Frank Richard Stockton.

The Rudder Grangers Abroad and Other Stories online

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"When that work was over, I began to wonder what I should do next, and
then an idea struck me. 'Suppose,' thought I, 'that we are not
stationary, but that we are in some queer kind of a current, and that
the water, ship and all are steadily moving on together, so that after
awhile we shall come in sight of land, or into the track of vessels!'

"I instantly set about to find out if this was the case. It was about
noon, and it so happened that on the day before, when the chief officer
took his observation, I was seized with a desire to watch him and see
how he did it. I don't see why I should have had this notion, but I had
it, and I paid the strictest attention to the whole business,
calculation part and all, and I found out exactly how it was done.

"Well, then, I went and got the quadrant, - that's the thing they do it
with, - and I took an observation, and I found that we were in latitude
15° north, 90° east, exactly where we had been twenty-four hours
before!

"When I found out this, I turned so faint that I wanted to sit down and
cover up my head. The Water-devil had us, there was no mistake about
it, and no use trying to think of anything else. I staggered along the
deck, went below, and cooked myself a meal. In a case like this there's
nothing like a square meal to keep a man up.

"I know you don't like to hear her mentioned," said the marine, turning
to the blacksmith, "but I am bound to say that in course of the
afternoon Miss Minturn came on deck several times, to ask if anything
new had happened, and if I had seen a vessel. I showed her all that I
had done, and told her I was going to hang out lights at night, and did
everything I could to keep her on deck as long as possible; for it was
easy to see that she needed fresh air, and I needed company. As long as
I was talking to her I didn't care a snap of my finger for the
Water-devil. It is queer what an influence a beautiful woman has on a
man, but it's so, and there's no use arguing about it. She said she had
been puzzling her brains to find out what had stopped us, and she
supposed it must be that we had run onto a shallow place and stuck fast
in the mud, but thought it wonderful that there should be such a place
so far from land. I agreed with her that it was wonderful, and added
that that was probably the reason the captain and the crew had been
seized with a panic. But sensible people like herself and her father, I
said, ought not to be troubled by such an occurrence, especially as the
vessel remained in a perfectly sound condition.

"She said that her father was busily engaged in writing his memoirs,
and that his mind was so occupied, he had not concerned himself at all
about our situation, that is, if he had noticed that we were not
moving. 'If he wants to see the steward, or anybody else,' I said,
'please call upon me. You know I represent the whole ship's company,
and I shall be delighted to do anything for him or for you.' She
thanked me very much and went below.

"She came up again, after this, but her maid came with her, and the two
walked on deck for a while. I didn't have much to say to them that
time; but just before dark Miss Minturn came on deck alone, and walked
forward, where I happened to be. 'Sir,' said she, and her voice
trembled a little as she spoke, 'if anything should happen, will you
promise me that you will try to save my father?' You can't imagine how
these touching words from this beautiful woman affected me. 'My dear
lady,' said I, and I hope she did not take offence at the warmth of my
expression, 'I don't see how anything can happen; but I promise you, on
the word of a sea-soldier, that if danger should come upon us, I will
save not only your father, but yourself and your maid. Trust me for
that.'

"The look she gave me when I said these words, and especially the flash
of her eye when I spoke of my being a sea-soldier, made me feel strong
enough to tear that sea-monster's arm in twain, and to sail away with
the lovely creature for whom my heart was beginning to throb."

"It's a pity," said the blacksmith, "that you hadn't jumped into the
water while the fit was on you, and done the tearing."

"A man often feels strong enough to do a thing," said the marine, "and
yet doesn't care to try to do it, and that was my case at that time;
but I vowed to myself that if the time came when there was any saving
to be done, I'd attend to Miss Minturn, even if I had to neglect the
rest of the family.

"She didn't make any answer, but she gave me her hand; and she couldn't
have done anything I liked better than that. I held it as long as I
could, which wasn't very long, and then she went down to her father."

"Glad of it," said the blacksmith.

"When I had had my supper, and had smoked my pipe, and everything was
still, and I knew I shouldn't see anybody any more that night, I began
to have the quakes and the shakes. If even I had had the maid to talk
to, it would have been a comfort; but in the way of faithfully
attending to her employers that woman was a trump. She cooked for them,
and did for them, and stuck by them straight along, so she hadn't any
time for chats with me.

"Being alone, I couldn't help all the time thinking about the
Water-devil, and although it seems a foolish thing now that I look back
on it, I set to work to calculate how long it would take him to count
his feet. I made it about the same time as you did, sir," nodding to
the schoolmaster, "only I considered that if he counted twelve hours,
and slept and rested twelve hours, that would make it seven days, which
would give me a good long time with Miss Minturn, and that would be the
greatest of joys to me, no matter what happened afterward.

"But then nobody could be certain that the monster at the bottom of
the bay needed rest or sleep. He might be able to count without
stopping, and how did I know that he couldn't check off four hundred
claws a minute? If that happened to be the case, our time must be
nearly up.

"When that idea came into my head, I jumped up and began to walk about.
What could I do? I certainly ought to be ready to do something when
the time came. I thought of getting life-preservers, and strapping one
on each of us, so that if the Water-devil turned over the vessel and
shook us out, we shouldn't sink down to him, but would float on the
surface.

"But then the thought struck me that if he should find the vessel empty
of live creatures, and should see us floating around on the top, all he
had to do was to let go of the ship and grab us, one at a time. When I
thought of a fist as big as a yawl-boat, clapping its fifty-two fingers
on me, it sent a shiver through my bones. The fact was there wasn't
anything to do, and so after a while I managed to get asleep, which was
a great comfort."

"Mr. Cardly," said Mr. Harberry to the schoolmaster, "what reason can
you assign why a seamonster, such as has been described to us, should
neglect to seize upon several small boats filled with men who were
escaping from a vessel which it held in custody?"

"I do not precisely see," answered Mr. Cardly, "why these men should
have been allowed this immunity, but I - "

"Oh, that is easily explained," interrupted the marine, "for of course
the Water-devil could not know that a lot more people were not left in
the ship, and if he let go his hold on her, to try and grab a boat that
was moving as fast as men could row it, the steamer might get out of
his reach, and he mightn't have another chance for a hundred years to
make fast to a vessel. No, sir, a creature like that isn't apt to take
any wild chances, when he's got hold of a really good thing. Anyway, we
were held tight and fast, for at twelve o'clock the next day I took
another observation, and there we were, in the same latitude and
longitude that we had been in for two days. I took the captain's glass,
and I looked all over the water of that bay, which, as I think I have
said before, was all the same as the ocean, being somewhere about a
thousand miles wide. Not a sail, not a puff of smoke could I see. It
must have been a slack season for navigation, or else we were out of
the common track of vessels; I had never known that the Bay of Bengal
was so desperately lonely.

"It seems unnatural, and I can hardly believe it, when I look back on
it, but it's a fact, that I was beginning to get used to the situation.
We had plenty to eat, the weather was fine - in fact, there was now only
breeze enough to make things cool and comfortable. I was head-man on
that vessel, and Miss Minturn might come on deck at any moment, and as
long as I could forget that there was a Water-devil fastened to the
bottom of the vessel, there was no reason why I should not be perfectly
satisfied with things as they were. And if things had stayed as they
were, for two or three months, I should have been right well pleased,
especially since Miss Minturn's maid, by order of her mistress, had
begun to cook my meals, which she did in a manner truly first-class. I
believed then, and I stand to it now, that there is do better proof of
a woman's good feeling toward a man, than for her to show an interest
in his meals. That's the sort of sympathy that comes home to a man, and
tells on him, body and soul."

As the marine made this remark, he glanced at the blacksmith's
daughter; but that young lady had taken up her sewing and appeared to
be giving it her earnest attention. He then went on with his story.

"But things did not remain as they were. The next morning, about half
an hour after breakfast, I was walking up and down the upper deck,
smoking my pipe, and wondering when Miss Minturn would be coming up to
talk to me about the state of affairs, when suddenly I felt the deck
beneath me move with a quick, sharp jerk, something like, I imagine, a
small shock of an earthquake.

"Never, in all my life, did the blood run so cold in my veins; my legs
trembled so that I could scarcely stand. I knew what had happened, - the
Water-devil had begun to haul upon the ship!

"I was in such a state of collapse that I did not seem to have any
power over my muscles; but for all that, I heard Miss Minturn's voice
at the foot of the companion-way, and knew that she was coming on deck.
In spite of the dreadful awfulness of that moment, I felt it would
never do for her to see me in the condition I was in, and so, shuffling
and half-tumbling, I got forward, went below, and made my way to the
steward's room, where I had already discovered some spirits, and I took
a good dram; for although I am not by any means an habitual drinker,
being principled against that sort of thing, there are times when a
man needs the support of some good brandy or whiskey.

"In a few minutes I felt more like myself, and went on deck, and there
was Miss Minturn, half-scared to death. 'What is the meaning of that
shock?' she said; 'have we struck anything?' 'My dear lady,' said I,
with as cheerful a front as I could put on, 'I do not think we have
struck anything. There is nothing to strike.' She looked at me for a
moment like an angel ready to cry, and clasping her hands, she said,
'Oh, tell me, sir, I pray you, sir, tell me what has happened. My
father felt that shock. He sent me to inquire about it. His mind is
disturbed.' At that moment, before I could make an answer, there was
another jerk of the ship, and we both went down on our knees, and I
felt as if I had been tripped. I was up in a moment, however, but she
continued on her knees. I am sure she was praying, but very soon up
she sprang. 'Oh, what is it, what is it?' she cried; 'I must go to my
father.'

"'I cannot tell you,' said I; 'I do not know, but don't be frightened;
how can such a little shock hurt so big a ship?'

"It was all very well to tell her not to be frightened, but when she
ran below she left on deck about as frightened a man as ever stood in
shoes. There could be no doubt about it; that horrible beast was
beginning to pull upon the ship. Whether or not it would be able to
draw us down below, was a question which must soon be solved.

"I had had a small opinion of the maid, who, when I told her the crew
had deserted the ship, had sat down and covered her head; but now I did
pretty much the same thing; I crouched on the deck and pulled my cap
over my eyes. I felt that I did not wish to see, hear, or feel
anything.

"I had sat in this way for about half an hour, and had felt no more
shocks, when a slight gurgling sound came to my ears. I listened for a
moment, then sprang to my feet. Could we be moving? I ran to the side
of the ship. The gurgle seemed to be coming from the stern. I hurried
there and looked over. The wheel had been lashed fast, and the rudder
stood straight out behind us. On each side of it there was a ripple in
the quiet water. We were moving, and we were moving backward!

"Overpowered by horrible fascination, I stood grasping the rail, and
looking over at the water beneath me, as the vessel moved slowly and
steadily onward, stern foremost. In spite of the upset condition of my
mind, I could not help wondering why the Vessel should move in this
way.

"There was only one explanation possible: The Water-devil was walking
along the bottom, and towing us after him! Why he should pull us along
in this way I could not imagine, unless he was making for his home in
some dreadful cave at the bottom, into which he would sink, dragging us
down after him.

"While my mind was occupied with these horrible subjects, some one
touched me on the arm, and turning, I saw Miss Minturn. 'Are we not
moving?' she said. 'Yes,' I answered, 'we certainly are.' 'Do you not
think,' she then asked, 'that we may have been struck by a powerful
current, which is now carrying us onward?' I did not believe this, for
there was no reason to suppose that there were currents which wandered
about, starting off vessels with a jerk, but I was glad to think that
this idea had come into her head, and said that it was possible that
this might be the case. 'And now we are going somewhere' she said,
speaking almost cheerfully. 'Yes, we are,' I answered, and I had to try
hard not to groan as I said the words. 'And where do you think we are
going?' she asked. It was altogether out of my power to tell that sweet
creature that in my private opinion she, at least, was going to heaven,
and so I answered that I really did not know. 'Well,' she said, 'if we
keep moving, we're bound at last to get near land, or to some place
where ships would pass near us.'

"There is nothing in this world," said the marine, "which does a man so
much good in time of danger as to see a hopeful spirit in a woman - that
is, a woman that he cares about. Some of her courage comes to him, and
he is better and stronger for having her alongside of him."

Having made this remark, the speaker again glanced at the blacksmith's
daughter. She had put down her work and was looking at him with an
earnest brightness in her eyes.

"Yes," he continued, "it is astonishing what a change came over me, as
I stood by the side of that noble girl. She was a born lady, I was a
marine, just the same as we had been before, but there didn't seem to
be the difference between us that there had been. Her words, her
spirits, everything about her, in fact, seemed to act on me, to elevate
me, to fill my soul with noble sentiments, to make another man of me.
Standing there beside her, I felt myself her equal. In life or death I
would not be ashamed to say, 'Here I am, ready to stand by you,
whatever happens.'"

Having concluded this sentiment, the marine again glanced toward the
blacksmith's daughter. Her eyes were slightly moist, and her face was
glowing with a certain enthusiasm.

"Look here," said the blacksmith, "I suppose that woman goes along with
you into the very maw of the sunken Devil, but I do wish you could take
her more for granted, and get on faster with the real part of the
story."

"One part is as real as another," said the marine; "but on we go, and
on we did go for the whole of the rest of that day, at the rate of
about half a knot an hour, as near as I could guess at it. The weather
changed, and a dirty sort of fog came down on us, so that we couldn't
see far in any direction.

"Why that Water-devil should keep on towing us, and where he was going
to take us, were things I didn't dare to think about. The fog did not
prevent me from seeing the water about our stern, and I leaned over the
rail, watching the ripples that flowed on each side of the rudder,
which showed that we were still going at about the same uniform rate.

"But toward evening the gurgling beneath me ceased, and I could see
that the rudder no longer parted the quiet water, and that we had
ceased to move. A flash of hope blazed up within me. Had the
Water-devil found the ship too heavy a load, and had he given up the
attempt to drag it to its under-ocean cave? I went below and had my
supper; I was almost a happy man. When Miss Minturn came to ask me how
we were getting along, I told her that I thought we were doing very
well indeed. I did not mention that we had ceased to move, for she
thought that a favorable symptom. She went back to her quarters greatly
cheered up. Not so much, I think, from my words, as from my joyful
aspect; for I did feel jolly, there was no doubt about it. If that
Water-devil had let go of us, I was willing to take all the other
chances that might befall a ship floating about loose on the Bay of
Bengal.

"The fog was so thick that night that it was damp and unpleasant on
deck, and so, having hung out and lighted a couple of lanterns, I went
below for a comfortable smoke in the captain's room. I was puffing
away here at my ease, with my mind filled with happy thoughts of two or
three weeks with Miss Minturn on this floating paradise, where she was
bound to see a good deal of me, and couldn't help liking me better, and
depending on me more and more every day, when I felt a little jerking
shock. It was the same thing that we had felt before. The Water-devil
still had hold of us!

"I dropped my pipe, my chin fell upon my breast, I shivered all over.
In a few moments I heard the maid calling to me, and then she ran into
the room. 'Miss Minturn wants to know, sir,' she said, 'if you think
that shock is a sudden twist in the current which is carrying us on?' I
straightened myself up as well as I could, and in the dim light I do
not think she noticed my condition. I answered that I thought it was
something of that sort, and she went away.

"More likely, a twist of the Devil's arm, I thought, as I sat there
alone in my misery.

"In ten or fifteen minutes there came two shocks, not very far apart.
This showed that the creature beneath us was at work in some way or
another. Perhaps he had reached the opening of his den, and was
shortening up his arm before he plunged down into it with us after him.
I couldn't stay any longer in that room alone. I looked for the maid,
but she had put out the galley light, and had probably turned in for
the night.

"I went up, and looked out on deck, but everything was horribly dark
and sticky and miserable there. I noticed that my lanterns were not
burning, and then I remembered that I had not filled them. But this did
not trouble me. If a vessel came along and saw our lights she would
probably keep away from us, and I would have been glad to have a vessel
come to us, even if she ran into us. Our steamer would probably float
long enough for us to get on board the other one, and almost anything
would be better than being left alone in this dreadful place, at the
mercy of the Water-devil.

"Before I left the deck I felt another shock. This took out of me
whatever starch was left, and I shuffled below and got to my bunk,
where I tumbled in and covered myself up, head and all. If there had
been any man to talk to, it would have been different, but I don't know
when I ever felt more deserted than I did at that time.

"I tried to forget the awful situation in which I was; I tried to think
of other things; to imagine that I was drilling with the rest of my
company, with Tom Rogers on one side of me, and old Humphrey Peters on
the other. You may say, perhaps, that this wasn't exactly the way of
carrying out my promise of taking care of Miss Minturn and the others.
But what was there to do? When the time came to do anything, and I
could see what to do, I was ready to do it; but there was no use of
waking them up now and setting their minds on edge, when they were all
comfortable in their beds, thinking that every jerk of the Devil's arm
was a little twist in the current that was carrying them to Calcutta or
some other desirable port.

"I felt some shocks after I got into bed, but whether or not there were
many in the night, I don't know, for I went to sleep. It was daylight
when I awoke, and jumping out of my bunk I dashed on deck. Everything
seemed pretty much as it had been, and the fog was as thick as ever. I
ran to the stern and looked over, and I could scarcely believe my eyes
when I saw that we were moving again, still stern foremost, but a
little faster than before. That beastly Water-devil had taken a rest
for the night, and had probably given us the shocks by turning over in
his sleep, and now he was off again, making up for lost time.

"Pretty soon Miss Minturn came on deck, and bade me good morning, and
then she went and looked over the stern. 'We are still moving on,' she
said, with a smile, 'and the fog doesn't seem to make any difference.
It surely cannot be long before we get somewhere.' 'No, miss,' said I,
'it cannot be very long.' 'You look tired,' she said, 'and I don't
wonder, for you must feel the heavy responsibility on you. I have told
my maid to prepare breakfast for you in our cabin. I want my father to
know you, and I think it is a shame that you, the only protector that
we have, should be shut off so much by yourself; so after this we shall
eat together.' 'After this,' I groaned to myself, 'we shall be eaten
together.' At that moment I did not feel that I wanted to breakfast
with Miss Minturn."

"Mr. Cardly," said Mr. Harberry to the school-master, "have you ever
read, in any of your scientific books, that the Bay of Bengal is
subject to heavy fogs that last day after day?"

"I cannot say," answered the school-master, "that my researches into
the geographical distribution of fogs have resulted - "

"As to fogs," interrupted the marine, "you can't get rid of them, you
know. If you had been in the habit of going to sea, you would know that
you are likely to run into a fog at any time, and in any weather; and
as to lasting, they are just as likely to last for days as for hours.
It wasn't the fog that surprised me. I did not consider that of any
account at all. I had enough other things to occupy my mind." And
having settled this little matter, he went on with his story.

"Well, my friends, I did not breakfast with Miss Minturn and her
father. Before that meal was ready, and while I was standing alone at
the stern, I saw coming out of the water, a long way off in the fog,
which must have been growing thinner about this time, a dark and
mysterious object, apparently without any shape or form. This sight
made the teeth chatter in my head. I had expected to be pulled down to
the Water-devil, but I had never imagined that he would come up to us!

"While my eyes were glued upon this apparition, I could see that we
were approaching it. When I perceived this, I shut my eyes and turned
my back - I could look upon it no longer. My mind seemed to forsake me;
I did not even try to call out and give the alarm to the others. Why
should I? What could they do?"

"If it had been me," said Mrs. Fryker, in a sort of gasping whisper, "I
should have died right there." The marine turned his eyes in the
direction of the blacksmith's daughter. She was engaged with her work,
and was not looking at him.

"I cannot say," he continued, "that, had Miss Minturn been there at
that moment, that I would not have declared that I was ready to die for
her or with her; but there was no need of trying to keep up her
courage, that was all right. She knew nothing of our danger. That
terrible knowledge pressed on me alone. Is it wonderful that a human
soul should sink a little under such an awful load?" Without turning to
observe the effect of these last words, the marine went on. "Suddenly I
heard behind me a most dreadful sound. 'Good Heavens,' I exclaimed,
'can a Water-devil bray?'

"The sound was repeated. Without knowing what I did, I turned. I heard
what sounded like words; I saw in the fog the stern of a vessel, with a


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Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe Rudder Grangers Abroad and Other Stories → online text (page 11 of 12)