Literary Thoughts edition presents Tales from the Works of G. A. Henty by G. A. Henty ------ "Tales from the Works of G. A. Henty" is a collection of excerpted stories from the tales of George Alfred Henty (short: G. A. Henty, 1832–1902), a prolific English novelist. All books of the Literary Thoughts edition have been transscribed from original prints and edited for better reading experience. Please visit our homepage www.literarythoughts.com to see our other publications.
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Liczba stron: 213
Transscribed and Published by Jacson Keating (editor)
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FROM "THE PLAGUE SHIP."
[Mr. Thompson, at one time second mate of the whaling ship The Two Brothers, was telling his three nieces the story of his last voyage in that ship. At Singapore, on her way home from the South Seas, she had taken on board, as passengers, a Mr. Williams and his wife and daughter. Mr. Williams had been working for twenty years among the Papuans as missionary. On the homeward voyage they had been blown down by a hurricane among the Malay Islands, and had been attacked by the Malays, but had beaten them off. Having told the story of that engagement, Mr. Thompson went on—]
The breeze for the next ten days was steady and favourable. We were fairly on our way now, and began to hope that our ill-luck was at an end, and that we were going to make a fast and comfortable homeward run. Ten days after we had left the island the look-out reported a sail. We were taking a slight breeze along with us, and we came up fast to the ship, which was lying becalmed.
"What can she be doing, Mr. Wilson?" the captain said. "She has got nothing above her topsails, although she must see that we are bringing down a breeze with us."
"Can't make her out, sir," Mr. Wilson replied. He fetched a glass from the companion and raised it to his eye. "Her ensign's reversed, sir," he exclaimed. "She is in distress somehow."
We bore down to her, and the skipper threw the barque up into the wind within a hundred yards of her. Till we got close we could not see a soul on deck, but now a head appeared above the bulwark.
"What's the matter with you?" the captain shouted.
"We have got fever on board. The captain and both mates are dead. There are only seven of us left alive, and two of them have got it. For God's sake help us!"
The men had shown themselves brave enough in their fight with the Malays, but standing as they were by the bulwark, watching the strange ship, there wasn't one but shrank back when he heard that hail. And well they might, for when the Indian fever gets on board a ship there is no saying what may come of it. There were white faces on the poop too, and I reckon that there wasn't one of us who didn't feel a cold thrill run through him.
"What's to be done?" the captain said in a low voice, more as if he was asking the question of himself than us.
At first no one spoke, and then Mr. Williams said:
"Our duty is clear. God has sent us here to their aid, and whatever be the risk, we must run it; we cannot sail away and leave them to perish."
"It is a terrible choice to have to make," the captain said huskily. "I am responsible for the lives of all on board this ship, passengers and crew. I know what these fevers are; they go right through a ship. There are but seven men alive now on yonder vessel; another day or two there may not be one. If we have dealings with them, their fate may be ours."
"We are all in God's hands," the clergyman said quietly. "I have over and over again risked the lives of my dear ones in His service, and I am ready to do so again. You agree with me," he said, turning to his wife and daughter, "that, however great the danger, it is our duty to aid these poor creatures?"
Mrs. Williams glanced piteously at her daughter, and her lip quivered, but she bowed her head in assent, while Jane exclaimed:
"Of course, father; who could hesitate for a moment?"
The skipper looked at the rest of us. Not one of us but would rather have met a score of prahus, crowded with Malays thirsting for our blood, than have boarded that ship; but after Jane Williams had spoken not one but was ashamed to say what he thought. At last, seeing none of the others would speak, I answered:
"If the ladies are ready to take the risk, sir, it is not for us men to draw back. As Mr. Williams says, we are all in God's hands, so let us do our duty."
"So be it," the captain said solemnly; and turning to the men, who were clustered in the waist, he ordered a boat to be lowered.
There was a general shout of "No! no! It will be throwing away our lives!"
Then an old sailor came forward.
"My mates have asked me, captain, to speak for them, and say that they are of one mind that it will be just throwing away our lives to board that ship. We are ready to obey you, Captain Peters, to do our duty like men in storm or calm, but we won't have the plague brought on board this ship."
There was a general chorus of assent, and some of the men sprang to the braces, and prepared to haul the yards aft and put her on her course again. We looked at the captain for orders. There were but three of us, for the trader and the parson couldn't be reckoned upon in a fight against the crew, and the passenger mate was still laid up with his leg.
"Men," the skipper said, "remember that there are seven sailors like yourselves on board that ship who must die if you don't go to their rescue. Think what your feelings would be if you were in their case, and a ship came up within hailing distance, and sailed away and left you to die."
"It comes to this, sir," the spokesman said. "Like enough they will die anyhow, whether they stop there or whether they come on board. It ain't a case of saving their lives, for maybe they wouldn't be saved after all; we should be just throwing away our lives for nothing."
Maybe the skipper was somewhat of the same opinion. Anyhow there was no good trying to use force, for they were eight to one against us. He half turned round, and wouldn't, I think, have said any more, when Jane Williams stepped forward to the poop rail.
"Men," she said, "my father has told me so much of English sailors, how brave they are, how ready to risk their lives for others, that I cannot think you really mean to sail away and desert these poor people. We are ready, my father, mother, and I, to run the risk; surely you will do the same."
The men stood silent a minute, and then, one after another, turned away, as if they could not stand her pleading face. But I could see that they were still determined not to risk having the plague on board. The sailor said a word or two to his mates and then turned to her.
"There is not a man of this crew, Miss," he said, "but would do anything for you. Not one but would risk his life for you in a right-down manful fight. But we are not ready to die like dogs, and that when maybe no good whatever would come of it; and we don't hold that, just on the chance of saving seven lives, we are called upon to risk losing thirty."
Jane turned round with a different expression on her face. I never saw any one look like it, and never shall again; but it seemed to me that her face all shone, and she said:
"Then, father, we at least can do our duty, and our place is there."
Her father understood her.
"You are right, Jane, quite right, my child. Captain, will you give us one of the boats? I and my wife and daughter will go on board that ship. Will you leave our things at the Cape when you touch there, for us to pick up, if it is God's will we ever reach the land?"
The captain stood like one dumb; then I said: "Captain Peters, as it seems that there are no officers on board the ship, I will, if you will give me permission, go on board her also and take charge."
"Very well, Mr. Thompson; if such is your wish I shall certainly not oppose it, and I honour you for the proposal."
"Can you spare me four men, sir, if I can get them to volunteer?"
The captain nodded, and I turned to the men.
"My lads," I said, "Mr. Williams, his wife and daughter, are going on board that ship; they are going to leave The Two Brothers for good, and to throw in their lot with those poor wretches there. With the captain's permission I am going to take command of her, and I want four volunteers to go with me. I want no men with wives and children dependent upon them, for we shall be taking our lives in our hands. I want four men who have no one to grieve for them at home if they die in doing their duty. I want four true English hearts who will imitate the example set them by these ladies."
Eight of the men stepped forward at once. Sailors are curious creatures. There wasn't one of them but had shrunk from the idea, of the introduction of fever on board The Two Brothers; but to go on board the pest-stricken vessel was an act of heroism which they were ready to perform. Besides, though they had refused to respond to the appeal of Jane Williams, and had held together as a body, there was not one of them who did not at heart feel ashamed at being beaten in courage by a girl. The eight men who stepped forward were, I believe, the only unmarried men among the crew, and I believe that had I asked them there wasn't a man but would have gone.
I chose four of them, and in a few minutes they had got their kits out of the fo'castle and placed them in one of the boats. The steward brought the boxes from the passengers' cabin, and the captain ordered a barrel of vinegar and a keg of powder to be hoisted into the boat. Just as the men were getting ready to lower her from the davits, the sailor who had acted as spokesman came forward.
"Captain Peters, the men wants me to say as they have changed their minds and are ready to go off and bring those men on board. It isn't in nature for men to stand by and see themselves beaten by two women."
We had a short consultation, but Mr. Williams pointed out that the plan arranged was the best, as only those who went on board the ship were running a risk; while if the men were brought on board The Two Brothers the whole crew might be carried off.
"Thank you, men, for your offer," he said to them, when we had talked it over; "but the other plan is clearly the best, and I ask each and all of you to offer up a prayer to Almighty God that He will protect us in this work which we undertake for His sake."
The clergyman uncovered, as did every man on board, and you could have heard a pin drop as he prayed. Then those who were to go took their places in the boat, and as the skipper handed in the ladies, every man stood bareheaded. Not a word was said. I don't think any one could have trusted himself to speak. I gave the word, the boat was lowered, and the falls unhooked.
"God bless you all!" the captain said in a broken voice.
There was a sort of murmur from the rest, and I don't believe there was a dry eye on the ship as we rowed away.
"Now, lads," I said as we got near the vessel, "you must remember that the best preservative against the fever is to keep up your spirits. You must make up your minds that you have come on board to fight it, and you don't mean to be beaten, and with God's help and protection I think that we shall win the day. You were all cheery and confident when those Malays were coming on to attack us; we must fight the fever in just the same spirit."
A rope was thrown as we came alongside, and I mounted on to the deck; just as I did so there came a cheer from The Two Brothers. It was a strange sort of cheer, but we understood that while our messmates wanted to say good-bye to us, their voices were too much choked to come out clear and strong.
"Give them a cheer back, lads," I said; and though there were only six men, the shout we gave was a deal louder and heartier than that of the whole crew of The Two Brothers; the ladies waved their handkerchiefs. Then we heard the skipper's voice across the water giving orders; the yards swung round, and The Two Brothers began to slip through the water again on her course. Then I jumped down from the rail on to the deck of the vessel. Four men were standing there. They looked ghastly and shrunken, as if they had scarce strength enough to haul at a rope.
"Now, my lads," I said, "I have been sent on board to take the command here. I have four hands with me, and two ladies and a clergyman have been brave enough to come to nurse and help you. Where are the others?"
"The two who are down with the fever are in their bunks; the other man is seeing after them."
"Are there any dead on board?"
"Yes; the captain and first mate are lying dead aft. One died yesterday, the other two days ago. There are two or three forward. It seemed no use to bury them."
The tone in which the man spoke showed how thoroughly he had lost heart.
"Well, my lads," I said, "now you have got to bestir yourselves. I shall not let my men come on board till the ship's cleared of dead. After that they will come and make things tidy and shipshape. Just fetch up an old sail and some needles; get some shot out of the rack. First of all I will give you each some quinine."
Two bottles were handed me up from the boat, and then I cast off the rope.
"Drop behind a hundred yards or so," I said to the men, "and don't come up until I hail you."
The thought that help was at hand cheered up the five sailors, and they set about the work with a will. One of them happened to be the sail-maker, and when the others brought up the bodies from the cabin he sewed them up roughly in canvas, with a couple of shot at their feet. As fast as they were done up we hove them overboard. In an hour it was finished. Then I hailed the boat, and when it came up told the men to come on deck.
"Mr. Williams," I said, "I shall let you tow behind for a bit until I have got things pretty straight."
Then we set to work in earnest. I flashed off a lot of gunpowder in the cabins and fo'castle, and then sluiced everything with vinegar and water. We washed down the floors and decks and everything we could get at. Then, when we had done everything we could to get the ship sweet, we hauled the boat alongside, got our passengers up, hoisted up the boat, squared our sails, and laid her head on her course.
We rigged up a sort of awning, and brought the two sick men out of the fo'castle, and slung cots for them under it, and the two ladies at once took charge of them. Then we set to work to get up a little tent for the ladies on the poop. We rigged an awning over the fo'castle for the rest of us, for I thought it better that no one should sleep below.
That night one of the sick men died, but the next day the other showed signs of mending. This was hopeful, for not one of those who had caught the fever before had recovered. The next day two men of the original crew were down with it. I can't tell you how the two ladies nursed those sick men; if they had been their own brothers they could not have done more for them. The parson helped them.
At first our hands were pretty full, as you may guess, and it was a good thing it was so, for the men had no time to think or to wonder whose turn was to come next. All hands were on duty during the day, and at night I divided them into two watches, four men in one and three in the other.
I kept on deck all night, and managed to get a sleep in the daytime. Night and morning all hands mustered for prayers; and often, as we went about our work during the day, we could hear Jane Williams singing a hymn, as she sat beside the sick men. The calmness of the two ladies did more even than work to keep up the men's heart and courage; and even the three of the old crew still on their feet picked up and grew hopeful. Neither of the two men last attacked died; and when four days more passed without anyone else sickening, we began to think that the fever had lost its power.
But one morning, just as the dawn was stealing over the sky, Mrs. Williams came out from the little tent on the poop, and hurried up to me as I was pacing up and down by the rail. There was no need for her to speak. It was light enough to see that her face was pale and her lips quivering, and her hands in a sort of restless flutter. I knew at once that Jane Williams was down with the fever. It seemed to me as if her voice sounded from a long way off as she said:
"Will you call my husband, Mr. Thompson? I fear that our Jane is ill."
It was light enough, but I stumbled against things half a dozen times as I made my way forward and sent the parson to his child. All that day the ship seemed under a spell. The men moved about without speaking a word, and I am sure there wasn't one of them who wouldn't have given his life for hers. It was late in the evening when Mr. Williams came forward, and taking my hand said:
"Jane wishes to speak to you."
Her mother came out of the tent as I went in. I moved up to the side of the cot on which Jane was lying, and took her hand, but I couldn't have spoken if my life depended on it. She smiled quietly up at me.
"I wanted to say good-bye, Dick. I know what you have wished for, but you see God has settled it otherwise, and He knows what is best for us. Do not grieve, dear; we shall meet again, you know!"
She died that night. Before morning a strong breeze sprang up and freshened to a gale. I didn't think we should live through it, short-handed as we were, and cared nothing whether we did or not; but I had to do my duty. We had to cut away many of the sails, for we were too weak to handle them. At last we got her under snug canvas. We ran four days before the gale, and when it died out got sail on again, and made our way safely to the Cape.
The gale had blown the last of the fever away, and by the time we reached the Cape the three sick men were all fit for duty again. When we got there we fumigated and whitewashed her, and shipped some fresh hands and brought her home.
Uncle Dick stopped. The story was told. To him it was ended when Jane Williams died. The three girls were crying quietly, and not a word was spoken till the eldest rose from her seat, and putting her hands on his shoulders, stooped and kissed him.
"And that is the reason, Uncle Dick," she said, "why you never married?"
"I suppose so, Bessy. I have waited. You know she said we should meet again!"
FROM "FACING DEATH."
[Jack Simpson was a young collier working at the Vaughan pit in Lancashire. By careful attention to his work, and by private study of the science of mining, he had raised himself to the position of "viewer" or underground foreman. The mine having been found to be badly ventilated and dangerous, steps were being taken to put it right. But, as the events of the following story show, it was too late.]
One day, when Jack came up from his rounds at ten o'clock, to eat his breakfast and write up his journal of the state of the mine, he saw Mr. Brook (the owner of the mine) and the manager drive up to the pit mouth. Jack shrank back from the little window of the office where he was writing, and did not look out again until he knew that they had descended the mine; he did not wish to have any appearance of thrusting himself forward.
For another hour he wrote; and then the window of the office flew in pieces, the chairs danced, and the walls rocked, while a dull heavy roar, like distant thunder, burst upon his ears.
Jack leaped to his feet and rushed to the door. Black smoke was pouring up from the pit's mouth, sticks and pieces of wood and coal were falling in a shower in the yard; and Jack saw that his worst fears had been realized, and that a terrible explosion had taken place in the Vaughan pit.
For a moment he stood stunned. There were, he knew, over three hundred men and boys in the pit, and he turned faint and sick as the thought of their fate came across him. Then he ran towards the top of the shaft.
The bankman lay insensible at a distance of some yards from the pit, where he had been thrown by the force of the explosion. Two or three men came running up with white scared faces. The smoke had nearly ceased already; the damage was done, and a deadly stillness seemed to reign.
Jack ran into the engine-house. The engineman was leaning against a wall, scared and almost fainting.
"Are you hurt, John?"
"Pull yourself round, man. The first thing is to see if the lift is all right. I see one of the cages is at bank, and the force of the explosion is in the upcast shaft. Just give a turn or two to the engine and see if the winding gear is all right. Slowly."
The engineman turned on the steam; there was a slight movement, and then the engine stopped.
"A little more steam," Jack said. "The cage has caught, but it may come."
There was a jerk, and then the engine began to work.
"That is all right," Jack said, "whether the lower cage is on or not. Stop now, and wind it back, and get the other cage up again. Does the bell act, I wonder?"
Jack pulled the wire which, when in order, struck a bell at the bottom of the shaft, and then looked at a bell hanging over his head for the answer. None came.
"I expect the wire's broken," he said, and went out to the pit's mouth again.
The surface-men were all gathered round now, the tip-men, and the yard-men, and those from the coke-ovens, all looking wild and pale.
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