Read CHAPTER III - THE SECOND GALE of A Dream of the North Sea, free online book, by James Runciman, on

In thirty-six hours the gale had fined off, and the scattered and shattered vessels of the fleet began to draw together; a sullen swell still lunged over the banks, but there was little wind and no danger. Fullerton said, “Now, Ferrier, we have an extra medicine-chest on board, besides Blair’s stock, and you’ve seen the surgery. You’ll have plenty of work presently. After a gale like this there are always scores of accidents that can’t be treated by rough-and-tumble methods. A skipper may manage simple things; we need educated skill. The men are beginning to know Blair’s boat, and I wish we had just twelve like her. You see we’ve got at a good many of the men with our ordinary vessels, and that has worked marvels, but all we’ve done is only a drop in the sea. We want you fellows, and plenty of you. Hullo! What cheer, my lads! what cheer!”

A smack lumbered past with her mainsail gone, and her gear in a sadly tangled condition.

“Can you send us help, sir? We’m got a chap cruel bad hurt.”

“We’ve got a doctor on board; he shall come.”

All round, the rolling sea was speckled with tiny boats that careered from hill to hollow, and hollow to hill, while the two cool rowers snatched the water with sharp dexterous strokes. After the wild ordeal of the past two days these fishers quietly turned to and began ferrying the fish taken in the last haul. While the boat was being got ready, Ferrier gave Mrs. Walton and Miss Dearsley an arm each, and did his best to convey them along the rearing deck. The girl said-

“Is that the steam-carrier I have heard of? How fearful! It makes me want to shut my eyes.”

To Marion Dearsley’s unaccustomed sight the lurching of the carrier was indeed awful, and she might well wonder, as I once did, how any boat ever got away safely. I have often told the public about that frantic scene alongside the steamers, but words are only a poor medium, for not Hugo, nor even Clark Russell, the matchless, could give a fair idea of that daily survival of danger, and recklessness, and almost insane audacity. The skipper was used to put in his word pretty freely on all occasions, for Blair’s men were not drilled in the style of ordinary yachtsmen. Freeman, like all of the schooner’s crew, had been a fisherman, and he grinned with pleasing humour when he heard the young lady’s innocent questions.

“Bless you, Miss, that’s nothing. See ’em go in winter when you can’t see the top of the steamboat’s mast as she gets behind a sea. Many and many’s the one I’ve seen go. They’re used to it, but I once seen a genelman faint-he was weak, poor fellow-and we took aboard a dose of water that left us half-full. He would come at any risk, and when we histed him up on the cutter’s deck, and he comes to, he shudders and he says, ‘That is too horrible. Am I a-dreaming?’ But it’s all use, Miss. Even when some poor fellows is drowned, the men do all they can; and if they fail, they forget next day.”

“Could you edge us towards the cutter, skipper?” said Fullerton.

“Oh, yes. Bear up for the carrier, Bill; mind this fellow coming down.”

The beautiful yacht was soon well under the steamer’s lee, and the ladies watched with dazed curiosity the work of the tattered, filthy, greasy mob who bounded, and strained, and performed their prodigies of skill on the thofts and gunwales of the little boats. Life and limb seemed to be not worth caring for; men fairly hurled themselves from the steamer into the boats, quite careless as to whether they landed on hands or feet, or anyhow. Fullerton exclaimed-

“Just to think that of all those splendid, plucky smacksmen, we haven’t got one yet! I’ve been using the glass, and can’t see a face that I know. How can we? We haven’t funds, and we cannot send vessels out.”

Miss Dearsley’s education was being rapidly completed. Her strong, quick intelligence was catching the significance of everything she saw. The smack with the lost mainsail was drawing near, and the doctor was ready to go, when a boat with four men came within safe distance of the schooner’s side.

“Can you give us any assistance, sir? Our mate’s badly wounded-seems to a’ lost his senses like, and don’t understand.”

A deadly pale man was stretched limply on the top of a pile of fish-boxes. Mrs. Walton said-

“Pray take us away-we cannot bear the sight.”

And indeed Marion Dearsley was as pale as the poor blood-smeared fisherman. Ferrier coolly waited and helped Tom and Fullerton to hoist the senseless, mangled mortal on deck. The crew did all they could to keep the boat steady, but after every care the miserable sufferer fell at last with a sudden jerk across the schooner’s rail. He was too weak to moan.

“Don’t take him below yet,” said Ferrier. “Lennard, you help me. Why, you’ve let his cap get stuck to his head, my man. Warm water, steward”.

The man was really suffering only from extreme loss of blood; a falling block had hit him, and a ghastly flap was torn away from his scalp. That steady, deft Scotchman worked away, in spite of the awkward roll of the vessel, like lightning. He cut away the clotted hair, cleansed the wound; then he said sharply-

“How did you come to let your shipmate lose so much blood?”

“Why, sir, we hadn’t not so much as a pocket-handkerchief aboard. We tried a big handful of salt, but that made him holler awful before he lost his senses, and the wessel was makin’ such heavy weather of it, we couldn’t spare a man to hould him when he was rollin’ on the cabin floor.”

“Yes, sir; Lord, save us!” said another battered, begrimed fellow. “If he’d a-rolled agen the stove we couldn’t done nothin’. We was hard put to it to save the wessel and ourselves.”

“I see now. Steward, my case. This must be sewn up.”

Ferrier had hardly drawn three stitches through, when one of the seamen fainted away, and this complication, added to the inexorable roll of the yacht, made Ferrier’s task a hard one; but the indomitable Scot was on his mettle. He finished his work, and then said-

“Now, my lads, you cannot take your mate on board again. I’m going to give him my own berth, and he’ll stay here.”

“How are we to get him again, sir?”

“That I don’t know. I only know that he’ll die if he has to be flung about any more.”

“Well, sir, you fare to be a clever man, and you’re a good ’un. We’re not three very good ’uns, me and these chaps isn’t, but if you haves a meetin’ Sunday we’re goin’ to be here.”

Then came the usual handshaking, and the two gentlemen’s palms were remarkably unctuous before the visitors departed.

“Look here, Lennard, if I’d had slings something like those used in the troopships for horses, I should have got that poor fellow up as easily as if he’d been a kitten. And now, how on earth are we to lower him down that narrow companion? We must leave it to Freeman and the men. Neither of us can keep a footing. What a pity we haven’t a wide hatchway with slings! That twisting down the curved steps means years off the poor soul’s life.”

The gentle sailors did their best, but the patient suffered badly, and Ferrier found it hard to force beef-tea between the poor fellow’s clenched teeth.

Lucky Tom Betts! Had he been sent back to the smack he would have died like a dog; as it was, he was tucked into a berth between snowy sheets, and Tom Lennard kept watch over him while Ferrier went off to board the disabled smack. All the ladies were able to meet in the saloon now, and even the two invalids eagerly asked at short intervals after the patient’s health. Lucky Tom Betts!

Marion Dearsley begged that she might see him, and Tom gave gracious permission when he thought his charge was asleep. Miss Dearsley was leaning beside the cot. “Like to an angel bending o’er the dying who die in righteousness, she stood,” when she and Lennard met with a sudden surprise. The wounded man opened his great dark eyes that showed like deep shadows on the dead white of his skin; he saw that clear, exquisite face with all the divine fulness of womanly tenderness shining sweetly from the kind eyes, and he smiled-a very beautiful smile. He could speak very low, and the awe-stricken girl murmured-

“Oh, hear him, Mr. Lennard, hear him!”

The man spoke in a slow monotone.

“Its all right, and I’m there arter all. I’ve swoor, and Ive drunk, and yet arter all I’m forgiven. That’s because I prayed at the very last minute, an’ He heerd me. The angel hasn’t got no wings like what they talked about, but that don’t matter; I’m here, and safe, and I’ll meet the old woman when her time comes, and no error; but it ain’t no thanks to me.”

Then the remarkable theologian drew a heavy sigh of gladness, and passed into torpor again. Tom Lennard, in a stage whisper which was calculated to soothe a sick man much as the firing of cannon might, said-

“Well, of all the what’s-his-names, that beats every book that ever was.”

Tears were standing in the lady’s sweet eyes, and there was something hypocritical in the startling cough whereby Thomas endeavoured to pose as a hard and seasoned old medical character.

Meanwhile Ferrier was slung on board the smack which hailed first, and his education was continued with a vengeance.

“Down there, sir!”

Lewis got half way down when a rank waft of acrid and mephitic air met him and half-choked him. He struggled on, and when he found his bearings by the dim and misty light he sat down on a locker and gasped. The atmosphere was heated to a cruel and almost dangerous pitch, and the odour!-oh, Zola! if I dared! A groan from a darkened corner sounded hollow, and Ferrier saw his new patient. The skipper came down and said-

“There he is, sir. When our topmast broke away it ketches him right in the leg, and we could do nothin’. He has suffered some, he has, sir, and that’s true.”

Ferrier soon completed his examination, and he said-

“It’s a mercy I’m well provided. This poor soul must have a constitution like a horse.”

An ugly fracture had been grinding for forty-eight hours, and not a thing could be done for the wretched fellow. Quickly and surely Ferrier set and strapped up the limb; then disposing the patient as comfortably as possible in an unspeakably foul and sloppy berth, he said-

“Let that boy stand by this man, and take care that he’s not thrown from side to side. I must breathe the air, or I shall drop down.” When on deck he said, “Now, my man, what would you have done if you hadn’t met us?”

“Pitched him on board the carrier, sir.”

“With an unset fracture!”

“Well, sir, what could we do? None on us knows nothin’ about things of that sort, and there isn’t enough of Mr. Fullerton’s wessels for one-half of our men. I twigged a sight on him as we run up to you, and I could a-gone on these knees, though I’m not to say one o’ the prayin’ kind.”

“But how long would the carrier be in running home?”

“Forty-eight hours; p’raps fifty-six with a foul wind.”

“Well, that man will have a stiff leg for life as it is, and he would have died if you hadn’t come across me.”

“Likely so, sir, but we don’t have doctors here. Which o’ them would stop for one winter month? Mr. Doctor can’t have no carriage here; he can’t have no pavement under his foot when he goes for to pay his calls and draw his brass. He’d have to be chucked about like a trunk o’ fish, and soft-skinned gents don’t hold with that. No, sir. We takes our chance. A accident is a accident; if you cops it, you cops it, and you must take your chance on the carrier at sea, and the workus at home. Look at them wessels. There’s six hundred hands round us, and every man of ’em would pay a penny a week towards a doctor if the governors would do a bit as well. I’m no scholard, but six hundred pennies, and six hundred more to that, might pay a man middlin’ fair. But where’s your man?”

Ferrier’s education was being perfected with admirable speed.

The yacht came lunging down over the swell, and Freeman shaved the smack as closely as he dared. The skipper hailed: “Are you all right, sir? We must have you back. The admiral says we’re in for another bad time. Glass falling.”

Fender sang out, “I cannot leave my man. You must stand by me somehow or other and take me off when you can.”

The ladies waved their farewells, for people soon grow familiar and unconventional at sea. Blair shouted, “Lennard’s a born hospital nurse, but he’ll overfeed your patient.” Then amid falling shades and hollow moaning of winds the yacht drove slowly away with her foresail still aweather, and the fleet hung around awaiting the admiral’s final decision. The night dropped down; the moon had no power over the rack of dark clouds, and the wind rose, calling now and again like the Banshee. A very drastic branch of Lewis Ferrier’s education was about to begin.

Dear ladies! Kindly men! You know what the softly-lit, luxurious sick-room is like. The couch is delicious for languorous limbs, the temperature is daintily adjusted, the nurse is deft and silent, and there is no sound to jar on weak nerves. But try to imagine the state of things in the sick-room where Ferrier watched when the second gale came away. The smack had no mainsail to steady her, but the best was done by heaving her to under foresail and mizen. She pitched cruelly and rolled until she must have shown her keel. The men kept the water under with the pumps, and the sharp jerk, jerk of the rickety handles rang all night.

“She do drink some,” said the skipper.

Ferrier said, “Yes, she smells like it.”

Down in that nauseating cabin the young man sat, holding his patient with strong, kind hands. The vessel flung herself about, sometimes combining the motions of pitching and rolling with the utmost virulence; the bilge water went slosh, slosh, and the hot, choking odours came forth on the night. Coffee, fish, cheese, foul clothing, vermin of miscellaneous sorts, paraffin oil, sulphurous coke, steaming leather, engine oil-all combined their various scents into one marvellous compound which struck the senses like a blow that stunned almost every faculty. Oh, ladies, have pity on the hardly entreated! Once or twice Ferrier was obliged to go on deck from the fetid kennel, and he left a man to watch the sufferer. The shrill wind seemed sweet to the taste and scent, the savage howl of tearing squalls was better than the creak of dirty timbers and the noise of clashing fish-boxes; but the young man always returned to his post and tried his best to cheer the maimed sailor.

“Does the rolling hurt you badly, my man?”

“Oh! you’re over kind to moither yourself about me, sir. She du give me a twist now and then, but, Lord’s sake, what was it like before you come! I doan’t fare to know about heaven, but I should say, speakin’ in my way, this is like heaven, if I remember yesterday.”

“Have you ever been hurt before?”

“Little things, sir-crushed fingers, sprained foot, bruises when you tumbles, say runnin’ round with the trawl warp. But we doan’t a-seem to care for them so much. We’re bred to patience, you see; and you’re bound to act up to your breedin’. That is it, sir; bred to patience.”

“And has no doctor been out here yet?”

“What could he du? He can’t fare to feel like us. When it comes a breeze he wants a doctor hisself, and how would that suit?”

“Have you eaten anything?”

“Well, no, sir. I was in that pain, sir, and I didn’t want to moither my shipmets no more’n you, so I closes my teeth. It’s the breed, sir-bred to patience.”

“Well, the skipper must find us something now, at any rate.”

There was some cabbage growing rather yellow and stale, some rocky biscuit, some vile coffee, some salt butter, and one delicious fish called a “latchet.” With a boldness worthy of the Victoria Cross, Lewis set himself to broil that fish over the sulphurous fire. He cannot, of course, compute the number of falls which he had; he only knows that he imbued his very being with molten butter and fishy flavours. But he contrived to make a kind of passable mess (of the fish as well as of his clothing), and he fed his man with his own strong hand. He then gave him a mouthful or two of sherry and water, and the simple fellow said-

“God bless you, sir! I can just close my eyes.”

Reader, Lewis Ferrier’s education is improving.