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HUMANITY OF THE MAJOR.
“What are you staring at, Smith ?” asked Lindsay.
Smith was gazing intently in the direction of the head-land. In reply he grasped Lindsay by the arm, and said, “ Look, what is that on the water?"
“Hollo!” said Lindsay, "it looks like a man! There are two of them, I believe. Lend me your glass, Beverley.”
Beverley handed a pocket telescope, with an exclamation of contemptuous indifference.
The first glimpse suficed. “It's a man,” said Lindsay, "standing with his back to us, up to the arm-pits in water, with a child sitting on his shoulder and clinging to his head. We must go to them, Beverley; over with the helm-quick!"
“No, I shall not. What business had he to go there? He must have monstrous legs if it only takes him up to his arm-pits out there. One would think he might walk ashore.”
However, the Major was at length induced to yield a growling assent; partly, no doubt, from the very reasonable suspicion that his companions might be led to use forcible means to effect their object. So the “Sylph” was put about again and bore down towards Martin's reef.
Every eye was now directed towards the motionless object on the water. It seemed to be about a quarter of a mile distant.
The sun was setting; nearly half of it was hidden already. Even Beverley began to display a peevish interest; the anxiety and impatience of every one else was intense. There was something mysterious—almost supernatural-in the aspect of those two human beings, appearing above the surface of the still ocean all crimsoned with the glow of the departing sun.
Lindsay kept the glass upon them as they approached. " He's beginning to sway about,” he said; “I'm afraid he must be giving way.'
“What's he doing there?” said Beverley. “He must like it." The light was dimmer now, and the sun was all but gone.
"Hail him, Pike," cried Lindsay ; "he might hold up if he knew we were coming."
These words were hardly uttered, when a cry broke from the lips of every one on board; the strange group had disappeared, and there was now nothing between them and the rocks but the level sea.
“Keep her away a little, sir,” said Mr. Pike,“ the tide will float them further into the bay.”
Lindsay seized the tiller in order to carry out this suggestion, treating Beverley's momentary resistance with contempt.
The men clustered forward, and Mr. Pike provided himself with a boat-hook. How slowly the “Sylph" seemed to creep along! Whole minutes passed, and with every minute went so much hope. Suddenly Mr. Pike made an eager plunge with his boat-hook. He grappled something and hauled in. Three or four hands grasped the blue jersey in which the hook was fastened; and in another moment the gigantic body of Black Peter was laid on the deck of the “ Sylph."
“But the child !" said Lindsay, “where's the child !"
Just as he spoke, an excited cry, which was almost a scream, burst from the boy who has been mentioned as the junior member of the “Sylph's” crew. He stood pointing to the water-speechless with eagerness.
Looking in the direction indicated, Lindsay saw two little ontstretched arms appearing one after the other, as the body to which they belonged was rolled round on the swell.
"Up with the helm, Beverley,” shouted Lindsay, “there's the child on the water." “I don't care. Haven't we had enough of this? I say,
I will not bother about here any longer; I never was so miserable in my
life.” Lindsay rushed aft and made a dash at the tiller. But Beverley anticipated him, and jammed the helm hard down.
There was a moment's struggle between the two; but the mischief was done; the yacht swept around with ready obedience to her rudder, and in a few seconds was in stays-motionless.
Lindsay started to his feet, and leapt overboard. He swam about till he was exhausted. But nothing was ever seen of May after the two little arms made their mute appeal for help. A single touch of the helm at the right moment would have saved her. Her loss was due to the brutal selfishness of the degraded sot who was steering.
In the meantime Smith devoted his energies to the resuscitation of the inanimate Peter. It soon began to be evident that he was alive, and Smith hastened to procure blankets and dry clothes, while Mr. Pike administered brandy.
Presently Lindsay clambered on deck, dripping. “It's no use,” he said, we had better make the best of our way on. I can only say that fellow ought to be hanged,” pointing to Beverley.
“Well, go below and change,” said Smith, “It won't do to stand here in this dripping state.”
“I can't; Beverley has the key of the inner cabin where my portmanteau is. If I speak to him I shall insult him, and perhaps kick him."
“Bah! you can't insult him, any more than you can insult a dog or a pig. Look at the brute now! I declare I could almost pity him.”
Beverley certainly presented a wretched appearance. He cowered on the deck shivering, and occasionally attering a querulous moan; his face was distorted like that of a crying child. He was not influenced in the least by the events which were going on about him, but
he was in that state of abject misery which often leads the drunkard to commit suicide.
"Boy," said Lindsay, " go and ask Major Beverley for the key of the inner cabin; say Mr. Lindsay wants it."
The key was procured. In the meantime, Peter gradually became conscious. His first words were understood to refer to May.
The boy, who held his head, told him the child was drowned, and explained how Beverley prevented her being saved. Peter raised himself to a sitting posture.
“Who was it did that?” he said in a husky whisper.
“Him !" replied the boy pointing with his finger.
Peter rose to his feet and staggered towards Beverley. As Smith describes it, the expression of his eyes was one not to be forgotten, indicating stern, concentrated resentment. Directly Beverley met that gaze
He clutched Smith by the arm as if for protection, and said in a voice which quivered with fear, “Who is it, Smith ? What have you brought him here for? Where has he come from ?”
Peter, too, was strangely affected by the expression of Beverley's face. He stopped, and raising his hand to his head, said slowly
Robert Main! where am I? Is this another world ?” He then fell to the deck again, exhausted by the effort which a momentary excitement had enabled him to make.
Smith,” said Beverley, “ I shall go mad, I believe. I don't know what I've done for all this to come upon me just now.” Give
me the tiller,” said Smith, “and cover your head with that rug; and then you'll see nobody and nobody will see you; and so all parties will be benefited.
Beverley obeyed and lay down upon the deck with the rug over him.
The same evening V—- and I walked upon the shore of the bay, opposite the vicarage, discussing matters connected with the parish, and watching the sunset.
'What a splendid evening !" I said. “ All seems so calm and peaceful. How gorgeous the tints are on that headland !"
"Yes," replied V-; “Fishpool Bay is not without beauties, notwithstanding its ugly name. The yacht there adds to the picture. I think there are few more graceful objects than a cutter yacht in full sail."
“She is not going to Lower Fishpool, surely,” I said.
How beautifully she does it! What ease and grace! As if she were alive !"
After watching her for some time we perceived that she altered her course slightly, and stood in towards the head. This manæuvre, which had no apparent object, caused us to watch her with renewed interest.
After the lapse of a few minutes, V-- said, “ I fancy I see them hauling something on board out of the water, but it is impossible to see what it is at this distance."
“Look !" said I, “she's coming about again."
“She's coming up into the wind certainly, but there must be some confusion on board; they have not shifted a sail yet. There! Did you see that? A man jumped overboard. I saw the action quite distinctly against the background of the clear sky. I'm afraid she must have struck on Martin's Reef. Shall we walk up to the village and see whether she has been noticed there ?”
I agreed, and we proceeded, not without anxiety, towards Lower Fishpool.
As we approached the village we saw a man coming down the ridge by a rugged footpath, in the opposite direction--from the west, that is. Struck by something remarkable in his appearance and gait, we both paused. Presently V-, to his great surprise and alarm, recognized Joe Cowell, whom we had last seen pulling out of the harbour with Peter and May. He had nothing on but shirt and trousers, and appeared to be quite wet. One side of his face was bruised and bleeding. He was very pale, and reeled about like one drunk. Vand I immediately ran up to him and supported him by each arm.
“What is the matter ?” we asked, both in a breath.
“ The boat struck on Martin's Reef,” he gasped; “Peter and the little girl stopped on the rock; most likely gone by this time; send a boat.” The
poor fellow had fallen down the rocks, and was sadly bruised and hurt. We led him to a cottage, a couple of hundred yards off, and then hurried into the village, full of consternation. There we heard that the yacht had been seen to pick up a man in the neighbourhood of Martin's Reef, and, after remaining for a time, as if in search of somebody else, had sailed off round the head-probably to Upper Fishpool.
“Let us go to Upper Fishpool,” said V-, “it is barely a mile over the ridge."
Accordingly to Upper Fishpool we went; and after a most toilsome walk of twenty minutes we found ourselves on the shore again. A few hundred yards off was the yacht, evidently making in our direction. Her boat, which was already lowered, she had in tow.
Almost the first person we saw on the beach was a lady who was walking about with some appearance of anxiety, as though waiting for
The same thought struck us both it was the mother.
THE YACHT AND ITS NEWS.
“ I am
“Had we not better say something to her ?” said Vinclined to fear that the child may be drowned, from what they told us at Lower Fishpool; and if not she must be half drowned.”
"Do you speak,” said V-, as we approached.
I walked forward and bowed. “You are waiting for your daughter, I believe, ma'am," I said.
“Yes,” she replied anxiously; "why do you ask ?”
“Because,” I said, “though I am not absolutely the bearer of bad news, I think I ought to tell you that an accident has happened, and that even if your child is—is not that is if she should be --"
“Let me intreat you, ma’am,” broke in V-, who saw what a wretched hash I was making of it, “not to alarm yourself unnecessarily, but to remember that we are in the hands of God, and that whatever happens is for the best.”
“ Gentlemen," cried the unfortunate lady, “what is the meaning of this ? Pray do not keep me in this dreadful suspense.”
"It is simply," said V-,, " that an accident has happened to the boat which was bringing your daughter here, and there is some doubt about her safety. Let me again entreat you, whatever the issue may be, to remember that it is in accordance with the will of a merciful Providence. You will not be kept long in suspense, for we have reason to believe that this yacht brings us all intelligence."
By this time the yacht had cast anchor about fifty yards from shore; and the boat was hauled alongside. We scrutinized with intense interest the persons who were visible. Two sailors in red caps dropped into the boat first; they were followed by three gentlemen and-unmistakably-Black Peter. The last appeared to require some help in getting into the boat. A few strokes of the oars ran the boat upon the sand.
The first person who jumped ashore was a tall, dark-complexioned young man. To him I addressed myself hurriedly ; “ The child ?” I said.
He shook his head significantly, and I saw that the worst had happened.
“ She is
“Lost,” he whispered, sadly; "there is no doubt about it-no hope.”
My next thought was for the mother, but before I reached her she had heard the fatal news. Her agonizing cry met me as I approached. She was surrounded by a knot of people, many of whom had assembled to look at the yacht as she came up. Among them was one of the yacht's men, who was indignantly relating the story of Beverley's shameful conduct, which the reader already knows.
The bereaved mother, who was supported in the arms of a burly