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CHAPTER 13

Rushing forth at the Alarm of Solomon.—The rolling Waters.—The flooded Decks.—Strange, uneartlily Noises.—Dread Fears.—is the Ship breaking up?—Consolations.—Refuge in the Cabin.—A Barricade against the Waters.—A damp Abode.—A Debate.—Where shall we pass the Night?—Solomon on Guards—The fourth Day.—No Antelope.—A long Watch.—The Cabin deserted.—Sleeping on Deck.

AT the alarm of Solomon, the boys thus all hurried out upon deck. The night was dark. The sky was overcast. The motion of the ship was greater than it had been. As they stepped out, they felt their feet plash in a stream of water that rolled towards them, and perceived by this that the waves had risen high enough to break over the low-lying deck. But it was only enough to wet the deck, and not enough to cause either alarm or even discomfort, since it had not penetrated to the cabin. As they advanced forward, however, they encountered deeper streams of water, which swept down from the bows towards them, rising as high as their ankles. Yet even this excited but little attention. Solomon’s alarm had prepared them all for something serious, and so slight a thing as this was not deemed worthy of notice. They hurried on, therefore, and at length having reached the forecastle, they stood and looked all around.

The motion of the vessel would have been considered very ordinary in any one differently situated. The waves had risen somewhat, and at their motion the ship rose and fell about four feet. This was sufficient to bring her deck under the surface of the sea, and at each fall the water streamed in and rolled about. The wind was rather fresh, but not by any means violent, and it sighed through the rigging overhead.

“Why, Solomon,” said Bart, at length, “what do you mean? I don’t see that anything’s happened.”

Solomon had been clinging to the outskirts of the party, and at this he. cried out,—

“Dey ain’t out dar! Dey’s inside.”

“Inside? Where?”

“In dar!” said Solomon, pointing to the door of the forecastle.

At this Bart went in, followed by all the boys. A dim lamp was burning, suspended from a beam. The boys looked around, and saw the seamen’s berths, but nothing more.

“There isn’t anything here,” said Bruce.

At that moment Solomon grasped Bart’s arm, and said, with a gasp,—

“Jes’ you listen to ‘em!”

The boys all listened.

As they listened, there arose a confused medley of sounds, which seemed to come from the hold of the ship—sounds of pounding, thumping, and grinding, mingled with groanings, gurglings, sobs, choking sighs, squeals, scrapings, rumblings, tumblings, shiverings, and many others of an indefinable character. To these the boys all listened in silence, and for a time there came a solemn feeling of awe over every one of that little band of listeners.

“D-d-d-dem’s um!” said Solomon, with a shudder. “D-d-d-dem’s d-d-de g-g-g-ghosts, d-d-d-dem’s d-d-de hobble-bobble-gobblums!”

“Nonsense!” said Bart. “Don’t talk that trash just now. This may be something serious.”

“The cargo seems moving,” said Bruce. “The leak may be a large one.”

“I dare say she’s got a bad strain,” said Phil.

“It’s very likely,” said Arthur, solemnly, “that she won’t last very long.”

“That’s my own idea,” said Tom. “Come, boys, we may as well look the worst in the face. It’s my opinion that she’s breaking up.”

“Well, we’ve got the captain’s gig,” said Pat, “an can take to that, so we can. We’ve got lots of provisions.”

“But we’ve no oars,” said Bart.

“Well, we can rig up a bit of a sail, so we can, out of thim ould tarpowlines.”

“After all, though,” said Bruce, “she may not be breaking up. I’ve heard somewhere that in a water-logged ship the water makes the most extraordinary noises ever heard whenever there is the slightest motion; so these may, after all, be nothing more than the usual noises.”

“And besides, what is this sea!” said Bart; “it can’t do anything; it’s nothing. In fact, the more I think of it, the more sure I feel that this ship can’t break up, unless she strikes a rock. I remember what sea captains have told me—that a timber ship may float and drift about for fifty years, and hold together without any trouble, unless it should strike a rock or be driven ashore. So now that I think of it, I don’t believe there’s the slightest danger.”

“But, if that is so, why did the captain of the Petrel desert her? He must have known this, if it is so.”

This was Tom’s objection, who was not quite inclined to receive Bart’s assertion.

“Well, I dare say he hadn’t been in the timber trade,” said Bart. “This was something new for him, and he thought she would go to pieces. That’s what he wrote in the message that he put in the bottle.”

This conversation had not been lost on Solomon, whose fears, prompted by superstition, gradually faded away, and finally died out. The true cause of the terrific noises being thus asserted and accepted by the boys, there was no difficulty on Solomon’s part about adopting it. Accordingly he soon regained his ordinary equanimity, and began to potter about the forecastle, arranging some dishes and pans.

The descent of Solomon from the supernatural to the commonplace had a good effect upon the boys, who, seeing that he had suddenly lost all his fears, thought it time to throw aside their own anxieties.

“Well,” said Phil, “I don’t see the use of staying in this dismal forecastle any longer, when there is a comfortable cabin aft; so I’m going back to my berth.”

“Sure an it’s meself,” cried Pat, “that was jist goin to say that same.”

“I think it’s about the best thing we can do, boys,” said Bruce. “There’s no danger just yet, evidently, and so there’s no reason why we should lose our night’s rest. Let’s sleep while we can, say I, and I dare say the Antelope’ll be along some time to-morrow.”

Upon this proposal the boys acted forthwith, and soon they were all not only back again in their berths, but slumbering profoundly. Solomon also turned in “forard,” and finished his night’s sleep, which, however, was frequently interrupted by excursions and reconnoitrings which he made for the purpose of seeing how the weather was.

On the following morning they all awaked early, and hurried upon deck. This was the third day since the Antelope had left, and by evening the three days would be completed which they allowed for her probable absence. There was not one of them who did not go up on deck that morning with the expectation of seeing her somewhere in the distance. But on looking around, they saw no sail of any kind. It was with a feeling of disappointment that they recognized this fact, for, though thus far they had not encountered any danger, they had, at least, become aware of the fact that an increase of wind might make their situation very dangerous indeed.

The wind also had grown stronger, and sang through the rigging in a way that was anything but music to their ears. The sky was overcast with rolling clouds. In another vessel they would have called it a fine day, and a fresh breeze, but to them it became equivalent to a storm. The waves had risen to a height commensurate with the increase of the wind. The rise and fall of the ship amounted to about six feet, and at every other plunge her bows went entirely under water. The deck was now completely flooded, and Solomon in traversing it was sometimes up to his knees in the rushing torrent. The fire in the cook’s galley had been put out, and he had been compelled to transfer his apparatus to the stove in the cabin.

The quarter-deck astern prevented the sea from coming aboard in that direction; and by the time the water that rolled over the bows had reached the cabin doors, it had greatly subsided; yet still enough had poured into the cabin to saturate it in every nook and corner. A pool of water filled all the cabin and all the state-rooms to a depth of six inches, and rolled about with the motion of the ship.

“Well, this isn’t certainly quite as comfortable as it might be,” said Phil, with a blank look.

“At this rate,” said Tom, “if this, sort of thing keeps on, we’ll have to launch the boat, and row to the cook’s galley.”

“It’s strange that the Antelope isn’t in sight!” said Arthur, shading his eyes, and trying to force them to see.

“No use,” said Bart, who had been peering through the glass, and now handed it to Arthur. “No use. There’s not only no Antelope, but no other vessel; in fact, there’s not a sign of any sail of any kind whatever.”

At this Arthur, who had already exhausted all the capabilities of the spy-glass, took it, and began sweeping the entire circuit of the horizon.

“O, don’t trouble yourselves, boys,” said Bruce. “It isn’t quite time yet for the Antelope to get here. We allowed her three days. They won’t be up till evening. Besides, she’s just as likely to be four days; she’s not over fast. For my part, I don’t intend to look for her to-day at all. It’s quite possible that a vessel may heave in sight; but I don’t believe it’ll be the Antelope. And if any vessel does turn up, we can easily signalize, for I found all the signal-flags of the Petrel in the closet next my state-room.”

That morning Solomon had to cook the breakfast in the cabin. The boys all concluded to go about barefoot. The breakfast was cooked, and, considering all the circumstances, was a great success; but the glory of the cabin had departed, and it was hardly to be expected that a breakfast could be thoroughly enjoyable at which one had to sit with the water playing all about his feet and ankles. Still the boys made the best of it, and did ample justice to the fare. Solomon still struggled manfully against the difficulties of his position, and on this occasion actually furnished them with hot rolls. These, with broiled ham, coffee, tea, and other things, made a breakfast that was not to be despised.

After breakfast the boys were glad to leave the cabin, and seek the quarter-deck, which arose like an island out of the water. They began to look upon this quarter-deck as a place that was likely to become their home. The sashes of the skylight were kept open and made use of, as affording a readier means of passing in and out of the cabin. They began to feel very seriously the restriction of space which had been caused by the flowing waters, and the charms of the comfortable cabin had never seemed so great as when they were deprived of them. Formerly they had been able to lounge in and out, and, above all, to prolong the various repasts, and thus pass away the time; but now breakfast, dinner, and tea had to be hurried over as rapidly as possible, and there came the prospect of final banishment from the cabin altogether.

The sea at midday was somewhat rougher; but Solomon heroically cooked the dinner in the cabin, although the water was sometimes half way up to his knees. Measures were now taken to keep the water out. The door was shut and locked, and in the interstices they fastened oakum. Had this been done at the first, the cabin might have been saved; but unfortunately it had been neglected, and now that the water was in, there was no way of getting it out. Still this was a decided improvement, and there was comfort in the thought that it could not grow any worse now, unless it became very bad indeed.

Dinner was served in the cabin, and the boys did justice to it, though they showed no inclination to linger at the table any longer than was absolutely necessary.

After dinner they sought the quarter-deck, where they spent the afternoon. They had now begun to look for the coming of the Antelope with great impatience, and their anxiety in this respect kept them in a state of suspense which did not allow them to feel interest in any other thing. To all of them the time seemed interminable. The spyglass was passed around a hundred times, and each one on using it seemed reluctant to give it up. But at every fresh survey of the horizon there was the same result; and as hour after hour passed, they began to fear that something might have happened to Captain Corbet.

So the time passed. All the afternoon the wind grew higher, and the rolling of the vessel increased; still they took tea in the cabin; and there arose the important question as to where they should sleep.

The opinions varied. Some of them, in view of the fact that the wind was rather increasing than diminishing, were inclined to desert their staterooms, and sleep on the quarter-deck, upon the skylight, under the friendly shelter of the tarpaulin.

Tom advocated this most strongly.

“It’ll be just as comfortable,” said he, “and much less liable to interruption. Here are our mattresses, all spread out, and roomy enough for all of us. Here is the tarpaulin hanging over the boom, and making a first-rate tent. Down in the cabin the water seems to be slowly increasing, and we’ll be liable to be washed out of our berths before morning.”

“Yes,” said Phil, who chimed in with Tom, “and what’s worse, if the sea gets rougher, we’ll be certain to ship some seas astern before morning, and in that case it’ll come pouring into the cabin through the skylight.”

“Well, if it does,” said Bruce, “we should get as wet on the skylight as in the cabin.”

“Yes,” said Arthur, “and we might be washed off into the sea.”

“Sure an we can lash ourselves to the mast, an sleep there,” said Pat. “That’s what shipwrecked sailors always do.”

“O, there’s all the difference in the world,” said Tom. “If we are above, we’ll be able to avoid any danger, but down below there we’ll only be drowned like rats in a hole. For my part, if the sea is coming in, I should like to be where I can have a chance to swim, at least.”

“O, come now, Tom,” said Bart, “you are putting it too strong altogether. The wind hasn’t increased very much, and the change has been very gradual. There’s no likelihood of any sudden change, you know. If it gets much rougher, we’ll find it out soon enough, and we’ll be able to get out of the cabin, I should think, before it gets filled with water. If the ship begins to pitch like that, so as to ship heavy seas astern, the first one that comes aboard will be enough to wake every mother’s son of us. I believe in sticking to the cabin as long as we can. Our berths are as comfortable as ever. The puddle of water about the floor don’t really amount to much, after all. The door is so tight now that very little more water can get in; and as to shipping seas over the stern, I, for my part, don’t believe that there is any danger of that just yet; not to-night, at any rate.”

“No,” said Bruce. “Just see. After all, there’s been no very great change since morning. If we were aboard the Antelope, we’d think nothing of this.”

“But unfortunately,” said Tom, “we’re not aboard the Antelope.”

“O, well,” said Bruce, cheerfully, “we needn’t bother ourselves. We’re pretty certain to be aboard of her to-morrow, if we choose to go, for by that time she’s sure to show herself. We allowed her three days, and the time is up; but we ought to allow one day more in case of unlooked-for delays. Perhaps Captain Corbet had to wait for the sails, getting them mended, and all that sort of thing. I don’t think he’d wait more than one day, at the farthest; so we may look for him tomorrow pretty confidently. And in the mean time, I’m of Bart’s opinion, and think that we’d better make ourselves comfortable as long as we can, and sleep below until we are driven out. I don’t believe we’ll be driven out to-night, at any rate; and if we are, we’ll have plenty of warning.”

The end of it was, that they all decided to sleep below. Solomon, however, who had been present at the discussion, informed them that he would sleep on deck, and keep one eye open. Some remonstrance was offered, but in vain, and at length this arrangement was entered into.

Fortunately the night passed without any accident. Their sleep was undisturbed. On waking in the morning, they found not much increase in the water inside the cabin, but felt that the vessel was pitching about more than ever, and creaking and groaning in every timber.

Hurrying out on deck, they looked eagerly around. Bruce was up first, and seizing the spyglass, scanned the whole horizon in the most searching manner. But not to the eyes of any one, nor to the searching gaze of Bruce, appeared any sail whatever. Not one word was said. The disappointment of all amounted almost to dismay for a moment, and their feelings were too strong for utterance.

All around them the sea arose in foaming billows. Overhead the sky was covered with clouds that drove onward impetuously. The wind howled through the rigging; the ‘ship labored and plunged, shipping heavy seas, and thrusting her bows far under the rolling waves. But the quarter-deck, as yet, was spared, and rose above the seas like an island, whereon they could rest.

This day passed like the previous one. They spent the whole time looking for the Antelope. It was now the fourth day since her departure, and her delay made all feel uneasy. The cabin was now too uncomfortable for them, so that they decided to eat their meals on the quarter-deck; but Solomon cooked their meals in the cabin stove, and struggled heroically against fate in the effort to afford his young friends the best fare that could be furnished. .

The day passed slowly.

No Antelope!

Night came.

This time there was no debate about a sleeping-place. No one thought of going below, and they all stretched their weary frames on the mattresses, which were laid on the skylight.


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