The latest in our “Stories Of A Stewardess” series by Francis Myles, “Rescued From A Living Grave” was first published in “The People’s Friend” in 1893.
This is part one of the story, with part two coming next week.
We hope you enjoy!
“Do you see that there military old gent?”
It was Jackson to whom I was talking as we stood together in the door of his pantry.
“Do you mean the old gentleman with the gold eye-glasses and the heavy white moustache?”
“The very same. A peppery-lookin’ old chap he is, too; ain’t he now?”
“Well, yes, I daresay he is. But, then, all men grow more or less like that as they grow old,” I said.
“Oh! They do, do they?”
Jackson’s tone was full of mingled indignation and scorn.
“But what about that particular old gentleman?” I asked, hastening to mollify Jackson by giving him an opportunity to tell his story.
“That’s Major Charles.”
“You don’t say so,” I exclaimed, as I craned my neck to obtain a better view of the retreating figure. “But, Jackson, he’s not nearly so bad-looking a I would have expected.
“Considering what I’ve heard about him, I should have fancied him a— a—”
As I paused for a suitable expression, Jackson duly broke in with—
“A perfect demon, with a pair of horns, perhaps, and cloven feet!”
“And instead of that he is quite a handsome old gentleman, although he does look rather fierce. They say that his wife — you know her, the sad-faced old lady with the beautiful smile — is dying of broken heart. Isn’t that a dreadful story about their son?”
“What is it?” Jackson asked, pausing an instant for my answer.
“It seems that about ten years ago young Leslie Bethune got into some scrape at school.
“His father (Major Charles, as he is usually called to distinguish him from another Major Bethune in the same regiment) regarded the boy’s escapade as a heinous crime, and treated the lad very severely.
“The mother, who is as sweet and amiable a lady as one could wish to meet, tried in vain to get her husband to view the matter in its proper light. But it seems that the Major is nothing if not pig-headed, and the more she talked to and pleaded with him, the harder and more obstinate he grew.
“Unfortunately young Bethune had inherited not a small share of his father’s temper, and soon the boy was wild at what he considered the injustice done him.
“Any sorrow and compunction he may have felt at first soon vanished under the continued harshness of his father’s treatment.
“I can understand the feeling fine,” struck in Jackson. “The Major had kept him in hot water until he grew hard.”
“Like an egg,” I rejoined. “Just exactly. But where was I? Ah! Yes. Well, to make a long story short, the boy went amissing one fine morning, and from that day to this there’s never been any word of him.”
“Hard lines on his mother,” Jackson said.
“You may well say that,” I replied. “It’s said she has never been the same again. It seems they are making fresh efforts to find the son, as, owing to the unexpected death of a second cousin, he is heir to a large estate.”
“How old was he when he ran away from home?”
“Scarcely seventeen. Quite a youth.”
“I say,” Jackson broke in here with a sudden change of manner, “look out here. What do you think of that sky? I’ve been noticing it for some time. Looks bad, eh?”
“It does, indeed,” I answered, as i looked out at the open port-hole. “I doubt we are in for a stiff gale.”
My eye ran along the great stretch of cold, greenish water that moved restlessly under the still colder, leaden-grey sky.
Already angry, vicious little gusts of wind buffeted the snarling waves, causing them to show their white, hungry-looking teeth.
How soon might they not grow monsters that would devour us?
As I went to shut the port-holes in the ladies’ cabins, I met Captain Steele coming out of the saloon.
“Are we to have a change?” I asked.
“I fear so, Miss Symons, I fear so,” he said as he buttoned up his reefer jacket. “The glass is falling rapidly, and the sky looks very dirty. You’ll have your hands full presently.”
We both laughed., but I’m not very sure that I altogether enjoyed the picture that his words conjured up. A storm and sea-sickness mean hard work, and lots of it, to a stewardess onboard a large vessel.
I turned in answer to my name, and doing so found that it was Mrs Bethune who had called me.
“Are we to have a storm?”
“Well, I couldn’t really say,” I answered reassuringly. “Certainly we are in for a bit of a blow, but it may not be very much, you know.”
“I’m so terribly afraid of the sea,” the old lady went on, speaking nervously. “You know, I lost my boy ten years ago. He went to sea, and he’s never been heard of since.”
“But you mustn’t grow nervous yet,” I said, cheerily. “Would you care to go to bed now, as long as you are well? It might save you some suffering.”
“Thank you, I think I had better,” the old lady answered. “Would you mind sending Pearsons to me? I think she is upstairs.”
As the night drew near the weather went on growing worse and worse. Very soon most of the ladies had followed Mrs Bethune’s example. Very quietly they lay, for the most part, being either too sick or too frightened to make much noise.
Looking out from the port-holes, there was nothing to be seen but green, curling waves all streaked with broken foam. Ever and anon the Sultana reeled as a monstrous wave struck her side, and down below we could hear the noise made on deck by the water breaking over her.
All the time the wind blew and blew, until even the noise of the waters was drowned by its shriek and roar. I knew by the motion of the vessel that she was simply keeping her head to the wind; all the steam she could get up was powerless to propel her forward in the teeth of such a hurricane.
Here’s a little bonus — a video of Illustrations Editor Manon creating the fantastic design for this story!
All that night and all the next day it was the same. I think it must have been towards the close of the second day that Jackson told me we were being blown out of our course.
“Hundreds of miles already,” he whispered, in low, awe-stricken tones. “We’ve got into some darned current, and it and the wind together are more than we’re fit to fight against.”
“But we’re not in danger, Jackson?” I asked.
“We’re not out of it,” was the comfortless answer. “But don’t you go and scare these women, or we’ll be driven daft with their row.”
“There’s not enough energy left in them to make a row,” I said, with a sigh. I’m not a coward, but I didn’t feel very happy just at that moment.
To be continued . . .
Look out for part two of “Rescued From A Living Grave” in next week’s Fiction newsletter.
Click here to read more of our fantastic Fiction content.
Click here to delve into our dramatic Daily Serial.