The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 5 (August 1, 1936)
Limited Night Entertainments
The Queen'S Earrings.
The Queen's Earrings lie beneath the hearthstone of a farmhouse a little north of where the main trunk railway crosses the 40th degree of latitude.
Their story goes back to that day in 1568 on which Mary Stuart fleeing from the battle of Langside, came to the home of the Lenzies at Glenmayne Priory. Malcolm Lenzie, who was then Laird of Glenmayne, saved the Queen from falling into the hands of the Regent Murray, and set her upon the road to England, in gratitude for which she presented him with her earrings—two fire opals set in whorls of beaten gold—and promised that when she returned to Scotland, great power and wealth would be his.
She never returned, but for nearly three centuries afterwards the Lenzies remained lairds of Glenmayne, until in 1857 they were dispossessed by a moneylender named McWhin. Ardoch Lenzie, who inherited the estate only to find that his title had been signed away by his father, was persuaded by his wife Catherine to make a new start in New Zealand, and they now await the arrival of the ship “Druimuachdar,” commanded by Catherine's brother, Charles Barcle.
The “Outward Bound” (the Clydebank Brewery Co.'s Entire) stands today where it did seventy-nine years ago, in that part of Glasgow that lies between Broomilaw and the Queen's Dock. The fact is hard to reconcile with modern local topography, for the records show that in those days it was a waterfront tavern. The street that leads to it turns aside bravely enough from a roaring thoroughfare of trams and motor buses and brightly-lit shops, but after struggling for a few hundred yards between sooty and dilapidated dwellings, loses heart and dies in a courtyard, the other end of which is guarded by three iron posts. Should you venture further beyond the posts, a narrow passage will take you along the flank of a warehouse—a vast echoing structure redolent of green hides—to another thoroughfare filled with the rumble of drays and lorries and many strange smells. The funnels and masts of ships tower above slate roofs and there are glimpses of the river glinting dully beneath a leaden sky.
In the year 1857 the water ebbed and flowed freely across the mud flats on which this last thoroughfare has since been built, and the courtyard which was then known as Denny's Tidal Basin, a secluded and by comparison, almost pleasant spot, was overlooked by the coffee room of the “Outward Bound.” It was in this coffee room on a fine afternoon in October, that Captain Charles Barcle, of the full rigged ship “Druimuachdar” sat and sipped at a glass of sherry while he gloomily surveyed the man who sat opposite him; a jolly, robustlooking man of that old-fashioned merchant type who, perhaps because they lived in close contact with the captains of their ships, seemed to carry about with them a decided salty flavour.
“Well, there it is, captain,” this man was saying. “There's the ship, and there's the cargo.” He waved an arm towards the window which was on a level with the mainyard of the “Druimuachdar” as she rode at high water against the breastwork of the tidal basin, “and the money's as good as in the bank.”
“Maybe so,” the captain replied bluntly, “but I'd feel a sight happier if it really were in the bank instead of in the pockets of this fellow McWhin.”
“Oh, McWhin's all right,” the merchant laughed easily.
“Aye—at a price.”
“What do you mean?”
Captain Barcle did not immediately reply, but rose and stood gazing out of the window. A tackle had been rigged above the “Druimuachdar's” main hatch. Crates of merchandise, machinery, and ironware for the most part, were being hoisted aboard by a hand winch, the musical clinking of which was the only sound that for some minutes disturbed the silence of the coffee room.
“D'ye see those boxes down there by the mizzen chain-plates?” the captain demanded at length.
The other rose and came to his side.
“The ones with a name painted on them? What about them?”
“Lenzie is the name painted on them,” Captain Barcle replied. “Lenzie, Wellington, New Zealand.’
“Doesn't convey anything to me.”
“No—it wouldn't—you're a Liverpool man. Well, Lenzie is my brother-inlaw, and he comes of an old family that has lived for over three hundred years at a place called Glenmayne Priory down there in Renfrew. He and his wife are leaving this country for good, because his father borrowed money, just like you're proposing to do from this same McWhin.”
“D'ye mean that McWhin sold him up?”
The captain nodded. “Took everything he had; house, lands, livelihood, everything except the few old books and pictures and a bit of plate and so on that's packed up in those boxes.” He paused a moment, then, “they say McWhin will make a pot of money out of it too; he is going to cut the estate up into factory and building sites.”
The merchant frowned. “Couldn't Lenzie have done that and bought him off?”
“Seems not—McWhin had secured all the titles and foreclosed; but even if Lenzie had been able to clear the debt in some other way he would never have cut up the estate, he's a stiff-necked devil. Why,” he added, “he could set himself up now right enough if he would only agree to part with some old jewels—a cool seven thousand he was offered for 'em by a dealer—but they're family heirlooms, given to the first laird of Glenmayne by Mary Stuart; the Queen's Jewels they call 'em, and he won't trade.”
“D'ye mean to say he's taking #7,000 worth of jewels with him in your ship?” ejaculated the merchant—“he must be crazy!”
“They'll be safe enough once they're on board,” the captain retorted stiffly, page 43 “but I don't know about when he gets to the other end, there are some pretty tough characters knocking. he paused and then spun sharply upon his heel. Standing immediately behind them was the lanky, one-eyed and generally ill-favoured individual, who, at the moment when he tied a green baize apron round himself, acted as boots, pot-boy, and coffee room waiter to the “Outward Bound” Tavern.
“Now,” demanded the captain, shooting out a hand to grasp the slack of his waistcoast, “perhaps you'll be good enough to tell us what you're doing here?”
The potman sighed—“Naethin’ at a’ —I'm juist aboot ma duty,” and he made a movement towards the empty glasses on the table.
Captain Barcle released him with a grunt of disgust. “Pon my soul,” he growled, “I don't know what the country's coming to when a man can't discuss a simple matter of interest without having a gallows-bird like that poking its nose into it. That's the way it is nowadays though,” he continued sadly, after the waiter had taken himself off, “the old order's changing—no solidity, no respect, Jack's as good as his master; d'ye know what I put it down to?”
“I can guess,” the merchant replied, laughing, “steamships?”
“Humph!—well, you've heard my opinions on the subject before—but it's true all the same. I tell you there wont be any sailors left soon, they'll all be blacksmiths and tinkers, and very handsome they'll look bucking a full gale o’ wind on a lee shore and trying to solder up their rotten boilers!”
“Still, you must admit that steam has its uses.”
“On land perhaps, but not at sea; haven't I spent the last two days trying to find a man to replace Alec Thomson?”
“Your first mate—what's happened to him, you didn't tell me?” The merchant was serious again.
“No? Well I was coming to it, only your proposal to make a deal with McWhin took me all aback. Alec was away to Maryhill to see his mother, and while he was standing on the platform waiting for the train to bring him back, a train comes from the other direction, and what must some numbskull do but open the door of his carriage before it stops. That door took Alec abaft the beam as you might say, and stretched him out on the platform with three ribs stove and a broken arm—so there's no chance of him sailing on Wednesday.”
“Tch—that's bad,” the merchant replied. “I'm sorry captain, I really am —have you got another man?”
“Aye, there's a fellow called Holloway—a Londoner—not the type of man I'd choose if I had time. He's been in American ships, and I expect I'll have to tone him down a bit. However, as I said, sailors are getting scarce, and if a man is pressed for time, well—he has just got to take what he can get.”
No doubt Captain Barcle's misgivings about the worthiness of the “Druimuachdar's” new mate would have been increased could he have seen him at the moment he was discussing him.
Downstairs, at the back of the main taproom of the “Outward Bound” was a smaller bar known as the “glory hole,” and frequented by those customers of both sexes who, by reason of their comparative affluence, were considered to be worthy of greater comfort and privacy than the turbulent atmosphere that the main tap afforded. The privacy was secured by a slide which shut the “glory hole” off from the tap and through which the potman could serve his drinks. Comfort was provided by two leather settees, a wooden floor without any sand on it, and a small fire.
Mr. Holloway, although duty demanded that he should be superintending the stowage of the “Druimachdar's” cargo, entered the “glory hole” shortly after three o'clock and banged with his fist upon the slide. He was a hard-looking man with a flattened nose and he wore his peaked cap with an air that suggested he knew all about the world and the men who lived in it, and would stand no nonsense from either. For all that, his general appearance was somewhat shabby and down-at-heel, and he looked thoughtfully at the florin which he took from his pocket before pounding once more on the slide.
“Damnation!” he cried, when, after a third assault upon the slide it was reluctantly withdrawn, “are you all dead in there? Does a man have to— why,” he dropped his voice to a hoarse whisper as he caught sight of the potman's face, “why, strike me blind if it ain't me old pal Scotty 'Ollick, 'im as was not apprehended for the wilful and premeditated robbery wiv vi'lence of that most respected citizen of Boston, Massachussetts, Judge Esther, in the spring of last year.”
“Dorky,” said the potman without enthusiasm or surprise.
“Dorky it was, Holloway it is; Mr. Holloway to you, mate of the ‘Drummochter’ sailing day after to-morrer for the Antipodes. That's to say,” he leered slightly, “I was, but now I've found me old pal Scotty, p'raps I shan't—wot's me old pal got to say about it?”
The potman withdrew his head from the slide, and returning, placed a whisky bottle and two glasses on the sill. Mr. Holloway slipped the florin comfortably back into his pocket.
“Well, Scotty,” he said, “here's down the hatch. Now what about it—you and me I mean?”
“He died,” Mr. Holloway interrupted grimly, “and I can prove one or two little facts that the Boston police would be glad to hear.”
“Bawston's a long way frae Glesca,” replied the potman, “an’ they dinna take the Yankee polis verra seriously over here. Besides,” the potman's one eye grew suddenly menacing, “I've one or two friends in Glesca who wouldna’ like tae think ye were for selling yer infor-r-mation!”
“Still up to your old tricks eh!” Mr. Holloway attempted a feeble bluster, “ferget it Scotty boy, d'ye think I'd split on a pal fer a few lousy dollars— I was only having me little joke.”
“Aye,” replied the potman dourly, “I thought ye were.” He drained his glass in silence, then, “yer skipper's upstairs,” he said.
“That's alright aint’ it, skipper in the parlour, mate in the 'glory 'ole.’ Shouldn't wonder if the ole bloomin’ ship's company ain't in the tap.”
“They're no’,” replied the potman, who appeared to be a man of literal interpretations, “but,” he leaned forward, and taking the mate by the lapel of his jacket, whispered earnestly in his ear. For a long time they conversed in this manner, pausing now and again to frown and trace ruminative patterns on the sill of the slide with their forefingers.
The tide had begun to ebb in the basin outside and had gone out completely from the whisky bottle ere the potman straightened himself up.
“Well, Dorky,” he said, “you get them and bring them here to me before she sails if you can—if not then ye'll juist have tae wait yer chance. I'll know how tae get rid o’ them, and we'll split fifty-fifty.” And Mr. Holloway, a little uncertain in his footsteps, his brows knotted in a speculative scowl, returned to his job of superintending the stowage of the “Druimuachdar's” cargo.
On the first day of February in the New Year the “Druimuachdar” crossed the 160th parallel in latitude 44 south. One hundred and twenty-two days of almost continuous fair winds and easy sailing on the “great circle” had passed since a fussy paddle tug had snaked her out of Denny's Tidal Basin, and now another six or seven should raise the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps.
Six days! Catherine Lenzie, reclining at ease in a canvas chair set against the lee rail of the poop, was conscious of a feeling of supreme happiness as she glanced idly at the pay of sunshine and shadow across the deck. To her the ship with its lofty spars and violet shadowed canvas, the song of the breeze in the rigging and the gentle hiss of water alongside, appeared as a vivid segment of the great wheel of life epitomised in the heap of sewing in her lap. Tiny garments lovingly tucked and hemmed, all ready for the arrival of a new heir to the Lenzie fortunes three weeks hence in New Zealand.
Her thoughts went back as she fingered the soft linen, to those last few days at Glenmayne, the days of heartache and the weary weeks of waiting that followed in the cottage overlooking the Firth near Gourock. The “Druimuachdar,” a comfortable but slow old sailing ship, was leisurely and irregular in her comings and goings, so much so that instead of the predicted six weeks it was two months before she came beating up the Firth.
That had been a morning of the wildest excitement; a waterman's dory leaping over the short steep estuary seas. Jewelled drops of spray stinging the face, and the perilous climb up a swinging rope ladder to meet Charley Barcle, red faced, booming commands, with a bear-like hug for his sister. But the excitement had died away when it was learned that, after discharging her cargo the ship was to go over to Port Glasgow to refit, another two months probably before she would be loaded and ready for sea again.
Charley Barcle was home, however, and came whenever he could to the cottage at Gourock, and in the evenings they would sit at the window watching the traffic of the river. The tall deep-sea tramps outward bound; the collier brigs and the flapping, panting tugs, and they would make him tell over and over again all he knew of the wonderful new lands in which, in spirit, they were already settled.
Then at last the journey up to Glasgow, the train whistling shrilly as it clattered through a wilderness of slate roofs and chimney pots. The grumbling grimy station; the ferocious cabmen. They had lunched in the coffee room of the “Outward Bound,” and Catherine had eaten little, unable to take her eyes off the vessel that, fretted by the rising tide, tugged at her moorings in the basin below. The vessel that was to take them to the other side of the world.
That afternoon with a light autumn mist softening the drab outlines of the waterfront, they cast off. Warehouses, masts, cranes, and tall chimneys went slipping by and presently Captain Barcle called Ardoch and Catherine to his side as he leaned over the port rail.
“Do you see that tall building with the clock tower?” he said, “beyond it lies Pollockshaws and Cathcart and the road to Kirkconnel. If you were to draw a line, south by east from where we stand over the top of that tower you would strike Glenmayne Priory.”
Ardoch and Catherine, their hands lightly clasped, remained staring while the clock tower went slipping astern through the gathering mist.page 46 page 47
The “Druimuachdar” lay at anchor that night off Dumbarton Castle. After supper in the cosy main cabin, Mrs. McBride, the old woman who had been Catherine's nurse and who, ever since her marriage, had acted as housekeeper and general factotum at Glenmayne, retired to the Lenzie's cabin to unpack and make ready for the night. More than once in the past four months, though she had stoutly refused to be left behind, she had protested against this voyaging half across the world to live among heathen cannibals. It was flying in the face of a stern Calvinistic Providence, and there was no doubt at all in her mind that such rashness would be visited with the direst consequences. She was not altogether surprised, therefore, when, having lit the lamp, there came from out the dark, unfamiliar world of creaking cordage and tramping feet that was the main deck, a sinister face which suddenly leered at her through the closed scuttle. She was not surprised, but she shrieked loud enough to bring Ardoch and Captain Barcle running to her aid.
“We'll have to get Catherine to sew some curtains,” laughed Captain Barcle. “In the meantime I'll close the shutters outside. Stepping from the main cabin he collided with Mr. Holloway, who appeared suddenly from the shadows beneath the starboard poop ladder.
If there could have been said to be any shadow to mar the pleasant, voyage of the “Druimuachdar,” it was, at any rate from Catherine's point of view, Mr. Holloway. Captain Barcle found him an efficient officer, and a good seaman, but his manner, whether on deck or at the cabin table, was always one of furtive taciturnity, which in the close confines of their little floating world, became irksome in the extreme, and at times filled Catherine with a vague unreasoning fear. He seemed to her an incalcuable force which, like the sea, itself, was only held in leash by the domination of Captain Barcle's superior intelligence. When the wind freshened and grey bearded combers went roaring past the cabin scuttles and the “Druimuachdar,” groaning and creaking in all her bones, went plunging down watery hillsides and laboured up the crests beyond, was the time unthinkable thoughts came. What if Charley were hurt up there in the shouting wind and rattling spray? What if one of those great seas came bursting over the poop instead of sliding harmlessly away beneath it? Catherine's storm-tossed fancy saw Mr. Holloway take command, not over the ship alone, but over their very lives and fortunes as well; free to give rein to the dark thoughts that seemed forever to be brooding under his heavy brows.
But the next day would dawn light and clear. Charley would come stamping down to breakfast, red faced and cheerful; and Mr. Holloway, the spirit of calamity, would be, with the tearing black clouds and great grey seas, defeated once more!
Captain Barcle's head and shoulders appeared out of the hood of the companion-way. He lifted a hand in greeting to Catherine, and took a turn over to the weather rail. He spoke a word with the second mate standing there, cast an eye aloft, and then, passing close to the binnacle, which he studied for a minute, came down to where Catherine was seated.
“My word,” he said, watching her fingers ply the swift needle, “he is going to be a little swell, isn't he?”
Catherine looked up smiling, with a faint blush in her cheeks. “How long will you be in Wellington, Charley?” she asked.
“A month maybe, perhaps more, can't tell, y'see, until I've, been to the agents. We may have to go south for a cargo.”
“Tell me all about what it's like,” said Catherine.
“God bless me soul ma'am! I've told you a hundred times already.” Then he patted her shoulder reassuringly. “Don't you worry—there'll be sunshine all the time, and green hills and blue water, and we'll dress the ship with all the bunting we've got— and Ardoch—well,” he broke off, “here he comes now—he'll tell you the rest.”
As Ardoch, who had been forward “to look round the farm” as he laughingly called the main deck (for the “Druimuachdar” was carrying two or three sheep, an Ayrshire bull, and several coops of fowls) came up the poop ladder, the foot of the mainsail came against the mast with a sharp clap. Captain Barcle glanced up and then, excusing himself, crossed once more to the port rail. For some days past now the weather had been uncertain, the wind chopping and changing first from one quarter and then another, and there was an uneasy “jobble” in the sea. From daylight this morning, though the glass was lower, there had been a fairly steady breeze from the north-west, which, however, now showed signs of dying away.
Mid-day dinner was served, and Catherine, finding her cabin somewhat airless felt disinclined to take her usual afternoon rest, and returned on deck.
The ship lay becalmed, but rolling heavily on a glassy swell that set the whole fabric of her creaking and slatting and banging with a hundred voices of unrest.
Mr. Holloway, pacing the poop from rail to rail gave her a surly greeting, and as Catherine looked about for her chair, announced that he had told the steward to take it below. He was about to make some further observation when he paused, and cocking his head on one side, scanned the narrowed horizon intently. Then he sprang forward to the break of the poop bellowing orders.
A shadow like the swift drawing of a curtain fled across the sun, and a queer droning rose above the rattle and boom of empty sails. Captain Barcle appeared. “Better get below Catherine,” he said shortly, “and tell Ardoch to stay down too.”
The first blast of the cyclonic storm laid the “Druimuachdar” on her beamends and threw Catherine from the bottom step of the companion-way. The ship quickly recovered, but Ardoch, springing forward, missed his footing on the careening cabin floor, and Catherine sustained a heavy fall.
The ship was brought up into the wind while all hands strove desperately to stow such canvas as had not already been blown to ribbons and for several hours thereafter, with only a rag of staysail set, she rode the mountainous seas easily enough.
But almost as suddenly as it had started the wind dropped, and the sea, released from its steadying pressure, rose to fantastic heights. Hills of turbulent black water leaped seemingly of their own volition to fall aboard from all points. The waist of the ship, unable to free itself through the spouting wash ports, was a boiling maelstrom in which the hen coops, with their drowned occupants, struggling animals, and the splintered wreckage of the long boat washed dismally back and forth. Suddenly there came a warning shout as a mountain of water rose up astern. Higher and higher it rose until it was almost on a level with the crossjack yard, and then hung poised a moment illumined by a lightning flash before it crashed down upon the quarter deck and obliterated all sight and sound in a welter of foam.
As the ship slowly recovered it was seen that the mizzen topmast had carried away and trailed with a raffle of gear over the smashed rail to port at the spot where, a minute before, Captian Barcle had been holding on by the mizzen shrouds.page 48