Suddenly there was a shock and stound all over the vessel, her progress was stopped, and a rocking vibration was felt everywhere. The quarter-deck was filled with blasts of steam, which obscured everything. Sick people came rushing up out of their berths in strange undress; the steerage passengers—a motley and picturesque set of people, in many varieties of gay costume—took refuge on the quarter-deck, speaking loudly in all varieties of French and Italian patois. Ellinor stood up in silent, wondering dismay. Was the Santa Lucia going down on the great deep, and Dixon unaided in his peril? Dr. Livingstone was by her side in a moment. She could scarcely see him for the vapour, nor hear him for the roar of the escaping steam.
“Do not be unnecessarily frightened,” he repeated, a little louder. “Some accident has occurred to the engines. I will go and make instant inquiry, and come back to you as soon as I can. Trust to me.”
He came back to where she sat trembling.
“A part of the engine is broken, through the carelessness of these Neapolitan engineers; they say we must make for the nearest port—return to Civita, in fact.”
“But Elba is not many miles away,” said Ellinor. “If this steam were but away, you could see it still.”
“And if we were landed there we might stay on the island for many days; no steamer touches there; but if we return to Civita, we shall be in time for the Sunday boat.”
“Oh, dear, dear!” said Ellinor. “To-day is the second—Sunday will be the fourth—the assizes begin on the seventh; how miserably unfortunate!”
“Yes!” he said, “it is. And these things always appear so doubly unfortunate when they hinder our serving others! But it does not follow that because the assizes begin at Hellingford on the seventh, Dixon’s trial will come on so soon. We may still get to Marseilles on Monday evening; on by diligence to Lyons; it will—it must, I fear, be Thursday, at the earliest, before we reach Paris—Thursday, the eighth—and I suppose you know of some exculpatory evidence that has to be hunted up?”
He added this unwillingly; for he saw that Ellinor was jealous of the secresy she had hitherto maintained as to her reasons for believing Dixon innocent; but he could not help thinking that she, a gentle, timid woman, unaccustomed to action or business, would require some of the assistance which he would have been so thankful to give her; especially as this untoward accident would increase the press of time in which what was to be done would have to be done.
But no. Ellinor scarcely replied to his half-inquiry as to her reasons for hastening to England. She yielded to all his directions, agreed to his plans, but gave him none of her confidence, and he had to submit to this exclusion from sympathy in the exact causes of her anxiety.
Once more in the dreary sala, with the gaudy painted ceiling, the bare dirty floor, the innumerable rattling doors and windows! Ellinor was submissive and patient in demeanour, because so sick and despairing at heart. Her maid was ten times as demonstrative of annoyance and disgust; she who had no particular reason for wanting to reach England, but who thought it became her dignity to make it seem as though she had.