Whilst I stood thus looking and thinking, the door was opened by an
under-steward to enable Mrs. Richards to enter with a tray, which she
grasped with both hands.

‘I thought,’ said she, smiling as she placed the tray full of good
things upon the deck, ‘that you would rather have your tea here than at
the table outside, and with your leave I will drink a cup of tea with
you. Ah! now you look better. Yes, your eyes have cleared wonderfully;
and I don’t see the same expression of pain in your face. And how much
better that bandage looks than the ugly sticking-plaister.’

She chatted thus whilst she gazed around, considering how she should
dispose of the tray. At last she placed it in my bed, where it would
be safe--where, at least, it would not slide, for there was a heave
running from the sunset through the sea, and the ship regularly leaned
upon it, but in motions so stately as scarcely to be noticeable. We
seated ourselves by the side of the bed and ate and drank. She had
brought cold fowl, and ham-and-tongue, and pressed beef, and fancy
rolls of bread, all which, with other things, after the fare I had been
used to on board the brig, were true dainties and delicacies to me, and
particularly did I enjoy the tea with its dash of new milk.

‘I had some trouble,’ said the stewardess, looking into the milk-jug,
‘to coax this drop out of the steward. There is but one cow, and there
are many demands upon poor Crummie. But I felt sure you would enjoy a
cup of tea with milk in it.’

She then asked me what Mr. McEwan had said, and I told her.

‘He is a clever man, I believe,’ said she.

‘Oh, if he would only give me back my memory!’ I exclaimed.

‘I wonder what the captain means to do with you,’ said she.

‘And I, too, wonder. Have I a home? Surely I must have a home
somewhere? It cannot be that I am utterly alone in the world, though I
am so now.’

‘No, dear, you will not be alone. God will raise up friends for you
until He gives you back your memory; and then----’

‘But this ship is going on a long voyage,’ said I, ‘and if I remain in
her she will be carrying me away from where my home may be.’

‘Yes, but if your home is in England, this ship will convey you back
there if you remain in her.’

‘How long will it take the ship to sail to the place you spoke of?’

‘Sydney. She is going to Sydney. Well, it may take her three months, or
it may take her four months, to get there, and she will stop at Sydney
for three months. We all hope--all of us, I mean, whose homes are in
England--to be home by next August.’

I turned her words over in my mind, but was unable to attach any
meaning to what she said. I could not understand _time_--that is, I
did not know what Mrs. Richards meant when she spoke of ‘next August.’
But I would not question her; my incapacity made me feel ashamed, and
exquisitely wretched at heart, and I asked no questions, lest she
should divine that I did not comprehend her.

There were people drinking tea at the tables outside. I heard the
occasional cry of a baby, the voices of children, the murmur of men
and women conversing. Mrs. Richards informed me that those people were
second-class passengers, who inhabited this part of the ship.

‘Are there many passengers in all?’ I asked.

‘Oh yes, the ship is full of men and women,’ she replied.

‘Where do they come from?’

‘The ship sailed from London. The people joined her at the docks, or at
Gravesend, from all parts of the kingdom.’

‘Oh,’ cried I, clasping my hands, ‘if there were but a single person
amongst the crowds on board--a single person who knew me, who would be
able to pronounce my name and tell me where my home is--if, indeed, I
have a home!’

‘Well, who knows but there may be such a person?’ said the stewardess.
‘Big as this world is, we are constantly running against friends or
acquaintances. Everybody is asking after you. All my ladies, all the
people I attend on, make inquiries after you every time I see them.
There is a dear old lady on board, Mrs. Lee; she is the mother of the
poor consumptive girl. Not half an hour ago, as I was passing through
the saloon, Mrs. Lee left her chair and said to me, “Mrs. Richards, if
there is anything that I or my daughter can do for the poor lady who
was rescued this morning, I beg you will enable us to serve her. I fear
she is without clothes,” said Mrs. Lee. “How could it be otherwise,
indeed? Now my daughter and I have plenty of clothes, and the poor lady
is welcome to whatever she wants.”’

‘How good of her!’ I exclaimed. ‘Thank her, thank her for me, Mrs.
Richards.’

‘She is a dear old lady, and her daughter is the sweetest of girls.
Oh dear! oh dear! that the hand of Death should be drawing closer and
closer to steal away so much beauty and gentleness.’

‘Is it known that--that----’

‘That you have lost your memory?’

I sank my head.

‘Why, yes. News flies fast on board ship. And why should it not be
known? Your not having your memory will explain a great deal.’

‘What will it explain?’

‘For instance, your having no name.’

‘My initials are A. C.,’ said I, and I pronounced the letters several
times over, and cried out, ‘What can they stand for?’

‘But would you know your name if you saw it?’ said the stewardess.

‘I cannot tell.’

As I made this answer the door was quietly rapped. ‘Come in,’ said the
stewardess, and the captain entered. The stewardess rose, and stood
as though a royal personage had walked in, and then made a step to the
door.

‘Do not go away, Mrs. Richards,’ cried Captain Ladmore. ‘I am glad to
see that you are carefully attending to the lady’--and he asked me if I
felt better.

I answered that I felt very much better, and that I did not know how
to express the gratitude which all the kindness I had received and
was receiving had filled my heart with. He pulled a chair and seated
himself near me.

‘I have been all day,’ said he with a grave smile, ‘considering what
course to adopt as regards your disposal. I should very well know what
to do if you could give me any hint as to where you come from.’ He
paused, as though hoping I might now be able to give him such a hint.
He then continued: ‘In my own mind I have little doubt that you are
English, and that your home is in England. But I cannot be quite sure
of this, and I should wish to be convinced before acting. At any hour,
whether to-morrow or the following day--at any hour we may fall in
with a ship bound to England whose captain might be willing to receive
you and to land you. But then, unless your memory returns during the
homeward run, what would a captain be able to do with you when he
reached port? He would land you--yes; but humanity would not suffer him
to let you leave his ship without your memory, without possessing a
friend to go to, and, pardon me for adding, with only a few shillings
in your pocket.’

I hid my face and sobbed.

‘Don’t take on, dear,’ said Mrs. Richards, gently clasping my wrist;
‘wait a little till you hear what the captain has to say. Yours is a
sorrowful, sad case, and it has to be thought over,’ and here her voice
failed her.

‘A bad disaster,’ continued the captain, ‘has brought you into my ship
and placed you under my care. I am obliged to put your own situation
and condition to you fairly and intelligibly. If your home is in
England, I should not wish to keep you on board my ship and carry you
to Australia. But your home may not be in England, and I dislike the
thought of sending you to that country, where, for all I know, you may
have no friends. When your memory returns we shall gather exactly how
to act.’

‘I do not seem able to think, I do not feel able to reason,’ I
exclaimed, putting my hand to my forehead.

‘Do not trouble to think or to reason either,’ said the stewardess;
‘the captain will do it for you.’

‘What,’ said Captain Ladmore, fixing his eyes upon Mrs. Richards, but
talking as though he thought aloud--‘what should I be able to tell the
shipmaster to whom I transferred this lady? I should have positively
nothing whatever to tell him. He might hesitate to receive her. His
reluctance would be justified. I myself should certainly hesitate to
receive a shipwrecked lady under such circumstances. I should say to
myself, When I arrive, whom shall I find to receive her? There might,
indeed, be philanthropic institutions to take her in, but if I could
not find such an institution, what should I do? I should have to take
charge of her until I could place her somewhere. I might, indeed,
advertise, send a letter to the newspapers, and trust by publishing her
case to make her existence known to her friends. But then she may have
no friends in England--and meanwhile? I have thought the matter over,’
said he, addressing me, ‘and believe that I cannot do better than keep
you on board, with a chance of your memory returning at any moment, and
enabling me _then_ to take the first opportuning of sending you to your
home, wherever it may be. What do you think?’

‘I cannot think. Oh, if but the dimmest idea would visit my mind to
help you and to help me! It would be dreadful,’ I said in a voice that
was failing me, ‘to find myself on shore, in destitution, without
friends, not knowing what to do, where to go. _That_ thought was a
horror to me in the French brig, when the Frenchmen talked of landing
me at Toulon and handing me over to the British Consul. I remember what
they said: What would the British Consul do for me?’ And then I sprang
from my chair and cried out, hysterically, ‘Oh, Captain Ladmore, what
is to become of me? what is to become of me?’

‘You are amongst friends. Do not take on so, dear,’ said the stewardess.

‘It is my dreadful loneliness,’ I cried, speaking out of the old terror
that was again upon me--the miserable terror that had possessed me
again and again on board the Frenchman.

‘All of us are alone,’ said the captain, in his deep, serious voice;
‘we arrive and we depart in loneliness. God Himself is alone.’

‘Think of that!’ said the stewardess.

‘Whilst you are with us,’ said Captain Ladmore, ‘it is proper that
you should be known by some name. Your initials are clearly A. C. Now
suppose we call you Miss C.? By so terming you we shall be preserving
as much of your real name as we can discover.’ He paused, and a moment
later added, addressing the stewardess, ‘Do you suggest Miss C. or
Mrs. C., Mrs. Richards?’

‘Oh! Miss C., sir, undoubtedly,’ she answered.

I lifted my head, and perceived the captain examining me as
scrutinisingly as the western light that was now weak and fast waning
would permit.

‘Then Miss C.,’ said he, rising slowly, and smiling gravely as he
pronounced the name, ‘you will consider yourself the guest of the ship
_Deal Castle_ for the present. By-and-by your memory will return to
you. We shall then learn all about you, and _then_, whatever steps I
take must certainly result in restoring you to your friends; whereas to
tranship you now---- But that is settled,’ he added, with a dignified
motion of the hand.

He pulled out his watch, held it to the porthole, and then bidding the
stewardess see that I wanted for nothing, gave me a bow and went out.
Mrs. Richards produced a box of matches from her pocket, and lighted a
bracket lamp.

‘What do you think of Captain Ladmore?’ she asked.

‘He is the soul of goodness, Mrs. Richards.’

‘He is, indeed. Who would suppose him to be a sea-captain? Sea-captains
are thought to be a very rough body of men. Before I come upon the
water as a stewardess I used to imagine all sea-captains as persons
with red faces wrinkled like walnut-shells, and boozy eyes. They
all had bandy legs, and used bad language. Since then I have met
many sea-captains, and some of them are as I used to think they all
were; but some are otherwise, and Captain Ladmore is one of them. On
his return home two or three voyages ago he found his wife and only
daughter dead. They had died while he was away. The blow was dreadful.
He cannot forget it, they say. It changed his nature--it made him a
sad, grave man, and thus he will always be. Well, now I must go and
attend to my work.’

I opened the door, and she passed out bearing the tray.

The floating swing of the ship was so steady that I was able to walk
about my cabin with comfort. I paced round and round it with my hands
clasped behind me and my eyes fixed on the floor, thinking over what
Captain Ladmore had said. On the whole I was comforted. It startled me,
it shocked me, indeed, when I thought that unless my memory returned I
was to be carried all the way to Australia. Not that I had any clear
ideas as to where Australia was, or its distance from the ship, and,
as I have before said, I was unable to grasp the meaning of time as
conveyed by the stewardess’s information that the passage out would
occupy three months or four months as it might be. But from what Mr.
McEwan and Captain Ladmore and Mrs. Richards had said among them, I
could in some manner understand that Sydney, whither the ship was
bound, was an immense distance off, and though I had not the least idea
where my home was--whether it was in England or in America, as the
young Frenchman had suggested, or in that very continent of Australia
to which the _Deal Castle_ was voyaging--yet the mere notion of being
carried a vast distance, and for no other purpose than to give my
memory time to revive, with the certainty, moreover, that if my memory
had not returned to me at the end of the voyage I should be as lonely,
miserable, and helpless as I now was: here were considerations, as I
say, to startle and shock me.

But on the whole I felt comforted. It was the prospect of being
set ashore friendless at Toulon that had immeasurably added to my
wretchedness whilst on board the Frenchman. But now that threatened
state of hopelessness, of poverty, of homelessness, all to be
exquisitely complicated by total mental blindness, was indefinitely
postponed or removed. I had met with people who were taking pity on me,
and amongst whom I might find friends. My health, too, would now be
professionally watched. And then, again, if my home _were_ in England,
this ship would certainly in time return to that country, and in the
long weeks between it might be that my memory would be restored to me.
Therefore, as I walked about in my cabin I felt on the whole comforted.

Mrs. Richards brought me an armful of books, some of her own, and some
from the ship’s little collection. She said, as she put the volumes
down--it was about seven o’clock in the evening:--

‘Do you feel dull? If so, there are many in the saloon who would be
glad to meet you and converse with you.’

‘No, I am not dull. My mind is much more tranquil than it was. I am
thinking of last night. How glad I am to be here!’

‘Would you like to receive a visit? There are many who would be
delighted to visit you. Mrs. Lee will gladly come and sit with you if
you feel strong enough for a chat.’

‘I would rather remain quiet, Mrs. Richards. To-morrow I hope----
Perhaps in a day or two the doctor will remove this bandage.’

‘You must not think of your appearance,’ she said, smiling, ‘although
it is a good sign. A little vanity is always a good sign in invalids. I
would not give much for the life of an invalid woman who is without a
touch of womanly conceit. But you are very well; you look very nicely.
Do not think of your bandage,’ and with a kindly smile and nod she left
me.

When I went to bed I found myself sleepless. But sleeplessness I might
have expected after my deep slumbers during the day. At nine o’clock
Mrs. Richards had brought me some brandy-and-water and biscuits, and
when she left me I went to bed, and lay listening to the people in the
steerage outside. I gathered that some of them were playing at cards:
there were frequent short exclamations, and now and again a noisy peal
of laughter. The sea was smooth and the ship was going along quietly;
no creaking, no sounds of straining vexed the quiet when a hush fell
upon the players.

At ten o’clock there was a tap upon my door, and the voice of a man
bade me put my light out. I extinguished the lamp and returned to my
bed. All was silent outside now; nothing was to be heard save a dim
swarming noise of broken waters hurrying by, and at intervals the cry
of a baby. For some time I listened to this cry, and it produced not
the least effect upon me; but suddenly, on my hearing it more clearly,
as though the door of the cabin in which the infant lay had been
opened, a feeling of dreadful grief seized me--a feeling of dreadful
loneliness. I sat up in my bed and racked my mind--I know not how else
to express what I felt in my effort to _compel_ my mind to seek in the
black void of memory for the reasons why that infant’s cry had raised
in me so insufferable a sense of grief, so incommunicable an ache of
loneliness.

I grew calm and closed my eyes, but I could not sleep. Time passed,
and still finding myself sleepless, I quitted my bed and went to the
porthole, and perceived through the glass the bluish haze of moonlit
darkness, with many brilliant stars in it, rhythmically sliding to
the movements of the ship. I cannot sleep, I said to myself. I slept
too deeply to-day to slumber now; I will go on deck. The fresh air
will revive me. It is dreadful to be in this gloom, alone and bitterly
wakeful, thinking of this time last night.

So I put on my clothes--sheen enough flowed through the porthole to see
by--and I took from a peg on the door the cloak in which I had been
wrapped when I left the brig, and enveloped myself in it, pulling the
hood over my head, and quietly stepped out. I remembered that there was
a ladder at either end of the steerage, and that the deck was the more
easily to be gained by the foremost ladder. A lamp burnt at one end of
the steerage, and with the help of its rays I easily made my way to
the foot of the steps. All was buried in deep silence. I mounted the
steps and gained the foremost end of the saloon, and silently opening
a door I passed out on to the quarterdeck, into the windy, moonlit,
starry night.


END OF THE FIRST VOLUME


  PRINTED BY
  SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE
  LONDON


[Illustration]



Transcriber’s Notes


Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in the original book; otherwise they
were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected.





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