Lagos Bar: Part Ii
A DAY or two afterwards Langlands noticed that there was something wrong, for she did n’t speak to me in the old way, but very cold and civil, as if I was a gentleman. So he asked me what it was, and I told him. With that he laughed and said, “ O, I ’ll soon put that right ” ; and was going below, when I ran after him and said, “ But, Captain Langlands,” I said, “ I would n’t let on, if I were you ; it don’t matter her flaring up at me a bit, but it 'd be a pity if she was to be put out with you, you know.” “ O,” said he, laughing, and tossing his head, “no fear of that.”
Mrs. Langlands did n’t say a word afterwards about the matter, but her voice changed to me, and I thought it seemed even sweeter than afore. But it was n’t often she spoke, and when she did I could see that it was done out of kind-heartedness, to wipe away the cross words she said that night. She was a changed woman, now. She seemed altogether under a cloud. She’d sit alone for hours and hours, her hands folded in her lap, and her eyes fixed on the sea. She’d burst into fits of crying. Sometimes she’d say, “ O my poor mother ! ” All that her husband could say or do was of no use; and I will say this for him, that no one could have been more patient with her than he was at the first start of it. I always will say that in excuse of him; and there ’s no doubt, sir, that it is a trying thing to be with any one who is fretted by her inward thoughts ; the more he tried to please her, and amuse her, and comfort her, the more forlorn she was. If he asked her why she was unhappy, she said she did n’t know. Did she want anything ? No, she wanted nothing. He’d fondle her, and her eyes would look another way; he’d jest with her, and they would fill with tears. What was the meaning of all this ? Well, sir, it was fright.
She 'd been talking to the sailors about the fever, and they, knowing no better, had told her the worst stories they could think on, — for sailors are rare ones to croak; that, with what she ’d heard King George say, fastened on her mind. It was no use for us to say anything to her now. We had deceived her once, and she thought that she’d been deceived a hundred times worse than she really had. “Ah, sir, depend upon it, you should always tell women the truth ; they may n’t be over-truthful themselves in little things, but for all that there’s nothing they look for so much in a man: tell ’em the whole truth, and they will go through danger or hardship or pain as well as we can; but leave a part of it covered up, and their minds, which ain't like ours, will make ghosts out of it to haunt ’em day and night.”
Langlands’s patience did n’t last very long, — men’s don’t. He was all smiles and softness to her still, but I could see that it was only surface-deep. One day after dinner, when the meal had passed without a word being said, I heard him mutter to himself, “ I ’m tired of this ”; and once or twice I noticed, when his wife cried, that he 'd give a kind of angry hoist to his shoulders, and turn away.
On the 1st of December, having made a good passage, we anchored off Lagos, about a mile outside the bar. In the distance we could see the green wall of the trees, and the masts of the vessels laying off the town. Between us and them was a long streak of white water, which tossed and sparkled in the sun, and gave up a low-drawn soughing sound. This was the terrible Lagos Bar, which that day was nothing at all to cross, for the sea was like glass. But, even as it was, the boat gave some tidy bumps going over, so that I had a notion of what it must be in coarse weather.
Lagos town is pretty much like Bathurst, Cape Coast, and Accra. Streets of yellow, burning, glistening sand; white houses blazing in the sun like mountain snow: deep, dark, cool-looking stores like caves ; court-yards with fowls and goats, and naked boys pounding Indian-corn ; natives galloping past on gray nags ; grave-looking Arabs with long, white beards, walking slowly along with Korans in their hands ; wattle and dab huts ; stalls for palmwine, and fruit at street-corners, with drunken sailors and dancing blacks : traders hurrying by with business faces under broad straw hats, and dressed all in glossy white; a wild lot of savages with spears and tangled hair, gaping at the white men, and the big houses, and the other sights, like country folks in London ; a turkey-buzzard flying slowly through the air, and a merchant-bird squatting by the wayside,— that’s the kind o’ panorama as you can see in any town on the West Coast in the middle of the day.
They seemed amazing glad to see Langlands at the factory. We went up to the sitting-room, which in Africa is always on the first floor, the store being underneath. A black servant, without any orders, brought in a decanter of brandy and half a dozen sodawater bottles. “ Help yourselves, gentlemen,” said the agent, doing that for himself.
“ When we are in Rome, Mr. Andrews,” said Langlands, though what he meant by that I did n’t understand, we being at Lagos then. But I saw that when he laid hold of the decanter (he’d never touched spirits aboard) his fingers gave a kind of a greedy twist, and, after he had emptied his glass, he looked into it. I understood what that meant well enough.
“One more ? ” said the agent. “ No more for me, sir,” said I, “ thank yon.” “Just a little one ? ” said he.
“Come, John,” said Langlands, “it don’t do to shirk your drink in the little town of Lagos O ! This is about the worst of the lot, — is n’t it Smith ? ”
“ Yes,” said Smith, smacking his lips as if it was something to be proud on, “ I suppose that Lagos beats them all ; it ’s a lovely spot for coffin-makers. Talk about Sierra Leone, indeed ! But come now, Mr. Andrews, you must have one more, — just a speck, — come now, do.”
But I would n’t, and lucky it was ; for Langlands took me into at least half a dozen other factories after we had done our business with Smith, the agent. In every house it was the same, except that in one it would be champagne, and in another there was some fine old Jamaica rum, and in a Yankee house it was Bourbon whiskey. It is pretty hard to refuse, you see, because the master of the house always mixes for himself first. Coast fashion, and passes it on ; and if you don’t drink, they think it unfriendly of you. And it ’s no good telling ’em you ’re afraid of your health ; they think it’s necessary to keep up life. “ Keep a bottle of brandy ahead of the fever,” that ’s their maxim, and well they stick to it; though the fever generally catches ’em up at last.
It was about three o’clock in the afternoon, when we had done our calls, and were walking down to the boat. All of a sudden a shrill voice behind us cried out, “ Heigh, heigh ! Lally ! Lally ! ” and a native girl overtook us, and seized hold of Langlands’s hand. She might have been sixteen years old, and I think she was the most lovely creature I ever saw. Her skin was of a warm, recldish-brown color, as glossy as silk, and her figure was like the statues in the picture-galleries. Her hair was made up into thin plaits, and shone with Accra gold ; in her ears, instead of rings, were two little blue flowers ; and she wore a sight of coral and gold about her arms and ankles, and neck. Round her waist were several folds of blue satin cloth, which trailed behind her as she walked. She was scented with some powder from the bush. I think it’s made from the bark of a tree,—very nice to smell, only strong enough to make one sneeze.
What gestures she made as she talked to “ Lally,” as she called him. She was n’t like a woman, more like some beautiful animal which does everything graceful of its own accord. They talked together in the Lagos language, which I did n’t understand ; but I could see that she was asking something which he refused, and then he said something which made her pout her lips. But at last she seemed to get the better of him, for she clapped her hands above her head so that all her ornaments tinkled, and out came from her throat a laugh like the cry of a wild bird in the bush.
“ Mr. Andrews,” said he, “ I fear I must detain you fora little while. This girl is the ‘country-wife ’ of a friend of mine, Owen Macgregor, who ’s in Liverpool now ; and she’s just had a letter from him which she wants me to go to her house and read to her, because, of course, she can’t make it out for herself. Will you meet me here in half an hour ? ”
I was n’t sorry for this, for Lagostown is quite hemmed in by woods, and I remembered what Mrs. Langlands had said about flowers, when we were at Cape Palmas. We had left her that morning in good spirits. I went up to her after we ’d anchored, and said : “ We ’re not going in any nearer shore than this, ma’am ; and you may believe me or not as you please, but the land can no more hurt you here, than it you were in the middle of the broad Atlantic,"— which is true; the poison, I ’ve heard a doctor say, never travels more than three miles from land, and only that with an off-shore wind. Well, she was in good spirits, and so was her husband, for he was itching to get ashore, and at breakfast it was quite like former days.
When I ’d got outside the town, among the trees, I soon made up a nosegay of rare-colored flowers to look at, and such a size ! but with rather a nasty carrion smell. Langlands kept me waiting a long time, and when we got aboard it was an hour late, and the officers had dined. But Mary had kept our dinners for us, and he just saying, in a careless kind of way, that we had been detained by business, we sat down. She sat with us, asking her husband no end of questions, to which he gave back short answers, and as soon as he had done eating laid down to go to sleep, a thing I’d never known him do afore. She went on deck, where I followed her soon after. I took the flowers up to her, and found her crying. She had smelt the brandy, it seems, when she went to kiss him. Well, she was in a dreadful way. I told her she need n’t be afraid ; I was a temperate man, but I’d had some brandy too, — a good reason for why, I could n’t help myself; no more could he. But she only shook her head, and said, “ O Mr. Andrews, why will you try to deceive me ?”
Not well knowing what to say, I offered her the nosegay.
“ O, they are beautiful,” she said ; “ and so you have been in the country, — no wonder you were late.”
Then she paused, and a gleam came across her face.
“ But James told me he had n't been out of the town. So you went by yourself. Of course he would n’t trouble to pick flowers for me. Where was he when you went after these flowers ?”
I became red in the face, and could n’t meet her eyes.
“ He was doing his business,” I said, stammering a good deal ; “ and I had nothing particular to do, so I went into the country for a walk.”
“ But he said this morning, when he asked you to go with him, that he wanted you particularly to go with him to the agent’s, so that you might all talk over the business together.”
“Yes,” said I, getting more and more confused; “but he had other business of a private kind, at least — ”
“ What private business ? What kind of business was it ? What kind of business could it be ? ”
“ He did n’t tell me exactly what kind,” said I.
“ Ha ! ” said she. “ He told you that he had some private business, and sent you out of the way; for how long ? Let me see : long enough for you to go into the country, and pick these flowers. Lagos is a large town ; and here are a great number of different flowers.”
And she fell into a brown study, and did not lift up her eyes or say a word for some time. Then she turned to me and said very gently, but yet I thought there was something forced and put on in her voice,—
“ But I have not thanked you, Mr. Andrews, for taking the trouble to bring me all these beautiful flowers. Do they smell nice ? Oh, oh ! They Smell like a corpse ! ”
And she let them drop upon the deck, and started back from them, her hands clasped upon her heart, her eyes starting from her head.
Poor thing: poor thing! She had no call to fret over fancies, and make herself ill with empty fears. She had real troubles and sorrows to fight with now. The next month was fine, calm weather, and her husband went ashore every day. He would get up at daybreak, drink a cup of coffee, order his boat, and not come back till nearly dark, his eyes shining with drink. In that month she had wasted away nearly to a skeleton ; her lips turned gray ; dark lines came under her eyes, and wrinkles on her forehead, which had been so pure and smooth. Her beauty vanished, as it might be, in a night; and nothing was left but a poor worn creature, carrying in her a heart which had lost its mate.
If she had been fretsome and unreasoning at one time, she made up for it all now. She never chided or complained. She got up in the morning when it was still dark, and went out into the caboose, and made his coffee for him herself. When he came aboard at night she used to kiss him tenderly, and whisper to him, and coax him, and try to draw out a smile. But I don’t know what had come over him ; he treated her like a dog; the better she behaved to him, the worse he behaved to her. It seemed to me as if he wanted to quarrel with her, whether she would or no.
He never asked me to go ashore with him now, which I was glad of, too. Thirty long days I spent with Mary, —thirty days for me of pleasure and pain. Hours and hours we used to sit together, hand in hand, beneath the awning on the deck. Sometimes she talked about her mother, and the school she used to go to, and the visit she had made to London to see her aunt. But nearly always her talk it was of James. She told me over and over again about the boy he had saved from drowning in the Mersey ; and how, when he was very poor himself, he had given all his savings to a shipmate in the hospital ; and how he’d thrashed Blacksmith Bennett for illusing his apprentice, and he a noted bruiser too. She told me all about their courtship ; how he had seen her walking in the streets with her mother, and followed them home, and came in the next day with an old sea-captain, a friend of theirs, who introduced him, and the long walks they used to take together, and the pretty things he said to her ; and she would take from her bosom a little case, and inside there was a withered flower, — he had given her that, she said, the clay he asked her to marry him. Then she told me how her mother refused to let her marry him, and how she pretended to be calm and cold to him, but cried all night long, and used to go into her mother’s room at night, and kneel by her bedside, and pray her to relent. And after telling me all these things she 'd smile, and say, “ But mind, you must n’t tell a word of this to James, because that would make him so conceited, you known”
At other times she would be peevish and cry, and say that he did n’t care for her because she had lost her good looks, and was glad to get on shore from her ; all of which was true enough, but if I said a word to that effect she would turn round upon me, and make out that he was the best husband that ever lived.
And at other times she would fall into a dark, stupefied kind of state, and would stand hours and hours bending over the taffrail, and looking at the loathsome sharks which swam round and round the vessel with long, swinging strokes of their brown tails, and turning up to us their bloodthirsty, cunning eyes.
And the same it was with the flowers it was with all. She found an ill omen in every sight that came to her eyes, in every sound that came to her ears. Once we was a-sitting together, looking at the setting sun. It was like a globe of gold, for there was n't a cloud in the sky. She laid her cheek in her poor thin hand, and looked at it with lingering eyes. She said naught, but I knew that she was feeling happy thoughts. But just as the sun touched the water there came a speck upon it like a stain of blood, and it trickled over the whole ball, till in a moment it was one mass of ghastly crimson red. I dare say she had seen it change like that afore; it often does; but now it had such an effect on her that she almost swownded away.
One evening Langlands said to her, in a cold, civil kind of way, —
“ Mary, it is usual for the captain of a vessel to invite the agent of the firm to dinner, once at all events. If it will not put you to inconvenience, I should like to invite Mr. Smith to dinner for Thursday.”
The next day, which was Wednesday, he brought back the boat loaded with a hamper of wine, papaws, and oranges, some partridges, and a gazelle ; ducks and fowls and kids we had plenty of on board. So there was preparations made fora grand dinner. Thinks. I to myself, “ It will be a sad one, with that poor ghost to do the honors.”
But lo and behold ! when Langlands came aboard with the agent, up came Mary from below, in a beautiful silk dress, and jewels in her hair, and welcomed him like a little queen. All through dinner she was as gay as could be.
“ Don't you find it rather dull here, ma'am ? ” said the agent.
“O no, not at all,” said she. “I have plenty of books ; and then, you know, I have my house to look after. This is my dining-room and parlor, and the deck is my drawing-room; and then I go to the kitchen and scold the cook, — don’t I, Sambo ? ”
“ Ah, missee, you no lib kitchen now! Sit all clay long on deck and—
Here I dropped a plate, which broke all to pieces, and stopped Sambo in what he was going to say. Langlands went on eating, with his eyes fixed on his plate. After dinner, Mary said, “ Now let us go to the drawing-room.” So we went up on deck, and drank our coffee under the awning. Just then a canoe came alongside with a message from some other vessel. Langlands walked to the gangway, leaving us three together.
“Do you know, Mr. Smith,” said Mary, laughing a great deal as she spoke, “ that I ought to consider you my mortal enemy ? ”
“I hope not, ma’am, I hn sure,” said he. " Why so ? ”
“ Because you make my husband work so hard.”
“ I make him work, ma'am?”
“ Yes, to be sure you do,” she said, tossing her head, and pouting her lips ; “you keep him in your factory from morning to night like a slave.”
“ Why, lor, Mrs. Langlands, how can you ? I don’t set eyes on him perhaps for three days at a time.”
She dropped her handkerchief when he said this, and was rather slow picking it up, I thought. Then looking out on the sea, she said, “ Here is another canoe coming.”
“ That’s for me, I expect,” said Smith, pulling an opera-glass out of his pocket, and looking through it. “ Yes, that’s it right enough.”
“ What a beautiful glass ! ” said Mary, when he handed it to her to use, “and — why, I declare there’s a cage with a parrot in it there ! ”
“ Yes, ma’am,” said Smith, "I made bold to have it brought for you, if you will accept of it ? ”
“ O yes, thank you very much. I am so fond of parrots. Does it talk ? ”
“ I don’t think it does, ma'am. At least, I have n’t heard it. I have only had it since yesterday. It belonged to poor Lieutenant Davis, who has just died of — ”
Consumption, was n’t it ? ” said I, giving him a look.
“ I think it was consumption,” said he; " something the matter with his lungs, anyhow.”
“ There’s a good deal of consumption here, — is n’t there ? ” said I-
“ Yes,” said he, with a wink at the brandy bottle ; “ letting alone that, it’s a nice climate enough.”
Just then the canoe came alongside, and the cage was passed up.
“Pretty Poll! ” said Smith, “ Pretty Poll! You’re going to belong to a lady; what d’ ye think of that ? Why are n’t you able to talk, Polly ? Did n’t master teach you ? ”
“ Never mind, Mr. Smith ; that is all the better; I can have the pleasure of teaching him myself.” She held out her finger. “ Come to me, Polly, come to me.” The bird hopped on to her finger, and twisted his head, and looked at her out of his yellow eye.
“That was Davis’s parrot, — was n’t it?” said Langlands, coming up. “ Ah, the fever made short work of him, poor fellow ! ”
Mrs. Langlands glanced at me. “Poor Poll! ” said she, “ Poor Poll! has its master died then ?”
Directly she said " Poor Poll! ” the bird twisted its head, and opened its beak and screamed out. Poor Poll ! Poor Poll ! I 'm going to die — sure to die — sure to die !
“You ugly owl! ” cried Smith, jumping up, "I ’ll wring your gallus neck ! You never spoke a word afore.”
But Mrs. Langlands stopped his hand. "It is not the bird’s fault,” she said ; "I will not have it touched.”
She grew to be very fond of it, and had it always with her ; and all day long it would cry out these words, as had been taught it by its dying master, till the sailors, too, got frightened, and would have poisoned it if it had been any one’s but hers.
A few days afterwards the sea-breezes blew so strong that the Bar began to roar, and grew to be so high that the captain could not go ashore. Mary clapped her hands with joy, when I told her that; but she had little to be glad of, poor thing ! All day long Langlands strode up and down the deck swearing to himself, or went forrard and got rid of his ill-temper on the Kroomen, cutting into ’em right and left with a rope’s end. If Mary spoke to him, he ’d give her short words, or sometimes none at all ; and there she sat on her camp-stool on the deck, watching him with her anxious eyes, as he walked to and fro, grinding his teeth and digging his nails into his hands, and throwing ugly looks at the foaming Bar.
“ What infernal nonsense this is, Andrews,” said he, “my lying outside the Bar. How the devil are we to get the cargo-boats across if we were to have a spell of this weather for a month or two ? A nice thing to lie off this rotten place, and the vessel eating money every day. Why don’t I take her in ? Why, because I am a fool. I gave my word of honor that I would not take my wife across the Bar, and I can’t break that. By God, I wish I could ! Here we must lie till all damnation, I suppose, unless — yes — hem — that might be done too.” And he walked off muttering to himself.
I supposed it was the drink.
The next day he was able to cross the Bar, but came back quite early in the afternoon. Instead of going down to his berth to take a snooze, as he generally did, he sat down at his wife’s feet, and played with her parrot, which was crawling about the deck, and patted her little feet, and took her hands in his, and began to talk to her about her health. He had the softest, mellowest voice I ever heard, as he sat there looking up Into her face with beaming eyes, and the words falling like honey from his mouth. I could understand how it was that he held her in his chains so fast. He said that she was looking very ill, and asked her if he might fetch a doctor for her from the shore, but she refused. Then he tried to persuade her to go home by the mail, which calls at Lagos once a month. She shook her head. He used every argument that he could think of; he implored her to go for her mother’s sake, for his sake, if not for her own ; but she said that if he fell ill he would want her then, though he might not want her now. With that he pressed her more and more, becoming almost violent, till at last she said, “ How long God may spare me, dearest James, I do not know, but be assured that I will never leave yon while I live.” She passed her arms round his neck, and laid his head upon her lap. I caught sight of his face just then, and was horrified to see the expression which passed across it. It showed me that his affectionate manner had all been put on, and that he had a reason of his own for wanting her to go.
“Why, James,” she said suddenly, what a strange smell there is ! Does it come from your hair ? ” He tried to rise. Her arm tightened round his neck, and her hand passed like lightning through his hair. “ Why, you have been powdering it with something ! What is this ? What is this ?”
“ It ’s a country perfume,” he said, jumping up, and speaking rather sulkily ; “they threw some over my head in the factory for fun.”
“ Will you let me take it out, James ? ”
“ No,” said he, in the same sullen manner, “ let it stay,” and, going below, he turned in. She sat for a little while with her hands on her knees in a brooding kind of way, and then followed him without saving a word.
About midnight, being on deck, I heard something rattling in the cabin, and peeped down through the skylight. There stood Mrs. Langlands. in her night-dress, with a collection of curiosities, which I had bought ashore and given her, laid out afore her. She turned over article after article, idols and pipes and leather ornaments and skins, till she came to a little paper packet. It was the powdered bark of a tree which I had told her the Lagos women used for their hair. She compared it with something she had in her hand, and then her face turned blue, and her lower jaw dropped, and I got frightened, and turned away. When I looked in agen, she was sitting over the table with her face in her hands. Ten minutes afterwards I looked in agen. This time the curiosities were all cleared away, and she was gone.
I could n’t understand it a bit, not then ; but afterwards, when I thought on ’t, it all came out to me as clear as day. After that night there was something changed in Mary. She had used to read the Bible a good part of the day, and take it forward, too, among the sailors, and lecture ’em out of it with her sweet voice. But she never read it now. She would walk up and down the deck for hours at a time, with long, heavy strides like a man. She 'd take up the parrot, and make it say its ugly words, and then break out in a bitter, scornful laugh. When her husband came aboard at dusk, she would go and kiss him as afore, but not in the same way. While he was on board, she never left him : she used to prowl round him like a cat, softly on tiptoe, her head crouched between her shoulders, her eyes bent on him, searching him through and through.
One afternoon she was sitting as usual on the deck watching the shore with the big telescope, when a kind of tremble went over her, and she turned to me and said, " He is not in the boat.” She got up, and walked backwards and forwards very fast, although the air was so hot and suffocating that I could hardly breathe. When the boat had come alongside, the cockswain came aft, touched his cap, and handed her a letter. She tore it open, read it with a look, and handed it to me. It was—I remember every word of it — as follows ; —
“MY DEAR LOVE: — They give the annual dinner at the factory to-day, and I can scarcely absent myself without offending them. It is not a matter of pleasure, but of politeness. Pray, excuse me, then, to-night, and please tell Mr. Andrews to send the long-boat for me to-morrow at daybreak, if the weather holds up, but it is so close that I almost expect a tornado ; and believe me
“Your most affectionate
“ Very tender, — is it not ? ” she said, with a sneer.
Just then I heard one of the sailors in the boat below burst out a-laughing, and I caught the captain’s name. She heard it too, for I saw her start; and just as I was going to give orders for the boat to be hoisted up she turned to me and said, “John, run down to James’s berth, and bring me up a little book called “ Family Devotions.” If it is not on the chest of drawers, it is somewhere inside.”
She had not called me John, or asked me to do anything for her, for a long time. I went down quite pleased, and was beginning to ransack at the drawers, when, the boat lying just under the port-hole, I could hear every word that the sailors said. They were saying what it was that really kept the captain ashore. I was taken all aback, and could hardly believe that it was true. I stood there stupid-like a-listening, when all of a sudden I thought of Mary. Had she heard it ? I ran up on deck just as she sprang into the boat. “Push off, my lads!” she cried, and one of the sailors pushed off from force of habit, without well knowing what he was about. “ Give way, there ! ” she cried. “ I must go on shore at once. My husband wants me.” And she twisted her pocket-handkerchief round her head.
But the bow-oar, who was an old man, sixty years and gone, stood up in the boat, and took off his cap, and smoothed down his straggly gray hairs. “ Ma’am,” said he, “look over the land there. Do you see that brown cloud above the trees? That’s a tornado coming up, and afore half an hour’s out the Bar will be mountains high. I would n’t risk my poor useless life to row for shore now, not it I had a thousand dollars down; and I won’t help to risk yourn, my sweet lady, which is worth all of ourn put together.”
“ What he says is right enough, ma’am,” said the stroke-oar, likewise taking off his cap. “There’s nobody will face Lagos Bar in a tornado.”
“ But it’s not come yet,” she shrieked “ Row hard, and you will do it. I will give you ten pounds apiece, twenty pounds apiece, what you like, — go !”
“ Your money won’t buy from us what you can’t,” said the bow-oar agen
“ Mr. Andrews,” she cried, turning up to me, “ make your men go. Order them to go. OJohn,—John, —I must go on shore ! I know all.”
Then the rough sailors hung their heads upon their breasts, and did n't dare to look in one another’s eyes ; and in the midst of that awful silence we heard a song, and a large canoe paddied by Kroomen came round the vessel’s stem, and was passing near the boat. Mary saw it. beckoned to it, and showed some money she had with her. The parrot flew down from the yardarm, and perched upon her shoulder. The canoe whirled round and shot by : a Krooman, bending Over, caught her in his gigantic arms, and in a moment she was gone.
Give way,” I cried,— “ give way for Heaven’s sake, and bring her back ! ”
The men gave way and bawled after the Kroomen to stop ; but one of ’em looked over his shoulder, and pointed with his paddle to the cloud which was fast spreading up’ards in the air.
I thought, at first, that our men gained on ’em ; but what could four men do agen twelve ? They had to come back, the boat was hoisted up, and the crew clustered on the cross-trees to watch the canoe. The air was deathly still, so that we could hear the song of the Kroomen, and the splash of their paddles, and the shrieking of the parrot, when they were more than half a mile away.
The sky was now quite covered with clouds ; the sea looked like steel; the air grew dark. The second mate stood beside me holding the telescope, for I trembled too much to hold it myself. I could see the canoe dashing swiftly along in a little furrow of foam, the paddles flashing in and out of the water like rays of light. I heard a whisper of voices from above me, “ Here it comes ! ” and I saw inside the bar a long sheet of white water which was growing larger and plainer every moment. Now it was close to the Bar, and so was the canoe ; it was a race between the two for poor Mary’s life. The canoe rushed into the white water, and for a moment I lost sight of it. “ She’s safe ! she’s safe ! ”
I cried. But above my voice there rose a mighty roar. The tornado had caught the breakers, and tossed them to the clouds. On the top of one great wave I saw the swamped canoe. Black heads appeared, and went under every moment. “ The sharks are at them ! ” said the second mate.
For a moment we saw her plainly. She was riding on a wave, supported by her clothes. Suddenly she threw her arms up, —a shark had caught her underneath : and then from the sailors in the shrouds came a wail like that of dying men, and something blazed through my head, and I remembered no more for many a long day.
[The old sailor rose and walked slowly back towards the town, his head bowed upon his breast. He remained silent for some time : then he turned to me and said : —]
When I came to myself, I could tell by the swing of the vessel that we were laded, and out at sea. It was a good hour afore I could find the heart to speak. I felt at first as if I wanted to lie there always, and never speak to nobody no more. But the second mate he came down to me, and looked at me, O so kind ! and took my hand in his. Ho, ho, ho ! [he wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his coat] ho, ho, ho ! it makes me laugh now. “ Be this my hand ? ” said I. (You see, sir, it was all so thin and white it did n’t seem to belong to me.) " Be this my hand ? ” said I. “ Why, it’s more like a lady’s,” . . . . and then I thought of her hand. "Where’s he ? ” I cried, starting up. And, God forgive me ! a bad thought passed through me then.
“No one know,” said the second mate. I sank back in the bed, and shut my eyes, and I heard hint say how Smith had seen . . . . that . . . . from his piazza, with the very opera-glass she had held, . . . . and after a while he sent one of his clerks who knew where to go to find him. But somebody had been alore him, for, as he went down the street, there rushed past him one as wore Langlands’s clothes, but his face it was like no mortal man’s, . . . . and he ran after him, but he couldn’t overtake him. And then he went to the hut, and at the door sat a girl naked, and smeared with ashes, singing the song of death. And to all the questions he asked, she only wailed and sang, and nobody ever saw Langlands or heard of him agen.
Mary’s poor mother did n’t outlive her long;—not long; a matter of six months after I got back. She sent a stone out to Smith, the agent, to be put up in the Lagos churchyard. “ To Mary the loving wife of James Langlands,” — that was all. We thought that she would like them words. A twelvemonth afterwards I went to Lagos just to read ’em once agen. But the heavy rains had washed ’em all away — all away.