In three and a half fathoms (reported by Mr. Goodfellow) the water, which was exquisitely clear, showed good white sand under us. Ahead of us the creek narrowed, promising an anchorage almost completely landlocked and as peaceful as the soul of man could desire. We drew a short eight feet of water, and with such soundings (for the tide had not been making above an hour) I expected the old man to hold on for at least another mile, when, to my surprise, he took the helm from Mr. Rogers and, sending him forward, shook the Espriella up in the wind, at the same time calling to Goodfellow and me to lower the main throat-halliards.
“Leave go anchor!”
With a splash her anchor plunged over, took the ground, and in another twenty yards brought us up standing.
“Hallo!” Miss Belcher scanned the shore. “You’re giving the boats a long trip, Captain.”
“I take my precautions, ma’am,” answered Captain Branscome, almost curtly.
I TAKE FRENCH LEAVE ASHORE.
In a sweating hurry I helped Mr. Rogers and Mr. Goodfellow to furl sail, coil away ropes, and tidy up generally. After these tedious weeks at sea I was wild for a run ashore, and, with the green woods inviting me, grudged even an hour’s delay.
We had run down foresail and come to our anchor under jib and half-lowered mainsail. I sprang forward to take in the jib and carry it, with the foresail, to the locker abaft the ladies’ cabin, when Captain Branscome sang out to me to be in no such hurry, but to fold and stow both sails neatly without detaching them—the one along the bowsprit, the other at the foot of the fore-stay, when they could be re-hoisted at a moment’s notice.
These precautions were the more mysterious to me because a moment later he sent me to the locker to fetch up a tarpaulin cover for the mainsail, which he snugged down carefully, to protect it (as he explained) from the night dews—so carefully that he twice interrupted Mr. Goodfellow to correct a piece of slovenly tying. The sail being packed at length to his satisfaction, we laced the cover about it carefully as though it had been a lady’s bodice.
Our next business was to get out the boats. The Espriella possessed three—a gig, shaped somewhat like a whaleboat; a useful, twelve-foot dinghy; and a small cockboat, or “punt” (to use our West Country name), capable, at a pinch, of accommodating two persons. This last we carried on deck; but the larger pair at the foot of the rigging on either side, whence we unlashed and lowered them by their falls. The punt we moored by a short painter under the bowsprit, so that she lay just clear of our stem.
This small job had fallen to me by the Captain’s orders, and I clambered back, to find him and Mr. Rogers standing by the accommodation ladder on the port side, and in the act of stepping down into the dinghy. Indeed, Mr. Rogers had his foot on the ladder, and seemed to wait only while the Captain gave some instructions to Mr. Goodfellow, who was listening respectfully.