CHAPTER VI   DAWN ON A WIDE, WIDE SEA

    "Is it aslape I've been?" said Mr. Button, suddenly awaking with a start.

    He had shipped his oars just for a minute's rest. He must have slept for hours, for now, behold, a warm, gentle wind was blowing, the moon was shining, and the fog was gone.

    "Is it dhraming I've been?" continued the awakened one. "Where am I at all, at all? O musha! sure, here I am. O wirra! wirra! I dreamt I'd gone aslape on the main-hatch and the ship was blown up with powther, and it's all come true."

   "Mr. Button!" came a small voice from the stern-sheets (Emmeline's).

   "What is it, honey?"

   "Where are we now?"

   "Sure, we're afloat on the say, acushla; where else would we be?"

   "Where's uncle?"

   "He's beyant there in the long-boat--he'll be afther us in a minit."

   "I want a drink."

    He filled a tin pannikin that was by the beaker of water, and gave her a drink. Then he took his pipe and tobacco from his coat pocket.

    She almost immediately fell asleep again beside Dick, who had not stirred or moved; and the old sailor, standing up and steadying himself, cast his eyes round the horizon. Not a sign of sail or boat was there on all the moonlit sea.

    From the low elevation of an open boat one has a very small horizon, and in the vague world of moonlight somewhere round about it was possible that the boats might be near enough to show up at daybreak.

    But open boats a few miles apart may be separated by long leagues in the course of a few hours. Nothing is more mysterious than the currents of the sea.

    The ocean is an ocean of rivers, some swiftly flowing, some slow, and a league from where you are drifting at the rate of a mile an hour another boat may be drifting two.

    A slight warm breeze was frosting the water, blending moonshine and star shimmer; the ocean lay like a lake, yet the nearest mainland was perhaps a thousand miles away.

    The thoughts of youth may be long, long thoughts, but not longer than the thoughts of this old sailor man smoking his pipe under the stars. Thoughts as long as the world is round. Blazing bar rooms in Callao--harbours over whose oily surfaces the sampans slipped like water-beetles--the lights of Macao--the docks of London. Scarcely ever a sea picture, pure and simple, for why should an old seaman care to think about the sea, where life is all into the fo'cs'le and out again, where one voyage blends and jumbles with another, where after forty-five years of reefing topsails you can't well remember off which ship it was Jack Rafferty fell overboard, or who it was killed who in the fo'cs'le of what, though you can still see, as in a mirror darkly, the fight, and the bloody face over which a man is holding a kerosene lamp.

    I doubt if Paddy Button could have told you the name of the first ship he ever sailed in. If you had asked him, he would probably have replied: "I disremimber; it was to the Baltic, and cruel cowld weather, and I was say-sick till I near brought me boots up; and it was 'O for ould Ireland!' I was cryin' all the time, an' the captin dhrummin me back with a rope's end to the tune uv it--but the name of the hooker--I disremimber--bad luck to her, whoever she was!"

    So he sat smoking his pipe, whilst the candles of heaven burned above him, and calling to mind roaring drunken scenes and palmshadowed harbours, and the men and th women he had known--such men and such women! The derelicts of the earth and the ocean. Then he nodded off to sleep again, and when he awoke the moon had gone.

    Now in the eastern sky might have been seen a pale fan of light, vague as the wing of an ephemera. It vanished and changed back to darkness.

    Presently, and almost at a stroke, a pencil of fire ruled a line along the eastern horizon, and the eastern sky became more beautiful than a rose leaf plucked in May. The line of fire contracted into one increasing spot, the rim of the rising sun.

    As the light increased the sky above became of a blue impossible to imagine unless seen, a wan blue, yet living and sparkling as if born of the impalpable dust of sapphires. Then the whole sea flashed like the harp of Apollo touched by the fingers of the god. The light was music to the soul. It was day.

    "Daddy!" suddenly cried Dick, sitting up in the sunlight and rubbing his eyes with his open palms "Where are we?"

    "All right, Dicky, me son!" cried the old sailor, who had been standing up casting his eyes round in a vain endeavour to sight the boats. "Your daddy's as safe as if he was in hivin; he'll be wid us in a minit, an' bring another ship along with him. So you're awake, are you, Em'line?"

    Emmeline, sitting up in the old pilot coat, nodded in reply without speaking. Another child might have supplemented Dick's enquiries as to her uncle by questions of her own, but she did not.

    Did she guess that there was some subterfuge in Mr. Button's answer, and that things were different from what he was making them out to be? Who can tell?

    She was wearing an old cap of Dick's, which Mrs. Stannard in the hurry and confusion had popped on her head. It was pushed to one side, and she made a quaint enough little figure as she sat up in the early morning brightness, dressed in the old salt-stained coat beside Dick, whose straw hat was somewhere in the bottom of the boat, and whose auburn locks were blowing in the faint breeze.

    "Hurroo" cried Dick, looking around at the blue and sparkling water, and banging with a stretcher on the bottom of the boat. "I'm goin' to be a sailor, aren't I, Paddy? You'll let me sail the boat, won't you, Paddy, an' show me how to row?"

    "Aisy does it," said Paddy, taking hold of the child. "I haven't a sponge or towel, but I'll just wash your face in salt wather and lave you to dry in the sun."

    He filled the bailing tin with sea water.

    "I don't want to wash! " shouted Dick.

    "Stick your face into the water in the tin," commanded Paddy. "You wouldn't be going about the place with your face like a sut-bag, would you?"

    "Stick yours in!" commanded the other.

    Button did so, and made a hub-bubbling noise in the water; then he lifted a wet and streaming face, and flung the contents of the bailing tin overboard.

    " Now you've lost your chance," said this arch nursery strategist, "all the water's gone."

    "There's more in the sea."

    "There's no more to wash with, not till to-morrow--the fishes don't allow it."

    "I want to wash," grumbled Dick. "I want to stick my face in the tin, same's you did; 'sides, Em hasn't washed."

    "I don't mind," murmured Emmeline.

    "Well, thin," said Mr. Button, as if making a sudden resolve, "I'll ax the sharks." He leaned over the boat's side, his face close to the surface of the water. "Halloo there!" he shouted, and then bent his head sideways to listen; the children also looked over the side, deeply interested.

    "Halloo there! Are y'aslape? Oh, there y'are! Here's a spalpeen with a dhirty face, an's wishful to wash it; may I take a bailin' tin of-- Oh, thank your 'arner, thank your 'arner--good day to you, and my respects."

    "What did the shark say, Mr. Button?" asked Emmeline.

    "He said: 'Take a bar'l full, an' welcome, Mister Button; an' it's wishful I am I had a drop of the crathur to offer you this fine marnin'.' Thin he popped his head under his fin and went aslape agin; leastwise, I heard him snore."

    Emmeline nearly always "Mr. Buttoned" her friend; sometimes she called him "Mr. Paddy." As for Dick, it was always "Paddy," pure and simple. Children have etiquettes of their own.

    It must often strike landsmen and landswomen that the most terrible experience when cast away at sea in an open boat is the total absence of privacy. It seems an outrage on decency on the part of Providence to herd people together so. But, whoever has gone through the experience will bear me out that the human mind enlarges, and things that would shock us ashore are as nothing out there, face to face with eternity.

    If so with grown-up people, how much more so with this old shell-back and his two charges?

    And indeed Mr. Button was a person who called a spade a spade, had no more conventions than a walrus, and looked after his two charges just as a nursemaid might look after her charges, or a walrus after its young.

    There was a large bag of biscuits in the boat, and some tinned stuff--mostly sardines.

    I have known a sailor to open a box of sardines with a tin tack. He was in prison, the sardines had been smuggled into him, and he had no can-opener. Only his genius and a tin tack.

    Paddy had a jack-knife, however, and in a marvellously short time a box of sardines was opened, and placed on the stern-sheets beside some biscuits.

    These, with some water and Emmeline's Tangerine orange, which she produced and added to the common store, formed the feast, and they fell to.

    When they had finished, the remains were put carefully away, and they proceeded to step the tiny mast.

    The sailor, when the mast was in its place, stood for a moment resting his hand on it, and gazing around him over the vast and voiceless blue.

    The Pacific has three blues: the blue of morning, the blue of midday, and the blue of evening. But the blue of morning is the happiest: the happiest thing in colour--sparkling, vague, newborn--the blue of heaven and youth.

    "What are you looking for, Paddy?" asked Dick.

    "Say-gulls," replied the prevaricator; then to himself: "Not a sight or a sound of them! Musha! musha! which way will I steer--north, south, aist, or west? It's all wan, for if I steer to the aist, they may be in the west; and if I steer to the west, they may be in the aist; and I can't steer to the west, for I'd be steering right in the wind's eye. Aist it is; I'll make a soldier's wind of it, and thrust to chance."

    He set the sail and came aft with the sheet. Then he shifted the rudder, lit a pipe, leaned luxuriously back and gave the bellying sail to the gentle breeze.

    It was part of his profession, part of his nature, that, steering, maybe, straight towards death by starvation and thirst, he was as unconcerned as if he were taking the children for a summer's sail. His imagination dealt little with the future; almost entirely influenced by his immediate surroundings, it could conjure up no fears from the scene now before it. The children were the same.

    Never was there a happier starting, more joy in a little boat. During breakfast the seaman had given his charges to understand that if Dick did not meet his father and Emmeline her uncle in a "while or two," it was because he had gone on board a ship, and he'd be along presently. The terror of their position was as deeply veiled from them as eternity is veiled from you or me.

    The Pacific was still bound by one of those glacial calms that can only occur when the sea has been free from storms for a vast extent of its surface, for a hurricane down by the Horn will send its swell and disturbance beyond the Marquesas. De Bois in his table of amplitudes points out that more than half the sea disturbances at any given space are caused, not by the wind, but by storms at a great distance.

    But the sleep of the Pacific is only apparent. This placid lake, over which the dinghy was pursuing the running ripple, was heaving to an imperceptible swell and breaking on the shores of the Low Archipelago, and the Marquesas in foam and thunder.

    Emmeline's rag-doll was a shocking affair from a hygienic or artistic standpoint. Its face was just inked on, it had no features, no arms; yet not for all the dolls in the world would she have exchanged this filthy and nearly formless thing. It was a fetish.

    She sat nursing it on one side of the helmsman, whilst Dick, on the other side, hung his nose over the water, on the look-out for fish.

    "Why do you smoke, Mr. Button?" asked Emmeline, who had been watching her friend for some time in silence.

    "To aise me thrubbles," replied Paddy.

    He was leaning back with one eye shut and the other fixed on the luff of the sail. He was in his element: nothing to do but steer and smoke, warmed by the sun and cooled by the breeze. A landsman would have been half demented in his condition, many a sailor would have been taciturn and surly, on the look-out for sails, and alternately damning his soul and praying to his God. Paddy smoked.

    "Whoop!" cried Dick. "Look, Paddy!'

    An albicore a few cables-lengths to port had taken a flying leap from the flashing sea, turned a complete somersault and vanished.

    "It's an albicore takin' a buck lep. Hundreds I've seen before this; he's bein' chased."

    "What's chasing him, Paddy?"

    "What's chasin' him? why, what else but the gibly-gobly ums!"

    Before Dick could enquire as to the personal appearance and habits of the latter, a shoal of silver arrow heads passed the boat and flittered into the water with a hissing sound.

    "Thim's flyin' fish. What are you sayin'?--fish can't fly! Where's the eyes in your head?"

    "Are the gibblyums chasing them too?" asked Emmeline fearfully.

    "No; 'tis the Billy balloos that's afther thim. Don't be axin' me any more questions now, or I'll be tellin' you lies in a minit."

    Emmeline, it will be remembered, had brought a small parcel with her done up in a little shawl; it was under the boat seat, and every now and then she would stoop down to see if it were safe.


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