A Modern Telemachus - Part 14

Part 14

How long the intense suspense lasted they knew not ere Arthur cried, 'They are slackening sail! Thank G.o.d. Tam, you have saved us! English!'

'Not so fast!' Tam uttered an Arabic and then a Scottish interjection.

Their signal had been seen by other eyes. An unmistakable Algerine, with the crescent flag, was bearing down on them from the opposite direction.

'Rascals. Do they not dread the British flag?' cried Arthur. 'Surely that will protect us?'

'They are smaller and lighter, and with their galley slaves can defy the wind, and loup off like a flea in a blanket,' returned Tam, grimly. 'Mair by token, they guess what we are, and will hold on to hae my life's bluid if naething mair! Here! Gie us a soup of the water, and the last bite of flesh. 'Twill serve us the noo, find we shall need it nae mair any way.'

Arthur fed him, for he durst not slacken rowing for a moment. Then seeing Fareek, who had borne the brunt of the fatigue, looking spent, the youth, after swallowing a few morsels and a little foul-smelling drink, took the second oar, while double force seemed given to the long arms lately so weary, and both pulled on in silent, grim desperation. Ulysse had given one scream at seeing the last of the water swallowed, but he too, understood the situation, and obeyed Arthur's brief words, 'Kneel down and pray for us, my boy.'

The Abyssinian was evidently doing the same, after having loaded the blunderbuss; but it was no longer necessary to use this as a signal, since the frigate had lowered her boat, which was rapidly coming towards them.

But, alas! still more swiftly, as it seemed to those terrified eyes, came the Moorish boat--longer, narrower, more favoured by currents and winds, flying like a falcon towards its prey. It was a fearful race. Arthur's head began to swim, his breath to labour, his arms to move stiffly as a thresher's flail; but, just as power was failing him, an English cheer came over the waters, and restored strength for a few more resolute strokes.

Then came some puffs of smoke from the pirate's boat, a report, a jerk to their own, a fresh dash forward, even as Fareek fired, giving a moment's check to the enemy. There was a louder cheer, several shots from the English boat, a cloud from the ship's side. Then Arthur was sensible of a relaxation of effort, and that the chase was over, then that the British boat was alongside, friendly voices ringing in his ears, 'How now, mates? Runaways, eh? Where d'ye hail from?'

'Scottish! British!' panted out Arthur, unable to utter more, faint, giddy, and astounded by the cheers around him, and the hands stretched out in welcome. He scarcely saw or understood.

'Queer customers here! What! a child! Who are you, my little man? And what's this? A Moor! He's. .h.i.t--pretty hard too.'

This brought back Arthur's reeling senses in one flash of horror, at the sight of Tam, bleeding fast in the bottom of the boat.

'O Tam! Tam! He saved me! He is Scottish too,' cried Arthur. 'Sir, is he alive?'

'I think so,' said the officer, who had bent over Tam. 'We'll have him aboard in a minute, and see what the doctor can do with him. You seem to have had a narrow escape.'

Arthur was too busy endeavouring to staunch the blood which flowed fast from poor Tam's side to make much reply, but Ulysse, perched on the officer's knee, was answering for him in mixed English and French. 'Moi, je suis le Chevalier de Bourke! My papa is amba.s.sador to Sweden. This gentleman is his secretary. We were shipwrecked--and M. Arture and I swam away together. The Moors were good to us, and wanted to make us Moors; but M. Arture said it would be wicked. And Yusuf bought him for a slave; but that was only from _faire la comedie_. He is _bon Chretien_ after all, and so is poor Fareek, only he is dumb. Yusuf--that is, Tam--made me all black, and changed me for his little negro boy; and we got into the boat, and it was very hot, and oh! I am so thirsty. And now M. Arture will take me to Monsieur mon Pere, and get me some nice clothes again,' concluded the young gentleman, who, in this moment of return to civilised society, had become perfectly aware of his own rank and importance.

Arthur only looked up to verify the child's statements, which had much struck the lieutenant. Their boat had by this time been towed alongside of the frigate, and poor Tam was hoisted on board, and the surgeon was instantly at hand; but he said at once that the poor fellow was fast dying, and that it would be useless torture to carry him below for examination.

A few words pa.s.sed with the captain, and then the little Chevalier was led away to tell his own tale, which he was doing with a full sense of his own importance; but presently the captain returned, and beckoned to Arthur, who had been kneeling beside poor Tam, moistening his lips, and bathing his face, as he lay gasping and apparently unconscious, except that he had gripped hold of his broad sash or girdle when it was taken off.

'The child tells me he is Comte de Bourke's son,' said the captain, in a tentative manner, as if doubtful whether he should be understood, and certainly Arthur looked more Moorish than European.

'Yes, sir! He was on his way with his mother to join his father when we were taken by a Moorish corsair.'

'But you are not French?' said the captain, recognising the tones.

'No, sir; Scottish--Arthur Maxwell Hope. I was to have gone as the Count's secretary.'

'You have escaped from the Moors? I could not understand what the boy said. Where are the lady and the rest?'

Arthur as briefly as he could, for he was very anxious to return to poor Tam, explained the wreck and the subsequent adventures, saying that he feared the poor Countess was lost, but that he had seen her daughter and some of her suite on a rock. Captain Beresford was horrified at the idea of a Christian child among the wild Arabs. His station was Minorca, but he had just been at the Bay of Rosas, where poor Comte de Bourke's anxiety and distress about his wife and children were known, and he had received a request amounting to orders to try to obtain intelligence about them, so that he held it to be within his duty to make at once for Djigheli Bay.

For further conversation was cut short by sounds of articulate speech from poor Tam. Arthur turned hastily, and the captain proceeded to give his orders.

'Is Maister Hope here?'

'Here! Yes. O Tam, dear Tam, if I could do anything!' cried Arthur.

'I canna see that well,' said Tam, with a sound of anxiety. 'Where's my sash?'

'This is it, in your own hand,' said Arthur, thinking he was wandering, but the other hand sought one of the ample folds, which was sewn over, and weighty.

'Tak' it; tak' tent of it; ye'll need the siller. Four hunder piastres of Tunis, not countin' zeechins, and other sma' coin.'

'Shall I send them to any one at Eyemouth?'

Tam almost laughed. 'Na, na; keep them and use them yersell, sir.

There's nane at hame that wad own puir Tam. The leddy, your mither, an'

you hae been mair to me than a' beside that's above ground, and what wad ye do wi'out the siller?'

'O Tam! I owe all and everything to you. And now--'

Tam looked up, as Arthur's utterance was choked, and a great tear fell on his face. 'Wha wad hae said,' murmured he, 'that a son of Burnside wad be greetin' for Partan Jeannie's son?'

'For my best friend. What have you not saved me from! and I can do nothing!'

'Nay, sir. Say but thae words again.'

'Oh for a clergyman! Or if I had a Bible to read you the promises.'

'You shall have one,' said the captain, who had returned to his side. The surgeon muttered that the lad seemed as good as a parson; but Arthur heard him not, and was saying what prayers came to his mind in this stress, when, even as the captain returned, the last struggle came on.

Once more Tam looked up, saying, 'Ye'll be good to puir Fareek;' and with a word more, 'Oh, Christ: will He save such as I?' all was over.

'Come away, you can do nothing more,' said the doctor. 'You want looking to yourself.'

For Arthur tottered as he tried to rise, and needed the captain's kind hand as he gained his feet. 'Sir,' he said, as the tears gushed to his eyes, 'he _does_ deserve all honour--my only friend and deliverer.'

'I see,' said Captain Beresford, much moved; 'whatever he has been, he died a Christian. He shall have Christian burial. And this fellow?'

pointing to poor Fareek, whose grief was taking vent in moans and sobs.

'Christian--Abyssinian, but dumb,' Arthur explained; and having his promise that all respect should be paid to poor Tam's corpse, he let the doctor lead him away, for he had now time to feel how sun-scorched and exhausted he was, with giddy, aching head, and legs cramped and stiff, arms strained and shoulders painful after his three days and nights of the boat. His thirst, too, seemed unquenchable, in spite of drinks almost unconsciously taken, and though hungry he had little will to eat.

The surgeon made him take a warm bath, and then fed him with soup, after which, on a promise of being called in due time, he consented to deposit himself in a hammock, and presently fell asleep.

When he awoke he found that clothes had been provided for him--naval uniforms; but that could not be helped, and the comfort was great. He was refreshed, but still very stiff. However, he dressed and was just ready, when the surgeon came to see whether he were in condition to be summoned, for it was near sundown, and all hands were piped up to attend poor Tam's funeral rites. His generous and faithful deed had eclipsed the memory that he was a renegade, and, indeed, it had been in such ignorance that he had had little to deny.

All the sailors stood as respectfully as if he had been one of themselves while the captain read a portion of the Burial Office. Such honours would never have been his in his native land, where at that time even Episcopalians themselves could not have ventured on any out-door rites; and Arthur was thus doubly struck and impressed, when, as the corpse, sewn in sail-cloth and heavily weighted, was launched into the blue waves, he heard the words committing the body to the deep, till the sea should give up her dead. He longed to be able to translate them to poor Fareek, who was weeping and howling so inconsolably as to attest how good a master he had lost.

Perhaps Tam's newly-found or recovered Christianity might have been put to hard shocks as to the virtues he had learnt among the Moslems. At any rate Arthur often had reason to declare in after life that the poor renegade might have put many a better-trained Christian to shame.