Mrs Major Negus was true to the last.
"What an extremely fishy smell!" she exclaimed as she went on board the whaler which had so opportunely come to rescue them from the solitude of Desolation Island. "I'm sure I wish Captain Dinks had secured a passage for us in a more respectable ship after choosing to cast away his own!"
But little more remains to be added.
The whaling schooner reached Table Bay in safety, without encountering any storms similar to that which had led to the loss of the _Nancy Bell_, and all the rescued castaways were shortly afterwards landed at Cape Town. Here, Captain Dinks, who had recovered much from his wound since he was taken off the island, secured a passage home to England for himself and officers and such of the passengers of the lost ship as desired to go back thither, sending on to New Zealand, at the owners'
expense, those who preferred proceeding to their original destination.
Amongst these latter was Mrs Major Negus and her son, "the Major" being extremely anxious to join her husband at Waikatoo as soon as possible.
Mr Meldrum and his family also went on; the ex-commander in the Royal Navy having sold out the little property he had at home and capitalised his pension with the object of settling in New Zealand, had now no desire to return to England, or the means to live there if he had such a wish.
Frank did not forget his engagement with Kate, however.
Although he was obliged to accompany Captain Dinks back to England, it was not long after his arrival in London before he passed the Trinity House Board, obtaining a certificate licensing him to act as chief mate, in which capacity he went out to New Zealand on his very next voyage.
This will not be his last trip to the Antipodes either, for rumour has it that, not improbably, Frank Harness, promoted to the rank of a master in the mercantile marine, will proceed shortly again to Otago in command of a ship of his own, when, possibly, he will have one especial item of human freight to bring home with him on his own account!
CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.
THE LAST OF THE OLD SHIP!
There is one thing more to tell.
It all arises from the unpardonable stupidity of that donkey of a steward, Llewellyn, who forgot the memorandum concerning the circumstance and left it down below in the cabin--and that, too, in spite of Ben Boltrope's telling him to be certain to bear it mind, besides his wife, Mary, having continually jogged his memory on the subject! Had it not been for this, the omission would never have occurred, as the matter would have been mentioned in its proper place some time ago.
Shortly after the _Matilda Ann_ set sail from the little whaling station at Betsy Cove with the rescued castaways of Kerguelen Land on board, and just as she was weathering the Cloudy Islands, as they are called--a group of rocks that lie to the north-east of the mainland--the look-out man in the fore cross-trees, who was keeping a keen watch for breakers, the navigation at this point being rather ticklish on account of the treacherous reefs and stray currents that wander about there, suddenly shouted down to the man at the wheel to put the helm down, which of course he immediately did.
"What is it?" called out the steersman, who happened to be the master of the schooner himself. He noticed no sign of breakers anywhere near and wondered at this sudden alteration of the vessel's course--"Where's the reef?"
"'Tain't no reef, sir," sang out the man aloft in answer, "but I see something like a man in the water."
"Man be hanged!" exclaimed the schooner's skipper in a rage. "And was it for such an absurd idea that you've nearly made me shiver the masts out of her? If it be a body, it can only be a corpse; for no man could swim out here from Kerguelen, and I'm blessed if he could live on those rocks of islands beyond!"
"There!" shouted the look-out man again, taking no notice of the other's upbraiding, and seeming to be very anxious about whatever he had seen in the water. "It is quite close now on the lee bow."
"Well, just to oblige you," said the skipper, speaking loud enough for all on board to hear, "and to let you see for yourself what a confounded fool you are, I'll fetch her up to it!"
"Bully for you, cap'en!" exclaimed Mr Lathrope, who with the others of the rescued party was on deck, not liking the rather fusty odour of the schooner's cabin--which, to do justice to Mrs Major Negus, did smell most abominably of seal-oil, and even worse scents!
The floating object was soon approached on the schooner's bearing away towards it; and a man in the bows, who had a boat-hook ready in his hand, quickly grappled it and pulled it alongside.
It was no man, however, as the look-out had thought; but only a piece of square timber which had evidently once formed some portion of a vessel's belongings, and it was carved out roughly on the uppermost side to represent a female head and bust.
"I wasn't far out in thinking it were a man in the water," said the look-out man, gazing down on the object from his perch above, as the schooner's skipper, giving the helm in charge of some one else, came forward to have a look over the side at the innocent cause of all this unnecessary fuss, as he thought.
"You'd better say no more," replied the skipper, scornfully shouting back up to the man. "I always thought you were a fool, and now I know you are one! A drowning man, indeed! why, it's only the broken figurehead of some old vessel or other!"
"Look, Mr McCarthy!" cried Mr Meldrum to the Irishman, who just then came up to see what all the commotion was about. "Don't you see what it is?"
"Be jabers, I do!" responded the ex-mate, quite as much excited as the other. "Sure, an' it's the last of the ould ship! I wondther howsomedever it iver floated all the way here?"
It was the figurehead of the ill-fated _Nancy Bell_.