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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Will Weatherhelm » Chapter Four.
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Chapter Four.
Come in sight of Old England—Many a slip between the cup and the lip—The thoughts of home—Effects of drunkenness—Breakers ahead—Ship on shore—Saved in a boat—The Scilly Isles—Advantage of losing my shoes—Boat lost—I am again preserved—A night in a cave—Go in search of assistance—Hospitable reception in the island—The old mate’s death—Sail for Plymouth—Spring a leak—Loss of the Ellen—The wave-tossed raft—Death of our companions.

We made the Land’s End one morning in the middle of March, when a strong north-easterly gale sprung up in our teeth, and threatened to drive us back again into the middle of the Atlantic. After the bright sunny skies and blue waters of the South, how cold and bleak and uninviting looked our native land! But yet most of us had friends and relations whom we hoped to see, and whom we believed would welcome us with warm hearts and kindly greetings; and we pictured to ourselves the green fields, and the shady woods, and the neat cottages, and picturesque lanes to be found inside those rocky barriers, and we longed to be on shore. The captain was as eager as any of us to reach home; so, the brig being close-hauled, with two reefs in her topsails, we endeavoured to beat up so as to get close under the land in Mount’s Bay. It was a long business, though—tack and tack—no rest and wet jackets for all of us; but what cared we for that? We had an important object to gain. Old England, our native land, was to windward. There we hoped to find rest from our toils for a season; there each man hoped to find what in his imagination he had pictured would bring him pleasure, or happiness, or satisfaction of some sort. I’ve often thought how strange it is, that though men will toil, and labour, and undergo all sorts of hardships, to obtain some worldly advantage, some fancied fleeting good, and to avoid some slight ill or inconvenience, how little trouble do they take to obtain perfect happiness—eternal rest—and to avoid the most terrific, the most lamentable of evils, the being cast out for ever from the presence of the great, the glorious Creator of the universe, to dwell with the spirits of the lost.

I gave a short account of Captain Tooke and Mr Cole, as they appeared to me when I first joined the unfortunate Kite. They had in no way altered. The captain was the same bold, daring seaman as ever, without any religious principle to guide him; and though his heart was not altogether hard or unkind, his manners were rough and overbearing, and he was often harsh and unjust to those below him. I have met numbers of merchant masters just like him from the same cause. They are sent early to sea, without any proper training, and without any right principles to guide them. If they are sharp, clever lads, they soon are made mates, and before they have learned to command themselves they are placed in command over others. In most instances, their fathers, or relatives, or friends are masters or owners of vessels, and are in a hurry to get them employed. The vessels are insured, so that if, through their carelessness or ignorance, the vessels are cast away, that matters little, they consider. If the crew are lost, that is the fate of sailors. If the master escapes, they can easily get him a new vessel; and as he has learned a lesson of caution, he will be all the better master for some time to come till the vessel is worn out, and then there will be no great harm if she is lost also. I speak of things as they were in my day. I am glad to say that a very great improvement has taken place of late years.

Our old mate held the master in great awe and respect. This was fortunate, as it generally kept him sober; still the old man never lost an opportunity of getting hold of his favourite liquor, and he would seldom leave the bottle while a drop remained. However, he generally contrived to get tipsy in harbour just before he was going to bed, so that he could turn in and sleep off the effects; and when now and then he was overtaken at sea, the men knew how to manage him; and, as he was good-natured and indulgent, they generally contrived to conceal his state and save him from the anger of the captain. Something of this sort had occurred the very day we made the land. While the captain was on deck, he had gone into the cabin, where, in an open locker, he had discovered two bottle of rum. It was too tempting a prize not to be seized, and he carried off both the bottles to his own cabin, carefully closing the locker. The captain did not discover his loss. The old man went on deck, but soon making an excuse to go below, broached one of the bottles. He had made some progress through it before he wag recalled on deck, and the condition on which he was verging did not then appear. The brig was kept beating away across the seas, the wind shifting about and every now and then giving us a slant which enabled us to creep up closer to the land. We continued gaining inch by inch, showing the advantage of perseverance, till just about nightfall we got fairly into Mount’s Bay. We thought ourselves very fortunate in so doing, for just then a strong breeze which had before been blowing grew into a downright heavy gale, against which we could not possibly have contended. It seemed, however, to be veering round more to the northward, and the captain, hoping that it would come round sufficiently to the westward of north to enable us to stand up Channel, instead of running in and bringing the ship to an anchor, determined to keep her standing off and on the land during the night, that he might be enabled to take immediate advantage of any change which might occur.

As he had been on deck for many hours, he went at last below, leaving the brig in charge of the mate. Now the old man found the weather cold, and bethought him of his bottles of rum. He knew the importance of keeping sober on such an occasion especially, but he thought that a little more rum would do him no harm, and would make him comfortable, at all events. He did not like to send for a bottle, so he went below himself to fetch it. It was his business to keep a constant watch on the compass, so as to observe any change of wind. He was not long gone below, that I remember. When he came on deck, he brought a glass and a bottle, but he had brought the full bottle instead of the half-emptied one. He asked Charley to bring him a can of hot water. Of course the fire had long been out, and there was none at that hour of the night. He stowed his glass and bottle away in a pigeon-hole under the companion-hatch, but every time he took a turn on deck he went back to it and had a taste of the liquor. He very soon forgot that he had put no water to it. This went on for some time till he sat himself down and forgot another thing—that was, that he was in charge of a vessel on a dark night, with a heavy gale blowing, and close in on a dangerous coast. We had gone about several miles without any difficulty, when, as we were once more standing in for the shore, a squall heavier than any we had yet experienced struck the vessel and laid her over almost on her beam-ends. At that moment the captain rushed on deck with the look of a half-frantic man. He cast one hurried glance forward. “About ship! about ship! down with the helm!” he shrieked out in a voice of terrific loudness.

“All right—no fear, cap’en,” cried the old mate, staggering up to him. “I’ve taken very good care of the barkie.”

At that instant a loud, grating, crushing sound was heard, and the brig seemed to be about to spring over some obstacle in her way. Then she stopped. Loud cries of horror arose from all hands, and the watch below rushed on deck. All knew full well what had occurred. The brig was on the rocks, and the sea, in dark masses with snowy crests, came roaring up around us, threatening us with instant destruction. What reply the captain made to the old man I dare not repeat. Before I thought of anything else, I remembered my own rash oath. “Am I doomed to cause the destruction of every vessel I sail aboard?” I said to myself, with a groan of anguish, and a voice within me seemed to reply, “Yes—that is to be your fate; but leap overboard and end it, and you will disappoint the malignity of the monarch of the tempest.” Happily the prayers my good grandmother had taught me had not all been forgotten. At that moment I uttered a prayer for mercy and forgiveness, and I knew then for certainty that the instigation had come from the evil one for the purpose of destroying me body and soul. “O God, have mercy on me; do what is best,” I cried. Just then I was aroused by hearing the loud voice of the captain ordering the crew to get out the long-boat. I hurried to lend a hand at the work. It seemed, however, almost a hopeless undertaking, so high ran the sea around us. Fortunately the masts still stood. We got the tackles hooked on to the yards, and, casting in oars and boat-hook and sails, hoisted away with a will. The boat swung clear of the side, and the moment she touched the water, the old mate, with Charley and I, and the greater number of the men, leaped into her. We were expecting the captain and the rest of the crew to follow, when a heavy sea, with a terrific roar, came rolling up towards us. We heard shrieks and cries for help from our shipmates. Both the masts went by the board, the boat narrowly escaping being crushed by the mainmast, and the brig instantly began to break up. We got out our oars, and pulled back the distance we had drifted, shouting out to the captain, and to any who might have remained on board, but no reply reached us. Again and again we shouted louder than ever, still there was no response. The old mate sat like one stupefied; but the catastrophe his neglect had caused had had the effect of sobering him. One of the men who was more intelligent than the rest, and often had charge of the deck at sea in the place of a second mate, said that he thought we had struck on the Rundle Stone, which is near the shore, between Mount’s Bay and the Land’s End, though we ought to have been a long way to the eastward of it.

We had hard work to keep our own near the wreck; but still we did not like to pull away while there was a chance of picking up any of those who might have remained on board. We did our best to keep our eyes on it through the darkness, with the wind and rain and spray dashing in our faces. Another huge sea came rolling on. The crashing and tearing of the timbers reached our ears, and the water which washed round us was covered with fragments of the wreck, among which we ran a great risk of having the boat stove in; but no voice was heard, nor could we see any one clinging to them. We had now to abandon all hope of saving any more of our unfortunate shipmates, and had to think of our own safety. Just as we had come to this resolve, another sea rolled towards the wreck, and when it passed over not a fragment of her remained hanging together. We were in a sad plight. None of us had saved more than the clothes we had on our backs, and some of the watch below had not had time even to put on all theirs. In getting into the boat I had lost my shoes, which I thought a great misfortune, as my feet felt very cold, and I fancied when I got on shore that I should not be able to walk. We bent manfully to our oars, and tried to pull in for the shore; but the gale came down stronger than ever on us, and we could not help being conscious that at all events we were making very little way. Still we persevered. We hoped there might be a lull—indeed, we had nothing else to do but to pull on. Bitter, however, was the disappointment which awaited us when the morning broke, and we looked out eagerly for the land. Instead of being nearer we were much further off (six or seven miles at least), and were still rapidly drifting away to sea. The further we got off the land, the greater danger there would be of the boat being swamped; besides, we had saved no provisions, and we had the prospect of a fearful death staring us in the face from hunger and thirst. The old mate had by this time been sufficiently aroused to comprehend clearly the state of affairs. As I have said, he was, when sober, a good seaman, and thoroughly acquainted with the coast. As day drew on, it cleared a little, and looking round, he made out the Scilly Islands directly to leeward of us. He watched them earnestly for some time, and throwing off his hat and putting back his grey hairs with his hand, he sat upright, and exclaimed, “Never fear, my lads, we’ve got a good port under our lee! I know the passage through the channel leading to it. Trust to me, and I’ll carry you safely there.”

Though after what had occurred we had no great confidence in him, yet as none of us knew anything about the islands, we had his judgment and experience alone to trust to. So we watched our opportunity, and bringing the boat’s head carefully round, pulled in the direction he pointed out. A break in the clouds, through which the gun gleamed forth glancing over the white foam-topped seas, showed us the land in bold relief against the black sky.

“Ah! there’s Saint Martin’s and Saint Mary’s Islands,” observed the old man. “Ah! I know them well. Many’s the time I’ve run between them up Crow Sound. Let’s see—what’s the time of day? There will be plenty of water over the bar. We shall soon have a glimpse of the Crow rock, when we get in with the land; and if only the Big Crow shows his head above water, we may cross the bar without fear of breakers. Once through it, we shall soon be on shore at Grimsby, and there are several people I know there who will give us all we can want to make us comfortable.”

The Crow, to which old Cole alluded, is a somewhat curious rock at the entrance of the Sound. It has three heads, called the Great Crow, the Little Crow, and the Crow Foot. When the Great Crow is even with the water’s edge there will be twenty-one feet of water on the bar, when the second point appears there will be sixteen, and when the Crow’s Foot is visible there will be ten feet only. These are the sort of particulars which a good coast pilot has to keep in his memory, with the appearance of the numberless landmarks on the shore, and their distances one from the other.

As we drew near the entrance of the Sound, through which if we passed we hoped all our misfortunes would end, the weather came on to be very thick again, so that we could scarcely see a dozen yards ahead. Still the mate seemed so sure of the passage that we steered on without fear.

“Are you certain, sir, that we are heading in for the right channel?” asked Wilson, the man I before spoke of, looking round over his shoulder at the mass of foam which he saw leaping up just ahead of us. “Round with her! round with her, lads!” he shouted, “this isn’t the channel.”

“All right, all right,” persisted the old mate. But it was all wrong. A sea came roiling up, and hove us in among a mass of rocks over which the breakers dashed with terrific fury. In vain we endeavoured to pull round. Over went the boat, and we were all thrown here and there, shrieking in vain for aid, among the foaming mass of broken waters. I struck out to keep my head above water if I could, and in another instant found myself hove against a steep rock to which I clung with all the strength of despair. I had thought the loss of my shoes a great misfortune. I now found it the cause of my preservation. Had not my feet been naked, I never could have clung to the slippery rock, or freed my legs from the tangled seaweed which clung round them. I struggled on—now a sea almost tore me off, and then I made a spring, and scrambled and worked my way up, not daring to look back to watch the following wave, or to observe what had become of my companions. At length I reached the top of the rock. It seemed an age to me, but I believe it was not a minute from the time I first grasped hold of the rock till I was in comparative safety. Then I looked round for my companions in misfortune. Dreadful was the sight which met my eyes. There they were, still struggling in the waves—now touching some slippery rock, and hoping to work their way on to where I was, and then borne back again by the hungry sea. In vain they struggled. I could afford them no help. One by one, their heavy boots impeding all their efforts, they sank down, and were hid to view beneath the waters. Two or three still remained alive, though at some little distance. One I recognised as our old mate, the cause of our disaster. He had contrived to kick off his shoes, and was swimming towards the rock. Poor old man, he struggled hard for life. In a moment I forgot all the mischief he had caused, and considered how I might help to save him. Undoing my neck-handkerchief, I fastened it to another I had in my pocket, and secured the two to the sleeve of my jacket. I watched him anxiously as he drew near, crying out to encourage him. Then I lowered the handkerchiefs, and as a sea washed him up towards the rock he caught hold of them, and with great care, lest we should both fall in, I helped him up the side of the rock. I had not time to say anything, for I saw another person struggling in the water. I was afraid that he would never reach the rock, for his strength seemed almost exhausted. I shouted to him. He looked up. It was Charley Iffley. I own that I was now doubly anxious for his safety. Just then an oar washed by him. He was just able to grasp it. It enabled him to recover his strength, and in a short time another sea drove him close up to the rock. I hove the end of my handkerchief to him, he caught it; and the old mate and I leaning over, hauled him, almost exhausted, out of the reach of the sea. We looked round. We were the only survivors out of all the crew. The strong men had lost their lives. The oldest and weakest, and the two youngest, had alone been saved. Whether we should ultimately escape with our lives seemed, however, very doubtful. There was barely space enough for us to sit clear out of the wash of the sea; and should the tide be rising we might be washed off. We found, however, that the tide was falling, and this restored our hopes of being saved. As the tide ebbed, the water got a good deal smoother, and the weather once more clearing, we were able to consider our position and what was best to be done. We judged that we were, three-quarters of a mile from the island of Saint Mary’s, but we could make out no habitations, and we thought it very probable night might come on before anybody would see us, while we felt if we remained on the rock that we could scarcely hope to survive.

We were already benumbed with the cold, and almost perishing with hunger. “We must try and reach the island,” said Mr Cole; “are you inclined to try it, lads?” We of course said we were. He looked at his watch, which being an old silver hunting one, was, in spite of the wet, still going, and found that it was two o’clock. “In another half hour we must make the attempt,” said he; “so, lads, prepare as best you can. It won’t be an easy job.” The time to wait seemed very long. We watched the tide ebbing, and rock after rock appearing. At last he said, “We cannot hope for a better opportunity than now. I’ll lead the way. Lend me a hand, lads, if I want it.”

We promised him that we would, and slipping down the rock on the land side a much greater distance than we had come up, we found our feet touching the bottom. There was no sea to speak of, so on we went pretty confidently. The old man advanced very cautiously, but Charley Iffley, thinking that we might move faster, said he would go ahead. He did, and went head under also immediately afterwards. He came up again directly, and struck out towards the next rock. We took to swimming at once, to save the loss of breath, and all reached the next rock without difficulty. After resting a little, we started again. We had no wish to remain longer than we could help with a north-easterly gale blowing on us in the month of March. The cold, too, was very bitter. Yet at the time I fancy I scarcely thought about it. Thus on we went, sometimes wading, sometimes swimming, and sometimes scrambling along the ledge which the receding water had left bare. Often we had to assist each other, and I believe none of us alone could have performed the task. Once Mr Cole was very nearly giving in, and twice Charley declared he could not go on, and must stay on the rock where we were resting till we could send him aid. We soon showed him that the rock would be covered long before assistance could reach him, and in another instant he was as ready as either of us to proceed. Once I almost gave in, but my companions roused me up, and again I set forward with renewed strength.

It was not, however, till six o’clock in the evening that we reached the shore, and as we found ourselves on dry land we staggered up the beach, and the old mate fell down on his knees, and in a way I did not expect of him, thanked the Almighty for the mercy He had shown us. It was a wild, desolate place, with only high rocks about on every side, without trees, and no roads that we could discover to guide us to any habitation. We went on a little way, and then the mate and Charley said they could go no further. I also felt my strength almost exhausted, but I knew that it would not do for all of us to give in, so I roused myself to exertion. That I might try and learn our position before night completely overtook us, I climbed up to the top of the highest rock I could find and looked around me. Not a habitation or a sign of one could I discover, or a road or path of any sort,—while wild heath, or sand, or rock stretched away on every side, looking cold and bleak as well could be, in that dark, dreary March evening. With this uncheering information I found my way back to my companions. We could not attempt to move on in the dark, so we looked about for some place where we might find shelter during the night.

“Oh, Will, I wish we had some food, though,” said Charley; “I am dying of hunger.”

So was I, and before moving further I returned to the beach, and with my knife cut off a number of shell-fish from the rocks, and filled my pockets with them. With this provision I returned to my companions, and sat down by their side. We ate a few, which much refreshed us, and Charley said he could go on, but the old mate declared his inability to move further.

Accordingly, Charley and I hunted about in every direction, and at last came on a shallow cave on the lee side of a rock. The sand inside was dry, and after being exposed so long to the cold wind we thought the air warm, so we helped the old man into it, and placed him in the warmest and driest spot we could find out. He did not seem to care about eating, but complained bitterly of thirst. Charley could no longer move, so I went out to try and find some water. As I was groping about, almost giving up the search in despair, I felt my foot splash into a puddle. I knelt down. It was clear, pure water, and I drank as much as I required. How grateful I felt! I thought that I had never tasted a more delicious draught. I had saved my hat, and filling it from the pool, I carried the water to my two companions. We longed to be able to light a fire, but we had in the first place no flint and steel to produce a flame, so of course it was not worth while to search about for fuel. At last, finding I could do nothing else for the comfort of my companions, I sat down beside them and opened some more of the shell-fish, which we ate raw. They served to stay our hunger, but I cannot say that eaten raw, without vinegar, or pepper, or bread, they were particularly palatable.

We had promise of a dreary night, and this was only the commencement. The poor old mate was very ill. Deprived of his usual stimulants, he could badly support the cold and wet to which he had been so long exposed. He began to shiver all over, and complained of pains in every part of his body. Then he was silent, and would do little more than groan terribly. At last his mind began to wander; he did not know where he was nor what had happened, and he talked of strange scenes which had occurred long ago, and of people he had known in his youth. I could not help listening with much interest to what he said. By it I made out that he was by birth a gentleman; that he had gone to sea in the navy with every prospect of rising in it, and that he had been in one or two actions in which he had distinguished himself. But a change came over him. He had begun by small degrees, just taking a nip now and then, till he had become—and that very rapidly—a hard drinker. From that time all his prospects in life were blighted. From some misconduct he was dismissed the ship to which he belonged, and soon afterwards, for similar behaviour, the navy itself. Then he squandered away in vice and sensual indulgence the whole of his patrimony, and at last went to sea in the merchant service as the only means of obtaining support.

His career has been that of many young men who have begun life with as fair prospects, and ruined them all from their own folly and imprudence. Poor old man, when I heard all this, and feared that he was dying, I could not help pitying him, and feeling still more sad when I thought that the last act of his life was a strong evidence that he had in no way reformed as he advanced in years.

At length he slept more quietly, and, overcome by weariness, I too fell fast asleep. I did not awake till the sun was up and glancing on the tops of the rocks before our cave. Charley awoke at the same time, and began to rub his eyes and to wonder where he was. The old mate was awake. There was a dull, cold look in his eye, and his brow was wrinkled with pain. He groaned when I spoke to him, but after a little time he aroused himself and spoke. He said that he could not move a limb, much less walk; but he begged that Charley and I would try and find our way to the nearest village and bring him assistance.

“Make haste, that’s good lads,” said he, in a trembling voice; “my days are numbered, I fear; but I am not fit to die. I don’t want to die, and I would give all I own to save my life.”

I did not want any pressing. I got up, and though my limbs were stiff, after moving them about a little I found that I could walk. Charley at first thought that he could not move, but on making one or two trials he discovered that he was able to accompany me. So we set off together to try and find our way to Grimsby, which the mate told as was the nearest village he knew of.

After wandering about and missing our way, and having to sit down frequently from weakness, we reached Grimsby. Our appearance excited a good deal of compassion among the people, who came out of their houses to inquire about the wreck. The chief man of the place was a Mr Adams; he took us into his house and sent for shoes and clothing for us, and had us washed, and dressed in fresh dry clothes, and put food before us. When I told him about the old mate, he said that he knew the place, and that he could not let us go back, but that he would send some men with a litter who would bring him in much sooner than if we were to go for him. He was as good as his word, for not long after we had done breakfast Mr Cole appeared; he seemed very ill, but he was able to take a little food, and drink some spirits and water. He was put at once to bed, and Mr Adams sent over to Saint Mary’s, the chief town in the island, for a doctor to see him. The doctor came, and shook his head and said that he saw very little prospect of his recovery. All the time we remained at Grimsby, we were treated with the greatest kindness. We had the best of everything, comfortable beds, and nothing to do. Charley and I sat up by turns by the side of the old man’s bed. He grew worse and worse; we soon saw that his days were drawing to a close.

A week passed away, and still he lingered on. I asked the doctor if he did not think that he might recover.

“No; it is impossible,” he answered.

“Does he know, sir, that he is going to die?” I asked.

“Every man knows that such will be his lot, one day or other,” he replied, “though many try very hard to forget it.”

“Shall I tell him, sir, what you think?” said I; for I could not bear the idea of allowing the old man to go out of the world without any preparation.

“It will do him no harm,” said the doctor. “If it would. I could not allow it. My duty is to keep body and soul together as long at I can.”

I thought even at the time that something more was to be done. It was not, however, till many years afterwards that I discovered it was far more important to prepare the soul for quitting the body, than to detain it a few hours or days longer in its mortal frame, with the risk of its losing all the future happiness it is so capable of enjoying. When I went back to the old mate I told him that the doctor thought he was in a very bad way, and that he would never be on his feet again.

“Well, Will,” said he, “it’s a hard case; but I’ve known men as ill as I am get well again, and I don’t know why I shouldn’t recover.”

“But if you don’t recover,—and the doctor, who ought to know, thinks you won’t,—wouldn’t it be well to prepare for death, sir?” said I boldly; for, having made up my mind to speak, I was not going to be put off it by any fear of consequences. He was silent for a long time.

“I’ll think about it,” he said at last.

He little thought how short a time he had to think about it. So it is with a great number of people. They’ll tell you that they will not think about dying, but think whether they will make preparation for death; and they go on thinking, till death itself cuts the matter short, and the right preparations are never made. So it was with the poor old mate. He said that he had no friends,—no relations who would care to hear of him,—and that he had no message to send to any one. He intended, however, to get well and to look after his own affairs. In the evening he got worse. I suspected that he thought he was dying, because he gave his watch to Mr Adams, who had been so kind to us, and divided a few shillings he had in his pockets between Charley and me. The next day he died. Though I had no respect for him, I felt a blank as if I had lost an old friend. Charley and I saw the poor old man buried, and then we agreed that it was time for us to be looking out for a vessel to get back to our masters.

The next day a brig called the Mary Jane put into the harbour, bound round from Bridgewater to London. Though I wanted to get to Plymouth to see my grandmother and aunt, and Charley wished to go to Hull, to stay with his widowed mother, as another chance might not occur for some time, we shipped aboard her. Before going we told Mr Adams the name of the firm to which we were apprenticed, that he might recover from them the sums he had expended on us; but he replied, that he had taken care of us because it was right to succour the distressed, and that he required no reward or repayment. He was a good man, and I hope he enjoys his reward.

The desire to see my only relations grew stronger every day, and I thought how happy I should feel if I could but get landed at Plymouth, to run up and take them by surprise. This, however, could not be. When we reached London I found that the Mary Jane, as soon as she had discharged her cargo, was to sail again for the westward; and as she this time was to touch at Plymouth, so the captain said, I asked him to give me a passage. He replied, that as I had behaved very well while with him he would, so I remained on board. Here I parted from Charley, who got a berth on board a vessel bound for Hull, where he wanted to go. We sailed, and I hoped in a few days to have my long-wished-for desire gratified. When, however, we got abreast of the Isle of Wight, we met with a strong south-westerly gale, which compelled us to run for shelter to the Motherbank. While lying there the captain received orders from his owners not to touch at Plymouth, but to go on to Falmouth. This was a great disappointment to me. Still I thought that I could easily get back from Falmouth to Plymouth, so that it would be wiser to stick by the ship.

The old brig was not much of a sailer, but still, after running through the Needles, we had a quick passage till we got a little to the westward of the Eddystone. The captain, for some reason or other, expecting a south-westerly breeze, had been giving the land a wide berth, when the wind, instead of coming out of the south-west, blew suddenly with terrific violence from the north-east. The old tub of a brig did her best to beat up towards the land, but without avail. A squall took all her sails out of her, and away we went driving helplessly before it, as if we were in a hurry to get across the Atlantic. Our master, Captain Stunt, though a good seaman, was nothing of a navigator, and we could scarcely tell even where we were driving to. The vessel also was old, and had seen a good deal of hard service. Our condition, therefore, was very unsatisfactory. We had no quadrant on board, and if we had possessed one there was no one to use it—indeed, it was many days before the sun appeared, and all we knew was that, by the course we had drifted and the rate we had gone, we were a considerable distance from any land. Still the captain hoped, when the weather moderated, to be able to beat back and get hold of the Irish coast, as the phrase is. At length the wind lulled a little, and we once more made sail on the brig. We got on pretty well for a few hours, when down came the gale once more on us, and before we could shorten sail, a heavy sea struck the vessel, and she was turned over on her beam-ends, a sea at the same time knocking our boats to pieces and washing everything loose off the deck. There she lay like a log, the water rushed into her hold, and every moment we expected she would go down. Terror was depicted on every countenance. The only person who remained cool and collected was the old master.

“My lads, we must cut away the masts—there’s no help for it!” he sang out in a clear voice. He himself appeared directly afterwards with an axe in his hand, but it was some time before others could be found. The first thing was to cut away the lee rigging and then the weather, that the masts might fall clear of the hull. A few well-directed strokes cut nearly through them, and with a crash the remaining part broke off, and the vessel lay a dismasted hull amid the high-leaping and foaming waves. She righted, however, and we had now to hope that, if she weathered out the gale, some vessel might fall in with us and tow the brig into harbour, or at all events take us off the wreck. The next thing to be done was to rig the pumps to get the vessel clear of the water which had washed into her. We all pumped away with a will, for we knew that our lives depended on our exertions. Pump as hard as we could, however, we found that we made no progress in clearing the wreck of water. At last the mate went down to ascertain the cause of this. In a few minutes he rushed on deck with a look of dismay.

“What’s the matter, Ellis?” asked the captain.

“It’s all up with us, sir,” answered the mate. “A butt has started, and it is my belief that the brig will not swim another half hour.”

“Then let us get some grog aboard, and die like men,” cried some of the crew.

“Die like brutes, you mean, my lads!” exclaimed the old master. “No, no, we will have none of that. Let us see what we can do to save our lives. What, do you call yourselves British seamen, and talk of giving in like cowards! Don’t you know that there’s ‘a sweet little cherub that sits up aloft’ to take care of the life of poor Jack. That means that God Almighty watches over us, and will take care of those who trust in Him.”

These remarks from the old man had a good deal of effect with the sailors. “What is it you want us to do, sir?” they asked.

“Why, build a raft, my lads, and see if it won’t float us.” Encouraged by the spirited old man, we all set to work with a will. With our axes some of us cut up the deck and bulwarks, and collected all the remaining spars, while the rest lashed them together. The mate and a boy were employed meantime in collecting all the provisions and stores he could get at and in stowing them away in a couple of chests, which formed the centre of our raft. In a very short time nearly everything was ready. The raft was, however, so large that we could not attempt to launch it, but we hoped that it would float when the brig sank under us. We had all been so busy that we had not observed how rapidly the vessel was sinking. Suddenly the old master gave a loud shout, “Now, my lads, now, my lads! to the raft, to the raft!” Some of the men had gone forward to get hold of their clothes or some money, or anything they could find, against his advice. Some of them were seen at this moment leisurely coming up the fore-hatchway. Even when he shouted to them they did not hurry themselves, any more than sinners are apt to do when warned by their faithful pastors to flee from the wrath to come. Mr Ellis and I, with two other men, were near him at the time. We leaped on to the raft as he spoke, and seizing some oars which had been placed on it, we stood ready to shove it clear of the wreck as she sank. The vessel gave a plunge forward. The other men on deck rushed aft with frantic haste, but the waters were around them before they could catch hold of the raft. The look of horror on their countenances I cannot even now forget. One was a little before the others: he clutched at one of the oars. With our united strength we hauled him in. Then down went the brig. The cry of our companions was quickly stifled. The raft rocked to and fro as the wild seas tossed up fiercely round us. Now one came sweeping on. “Hold on! hold on!” shouted the old master. One of our number did not attend to him. The sea passed over the raft, almost blinding us When we looked up, the man was gone. Five of us only remained alive. How soon more of our number might be summoned from the world, who could tell? I dare not dwell on the dreadful thoughts which passed through my mind. Was I truly under the ban of Heaven? Was I to prove the destruction of every vessel I sailed aboard? This was the fourth time I had been shipwrecked. “Oh, my oath! my oath!” I ejaculated. “Could I but retract it! But how is that to be done?” Uttered once, there it must remain engraven in the book of heaven. As I lay on that sea-tossed raft, in the middle of the Atlantic, I pondered deeply of those things in my own wild untutored way. Did but men remember always that every word they utter, every thought to which they give expression, is entered on a page never to be erased till the day of judgment, how would it make them put a bridle on their tongues, how should it make them watch over every wandering emotion of their minds, and pray always for guidance and direction before they venture to speak!

For several days the gale continued. We scarcely ventured to move for fear of being washed away. Now the raft rose on the side of a sea—now rocked on its summit—now sunk down into the trough, but still was preserved from upsetting—had which event occurred, we must have been inevitably lost. We had food in the chests, but we had little inclination to taste it. Water was our great want. Our supply was very scanty. By the master’s urgent advice, we took only sufficient at a time to moisten our tongues. For a few days we bore this with patience. Then the wind went down, and the sea grew calm, and the hot sun came out and struck down on our unprotected heads. The weather grew hotter and hotter. The men declared they could stand it no longer. One seized the cask of water, and before the master could prevent him, took a huge draught: then the others followed his example. The mate for some time withstood the temptation, but at length he yielded to it.

“Are we to die without a prospect of prolonging existence, because these men consume all the water?” I said to myself, and taking the cask, drew enough to quench my thirst. I offered it to the master. “Come, sir,” said I, “take the water, it may revive you, and perhaps to-morrow help may come.”

He could not withstand the appeal. Perhaps some men might have done so, from a high sense of the necessity of adhering to a resolution once formed. In two days we had not a drop of water left. Then came horrors unspeakable. Madness seized the poor mate. Before he could be restrained, he leaped from the raft and sunk below the waves. The other two men sickened. First one, then the other died. The captain, though the oldest of all, kept his senses and his strength. He was a calm, even-tempered, abstemious man. Still, as he sat on the chest in the middle of the raft, of which he and I were the only occupants, he spoke encouragingly and hopefully to me. I listened, but could scarcely reply. I felt a sickness overcoming me. I thought death was approaching. I sank down at his feet with a total unconsciousness of my miserable condition.


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