The Blue Peter/The Remarkable Conversion of the Rev. Thomas Ruddle
THE REMARKABLE CONVERSION OF THE REV. THOMAS RUDDLE
The passengers on board the s.s. Nantucket, bound from New York to Table Bay, were of a kind to make any old-fashioned seaman shake his head and talk dismally of Davy Jones. They were nearly all ministers and missionaries, and it is well known to all who follow the sea that gentlemen of that kind are unlucky to have on board. For Davy Jones is the very devil, and if he gets a chance to drown a minister he does it at once, so that he may do no more good. There can be no mistake about this, for every sailorman of great experience will endorse the theory with strange oaths. What all sailors say must be true, for they know their business.
One of these missionaries was the Reverend Mr. Ruddle, and he was the chief of all the others, who were going to South Africa to do it good. There were six of them all told. Thomas Ruddle had his wife with him, for he could not exist without her; and she, for her part, thought him a marvellous man and a darling. He had a beautiful smile, and a big black beard, and a voice like the bellow of an amiable bull. But Mrs. Ruddle was blue-eyed, with the complexion of a Californian peach and a voice like a flute. She would have followed him to Davy Jones' locker itself if he had asked her, and though he did not think of doing anything so unorthodox, they were not far from having to go there without the consent of anyone. For when the Nantucket was within two hundred miles of Capetown it came on to blow from the south-east as if the very devil was at the bellows, and after the old packet had proved that she hadn't sufficient power to make headway against the gale, she promptly cracked her shaft, and went drifting away to loo'ard like a Dutch schuyt on a lee tide.
"It is a very sad misfortune, and I do not know now when we shall be in Africa," said Tom Ruddle. "I regret to say, my dear, that the captain is on the main-deck using very bad language to the chief engineer, who is replying to him in a way that I cannot approve. Indeed, I think he swears worse than Captain Stokes, if it is possible, which I doubt."
The other gentlemen in black mostly kept to their cabins, but Ruddle went about in the most astonishing way. If the Nantucket stood on her head Ruddle never lost his feet, and when she stood on her tail he was quite at his ease. When she indulged in a wild compound wallow in those delightful cross pyramidal seas which are the peculiar attribute of the South Atlantic in the neighbourhood of the Cape, all that Tom Ruddle said was 'Dear me.' He even said it when Captain Stokes did a flying scoot on the main-deck, and brought up against the rail with a crash that almost unshipped his teeth. What Stokes said was not 'Dear me.' And the old Nantucket went drifting west-nor'-west on the branch of the current, coming round the Cape, which runs far to the north of Tristan d'Acunha, as if she had put Africa out of her mind. Down below the engineers were trying very hard to fake up something to brace round the shaft, so that they could at least turn the engines ahead when the weather let up a little. It seemed a hopeless job, and to none so hopeless as to the engine-room crowd. And just as perseverance with the impossible seemed about to be rewarded, the Nantucket gave a wallow in an awful sea, and quietly dropped her propeller as a scared lizard drops its tail. Then very naturally the wind took off, and the sea went down and smoothed itself out, and looked quite pretty to those who had been watching the grey waste in despair.
"We're done," said the skipper. For the idea of sailing her into Table Bay was as feasible as sailing her to the moon. The wind, although it had fallen light, was still in the east, and it threatened to stay so till it blew another gale, after the fashion of Cape weather, where fifty per cent. of all winds that blow are gales.
"It is exceedingly unfortunate," said Ruddle.
"What will happen to us?" asked his fellows in deep melancholy.
"Something must," said their brave leader, and sure enough it did. A sailing ship hove in sight to loo'ard. The skipper, as soon as he heard of the stranger, made up his mind what to do. He hoisted the signal 'In distress—want assistance,' and presently the sailing ship came up under her lee within hailing distance, and backed her main-topsail.
"Are you bound for Table Bay?" asked Captain Stokes, and the obliging stranger said he was. In ten minutes it was all arranged, and the Nantucket's passengers were being transhipped to the Ocean Wave of a thousand tons register, belonging to London. Stokes went on board with the last boat, and shook hands with the master of the Ocean Wave.
"When you get in send a tug out to find us," said Stokes; "it's goin' to blow heavy in a while."
"I'll do it," said Captain Gray; "but are you sure that you won't come along?"
"I'd go under first," said Stokes; "I'll stick by her till I'm as old as the Flying Dutchman, and my beard is down to my knees."
It was very rash to say such things in the very cruising ground of Vanderdecken, and some of the crew of the Wave that heard it shivered. But Stokes was a hard case, and believed in nothing. He said good-bye to his passengers and went on board the Nantucket. The Ocean Wave boarded her maintack and stood on her course with her new crowd of passengers, who were very much delighted to be on board something that did not go to leeward like a butter-cask.
"How strange to be on board a sailing ship," said Ruddle, as he stood on the poop with the skipper, who was a genial old chap with a white beard, and a figure as square as a four-hundred gallon tank.
"Why strange, Mr. Ruddle?" asked Captain Gray. "Barring your rig-out you look a deal more like a seaman than a parson, at least you do to my eye."
"Your eye is right, captain," said Ruddle with a sigh. "But it is a very remarkable thing that though I have been a sailor I know nothing about the sea that I have not picked up on board the unlucky steamer we have just left."
"That's a very strange thing to say, sir," said the skipper, as he eyed Ruddle from head to foot. "May I ask how you make that out? Once a seaman always a seaman, I should say. I can't imagine my forgetting anything. I never could."
"It's a very strange story," said Ruddle; "and if there wasn't evidence for it I shouldn't believe it myself. But in my pocket-book below I have my old discharges as mate, and yet at the present moment there is no one on board who knows less about the sea than I do, though I old a master's certificate."
"Spin us the yarn," said the skipper, and Ruddle told him the strange tale.
"I am informed," said the minister, "that I was, at the time I am about to mention, mate in a ship belonging to Dundee. I say I am told, because I have not the least recollection of it. To put it shortly, I may tell you that I had an accident, and when I became sensible again I was in hospital in Liverpool."
"But what was your accident?" asked Captain Gray.
"Something that I am told you call a shearpole came down from aloft and struck me on the head, and I knew no more," said Ruddle, who was evidently a very poor hand at a yarn.
"Well, well, go on," said the skipper. "What happened then?"
"How do I know?" asked Ruddle in his turn. "I was knocked silly while the crew were taking in sail in a very great storm to the south of Ireland, and they say I was very angry with the poor fellows up aloft and was using dreadful language to them. I was struck down, and when I came to myself I was not myself at all but another,—if I do not sadly confuse you by putting it that way,—and I had forgotten all that had happened since I went to sea, and I did not want to go again. I became a minister instead and a missionary."
"Well, I'm jiggered," said Gray, "but that's a corker of a yarn. Were you married when you were a seaman?"
"No," replied Ruddle; "I met my wife soon after I became my second and present self, and my remarkable story so interested her that we got married. It is interesting, isn't it?"
"And do you mean to say that you remember nothing whatever of the sea? Could you go aloft, for instance?"
Mr. Ruddle looked up aloft and shivered.
"Oh, I couldn't," he said. "The very look of the complicated apparatus with which I must have been once only too familiar fills me with peculiar horror."
"Well, I'm damned," said Gray. "What's the opposite point of the compass to sou'-east-by-sou'-half sou'-southerly?"
"I give it up. Tell me," said the minister simply.
Gray shook his head.
"You surprise me, sir. Can you tell when there is a mighty strong likelihoods of bad weather comin' along?"
"I'm not at all bad at guessing when it's likely to rain," said the former mate modestly. "I'm never caught in a shower without my umbrella."
And Gray shook his head again, and confided to the sea and air that Ruddle was a red wonder.
"If you don't know more about weather than that, you are going to have a fine chance to learn, Mr. Ruddle," said the skipper. "I smell a howling gale or I'm a double-distilled Dutchman. If it don't come out of nor'-east like a rampin', ragin', snortin' devil, call me no sailor, but the reddest kind of sojer."
There were many signs of it, and the fall of the glass was only one. The swell that had been coming in from the south-east now began to come more from the north, and the whole of the horizon was in a kind of smoke. The wind, which had fallen so light, now began to puff a little, and though it was no more than a breeze that any man's t'gallan's'ls could look at comfortably, there were odd sighs in the wind, sighs which had a rising tendency to become wails. Before long they would be wailings and no mistake, for these sounds are the real voice of a hurricane, and foretell it. The skipper looked up to windward and spoke to his mate.
"Mr. Dixon, I think we had better snug her down a bit before it gets dark, so clew up the t'gallan's'ls, and then we'll take the mainsail off her. And after that you can reef the foresail. While the breeze holds in the nor'-east we'll make all we can. But I reckon we'll be hove to by the morning."
There wasn't much doubt of that to those who knew something of Cape weather. The Cape pigeons as they wheeled and whistled about the Ocean Wave said 'clew up and clew down.' At anyrate, the crew for'ard said so as they turned out to shorten sail. Mr. Ruddle went below to encourage his companions and his wife. By the time it was as dark as the bottom of a tar-barrel they wanted encouragement, for the Wave began to pitch in a manner that the Nantucket had not accustomed them to, and as the wind increased the song of the gale in the rigging got on their nerves sadly.
"What do you think of it. Brother Ruddle?" asked his friend Chadwick, a little butter-tub of a man with the courage of a lion among the heathen or the denizens of a New York slum, but without as much spirit when the wind blew as would enable a school-girl to face a cow in a lane. "What does Brother Ruddle think of it?"
Ruddle said that he did not think much of it, for he thought the skipper was not frightened.
"Although the sea threatens to rage, my friends," said the chief, "he shows no signs of unseemly terror, but with calm confidence bids his brave crew haste up aloft and reduce the mighty spread of canvas. They are even now engaged in the task. Hear with what strange music, which somehow begins to have a familiar ring in my ears, they encourage each other in their arduous duties. Oh, my friends, we little think when we are safe in the heart of Africa, or in the back parts of the Bowery, how seamen encounter dangers on our behalf."
"Ah, and you were a sailor once, Tom," said his wife.
"I do not praise myself, dear, in praising them, for now I dare not face those dangers with which at one time I must have been familiar. It is wonderful, all life is wonderful. If I had not been smitten upon the head by a shearpole, whatever a shearpole may be, I might never have known any of you, my dear friends; and I might never have married you, my dear. Ah, it is a wonderful world, and they are making a very remarkable noise upstairs."
They certainly were making a noise, and so was the wind, and Mr. Dixon was saying very unorthodox things, and so was Smith the second mate. And every now and again the skipper could be heard in exhortation, so that Susan Ruddle snugged up alongside her husband, and said that she was glad he was not a seaman, though that she was sure that if he were one now he would never employ such language. Ruddle comforted her, and said it would fill him with horror to know that he had ever used any of that kind of talk. He felt sure in his mind that the report of his having ever done so must have been a malicious invention of some enemy. Since he had borne up for the Church he had been, as all men knew, of a scrupulousness which was extra Puritanical even for a minister. He never said 'damn' unless he had to in the course of his duty.
Presently the Ocean Wave began to behave herself a little better under shortened canvas, and the old skipper came into the cabin with his face shining with spray, and a good-natured grin on him which would have encouraged the biggest coward at sea in a cyclone. Little Mrs. Ruddle cheered up on sight of him, and so did all but the Reverend Mr. Blithers, who was in a state of terror that was sheer lunacy.
"Is it a great storm? Are we going down?" asked Blithers. He was so far encouraged that he could speak.
"Bless my heart," replied the skipper, "what are you thinking of, in a nice breeze like this, and in a sailin' ship too? If you was in an old smokestack like the one I took you gents out of you might howl, but here you are in a fine tight ship, the real genuine article, and are a deal safer than if you was ashore."
"Oh, do you say so?" asked Blithers. "Oh, is it possible that you can say so with the wind howling like this?"
And indeed the gale began to pipe as if it meant business.
"Hold your tongue, Blithers," said Ruddle; "be a man and a missionary, and do not howl."
Blithers said his brother was unkind, and ought to be more gentle with a weak vessel. And at that the skipper put in his oar, and suggested that so weak a vessel should not carry sail but retire to his cabin. At this Ruddle laughed jovially, and Blithers said he was hard and cruel, and devoid of all real religious feelings.
"Don't be a fool, my dear man," said Ruddle, "but go to bed. It is perhaps natural to be upset by the strange uproar, and the noise of the wind, and the trampling of the men on deck, but that is no reason why you should say I am not religious. If I were not I should be angry with you and say regrettable things, such as I am informed, on very good authority, that I said when I was a seaman."
"I don't believe you ever were one," said the sad and angry Blithers. "And if you were, it is a pity you did not stay one, for you are a very unkind man, and not good to me in my sad state of mind."
It took five missionaries to get Blithers into bed, but he went at last, and when he was gone Ruddle beamed on the rest, and said—
"Our poor brother is sadly upset by the weather. It is difficult to understand how he can be such a coward on the water when he is a real hero on the dry land, and has an especial gift of management with backsliding cannibals. But anything can be believed when you remember that I was once in the position of Mr. Dixon, whose voice I now hear saying something about the lee-braces, and knew all about everything on board a ship. And now, my friends, all things here are mystery to me, and I do not know what the lee-braces are, and cannot distinguish with accuracy between a binnacle and a bull-whanger, if indeed there is such a thing as I was told by one of the seamen on the Nantucket. Ah, hold tight, dear, she is rocking to and fro with ever increasing velocity. I fear that Blithers will never forget this night."
And they all had supper. The 'old man' sat it out with them, and put on his oilskins again and went on the poop. There was no mistake about it now. The Ocean Wave was in for a Cape stinger, and Gray, who was of the old-fashioned, bull-headed sort, rammed her along on the very path the cyclonic disturbance was taking. If he had been thoroughly acquainted with the nature of all cyclones wherever they are bred, he would have turned tail to the blast, and have run into fairer weather towards the south; or, as the Wave was in the southern semi-circle of the storm, he might have hove her to on the coming up or starboard tack. Instead of that he hung on all through the night. When the dawn came it was a fair howler and no mistake. Mr. Blithers and not a few of the others stayed in their bunks. It was blowing hard enough to make almost anyone ill, and the sea was very high. But Thomas Ruddle and his wife and Chadwick turned out to breakfast. If Ruddle trusted to Providence, Susan Ruddle trusted to him, and hardly thought it possible that any disaster could happen to her while he was to the fore. Mr. Chadwick was brave enough to hide his terror, though he was in a horrid funk. They hung on to the tables and ate some breakfast as best they could, and after eating. Ruddle and Mrs. Ruddle and Chadwick ventured on deck, in time to see the reefed foresail taken off her. Just as they got the weather clew-garnet chock up, the gale came screaming across the waste of grey sea to such a tune that the skipper altered his mind there and then.
"Hold on with the lee gear of the foresail, Mr. Dixon," he bellowed, and then he signed to the mate to come aft.
"We'll wear her now and heave her to on the starboard tack," said the 'old man.' "This is going to be a fair perisher."
As Dixon had been throwing out hints all night that he ought to do that or run, he was glad to hear it. They waited for a smooth, and put the helm up.
"Square the after yards!" roared the skipper; and they squared away, keeping the sails lifting.
"Isn't it wonderful?" said Ruddle. "I do wish I understood it. I wonder what they are doing it for?"
"Square the foreyard!" yelled the captain; and they did so, and got the staysail sheet over, and by proper management she came up on the other tack with her nose pointing N.N.E. They hauled up what was now the weather clew of the foresail, and the second mate and the men jumped aloft and furled it.
"Oh, dear," said Mr. Ruddle, "how dreadful to see them up there! I can't believe that I ever did it, Chadwick."
But the Wave was carrying her topsails, and though they were reefed she was scooting with her lee-rail awash. As soon as the foresail was stowed, both topsail halliards were let go and the sails partly smothered by the spilling lines. When they were furled, the lower foretopsail was clewed up, and Ruddle, who got much excited, went down on the main-deck in spite of the seas which came over right forward by the galley. Mrs. Ruddle said, 'Oh, don't,' but Ruddle said, 'My dear, it is so interesting, and I must.' And there he was staring up at the crowd on the topsail-yard who were fighting the bellying canvas like heroes.
"Bless my soul, how very remarkable, and even terrible," said Ruddle. "How very extraordinary. I wonder if I ever did that. I'll ask Mr. Dixon if the manœuvre is often performed."
He fell upon the busy and very cross mate with this inquiry, and though Dixon had heard the tale about him he did not credit it, and put it down to some hallucination.
"Do I do it often? Do what often?" asked Dixon scornfully.
"Why, tie those sails up like that when it blows so hard?" asked Ruddle innocently. "Why don't you tie them up when it is fine? It would be much easier I should think."
"Oh, go home and die," said the mate savagely.
"That*s very rude," said Ruddle, "and I don't like it."
"If you don't like it you can lump it," said the mate. "Haven't you more sense than to come worrying here in a gale of wind?"
"Is it a real gale?" asked Ruddle. "A very hard one?"
It certainly looked like one, for every squall came harder and harder, so that the topsail when it was once smothered was blown out of the men's grip, and was all abroad and bellying once more.
"Damn your eyes, hold on to it or you'll lose the sail after all!" yelled Dixon. But no one heard him on the yard, they were at grips with the canvas again, and the second mate and the bo'son at the bunt were doing all the cursing that was necessary for a task like that.
"They seem to be working very courageously, and I think it wrong of you to swear at them," said Ruddle severely; and then Dixon turned on him as if he were going to hit him. At that moment a fresh squall struck the Wave and almost laid her on her beam ends, though she was practically hove to under the lower main-topsail.
"I never swear," said Ruddle, as the mate lifted his fist. Then the squall shrieked, and as the Wave laid over to it both Ruddle and the mate lost their footing, and slid between the fo'castle and the fore part of the deck-house as if they were on an ice toboggan run. The mate said some awful things, and Ruddle gasped, 'You shouldn't, oh, you really shouldn't.' And then they fetched up against the lee-rail with a thump that caused a common accident and wrought a very uncommon miracle. Mr. Dixon snapped his arm like a carrot, and let a yell out of him that reached the crowd on the yard.
"By crimes!" said the men up aloft, "when old Dickie squeals like that he means comin' aloft himself to talk to hus like a father. Now then, boys, grab again and 'old her!"
As they tackled the topsail for the third time the cook came out of the lee door of the galley and picked the mate out of the swamped scuppers.
"Easy, easy, you swab," said Dixon. "My arm's broke."
With the cook's help he got aft, and when he did he promptly sat down in the cabin and fainted right off with the pain. And Ruddle still wallowed in the scuppers, for he had hit the rail with his head and given it a most tremendous and effectual thump. After a minute or two he stirred and spat out a mouthful of salt water. He also shook his head and rubbed it. Then he sat up and said—
"Well, I'm damned! What has happened?"
He shook his head again, and suddenly jumped to his feet. The miracle happened, and they all heard it. Tom Ruddle in the old days had the very finest foretopsail-yard ahoy voice that ever rang across the wastes of ocean. It came back to him now.
"Ain't you dogs got that topsail stowed yet?" he roared in accents that made the second mate on the yard shake in his rubber boots. "Oh, you slabsided gang of loafers, oh, you sojers, dig in and do something or before you know I'll be up there and boot you off the yard."
The entire crowd on the yard was so paralysed by what they heard that they turned and looked at him, and very promptly lost all that they had gained the last bout. To see a minister suddenly become a seaman and use such language was enough to scare them into loosing the jackstay and tumbling overboard.
"Jehoshaphat!" said they, "what's gone wrong with him?"
And the second greaser was just as much surprised as any of them; so much so, indeed, that he could not swear. Ruddle did it for him, and his language was awful, full, abundant, brilliant and biting. He told the second mate what he thought of him, and what he thought of all his relations; and he confided to the storm what his opinion of the crew was and always had been; and of a sudden he made a bound, and jumping on the rail ran up the rigging like a monkey, and before they could gasp he was right in among them at the bunt, exhorting them as if they were impenitent mules.
"Now, now, up with it, you no sailors, you!" he roared, as his long black coat flapped in the wind like Irish pennants. He dug into the bellying canvas with the clutch of a devil's claw, and the crew sighed and were subdued to the strange facts, and did as he told them like the best. There was now a sudden scream from aft. Mrs. Ruddle caught sight of him on the yard, and Chadwick cried out—
"Oh, it was your husband that was swearing so."
"Oh, Tom, Tom," screamed his wife, "come down, come down!"
And she screamed again, and Ruddle heard it and swore vigorously.
"What's a woman doin' on deck in such weather?" he cried, as he clawed at the sail and held it with his stomach, and yelled in unison with the second mate, who now began to see the joke of it.
"Where does he think he is?" he said; and at that moment the last great fold of the topsail rose in the air like a breaking wave, and with one yell of triumph the whole of the crowd threw themselves on it and smothered its life out.
"Sock it to her!" roared Ruddle triumphantly, as he dropped the gathered bunt into the skin of the sail and reached for the bunt gasket.
"There you are," said Ruddle; and then for the first time he looked at the second mate, and an expression of the blankest amazement passed across his face.
"Who the devil are you?" he asked. "I never saw you before."
It was almost impossible to make one's self heard in the howl of the gale, but Ruddle did it, and the crowd, with a grin on all their weather-beaten and hairy countenances, waited to hear Mr. Smith's answering yell.
"Who the devil do you think you are?" he asked.
"I'm the mate of this ship," said Ruddle, "but, but I don't think I ever saw any of you before?"
"How do you come to be togged up like you are, if you are mate?" asked Smith, as he made the bunt gasket fast. "Don't you think you look a hell of a sailor in that rig?"
"I don't understand it," said Ruddle blankly. "Where did I get these clothes?"
"You'd better ask the 'old man,'" said the second mate. "You're a clergyman, and you ain't a sailor at all."
"You're a liar," said Ruddle. "But I don't understand it. I don't know any of you. Where are we?"
"Off the Cape, to be sure," said Smith.
Ruddle shook his head.
"There is something very horrid about this," he said, with an awe-stricken expression of countenance, "for when we clewed up this topsail we were off the Head of Kinsale."
"Holy Moses," said the crowd, "’ow she must have scooted in 'alf a watch!"
"Well, we're off the Cape now," said Smith impatiently; "and if you don't believe it, you can ask the captain."
And they all came down on deck. Ruddle walked like a man in a dream, and as he walked he rubbed the spot that had been bruised. When his wife saw him coming she screamed again, and called out to him—
"Oh, Tom, Tom! how could you do it?"
And Tom grasped the second mate by the arm.
"Who's that woman calling 'Tom'?"
The second mate stopped as if he had been shot, and whistled.
"D'ye mean to say you don't know?" he asked.
"Confound you, I wouldn't ask if I did," said Ruddle savagely. "It ain't me, surely?"
It was Smith's turn to grab hold of him.
"Don't you know her?" he asked in tones of positive alarm.
"No!" roared the unfortunate Ruddle. "No more than I know you or any of 'em."
Smith nearly fell down.
"Man, she's your wife," said Smith; and once more Susan Ruddle said—
"Oh, Tom, how could you do it and me here?"
Then Chadwick spoke and rebuked Ruddle very strongly for having done it, and Ruddle shook his head and scratched it and shook it again, and then burst out with dreadful language against Chadwick for interfering with a stranger.
"He don't know any of you," said Smith, as Chadwick fell into a cold perspiration to hear his chief use such awful language. "He don't know any of you. And he lets on that he is the mate of this ship, and that we are off the Old Head of Kinsale."
And Susan Ruddle fainted dead away.
"Take the poor silly woman down below," said Ruddle. "She must be mad. I don't know where I am, or how I got here, but I do know jolly well that I ain't married, and that a girl in London that I ain't by no means stuck on thinks I'm going to marry her this very year. But I ain't goin' to, by a dern sight. Not me."
They carried her down below just as the 'old man' came on deck after setting the mate's arm. Smith told him what had happened.
The skipper shook his head.
"This is very remarkable and tryin'," said the skipper. "For Mr. Dixon's arm is broken through this Ruddle barrackin' him and askin' him why he did not take in sail when it was calm, as it would be easier. Oh, this is very wonderful, and I makes very little of it. And now he says he ain't married. He brought her here as his wife, and you are all witnesses to that. Oh, it is very remarkable, and I make nothin' of it in spite of his havin' been a sailor before, as looks likely as he went aloft. Is it true he swore?"
"Most awful and hair-raisin' and blasphemous," replied the second mate, who was a very good judge of swearing.
"Did he now, and him a minister? It's very remarkable, and I makes nothin' of it," said the skipper, and he ran up the poop and right into the arms of Ruddle.
"Who are you? Are you the captain? I want to see the captain before I go ragin' luny," said Ruddle.
"Steady," said the old skipper, grasping him tightly by the arm, "steady, my son. Don't you know me?"
"Never saw you before that I know of," groaned Ruddle. "And there's no one here that I know; and I don't know where I am or what I am, or where I got these disgusting clothes from, or where we are, or anything about anythin' whatsoever."
The skipper gasped.
"You don't remember bein' a minister, and tellin' me that you had been a seaman and had had a bash on the crust with a shearpole from aloft that laid you out stiff, and when you come to you didn't rek'lect havin' bin a sailor at all, and that you then bore up for the Church and became a missionary? Oh, say you rek'lect, for if you don't I makes nothin' of it, and am most confused; and there is your wife in a dead faint down below."
But Ruddle shook his head.
"I don't believe I ever was a missionary, for I always allowed they were a scaly lot. And I ain't married, and the girl that thinks I'll marry her is away off her true course by points. But I say, how long do you reckon I was minister?"
He held on to the 'old man' as if he was holding on to sanity, and implored an answer.
"We'll ask your pal," said Gray, and he bellowed down the companion for Chadwick, who came on deck with his eyes bolting.
"Is that my pal?" asked Ruddle in great disappointment. "Why, I never saw him either."
Poor Chadwick burst into tears.
"Oh, this is dreadful, this is very dreadful," said poor Chadwick. "What shall we do? Our chief stay and strength is gone from us, and doesn't know even me that married him."
Ruddle stared, and then rushed at him and held him in the grip of a bear.
"Steady, mister, are you speakin' truth or are you gettin' at me?"
"It's the truth," said Chadwick.
"Then how long was I in your business? Tell me straight, or I'll sling you overboard right now."
"Eight years," squealed Chadwick; "and there's all of us downstairs can testify to the same."
Ruddle sighed, and looked at the raging sea and at the skipper and at Chadwick, and up aloft. After a long silence he spoke.
"If I'm right the year's eighteen-ninety, and if you are right it must be ninety-eight or more, accordin' to the time it took me to get my certificate as missionary. What year is it?"
"Nineteen hundred, so 'elp me," said the skipper; "and I'll have up the Nautical Almanac to show you."
But Ruddle took their word for it, and sniffed a little, and then remarked—
"I do think my beard wants trimmin'. And am I mad now?"
"No, no," said the faithful Chadwick, "you aren't mad, and in a little while it will all come back to you, and you will come back to us, and we'll all be happy, even Blithers."
"Who's Blithers?" asked Ruddle sadly. Yet he did not wait for an answer. Though the Wave was now hove to under her main-topsail, with the foreyards checked in, and was fairly comfortable, the gale instead of moderating let another reef out, so to speak, and was a regular sizzler.
"I should like to see that main-topsail goose-winged, sir," said Ruddle suddenly, "for if we are off the Cape, as you all seem to think, this is by no means the worst of it, and it will be a real old-fashioned scorcher."
The 'old man' looked at him.
"Do you know the mate's arm is broke?"
"No," said Ruddle.
"Well, it is, and he ain't fit to do a thing, naturally, and that means I haven't a mate."
Ruddle looked pleased for the first time since he came back to his old sea-self.
"You don't say so. Well, that is fortunate," he said with a happy smile. "This is what I call real luck. I'll be the mate, sir, till you can get another."
"Right," said the skipper. "And if you like you can goose-wing the topsail, Mr. Ruddle. I reckon you're right about the weather. We have enough parsons aboard to make old Davy Jones do his best."
And Ruddle, with a happy flush on his face, bellowed from the break of the poop for the watch to lay aft. They heard his voice with amazement and came very lively.
"Haul up the lee clew of the lower main-topsail," said the new mate, and going down on the main-deck he saw the gear manned, and started the sheet, and then lent his gigantic strength to get the clew chock up.
"Jump aloft and goose-wing it," said Ruddle to the bo'son, and the men jumped and did as they were told with extraordinary agility. They said it was a miracle, and so it was. But Ruddle was quite happy for a moment, and when they were down on deck again he turned to the skipper and laughed, positively laughed.
But the 'old man' did not even smile.
"I'm thinking of the poor little lady down below, Mr. Ruddle," he said with a sigh. "What are you goin' to do about her?"
A look of great determination came over Ruddle's face, and the smile died out of it.
"If I married, and I don't believe I did, when I was dotty through bein' hit on the crust, I ain't goin' to acknowledge it," said he with firmness. "I ain't the same man, that's obvious. And as I don't know the lady, the situation would be uncommon awkward for her and for me, and I think the best thing is for nothin' further to be said."
The skipper was very doubtful as to whether this was the proper way to look at it, and he expressed a very decided opinion on what the lady would say.
"I'm a married man myself," said Gray, "and I own I have a wife that is a jewel, but what she would say if I said I didn't know her, owing to some accident at sea, fair inspires me with dread. I don't believe Mrs. Ruddle will put up with it, and you'll have a holy time in front of you if she as much as hears that you think of trying it on."
But Ruddle said he didn't care, and that he wasn't going to have a wife foisted on him, so there. And down below Chadwick was breaking the dreadful news to Susan Ruddle that her husband did not know her or anyone else, and that be had become a sailor with a remarkably unorthodox vocabulary, and when this was driven into the poor woman's mind she screamed, and almost fainted again.
"Oh, what shall I do, what shall I do?" she cried. And then Mr. Blithers, who had never liked Ruddle, said that he would put it right.
"I don't believe a word he says if he says he doesn't know us," said Blithers angrily. "I always thought he was not the man he wanted us to think. And as for that story of his, I never believed that either. I shall go on deck and tell him that he is a scoundrel."
He did so. He crawled to the poop and emerged into the gale in which Ruddle was fairly revelling.
"Ruddle, you are a scoundrel," said Blithers. "I always thought so, and now I know it."
Ruddle inspected him with great curiosity.
"I'm a scoundrel, am I?" asked the new mate. "And what may you be?"
"Don't you dare say you don't know me. Ruddle," said Blithers.
"I know you," said Ruddle. "I can tell by the cut of your jib that you are an infernal humbug of the first water. Get out of this before I hurt you!"
"I won't," said Blithers furiously. "I won't till you say what you are going to do about your wife, who is weeping about you now, and crying to you to come to her."
"If you don't stop tellin' lies about me and ladies I'll throw you down into the cabin," said Ruddle.
"Hypocrite, liar, and man of sin, I defy you!" said Blithers; and the next minute Ruddle had him by the neck and threw him into the cabin.
"Stand from under," said Ruddle, and Blithers howled and fell, and turned over and over as he went, and at last came to a stop at the feet of Chadwick and the disconsolate wife.
"He threw me down and he knew me," screamed Blithers. "He said, 'I know you, and you are a humbug.' He's just pretending."
"I don't believe it, Mr. Blithers," wailed the unhappy woman. "He was always a good judge of character even when he was at sea before. But I want to see him myself. I must, and I will. He'll know me. Oh, he must know me or I shall die!"
The skipper came down below.
"Oh, captain," said Susan Ruddle, "I want to see him. If he is the mate now, as you say, you must order him to come to me at once."
"I will," said the skipper. "It's odd I never thought of that before, when he as good as said he declined to hear any more argument about wives and women, and let on that the girl that reckoned to marry him was likely to be disapp'inted. You cheer up, ma'am. I'll send him down sharp."
"Leave me here alone," said the discarded wife, who in spite of her grief looked as pretty as a picture. "Leave me alone, please."
Chadwick withdrew, and dragged the raging Blithers with him. As Chadwick said, if anyone could bring Ruddle back to a sense of the lost period of his youth, it was his wife, and if she failed it was likely to be a very remarkable business and no mistake about it. He told Blithers of other cases of the kind of which he had heard. On the whole, Chadwick was optimistic. But Blithers shook his head, and rather hoped that Ruddle would remain a sailor for the rest of his life.
"I never thought he was fit to be a missionary," said Blithers. "And instead of him, I ought to be looked on as the chief here."
There was a sharp argument going on on deck in the meantime.
"I'll take charge of her, Mr. Ruddle," said the skipper, "and you can go below and see your wife, who is naturally anxious to see you."
"I ain't in the least anxious to go below," said Ruddle. "In fact, if it's all the same to you I'd rather stay here till she's out of the way."
"I don't like to think that you are a coward," observed the skipper severely, "but I'll be compelled to think so if you don't go at once and square things up in some sort of shape."
"Well," said Ruddle, "that's all very well for you, sir, that ain't caught in the same nip. But I don't want to go. I don't know the lady, and I'm naturally shy, and the cold perspiration pours off me at the thought of it."
"I order you to do your duty," said the 'old man.' "I order you to go below and soothe the lady."
"Oh Lord, oh, I say, I won't," stammered Ruddle. "I'd rather stay on deck all night."
"You won't? That's mutiny, Mr, Ruddle. It is disobeyin' orders, it is refusing duty. I'd be very sorry to use severe measures with you, but if you don't go I'll have you put in irons and carried to her."
"You don't mean that, sir, do you?"
"I mean it," said the skipper. "But I never did see such a man. I never knew anyone so unwillin' to see a pretty woman before."
"Oh, is she pretty?" asked Ruddle anxiously.
"Rather," said the 'old man.' "Oh, a regular beauty, and no fatal error. Dixon and Smith were both off their nuts about her when you came on board."
"What's she like?" asked Ruddle. "Tell me what she is like."
"Well, for one thing, she has got the most beautiful golden hair," said the skipper; "and from the way it's coiled, tier on tier on her head, I should reckon she can sit on it easy."
"Well, that seems all right," he said. "I was afraid I might have landed one of the half-bald kind I hate. I like 'em fair too. But go on, sir."
"Her eyes are a very superior kind of blue," said the poetical skipper; "and in my judgment they don't stay the same kind of blue all the time, but changes like the sea when clouds obscure the heavens in a squall. I reckon she's mostly sweet-tempered, but if you riled her it would not surprise me to learn that she could stand up for herself."
"That's the way I like 'em," said Ruddle. "I never could abide the milk-and-water woman. But is she big or little?"
"Neither one nor the other," returned the skipper. "Speaking as a judge of them, I should say she is as she should be, not too little, not too big, but what you might call sizeable. And her complexion, of which I'm a judge, is quite remarkable. Oh, on consideration I could state with some firmness that she's very pretty."
"You comfort me a good deal," said Ruddle; "and if you still insist on my seein' her, I'll do it at once."
"It's my duty to insist, Ruddle," said the 'old man.' "So down you go, and mind you behave. And don't be too stand-offish, for I can't abide to see tears, and never could, and as a result I've had much trouble in my life. And when it's fixed up, come and tell me all about it."
And Ruddle started to see his wife with slow, reluctant steps.
"It's my firm belief that nothin' of this nature ever happened before," said Ruddle, "and my bein' nervous seems tolerable natural. I wonder, oh, I do wonder, if I shall like her!"
He descended the companion as slowly as if he were going to execution.
"Oh, Tom, Tom," cried the lady who was, they said, his wife, and a cold shiver ran down Ruddle's back. He did not dare to lift his eyes, and stood there like a big schoolboy who has got into sad trouble and is much ashamed of himself.
"Oh, Tom, don't you know me?" cried Susan. She made an attempt to rise, which was very promptly frustrated by the gale. Ruddle lifted his eyes at last.
"If you please, ma'am, I don't think I do," said he. Then he added in desperation—"At least, not well, ma'am."
The situation was too desperate for screaming, and Susan accordingly did not scream. She became dignified.
"I have been your wife for three years, and now you say you don't know me. If you don't know me, who am I, and what am I? Tom, sir, Mr. Ruddle, I pause for a reply."
Poor Ruddle shook his head very sadly.
"It's mighty awkward, I own," he said after some reflection; "and I don't know what to do about it. I'm very sorry I don't know you, but I can't say I do, much as I'd like to oblige a lady that I'm bound to respect, as, according to the other gents in long-tailed coats, I'm married to her. But they say I was a missionary, and now I'm a seaman again, and maybe you don't care for those that follow the sea."
"I don't mind anything," sobbed Susan, who was wondering if she might tell her husband that she loved him and would not care if he were a dustman. But somehow it did not seem quite proper to speak in that way to a man who didn't know her.
"Oh, please, don't cry," said Ruddle in great distress. "When a lady cries I never know what to do."
"I think I'm almost glad you d-don't," said Susan, and she smiled on him through her tears, and looked very beautiful.
"The 'old man' was right," said Tom Ruddle, "she's as beautiful as a picture, and just the kind I like. I don't think I could have bin' very dotty when I married her, and I wish I remembered something about it. If I say I think she is pretty, I wonder whether she will be mad and think it a liberty. I think I'll try. They mostly like it."
He approached her slowly.
"If I don't know you, what may I call you?" he asked diffidently.
Mrs. Ruddle gave a gasp.
"Don't you know my name? Oh, how very dreadful! I'm Susan, and you used to call me Dilly Duck."
"Did I?" asked Ruddle. "And why did I do that?"
Susan said she didn't know, but supposed that it was because he liked her very much.
"But I like you very much now," said Ruddle, "I really do; and I think you are very pretty, ma'am, if I may say so, and the situation is very awkward. I hope I ain't too forward, which has never been my way with ladies, I assure you."
As it had taken Susan over a year to encourage him to the point of proposing, she felt sure that he was speaking the solid truth, and it touched her deeply.
"I'm very glad you think I'm pretty," she said with the most charming modesty. "If—oh, if you think so, perhaps you are not sorry that you are married."
"But I don't feel married," urged Ruddle desperately, "and I don't know what to do about it. It's by far the awkwardest situation I was ever in by long chalks, and it beats me, it fair beats me."
But surely there was a way out, thought Susan, and she wondered whether as his wife she might not suggest it.
"But you like me?"
"Oh, yes, to be sure," said Ruddle, "and I quite understand how I came to marry you. That is, I can understand how I wanted to, but what fair licks me is what you saw in me. Perhaps it was my bein' a long-tailed parson. Was it, now?"
"Not in the least," said Susan stoutly, "it was because you were you."
"But now I ain't what I was, and you must find it very embarrassing, ma'am."
"What I find embarrassing is your calling me 'ma'am,'" said Susan, with a snap that made Ruddle see that the skipper was right in other ways than his judgment of the lady's beauty.
"Very well," said Tom Ruddle in a great hurry, "I'll call you Susan if you like."
"Of course I like," said Susan; "and if you like you can call me Dilly Duck too."
But though Ruddle was much encouraged, he could not go so far as that all at once.
"If you won't, you might at anyrate sit down near me," said the fair Circe with the golden hair. And Tom sat down gingerly.
"I don't know what is to be done," said he in a melancholy way. "I suppose you agree with me, ma'am,—Susan, I mean,—that it is very awkward and most unusual? Looking it fair and square, I don't see a way out, unless——"
"Unless what?" asked Susan, with her eyes on the deck. She herself had an idea of the way out, but she wanted him to find it.
"It's very odd that I should feel as I do, as we have been married," said Ruddle; "but I'm that took aback by the facts as they show up against my present lights, that I seem in a dream, like as if I had sternway on me and was in a regular tangle. Tell me, when I was a missionary was I much afraid of you?"
Susan sighed and took him by the arm.
"I think you were a little afraid sometimes, Tom, especially if I was cross with you."
"Ah, I dessay," said her husband. "And if I was scared of you at times when I knew you, it seems natural, don't it, that I should be worse scared of you now that I don't?"
"But you aren't really frightened of me, darling, are you?" asked Susan, once more turning on the water-works.
"When you cry and call me that," said Ruddle, "I don't know where I am, and I want to——"
"You want to what?" asked Susan in the sweetest voice.
"I—I don't quite know," stammered Ruddle.
"I know," said Susan triumphantly.
"Oh, no, you can't," said Ruddle in great haste. "I'm certain you can't, for it ain't possible."
But Susan lifted her sea-blue eyes to his and shook her head.
"I do know, Tom. You want to kiss me."
Tom gasped and stared at her. "Well, you are clever," he said, with the greatest air of admiration. "I don't believe that any other woman would have guessed it."
And Susan sat waiting.
"Well?" she said at last.
"Oh, may I?" asked Tom.
"Of course you may," said Susan, once more looking at the deck. And he kissed her, and then took her in his arms while she wept.
"And you are sure you love me again?" she asked.
"It's most wonderful," said Tom, "but now I come to think of it, I feel as if I had always loved you, and no other woman can as much as get a look in. There was a girl in London that thought I was goin' to tie up alongside, but she's away off it, and I'll never marry anyone but you."
Susan wisely forbore at that moment to make any inquiries about this other girl, of whom she had never heard till that moment, and she put her golden head against her husband's shoulder.
"I think I am quite happy, Tom," she said, "though I am very sorry you don't remember how happy we were when we were first married."
Tom shook his head.
"I'm sorry for that, too," he replied, "but it can't be helped, and we'll be happy yet if you really love me enough to marry me again."
"But we are married, Tom," said Susan.
"You may be," said Tom, "but I haven't the feelings of it, and I mean to ask that long-tail to tie us up again, so that there can be no mistake about it. What do you say?"
Susan said he was a darling, and that she loved him more than ever, and was willing to be married to him a thousand times if he wanted it.
"And you don't mind my bein' a sailor instead of a missionary?" asked Tom.
"I much prefer it, so long as you don't go to sea," said Susan; and leaving that to be arranged later, Tom Ruddle called the curious Chadwick from his cabin.
"I've fixed it up," said Tom triumphantly. "I've fixed it to rights, sir. My wife is goin' to marry me again, and we'd be much obliged if you would perform the ceremony."
"It seems very irregular," said Chadwick, "but considering the very peculiar circumstances I've no objection to make. It is really very wonderful. I congratulate you both. I must call the captain and tell him about it."
When the second mate came on deck the 'old man' went below. As soon as he grasped the situation he turned to Susan with a grin.
"You brought him to his bearings pretty quick, ma'am, and I congratulate you. But then a pretty woman like you ain't the sort to go long a-beggin'. I knew you'd fetch him! When I described you to him, me bein' a judge of female beauty, I saw how it would be. Who's goin' to do the new hitching?"
Mr. Chadwick said he was going to do it.
"It's the first time I ever married the same couple twice," he said; and Brother Blithers sat in the background and said it was uncanonical. But no one paid any attention to Blithers. The other missionaries chipped in with their congratulations, and said that they hoped Ruddle would still be one of them.
"Thank you, gentlemen," said Ruddle, "but I have too much admiration for you to think I can be one of you again. I have a cousin that's a shipowner, and when he finds that I'm alive and in my right sea senses, he'll give me a ship, for though I've never been skipper of anythin' yet, I hold a master's certificate. And my wife will go to sea with me."
"Darling, I'll go anywhere with you," whispered Susan. And then they were married, while the gale roared about them, and the good old Ocean Wave rode it out under a goose-winged main-topsail as comfortably as a duck in a puddle.
"It's all very wonderful," said Ruddle, as he went on deck at four o'clock to keep his watch. The 'old man' said that it was.
"All the same I knew she'd fetch you," said Gray. "I think the worst of it is over. We'll be makin' sail in the mornin'. As this is your weddin'-day, Mr. Ruddle, I'll keep your watch to-night."
"Thank you, sir," said Ruddle. "Lord, what a wonderful world it is."
Mrs. Ruddle said so too.