OUT OF THE DEPTHS.
By S.G.W. Benjamin
Appleton's Journal 7 (2): 122-129
CAPTAIN ABIJAH BAKER had been to sea ever since his fourteenth year. He was born on the Cape; there he found his wife; there his children were born; there stood the house he had built, to which he always returned for a few days at the end of each voyage; and thither he had come at last after forty years of wandering on the ocean to pass the remainder of his days, on a moderate but snug competence wrenched from the mad sea-waves, until he should once more launch his bark on the voyage from which no traveler returns. His boy had also taken early to the water, and was now skipper of the fishing schooner Gentle Annie. He was engaged to Lucy May, the lady who taught the district school, and after one or two more successful trips to the Banks the wedding was to come off.
Captain Baker was a noble specimen of the mariners they used to turn out on Cape Cod. Nearly six feet tall, broad-chested and broad-shouldered, he still walked erect as in his youth; and the keen, honest, fearless look of his blue eyes from under their roofing of shaggy gray eyebrows was as undimmed as when he first trod the quarter-deck. But if sometimes their glance was stern and uncompromising, there lurked in them also unfathomed possibilities of good-natured mirth, and not rarely an expression which showed that under a bluff exterior he carried a warm, true heart.
Mrs. Baker still survived, after twenty-six years of wedded life, to have her "old man" with her, and with him to share the remaining years of life. When they were first married she made several voyages with her husband, but the invariable sea-sickness which persecuted her on shipboard, and the growing demands of her children, obliged her to remain at home to worry for him on stormy nights, and realize the truth of the French proverb, "Femme de marin, femme de chagrin."
Her daughter Mary, now a girl of twenty, had tended to assuage her solitude while husband and son were battling with winds and waves thousands of miles away. Mrs. Baker was one of those women of tact and character who, while not at all lacking in independence and spirit, had the penetration to perceive that in the family as on the quarter-deck, there can be only one captain, even when the mate knows more than the captain about navigation, and that even for her own comfort merely, and to retain her influence over him, it was better to yield to and cooperate in the life-plans of her husband than to thwart them by direct opposition. A thoroughly practical New England woman, generally undemonstrative but faithful in her affections, portly and warm-hearted, Mrs. Baker accepted with serene content the prospect of having Abijah with her as never before during all their married years, with their son and daughter-in-law settled near them, and possibly divers grandchildren toddling in the spring sunshine before the grandparental door.
But Fate seemed to have otherwise determined, or at least awhile longer deferred good Mrs. Baker's entrance into possession of these castles in Spain. It is a hard thing for a man still in active possession of his powers suddenly to abdicate the throne and retire into peaceful inaction. When he is oppressed by the storms of life he looks longingly forward to a tranquil rest under his own vine and fig-tree. But the strongest muscles condemned to inaction become flabby and weak, the keenest blade hanging unused on a wall is eaten with rust, and the brain, ceasing its wonted habits of action, softens and decays, and senility comes on apace. Many men, instinctively conscious of this tendency after they have tried rest for a time, chafe once more for a field whereon to exercise their powers, and spring back to the arena to begin life anew, but so heavily handicapped by age or the more recent habits of lethargy, that they learn when it is too late the mistake they made in so soon quitting their life-pursuits.
It was not long before Captain Baker began to realize the truth of these observations. To spend the remainder of his days hoeing potato-hills and turning his melons and squashes to the sun on the sere soil of the Cape, or oscillating between his house and the village store, with an occasional trip to Boston, was rather too placid and monotonous a change for a man who had listened all his days to the creaking of tackle-blocks and the thunderous and frantic flapping of topsails in Atlantic squalls—a man, too, in whose veins still leaped a manly vigor, in whose heart still throbbed an honest ambition. The growing uneasiness of her husband, the restlessness and annoyed discontent so unusual in his frank and generous nature, were not unperceived by Mrs. Baker; she foresaw the inevitable result, but kept her own counsels. But when he returned one day from Boston with a sober but brisk and determined air, she was prepared to hear him say: "Well, mother"—he always called her mother—" I don't s'pose you'll like it very well, and it comes kind of hard for me to tell ye, but I'm going on a v'yge to Smymy; I sail next week."
"I mistrusted somethin' of the sort when you went to Boston; I knew 'twan't for nothin' you were going up there so often. But what on airth possesses ye to go to sea again, Abijah? Here you are, everything just as cozy as can be, and I ain't seen much of ye since we stood up afore the minister twenty-seven years ago come next October; and here's Johnnie going to be married maybe next Thanksgiving."
"Well, you see it's just here: I hate to go and leave ye, but then what's a man to do here if he hain't got no trade ashore to keep him busy? And I feel just as spry as when I first took command of the Wild Rover. I don't mean to go to sea again for good, but let me just go one more v'yge, and I'll get over this hankering for it. Anyway, I didn't really mean to go again, but when I went into Clark & Allen's office t'other day they said to me: 'Captain, you are just the man for us. Captain Tressle has just fallen and broken a leg and two ribs; 'tain't no kind of use for him to try to go this v'yge, and the Jennie Lane will be ready to go to sea next week. You are part owner, and now you've had a long vacation on shore, here's a good chance for you to get your sea-legs on again.' It did seem kind o' providential like, and, after turning the matter over, I told them that I would go."
"I am afraid you are making a mistake, Abijah. I won't say nothing for myself," and the poor woman put the corner of her apron to her eye—it was only a momentary weakness— " but I mistrust things won't go all right."
"So you've said before when I've been a-goin' to sail, but nothin' ever came of it. So, cheer up, mother; and, if you've got a good cup of that last tea I brought, 'twon't come amiss."
" The Lord knows! We don't always know our own minds, or what's good for us. But if you must go, Abijah—and now you've given your word, it can't be helped—I must look over your things, and, if there's anything you need, I'll send for Mehitabel Wheeler to come right over and help me do the sewing."
The Captain, relieved that he had got over the difficulty of breaking unpleasant news to his wife so easily, and that she took it so kindly, had to give her a kiss, while she, between smiles and tears, said: "Oh, yes; that's just the way; you are always ready enough with your kiss if I'll only let you have your own way," but she was proud enough of the old sea-captain for all that.
And so the matter was settled. In a fortnight Captain Baker was once more crossing the Atlantic, the topsails of the Jennie Lane swelling with the exuberant force of a westerly gale which rapidly bore him away from his quiet home and disconsolate wife. In ten days they sighted Fayal, and, after a splendid run of thirty-six days, the Jennie Lane had passed from the New World into the Old World, from the nineteenth century into the past ages, from the orthodox tones of the bell of Park Street Church to the theistic chant of the muezzin of Islam, and discharged the rum of Medford and the prints of Manchester upon the wharves of Smyrna. In another month she was ready to turn her bowsprit again toward Long Wharf and the land of the setting sun. Her hold was packed with bales of wool and rags. The hatches were battened down, the topsails were hoisted and sheeted home and back to the mast; the crew, with a long song, had got the anchor a-trip; the passengers, a missionary with his wife and four children, were busy arranging their quarters in the small cabin; the Greek pilot was on board; and the setting sun was tingeing the mountain-crags of Anatolia with roseate hues, and gilding the red roofs, crescent-tipped minarets, and crumbling Roman ramparts of Smyrna, when Captain Baker and the consignee came off to the ship, having paid their last visit to the consul and the health officers of the port.
"Mr. Partridge, you can make sail on her and cast off; let me know when all is ready," said the Captain to the mate as he went below for the last consultation with the consignee. As the breeze was light, the top-gallant sails and royals were sheeted home, and when she was adrift Mr. Partridge called the Captain.
As the bark fell off gracefully on the starboard tack, the two brass pieces were fired; Captain Baker was a strict disciplinarian; he kept his vessel trim as a yacht, and in entering or leaving port aimed at a man-of-war style as far as is possible in a merchant-ship.
"Good-by, Captain Baker," said the consignee, as he stepped into his boat; "a pleasant and quick voyage to you! When shall we look for you again?"
"Oh, this is my last v'yge! I ain't goin' to sea any more; I promised Mrs. Baker to stay at home after this v'yge."
"So you said the last time you were here. We'll see you back again before long."
"No, I say good-by to Smyrny now, for good and all. But I expect to see you in Boston some time."
Everything looked propitious for a prosperous voyage home; but, being the summer season, the occasional gales and squalls they encountered were alternated by light, baffling winds and long calms, always more or less irritating to the ruling mind which paces the quarter-deck, but affording a good opportunity for scraping the masts, setting up and slushing the rigging, and painting the ship from truck to water-line. In this way the Jennie Lane was made to look as if she were "intended to be put under a glass case," while Captain Baker talked theology with the missionary, and kept an eye on the barometer or the offing for a breeze. On the 4th of July the bark was suddenly surrounded by field-ice and bergs of enormous size; the air, from almost tropical heat, became wintry cold, and the gleam of the sun and the moon on the glittering masses, while it displayed their splendor also revealed the extent of the perils by which they were surrounded. Most fortunately, the weather continued clear, and they had a leading wind, and thus escaped the ice unharmed. And now, ho for the Grand Banks and for home! Captain Baker had been impatient all the voyage to reach the Banks, hoping to see his son there; the Gentle Annie was generally on fishing-grounds about that time, and the Captain was especially anxious for clear weather, so that he might not only see his boy's schooner, but might also thus avoid the danger of running her down in the fog, a peril of the Banks which neither fog-horns nor whistles nor the utmost vigilance can altogether dispel. It was a great relief, therefore, when on a fine, clear morning, with a good offing, Captain Baker saw a fleet of fishermen at anchor ahead or dodging about after fish. With eagerness he scanned them all, recognizing one and another in turn; but it was with ill-concealed disappointment that he failed to see the Gentle Annie anywhere in sight. Hailing one of the schooners which was from the Cape, he inquired for her whereabout, and was informed that she had started for home some days previous, having got a full fare of fish.
"Well," said Captain Baker, " I'm right glad to hear John's got a full fare so early in the season; he'll be coming out again afore long, and, if he gets another good catch, then there'll be a wedding, and you can count me in as one of those present. I don't know anybody who deserves a good wife more than our John, and that's just what he's a-going to have."
After the Grand Banks are passed, going to the westward, it always seems as if one could almost see the ridge-pole of the old homestead and the well-sweep rising by it, especially if a driving northeaster makes the lads in the forecastle sing, " The girls at home have got hold of the tow-rope." And that was just the wind which now swept the Jennie Lane along like a mad race-horse, scudding over the foaming crests on a bee-line for Boston Light. Captain Baker always carried sail hard, and he could do this safely because he never lost his head, and could take in canvas in a squall with perfect coolness. The bark now staggered under a press of sail rarely seen in such weather except on Yankee ships, and when commanded by such men as Captain Abijah Baker. When the canvas blew away, all hands were sent aloft to bend and set on another sail on the yard.
"By George! but if this isn't glorious!" exclaimed the hale old sea-dog. "If Johnnie don't look out, we'll get into Boston Bay before he sights the Highland Light!"
But the nearer they came to the coast the thicker the weather became-not exactly a fog, but a dripping Scotch mist and rain that effectually shut everything out of sight a ship's length ahead, requiring a constant, careful lookout, with frequent blowing of the fog-horn. But they kept driving the bark on her course, although she rolled heavily in the immense seas heaving under the quarter; and the rattling and crashing of tin pans and crockery below, and the faint gleams of lightning in the southwest, indicated the growing severity of the storm. But Captain Baker, judging from the barometer and certain signs significant to the experienced eye, inferred that there would be a shift of the wind ahead before morning, and was anxious to make all the longitude possible before the change.
It had just struck eight bells. There is something peculiarly solemn in the toll of a ship's bell on a dark, stormy night, when the wind is chanting a shrill, weird wail in the rigging, and the melancholy swash of the waves seems to shut out the lonely vessel and the isolated beings on her deck from all the rest of creation.
"Mr. Partridge," said the Captain to the mate, whose watch it was on deck—" Mr. Partridge, you'll keep a good lookout, and, if there's any sign of a change of weather, give me a call. If the wind hasn't shifted when they change the watch, we'll heave to, as we don't want to run in too close while it continues thick like this." Captain Baker then turned to go below, and had just reached the companion-way, when the lookout on the forecastle sang out:
"Vessel dead ahead, close aboard of us!"
"Port! hard-a-port!" rang out the thunder-tones of Captain Baker's voice, and like an echo of his own voice came back the cry from the unknown ship, "Port!" and the bark, suddenly arrested in her course, swung to windward, reeling over on her side, and her foretopmast snapping off even with the cap as she broached too. But it was too late. At the same instant she rose on a sea and rushed down with a tremendous crash into the vessel ahead; and as she swung back, stunned by the shock, and then surged on again, a schooner loomed up out of the gloom, ranged alongside, and went down with a last smothered cry of agony rising from her deck blending with the howling of the gale. Hencoops, spars, and life-preservers were thrown over from the bark, if haply some poor soul might lay hold of one; but, obviously, the first duty was to see whether the Jennie Lane had suffered such damage as would place her own existence in danger. The pumps were sounded, and a slight increase of water was found, indicating that she had started some of her forward timbers; but, most fortunately, the water did not rush in so fast as to be an object of immediate concern, proving under control of the pumps. But some of her upper works had been carried away, including her jib-boom and foretopmast and top-gallant mast, so that she seemed to be in quite a forlorn condition. While the investigation as to the damage done was going on forward, a voice was heard in the fore-chains, and it was found that one of the schooner's crew was clinging there, who had managed to get a hold, but, spraining his ankle, was unable to climb farther. He was at once rescued and brought aft in a half-drowned condition.
"What schooner was that?" inquired Captain Baker.
"She was the Gentle Annie, of—"
"What! the Gentle Annie, John Baker skipper?" exclaimed the Captain, shaking like a leaf.
"My God! O my God!" groaned the poor Captain, leaning against the rail for support in the extremity of his emotion. "O my boy! My poor boy!"
But when the first paroxysm of sudden grief and despair was over, Captain Baker, like all men of action of his stamp, nerved himself to his duty, and, controlling the outward expression of his feelings, went about the ship to see that all was made snug and secure. To put a boat over in that sea and mist, in search of the schooner's crew, was a hopeless task, and would only needlessly risk other lives. He therefore gave orders to keep the bark as near as possible to the position of the catastrophe until daybreak; and, having assured himself that his vessel was in no present danger from the collision, he went below to pass the saddest night of his life.
A long and earnest search on the following morning brought no relief to the hopeless father. The wind had shifted and "scoffed" the fog away, but nothing was to be seen except here and there a distant sail. About mid-day a pilot was taken on board, and in twenty-four hours, with the aid of a tug, the Jennie Lane was alongside of Long Wharf. The news of the collision, being in the nature of bad tidings, and involving the fate of three men at Captain Baker's home—the rest of the lost men were from other places—it reached the place without delay one evening after candlelight. As usual, when the mail arrived, there was a knot of loafers collected inside of the store, with such more reputable and industrious villagers as expected letters. The postmaster's paper was seized by one of those most greedy for news, and if any item of interest occurred he read it aloud. The audience being largely composed of seafaring people, the column of ship-news was naturally the first to receive attention. On this occasion Jerry Fuller, a lank-limbed specimen of the Cape Cod race, had the newspaper, and, with his slouched hat on the back of his head and his feet on the rung of the old chair which was tilted against a barrel of potatoes, was leisurely going over the items, when, with a start, he vehemently exclaimed:
"My good gracious, if this don't beat all!"
"Why, what is it now, Jerry?"
"Just look a-here-just listen to this, boys! The Gentle Annie's been run down and sunk in a gale of wind by the bark Jennie Lane."
Every one in the store immediately crowded around Jerry while he read aloud the account of the calamity, which, although briefly and simply told, came home to them all with terrible emphasis.
"There was the Widow Fisher's boy and Tommy Sloane and Johnnie Baker, all from this place, all as likely fellows as ever grasped a marlinspike, and they've all gone to' Davy Jones,'" said Bill Tucker, heaving a sigh and moistening the fireless stove with tobacco-juice.
" I'm thinkin' it's mighty hard lines for the old man," said Joey Greene.
"A drowning of his own boy! It's blamed hard luck now, I tell you," muttered Jerry.
"Derned if I don't think so," echoed Bill Tucker.
"Well, it's the Lord's doing," solemnly ejaculated Mr. Plympton, the minister, who with sallow, hatchet face was standing on the edge of the crowd.
"Maybe 'tis, maybe 'tain't," growled one who never went to meeting, and was reputed to believe in neither God nor devil.
"Anyway, it's mighty rough on him, you bet," answered old Captain Si Jones.
But the minister, realizing the fearful import of the fatal tidings when it should reach Mrs. Baker, and touched with anxious sympathy, hastened home to inform his wife, who immediately put on her hood and stepped over to the Captain's house to break the news to the afflicted wife and mother.
It is not for us to intrude upon that stricken household, or to reveal the sorrowful meeting of the parents of the lost Johnnie, or the despair of his betrothed, Lucy May, to whom it now seemed as if the light had gone out of the world.
But if it was hard for Captain Baker to remain at home before this tragedy had overtaken him, it was still harder now. Everything reminded him of his lost son, and of the blasted hopes which had centered around him. Although ten years seemed to have been added to his age, and a slight uncertainty seemed to some to have altered the firm tread of his massive frame, yet to the outside world he preserved a steady, almost cheerful demeanor. But the sea drew him again with a strange, irresistible influence, with the glamour of a witch.
"I can't live this way, mother; I must take another v'yge, even ef I don't never come back here again."
Not only did Mrs. Baker not hinder his going, but she decided to go with him; whatever be the fate before him, she would share it, and, great as was her sorrow, she knew that his was in some sort increased by the shadow of self-accusing remorse, a self-blame not wholly unnatural for a calamity which it was out of his power to prevent. Leaving their daughter and Lucy May in their house with a maiden aunt who had been invited to make her home there during their absence, the faithful pair, at an age when. most people are laying aside the burdens of life, sailed out once more on the rough, treacherous ocean which so emphatically symbolizes the troublous life of man. The gossips of the Cape, with a knowing shake of the head and pursed-up lips, acknowledged to a presentiment that he would never return, that this was destined too truly to be his last voyage, notwithstanding that he asserted with a grim smile that he was heading for the Cape of Good Hope this time, which was true enough; for, as if to renew the days of early manhood, Captain Baker now took command of the Dhulep Singh for Calcutta, the port to which his first voyages were made.
The voyage out was unattended by any unusual incidents. The ship reached the Hooghly in safety, and, having discharged her cargo and reloaded, she started for home. If the outward voyage had often seemed monotonously melancholy to the old sailor and his wife, oppressed by the weight of their loss and the blasting of their hopes, the homeward voyage was more hopeless, for they felt, if they did not shape their thoughts in words, that the blank dreariness of their home on their return to it would tend to reopen the heart-wounds but partially healed. Gradually the Dhulep Singh plowed her way across the Indian Ocean toward the Cape of Good Hope. She had escaped the violent gales which accompany the change of the monsoons, and was running before a very fresh but favorable and seemingly steady breeze on the quarter, and it was hoped that she would weather the Cape and take the southeast trades without meeting any heavy gales. But it was otherwise ordained. Having taken his afternoon nap, Captain Baker got up and took a look at the barometer. The result was so unsatisfactory that he rubbed his eyes and gave another glance at the mercury, which only confirmed his first observation. He went on deck without delay. A great change was impending. A terrific gloom was overspreading the heavens, reaching up from the horizon across the zenith in ragged, livid streaks like the arms of demons stretching out to clutch their victims. The sea under this pall rolled black and ominous, boding no good, while ever and anon the dark curtain of mist which was rapidly approaching from the southwest was rent by appalling flashes of lightning, now white bolts riving the skies in twain, now in vivid sheets which circled the whole offing and rimmed the sea with a ring of fire. The distant but ceaseless roll of thunder, every moment growing louder, was of a character to impress the stoutest heart with awe and apprehension.
The officer of the deck had already begun to take precautions to meet the storm, and most of the watch were aloft furling the light sails; but Captain Baker, who was better acquainted with the weather of those seas than the mate, saw that not a moment was to be lost while the ship still had whole topsails and courses set.
"Come down from there!" he roared to the men aloft; "don't wait to furl the top-gallant sails!" then, turning to the mate, he bade him call the watch below. The words were scarcely out of his mouth when the ship was taken aback by a fierce squall right in her teeth. The tremendous pressure on the topsails made it useless to let go the halyards or start the sheets, and, driven stern foremost, the ship began to bury her taffrail under the combers; the water boiled over like a sluice, rushing forward into the cabin and the waist; she was apparently entirely beyond human control, and in another minute would have gone down, as lightning, thunder, darkness, wind, and rain burst with a sublime, confused, and irresistible roar and fury over the devoted ship. But at that supreme moment the crew, by almost superhuman effort, succeeded in lowering the spanker and bracing the foreyard. The noble ship, writhing and wrestling for life, fell off in the trough of the sea, lying over almost on her beam-ends, while the sails were blown out of the bolt-ropes and flew off to leeward like scraps of vapor. For the time she was saved, but how long could she live in that position was the question, especially if the storm settled down into a continuous hurricane. By skillful management they finally got the ship paying off before the wind, scudding with a rag of canvas in the fore-rigging. By the next morning the Dhulep Singh had run out of the vortex of the cyclone, and they were able to heave to, although a sea absolutely mountainous rolled up from the south pole in a manner that sometimes threatened to ingulf the ship.
The sun set that day in a clear offing, festooned with the pageantry of crimson and golden clouds, and the wind having shifted and greatly moderated, they were able to make sail. Two days after the Cape of Good Hope was sighted, like a gray cloud against the pale green of the horizon sky. The weather was fine, the ship jogging along under royals, and the crew engaged in repairing such damages as had occurred to the rigging in the late storm. Two of the men, squatted on the deck in the gangway, were mending a topsail; Mrs. Baker was seated by the companion-way sewing and chatting with the Captain, who, spy-glass in hand, scanned the offing from time to time. Neptune, their white Newfoundland dog, was standing on the taffrail snuffing the land, and gazing at the sea with an expression truly human. It sometimes does seem as if, with their other gifts, some dogs may be permitted to claim a certain dim, far-off sense of the poetic feeling. It was, in a word, one of those average days between the repose of a calm and the excitement of a storm such as come in the life of a ship as in the life of man.
" To-day is our John's birthday. Had you thought of it, Abijah? He would have been twenty-eight years old," said Mrs. Baker.
" Yes, mother, it was the first thing I thought of when I woke up."
"Well, one thing is sure-he's where he'll have no more hurricanes to fight." Although she had been heroically calm throughout the late storm, it had naturally made a lasting impression upon her, and, being the least bit superstitious, like most people, or call it belief in Providence if you prefer, she sincerely believed it was for some purpose she had been "spared," when others were overwhelmed by the winds and waves never more to see their homes.
"I suppose that's so; we don't know much about it; still, I'd be glad to see him back again, and I don't believe but what, to please his old parents and his poor girl mourning for him on the Cape, he'd be willing to come back for a while."
" You know the Bible says,' He shall come back no more to me, but I shall go to him,"' repeated the good lady in a low tone.
"I wish I had your faith, mother, not because believing a thing makes it any more true, but then one feels better and takes life easier."
Thus the pair gossiped to themselves in the commonplaces characteristic of those whose lifework is action rather than speech. After a while one of the men aloft reported a sail in sight.
"Where away? "
"On the lee-beam; looks like a wreck, sir."
Everybody immediately sprang to his feet and scanned the offing, but, as the strange sail was not visible from the deck, Captain Baker went aloft with his glass, and discovered it to be a ship apparently in a sinking condition, her fore- and main-masts gone by the board, and a flag of distress in the mizzen-rigging; she had evidently been dismantled by the late hurricane.
"Square the main-yard! " was the order that now rang through the ship, and she was then kept away for the wreck, which very soon became visible from the deck. As they drew nearer they could see that she was settling fast, and that the crew (her boats having been carried away) were rapidly constructing a raft alongside. The Dhulep Singh was hove-to a short distance from the wreck, which proved to be the Rothsay, tea-clipper of London, and a boat was lowered and sent off to her. The Rothsay was almost down to her scuppers, wallowing helplessly in the sea, and her end was fast approaching. Help had come to her crew just as she was about to go from under them and leave them adrift on the waste of ocean; nor was it safe for the boat to linger alongside, lest it should be sucked down by the whirling vortex caused by the death-throes of the foundering ship, liable to occur at any moment. A number of the Rothsay's crew had been washed off in the hurricane, and one, who had been maimed by falling spars, was already lying on the raft, and was gently transferred to the boat, which then shoved off. When it was midway between the two ships the Rothsay, lurching convulsively, buried her bow in a sea, and the waves closed over her as she went down, locked in their embrace till the sea give up her dead. There is no more solemn or impressive sight in this world than the sinking of a ship at sea. When a man dies the body continues for a while to give the semblance of reality, and only by degrees wastes away to nothingness. When a house burns down, it is only gradually, and the ashes remain. When an earthquake fells a city, the fragments are still there. But when one moment we see the strong and mighty fabric of a ship actually before us, and the next can discern absolutely not a vestige or sign or semblance or shadow of it existing, we come very near to forming a conception of what annihilation is, if there be any such thing.
The Rothsay having disappeared, the attention of all on board the Dhulep Singh was directed to the returning boat, and the haggard faces of those who had been so opportunely rescued from a watery grave were eagerly scanned. But when it arrived alongside, and the features of the wounded man became distinctly visible, Mrs. Baker, shuddering as if with cold, pale as death, and with tongue almost paralyzed with overpowering emotion, clutched her husband's arm: "Abijah, don't he look like our Johnnie?"
"Elizabeth, what—you don't mean to say—My God, it can't be! —and yet—if only the dead could come to life, I should say it was our John!"
Thus gasping and staggering, rather than walking, Captain Baker took two or three steps forward, and gazed earnestly into the eyes of the maimed seaman, who at the instant looked up. As he caught the gaze of the Captain, a change came over his sunken features; reaching forward his arms and exclaiming, "Father!" he fell back apparently dead; it was this circumstance which aided to prevent the parents from yielding to the emotions caused by the violence of the shock received from this most extraordinary event. Descending into the boat, the Captain found that his son was only in a syncope, resulting from excitement from physical exhaustion. With the greatest tenderness and sympathy, in which every one of the crew joined—and it may be said to their credit that more than one of them drew his rough fist across his eyes—John Baker was hoisted out of the boat and carried into the cabin, where the usual remedies applied in such cases soon restored him to consciousness.
John Baker's story is soon told; hair-breadth as was his escape, it is at any rate no more remarkable than the adventures which are encountered by most seafaring men some time in the course of their adventurous lives. On the night of the collision he was on deck; the schooner was lying-to, and, as she was directly in the track of inward-bound vessels, anxiety was felt, and a sharp lookout maintained. He discovered the bark at the same instant that the schooner was perceived. Conscious at a glance that a collision was unavoidable, he at once took thought for his personal safety. As is common on our fishing schooners, there was a nest of dories amidships. He made a dive at this and lifted the upper one out of its bed just as the two vessels came together, and held fast to it by the painter. By great good luck it floated when the schooner went down, and he contrived to get into it. It glided over the seas before the wind, its very lightness giving it buoyancy, and helping to keep it clear of the combers. But it was only by the greatest management—may not one also add, by the aid of Providence?—that dory and crew of one man lived till morning. He was then sighted by a ship outward bound; she altered her course, and flung a rope to him as she swept by: he caught it and was saved. The vessel was bound to China, and the Captain was loath to put back to land him, but promised to transfer him to some homeward-bound vessel if convenient. No such opportunity seemed to occur: either the sea was too high to launch a boat when they met such a ship, or they did not care to lose a fair wind; something always prevented. In the mean time John was given a berth in the forecastle, and worked his passage. At Shanghai he secured the place of second mate in the Rothsay, and started for home via England. The Rothsay was overtaken by the hurricane described above, and hove on her beam-ends; her captain was washed overboard with several of the crew; it was then found necessary to cut away the masts to right her, and John had his leg broken in two places by a falling spar. After the ship righted it was discovered that she had started a butt, caused perhaps by the pounding of a mast-head before the wrecked stuff was cleared away, and the water gained rapidly on the pumps.
John had suffered greatly from the severe accident which had befallen him, which had been aggravated by exposure and lack of surgical aid. And, although the tender care of his mother and the glad face of his father did much to relieve his pain, it was decided to put into Cape Town to procure the medical advice he so much needed. At the Cape of Good Hope they remained several days, and then under propitious auspices hoisted the topsails once more for home. Past St. Helena's rocky isle, across the line, and the Gulf Stream, the Dhulep Singh sped as if impelled by a consciousness of the glad tidings she bore to the forlorn heart on the Cape, gazing with despair along the far-off verge of ocean for the sail of one who would never return to cheer her life again.
It was a glad moment for all an board when the bare, yellow sand-hills of Cape Cod and the Highland Lighthouse hove in sight. "My country!" exclaimed Captain Baker with exultation, as he proudly gazed on the rising shores of his native land, while Neptune, wagging his bushy tail with becoming dignity, evidently regarded the scene with similar sentiments, and hailed every passing vessel with a sonorous, good-natured bark.
A question which often arises in life is whether the happiness that succeeds adversity and sorrow is dearly purchased at that rate. Probably, if we had the choosing of our destiny, we should shrink from such a valuation of good-fortune. But Providence, which lays down the laws for man, has otherwise ordained, and decrees that as in art so in life the strangest effects of light shall be gained by a deep, contrasting shade; that repose shall come as a relief from toil and pain; that rapture shall be rapture because it is the revulsion from overpowering anguish of soul. Hard is the law, terrible the price we pay for what happiness we have in life, but there is only one philosophy that is of any practical value here below, and that is to accept the inevitable.
This train of thought received a practical exemplification when Captain Baker, with his good wife and son, arrived at home on a certain evening some years ago. The wedding which followed before many weeks needs little comment; it was one of unusual solemnity and happiness; and the chubby, blue-eyed, dimple-cheeked little girl, who appeared in due season thereafter, was regarded with peculiar feelings. It was a warm welcome indeed which she received from Grandmother Baker, who at one time had given up all prospect of ever seeing this little granddaughter.
"Ah, little one, you little know how near you came to never having a father!" said Captain Baker, as for the first time he gazed entranced on his first grandchild.
"One may truly say that she was brought to us out of the depths," said Mr. Plympton, the minister; "out of the depths of the sea, out of the depths of despair, she comes to us, bearing consolation and the smile of God reflected on her brow."
S. G. W. BENJAMIN.
Appletons' journal: a magazine of general literature.
Volume 7, Issue 2. Aug 1879
publisher: D. Appleton and Company. New York, NY
images of text: Benjamin, S. G. W. , Out of the Depths Pages: 122-129
online source: Making of America at University of Michigan