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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Will Weatherhelm » Chapter Fourteen.
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Chapter Fourteen.
Happy prospect of reaching England—Weather changes—Heavy gale—Expect to be lost—Days and nights of suffering—Our greatest comfort—A ship in sight—Disappointed again—Another ship appears—Our hopes and fears—A snow-storm—Get on board an emigrant ship—Carried far away from home—Death of shipmates.

Once clear of the harbour, without any sail in sight, we all gladly loosened our tongues. In spite of the cold of a winter’s night, our spirits rose, and all hands laughed and chatted, and talked of what they would do when they got on shore. We had no necessity to look at our compass, for the stars enabled us to steer a course for the northward.

With the wind as it was, we thought that we should probably make the land somewhere about the Dorsetshire coast, should we not in the meantime fall in with any homeward-bound ship.

From the position of Saint Malo on the coast of France, far down in the deep bay or bight in which is found the islands of Jersey and Guernsey, it will be seen that we had a long voyage before us to perform in an open boat of so small a size and in the middle of winter. However, not one of us thought about that. By daylight we had made such progress that we were completely out of sight of land. A difference of opinion now arose among us. La Motte very naturally wished to put into Guernsey. It was his own country; he knew it well, and he undertook to pilot us in there. Most of the men were anxious, as the breeze was fair, to stand on at once for the coast of England.

“Now, mates,” said he, “just listen to what I have to say. If the wind continues fair, and we do not fall in with an enemy’s cruiser, all well and good, we may hit some harbour, or we may beach the boat with safety, and get on shore; but now just look at the other side of the question. We may be picked up by an enemy, and as we are in a French boat with the name of her port on her stern, we shall be sent back from whence we have come, and be much worse off than if we had remained aboard the lugger. That’s one thing which may occur; or the wind may change, and a gale spring up, and instead of making the English coast in a couple or three days, as you expect, we may be swamped, or be knocked about for a week or ten days, and perhaps after all be driven back on to the coast of France. Now, what I say is this? Here is Guernsey on our starboard bow. We may be there by to-morrow morning at farthest. I’ve friends who’ll treat you kindly. You’d have time to look about you, and you’ll have no fear of being pressed; whereas if you land in England, after all, before you get to your homes you may find yourselves in the hands of a pressgang, and once more aboard a man-of-war.”

I thought that there was so much reason in what La Motte urged, that, anxious as I was to be in England, I could not help siding with him. All the rest of the men were, however, dead against us. They had talked so much of the delights of being on shore, that, in spite of all risks, they were unwilling that any delay should occur.

“No, no; hurrah for Old England!” they cried. “As long as the breeze holds, let us stand on. We are not likely to fall in with an enemy. If we see a stranger which looks suspicious, we’ll douse sail, and let her pass by. The weather, too, promises to be fine. Why think of evils which may never occur?”

Perhaps La Motte and I did not resist as much as we might have done. At all events, we yielded to the wishes of the rest, and stood on. The day passed away pleasantly enough. The sun came out and shone brightly, and for the time of the year it was tolerably warm; so that we all kept our spirits up, and, congratulating ourselves on our good fortune, did not think of coming disaster.

As is usual on such occasions, we soon got to telling the various adventures we had met with in our past lives. I have not here time to describe them, but I remember one remarkable thing was, that nearly all had been wrecked just as often as I had. Instead of looking at such disasters as punishments, they all agreed that they ought to consider themselves very fortunate in escaping, instead of losing their lives, as had so many of their shipmates. I could not help thinking the same thing, and I now began to be more convinced than ever that I was mistaken in my youthful idea that a curse hung over me. When I came to consider the matter, I perceived that I had brought on myself nearly all the misfortunes which had happened to me, or they could be very clearly traced to ordinary causes, which had affected in most instances others as well as myself. I talked the subject over with La Motte, who was a right-thinking man, and not without some wit.

“I perfectly agree with you, Weatherhelm,” said he. “It is in my opinion, far better to be wrecked a dozen times than drowned once, especially if you escape the twelfth time, and live happy ever afterwards. I hope sincerely that your disasters have now come to an end. You seem to have suffered a good many since we parted.”

“I have enjoyed some very great blessings, too,” I answered. “I am sure I ought not to complain.”

“That is just the sentiment I like to hear,” he observed. “People think that they are to have all the plums and suet, and none of the hard dough, which makes up the pudding of life. We ought to be contented to take the two together—the sweets and the bitter, the rough and the smooth. That is what I have done, and I have saved myself a great deal of disappointment by not expecting more than I was likely to get.”

I have often thought since of La Motte’s practical philosophy.

We had every one of us soon need of all the courage and resignation we possessed. The wind, which had been steady all the day, began towards the afternoon to chop about. First it flew round to the north-east, and blew pretty hard, and we none of us liked the look of the weather. Still we hoped that it might not grow worse. We took a reef in the mainsail, and brought the boat close up to the wind.

Before long, however, it came on to blow still harder, and the sea got up very much, and the spray came flying over us, and now and then a sea broke on board, and we had to keep a couple of hands baling to prevent the boat from filling. Night was coming on: we close-reefed the mainsail, and took a reef in the foresail, and continued our course close-hauled. By degrees the wind shifted round to the north-north-east, and though close-hauled as we lay, we were fully four points off our course, and if it held on that way, it seemed a chance even if we should fetch the coast of Cornwall. Night was coming on, but there was no improvement in the weather.

Having taken a cheerless supper, for our spirits had sunk very low, we sat still in our places without speaking. The rain came down on us and wetted us through and chilled us to the bones, and the weather grew thicker and thicker. Sometimes we could scarcely see a yard ahead, and we ran a great risk of being run down by a vessel, or of running into one. Still we could do nothing further to help ourselves.

Away we flew into the pitchy darkness, the seas hissing and roaring around us, the boat tumbling and tossing about, now in the trough of a sea, now on the summit, surrounded by dense masses of foam, which seemed at times completely to wrap us up—the wind howling, and the rain coming down in torrents, sufficient of itself to swamp the boat.

Either La Motte or Andrews or I sat at the helm, and very nice steering it required to keep the boat from swamping. We lighted the binnacle lamp to enable us to keep as near as we could to our proper course. We had also our lantern ready to show as a signal in case we were able to make out any vessel approaching us.

I had been in many perils, as I have described, but none of them seemed greater than those I went through on that night. Often I thought that the boat could not possibly swim another minute. Often she was almost gunwale under before we could luff up in time to ease her. Now a huge black sea came roaring up, which I thought must come down and swamp us; but it broke just before it reached the boat and merely sent the foam flying over our heads. Thus hour after hour passed slowly away. Some of the men began to grumble, and to blame themselves for their folly in leaving the privateer.

Andrews declared that it would have been better if we had cut out a vessel, as at all events we should have been on board a craft fit to combat the gale. La Motte, with more justice, remarked, that it was a pity they had not consented to follow his suggestion, and to run for Guernsey while we could have done so.

“But why not run there now?” asked some one.

“Because the whole island is surrounded by rocks, and it would be next to a miracle if we escaped running on them,” he answered. “Our only course now is to stand on. Perhaps the wind will once more shift, and we may be able, after all, to keep our course for England.”

Never have I felt the hours draw on so slowly as they did during that dreadful night. Still no new hour brought any change for the better. I thought the morning never would come. As for sleep, that was out of the question, nor did any of us feel an inclination for food. I believe that not one of the party ever expected to see the sun rise again to cheer our hearts.

Yet, in spite of our apprehensions, the little boat behaved beautifully. Each sea, as it came roaring up, she surmounted like a wild fowl, and though down she plunged into the trough, it was but to rise again in triumph to the summit.

At length the rain ceased, but it blew as hard as ever. I was looking eastward, when a pale, thin line appeared in the sky, just above the horizon. It grew broader and broader, and brighter and brighter, and we know it was dawn. Those who had thought that they should never again see the sun rise, now felt that they ought not to have desponded. First, more cold, silvery lines appeared in the sky, and then yellow lines, which warmed into orange, and pink, and red; and a small portion of the sun himself broke forth between the clouds, and sent a bright beam of glittering gold across the dancing waves, but quickly again he was hidden above the leaden canopy which hung over us.

Few of us had ever passed a more trying night, and we all felt grateful for the mercy which had been shown us, and, as if by common agreement, we all with one accord offered up our thanks to Heaven, and prayed that we might yet further be preserved through the dangers which surrounded us. Wild and careless as sailors too often are, there are times when they exhibit a true and unaffected piety, and when they are not ashamed of exhibiting their feelings to their fellow-men. This was one of those occasions.

We were all aware that we had passed through a night of great peril, and we knew that we had, in all probability, many more dangers to go through, in which all our knowledge, and strength, and bravery could avail us nothing. Our weakness and helplessness was thus forcibly brought home to us—our own utter insufficiency to help ourselves. It is this feeling, which every seaman must at times have to experience, which has so beneficial an effect on him in turning his heart to God, in making him, in spite of himself, acknowledge the superintending care of the Creator.

As daylight came on, we looked round the horizon, more especially to the southward, but not a sail was in sight. We felt sure that, at all events, we were not pursued. Had the wind continued from the southward, we might have fallen in with some homeward-bound ship, but it was not likely that we should now meet with one. Having assured ourselves that no change was likely to take place immediately in our prospects, we served out our frugal breakfast.

La Motte and I agreed that it would be wiser at once to put ourselves on short allowance, for we could not tell how long we might be kept out. To this all the rest cheerfully assented. I had for some time been watching the sky to the eastward. When the sun rose, the wind went down, but I did not like a wide break in the clouds which suddenly appeared. The rent I had observed grew larger and larger, till the whole eastern sky was bright and clear. I felt too sure that it betokened an easterly gale. I pointed out what I had observed to La Motte. He was of my opinion.

We were not mistaken. Down it came before long, strong and bitterly cold, tearing up the surface of the sea, and sending the foam flying like vast snowdrifts before it. We were almost frozen with the cold and wet. We wrapped ourselves up as best we could in our blankets and greatcoats, but even with this aid we were well-nigh perished. We had no means of lighting a fire and warming up anything by which we might restore circulation. The gale increased. Away the boat flew before it, out to sea, away from land, away from all help.

Bitter was our disappointment. How could we hope to get back? how obtain relief? Our condition was bad indeed. Some of the men had been expressing a wish to endeavour to reach Guernsey. They now, with reproaches on themselves, acknowledged their folly in not having, when at the proper time, accepted La Motte’s offer to take them there. Fiercer and fiercer blew the easterly gale, every cloud disappeared, but yet the sky was not bright, nor did the rays of the sun give any warmth. A gauze-like veil overspread the sky, while we were surrounded by a thin mist of spray, which together completely prevented the sun’s beams from reaching us.

Our utmost exertions were required to keep the boat before the sea, and to bale out the water which continually washed into her. Those of us who were not thus actively employed sat with our greatcoats and blankets huddled up round us, the pictures of misery. Want of sleep and warm food made us feel the cold still more severely, and, in spite of our wraps, we were chilled to the very bones. Our teeth chattered and our limbs shook as if we had been afflicted with the ague. We could no longer keep up our spirits by conversation. What possible grounds had we for hope. All we could expect was to run on till the boat was swamped, or till one after the other of us dropped off and died from cold, starvation, and exhaustion.

La Motte struggled on bravely to prevent himself from giving in, while at the same time he exerted himself to keep up the spirits of the rest. His example inspired me to arouse myself, and I endeavoured to aid him in encouraging our companions.

“Hurrah, my lads!” he suddenly shouted. “As long as there’s life there’s hope—remember that. Death’s door is not open yet. Don’t be knocking to get in before you are invited. What are we afraid of? We have a tight boat under us, and provisions enough to last us for several days to come. We had got a long way to the nor’ard before this easterly gale sprung up, and we can’t be so very far off the Land’s End or the Scilly Islands. This sort of gale never lasts long. It will blow itself out in a day or two, and then we may haul up and stand in for the land. Many men have been in a far worse state than that we are in, and have got well out of it. Why should we fancy that we are going to be lost? Cheer up, I say. Can any of you sing? Andrews, you can. Come, out with a song, lad. You shake your head. Come, I’ll help you.” And, with a voice which sounded full and clear amid the hissing roar of the gale, La Motte struck up a cheering, merry song, well calculated to arouse even the most apathetic from the lethargy into which they were sinking.

Andrews, inspired by the strains, followed his example, as did several other of the men, and away we flew over the waves, singing cheerfully, with, as it were, the jaws of death gaping wide on either side to catch us.

Now La Motte sang a more solemn strain; it was a psalm. All of us joined heartily in it. We prayed that God would protect us amid the dangers which surrounded us, and then we expressed our full confidence in His mercy and goodness. That did us more good than the lighter songs. It was certainly more in accordance with our feelings; yet, perhaps, La Motte took the best means for arousing the people from the lethargy which was overpowering them.

It has often struck me that people, when they are singing psalms, are too apt to forget that they are praying, or praising God, or returning thanks for mercies received. They seem to forget the meaning of the words, and to think only of the music. They do not sing sufficiently with their hearts. That was not the case with us in that storm-driven boat. The music was, I daresay, very imperfect, but never did men enter more heartily into the spirit of the psalm than did we on that occasion.

Andrews and another man belonged to Cornwall, and had in their youth been accustomed to sing psalms in the congregations of their people, as had two or three of the other men, though for many a long year of their sea life the custom had been sadly neglected. Now, when they felt conscious that they might never have an opportunity of again singing while alive, they joined with their whole heart and soul in the work. Thus the day passed away.

The night was approaching. We had reason to dread it as much as we had the previous one, except that the sky being clear, there was more light to enable us to avoid any danger in our course. We took a frugal supper and a cup of cold water, all we dared consume of our scanty stores. Drowsiness now began to overcome most of us. I felt myself capable of keeping awake better than any of the rest, for I saw that even La Motte was giving way. I therefore urged him to let me take the helm while he lay down. To this he consented. Andrews and I wrapped him up in a blanket, and in an instant he was fast asleep showing how much self-command he must have exercised to keep awake at his post. In the meantime, while two men continued baling and one kept a look-out ahead, the rest stretched their limbs as well as they could along the thwarts of the boat and went to sleep. My fear was that they might not be able again to arouse themselves. Strange, indeed, were my feelings as I sat in the stern of the boat while she flew hissing along over the foaming waves and plunging into the dark unknown. I looked up into the clear sky, glittering with innumerable stars, and my mind wandered from the present world to the wonders of eternity, which the scene I gazed on seemed to picture forth. I forcibly felt the insufficiency of this world to satisfy to the full the aspirations of man’s soul; and the reality of the life to come, and all that that life will have to show, impressed itself more vividly on my mind than it had ever before done. The glories of the eternal future put to flight all fears for the present perishable body.

Still, I did not neglect my duty to my companions. I did my best to keep my mates of the watch awake. I watched the seas as they came rolling up on either side, so that I might keep the boat steadily before the wind. Thus the first watch passed by. I had not the heart to call La Motte. I told the other three men to arouse up their companions, and I resolved to keep awake for a couple of hours more. An hour after this it might have been, as I turned my head over my right shoulder, I caught sight of a huge towering mass close aboard, as it seemed.

It was a large ship. On she came. I felt sure that our last moments had arrived. There was no use shouting. The other men looked up. Terror kept them dumb. Had we indeed strained our voices till they cracked, no one would have heard us on board the ship. The dark pyramid of canvas seemed to reach up to the very clouds as she flew along, careering before the gale.

In another moment I thought we should have been run down, and struggling under her vast keel, but my eye had deceived me. She dashed on; but instead of her stem striking us, her broadside appeared on our starboard hand. She was a line-of-battle ship of the largest class. Then, indeed, we found our voices and shouted, and perhaps the sentries or look-outs might have heard us; but away she rushed, like some monstrous phantom of a dream, and, mighty as she was, she quickly disappeared in the darkness ahead. Our companions, who had been awoke by our shouting, lifted up their heads, but as the ship passed by, lay them down again, probably under the belief that what they had seen was merely the effect of their imagination.

La Motte remained awake. “What is the hour?” he asked. I told him. He therefore insisted on my taking his place, though I saw that he had some difficulty in unbending his limbs from the position they had assumed while he was sleeping. In an instant I was asleep. It was daylight when I was once more aroused to take the helm. I found that there was a sail in sight, just rising above the horizon in the north-east, but we could not tell in what direction she was standing.

The morning passed as had the former one. Our attention was kept awake by watching the progress of the strange sail. Her topsails rose above the horizon, then her courses appeared, and it became very clear that she was sailing on a parallel course with us. At the distance we were from her, we could not have been distinguished from the white crest of a rising wave, so that we knew it was useless to hope for any assistance from her. Trying, indeed, it was to watch her gliding by us. Sometimes, when she rose on the top of a sea, and rolled from side to side as she ran before the wind, we could see her copper glancing brightly in the sunbeams, and could almost count her ports; yet we ourselves, we knew, could scarcely have been seen, even had any on board been looking out for us. On she went, her crew rejoicing in the fair breeze which was carrying them on to their destined port, while we were grieving at being driven away from ours.

“‘It’s an ill wind that blows no one good,’ remember that, mates,” said La Motte. “We may get the fair breeze before long.”

Scarcely had the stranger disappeared in the western horizon when another sail rose in the east out of the water. We watched her even with greater eagerness than before. We fancied that we could not again be doomed to disappointment.

“She is more, I think, to the southward than the other ship,” said Andrews. “She’ll pass not far to the nor’ard of us, and can’t help seeing us.”

I watched the new-comer attentively, but could not agree with Andrews. She appeared to me to be following exactly in the track of the former vessel. I earnestly hoped that I might be wrong in my opinion. The ship came on, rapidly overtaking us. We ought to have found cause for satisfaction when we thus had evidence that we could not be driving fast to the eastward, and that when we came to haul up we should still find ourselves at no great distance from the Cornish coast.

We waited, anxiously watching the ship; but all differences of opinion were soon settled when she appeared abeam, fully as far off as the former one. As our hopes had risen to a high pitch, so they now fell proportionately low. I began to fear that despondency would seize on all hands. The ship came up on our quarter; then she got abeam of us. We could see her as clearly as we had seen the former one. Some of our people shouted and waved their hats and caps. No answering signal was made. Again they shouted and shrieked out till they were hoarse. Their cries and their signals were equally vain. Those on board could probably scarcely have seen the boat even had they been looking for her, and of course our shouts would not have reached one-tenth part of the distance. The ship glided quickly on. She passed us altogether, and, like her predecessor, disappeared in the western horizon. As she was leaving us, some of the men lost all command of their feelings and broke forth into imprecations loud and deep, and abused the ship and all on board her, as if they were to blame for not having seen us. I saw that in their present state of mind there would be no use finding fault with them, so I tried to cheer them up.

“Never mind, mates,” said I. “We should not have been much better off if we had got on board those ships. They are outward-bound, and must have carried us wherever they are going, and perhaps we might have had to go half-way round the world before we could get home again. Let us wait till we sight a ship bound up Channel, and then if we miss her we may have reason to complain.”

The remarks I made seemed to have some effect, for I heard no more complaints for some time. The day wore on and no other vessel passed us. A change in the weather began to take place as the evening drew on. The wind lessened considerably during the afternoon, and as night approached it dropped into a perfect calm. Still there was a good deal of sea, and we had more difficulty than ever in keeping the boat from being swamped. We got the oars out, but we found that we had lost so much strength that we could scarcely use them. However, we managed to pull the boat’s head round, and once more endeavoured to keep a course towards the north-east.

Yet exert ourselves as we might, we found that we could only just keep the boat’s head to the sea, and that we were utterly unable to move her through the water. Gradually the sea went down, and at last most of the men declared that they neither would nor could pull any longer, and that we should gain nothing by it, as very likely the wind would shift again to its old quarter, and drive us back once more all the distance we had thus made good.

La Motte and I endeavoured to cheer them up, but all our attempts were vain. We saw ourselves that they were too likely to be right, and indeed we could not help sharing in their despondency. I scarcely know how the night passed. It did pass, however, and so did another day. It was a perfect calm; we did not move. All our oars were laid in, and the men threw themselves along the thwarts, and declared that they should sleep there till some vessel should pass near enough to take us on board.

Our stock of food had diminished very much, and I feared, on examining it, that we should scarcely have enough to carry us to the English coast, even should a breeze spring up from the southward to help us along. No one now took much count of time. I fell asleep during the night, and so did La Motte, and I believe that no look-out was kept. We might have been run over without our making an attempt to save our lives.

Another day broke at last. There was a light wind, but it was from the south-east. We hoisted our sail, though we had scarcely sufficient strength to get it up. However, we made but little progress. I had fallen asleep, when I was aroused by the voices of my companions shouting as loudly as their strength would allow. The tones sounded strangely hollow and weak. I was scarcely aware that my own voice was much like theirs.

I looked up to see what had produced these shouts. A large ship was bearing down towards us from the eastward. We had our whole sail set, and as the sun shone on it, I hoped that we might now possibly be seen. I was not so sanguine as some of the men had suddenly become on seeing the ship. I knew that too often a very slack look-out is kept on board many ships, and even then only just ahead to see that no vessel is in the way or likely to get there. The topsails and more than half the courses of the stranger had already appeared above the horizon. We rose them rapidly. By the time that we could see her hull, I judged from the cut of her sails that she was certainly not an English ship.

“She is very like a French vessel,” observed La Motte after watching her earnestly for some time. “Still, she does not look like a ship of war, that is one comfort.” It was very certain, at all events, that she was standing directly for us, and that there was no chance of our missing her.

“Now, mates, just make up your minds what we shall do,” said La Motte; “shall we go on board her whatever she is, or wherever she is going, or shall we remain in the boat and still endeavour to make the English coast?”

“Let us get clear of the boat!” exclaimed all the men; “we may be knocking about here for some days to come, till we are all starved.”

“But we may obtain provisions from the ship sufficient to last us for a week, or more, perhaps,” observed La Motte; “she is evidently outward-bound, and many a long day may pass before we get back to England.”

“Better that than being swamped or dying by inches,” was the answer.

Finally, we discovered that all the men, including Andrews, had made up their minds to be quit of the boat at all events. La Motte told me that he knew how anxious I was to return home, and that he was ready, if I wished it, to remain with me in the boat, and to endeavour to make the shore.

Sincerely I thanked him for this mark of his friendship and kindness, I debated in my mind whether I ought to accept his offer. In my anxiety to reach home, I would have risked everything; still I thought that I ought not to expose the life of another person for my sake. How I might have decided, I scarcely know. I suspect that I should have accepted his offer, but the matter was pretty well settled for us.

Clouds had been gathering for some time in the sky, and while we were speaking, thin flakes of snow began to fall, and continued increasing in density, so that we could scarcely see the approaching ship. We could not ascertain whether we had been seen by those on board before the snow-storm came on, and, if not, there was too great a probability that she would pass us. At all events, she was now completely hidden from our view.

We calculated that if she kept on the exact course she was on when last seen, we should be rather to the southward of her. We therefore got out our oars, and endeavoured to pull up to her. Every one, however, was so weak, that it was with difficulty we could urge the boat through the water. Our last morsel of food had been consumed that morning; indeed, for the two previous days we had taken barely enough to support life.

We looked about—we could not see the ship—we shouted at the top of our voices—all was silent—we pulled on—again we shouted, or rather shrieked out. A hail came from the eastward. It sounded loud and clear compared to the hollow tones of our voices. Presently the dark hull and wide-spreading sails of a ship broke on our sight through the veil of falling snow, and directly afterwards we dropped alongside her.

She hailed us in German. I understood a little of the language, but La Motte spoke it perfectly. Great indeed was our satisfaction to find from this that she belonged to a friendly power. She appeared to have a great number of passengers on board, for they crowded the sides and gangway to look at us, and very miserable objects, I daresay, we appeared.

Thinking probably that we were afraid of them, they told us that the ship was the Nieuwland, belonging to Bremen, bound for Baltimore, in the United States, and that the people we saw were Hanoverian emigrants.

When we told them in return that we were Englishmen escaping from a French privateer which had captured us, they warmly pressed us to come on board. When, however, we tried to get up to climb up the sides, we found that we could scarcely stand on our legs, much less help ourselves on deck. Three or four of our companions were so weak and ill that they could not rise even from the bottom of the boat, and it was sad to see them, as they lay on their backs, stretching out their hands for help to those who were looking down on them over the ship’s side.

Certainly we all must have presented a perfect picture of woe and misery—half-frozen and famished—pale, haggard, shivering, with our beards unshaven, and our hair hanging lank and wet over our faces, our lips blue, our eyes bloodshot, our clothes dripping with moisture. Our condition was bad enough to excite the compassion of any one.

The master and seamen of the ship and the emigrants evidently felt for us, by the exclamations we heard them utter. They quickly fitted slings, which were lowered to hoist us up, and the seamen came into the boat to help us. One after the other we were conveyed on board, and at once carried below. Not one of us could have stood, had it been to save our lives.

I felt grateful for the looks of pity which were cast on us as we were lifted along the deck, while many of the emigrants volunteered to give up their berths. I remember how delightful I felt it to find myself stripped of my damp clothing, lying between dry blankets, with a bottle of hot water at my feet and another on my chest, while kind-hearted people were rubbing my limbs to restore circulation. It was some time, however, before anything like the proper amount of heat came back to my chilled frame. Then some warm drink was given me, and I fell into a deep slumber.

I believe that I slept nearly twenty-four hours on a stretch without once waking. At last, when I opened my eyes, daylight was streaming down on me through the open hatchway. The doctor came and felt my pulse. He spoke a little English, and told me to keep up my spirits, and that I should do very well. Then some broth was brought me by one of the emigrants, and after I had taken it I felt very much better. I inquired after my companions.

“They are not all in as good case as you are,” said the doctor. “Two poor fellows have died, and a third, I fear, will not be long with us.”

“Which of them have gone?” I asked. “I trust the officer, La Motte, is doing well.”

“He is weak, and suffers much, but still I have hopes that he may recover,” was the answer.

I was very sad on hearing this, yet I felt what cause I had to be thankful that I had escaped with my life, and was not likely to suffer in my health, as was the case with some of my companions.

With returning strength, however, came more forcibly on me the consciousness of the postponement once more of all my hopes of happiness. I had risked everything; I had gone through the most trying hardships to reach home, and now I found myself being carried away far from that home, without any immediate prospect of reaching it. I turned round in my berth and burst into tears.

The kind-hearted German who was attending on me inquired, in his broken English, what was the matter. I felt that it would be a relief to me, and would gratify him, if I were to tell him my history. He was much interested in it, and warmly sympathised with me. He did not consider my tears unmanly. I do not think they were, either. I was weak and ill, too. Perhaps otherwise, as is the English custom, I should have kept my feelings and my history to myself. Yet I think that English habit of hiding our thoughts and feelings, shows a want of confidence in the sympathy and kind feeling of our fellow-men which is altogether wrong. Nothing could surpass the kindness and sympathy of my German friends, especially of Karl Smitz, the young man who attended on me.

We had a fair breeze and fine weather, so that in three days I was able to get out of my berth. My first visit was to La Motte. He was unable to move. With fear and trembling I looked at him, for he seemed to me sadly changed from what he had been when we left the lugger: I had not seen myself, and I was not aware how haggard and ill I even then appeared.

He told me that he only felt weak and bruised, and that he had hopes he should soon be well. I found that three of our late companions had been committed to the deep, and that a fourth was in a dying state. This made me feel still more anxious about La Motte. From our old friendship, now cemented by the hardships we had gone through together, I could not help regarding him with the affection of a brother. I sat by the side of his berth till the doctor came and told me I must go on deck, as fresh air was now the only medicine I required.

The captain welcomed me on deck when I appeared in the kindest way, and said that he was glad to find even one of his guests on the fair road to recovery. He, it appeared, had heard my story, and he came up to me and told me that he had no doubt I was anxious to get to England, and that if we fell in with any homeward-bound ship, he would put me on board her. I told this to La Motte when I went below, and he said that if he had strength even to move he would accompany me.

Two days after this I was sitting on a gun-carriage enjoying the fresh breeze, when there was a movement on deck among the crew and passengers, and I saw four men coming up the main hatchway, bearing between them what I saw at once was a human form, wrapped up in a fold of canvas. It was placed on a plank near a port at the opposite side of the ship. A union-jack was thrown over it, and I guessed from that circumstance that the dead man was another of my companions. I called to Karl Smitz, who was passing.

“Ah! they did not know that you were on deck, or they would have told you before the poor fellow was brought up,” he observed. “Yes, he was another of those we saved out of the boat. We are now going to bury him as we would wish to be buried ourselves.”

Soon after this the captain came into the waist with a Lutheran prayer-book, from which, with an impressive voice, he read some prayers. Then both the seamen and emigrants—men, women, and children—stood round and burst forth into a hymn most sweet and melodious; first it was sad in the extreme, and then it rose by degrees to tones of joy, as it pictured the spirit of the departed borne by angels into Abraham’s bosom; while another prayer was being uttered, the body of my shipmate was launched into the deep. Thus four of us had been taken and six remained.

I was long very anxious for La Motte; he, however, slowly recovered, and in about a fortnight was able to come on deck. By that time Andrews and the other men had recovered, and were able to do duty. We are all of us anxious to be of use, for no honest seaman, or any other true man for that matter, likes to eat the bread of idleness. The ship was rather weak-handed, and the captain was very glad of our services.

La Motte and I consulted together, and we agreed that we ought to make him some recompense for the trouble and expense he had been at, and all the care he had taken of us. The other men agreed to what we proposed. We accordingly, when he was on deck one day, went up to him and told him how grateful we felt for his kindness, and begged him to accept our boat. He smiled at our warmth.

“No, indeed, my good men, I can accept nothing from you,” he answered; “I have only done what is the duty of every seaman to do when he finds his fellow-men tossed about on the ocean in distress. What was your lot may be mine another day; and I should expect others to do for me what I have done for you.”

“Well, sir,” said La Motte, “we feel the truth of what you say. Unhappily, some seamen do not act as you have done; and there are wretches who will pass a ship in distress, and never attempt to relieve her. However, what I am going to say is this; our clothes are in a very bad condition, and if you will supply us, we will consider them as payment for the boat.”

This proposal pleased our kind captain, and he forthwith gave us a suit of clothes, and a warm cap, a pair of shoes, and a couple of shirts, out of his slop-chest. We were thus all of us able to put on a decent and comfortable appearance. I am very certain no good action ever goes unrewarded in one way or another, though, perhaps, through our blindness, we do not always find it out.

A few days after this a terrific gale sprung up. All hands were roused up in the middle watch to reef topsails. We Englishmen, hearing the cry and roar of the tempest which had suddenly struck the ship, sprang on deck. The crew were aloft in vain struggling with the bulging topsails. At that moment the fore-topsail, with a report like thunder, blew out of the bolt-ropes, carrying with it two men off the lee yard-arm. The poor fellows were sent far away to leeward into the boiling sea.

Any attempt to help them was utterly hopeless; we heard their despairing shrieks, and for an instant saw their agonised countenances as the ship swept by them, and all trace of them was lost. We hurried on to the main-topsail-yard just in time to save the people there from sharing the fate of their messmates. The courses were furled, the main-topsail closely reefed, and the ship flew onward on her course.


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