The Boats of the "Glen Carrig"
William Hope Hodgson

Part 3 out of 3

sharp, so as to protect it from being cut; for which purpose he made use
of some of the canvas. And by the time that I had the letter completed,
the rope was made very secure to the great piece of rock, and, further,
they had put a large piece of chafing gear under that part of the rope
where it took the edge of the cliff.

Now having, as I have said, completed the letter, I went out with it to
the bo'sun; but, before placing it in the oilskin bag he bade me add a
note at the bottom, to say that the big rope was all fast, and that they
could heave on it so soon as it pleased them, and after that we
dispatched the letter by means of the small line, the men in the hulk
hauling it off to them so soon as they perceived our signals.

By this, it had come well on to the latter part of the afternoon, and the
bo'sun called us to make some sort of a meal, leaving one man to watch
the hulk, perchance they should signal to us. For we had missed our
dinner in the excitement of the day's work, and were come now to feel the
lack of it. Then, in the midst of it, the man upon the lookout cried out
that they were signaling to us from the ship, and, at that, we ran all of
us to see what they desired, and so, by the code which we had arranged
between us, we found that they waited for us to haul upon the small line.
This did we, and made out presently that we were hauling something across
the weed, of a very fair bulk, at which we warmed to our work, guessing
that it was the bread which they had promised us, and so it proved, and
done up with great neatness in a long roll of tarpaulin, which had been
wrapped around both the loaves and the rope, and lashed very securely at
the ends, thus producing a taper shape convenient for passing over the
weed without catching. Now, when we came to open this parcel, we
discovered that my hint had taken very sound effect; for there were in
the parcel, besides the loaves, a boiled ham, a Dutch cheese, two bottles
of port well padded from breakage, and four pounds of tobacco in plugs.
And at this coming of good things, we stood all of us upon the edge of
the hill, and waved our thanks to those in the ship, they waving back in
all good will, and after that we went back to our meal, at which we
sampled the new victuals with very lusty appetites.

There was in the parcel, one other matter, a letter, most neatly
indited, as had been the former epistles, in a feminine handwriting, so
that I guessed they had one of the women to be their scribe. This
epistle answered some of my queries, and, in particular, I remember that
it informed me as to the probable cause of the strange crying which
preceded the attack by the weed men, saying that on each occasion when
they in the ship had suffered their attacks, there had been always this
same crying, being evidently a summoning call or signal to the attack,
though how given, the writer had not discovered; for the weed
_devils_--this being how they in the ship spoke always of them--made
never a sound when attacking, not even when wounded to the death, and,
indeed, I may say here, that we never learnt the way in which that
lonesome sobbing was produced, nor, indeed, did they, or we, discover
more than the merest tithe of the mysteries which that great continent
of weed holds in its silence.

Another matter to which I had referred was the consistent blowing of the
wind from one quarter, and this the writer told me happened for as much
as six months in the year, keeping up a very steady strength. A further
thing there was which gave me much interest; it was that the ship had not
been always where we had discovered her; for at one time they had been so
far within the weed, that they could scarce discern the open sea upon the
far horizon; but that at times the weed opened in great gulfs that went
yawning through the continent for scores of miles, and in this way the
shape and coasts of the weed were being constantly altered; these
happenings being for the most part at the change of the wind.

And much more there was that they told us then and afterwards, how that
they dried weed for their fuel, and how the rains, which fell with great
heaviness at certain periods, supplied them with fresh water; though, at
times, running short, they had learnt to distil sufficient for their
needs until the next rains.

Now, near to the end of the epistle, there came some news of their
present actions, and thus we learnt that they in the ship were busy at
staying the stump of the mizzen-mast, this being the one to which they
proposed to attach the big rope, taking it through a great iron-bound
snatch-block, secured to the head of the stump, and then down to the
mizzen-capstan, by which, and a strong tackle, they would be able to
heave the line so taut as was needful.

Now, having finished our meal, the bo'sun took out the lint, bandages and
ointment, which they had sent us from the hulk, and proceeded to dress
our hurts, beginning with him who had lost his fingers, which, happily,
were making a very healthy heal. And afterwards we went all of us to the
edge of the cliff, and sent back the look-out to fill such crevices in
his stomach as remained yet empty; for we had passed him already some
sound hunks of the bread and ham and cheese, to eat whilst he kept watch,
and so he had suffered no great harm.

It may have been near an hour after this, that the bo'sun pointed out to
me that they in the ship had commenced to heave upon the great rope, and
so I perceived, and stood watching it; for I knew that the bo'sun had
some anxiety as to whether it would take-up sufficiently clear of the
weed to allow those in the ship to be hauled along it, free from
molestation by the great devil-fish.

Presently, as the evening began to draw on, the bo'sun bade us go and
build our fires about the hilltop, and this we did, after which we
returned to learn how the rope was lifting, and now we perceived that it
had come clear of the weed, at which we felt mightily rejoiced, and waved
encouragement, chance there might be any who watched us from the hulk.
Yet, though the rope was up clear of the weed, the bight of it had to
rise to a much greater height, or ever it would do for the purpose for
which we intended it, and already it suffered a vast strain, as I
discovered by placing my hand upon it; for, even to lift the slack of so
great a length of line meant the stress of some tons. And later I saw
that the bo'sun was growing anxious; for he went over to the rock around
which he had made fast the rope, and examined the knots, and those places
where he had parceled it, and after that he walked to the place where it
went over the edge of the cliff, and here he made a further scrutiny; but
came back presently, seeming not dissatisfied.

Then, in a while, the darkness came down upon us, and we lighted our
fires and prepared for the night, having the watches arranged as on the
preceding nights.


Aboard the Hulk

Now when it came to my watch, the which I took in company with the big
seaman, the moon had not yet risen, and all the island was vastly dark,
save the hill-top, from which the fires blazed in a score of places, and
very busy they kept us, supplying them with fuel. Then, when maybe the
half of our watch had passed, the big seaman, who had been to feed the
fires upon the weed side of the hill-top, came across to me, and bade me
come and put my hand upon the lesser rope; for that he thought they in
the ship were anxious to haul it in so that they might send some message
across to us. At his words, I asked him very anxiously whether he had
perceived them waving a light, the which we had arranged to be our method
of signaling in the night, in the event of such being needful; but, to
this, he said that he had seen naught; and, by now, having come near the
edge of the cliff, I could see for myself, and so perceived that there
was none signaling to us from the hulk. Yet, to please the fellow, I put
my hand upon the line, which we had made fast in the evening to a large
piece of rock, and so, immediately, I discovered that something was
pulling upon it, hauling and then slackening, so that it occurred to me
that the people in the vessel might be indeed wishful to send us some
message, and at that, to make sure, I ran to the nearest fire, and,
lighting a tuft of weed, waved it thrice; but there came not any
answering signal from those in the ship, and at that I went back to feel
at the rope, to assure myself that it had not been the pluck of the wind
upon it; but I found that it was something very different from the wind,
something that plucked with all the sharpness of a hooked fish, only that
it had been a mighty great fish to have given such tugs, and so I knew
that some vile thing out in the darkness of the weed was fast to the
rope, and at this there came the fear that it might break it, and then a
second thought that something might be climbing up to us along the rope,
and so I bade the big seaman stand ready with his great cutlass, whilst I
ran and waked the bo'sun. And this I did, and explained to him how that
something meddled with the lesser rope, so that he came immediately to
see for himself how this might be, and when he had put his hand upon it,
he bade me go and call the rest of the men, and let them stand round by
the fires; for that there was something abroad in the night, and we might
be in danger of attack; but he and the big seaman stayed by the end of
the rope, watching, so far as the darkness would allow, and ever and anon
feeling the tension upon it.

Then, suddenly, it came to the bo'sun to look to the second line, and he
ran, cursing himself for his thoughtlessness; but because of its greater
weight and tension, he could not discover for certain whether anything
meddled with it or not; yet he stayed by it, arguing that if aught
touched the smaller rope then might something do likewise with the
greater, only that the small line lay along the weed, whilst the greater
one had been some feet above it when the darkness had fallen over us, and
so might be free from any prowling creatures.

And thus, maybe, an hour passed, and we kept watch and tended the fires,
going from one to another, and, presently, coming to that one which was
nearest to the bo'sun, I went over to him, intending to pass a few
minutes in talk; but as I drew nigh to him, I chanced to place my hand
upon the big rope, and at that I exclaimed in surprise; for it had become
much slacker than when last I had felt it in the evening, and I asked the
bo'sun whether he had noticed it, whereat he felt the rope, and was
almost more amazed than I had been; for when last he had touched it, it
had been taut, and humming in the wind. Now, upon this discovery, he was
in much fear that something had bitten through it, and called to the men
to come all of them and pull upon the rope, so that he might discover
whether it was indeed parted; but when they came and hauled upon it, they
were unable to gather in any of it, whereat we felt all of us mightily
relieved in our minds; though still unable to come at the cause of its
sudden slackness.

And so, a while later, there rose the moon, and we were able to examine
the island and the water between it and the weed-continent, to see
whether there was anything stirring; yet neither in the valley, nor on
the faces of the cliffs, nor in the open water could we perceive aught
living, and as for anything among the weed, it was small use trying to
discover it among all that shaggy blackness. And now, being assured that
nothing was coming at us, and that, so far as our eyes could pierce,
there climbed nothing upon the ropes, the bo'sun bade us get turned-in,
all except those whose time it was to watch. Yet, before I went into the
tent, I made a careful examination of the big rope, the which did also
the bo'sun, but could perceive no cause for its slackness; though this
was quite apparent in the moonlight, the rope going down with greater
abruptness than it had done in the evening. And so we could but conceive
that they in the hulk had slacked it for some reason; and after that we
went to the tent and a further spell of sleep.

In the early morning we were waked by one of the watchmen, coming into
the tent to call the bo'sun; for it appeared that the hulk had moved in
the night, so that its stern was now pointed somewhat towards the island.
At this news, we ran all of us from the tent to the edge of the hill, and
found it to be indeed as the man had said, and now I understood the
reason of that sudden slackening of the rope; for, after withstanding the
stress upon it for some hours, the vessel had at last yielded, and slewed
its stern towards us, moving also to some extent bodily in our direction.

And now we discovered that a man in the look-out place in the top of the
structure was waving a welcome to us, at which we waved back, and then
the bo'sun bade me haste and write a note to know whether it seemed to
them likely that they might be able to heave the ship clear of the weed,
and this I did, greatly excited within myself at this new thought, as,
indeed, was the bo'sun himself and the rest of the men. For could they do
this, then how easily solved were every problem of coming to our own
country. But it seemed too good a thing to have come true, and yet I
could but hope. And so, when my letter was completed, we put it up in the
little oilskin bag, and signaled to those in the ship to haul in upon the
line. Yet, when they went to haul, there came a mighty splather amid the
weed, and they seemed unable to gather in any of the slack, and then,
after a certain pause, I saw the man in the look-out point something, and
immediately afterwards there belched out in front of him a little puff of
smoke, and, presently, I caught the report of a musket, so that I knew
that he was firing at something in the weed. He fired again, and yet once
more, and after that they were able to haul in upon the line, and so I
perceived that his fire had proved effectual; yet we had no knowledge of
the thing at which he had discharged his weapon.

Now, presently, they signaled to us to draw back the line, the which we
could do only with great difficulty, and then the man in the top of the
super-structure signed to us to vast hauling, which we did, whereupon he
began to fire again into the weed; though with what effect we could not
perceive. Then, in a while he signaled to us to haul again, and now the
rope came more easily; yet still with much labor, and a commotion in the
weed over which it lay and, in places, sank. And so, at last, as it
cleared the weed because of the lift of the cliff, we saw that a great
crab had clutched it, and that we hauled it towards us; for the creature
had too much obstinacy to let go.

Perceiving this, and fearing that the great claws of the crab might
divide the rope, the bo'sun caught up one of the men's lances, and ran to
the cliff edge, calling to us to pull in gently, and put no more strain
upon the line than need be. And so, hauling with great steadiness, we
brought the monster near to the edge of the hill, and there, at a wave
from the bo'sun, stayed our pulling. Then he raised the spear, and smote
at the creature's eyes, as he had done on a previous occasion, and
immediately it loosed its hold, and fell with a mighty splash into the
water at the foot of the cliff. Then the bo'sun bade us haul in the rest
of the rope, until we should come to the packet, and, in the meantime, he
examined the line to see whether it had suffered harm through the
mandibles of the crab; yet, beyond a little chafe, it was quite sound.

And so we came to the letter, which I opened and read, finding it to be
written in the same feminine hand which had indited the others. From it
we gathered that the ship had burst through a very thick mass of the weed
which had compacted itself about her, and that the second mate, who was
the only officer remaining to them, thought there might be good chance
to heave the vessel out; though it would have to be done with great
slowness, so as to allow the weed to part gradually, otherwise the ship
would but act as a gigantic rake to gather up weed before it, and so form
its own barrier to clear water. And after this there were kind wishes and
hopes that we had spent a good night, the which I took to be prompted by
the feminine heart of the writer, and after that I fell to wondering
whether it was the captain's wife who acted as scribe. Then I was waked
from my pondering, by one of the men crying out that they in the ship had
commenced to heave again upon the big rope, and, for a time, I stood and
watched it rise slowly, as it came to tautness.

I had stood there awhile, watching the rope, when, suddenly, there came a
commotion amid the weed, about two-thirds of the way to the ship, and now
I saw that the rope had freed itself from the weed, and clutching it,
were, maybe, a score of giant crabs. At this sight, some of the men cried
out their astonishment, and then we saw that there had come a number of
men into the look-out place in the top of the superstructure, and,
immediately, they opened a very brisk fire upon the creatures, and so, by
ones and twos they fell back into the weed, and after that, the men in
the hulk resumed their heaving, and so, in a while, had the rope some
feet clear of the surface.

Now, having tautened the rope so much as they thought proper, they left
it to have its due effect upon the ship, and proceeded to attach a great
block to it; then they signaled to us to slack away on the little rope
until they had the middle part of it, and this they hitched around the
neck of the block, and to the eye in the strop of the block they attached
a bo'sun's chair, and so they had ready a carrier, and by this means we
were able to haul stuff to and from the hulk without having to drag it
across the surface of the weed; being, indeed, the fashion in which we
had intended to haul ashore the people in the ship. But now we had the
bigger project of salvaging the ship herself, and, further, the big rope,
which acted as support for the carrier, was not yet of a sufficient
height above the weed-continent for it to be safe to attempt to bring any
ashore by such means; and now that we had hopes of saving the ship, we
did not intend to risk parting the big rope, by trying to attain such a
degree of tautness as would have been necessary at this time to have
raised its bight to the desired height.

Now, presently, the bo'sun called out to one of the men to make
breakfast, and when it was ready we came to it, leaving the man with the
wounded arm to keep watch; then when we had made an end, he sent him,
that had lost his fingers, to keep a look-out whilst the other came to
the fire and ate his breakfast. And in the meanwhile, the bo'sun took us
down to collect weed and reeds for the night, and so we spent the greater
part of the morning, and when we had made an end of this, we returned to
the top of the hill, to discover how matters were going forward; thus we
found, from the one at the look-out, that they, in the hulk, had been
obliged to heave twice upon the big rope to keep it off the weed, and by
this we knew that the ship was indeed making a slow sternway towards the
island--slipping steadily through the weed, and as we looked at her, it
seemed almost that we could perceive that she was nearer; but this was no
more than imagination; for, at most, she could not have moved more than
some odd fathoms. Yet it cheered us greatly, so that we waved our
congratulations to the man who stood in the lookout in the
superstructure, and he waved back.

Later, we made dinner, and afterwards had a very comfortable smoke, and
then the bo'sun attended to our various hurts. And so through the
afternoon we sat about upon the crest of the hill overlooking the
hulk, and thrice had they in the ship to heave upon the big rope, and
by evening they had made near thirty fathoms towards the island, the
which they told us in reply to a query which the bo'sun desired me to
send them, several messages having passed between us in the course of
the afternoon, so that we had the carrier upon our side. Further than
this, they explained that they would tend the rope during the night, so
that the strain would be kept up, and, more, this would keep the ropes
off the weed.

And so, the night coming down upon us, the bo'sun bade us light the fires
about the top of the hill, the same having been laid earlier in the day,
and thus, our supper having been dispatched, we prepared for the night.
And all through it there burned lights aboard the hulk, the which proved
very companionable to us in our times of watching; and so, at last came
the morning, the darkness having passed without event. And now, to our
huge pleasure, we discovered that the ship had made great progress in the
night; being now so much nearer that none could suppose it a matter of
imagination; for she must have moved nigh sixty fathoms nearer to the
island, so that now we seemed able almost to recognize the face of the
man in the look-out; and many things about the hulk we saw with greater
clearness, so that we scanned her with a fresh interest. Then the man in
the look-out waved a morning greeting to us, the which we returned very
heartily, and, even as we did so, there came a second figure beside the
man, and waved some white matter, perchance a handkerchief, which is like
enough, seeing that it was a woman, and at that, we took off our head
coverings, all of us, and shook them at her, and after this we went to
our breakfast; having finished which, the bo'sun dressed our hurts, and
then, setting the man, who had lost his fingers, to watch, he took the
rest of us, excepting him that was bitten in the arm, down to collect
fuel, and so the time passed until near dinner.

When we returned to the hill-top, the man upon the look-out told us that
they in the ship had heaved not less than four separate times upon the
big rope, the which, indeed, they were doing at that present minute; and
it was very plain to see that the ship had come nearer even during the
short space of the morning. Now, when they had made an end of tautening
the rope, I perceived that it was, at last, well clear of the weed
through all its length, being at its lowest part nigh twenty feet above
the surface, and, at that, a sudden thought came to me which sent me
hastily to the bo'sun; for it had occurred to me that there existed no
reason why we should not pay a visit to those aboard the hulk. But when I
put the matter to him, he shook his head, and, for awhile, stood out
against my desire; but, presently, having examined the rope, and
considering that I was the lightest of any in the island, he consented,
and at that I ran to the carrier which had been hauled across to our
side, and got me into the chair. Now, the men, so soon as they perceived
my intention, applauded me very heartily, desiring to follow; but the
bo'sun bade them be silent, and, after that, he lashed me into the chair,
with his own hands, and then signaled to those in the ship to haul upon
the small rope; he, in the meanwhile, checking my descent towards the
weeds, by means of our end of the hauling-line.

And so, presently, I had come to the lowest part, where the bight of the
rope dipped downward in a bow towards the weed, and rose again to the
mizzenmast of the hulk. Here I looked downward with somewhat fearful
eyes; for my weight on the rope made it sag somewhat lower than seemed to
me comfortable, and I had a very lively recollection of some of the
horrors which that quiet surface hid. Yet I was not long in this place;
for they in the ship, perceiving how the rope let me nearer to the weed
than was safe, pulled very heartily upon the hauling-line, and so I came
quickly to the hulk.

Now, as I drew nigh to the ship, the men crowded upon a little platform
which they had built in the superstructure somewhat below the broken head
of the mizzen, and here they received me with loud cheers and very open
arms, and were so eager to get me out of the bo'sun's chair, that they
cut the lashings, being too impatient to cast them loose. Then they led
me down to the deck, and here, before I had knowledge of aught else, a
very buxom woman took me into her arms, kissing me right heartily, at
which I was greatly taken aback; but the men about me did naught but
laugh, and so, in a minute, she loosed me, and there I stood, not knowing
whether to feel like a fool or a hero; but inclining rather to the
latter. Then, at this minute, there came a second woman, who bowed to me
in a manner most formal, so that we might have been met in some
fashionable gathering, rather than in a cast-away hulk in the
lonesomeness and terror of that weed-choked sea; and at her coming all
the mirth of the men died out of them, and they became very sober, whilst
the buxom woman went backward for a piece, and seemed somewhat abashed.
Now, at all this, I was greatly puzzled, and looked from one to another
to learn what it might mean; but in the same moment the woman bowed
again, and said something in a low voice touching the weather, and after
that she raised her glance to my face, so that I saw her eyes, and they
were so strange and full of melancholy, that I knew on the instant why
she spoke and acted in so unmeaning a way; for the poor creature was out
of her mind, and when I learnt afterwards that she was the captain's
wife, and had seen him die in the arms of a mighty devil-fish, I grew to
understand how she had come to such a pass.

Now for a minute after I had discovered the woman's madness, I was so
taken aback as to be unable to answer her remark; but for this there
appeared no necessity; for she turned away and went aft towards the
saloon stairway, which stood open, and here she was met by a maid very
bonny and fair, who led her tenderly down from my sight. Yet, in a
minute, this same maid appeared, and ran along the decks to me, and
caught my two hands, and shook them, and looked up at me with such
roguish, playful eyes, that she warmed my heart, which had been
strangely chilled by the greeting of the poor mad woman. And she said
many hearty things regarding my courage, to which I knew in my heart I
had no claim; but I let her run on, and so, presently, coming more to
possession of herself, she discovered that she was still holding my
hands, the which, indeed, I had been conscious of the while with a very
great pleasure; but at her discovery she dropped them with haste, and
stood back from me a space, and so there came a little coolness into her
talk: yet this lasted not long; for we were both of us young, and, I
think, even thus early we attracted one the other; though, apart from
this, there was so much that we desired each to learn, that we could not
but talk freely, asking question for question, and giving answer for
answer. And thus a time passed, in which the men left us alone, and went
presently to the capstan, about which they had taken the big rope, and
at this they toiled awhile; for already the ship had moved sufficiently
to let the line fall slack.

Presently, the maid, whom I had learnt was niece to the captain's wife,
and named Mary Madison, proposed to take me the round of the ship, to
which proposal I agreed very willingly; but first I stopped to examine
the mizzen stump, and the manner in which the people of the ship had
stayed it, the which they had done very cunningly, and I noted how that
they had removed some of the superstructure from about the head of the
mast, so as to allow passage for the rope, without putting a strain upon
the superstructure itself. Then when I had made an end upon the poop, she
led me down on to the main-deck, and here I was very greatly impressed by
the prodigious size of the structure which they had built about the hulk,
and the skill with which it had been carried out, the supports crossing
from side to side and to the decks in a manner calculated to give great
solidity to that which they upheld. Yet, I was very greatly puzzled to
know where they had gotten a sufficiency of timber to make so large a
matter; but upon this point she satisfied me by explaining that they had
taken up the 'tween decks, and used all such bulkheads as they could
spare, and, further, that there had been a good deal among the dunnage
which had proved usable.

And so we came at last to the galley, and here I discovered the buxom
woman to be installed as cook, and there were in with her a couple of
fine children, one of whom I guessed to be a boy of maybe some five
years, and the second a girl, scarce able to do more than toddle. At this
I turned and asked Mistress Madison whether these were her cousins; but
in the next moment I remembered that they could not be; for, as I knew,
the captain had been dead some seven years; yet it was the woman in the
galley who answered my question; for she turned and, with something of a
red face, informed me that they were hers, at which I felt some surprise;
but supposed that she had taken passage in the ship with her husband; yet
in this I was not correct; for she proceeded to explain that, thinking
they were cut off from the world for the rest of this life, and falling
very fond of the carpenter, they had made it up together to make a sort
of marriage, and had gotten the second mate to read the service over
them. She told me then, how that she had taken passage with her mistress,
the captain's wife, to help her with her niece, who had been but a child
when the ship sailed; for she had been very attached to them both, and
they to her. And so she came to an end of her story, expressing a hope
that she had done no wrong by her marriage, as none had been intended.
And to this I made answer, assuring her that no decent-minded man could
think the worse of her; but that I, for my part, thought rather the
better, seeing that I liked the pluck which she had shown. At that she
cast down the soup ladle, which she had in her fist, and came towards me,
wiping her hands; but I gave back, for I shamed to be hugged again, and
before Mistress Mary Madison, and at that she came to a stop and laughed
very heartily; but, all the same, called down a very warm blessing upon
my head; for which I had no cause to feel the worse. And so I passed on
with the captain's niece.

Presently, having made the round of the hulk, we came aft again to the
poop, and discovered that they were heaving once more upon the big rope,
the which was very heartening, proving, as it did, that the ship was
still a-move. And so, a little later, the girl left me, having to attend
to her aunt. Now whilst she was gone, the men came all about me, desiring
news of the world beyond the weed-continent, and so for the next hour I
was kept very busy, answering their questions. Then the second mate
called out to them to take another heave upon the rope, and at that they
turned to the capstan, and I with them, and so we hove it taut again,
after which they got about me once more, questioning; for so much seemed
to have happened in the seven years in which they had been imprisoned.
And then, after a while, I turned-to and questioned them on such points
as I had neglected to ask Mistress Madison, and they discovered to me
their terror and sickness of the weed-continent, its desolation and
horror, and the dread which had beset them at the thought that they
should all of them come to their ends without sight of their homes and

Now, about this time, I became conscious that I had grown very empty; for
I had come off to the hulk before we had made our dinner, and had been in
such interest since, that the thought of food had escaped me; for I had
seen none eating in the hulk, they, without doubt, having dined earlier
than my coming. But now, being made aware of my state by the grumbling of
my stomach, I inquired whether there was any food to be had at such a
time, and, at that, one of the men ran to tell the woman in the galley
that I had missed my dinner, at which she made much ado, and set-to and
prepared me a very good meal, which she carried aft and set out for me in
the saloon, and after that she sent me down to it.

Presently, when I had come near to being comfortable, there chanced a
lightsome step upon the floor behind me, and, turning, I discovered that
Mistress Madison was surveying me with a roguish and somewhat amused air.
At that, I got hastily to my feet; but she bade me sit down, and
therewith she took a seat opposite, and so bantered me with a gentle
playfulness that was not displeasing to me, and at which I played so good
a second as I had ability. Later, I fell to questioning her, and, among
other matters, discovered that it was she who acted as scribe for the
people in the hulk, at which I told her that I had done likewise for
those on the island. After that, our talk became somewhat personal, and I
learnt that she was near on to nineteen years of age, whereat I told her
that I had passed my twenty-third. And so we chatted on, until,
presently, it occurred to me that I had better be preparing to return to
the island, and I rose to my feet with this intention; yet feeling that I
had been very much happier to have stayed, the which I thought, for a
moment, had not been displeasing to her, and this I imagined, noting
somewhat in her eyes when I made mention that I must be gone. Yet it may
be that I flattered myself.

Now when I came out on deck, they were busied again in heaving taut the
rope, and, until they had made an end, Mistress Madison and I filled the
time with such chatter as is wholesome between a man and maid who have
not long met, yet find one another pleasing company. Then, when at last
the rope was taut, I went up to the mizzen staging, and climbed into the
chair, after which some of the men lashed me in very securely. Yet when
they gave the signal to haul me to the island, there came for awhile no
response, and then signs that we could not understand; but no movement to
haul me across the weed. At that, they unlashed me from the chair,
bidding me get out, whilst they sent a message to discover what might be
wrong. And this they did, and, presently, there came back word that the
big rope had stranded upon the edge of the cliff, and that they must
slacken it somewhat at once, the which they did, with many expressions of
dismay. And so, maybe an hour passed, during which we watched the men
working at the rope, just where it came down over the edge of the hill,
and Mistress Madison stood with us and watched; for it was very terrible,
this sudden thought of failure (though it were but temporary) when they
were so near to success. Yet, at last there came a signal from the island
for us to loose the hauling-line, the which we did, allowing them to haul
across the carrier, and so, in a little while, they signaled back to us
to pull in, which, having done, we found a letter in the bag lashed to
the carrier, in which the bo'sun made it plain that he had strengthened
the rope, and placed fresh chafing gear about it, so that he thought it
would be so safe as ever to heave upon; but to put it to a less strain.
Yet he refused to allow me to venture across upon it, saying that I must
stay in the ship until we were clear of the weed; for if the rope had
stranded in one place, then had it been so cruelly tested that there
might be some other points at which it was ready to give. And this final
note of the bo'sun's made us all very serious; for, indeed, it seemed
possible that it was as he suggested; yet they reassured themselves by
pointing out that, like enough, it had been the chafe upon the cliff edge
which had frayed the strand, so that it had been weakened before it
parted; but I, remembering the chafing gear which the bo'sun had put
about it in the first instance, felt not so sure; yet I would not add to
their anxieties.

And so it came about that I was compelled to spend the night in the hulk;
but, as I followed Mistress Madison into the big saloon, I felt no
regret, and had near forgotten already my anxiety regarding the rope.

And out on deck there sounded most cheerily the clack of the capstan.



Now, when Mistress Madison had seated herself, she invited me to do
likewise, after which we fell into talk, first touching upon the matter
of the stranding of the rope, about which I hastened to assure her, and
later to other things, and so, as is natural enough with a man and maid,
to ourselves, and here we were very content to let it remain.

Presently, the second mate came in with a note from the bo'sun, which he
laid upon the table for the girl to read, the which she beckoned me to do
also, and so I discovered that it was a suggestion, written very rudely
and ill-spelt, that they should send us a quantity of reeds from the
island, with which we might be able to ease the weed somewhat from around
the stern of the hulk, thus aiding her progress. And to this the second
mate desired the girl to write a reply, saying that we should be very
happy for the reeds, and would endeavor to act upon his hint, and this
Mistress Madison did, after which she passed the letter to me, perchance
I desired to send any message. Yet I had naught that I wished to say, and
so handed it back, with a word of thanks, and, at once, she gave it to
the second mate, who went, forthwith, and dispatched it.

Later, the stout woman from the galley came aft to set out the table,
which occupied the center of the saloon, and whilst she was at this, she
asked for information on many things, being very free and unaffected in
her speech, and seeming with less of deference to my companion, than a
certain motherliness; for it was very plain that she loved Mistress
Madison, and in this my heart did not blame her. Further, it was plain to
me that the girl had a very warm affection for her old nurse, which was
but natural, seeing that the old woman had cared for her through all the
past years, besides being companion to her, and a good and cheerful one,
as I could guess.

Now awhile I passed in answering the buxom woman's questions, and odd
times such occasional ones as were slipped in by Mistress Madison; and
then, suddenly there came the clatter of men's feet overhead, and, later,
the thud of something being cast down upon the deck, and so we knew that
the reeds had come. At that, Mistress Madison cried out that we should go
and watch the men try them upon the weed; for that if they proved of use
in easing that which lay in our path, then should we come the more
speedily to the clear water, and this without the need of putting so
great a strain upon the hawser, as had been the case hitherto.

When we came to the poop, we found the men removing a portion of the
superstructure over the stern, and after that they took some of the
stronger reeds, and proceeded to work at the weed that stretched away in
a line with our taffrail. Yet that they anticipated danger, I perceived;
for there stood by them two of the men and the second mate, all armed
with muskets, and these three kept a very strict watch upon the weed,
knowing, through much experience of its terrors, how that there might be
a need for their weapons at any moment. And so a while passed, and it
was plain that the men's work upon the weed was having effect; for the
rope grew slack visibly, and those at the capstan had all that they
could do, taking fleet and fleet with the tackle, to keep it anywhere
near to tautness, and so, perceiving that they were kept so hard at it,
I ran to give a hand, the which did Mistress Madison, pushing upon the
capstan-bars right merrily and with heartiness. And thus a while passed,
and the evening began to come down upon the lonesomeness of the
weed-continent. Then there appeared the buxom woman, and bade us come to
our suppers, and her manner of addressing the two of us was the manner
of one who might have mothered us; but Mistress Madison cried out to her
to wait, that we had found work to do, and at that the big woman
laughed, and came towards us threateningly, as though intending to
remove us hence by force.

And now, at this moment, there came a sudden interruption which checked
our merriment; for, abruptly, there sounded the report of a musket in
the stern, and then came shouts, and the noise of the two other weapons,
seeming like thunder, being pent by the over-arching superstructure.
And, directly, the men about the taffrail gave back, running here and
there, and so I saw that great arms had come all about the opening which
they had made in the superstructure, and two of these flickered
in-board, searching hither and thither; but the stout woman took a man
near to her, and thrust him out of danger, and after that, she caught
Mistress Madison up in her big arms, and ran down on to the main-deck
with her, and all this before I had come to a full knowledge of our
danger. But now I perceived that I should do well to get further back
from the stern, the which I did with haste, and, coming to a safe
position, I stood and stared at the huge creature, its great arms, vague
in the growing dusk, writhing about in vain search for a victim. Then
returned the second mate, having been for more weapons, and now I
observed that he armed all the men, and had brought up a spare musket
for my use, and so we commenced, all of us, to fire at the monster,
whereat it began to lash about most furiously, and so, after some
minutes, it slipped away from the opening and slid down into the weed.
Upon that several of the men rushed to replace those parts of the
superstructure which had been removed, and I with them; yet there were
sufficient for the job, so that I had no need to do aught; thus, before
they had made up the opening, I had been given chance to look out upon
the weed, and so discovered that all the surface which lay between our
stern and the island, was moving in vast ripples, as though mighty fish
were swimming beneath it, and then, just before the men put back the
last of the great panels, I saw the weed all tossed up like to a vast
pot a-boil, and then a vague glimpse of thousands of monstrous arms that
filled the air, and came towards the ship.

And then the men had the panel back in its place, and were hasting to
drive the supporting struts into their positions. And when this was done,
we stood awhile and listened; but there came no sound above that of the
wail of the wind across the extent of the weed-continent. And at that, I
turned to the men, asking how it was that I could hear no sounds of the
creatures attacking us, and so they took me up into the look-out place,
and from there I stared down at the weed; but it was without movement,
save for the stirring of the wind, and there was nowhere any sign of the
devil-fish. Then, seeing me amazed, they told me how that anything which
moved the weed seemed to draw them from all parts; but that they seldom
touched the hulk unless there was something visible to them which had
movement. Yet, as they went on to explain, there would be hundreds and
hundreds of them lying all about the ship, hiding in the weed; but that
if we took care not to show ourselves within their reach, they would have
gone most of them by the morning. And this the men told me in a very
matter-of-fact way; for they had become inured to such happenings.

Presently, I heard Mistress Madison calling to me by name, and so
descended out of the growing darkness, to the interior of the
superstructure, and here they had lit a number of rude slush-lamps, the
oil for which, as I learned later, they obtained from a certain fish
which haunted the sea, beneath the weed, in very large schools, and took
near any sort of bait with great readiness. And so, when I had climbed
down into the light, I found the girl waiting for me to come to supper,
for which I discovered myself to be in a mightily agreeable humor.

Presently, having made an end of eating, she leaned back in her seat and
commenced once more to bait me in her playful manner, the which appeared
to afford her much pleasure, and in which I joined with no less, and so
we fell presently to more earnest talk, and in this wise we passed a
great space of the evening. Then there came to her a sudden idea, and
what must she do but propose that we should climb to the lookout, and to
this I agreed with a very happy willingness. And to the lookout we went.
Now when we had come there, I perceived her reason for this freak; for
away in the night, astern the hulk, there blazed half-way between the
heaven and the sea, a mighty glow, and suddenly, as I stared, being dumb
with admiration and surprise, I knew that it was the blaze of our fires
upon the crown of the bigger hill; for, all the hill being in shadow, and
hidden by the darkness, there showed only the glow of the fires, hung, as
it were, in the void, and a very striking and beautiful spectacle it was.
Then, as I watched, there came, abruptly a figure into view upon the
edge of the glow, showing black and minute, and this I knew to be one of
the men come to the edge of the hill to take a look at the hulk, or test
the strain on the hawser. Now, upon my expressing admiration of the sight
to Mistress Madison, she seemed greatly pleased, and told me that she had
been up many times in the darkness to view it. And after that we went
down again into the interior of the superstructure, and here the men were
taking a further heave upon the big rope, before settling the watches for
the night, the which they managed, by having one man at a time to keep
awake and call the rest whenever the hawser grew slack.

Later Mistress Madison showed me where I was to sleep, and so, having bid
one another a very warm good-night, we parted, she going to see that her
aunt was comfortable, and I out on to the main-deck to have a chat with
the man on watch. In this way, I passed the time until midnight, and in
that while we had been forced to call the men thrice to heave upon the
hawser, so quickly had the ship begun to make way through the weed. Then,
having grown sleepy, I said goodnight, and went to my berth, and so had
my first sleep upon a mattress, for some weeks.

Now when the morning was come, I waked, hearing Mistress Madison calling
upon me from the other side of my door, and rating me very saucily for a
lie-a-bed, and at that I made good speed at dressing, and came quickly
into the saloon, where she had ready a breakfast that made me glad I had
waked. But first, before she would do aught else, she had me out to the
lookout place, running up before me most merrily and singing in the
fullness of her glee, and so, when I had come to the top of the
superstructure, I perceived that she had very good reason for so much
merriment, and the sight which came to my eyes, gladdened me most
mightily, yet at the same time filling me with a great amazement; for,
behold! in the course of that one night, we had made near unto two
hundred fathoms across the weed, being now, with what we had made
previously, no more than some thirty fathoms in from the edge of the
weed. And there stood Mistress Madison beside me, doing somewhat of a
dainty step-dance upon the flooring of the look-out, and singing a quaint
old lilt that I had not heard that dozen years, and this little thing, I
think, brought back more clearly to me than aught else how that this
winsome maid had been lost to the world for so many years, having been
scarce of the age of twelve when the ship had been lost in the
weed-continent. Then, as I turned to make some remark, being filled with
many feelings, there came a hail, from far above in the air, as it might
be, and, looking up, I discovered the man upon the hill to be standing
along the edge, and waving to us, and now I perceived how that the hill
towered a very great way above us, seeming, as it were, to overhang the
hulk though we were yet some seventy fathoms distant from the sheer sweep
of its nearer precipice. And so, having waved back our greeting, we made
down to breakfast, and, having come to the saloon, set-to upon the good
victuals, and did very sound justice thereto.

Presently, having made an end of eating, and hearing the clack of the
capstan-pawls, we hurried out on deck, and put our hands upon the bars,
intending to join in that last heave which should bring the ship free out
of her long captivity, and so for a time we moved round about the
capstan, and I glanced at the girl beside me; for she had become very
solemn, and indeed it was a strange and solemn time for her; for she, who
had dreamed of the world as her childish eyes had seen it, was now, after
many hopeless years, to go forth once more to it--to live in it, and to
learn how much had been dreams, and how much real; and with all these
thoughts I credited her; for they seemed such as would have come to me at
such a time, and, presently, I made some blundering effort to show to
her that I had understanding of the tumult which possessed her, and at
that she smiled up at me with a sudden queer flash of sadness and
merriment, and our glances met, and I saw something in hers, which was
but newborn, and though I was but a young man, my heart interpreted it
for me, and I was all hot suddenly with the pain and sweet delight of
this new thing; for I had not dared to think upon that which already my
heart had made bold to whisper to me, so that even thus soon I was
miserable out of her presence. Then she looked downward at her hands upon
the bar; and, in the same instant, there came a loud, abrupt cry from the
second mate, to vast heaving, and at that all the men pulled out their
bars and cast them upon the deck, and ran, shouting, to the ladder that
led to the look-out, and we followed, and so came to the top, and
discovered that at last the ship was clear of the weed, and floating in
the open water between it and the island.

Now at the discovery that the hulk was free, the men commenced to cheer
and shout in a very wild fashion, as, indeed, is no cause for wonder, and
we cheered with them. Then, suddenly, in the midst of our shouting,
Mistress Madison plucked me by the sleeve and pointed to the end of the
island where the foot of the bigger hill jutted out in a great spur, and
now I perceived a boat, coming round into view, and in another moment I
saw that the bo'sun stood in the stern, steering; thus I knew that he
must have finished repairing her whilst I had been on the hulk. By this,
the men about us had discovered the nearness of the boat, and commenced
shouting afresh, and they ran down, and to the bows of the vessel, and
got ready a rope to cast. Now when the boat came near, the men in her
scanned us very curiously, but the bo'sun took off his head-gear, with a
clumsy grace that well became him; at which Mistress Madison smiled very
kindly upon him, and, after that, she told me with great frankness that
he pleased her, and, more, that she had never seen so great a man, which
was not strange seeing that she had seen but few since she had come to
years when men become of interest to a maid.

After saluting us the bo'sun called out to the second mate that he would
tow us round to the far side of the island, and to this the officer
agreed, being, I surmised, by no means sorry to put some solid matter
between himself and the desolation of the great weed-continent; and so,
having loosed the hawser, which fell from the hill-top with a prodigious
splash, we had the boat head, towing. In this wise we opened out,
presently, the end of the hill; but feeling now the force of the breeze,
we bent a kedge to the hawser, and, the bo'sun carrying it seawards, we
warped ourselves to windward of the island, and here, in forty fathoms,
we vast heaving, and rode to the kedge.

Now when this was accomplished they called to our men to come aboard, and
this they did, and spent all of that day in talk and eating; for those in
the ship could scarce make enough of our fellows. And then, when it had
come to night, they replaced that part of the superstructure which they
had removed from about the head of the mizzen-stump, and so, all being
secure, each one turned-in and had a full night's rest, of the which,
indeed, many of them stood in sore need.

The following morning, the second mate had a consultation with the
bo'sun, after which he gave the order to commence upon the removal of the
great superstructure, and to this each one of us set himself with vigor.
Yet it was a work requiring some time, and near five days had passed
before we had the ship stripped clear. When this had been accomplished,
there came a busy time of routing out various matter of which we should
have need in jury rigging her; for they had been so long in disuse, that
none remembered where to look for them. At this a day and a half was
spent, and after that we set-to about fitting her with such jury-masts as
we could manage from our material.

Now, after the ship had been dismasted, all those seven years gone, the
crew had been able to save many of her spars, these having remained
attached to her, through their inability to cut away all of the gear; and
though this had put them in sore peril at the time, of being sent to the
bottom with a hole in their side, yet now had they every reason to be
thankful; for, by this accident, we had now a foreyard, a topsail-yard, a
main t'gallant-yard, and the fore-topmast. They had saved more than
these; but had made use of the smaller spars to shore up the
superstructure, sawing them into lengths for that purpose. Apart from
such spars as they had managed to secure, they had a spare topmast lashed
along under the larboard bulwarks, and a spare t'gallant and royal mast
lying along the starboard side.

Now, the second mate and the bo'sun set the carpenter to work upon the
spare topmast, bidding him make for it some trestle-trees and bolsters,
upon which to lay the eyes of the rigging; but they did not trouble him
to shape it. Further, they ordered the same to be fitted to the
foretopmast and the spare t'gallant and royal mast. And in the meanwhile,
the rigging was prepared, and when this was finished, they made ready the
shears to hoist the spare topmast, intending this to take the place of
the main lower-mast. Then, when the carpenter had carried out their
orders, he was set to make three partners with a step cut in each, these
being intended to take the heels of the three masts, and when these were
completed, they bolted them securely to the decks at the fore part of
each one of the stumps of the three lower-masts. And so, having all
ready, we hove the mainmast into position, after which we proceeded to
rig it. Now, when we had made an end of this, we set-to upon the
foremast, using for this the foretopmast which they had saved, and after
that we hove the mizzenmast into place, having for this the spare
t'gallant and royal mast.

Now the manner in which we secured the masts, before ever we came to the
rigging of them, was by lashing them to the stumps of the lower-masts,
and after we had lashed them, we drove dunnage and wedges between the
masts and the lashings, thus making them very secure. And so, when we had
set up the rigging, we had confidence that they would stand all such sail
as we should be able to set upon them. Yet, further than this, the bo'sun
bade the carpenter make wooden caps of six inch oak, these caps to fit
over the _squared_ heads of the lower-mast stumps, and having a hole,
each of them, to embrace the jury-mast, and by making these caps in two
halves, they were able to bolt them on after the masts had been hove
into position.

And so, having gotten in our three jury lower-masts, we hoisted up the
foreyard to the main, to act as our mainyard, and did likewise with the
topsail-yard to the fore, and after that, we sent up the t'gallant-yard
to the mizzen. Thus we had her sparred, all but a bowsprit and jibboom;
yet this we managed by making a stumpy, spike bowsprit from one of the
smaller spars which they had used to shore up the superstructure, and
because we feared that it lacked strength to bear the strain of our fore
and aft stays, we took down two hawsers from the fore, passing them in
through the hawse-holes and setting them up there. And so we had her
rigged, and, after that, we bent such sail as our gear abled us to carry,
and in this wise had the hulk ready for sea.

Now, the time that it took us to rig the ship, and fit her out, was seven
weeks, saving one day. And in all this time we suffered no molestation
from any of the strange habitants of the weed-continent; though this may
have been because we kept fires of dried weed going all the night about
the decks, these fires being lit on big flat pieces of rock which we had
gotten from the island. Yet, for all that we had not been troubled, we
had more than once discovered strange things in the water swimming near
to the vessel; but a flare of weed, hung over the side, on the end of a
reed, had sufficed always to scare away such unholy visitants.

And so at last we came to the day on which we were in so good a
condition that the bo'sun and the second mate considered the ship to be
in a fit state to put to sea--the carpenter having gone over so much of
her hull as he could get at and found her everywhere very sound; though
her lower parts were hideously overgrown with weed, barnacles and other
matters; yet this we could not help, and it was not wise to attempt to
scrape her, having consideration to the creatures which we knew to
abound in those waters.

Now in those seven weeks, Mistress Madison and I had come very close to
one another, so that I had ceased to call her by any name save Mary,
unless it were a dearer one than that; though this would be one of my own
invention, and would leave my heart too naked did I put it down here.

Of our love one for the other, I think yet, and ponder how that mighty
man, the bo'sun, came so quickly to a knowledge of the state of our
hearts; for he gave me a very sly hint one day that he had a sound idea
of the way in which the wind blew, and yet, though he said it with a
half-jest, methought there was something wistful in his voice, as he
spoke, and at that I just clapped my hand in his, and he gave it a very
huge grip. And after that he ceased from the subject.


How We Came to Our Own Country

Now, when the day came on which we made to leave the nearness of the
island, and the waters of that strange sea, there was great lightness
of heart among us, and we went very merrily about such tasks as were
needful. And so, in a little, we had the kedge tripped, and had cast
the ship's head to starboard, and presently, had her braced up upon
the larboard tack, the which we managed very well; though our gear
worked heavily, as might be expected. And after that we had gotten
under way, we went to the lee side to witness the last of that
lonesome island, and with us came the men of the ship, and so, for a
space, there was a silence among us; for they were very quiet, looking
astern and saying naught; but we had sympathy with them, knowing
somewhat of those past years.

And now the bo'sun came to the break of the poop, and called down to the
men to muster aft, the which they did, and I with them; for I had come to
regard them as my very good comrades; and rum was served out to each of
them, and to me along with the rest, and it was Mistress Madison herself
who dipped it out to us from the wooden bucket; though it was the buxom
woman who had brought it up from the lazarette. Now, after the rum, the
bo'sun bade the crew to clear up the gear about the decks, and get
matters secured, and at that I turned to go with the men, having become
so used to work with them; but he called to me to come up to him upon the
poop, the which I did, and there he spoke respectfully, remonstrating
with me, and reminding me that now there was need no longer for me to
toil; for that I was come back to my old position of passenger, such as I
had been in the _Glen Carrig_, ere she foundered. But to this talk of
his, I made reply that I had as good a right to work my passage home as
any other among us; for though I had paid for a passage in the _Glen
Carrig_, I had done no such thing regarding the _Seabird_--this being the
name of the hulk--and to this, my reply, the bo'sun said little; but I
perceived that he liked my spirit, and so from thence until we reached
the Port of London, I took my turn and part in all seafaring matters,
having become by this quite proficient in the calling. Yet, in one
matter, I availed myself of my former position; for I chose to live aft,
and by this was abled to see much of my sweetheart, Mistress Madison.

Now after dinner upon the day on which we left the island, the bo'sun and
the second mate picked the watches, and thus I found myself chosen to be
in the bo'sun's, at which I was mightly pleased. And when the watches had
been picked, they had all hands to 'bout ship, the which, to the pleasure
of all, she accomplished; for under such gear and with so much growth
upon her bottom, they had feared that we should have to veer, and by this
we should have lost much distance to leeward, whereas we desired to edge
so much to windward as we could, being anxious to put space between us
and the weed-continent. And twice more that day we put the ship about,
though the second time it was to avoid a great bank of weed that lay
floating athwart our bows; for all the sea to windward of the island, so
far as we had been able to see from the top of the higher hill, was
studded with floating masses of the weed, like unto thousands of islets,
and in places like to far-spreading reefs. And, because of these, the sea
all about the island remained very quiet and unbroken, so that there was
never any surf, no, nor scarce a broken wave upon its shore, and this,
for all that the wind had been fresh for many days.

When the evening came, we were again upon the larboard tack, making,
perhaps, some four knots in the hour; though, had we been in proper rig,
and with a clean bottom, we had been making eight or nine, with so good a
breeze and so calm a sea. Yet, so far, our progress had been very
reasonable; for the island lay, maybe, some five miles to leeward, and
about fifteen astern. And so we prepared for the night. Yet, a little
before dark, we discovered that the weed-continent trended out towards
us; so that we should pass it, maybe, at a distance of something like
half a mile, and, at that, there was talk between the second mate and the
bo'sun as to whether it was better to put the ship about, and gain a
greater sea-room before attempting to pass this promontory of weed; but
at last they decided that we had naught to fear; for we had fair way
through the water, and further, it did not seem reasonable to suppose
that we should have aught to fear from the habitants of the
weed-continent, at so great a distance as the half of a mile. And so we
stood on; for, once past the point, there was much likelihood of the weed
trending away to the Eastward, and if this were so, we could square-in
immediately and get the wind upon our quarter, and so make better way.

Now it was the bo'sun's watch from eight of the evening until midnight,
and I, with another man, had the lookout until four bells. Thus it
chanced that, coming abreast of the point during our time of watching,
we peered very earnestly to leeward; for the night was dark, having no
moon until nearer the morning; and we were full of unease in that we had
come so near again to the desolation of that strange continent. And
then, suddenly, the man with me clutched my shoulder, and pointed into
the darkness upon our bow, and thus I discovered that we had come nearer
to the weed than the bo'sun and the second mate had intended; they,
without doubt, having miscalculated our leeway. At this, I turned and
sang out to the bo'sun that we were near to running upon the weed, and,
in the same moment, he shouted to the helmsman to luff, and directly
afterwards our starboard side was brushing against the great outlying
tufts of the point, and so, for a breathless minute, we waited. Yet the
ship drew clear, and so into the open water beyond the point; but I had
seen something as we scraped against the weed, a sudden glimpse of
white, gliding among the growth, and then I saw others, and, in a
moment, I was down on the main-deck, and running aft to the bo'sun; yet
midway along the deck a horrid shape came above the starboard rail, and
I gave out a loud cry of warning. Then I had a capstan-bar from the rack
near, and smote with it at the thing, crying all the while for help, and
at my blow the thing went from my sight, and the bo'sun was with me, and
some of the men.

Now the bo'sun had seen my stroke, and so sprang upon the t'gallant rail,
and peered over; but gave back on the instant, shouting to me to run and
call the other watch, for that the sea was full of the monsters swimming
off to the ship, and at that I was away at a run, and when I had waked
the men, I raced aft to the cabin and did likewise with the second mate,
and so returned in a minute, bearing the bo'sun's cutlass, my own
cut-and-thrust, and the lantern that hung always in the saloon. Now when
I had gotten back, I found all things in a mighty scurry--men running
about in their shirts and drawers, some in the galley bringing fire from
the stove, and others lighting a fire of dry weed to leeward of the
galley, and along the starboard rail there was already a fierce fight,
the men using capstan-bars, even as I had done. Then I thrust the
bo'sun's cutlass into his hand, and at that he gave a great shout, part
of joy, and part of approbation, and after that he snatched the lantern
from me, and had run to the larboard side of the deck, before I was well
aware that he had taken the light; but now I followed him, and happy it
was for all of us in the ship that he had thought to go at that moment;
for the light of the lantern showed me the vile faces of three of the
weed men climbing over the larboard rail; yet the bo'sun had cleft them
or ever I could come near; but in a moment I was full busy; for there
came nigh a dozen heads above the rail a little aft of where I was, and
at that I ran at them, and did good execution; but some had been aboard,
if the bo'sun had not come to my help. And now the decks were full of
light, several fires having been lit, and the second mate having brought
out fresh lanterns; and now the men had gotten their cutlasses, the which
were more handy than the capstan-bars; and so the fight went forward,
some having come over to our side to help us, and a very wild sight it
must have seemed to any onlooker; for all about the decks burned the
fires and the lanterns, and along the rails ran the men, smiting at
hideous faces that rose in dozens into the wild glare of our fighting
lights. And everywhere drifted the stench of the brutes. And up on the
poop, the fight was as brisk as elsewhere; and here, having been drawn by
a cry for help, I discovered the buxom woman smiting with a gory meat-axe
at a vile thing which had gotten a clump of its tentacles upon her dress;
but she had dispatched it, or ever my sword could help her, and then, to
my astonishment, even at that time of peril, I discovered the captain's
wife, wielding a small sword, and the face of her was like to the face of
a tiger; for her mouth was drawn, and showed her teeth clenched; but she
uttered no word nor cry, and I doubt not but that she had some vague idea
that she worked her husband's vengeance.

Then, for a space, I was as busy as any, and afterwards I ran to the
buxom woman to demand the whereabouts of Mistress Madison, and she, in a
very breathless voice, informed me that she had locked her in her room
out of harm's way, and at that I could have embraced the woman; for I had
been sorely anxious to know that my sweetheart was safe.

And, presently, the fight diminished, and so, at last, came to an end,
the ship having drawn well away from the point, and being now in the
open. And after that I ran down to my sweetheart, and opened her door,
and thus, for a space, she wept, having her arms about my neck; for she
had been in sore terror for me, and for all the ship's company. But,
soon, drying her tears, she grew very indignant with her nurse for having
locked her into her room, and refused to speak to that good woman for
near an hour. Yet I pointed out to her that she could be of very great
use in dressing such wounds as had been received, and so she came back to
her usual brightness, and brought out bandages, and lint, and ointment,
and thread, and was presently very busy.

Now it was later that there rose a fresh commotion in the ship; for it
had been discovered that the captain's wife was a-missing. At this, the
bo'sun and the second mate instituted a search; but she was nowhere to be
found, and, indeed, none in the ship ever saw her again, at which it was
presumed that she had been dragged over by some of the weed men, and so
come upon her death. And at this, there came a great prostration to my
sweetheart so that she would not be comforted for the space of nigh three
days, by which time the ship had come clear of those strange seas, having
left the incredible desolation of the weed-continent far under our
starboard counter.

And so, after a voyage which lasted for nine and seventy days since
getting under weigh, we came to the Port of London, having refused all
offers of assistance on the way.

Now here, I had to say farewell to my comrades of so many months and
perilous adventures; yet, being a man not entirely without means, I
took care that each of them should have a certain gift by which to
remember me.

And I placed monies in the hands of the buxom woman, so that she could
have no reason to stint my sweetheart, and she having--for the comfort of
her conscience--taken her good man to the church, set up a little house
upon the borders of my estate; but this was not until Mistress Madison
had come to take her place at the head of my hall in the County of Essex.

Now one further thing there is of which I must tell. Should any,
chancing to trespass upon my estate, come upon a man of very mighty
proportions, albeit somewhat bent by age, seated comfortably at the door
of his little cottage, then shall they know him for my friend the
bo'sun; for to this day do he and I fore-gather, and let our talk drift
to the desolate places of this earth, pondering upon that which we have
seen--the weed-continent, where reigns desolation and the terror of its
strange habitants. And, after that, we talk softly of the land where God
hath made monsters after the fashion of trees. Then, maybe, my children
come about me, and so we change to other matters; for the little ones
love not terror.


Back to Full Books