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   Chapter 24 CHARLES DELAYED.

The Twins By Martin Farquhar Tupper Characters: 12554

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Few things could well be more unlikely than that Emily should hear of Charles again before she saw him: for, having left Madras as speedily as might be, now that his mission was so easily, yet so naturally, accomplished-having posted, as we know, his overland letter-and having got on board the fast-sailing ship Samarang, Captain Trueman, Charles, in the probable course of things, if he wrote at all, must have been his own postman. But the Fates-(our Christianity can afford to wink now and then at Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos; for, at any rate, they are as reasonable creatures as Chance, Luck, and Accident,)-the Fates willed it otherwise: and, accordingly, it is in my power to lay before the reader another genuine lucubration of Charles Tracy.

A change had come over the spirit of their dream, those youthful lovers: and agonizing doubt must rack their hearts, threatening to rend them both asunder. It is evident to me that Charles's letter (which Emily showed to me with a melancholy face) was on principle less warm, less dottable with stars, and more conversant with things of this world; high, firm, honourable principle; intending very gently, very gradually, to wean her from him, if he could; for his faith in Jeanie Mackie had been shaken, and-but let us hear him tell us of it all himself.

"I.E.M. Samarang. St. Helena.

"You will wonder, my dear Emily, to hear again before you see me: but I am glad of this providential opportunity, as it may serve to prepare us both. Naturally enough you will ask, why Charles cannot accompany this letter? I will tell you, dear, in one word-Mrs. Mackie is now lying very ill on shore; and, as far as our poor ship is concerned, you shall hear about it all anon. Several of the passengers, who were in a hurry to get home, have left us, and gone in the packet-boat that takes you this letter: gladly, as you know, would I have accompanied them, for I long to see you, poor dear girl; but it was impossible to leave the old woman, upon whom alone, under God, our hopes of earthly happiness depend: if, alas! we still can dream about such hopes.

"Oh, Emily-I heartily wish that, having finished my embassage by that instantaneous finding of the old Scotch nurse, I had never been so superfluous as to have left those letters of introduction, wherewith you kindly supplied me, in an innocent wish to help our cause. But I felt solitary too, waiting at Madras for the next ship to England; and in my folly, forgetful of the single aim with which I had come, Jeanie Mackie, to wit, I thought I might as well use my present opportunities, and see what I could of the place and its inhabitants.

"With that view, I left my letters at Government House, at Mr. Clarkson's, Colonel Bunting's, Mrs. Castleton's, and elsewhere, according to direction; and immediately found answer in a crowd of invitations. I need not vex you nor myself, Emmy, writing as I do with a heavy, heavy heart, by describing gayeties in which I felt no pleasure, even when amongst them, for my Emmy was not there: splendour, prodigality, and red-hot rooms, only made endurable by perpetually fanning punkahs: pompous counsellors, authorities, and other men in office, and a glut of military uniforms: vulgar wealth, transparent match-making, and predominating dullness: along with some few of the charities and kindnesses of life (Mrs. Bunting, in particular, is an amiable, motherly, good-hearted woman), all these you will readily fancy for yourself.

"My trouble is deeper than any thing so slight as the common satiations of ennui: for I have heard in these circles in which your-my-the general, I mean, chiefly mixed, so much of that ill-rumour that it cannot all be false: they knew it all, and were certain of it all, too well, Emily, dear. And I have been pestering Nurse Mackie night and day; but the old woman is so afraid of being left behind any where, or thrown overboard, or dropped, upon some desert rock, that she is quite cross, and won't say a single word in answer, even when I tell her all these terrible tales. Her resolution is, not to reveal one syllable more, until she sets foot on England; and several people at Madras annoyed me exceedingly by saying, that this kind of thing is an old trick with people who wish to be sent home again. She has hidden away her papers somewhere; not that I was going to steal them: but it shows how little trust she puts in any thing, or any one, except the keeping of her own secret. However, she does adhere obstinately, and hopefully for us, to her original hint, 'you are not what he thinks you;' although she will not condescend to any single proof, or explanation, against the mighty mass of evidence, which probabilities, and common rumour, and the general's own belief, have heaped together. When I call you Emmy, too-the old soul, in her broad Scotch way, always corrects me, and invokes a blessing upon 'A-amy:' so there is a mystery somewhere: at least, I fervently hope there is: and, if the old woman has been playing us false, let us resign ourselves to God, my girl; for our fate will be that matters are as people say they are-and then my old black postscript ends too truly with a wo, wo, wo-!

"But I must shake off all this lethargy of gloom, dearest, dearest girl-how can I dare to call you so? Let me, therefore, rush for comfort into other thoughts; and tell you at once of the fearful dangers we have now mercifully escaped; for the Samarang lies like a log in this friendly port, dismasted, and next to a wreck.

"I proceed to show you about it; perhaps I shall be tedious-but I do it as a little rest, my own soul's love, from anxious, earnest, heart-distracting prayers continually, continually, that the sorrow which I spoke of be not true. Sometimes, a light breaks in, and I rejoice in the most sanguine hope: at others, gloom-

"But a truce to all this, I say. Here shall follow didactically the cause why the good ship Samarang is not by this time in the Docks.

"We were lying somewhere about the tropical belt, Capricorn you know, (O, those tender lessons in geography, my Emmy!) quite becalmed; the sea like glass, and the sky like brass, and the air in a most stagnant heat: our good ship motionless, dead in a dead blue sea it was

'Id

le as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.'

"The sails were hanging loosely in the shrouds: every one set, from sky-scraper to stud-sail, in hopes to catch a breath of wind. My fellow-passengers and the crew, almost melted, were lying about, as weak as parboiled eels: it was high-noon, all things silent and subdued by that intolerable blaze; for the vertical sun, over our multiplied awnings and umbrellas, burnt us up, fierce as a furnace.

"I was leaning over the gangway, looking wistfully at the cool, clear, deep sea, wherefrom the sailors were trying to persuade a shark to come on board us, when, all at once, in the south-east quarter, I noticed a little round black cloud, thrown up from the horizon like a cricket-ball. As any thing is attractive in such sameness as perpetual sea and sky, my discovery was soon made known, and among the first to our captain.

"Calling for his Dolland, and bidding his second lieutenant run quick to the cabin and look at the barometer, he viewed the little cloud in evident anxiety, and shook his head with a solemn air: more than one light-hearted woman thinking he was quizzing them.

"Up came Lieutenant Joyce, looking as if he had seen a ghost in the cabin.

"'The mercury, sir, is falling just as rapidly as it would rise if you plunged it into boiling water: an inch a minute or so!"

"Our captain saw the danger instantly, and, brave as Trueman is, I never saw a man look paler.

"To drive all the passengers below, and pen them in with closed hatches and storm-shutters, (so hot, Emmy, that the black-hole of Calcutta must have been an ice-house to it: how the foolish people abused our wise skipper, and more than one pompous old Indian threatened him with an action for false imprisonment!) this huddling away was the first effort; and simultaneously with it, the crew were all over the rigging, furling sails, hurriedly, hurriedly.

"Meanwhile (for I was last on deck), that little cloud seemed whirling within itself, and many others gathered round it, all dancing about on the horizon, as if sheaves of mischief tossed about by devils: I don't wish to be poetical, Emmy, for my heart is very, very sad; but if ever the powers of the air sow the wind and reap the whirlwind, they were gathering in their harvest at that door. Underneath the skipping clouds, which came on quickly, leaping over each other, as when the wain is loaded by a score of hands, I noticed a sea approaching, such as Pharaoh must have seen, when the wall of waters fell upon him; and premonitory winds came whistling by, and two or three sails were flapping in them still, and I was hurried down stairs after all the rest of us.

"Then, on a sudden, it appeared not winds, nor waves, nor thunder, but as if the squadroned cavalry of heaven had charged across the seas, and crushed our battered ship beneath their horse-hoofs! We were flung down flat on our beam ends; and the two or three unfurled sails, bursting with the noise of a cannon, were scattered miles away to lee-ward as if they had been paper. As for the poor fellows in the rigging, the spirit of the storm had already made them his: twenty of our men were swept away by that tornado.

"Then there was hewing and cleaving on deck, the clatter of many axes and hatchets: for we were in imminent danger of being capsized, keel uppermost, and our only chance was to cut away the masts.

"The muscles of courage were tried then, my Emmy, and the strength which religion gives a man. I felt sensibly held up by the Everlasting Arms: I could listen to the still small Voice in the midst of a crash which might have been the end of all things: though in darkness, God had given me light; though in uttermost peril, my peace was never calmer in our little village school.

"And the billows were knocking at the poor ship's side like sledge hammers; and the lightnings fell around us scorchingly, with forked bolts, as arrows from the hand of a giant; the thunders overhead, close overhead, crashing from a concave cloud that hung about us heavily-a dense, black, suffocating curtain-roared and raved as nothing earthly can, but thunder in the tropics; the rain was as a cataract, literally rushing in a mass: the winds appeared not winds, nor whirlwinds, but legions of emancipated demons shrieking horribly, and flapping their wide wings; a flock of night-birds flying from the dawn; and all else was darkness, confusion, rolling and rocking about, the screams of women, the shouts of men, curses and prayers, agony, despair, and-peace, deep peace.

"On a sudden, to our great astonishment, all was silent again, oppressively silent; and, but for the swell upon the seas, all still. The tornado had rushed by: that troop of Tartar horse, having sacked the village, are departed, now in full retreat: the blackness and the fury are beheld on our lee, hastening across the broad Atlantic to Cuba or Jamaica: and behold, a tranquil temperate sky, a kindly rolling sea, a favouring breeze, and-not a sail, but some slight jury-rig, to catch it.

"Many days we drifted like a log upon the wave; provisions running short, and water-water under tropical suns-scantily dealt out in tea-cups. Then, poor old Mackie's health gave way; and I dreaded for her death: one living witness is worth a cart-load of cold documents. So I nursed and watched her constantly: till the foolish folks on board began to say I was her son: ah! me, for your sake I wish it had been so.

"And at length, just as some among the sailors were hinting at a mutiny for spirits, and our last case of Gamble's meat was opened for the sick, our look-out on the jury-mast gave the welcome note of 'Land!' and soon, to us on deck, the heights of St. Helena rose above the sea. Towed in by friendly aid, here we are, then, precious Emily, refitting: and, as it must be a week yet before we can be ready, I have taken my old woman to a lodging upon land, and rejoice (what have I to do with joy?) to see her speedily recovering."

The remainder of Charles's long letter is so stupid, so gloomy, so loving, and so little to the purpose, that I take an editor's privilege, and omit it altogether. Of course he was coming home again, as soon as the Samarang and Jeanie Mackie would permit.

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