Part 6 The Gallant Lady
She stood up, and began to unfasten the front of her bathing dress.
“Then I will have to try, he may die if we cannot get him to a surgeon.”
“No, you cannot, it is impossible!”
“Captain Braithwaite, you should have learned by now that there is no point in using those words to me.” She smiled and continued, “I grew up in Cornwall, and I was taught to swim as a child. I have swum across the cove by my father’s house underwater and that is more than twenty four feet across. Now can you help me get out of this dress?” She grimaced slightly, “One day someone will invent a costume for swimming in, but at the moment there is nothing, and that it what I will have to wear.”
Reluctantly he helped her as she dropped into the water and pulled the dress up over her head. She dipped her head under and vanished for a few moments, then she reappeared.
“You are right, there is a baulk of timber on the side of the Bell. It has two copper bolts sticking out if it which will make a good grip for the grapnel. Goodbye.” She took a deep breath and vanished.
Looking out of the porthole he had a glimpse of her pale shape as she kicked hard upwards. He then sat by the unconscious man and shook his head.
“Impossible, she is Impossible.”
A Regency lady swimming
Charlotte opened her eyes as she ducked her head underwater, it stung for a moment but she could see clearly. It was darker than the Cornish coves where she had learned to swim, and dive, as a child. But she felt no fear. The surface didn’t seem so far away and the ropes, leading from the Bell to the Endeavour, made an easy pathway to follow upwards. She kicked up and swum strongly towards the light. As she near the boat her chest hurt, it was as though the air inside her lungs was expanding, for a moment she was shocked, then breathed out a little and felt better. Bubbles trickling from her mouth she broke the surface a few yards from the raft. She took a deep breath, the air here was colder than that in the Bell, much less stuffy.
No one saw her rise, so she swum the few yards to the side of the ship and shouted. Faces appeared over the gunwale, including Susan.
“Madam – are you all right?” she shouted.
“Yes girl, now get the Young Captain.”
She didn’t need to as a few seconds later young John Braithwaite’s face appeared over the rail.
“What has happened, is my father all right?”
“Your father is well, the other sailor has been injured. The Bell has been trapped by a fallen timber, he needs a grapnel to free it. The signal line has also been lost. So get me a grapnel and line.”
“Why, you cannot take them down, no one can do that.”
“Your father told me I couldn’t swim up with a message. You Braithwaites need to learn that I am not to be spoken to like that. Now get me the line.”
He gasped, then turned to his crew and snapped a series of orders. The thin signal line was dropped to Mrs Bennet, who wrapped it round her wrist, then the grapnel was lowered over the side.
“If you drop it there, will that take it to the north side of the Bell?” She called.
“Should do Mam” Shouted the sailor. “We will let it down nice and gentle like.”
“No.” She called, “Count to three and let it down fast, I am going with it.”
“Oh Madam.” Screamed Susan, “Please don’t go.”
“On three then.” Called the young captain and began to count. “One – Two – Three.”
Charlotte Bennet had been breathing deeply, on two she grabbed hold of the line just above the grapnel, on three the hook was released, there was a pale flash as she twisted in the water, and vanished.
Susan stopped screaming and looked straight down.
“I hope your lady will be safe miss.” Said the sailor standing beside her, suddenly Susan felt calm, she knew her mistress was amazing, now she knew she could do anything.
“Oh yes, I remember before she was married she loved to swim in the coves near her father’s house, she could always swim well.” She paused, and started a legend. “My grandmother said that one of her ancestors had married a mermaid.”
The sailor nodded, soon the rumour had spread and the crew were confident, waiting for the order to hoist. If their captain was being rescued by a mermaid then all would be well.
A Dorset Mermaid
Below them, Charlotte Bennet was less confident, she had felt her lungs expand as she had risen, now they were being squashed, it hurt, worse than anything she had ever felt. Her eyes were painful now, she knew that if it didn’t stop in the next few seconds she would faint. Her cousin was prone to faint, usually in a drawing room with a comfortable sofa to fall on, not at the bottom of the sea with a wrecked ship to lie in. She wondered, why was she was thinking like this? Her lungs were in agony now, but she could see the Bell, she released the grapnel and with her last strength dipped under the rim and up, into the stuffy, but wonderful, air.
Captain Braithwaite bent and grabbed her shoulders, he would have lifted her up onto the bench, but she shook him off, panting she handed him the signal line.
“In a moment I will go outside again and make sure the grapnel is on the timber, then I will return. Your first signal to hoist will be to lift the timber, then as soon as you think the Bell can be freed you are to give the second signal. And up we will go.”
He took the line and was about to say something, when she took a breath and dipped under the water again. She was surprised to find it was harder this time than it had been before, her chest hurt, her head hurt and flashing lights kept distracting her. She knew where to go and swum round the Bell to the timber that was trapping them. Thankfully the grapnel was almost in the right pace. It seemed heavier than it had before as she pulled it over to the timber, she didn’t think she could do it, she was about to return to the Bell when it suddenly slipped, a hook caught under the timber, just by the bolt. She didn’t even look back at as she swam gratefully back to the Bell. She hung onto the edge gasping for air, Captain Braithwaite bent and gently pulled her up, she smiled and grabbed her dress then slipped it over her shoulders.
“There I’m decent now, try the line.”
She sat back and suddenly felt very tired, she wanted to sleep but knew she shouldn’t. She watched as the Captain gave a gentle pull on the line to tighten it, then gave three sharp tugs. He held it firmly and then, with relief, felt the answering pulls.
Above, John Braithwaite felt relief at the tugs. He shouted to the men on the grapnel line.
“Haul away, gently now.”
The men pulled, the weight they felt on the end of the line indicating that they were pulling on the timber.
Below, the Bell tipped upright as the timber slid to one side. The Captain watched through the porthole until he saw it was clear, then gave another three tugs. Almost immediately they felt the Bell move, there was a terrible scraping noise on one side as the timber slid off the Bell, then there was silence, looking down Charlotte saw the wreck drift away. They were rising quickly now, back to the surface, air and safety.
To be continued