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The Pilot and his Wife By Jonas Lie Characters: 12675

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The Juno arrived in due course at Boston, where Salvé invested a considerable portion of his wages in the material for a dress, a couple of silk handkerchiefs, and two massive rings with his own and Elizabeth's initials on them.

From Boston she proceeded to Grimsby with a Canadian cargo; then on a short trip to Liverpool; then back to Quebec; and some ten or eleven months after leaving Arendal, they were on a voyage from Memel in the Baltic to New York, with a cargo of timber, planks, and pipe-staves-the intention being to call in at the home port, for which she had some general cargo, to take in provisions.

During these voyages Salvé, as one may say, had completed his apprenticeship to the sea; and in his blue shirt loosely knotted round the throat, his leather belt and canvas trousers, he had such a look of smartness and energy that it required no very great amount of discernment to perceive in him a sailor from top to toe. He had, sooner than most, risen superior to the dangers and temptations to which young sailor lads are exposed during the years of their novitiate, and with a break-neck recklessness of disposition he combined such a perfectly cat-like activity, that his superior smartness was recognised even among his comrades. His bearing, it is true, was rather arrogant, and his tongue not the most good-natured; but he was generally liked nevertheless, for he was kind-hearted, if he was only taken on the right side, and it did not seem to be his sailor-like qualities upon which he prided himself so much as upon the superior acuteness of his understanding, which he delighted to display in discussions with the red-bearded and somewhat consequential sailmaker, who had the reputation of being a well-read man, and who affected a proportionate importance.

Up at Memel they had had great difficulties to contend with, owing to the condition of the ice; and their bad luck seemed to be going to follow them, for in the Skager Rack they found themselves suddenly wedged into a field of drift-ice, with the prospect of having to remain where they were for weeks perhaps. The cold had been unusually severe that winter in the Baltic, and out over the plain of ice by which they were surrounded they could see flags of all nations sharing a similar fate. There was nothing for it but to wait and hope; and if the ice did not break up soon, short rations would become the order of the day.

It was wearisome; and to Salvé above all, who was feverishly longing to get home, and whose temperament was little suited for the endurance of such agonies of Tantalus. He became the very embodiment of restlessness. A hundred times a-day he went aloft to look out for some prospect of a change, and to strain his eyes after the streak of land to the north which was to be made out on clear days from the maintop-gallant mast-head, and which of course would be the coast of Norway. The dress, the silk handkerchiefs, the rings, and what he should say to Elizabeth-whether he should formally request a private interview with her, or wait till an opportunity offered-were running incessantly in his head. And particularly what he should say to her seemed now, often as he had thought it over during the long voyage and settled it to his satisfaction, to present many points of difficulty. He must go down then to his seaman's chest and see if the things were still there all right, and whether the moths might not have got into them; the last inspection, when he unfolded the stuff in his bunk, being conducted with uncommon precautions.

At last there came a prospect of release in the shape of thick weather, and a southerly gale setting on the Norwegian coast. The ice too had for a day or two previously begun to show blue patches of water here and there, and when it was dark that evening they felt themselves free once more.

In spite of the salt water and the rain, which he had to wipe off his face every minute, Salvé went to his look-out post forward that night, and stood there humming to himself, whilst the rest of the crew who were on duty slopped up and down on the deck-cargo below, in sea-boots and dripping oilskins, or sheltered themselves, as best they could, under the lee of the round-house or forecastle. They had been hard at work all day, making openings in the ice; and now the groaning and whistling among the blocks and ropes, that were increasing every minute, gave little promise of rest for the night.

The captain stood upon the poop in his thick overcoat and drenched fur cap, with his trumpet under his arm, looking anxiously through the night-glass from time to time, and his voice sounded unusually stern. There lay before him in the dark, blustering, winter night a veritable David's choice. The strong southerly current, aided by the gale, was fast carrying him in under the Norwegian coast; while on the other hand, if he tried to beat to windward, he risked coming into collision with the ice-floes. Added to that, he was not very clear as to his position; and as the gale increased, he began to pace restlessly backwards and forwards, addressing, every now and then, a word down to one of the helmsmen, whose forms could be seen by the gleam from the binnacle.

"How's her head, Jens?"

"Sou'-west, sir; she'll lay no higher."

"H'm! more and more on land!" he muttered, the perspiration coming out upon his forehead under his fur cap, which, in spite of the rain, he had to push back to get air. Both life and ship would soon be at stake.

"What says the look-out-man, mate?" he asked of the latter, who came up the steps at this moment from taking a turn forward.

"Black as pitch. If we stuck a lantern out on the flying jib-boom, we should see that far at any rate. But the lead gives deep water."

"Does it?" was the rather scornful rejoinder.

"The blockhead doesn't seem to know yet," growled the captain, as the other turned away, "that the lead will give you deep water here until your vessel has her nose upon the cliff."

There was no chance of a pilot on such a night as this promised to be; but still, in the hope that the wind might carry the sound in under land, a few shots were fired from the signal-gun.

At last there was no longer any choice left. If they were not to end upon the rocks that night, they must crowd on more sail,

and try at all hazards to haul off the coast.

The order was accordingly given to shake a reef out, followed by "Haul in the topsail bow-lines-clap on the topsail halyards, and hoist away!" and in the darkness might be heard occasionally "halimen-oh!-oh hoi!" as the sailors worked at the tough and heavy sail, with the cordage all stiff and swollen with ice and slippery with the rain, the spray driving in their faces, and the vessel rolling so that sometimes they were hanging on by the ropes only, when the deck went from under their feet.

Under the fresh weight of sail the vessel careened over, and shot foaming forward with new life for a moment. The next, the topsail had burst away from the bolt-ropes with a report as of a cannon-shot, and she had fallen away into the trough of the sea. The mainstay-sail sheet parted at the same time, and a deluge of water carried overboard, with part of the bulwarks, a large portion of the deck cargo, which consisted of heavy timber, leaving the remainder tossed about in the wildest confusion, and much of it standing on end against the railings and capstan.

It was some time before she could be brought up in the wind again, and the old Juno had then to go through a trial such as her joints even in her younger days had never been equal to. She was like many another vessel that is a good sailor enough, a little broken-backed from the weight of the cargo amidships; and as she gave to the strain, the ladder that stood in the hold began to saw up and down in the coaming forward, while the water came oozing in through the staring bow timbers, and the pumps had to be kept continually going. The hatches were all battened down, and many of the crew had lashed themselves to the lower rigging as preferable now to the deck.

"Ready about!-tacks and sheets!" &c.; "luff now, and keep her close to the wind!"-the same monotonous words of command all through the night every time they lay over upon a new tack, while at the same time they would generally ship a heavy sea, and the vessel would shake through all her frame.

Day broke and passed in a fog, that left them in much the same uncertainty as before about their position. For one moment it had lifted, and they fancied they had seen "Homborgsund's Fald," a high landmark up the country above Arendal, and from its lowness and dimness on the horizon, they had been encouraged to hope that they had appreciably increased their distance from the coast. About noon they passed an English brig that had been through the same struggle as the Juno was now engaged upon, whose signals of distress they had already occasionally heard faintly upon the wind, and which now seemed on the point of foundering. The crew had climbed into the after-rigging, which was all that now remained standing, and they made despairing signs for help; but it was impossible to render any. They had enough to do to keep themselves afloat.

The gale showed no signs of moderating, and that night, as Salvé Kristiansen and another were taking their turn at the wheel, there gleamed suddenly out of the pitchy darkness to leeward of the fore-rigging the white crest of a tremendous eddy wave, which a moment after came crashing down upon the deck, carrying clean away the round-house, binnacle, and long-boat, damaging the wheel, and leaving many of the drenched and half-suffocated sailors deposited in the most unexpected places, and only glad to find that they still had the deck under them.

"Ugly sea on the lee-bow!" was heard again from forward, and all in that direction seemed suddenly to have become a mass of white.

"Ready about!-hard a-lee!" and with a great lurch the old craft went about once more, the renewed shrieking in every kind of pitch in the rigging, and the blinding dash of spray, showing to what a hurricane the gale had risen.

Salvé had been too much occupied with the damaged wheel at first to have a thought to spare for anything else; but it recurred to him very soon that when that first dark sea had broken over them so unexpectedly from leeward, he had seen for a moment the glimmer of two lights on its crest, and a world of associations was at once aroused in his mind: it seemed to the lad's romantic fancy that he was keeping an appointment with Elizabeth Raklev. As he glanced hurriedly back, the two light-dots again appeared. He had seen them too often before to be mistaken, and he shouted over his shoulder to the captain, who noticed them now for the first time, "Those lights behind to leeward are from old Jacob's hearth on Torungen!"

"Are you sure of that?" muttered Beck, coming nearer to him at the same time over the sloping deck with the help of a rope. "If they are, it will not be long before we are dashed to atoms on the rocks."

A conversation ensued between them, in which Salvé declared that he had known the water under Torungen from childhood as well as he did his father's garden; and the upshot was that Beck, pale and hesitating, determined to go in under land with him as pilot.

"It is much that is being intrusted this night to two young shoulders," said he; "and see you think twice, young man, both for your own life's sake and ours."

They kept away then, and stood in under land with the least sail they could carry in the tremendous sea that was now breaking in their wake, and soon the thunder of the breakers became audible.

Salvé was pale, but perfectly calm, as he stood there with the speaking-trumpet, after having taken over the command, and with the captain and mate by his side. But all of a sudden great beads of perspiration came out on his forehead. There was something curiously irregular about the light. It had become dim and red, and then seemed to go out altogether. Had he by any possibility made a mistake? and was he now sailing the Juno with all on board straight for the rocks?

The uncertainty lasted for a quarter of an hour, and never in his life had Salvé seen so heavy a countenance as that with which Beck, whose expression discovered a trace of doubt, looked at him, evidently hesitating whether he should not take the command again himself.

But in the mean time the gleam of light shone forth again-whatever might have been the cause of its obscuration-and that night Salvé Kristiansen brought the Juno safely into Merd?.

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