Part 2 out of 7
coarse dripping weed.
On a low rock at its foot, her back resting against the Cyclopean
wall, sits a young woman of eight-and-twenty, soberly, almost primly
dressed, with three or four tiny children clustering round her. In
front of them, on a narrow spit of sand between the rocks, a dozen
little girls are laughing, romping, and pattering about, turning the
stones for "shannies" and "bullies," and other luckless fish left by
the tide; while the party beneath the pier wall look steadfastly down
into a little rock-pool at their feet,--full of the pink and green
and purple cut-work of delicate weeds and coralline, and starred with
great sea-dahlias, crimson and brown and grey, and with the waving
snake-locks of the Cercus, pale blue, and rose-tipped like the fingers
of the dawn. One delicate Medusa is sliding across the pool, by slow
pantings of its crystal bell; and on it the eyes of the whole group
are fixed,--for it seems to be the subject of some story which the
village schoolmistress is finishing in a sweet, half-abstracted
"And so the cruel soldier was changed into a great rough red starfish,
who goes about killing the poor mussels, while nobody loves him, or
cares to take his part; and the poor little girl was changed into a
beautiful bright jelly-fish, like that one, who swims about all day in
the pleasant sunshine, with a red cross stamped on its heart."
"Oh, mistress, what a pretty story!" cry the little ones, with tearful
eyes. "And what shall we be changed to when we die?"
"If we will only be good we shall go up to Jesus, and be beautiful
angels, and sing hymns. Would that it might be soon, soon; for you and
me, and all!" And she draws the children, to her, and looks upward, as
if longing to bear them with her aloft.
Let us leave the conversation where it is, and look into the face of
the speaker, who, young as she is, has already meditated so long upon
the mystery of death that it has grown lovely in her eyes.
Her figure is tall, graceful, and slight, the severity of its outlines
suiting well with the severity of her dress, with the brown stuff gown
and plain grey whittle. Her neck is long, almost too long: but all
defects are forgotten in the first look at her face. We can see it
fully, for her bonnet lies beside her on the rock.
The masque, though thin, is perfect. The brow, like that of Greek
statue, looks lower than it really is, for the hair springs from below
the bend of the forehead. The brain is very long, and sweeps backward
and upward in grand curves, till it attains above the ears a great
expanse and height. She should be a character more able to feel
than to argue; full of all a woman's veneration, devotion, love of
children,--perhaps, too, of a woman's anxiety.
The nose is slightly aquiline; the sharp-cut nostrils indicate a
reserve of compressed strength and passion; the mouth is delicate;
the lips, which are full and somewhat heavy, not from coarseness, but
rather from languor, show somewhat of both the upper and the under
teeth. Her eyes are bent on the pool at her feet; so that we can see
nothing of them but the large sleepy lids, fringed with lashes so long
and dark that the eye looks as if it had been painted, in the Eastern
fashion, with antimony; the dark lashes, dark eyebrows, dark hair,
crisped (as West-country hair so often is) to its very roots, increase
the almost ghostlike paleness of the face, not sallow, not snow-white,
but of a clear, bloodless, waxen hue.
And now she lifts her eyes,--dark eyes, of preternatural largeness;
brilliant, too, but not with the sparkle of the diamond; brilliant as
deep clear wells are, in which the mellow moonlight sleeps fathom-deep
between black walls of rock; and round them, and round the wide-opened
lips, and arching eyebrow, and slightly wrinkled forehead, hangs an
air of melancholy thought, vague doubt, almost of startled fear; then
that expression passes, and the whole face collapses into a languor of
patient sadness, which seems to say,--"I cannot solve the mystery. Let
Him solve it as seems good to Him."
The pier has, as usual, two stages; the upper and narrower for a
public promenade, the lower and broader one for business. Two rough
collier-lads, strangers to the place, are lounging on the wall above,
and begin, out of mere mischief, dropping pebbles on the group below.
"Hillo! you young rascals," calls an old man lounging like them on
the wall; "if you don't drop that, you're likely to get your heads
"Will you do it?"
"I would thirty years ago; but I'll find a dozen in five minutes who
will do it now. Here, lads! here's two Welsh vagabonds pelting our
This is spoken to a group of Sea-Titans, who are sitting about on
the pier-way behind him, in red caps, blue jackets, striped jerseys,
bright brown trousers, and all the picturesque comfort of a
fisherman's costume, superintending the mending of a boat.
Up jump half-a-dozen off the logs and baulkings, where they have been
squatting, doubled up knee to nose, after the fashion of their class,
and a volley of execrations, like a storm of grape, almost blows
the two offenders off the wall. The bolder, however, lingers,
anathematising in turn; whereon a black-bearded youth, some six feet
four in height, catches up an oar, makes a sweep at the shins of
the lad above his head, and brings him writhing down upon the upper
pier-way, whence he walks off howling, and muttering threats of
"taking the law." In vain;--there is not a magistrate within ten
miles; and custom, Lynch-law, and the coast-guard lieutenant, settle
all matters in Aberalva town, and do so easily enough; for the petty
crimes which fill our gaols are all unknown among those honest
Vikings' sons; and any man who covets his neighbour's goods, instead
of stealing them has only to go and borrow them, on condition, of
course, of lending in his turn.
"What's that collier-lad hollering about, Captain Willis?" asks Mr.
Tardrew, steward to Lord Scoutbush, landlord of Aberalva, as he comes
up to the old man.
"Gentleman Jan cut him over, for pelting the schoolmistress below
"Serve him right; he'll have to cut over that curate next, I reckon."
"Oh, Mr. Tardrew, don't you talk so; the young gentleman is as kind a
man as I ever saw, and comes in and out of our house like a lamb."
"Wolf in sheep's clothing," growls Tardrew.
"What d'ye think he says to me last week? Wanted to turn the
schoolmistress out of her place because she went to chapel sometimes."
"I know, I know," replied Willis, in the tone of a man who wished to
avoid a painful subject. "And what did you answer, then, Mr. Tardrew?"
"I told him he might if he liked; but he'd make the place too hot
to hold him, if he hadn't done it already, with his bowings and his
crossings, and his chantings, and his Popish Gregories,--and tells one
he's no Papist; called him Pope Gregory himself. What do we want with
popes' tunes here, instead of the Old Hundredth and Martyrdom? I
should like to see any Pope of the lot make a tune like them."
Captain Willis listened with a face half sad, half slily amused. He
and Tardrew were old friends; being the two most notable persons in
the parish, save Jones the lieutenant, Heale the doctor, and another
gentleman, of whom we shall speak presently. Both of them too, were
thorough-going Protestants, and though Churchmen, walked sometimes
into the Brianite Chapel of an afternoon, and thought it no sin. But
each took the curate's "Puseyism" in a different way, being two men as
unlike each other as one could well find.
Tardrew--steward to Lord Scoutbush, the absentee landlord,--was a
shrewd, hard-bitten, choleric old fellow, of the shape, colour, and
consistence of a red brick; one of those English types which Mr.
Emerson has so well hit off in his rather confused and contradictory
"He hides virtues under vices, or, rather, under the semblance of
them. It is the misshapen, hairy, Scandinavian Troll again who lifts
the cart out of the mire, or threshes the corn which ten day-labourers
could not end: but it is done in the dark, and with muttered
maledictions. He is a churl with a soft place in his heart, whose
speech is a brash of bitter waters, but who loves to help you at a
pinch. He says, No; and serves you, and his thanks disgust you." Such,
was Tardrew,--a true British bulldog, who lived pretty faithfully up
to his Old Testament, but had, somehow, forgotten the existence of the
Willis was a very different and a very much nobler person; the most
perfect specimen which I ever have met (for I knew him well, and loved
him) of that type of British sailor which good Captain Marryat has
painted in his Masterman Ready, and painted far better than I can,
even though I do so from life. A tall and graceful old man, though
stooping much from lumbago and old wounds; with snow-white hair and
whiskers, delicate aquiline features, the manners of a nobleman, and
the heart of a child. All children knew that latter fact, and clung
to him instinctively. Even "the Boys," that terrible Berserk-tribe,
self-organised, self-dependent, and bound together in common
iniquities and the dread of common retribution, who were in Aberalva,
as all fishing towns, the torment and terror of all douce fogies, male
and female,--even the Boys, I say, respected Captain Willis, so potent
was the influence of his gentleness; nailed not up his shutters, nor
tied fishing-lines across his doorway; tail-piped not his dog, nor
sent his cat to sea on a barrel-stave; nor put live crabs into his
pocket, nor dead dog-fish into his well; yea, even when judgment, too
long provoked, made bare her red right hand, and the lieutenant vowed
by his commission that he would send half-a-dozen of them to the
treadmill, they would send up a deputation to "beg Captain Willis to
beg the schoolmistress to beg them off." For between Willis and
that fair young creature a friendship had grown up, easily to be
understood. Willis was one of those rare natures upon whose purity no
mire can cling; who pass through the furnace, and yet not even the
smell of fire has passed upon them. Bred, almost born, on board a
smuggling cutter, in the old war-times; then hunting, in the old
coast-blockade service, the smugglers among whom he had been trained;
watching the slow horrors of the Walcheren; fighting under Collingwood
and Nelson, and many another valiant Captain; lounging away years
of temptation on the West-Indian station, as sailing-master of a
ship-of-the-line; pensioned comfortably now for many a year in his
native town, he had been always the same gentle, valiant, righteous
man; sober in life, strict in duty, and simple in word; a soul as
transparent as crystal, and as pure. He was the oracle of
Aberalva now; and even Lieutenant Brown would ask his
opinion,--non-commissioned officer though he was,--in a tone which was
all the more patronising, because he stood a little in awe of the old
But why, when the boys wanted to be begged off, was the schoolmistress
to be their advocate? Because Grace Harvey exercised, without
intending anything of the kind, an almost mesmeric influence on every
one in the little town. Goodness rather than talent had given her
wisdom, and goodness rather than courage a power of using that wisdom,
which, to those simple, superstitious folk, seemed altogether an
inspiration. There was a mystery about her, too, which worked strongly
on the hearts of the West-country people. She was supposed to be at
times "not right;" and wandering intellect is with them, as with
many primitive peoples, an object more of awe than of pity. Her deep
melancholy alternated with bursts of wild eloquence, with fantastic
fables, with entreaties and warnings against sin, full of such pity
and pathos that they melted, at times, the hardest hearts. A whole
world of strange tales, half false, half true, had grown up around
her as she grew. She was believed to spend whole nights in prayer; to
speak with visitors from the other world; even to have the power of
seeing into futurity. The intensity of her imagination gave rise to
the belief that she had only to will, and she could see whom she
would, and all that they were doing, even across the seas; her
exquisite sensibility, it was whispered, made her feel every bodily
suffering she witnessed, as acutely as the sufferer's self, and in the
very limb in which he suffered. Her deep melancholy was believed to be
caused by some dark fate--by some agonising sympathy with evil-doers;
and it was sometimes said in Aberalva,--"Don't do that, for poor
Grace's sake. She bears the sins of all the parish."
So it befell that Grace Harvey governed, she knew not how or why, all
hearts in that wild simple fishing-town. Rough men, fighting on the
quay, shook hands at Grace's bidding. Wives who could not lure their
husbands from the beer-shop, sent Grace in to fetch them home, sobered
by shame: and woe to the stranger who fancied that her entrance into
that noisy den gave him a right to say a rough word to the fair girl!
The maidens, instead of envying her beauty, made her the confidant of
all their loves; for though many a man would gladly have married her,
to woo her was more than any dared; and Gentleman Jan himself, the
rightful bully of the quay, as being the handsomest and biggest
man for many a mile, beside owning a tidy trawler and two good
mackerel-boats, had said openly, that if any man had a right to her,
he supposed he had; but that he should as soon think of asking her to
marry him, as of asking the moon.
But it was in the school, in the duty which lay nearest to her, that
Grace's inward loveliness shone most lovely. Whatever dark cloud of
melancholy lay upon her own heart, she took care that it should never
overshadow one of those young innocents, whom she taught by love and
ruled by love, always tender, always cheerful, even gay and playful;
punishing, when she rarely punished, with tears and kisses. To make
them as happy as she could in a world where there was nothing but
temptation, and disappointment, and misery; to make them "fit for
heaven," and then to pray that they might go thither as speedily
as possible, this had been her work for now seven years; and that
Manichaeism which has driven darker and harder natures to destroy
young children, that they might go straight to bliss, took in her the
form of outpourings of gratitude (when the first natural tears were
dried), as often as one of her little lambs was "delivered out of the
miseries of this sinful world." But as long as they were in the
world, she was their guardian angel; and there was hardly a mother in
Aberalva who did not confess her debt to Grace, not merely for her
children's scholarship, but for their characters.
Frank Headley the curate, therefore, had touched altogether the
wrong chord when he spoke of displacing Grace. And when, that same
afternoon, he sauntered down to the pier-head, wearied with his
parish work, not only did Tardrew stump away in silence as soon as he
appeared, but Captain Willis's face assumed a grave and severe look,
which was not often to be seen on it.
"Well, Captain Willis?" said Frank, solitary and sad; longing for a
talk with, some one, and not quite sure whether he was welcome.
"Well, sir?" and the old man lifted his hat, and made one of his
princely bows. "You look tired, sir; I am afraid you're doing too
"I shall have more to do, soon," said the curate, his eye glancing
towards the schoolmistress, who, disturbed by the noise above, was
walking slowly up the beach, with a child holding to every finger, and
every fold of her dress.
Willis saw the direction of his eye, and came at once to the point, in
his gentle, straightforward fashion.
"I hear you have thoughts of taking the school from her, sir?"
"Why--indeed--I shall be very sorry; but if she will persist in going
to the chapel, I cannot overlook the sin of schism."
"She takes the children to church twice a Sunday, don't she? And
teaches them all that you tell her--"
"Why--yes--I have taken the religious instruction almost into my own
Willis smiled quietly.
"You'll excuse an old sailor, sir; but I think that's more than mortal
man can do. There's no hour of the day but what she's teaching them
something. She's telling them Bible stories now, I'll warrant, if you
could hear her."
Frank made no answer.
"You wouldn't stop her doing that? Oh, sir," and the old man spoke
with a quiet earnestness which was not without its effect, "just look
at her now, like the Good Shepherd with His lambs about His feet, and
think whether that's not much too pretty a sight to put an end to, in
a poor sinful world like this."
"It is my duty," said Frank, hardening himself. "It pains me
exceedingly, Willis;--I hope I need not tell you that."
"If I know aught of Mr. Headley's heart by his ways, you needn't
"But I cannot allow it.--Her mother a class leader among these
Dissenters, and one of the most active of them, too.--The school next
door to her house. The preacher, of course, has influence there, and
must have. How am I to instil Church principles into them, if he is
counteracting me the moment my back is turned? I have made up my mind,
Willis, to do nothing in a hurry. Lady-day is past, and she must go on
till Midsummer; then I shall take the school into my own hands, and
teach them myself, for I can pay no mistress or master; and Mr. St.
Frank checked himself as he was going to speak the truth; namely, that
his sleepy old absentee rector, Lord Scoutbush's uncle, would yawn and
grumble at the move, and wondering why Frank "had not the sense to
leave ill alone," would give him no manner of assistance beyond his
pittance of eighty pounds a-year, and five pounds at Christmas to
spend on the poor.
"Excuse me, sir, I don't doubt that you'll do your best in teaching,
as you always do: but I tell you honestly, you'll get no children to
"Their mothers know the worth of Grace too well, and the children too,
sir; and they'll go to her all the same, do what you will; and never a
one will enter the church door from that day forth."
"On their own heads be it!" said Frank, a little testily; "but I
should not have fancied Miss Harvey the sort of person to set up
herself in defiance of me."
"The more reason, sir, if you'll forgive me, for your not putting upon
"I do not want to put upon her or any one. I will do everything. I
will--I do--work day and night for these people, Mr. Willis. I tell
you, as I would my own father. I don't think I have another object
on earth--if I have, I hope I shall forget it--than the parish: but
Church principles I must carry out."
"Well, sir, certainly no man ever worked here as you do. If all had
been like you, sir, there would not be a Dissenter here now; but
excuse me, sir, the Church is a very good thing, and I keep to mine,
having served under her Majesty, and her Majesty's forefathers, and
learnt to obey orders, I hope; but don't you think, sir, you're taking
it as the Pharisees took the Sabbath-day?"
"Why, as if man was made for the Church, and not the Church for man."
"That is a shrewd thought, at least. Where did you pick it up?"
"'Tis none of my own, sir; a bit of wisdom that my maid let fall; and
it has stuck to me strangely ever since."
"Yes, Grace there. I always call her my maid; having no father, poor
thing, she looks up to me as one, pretty much,--the dear soul. Oh,
sir! I hope you'll think over this again, before you do anything. It's
done in a day: but years won't undo it again."
So Grace's sayings were quoted against him. Her power was formidable
enough, if she dare use it. He was silent awhile, and then--
"Do you think she has heard of this--of my--"
"Honesty's the best policy, sir: she has; and that's the truth. You
know how things get round."
"Well; and what did she say?"
"I'll tell you her very words, sir; and they were these, if you'll
excuse me. 'Poor dear gentleman,' says she, 'if he thinks chapel-going
so wrong, why does he dare drive folks to chapel? I wonder, every time
he looks at that deep sea, he don't remember what the Lord said about
it, and those who cause his little ones to offend.'"
Frank was somewhat awed. The thought was new; the application of the
text, as his own scholarship taught him, even more exact than Grace
"Then she was not angry?"
"She, sir! You couldn't anger her if you tore her in pieces with hot
pincers, as they did those old martyrs she's always telling about."
"Good-bye, Willis," said Frank, in a hopeless tone of voice, and
sauntered to the pier-end, down the steps, and along the lower
pier-way, burdened with many thoughts. He came up to the knot of
chatting sailors. Not one of them touched his cap, or moved out of the
way for him. The boat lay almost across the whole pier-way; and he
stopped, awkwardly enough, for there was not room to get by.
"Will you be so kind as to let me pass?" asked he, meekly enough. But
no one stirred.
"Why don't you get up, Tom?" asked one.
"I be lame."
"So be I."
"The gentleman can step over me, if he likes," said big Jan; a
proposition the impossibility whereof raised a horse-laugh.
"Ain't you ashamed of yourselves, lads?" said the severe voice of
Willis, from above. The men rose sulkily; and Frank hastened on, as
ready to cry as ever he had been in his life. Poor fellow! he had been
labouring among these people for now twelve months, as no man had ever
laboured before, and he felt that he had not won the confidence of a
single human being,--not even of the old women, who took his teaching
for the sake of his charity, and who scented popery, all the while, in
words in which there was no popery, and in doctrines which were just
the same, on the whole, as those of the dissenting preacher, simply
because he would sprinkle among them certain words and phrases which
had become "suspect," as party badges. His church was all but empty;
the general excuse was, that it was a mile from the town: but Frank
knew that that was not the true reason; that all the parish had got it
into their heads that he had a leaning to popery; that he was going
over to Rome; that he was probably a Jesuit in disguise.
Now, be it always remembered, Frank Headley was a good man, in every
sense of the word. He had nothing, save the outside, in common with
those undesirable coxcombs, who have not been bred by the High Church
movement, but have taken refuge in its cracks, as they would have done
forty years ago in those of the Evangelical,--youths who hide their
crass ignorance and dulness under the cloak of Church infallibility,
and having neither wit, manners, learning, humanity, or any other
dignity whereon to stand, talk loud, _pour pis aller_, about the
dignity of the priesthood. Such men Frank had met at neighbouring
clerical meetings, overbearing and out-talking the elder and the wiser
members; and finding that he got no good from them, had withdrawn into
his parish-work, to eat his own heart, like Bellerophon of old. For
Frank was a gentleman and a Christian, if ever one there was. Delicate
in person, all but consumptive; graceful and refined in all his works
and ways; a scholar, elegant rather than deep, yet a scholar still;
full of all love for painting, architecture, and poetry, he had come
down to bury himself in this remote curacy, in the honest desire of
doing good. He had been a curate in a fashionable London Church; but
finding the atmosphere thereof not over wholesome to his soul, he
had had the courage to throw off St. Nepomuc's, its brotherhoods,
sisterhoods, and all its gorgeous and highly-organised appliances for
enabling five thousand rich to take tolerable care of five hundred
poor: and had fled from "the holy virgins" (as certain old ladies,
who do twice their work with half their noise, call them) into the
wilderness of Bethnal Green. But six months' gallant work there, with
gallant men (for there are High Churchmen there who are an honour to
England), brought him to death's door. The doctors commanded some soft
western air. Frank, as chivalrous as a knight-errant of old, would
fain have died at his post, but his mother interfered; and he could
do no less than obey her. So he had taken this remote west country
curacy; all the more willingly because he knew that nine-tenths of the
people were Dissenters. To recover that place to the Church would be
something worth living for. So he had come, and laboured late and
early; and behold, he had failed utterly; and seemed farther than
ever from success. He had opened, too hastily, a crusade against the
Dissenters, and denounced where he should have conciliated. He had
overlooked--indeed he hardly knew--the sad truth, that the mere fact
of his being a clergyman was no passport to the hearts of his people.
For the curate who preceded him had been an old man, mean, ignorant,
incapable, remaining there simply because nobody else would have him,
and given to brandy-and-water as much as his flock.
The rector for the last fifteen years, Lord Scoutbush's uncle, was a
cypher. The rector before him had notoriously earned the living by a
marriage with a lady who stood in some questionable relation to Lord
Scoutbush's father, and who had never had a thought above his dinner
and his tithes; and all that the Aberalva fishermen knew of God or
righteousness, they had learnt from the _soi-disant_ disciples of John
Wesley. So Frank Headley had to make up, at starting, the arrears
of half-a-century of base neglect; but instead of doing so, he had
contrived to awaken against himself that dogged hatred of popery which
lies inarticulate and confused, but deep and firm, in the heart of the
English people. Poor fellow! if he made a mistake, he suffered for it.
There was hardly a sadder soul than poor Frank, as he went listlessly
up the village street that afternoon, to his lodging at Captain
Willis's, which he had taken because he preferred living in the
village itself to occupying the comfortable rectory a mile out of
However we cannot set him straight;--after all, every man must perform
that office for himself. So the best thing we can do, as we landed,
naturally, at the pier-head, is to walk up-street after him, and see
what sort of a place Aberalva is.
Beneath us, to the left hand, is the quay-pool, now lying dry, in
which a dozen trawlers are lopping over on their sides, their red
sails drying in the sun, the tails of the trawls hauled up to the
topmast heads; while the more handy of their owners are getting on
board by ladders, to pack away the said red sails; for it will blow
to night. In the long furrows which their keels have left, and in the
shallow muddy pools, lie innumerable fragments of exenterated maids
(not human ones, pitiful reader, but belonging to the order Pisces,
and the family Raia), and some twenty non-exenterated ray-dogs and
picked dogs (Anglice, dog-fish), together with a fine basking shark,
at least nine feet long, out of which the kneeling Mr. George Thomas,
clothed in pilot cloth patches of every hue, bright scarlet, blue and
brown (not to mention a large square of white canvas which has been
let into that part of his trousers which is now uppermost), is
dissecting the liver for the purpose of greasing his "sheaves" with
the fragrant oil thereof. The pools in general are bedded with black
mud, and creamed over with oily flakes which may proceed from the tar
on the vessels' sides, and may also from "decomposing animal matter,"
as we euphemise it now-a-days. The hot pebbles, at high-tide
mark,--crowned with a long black row of herring and mackerel boats,
laid up in ordinary for the present--are beautifully variegated with
mackerels' heads, gurnets' fins, old hag, lobworm, and mussel-baits,
and the inwards of a whole ichthyological museum; save at one spot
where the Cloaca maxima and Port Esquiline of Aberalva town (small
enough, considering the place holds fifteen hundred souls) murmurs
from beneath a grey stone arch toward the sea, not unfraught with dead
rats and cats, who, their ancient feud forgotten, combine lovingly at
last in increasing the health of the blue-trousered urchins who are
sailing upon that Acherontic stream bits of board with a feather stuck
in it, or of their tiny sisters who are dancing about in the dirtiest
pool among the trawlers in a way which (if your respectable black coat
be seen upon the pier) will elicit from one of the balconied windows
above, decked with reeking shirts and linen, some such shriek as--
"Patience Penberthy, Patience Penberthy--a! You nasty, dirty, little
ondecent hussy--a! What be playing in the quay-pool for--a! A pulling
up your pesticoats before the quality--a!" Each exclamation being
followed with that groaning grunt, with which the West-country folk,
after having screamed their lungs empty through their noses, recover
their breath for a fresh burst.
Never mind; it is no nosegay, certainly as a whole: but did you ever
see sturdier, rosier, nobler-looking children,--rounder faces, raven
hair, bright grey eyes, full of fun and tenderness? As for the dirt,
that cannot harm them; poor people's children must be dirty--why not?
Look on fifty yards to the left. Between two ridges of high pebble
bank, some twenty yards apart, comes Alva river rushing to the sea.
On the opposite ridge, a low white house, with three or four white
canvas-covered boats, and a flag-staff with sloping cross-yard,
betokens the coast-guard station. Beyond it rise black jagged cliffs;
mile after mile of iron-bound wall; and here and there, at the glens'
mouths, great banks and denes of shifting sand. In front of it, upon
the beach, are half-a-dozen great green and grey heaps of Welsh
limestone; behind it, at the cliff foot, is the lime-kiln, with its
white dusty heaps, and brown dusty men, its quivering mirage of hot
air, its strings of patient hay-nibbling donkeys, which look as
if they had just awakened out of a flour bin. Above, a green down
stretches up to bright yellow furze-crofts far aloft. Behind a reedy
marsh, covered with red cattle, paves the valley till it closes in;
the steep sides of the hills are clothed in oak and ash covert, in
which, three months ago, you could have shot more cocks in one day
than you would in Berkshire in a year. Pleasant little glimpses there
are, too, of grey stone farm-houses, nestling among sycamore and
beech; bright-green meadows, alder-fringed; squares of rich red
fallow-field, parted by lines of golden furze; all cut out with a
peculiar blackness, and clearness, soft and tender withal, which
betokens a climate surcharged with rain. Only in the very bosom of
the valley, a soft mist hangs, increasing the sense of distance, and
softening back one hill and wood behind another, till the great brown
moor which backs it all seems to rise out of the empty air. For a
thousand feet it ranges up, in rude sheets of brown heather, and grey
cairns and screes of granite, all sharp and black-edged against the
pale blue sky; and all suddenly cut off above by one long horizontal
line of dark grey cloud, which seems to hang there motionless, and yet
is growing to windward, and dying to leeward, for ever rushing out of
the invisible into sight, and into the invisible again, at railroad
speed. Out of nothing the moor rises, and into nothing it ascends,--a
great dark phantom between earth and sky, boding rain and howling
tempest, and perhaps fearful wreck--for the groundswell moans and
thunders on the beach behind us, louder and louder every moment.
Let us go on, and up the street, after we have scrambled through the
usual labyrinth of timber-baulks, rusty anchors, boats which have been
dragged, for the purpose of mending and tarring, into the very middle
of the road, and old spars stowed under walls, in the vain hope that
they may be of some use for something some day, and have stood the
stares and welcomes of the lazy giants who are sitting about upon
them, black-locked, black-bearded, with ruddy, wholesome faces, and
eyes as bright as diamonds; men who are on their own ground, and know
it; who will not touch their caps to you, or pull the short black pipe
from between their lips as you pass, but expect you to prove yourself
a gentleman, by speaking respectfully to them; which, if you do, you
will find them as hearty, intelligent, brave fellows as ever walked
this earth, capable of anything, from working the naval-brigade
guns at Sevastopol, down to running up to ... a hundred miles in a
cockleshell lugger, to forestall the early mackerel market. God be
with you, my brave lads, and with your children after you; for as long
as you are what I have known you, Old England will rule the seas, and
many a land beside!
But in going up Aberalva Street, you remark several things; first,
that the houses were all white-washed yesterday, except where the
snowy white is picked out by buttresses of pink and blue; next,
that they all have bright green palings in front, and bright green
window-sills and frames; next, that they are all roofed with shining
grey slate, and the space between the window and the pales flagged
with the same; next, that where such space is not flagged, it is full
of flowers and shrubs which stand the winter only in our greenhouses.
The fuchsias are ten feet high, laden with ripe purple berries running
over (for there are no birds to pick them off); and there in the front
of the coast-guard lieutenant's house, is Cobaea scandens, covered
with purple claret-glasses, as it has been ever since Christmas: for
Aberalva knows no winter: and there are grown-up men in it who never
put on a skate, or made a snowball in their lives. A most cleanly,
bright-coloured, foreign-looking street, is that long straggling one
which runs up the hill towards Penalva Court: only remark, that this
cleanliness is gained by making the gutter in the middle street the
common sewer of the town, and tread clear of cabbage-leaves, pilchard
bones, _et id genus omne_. For Aberalva is like Paris (if the answer
of a celebrated sanitary reformer to the Emperor be truly reported),
"fair without but foul within."
However, the wind is blowing dull and hollow from south-west; the
clouds are rolling faster and faster up from the Atlantic; the sky to
westward is brassy green; the glass is falling fast; and there will
be wind and rain enough to-night to sweep even Aberalva clean for the
Grace Harvey sees the coming storm, as she goes slowly homewards,
dismissing her little flock; and she lingers long and sadly outside
her cottage door, looking out over the fast blackening sea, and
listening to the hollow thunder of the groundswell, against the back
of the point which shelters Aberalva Cove.
Far away on the horizon, the masts of stately ships stand out against
the sky, driving fast to the eastward with shortened sail. They, too,
know what is coming; and Grace prays for them as she stands, in her
wild way, with half outspoken words.
"All those gallant ships, dear Lord! and so many beautiful men in
them, and so few of them ready to die; and all those gallant soldiers
going to the war;--Lord, wilt thou not have mercy? Spare them for
a little time before--. Is not that cruel, man-devouring sea full
enough, Lord; and brave men's bones enough, strewn up and down all
rocks and sands? And is not that dark place full enough, O Lord, of
poor souls cut off in a moment, as my two were? Oh, not to-night, dear
Lord! Do not call any one to-night--give them a day more, one chance
more, poor fellows--they have had so few, and so many temptations,
and, perhaps, no schooling. They go to sea so early, and young things
will be young things, Lord. Spare them but one night more--and yet He
did not spare my two--they had no time to repent, and have no time for
And she stands looking out over the sea; but she has lost sight of
everything, save her own sad imaginations. Her eyes open wider and
wider, as if before some unseen horror; the eyebrows contract upwards;
the cheeks sharpen; the mouth parts; the lips draw back, showing
the white teeth, as if in intensest agony. Thus she stands long,
motionless, awe-frozen, save when a shudder runs through every limb,
with such a countenance as that "fair terror" of which Shelley sang--
"Its horror and its beauty are divine;
Upon its lips and eyelids seem to lie
Loveliness like a shadow, from which shine,
Fiery and lucid, struggling underneath,
The agonies of anguish and of death."
Her mother comes out from the cottage door behind, and lays her hand
upon the girl's shoulder. The spell is broken; and hiding her face in
her hands, Grace bursts into violent weeping.
"What are you doing, my poor child, here in the cold night air?"
"My two, mother, my two!" said she; "and all the poor souls at sea
"You mustn't think of it. Haven't I told you not to think of it? One
would lose one's wits if one did too often."
"If it is all true, mother, what else is there worth thinking of in
heaven or earth?"
And Grace goes in with a dull, heavy look of utter exhaustion, bodily
and mental, and quietly sets the things for supper, and goes about her
cottage work as one who bears a heavy chain, but has borne it too long
to let it hinder the daily drudgery of life.
Grace had reason to pray at least, for the soldiers who were going
to the war. For as she prayed, the Orinoco, Ripon, and Manilla, were
steaming down Southampton Water, with the Guards on board; and but
that morning little Lord Scoutbush, left behind at the depot, had bid
farewell to his best friend, opposite Buckingham Palace, while the
bearskins were on the bayonet-points, with--
"Well, old fellow, you have the fun, after all, and I the work;" and
had been answered with--
"Fun? there will be no fighting; and I shall only have lost my season
Was there, then, no man among them that day, who
"As the trees began to whisper, and the wind began to roll,
Heard in the wild March morning the angels call his soul"?
* * * * *
Verily they are gone down to Hades, even many stalwart souls of
ANYTHING BUT STILL LIFE.
Penalva Court, about half a mile from the quay, is "like a house in a
story;"--a house of seven gables, and those very shaky ones; a house
of useless long passages, useless turrets, vast lumber attics where
maids see ghosts, lofty garden and yard walls of grey stone, round
which the wind and rain are lashing through the dreary darkness; low
oak-ribbed ceilings; windows which once were mullioned with stone, but
now with wood painted white; walls which were once oak-wainscot,
but have been painted like the mullions, to the disgust of Elsley
Vavasour, poet, its occupant in March 1854, who forgot that, while the
oak was left dark, no man could have seen to read in the rooms a yard
from the window.
He has, however, little reason to complain of the one drawing-room,
where he and his wife are sitting, so pleasant has she made it look,
in spite of the plainness of the furniture. A bright log-fire is
burning on the hearth. There are a few good books too, and a few
handsome prints; while some really valuable nick-nacks are set out,
with pardonable ostentation, on a little table covered with crimson
velvet. It is only cotton velvet, if you look close at it; but the
things are pretty enough to catch the eye of all visitors; and Mrs.
Heale, the Doctor's wife (who always calls Mrs. Vavasour "my lady,"
though she does not love her), and Mrs. Trebooze, of Trebooze, always
finger them over when they have any opportunity, and whisper to each
other half contemptuously,--"Ah, poor thing! there's a sign that she
has seen better days."
And better days, in one sense, Mrs. Vavasour has seen. I am afraid,
indeed, that she has more than once regretted the morning when she ran
away in a hack-cab from her brother Lord Scoutbush's house in Eaton
Square, to be married to Elsley Vavasour, the gifted author of "A
Soul's Agonies and other Poems." He was a lion then, with foolish
women running after him, and turning his head once and for all; and
Lucia St. Just was a wild Irish girl, new to London society, all
feeling and romance, and literally all; for there was little real
intellect underlying her passionate sensibility. So when the
sensibility burnt itself out, as it generally does; and when children,
and the weak health which comes with them, and the cares of a
household, and money difficulties were absorbing her little powers,
Elsley Vavasour began to fancy that his wife was a very commonplace
person, who was fast losing even her good looks and her good temper.
So, on the whole, they were not happy. Elsley was an affectionate man,
and honourable to a fantastic nicety; but he was vain, capricious,
over-sensitive, craving for admiration and distinction; and it was not
enough for him that his wife loved him, and bore him children, kept
his accounts, mended and moiled all day long for him and his; he
wanted her to act the public for him exactly when he was hungry for
praise; and that not the actual, but an altogether ideal, public; to
worship him as a deity, "live for him and him alone," "realise" his
poetic dreams of marriage bliss, and talk sentiment with him, or
listen to him talking sentiment to her, when she would much sooner be
safe in bed burying all the petty cares of the day, and the pain in
her back too, poor thing! in sound sleep; and so it befell that they
often quarrelled and wrangled, and that they were quarrelling and
wrangling this very night.
Who cares to know how it began? Who cares to hear how it went on,--the
stupid, aimless skirmish of bitter words, between two people who had
forgotten themselves? I believe it began with Elsley's being vexed
at her springing up two or three times, fancying that she heard the
children cry, while he wanted to be quiet, and sentimentalise over the
roaring of the wind outside. Then--she thought of nothing but those
children. Why did she not take a book and occupy her mind? To which
she had her pert, though just answer, about her mind having quite
enough to do to keep clothes on the children's backs, and so
forth,--let who list imagine the miserable little squabble;--till she
says,--"I know what has put you out so to-night; nothing but the news
of my sister's coming." He answers,--"That her sister is as little to
him as to any man; as welcome to come now as she has been to stay away
these three years."
"Ah, it's very well to say that; but you have been a different person
ever since that letter came." And so she torments him into an angry
self-justification (which she takes triumphantly as a confession) that
"it is very disagreeable to have his thoughts broken in on by one who
has no sympathy with him and his pursuits--and who" and at that point
he wisely stops short, for he was going to throw down a very ugly gage
Thrown down or not, Lucia snatches at it.
"Ah, I understand; poor Valentia! You always hated her."
"I did not: but she is so brusque, and excited, and--"
"Be so kind as not to abuse my family. You may say what you will of
"And what have your family done for me, pray?"
"Why, considering that we are now living rent-free in my brother's
house, and--" She stops in her turn; for her pride and her prudence
also will not let her tell him that Valentia has been clothing her and
the children for the last three years. He is just the man to forbid
her on the spot to receive any more presents, and to sacrifice her
comfort to his own pride. But what she has said is quite enough to
bring out a very angry answer, which she expecting, nips in the bud
"For goodness' sake, don't speak so loud; I don't want the servants to
"I am not speaking loud"--(he has not yet opened his lips). "That is
your old trick to prevent my defending myself, while you are driving
one mad. How dare you taunt me with being a pensioner on your
brother's bounty? I'll go up to town again and take lodgings there.
I need not be beholden to any aristocrat of them all. I have my own
station in the real world,--the world of intellect; I have my own
friends; I have made myself a name without his help; and I can live
without his help, he shall find!"
"Which name were you speaking of?" rejoins she looking up at him, with
all her native Irish humour flashing up for a moment in her naughty
eyes. The next minute she would have given her hand not to have said
it; for, with a very terrible word, Elsley springs to his feet and
dashes out of the room.
She hears him catch up his hat and cloak, and hurry out into the rain,
slamming the door behind him. She springs up to call him back, but
he is gone;--and she dashes herself on the floor, and bursts into an
agony of weeping over "young bliss never to return"? Not in the least.
Her principal fear is, lest he should catch cold in the rain. She
takes up her work again, and stitches away in the comfortable
certainty that in half an hour she will have recovered her temper, and
he also; that they will pass a sulky night; and to-morrow, by about
mid-day, without explanation or formal reconciliation, have become as
good friends as ever. "Perhaps," says she to herself, with a woman's
sense of power, "if he be very much ashamed and very wet, I'll pity
him and make friends to-night."
Miserable enough are these little squabbles. Why will two people, who
have sworn to love and cherish each other utterly, and who, on the
whole, do what they have sworn, behave to each other as they dare for
very shame behave to no one else? Is it that, as every beautiful thing
has its hideous antitype, this mutual shamelessness is the devil's
ape of mutual confidence? Perhaps it cannot be otherwise with beings
compact of good and evil. When the veil of reserve is withdrawn from
between two souls, it must be withdrawn for evil, as for good, till
the two natures, which ought to seek rest, each in the other's inmost
depths, may at last spring apart, confronting each other recklessly
with,--"There, you see me as I am; you know the worst of me, and I of
you; take me as you find me--what care I?"
Elsley and Lucia have not yet arrived at that terrible crisis: though
they are on the path toward it,--the path of little carelessnesses,
rudenesses, ungoverned words and tempers, and, worst of all, of that
half-confidence, which is certain to avenge itself by irritation and
quarrelling; for if two married people will not tell each other in
love what they ought, they will be sure to tell each other in anger
what they ought not. It is plain enough already that Elsley has his
weak point, which must not be touched; something about "a name," which
Lucia is to be expected to ignore,--as if anything which really exists
could be ignored while two people live together night and day, for
better for worse. Till the thorn is out, the wound will not heal; and
till the matter (whatever it may be) is set right, by confession and
absolution, there will be no peace for them, for they are living in a
lie; and, unless it be a very little one indeed, better, perhaps, that
they should go on to that terrible crisis of open defiance. It may
end in disgust, hatred, madness; but it may, too, end in each
falling again upon the other's bosom, and sobbing out through holy
tears,--"Yes, you do know the worst of me, and yet you love me still.
This is happiness, to find oneself most loved when one most hates
oneself! God, help us to confess our sins to Thee, as we have done to
each other, and to begin life again like little children, struggling
hand in hand out of this lowest pit, up the steep path which leads to
life, and strength, and peace."
Heaven grant that it may so end! But now Elsley has gone raging out
into the raging darkness; trying to prove himself to himself the most
injured of men, and to hate his wife as much as possible: though the
fool knows the whole time that he loves her better than anything on
earth, even than that "fame," on which he tries to fatten his lean
soul, snapping greedily at every scrap which falls in his way, and, in
default, snapping at everybody and everything else. And little comfort
it gives him. Why should it? What comfort, save in being wise and
strong? And is he the wiser or stronger for being told by a reviewer
that he has written fine words, or has failed in writing them; or to
have silly women writing to ask for his autograph, or for leave to set
his songs to music? Nay,--shocking as the question may seem,--is
he the wiser and stronger man for being a poet at all, and a
genius?--provided, of course, that the word genius is used in its
modern meaning, of a person who can say prettier things than his
neighbours. I think not. Be it as it may, away goes the poor genius;
his long cloak, picturesque enough in calm weather, fluttering about
uncomfortably enough, while the rain washes his long curls into swabs;
out through the old garden, between storm-swept laurels, beneath dark
groaning pines, and through a door in the wall which opens into the
The lane leads downward, on the right, into the village. He is in no
temper to meet his fellow-creatures,--even to see the comfortable
gleam through their windows, as the sailors close round the fire with
wife and child; so he turns to the left, up the deep stone-banked
lane, which leads towards the cliff, dark now as pitch, for it is
overhung, right and left, with deep oak-wood.
It is no easy matter to proceed, though, for the wind pours down the
lane as through a funnel, and the road is of slippery bare slate, worn
here and there into puddles of greasy clay, and Elsley slips back half
of every step, while his wrath, as he tires, oozes out of his heels.
Moreover, those dark trees above him, tossing their heads impatiently
against the scarcely less dark sky, strike an awe into him,--a sense
of loneliness, almost of fear. An uncanny, bad night it is; and he is
out on a bad errand; and he knows it, and wishes that he were home
again. He does not believe, of course, in those "spirits of the
storm," about whom he has so often written, any more than he does in a
great deal of his fine imagery; but still in such characters as his,
the sympathy between the moods of nature and those of the mind is
most real and important; and Dame Nature's equinoctial night wrath is
weird, gruesome, crushing, and can be faced (if it must be faced) in
real comfort only when one is going on an errand of mercy, with
a clear conscience, a light heart, a good cigar, and plenty of
So, ere Elsley had gone a quarter of a mile, he turned back, and
resolved to go in, and take up his book once more. Perhaps Lucia might
beg his pardon; and if not, why, perhaps he might beg hers. The rain
was washing the spirit out of him, as it does out of a thin-coated
Stay! What was that sound above the roar of the gale? a cannon?
He listened, turning his head right and left to escape the howling of
the wind in his ears. A minute, and another boom rose and rang aloft.
It was near, too. He almost fancied that he felt the concussion of the
Another, and another; and then, in the village below, he could see
lights hurrying to and fro. A wreck at sea? He turned again up the
lane. He had never seen a wreck. What an opportunity for a poet; and
on such a night too: it would be magnificent if the moon would but
come out! Just the scene, too, for his excited temper! He will work on
upward, let it blow and rain as it may. He is not disappointed. Ere he
has gone a hundred yards, a mass of dripping oil-skins runs full butt
against him, knocking him against the bank; and, by the clank of
weapons, he recognises the coast-guard watchman.
"Hillo!--who's that? Beg your pardon, sir," as the man recognises
"What is it?--what are the guns?"
"God knows, sir! Overright the Chough and Crow; on 'em, I'm afeard.
There they go again!--hard up, poor souls! God help them!" and the man
runs shouting down the lane.
Another gun, and another; but long ere Elsley reaches the cliff, they
are silent; and nothing is to be heard but the noise of the storm,
which, loud as it was below among the wood, is almost intolerable now
that he is on the open down.
He struggles up the lane toward the cliff, and there pauses, gasping,
under the shelter of a wall, trying to analyse that enormous mass of
sound which fills his ears and brain, and flows through his heart
like maddening wine. He can bear the sight of the dead grass on the
cliff-edge, weary, feeble, expostulating with its old tormentor the
gale; then the fierce screams of the blasts as they rush up across the
layers of rock below, like hounds leaping up at their prey; and far
beneath, the horrible confused battle-roar of that great leaguer of
waves. He cannot see them, as he strains his eyes over the wall into
the blank depth,--nothing but a confused welter and quiver of mingled
air, and rain, and spray, as if the very atmosphere were writhing in
the clutches of the gale: but he can hear,--what can he not hear? It
would have needed a less vivid brain than Elsley's to fancy another
Badajos beneath. There it all is:--the rush of columns to the breach,
officers cheering them on,--pauses, breaks, wild retreats, upbraiding
calls, whispering consultations,--fresh rush on rush, now here, now
there,--fierce shouts above, below, behind,--shrieks of agony, choked
groans and gasps of dying men,--scaling-ladders hurled down with all
their rattling freight,--dull mine-explosions, ringing cannon-thunder,
as the old fortress blasts back its besiegers pell-mell into the deep.
It is all there: truly enough there, at least, to madden yet more
Elsley's wild angry brain, till he tries to add his shouts to the
great battle-cries of land and sea, and finds them as little audible
as an infant's wail.
Suddenly, far below him, a bright glimmer;--and, in a moment, a
blue-light reveals the whole scene, in ghastly hues,--blue leaping
breakers, blue weltering sheets of foam, blue rocks, crowded with blue
figures, like ghosts, flitting to and fro upon the brink of that blue
seething Phlegethon, and rushing up towards him through the air, a
thousand flying blue foam-sponges, which dive over the brow of the
hill and vanish, like delicate fairies fleeing before the wrath of the
gale:--but where is the wreck? The blue-light cannot pierce the grey
veil of mingled mist and spray which hangs to seaward; and her guns
have been silent for half an hour and more.
Elsley hurries down, and finds half the village collected on the
long sloping point of down below. Sailors wrapped in pilot-cloth,
oil-skinned coast-guardsmen, women with their gowns turned over their
heads, staggering restlessly up and down, and in and out, while every
moment some fresh comer stumbles down the slope, thrusting himself
into his clothes as he goes, and asks, "Where's the wreck!" and gets
no answer, but a surly advice to "hold his noise," as if they had hope
of hearing the wreck which they cannot see; and kind women, with their
hearts full of mothers' instincts, declare that they can hear little
children crying, and are pooh-poohed down by kind men, who, man's
fashion, don't like to believe anything too painful, or, if they
believe it, to talk of it.
"What were the guns from, then, Brown?" asks the Lieutenant of the
"Off the Chough and Crow, I thought, sir. God grant not!"
"You thought, sir!" says the great man, willing to vent his vexation
on some one. "_Why_ didn't you make sure?"
"Why, just look, Lieutenant," says Brown, pointing into the "blank
height of the dark;" "and I was on the pier too, and couldn't see; but
the look-out man here says--" A shift of wind, a drift of cloud, and
the moon flashes out a moment.--"There she is, sir!"
Some three hundred yards out at sea lies a long curved black line,
beautiful, severe, and still, amid those white wild leaping hills.
A murmur from the crowd, which swells into a roar, as they surge
aimlessly up and down.
Another moment, and it is cut in two by a white
line--covered--lost--all hold their breaths. No; the sea passes on,
and still the black curve is there; enduring.
"A terrible big ship!"
"A Liverpool clipper, by the lines of her."
"God help the poor passengers, then!" sobs a woman. "They're past our
help: she's on her beam ends."
"And her deck upright toward us."
"Silence! Out of the way you loafing long-shores!" shouts the
Lieutenant. "Brown--the rockets!"
What though the Lieutenant be somewhat given to strong liquors, and
stronger language? He wears the Queen's uniform; and what is more, he
knows his work, and can do it; all make a silent ring while the fork
is planted; the Lieutenant, throwing away the end of his cigar, kneels
and adjusts the stick; Brown and his mates examine and shake out the
coils of line.
Another minute, and the magnificent creature rushes forth with a
triumphant roar, and soars aloft over the waves in a long stream of
fire, defiant of the gale.
Is it over her? No! A fierce gust, which all but hurls the spectators
to the ground; the fiery stream sweeps away to the left, in a grand
curve of sparks, and drops into the sea.
"Try it again!" shouts the Lieutenant, his blood now up. "We'll see
which will beat, wind or powder."
Again a rocket is fixed, with more allowance for the wind; but the
black curve has disappeared, and he must wait awhile.
"There it is again! Fly swift and sure," cries Elsley, "thou fiery
angel of mercy, bearing the saviour-line! It may not be too late yet."
Full and true the rocket went across her; and "three cheers for the
Lieutenant!" rose above the storm.
"Silence, lads! Not so bad, though;" says he, rubbing his wet hands.
"Hold on by the line, and watch for a bite, Brown."
Five minutes pass. Brown has the line in his hand, waiting for any
signal touch from the ship: but the line sways limp in the surge.
Ten minutes. The Lieutenant lights a fresh cigar, and paces up and
down, smoking fiercely.
A quarter of an hour; and yet no response. The moon is shining clearly
now. They can see her hatchways, the stumps of her masts, great
tangles of rigging swaying and lashing down across her deck; but that
delicate upper curve is becoming more ragged after every wave; and the
tide is rising fast.
"There's a pull!" shouts Brown.... "No, there ain't ... God have
mercy, sir! She's going!"
The black curve boils up, as if a mine had been sprung on board, leaps
into arches, jagged peaks, black bars crossed and tangled; and then
all melts away into the white seething waste; while the line floats
home helplessly, as if disappointed; and the billows plunge more
sullenly and sadly towards the shore, as if in remorse for their dark
and reckless deed.
All is over. What shall we do now? Go home, and pray that God may have
mercy on all drowning souls? Or think what a picturesque and tragical
scene it was, and what a beautiful poem it will make, when we have
thrown it into an artistic form, and bedizened it with conceits and
analogies stolen from all heaven and earth by our own self-willed
Elsley Vavasour--through whose spectacles, rather than with my own
eyes, I have been looking at the wreck, and to whose account, not
to mine, the metaphors and similes of the last two pages must be
laid--took the latter course; not that he was not awed, calmed, and
even humbled, as he felt how poor and petty his own troubles
were, compared with that great tragedy: but in his fatal habit of
considering all matters in heaven and earth as bricks and mortar for
the poet to build with, he considered that he had "seen enough;" as if
men were sent into the world to see and not to act; and going home too
excited to sleep, much more to go and kiss forgiveness to his sleeping
wife, sat up all night, writing "The Wreck," which may be (as the
reviewer in "The Parthenon" asserts) an exquisite poem; but I cannot
say that it is of much importance.
So the delicate genius sate that night, scribbling verses by a
warm fire, and the rough Lieutenant settled himself down in his
Mackintoshes, to sit out those weary hours on the bare rock, having
done all that he could do, and yet knowing that his duty was, not to
leave the place as long as there was a chance of saving--not a life,
for that was past all hope--but a chest of clothes, or a stick of
timber. There he settled himself, grumbling, yet faithful; and filled
up the time with sleepy maledictions against some old admiral, who
had--or had not--taken a spite to him in the West Indies thirty years
before, else he would have been a post captain by now, comfortably in
bed on board a crack frigate, instead of sitting all night out on
a rock, like an old cormorant, etc. etc. Who knows not the woes of
ancient coast-guard lieutenants?
But as it befell, Elsley Vavasour was justly punished for going home,
by losing the most "poetical" incident of the whole night.
For with the coast-guardsmen many sailors stayed. There was nothing to
be earned by staying: but still, who knew but they might be wanted?
And they hung on with the same feeling which tempts one to linger
round a grave ere the earth is filled in, loth to give up the last
sight, and with it the last hope. The ship herself, over and above her
lost crew, was in their eyes a person to be loved and regretted. And
Gentleman Jan spoke, like a true sailor--
"Ah, poor dear! And she such a beauty, Mr. Brown; as any one might see
by her lines, even that way off. Ah, poor dear!"
"And so many brave souls on board; and, perhaps, some of them not
ready, Mr. Beer," says the serious elderly chief boatman. "Eh, Captain
"The Lord has had mercy on them, I don't doubt." answers the old man,
in his quiet sweet voice. "One can't but hope that he would give them
time for one prayer before all was over; and having been drowned
myself, Mr. Brown, three times, and taken up for dead--that is,
once in Gibraltar Bay, and once when I was a total wreck in the old
Seahorse, that was in the hurricane in the Indies; after that when
I fell over quay-head here, fishing for bass,--why, I know well how
quick the prayer will run through a man's heart, when he's a-drowning,
and the light of conscience, too, all one's life in one minute,
"It arn't the men I care for," says Gentleman Jan; "they're gone to
heaven, like all brave sailors do as dies by wreck and battle: but the
poor dear ship, d'ye see, Captain Willis, she ha'n't no heaven to go
to, and that's why I feel for her so."
Both the old men shake their heads at Jan's doctrine, and turn the
"You'd better go home, Captain, 'fear of the rheumatics. It's a rough
night for your years; and you've no call, like me."
"I would, but my maid there; and I can't get her home; and I can't
leave her." And Willis points to the schoolmistress, who sits upon
the flat slope of rock, a little apart from the rest, with her face
resting on her hands, gazing intently out into the wild waste.
"Make her go; it's her duty--we all have our duties. Why does her
mother let her out at this time of night? I keep my maids tighter than
that, I warrant." And disciplinarian Mr. Brown makes a step towards
"Ah, Mr. Brown, don't now! She's not one of us. There's no saying
what's going on there in her. Maybe she's praying; maybe she sees more
than we do, over the sea there."
"What do you mean? There's no living body in those breakers, be sure!"
"There's more living things about on such a night than have bodies to
them, or than any but such as she can see. If any one ever talked
with angels, that maid does; and I've heard her, too; I can say I
have--certain of it. Those that like may call her an innocent: but I
wish I were such an innocent, Mr. Brown. I'd be nearer heaven then,
here on earth, than I fear sometimes I ever shall be, even after I'm
dead and gone."
"Well, she's a good girl, mazed or not; but look at her now! What's
The girl had raised her head, and was pointing, with one arm stretched
stiffly out toward the sea.
Old Willis went down to her, and touched her gently on the shoulder.
"Come home, my maid, then, you'll take cold, indeed;" but she did not
move or lower her arm.
The old man, accustomed to her fits of fixed melancholy, looked down
under her bonnet, to see whether she was "past," as he called it. By
the moonlight he could see her great eyes steady and wide open. She
motioned him away, half impatiently, and then sprang to her feet with
"A man! A man! Save him!"
As she spoke, a huge wave rolled in, and shot up the sloping end of
the point in a broad sheet of foam.
And out of it struggled, on hands and knees, a human figure. He looked
wildly up, and round, and then his head dropped again on his breast;
and he lay clinging with outspread arms, like Homer's polypus in the
Odyssey, as the wave drained back, in a thousand roaring cataracts,
over the edge of the rock.
"Save him!" shrieked she again, as twenty men rushed forward--and
stopped short. The man was fully thirty yards from them: but close to
him, between them and him, stretched a long ghastly crack, some ten
feet wide, cutting the point across. All knew it: its slippery edge,
its polished upright sides, the seething cauldrons within it; and
knew, too, that the next wave would boil up from it in a hundred jets,
and suck in the strongest to his doom, to fall, with brains dashed
out, into a chasm from which was no return.
Ere they could nerve themselves for action, the wave had come. Up the
slope it went, one half of it burying the wretched mariner, and fell
over into the chasm. The other half rushed up the chasm itself, and
spouted forth again to the moonlight in columns of snow, in time to
meet the wave from which it had just parted, as it fell from above;
and then the two boiled up, and round, and over, and swirled along the
smooth rock to their very feet.
The schoolmistress took one long look; and as the wave retired, rushed
after it to the very brink of the chasm, and flung herself on her
"No, she's not!" almost screamed old Willis, in mingled pride and
terror, as he rushed after her. "The wave has carried him across the
crack and she's got him!" And he sprang upon her, and caught her round
"Now, if you be men!" shouted he, as the rest hurried down.
"Now, if you be men; before the next wave comes!" shouted Big Jan.
"Hands together, and make a line!" And he took a grip with one hand
of the old man's waistband, and held out the other for who would to
Who took it? Frank Headley, the curate, who had been watching all
sadly apart, longing to do something which no one could mistake.
"Be you man enough?" asked big Jan doubtfully.
"Try," said Frank.
"Really, you ben't, sir," said Jan, civilly enough. "Means no offence,
sir; your heart's stout enough, I see; but you don't know what'll be."
And he caught the hand of a huge fellow next him, while Frank shrank
sadly back into the darkness.
Strong hand after hand was clasped, and strong knee after knee dropped
almost to the rock, to meet the coming rush of water; and all who knew
their business took a long breath,--they might have need of one.
It came, and surged over the man, and the girl, and up to old Willis's
throat, and round the knees of Jan and his neighbour; and then
followed the returning out-draught, and every limb quivered with the
strain: but when the cataract had disappeared, the chain was still
"Saved!" and a cheer broke from all lips, save those of the girl
herself; she was as senseless as he whom she had saved. They hurried
her and him up the rock ere another wave could come; but they had much
ado to open her hands, so firmly clenched together were they round his
Gently they lifted each, and laid them on the rock; while old Willis,
having recovered his breath, set to work crying like a child, to
restore breath to "his maiden."
"Run for Dr. Heale, some good Christian!" But Frank, longing to escape
from a company who did not love him, and to be of some use ere the
night was out, was already half-way to the village on that very
However, ere the Doctor could be stirred out of his boozy slumbers,
and thrust into his clothes by his wife, the schoolmistress was safe
in bed at her mother's house; and the man, weak, but alive, carried
triumphantly up to Heale's door; which having been kicked open, the
sailors insisted in carrying him right upstairs, and depositing him on
the best spare bed.
"If you won't come to your patients, Doctor, your patients shall come
to you. Why were you asleep in your liquors, instead of looking out
for poor wratches, like a Christian? You see whether his bones be
broke, and gi'un his medicines proper; and then go and see after the
schoolmistress; she'm worth a dozen of any man, and a thousand of you!
We'll pay for 'un like men; and if you don't, we'll break every bottle
in your shop."
To which, what between bodily fear and real good-nature, old Heale
assented; and so ended that eventful night.
FLOTSOM, JETSOM, AND LAGEND.
About nine o'clock the next morning, Gentleman Jan strolled into Dr.
Heale's surgery, pipe in mouth, with an attendant satellite; for every
lion, poor as well as rich,--in country as in town, must needs have
Heale's surgery--or, in plain English, shop--was a doleful hole
enough; in such dirt and confusion as might be expected from a drunken
occupant, with a practice which was only not decaying because there
was no rival in the field. But monopoly made the old man, as it makes
most men, all the more lazy and careless; and there was not a drug on
his shelves which could be warranted to work the effect set forth in
that sanguine and too trustful book, the Pharmacopoeia, which, like
Mr. Pecksniff's England, expects every man to do his duty, and is,
accordingly (as the Lancet and Dr. Letheby know too well), grievously
In this kennel of evil savours, Heale was slowly trying to poke things
into something like order; and dragging out a few old drugs with a
shaky hand, to see if any one would buy them, in a vague expectation
that something must needs have happened to somebody the night before,
which would require somewhat of his art.
And he was not disappointed. Gentleman Jan, without taking his pipe
out of his mouth, dropped his huge elbows on the counter, and his
black-fringed chin on his fists; took a look round the shop, as if to
find something which would suit him; and then--
"I say, Doctor, gi's some tackleum."
"Some diachylum plaster, Mr. Beer?" says Heale, meekly. "What for,
"To tackle my shins. I barked 'em cruel against King Arthur's nose
last night. Hard in the bone he is;--wish I was as hard."
"How much diachylum will you want, then, Mr. Beer?"
"Well, I don't know. Let's see!" and Jan pulls up his blue trousers,
and pulls down his grey rig and furrows, and considers his broad and
"Matter of four pennies broad: two to each leg;" and then replaces his
elbows, and smokes on.
"I say, Doctor, that 'ere curate come out well last night. I shall go
to church next Sunday."
"What," asks the satellite, "after you upset he that fashion
"I don't care what you thinks;" says Jan, who, of course, bullies his
jackal, like most lions: "but I goes to church. He's a good 'un, say
I,--little and good, like a Welshman's cow; and clapped me on the back
when we'd got the man and the maid safe, and says,--'Well done our
side, old fellow!' and stands something hot all round, what's more, in
at the Mariner's Rest.--I say, Doctor, where's he as we hauled ashore?
I'll go up and see 'un."
"Not now, then, Mr. Beer; not now, then. He's sleeping, indeed he is,
like any child."
"So much the better. We wain't be bothered with his hollering. But go
up I will. Do ye let me now; I'll be as still as a maid."
And Jan kicked off his shoes, and marched on tip-toe through the shop,
while Dr. Heale, moaning professional ejaculations, showed him the
The shipwrecked man was sleeping sweetly; and little was to be seen of
his face, so covered was it with dark tangled curls and thick beard.
"Ah! a 'Stralian digger, by the beard of him, and his red jersey,"
whispered Jan, as he bent tenderly over the poor fellow, and put his
head on one side to listen to his breathing. "Beautiful he sleeps, to
be sure!" said Jan: "and a tidy-looking chap, too. 'Tis a pity to
wake 'un, poor wratch; and he, perhaps, with a sweetheart aboard, and
drownded; or else all his kit lost.--Let 'un sleep so long as he can:
he'll find all out soon enough, God help him!"
And big Jan stole down the stairs gently and reverently, like a true
sailor; and took his diachylum, and went off to plaster his shins.
About ten minutes afterwards, Heale was made aware that his guest was
awake, "by sundry grunts and ejaculations, which ended in a series of
long and doleful whistles, and then broke out into a song. So he went
up, and found the stranger sitting upright in bed, combing his curls
with his fingers, and chaunting unto himself a cheerful ditty.
"Good morning, Doctor," quoth he, as his host entered. "Very kind of
you, this. Hope I haven't turned a better man than myself out of his
"Delighted to see you so well. Very near drowned, though. We were
pumping at your lungs for a full half hour."
"Ah? nothing, though, for an experienced professional man like you!"
"Hum! speaks well for your discrimination," says Heale, flattered.
"Very well-spoken young person, though his beard is a bit wild.--How
did you know, then, that I was a doctor?"
"By the reverend looks of you, sir. Besides, I smelt the rhubarb
and senna all the way up-stairs, and knew that I'd fallen among
"'Oh, then this valiant mariner,
Which sailed across the sea,
He came home to his own sweetheart,
With his heart so full of glee;
With his heart so full of glee, sir,
And his pockets full of gold,
And his bag of drugget, with many a nugget,
As heavy as he could hold.'
"Don't you wish yours was, Doctor?"
"Eh, eh, eh," sniggered Heale.
"Mine was last night. Now, Doctor, let's have a glass of
brandy-and-water, hot with, and an hour's more sleep; and then kick
me out, and into the workhouse. Was anybody else saved from the wreck
"Nobody, sir," said Heale; and said "sir," because, in spite of the
stranger's rough looks, his accent,--or rather, his no-accent,--showed
him that he had fallen in with a very different, and probably a very
superior stamp of man to himself; in the light of which conviction
(and being withal a good-natured old soul), he went down and mixed him
a stiff glass of brandy-and water, answering his wife's remonstrances
"The party up-stairs is a bit of a frantic party, certainly; but he is
certainly a very superior party, and has the true gentleman about him,
any one can see. Besides, he's shipwrecked, as you and I may be any
day; and what's like brandy-and-water?"
"I should like to know when I'm like to be shipwrecked, or you
either;" says Mrs. Heale, in a tone slightly savouring of indignation
and contempt. "You think of nothing but brandy-and-water." But she let
the doctor take the glass upstairs, nevertheless.
A few minutes afterwards, Frank came in, and inquired for the
"Well enough in body, sir; and rather requires your skill than mine,"
said the old time-server. "Won't you walk up?"
So up Frank was shown.
The stranger was sitting up in bed. "Capital, your brandy is,
Doctor,--Ah, sir," seeing Frank, "it is very kind of you, I am sure,
to call on me! I presume you are the clergyman?"
But before Frank could answer, Heale had broken forth into loud
praises of him, setting forth how the stranger owed his life entirely
to his superhuman strength and courage.
"'Pon my word, sir," said the stranger,--looking them both over and
over, through and through, as if to settle how much of all this he was
to believe,--"I am deeply indebted to you for your gallantry. I only
wish it had been employed on a better subject."
"My good sir," said Frank, blushing, "you owe your life not to me. I
would have helped if I could; but was not thought worthy by our sons
of Anak here. Your actual preserver was a young girl."
And Frank told him the story.
"Whew! I hope she won't expect me to marry her as payment.--Handsome?"
"Beautiful," said Frank.
"The village schoolmistress."
"A sort of half-baked body," said Heale.
"A very puzzling intellect," said Frank
"Ah--well--that's a fair excuse for declining the honour. I can't be
expected to marry a frantic party, as you called me down stairs just
"Yes, I heard; no offence, though, my good sir,--but I've the ears
of a fox. I hope really, though, that she is none the worse for her
"How is she this morning, Mr. Heale?"
"Well--poor thing, a little light-headed last night: but kindly when I
went in last."
"Whew! I hope she has not fallen in love with me. She may fancy me her
property--a private waif and stray. Better send for the Coast-guard
officer, and let him claim me as belonging to the Admiralty, as
flotsom, jetsom, and lagend; for I was all three last night."
"You were, indeed, sir," said Frank, who began to be a little tired of
this levity; "and very thankful to Heaven you ought to be."
Frank spake this in a somewhat professional tone of voice; at which
the stranger arched his eyebrows, screwed his lips up, and laid his
ears back, like a horse when he meditates a kick,
"You must be better acquainted with my affairs than I am, my dear sir,
if you are able to state that fact.--Doctor! I hear a patient coming
into the surgery."
"Extraordinary power of hearing, to be sure," said Heale, toddling
down stairs, while the stranger went on, looking Frank full in the
"Now that old fogy's gone down stairs, my dear sir, let us come to an
understanding at the beginning of our acquaintance. Of course, you're
bound by your cloth to say that sort of thing to me, just as I am
bound by it not to swear in your company: but you'll allow me to
remark, that it would be rather trying even to your faith, if you were
to be thrown ashore with nothing in the world but an old jersey and a
bag of tobacco, two hundred miles short of the port where you hoped to
land with fifteen hundred well-earned pounds in your pocket."
"My dear sir," said Frank, after a pause, "whatsoever comes from our
Father's hand must be meant in love. 'The Lord gave, and the Lord hath
A quaint wince passed over the stranger's face.
"Father, sir? That fifteen hundred pounds was going to my father's
hand, from whosesoever hand it came, or the loss of it. And now
what is to become of the poor old man, that hussy Dame Fortune only
knows--if she knows her own mind an hour together, which I very much
doubt. I worked early and late for that money, sir; up to my knees
in mud and water. Let it be enough for your lofty demands on poor
humanity, that I take my loss like a man, with a whistle and a laugh,
instead of howling and cursing over it like a baboon. Let's talk of
something else; and lend me five pounds, and a suit of clothes. I
shan't run away with them, for as I've been thrown ashore here, here I
Frank almost laughed at the free and easy request, though he felt
at once pained by the man's irreligion, and abashed by his
Stoicism;--would he have behaved even as well in such a case?
"I have not five pounds in the world."
"Good! we shall understand each other better."
"But the suit of clothes you shall have at once."
"Good again! Let it be your oldest; for I must do a little
rock-scrambling here, for purposes of my own."
So off went Frank to fetch the clothes, puzzling over his new
parishioner. The man was not altogether well bred, either in voice or
manner; but there was an ease, a confidence, a sense of power, which
made Frank feel that he had fallen in with a very strong nature; and
one which had seen many men, and many lands, and profited by what it
When he returned, he found the stranger busy at his ablutions, and
gradually appearing as a somewhat dapper, handsome fellow, with a
bright grey eye, a short nose, a firm, small mouth, a broad and
upright forehead, across the left side of which ran a fearful scar.
"That's a shrewd mark," said he, as he caught Frank's eye fixed on it,
while he sat coolly arranging himself on the bedside. "I got it in
fair fight, though, by a Crow's tomahawk in the Rocky Mountains. And
here's another token (lifting up his black curls), which a Greek
robber gave me in the Morea. I've another under my head, for which I
have to thank a Tartar, and one or two more little remembrances of
flood and field up and down me. Perhaps they may explain to you why
I take life and death so coolly. I've looked too often at the little
razor-bridge which parts them, to care much for either. Now, don't
let me trouble you any longer. You have your flock to see to, I don't
doubt. You'll find me at church on Sunday. I always do at Rome as Rome
"Then you will stay away," said Frank, with a sad smile.
"Ah? No. Church is respectable and aristocratic; and there one don't
get sent to a place unmentionable, ten times an hour, by some inspired
tinker. Beside, country people like the Doctor to go to church with
their betters; and the very fellows who go to the Methodist meeting
themselves would think it _infra dig._ in me to walk in there. Now,
good-bye--though I haven't introduced myself--not knowing the name of
my kind preserver."
"My name is Frank Headley, Curate of the Parish," said Frank, smiling:
though he saw the man was rattling on for the purpose of preventing
his talking on serious matters.
"And mine is Tom Thurnall, F.R.C.S., Licentiate of the Universities
of Paris, Glasgow, and whilome surgeon of the good clipper Hesperus,
which you saw wrecked last night. So, farewell!"
"Come over with me, and have some breakfast."
"No, thanks; you'll be busy. I'll screw some out of old bottles here."
"And now," said Tom Thurnall to himself, as Frank left the room, "to
begin life again with an old penknife and a pound of honeydew. I
wonder which of them got my girdle. I'll stick here till I find out
that one thing, and stop the notes by to-day's post if I can but
recollect them all;--if I could but stop the nugget, too!"
So saying, he walked down into the surgery, and looked round.
Everything was in confusion. Cobwebs were over the bottles, and armies
of mites played at bo-peep behind them. He tried a few drawers, and
found that they stuck fast; and when he at last opened one, its
contents were two old dried-up horse-balls, and a dirty tobacco-pipe.
He took down a jar marked Epsom salts, and found it full of Welsh
snuff; the next, which was labelled cinnamon, contained blue vitriol.
The spatula and pill-roller were crusted with deposits of every hue.
The pill-box drawer had not a dozen whole boxes in it; and the counter
was a quarter of an inch deep in deposit of every vegetable and
mineral matter, including ends of string, tobacco ashes, and broken
Tom took up a dirty duster, and set to work coolly to clear up,
whistling away so merrily that he brought in Heale.
"I'm doing a little in the way of business, you see."
"Then you really are a professional practitioner, sir, as Mr. Headley
informs me: though, of course, I don't doubt the fact?" said Heale,
summoning up all the little courage he had, to ask the question with.
"F.R.C.S. London, Paris, and Glasgow. Easy enough to write and
ascertain the fact. Have been medical officer to a poor-law union, and
to a Brazilian man-of-war. Have seen three choleras, two army fevers,
and yellow-jack without end. Have doctored gunshot wounds in the two
Texan wars, in one Paris revolution, and in the Schleswig-Holstein
row; beside accident practice in every country from California to
China, and round the world and back again. There's a fine nest of Mr.
Weekes's friend (if not creation), Acarus Horridus," and Tom went on
dusting and arranging.
Heale had been fairly taken aback by the imposing list of
acquirements, and looked at his guest awhile with considerable awe:
suddenly a suspicion flashed across him, which caused him (not unseen
by Tom) a start and a look of self-congratulatory wisdom. He next
darted out of the shop, and returned as rapidly, rather redder about
the eyes, and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"But, sir, though, though"--began he--"but, of course you will allow
me, being a stranger--and as a man of business--all I have to say is,
if--that is to say--"
"You want to know why, if I've had all these good businesses, why I
haven't kept them?"
"Ex--actly," stammered Heale much relieved.
"A very sensible and business-like question: but you needn't have been
so delicate about asking it as to want a screw before beginning."
"Ah, you're a wag, sir," keckled the old man,
"I'll tell you frankly; I have an old father, sir,--a gentleman, and a
scholar, and a man of science; once in as good a country practice as
man could have, till, God help him, he went blind, sir--and I had to
keep him, and have still. I went over the world to make my fortune and
never made it; and sent him home what I did make, and little enough
too. At last, in my despair, I went to the diggings, and had a pretty
haul--I needn't say how much. That matters little now; for I suppose
it's at the bottom of the sea. There's my story, sir, and a poor
one enough it is,--for the dear old man, at least." And Tom's voice
trembled so as he told it, that old Heale believed every word, and,
what is more, being--like most hard drinkers--not "unused to the
melting mood," wiped his eyes fervently, and went off for another drop
of comfort; while Tom dusted and arranged on, till the shop began to
look quite smart and business-like.
"Now, sir!"--when the old man came back--"business is business,
and beggars must not be choosers. I don't want to meddle with your
practice; I know the rules of the profession: but if you'll let me
sit here and mix your medicines for you, you'll have the more time to
visit your patients, that's clear,"--and, perhaps (thought he), to
drink your brandy-and-water,--"and when any of them are poisoned by
me, it will be time to kick me out. All I ask is, bed and board. Don't
be frightened for your spirit-bottle, I can drink water; I've done it
many a time, for a week together, in the prairies, and been thankful
for a half-pint in the day."
"But, sir, your dignity as a--"
"Fiddlesticks for dignity; I must live, sir. Only lend me a couple of
sheets of paper and two queen's heads, that I may tell my friends my
whereabouts,--and go and talk it over with Mrs. Heale. We must never
act without consulting the ladies."
That day Tom sent off the following epistle:--
"_To_ CHARLES SHUTER, Esq., M.D, _St. Mumpsimus's Hospital, London_.
"'I do adjure thee, by old pleasant days,
Quartier Latin, and neatly-shod grisettes
By all our wanderings in quaint by-ways,
By ancient frolics, and by ancient debts,'
"Go to the United Bank of Australia forthwith, and stop the notes
whose numbers--all, alas! which I can recollect--are enclosed. Next,
lend me five pounds. Next, send me down, as quick as possible, five
pounds' worth of decent drugs, as per list; and--if you can borrow
me one--a tolerable microscope, and a few natural history books, to
astound the yokels here with: for I was shipwrecked here last night,
after all at a dirty little west-country port, and what's worse,
robbed of all I had made at the diggings, and start fair, once more,
to run against cruel Dame Fortune, as Colston did against the Indians,
without a shirt to my back. Don't be a hospitable fellow, and ask me
to come up and camp with you. Mumpsimus's and all old faces would be a
great temptation: but here I must stick till I hear of my money, and
physic the natives for my daily bread."
To his father he wrote thus, not having the heart to tell the truth:--
"_To_ EDWARD THURNALL, Esq., M.D., _Whitbury_.
"My Dearest Old Father--I hope to see you again in a few weeks, as
soon as I have settled a little business here, where I have found a
capital opening for a medical man. Meanwhile let Mark or Mary write
and tell me how you are--and for sending you every penny I can spare,
trust me. I have not had all the luck I expected; but am as hearty as
a bull, and as merry as a cricket, and fall on my legs, as of old,
like a cat. I long to come to you; but I mustn't yet. It is near three
years since I had a sight of that blessed white head, which is the
only thing I care for under the sun, except Mark and little Mary--big
Mary I suppose she is now, and engaged to be married to some 'bloated
aristocrat.' Best remembrances to old Mark Armsworth.
"Your affectionate son,
"Mr. Heale," said Tom next, "are we Whigs or Tories here?"
"Why--ahem, sir, my Lord Scoutbush, who owns most hereabouts, and my
Lord Minchampstead, who has bought Carcarrow moors above,--very old
Whig connections, both of them; but Mr. Trebooze, of Trebooze, he,
again, thorough-going Tory--very good patient he was once, and may be
again--ha! ha! Gay young man, sir--careless of his health; so you see
as a medical man, sir--"
"Which is the liberal paper? This one? Very good." And Tom wrote off
to the liberal paper that evening a letter, which bore fruit ere the
week's end, in the shape of five columns, headed thus:--
WRECK OF THE "HESPERUS."
"The following detailed account of this lamentable catastrophe has
been kindly contributed by the graphic pen of the only survivor,
Thomas Thurnall, Esquire, F.R.C.S., &c. &c. &c., late surgeon on board
the ill-fated vessel." Which five columns not only put a couple of
guineas into Tom's pocket, but, as he intended they should, brought
him before the public as an interesting personage, and served as
a very good advertisement to the practice which Tom had already
established in fancy.
Tom had not worked long, however, before the Coast-guard Lieutenant
bustled in. He had trotted home to shave and get his breakfast, and
was trotting back again to the shore.
"Hillo, Heale! can I see the fellow who was saved last night?"
"I am that fellow," says Tom.
"The dickens you are! you seem to have fallen on your legs quickly
"It's a trick I've had occasion to learn, sir," says Tom. "Can I
prescribe for you this morning?"
"Medicine?" roars the Lieutenant, laughing. "Catch me at it! No; I
want you to come down to the shore, and help to identify goods and
things. The wind has chopped up north, and is blowing dead on; and,
with this tide, we shall have a good deal on shore. So, if you're
"I'm always strong enough to do my duty," said Tom.
"Hum! Very good sentiment, young man. Always strong enough for
duty.--Hum! worthy of Nelson; said pretty much the same, didn't he?
something about duty I know it was, and always thought it uncommon
fine.--Now, then, what can you tell me about this business?"
It was a sad story; but no sadder than hundreds beside. They had been
struck by the gale to the westward two days before, with the wind
south; had lost their foretopmast and boltsprit, and become all but
unmanageable; had tried during a lull to rig a jury-mast, but were
prevented by the gale, which burst on them with fresh fury from the
south-west, with very heavy rain and fog; had passed a light in the
night, which they took for Scilly, but which must have been the
Longships; had still fancied that they were safe, running up Channel
with a wide berth, when, about sunset, the gale had chopped again to
north-west;--and Tom knew no more. "I was standing on the poop with
the captain about ten o'clock. The last words he said to me were,--'If
this lasts, we shall see Brest harbour to-morrow,' when she struck,
and stopped dead. I was chucked clean off the poop, and nearly
overboard; but brought up in the mizen rigging. Where the captain
went, poor fellow, Heaven alone knows; for I never saw him after.
The mainmast went like a carrot. The mizen stood. I ran round to the
cabin-doors. There were four men steering; the wheel had broke out of
the poor fellows' hands, and knocked them over,--broken their limbs,
I believe. I was stooping to pick them up, when a sea came into the
waist, and then aft, washing me in through the saloon-doors, among the
poor half-dressed women and children. Queer sight, Lieutenant! I've
seen a good many, but never worse than that. I bolted to my cabin,
tied my notes and gold round me, and out again."
"Didn't desert the poor things?"
"Couldn't if I'd tried; they clung to me like a swarm of bees. 'Gad,
sir, that was hard lines! to have all the pretty women one had waltzed
with every evening through the Trades, and the little children one had
been making playthings for, holding round one's knees, and screaming
to the doctor to save them. And how the ---- was I to save them,
sir?" cried Tom, with a sudden burst of feeling, which, as in so many
Englishmen, exploded in anger to avoid melting in tears.
"Ought to be a law against it, sir," growled the Lieutenant; "against
women-folk and children going to sea. It's murder and cruelty. I've
been wrecked, scores of times; but it was with honest men, who could
shift for themselves, and if they were drowned, drowned; but didn't
screech and catch hold--I couldn't stand that! Well?"
"Well, there was a pretty little creature, an officer's widow, and two
children. I caught her under one arm, and one of the children under
the other;--said 'I can't take you all at once; I'll come back for the
rest, one by one.'--Not that I believed it; but anything to stop the
screaming; and I did hope to put some of them out of the reach of the
sea, if I could get them forward. I knew the forecastle was dry, for
the chief officer was firing there. You heard him?"
"Yes, five or six times; and then he stopped suddenly."
"He had reason.--We got out. I could see her nose up in the air forty
feet above us, covered with fore-cabin passengers. I warped the lady
and the children upward--Heaven knows how; for the sea was breaking
over us very sharp--till we were at the mainmast stump, and holding on
by the wreck of it. I felt the ship stagger as if a whale had struck
her, and heard a roar and a swish behind me, and looked back--just in
time to see mizen, and poop, and all the poor women and children in
it, go bodily, as if they had been shaved off with a knife. I suppose
that altered her balance; for before I could turn again she dived
forward, and then rolled over upon her beam ends to leeward, and I saw
the sea walk in over her from stem to stern like one white wall, and I
was washed from my hold, and it was all over."
"What became of the lady?"
"I saw a white thing flash by to leeward,--what's the use of asking?"
"But the child you held?"
"I didn't let it go till there was good reason."
Tom tapped the points of his fingers smartly against the side of
his head, and then went on, in the same cynical drawl, which he had
"I heard that--against a piece of timber as we went overboard And,
as a medical man, I considered after that, that I had done my duty.
Pretty little boy it was, just six years old: and such a fancy for
The Lieutenant was quite puzzled by Tom's seeming nonchalance.
"What do you mean, sir? Did you leave the child to perish?"
"Confound you, sir! If you will have plain English, here it is. I tell
you I heard the child's skull crack like an egg-shell! There, let's
talk no more about it, or the whole matter. It's a bad business, and
I'm not answerable for it, or you either; so let's go and do what we
are answerable for, and identify--"
"Sir! you will be so good as to recollect," said the Lieutenant, with
"I do; I do! I beg your pardon a thousand times, I'm sure, for being
so rude: but you know as well as I, sir, there are a good many things
in the world which won't stand too much thinking over; and last night
"Very true, very true; but how did you get ashore?"
"I get ashore? Oh, well enough! Why not?"
"'Gad, sir, you were near enough being drowned at last; only that
girl's pluck saved you."
"Well; but it did save me: and here I am, as I knew I should be when I
first struck out from the ship."
"Knew!--that is a bold word for mortal man at sea."
"I suppose it is: but we doctors, you see, get into the way of looking
at things as men of science; and the ground of science is experience;
and, to judge from experience, it takes more to kill me than I have
yet met with. If I had been going to be snuffed out, it would have
happened long ago."
"Hum! It's well to carry a cheerful heart; but the pitcher goes often
to the well, and comes home broken at last."
"I must be a gutta-percha pitcher, I think, then, or else--
"'There's a sweet little cherub who sits up aloft,' etc.
as Dibdin has it. Now, look at the facts yourself, sir," continued the
stranger, with a recklessness half true, half assumed to escape from
the malady of thought. "I don't want to boast, sir; I only want
to show you that I have some practical reason for wearing as my
motto--'Never say die.' I have had the cholera twice, and yellow-jack
beside: five several times I have had bullets through me; I have been
bayoneted and left for dead; I have been shipwrecked three times--and
once, as now, I was the only man who escaped; I have been fatted by
savages for baking and eating, and got away with a couple of friends
only a day or two before the feast. One really narrow chance I had,
which I never expected to squeeze through: but, on the whole, I have
taken full precautions to prevent its recurrence."
"What was that, then?"
"I have been hanged, sir," said the doctor quietly.
"Hanged?" cried the Lieutenant, facing round upon his strange
companion with a visage which asked plainly enough--"You hanged? I
don't believe you; and if you have been hanged, what have you been
doing to get hanged?"
"You need not take care of your pockets, sir,--neither robbery
nor murder was it which brought me to the gallows; but innocent
bug-hunting. The fact is, I was caught by a party of Mexicans, during
the last war, straggling after plants and insects, and hanged as a
spy. I don't blame the fellows: I had no business where I was; and
they could not conceive that a man would risk his life for a few
"But if you were hanged, sir--"
"Why did I not die?--By my usual luck. The fellows were clumsy, and
the noose would not work; so that the Mexican doctor, who meant to
dissect me, brought me round again; and being a freemason, as I am,
stood by me,--got me safe off, and cheated the devil."
The worthy Lieutenant walked on in silence, stealing furtive glances
at Tom, as if he had been a guest from the other world, but not
disbelieving his story in the least. He had seen, as most old navy
men, so many strange things happen, that he was prepared to give
credit to any tale when told, as Tom's was, with a straightforward and
"There lives the girl who saved you," said he, as they passed Grace
"Ah? I ought to call and pay my respects."
But Grace was not at home. The wreck had emptied the school; and Grace
had gone after her scholars to the beach.