Charles Dickens.

A message from the sea : The extra Christmas number of All the year round online

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himself. "You're drunk!" says I. "Yes,"
says he ; "that's it stick to that I'm drunk"
and he chuckles again. Try as I mkht, and
threaten as I might, not another wora on the
matter of the five hundred pound could I get
from him. I bore it well in mind, though, for
all that it being one of my slow ways, not easily
to forget anything that has once surprised me,
and not to give up returning to it over and over
again, as time and occasion may serve for the
purpose.

The hours wore on, and the storm raged on.
We had our half rations of food, when nunger
took us (I being much the hungrier of the two) ;
and slept, and grumbled, and quarrelled the
weary time out somehow. Towards dusk the
wind lessened ; and, when I got up, put of the
hollow to look out, there was a faint watery
break in the western heavens. At times, through
the watches of the long night, the stars showed
in patches for a little while, through the rents
that opened and closed by fits in the black sky.
When I fell asleep towards the dawning, the
wind had fallen to a moan, though the sea, slower
to go down, sounded as loud as ever. From
what I could make of the weather, the storm
had, by that time, as good as blown itself out.

1 had been wise enough (knowing who was
near me) to lay myself down, whenever I slept,
on the side of me which was next to the flask
of ginger-brandy, stowed away in my breast-
pocket. When I woke at sunrise, it was the
supercargo's hand that roused me up, trying to
steal my flask while I was asleep. I rolled him
over headlong among the stores out of which I
had the humanity to pull him again, with my
own hands.

" I'll tell you what/* says I, "if us two keep
company any longer, we shan't get on smo6thly
together. You're the oldest man and you stop
here, where we know there is shelter. We will
divide the stores fairly, and I'll go and shift for
myself at the other end of the island. Do you
agree to that ?"



"Yes," says he; "and the sooner the
better."

I left him for a minute, and went away to look
out on the reef that had wrecked us. The
splinters of the Peruvian, scattered broadcast
over the beach, or tossing up and down darkly,
far out in the white surf, were all that remained
to tell of the ship. I don't deny that my heart
sank, when I looked at the place where she
struck, and saw nothing before me but sea and
sky.

But what was the use of standing and look-
ing ? It was a deal better to rouse myself by
doing something. I returned to Mr. Clissold
and then and there divided the stores into two
equal parts, including everything down to the
matches in my pocket. Of these parts I gave
him first choice. I also left him the whole of
the tarpaulin to himself keeping in my own
possession the medicine-chest, and the pisto].;
which last I loaded with powder and shot, in
case any sea-birds might fly within reach. When
the division was made, and when I had moved
my part out of his way and out of his sight, I
thought it uncivil to bear malice any longer, now
that we had agreed to separate. We were cast
away on a desert island, and we had death, as
well as I could see, within about three weeks'
hail of us but that was no reason for not
making things reasonably pleasant as long as
we could. I was some time (in consequence of
my natural slowness where matters of seafaring
duty don't happen to be concerned) before I
came to this conclusion. When I did come to
it, I acted on it.

" Shake hands, before parting," I said, suit-
ing the action to the word.

" No !" says he ; " I don't like you."

" Please yourself," says I and so we parted.

Turning my back on the west, which was his
territory according to agreement, I walked away
towards the south-east, where the sides of the
island rose highest. Here I found a sort of half
rift, half cavern, in the rocky banks, which looked
as likely a place as any other and to this re-
fuge I moved my share of the stores. I thatched
it over as well as I could with scrub, and heaped
up some loose stones at the mouth of it. At
home in England, I should have been ashamed
to put my dog in such a place but when a
man believes his days to be numbered, he is not
over-particular about his lodgings, and I was
not over-particular about mine.

W'hen my work was done, the heavens were
fair, the sun was shining, and it was long past
noon. I went up again to the high ground, to
see what I could make out in the new clearness
of the air. North, east, and west there was
nothing but sea and sky but, south, I now saw
land. It was high, and looked to be a matter
of seven or eight miles off. Island, or not, it
must have been of a good size for me to see it
as I did. Known or not known to mariners, it
was certainly big enough to have living creatures
on it animals or men, or both. If I had not
lost the boat in my second attempt to reach the
vessel, we might have easily got to it. But



40 [December 13, I860.]



A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA.



[Conducted by



situated as we were now, with no wood to make
a boat of but the scattered splinters from the
ship, and with no tools to use even that much,
there might just as well have been no land in
sight at all, so far as we were concerned. The
poor hope of a ship coming our road, was still
the only hope left. To give us all the little
chance we might get that way, I now looked
about on the beach for the longest morsel of a
wrecked spar that I could find ; planted it on
the high ground; and rigged up to it the one
shirt I had on my back for a signal. While
coming and going on this job, I noted with
great joy that rain water enough lay in the
hollows of the rocks above the sea line, to save
our small store of fresli water for a week at
least. Thinking it only fair to the supercargo
to let him know what 1 had found out, I went
to his territories, after setting up the morsel of
a spar, and discreetly shouted my news down to
him without showing myself. " Keep to your
own side!" was all the thanks I got for this
piece of civility. I went back to my own side
immediately, and crawled into my little cavern,
quite content to be alone. On that first night,
strange as it seems now, I once or twice nearly
caught myself feeling happy at the thought of
being rid of Mr. Lawrence Clissold.

According to my calculations which were
made by tying a fresh knot every morning in a
piece of marline we two men were just a week,
each on his own side of the island, without
seeing or communicating, anyhow, with one
another. The first half of the week, I had
enough to do with cudgelling my brains for a
means of helping ourselves, to keep my mind
steady.

1 thought first of picking up all the longest
bits of spars that had been cast ashore, lashing
them together with ropes twisted out of the
long grass on the island, and trusting to raft-
navigation to get to that high land away in the
south. But when I looked among the spars,
there were not half a dozen of them left whole
enough for the purpose. And even if there
had "been more, the short allowance of food
would not have given me time sufficient, or
strength sufficient, to gather the grass, to twist
it into ropes, and to lash a raft together big
enough and strong enough for us two men.
There was nothing to be done, but to give up
this notion and I gave it up. The nexl
chance I thought of was to keep a fire burning
on the shore every night, with the wood of the
wreck, in case vessels at sea might notice it
on one side or the people of the" high land in
the south (if the distance was not too great
might notice it, on the other. There was sense
in this notion, and it could be turned to accoun
the moment the wood was dry enough to burn
The wood got dry enough before the week wa;
put. Whether it was the end of the stormy season
in those latitudes, or whether it was only th
shifting of the wind to the west, I don't know
but now, day after day, the heavens were clea
and the sun shone scorching hot. The scru
on the island (which was of no great account



ried up but the fresh water in the hollows of

he rocks (which was, on the other hand, a

erious business) dried up too. Troubles seldom

ome alone ; and on the day when I made this

liscovery, I also found out that T had calculated

vrong about the food. Eke it out as I might,

with scurvy grass and roots, there would not be

above eight days more of it left when the first

week was past and, as for the fresh water,

lalf a pint a day, unless more rain fell, would

eave me at the end of my store, as nearly as I

lOitld guess, about the same time.

This was a bad look-out but I don't think
he prospect of it upset me in my mind, so much
is the having nothing to do. Except for the
gathering of the wood, and the lighting of the
ignal-fire, every night, I had no work at all,
owards the end of the week, to keep me steady.
1 checked myself in thinking much about home,
'or fear of losing heart, and not holding out to
;he last, as became a man. For the same reasons
[ likewise kept my mind from raising hopes of
lelp in me which were not likely to come true.
What else was there to think about ? Nothing
but the man on the other side of the island
and be hanged to him !

I thought about those words I heard him say
n his sleep; I thought about how he was
getting on by himself ; how he liked nothing
3ut water to drink, and little enough of that ;
low he was eking out his food; whether he
slept much or not ; whether he saw the smoke
of my fire at night, or not ; whether he held up
better or worse than I did ; whether he would
be glad to see me, if I went to him to make it
up ; whether he or I would die first ; whether
if it was me, he would do for me, what I would
have done for him namely, bury him, with the
last strength I had left. All these things, and
lots more, kept coming and going in my mind,
till I could stand it no longer. On the morning
of the eighth day, I roused up to go to his terri-
tories, feeling it would do me good to see him
and hear him, even if we quarrelled again the
instant we set eyes on each other.

I climbed up to the grassy ground and,
when I got there, what should I see but the
supercargo himself, coining to my territories,
and wandering up and down in the scrub
through not knowing where to find them !

It almost knocked me over, when we met,
the man was changed so. He looked eighty
years old; the little flesh he had on his mise-
rable face hung baggy ; his blue spectacles had
dropped down on his nose, and his eyes showed
over them wild and red-rimmed ; his lips were
black, his legs staggered under him. He
came up to me with his eyes all of a glare,
and put both his hands on my breast, just over
the pocket in which I kept that flask of ginger-
brandy which he had tried to steal from me.

'* Have you got any of it left ?" says he, in a
whisper.

" About two mouthfuls," says I.

"Give us one of them, for God's sake,"
says he.

Giving him one of those mouthfuls was just



Charles Dickens.]



A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA.



[December 13, I860.] 41



about equal to giving him a day of ray life. In
the case of a man I liked, 1 would not have
thought twice about giving it. In the case of
Mr. Clissold, I did think twice. I would have
been a better Christian, if I could but just
then, I couldn't.

He thought I was going to say, No. His
eyes got cunning directly. He reached his
hands to my shoulders, and whispered these
words in my ear :

"I'll tell you what I know about the five
hundred pound, if you'll give me a drop."

I determined to give it to him, and pulled out
the flask. I took his hand, and poured the drop
into the hollow of it, and held it for a moment.

"Tell me first," I said, "and drink after-
wards."

He looked all round him, as if he thought
there were people on the island to hear us.
"Husk!" he said; "let's whisper about it."
The next question and answer that passed be-
tween us, was louder than before on my side,
and softer than ever on his. This was the ques-
tion:

" What do you know about the five hundred
pound ?"

And this was the answer :

"It's Stolen Money!"

My hand dropped away from his, as if he had
shot me. He instantly lasteued on the drop of
liquor in the hollow of his hand, like a hungry
wild beast on a bone, and then looked up for
more. Something in my face (God knows what)
seemed suddenly to frighten him out of his life.
Before I could stir a step, or get a word out,
down he dropped on his knees, whining and
whimpering in the high grass at my feet.

"Don't kill me!" says he; "I'm dying I']



think of my poor soul
time "



11
I'll repent while there's



Beginning in that way, he maundered awfully,
grovelling down in the grass ; asking me every
other minute for "a drop more, and a drop
more ;" and talking as if he thought we were
both in England. Out of his wanderings, his
beseechings for another drop, and his miserable
beggar's-petitions for his "poor soul," I ga-
thered together these words the same which I
wrote down on the morsel of paper, and of
which nine parts out of ten are now rubbed off !

The first I made out though not the first he
said was that some one, whom he spoke of as
" the old man," was alive ; and " Lanrean" was
the place he lived in. I was to go there, and
ask, among the old men, for " Tregartken "

(At the mention by me of the name of Tre-
gartken, my brother, to my great surprise,
stopped me with a start ; made me say the name
over more than once ; and then, for the first time,
told me of the trouble about his sweetheart and
his marriage. We waited a little to talk that
matter over ; after which, I went on again with
my story, in these words :)

Well, as I made out from Clissold's wander-
ings, I was to go to Laiirean, to ask among the
old men for Tregartken, and to say to Tre-
gartlicii, " Clissold was the man. Clissold bore



no malice : Clissold repented like a Christian,
for the sake of his poor soul." No! I WHS
to say something else to Tregartken. I was to
say, " Look among the books ; look at the leaf you
know of, and see for yourself it's not the right
ieaf to be there." No ! I was to say something
else to Tregarthen. I was to say, " The right
ieaf is hidden, not burnt. Clissold had time for
everything else, but no time to burn that leaf.
Tregarthen came in when he had got the candle
lit to burn it. There was just time to let it
drop from under his hand into the great crack
in the desk, and then he was ordered abroad
by the House, and there was no chance of doing
more." No ! I was to say none of these things
to Tregarthen. Only tliis, instead : " Look m
Clissold's Desk and, if you blame anybody,
blame miser Raybrock for driving him to it!"
And, oh, another drop for the Lord's sake,
give him another drop !

So he went on, over and over again, till I
found voice enough to speak, and stop him.

" Get up, and go !" I said to the miserable
wretch. " Get back to your own side of the
island, or I may do you a mischief, in spite of
my own self."

" Give me the other drop, and I will" was
all the answer I could get from him.

I threw him the flask. He pounced upon it
with a howl. I turned my back for I could look
at him no longer and climbed down again to
my cavern on the beach.

I sat down alone on the sand, and tried to
quiet myself fit to think about what I had heard.
That father could ever have wilfully done any-
thing unbecoming his character as an honest
man, was what I wouldn't believe, in the first
place. And that the wretched brute I had just
parted from was in his right senses, was what I
wouldn't bek'eve, in the second place. What I
had myself seen of drinkers, at sea and ashore,
helped me to understand the condition into
which he had fallen. I knew that when a man
who has been a drunkard for years, is suddenly
cut off his drink, he drops to pieces like, body
and mind, for the want of it. I had also heard
ship-doctors talk, by some name of their own, of
a drink-madness, which we ignorant men call
the Horrors. And I made it out, easy enough,
that I had. seen the supercargo in the first of
these conditions ; and that if we both lived long
enough without help coming to us, I might soon
see him in the second. But when I tried to get
farther, and settle how much of what I had
heard was wanderings and how muck truth, and
what it meant if any of it was truth, my slow-
ness got in my way again ; and where a quicker
man might have made up his mind in an hour
or two/I was all day, in sore distress, making
up mine. The upshot of what I settled with
myself was, in two words, this : Having
mother's writing-case handy about me, I deter-
mined first to set down for my own self's re-
minder, all that I had heard. Second, to clear
the matter up if ever I got back to England
alive ; and, if wrong had been done to that old
man, or to anybody else, in father's name (with-



42 [December 13, I860.]



A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA.



[Conducted by



out father's knowledge), to make restoration for
his sake.

All that day I neither saw nor heard more of
the supercargo. I passed a miserable night of
it, after writing my memorandum, fighting with
my loneliness and my own thoughts. The re-
membrance of those words in father's will, saying
that the five hundred pound was money which he
had once run a risk with, kept putting into my
mind suspicions I was ashamed of. When day-
light came, I almost felt as if I was going to
have the Horrors too, and got up to walk them
off, if possible, in the morning air.

I kept on the northern side of the island,
walking backwards and forwards for an hour or
more. Then I returned to my cavern ; and the
first thing I saw, on getting near it, was other
footsteps than mine marked on the sand. I sus-
pected at once that the supercargo had been
lurking about watching me, instead of going
back to his own side ; and that, in my absence,
he had been at his thieving tricks again.

The stores were what I looked at first. The
food he had not touched ; but the water he had
either drunk or wasted there was not half a
pint of it left. The medicine-chest was open,
and the bottle with the hartshorn was gone.
When I looked next for the pistol, which I had
loaded with powder and shot for the chance of
bird-shooting that never came, the pistol was
gone too. After making this last discovery,
there was but one thing to be done namely
to find out where he was, and to take the pistol
away from him.

I set off to search first on the western side.
It was a beautiful clear, calm, sunshiny morn-
ing ; and as I crossed the island, looking out on
my left hand and my right, I stopped on a
sudden, with my heart in my mouth, as the
saying is. Something caught my eye, far out at
sea, in the north-west. I looked again and
there, as true as the heavens above me, I saw
a ship, with the sunlight on her topsails, hull
down, on the water-line in the offing !

All thought of the errand I was bent on, went
out of my mind in an instant. I ran as fast
as my weak legs would carry me to the northern
beach ; gathered up the broken wood which was
still lying there plentifully, and, with the help
of the dry scrub, lit the largest fire I had made
yet. This was the only signal it was in my
power to make that there were men on the
island. The fire, in the bright daylight, would
never be visible to the ship ; but the smoke
curling up from it, in the clear sky, might be
seen, if they had a look-out at the mast-head.

While I was still feeding the fire, and so
wrapped up in doing it, that I had neither eyes
nor ears for anything else, I heard the super-
cargo's voice on a sudden at my back. He had
stolen on me along the sand. When I faced
him, he was swinging his arms about in the air,
and saying to himself over and over again, "I
see the ship ! I see the ship !"

After a little, he came close up to me. By
the look of him, he had been drinking the harts-
horn, and it had strung him up a bit, body and



mind, for the time. He kept his right hand
behind him, as if he was hiding something. I
suspected that " something " to be the pistol I
was in search of.

" Will the ship come here ?" says he.

" Yes, if they see the smoke," says I, keeping
my eye on him.

He waited a bit, frowning suspiciously, and
looking hard at me all the time.

"What did I say to you yesterday?" he
asked.

"What I have got written down here," I
made answer, smacking my hand over the
writing-case in my breast-pocket; "and what
I mean to put to the proof, if the ship sees us
and we get back to England."

He whipped his right hand round from behind
him, like lightning ; and snapped the pistol at
me. It missed fire. I wrenched it from him
in a moment, and was just within one hair's
breadth of knocking him on the head with the
butt-end, afterwards. I lifted my hand then
thought better, and dropped it again.

" No," says I, fixing my eyes on him steadily ;
" I'll wait till the ship finds us."

He slunk away from me ; and, as he slunk,
looked hard into the fire. Hestoppfid a minute
so, thinking to himself then he looked back at
me again, with some mad mischief in him, that
twinkled through his blue spectacles, and grinned
on his dry black lips.

" The ship shall never find you" he said.
With which words, he turned himself about
towards his own side of the island, and left me.

He only meant that saying to be a threat
but, bird of ill-omen that he was, it turned out
as good as a prophecy ! All my hard work with
the fire proved work in vain; all hope was
quenched in me, long before the embers I had
set light to were burnt out. Whether the smoke
was seen or not from the vessel, is more than I
can tell. I only know that she filled away on
the other tack, not ten minutes after the super-
cargo left me. In less than an hour's time the
last glimpse of the bright topsails had vanished
out of view.

I went back to my cavern which was now
likelier than ever to be my grave as well. In
that hot climate, with all the moisture on the
island dried up, with not quite so much as a
tumbler-full of fresh water left, with my strength
wasted by living on half-rations of food two
days more at most would see me out. It was
hard enough for a man at my age, with all that
I had left at home to make life precious, to die
such a death as was now before me. It was
harder still to have the sting of death sharpened
as I felt it, then by what had just happened
between the supercargo and myself. There was
no hope, now, that his wanderings, the day be-
fore, had more falsehood than truth in them.
The secret he had let out was plainly true enough
and serious enough to have scared him into at-
tempting my life, rather than let me keep pos-
session of it, when there was a chance of the
ship rescuing us. That secret had father's good
name mixed up with it and here was I, instead



Charlei Dickens.]



A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA.



[December 13, I860.] 43



of clearing the villanous darkness from off of
it, carrying it with me, black as ever, into my
grave.

It was out of the horror I felt at doing that,
and out of the yearning of my heart towards you,
Alfred, when I thought of it, that the notion
came to comfort me of writing the Message at
the top of the paper, and of committing it in the
bottle to the sea. Drowning men, they say,
catch at straws and the straw of comfort I
caught at was the one chance in ten thousand,
that the Message might float till it was picked
up, and that it might reach you. My mind
might, or might not, have been failing me, by
this time but it is true, either way, that I did
feel comforted when I had emptied one of the
two bottles left in the medicine-chest, had put
the paper inside, had tied the stopper carefully
over with the oilskin, and had laid the whole by
in my pocket, ready, when I felt my time coming,
to drop into the sea. I was rid of the secret, I
thought to myself ; and, if it pleased God, I was
rid of it, Alfred, to you.

The day waned ; and the sun set, all cloud-
less and golden, in a dead calm. There was not
a ripple anywhere on the long oily heaving of
the sea. Before night came I strengthened
myself with a better meal than usual, as to food
for where was the use of keeping meat and
biscuit when I had not water enough to last
along with them ? When the stars came out
and the moon rose, I gathered the wood to-
gether and lit the signal-fire, according to
custom, on the beach outside my cavern. I had
no hope from it bat the fire was company to
me : the looking into it quieted my thoughts,
and the crackling of it was a relief in the silence.
I don't know why it was, but the breathless
stillness of that night had something awful in it,


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