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But a little before eleven o'clock on the night of the third day the gale broke. Suddenly, I witnessed a flash of yellow moonshine upon the porthole directly facing me, and with a shout of exultation I sprang to my feet, and crying out, “Thank God, here's fine weather coming at last!" I made a spring to the companion steps and hauled myself up through the hatch.
It was a sight I would not have missed witnessing for much. The moon at that instant had swept into a clear space of indigo black heaven; her light flashed fair upon the vast desolation of swollen waters; every foaming head of sea glanced with an ivory whiteness that by contrast with the black welter upon which it broke showed with something of the glory of crystalline snow beheld in the sunlight; the clouds had broken and were sailing across the sky in dense dark masses; it still blew violently, but there was a deep peculiar note in the roar of the wind aloft, which was assurance positive to a nautical ear that the strength of the gale was exhausted, just as in a humming-top the tone lowers and lowers yet as the thing slackens its revolutions. By one o'clock that morning it was no more than a moderate breeze with a high angry swell, of which, however, Finn made nothing; for after escorting Miss Jennings to her cabin I heard them making sail on deck. I went on deck to take a last look round before turning in; I found the wind shifted to west-north-west and the Bride swarming and plunging over the strong southerly swell under a whole mainsail, gaff foresail and jib, with hands sheeting home the square topsail, Crimp singing out in the waist, and Finn making a sailor's supper off a ship's biscuit in one hand and a cube of salt junk in the other by the light of the moon.
The gale was followed by several days of true tropical weather: light airs before which our stem slid so softly as to leave the water unwrinkled; then pauses of utter stagnation with the horizon slowly waving in the roasting atmosphere as if it were some huge snake winding round and round the sea and our mastheads wriggling up into the brassy blue like the points of rotating corkscrews.
I rose one morning early, loathing the narrow frizzling confinement of my cabin, where the heat of the upper deck dwelt in the atmosphere with a sort of tingling, and where the wall, thick as the scantling was and cooled besides outside by the wash of the brine, felt to the hand warm as a glass newly rinsed in hot water. I went on deck and found myself in a cloudless day. The sun was a few degrees above the horizon, and his wake flowed in a river of dazzling glory to the inverted image of the yacht reflected with mirror-like perfection in the clear, pale-blue profound over which she was imperceptibly stealing, fanned by a draught so tender that it scarcely lifted the airy space of topgallant-sail whose foot arched like a curve of new moon from one topsail yard-arm to the other.
I had noticed the dim grey outline of what was apparently a huge shark off our quarter on the previous night, and went to the rail to see if the beast was still in sight; and I was overhanging the bulwark, sniffing with delight the fresh salt smell that floated up from alongside, scarce warmed as yet by the early sun, and viewing with admiration the lovely representation of the yacht's form in the water, with my own face looking up at me too, as though I lay a drowned man down there, when Finn suddenly called out: "A humpish looking craft, your honour; and I'm a lobster if I don't think by the stink in the air that her cargo's phosphate manure!"
I sprang erect, and on turning was greatly astonished to observe a barque of some four or five hundred tons approaching us just off the weather bow, and almost within hail. I instantly crossed the deck to get a better view of her. She was a round-bowed vessel, deep in the water, with a dirty white band broken by painted ports going the length of her, and she rolled as clumsily upon the light swell as if she were full of water. She had apparently lost her foretopgallant-mast, and the head of the topmast showed heavy with its crosstrees over the tall hoist of single topsail. A group of men stood on the forecastle viewing us, and now and again a head was thrust over the quarterdeck rail. But she was approaching us almost bow on, and her bulwarks being high, there was little to be seen of her decks.
“A very queer smell,” said I, tasting a sort of faint acid in the atmosphere, mingled with an odour of an earthy, mouldering kind, as though a current of air that had crept through some churchyard vault had stolen down upon us.
“Bones or bird-dung, sir; perhaps both. I recognise the smell; there's nicer perfumes a-going.”
“Has she signalled you?”
“Ay, sir; that she wanted to speak, and then hauled her colours down when she saw my answering pennant. She's been in sight since hard upon midnight. Crimp made her out agin the stars, and how we've stole together, blessed if I know, for all the air that's blowed since the middle watch wouldn't have weight enough to slant a butterfly off its course."
"What do they want, I wonder ?" said I; "rather a novelty for us to be spoken, Finn, seeing that it has always been the other way about. Bless mel how hot it is! Pleasant to be a passenger aboard yonder craft under that sun there, if the aroma she breathes is warrant of the character of her cargo.'
A few minutes passed; the barque then shifting her helm slowly drew out, giving us a view of her length. As she did so she hauled up her main course and braced aback her fore-yards. This looked like business; for, had her intention been to hail us merely in passing, our joint rate of progress was so exceedingly slow as to render any manœuvring, such as heaving to, unnecessary. Finn and I were looking at her, waiting for the yacht to be hailed, when Crimp who had been in the waist superintending the washing down of the decks—for he was in charge, though the captain had come up at once on hearing that there was a vessel close to us—sour old Crimp, I say, whom I had observed staring with a peculiar earnestness at the barque, came aft and said: "Ain't this smell old bones ?”
"Foul enough for 'un," answered Finn.
“Dummed,” cried Crimp, gazing intently with his cross eyes whilst his mat of beard worked slowly to the action of his jaw upon a quid as though there were something behind it that wanted to get out, “if I don't believe that there craft's the Liza Robbins."
“Well, and what then?" demanded Finn. "Why, if so, my brother's her skipper."
Finn levelled his glass. He took a long look at the figure of a man who was standing on the barque's quarter, and who was manifestly pausing until the vessel should have closed a little more yet to hail us.
"Is your brother like you, Jacob ?” he asked, bringing his eye from the telescope.
“Ay, werry image, only that his wision's straight. We're twins."
“Then there ye are to the life!” cried Finn, bursting into a laugh and pointing to the barque's quarterdeck.
Crimp rested the glass on the rail and put his sour face to it. “Yes," he exclaimed, “that's ’Arry, sure enough," and without another word he returned to the waist and went on coolly directing the scrubbing and swabbing of the men.
“Mr. Monson," said Finn, who had taken the glass from Crimp, and extending it to me as he spoke, "just take a view of them figures on the fo'c'sle, sir, will 'ee? There's three of 'em standing alone close against the cathead. They ain't blue-jackets, are they?”
But at this instant we were hailed, and I forgot Finn's request in listening to what was said.
"What schooner is that and where are you bound?" cried the man on the barque's quarter-deck in a voice whose sulky rasping note so exactly resembled Jacob Crimp's when he exerted his lungs, that I observed some of our sailors staring with astonishment, as though they imagined Muffin had gone to work again.
"The Bride of Southampton on a cruise," responded Finn, adding in an aside to me: "no use in singing out about the Cape of Good Hope, sir."
There was a brief pause, then Finn bawled: "What ship are you?"
"The Liza Robbins," was the answer, “of and for Liverpool from Hitchaboo with a cargo of gewhany."