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CHAPTER 15
A miserable Day.—Keeping their Courage up.—Solomon unmoved.—The Cook triumphs over the Man.—A big Wave.—A Shower-bath.—Helter-skelter.—All in a Heap.—Flight.—The Rigging.—Solomon ventures his Life for a Ham Bone.—Remarks.—Flight farther up.—The Mizzen-top.—The Fugitives.—Pat ties himself to the Mast.—Remonstrances.—Pat is obdurate.—Night, and Storm, and Darkness.

ALL through that day the sea continued as rough as at first, and the wind blew as strongly. In the afternoon the wind came up more fiercely, and far surpassed anything they had experienced since they had boarded the Petrel. It sang and roared through the rigging, and so great was its power, that there was a perceptible list in the ship in spite of the tremendous weight of her cargo and water-logged hull. Soon the increasing wind stirred up the sea to greater fury, and the ship began to labor most fearfully. Every hour made it worse; and at length the whole ship forward seemed to be perpetually submerged, for nothing could be seen of its deck, and the foaming waves rolled backward and forward, and boiled, and seethed, and swept resistlessly to and fro. Sometimes a dozen huge waves in succession broke in thunder on the helpless ship which lay beneath them, and received these mountain torrents, quivering and groaning in every plank and beam.

By this time the boys had certainly become accustomed to the creaking and groaning of the straining ship, but this surpassed all that they had yet seen, and filled them with awe. They stood there looking at the scene; the land was now forgotten. It had lost its interest. The feeling began to arise that perhaps they might never reach those shores, and if they did turn a glance any longer in that direction, it was solely in order to measure the intervening distance, and try whether it might be possible for the ship to reach the shore before going to pieces.

Solomon alone stood unmoved. Faithful to the last, with his one idea, the performance of his duty, Solomon prepared the evening meal. The cook triumphed over the man, and professional feeling rose superior to the frailties of humanity. It was ham that they would have, and biscuit, and butter. They should have cheese, too, and sardines. Pickles and mustard should not be wanting. And Solomon laid these on the skylight, one by one, solemnly and in silence, as though the consciousness was present in his breast that this meal might be the last on board. Never before had he arranged a repast more deliberately and more thoughtfully. The table was set under circumstances which, indeed, required deliberation and thought. The pitching of the ship was so violent, that it required the most careful management to induce the things to lie in their places; and it was only by covering the biscuit with bits of board, that he succeeded in keeping them to their places. With the ham he had a long struggle, but finally tied it with rope-yarn to the skylight. As to the smaller articles, he had to leave them in the chest.

Solomon was just returning for the last time, carrying a piece of cheese and a box of sardines; the boys were seated on the edge of the skylight, waiting for the preparations to be completed, when suddenly the stern of the ship went down, down, down, very much farther than they had ever known it to descend before. An awful thought seized upon all: the ship was sinking! Every one started wildly up, clutching at anything that happened to be nearest, without knowing what they were doing, and looking fearfully through the opening at the end of their shelter.

It was a terrific sight that appeared in that direction.

There rose a wall of water, black, towering high in wrathful menace, with its crest boiling in white foam. For a few moments that great mass hung poised above them; and then, with terrific fury, and with resistless might, it descended in thunder upon them. For a few moments all was the blackness of darkness, and the boys struggled despairingly with the rolling, overwhelming, foaming waters, which swept them helplessly about. The thought, and the only thought in every mind, was, that the ship was going down, and with this conviction that the last hour of life had come, there rose from each a short prayer, gasped out in that moment of agony.

It seemed ages; but at length the ship slowly struggled up, and the waters rolled away. For a few moments they all lay where they had been thrown, heaped up together; and then they struggled to their feet, and each began to call after the others. To their great joy they found that they all were there, and that, except a few bruises more or less severe, no evil had been incurred. But the tarpaulins had been torn from the fastenings, and blown away by the fury of the wind, and the boys had been saved from a similar fate only by the quarter-deck rail, against which they had been flung. To this rail they clung as they rose to their feet, and for a short time stood clinging there, not knowing what to do.

But from this stupor they were roused by the voice of Solomon.

“Chilen,” said he, “de suppa am ’sposed of, an you got to go widout it dis bressed night. No use settin de table agin. Don’t pay in dis yer weather. Anybody dat wants anytin to eat, had bes go to de barl or de trunk an fish for hisself. Dere all full ob salt water, and dem dat’s fond ob salt junk can get deir fill.”

None of the boys, however, showed any disposition to eat. This last wave had destroyed all appetite. It had showed them how the wind had increased. They had hoped all along that the quarter-deck would be spared, and that they would be safe there; but now this hope was lost: where one wave had come, others were sure to follow, and the prospects for the night were dark and dismal indeed. For the night was before them. The sun was already going down; the sky looked lowering, and dark, and menacing; the wind had grown to a gale, and all around the waters seemed waiting to ingulf them. Once they had wondered why the captain and crew had fled from the ship; now they understood but too well the reason of that flight. The idea of salvage seemed now to all of them a miserable mockery. What would they not have given to have escaped from this ship to any place of safety? Even the days of famine on board the Antelope seemed less terrible than the fate that now frowned wrathfully upon them out of the lowering night.

“It won’t do to stay here,” said Bruce. “Another wave’ll follow. Let’s get higher up, out of the way.”

“Where can we go?” asked Tom.

“Up in the rigging,” said Bruce. “Come.” Saying this, he climbed up the mizzen shrouds for a little distance on the windward side. The others followed. Last of all came Solomon, who took up his station below them all as though to guard them.



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There they all clung, and watched with awful eyes the scene below. It seemed for some time as though they had been premature in deserting the quarter-deck, for no wave followed that mountain billow which had precipitated itself upon them. But the recollection of that one wave was enough; and though its successor came not for some time, still they all confidently expected it. They knew that it would come before long, followed by many others, for the sea grew higher every minute, and the wrath of its waters grew more wild. Forward all was a sea of foam, and the quarter-deck appeared beneath them like a raft over which they hung as they clung to the shrouds.

They did not climb far up. They were not more than ten feet above the deck, having rested at this point, so that they might be out of the reach of the waves and no more. About their lost repast they did not think for one moment. That wave which had swept away their supper, had carried with it all thoughts and all desires concerning it. The only one who gave it a thought was Solomon, who, even now, was still true to his professional duties; and seeing the boiled ham lying against the quarter-deck railing, in the very place where it had been flung, he leaped down, at the peril of his life, hastily seized it, pitched it into the trunk, and then clambered back again.

“Boun to skewer dat ar ham dis yer time,” said he, in a soliloquizing tone. “No use lettin de win an de sea hab it all deir own way, nohow. Dat ar ham’s too precious to be lost, an I’se boun to’ serve it up yet for breakfus to-morrow, when de storm goes down. Lucky we didn’t try to hist up dat ar cabin stove. Jerusalem! wouldn’t it hab spun overboard? Would so. But it’s down deep ’nough now in de water, for de cabin’s chock full. Don’t ebber ’member bein so ’sturbed before in all my cookin ’sperience; an watebbers goin to be de suit ob it all’s more’n I can tell. Beats all; an dese yer chilen’s all boun to catch deir deff ob cold.”

At this Solomon raised his head, and looked at each one of the boys in succession. He saw them all wet to the skin, with the water dripping from their clothes, and their hands clutching fast the rigging. It was a painful sight, too painful: he turned away his face, and drops of brine ran down his face which did not come from the sea.

Suddenly a thunderous sound arose, which made every one look in terror towards the place from which it came. It was forward. In an instant they saw it all. Several great waves had fallen there in swift succession, striking amidships full upon a round-house which stood there, and was used for the reception of deck cargoes. The force of these blows was resistless; the structure yielded with a crash, and gave way utterly. For a moment it was brought up against the ship’s bulwarks, but the waters poured in underneath, floated it far upward, and tumbled it over into the sea. There it floated at the mercy of the waves, farther and farther away, while the raging billows, like hungry wolves, 茅ncompassed it on every side.

The boys had already felt sufficiently awed by the scene around to be. hushed into silence, but about this last event there was something so appalling that they all uttered an involuntary cry, and clung more closely to the rigging, each one looking at his neighbor with a face of despair. For the only thought now present to each one was, that the ship was breaking up, and that utter ruin and destruction was imminent. The crash of the wave, as it struck the massive structure and tore it away, was so tremendous that the boys might well have dreaded the worst; and the sight of it now, as it tossed and tumbled in the boiling floods, had in it something so terribly suggestive of their own fate, that they shuddered and turned their eyes away.

But suddenly Solomon’s voice broke the silence.

“Dar,” said he; “dar’s how I knowed it was goin for to be. I bet high on de cook’s galley. Dem dar round-houses only built for show; dey got no rail strenf. Now de cook’s galley down dar ain’t goin to gib way dat fashium; she’s boun to stan, jes like de rock ob Gibberalter, an de stove too,—dat’s so.”

There was something in Solomon’s tone which was so cool and matter-of-fact that the others felt a little reassured, and recovered a little of their former coolness. They saw that the ship was still holding together, and as the waves rolled back, they saw the smooth firm deck where the roundhouse had stood, and learned from this that the round-house did not constitute a portion of the ship, but was merely an erection on that deck, and therefore to some extent a movable.

But Solomon’s confidence in the cook’s galley was by no means warranted by facts. Thus far it had been protected to some extent from the sweep of the waves by the round-house, and the loss of this barrier left it all exposed to the full fury of the waters. For some time it bore up gallantly, and as each wave rolled over it, Solomon cheered exultantly, to see it come forth erect from the rolling torrents. At length, however, Solomon’s exultant cries grew fainter, and finally ceased altogether. For the galley was shaking, and quivering, and yielding. At length one side started, and was beaten out; the rest soon followed, until all was crushed to fragments, and its separate portion hurled out upon the angry sea.

“Anyhow,” said Solomon, “dat ar galley held out pooty tough, mind I tell you; an dar’s de stove yet, as large as life, an it’s goin to take a good many waves afore they’ll be able to start her. Yes, dat ar stove’s goin to hold on, mind I tell you; an I’se a goin to bile a kittle ob water on her yet, you see. Will so.”

Whether Solomon really meant what he said, is an open question. He may have really believed it all, or, as is most probable, he may have expressed himself in this way merely for the purpose of giving courage and confidence to the boys, and preventing them from sinking into despair. Certain it is that his words had this effect; and seeing that the loss of the round-house and galley had made no material difference in the ship herself, they clung to hope, and tried to believe that the stout hull, with its firm cargo, would ride out the storm.

But by this time the sun had set; and now, in addition to their other troubles, there was added the dismal prospect of the coming night. Dark, indeed, would that night be to all of them. Fearful enough was their position already; but when, in addition to this, they would find the light of day cut off, and the horror of great darkness all around, what support could they find for their sinking souls, or what hope of escape? Already the land was fading out of sight, lost in the gathering shadows of evening. By the dim twilight they could see that they had drawn much nearer, and their distance seemed now but a few miles. Thus far they had regarded the land only with pleasure; now, however, as the night came down, and the darkness deepened, and the storm increased, they began to experience other feelings with regard to this dreary shore. That it was rocky and forbidding they had already seen, nor had they hitherto been able to detect any part of the coast here which was at all inviting or favorable to a landing. If in such a storm the ship should be driven upon such a shore, what could save her from being shattered to pieces? If in such a darkness they were driven upon those rocks, what could save them from destruction? Yet towards that unknown shore they were every moment drawing nearer, and wind and tide seemed alike to urge them onward towards it.

It was not yet dark, when suddenly a giant wave rose high from underneath the stern, and hung suspended over the quarter-deck. It was the counterpart of that wave which had struck them an hour before. For a few moments it hung, poised and quivering, and then it fell, in thunder, down. It poured all over the barrels of biscuit that were lashed to the mizzen-mast, it swept down through the skylight into the cabin, it rolled in a flood over the deck, and rushed forward, pouring down, and blending its waters with those that boiled and foamed amidships.

The ship now seemed unable to rise. She seemed to have sunk into some vortex, and being without anything like buoyancy, the waters held her fast. Wave after wave rolled in, and poured over the quarter-deck. The whole ship, from stem to stern, seemed to be one mass of foam. The hull was lost to sight. They seemed supported by masts that rose out of the sea. Destruction appeared close at hand. Clinging to the rigging with death-like tenacity, they could only murmur their prayers of despair to that mighty unseen Being who holds the waters in the hollow of his hand.

At length, shuddering, and groaning, and trembling in every fibre, like some living thing, the ship struggled up out of the mass of waters, and freed herself for a time. The boys could see the quarter-deck. They could see the barrels lashed to the mizzen-mast still secure. They breathed more freely. It seemed as though they had received a reprieve,—as though their despairing cries had been heard and answered.

“Boys,” said Bruce, “we can’t hang here all night. We’ll fall off. Lets go up higher. There’s room for all of us, I think, in the mizzen-top. Come.”

With these words he started upward. The rest followed. Solomon went up last. They all reached the mizzen-top in safety, and, on reaching it, found that it was spacious enough to afford room for them all.

Here Pat proceeded to possess himself of a line which ran through a block close by, after which he began to tie himself to the mast.

“What are you up to, Pat?” asked Bart, in some wonder.

“Sure it’s tying meself to the mast, I am, so it is.”

“Tying yourself to the mast?” repeated Bart, in amazement. “What in the world is that for?”

“What is it for?” said Pat. “Sure and what else is it that people always do in shipwrecks? It’s the reg’lar thing, so it is.”

“Well, for my part,” said Bart, “I’d rather have my hands free. If this mast should go over, I’d rather not be fastened to it as tight as that. You’d better not.”

“Sure an won’t I float ashore on it without any trouble?”

“Yes; only the trouble may be to keep your head above water. Don’t do it, Pat.”

But Pat was deaf to argument. Slowly, but pertinaciously and securely, he wound the rope round and round the mast, binding himself to it tighter at every turn.

“Ye’d best follow my lade,” said Pat. “There’s enough left in this bit of a line to tie ye’s all fast and firrum, so there is.”

But the others refused. They preferred liberty of action, and did not like the idea of swathing themselves up like mummies. They wished to be able occasionally, if possible, to lie down, or sit down, and not remain all night on their feet.

Thus there they stood in the mizzen-top. And the night came down, and the darkness gathered deeper and deeper around them. And the storm rose to its height, and night, and storm, and darkness, in all their terrific power, environed them as they stood in their giddy perch.


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