This story belongs to the year 1837, and was regarded by the generations of that and a succeeding time as the most miraculous of all the recorded deliverances from death at sea.
It may be told thus:
Mr. Montagu Vanderholt sat at breakfast with his daughter Violet one morning in September. Vanderholt's house was one of a fine terrace close to Hyde Park. He was a rich man, a retired Cape merchant, and his life had been as chequered as Trelawney's, with nothing of romance and nothing of imagination in it. He was the son of honest parents, of Dutch extraction, and had run away to sea when about twelve years old.
Nothing under the serious heavens was harsher, more charged with misery, suffering, dirt, and wretchedness, than seafaring in the days when young Vanderholt, with an idiot's cunning, fled to it from his father's comfortable little home. He got a ship, was three years absent, and on his return found both his father and mother dead. He went again to sea, and, fortunately for him, was shipwrecked in the neighbourhood of Simon's Bay.
The survivors made their way to Cape Town, and presently young Vanderholt got a job, and afterwards a position. He then became a master, until, after some eight or ten years of heroic perseverance, attended by much good luck, behold Mr. Vanderholt full-blown into a colonial merchant prince. How much he was worth when he made up his mind to settle in England, after the death of his wife, and when he had disposed of his affairs so as to leave himself as free a man as ever he had been when he was a common Jack Swab, really signifies nothing. It is certain he had plenty, and plenty is enough, even for a merchant prince of Dutch extraction.
Besides Violet, he had two sons, who will not make an appearance on this little brief stage. They are dismissed, therefore, with this brief reference—that both were in the army, and both, at the time of this tale, in India.
Violet was Vanderholt's only daughter, and he loved her exceedingly. She was not beautiful, but she was fair to see, with a pretty figure, and an arch, gay smile. You saw the Dutch blood in her eyes, as you saw it in her father's, whose orbs of vision, indeed, were ridiculously small—scarcely visible in their bed of socket and lash. An English mother had come to Violet's help in this matter. Taking her from top to toe, with her surprising quantity of brown hair, soft complexion, good mouth, teeth, and figure, Violet Vanderholt was undoubtedly a fine girl.
The room in which they were breakfasting was imposingly furnished. The pictures were many and fine. One in particular took the eye, and detained it. It was hung over the sideboard, which glittered with plate; it represented a schooner, bowed by a sudden blast, coming at you. The white brine, shredded by the shrieking stroke of the squall, hissed shrilly from the cut-water. The life and spirit of the reality was in that fine canvas. The sailors seemed to run as you watched, the gaffs to droop with the handling of their gear. She came rushing in a smother of spume right at you, and, before delight could arise, you had felt a pleasurable shock of surprise that was almost alarm. Such is the effect produced by Cooper's bull as, with bowed head and eyes of fire, and horns of death, it looks to be bounding with the velocity of a locomotive out of the frame.