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King o' the Beach: A Tropic Tale, Page 2

George Manville Fenn


  The doctor was first by the injured lad's side, quickly followed by thecaptain and a score of passengers who had been roused to action by theaccident.

  "Keep everyone back," cried the doctor, "and let's have air."

  The doctor was for the moment in command of the vessel, and the captainobeyed without a word, forming all who came up into a wide circle, andthen impatiently returning to the injured lad's side.

  "Well?" he panted, as he took off his gold-banded cap to wipe hisstreaming forehead. "Tell me what to do."

  "Nothing yet," replied the doctor, who was breathing hard, but strivingto keep himself professionally cool.

  "Not dangerously hurt?" whispered the captain; but in the terriblesilence which had fallen his words were distinctly heard above thethrobbing of the vibrating engines, which seemed to make the greatvessel shudder at what had occurred.

  "I am not sure yet," said the doctor gravely.

  "But the blood--the blood!" cried one of the lady passengers.

  "As far as I can make out at present the leather case of his glass hassaved his skull from fracture. He fell right upon it, but I fear thatthe collar-bone is broken, and I cannot say yet whether there isanything wrong with the spine.

  "No!" he said the next minute, for the sufferer stretched out his handsas if to clutch and save himself, and he moved his legs.

  There were plenty of willing hands ready to help, and a canvas stretcherwas drawn beneath the sufferer so that he could be carried carefullydown to one of the state cabins, which was immediately vacated for hisuse; and there for hours Doctor Kingsmead was calling into his serviceeverything that a long training could suggest; but apparently in vain,for his patient lay quite insensible in the sultry cabin, apparentlysinking slowly into the great ocean of eternity.

  And all the time the huge steamer tore on over the oily sea through agreat heat which rivalled that of the engine-room, and the captain andfirst and second mates held consultations twice over in connection withbarometer and chart, by the light of the swinging lamp below.

  The passengers supposed that those meetings concerned the injured boy,but the sailors, who had had experience, knew that there was somethingmore behind, and that evening after the sun had gone downs lookingcoppery and orange where a peculiar haze dimmed the west, one of thesailors who had gathered round where old Bostock was seated hazarded afew words to his senior.

  "Looks a strange deal like a storm," he said.

  "Ay, it does," said the old sailor; "and as I was saying," he continued,passing his hand across his eyes, "it do seem strange how these thingscome about. Here's me more'n fifty, and about half wore out, andthere's this here young gent just beginning, as you may say, and cutdown like that. You lads mayn't believe it, but he kinder made me taketo him from the first, and I'd a deal rayther it was me cut down thanhim."

  "Ah, poor lad!" said one of the men, and there was a low murmur.

  "Look at that now," continued the old sailor, passing his hand acrosshis eyes again, and then holding it out and looking at it curiously;"wet as wet! He aren't nothing to me, so I suppose I must be growingolder and softer than I thought I was. Nothing to me at all but apassenger, and here am I, mates, crying like a great gal."

  "There aren't naught to be 'shamed on, Bob Bostock," said anothermiddle-aged man. "I know what you feels, mate, for I've got boys o' myown, and he's somebody's bairn. Got a father and mother waiting for himout in Brisbun. Ah! there'll be some wet eyes yonder when they come toknow."

  "Ay, there will," came in chorus.

  "'Taren't that he's such a good-looking lad, nor so big nor strong. Idunno what it was, but everyone took to him from the first day he comeaboard. Never made himself too common nor free, but there he was, allusthe gen'leman with you--what you may call nice."

  "Reg'lar true-born Englishman, I say," said another.

  "Nay, just aye like a young Scot," said another.

  "Hark at that!" said another, looking round defiantly; "it's of Oirishdescent he is. Isn't his name Carey?"

  "What!" cried another, angrily. "Carey--Carew. It's a Welsh nameinteet, and as old as the hills."

  "Never mind what he is--English or Scotch or Welsh."

  "Or Irish," put in one of those who had spoken.

  "Or Irish," said old Bostock; "he's as fine a lad as ever stepped, Isay, and I'd take it kindly if one of you would take my watch to-night,for I want to hang about ready to do anything the doctor may want in theway o' lifting or fetching water. It don't seem nat'ral to stand by andsee the stooard's mate doing things for the lad as he'd, ask me to do ifhe could speak."

  "Ah! he mostly come to you, Bob Bostock, when he wanted a bit o'fishing-line or anything o' that kind."

  "He did," said the old sailor, "and glad I allus was to help him. Maybewe are going to have a blow to-night, and if it comes so much thebetter. It'll make it cooler for the poor lad, for it's hot enough now.Yes, we're in for a hurricane, my lads, as sure as we're at sea."

  He had hardly spoken the words when the first mate gave an order, theboatswain's whistle piped, and the men knew that their officers were ofthe same opinion as the old stagers among them. A storm was expected,and a bad one, in as bad a part of the world as could have been selectedfor the encounter.

  But no uneasiness was felt, for the _Chusan_ was a magnificent boat,with tackle of the finest description: all it would mean in such a boatso well commanded would be a tossing, with the decks drenched by thetumbling waves, for she was well commanded, the crew were in a capitalstate of discipline, as shown at once by the steady way in which theywent to work fulfilling the orders received, battening down hatches,extra lashing loose spare spars, seeing to the fastenings of the boats,and taking precautions against the water getting down into engine-roomor cabin, so that in a very short time everything was, as a sailor wouldsay, made snug, and there was nothing more that the most cautiouscaptain could have wished to see done to ensure the safety of themagnificent vessel in his charge.

  The passengers, who were still discussing the accident which hadbefallen the boy, and who had paid no heed to the peculiar look of thesky, the sea still heaving and sinking gently in an oily calm, now beganto notice the work going on, and the rumour soon spread among them thatthere was the possibility of a storm coming on.

  The result was that first one and then another began to hunt the captainto question him, but only to obtain short polite answers, that officerbeing too busy to gossip after the fashion wished. They fared worsewith the chief and second officers, who were quite short; and then oneof the most enterprising news-seekers on board captured old Bostock,literally button-holing him with the question:

  "Do you think we are going to have a storm?"

  "Don't think about it, sir. We shall have a buster before we're half anhour older. Going to blow great guns, so hold your hair on, sir. Can'tstop; going to hear how young Master Cranford's going on, sir."

  "Only a moment, my good friend," said the gossip. "Do you think therewill be any danger?"

  "Well, yes, sir," said the old sailor, with his eyes twinkling, but hisface as hard as if it had been cut out of wood; "this here is rather abad place to be caught in a storm. You see, sir, the water's ratherdeep."

  The captain had not been one-half so busy before during the voyage, andhis eyes were everywhere, seeing that there was nothing left loose; buthe found time twice over to go below to where Doctor Kingsmead wasseated by his patient's cot watching anxiously for every change, thepoor lad evidently suffering keenly from the furnace-like heat.

  "How is he, Kingsmead?" asked the captain, anxiously.

  "Bad as he can be," was the stern reply.

  "But can't you--Bah! absurd! you know your business better than I cantell you. Poor lad! How can I face his father when we get into port?It will be heart-breaking work. It is heart-breaking work, doctor, forthe young dog seemed to have a way of getting round your heart, and Icouldn't feel this accident more keenly if he were my own

  "Nor I," said the doctor, "if he were my own brother."

  "God bless him, and bring him safely through it!" said the captain,softly, as he laid his hand gently on the boy's brow. "I'm glad hisface is not disfigured."

  "Yes, so am I," said the doctor; "it does not tell tales of the terriblemischief that has been done."

  "What do you call it--concussion of the brain?"

  "Yes, there is no fracture of the skull; only of his collar-bone, andthat is a trifle compared to the other."

  "You must bring him round, doctor. Troubles never come singly."

  "What, have you some other trouble on hand?" said the doctor, ratherimpatiently, for he wanted the captain to go and leave him alone withhis patient.

  "Yes, don't you know?"

  "I know nothing but that I have that poor boy lying there to be savedfrom death if it be possible. Can't you have a wind-sail lowered downhere? The heat is intolerable."

  "Wind-sail? You'll have wind enough directly. We're going straightinto a typhoon, and no other course is open to me in this reef-strewnsea."

  "A storm?"

  "Yes, and a bad one, I expect. It will be pitch-dark directly."

  "The fresh air will be welcome," said the doctor, calmly.

  "Is the captain here?" said a voice at the state-room door--a voicespeaking in anxious tones.

  "Yes; what is it?" said the captain, quickly. "Come on deck, sir. It'srushing upon us like a great wall. Hear it?"

  Doctor Kingsmead turned his face for a moment towards the door, to heara peculiar dull distant roar, different from any sound with which he wasfamiliar. Then the door swung to, and he was bending over his youngpatient again, thinking of nothing else, hearing no more for a fewmoments, till the door was pushed open again, and the rough, ruddybronze face of Bostock appeared in the full light of the swinging lamp.

  "Beg pardon, sir," said the man, hoarsely. "Just going on dooty, andmayn't have another chance, as things looks bad."

  "What do you mean?" said the doctor, starting.

  "Just wanted to have one more look at the dear lad, sir."

  "But what do you mean by things looking bad?"

  "Haven't you seen, sir? Well, you can hear."

  The doctor could hear, for at that moment something struck the vessel atremendous blow, which made her shiver, and then all was turmoil andconfusion as rain, wind, and spray swept the decks, and the steamercareened over and lay for a time upon her beam-ends.

  "Come down and tell me if the storm gets worse," said the doctor, withhis lips to the man's ear.

  "Right, sir; but it can't be much worse till the sea gets up. It'sblown flat just now."

  The man gave a lingering look at the insensible boy, and then creptthrough the door, passing out quickly as if to keep some of the din fromentering the cabin.

  The doctor bent over his patient again, and then leaned forward tounscrew the fastening of the circular pane of glass which formed theport-hole.

  But he opened it only a few inches and then clapped it to and fastenedit again to keep out the rush of wind and spray which entered with awild shriek and rocked the lamp to and fro, threatening to put it out.

  He returned to his seat and watched, paying no heed whatever to theterrific roar of the storm nor the quivering of the great vessel, whichwas evidently being driven at great speed dead in the teeth of thestorm, though really making very little progress.

  And then hours went by, with the doctor as insensible to the progress ofthe terrific hurricane as the boy he watched. There were plenty ofpassengers below, but no one came near, and the two within thatdimly-lit cabin seemed to be the only living beings on board, soperfectly uninterrupted did they remain.

  This did not trouble the doctor in the least, for all he required was tobe left undisturbed with Nature, that she might have time to work hercure, for as far as he was concerned nothing could be done.

  He knew that a tremendous storm was raging, though there was so littlesea on that the motion of the vessel was not violent, for the simplereason that the tops of the waves were cut off by the terrific wind,which literally levelled the white waste of waters through which theytore.

  It must have been about midnight when the cabin door was opened again,and the old sailor crept in and close up to the doctor's side.

  "How is he, sir?" said the man, with his lips close to the doctor's ear.

  "Very, very bad, my man," was the reply.

  "Poor dear lad!" growled the old sailor. "So we are up yonder, sir."

  "Oh!" said the doctor, quietly, but without taking his eyes from thepatient.

  "Engine's running at full speed to keep us head to wind."

  "Oh!" said the doctor, in the same low, uninterested tone.

  "Wust storm I was ever in, sir, and if it don't soon lull goodness knowswhat will happen next."

  "Indeed?" said the doctor. "But go now. Quietness is everything for mypatient now."

  "Well, I'm blest," said the man to himself; "it's like talking to anyonein his sleep. Quietness, eh? Hang it! I didn't make half so muchnoise as the wind. He's thinking of that poor lad and of nothing else."

  It was so all through the night, the doctor hardly noticing therefreshments brought in by the white-faced steward, who tried to get upa conversation, but with very little success. "Terrible storm, sir."

  "Yes," said the doctor.

  "Bad for poor young Mr Cranford, aren't it, sir?"

  "Very bad."

  "Lot of the passengers ill, sir, and asking for you, sir."

  "Sea-sick?" said, the doctor, with a momentary display of interest."Awful, sir."

  "I could do nothing for them, and I cannot leave my patient," said thedoctor, slowly.

  The steward ventured upon another remark, but it was not heard.

  During the next few hours the captain sent down twice for news, but didnot once leave the deck, the storm raging with, if possible, greaterviolence; but the vessel fought bravely, backed as she was by theguidance of skilful hands, and evening was approaching, with everybodyon board growing worn out with anxiety or exertion.

  The night came on weird and strange, the white spray and the peculiarmilky phosphorescent surface of the sea relieving the darkness, butgiving in its place a terribly ghastly glare.

  It was about seven, for the doctor had just glanced at his watch to seeif it was time to repeat the medicine under whose influence he waskeeping his patient, when all at once there was a tremendous shock as ifthere had been an explosion, a crashing sound heard for the moment abovethe tempest's din, and then the doctor was conscious of a change, and heknew what it meant. The thrill and vibration of the screw had ceased,and that could only mean one thing, the falling off of the propeller orthe breaking of the shaft on which it turned.

  He had proof of this a few minutes later in the movement of the greatvessel, which no longer rode steadily over the swell, head to wind, butgradually fell off till she lay rolling in the hollows, careened over bythe pressure of the storm, and utterly unmanageable.

  There was a mingling of strange sounds now, as, following the motion ofthe vessel as she rolled heavily, everything below that was loose dashedfrom side to side of the cabins; but still the doctor paid no more heed.He retrimmed the lamp from time to time, and tried to retrim the lampof Carey Cranford's young life; but it seemed to be all in vain.

  Suddenly the door opened again, and this time it was not the steward'sface which appeared, but the old sailor's.

  "Any better, sir?" he said, hoarsely.

  "No; worse," replied the doctor.

  "So it is on deck, sir," whispered the man. "Main shaft broke shortoff, and propeller gone. They've been trying to hyste a bit o' sail soas to get steering way on, but everything's blew to rags."

  The doctor nodded shortly, and after a longing look at the young patientthe man went out on tiptoe.

  A couple of hours went by, with the vessel rocking horribly, and thenall at once there came a heavy grinding crash, an
d the rolling motionceased, the vessel for a few brief moments seemed at peace on an evenkeel, and the doctor uttered a sigh of relief, which had hardly passedhis lips before there was a noise like thunder, the side of the steamerhad received a heavy blow, and hundreds of tons of water poured downover her, sweeping the deck, and then retiring with a wild hissingnoise.

  Doctor Kingsmead was experienced sailor enough to know that the steamerhad been carried by the hurricane upon one of the terrible coral reefsof that dangerous sea, and he could foresee, as he believed, theresult--the billows would go on raising the vessel and letting her fallupon the sharp rocks till she broke up, unless the storm subsided andthe breakers abated in violence so that the passengers and crew mighttake to the boats.

  He knit his brow and sat thinking for a few minutes of the chances oflife and death at such a time, but became absorbed in the condition ofhis patient again, for there was his duty. There were the officers tosee to the preservation of life from the wreck.

  Once more he had warning of the state of affairs on deck, old Bostockhurrying down.

  "Got anything you want to save, sir?" he said, excitedly; "if so shoveit in your pocket. They're getting the boats out. I'll come and giveyou word, and help you with young squire here."

  "What!" said the doctor, excitedly now. "Impossible; it would meandeath for the boy to be moved."

  "It'll mean death, sir, if he aren't moved," said the old sailor,sternly. "You button him up in a coat, and be ready against I come."

  The door banged to, and the doctor hurriedly caught up some of hispatient's garments and stood frowning, as he leaned over him, felt hispulse, and then laid his hand upon the poor lad's head.

  "Impossible," he said; "it would crush out the flickering flame of life.He cannot be moved."

  As he spoke he threw the clothes aside and went sharply towards the doorand looked out, to see that the passengers were crowding up the cabinstairs in an awful silence, the horror of their position having broughtthem to a state of despairing calm.

  The doctor stood looking at them for a few moments, and then turned tocross to his patient's side, bending over him for a few moments, andthen sinking into the seat by his side.