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.
ON A WIDE WIDE SEA
SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE
ALONE ON A WIDE WIDE SEA
W. CLARK RUSSELL
‘MY SHIPMATE LOUISE’ ‘THE ROMANCE OF JENNY HARLOWE’
IN THREE VOLUMES
CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY
THE SECOND VOLUME
|IX.||The Cry of a Child||1|
|XI.||I am Supplied with Clothes||70|
|XIII.||The Ship is my Home||137|
|XIV.||Am I a Calthorpe?||171|
|XVII.||My Dying Friend||270|
ALONE ON A WIDE WIDE SEA
THE CRY OF A CHILD
It was cold, but the sweep of the dry night-wind was refreshing and inspiriting to me, who had been confined to my cabin all day. A bull’s eye lamp burnt under the overhanging ledge of the poop-deck. Beneath it was the clock, and the small hand was close upon one. The gleams of the lamp touched no living figure, and so lonely looked the ship that I could have easily supposed myself the only human being on board of her. The great fabric was leaning over under a vast2 cloud of canvas, and a sound of stealthy hissing, such as the stem of a vessel makes when she is swiftly tearing over a quiet surface of ocean, rose into the wind on either hand.
A ladder was close beside me, conducting on to the poop, or upper deck. I mounted it, and stood at the head of the steps looking around me. I saw but two figures. One of them was on the other side of the deck. He was motionless, with his arm round a rope, and his shape stood out against the sparkling stars as sharply as though he were a statue in ebony. The other figure was at the aftermost end, at the wheel. There was a deep shadow of rigging and of sail where I had come to a pause. The dusky hue of the cloak I wore blended with the obscurity, and I was not observed by the figure opposite.
I looked over the side and watched the3 water sweeping past white as milk, with a frequent glitter of beautiful green lights in it. I looked away into the far distance, where the confines of the black plain of the ocean were lost in the darkness of the night, and fixed my eyes upon the stars, which were shining sparely in those dim and distant reaches, and said to myself, Where is my home? Which of all these countless stars is shining down upon my home now? But have I a home? How can I tell, for I do not know who I am? Then I looked up at the swollen, pallid breasts of sails climbing one on top of another into faint, almost visionary spaces where the loftiest were; and whilst I looked I heard two silver chimes ring out of the darkness forward. What can those bells mean? I wondered. How marvellous was the hush upon this great, speeding shadow of a ship, this dim bulk of symmetrical clouds waving its star-reaching4 heights in solemn measure as though to the accompaniment of some deep spiritual ocean-music, heard by it, but soundless to my ears! Where was the multitude of people who swarmed upon the deck when I had come on board in the morning? I knew they were resting below, and the thought of that great crowd slumbering in the heart of the sweeping, cloud-like shadow at which I gazed awed me; but the emotion changed into one of fear and of loneliness suddenly, and to rally myself I turned and walked towards the after-end of the vessel.
The moon was in the west, and the light in the sky that way was the silvery azure which I had witnessed through my cabin porthole. I walked to the extreme end of the ship, where the helm was, and stood by the side of the wheel. When I was on board the French vessel I had always found something fascinating in the machinery5 of the helm. I used to gaze with childish wonder at the compass-card, steadily in its brass bowl pointing out the little vessel’s course, and I would watch with surprise the instant response of the small fabric to the movement of the wheel.
But now as I stood here beside this wheel I surveyed a stretch of deck that seemed measureless, as the white planks, glimmering like sand from my feet went stretching and fading into the obscurity far forward. Behind me, from under the high, dark stern of the ship, rushed the pale and yeasty wake, like a line of pale smoke blowing over the sea. The stars danced in the squares of the rigging; they tipped as with diamond-points the sides of the sails, and they blazed at the summits of the three dim spires of the ship’s masts; and the moon in the west, poised in an atmosphere of delicate greenish silver, trembled a waving fan-shaped stream6 of light upon the summer pouring of the ocean under her.
All at once the helmsman, on the other side of the wheel, of whose presence I had hardly been sensible, uttered a strange low sort of bellowing cry, and tied along the deck to where the figure of the other man was. Involuntarily I put my hand upon the wheel, as though instinctively feeling that it must be held steady, and that it must be held in any case, or the ship would be without governance. The two men came slowly along. The motions of each were full of wariness, and suggestive in the highest degree of alarm and astonishment.
‘Dummed if it ain’t a-steering the ship,’ said one of them in a hoarse voice.
‘You scoundrel, it’s a woman!’ cried the other. ‘How dare you quit your post. You’ll have the ship in the wind in a minute,’ and they both arrived together at7 the wheel running, one being pushed by the other.
The man who pushed the other was dressed in a monkey-jacket with brass buttons and a naval cap. He was clearly one of the ship’s officers, but it was not surprising that I should be meeting him now for the first time. He thrust his face into my hood, and then backed a step and exclaimed, ‘Who are you?’ then immediately added, ‘Oh! of course. You’re the person that was taken out of the French brig. Come away from the wheel, will you, ma’m? Here’s an Irishman that believes you a ghost.’
The other muttered in his throat. I walked some paces away, and the officer accompanied me.
‘How is it that you’re not in your bed?’ said he.
‘I have been sleeping all day,’ I answered, ‘and have come up to breathe the air.’
‘We do not allow females to wander 8about the ship of a night,’ said he. ‘However, you cannot be supposed to know the rules.’ I saw him by the moonlight eye me strenuously and earnestly. ‘That’s a big bandage you have on, ma’m. I hope you are not much hurt?’
‘I was found lying injured and unconscious in a boat by the Frenchmen.’
‘And they tell me you have no memory.’
‘I can remember nothing,’ I answered.
‘What is that?’ cried he, pointing.
‘It is the moon,’ said I.
‘What is that but memory?’ he exclaimed.
‘I remember nothing of my past,’ said I. ‘Down to the hour in which I awoke to consciousness on board the French brig everything is black. But to whom am I speaking?’
‘You are speaking to the chief mate of 9the Deal Castle, and his name is Andrew Harris.’
‘What is a chief mate?’ I asked.
‘He is the person that is next in command to the captain.’
‘Then you are of consequence?’ said I.
He smiled broadly. ‘There are people who will run when I sing out.’
‘Nobody appears to be awake on board this ship, saving us who are here,’ said I.
‘Have you come on deck to find that out?’ he exclaimed; then directing his face at the forecastle he uttered a cry, and out of the shadow forward there instantly came a response. He cried again, and a rumbling ‘Ay, ay, sir!’ came out of the shadow. ‘So you see,’ said he, ‘there are four, not three of us, awake; and if I were to sing out again, in about five seconds the decks would be full of sailors running about. And10 you’ve lost your memory? D’ye know what part of England you hail from?’
‘I cannot even tell that I am English.’
‘What do they want to make out? That you’re from Greenland? I am trying to catch your accent. I have an A 1 ear for accents. I hoped at first you might be Lancashire, where I hail from. Then I fancied I could hear Derbyshire in you. But I reckon it’ll end in Middlesex’ he added thoughtfully; ‘that’s to say if London’s in Middlesex, which no man who goes to sea can be sure of, for every time he returns he wants a new chart, such is the growth of the little village. Does my talk give you any ideas?’ I shook my head. ‘Doesn’t the word London give you any idea?’
I thought and thought, and said, ‘It is a familiar word, but it suggests nothing.’
‘Curse the sea!’ he exclaimed, with an irritable twist of his head, as he looked11 round the horizon; ‘how ill it treats those who trust themselves to it! It robs you of memory, and it keeps me a poor man. Curse it, I say! I should like to know the name of the chap that was the first to go afloat. I’d burn him in effigy. But it’s some comfort to guess where his soul is. It wasn’t Noah. Noah had to save his life, and I allow he hated the sea as much as I do. All animals—pooh! but not worse than emigrants. And so you’ve lost your memory. And now what’s to bring it back to you, I wonder?’ He broke off to exclaim sharply to the helmsman and repeated, ‘What’s to bring it back to you, I wonder?’
He took a turn as though the remedy were in his mind and merely demanded a little thought. I watched him with deep anxiety. How could I tell but that even from him, that even from this man whom I had never before seen, with whom I was now12 discoursing in the heart of the ocean night, amid the silence of a faintly moonlit deck, with the sound of wind-brushed waters rising round about us, and the pale shadows of the leaning canvas soaring high above us—how could I tell but that even from this stranger might come the spark, the little leaping flame of suggestion to light up enough of my mind to enable me presently to see all? So I watched him with deep anxiety, whilst he took two or three turns.
Presently he halted facing me. He was a short man, scarcely as tall as I, square-built, and very firmly set on his legs. His hair appeared to be the colour of ginger. His chin was shaved, and he wore a bush of beard upon his throat. As much of his face as the moonlight silvered disclosed a dry, arch, sailorly expression.
‘It requires thinking over,’ said he. ‘My motto in physic is, Like cures like. What13 sent your memory adrift? You’ll find it was a shock. If the doctor would put you through a course of shocks you’d come out right. I’m a poor man, but I’d wager every farthing I’ll receive for the voyage, that if you were to fall overboard from the height of the ship’s side, when you were fished up you’d have your memory. Some sort of shock did the mischief, and any sort of shock’s going to undo it. That’s my belief. When McEwan visits you again you tell him what I say. Why, now, listen to this: an uncle of mine was so crippled with rheumatism and gout that he had to be carried like a dead-drunk man on a litter to the railway station. He was to consult some professional nob in London. With much backing and filling he was got into the railway carriage, and there he lay like a log, capable of moving nothing but his eyes. Half an hour after the train had started it ran into14 about forty waggons full of cattle. The bust-up was as usual: engine off the lines, driver in halves, the remains of the fireman in a ditch, several carriages matchwood, a dozen dead people under them, two-and-twenty persons wounded, and the country round about full of bleeding, galloping cattle. And who do you think was the first man to get out and run? My uncle. The collision cured him. He was a well man from the instant the locomotive bust into the waggons, and he has never known an ache since. It’s a shock that’s going to do your business, ma’m, take my word for it.’
I understood him imperfectly. Many of his allusions I did not in the least comprehend, yet I listened greedily, and for some moments after he had ceased I continued to hearken, hoping and hoping for some word, some hint, some suggestion that would help me to even the briefest inward glimpse.
Three silver chimes floated out of the deep 15shadow of the ship forward. ‘What are those bells?’ I asked.
‘Half-past one,’ he exclaimed; ‘and, with all respect, about time I think for you to be abed. The captain may come on deck at any moment, and if he finds you here he’ll be vexed that I have not before requested you to go below.’
I bade him good-night, but he accompanied me as far as the head of the steps which conducted to the quarterdeck.
‘A shock will do it,’ said he; ‘I’m the son of a doctor, and my advice is—shocks. The job is to administer a shock without doing the patient more harm than good. I’ll think it over. It’ll be something to kill the time with. D’ye know the road to your cabin? Well, good-night, ma’m.’
I silently opened the door of the saloon, regained my berth, and after musing upon my16 conversation with the officer on deck, I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
‘Good morning, Miss C——,’ exclaimed Mrs. Richards, entering the cabin with a breakfast-tray. ‘I am glad to find you up and dressed. It is a quarter to nine o’clock, and a truly beautiful morning. There is a nice breeze on the quarter, and the ship is going along as steadily as a carriage. Have you slept well?’
‘I have slept a little.’
‘Well, to-day you must appear on deck. You will really show yourself to-day. All the passengers are longing to see you, and do not forget that by mingling amongst them, and talking, and hearing them talk, ideas may come, and your memory with them. Here have you been a prisoner since yesterday morning.’
‘No, I was on deck last night.’
‘What, in the dark?’
‘At one o’clock this morning.’17
‘The captain would not like to hear that,’ said she, arching her eyebrows; ‘but you will not do it again. I mean you will not go alone on deck when everybody is asleep except the sailors on watch. What officer was on watch last night?’
‘The first officer, Mr. Harris,’ said I.
‘Did he talk with you?’
‘Yes; he told me that a shock might give me back my memory.’
‘What did the man mean?’
‘He said he believed if I were to fall overboard from the height of the ship, that when I was taken out of the water the shock would be found to have restored my memory.’
She burst into a loud laugh. ‘He is a truly comical gentleman,’ she exclaimed, ‘though he never intends to be funny, for he is always in earnest. It is said of him that18 ever since he was second officer, now getting on for five years, he has offered marriage in every voyage he has made to one of the lady-passengers. Our head steward has been shipmate with him three voyages, and on every occasion he has offered marriage. He is always rejected. A shock indeed!’ she exclaimed, growing suddenly very grave—‘what an idea to put into your head! You might go and throw yourself overboard in the belief that the act would cure you of loss of memory. I will tell the doctor to give Mr. Harris a hint not to talk too much. Now make a good breakfast, and by-and-by I will call and take you to see Mrs. and Miss Lee.’
I sat at my solitary repast, which was bountiful indeed, and reflected upon what Mrs. Richards had said. No! it would not help me to confine myself to my cabin. By mingling, by conversing, by hearing others19 discourse, by gazing at them, observing their dress, their manners, their faces, some gleam might come back to touch the dark folds of memory. In the steerage they were breakfasting somewhat noisily. There was a great clatter of crockery, and a sound of the voices of men and women raised as though in good spirits, and the tones of children eagerly asking to be helped. The light upon the sea was of a dazzling blue; through the porthole I could see the small blue billows curling into froth as they ran with the ship, and the ship herself was going along as smoothly as a sleigh, saving a scarcely perceptible long-drawn rising and falling, regular as the respiration of a sleeping breast.
I was looking through the porthole, when the door was thumped and opened, and the ship’s doctor stepped in.
‘Well,’ said he, in his strong North accent, knitting his brow and staring into my face20 with his sharp eyes, ‘what are ye able to recollect this morning, ma’m?’
‘My memory is good for everything that has happened since I first opened my eyes on board the French vessel,’ I answered.
‘Humph!’ He felt my pulse, examined my brow, dressed the injury afresh, and said that I should be able to do without a bandage in a day or two.
‘The captain tells me,’ said he, plunging his hands into his trousers pockets and leaning against the edge of the upper bedstead, ‘that he means to keep you on board, trusting that your memory will return meanwhile, when he’ll be able to put you in the way of reaching your friends. He cannot do better.’
‘But my memory may continue dark even to the end of the voyage,’ I exclaimed.
‘True, but you’re better here meanwhile. You might be consigned to the keeping of a21 captain who, on his arrival in England, would set you on shore without considering what is to become of you. How then, Miss C——, for that is to be your name, I hear. But if Captain Ladmore carries you round the world there’ll be ten months of time before ye, and it will be strange if you aren’t able to recollect in ten months. And now tell me—have ye never a sensation as of memory? What’s the feeling in you when you try to look back?’
‘As though it were a pitch-dark night, and I was groping with my hands over a stone wall.’
‘Good! Try now to think if ye have any other sensations.’
‘Yes, there is one; but how am I to express it?’
‘When,’ I exclaimed, after a pause, ‘I endeavour to pierce the past, I seem to be sensible as of the presence of waves of darkness,22 thick folds of inky gloom swaying and revolving in black confusion, and dripping wet.’
He kept his eyes fastened upon me, lost in reflection. My words seemed to have struck him. Then, telling me it was a fine morning, and that I must come on deck and get all the air and sunshine possible, he went away.
I took up a book, but I could not fix my attention. I was able to read—that is to say, the printed characters were familiar to me, and the words intelligible—but I could not keep my mind fastened to the page. Growing weary of aimlessly sitting or wandering about in my berth, I opened the door and peeped out. As I did so I heard the fat, chuckling laugh of a baby tickled or amused. A young woman sat at the table that was nearest to my cabin, and in front of her, on the table, she held a baby who shook and crowed with laughter as she made faces at it. There was23 nobody else to be seen. At the forward end, all about the steps was a haze of sunshine, floating through the open hatch there from the front windows of the saloon; otherwise the atmosphere was somewhat gloomy.
I stepped out of my berth and approached the young woman in order to look at the child. She turned her head, and, seeing me, grew grave, and stared, whilst the baby instantly ceased to laugh, and rounded its mouth and eyes at me.
‘That is a dear little child,’ said I. ‘What a sweet rippling laugh it has? Is it a boy or girl?’
‘A girl,’ answered the young woman, with a little suggestion of recoil in her posture, as though I was an object she could not at once make sure of.
‘May I kiss her?’
She held the baby up, and I kissed its cheek. She was a golden-haired child of24 seven or eight months, with large dark eyes. She did not cry when I kissed her.
‘She is a fine child—a beautiful child!’ said I. ‘Are you the mother?’
‘No, I am the sister of the mother,’ answered the young woman, beginning to speak as though her doubts of me were leaving her. ‘Aren’t you the lady the sailors rescued yesterday?’
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘How glad I am you were saved!’
She had a bonnie face, and I looked at her and smiled, and said, ‘May I nurse baby for a minute?’
She put the child into my arms. I kissed it again, and the little creature stared at me, but did not cry.
‘You nurse her nicely,’ said the young woman. ‘How quickly a baby seems to know an experienced hand! I cannot get the knack of holding her comfortably.’
At these words or at that moment I was 25seized with an indescribable feeling—a sightless yearning, a blind craving, a sense of hopeless loneliness, that, as though it had been some exquisite pang of the heart, caught my breath and clouded my vision, and the blood left my face, and every limb thrilled as though an electric current were pouring through me. The baby set up a cry, and the woman, with fear in her countenance, snatched it out of my arms.
‘Oh, my God! what is this?’ I exclaimed, bringing my hands to my breast. ‘Oh, my God! what is this? I have lost—I have lost—oh! what was it that came and went?’
‘What is the matter?’ exclaimed Mrs. Richards, coming out of her berth, that was immediately beside where I stood. ‘Is it you, Miss C——? I did not know your voice. Are you poorly?’
‘No,’ I answered; ‘a sudden fancy—but I26 cannot give it a name—I cannot recall it—I don’t know the meaning of it. Oh, my head, my head!’ and I sat down at the table and leaned my brow upon my hands.
‘A little passing feeling of weakness,’ said Mrs. Richards. ‘Only think what this poor lady has suffered,’ she added, addressing the young woman, who had risen and gone a few paces away, and was now standing and holding the baby and staring. ‘How could any one hope to be speedily well after such sufferings as this lady has passed through? But I know what will do you good, dear;’ and she slipped into her berth and returned with a glass of her cherry-brandy, which she obliged me to drink. ‘And now,’ said she, ‘come to your cabin and compose yourself, and then you shall pay Mrs. Lee a visit.’
‘I do not feel ill,’ said I, as I seated myself in my cabin; ‘it was a sensation. I27 cannot describe it. I was holding the baby, and as I looked at it I—I——’
‘It might have been a little struggle of memory,’ said the stewardess.
‘But it gave me nothing—it showed me nothing—it told me nothing,’
‘Never mind,’ said the stewardess. ‘How do you know but it may mean that it is your memory waking up? I have read that people who have been restored to life after having been nearly hanged or nearly drowned suffered tortures, much worse tortures than when in their death struggles. Might it not be the same with the memory? It is not dead in you, but it is lying stunned by something dreadful that happened to you. Now it may be waking up, and its first return to life is a torment. Let us hope it, dear. And how do you feel now?’
‘I should feel happy if I could believe that what you say is true.’
‘Well, you must have patience and keep 28your heart cheered up.’ She then looked at my hair, and saying aloud, but to herself, ‘Yes, I believe it will be the very thing,’ she left me.
When she returned she bore in her hand a little mob-cap of velvet and lace. ‘Put this on,’ said she. ‘It is one of four that were given to me last voyage by a lady-passenger. I intended them for a friend in Sydney, but you are welcome to them. Wear it, my dear.’
I put the cap on, and certainly it did improve my looks. ‘I will not thank you for your kindness with my lips,’ said I; ‘if I began to speak my thanks I should tire you out long before I could end them.’
She interrupted me. ‘Do not talk of thanking me. I declare, Miss C——, I am never so happy as when I am being helpful and useful to others, and there are many like me.29 Oh, yes! most of us have larger and kinder hearts than we give one another credit for. Do you feel equal now to paying a visit to the saloon?’
I answered Yes, and she led the way through the steerage and up the small flight of steps which conducted to the after-part of the saloon. The sunshine lay in a blaze upon the skylights, and the interior was splendid with light and with prismatic reflections of light. There was a sound overhead as of many people walking to and fro. The saloon was empty; everybody would choose to be on deck on so fine a morning.
Mrs. Richards walked to the door of one of the centre berths and knocked. A soft voice full of music bade her enter. She turned the handle, and held it whilst she addressed the inmate of the berth. ‘I have brought Miss C——,’ she exclaimed. ‘The lady is here, Miss Lee. May she step in?’
‘Oh, yes, pray,’ said the musical voice.30
Mrs. Richards made room for me to pass, and, pronouncing Miss Lee’s name by way of introducing us, she added that she had a great many duties to attend to, and quitted the berth.
A young lady was seated in a comfortable armchair. A handsome skin marked like a leopard’s covered her knees and feet, and in her lap was an open volume. She had a great quantity of rich brown hair, a portion of which was plaited in loops upon the back, whilst the rest crowned her head in coils. I had no memory of fair faces with which to compare hers; to my darkened mind it was the first beautiful face I had seen, and as she looked up at me, smiling, with her lips in the act of parting to address me, I gazed at her with wonder and admiration and pity.
Oh, what a sweet, melancholy, exquisitely 32beautiful face was Alice Lee’s! There was death upon it, and it seemed the more beautiful for that. Her eyes were large, of a soft grey, with a sad expression of appeal in them that was never absent whether she was grave or whether she smiled. The hollows were deep and dark-tinctured, as though they reflected the shadow of a green leaf. Her lineaments were of perfect delicacy: the mouth small and slightly contracted, the teeth brilliant pearls, the cheeks sunken, slightly touched with hectic, and the complexion of the sort of transparency that makes one imagine if a light were held within the cheek the glow of it would shine through the flesh. The brow was faultlessly shaped, and the blue veins showed upon it as in marble. Her hands were cruelly thin and the white fingers were without rings. She was dressed in what now might be called a33 teagown, and it was easy to see that her attire was wholly dictated by considerations of comfort.
Her smile was full of a sweetness that was made sad by her eyes, as she said, ‘I am so glad to see you. Forgive me for not rising. You see how my mother has swathed my feet. She will be here presently. Where will you sit? There is a chair; bring it close to me. I have been longing to see you! I have heard so much of you from Mrs. Richards.’
I sat down close beside her, and she took my hand and held it whilst she gazed at me.
‘You are kind to wish to see me,’ said I. ‘It is happiness to me to meet you. I am very lonely. I cannot recover my memory. It is terrible to feel, that if I had my memory I would know—I would know—oh, but not to be able to know! Have I a home? Are there persons dear to me waiting for me, and34 wondering what has become of me? Not to be able to know!’ said I, with my voice sinking into a whisper.
‘Yes, it is terrible,’ she exclaimed gently. ‘But remember these failures of memory do not last. Again and again they occur after severe illnesses. But when is it that the memory does not return?’
‘But when it returns, should it return,’ said I, ‘what may it not tell me that I have lost for ever?’
‘But it will soon return,’ she exclaimed, ‘and things are not lost for ever in a short time. How long is it since you have been without memory? Not yet a fortnight, Mr. McEwan told us. No! our minds would need to be long blank for us to awaken and discover that things dear to us are lost for ever. It is only by death,’ she added, softening her voice and smiling, ‘that things are lost, and not then for ever.’
I looked at her! at her sunken eyes, at 35her drawn mouth, at the malignant bloom her cheeks were touched with, at her thin, her miserably thin hands, and I thought to myself, how selfish am I to immediately intrude my sorrow upon this poor girl, who knows that she is fading from her mother’s side, and in whose heart therefore must be the secret, consuming grief of an approaching eternal farewell. Her wretchedness must be greater than mine, because her trouble is positively defined to her mind, whereas mine is a deep shadow, out of which I can evoke nothing to comfort me or to distress me, to gladden my heart or to break it.
She gazed at me earnestly, and with a touching look of sad affection, as though she had long known me. I was about to speak.
‘There is something,’ said she, ‘in your face that reminds me of a sister I lost four36 years ago. It is the expression, but only the expression. Mother will see it, I am sure.’
‘Was your sister like you?’ I asked.
‘No, you would not have known us for sisters. Yet we were twins, and it is seldom that twins do not closely resemble each other.’
I bent my gaze downwards. I was sensible of a sudden inward, haunting sense of trouble, a sightless stirring of the mind, that affected me as a pain might.
‘When I look at you,’ she continued, ‘I fully agree with Mr. McEwan that you are not nearly so old as your white hair makes you appear. Most people look older as the months roll on, but as time passes you will look younger. Even your hair may regain its natural colour, which the doctor says is black. How strange it will be for you to look into the glass and behold another face37 in it! But the change will be too gradual for surprise.’
‘You are returning to England in this ship, I believe?’ said I.
‘Yes, we engaged this cabin for the round voyage, as it is called. A long course of sea-air has been prescribed for me. A steamer would have carried us too swiftly for our purpose. You can tell what my malady is?’
She was interrupted by a little fit of coughing.
‘What is your malady, Miss Lee?’
‘It is consumption,’ she answered.
‘I could not have told. I try to think and to realise; but without recollection how can one even guess? But now that you tell me it is consumption, I understand the word, and I see the disease in you. I hope it is not bad; I hope the voyage will cure it.’
‘It is very bad,’ she answered, looking 38down, and speaking softly, and closing the volume upon her lap, ‘and I fear the voyage will not cure it. But I fear only for my mother’s sake. I have no desire to live as I am, ill as I am. Yet I pray that I may not die at sea. I shrink from the idea of being buried at sea. But how melancholy is our conversation! You come to me full of a dreadful trouble of your own, and here am I increasing your sadness by my talk! Oh! I wish you could tell me something about yourself. But we know your initials. That is surely a very great thing. I am going to take the letters “A. C.”; and put all the surnames and Christian names against them that I can think of. One of them might be your name.’
‘I fear I should not know it if I saw it,’ said I.
‘We can but try,’ said she, smiling; ‘we 39must try everything. How proud it would make me to be the first to help you to remember.’
‘What did your twin sister die of?’
‘Of consumption. Mother believes that such a voyage as I am taking would have saved her life. I fear not—I fear not. My father died of that malady. He was a shipowner at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and we live at Newcastle, or close to it, at a place called Jesmond, and I was hoping before I met you that I should hear an accent in your speech to tell me that you belong to our part of England, for I believe I should know a Northumbrian, at least a Tyneside Northumbrian, anywhere, no matter how cultivated his or her speech might be. But you do not belong to our part.’
‘Have you sisters living?’
‘None. I am now the only child. Mother 40has been a widow six years. But our talk is again melancholy.’
‘No, it is not melancholy—indeed not. It interests me. I have longed to meet someone like you. I do not feel lonely with you,’ and as I took her hand the tears stood in my eyes.
She feigned not to observe that I was crying. ‘Is not this a fine cabin?’ she exclaimed cheerfully, gazing about her; ‘it is the biggest in the whole row. It is better off for furniture, too, than the others. What a fine large window that is, and how glad I shall be when I am able to keep it open and feel the sweet tropic wind pouring in! I am longing to get on deck, but the doctor is afraid of my catching a chill, and he tells me I must wait until we arrive at a certain latitude. I hope you will often come and sit with me. I41 will read to you—it does not fatigue me to read aloud, a little at a time.’
‘Indeed, I will often sit with you,’ said I.
‘Where is your cabin?’ I told her. ‘I hope it is comfortable. But I am sure Captain Ladmore would wish you to be comfortable. He seems a most kind-hearted man, and he has his grief too. What could be sadder than for a sailor, after an absence of many months, to return to his home full of love and expectation, and find his dear ones, his wife and his only child, dead? I felt truly grateful to him when I heard that he did not mean to send you home until you had your memory.’
‘And I, too, am grateful,’ I exclaimed. ‘I am without money, and in a strange place I should be like one that is blind; and when I arrived, to whom should I turn? What should I be able to do? If I knew, oh, if I but knew that my home was in England!’
The door was quietly opened, and a 42middle-aged lady entered. She was fresh from the deck, and wore a bonnet and cloak. She was a little woman with soft grey hair, and with some look of her daughter in her. Her gown was of silk, and her jewellery old-fashioned. She did not wait for her daughter to introduce me, but at once approached with her hand advanced, saying she knew who I was; and with slow deliberate speech and soft voice she asked me a number of questions too commonplace to repeat, though they were full of feeling and of good-nature.
‘Is your head badly hurt?’ she asked, gazing with an expression of maternal anxiety at the bandage.
‘I do not think so,’ said I. ‘I have not yet seen the injury. I hope I am not greatly disfigured.’
‘I do not think that you are disfigured,’43 said Miss Lee. ‘The doctor says it is your eyebrow that was hurt.’
‘I believe the upper part of my nose is injured,’ I said.
‘How was it that you were hurt?’ asked Mrs. Lee, seating herself, and viewing me with a face of tender commiseration.
I answered that I supposed the boat’s mast fell upon me when I was unconscious.
‘Might not such a blow account for your losing your memory?’ said she, speaking in a soft, slow voice delightful to listen to.
‘I fear it matters not what took my memory away,’ said I, with a melancholy smile; ‘it is gone.’
‘It will return,’ said Miss Lee.
‘Do you remember nothing that happened before you were found in the open boat?’ asked Mrs. Lee.
‘Nothing,’ I returned.
She looked at her daughter, and tossed 44her hands.
‘I hope we shall be much together,’ said Miss Lee. ‘Mother, we must endeavour to recover Miss C——‘s memory for her. You must be patient,’ said she, smiling at me. ‘You will have to bear with me, I shall scheme and scheme for you, and every scheme I can think of we must try.’
‘It will be an occupation for you, Alice, and a beautiful one,’ said her mother, and she suddenly caught her breath, as though to prevent a sigh from escaping her.
‘But,’ continued Miss Lee, ‘I shall not be satisfied with Miss C—— as a name. It will do very well for you to be known by in the ship, but it is stiff, and I shall not be able to call you by it. There are so many names of girls beginning with A. Let me see. There is my own name, Alice; then there is Agatha, and then there is Agnes——’
I met Mrs. Lee’s eyes fixed upon me. 45‘Do you seem to recollect any of these names?’ she asked. ‘I hoped, by the expression on your face——’ She hesitated, and I answered:—
‘The names are familiar sounds, but I cannot say that any one of them is mine.’
‘We must invent something better than Miss C——,’ said her daughter.
‘There is plenty of time, my love,’ exclaimed Mrs. Lee. ‘The captain is going to keep you on board,’ she continued, addressing me in her soft, slow-spoken accents, ‘until your memory returns. It may return when we have arrived at a part of the ocean where it will be the same whether Captain Ladmore keeps you with him or sends you home by another ship. For instance, if your memory were to return when we were within a week’s sail of Sydney, it would be better for you to remain in this ship, where you will have46 friends, than to return in a strange vessel, though you might save a few weeks by doing so. In that case we shall be together, for Alice and I are going round the world in the Deal Castle. Were you ever in Australia?’
‘Oh, mother! that is an idle question,’ exclaimed Miss Lee.
‘Yes, I forgot,’ cried Mrs. Lee, with a look of pain. ‘Oh, memory, memory, how little do we value it when we possess it! How all conversation is dependent upon it! I have somewhere read that it is sweeter than hope, because hope is uncertain and in the future, but our memories are our own, many of them are dear, and they cannot be taken from us. But it is not so,’ said she, looking at me.
‘Hope is better than memory,’ said Miss Lee. ‘It is yours, and you must suffer nothing to weaken it in you or to take it from you.’
The mother and daughter then conversed 47together about me, and asked me many questions, and listened with breathless interest and with touching sympathy to the account I gave them of my having been locked up all night in the cabin of the French brig. And I also told them how generously and kindly the young Frenchman, Alphonse, had behaved, how tender had been his care of me, and how he had been hurried away from the attempt to preserve my life by his uncle’s threats to leave him behind in the sinking vessel.
‘I am astonished,’ said Mrs. Lee, ‘that you should be able to remember all these circumstances, whilst you cannot recollect anything that happened before.’
‘But does not that mean that there will be something for me to work upon?’ said Miss Lee.
Her mother arose and, coming to my side,48 gently laid her hand upon my arm, and, looking into my face, said, ‘Alice and I know that there must be many things which you stand in need of. It could not be otherwise. Were you a princess it would be the same. You and my daughter are about of the same figure; you, perhaps, are a little stouter.’ She again caught her breath to arrest a sigh. ‘For so long a voyage as this we naturally brought a great deal of luggage with us, and I wish you to allow us to lend you anything that you may require.’ I thanked her. ‘Most of our luggage is in the hold,’ she continued. ‘I will ask Mrs. Richards to get some of our boxes brought on deck, and Alice shall select what she thinks you want. There is nothing of mine, I fear, that would be of any use,’ and she looked down her figure with a smile.
‘But we must let others have the pleasure of helping, too, mother,’ said Miss Lee.49 ‘Mrs. Richards says there are several ladies who desire to be of use.’
‘They shall lend what they like,’ said Mrs. Lee.
‘I am tiring you, Miss Lee,’ said I, rising. ‘I have made a long visit.’
‘Have you been on deck?’ said Mrs. Lee.
I answered that I had not yet been on deck.
‘Will you come with me for a little turn,’ she exclaimed. ‘I will introduce you to some of the passengers. I know most of them now.’
‘I will accompany you with pleasure,’ said I, then faltered, and felt some colour in my cheeks as I glanced at a looking-glass opposite.
‘You are welcome to my hat and jacket,’ said Miss Lee; ‘will you wear them?’ she added, with a sweet look of eagerness.
I took off the cap, and put on the hat, and50 then the jacket; but the jacket did not fit me—it was too tight, and it would not button.
‘Here is a warm shawl,’ said Mrs. Lee.
‘Does not Miss C—— remind you of Edith?’ exclaimed the daughter.
Mrs. Lee looked hard at me, and, opening the door, passed out.
‘You will come and see me again soon?’ said Miss Lee.
‘I will come,’ I answered, ‘as often as you care to send for me.’
When we had walked a few paces down the saloon towards the aftermost stairs Mrs. Lee stopped, and, putting her hand on my arm, exclaimed, ‘Oh, my poor child!’ I imagined for the moment that the exclamation referred to me. She continued: ‘She is the only one that is left to me now. My heart breaks when I look at her. I try to be composed, and talk lightly on indifferent matters, but the effort is often more than51 I can bear. Do you think she looks very ill?’
‘She looks ill,’ I answered, ‘but not very ill.’
‘I ought to have taken her a voyage some time ago—they tell me so, at least. I have wintered at Madeira with her, and we spent last winter in the south of France. But they say that a voyage is worth all those resorts and refuges put together. Is she not sweet? She suffers so patiently, too.’
I longed to say something soothing, to utter some hope, but my mind gave me no ideas. Mrs. Lee looked at me whilst I stood at her side with my head hung, fruitlessly striving with my mind that I might say something to console her. ‘I am keeping you standing,’ cried she, and without further words we went on deck.
It was a little before the hour of noon. The sea was a wide field of throbbing blue,52 laced with foam, every little billow curling along the course the ship was pursuing, and on high was a wide and sparkling heaven of azure, along which many small clouds, like puffs from musketry, were sailing. Warmth but no heat was in the sunshine. The great ship was travelling along almost upright. She regularly and lightly curtseyed, but did not roll. Her sails shone like satin, and on one side they hung far over the water, hollowing low down to a long pole or boom, and the reflection of them in the water under this boom was as though there was a silver cloud in the sea sweeping along with us.
There were no awnings; the sun was not yet hot enough for them. The white planks of the decks sparkled freshly like dry sand, and the shadows of the rigging ruled them with streaks of violet as though drawn by the hand. At the wheel stood a sailor in white trousers and a straw hat; he munched upon53 a piece of tobacco, and his little reddish eyes were sometimes directed at the compass and sometimes up at the sails, and never at anything else, as though there was nothing more to be seen. Not far from him, at the rail that protected the side, stood the fine tall figure of Captain Ladmore; he held a bright brass sextant, which he occasionally lifted to his eye. Some paces away from him was the short, square, solid form of Mr. Harris, the first officer, and he too held a sextant, though it was not so bright and polished as the captain’s. The raised deck on which I found myself—termed by sailors the poop, and to be henceforth so called by me—seemed to be covered with moving figures, though, after gazing awhile, I observed that they were not so numerous as they at first appeared. They were ladies and gentlemen and a few children; there was much noise of talking, a frequent gay laugh, a constant fluttering of female raiment.
I stood stock-still at the side of Mrs. Lee, 54staring about me, and for some moments no one seemed to observe us. At any time in my life such a spectacle would have been in the highest degree novel and of the deepest interest. Now it affected me as it would a child. It induced a simple emotion of wonder and delight—the sort of wonder and delight that makes young people clap their hands. Beyond the poop was a deck which I could not see; but in the bows of the ship was a raised deck, called the forecastle, and it was crowded with the emigrant folks sunning themselves, the men lounging, squatting, and smoking, the women, in queer bonnets or bright handkerchiefs tied round their heads, eagerly talking. I looked up at the sails and around at the sea, and at the scene on deck, brightly coloured by the clothes of the ladies.
‘How wonderful! How beautiful!’ I 55exclaimed.
‘Is she not a noble ship?’ said Mrs. Lee.
The captain turned his head and saw us. He crossed the deck, and asked me in his grave, kindly way how I did. I am glad you have come on deck,’ said he. ‘The mind will grow strong as the body grows strong; but the sun is nearly at his meridian, and I must keep an eye upon him,’ and he stepped back to take his place at the rail.
I caught Mr. Harris, the first officer, inspecting me furtively. When our gaze met he pulled off his cap, and then, with a manner of abrupt energy, reapplied himself to pointing his sextant at the sea.
‘You have made the acquaintance of Mr. Harris, the chief officer?’ said Mrs. Lee.
‘I met him on deck here at one o’clock this morning,’ I answered. ‘We held a short56 conversation, and he is of opinion that a violent shock, such as my falling overboard, would restore my memory.’
‘Sailors are a singular people,’ said Mrs. Lee. ‘They love to give opinions on anything which does not concern their profession, yet outside their profession they know little—often nothing. Many sea-captains used to visit our house in my poor husband’s lifetime, and out of their talk I might have collected quite a bookful of absurd ideas and laughable superstitions.’
But now my presence on deck had been observed, and in a few moments a number of the passengers gathered about me. I cannot recollect what was said. I was confused by many eyes being bent upon me. One hoped that I was quite recovered, another congratulated me upon my preservation, a third marvelled that I had not died of fright in the cabin of the French brig. Many such things57 were said, and I had to shake hands with several of the friendly people. There were twenty-five or thirty passengers, and, though a few held aloof, the crowd about me seemed a large one.
A stout, handsomely-dressed, middle-aged woman in a large hat exclaimed, ‘Mrs. Lee, I hope the poor lady understands that whatever I can lend her she may command.’
A tall gentleman with long whiskers and a white wide-awake and an eyeglass, said, ‘My wife is below in her cabin. It is her wish to be of use to the lady. I contend that every living person on board this ship is responsible for her present situation. That is to say, morally responsible. My wife clearly recognises that, and is therefore anxious to be of use.’
The captain uttered an exclamation, Mr. Harris raised his voice in a cry, and immediately eight chimes, signifying the hour of noon, were struck upon a silver-toned bell in58 some part of the ship forward. The captain and first officer left the deck. In twos and threes the passengers fell away, leaving me to Mrs. Lee. She asked me to give her my arm, and we quietly paced a part of the deck that was unoccupied.
But though the passengers had drawn off, they continued to observe me. My appearance doubtless struck them as remarkable. My figure was that of a fine young woman of five-and-twenty, and my face, with its bandaged brow, its thin white hair, its fine network of wrinkles—not, indeed, so minutely defined as the delicate lines had shown when I first observed them on the brig, but clear enough to make a sort of mask of my countenance when closely looked into—my face, I say, might have passed for a person’s of any age from forty to sixty. There were two tall handsome girls who incessantly watched me as I walked with Mrs. Lee.
‘I hope,’ said I, ‘the people will not 59continue to stare. It makes me feel nervous to be looked at, and it must come to my waiting until it is dark to take the air on deck.’
‘No rudeness is meant,’ said Mrs. Lee. ‘You are the heroine of the hour, and are paying the penalty of being famous. Fame is short-lived, and you will not long be looked at.’
‘Who is that little man near the boat there, with fur upon his coat? He is unable to remove his eyes from me.’
‘He is Sir Frederick Thompson,’ replied Mrs. Lee in her soft, deliberate voice. ‘Do not look at him. I have heard who he is, and will tell you. He is a City knight. I believe he deals in provisions. I heard him tell Captain Ladmore that after being the most prosperous man in the City of London for years everything suddenly went wrong.60 People who owed him money became bankrupt, a confidential clerk absconded, the price of the commodities he dealt in fell, and his goods being chiefly perishable, he had to sell them at a heavy loss. He thereupon made up his mind to go a voyage, hoping to find that things had righted themselves by the time that he returned. A rather rash resolution, I think.’
‘And who are those two gentlemen who seem to be arguing near the rigging at the end of the deck on the other side?’
‘The gentleman with the yellow beard and the ill-fitting clothes is Mr. Wedmold; and the shorter man, whose stiff stickup collars will not enable him to turn his head, is Mr. Clack. I do not know what their callings are, I am sure. They are constantly arguing, and always on the same subject. Whenever they get together they argue on literature. I hope they will keep to literature, and not61 break out into religion. They argue across the table at meal-times. It matters not to them who listens.’
I glanced at the brace of gentlemen with languid interest, and then directing my eyes at the sea, said, ‘Whilst my memory sleeps, Mrs. Lee, my life must be like that circle. Wherever I look I see the same thing.’
‘I do not in the least despair of you,’ she answered. ‘I was talking to Mr. McEwan yesterday on the subject of memory, and we agreed that total loss was almost always associated with insanity. Now, Miss C——, you are not one bit mad. You can reason perfectly well, you converse with excellent good sense. Less than half what you have undergone—though we can only imagine the character of it—less than half, I say—nay, the mere being locked up all night in the cabin of a ship that one believed to be sinking would suffice to drive ninety-nine persons out of every hundred62 hopelessly mad for life. You have escaped with the loss of your memory. That is to say, with a partial loss. But the memory is a single faculty, and if one portion of it be active and healthy, as it is in your case, I cannot believe that the remainder of it is dead; therefore I do not at all despair of you.’
I listened with impassioned attention to her gently-spoken, slowly and deliberately pronounced, words. At that moment a lady came out of the saloon through the hinder opening in the deck called the ‘companion-way.’ She was a lady of about forty years of age, and she wore a handsome hat, around which were curled some ostrich feathers. Her hair was of the colour of flax, her eyes a pale blue, and her face fat and pale. She gave a theatrical start on seeing me, and then with a wide smile approached us.
‘Oh! Mrs. Lee,’ she exclaimed, ‘your63 companion, I am sure, is the shipwrecked lady. I have been dying to see her. May I address her?’
‘Let me introduce Mrs. Webber,’ said Mrs. Lee. ‘Mrs. Webber is good enough to take a great interest in you, Miss C——. She wishes to share in the pleasure of being useful to you.’
‘Yes, if you please,’ cried Mrs. Webber. ‘Do not let me keep you standing. There are trunksful of things belonging to me somewhere in the ship, and if you will make out a list of your wants my maid shall see that they are supplied. And you are to be called Miss C——? How truly romantic! Mrs. Lee, I would give anything to be known by an initial only. What could be more delightfully mysterious than to go through life as an initial? Oh, I shall want to ask you so many questions, Miss C——.’
‘Mrs. Webber is a poetess,’ said Mrs. Lee.64 ‘My daughter is very much pleased with your poem, “The Lonely Heart,” Mrs. Webber. It is truly affecting.’
‘I was certain she would like it,’ answered Mrs. Webber; ‘yet it is not so good as the “Lonely Soul.” The first I wrote with a pen dipped in simple tears, the other with a pen dipped in tears of blood. What a delightful subject Miss C—— would make for a poem—not a short poem, but a volume.’
‘There may be some sorrows which lie too deep for poetry,’ said Mrs. Lee.
‘Too deep!’ cried Mrs. Webber.
‘Yes, in the sense that there are thoughts which lie too deep for tears,’ said Mrs. Lee.
‘That line by Longfellow I never could understand,’ said Mrs. Webber.
‘It is by Wordsworth,’ exclaimed Mrs. Lee.
‘Too deep!’ cried Mrs. Webber again; ‘why, I should have imagined that nothing could be too deep or too high for poetry.65 Take Browning; doesn’t he go deep? Take Shelley; didn’t he go high? Over and over again they disappear, and what’s a surer sign of a great poet than to sink or soar out of sight? Any simple fellow can make himself understood. The sublime in writing is quite another affair. Don’t you agree with me, Miss C——?’
‘I am sorry I am not able to understand you,’ I answered.
I observed Mrs. Lee give Mrs. Webber a look. The latter cried, ‘Oh yes, I now remember. And yet, do you know, as I was telling my husband not an hour ago, I cannot see that it is very dreadful to be without memory. I mean to say, that it cannot be very dreadful to forget one’s past. To be able to recollect enough to go on with is really all one wants. The condition of a mind that cannot look back, but that can look forward, must surely be romantically66 delightful; because forward everything is fresh; all the flowers are springing, there are no graves; but behind—for my part, I hate looking back.’
Mrs. Lee muttered low for my ear only: ‘This lady is no poetess.’
‘You will by and by let me ask you many questions I hope, Miss C——,’ exclaimed Mrs. Webber; ‘I should love to exactly realise your state of mind. Of course I am highly imaginative, but to me there is something very beautiful in your situation. You remember nothing save what has happened to you upon the sea, and therefore you may most truly be considered a genuine daughter of old ocean, as much so as if you had risen out of the foam like some ancient goddess whose name I forget. I shall, perhaps, call my poem about you “The Bride of the Deep.” I might imagine that old ocean having fallen in love with you had erased your memory of67 the land, that you shall know him only and be wholly his. What do you think of that idea, Mrs. Lee?’ and she turned her light blue eyes with a sparkle in them upon my companion.
‘I think our friend’s sorrow is of too solemn a character to make a book of,’ answered Mrs. Lee.
This answer seemed to slightly abash Mrs. Webber, who, after gazing around her a little while in silence, suddenly exclaimed: ‘There are those two wretched men, Mr. Wedmold and Mr. Clack, at it again. They stood yesterday afternoon outside my cabin where I was endeavouring to get some sleep, having passed a wretched night, and for a whole hour they argued upon Dickens and Thackeray—which was the greater author—which was the greater novelist. I coughed and coughed but they took no notice. I shall certainly ask Mr. Webber to speak to them if they argue68 outside my cabin door again. They not only lose their temper, their arguments are childish. Besides, how sickening is this subject of the relative merits of Dickens and Thackeray! Really, to hear people talk now-a-days, one would suppose that the only writers whose names occur in English literature are Dickens and Thackeray. But the truth is, Mrs. Lee, though books are very plentiful in this age, people read little. But they read Dickens and Thackeray, and having mastered these two names they consider themselves qualified to talk about literature. I am truly sick of the subject; and to have to listen for a whole hour when I am trying to get some sleep! I shall certainly ask Mr. Webber to speak to those two men.’
She then declared her intention of enjoying many a long chat with me, repeating that she had an extraordinary imagination, with which, should my memory continue lifeless, she would69 undertake to construct a past that would answer every purpose of conversation, reference, and so forth. ‘Indeed,’ she exclaimed, ‘I believe with a little thinking, I should be able to create a past for you so close to the truth as, figuratively speaking, to light you to the very door of your home.’
I AM SUPPLIED WITH CLOTHES
‘I did not think,’ said Mrs. Lee, when we were alone, ‘that Mrs. Webber had so good an opinion of herself. But she is well meaning, and she will be useful to you.’
‘Do you think her imagination will help me?’ said I.
‘Until your memory returns,’ she answered; ‘what could she tell you that you would be able to say yes or no to? But let her question you. On a dark morning, without a compass, one can never tell in what quarter the day will break.’
At this moment Captain Ladmore arrived on deck, and he immediately joined us.
‘I hope, madam,’ said he, addressing me, 71‘to have the pleasure of seeing you at the saloon table to-day.’
‘You are extremely good,’ I answered, ‘but I do not yet feel equal to sitting at the saloon table. The privacy of my cabin and the society of Mrs. and Miss Lee, whenever they will endure me, are all that I wish. Besides, I cannot forget——’ I faltered and was silent.
‘What cannot you forget?’ said he gravely.
‘I am not a passenger,’ said I, looking down.
‘What is in your mind when you pronounce the word passenger?’ he asked.
‘A passenger is one who pays,’ I answered.
‘How do you know that?’ said he.
‘I know it,’ said I, after thinking a little; ‘because Miss Lee told me that her mother had hired the cabin for the round voyage.’
‘Ha!’ he exclaimed, exchanging a look72 with Mrs. Lee. ‘Well?’ he continued, slightly smiling, ‘you will consider yourself a passenger who does not pay. You are the guest of the ship. Some ships are hospitable and liberal hostesses, and the owners of the Deal Castle would wish her to be one of them. Do, pray, be perfectly easy on that score.’
I bowed my head, murmuring a ‘Thank you.’
‘There is one consoling part to be borne in mind,’ said he, addressing Mrs. Lee; ‘one fact that should tend to console and soothe this lady: it is this—she is single. She might have been a married woman driven by disaster from her husband, and, worse still, from her children. But put it that she has parents—it may not be so, who can tell that her parents are living? But to be sundered from a mother and a father to whom, in the course of time, one is certain to return, is not like being torn73 from one’s children. This is a consideration to console you, Miss C——.’
‘Do not cry,’ said Mrs. Lee, taking my arm. ‘I fully agree with the captain. Only think how it would be if, instead of being single, you were a mother cruelly and strangely taken away from your children.’
At this point, Sir Frederick Thompson, who had been intently surveying us from the other side of the deck, approached. He bowed, and lifted a little white wideawake.
‘I beg pardon for intruding,’ said he, ‘but I should like to ask this lady a question.’
‘If it refers to anything that is past, Sir Frederick,’ exclaimed Captain Ladmore, ‘I fear she will not be able to satisfy your curiosity.’
‘There’s no curiosity,’ said Sir Frederick; ‘it’s merely this: when I was sheriff, Lady Thompson and me, for my poor wife was then living, were invited to the ’ouse of Lord ——,’74 and he named a certain nobleman; ‘and I remember that at supper I sat next to his lordship’s sister-in-law, Lady Loocy Calthorpe, whose father was the third Earl ——,’ and here he pronounced the name of another nobleman. ‘What I wanted to say is that this lady is the very himage of Lady Loocy, excepting that Lady Loocy ’adn’t white ’air. Now, mam,’ said he, addressing me; ‘of course you’re not Lady Loocy; but you might be a relative, for Lady Loocy had several sisters and a great number of cousins.’
‘I do not know who I am,’ I answered.
‘How long ago is it since you sat beside Lady Lucy Calthorpe at supper, Sir Frederick?’ asked the captain.
‘Why, getting on for two years and an ’arf.’
‘And you remember her distinctly enough to enable you to find a likeness to her in this lady?’
‘God bless you, captain, yes. If it wasn’t 75for the white ’air, I should say that this lady was Lady Loocy herself.’
‘Is Calthorpe the family name of the Earl of ——?’ said Mrs. Lee.
‘Certainly, it is,’ answered Sir Frederick; ‘you’ll find it in the Peerage.’
‘The lady’s initials are A. C.,’ said the captain.
Sir Frederick struck the palm of his hand with his clenched fist, and his little eyes shone triumphantly as he said: ‘I’d like to make a bet, captain, that you’ve had the honour of preserving the life of a Calthorpe. Such a likeness as I see is only to be found in families.’
‘The accident of the lady being on board the French brig is accounted for,’ said the captain, eyeing me thoughtfully and earnestly; ‘she was rescued out of an open boat. But where did that boat come from?’
‘Would not Miss C——’s handkerchief, the 76handkerchief you spoke of, Captain Ladmore, that has her initials, would it not be marked with something more than plain initials if she had rank?’ said Mrs. Lee.
‘I cannot tell,’ answered Captain Ladmore. ‘What should a simple sea captain know of such things?’
‘The haristocracy,’ said Sir Frederick, ‘mark their linen all ways. I’m hable to speak with authority. At a Mansion ’Ouse ball a friend picked up an ’andkerchief, a beautiful lace ’andkerchief, and brought it to my poor wife. The word “Fanny” was worked in the corner and that was my wife’s name, and he thought the ’andkerchief was ’ers. But it didn’t belong to ’er at all. It was the property of Lady —— whose ’usband ’ad been raised to the peerage in the preceding year. There was no coronet on that ’andkerchief.’
Observing that I was expected to speak, I 77exclaimed: ‘The names Sir Frederick mentions suggest nothing to me.’
‘Well, all that I can say is,’ exclaimed Sir Frederick, ‘that the likeness is absolutely startling.’
He again lifted his little white wideawake, and, crossing the deck, joined a group of passengers with whom he entered into conversation.
‘There is nothing for it but to wait,’ said Captain Ladmore.
‘If your name were Calthorpe,’ said Mrs. Lee, ‘surely the utterance of it would excite some sensations, however weak, in your mind.’
‘One should say so,’ remarked the captain.
‘I fear,’ said I, with much agitation, ‘that if I were to see my name fully written I should not know it. And yet it is strange!’
‘What is strange?’ asked Mrs. Lee.
‘You will not think me vain for repeating78 it. There can be no vanity in a poor miserable outcast such as I. But I remember that one of the people of the French brig, the young man Alphonse, who had been a waiter, and who had attended upon a great many English people—I remember him once saying he was persuaded that I was a woman of title, or, if not a lady of title, that I belonged to the English aristocracy. I cannot imagine why he should have thought so.’
‘Well,’ said the captain, smiling at Mrs. Lee, ‘it may be that we have preserved the life of the daughter of an Earl, or better still of a Duke. Anything higher we must not hope for. But enough for the present, at all events, that Miss C—— should be a fellow-creature in distress;’ and with a bow that seemed to have gained something in respectfulness, but nothing in kindness, he walked away.
The luncheon-bell rang, and we descended79 into the saloon. Mrs. Lee begged me to join the company at table. ‘I will ask the steward,’ she said, ‘to find you a place next to my daughter.’ But I entreated her to excuse me.
‘I do not like to show myself in company with this bandage on,’ I said, ‘and I feel weak and shy, and my talk I fear is often childish. I hope to join you in a few days,’ and thus speaking I put her daughter’s hat and the shawl she had lent me into her hands, and made my way to my berth.
When I entered my berth I sat down to rest myself and reflect. I felt weary. The fresh air had rendered me somewhat languid, and I had overtaxed my strength with the several conversations I had held with one and another on the poop. I said to myself, can it be that the little man with the fur on his coat is right? Is my name Calthorpe, and am I a lady of title, and is80 my home actually in England? And then I hunted in my mind for an idea to help me, but I found none. I groped, as it were, with my inner vision over the thick black curtain that had descended upon my past; but nothing, no, not the most phantasmal outline of recollection glimmered upon the sable folds of my mind. The cries of my heart were unanswered. No echo was returned from the dreadful silent midnight that hung upon my spirit. I looked upon my naked hands; I drew forth my purse, and for the twentieth time gazed at it, and at the money in it; I examined the pocket handkerchief and mused upon the initials in the corner, and whilst I was thus occupied, Mrs. Richards entered with my lunch.
‘I was sure,’ said she, ‘you would wish to remain private for some little time yet. I hope I have brought you what you like. This red wine is Burgundy. Mr. McEwan81 bade me give it you; he says it is a very feeding wine. And what do you think I have just heard?’
‘I cannot imagine,’ said I.
‘Why, Mrs. Webber stopped me as I was passing through the saloon, and said, “What do you think, Mrs. Richards? Sir Frederick Thompson believes he has found out who Miss C—— is. And who do you think he says she is?” “I do not know, madam,” said I. “A Calthorpe,” said she. “What is a Calthorpe?” said I. “A Calthorpe,” she answered, “is a member of one of the oldest families in England. The Earl of —— is a Calthorpe, and Sir Frederick finds an extraordinary likeness between Miss C—— and Lady Lucy Calthorpe. He is quite satisfied that she is not Lady Lucy herself, because her ladyship’s hair is brown, not white, but he is willing to bet she is a Calthorpe.” “As for the hair being white,” said I, “if Miss C82—— is Lady Lucy Calthorpe, she has undergone quite enough to change the colour of her hair. But how could Sir Frederick,” said I, “be sure of her with a bandage on?” “Well, he is sure,” said Mrs. Webber, “sure I mean that she is a Calthorpe,” and this was all that passed; the passengers were arriving to take their places, and I came away. What do you think?’
‘Do not ask me, Mrs. Richards. I am unable to think.’
‘Poor dear! Let me pour you out a glass of wine. It will be strange if you should prove a lady of title. And why should you not be a lady of title? You have the appearance of one. The moment I saw you I said to myself—and I said it to myself before I heard your story—“Though she has come out of a nasty little brig, I can see that she is a born lady.” Do you know that you have left your cap behind you?’
‘It is in Mrs. Lee’s cabin,’ said I.83
‘Try and eat your lunch,’ exclaimed the stewardess, ‘and after lunch, if I were you, I would lie down, and endeavour to get some sleep.’
I passed the afternoon alone. I lay in my bunk, unable to read, dozing a little, and when I was not dozing strutting with recollection, and often with fits of horror and despair dreadful as madness. Some time near five the stewardess looked in to say that Mrs. Webber wished to visit me. She was anxious to have a long quiet chat. Would I receive her? I answered no. I should require, I said, to feel very much better to be able to endure a long quiet chat with Mrs. Webber.
‘She asked me to give you this book,’ said Mrs. Richards. ‘She said she had marked the pages which she would like you to read.’
I took the book, and when Mrs. Richards 84was gone, languidly opened it, and found that it was a collection of verses written by Eleanor Webber, and dedicated ‘To my Husband.’ Two pages were dog’s-eared, and one of them contained a poem called the ‘Lonely Heart,’ and the other a poem called ‘The Lonely Soul.’ I tried to read these verses, but could not understand them. They jingled unmeaningly, though not unmusically, in a melancholy key. Why do they tease one with such stuff? I said to myself, putting the book down.
The wind had increased during the afternoon, and the ship was leaning over with steep decks, which reminded me of the French brig. But how different was her motion as she rose stately to the seas, every massive heave of her satisfying and inspiring one with its suggestion of victorious power! I felt that the ship was rushing through85 the water. There was a peculiar tingling throughout her frame, as though she was thrilled from end to end by the sting and hiss of the milk-white brine which poured from either bow and raced in hills along her side, again and again clouding my cabin-window with a leap of seething dazzle, the blow and dissolving roar of which fell like a thunder-shock upon the ear.
But for my unwillingness to meet the passengers I should have gone on deck. I felt a sort of madness upon me that afternoon. It came and went, but when the feeling was upon me I craved for the open air, for the sweep and trumpeting of the wind, for a sight of the great ship hurling onwards, for a sight too of the warring waters; and at these moments I said to myself, I will not go on deck now and meet the passengers; I will wait until the darkness comes; I will wait until the people are86 sleeping, and the silence of the slumber of many is upon the ship, as it was last night, and then I will steal on deck and ease the torments of my sightless mind by blending my thoughts with the dark picture of ship and white-peaked seas and rushing black-winged sky; and this I will do in some obscure corner of the ship, where I shall not be seen.
But when the inscrutable horror, the insupportable agitation which drove me into this resolution of going on deck at midnight had passed, I shivered and stealthily wept, for then I seemed to see an awful shadow, a menacing shape of darkness, crouching and skulking behind my impulse—a spectre of self-murder, whose first step it would be to impel me on deck in the darkness of the night, and whose next step after I should have stood lonely for some time on deck would be to tempt me to leap overboard87 into the ocean grave, where my memory lay! Yes, there could be no doubt that I was a little mad, sometimes more than a little mad at intervals during that afternoon, and one cause of those fits of horror and despair, and of the desire to mingle my spirit with the wild commotion outside, and to pass out of myself into the starry freedom of the blowing ocean-night, lay in a sort of dumb, blind anguish that racked me when the clouding of my cabin-window by the passing foam carried my thoughts to the speeding of the ship through the sea. Though I knew not from what or where, yet I seemed to feel with God knows what muteness, and blindness and faintness of instinct, that I was being borne away—that, wherever my home might be, from it I was being swept. Feeling indeed was no more than seeming; I could be sure of nothing; thought was absolutely indeterminate;88 nevertheless there was a secret movement in my dark mind that goaded me, as though the tooth of something venomous, unreachable, and unconjecturable was subtly at work within me.
But having fallen into a short doze, I awoke calm, and then I resolved that I would not go on deck that night, for I feared, if I should be visited whilst on deck, and in darkness, by such moods as had tormented me throughout the afternoon, I should destroy myself.
Some dinner was brought to me by a very civil under-steward, who stated that Mrs. Richards was too busy to attend upon me, but that she would be having occasion to call upon me later on. Being without the power of contrasting, I was unable to understand how fortunate I was in having fallen into the hands of such a man as Captain Frederick Ladmore. I did not imagine that other89 captains would not use me equally well; indeed, I never gave that view of the matter a thought. I ate and drank, and accepted all the kindnesses which were done me as a child might, and yet I was grateful, and the tears would stand in my eyes when I sat alone and thought of what had been done for me; but my gratitude and my appreciation were not those of a person whose faculties are whole.
The under-steward had lighted the lamp, and when he fetched the tray I got into my bunk and sat in it and asked myself all the questions which occurred to me. I then arose and took the glass from the cabin wall, and returning to my bunk fixed my eyes upon my reflection. It may be, I thought to myself, that I do not know who I am, because ever since I returned to consciousness my face has been obscured and deformed by sticking-plaister and a bandage. If I remove the90 bandage I may know myself. So I took the bandage off and looked. The lint dressing came away with the bandage and exposed the injury, and I saw that my right eyebrow was of a pale red, with a long dark scar going from the temple to above the bridge of the nose. The hair on the brow was entirely gone, and my face, having but one eyebrow, had a wild odd foreign look. I also perceived that my nose, where it was indented betwixt the brow and the bridge, was injured. It was necessary to view myself in profile to gather the extent of this injury; and this I could not do, having but one glass.
Then I said to myself, it may be that I am disfigured beyond recognition of my own eyes. In the case of my face it is not my memory that is at fault. Calamity and horror of mind have ravaged my face, and I do not know myself. If my face was now as it had been prior to the disaster that has blinded my mind91 and rendered me the loneliest woman in the world, the sight of it would give me back my memory. I continued to gaze at my reflection in the mirror. I then readjusted the bandage, hung up the glass, and resumed my seat in my bunk.
I was sitting motionless, with my eyes rooted to the deck, when the door was vigorously thumped and thrown open, and Mr. McEwan entered. He stood awhile looking at me, swaying on wide-spread feet to the movements of the ship, and then exclaimed:
‘I thought as much. But it won’t do. Ye’ll have to come out of this.’ I looked at him. ‘And you’ve been meddling with your bandage. Did not I tell you to leave it alone? Oh, vanity, vanity! is not thy name woman? Did ye want to see how much beauty you’ve lost? Come to the light that I may see what you’ve been doing to yourself.’ He undid the bandage, and said: ‘Well, it’s mending92 apace, it’s mending apace. Another day of that wrap and you shall have my permission to appear as you are.’
He then with an air of roughness, but with a most tender hand, bound my brow afresh.
‘Now Miss C——,’ said he; ‘but am I to call ye Calthorpe? Half the ninnies are swearing that’s your name, on no better authority than the dim recollection of a little old man who would swear to a ducal likeness in a cook’s mate, if by so doing he could find an excuse to air his acquaintance with the nobility—what I want to say is this: I’m your medical adviser, and I desire to see ye with some memory in your head that the captain may be able to send you home. But if you intend to mope in this cabin, sitting in yon bed and glaring at vacancy, as though the physical faculty of memory was a ghost capable of shaping itself out of thin air and of rushing93 into your body with a triumphant yell, then it’s my duty to tell you that, instead of your memory revisiting its old haunt, the ghost or two of sense that still stalks in your brain will make a bolt o’ t, leaving ye clean daft. Ye understand me?’
‘I do not,’ said I.
‘Do you understand me when I say you must get out of this cabin?’
‘Do you understand me when I say that you must mix with the passengers, take your place at the saloon table, and humanise yourself into the likeness of others by conversing, listening to the piano playing, walking the deck and surveying the beauties of the ocean? Do you understand that?’
‘Yes,’ said I.
‘You look frightened. There is nothing to be afraid of. But you must do what you’re told, or how are you to get home?’
‘I will do anything,’ I cried passionately, 94‘that will give me back my memory.’
‘Very well,’ said he, ‘to-morrow you shall begin. To-morrow you must become a passenger and cease to be a stowaway. Why, only think of what your mind may be meessing. The saloon dinner tables are stripped, there are people amusing themselves at cards and chess, and there is a young lady at the piano singing, like a nightingale. She is singing, a beautiful Scotch song, and the singer herself is a beautiful woman, and how am I to know that there may not be a magic leagues out of sight of my poor skill to touch, to arouse, to give life, colour and perfume to that delicate flower of memory which you believe lies dead in you?’
I started up. ‘I will go and listen to the singing.’
‘No, rest quiet here for this evening. Take your night’s rest. You shall begin to-morrow.95 I’ll send Mrs. Richards to sit with ye. You shan’t be alone. And now, d’ye know, Miss C——, for all your scared looks you’re better than you were when I opened the door just now. Good-night.’
He spoke abruptly, but he grasped my hand kindly and looked at me with kindness and sympathy in the face.
The moment I was alone I opened the door and put my head out, hoping to hear the voice of the beautiful young woman, whoever she might be, who was singing in the saloon, but either the song was ended or the music was inaudible down in this part of the ship where my cabin was. Instead of the tones of a beautiful young woman, rising and falling in a sweet Scotch melody, I heard the grumbling accents of four men playing at whist at a table at the forward end of the steerage. The movements of the ship were indicated by the somewhat violent oscillations96 of the lamp under which they sat, four bearded men holding cards.
I was about to withdraw my head when I observed Mrs. Richards coming along the steerage. She bore a large bundle in her arms under whose weight she moved with difficulty, owing to the rolling of the ship; and she came directly to my cabin.
‘Here it is,’ she exclaimed, letting the bundle fall upon the deck. ‘How heavy good under-linen is! It’s the rubbish that’s light, though it looks more, and that’s why it pays. Here, my dear, is quite an outfit for you. You may take them as gifts or you may take them as loans, that’s as your pride shall decide. There’s some,’ said she, kneeling and opening the bundle, ‘from Mrs. Webber, and some from Mrs. Lee, and likewise a dress from Miss Lee, which she hopes will fit, and some from——;’ and she named three other ladies among the passengers.
The collection was indeed an outfit in its 97way. There was no essential article of female attire in which it was lacking.
‘The ladies,’ said Mrs. Richards, ‘put their heads together, and one said she’d give or lend this, and another said she’d give or lend that; so here’ll be enough to last you to Sydney, ay, and even home again.’
The good little creature’s face was bright with pleasure and satisfaction as she held up the articles one after another for me to look at.
‘How am I to thank the ladies for their kindness?’ said I.
‘By wearing the things, my dear, and in no other way do they look for thanks,’ she answered; and then she proposed that I should put on Miss Lee’s dress to see if it fitted me.
It was of the right length, but tight in the chest, though it fitted me in the back.
‘You shall shift the buttons,’ said Mrs. 98Richards, ‘and then it will fit you. I’ll fetch my work-basket and you shall make the alteration this very evening, for the doctor only a little while ago told me that you are not to be allowed to mope in this cabin or you will go mad.’
She withdrew, and in a few minutes returned with her work-basket. She placed a chair for me under the lamp, put the dress and the work-basket on my knee, and preserving her cheerful smile bade me go to work. I believe she suspected I should be at a loss, and at a loss I certainly should have been had not the articles I required been set before me. I could not have asked for scissors, needle, thread, thimble, and the like; because I should not have been able to recollect the terms nor the objects which the terms expressed. But when I saw the things my recognition of them cost me no effort of mind. I took them up in99 the order in which I required to use them, picking up the scissors and cutting off a button, then threading a needle, then putting on a thimble, and all this I did as readily as though my memory were as perfect as it now is. Mrs. Richards watched me in silence. Presently she said:
‘There is no reason, my dear, why you should not belong to a noble family, but I do not believe you are a lord’s daughter. You use your needle too well to be the daughter of a lord.’
‘I do not dream that I am the daughter of a lord,’ said I.
‘You might be the daughter of a gentleman whose brother is a lord, and there may be reasons, which there is no accounting for until your memory returns, why you should have been taught to use your needle. No nobleman’s daughter would think of learning to sew. Why should she? She might learn100 fancy work for her entertainment, but your handling of the needle isn’t that of a fancy worker. I shouldn’t be surprised if your father is a clergyman. There are many clergymen who belong to noble families; and do you know, Miss C——, if you wore a wedding ring I should be disposed to think that you had plenty of times mended and made for little ones of your own. Why do I say this? Is it your manner of sitting? your way of holding the dress? What puts it into my head? I’m sure I can’t tell, but there it is.’
She came and went whilst I was busy with the buttons of the dress, and when I had made an end I put the dress on and it fitted me. We then between us packed away the linen and other articles in some drawers in a corner of the cabin, and when this was done she left me and returned with wine and biscuits and a glass of hot gin and water for herself, and for an hour we sat talking.
It blew very hard in the night. It was a black, wet gale, as they call it, but favourable, and throughout the thick and howling midnight hours the ship continued to thunder along her course, with the sailors chorusing at the ropes and running up the reeling heights to shorten the canvas. Yet I knew nothing of all this until I was told next morning how the weather had been. The sun was then shining, and a large, swollen, freckled sea brimming to the ship’s side.
I had slumbered deeply during the night, and awoke with a sense of refreshment and of strength which lightened my spirits even102 to cheerfulness. My spirits were easier because I felt better, and I could not feel better without hoping that, as I gained strength, my memory would return to me. I was greatly refreshed by putting on the under-linen that had been lent to me. I also wore Miss Lee’s dress, for it was my intention to mingle with the passengers this day. The material was a fine dark-green cloth. The shifted buttons made the bosom a little awry, but this was a trifling and scarce noticeable defect, and wholly atoned for by the excellent fit of the dress. Oh, it must be as they tell me, I thought to myself as I looked into the square of mirror. My figure is that of a young woman. I cannot be so old as my face seems to represent me. Who am I? Who am I?
But I was rescued from one of my depressing, heart-subduing reveries by the timely entrance of the stewardess with my breakfast. She brought a message from Miss Lee. Would103 I visit her at eleven? I answered ‘Yes, I would visit her with the greatest pleasure.’
‘And will you lunch in the saloon?’ said Mrs. Richards.
‘Yes,’ I answered.
‘That is right,’ said she, ‘and this breakfast shall be your last meal in this gloomy little cabin.’
I did not care to immediately leave my berth after breakfast, so I opened one of Mrs. Richards’ books and found I could read. The book was ‘Jane Eyre,’ a novel that I had formerly delighted in, but now it was all new to me and I read it as for the first time. I opened it by chance and my eye rested upon a passage, and beginning to read I read on. The part I had lighted on described Jane Eyre wandering lonely, starving, soaked through, in the dark of a bitter moorland night after she flees from the house of Mr. Rochester. I continued to read till the tears blurred the104 page to my sight, and whilst I thus sat Mr. McEwan entered.
‘Well, any memory this morning?’
I shook my head and put away the book. He instantly saw that I had been weeping, but took no notice.
‘I believe it’s that bandage,’ said he, ‘which keeps you mumping and dumping down in this darksome steerage. You think it is not becoming. Well, now let us see if you can manage without it.’
He removed it, and backed away as though looking at a picture. ‘Your nose is broken,’ said he.
‘I feared so,’ I exclaimed.
‘But it is broken,’ said he, ‘in such a way as to improve your looks. Did you ever see a portrait of the famous Lady Castlemaine?’ I said no. ‘Congratulate yourself,’ said he. ‘Your nose is now exactly the shape of the nose in the portrait of the celebrated Lady105 Castlemaine. The scar looks a little angry, but you can do without the bandage. Pray, my dear lady, don’t stare at the looking glass. When are you coming into the saloon? Very well; we shall meet at the luncheon table,’ said he, when I had answered him, and with an abrupt nod he left me.
By daylight the scar did not look so formidable as it had by lamplight. The eyebrow was a long smear of sulky red without hair, with a violet streak running through it. The flesh of the eyebrow appeared to have been torn off, and a new skin formed. I screwed my head on one side to catch a view of my profile, but my former face was not in my memory. My present face was the only face that I could recollect, and I was therefore unable to perceive that the injury which had changed the shape of my nose had in any way modified the expression of my countenance.
But I did not choose to exhibit my face 106with that sulky crimson scar streaming like a red trail across my right brow, and not knowing what to do I stepped to Mrs. Richards’ cabin, knocked, and found her busy with some accounts. She started on seeing me, but quickly recollected herself and exclaimed with a smile: ‘Now, indeed, you look as you should.’
‘I am ashamed,’ said I, ‘to go amongst the passengers with this unsightly forehead.’
‘It is not unsightly, my dear.’
‘How can I conceal it?’
She reflected, and then jumped up. ‘I believe I have the very thing you want,’ said she, and after hunting in a box she produced a short white veil. It was of gossamer, and it had a gloss of satin; she pinned it round my cap, contriving that it should fall a little lower than the eyes.
‘Will that do?’ she exclaimed.
‘It is the very thing,’ I cried with a 107child-like feeling of exultation; and then, as it was nearly eleven o’clock, I walked to the after steps and entered the saloon.
The concealment of my face gave me confidence. People might stare at me now, and welcome. There were a number of passengers lounging on sofas and chairs in various parts of the saloon, held under shelter, no doubt, by the weather, for though the sun was shining there was a brisk breeze blowing which came cold with the white spray that it flashed off the broken heads of the swelling running waters. The first person to see me as I was passing to Miss Lee’s berth was Mrs. Webber. She sprang with youthful activity from her chair and came to me, floating and rolling over the slanting deck with her hands outstretched.
‘I have quite made up my mind about you, Miss C——,’ she exclaimed. ‘I have invented108 a history for you, and I shall never rest until you have recovered your memory, and are able to tell me how far I am right or wrong.’
‘Let me at once thank you for your great kindness, Mrs. Webber,’ said I, returning the bows of the ladies and gentlemen who were now looking towards me.
‘Not a word of thanks, if you please. When are we to have a good long talk together?—Oh, sooner than some of these days! Did you receive the volume of poems I gave to Mrs. Richards?’
I replied that I had received the book, and that I had read the poems she had marked, and that I did not doubt I should find them very beautiful when my mind had become stronger. We stood a few minutes conversing, and I then went to Miss Lee’s cabin.
The mother and daughter were together;109 the mother knitting, and the daughter reading or seeming to read. The girl looked very pale. There was a haggard air about the eyes as though she had not slept, but her smile of greeting was one of inexpressible sweetness, and when I took her hand she drew me to her and pressed her lips to my cheek. The mother also received me with as much warmth and kindness as though we had been old friends.
I seated myself by the side of Miss Lee, and after the three of us had conversed for awhile, Mrs. Lee said:
‘Alice has made out a long list of names. You will be surprised by her industry and imagination, for she has had no book of names to help her,’ and opening a desk that lay upon the deck she extracted a number of sheets of note paper filled with names—female Christian names and surnames written in a delicate hand in pencil.
I held the sheets of paper in my hand;—there 110was a faint odour of rose upon them; I knew not what that odour was—I could not have given it a name; yet it caused me to glance at Alice Lee with some dim fancy in my mind of an autumn garden and of an atmosphere perfumed by the breath of dying flowers. Was this dim fancy a memory? It came and went with subtle swiftness, but it left me motionless with my eyes fixed upon the sheets of paper in my hand.
‘We will go through those names together,’ said Alice Lee, ‘and until your memory enables you to fix upon your real name I have chosen one for you. If you do not like it tell me, and we will choose another. Miss C—— is hard and unmeaning—I cannot call you Miss C——.’
‘What name have you chosen?’ I asked.
‘For your Christian name,’ she answered, ‘I have chosen Agnes. It is a pretty name.’
‘It is Alice’s favourite name,’ said Mrs. 111Lee.
I repeated the word Agnes, but no name, not the strangest that was to have been suggested, could have been more barren to my imagination.
‘If Sir Frederick Thompson is to be believed,’ said Mrs. Lee, ‘you undoubtedly belong to the Calthorpe family, whoever they may be, for I am sorry to say I never before heard of them.’
‘Does he continue to say that I am a Calthorpe?’ said I.
‘Yes,’ she answered; ‘he offers to wager any sum of money that you will prove to be a Calthorpe.’
‘I am sure he is mistaken,’ said Miss Lee. ‘How would it be possible for him to recognise a likeness in you when your face was almost concealed by a bandage? And besides, is it not certain that the terrible112 sufferings you have undergone have greatly changed the character of your face? You may resemble the Calthorpe family now, but you could not have resembled them before your sufferings altered you, and therefore Sir Frederick Thompson must be mistaken.’
‘That is cleverly reasoned, my love,’ said her mother, looking at her fondly and wistfully; ‘nobody appears to have taken that view. Everybody except Mrs. Webber seems inclined to think Sir Frederick right. She, good soul, will not allow him to be right because she has a theory of her own.’
‘Perhaps now,’ said Miss Lee, ‘that your face is more concealed by your veil than it was by your bandage Sir Frederick will discover a likeness in you to somebody else.’
‘There is no good in speculating,’ exclaimed Mrs. Lee; ‘did not you say, Miss C——, that you would not know your own name if you were to see it written down?’
‘I fear I should not know it,’ I answered.113
‘We must call her Agnes, mother,’ said Miss Lee; ‘and, Agnes, you will call me Alice.’
‘It is an easy name, and sweet to pronounce,’ said I, smiling.
‘But if our friend’s name should not be Agnes, my love,’ said Mrs. Lee. ‘Miss C—— is more sensible, and C is certainly the initial of her surname. But since it is your wish, my darling, and if you do not object,’ she added, addressing me with a manner that made me understand that she lived but for her daughter, and that her life was an impassioned indulgence of the beautiful fading flower, ‘I will call you Agnes.’
Her daughter’s face lighted up, but a violent fit of coughing obliged her to conceal it in her handkerchief the next instant. Her mother watched her with an expression of bitter pain, but she had smoothed it before114 Alice could lift her eyes and see her. There was a brief silence; the fit of coughing had taken away the girl’s breath, and she held her hand to her side, breathing short, with a glassier brightness in her eyes, and a tinge of hectic on her cheeks.
‘I am sure it comforts you to conceal your face,’ said Mrs. Lee, breaking the silence with an effort. ‘The concealment is certainly effectual. I can scarcely distinguish your eyes through the gossamer.’
‘The scar is an unsightly one,’ I exclaimed, and I raised the veil that they might see my forehead.
‘It is not so bad as I had feared,’ said Miss Lee, leaning forward and gazing with a face exquisitely touching and beautiful, with the pure, unaffected heart-sympathy in it. Mrs. Lee gazed in silence, with a look of consternation which she could not immediately hide.
‘It was a terrible wound,’ she murmured; 115‘who can doubt that the blow which produced that dreadful wound bereft you of your memory?’
‘Mother, you frighten poor Agnes. The scar is not so very dreadful, dear; indeed it is not. When the eyebrow grows the marks will not be seen.’
‘My nose is broken,’ I said, putting my finger above the bridge of it.
‘I should not know that,’ said Mrs. Lee, taking her cue of cheerful sympathy from her daughter. ‘I assure you, whether it be broken or not, there is no disfigurement.’
I let fall the veil. Alice Lee kept her eyes fastened upon me. What was passing in her mind who can tell, but her face was that of an angel, so spiritually beautiful with emotion that to my sight and fancy it seemed actually glorified, as though her living lineaments were a mere jugglery of the vision clothing an116 angelic spirit in flesh for a passing moment that the physical sight might behold it.
This cabin occupied by the Lees was so comfortable, fresh, and bright, that I never could have supposed the like of such a bedroom was to be found at sea. The sleeping shelves were curtained with dimity, which travelled upon brass rods. The beds were draped as on shore. There were chests of drawers, some shelves filled with books, a few framed photographs suspended against the cabin wall by loops of blue ribbon. As the vessel rolled the white water that was racing past rose, gleaming and boiling, and the flash of it flung a lightning-like dazzle into the sunshine that was pouring upon the large cabin porthole and filling the berth with the splendour of the wide, windy, foaming, ocean morning.
When I had let fall my veil I sat silent, with the eyes of Alice Lee tenderly dwelling117 upon me. Mrs. Lee pulled out her watch and said, ‘It is half-past twelve. Luncheon is served at one. You will take your place at the table, I hope, Agnes?’ she added, pronouncing the word with an air of embarrassment and a smile at her daughter.
‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘I intend to take my meals henceforth in the saloon.’
Mrs. Lee looked at Alice, who immediately said, ‘I will lunch at table to-day.’
‘But do you feel strong enough to do so?’ exclaimed Mrs. Lee anxiously.
‘I can withdraw when I feel tired,’ said the girl; ‘it is not far to walk, mother; but Agnes, sister Agnes, must sit next to me.’
‘I will speak to the steward,’ said Mrs. Lee, and, throwing a shawl over her shoulders, she smiled at me and quitted the berth.
‘We will go over the names I have written down this afternoon,’ said Alice. ‘It118 may be that you will not know your own name if you see it! But, supposing you should see it and remember it! There are many things I shall think of to try. And, Agnes, we must not forget to ask God to help us and to bless our efforts.’
‘God?’ I repeated, and I looked at her.
A startled expression came and went in her eyes. ‘Lift up your veil, dear,’ said she; ‘I wish to see your face.’
I raised the veil, and directed my gaze fully at her.
‘Can it be,’ said she in a low, sweet voice, ‘that you have forgotten the sacred name of God?’
‘No,’ I answered; ‘I have not forgotten the name of God. Tell me——’ I paused.
‘It is so! How strange!’ she exclaimed. ‘Yet God must live in the memory too. It is hard to realise. Oh, Agnes, this brings your loss home to me as nothing else could. Lonely119 indeed you must be if you do not feel that you are being watched over, and that your Heavenly Father is with you always.’
Her eyes sank, and she fell into a reverie; her lips moved, and she faintly smiled. I continued to watch her, but within me there had suddenly begun a dreadful conflict. I pronounced the word ‘God,’ but I could not understand it, and the struggle of my spirit rapidly became a horror, which, even as my companion sat with her eyes sunk, faintly smiling and her lips moving, caused me to shriek aloud and bury my face in my hands.
In a moment I felt her arm round my neck; I felt the pressure of her cheek to mine; and I heard her voice murmuring in my ear.
‘It is my loneliness,’ I cried; ‘it is my heart-breaking loneliness! I walk with blinded eyes in utter darkness. Oh, if I could but know all, if I could but know all now,120 I would be content to die in the next instant.’
She continued to fondle me with her arm round my neck, and to soothe me with words which I understood only in part. Presently she removed her arm, on which I arose and went to the porthole, and looked at the white sea swelling into the sky as the ship rolled; then, turning, I saw that Alice had resumed her seat and was wistfully watching me with a face of grief. I went to her side, and, kneeling down, hid my face on her lap.
‘You will teach me to feel that I am not alone,’ I exclaimed. ‘Speak to me about God. Make me know Him and understand Him, that, if my memory should never return to me, if my life should be the horrible blank it now is, I may not be alone.’
I felt her fingers toying with my hair.
‘I have seen the steward,’ exclaimed Mrs.121 Lee, opening the door; and then, pausing, she cried out, ‘What is the matter?’
‘Do not ask, mother.’
‘But, my darling, I fear that anything that affects you may prove harmful.’
I returned to my chair and dropped my veil. I felt the truth of the mother’s words, and could not bear to meet her gaze.
‘Will the steward find a place at my side for Agnes?’ asked Alice.
Mrs. Lee replied yes, looking from her daughter to me as though she sought, but was unwilling to ask for, an explanation for my kneeling at the girl’s side and hiding my face in her lap.
‘That is the Church of St. Nicholas, at Newcastle-on-Tyne,’ said Alice, pointing to a photograph upon the cabin wall; ‘and that,’ said she, pointing to another photograph, ‘is our home at Jesmond.’
I arose to look at them, and whilst I122 looked, Alice talked of Newcastle-on-Tyne, and of the scenery of Jesmond Dene, and of Gosforth and the Town Moor. Her pleasant gentle speech brought her mother into the subject, and some while before the luncheon bell was rung in the saloon I had recovered my composure.
When the bell rang, we stepped forth. Alice took my arm. Her mother made a movement as though to support her; they exchanged a look, and Mrs. Lee passed out alone. Sweet as a blessing from loved lips, grateful as slumber after hours of pain, was this girl’s sympathy to me. The pressure of her arm on mine extinguished the sense of loneliness in my heart. Her companionship supported me. It enabled me to face the ordeal of that crowded table without shrinking, and I loved her for guessing that this would be the effect of her taking my arm and walking with me to our seats.
The chair which the head steward pointed 123to placed me between the mother and daughter. As I seated myself, Mrs. Lee whispered in my ear:
‘Alice has fallen in love with you. I am truly thankful. You will be just such a companion as I would choose for her. But she is very emotional, and her health—but you can see what her health is. We must endeavour to protect her against any excitement that is likely to react upon her.’
I was unable to reply to this speech, owing to Alice on the other side asking me some question that demanded an instant answer, and when I had responded, my attention was occupied in bowing and in murmuring responses to the greetings of the people at the table.
It was a bright and cheerful scene. The long centre table was handsomely furnished with good things, and the whole surface of124 it was as radiant as a prism with the glitter of crystal and decanters and plate. The ship rolled steadily, and the movement was without inconvenience. Her canvas supported her. Had she been a steamer she would have rolled most of the articles off the table, so high was the sea. Through the skylight glass you saw the swollen white sails rising into a dingy blue sky, across which large rolls of cloud were journeying. The captain occupied the head of the table, and when our eyes met he gave me a low bow, but called no salutation. At the foot of the table sat the first officer, Mr. Harris. He too gave me a bow—but it was an odd one. The passengers looked at me, some of them, almost continuously, yet with a certain furtiveness. But my veil and the having Alice by my side gave me all needful courage to bear a scrutiny that otherwise I should have found too distressing for endurance.
Yet I could not wonder that I was stared 125at. The mere circumstance of my appearing in a veil heightened me as a mystery in the eyes of the people. Who was I? Nobody knew. I was a woman that had been strangely met with at sea, and found to be without memory, unable to give myself, or my home, or my country a name. And then piquancy was added to the mystery by Sir Frederick Thompson’s discovery that I was a Calthorpe. He might be mistaken, but he might be right also; and to suppose me a Calthorpe, or, in other words, a person of far loftier social claims than anyone could pretend to on board that ship, was to create for me an interest which certainly nobody could have found had it been suspected that I was merely a poor passenger on board the French brig, or the wife of the captain, or the sister of his nephew the waiter.
Sir Frederick Thompson sat opposite me.126 He was for ever directing his eyes at my face, and often he would purse up his mouth into an expression which was the same as saying that the longer he looked the more he was convinced. But my veil kept him off, as I believe it kept others off. People stared, but they seemed to hesitate to accost me through that gossamer screen, which scarcely gave them a sight of my eyes.
As Mrs. Webber sat on my side of the table some distance down, she was unable to speak to me, for which I was thankful. From time to time she stretched her neck to catch a view of me, but I was careful not to see her for fear of her obliging me to raise my veil in answer. Some handsome girls were sitting at the bottom of the table near the chief officer; they were showily dressed, and their gowns fitted them exquisitely. One of them I supposed had been Mr. McEwan’s beautiful singer of the127 preceding evening. They could not see too much of me, I thought. Indeed their eyes were so often upon me that after a little I found myself looking at them eagerly, with a tremulous hope that at some time in our lives we had met, and that they would be able to suggest something to my memory, I whispered this hope to Alice; she glanced at them and said:
‘I fear it is no more than girlish curiosity, together with the idea that you may be a titled lady. Did you hear them ask Mr. McEwan about you just now after he had given you one of his strange, abrupt nods? I am afraid they will not be able to help us.’
‘Do you observe,’ said Mrs. Lee, on the other side, ‘how the chief officer, Mr. Harris, watches you?’
‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘Probably he is thinking of our conversation the other night.128 He may have another idea about my memory to offer.’
‘He should attend to the navigation of the ship,’ said Mrs. Lee; ‘but, like most sailors, he will be glad to trouble himself about anything else.’
My sweet companion made no lunch. She feigned to eat to please her mother, who frequently projected her head past me to see her. I noticed that every eye which rested upon the beautiful fading girl wore an expression of pity.
The conversation became general, and the long and gleaming interior was filled with the hum of it, with the sounds of corks drawn, with the noise of knives and forks busily plied upon crockery ware. There was also a dull echo of wind, a dim hissing of broken and flying waters, that gave a singular effect to this hospitable picture of gentlemen and well-dressed ladies eating and drinking.
I listened to the conversation, but what I 129heard of it conveyed no meaning to my mind. For example, Sir Frederick Thompson spoke of having visited a certain London theatre a couple of nights before the vessel sailed.
‘I never saw such a full ’ouse,’ he said. ‘Yet it was Shakespeare—it was “’Amlet.” They clapped when Ophelia came on mad, but it was the scenery that gave the satisfaction. Without the scenery there would have been no ’ouse; and though I consider Shakespeare top-weight as a writer, what I say is, since it’s scenery that takes, why don’t managers draw it mild and give us plays easy to follow and written in the language that men and women speak?’
He seemed partly to address this speech to me, and I listened, but hardly understood him. Others talked of Australia and the growth of the colonies, of England, of emigration, of many such matters; but, so far as130 my understanding of their speech went, they might have discoursed in a foreign tongue. The captain, at the head of the table, spoke seldom, and then with a grave face and a sober voice. Occasionally he glanced at me. I do not doubt that many watched me, to remark how I behaved. Knowing that I had no memory, they might well wonder whether I should not often be at a loss, and stare to see if I knew what to do with my glass, my plate, and my napkin.
Before lunch was half over Mr. Wedmold and Mr. Clack, who immediately confronted Mrs. Webber, raised their voices in a discussion. Mrs. Lee, leaning behind me to her daughter, exclaimed:
‘Those unhappy men are going to begin!’
‘What do they intend to argue about?’ said Alice, in her soft voice, looking towards them.
There was no need to inquire of our131 neighbours, for the two gentlemen’s voices rose high above all others.
‘It is idle to speak of Carlyle as a good writer,’ exclaimed Mr. Wedmold; ‘his style is as barbarous as his matter is trite. Never was reputation so cheaply earned as Carlyle’s. His philosophy is worth about twopence-ha’penny. Here is a great original writer, who goes to the Son of Sirach, and to Solomon, and to Collections of the Proverbs of Nations, and taking here a thought and there a thought, he dresses it up in a horrid jargon, harder than Welsh, more repulsive than Scotch, more jaw-breaking than German, puts his name to it, and offers the fine old fancy in its vile new dress as something original!’
‘It is not Dickens and Thackeray to-day,’ said Mrs. Lee.
‘Well, you may sneer as much as you like at Carlyle,’ cried Mr. Clack, ‘but to my132 mind his style is the most magnificent in the English tongue. He is sometimes obscure, I admit; but why? His style is a Niagara Fall of words, and it is veiled by the mist that rises from the stupendous drench.’
‘Give me Swift for style,’ exclaimed Mr. Webber, a gentleman whom I have before described, with long whiskers and a glass in his eye.
‘Pray do not be drawn into the discussion,’ said Mrs. Webber, calling across to him.
‘I beg your pardon? You mentioned——’ exclaimed Mr. Wedmold.
‘I said Swift. Give me Swift for style,’ rejoined Mr. Webber, pulling down one whisker.
‘Swift has no style,’ said Mr. Wedmold. ‘Swift wrote as he thought, as he would speak; so did Defoe. Style is artificial. Talk to me of De Quincey’s style, of the style of133 Jeremy Taylor, of Johnson, of Macaulay; but I never want to hear of the style of Swift.’
‘Give me Goldsmith for style,’ exclaimed a little elderly man seated next to Mrs. Lee.
‘And give me Paris for style!’ said Mrs. Webber, in a loud voice.
There was a general laugh.
‘These arguments are incessantly happening,’ said Mrs. Lee. ‘I wish the captain would put a stop to them.’
‘Can you follow what has been said?’ whispered Alice.
‘Some of the names mentioned are familiar to me,’ I answered; ‘but I can collect no ideas from them.’
‘Shall we withdraw?’ said she.
I at once arose and gave her my arm. Her mother remained seated at the table. When I left my chair Sir Frederick Thompson stood up, and I paused, believing he was about to address me, but quickly perceived134 that his movement was a mark of respect. I had scarcely entered the Lees’ berth when someone tapped on the door, even whilst I still grasped the handle of it, and, on looking out, I perceived that it was the steward or servant who waited upon the captain.
‘Captain Ladmore’s compliments, madam; he wishes to know if it will be convenient to you to visit him in his cabin presently?’
‘I will visit him with pleasure,’ I replied; and, closing the door, I turned to Alice Lee and said, ‘What can the captain want?’
‘Do not be nervous, dear. I will go with you if you wish, or mother shall accompany you. He intends nothing but kindness, you may be sure.’
‘I dread,’ I exclaimed, putting my hand upon my heart, ‘to be sent into another ship.’
‘No, no; he will not do that.’
‘What would become of me in another135 ship? I shall be without friends, and my loneliness will be the darker for the memories which I shall take away from this vessel. And what will they do with me on board another ship? Where will they take me? Wherever I arrive I shall be friendless. Oh, I hope the captain does not mean to send me away.’
‘Do not fear. It is not likely that he will send you away until your memory returns and enables you to tell him who you are and where your home is.’
I placed a rug over her knees, and sat at her side and waited. Presently Mrs. Lee entered the berth.
‘Captain Ladmore has asked me to say he is ready to see you, my dear,’ said she.
‘Will you go with Agnes, mother?’ said Alice.
‘But Captain Ladmore does not want to136 see me, my love,’ exclaimed her mother; then, looking from me to her daughter, the good little woman cried, ‘Oh, yes! I will go with you, Agnes. Give me your arm.’
THE SHIP IS MY HOME
The saloon was empty of passengers, and the stewards were occupied in clearing the long table. We walked to the door of the captain’s berth, knocked and entered. Captain Ladmore put down a pen with which he was writing in a book, and, rising, received us with a grave bow.
‘You are very good, Mrs. Lee,’ he exclaimed, ‘to take Miss C—— under your protection.’ He placed chairs for us. ‘I am happy to observe, Miss C——, that you have found kind friends in Mrs. Lee and her daughter.’
‘They are kind, indeed, Captain Ladmore. How kind I have no words to tell you.’
‘My reason for wishing to see you is this,’ 138said the captain. ‘Sir Frederick Thompson, a shrewd, keen-eyed man of business, whose opinion on any matter must carry weight, persists in declaring that you are a Calthorpe. Whether you are the Honourable Miss Calthorpe or Lady So-and-so Calthorpe he does not pretend to guess. He persists in holding that the likeness between you and Lady Lucy Calthorpe is too striking, altogether too extraordinary to be accidental, by which he would persuade us that you are a member of the family.’ He paused to give me an opportunity to speak. I had nothing to say. ‘I own,’ he continued, ‘that I am impressed by Sir Frederick’s conviction, for that is what it amounts to. On leaving the table just now I said to him, “I am about to see the lady on the subject. You have no doubt?” “I would venture five hundred pounds upon it,” said he. “Yet you only met Lady Lucy Calthorpe139 once; how can you remember her?” “I do remember her all the same,” said he, “your shipwrecked lady is a Calthorpe. Take my word for it!” Now, if Sir Frederick is right my duty is plain.’
‘Sir Frederick is not right,’ said Mrs. Lee.
The captain arched his brows. ‘Why, madam,’ said he, ‘if Miss C—— can tell you who she is not, she ought to be able to tell you who she is.’
‘She has told me nothing,’ said Mrs. Lee; ‘it is my daughter’s common sense which settles Sir Frederick’s conjectures to my mind.’ The captain bent his ear. ‘Lift your veil, my dear,’ said Mrs. Lee. I did so. ‘Now, Captain Ladmore, look at this poor lady’s face. We are all agreed that her figure proves her to be a young woman. But her face is that of a middle-aged woman. And how has that come about? Some horrible adventure, some frightful experience, of which140 we know nothing, of which she, poor dear, knows nothing, has whitened her hair and cruelly thinned it, and seamed her face. And judge now how she has been wounded, and why it is that her memory has gone.’
Her voice failed her, and for a few moments she was silent. Captain Ladmore viewed me with a look of earnest sympathy.
‘If,’ continued Mrs. Lee, ‘our friend is like Lady Lucy Calthorpe now, she could not have been like her before she met with whatever it may be that has changed her. Therefore, since Sir Frederick believes her to be a Calthorpe simply because of her resemblance to that family, she cannot be anybody of the sort, seeing that she must have been a different-looking woman before she was found in the open boat.’
‘Well, certainly, that is a view which did not occur to me,’ said the captain, continuing to observe me and gravely stroking his chin.141 ‘But how are we to know, Mrs. Lee, that our friend was a different-looking person before she was found in the open boat?’
‘Her face tells its own story,’ answered Mrs. Lee, looking at me pityingly.
I let fall my veil.
‘But to return to the motive of this interview,’ said the captain with an air of perplexity. ‘If I am to suppose, with Sir Frederick Thompson, that you are a member of Lord ——’s family, then my duty is plain. I must convey you on board the first homeward-bound ship which we can manage to signal, acquaint the captain with Sir Frederick’s opinion, and request him to call upon the owners of this ship in order that members of the Calthorpe family may be communicated with.’
‘I cannot imagine that Calthorpe is my name,’ I cried, pressing my brow.
‘She is not a Calthorpe, captain,’ exclaimed142 Mrs. Lee, ‘and, since she is comfortable here and with friends, it would be cruel to remove her until her memory returns and she is able to give you the positive information you require.’
Captain Ladmore smiled. ‘I hope not to be cruel,’ said he; ‘whatever I do, I trust to do in the lady’s own interest. Then, addressing me, he continued, ‘You shall decide for yourself, Miss C——. You are quite welcome to remain in this ship. No feeling of being obliged need disturb you. We nearly drowned you, and it is our duty to keep you with us until we can safely place you. But consider that time is passing, that it may be of the utmost importance to your present and your future interests that your safety should be known to your friends. Whether you be a Calthorpe or not, yet if your home is in England, which I do not doubt, there are abundant methods of publishing the story of143 your deliverance and safety, so that it would be strange, indeed, if your friends did not get to hear of you.’
Mrs. Lee watched me anxiously. I gazed at the captain, struggling hard to think; a horror of loneliness possessed me. I was again filled with the old terror that had visited me on board the French brig when I thought of being landed friendless, and blind in mind, without money, without a home to go to, or, if I had a home, of arriving in a country where that home might not be.
‘She does not wish to leave the ship,’ said Mrs. Lee.
‘Then by all means let her remain,’ said the captain.
‘Her memory,’ continued Mrs. Lee, ‘may return at any time. Suppose, then, that she should tell you her home is not in England, and that she has no friends there. How glad you will be that you kept her.’
Again the captain gravely smiled. ‘What 144are your ideas as to her past, Mrs. Lee?’
‘I have no ideas whatever on the subject.’
‘But you do not doubt that she is English?’
‘No, I do not doubt that she is English,’ said Mrs. Lee, ‘but though she be English still she may have no residence, and even no friends in England.’
‘Granting her to be an English woman,’ said the captain, ‘where would you have her live?’
‘Anywhere in Europe—anywhere in America—anywhere in the world, Captain Ladmore,’ answered Mrs. Lee.
‘But here is a lady,’ said the captain, ‘found in an open boat, not very far south of the mouth of the English Channel. Now what more reasonable to suppose than that the lady was blown away from an English port?’
‘Why not from a French port?’ said Mrs. 145Lee.
‘She had English money on her,’ exclaimed the captain.
‘English people who live in France often have English money on them,’ said Mrs. Lee. ‘But why do you say she was blown away from a port? Is it not more likely that she is a survivor of a shipwreck, the horrors of which have extinguished her memory? Assume this, Captain Ladmore,’ said the little woman with an air of triumph, ‘and in what part of the world are you going to tell me her home is?’
‘Well, Miss C——,’ said the captain, ‘the matter need not be discussed any further. If you are satisfied to remain, I am satisfied to keep you.’
I left my chair and took his hand and pressed it in silence. I was unable to speak.
As we left the captain’s cabin, Mrs. Lee146 said: ‘My husband was a shipowner, and I know how to reason with sea captains. I believe I have made Captain Ladmore see your case in its true light. We shall hope to hear no more of Sir Frederick Thompson’s absurd notion.’
‘Oh, Mrs. Lee,’ I exclaimed, ‘I feel happy now. It would break my heart to be removed to another ship, not knowing what was to befall me there and afterwards.’
‘Will you come on deck for a turn?’ said she. ‘You can join Alice later on. I wish her to rest every afternoon,’ and she then asked me to send the stewardess to her, as she desired to unpack a bonnet and cloak which were at my service.
At the foot of the stairs, which conducted to the steerage, I found Mr. Harris, the chief officer. I had not before encountered him in this part of the ship. He was talking to a bearded steerage passenger, who was leaning147 with folded arms against a table, but on seeing me, Mr. Harris turned his back upon the bearded passenger, and saluted me by raising his cap.
We stood in the light floating through the wide hatch from the saloon fore windows, and now, having a near and good view of his face, I was struck by its whimsical expression. His skin was red with years of exposure to the weather; one eye was slightly larger than the other, which produced the effect of a wink; his eyebrows, instead of arching, slanted irregularly into his forehead, and the expression of his somewhat awry mouth was as though, being a sour sulky man, he had been asked to smile whilst sitting for his photograph! These were points I had been unable to observe when I met Mr. Harris at one o’clock in the morning, and at table this day I had barely noticed him.
‘Good afternoon, mam,’ said he.
‘Good afternoon,’ I answered.148
‘There’s a gossip running about the passengers aft,’ said he, ‘that you belong to a noble family. What d’ye think yourself?’
‘How can I tell, Mr. Harris?’ I exclaimed. ‘I do not know who I am.’
‘I haven’t rightly caught the name of the noble family,’ said he. ‘I’m a poor hand at fine language. Perhaps you know it?’
‘Sir Frederick Thompson,’ I answered, says that I resemble a certain Lady Lucy Calthorpe.’
‘Ah, that’s it,’ he exclaimed. ‘Calthorpe’s the word. Don’t the mention of it give you any inward sensations?’
‘No,’ I answered.
‘Then bet your life, mam, you’re somebody else. That’s what I’ve been wanting to find out. No inward sensations! Over goes the show as far as concerns Calthorpe.’
‘Mrs. Lee is waiting for me,’ said I, making 149a step.
‘One minute,’ he exclaimed. ‘I’ve been turning over the matter of shocks in my mind. There’s nothing for it, I fear, but a shock. Now, if you are willing, I’ll have a talk with the captain, and tell him the scheme that’s running in my head. But you must know nothing about it, or it won’t be a shock.’
‘I am not willing, Mr. Harris,’ said I. ‘I do not like the idea.’
Seeing that I was moving away he exclaimed: ‘If you leave yourself in the hands of the doctor he’ll do nothing for you. Place yourself in my hands. I’m your man.’
Thus speaking he climbed the stairs, and I entered my berth. I considered Mr. Harris, the chief officer, eccentric and well meaning, and I dismissed him from my mind when,150 having sent the stewardess to Mrs. Lee, I entered my berth.
I stood with my eyes fixed upon the cabin porthole, that was at one moment buried in the white thunder of the pouring waters and at the next lifted high and weeping into the windy dazzle of the afternoon, thinking over what had passed in the captain’s cabin; and whilst I thus stood, a strange and awful feeling as of the unreality of all things took possession of me. Everything seemed part of the fabric of a dream, and I, the central dreamer of it all, seemed the most dreamlike feature of the mocking and startling vision. Oh, what a strange and horrible feeling was that!
It was dispelled by the entrance of Mrs. Richards. Her hearty, homely presence brought me to my senses.
‘Well, it is good news indeed!’ cried she. ‘Mrs. Lee has told me what the captain said,151 and I am truly glad to know that there is no chance of your leaving the ship until your memory is able to point true to your own home. What think you of this bonnet? And what do you say to this cloak? I am sure the Lees, mother and daughter, are the very soul of goodness. But who could help being kind to one in your condition? So helpless! So lonely! And Mrs. Lee has settled that you’re not a Calthorpe. Well, I daresay she’s right. And yet, do you know that little City gentleman don’t look much of a fool either. But whatever you be you’re a born lady. There’s breeding in your voice—oh! I’ve got an ear for quality voices. The cloak’s a bit short, but it looks very well. Let me pin that veil for you.’
And now, being equipped for the deck, I ascended to the saloon. Mrs. Lee waited for me near the hatchway. She said that her daughter was sleeping, and then putting her152 hand with an affectionate gesture upon my arm she exclaimed:
‘Alice has told me what passed between you before lunch. I am sure she will be able to help you. She is my child, she is flesh of my flesh, yet I think of her as an angel of God, and His praises no angel in heaven could sing with a purer and holier heart, and He will forgive me for believing this.’
She released my arm, and bowed her head and stood silent a minute, struggling with emotion. We then mounted on to the deck.
The scene was noble and inspiring. The high seas came brimming to the ship, their colour was sapphire, and as they rolled they broke into dazzling masses of foam. The stately swollen white clouds of the morning were still on high; they floated in slow processions across the masts which reeled solemnly as though to music. The sails upon the ship were few, and their iron-hard, distended153 concavities hummed like a ceaseless roll of military drums in their echoing of the pursuing thunder of the wind. The water roared in snowstorms from either bow as the great ship rushed onwards, and the broad and hissing furrow she left behind seemed to stream to the very horizon, lifting and falling straight as a line, like the scintillant scar of a shooting star on the cold blue heights of the night.
A sail showed in the far windy distance; she was struggling northwards under narrow bands of canvas, and sometimes she would vanish out of sight behind the ridge of the sea, and sometimes she would be thrown up till the whole body of her was visible. Her hull was black and white, and a long length of copper flashed out like gold every time she rose to the summit of a billow.
Walking was not difficult. The slanting of the deck was so gradual that one’s form154 swayed to the movement with the instinct and the ease of a wheeling skater. Not above half a dozen passengers were on deck, and Mrs. Webber, I was glad to see, was not amongst them; in truth, I was without the spirits, and perhaps without the strength just then, to support a course of her voluble tongue.
When we approached the forward end of the poop we paused to survey the scene of the deck beneath us and beyond. I do not know how many emigrants the Deal Castle carried; her decks appeared to be filled with men, women, and children that afternoon. You did not need to look at their attire to know that they were poor. There was everywhere an air of sullen patience, bitterly expressive of defeat, and of a dull and sulky resignation that might come in its way very near to hopelessness. Here and there were children playing, but their play was stealthy,155 snatched with fear, dulled by vigilance as though they knew that the blow and the curse could never be far off. A growling of voices ran amongst the men, and this noise was threaded by the shrill-edged chatter of women. But I do not remember that ever a laugh rose from amongst them.
‘Are all those people going to Australia?’ I asked Mrs. Lee.
‘Yes,’ she answered, ‘this ship does not call at any port. She is proceeding direct to Australia.’
‘They appear to be very poor.’
‘Most of them,’ said she, ‘have probably sold all they possess in the world, with the exception of the clothes upon their backs, to enable them to get to Australia. Poor creatures! I pity the women, and even more do I pity the children. How are they fed? Not so well, I am sure, as the pigs under that big boat yonder. And what sort of quarters156 have they below? Oh, gloomy, dark and evil-smelling be sure, and suffocating when the weather is heavy and the hatches are closed.’
‘I should like to see the place where all those poor people sleep,’ said I.
‘I would not accompany you,’ she answered. ‘It is miserable to witness sufferings which one cannot soothe or help.’
‘And what will they do when they arrive in Australia?’
‘A good many will starve, I daresay, and wish themselves home. The colonies are full. There is plenty of land, but people when they arrive will not leave the towns. They will not do what those who created the colonies did—dig and build new places—and there is no room in the towns.’
‘There are a great many people down there,’ said I, running my eye over the groups.157 ‘I wonder if any one of them has lost his memory.’
‘It would be a blessed thing,’ said Mrs. Lee, ‘for most of them, perhaps for all of them, if they had left their memories behind them. What have they to remember? Years of toil, of famine, of hardship, years of heart-breaking, struggles for what?—for this! How big is this world!’ she exclaimed, casting her eyes round the sea, ‘yet there is no room for these people in it. How abundant are the goodly fruits of the earth! And yet those people there represent hundreds and thousands who cannot find a root in all the soil to provide a meal for themselves and the children. Yet though we all say there is something wrong, who is to set it right? Do you observe how that strange, fierce, dark woman is staring at you?’
‘Yes. She is one of two wild-looking158 women who pressed forward to view me when I came on board.’
‘What is her nation?’ exclaimed Mrs. Lee. ‘She looks like a gipsy.’
The woman sat upon the corner of the great square of hatch within easy distance of the sight. Her complexion was tawny, her nose flat. Thick rings, apparently of silver, trembled in her ears, and her head was covered with a sort of red hood. The stare of her gleaming black eyes was fierce and fixed. I had observed her without giving her close attention, but now that my mind was directed to her, her unwinking fiery gaze made me feel uneasy.
‘Let us walk,’ said Mrs. Lee.
We turned our faces towards the stern of the ship and paced the deck, but every time we approached the edge of the poop I encountered the cat-like stare of the toad-coloured woman’s eyeballs.
Our conversation almost wholly concerned 159Alice Lee. The mother’s heart was full of her sweet daughter. When she began to speak of her she could talk of nothing else. She hoped that the voyage would benefit the girl, but the note of a deep misgiving trembled in the expression of her hope, and I could not doubt that secretly within herself she thought of her child as lost to her. Do you wonder that I should have found such a warm-hearted sympathetic friend as Mrs. Lee in so short a time? When I look back I believe I can understand how it was: she was a woman with a heart heavy with sorrow, but in me she beheld a person far more deeply afflicted than she was in her fears for her child, or could be in her loss of her. Her daughter was dying—she might die; but the memory of the girl’s sweetness, her purity, her angelic character would be the mother’s whilst she drew breath. But what had gone out of my life? She could160 not imagine—but she would guess that love—love not less precious nor less holy than hers for her child lay black, and, perhaps, extinguished for ever in my past. It might be the love of a parent, of a sister, nay of a sweetheart: thus she would reason; not dimly for an instant conceiving me to be a married woman with children; but some sort of love, not less precious and holy than her own, might have passed out of my life by the eclipse of my mind. This she would conjecture, and the sympathy of her own deep affliction would be mine in a sense of friendship that association might easily ripen into affection. In a word, she pitied me with a heart that asked pity for herself, and she pitied me the more lovingly because of her daughter’s tender touching interest in me.
We paced the deck for something less than an hour, during which we were occasionally addressed by the passengers, and161 once joined by one of the ladies who had contributed to what I may call my outfit. But this was towards the end of our stroll, after we had talked long and deeply of Alice Lee, and after Mrs. Lee had opened her heart to me in many little memories of her life before God had widowed her.
When we entered the saloon my companion went to her berth, and a moment after put her head out with her finger upon her lip and a slight smile of gratification, by which I understood that Alice still slumbered; so I walked to the stairs which conducted to the steerage, but as I put my foot on the first step, the door of a berth opened, and Mrs. Webber came forth. She immediately saw me, and called:
‘Where are you going, my dear Miss C——?’
‘I am going to my cabin.’
‘I will accompany you. I have not yet162 been downstairs, and I wish to see the part of the ship you sleep in. Oh, I am making great progress with the materials for the poem you are to be the heroine of. I wish I could write prose. I believe the tale I have in my head would be more readable in prose. Yet poetry gives you this strange advantage: it enables you to be impassioned. You can make use of expressions which cannot be employed in prose without provoking contempt, which is a disagreeable thing.’
All this she said loudly, as we stood together at the head of the steerage stairs. There were several passengers sitting about the saloon, reading or dozing. Two or three of them exchanged a smile. Perhaps they would have laughed outright had they not heard her imperfectly. But a rolling ship is full of noises; all the strong fastenings creak, doors clatter, there is for ever a rattle163 of crockery, though one knows not whence it proceeds, and these and other noises mingling with Mrs. Webber’s tones possibly rendered her indistinct to the passengers sitting a little way off.
‘By all means come with me downstairs,’ said I.
So together we went downstairs, or ‘below,’ as it is called at sea, and all the way to my cabin Mrs. Webber’s tongue was going.
‘This is a very gloomy corner,’ she cried, as we entered the steerage; ‘the captain ought to find you more cheerful quarters. But I believe all the upstairs cabins are taken. So this is the place where the second-class passengers live! Pray pause one moment, that the scene may paint itself upon my mind. I shall probably require this interior as a setting for you.’
Whilst she stood gazing round her a woman came out of a berth. She carried164 a baby in her arms. It was the baby that I had held and kissed, but the person who carried it now was the mother. Mrs. Webber took not the least notice of the child. As the person who carried it approached to pass us, I made a step to kiss the little creature. It knew me and smiled. I kissed it and took it in my arms, and when I had nursed it for a minute I returned it to the mother, who looked proudly as she received the pretty little thing, and, with a respectful bow that was half a curtsey, went on her way.
The child awoke no sensations. Why should that baby, I thought to myself, have caused a dreadful struggle in my mind when I first saw it? And why am I now able to nurse and kiss it without the least emotion? Can the darkness be deepening? Is the surface of the mind hardening under the frost and blackness of my sunless life?
‘I am very glad there is not a baby in the165 saloon,’ exclaimed Mrs. Webber. ‘I did not know there was such a thing in the ship—I mean in this part of it.’
‘Have you any children?’ said I, recalling my wandering mind with difficulty.
‘I am thankful to say I have not. It is enough to have a husband. My hubby is very good, but even he does not permit me to enjoy that perfect leisure of retirement which literature demands. He is constantly looking in upon me at the wrong moment. Thought is a spider’s web, and the least interruption is like passing your finger through it. But how would it be with me if I had children? So this is your cabin? Well, it is not so gloomy as I had feared to find it,’ and seating herself she restlessly turned her eyes about; but there was little enough for her to look at, and nothing whatever to inspire her.
However, she was in my berth, and I was her companion, and she was resolved not to166 lose an opportunity she had been on the lookout for, and so she began to tell me what she considered to have been my past.
‘You are not,’ said she, ‘a member of the noble family that Sir Frederick Thompson talks of. I am sure I cannot tell who you are, but you are not a Calthorpe. It is very wonderful, and I was almost going to say delightful, to meet with so impenetrable a mystery as you in the flesh. It is not as though your past and your name were your secret. You are as great a mystery to yourself as to everybody else, and there is something awful and beautiful to my mind in such a thing. No, you will find that you are the daughter of a country gentleman, who is not very rich—pray excuse me! one never knows what ideas may be of service: your being without jewellery makes me suppose that your people live quietly somewhere; unless, indeed,’ she continued, looking at my hands167 and at my ears and throat, ‘you were robbed. But that we need not believe. I am not going to tell you how you came to be in an open boat. No, if Captain Ladmore cannot understand that, how should I? Does it not help you a little to hear you are the daughter a plain country gentleman?’
I answered not, gazing at her earnestly, and straining my mind that I might closely follow her words.
‘I have settled,’ she went on, ‘and the Miss Glanvilles are of my opinion, that you were pretty before you met with your accident, whatever it may have been, that turned your hair white and aged and mutilated your poor face. You have a sweet mouth. I envy you your teeth, and your eyes are wonderfully fine, and depend upon it you had a very great deal of hair before it came out. Do I seem to suggest even a faint fancy?’
‘None whatever,’ said I, still with my168 mind on the strain, and still gazing at her eagerly.
‘Your age is about thirty,’ said she. ‘When you first came on board you looked about forty. Now you might pass for six-and-thirty. How delightful to be able to reverse the old-fashioned process! Ten years hence you will be ten years younger, and I shall be ten years older. But your real age—your age as you there sit—is from thirty to thirty-two.’
She dropped her head on one side in a posture of enquiry. I gazed at her in silence.
‘I am going to be very candid,’ said she. ‘You are not a married woman. When a woman arrives at the age of thirty to two-and-thirty, and perhaps a wee bit more, it is not often, very often let me say, that she is engaged to be married, or, put it more pointedly, that she has a sweetheart. Her169 life’s romance will in all probability have been lived out.’ She paused to sigh. ‘There may be sweet, impassioned memories, but at the age of thirty or two-and-thirty…. So the past I construct for you amounts to this, Miss C——: you are not a nobleman’s daughter as Sir Frederick will have it, but you are the daughter of a plain country gentleman, who is not very well off. Your father and mother are living. You probably have a brother, who is in the Army or Navy; you see to the housekeeping at home. This, I must tell you, is Mrs. Richards’ idea. You are heart-whole, and though your absence will of course cause consternation and anxiety, yet when your memory comes back to you and you return to your home, you will find all well, and in a few weeks settle down as though nothing had happened.’
I listened with devouring eagerness. Had Mrs. Webber been a witch of diabolic skill170 and potency, I could not have followed her words with more consuming attention. She had but to look at my face, however, to know that all her ingenious surmises had gone for nothing. She pursued the matter a little further, afterwards talked of her poetry, and presently, taking up the slender volume which she had sent to me by the stewardess, read aloud the ‘Lonely Soul.’ She stayed with me for about half an hour, and then left me.
AM I A CALTHORPE?
I dined in the saloon that day. Alice Lee remained in her cabin. Her mother told me that the girl had slept for two hours, but that despite her slumber she was languid and without appetite.
‘She is looking forward to your sitting with her this evening,’ said Mrs. Lee.
‘I dread to weary her, and fear that she desires my company merely out of the pity she takes on my loneliness.’
‘No’ exclaimed the little lady with sweetness, but with emphasis, ‘she is sorry for you indeed, but did not I say that she has fallen172 in love with you? You will not weary her—you will do her good.’
The dinner was a lengthy business, and to me somewhat tedious. Many dishes were brought in by the steward through the doors which conducted to the deck which the emigrants thronged in the daytime, and there was a great deal of unnecessary lingering I thought in the distribution and consumption of these dishes. But life at sea speedily grows very tedious. If the port is a distant one, for a long while it stands at too great a distance in the fancy to be much thought of; and the mind, for immediate relief and recreation, makes all that it possibly can of meal-time.
I wore Mrs. Richards’ short veil, pinned round one of her caps. Sir Frederick Thompson stared much, and twice endeavoured to draw me into conversation, but whenever I spoke I found that the people seated near suspended their talk to catch what fell from173 my mouth, and their curiosity so greatly embarrassed me that I answered the little City knight in monosyllables only, and presently silenced him, so far as I was concerned. I was thankful to notice, however, that my presence was fast growing familiar to the majority of the passengers. The two Miss Glanvilles, and one or two others, constantly gazed at me; it was, in fact, very easy to see that I was much in the minds of those two handsome girls. Nothing could so perfectly fit their romantic humours as a veiled woman, an ocean mystery, a lonely soul-blinded creature, from the pages of whose volume of life the printed story of the past had been washed out by salt water, leaving a number of blank leaves upon which their imagination might inscribe what tale they would. But the rest of the passengers ate and drank and talked, and scarcely heeded me. Some of the people sitting near the captain spoke174 of the voyage and the present situation of the ship. I heard Captain Ladmore say that he hoped to be abreast of Madeira next day sometime in the afternoon!
‘Where is Madeira?’ I asked Mrs. Lee.
‘It is in the Atlantic,’ she said smiling; ‘it is an island. Did not I tell you that I went there with Alice? Over and over again, before your memory left you, have you heard of Madeira. Is it possible that the image of an island does not occur to you when you pronounce the name of it?’ I hung my head. ‘I shall be glad,’ she continued, ‘when we have passed Madeira; for Alice will then be able to go on deck. The sun will be hot, and every day it will grow hotter; yet I dread the heat of the tropics. The fiery heat of that part of the sea often proves more injurious to very delicate invalids like Alice than excessive cold; and if we should be becalmed! That fear makes me175 wish I had chosen a steamer. And yet a steamer would have been too swift for our purpose.’
‘What do you mean by being becalmed?’ said I.
‘A ship is becalmed when the wind drops and leaves her motionless,’ she answered. ‘I have heard of a ship becalmed on the equator for six weeks at a time. Indeed, I wish I knew less about the sea than I do. The captains who called upon my husband were full of the ocean, and unsparing in their experiences. Imagine if we were to be for six weeks in a roasting calm under the almost vertical sun! It might kill Alice.’
I left the dinner table some considerable time before the passengers rose, and entered Alice Lee’s cabin. The girl reclined in an easy-chair with a shawl over her shoulders, and a skin upon her knees. The time was shortly after seven. In the east was a176 shadow of evening, but the brassy tinge of the glory of the sunset sank deep into that shadow, and flung a faint delicate complexion of rose upon the light that streamed through the eastward-facing porthole into the interior. In this weak light the sweet face of Alice Lee showed like a spirit as one thinks or dreams of such things.
She fondled my hand as she greeted me. ‘Bring that chair close beside me,’ she said; ‘and tell me how you have been passing the time.’
I seated myself beside her, and whilst she held my hand I brought a smile to her face by telling her of my conversation with Mr. Harris, the chief officer. And then I told her of what had passed in the captain’s cabin, and I also repeated Mrs. Webber’s ideas concerning my past.
We were uninterrupted. The evening in the east deepened into a bluish darkness, and177 through the cabin window I saw a large trembling star coming and going as the ship rolled. The berth was unlighted, but there was an opening over the doorway, and through this opening when the saloon lamps were burning there floated sheen enough to enable Alice and me to dimly discern each other’s faces.
She told me that she had added a few names to the list she had made out, and that, if I was willing, we would go through the whole of them next morning. And then having discoursed on various matters, our conversation, imperceptibly to myself—with such exquisite delicacy was the subject introduced by her—wandered into solemn subjects.
Shall I tell you what she said? My memory carries every word of it. I can open the book of my life, and betwixt the pages find the pressed flowers of that dear178 girl’s thoughts and teaching, and the perfume of those flowers is still so fresh, that never can they want life and colour and beauty whilst their sweet smell clings to them.
But shall I tell you what she said? No; her words were not intended for the rude light of this printed page. She spoke of God, and from behind the sable curtains that lay upon the face of my mind her angel voice evoked the Divine idea; with tears and adoration I knew my Maker again, and by her side I knelt in prayer to Him.
There had been a hum of voices without, but a sudden silence fell upon the ship when Alice Lee, whispering to me to kneel by her side, sank upon her knees and prayed to that merciful Being whom she had revealed to me to have mercy upon her lonely sister, to lighten my darkness, to return me in safety to such dear ones as might be awaiting me. None could have heard her but I who knelt179 close beside her in that shadowy cabin, yet the hush lasted until her voice ceased.
We arose from our knees, and as we did so the piano in the saloon was touched, and a clear, rich and beautiful voice began to sing. We listened. I seemed to know the air. It was as though there was a magic in it to run a thrill through my lifeless memory. I harkened with parted lips, breathing fast and deep. The voice of the singer ceased.
‘What song is that?’ I asked.
‘It is “Home, Sweet Home,”’ answered Alice Lee.
And now for some days nothing of any moment happened. A strong wind blew over the ship’s quarter, and drove her fast through the seas. Wide overhanging spaces of canvas called studding-sails were set. They projected far beyond the ship’s bulwarks, they swelled180 like the sides of balloons to the sweep of the wind, and thus impelled, with one sail mounting to another until, at the extremity of the ship, the vast spread of milk-white canvas seemed to blot out half the sky, the Deal Castle sprang through the billows, whitening a whole acre of water in advance of her as the crushing curtsey of her bows drove the sapphire roaring into snow.
In this time I loved to stand alone beside the rail gazing down upon the waters, and watching the wild configurations of the headlong passage of foam. Was there no inspiration to visit memory from those splendid and dazzling shapes of spume which rushed in endless processions along the ship’s side? My imagination beheld many things in those white forms. They were far more numerous than the pictures painted by the clouds upon the sky. I beheld the gleaming shapes of swimming women—vast trees spreading into181 a thousand branches—the forms of castles and churches and of helmeted men; the heads of horses, and many other such phantasies of foam. They came and went swift as the wink of the eye, yet I saw them, and I would cry in my heart, ‘Is there nothing in this sweeping throng of dissolving and re-forming shapes to flash an idea upon my mind, to recall something—Oh it matters not what!—that might serve as a point of fire amid the darkness upon which to fix my eyes?’
The passengers without exception were exceedingly kind to me. If ever I happened to be alone on deck one or another would procure me a chair, lend me a book, stand awhile and chat with me. I was never vexed with intrusion, by idle sympathy, by aimless questioning. Now and again Mrs. Webber would talk till she teased me, but a world of good nature underlay her vanity, and though often she made me wish myself alone, yet I182 knew that, after the Lees, she was the kindest friend I had in the ship.
There was one person, however, of whom I lived in fear. He was the first officer of the Deal Castle, and his name, as you know, was Harris. One would suppose that I had fascinated the man. No matter whether he was on deck or whether he was seated at the cabin table, if ever I chanced to glance his way I found his eyes directed at me. He never lost an opportunity to accost me, but his speech was so odd and rough that I was always glad of any excuse to abruptly quit him. I had thought Mr. McEwan brusque, but, compared with Mr. Harris, the ship’s surgeon was a polished gentleman. And still, though I wished to avoid him, I could not feel offended by him either. He was at all events true to himself. It was not to be supposed that a man occupying his position would willingly make himself offensive, and183 therefore I did not resent his behaviour; yet he succeeded in rendering me very uneasy.
First, I hated to be stared at. But that was not all. His persistent way of watching me filled me with alarming thoughts. I believed that he was rehearsing some extraordinary scheme to restore my memory. He seldom addressed me but that he would affirm the only remedy for my affliction was a shock, and whenever I observed him staring at me I would think that man may be scheming to give me a shock. Dare he attempt such a thing alone? The grave and serious Captain Ladmore was not likely to listen to such a remedy, nor was it probable that Mr. Harris would take the doctor into his confidence. Therefore single-handed he might attempt some desperate trick upon my nerves, not doubting—for of course he could not doubt—that the result would justify his expectations and earn him the reputation184 of a very clever man throughout the ship.
These were my fears, begotten of a low nervous condition. But I held my peace lest I should be laughed at. Not to Mrs. Lee, nor even to her daughter, did I utter a word on the subject; and yet it came to this, that I never went to my lonely berth of a night without slipping the bolt of the door, and peeping under the bunk that was high enough from the deck to conceal the body of a man.
Captain Ladmore I occasionally conversed with. Once he gave me his arm and together we paced the deck for nearly an hour; but he was a reserved man, somewhat austere, grave and slow in speech, and the expression of his face made one know that the memory of his bereavement was always with him. For the most part he held aloof from us all, walking a space of the deck from185 the wheel to the aftermost of the skylights with his hands behind him, his tall figure very upright, his eyes sometimes glancing seawards, sometimes up at the vessel. It was hard to associate him with his calling. He had the air of a clergyman rather than of a bluff sea-captain.
During this time, that is to say until we had reached some parallel of latitude to the south of Madeira, Alice Lee kept her cabin. She had slowly read the list of names she had made out, wistfully pausing after each delicate utterance, and gazing earnestly at me with her sweet affectionate eyes; but to no purpose. Name after name was pronounced, but it was like whispering into deaf ears. How could it have been otherwise? Alice was now always calling me by the name of Agnes; her mother also called me by that name; it was my own—yet I knew it not. How then could it have been otherwise than186 as it was with Alice Lee’s list of names? Having given me the name of Agnes, she omitted it from the list which we went through together; but even if she had lighted upon my name in full—by happy conjecture contriving it Agnes Campbell—it would have been all the same; I should not have known it.
‘No matter, dear,’ said she when she put the paper away, ‘there are many more things to try.’
But she was mistaken. There were very few things indeed to try. My memory was indeed so impenetrable that it rendered experiment almost hopeless. So, by degrees, Alice Lee desisted, and I own that I was grateful when she did so, for the dark struggles, the blind efforts her questions and suggestions excited in me grew too fierce for my strength. She of course never could have imagined the anguish she caused me. But187 once I observed her viewing me steadfastly after she had asked me some question, and from that time she gradually relaxed her efforts to help me.
Mrs. Lee was glad to have me as a companion for her daughter. It made me happy to wait upon the dear girl, and my ministrations lightened the mother’s duties. I read aloud to Alice, and heard her read aloud to me. She had a hundred things to tell me about her home, about Newcastle, and the sister who had been taken from her. She possessed a little draught-board, and she taught me to play that simple game—taught me to play it though it had been one of the most familiar of our games at home! She owned a volume of solemn, heart-inspiring thoughts, which she loved to read to me and I to listen to. Often have I desired to meet with that book since; but persistently as I have inquired never could I hear of a copy.188 It was a collection of extracts from great and holy thinkers. Many human griefs and sufferings were dealt with, and the language of every man was simple and sublime, so that there was scarcely a passage that Alice Lee read aloud which I was unable to understand.
Never can I forget her look as we sat together in her cabin one afternoon, she reading from this book and I listening. The subject was Death. As she read her face lighted up. I gazed with wonder, with something of awe and adoration at the tender triumphant enthusiasm of her expression. A delicate flush tinged her cheeks, her bosom rose and fell as though to a sobbing of joy. From time to time she paused with lifted eyes, and her lips murmured inarticulately.
‘It is beautiful and it is true!’ she exclaimed as she closed the book. ‘Why is not death always thus represented? All must suffer. Why should death be called the King189 of Terrors? The imaginations of men picture sleep as an angel bending over the weary, lulling pain, wreathing sorrowful lips with smiles. But death—the deeper sleep, the angel that is God’s messenger to man—death must be made terrifying and shocking! It is a dreadful spectre poising a lance! Oh, death is divine; it is no terrifying skeleton, but an angel of love, whose gift of slumber is sweet and sure, from whose dreamless sleep you arise to find yourself in the presence of God.’
In this strain would she talk to me, but in words and thoughts more exalted than I have memory for. When I look back and recall these sentences I have just written down, I often think to myself that it was faith and not death that was the holy, soothing, and healing angel she spoke of, and God’s messenger to man; for it was faith that lighted up her eye and painted an expression of rapture upon her face when she looked up to heaven190 and thought of the grave as but the little gate that was to admit her into the shining glorious highway. And, again, when I think of her, I often say to myself, Who to obtain faith would not exchange all the treasures of this world?—to feel a deeper joy in surrendering all things than many know in the acquisition of a few, to have your hope fixed high like some bright star in the heavens, to desire death rather than to shrink from it, to feel that the deep night of death is on this side the grave, and that the true dawn breaks not until the spirit stands on the other side of that little silent chamber of earth in which the body rests—to know this, to feel this is the sweet sure gift of faith, the angel in whose atmosphere of heavenly light death the shadow perishes.
It was on the third or the fourth morning following the day on which we had passed the island of Madeira—that is to say, on which191 we had crossed the parallel of latitude on which the island of Madeira lies—that, being in my cabin where I had passed ten minutes in gossip with the stewardess, the door was thumped by a fist which I easily recognised as Mr. McEwan’s, and the ship’s doctor entered.
‘Good morning, Mr. McEwan.’
‘I am the bearer of a message,’ said he. ‘I have told Miss Lee that she may go on deck this morning, and Mrs. Lee has asked me to request you to accompany her daughter.’
‘I will do so with pleasure,’ I exclaimed. ‘I am very glad you have given her permission to go on deck at last. How do you think Miss Lee is?’
‘How do I think Miss Lee is? How do I think Miss Lee is? Ask after yoursel’. How are you?’
‘I feel very much better. I am still very192 nervous, but less so than I was. Do you think, Mr. McEwan, that the hair upon my eyebrow will ever grow again?’
‘That will be, as you shall see,’ said he. ‘I trust it may; for there is undoubtedly an advantage in two eyebrows.’
‘You do not answer my question?’
‘I believe it may grow,’ he exclaimed. ‘If not, eyebrows are cheap to buy. There are plenty of mice, and mouse-skins are a drug. How’s your hair? Does it continue to thin?’
‘It no longer comes out,’ I answered. ‘Were the eyebrow to grow I should look less unsightly. I should be able to make my appearance without a veil.’
‘Do not trouble yoursel’ about your appearance,’ he growled.
‘But tell me, Mr. McEwan, what you think of Miss Lee’s case?’
‘Are ye asking the question for Mrs. Lee?’
‘I am asking the question for myself. 193Alice Lee has taught me to love her. She is a sister to me. Whilst she lives I am not alone.’
He looked at me gravely and said, ‘What d’ye think yoursel’?’
‘Oh, I do not know. Often I hope….’
He eyed me for a few minutes without speech; then, with a wooden face and a stolid shake of his head, turned upon his heel and walked out.
I dressed myself for the deck and entered the saloon. The interior was shadowed by awnings spread above, and it was as empty as though the ship were in port. Through the open skylights came the sound of people laughing and talking on deck. The motion of the ship was very quiet, and the atmosphere warm, as though the breath of the tropics was already in the gushing of the wind. I entered the Lees’ cabin, and found194 the mother and daughter waiting for me. Alice was warmly wrapped, and a green veil was pinned round her straw hat. Mrs. Lee apologised for sending for me. ‘It was Alice’s wish,’ she said. I saw a smile upon the girl’s face through her veil as she put her hand into my arm, and the three of us went on deck.
A richer morning could not be imagined. There was not a cloud to be seen, and the sky was a dark, deeply pure blue, like an English autumn sky. A soft warm wind was blowing over the right-hand side of the ship, and when I first breathed it I seemed to taste a flavour of oranges and bananas, as though it came from some adjacent land, sweet-smelling with sunny fruit. At the distance of about a mile was a large black steamer. She was passing us on the homeward track, and there was a string of gaudy colours flying from her masthead, and on lifting up my eyes195 to our own ship I saw such another string of colours flying from the peak as it is called. The steamer looked very stately under the sun, and was as lustrous as though she were built of burnished metal. Points of white fire burnt all over her, and her yellow masts were like thin pillars of gold streaked with dazzling yellow light.
An awning covered the greater part of the poop of our ship, for the sun this morning was very hot. A comfortable easy-chair had been placed ready for Alice, and when she was seated I looked about me for chairs for Mrs. Lee and myself. Whilst I thus paused with my eyes roaming over the deck, Mr Harris, the first officer, who was walking upon the poop at the forward extremity of it, snatched up a chair, without regard to whom it might belong, and, approaching us with it, struck it down upon the deck close against Alice Lee, as though he intended196 to drive the four legs of it through the planks.
‘That’s what you’re in want of,’ said he to me, ‘I saw you looking. Sit down. If the party who owns this chair wants another I’ll hail the saloon,’ and so saying he wheeled round and marched forwards again.
‘What a very extraordinary manner Mr. Harris has,’ said Mrs. Lee. ‘I sometimes think he is not quite right.’
I asked her to take the chair he had brought.
‘No, my dear, there are some matters I wish to attend to downstairs. I will join you presently,’ and then she bent over her daughter and asked her if she felt comfortable, and if the air refreshed her, and so forth, and having lingered a little whilst she talked to Alice, striving to see her child’s face through the veil which covered it, she left us.
Some of the people were playing at deck 197quoits. Amongst the players were the Miss Glanvilles, and their fine shapes showed to great advantage as they poised themselves upon the planks, and with floating gestures and merry laughter threw the little rings of rope along. Every one bowed with sympathetic cordiality to Alice, and several people left their seats to congratulate her upon her first appearance on deck. One of these was Sir Frederick Thompson.
‘This is the sort of weather,’ said he, ‘to pull a person together. Lor’ now, if one could always have such a climate as this in England! Ten to one if there ain’t a dense fog in London this morning.’
‘Pray,’ asked Alice, ‘what are those flags, Sir Frederick, which that lad in brass buttons there is pulling down?’
‘The ship’s number, miss. We’ve told that steamer out yonder who we are, and198 when she arrives in the river she’ll report us, and our friends’ll learn that all’s well with us so fur. I’ve got half a sort of feeling, d’ye know, as if I’d like to be on board of that steamer going home. I tell you what I miss—I miss my morning noosepaper. I miss reading how things are. And how do you feel this morning, Miss C——? Pretty well, I hope?’
‘I am feeling very well, this morning, Sir Frederick.’
‘That’s a good job. What’s life without ‘ealth? You must know I haven’t changed my opinion about you. You’re a Calthorpe, and unless your memory comes back to give me the lie, I’ll go to my grave swearing it. What’s the latest argument against me? They say that if you’re like Lady Loocy Calthorpe now, you couldn’t have been like her before you was rescued, because you’re a changed woman from what you was. But who’s to199 prove that? And what do they mean by change? Fright can turn the hair white, but it don’t alter the colour of the heye, and it don’t alter the shape of the nose, and it don’t alter the appearance of the mouth. That’s where I find my likeness,’ said he, leering at me.
And then, with his whimsical cockney English, he told us of a son of a nobleman who, having quarrelled with his father, had shipped as a common sailor on board a vessel, and made his way to Australia. He arrived at a city in Australia, and tried in many ways to get a living: he drove a cab, he wrote for a newspaper, he was a waiter, he worked as a labourer on the quays, he was a billiard-marker at a hotel, and one night, whilst he was scoring for some people who were playing at billiards, a gentleman, who had been staring hard at him said, ‘Are not you the Honourable Mr. ——?’ and he gave200 him his name. The young fellow changed colour, but denied that he was the Honourable Mr. So-and-so.
‘But the other wasn’t to be put off,’ said Sir Frederick Thompson. ‘“Don’t tell me,”’ says the gent. “I know your brother, and you’re the image of him.” Such a likeness is out of nature unless it’s in the family line, and at last the young fellow owned that he was the Honourable Mr. So-and-so. ‘And now you’ll find,’ said Sir Frederick, ‘that I’ve discovered who you are, just as the Honourable Mr. So-and-so was discovered by a likeness altogether too strong to be in nature unless it’s in the family line.’
The little gentleman then pulled off his hat and left us.
‘Would he persist if he did not feel convinced?’ said I.
‘He is mistaken, dear. Let him account for your being discovered in an open boat201 before he attempts to tell you who you are. And what does he mean by a Calthorpe? That you are a sister of his friend, Lady Lucy Calthorpe, or a relative? A sister is a relative, it is true; but relative is a word that will cover a very large number of connections. What member of the family of Calthorpe does Sir Frederick believe you to be? Agnes, do not give the little gentleman’s fancy another thought.’
We were seated on a part of the deck that was not very far distant from the wheel. The corner of the awning shaded us, but all about the wheel was in the sun, and the glare of the white decks, and of the white gratings, and of the white costume in which the sailor who held the wheel was clad, and the white brilliance of the wheel itself, whose circle was banded with brass and whose centrepiece was brass, paled the blue of the sky over the stern, as though a silver haze of heat rose202 into the atmosphere; and the dark blue sea itself was dimmed into a faintness of azure by contrast with the glaring white light that lay upon the after portion of the ship, which was unshadowed by the awning.
But within the awning the deck was as cool as a tunnel. The violet gloom was for ever freshened by the mild blowing of the breeze through the rigging and over the rail; and the soft wind was made the cooler to the senses by the fountainlike murmur of waters broken by the quiet progress of the ship, and by that most refreshing of sounds on a hot day, the seething of foam.
I went to Alice’s cabin, where I found Mrs. Lee writing in what appeared to be a diary, took from a shelf the book Alice had asked me to fetch, and returned to her side; and I had opened the volume and had found the place where I had left off when I last read to her, and was beginning to read aloud when I found my attention disturbed by the sound of voices behind our chairs. I turned my head, and observed that Mr. Wedmold and Mr. Clack had seated themselves, regardless of the heat of the sun, upon a grating near the wheel. They were arguing.
‘It is impossible for me to read,’ I exclaimed,204 ‘while those men are talking so loud.’
‘What are they arguing about?’ said Alice Lee; ‘let us listen.’
‘Yes, I am with you there,’ said Mr. Wedmold. ‘Defoe’s English is admirable. But “Robinson Crusoe” is full of blunders.’
‘Blunders,’ cried Mr. Clack, whose collars held his neck so rigid that he could not turn his head without moving his body from the waist. ‘I have read “Robinson Crusoe” often enough, and cannot recollect a single blunder for the life of me.’
‘Will you bet?’
‘No, I will not bet.’
‘Will you bet there are no absurdities in “Robinson Crusoe”?’
‘I will stand a drink,’ said Mr. Clack, ‘if you can point out—so as to convince me—a single absurdity in “Robinson Crusoe”.’
‘Right you are!’ exclaimed Mr. Wedmold,205 with an accent of victorious elation; ‘what about the mark of the foot?’
‘What d’ye mean?’ said Mr. Clack.
‘“It happened one day about noon,” I know the passage by heart,’ said Mr. Wedmold, ‘“it happened one day about noon,” says Robinson Crusoe, “going towards my boat, I was exceedingly surprised with the print of a man’s naked foot on the shore, which was very plain to be seen in the sand.”’
‘Well!’ said Mr. Clack.
‘Well,’ said Mr. Wedmold, ‘what are we to suppose? That the savage who made that mark with his foot had a wooden leg? Only think of a single imprint! Even two would have been unpardonable; there should have been a whole flight of them. Could you walk upon sand capable of receiving the imprint of your foot and stamp one impress only? Impossible!’
‘In all probability,’ said Mr. Clack, ‘the206 savage landed upon some flat rocks which were skirted by sand; and in his walk he happened to put his foot upon the sand once only, and hence Robinson Crusoe saw but a single imprint.’
‘He evidently does not intend that Mr. Wedmold shall drink at his expense,’ said Alice.
The two gentlemen continued to argue. It was impossible to read aloud. It was impossible indeed not to listen to them, for they often raised their voices so high that people at the other end of the deck turned in their chairs to view them. The discussion was ended at last—so far at least as Alice and I were concerned—by Mr. Clack telling Mr. Wedmold that he did not believe he had quoted correctly from the story. On this they both rose and walked away to seek through the ship for a copy of ‘Robinson Crusoe.’
There was now peace at our end of the 207vessel, and opening the book afresh I began to read aloud, but before I had read two pages, Alice, with the capricious taste of the invalid, though her manner was never wanting in perfect sweetness and gentleness, stopped me.
‘I do not feel in the humour to listen to that book,’ said she. ‘It is a book for the quietude of the evening, for the lamplight, a book for the open window through which you can see the stars shining. It is not a book for a sunny joyous morning like this. One should not be able to see gay figures moving about, and hear the sound of laughter when one reads it.’
I closed the volume and she talked of the sea and the wonder and beauty of it, and recited some passages from the ‘Ancient Mariner’; but in the midst of her recitation she was seized with a cough that almost convulsed208 her. I raised her veil that she might breathe easily. She sought to reassure me with a smile during the convulsions of her cough, but it shook her to the heart. I seemed to hear death in the rattle of that terrible cough. Never before in my presence had she been so suddenly and violently seized.
The fit passed and she lowered her veil, breathing quickly, and for some moments she was speechless. Presently I said to her; ‘Has this attack been caused by your coming on deck?’
She shook her head and answered in a low voice, as though speaking with difficulty. ‘No, I often cough, but chiefly during the night. Do not tell mother of this attack.’
One might have imagined her cough noisy and distressing enough to win the attention of everybody upon deck, and that nobody heeded it, unless it was the sailor who stood a little distance behind us grasping the wheel,209 was because, whilst Alice was coughing the passengers had left their seats, had thrown down their books or work, had forsaken their game of deck quoits to crowd about the head of the ladder on the right-hand side of the deck—the ladder that conducted from the poop on to the quarterdeck below. I was too much grieved and concerned by Alice’s attack to notice this movement of the passengers; but now that she had recovered and was able to speak and get her breath freely, I looked at the people and wondered what had drawn them in a body to that particular part of the deck.
‘Can an accident have happened?’ said I.
‘Will you go and see what is the matter, dear?’ exclaimed Alice.
I at once arose and walked along the deck, keeping on the side opposite that which was thronged with the passengers. When I arrived at the brass rail that protected the210 extremity of the deck, I looked over and saw a great crowd of emigrants gathered about the central mast and hatchway. They grinned and elbowed amongst themselves as they stared at the concourse of passengers upon the poop. Half-way up the ladder on that side stood the swarthy fierce-looking gipsy, who had ejaculated on catching sight of my face when I first came on board, and who had watched me with eyes of fire when I had walked the deck with Mrs. Lee. She appeared to be haranguing the passengers on the poop. Her voice was a peculiar whine, and she showed a set of white strong teeth as she grinned up at them. Fearing if she saw me that she would point or call, or in some way direct attention to me, I returned to Alice, seated myself at her side, and told her what I had seen. After a few minutes the crowd of passengers at the head of the poop-ladder drew back, so as211 to allow the gipsy woman to step on to the deck. The whole mob, with the fierce-looking woman in the heart of them, then came surging to the skylight lying nearest to the edge of the poop, and here all the people halted, with the woman still in the thick of them. Mr. Harris hovered on the skirts of the crowd, taking a peep now and again over one or another’s shoulder with his acid, dry, twisted face; and great was the curiosity of the poor emigrants; for unheeded, or at least unrebuked by the mate, they thronged the poop-ladder on either hand to look on and hear what was said.
The tawny, flashing-eyed woman could now and again be seen by us as the people about her moved the better to hear or to accommodate one another with room. Her white teeth gleamed; a fierce smile was fixed upon her face; her eyes of Egyptian blackness sparkled under the red hood or handkerchief212 that covered her head, her skin looked of the colour of pepper in the sunlight; she talked incessantly, with frequent exhortatory flourishings of her arms, and distant as she was—almost the whole length of the long poop-deck separating us—I could see how wild, fierce, and repellant was her smile, whilst she glanced from one face to another as she jabbered and gesticulated.
Frequent laughter broke from the passengers, and sometimes one or two of the ladies recoiled by a step, though they would thrust in again a minute after.
‘What can they be doing with the woman?’ said Alice.
‘They seem to be making fun of her,’ said I.
‘It is more likely that she is making fun of them,’ said Alice. ‘Is she a gipsy? She has the appearance of one.’
‘What is a gipsy?’ I asked.
‘A person who belongs to a strange wandering 213tribe; whether there are more tribes than one I do not know. They are to be found everywhere, I believe. They look like Jews, but they are not Jews. It is supposed that they originally came from Egypt or India. I used to take a great interest in reading about them. I never can pronounce the word gipsy without an English country picture rising before me; a wayside tract of grass off a dusty road, clumps of trees here and there, the trickling sound of a little brook mingled with the humming of bees and the lowing of cattle in a near pasture, a waggon covered with canvas, two or three dark-skinned little children playing on the grass, a tawny woman like that creature there, bending over an iron pot dangling above a gipsy fire, a fierce, bushy-whiskered, chocolate-faced man, mending chairs, or making baskets, or tinkering at a little forge.’
She gazed at me earnestly when she 214ceased to speak. I knew that she sought in the expression of my face for some sign of my recognition of the picture she had drawn, for some hint of recollection in my looks. A sudden burst of laughter broke from the people gathered about the gipsy.
‘I believe she is telling fortunes,’ said Alice; ‘shall we go and listen to her, dear?’
She took my arm and we approached the crowd. It was as Alice had said: the woman was telling fortunes. She was holding the delicate white fingers of the elder Miss Glanville, whose handsome face was rosy red. Everybody was on the broad grin. The gipsy woman holding the girl’s fingers talked with her eyes upon the palm of the hand, but sometimes she would flash a look into Miss Glanville’s face. The creature spoke deliberately, with a slow drawling whine. She seemed to heartily enjoy her task, and to be215 in no hurry to proceed with her business of divination. Her face was heavy, the features strong and coarse, and the whole head would have better suited a man’s than a woman’s figure; yet the countenance was not wanting in a certain wild comeliness. The nose was of the true Egyptian pattern as we are taught to understand the meaning of the word Egyptian by ancient chiselling and inscriptions, and her hair, or as much as was visible of it, resembled a wig manufactured from a horse’s tail.
‘He will make you unhappy,’ she was saying in her drawling whining voice, ‘but you will be true to him. Yet you will not be sorry when he dies, and a handsome man will be your second. But he will have to wait for you, and cheerfully will he wait for you, my lady, for he’s waiting for you now. True love is never in a ’urry.’ There was a laugh. ‘He will not bring you money. No, it is216 your ladyship that will set him up; but he’ll never be made to feel his want of money, for your ’art beats fond.’
‘What stuff!’ said Alice.
‘It makes her blush, yet she does not look displeased,’ I whispered.
‘Can’t you name the two fortunate gentlemen, mother?’ exclaimed a tall, slender young man known to me as simply Mr. Stinton.
‘Names is nothing,’ answered the gipsy woman, without lifting her eyes from the girl’s hand, ‘it’s persons, not names, as my art deals with.’ And then she went on to tell the blushing Miss Glanville that her home after her second marriage would not be in England but in Italy. She would live by a lake; an Italian nobleman would fall in love with her, and though there would be no reason for jealousy the Italian nobleman would cause a little unhappiness between her and her second. The Italian nobleman would praise her singing217 and excite a passion in her for the stage, but it would not come to the stage, for her second’s wishes would prevail, and the Italian nobleman after a time would withdraw and never more be heard of.
Other rubbish of this sort did the fierce-looking gipsy woman drawl and whine out, sometimes in language very well expressed, and sometimes using slang or cant words which never failed to provoke the laughter of the gentlemen.
Amongst those who pressed most eagerly forward to harken to the gipsy was Mrs. Webber. She was dressed in white, and a very pretty straw hat was perched on her high-dressed hair. Her pale face wore an expression of enthusiastic credulity, and she kept her eyes fastened upon the gipsy as though she devoured every word the creature uttered. Alice and I stood on the other side of the crowd, and Mrs. Webber did not observe218 us. I speak of ourselves as a crowd, and indeed we looked so on the white deck of the ship and under the shadow of the awning which produced an atmospheric effect of compression, diminishing the width and even the length of the ship to the eye. I had no doubt that Mrs. Webber would ask to have her fortune told, and I loitered, Alice leaning on my arm, with some curiosity to hear what the gipsy would say; but when the woman had dropped the hand of Miss Glanville, and while she swept the adjacent faces with brilliant eyes as though she should say, Whose turn next? the tall, slim young gentleman known to me by the name of Mr. Stinton pressed forward close to the woman and exclaimed:
‘I say, mother, I know something about you gipsy folks. My father was a magistrate,’ and dropping his head on one side he smiled at her.
‘What you know about us is that we are 219a very respectable, honest people,’ said she, grinning at him, with her large, strong, glaring white teeth.
‘Do you still steal pigs?’ said he.
‘Oh, no, no,’ she cried with a vehement shake of the head and an equally vehement motion of her hand before her face.
‘You no longer poison pigs and beg the carcases of the poor people to whom they belonged and then clean them of the poison and roast them and eat them, eh?’ said Mr. Stinton.
A general laugh arose on either hand from the emigrants who swarmed upon the two ladders.
‘Oh, no, no,’ cried the woman, ‘we are respectable, hard-working people, and get our money honestly.’
‘You no longer steal horses, then?’
‘Oh, no, no.’
‘Why do you say such things?’ shrieked the woman, and her eyes blazed as she looked at Mr. Stinton, and the flush that entered her cheeks deepened her swarthy, ugly complexion by several shades. ‘By my God, if you ask me any more such questions I will do you some mischief.’
‘None of that!’ cried Mr. Harris.
‘My father is a magistrate,’ said Mr. Stinton, who had stepped backwards and now spoke over the shoulders of Mr. Webber.
‘It is a pity to insult the poor creature,’ said one of the ladies.
The gipsy looked for an instant at Mr. Stinton, her eyes then went to Mrs. Webber, and her manner changed; it grew suppliant and cringing; the fierce expression of her lips softened into a fawning smile.
‘Let me tell you your fortune, my gorgeous angel,’ she exclaimed, resuming her221 former drawling, whining voice. ‘Oh, but I can see that there is a happy fortune for that sweet face. Pull off your beautiful little glove that I may see your hand, and whatever you crosses my own hand with shall be welcome for the sake of your lovely eyes. Ah, what mischief has my lady’s eyes done in their day, and what mischief are they yet to do,’ and thus the woman proceeded.
I could not forbear a smile at the manner in which Mr. Webber readjusted the glass in his eye, as though to obtain a clearer sight of the gipsy, whilst he stroked down one of his whiskers.
‘This is sad nonsense,’ said Alice; ‘and I am a little weary of standing. Shall we return to our seats, dear?’
I wished to hear Mrs. Webber’s fortune told, but Alice was not to be kept standing, and together we walked to our chairs at the after-end of the deck and seated ourselves.222 Just then Mrs. Lee came up from the saloon. She inquired what the passengers were doing.
‘They are having their fortunes told, mother,’ answered Alice.
‘By our staring gipsy friend, no doubt,’ said Mrs. Lee, addressing me. ‘Well, certainly life at sea is very dull, and you cannot wonder that people should try to kill an hour, however stupidly.’ I fetched a chair, and she sat down. ‘And yet,’ continued she thoughtfully, letting her eyes rest upon her child, ‘I ought to be one of the last to ridicule fortune-telling. When I was a girl of sixteen I was walking with my mother—where we then lived—on the outskirts of Gateshead, when we came across a gipsy encampment. A dreadful old hag stumbled out of a group of dirty people, and begged to let her tell me my dukkerin, as she called it—strange that I should remember the word after all these years! My mother was for223 going on, but I stopped and put a shilling into the old creature’s hand, and she told me my fortune.’
‘Was it a true fortune?’ said Alice.
‘It was true, every word,’ answered Mrs. Lee; ‘it was wonderfully true. She described the man that I was to marry, and had she spoken with your dear father’s portrait in her hand she could not have been more accurate. She told me how many children I should have; but, what is more extraordinary, she named not only the year but the month of the year in which I should be married. And it came to pass exactly as she had predicted.’
‘And what more did the gipsy tell you, mother?’ said Alice.
‘No more, my love,’ answered Mrs. Lee, but with a note of hesitation, which made me suspect that more had been told to her by that old gipsy than she was now willing to reveal.
Meanwhile there was much laughter 224amongst the passengers at the other end of the deck. I could occasionally distinguish an hysterical giggle uttered by Mrs. Webber, and once a deep unquiet Ha! ha! delivered by her husband.
‘A ship seems a strange place for gipsies and fortune-telling,’ said Alice. ‘Why is that woman going to Australia, I wonder? Are there any of her tribe there?’
‘Probably some ancestor of hers was transported,’ answered Mrs. Lee. ‘He left descendants, and the woman is going to settle down amongst them. Gipsies were constantly being transported for theft of all sorts when I was a girl, in days when there were convict ships and when unhappy wretches were banished for life from their country for crimes which are now visited with a few months’ imprisonment. I am amazed that there should be any gipsies left. There was more prejudice225 against them than even against the Jews. They were hunted from town to town, the parish eye was never off them, and they were really so wicked, they committed so many sins, that it is amazing there should be any survivors of the prisons.’
Whilst Mrs. Lee was thus speaking, Mrs. Webber came sailing out of the crowd with a flushed face and a smile of excitement. Her flowing robe of white cashmere fluffed out in ample winding folds as she advanced, and she approached with an airy, floating gait that was like dancing.
‘Oh, Miss C——,’ she exclaimed, eagerly bending towards me, ‘I have been having my fortune told; and, do you know, the ugly creature is a witch; she is positively a witch! She has told me some extraordinary things, I assure you. My poor husband was silly enough to “hem” once or twice as though her prophecies disquieted him. Now, Miss226 C——, I want you to let the woman tell you your fortune.’
‘No, if you please, Mrs. Webber,’ I exclaimed.
‘Oh, but you must let her tell you your fortune,’ she repeated. ‘Mrs. Lee, I protest the creature is a witch. Do help me to persuade Miss C—— to let the woman look at her hand.’
‘These people profess to tell the future only,’ said Mrs. Lee smiling. ‘Can that woman there read the past—a past that is hidden in darkness? If she can,’ she continued, turning to me, ‘no harm can be done by your crossing her hand.’
‘Only think,’ cried Mrs. Webber, ‘if something she said, some question she put to you, should light up your memory.’
‘What could she invent that you or Mrs. Lee or Miss Lee could not ask?’ said I.
‘The woman is quite a witch,’ said Mrs. 227Webber, ‘you should give yourself a chance. How can you tell who may help you or what may inspire you?’
I looked at Alice. ‘I think Mrs. Webber is right,’ said she; ‘you never can tell what may awaken recollection.’
‘I will not go amongst that crowd and have my fortune told,’ said I.
‘I will bring the woman to you,’ exclaimed Mrs. Webber; and, full of curiosity and excitement, and with her eyes bright with the animal spirits which had been excited by the gipsy’s flattering observations, she sailed away from us.
‘What will the gipsy be able to say?’ exclaimed Mrs. Lee, laughing a little nervously. ‘But more wonderful than her predictions must be the credulity that can listen to such stuff. And stuff I call it, in spite of the old woman who told my fortune rightly.228 Poor Mrs. Webber! There are many ladies after her kind in this world, perfectly good-hearted creatures, but——My husband used often to say that the strongest of all human passions is curiosity, and that the speediest and surest way of making money is to work upon that passion.’
‘Here comes the gipsy woman,’ said Alice.
I felt extremely nervous and uneasy. I did not like the idea of being stared at close by that flaming-eyed toad-coloured woman. And neither did I like the idea of being stared at close by the passengers whilst the gipsy whined at me. But it was now too late to draw back; Mrs. Webber and the gipsy were coming along the deck, followed by at least two-thirds of the passengers, and now the fierce-looking woman was dropping curtsies to me and to Mrs. Lee and to Alice. She instantly addressed me in a drawling, fawning voice.
‘Ah, my sorrowful angel, it has been a 229bad time for you, and when I first saw your ladyship I said to myself, She’s of Egypt, and if she has bantlings they are tawny, and I cried, Tiny Jesus, what a face! for the sight of it was like poison to my heart. Oh yes, my sorrowful angel, I did think you one of us, and Roman you might well be,’ she cried with her flashing eyes fastened upon my veil, ‘but for your delicate skin and a look of high-born beauty which the likes of us never has. Come, sweet lady, cross my hand, and let it be silver, that I may tell ye your true fortune.’
By this time, we were pretty fairly surrounded by the passengers, and a little way back, with his eyes fixed full upon me, was Mr. Harris, the chief officer. The gipsy stood unpleasantly close. Her features were more massive and coarse, her complexion more loathsome, her teeth bigger and stronger if230 not whiter, and her eyes wilder, more flaming and more searching than I had imagined them, though I had not stood far from her when she was telling fortunes in the crowd. I remember observing many minute dots of black upon her chin, as though she shaved or had been pricked by a needle dipped in India ink. Her figure was lame and muscular, her bust enormous and slack, her whole appearance indeed so repellent now that she was close to me that I heartily wished myself in my cabin out of sight.
‘You do not mean to tell us,’ exclaimed Mr. Webber, ‘that you mistook the lady for a gipsy.’
‘Indeed I did, dear gentleman,’ she answered; ‘when she first came on board I took her for one of my people.’
‘Chaw!’ exclaimed Mr. Harris over the shoulder of Mr. Stinton.
Mrs. Lee felt for her purse.231
‘Let the poor sorrowful lady cross my hand with a piece of money of her own,’ said the gipsy.
I put my hand in my pocket and drew out a shilling and placed it in the broad palm of the gipsy’s outstretched hand. The passengers gazed with excitement. Mr. Harris drew closer by a stride. The two ladders at the forward end of the deck and the bulwark rail that rose to midway the height of the ladders on either hand were still crowded with emigrants, none of whom, however, trespassed an inch beyond the topmost step. All this keen interest was easy enough to understand. Was it possible that the gipsy, though she should be unable to restore my memory, would be able to peer into the darkened mirror of my past and witness there what was hidden from myself?
‘You must lift up your veil, dear lady,’232 said the gipsy, ‘there are signs in your face that I shan’t be able to find in your hand.’
‘What is this?’ suddenly exclaimed the grave voice of Captain Ladmore. ‘Whom have we here? And what is she doing?’
‘She’s telling fortunes, sir,’ answered Mr. Harris, in a voice of disgust.
‘Who brought her on to the poop,’ exclaimed Captain Ladmore.
‘I did,’ said Mrs. Webber. ‘Pray do not meddle, my dear captain. The interest is just now red hot.’
The gipsy woman ducked with a wild sort of curtsey at the captain, grinning with all her teeth at him as she did so. He gazed at her with a sober frown, and I hoped that he would order her off the deck, but he said nothing, merely stood looking gravely on,233 towering half a head above the people who stood in front of him, whilst Mr. Harris, at his side, scarcely removed his eyes from my face.
‘Lift up your veil, if you please, my dear lady, that I may see your eyes,’ said the gipsy.
‘I had supposed that the sight of my hand would be enough for you,’ said I.
‘I can tell your ladyship’s fortune by your hand,’ said she, ‘but the past lies in your eyes. They are the windows of your memory, and I must look through them to see what’s indoors.’
‘What do you think of that for a poetical touch, Kate?’ I heard Mr. Webber say.
‘Raise your veil, Agnes,’ whispered Alice softly, ‘if it is only for a moment, dear. I am curious to hear what the woman means234 to tell you. There may be a meaning in this—something may come of it.’
So I put my hand to my veil and raised it above my eyes, contriving that it should keep my scarred forehead screened.
The gipsy woman stooped and stared at me. Her face was close to mine, I seemed to feel her hot breath and shrunk in my chair. Never can I forget those eyes of hers. To this day do they revisit me in my sleep and glare upon me in dreams. Oh, such eyes as that woman had! The pupils were like liquid indigo; they contracted and enlarged as though they were fluid, indeed, upon the orange ground of the balls. They seemed on fire as their gaze flashed deep and full into my own vision. The scrutiny swiftly grew intolerable and I dropped my veil.
‘That will do, my sweet lady,’ said she,236 preserving the horrid whining note in her voice, and then, taking my hand, she feigned to explore it for some moments, perhaps minutes, so long did the pause seem.
She stood with my fingers in her hand, poring upon the palm. I cast a look around me, and in spite of my nervousness and uneasiness, that amounted to positive distress, I had some difficulty to prevent myself from breaking into an hysterical laugh at the countenances which surrounded us. Mrs. Webber seemed unable to draw her breath; the Miss Glanvilles stood with their mouths partly open; Sir Frederick Thompson’s face was distorted by a grin of expectation; but it would need the brush of a great comic artist to reproduce the looks of those people whilst they waited for the gipsy to speak.
She suddenly let fall my hand, drew herself erect and receded a step, causing a momentary confusion amongst the passengers237 who stood immediately behind her. She muttered awhile, and then in a sort of singsong, drawling voice addressed me, as nearly as I can recollect, as follows:—
‘It is not true that you are a single woman as they are saying throughout this ship. It is nothing to me that you have no wedding ring, for what signifies the want of a wedding ring when a poor lady is found as you were, bleeding and insensible? What signifies a wedding ring, I say, to such as you, found as you were, my sorrowful lady?—for are there not thieves upon the sea as there are thieves upon the land? And I do not need to be told that a sailor may be a good man until he is tempted, and then he will turn thief; yes, he will turn thief, even though he would give all that he has stolen for a drink of water and a piece of biscuit.’
‘How extraordinary!’ I heard Mrs. Webber say.
‘Oh yes,’ continued the gipsy, slightly 238gesticulating with her right hand, ‘the wedding ring does not signify. You are a married woman. I have looked into your eyes and I have seen a husband there; I have looked into your eyes and I have seen children there. You are a married woman, my lady. I tell you that, and I will tell you more; you are a young married woman. You have not long been married. Your husband is mourning for you, but he will not mourn long. Give me your hand.’ She seized my hand with impassioned energy, and continued to speak with her eyes fixed upon the palm of it. ‘You will be long separated from your husband. A dark shadow will stand between you. Oh, it is very clear—here is the sign: it is the shadow of death, that will stand between you. It will roll away, but another shadow of death will take its place, and though it will not stand between239 you and your husband, it will be dark upon your soul, aye, even unto the grave.’
‘The woman certainly talks poetically,’ said Mrs. Lee, in a low voice in my ear, ‘and it is clever of her to say what it has not occurred to other people to think of.’
The gipsy viewed me with her bright eyes and her teeth bared, but apparently she had no more fortune to tell me.
‘I say, missis,’ exclaimed Sir Frederick Thompson, ‘I should like to have your opinion upon the lady’s quality. If she ain’t a titled woman, don’t she spring from a noble stock now?’
‘Ah, my pretty gentleman,’ whined the gipsy turning to view him, ‘The duckkerin dook does not tell me that.’
‘You’ve told fortunes enough in your time to be able to tell breeding, I hope, when you see it,’ said Sir Frederick.
‘Oh, my pretty gentleman,’ drawled the240 woman, ‘to us poor gipsies all the world is alike. We are all brothers and sisters, and those that are kind,’ said she, bobbing a curtsey at him, ‘we love best and think most of, and they are the true quality people of the earth.’
‘But you have not done with the lady yet, I hope?’ cried Mrs. Webber. ‘You have told her nothing.’
‘My gorgeous angel,’ answered the woman, ‘I have told the sorrowful lady all I know, and what I know is the truth.’
‘What’s her country, mother?’ inquired Mr. Stinton.
She eyed him sideways with a cat-like look, but made no reply.
‘Tell us, my good woman, in what country you think her home is?’ said Mr. Webber.
‘Who can tell? I will not answer that,’ said the gipsy. ‘There are many countries for the likes of such as the sorrowful lady to241 have a home in. There is Russia and Spain and ’Olland. In them countries are plenty of English gorgios. Where her home may be I cannot tell, for the dook is silent.’
‘What Dook is she talking of?’ exclaimed Sir Frederick Thompson.
‘Oh, sweet gentleman,’ she said, turning upon him again, ‘the dook is the spirit that enables me to tell dukkeripen.’
‘Hearing you speak of Spain, mother, I thought you might have meant the Dook of Wellington,’ said Sir Frederick.
Mrs. Webber looked at her husband with a face of vexation, as though irritated by the vulgar jokes of the little city gentleman at such a moment of romance.
‘Your dook is but a shabby expounder of riddles if he cannot tell us why the lady should be found insensible and washing about the ocean in a little bit of an open boat,’ said Mr. Wedmold. ‘Can’t the dook make a guess?’
‘You forget, Mr. Wedmold, that fortune-telling 242means reading the future, not the past,’ said Mrs. Webber.
‘And that is right, my beautiful lady,’ cried the gipsy; ‘but I have told the sorrowful lady her past too, and by-and-bye the dook may tell me what her name is and where her ’ome is, and how many childer she has; and if I enable her to return to her friends, I hope,’ said she, sinking her knees in a curtsey, ‘that the poor gipsy woman will be remembered.’
Captain Ladmore, who had been looking on and listening all this while, stalked away from the crowd of us to the rail, and remained there, gazing seawards.
‘And shall I tell you your fortune, my sweet young lady?’ exclaimed the gipsy, addressing Alice Lee. ‘Give me your poor thin hand, and though you cross mine with the littlest bit you have, you shall have your243 fortune as truly told as though you gave me gold.’
‘My daughter does not require her fortune told,’ exclaimed Mrs. Lee, jumping up with an air of mingled consternation and excitement, and planting herself between the gipsy and Alice.
‘I think we have had about enough of her for one watch,’ exclaimed Mr. Harris, in his sourest voice. ‘Suppose you go forward now.’
‘Let me tell you your fortune, my pretty gentleman,’ exclaimed the gipsy; ‘you are an officer of the ship, and I will tell you your fortune for nothing.’
‘Get along forward to your quarters,’ said Mr. Harris. ‘When I want lies told about me I’ll get ’em from somebody who’ll have sense enough to fit my tiptop wishes. What can ye tell me? That after this voyage I’m going to marry a German princess and be244 voted ten thousand a year by the British House of Commons? You’d want sixpence to tell me that lie, and there’s never a man for’ards that wouldn’t spin me fifty better yarns about my prospects for a single tot of grog. So away with you to your quarters,’ and he made as though he would drive her; whereupon, dropping curtsies to me, to Mrs. Webber, and to one or two others, the gipsy walked forward with a face rendered extraordinary by the wild grin on her lips and the scowl upon her brow like a visible shadow there, sharpening and brightening the fiery glancings of her eyes.
The crowds of emigrants on the two ladders melted away, the mob of passengers broke up, but Mrs. Webber remained.
Mrs. Webber, as I have said, remained; but for some moments neither she nor Mrs. Lee nor her daughter spoke. Their eyes were bent upon my face, and they waited,245 hoping no doubt that when I aroused myself from the reverie into which I had sunk I would exhibit some sign of returning memory. I held my head down, and kept my gaze fixed upon the deck, and, rightly guessing that I would not be the first to speak, Mrs. Webber said:
‘Tell me now, has the gipsy woman helped you at all?’
I looked at her, and after a pause shook my head and answered, ‘She has not helped me in the least.’
‘What could have put the idea of your being married into the creature’s head?’ exclaimed Mrs. Lee.
‘It is a strange idea,’ said Alice, looking at me earnestly; ‘but I suppose those gipsy people understand the need of saying strange things. They cannot be too dark and mysterious and startling to please the sort of folks who cross their hands.’
‘But why should not Miss C—— be married?’ 246said Mrs. Webber.
‘I hope she is not—but I am sure she is not!’ exclaimed Mrs. Lee.
Mrs. Webber ran a curious eye over me, and said: ‘I had my theory, but I own the gipsy creature has driven it out of my head. Is it quite impossible, my dear Mrs. Lee, that Miss C—— may have been robbed of her rings? Why should she be found without any jewellery upon her? Your station in society is easily guessed, Miss C——, and I must say, now the gipsy woman has suggested the idea, that your having been found without rings, without a watch and chain, without earrings or brooch, without, in short, a single ornament such as one might most reasonably expect to find a lady wearing, looks uncommonly like as though you had been robbed. In which case,’ she added, somewhat breathlessly, ‘you may have worn a wedding ring.’
‘Miss C—— had a purse with money in 247it in her pocket,’ said Mrs. Lee, who never called me by the name her daughter had given to me before strangers. ‘A thief who would steal rings or a watch and chain would certainly steal a purse with money in it.’
‘But—forgive me for being candid, Miss C——; whatever I say, whatever I may say, is wholly for your sake—is wholly with the idea of helping you to remember,’ said Mrs. Webber; ‘is it likely that a lady occupying your position in society would be without a single ring?’ She glanced at her own plump white hands, upon which sparkled a variety of valuable gems.
Alice Lee pulled off her silk gloves, and, lifting up her poor thin hands, exclaimed with a smile in her voice—her face was concealed by her veil—‘You may see, Mrs. Webber, that I do not wear rings.’
‘There may be a reason,’ exclaimed Mrs. 248Webber, looking a little nonplussed.
‘Yes, there is a reason to be sure,’ said Mrs. Lee, bringing her eyes away from her daughter’s hands with a look of pain in her face, ‘Alice never cared for jewellery of any sort.’
‘I could name two girls of my acquaintance, Mrs. Webber,’ said Alice, putting on her gloves, ‘who do not wear rings, not because they cannot get them, their fathers are rich merchants at Newcastle-on-Tyne, but because, like me, they do not care for rings. I dare say we could name others, mother, if we were to take the trouble to think.’
‘But would you be without a watch, Miss C——?’ said Mrs. Webber.
‘Do not ask me!’ I cried. ‘All the while you are conversing I am struggling with my mind.’
‘Take a few turns with me, dear,’ said 249Alice, rising, ‘and then we will go downstairs and lunch together quietly in our cabin. I do not feel well enough to lunch in the saloon.’
So I gave her my arm, and we paced the deck. Mrs. Webber took my chair and talked with Mrs. Lee in a voice which she softened as we approached, gesticulating with considerable energy, as though she sought to convince her companion. After we had taken four or five turns, Alice complained of feeling weary; we then descended into the saloon and passed into the cabin.
At about nine o’clock that evening I went to my berth in the steerage, having spent the greater part of the day since the hour of lunch with Alice Lee and her mother. The girl’s cough had been somewhat troublesome during the afternoon. It had abated, but it250 had left her weak, and there had been a hint of querulousness in her manner, but scarcely so much as to vex her sweetness; nay, I could liken it to nothing better than to the passage of a summer breath of night-wind over some exquisitely calm breast of water, causing the reflection of the stars to tremble in the pure mirror, and shaking a little further sweetness yet out of the lilies.
I helped her to undress, and saw her into bed, and I sat and read aloud to her until she fell asleep. Her mother had sat in an armchair watching her, until some one began to play on the piano, whilst I was reading to Alice, on which Mrs. Lee softly went out to silence the music, as I might suppose, for it presently ceased, and before she returned Alice had fallen asleep; whereupon, creeping from the berth, I whispered to Mrs. Lee that her daughter slumbered, and went to my own cabin.
The bracket lamp was alight, but it burnt 251dimly, and I brightened it for the sake of the cheerfulness and the companionship of the flame. I was sad at heart, and my head ached, but I was not sleepy. Secretly I had been greatly agitated by what the gipsy had said. Of course I knew it was pure invention on the woman’s part; but even as mere suggestions her words had sunk deep. Could it be that I was a married woman? Could it be that I had children? The thought raised an agony of desire to know—to be sure; but it brought with it no other yearning. I knew not that there were dear ones at home mourning over me as dead, and therefore my heart could not crave for them. To my eclipsed and blackened mind my husband and my children were as the unborn infant is to the mother that may yet bear it. I was without memory and, no matter what might be the imaginations252 infixed in my mind by the suggestions and conjectures of others, I was without the power to realise.
But not the less was the struggle after recollection a dreadful anguish. Sometimes I sat and sometimes I paced the deck of the cabin, and all the while I was saying to myself, ‘Suppose that I am a wife! Suppose that I have left a husband and children behind me at my home, wherever it may be!’ And then I would come to a stand, and fold my arms tightly across my breast, and close my eyes and with knitted brow search in the blackness within me, till the fruitless quest grew into physical pain unendurable as though some cruel hand were upon my heart.
And there was something more than my own intolerable mental condition to depress me. I could not doubt that Alice Lee was dying. She might be spared for some weeks;253 she might even be spared to find a grave in Australia. But when I had looked at her after her fits of coughing that afternoon, and when I had taken a final glance at her as she lay sleeping, I could not doubt that her time was short, that whether or not she should live to reach Australia she would certainly never behold her native country again. Short as had been our association, I could not have loved her more had she been known to me and had she been dear to me all her life. I loved Mrs. Lee, but I loved Alice Lee more than I loved her mother. My grief was selfish, but then all grief is more or less so. When this girl dies, I thought to myself, what friends shall I have? Who will compassionate my loneliness as she does? Who will make me feel as she does, whilst my memory remains black, that I am not utterly solitary? I know that whilst she lives I shall have a friend, someone who will care for me, someone254 who will not lose sight of me when this voyage is ended and the homeless world is before me. But she will die before the voyage is ended, and what then will become of me? O God, take pity upon me! I cried out of the anguish of my soul; and, throwing myself upon my knees, I clasped my hands and prayed for mercy and for help to Him to whom Alice Lee had taught me to pray.
The night was very quiet. The steerage was silent; one man I had observed reading at a table under the lamp; but the fine night, as I might suppose, detained his fellow-passengers on deck. There was a bright moon; the silver sheen lay upon the glass of the cabin porthole and so obscured it with misty radiance that the stars and the dark line of the horizon were invisible. The wind was fair and fresh, and the noise of the water washing past255 penetrated the silence. The ship rocked stately and slow; indeed it was true tropic sailing, with a tropic temperature in the cabin and a tropic night without, to judge by the glory of the moonlight upon the cabin window.
The minutes crept on, but feeling sleepless I had no mind to undress myself. Indeed, I had a longing to go on deck, for the temperature of the berth was uncomfortably warm; I did not know how to open the porthole, nor, though I had been able to open it, should I have dared to do so lest a sudden roll of the ship might submerge the orifice and fill the berth with water. The temptation, therefore, to go on deck was keen, and it was rendered the keener by my hot brow and headache; in imagination I tasted the sweet night wind cool with dew, and beheld the wide-spread splendour cast by the moon upon the vast dark surface of the sea. But then it would256 shortly be ten o’clock, at which hour a man regularly tapped upon my door and bade me extinguish my lamp; and then, again, I remembered how Mr. Harris and Mrs. Richards had stated that it was against the rules of the ship for women to wander alone upon the decks after the hour for extinguishing the lights had been struck upon the ship’s bell.
Suddenly I heard a voice calling down the hatchway at the forward end of the steerage; someone gruffly replied, possibly the man who had been seated reading under the lamp. I paid no heed to these cries; they were frequent enough down in this part of the ship. But about five minutes after the cry had sounded my cabin door was lightly beaten and opened, and Mrs. Richards entered.
‘I am glad to find you dressed,’ she exclaimed. ‘I believed you would have been in bed in spite of your light burning. There is a fine sight to be seen on deck. What do257 you think it is? A ship on fire! You may make many voyages without seeing such a sight.’
‘A ship on fire!’ I exclaimed. ‘Oh, I should greatly wish to see it! But it is nearly ten o’clock.’
‘And what of that?’ said she.
‘Why, did I not understand you to say that women are not allowed to be alone on deck after the lights are out?’
She laughed and answered, ‘The Captain would not like women to be wandering on deck alone at one o’clock in the morning as you were, my dear; but there are always passengers about in warm weather at ten o’clock, and sometimes after midnight, and whilst there are passengers on deck no notice will be taken of your being there.’
‘If I had known that,’ said I, ‘I should have gone on deck half an hour ago.’
I put on my shawl and hat—I call them258 mine—and, parting with Mrs. Richards at her own cabin door, went on to the poop by one of the ladders conducting to that raised platform from the quarter deck. It was a very fine glorious night. The moon rode high, and under her the sea lay brightly silvered. The sky was rich with stars, some of them a delicate green and two or three of them rose, and the firmament in which they sparkled had a soft and flowing look as though the velvet dusk were liquid. The ship was clothed with canvas to the starry altitude of her trucks. The swelling sails reflected the light of the moon, and their gleam was as that of snow against the dark sky as they rose with an appearance of cloud-like floating one above another, dwindling until the topmost sail seemed no more than a fragment of fleecy mist wan in the dusky heights. There was a pleasant breeze, and it blew over the rail cool with dew and sweet with that flavourless259 freshness of ocean air that is to the nostrils as a glass of water from a pure crystal spring is to the mouth.
I stood at the corner of the poop near the head of the ladder in the shadow made by the great sail called the mainsail, one wing or extremity of which was stretched a long way beyond the shrouds. Many passengers were on the poop; they were whitened by the moonlight, and as they moved here and there their figures showed as though beheld through a very delicate silver mist, but their shadows swayed black and firm from their feet upon the white planks. The forecastle of the ship was crowded with emigrants. The moonshine was raining down in silver upon that part of the vessel, and the people had a ghostly appearance, every face whitened, and their clothes white as though they had been powdered, as they stood staring across the260 dark sweep of sea upon the right-hand bow of the ship.
Woman-like I gazed everywhere but in the right direction when I first gained the poop; but, observing some people on the other side of the deck to point with shadowy hands, I immediately beheld what resembled a globe of red fire upon the sea. It looked like a huge star setting red as blood. I could not imagine how far off it might be, nor, but for the stewardess’s information, should I have supposed it to be a ship on fire. I had expected to see a great conflagration, a wide space of the night sky crimsoned with forked and writhing tongues of flame, and I was disappointed; but after I had stood gazing for a few minutes alone, for there was nobody in that corner of the deck where I had planted myself, a feeling of dismay, of consternation, even of horror possessed me. I knew that the dark red globe burning upon the sea261 yonder was a ship on fire, and knowing this I imagined that there might be living people on board of the flaming mass. The whole spirit of the solitude of this mighty scene of night, beautiful as it was with moonlight and with starlight, seemed to be centred in that distant point of fire; and the thought of the helplessness of the people on board the flaming fabric amid so vast a field, their horrible loneliness, the awful despair which that loneliness must excite—this thought, and other thoughts which visited me from that distant mass of fire, presently grew so insupportable to the deep melancholy which was upon me and which had been upon me throughout the evening that I crossed the deck in the hope of finding Mrs. Lee, that I might forget something of myself in conversing with her.
But Mrs. Lee was not to be seen. She was in her berth, probably in bed, and they262 would not give her the news of the ship on fire for fear of disturbing her daughter. The passengers stood in groups, pointing to the burning vessel and speaking in tones of excitement. I went from one to another, gazing into their faces and receiving nods and enquiries as to what I thought of the ship on fire. Captain Ladmore walked the hinder part of the deck alone. But as there was nobody near him who resembled Mrs. Lee, I returned to that part of the deck where I had first stationed myself, being in no humour to mingle with the passengers on the other side.
The sea was smooth, the wind fair and fresh, the spread of canvas vast, and the ship was sweeping through the water at a rapid rate. She was going through it clean as a sharp-built yacht would, making no noise save under the bows, whence arose a sound of shearing as though produced by a knife263 passing through thin ice. The marbled waters, moon touched, whirled past alongside, softly hissing as they fled by, and from the flight of those glimmering wreaths and eddies of foam I judged of the fast pace at which the ship was sailing.
Gradually the distant globe of fire enlarged, and now the sky was reddened all about it, and as I gazed there stole out of the blood red haze of light the dark shadow of a ship lying within a quarter of a mile of the burning vessel. Mr. Harris, who stood near some passengers on the opposite side of the deck, let fall a night-glass that he had been holding to his eyes and called out to the captain,
‘There’s a barque hove to close alongside of the burning vessel, sir.’
‘I see her, sir,’ answered the captain; and in a few moments the palpitating fiery mass upon the sea slided a little away from the264 bow. I was sailor enough to understand that our ship had been steered for the burning vessel, but that Captain Ladmore, now perceiving that assistance was close at hand, had resumed his course. Every five minutes of sailing was rendering that picture of fire more splendid and awful. She seemed a large ship, three-masted like our own. Great columns of smoke rose from her, and into these sooty volumes the flames would leap out of the burning hold, turning them crimson to a great height, and the smoke hung like a thunder-cloud over the sea where the ship lay burning; it eclipsed the stars, and it reverberated in lightning-like flashes the darting of the red flames; and so exactly did these flames resemble lightning that I heard some of the passengers, who believed the cloud of smoke to be an electric storm, express surprise that no thunder was to be heard.
But the sublimity of the scene lay chiefly 265in the effect of contrast. In one part of the ocean was the silver reflection of the moon, with the bright, serene orb poised high and small over her own wake; the dark waters streamed into that brilliant reflection which trembled with the racing of the silver lines; and in another part of the ocean lay the great flaming ship, with her masts and yards all on fire, and showing as though they were painted upon the darkness in flames; and a little distance from her hung the shadow of a large vessel, whose canvas stole out in spaces of dim red, and then darkened again as the flames soared and sank; and behind and over the mastheads of the two vessels floated a huge dark body of smoke, which came and went to the eye with its sudden sullen colouring as from lightning; and the whole picture was made awful by its suggestions of terror and of destruction.
It was a scene to hold the most thoughtless 266mute and to detain the most wandering eye. But whilst I stood gazing two figures drew near; as they approached I could hear they were arguing.
‘You can never persuade me,’ said Mr. Wedmold, ‘that the Americans have humour in the true meaning of the word, and there is but one meaning. They are funny, but they are not humorous. Their fun is either purely verbal or ridiculous exaggeration.’
‘What humourist have we ever produced,’ exclaimed Mr. Clack, ‘who can compare with ——’ and he named a funny American writer.
Mr. Wedmold’s silence was expressive of disgust.
‘Or take Holmes,’ said Mr. Clack.
‘Holmes’s humour is entirely English,’ said Mr. Wedmold; ‘by mentioning Holmes you strengthen my argument.’
‘What do you mean by verbal humour?’ 267said Mr. Clack.
‘The Yankee gets his grins out of odd words, some few of which still survive in our kitchens,’ said Mr. Wedmold; ‘or he gets his grins out of exaggerating or understating a situation. He will tell you, for instance, that, two men falling out, one threw the other over Niagara Falls, and the fellow got wet. The Yankee will look for a loud laugh at got wet; but there is no humour in it. A Yankee in telling a story will wind up by saying “So I said you git, and he got.” The laugh must come in here, for this “git” and “got” is the point of the story. But this sort of thing—and American humour is all this sort of thing—is by no means humour, and very little indeed of it is even fun. One page of Elia is worth the productions of the whole of the American humourists put together, from the date of Bunker’s268 Hill down to the latest effort of ——,’ and he again mentioned the name of a funny American writer.
I walked away and took up a position on the deck where I was unable to hear this argument on American humour, and where I could watch the burning ship in peace.
Very suddenly the great blaze upon the sea vanished. My eyes were upon the strong wild light when it went out, and I noticed that just before it disappeared the flaming masts of the vessel reeled so as to form a fiery arc, and then all was blackness where the light had been; whence it was to be supposed that the ship, in filling with water, had heeled over, and gone down like a stone. The vessel that hung near showed now very distinctly by the moonlight, and immediately over the spot where the burning ship had foundered, hung a great dim white cloud, which reflected the moonbeams as a cobweb269 might; but as I gazed this immense body of steam melted away, and nothing was to be seen but the pallid sails of the befriending vessel showing out against the dark cloud of smoke.
MY DYING FRIEND
Captain Ladmore descended into the saloon, and several of the passengers followed him to finish the brandy and water or wine which they had been sipping when called upon to view the ship on fire. A figure came across the deck to where I stood in the shadow of the mast. I had supposed myself hidden, so dark was the shadow cast by the mast, and I stood in the shadow. The figure was Mr. Harris, the chief officer.
‘Good evening,’ he exclaimed.
‘Good evening,’ I answered.
‘Been looking at the burning ship?’ said he.
‘Yes, I have been looking at the burning 271ship.’
‘Ever seen a ship on fire before?’
‘I suppose I never have.’
‘What d’ye think of a ship on fire as a show?’
‘It is a wonderful but a terrible sight,’ said I. ‘I hope no poor creature has perished by the burning of that ship.’
‘No chance of it,’ he exclaimed; ‘the vessel that was hove to close by long ago took every living creature aboard. Fine night, isn’t it?’
‘It is a beautiful night,’ said I.
‘It’s a bit early still,’ said he, making a step to cast his eye upon a clock that stood in one of the skylights. ‘There’s no hurry this time; not like one o’clock in the morning.’
‘If Mrs. Lee were on deck,’ said I, ‘I should be glad to remain here and walk a272 little. The air is sweet and refreshing, and the headache I have had this evening has gone. It is very warm in the steerage.’
‘It’ll be warmer by-and-by,’ said he. ‘I should be happy to take a turn with you, but I have charge of the deck and strolling wouldn’t be in order. But there’s no law to hinder a man from talking on a fine clear night like this, and with your permission I shall be glad of a short yarn with you, miss.’
‘What do you wish to say?’ said I, feeling uneasy. ‘I hope you do not mean to talk to me about shocks. I do not like the idea of such things, and beg that you will not say a word about them.’
‘It’s not shocks to-night,’ said he, ‘though—but as I see you don’t like the subject I’ll drop it. What I want to talk to you about is that gipsy woman. I’ve been turning over what she said as to your being married and having a husband waiting for you at home,273 and the like of that. What are your sentiments on what that tar-brush of a woman told you this afternoon?’
‘Do not ask me, Mr. Harris. I remember nothing, and it would be all the same if the gipsy had told me I was the queen of England.’
He stood in the moonlight and I in the trunk-like shadow cast by the mast, and I observed that he regarded me steadfastly, with an expression of earnestness that might have gathered a deeper character than it really owned from the nature of the light; he eyed me as though he would read my face, but the shadow was as good as my veil, which I had not thought of putting on at that hour.
‘I’ll tell you what my notion is,’ said he; ‘that gipsy woman is full of lies. How should she know that you’re married? Wouldn’t you wear a wedding-ring if you were married? What does she want to make out: that your274 wedding-ring was stolen off your finger when you were in the boat? But those French chaps found you alone, didn’t they? You couldn’t have been very long unconscious, and who’s to tell me that you weren’t alone when you fell insensible? If there was a sailor with you, you must have been sensible when he was in the boat; and no man’s going to persuade me—whether you can remember that sailor plundering you or not—no man’s going to persuade me that any sailor or sailors—distressed as such people as were along with you must have been—supposing any parties to have been along with you——’ he paused, having lost the thread of his argument, and then, smiting the palm of his left hand with his fist, he exclaimed with subdued energy, ‘What I mean is, I don’t believe you were robbed.’
He glanced round to observe if anyone was near enough to have overheard him.
‘I can tell you nothing, Mr. Harris,’ said I.275
‘The gipsy and her lies may be put on one side,’ said he. ‘In fact, if I catch her aft again with her confounded yarns I’ll make her wish that this ship had never been built with a poop. Sir Frederick Thompson’s opinion is another matter. I don’t reckon you’re a Calthorpe, as he calls it; for there’s no inward echo to the name, and an inward echo there’d be if a Calthorpe you were, so I think, and I believe I’m no fool. But if you’re not a Calthorpe, you may be somebody as good and perhaps better.’ After a pause he exclaimed, ‘Suppose your memory don’t return to you?’
‘Do not suppose it,’ I cried with bitterness.
‘I wish to say nothing to wound you, miss,’ said he, ‘but there can be no harm in us two talking matters over. It’s early as yet, the ship doesn’t want watching, a more276 beautiful night you may sail round the world twenty times over without falling in with. You’ve got to consider this; suppose your memory don’t return—what then?’ I did not answer. ‘Of course,’ continued he, ‘your memory is going to return some time or other. The faculty’s alive. It’s only turned in for the present. Some of these days something’ll happen to act like the thump of a bo’sun’s handspike, and the faculty’ll tumble up wide awake as though it was to a roar of “All hands!” But whatever it be that’s going to rout that sleeping faculty out may keep you waiting. And meanwhile?’
I had no answer to make him and held my peace.
‘The captain, no doubt,’ he went on, ‘will keep you on board this ship until her arrival in London, if so be your memory won’t enable him to send you home sooner. But when this ship arrives in dock, what then? You277 can’t go on living on board her. The captain’s got no home now that his wife and child are dead. He’s a good man and might find you a lodging for a bit, but he don’t stay ashore above a couple or three months. And what, I’ve been asking of myself ever since that gipsy was aft here with her lying yarns, what’s to become of you?’
I drew myself erect and my foot tapped the deck with vexation and distress.
‘For God’s sake, miss,’ said he, ‘don’t feel offended by anything I may say. You have friends aboard, and I want to be one of them, and prove myself one of them by behaving as a friend, and perhaps as more than a friend. My object in keeping you yarning here is to ask you to think over what’s to become of you if your memory hasn’t returned by the time the ship reaches England.’
I bit my lip and answered with a struggle, ‘What would be the good of my thinking?278 My memory may return. In any case I must trust in God to help me.’
‘Well, you’ll be safe in trusting in God,’ said he, ‘but someone to trust in on this earth wouldn’t be out of the way either. You see, miss, it may come to this: the ship arrives in dock and you’ve got to go ashore; where will ye go to? You don’t know. There may be scores of friends of yours within hail, but owing to your memory being at fault ne’er a one of them can be of more use to you than if they were in their graves. It seems cruel to talk of the Union; but my notion is, that whenever one’s in a mess the first thing to do is to take a good look round. I believe there are homes for destitute females, but for my part I’d rather go to the workhouse if I was a lonely girl. So you see, miss, it comes to this: you must have a friend….’
I could bear this talk no longer, and279 walked in the direction of one of the ladders in order to return to the steerage.
‘One minute,’ he cried, accompanying me, and so contriving to walk as to oblige me to halt. ‘I’ve brought tears to your eyes, and I ask your forgiveness. There’s been no rudeness intended in what I’ve said, God knows. You’ll find that out before long, I hope. You’ll be discovering that I wish you well. Though my parents were gentle folks, my college was a ship’s forecastle and I’m without polish, and, what’s more, I don’t want any. I’m a plain seaman, but I hope I can feel for another as well as the best, and I want to be your friend, and perhaps more than your friend.’
‘I am sure you mean nothing but kindness,’ said I, ‘but your words have distressed me. You make my future appear hopeless and dreadful.’
‘That’s how I want you to view it,’ said280 he, ‘by correctly realising it you’ll be able to deal with it.’
‘Good-night,’ I exclaimed; and without another word I left him and returned to my berth.
As I have before said, I considered Mr. Harris eccentric, unpleasantly well meaning, and not a man to be angry with because he spoke bluntly and said things which were disagreeable and even offensive to hear. But the language he had held destroyed my night’s rest. I could not sleep for thinking of his miserable talk about the workhouse and asylums for destitute females. What he meant by saying that he wished to be something more than a friend to me did not trouble my head. All that I could think of was the picture he had drawn of the arrival of the Deal Castle in dock, of my being without memory, and stepping ashore unable to281 recollect the name of a friend likely to help me.
Many to whom my story is known have since that miserable time expressed wonder that Captain Ladmore did not put me on board a homeward-bound ship—that is to say, a ship proceeding to England—with a request to her captain to inform the owners of the Deal Castle in what manner their vessel had fallen in with me, and to beg them to make my case public in the newspapers, so that if I had friends in England they could come forward and claim me.
But then, as I have already explained in a preceding chapter, Captain Ladmore did not know whether I had a home or friends in England or not. For all he could tell I might be the sole survivor of a shipwreck, or the surviving occupant of one of the boats which had put off before the ship went down, and if that were so—and there was nothing improbable282 in the supposition—then I might have been a passenger coming from America, or Australia, or India. It would not follow, according to his humane reasoning, that, because I was undeniably an Englishwoman, I lived in England and had friends in that country. And if I had no friends and no home in England, then his sending me there at the first opportunity whilst my memory remained a blank would be nothing short of cruelty; for when I landed I should be destitute, without money and without friends, and, being without memory, more helpless and worse off than the veriest beggar that might crawl past me in rags. But by keeping me on board his ship he hoped to give my memory time to recover its powers, so that, as he himself had said, whatever steps he took to restore me to my friends would be sure, for he would know where to send me. Then, again, it must be remembered that I283 had begged and prayed to remain on board whilst my memory continued dark, and that I had spoken with horror and with tears of the prospect of being landed without a shelter to go to.
This, then, is my answer to the wonder that has been expressed by my friends since this frightful passage of my life came to an end, and I enter it here as much to explain Captain Ladmore’s motives as to accentuate his humanity.
Propelled by pleasant winds, which sometimes blew over the stern and sometimes off the beam, the fine ship Deal Castle stemmed her way into the tropics, and every twenty-four hours brought the equator nearer to us by many leagues. All day long the deck was kept shadowed by the awning, in whose violet-tinted coolness lounged the passengers. It was growing too hot for active exercise. The deck quoit was cast aside, the walk to and284 fro the white planks was abandoned for the American folding-chair, the piano was but languidly touched, seldom were the voices of the singers amongst us heard, and there were hours when it was too sultry to read.
But the weather continued gloriously beautiful, the sky cloudless, the ocean a rich dark blue with the slopes of the swell wrinkled by the wind, and here and there a glance of foam as the ship stole through the waters, rippling the blue into lines as fine as harp-strings, which the sun turned into gold as they spread from the bows. And the flying-fish flashed from the side, and steadily in the blue calm of the water astern hung the slate-coloured shape of a shark, the inevitable attendant of the mariner in those fiery waters.
I was now going about without my veil. Mrs. Richards had advised me to bear being looked at for a little while, promising me that285 the curiosity of the passengers would rapidly pass, and she proved right. The people took little or no notice of me, and I was able to enjoy the freedom of my own face, which was no trifling comfort, for often I longed for all the air I could get, and the veil was like a warm atmosphere upon my forehead.
Nor was I so unsightly as I had been when I first came on board the Deal Castle. The wound had healed. The scar was indeed visible and gave an air of distortion to the brow it overran; but this was remedied to the eye by some toilet powder which Mrs. Webber gave me. I applied it plentifully with a puff, and the powder not only concealed the scar but paired with my remaining eyebrow, which, as I have told you, had turned white with my hair.
By this time I had much improved in health and in some respects in appearance. My eyes had regained their brightness, and286 there seemed no lack of the light of intelligence in them, though, as I should have supposed, in a person without memory, one would expect to find the gaze dull and slow and the glow of the sight dim. My figure had improved. I held myself erect, and a certain grace had come to my movements from my capacity as a dancer—for I was always thought a very good dancer—to take the moving platform of the deck. My cheeks had grown plump; the hollows had filled up, and the haggard look was gone. Nevertheless my face still showed as that of a woman of forty I remember once saying to Mr. McEwan, ‘What could have caused those fine lines to be drawn over my face?’
‘Nerves,’ he answered, in his short abrupt way.
‘They are not wrinkles,’ said I.
‘If they were wrinkles it would be Time,’ said he. ‘Be satisfied with that explanation.’
‘Would the shock that turned my hair 287white thread the skin of my face with these fine lines?’ said I.
‘It all happened at once,’ he answered; ‘I would lend you a book on nerves if I did not fear that the reading of it would turn ye daft.’
‘Will the skin of my face ever grow smooth?’ said I.
‘Never smoother than it is,’ he answered. ‘Isn’t it as smooth and soft as kid? What more d’ye want?’
‘What I meant to ask was, will these fine lines which disfigure my face ever disappear?’
‘Heaven defend us!’ he cried, feigning a warmth which his countenance belied; ‘your sex are all alike. Your questions are all prompted by vanity. It is not “Is there any chance, doctor, of my ever recovering the faculties of my mind?” but “Shall I ever regain my beautiful complexion?” “Never288 mind about my sight failing; will the glasses you order me to wear become me?” “Never mind about my heart being affected; shall I be able to go on lacing so as to keep my waist?”’ and he departed leaving my question unanswered.
My complexion, however, had cleared with the improvement of my health; the dingy sallow colour was gone out of my cheeks, and a faint bloom had taken its place. It was as though my youth struggled to show its rosy face through the mask which calamity had stamped upon my countenance. This faint bloom, as I call it, might, in spite of the interlacery of fine lines, have brought my appearance to within a few years of my real age had it not been for my white hair, which was so fleecy and thin that you would only think of looking for the like of it on the head of an old lady of seventy or eighty years. Indeed, what with my figure, which was that289 of a fine young woman of seven- or eight-and twenty, what with my eyes and teeth, which corresponded with my figure, and what with my white hair, white eyebrow, scarred temple and finely-lined skin, as though the flesh had been inlaid with a spider’s web, I doubtless presented to the eyes of my fellow-passengers the most extraordinary compound of youth and age it could have entered into the nimblest imagination among them to figure.
Nearly the whole of my time was spent in the company of Alice Lee. I read to her, I helped her to dress, I accompanied her on deck, indeed I was scarcely ever absent from her side. Mrs. Lee encouraged our companionship. Whatever served to sustain her daughter’s spirits, whatever contributed to lighten the tedium of the girl’s long hours of confinement to her cabin, must needs be welcome to the devoted mother. Often it happens that the sufferer from the disease of290 consumption, though of an angelic sweetness of heart, and though of a most beautiful, loving, gentle nature, will unconsciously be rendered petulant by the ministrations of one, by the devoted association, and by the heart-breaking anxiety of one, who may be the dearest of all human beings to her in this world, even her own mother. She is fretted by the importunities of love. The devotion is too anxious, too eager, too restless.
Mrs. Lee tried hard to conceal what was in her heart, but it must have vent in some shape or form. It rendered her vigilance impassioned. Indeed, I once took the liberty of telling her that the expression of pain and grief her face unconsciously wore when she sat with Alice, and heard her cough, or beheld any increase of languor in the movement of her eyes or in her speech, proved harmful to her child by poignantly reminding her of her mother’s sorrow and of the reason291 of it. And so it came about that Mrs. Lee welcomed my intimate association with her daughter and promoted it by leaving us much alone together.
Sometimes Mrs. Webber joined Alice and me when we were on deck, and occasionally she visited us when we were in the Lees’ cabin. I never liked her better than at such times. She subdued her manner, there was an air of cheerful gravity upon her, and her behaviour was as one who has known sorrow. She sank all the coxcombries of her literary talk when she was with us, had not a word to say about her own poetry, and ventured no opinions on the merits of authors. I took to her very warmly after she had visited Alice once or twice in her cabin.
Much sympathy was exhibited by the other passengers, but their good taste and real kindness of heart made the expression of it reserved and askant, as it were. Both the292 Miss Glanvilles sang very finely, and knowing that Alice loved certain songs which they sang with great sweetness, one or another would come and ask her if she should sing to her, and then sit down and soothe and charm the dear girl for an hour at a time. But neither they nor any of the other passengers ever dreamt of opening the piano until they learnt that Alice was awake or in a humour not to be teased by the noise of the music.
The hot weather tried her terribly. It was indeed as her mother had feared, and I could only pray that Mrs. Lee’s dread of the ship being becalmed upon the equator under the roasting sun for a long term of days would prove unfounded. Sometimes the girl rallied and exhibited a degree of vivacity that filled her mother with hope, and then a change would happen on a sudden. She would be wrenched and shattered by a dreadful cough, her head would sink, her eyes293 grow leaden, her breathing pitiably laboured; she would turn from the food placed before her, and lay her head upon her mother’s breast or upon my shoulder as I sat beside her, and at such times I would think the end was close at hand.
As I have before said, she did not in the least fear death. She seemed to have but one dread—that she should be buried at sea. I sat beside her one morning in her cabin fanning her. The window lay wide open, but not a breath of air entered the aperture. The ship was becalmed: she had been becalmed since midnight, and now I did not need to inquire what was the meaning of the word. I had been on deck before I visited Alice, and looked around me and beheld a wonderful breathless scene of stagnant ocean. I know not what our latitude was; I dare say we were five or six hundred miles north of the equator. The sea undulated294 thickly, faintly and sluggishly, as though it were of oil, and it reflected the rays of the sun as oil might, or indeed as a dull mirror would, and gave back the burning light from its surface in an atmosphere of heat that swung to the lip and cheek with the light roll of the ship in folds like escapes of air from a fiery oven.
It was cooler below than on deck, and Alice and I sat in the cabin. She was languid and very pale; there was a deeper dye than usual in the hollow of her eyes, and her fair brow glittered with moisture. We had been talking, and were now silent whilst I fanned her. As the vessel rolled, a delicate noise of sobbing rose from the side. She had not seemed to notice this sobbing noise before, but on a sudden it caught her ear: she listened and looked at me a little wildly, then rose and went to the porthole and stood gazing at the dim blue haze of heat that295 overhung the horizon, and at the dull blue undulations of oil-like water sulkily rolling to the slope of the sky. She returned to her chair, and putting her cold moist hand upon mine, exclaimed:
‘Oh, Agnes, I hope that God will have mercy upon me and spare me until we reach Australia, that I may be buried on shore.’
‘Have courage, my dear, have faith in God’s goodness,’ said I. ‘Do not talk of dying. Keep up your dear heart, and remember that this is the most trying part of the voyage. In a few days we shall be meeting with cooler weather, and then you will be yourself again.’
She smiled, but without despair in the expression of her smile. It was sad, but it took its colouring of sadness from her thin face, not from her heart. She turned her eyes towards the open window, and said:
‘I am foolish, and perhaps wicked, to296 dread being cast into the sea. There are many who would rather be buried at sea than on shore. It is a spacious grave, and one thinks of it as lying open to the eye of God. But the thought of the loneliness of an ocean grave weighs down my heart. Oh, I should be happy—happier in my hope of death and in the promises of my dear Saviour—if I knew I was to be buried where my mother could visit me. It is a weakness—I know it is all the same—I am in God’s hands, and I am happy;’ and she hid her face that I might not see the tear which rose to her eyes when she spoke of her mother visiting her grave.
But there was little need for her to hide her face, for the tears rained down my own cheeks as I listened to her and looked at her. When she saw I was crying she gently led the talk to other matters, brightened her face, and after we had conversed awhile297 she said, looking at me with a smile of tenderness that was like a light from heaven upon her:
‘Agnes, I have been longing to say that in case your memory should remain silent after this ship has arrived in England my mother will take care that you shall not want. This she will do as much for my sake as for your own, and out of her own love for you too. I have not spoken of this before, dear, because I disliked even to hint at any arrangements which implied that your memory might be wanting after so long a time as the voyage of this ship will take to complete. And yet I have also thought that it would comfort you to know that your future, should your mind continue sightless, will not be friendless.’ She took my hand, and whilst she caressed it continued, ‘It will come to your taking my place. When I am gone my mother will be alone, and my298 earnest wish is that you should be her companion.’
‘Oh, Alice,’ said I, ‘you will live to remain your mother’s companion. Would that God permitted that one life laid down availed to save another’s….’
END OF THE SECOND VOLUME
SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE