Adrift in a Boat, by W.H.G. Kingston.
This is not a very long book, but the story is a good one. Several families have met together to have a picnic on a pleasant local beach. To everyone's delight they are joined by Harry Merryweather, a midshipman home on leave. Harry and another youth, David Moreton, go for a wander round the rocks, but are cut off by the strong tide. The weather then turns very nasty, but the boys are able to swim to a passing boat containing an old man, Jefferies, and his young grandson, Tristram. The weather is now so bad they can't get back to the local harbour at Penmore.
There is an accident and young Tristram is lost overboard, and drowned.
They see a vessel, a brig, on her way down channel, but when they get to her they find she is an abandoned wreck. More bad weather. They are seen by a schooner about some bad business, who opens fire, probably to destroy an unwanted witness to some crime. The brig is sinking. They make a raft. Old Jefferies dies. They are picked up by a French schooner, which turns out to be a privateer. At this point the story gets even more convoluted, and you will have to read the book to see what happens next, and how the boys eventually get home.
ADRIFT IN A BOAT, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
THE PICNIC ON THE SANDS—THE MIDSHIPMAN—HARRY MERRYWEATHER AND DAVID MORETON CAUGHT BY THE TIDE—THE ALARM.
Few parts of the shores of old England present more beautiful and romantic scenery than is to be found on the coast of Cornwall. There are deep bays, and bold headlands, and wild rocks, and lofty cliffs, and wooded heights, and bare downs, and yellow sands full of the most minute and delicate shells, so delicate that it is surprising how they could have existed in the rough and boisterous ocean, and been cast up whole from the depths below. In one of those beautiful bays, many years ago, a large party was collected, on a bright afternoon in the early part of autumn. Among the party were persons of all ages, but most of them were young, and all were apparently very busy. Some were engaged in tending a fire over which a pot was boiling, and others were collecting drift-wood thrown up close under the cliff, with which to feed it. Two or three young ladies, under the superintendence of a venerable matron, were spreading a tablecloth, though the sand looked so smooth and clear that it did not seem as if the most dainty of people could have required one. Several were very eager in unpacking sundry hampers and baskets, and in carrying the dishes and plates, and bottles of wine, and the numerous other articles which they contained, to the tablecloth. Two young ladies had volunteered to go with a couple of pails to fetch water from a spring which gushed out of the cliff, cool and fresh, at some distance off, and two young gentlemen had offered to go and, assist them, which was very kind in the young gentlemen, as they certainly before had not thought of troubling themselves about the matter. To be sure the young ladies were very pretty and very agreeable, and it is possible that their companions might not have considered the trouble over-excessive. The youngest members of the party were as busy as the rest, close down to the water collecting the beautiful shells which have been mentioned. The shells were far too small to be picked up singly, and they therefore came provided with sheets of thick letter-paper, into which they swept them from off the sand where they had been left by the previous high tide. A loud shout from a hilarious old gentleman, who had constituted himself director of the entertainment, and who claimed consequently the right of making more noise than anybody else, or indeed than all the rest put together, now summoned them up to the tablecloth, to which at the sound, with no lingering steps, they came, exhibiting their treasures on their arrival to their older friends. The party forthwith began to seat themselves round the ample tablecloth, but they took up a good deal more room than had it been spread on a table. The variety of attitudes they assumed was amusing. The more elderly ladies sat very upright, with their plates on their laps; the younger ones who had gone for the water, and their friends of the same age, managed to assume more graceful attitudes; while the young men who had been to school and college, and had read how the Romans took their meals, stretched themselves out at the feet of the former, leaning on their elbows, and occasionally, when not actually engaged in conveying ham and chicken or pie to their mouths, giving glances at the bright and laughing eyes above them. The hilarious old gentleman tried kneeling, that he might carve a round of beef placed before him, but soon found that attitude anything but pleasant to his feelings; then he sat with one side to the cloth, then with the other. At last he scraped a trench in the sand sufficient to admit his outstretched legs, and, placing the beef before him, carved vigorously away till all claimants were supplied. The younger boys and girls, tucking their legs under them like Turks, speedily bestowed their undivided attention to the task of stowing away the good things spread out before their eyes.
"This is jolly, don't you think so, Mary?" exclaimed a fine boy of about fourteen to a pretty little girl who sat next to him; "there is only one thing wanting to make it perfect—Harry Merryweather ought to be here. He wrote word that he expected to be with us this morning, and I told him where the picnic was to take place, that should he be too late to get home, he might come here direct. Oh, he is such a capital fellow, and now that he is in the navy, and has actually been in a battle, he will have so much to tell us about."
Mary Rymer fully agreed with David Moreton, for Harry was a favourite with every one who knew him. Although Harry Merryweather had not arrived for the picnic, his friends appeared to be enjoying themselves very much, judging by the smiles and giggling and the chattering, and the occasional shouts of laughter which arose when old Mr Tom Sowton, and florid, fat Mr Billy Burnaby, uttered some of their jokes. Not that they were the only people who uttered good things, but they were professed jokers, and seemed to consider it their duty to make people merry; Mr Burnaby, indeed, if he could not make people laugh at what he said, made them laugh at what he did.
The party had come from various quarters in the neighbourhood, some from a distance inland, in carriages, and two or three families who lived on or near the coast, in two pretty yachts, which lay at anchor in the bay. One of them belonged to Mr Moreton, David's father, and the other to Captain Rymer, with whose family David was as much at home as with his own; and he and his sisters looked upon Mary, Captain Rymer's daughter, quite in the light of a sister. She was, indeed, a very charming little girl, well worthy of their affections. The first course of the picnic was concluded—that is to say, the chickens, and hams, and pies, and cold beef, and tongues, and a few other substantials were pushed back; the potatoes, which had been boiled in salt water, having been pronounced excellent. The tarts and cakes and fruit, peaches and figs and grapes, were brought to the front, and underwent the admiration they deserved, when suddenly David Moreton, looking up, raised a loud shout, and, jumping to his feet, clapped his hands and waved them vehemently. The shout was echoed in different keys by many others, and all turning their eyes in the direction David was pointing, they saw, on the top of the cliff a boy, on whose jacket and cap the glitter of a little gold lace and his snow-white trousers proclaimed him to be that hero in embryo, a midshipman. Having looked about him for a few seconds, he began to descend the cliff at so seemingly breakneck a speed, that several of the ladies shrieked out to him to take care, and Mary Rymer turned somewhat pale and stood looking anxiously as the young sailor dropped from one point of rock to another, or slid down a steep incline, or swung himself by the branches of shrubs or tufts of grass to the ledge below him, and ran along it as if it had been a broad highway, though a false step might have proved his destruction. Once he stopped. To go back was impossible, and to attempt to descend seemed almost certain destruction. Mr Sowton and Billy Burnaby jumped up, almost dragging away the tablecloth, upsetting tarts, and fruit-dishes, and bottles of wine, and all the other things, when Harry gave a tremendous spring to a ledge which his sharp eye had detected, and was in a few seconds afterwards standing safe on the sands and shaking hands warmly with everybody present. When he came to Mr Tom Sowton and Billy Burnaby, it might have been supposed from the way in which they wrung each other's hands, that there was a wager pending as to which should first twist off his friend's fist.
"Fortunately, we haven't eaten up all the good things, Harry," exclaimed Mr Sowton, dragging the midshipman, nothing loth, to the well-spread cloth. "Now open your mouth, and Burnaby and I will try and feed you. What will you have first,—beef, or pudding, or a peach, or a tongue, or a cold chicken? Oh dear me, there is but a drumstick and a merrythought left. Which will you have? No! I see I am wrong again, the drumstick is in the dish, and the merrythought is in my head, with numerous companions. Does anybody wish to know what they are? I'll fill my naval friend's plate first with cold beef and mustard, and then inform you." Thus the old gentleman ran on. He kept his word with regard to Harry, who very soon by diligent application caught up the rest of the party, and was able to commence on the tarts and peaches. All the gentlemen asked him to take wine, and the ladies were eager to hear his adventures. He briefly recounted them in an animated manner, for as he had been little more than a year at sea, everything he had seen and done had the freshness of novelty. He belonged to the gallant Arethusa frigate, which had put into Plymouth from a successful cruise in the Bay of Biscay, where, after capturing several minor prizes of considerable value, she had taken an enemy's frigate of equal force. He had consequently got leave for a few days to come home and see his widowed mother. He was her only son; her husband had been an officer in the army, and was killed in battle; her daughter Jane could never be induced to leave her, but they had promised to send Harry on to the picnic after he had indulged them with a little of his society. He had come by a chance conveyance, knowing that he should be able to return with some of his friends.
In those days it was the custom to sit long after dinner, and even at a picnic people consumed a considerable amount of time round the cloth. At length, however, they got up and broke into separate parties. Some went in one direction, some in another. The elders were more inclined to sit still, or went only a little way up the cliff; but several of the grown-up young ladies and gentlemen climbed up by somewhat steep paths to the downs above. The younger ones, the tide being low, very naturally preferred scrambling out on the rocks in search of sea-anemones, and other marine curiosities. There were numerous projecting rocks forming small bays in the large bay, and thus completely hiding the different parties from each other. No two boys could have had a more sincere regard for each other than had David Moreton and Harry Merryweather. David was longing to go to sea with Harry, but his father was greatly averse to his going. He was the eldest son, and heir to a large property. As the boys had been separated for so long a time (long in their lives), they had a great deal to say to each other. They consequently strolled away, forgetting what Mary Rymer or the rest of their fair companions might have thought of their gallantry, in and out along the sands, round the points and over the rocks, till they had got to a considerable distance from the place where the picnic had been held. A dry rock, high above the water, which they could reach by going along a ledge connecting it with the mainland, tempted them to scramble out to it. There they chose a nice cosy, dry nook, where, sitting down, the water immediately around them was hidden from their sight. This circumstance must be remembered. It was very delightful. They had not yet said one-half of what they had got to say to each other, so they sat on talking eagerly, looking out seaward and watching the white sails which glided by coming up channel in the distant horizon. David was so delighted with the accounts Harry gave him, that he resolved to make a further attempt to induce his father to allow him to go to sea. It must be owned that Harry, full of life and happiness himself, had pictured only the bright side of everything. He had described the courage and determination to win with which he and his shipmates had gone into action, and the enthusiasm and delight they had felt on gaining the victory and capturing the prize; but he forgot to speak of the death of some cut down in their prime, and the wounds and sufferings of others, many maimed and crippled for life. Thus they talked on without marking how the time went by. Harry's watch, which he had locked up carefully before going into action, had been destroyed by a shot which had knocked the desk and everything in it to pieces; and David had forgotten to wind his up. Suddenly it occurred to them that the sun was getting very low, and that it was high time for them to return.
They jumped up to scramble back over the rock, but no sooner had they done so than Harry cried out, "We are caught!" and David exclaimed, "The tide has risen tremendously, how shall we get to the shore?"
"Swim there," answered Harry; "I see no other way. If we were to shout ever so loud we should not be heard, and I do not suppose any one knows where we are." By this time they had got to the inner end of the rock, where they found that the distance between them and the shore was not only considerable, but that a strong current swept round the rock, and that though before the sea had been calm, it had got up somewhat, and caused a surf to break on the shore. What was to be done? David was a first-rate swimmer, and would not have had much difficulty by himself in stemming the current, and landing through the surf; but Harry, though a sailor, had not learned that art before he went to sea, and could swim very little. It is extraordinary how many sailors in those days could not swim, and lost their lives in consequence. They stood looking at the foaming, swirling waters, not knowing what to do.
"I would try it," said Harry at length, "but I am afraid if I were to give in that I should drown you as well as myself."
"I think that I might support you, and we should drift in somewhere a little further down, perhaps," said David.
"Much more likely that we should be swept out to sea," answered Harry. "No, no, David, that will never do. You can swim on shore before the surf gets heavier, and your father or Captain Rymer will send a boat for me very soon."
"But these are spring tides, and if the sea gets up at all, it will soon wash right over this rock," said David.
"The more reason for you to hurry to get a boat from the yachts," observed the midshipman.
While they were speaking, they observed the two yachts, which had hitherto been hid by a point of land, standing out to sea. They had come from the east with a fine northerly smooth water breeze, but the wind had drawn off shore to the east, and as the tide was at flood running up channel, the vessels had stood off shore to get the full strength of it. This the boys at once understood, but how they should have gone off without them was the puzzle. Matters were growing serious. Even should David reach the shore, he might not find a boat, and it was a long way he feared from any house where he could get help, so that Harry might be lost before he could get back. They retraced their steps to the highest part of the rock, and waved and shouted, even though they knew that their voices could not be heard, but the yachts stood on at some distance from each other; it should be remarked, Captain Rymer's leading. It was evident that they were not seen. The hot tide came rushing in, rising higher and higher. Both the boys became very anxious, David more on his friend's account than his own. So many persons have lost their lives much in the same way, that it seemed probable the two boys would lose theirs.
We must now go back to the picnic party. Mr Sowton and Mr Burnaby, and a few of the other more elderly ladies and gentlemen, began at length to think it time to return home. The hampers were repacked and carried, some up the cliffs by the servants, and others on board the yachts; and Mr Sowton and Billy Burnaby acting, as they said, as whippers-in, began shouting and screeching at the top of their voices. Captain Rymer and Mr Moreton had gone on board their vessels to get ready, and thus there was no one actually in command. The boats to take off the party were rather small, and several trips had to be made. In the meantime, those who were returning home by land climbed up the steep path to the top of the cliff, where their carriages were waiting for them. When they were fairly off, each party inquired what had become of Harry and David. Captain Rymer's yacht, the Arrow, was off the first, for the Psyche, Mr Moreton's, fouled her anchor, and it was some time before it could be got up.
Mr Moreton thought that his son, and the young midshipman had, attracted by sweet Mary Rymer, gone on board the Arrow; while Mary, who, it must be owned, was rather sorry not to see them, took it for granted that Harry was returning, as he had come, by land, and that David had gone with him.
The yachts had a long beat back. As they got away from the land, the wind increased very much, and came in strong sharp cold gusts which made it necessary first to take in the gaff-topsails, and then one reef and then another in the mainsails. As the wind increased the sea got up, and the little vessels, more suited to fine weather than foul, had hard work to look up to the rising gale. Still there was no help for it. The tide helped them along, but by its meeting the wind much more sea was knocked up than if both had been going the same way. Had such been the case, the vessels could not have made good their passage. Darkness coming on made matters worse: poor old Mr Sowton became wonderfully silent, and Mr Burnaby, who was sitting on the deck of the cabin, holding on by the leg of the table, looked the very picture of woe. Mary Rymer, who was well accustomed to yachting, and a few others, kept up their spirits, though all hailed with no little satisfaction the lights which showed the entrance to Pencliffe harbour, into which they were bound.
Mr Moreton's party had been at home some time, and most of the family had retired to their rooms, when they began to wonder why David had not appeared.
"He is probably still at the Rymers', or has accompanied Harry to Mrs Merryweather's," said Mrs Moreton to her husband; still, as night drew on, she became somewhat anxious. Her anxiety increased when a servant came with a message from Mrs Merryweather to inquire why Mr Harry did not come home.
Mr Moreton himself now became even more anxious than his wife. Neither his daughters, nor some friends staying with them, remembered seeing either Harry or David for some time before they embarked.
Mr Moreton, putting on a thick coat, for it was now blowing very hard, went off to Captain Rymer's house, which was close down to the bay, accompanied by Mrs Merryweather's servant, and greatly alarmed the family by asking for his son and Harry.
"Why, did they not come back with you?" asked the captain. "No, we thought they were on board the Arrow," answered Mr Moreton. "They may have gone with the Trevanians, but I do not think that Harry would have failed to come back to his mother. I will go back and see her. They must have set off by land, and there may have been an upset or a break-down. It will be all right tomorrow."
The morrow, however, came, but the boys did not appear. Mr Moreton therefore rode over early to the Trevanians, but they knew nothing of the boys.
He now became seriously alarmed. As it was blowing too hard to go by sea, he sent a messenger to say that he should not be home for some hours, and continued on to the bay where the picnic had been held. Then he made inquiries at the nearest cottages, but no one had seen his son or Harry Merryweather. He went from cottage to cottage in vain, making inquiries.
At last a fisherman suggested that the beach should be searched. Mr Moreton at once set out with a party quickly assembled to perform the anxious task, dreading to find the mangled body of his son and his brave young friend. No signs of them could be found. Still his anxiety was in no respect lessened.
He stopped on his way back at one cottage which he had not before visited. He found the inmate, an old woman, in deep affliction. Her husband, old Jonathan Jefferies, a fisherman, when out on his calling, had perished during the gale in the night. He could sympathise with her, and as far as money help was concerned, he promised all in his power. With an almost broken heart he returned home to give the sad news to his wife and family.
Poor Mrs Merryweather, she was even still more to be pitied. To have her son restored to her, and then to find him snatched away again so suddenly, perhaps for ever!
Day after day passed by, and no news came of the much-loved missing ones.
ON THE ROCKS—A BRAVE LAD—SAVED—TRISTRAM'S FATE—STILL IN A BOAT.
"David, you must try to swim on shore, and save yourself," exclaimed Harry Merryweather, looking at the foaming seas, which now began, with a deafening noise, to dash furiously round the rock on which he and his friend stood. "If you don't go soon, you will not be able to get there at all. Leave me, I beg you. There is no reason why both should be lost."
"No indeed, that I will not," answered David, stoutly. "If I thought that I could get help by trying to swim on shore I would go, but I do not think there is a place near where I could find a boat."
Harry did not speak for a minute or two.
At last he put his hand on David's shoulder, and said, "I ask you again to swim on shore by yourself. I will pray for you as you are swimming, and you shall pray for me when you reach the beach. My dear mother taught me to pray when I was a child, and she has ever shown to me that God hears all faithful prayers, and in His good time grants them; so that I have always prayed since I went to sea, both when I was turning into my hammock, and when I was turning out; and I knew that my mother was praying for me too, for she is always praying for me; and I know that God hears those prayers, so you see that makes me very brave. I am sure that I can trust Him."
"I am so glad to hear you say that," answered David. "My father was teaching us just the same thing after reading the Bible at prayers the other night. It's true—it's true, I know."
"Then trust to Him, and do as I ask you," said Harry, earnestly. "Take off your jacket and shoes at all events—you will be back in time to save them and me also."
"I don't like leaving you at all, but I will do as you wish," exclaimed David, after a moment's further thought, taking off his jacket. As he did so he turned his head round seaward. "Hillo!—why, there is a boat," he exclaimed. "She is under sail, standing this way."
The boys together sprang back to the highest part of the rock, and David still holding his jacket waved it vehemently. It was a small fishing-boat, beating up from the westward. She was then standing in for the land, and Harry, whose nautical knowledge was not as yet by-the-bye very great, was doubtful where she would go about again before she got near enough for those on board to see them. All they could do was to wave and wave, and to shout—though their shouting, shrill as it was, would have been of no use.
David, who really knew more about boat-sailing than his naval friend, expressed his opinion that she was beating up for the little boat-harbour of Penmore, about two miles to the eastward. How anxiously they watched her, as the tide sweeping her along she drew nearer and nearer! The wind, having—as the expression is—backed into the south-east, enabled her to lay up well along shore, or their hope of being seen would have been small indeed. For some minutes longer she stood on almost directly for them; then at length she went about—high time, too, for she was getting near the breakers. Now was the moment for them to shout and wave, for if they were now neither seen nor heard they must abandon their hope of help from her, as by the next tack she would be a long way to the eastward. How eagerly they watched her! Again and again they waved and shouted.
"Yes, see—she is about," cried Harry, joyfully. He was right—the boat was evidently standing towards them. Harry, forgetting all past dangers, shouted and danced for joy. Life was very sweet to him. He thought nothing of the ordinary risk of losing it which he was every day running—but this was out of the way, and he had almost made up his mind that he should not escape. There were two people in the boat—an old man and a boy. The sail was lowered, and getting out their oars they approached the rock cautiously. It would have been excessively dangerous to get close, as a heavier sea than usual might have driven the boat against the rock and dashed her to pieces. This Harry and David saw. The old man stood up in the boat, and beckoned to them. He was shouting also, but the thundering noise of the sea against the rock prevented them from hearing him.
"He wants us to swim out to the boats," said David. "I am sure that I could do it, and I will bring in a rope for you."
"Oh, I do not think that you could," answered Harry. "The sea rolls in so heavily that you would be driven back. They might let the end of a rope, made fast to a cork or a float of some sort, drift in, and haul us off." The plan was clearly a good one, and they made signals to the old man to carry it out; but either he did not understand them, or had not a rope long enough.
"I must go," cried David, throwing off his coat and shoes. "Pray for me, remember." He had been watching his opportunity: a heavy sea had just passed, and, before Harry could even say another word, slipping down to the edge of the rock, he glided in, giving himself all the impetus he could with his feet, and almost the next instant was breasting a sea at some distance from the rock. Harry watched him anxiously, not forgetting to pray. Now he seemed almost driven back, and now a foam-crested sea rolling in looked as if it would inevitably overwhelm him. Alas! yes—he disappeared.
"He is lost—he is lost!" cried Harry. But no. Directly after he was again seen on the surface, working his way up another advancing sea.
Harry was now guided chiefly by the gesticulations of the people in the boat,—that is to say, by the way the old man waved a hand, or looked out, for they had to keep their oars moving with all their might and main to avoid being driven dangerously near the rock. At length Harry, with thankfulness, saw David close to the boat but she seemed to be going from him—then the old man stood up—stretched out his arm, and David, well-nigh exhausted, was dragged into the boat. Harry saw that he was talking to the old man.
"What will he do? I hope that he will not attempt to swim back to the rock," thought Harry; yet he felt very sure that he should never reach the boat by himself. As the boat rose on the top of a wave, Harry saw that David was employed in fastening several ropes together. The task which the old man and the boy could not perform, as they were obliged to continue rowing, he was able to do. Harry saw him very busy in the bottom of the boat, and now he lifted a water-cask into the sea, and veered away the rope over the stern. For some time Harry did not regain sight of the cask; at last he saw it on the top of a sea, but still a long way from the rock. He watched it anxiously; but still he doubted whether he should be able to get hold of it. It might, even if it reached the rock, be dashed to pieces. He got down as close to the water as he dared go, for the seas were dashing so high up the rock that he might easily be carried away by them—indeed, he was already wet through and through with the spray, which was flying in dense sheets over the rock, and in a few minutes more it seemed to him that it would be completely overwhelmed—indeed, any moment a sea might sweep over it. Harry had a brave heart, and as long as he had life was not likely to lose courage. He showed his coolness, indeed, for believing that the cask would soon reach him, he deliberately tied David's jacket and shoes round his waist, that he might have the pleasure of restoring them to him. He had observed how David slipped into the water. There came the cask, nearer and nearer. Before it had time to touch the rock, he slid down into the sea, and struck out boldly for it, and throwing his arms over it caught the rope to which it was made fast, and drew himself up till his chest rested on it.
He then shouted at the top of his voice, "Haul in—all right." David, however, could not hear him: but having watched him with intense eagerness, now began slowly to haul in the rope, while the old man and boy pulled the boat further off the rock. Harry held firmly on, though he almost lost his breath by the waters, which dashed in his face. He kept his senses, however, and had the wisdom to strike out with all his might with his feet, which greatly helped him on, and took off the drag from his arms which they would otherwise have felt.
As he rose to the top of a sea he again shouted out every now and then, "All right—haul away." He was, however, not much inclined to shout by the time he got up to the stern of the boat. David, with the help of the old man, then quickly hauled him on board.
"And you have brought me my jacket and shoes," exclaimed David, gladly putting them on, for he felt very cold directly the exertions he had just gone through ceased. The boys sincerely thanked God in their hearts that they were saved—though but a very few audible words of thanksgiving were uttered. No time, indeed, was to be lost in getting away from the rock.
The old man told David to go to the helm. "And you other young master take my oar and pull with all your might, while I sets the sails," he added. A sprit-mainsail, much the worse for wear, and a little rag of a foresail were soon set. It was as much sail as the boat in the rising gale could carry, and away she flew seaward. The old man took the helm, and the boy, who had not spoken, laid in his oar, and facing forward, put his hand on the foresheet to be ready to go about when the word was given. The boat was somewhat old and battered, like its master,—the rigging especially seemed in a bad condition.
The old man saw the boys examining her, and divined their thoughts. "She's not like one of your fine-painted yachts, young masters; but she has helped to save your lives, and she'll serve my time, I'm pretty sure of that," he observed. "She'll be tried, howsomever, not a little to-night, I'm thinking. We were late as it was coming up from 'Put off shoal,' and this work with you made us still later, so that we shall have to be thankful if we get into Penmore harbour before the tide turns."
"She is a good boat, no doubt, and at all events we are most thankful to you for having by her means saved our lives," said David; and Harry repeated what he had said.
"No, young masters, it wasn't I saved you, it was God. Don't thank me. Man can do no good thing of himself, you know, and I couldn't have saved you if it hadn't been His will." The fishing-boat went careering on over the foaming seas, guided by the skilful hand of the old man. It is surprising how much sea a small boat with good beam will go through when well managed. The old man was far more loquacious than the young one, who sat quite still forward, only every now and then turning his face aside as the spray dashed in it, and shaking the water from his sou'-wester.
To the boys' inquiry of the old man to which place he belonged, "Little better than a mile to the eastward of where I took you aboard," he replied; "but when the wind blows as it does now, there's no place for landing nearer than Penmore harbour. That matters nothing, as we get a good market for our fish near there, and we have a good lot to sell, you see." He pointed to the baskets in the centre of the boat, well filled with mackerel and several other kinds of fish. He told them that his name was Jonathan Jefferies, that he had married a Cornish woman, and settled in the parish, and that the lad was his grandson. "Not quite right up there," he remarked, touching his forehead; "but he is a good lad, and knows how to do his duty. We call him Tristram Torr, for he is our daughter's son. She is dead, poor thing, and his father was lost at sea, we suppose, for he went away and never came back."
The old man thus continued giving scraps of his family history, till the gloom of evening gave way to the darkness of night. His chief regret at being out so late was that his old woman would be looking for him, as he had told her that he expected to be home earlier than usual. The darker it grew the less talkative, however, he became; indeed, all his attention was taken up in steering, for with the darkness the wind and sea increased, till the boat could hardly look up to it. At last Harry and David began to suspect that though they had escaped from the rock, they were in no small danger of being swamped, and thus, after all, losing their lives. Every now and then a heavy sea broke into the boat and half filled her. Still the boy Tristram said nothing, but turning round took a bailer from under the thwart, and began energetically bailing away. Harry and David did the same with their hats, till old Jefferies handed them a bucket, with which they more rapidly cleared the boat. They had to be quick about it, for scarcely was she free of water than another sea came in and again half filled her. It seemed also pretty evident to them that instead of going to windward she was making leeway, though, as the tide was still running to the eastward, she was going in that direction. The two boys were feeling thoroughly chilled and uncomfortable; they were, of course, wet to the skin, and the wind was strong and keen, and even when they sat down, by the old man's advice, in the bottom of the boat, their legs were in water. Still they kept up their spirits, and when the water washed into the boat they were glad to jump up and bail it out again. Besides that they were in danger of being swamped, it appeared to the midshipman and his friend that there was a great risk of being run down. Already two or three phantom-like forms had suddenly appeared out of the darkness, and gliding by were soon lost to sight.
The boy, however, had made no remark about them; suddenly he shouted, "Grandfather, a sail on the weather-bow."
"About, then," cried the old man. Harry and David looked out, and saw, almost ahead of them, towering to the skies it seemed, a dark pyramid of canvas.
"She is a big ship running down channel," said Harry. "She will be over us! she will be over us!" The boat was at that moment in stays, going about. Scarcely had he spoken, when there was a loud crack. The mast went by the board, and as it came down struck the old man on the head. He would have fallen overboard had not Harry and David seized his coat and dragged him in.
"Here, pull, masters," cried Tristram, trying to get out both the oars. In doing so he let one of them go overboard; both would have gone had not Harry, springing forward, seized the other. But poor Tristram, in endeavouring to regain the one he had lost, overbalanced himself, and met the fate his grandfather had just escaped. Harry threw the oar over to the side on which he had fallen, but the poor lad in vain endeavoured to clutch it. There was a piercing cry; Harry thought he saw a hand raised up through the darkness, and then he neither saw nor heard more.
How came it that the boy's cry did not rouse the grandfather? Sad to say, he lay without moving at the bottom of the boat.
"This is fearful," cried David, feeling the old man's face and hands; "I am afraid that he is dead, and the poor lad gone too. What are we to do?"
"Keep the boat's head to the sea as long as we can with one oar, and then up helm and run before the wind," answered Harry, who knew that such was the way a big ship would be managed under similar circumstances. David sat at the helm, and Harry vigorously plied his oar—now on one side, now on the other, and thus managed to keep the boat from getting broadside to the sea. It was very hard work, however, and he felt that, even though relieved by David, it could not be kept up all night. Several times David felt the old man's face; it was still warm, but there was no other sign of life. The boat was broad and deep, or she would very quickly have been turned over. This, however, made her very heavy to pull, while from the same cause the sea continually washed into her. At length they agreed that she must be put before the wind. They waited for a lull, and then getting her quickly round, hoisted the jib, which had been before taken in, to the end of the spreet, which they lashed to the stump of the mast. The wind blew as strong as ever, but the tide having turned there was less sea than before, and thus away they went down channel, at a far greater rate than they supposed.
"It is going to be only a summer gale," observed Harry. "When the morning comes we shall be easily able to rig a fore and aft sail, and stand in for the shore. The poor, good old man, I am very sorry for him, and so I am for the boy; but for ourselves it does not so much matter, except that we shall have to breakfast on raw fish, and perhaps after all not get home to dinner. My dear mother, too, and Jane, may be frightened, and I don't like the thought of that."
"Yes, to be sure, I forgot that; I am afraid those at my home will be frightened too, when they hear nothing of us," said David. "One comfort is, that we did not keep away intentionally, though, to be sure, it was thoughtless of us to be caught by the tide as we were. But don't let us think of ourselves; better let us see what we can do for this poor old man. I believe that he is still alive, though how to bring him round I don't know. If we had any liquor to give him we might pour it down his throat, but as we have nothing we must keep his head up and let him lay quiet till daylight," said Harry.
David was thoroughly accustomed to boat-sailing, so that he was well able to keep the boat dead before the wind. The sea came curling up astern, but none broke over her; had even one done so it would have sent her to the bottom. A very little conversation took place after this. Only Harry, fearing that he and his friend might lose heart, every now and then said something to keep up their spirits. It was somewhat forced, it must be owned, for they both saw that their position was very critical. The hours passed slowly by—now the one, now the other took the helm. Morning broke at last; they looked out, expecting to see the land aboard on the starboard hand, but not a glimpse of land was visible—nothing but sea and sky on every side around of a leaden grey hue—not a streak in the horizon showed where the sun was rising. They could only guess by the wind the points of the compass. Harry proposed hauling up for where they supposed the land to be, but David considered that such a proceeding would be dangerous, and that it would be safer to run on till the weather moderated and they could get sail on the boat. They neither of them sufficiently calculated the strength of the tide, which, running for six hours, had carried them many miles to the eastward. The old man was alive, but sat perfectly still at the bottom of the boat. It seemed indeed doubtful if, after remaining in that state so long, he would ever recover. Their anxiety prevented them from feeling hungry; indeed, as yet, they fancied that they could not bring themselves to eat raw fish. They now tried various means to bring the old man to consciousness, by rubbing his hands and his feet, and occasionally his forehead. It is difficult to say whether these means had any effect. At length, at all events, he slowly opened his eyes; then he closed them again, and they thought that he was dying. Then once more he opened them, and looked about him with a puzzled and pained expression of countenance. Now he gazed inquiringly at David—now at Harry.
"Where is Tristram? where is my grandson?" he asked, speaking very slowly. "Gone! gone! oh, don't say that. What have you done with him, my young masters?"
With sad hearts the boys told him how the accident had happened.
"Then may God take me to my boy, my poor boy," he exclaimed hiding his face in his hands, and sinking back once more into the bottom of the boat.
WHERE WERE THEY?—RAW FISH—SLEEP—THE BRIG WITHOUT A CREW—AN AGED CHRISTIAN.
The gale continued blowing harder than ever, and had not the boat been built especially to encounter heavy seas, she would very soon have been swamped. It was only by careful steering, indeed, that this could be avoided, while the two boys took it by turns to bail out the water which occasionally came in over the gunwale in rather alarming quantities. Still they did not lose courage. They, however, grew very hungry, and began to look wistfully at the hamper of fish.
"I wish we had a stove of some sort, that we might cook some of these fish," said David, holding up a mackerel. "I am getting fearfully ravenous."
"Just scrape off the scales and take out the inside of one of them, and hand it to me," answered Harry, who was steering. "I have seen seamen eat raw fish, and raw meat too, and the islanders in the South Seas I know do, so we must if we are not to starve."
David prepared the fish as directed, during the intervals of bailing. Still he could not bring himself to eat any. Harry's inside was more seasoned. A midshipman's berth in those days did not allow of any squeamishness.
"Just pour a little water into the tin mug, it will help it down," he said, after he had taken a few mouthfuls of the fish.
They had found a tin mug, with a jar of fresh water. They husbanded the water carefully, and David poured out very little, lest it should be jerked out of the mug as the boat was tossed about. Harry dipped the bits of fish into the water before eating them. It took away somewhat of the raw taste, he fancied. Still he very soon came to an end of his meal.
"I shall do better another time," he observed, putting the remainder of the fish down by his side, and drinking up the water.
David sat for some time very silent, bailing out the water. At last he looked into the basket and took out a fish, which he began to scrape with his knife. He held it in one hand while he bailed with the other, then he scraped a little more, and finally cleaned the fish completely. He looked at it, his lips curled, as is often the case when a person is about to take nauseous physic. A pang came into his inside. He could stand the hunger no longer, and, putting the fish between his teeth, he began to gnaw away at a great rate. He far outdid Harry. When the water rose to the side of the boat, he dipped the fish into it. It added to the flavour, and made it more digestible. The boys were thankful that there was not much risk of their starving as long as the fish kept good and the water lasted. It was not food that would keep them in health for any length of time; yet it stopped the pangs of hunger, and that was a great thing. All this time they were looking out for some abatement in the gale, but not a break appeared in the mass of dark lead-coloured clouds which formed a canopy above their heads, reaching down to the horizon on every side.
"Whereabouts do you think we are?" asked David, after a long silence.
Harry thought for some time.
"Somewhere in the chops of the British Channel, to the westward of Scilly, I fear," he answered. "Possibly, if the wind shifts to the southward, we may get driven up the Irish Channel, and then it will be a tremendous time before we get home; I may be wrong, but I fear not."
"That's what I think too," said David. "I wish that the old man was sensible. We might consult him what to do."
Old Jefferies, however, continued in the same unconscious state as before. They had some hope of getting assistance from any vessels which might pass them, but though they saw a number at a distance gliding quickly by, not one came near them. On they drove, further and further they feared from land. Again darkness came on. They were very drowsy, but they feared, should they yield to sleep, that the boat would be swamped. Harry had, he said, more practice in keeping awake, so he insisted that David should lie down on one of the thwarts and take an hour's rest, while he could steer and bail out at the same time.
"I can manage it," answered David, with a yawn, stretching himself out on a seat, and in less than half a minute he was sound asleep.
Poor Harry had very hard work to keep awake. He could not venture to remain sitting. More than once his eyes closed. Phantom shapes passed before his eyes, strange sounds came into his ears, shrieks, cries, and groans; sometimes he heard, he thought, shouts from afar. His brain swam round. In another instant he would have lost all consciousness. He had to spring to his feet, and to bail away with one hand while he held the tiller with the other. He would not venture to sit down again; indeed, the high, green, rolling, froth-topped seas, by which he was surrounded, were sufficient to keep him awake. At last, putting down the skid, he looked at his watch. It was past six o'clock. David had slept more than his allotted hour, and yet he could scarcely bring himself to awake him.
"Poor fellow, he is not so accustomed to this sort of work as I am," he said to himself. "After that long swim, too, he requires rest, and had it not been for his courage I should no longer have been in this world. I'll try and keep awake a little longer."
Harry did his best to do as he intended. He kept moving his feet, he talked aloud, he sang even. He looked at old Jefferies. He thought he was nodding his head and answering him, but he could not make out what was said. At last he felt that, if David did not wake up and come to his relief, he should drop down, and the boat would broach to, and they would all be drowned.
"David! David!" he tried to cry out, but his tongue seemed to cleave to the roof of his mouth. Still he kept the tiller in his hand, striving steadily. He made one more effort. "David! help! help!" he shouted. David's mind was far away in his father's garden, with his sisters and sweet Mary Rymer. He was telling them about Harry being in danger, but he had forgotten he was with his friend. At last he heard himself called. He started up, and was just in time to seize the tiller, which Harry had that instant let slip from his grasp, as he sank down to the bottom of the boat. In another second of time the boat would have broached to. The gloom of evening was coming on rapidly, and there was but a dreary prospect for poor David. He still felt very sleepy, and had almost as much difficulty in keeping awake as before. He managed to drag Harry to one side, and to place some of the nets under his head as a pillow, but no moving had the effect of rousing him up. David felt as he had never felt before; sitting there, the only being conscious of external affairs in that lone boat, running on amidst those huge billows. As long as the gale continued, on the boat must go, he well knew, or run almost the certainty of being swamped. The short sleep he had enjoyed had refreshed him, and he thought that he should now be able to keep awake. He felt very hungry, though. No wonder! Most people would have been hungry who had eaten nothing but raw fish during upwards of twenty-four hours. He, however, would now have been very glad to get some more raw fish, but he could not reach the hamper, and he dared not leave the helm for an instant. There was a locker under where he sat. He had just bailed out the boat, when stooping down, he put his hand in, and, feeling round, discovered to his great joy a large piece of bread, the best part of a quartern loaf. It was very stale, but he was not inclined to be particular. Never had he tasted bread so sweet. He took, though, only a small portion, as he did not like to eat more without having Harry to share it with him, or old Jefferies, if he could be aroused. The bread, with a little fresh water, greatly revived him. He thought, indeed, that he should be able to keep awake all the night, if Harry should sleep on. He tried his best. He stood up, then he bailed, but as much less water came into the boat than before, he had but little to do in that way. He tried to sing and whistle, but the tunes were somewhat melancholy. The wind was certainly decreasing, and the sea going down. "I must wake up Harry, and then, if we can but manage to rig a fore and aft sail, we might haul our wind, and stand to the north-east," he said to himself. "But which is the north-east, I wonder? The wind may have changed, and there is not a break in the clouds. Without a compass, how can we find our way? If the clouds clear away, the stars would help us—at least, I suppose Harry knows all about them. I wish that I did. But I was lazy, and to this moment am not quite certain as to the look of the Polar Bear. I remember that the North Star is in that. However, we could not do much yet, and, with her beam to the sea, the boat would not be steady enough to rig our mast properly. We must wait patiently till morning. Dear me, how heavy my head feels! They must be all wondering what has become of us at home. I hope they don't think we are lost. That is the worst part of the business. It will not be pleasant to live upon raw fish for very long, but I suppose that it will keep us alive, and probably we shall fall in with some vessel or other, which will tow us home. That will be very nice. What a pleasant picnic we had, and Harry to come home just in time, and Mary Rymer, and what a dear—oh! how pleasant—how—" Poor David was asleep. No wonder, after having been awake for so many hours, and only just a little more than one hour's rest on a hard plank. He still held the tiller, and instinctively moved it to or from him, as he felt the boat inclined to broach to. His eyes, indeed, were not quite closed, so that in reality he saw the seas as they rolled before him, and perhaps steered almost as well as he had done before. Meantime the old man remained in a state of stupor, and Harry slept as soundly as a "church door," or rather as midshipmen are generally supposed to do. Thus the boat must have gone on for hours. Happily, the wind and sea were going down, or it would have been a serious matter to the boys. It will be understood that, after an easterly gale in the Channel, the sea goes down more rapidly than after a westerly one, when there has been a commotion across the whole sweep of the Atlantic. Suddenly a loud concussion and a continued grating sound made both David and Harry start to their feet, and they saw what seemed a huge black mass towering above them. What could it be?
"A ship! a ship!" shouted Harry. "Heave a rope here!"
No one answered. As the boat was slowly rubbing by the side of the ship (for Harry was right in his conjecture), he found a rope hanging overboard. With the activity of a seaman he secured the end round the fore-thwart of the boat, while David hauled down the sail—not that that was of any consequence, as the wind had fallen almost to a calm. Again Harry, joined by David, shouted loudly, but no one answered.
"I believe the ship is abandoned," he observed. "Yes, I am sure she is, for I see no masts. She is not quite so large, either, as I thought at first—a brig probably. However, we shall soon have daylight, and know all about it."
The dawn was already breaking, but no roseate hue was seen in the sky, to indicate the position of the rising sun. Although the sea had gone down greatly, still the boat struck heavily every now and then against the vessel, as she rolled slowly from side to side. There was, indeed, great danger that she would be stove in, if not altogether swamped. The boys, therefore, agreed that the sooner they could get on board the better.
"We shall find some food, at all events; and if we can get nothing more, we may shove off again," observed David.
"Oh! I hope we shall get much more than that," exclaimed Harry, in a confident tone. "What do you think of a compass, and sail, and spars, and rigging for our boat, and if so we shall without difficulty be able to find our way home. Hurrah! what do you think of that?"
"I did not fancy that we were likely to be so fortunate," answered David. "To think that we should have run directly against a ship out in the ocean here! What shall we do now?"
"Why, get on board ourselves, and then hoist the old man up," answered Harry. "We must not leave him in the boat, lest she should get stove in."
The boys quickly scrambled up the ship's side. Both her masts were gone, and the bowsprit had been carried away, with a considerable portion of the bulwarks, when the masts fell, and all her boats and caboose. Altogether she had a very forlorn appearance, while there was no sign of a human being on board. Their first care was to get up the old man. Harry leaped down into the cabin of the brig, and instantly returned with a long horsehair sofa cushion. "We must pass straps round this, and parbuckle him up," he observed. Fortunately a davit remained. To this they secured a tackle, and David, jumping into the boat to pass the cushion under old Jefferies, they soon had him up safe on deck. They then, having got up the hamper of fish, with the bread and the jar of water, veered the boat away with a hawser astern. They were now able for the first time to attend to the old man. They examined his head, and finding where he had been struck, bathed the place with water, and they also poured a few drops of water down his throat. This seemed to revive him greatly, and at last they thought that they might leave him, to examine the vessel. The cold dull grey light of the early morning enabled them to do so. The brig had not long been deserted, and great was their satisfaction to find all sorts of things to eat on board— biscuits, and even soft bread, though it was rather stale, and a box of eggs, and bacon and cheese, and even some cooked meat, and there were also melons, and oranges, and dried figs, and grapes, and other fruits, which showed that she had probably come from a warm country, where these fruits grew; indeed, they afterwards learned from some papers they found, that she was the Fair Ianthe, and was from the Mediterranean, homeward bound. While Harry and David were examining one of the lockers, they felt something moving against their legs. They looked down, and saw a fine white cat, which by her movements, and the pleased purrs she gave when she saw that she was noticed, seemed to welcome them.
"She must be a fairy, or the good genius of the ship," exclaimed David. "Or, if she is a mere mortal cat, she must be very hungry, as I am sure I am, so let us go up and breakfast on deck, and try and get the old man to eat something."
"Do you know, I think that he would do much better down below, if we could take off his wet things, and put him to bed," observed Harry.
To this David agreed, and, after they had eaten a little bread, for they would not give themselves time to take more, they contrived, with considerable exertion, to lower old Jefferies into the cabin, and to put him into bed. This done, they lighted a fire in the cabin stove, and made tea and boiled some eggs, and did some rashers. They wisely, also, took off their own wet things, which they hung up to dry, while they put on some clothes which they found in the cabin. What a hearty breakfast they made!—and if it had not been for the thoughts of the poor lad who had gone overboard, and the anxiety of their friends, they would have pronounced themselves very jolly. As it was, it cannot be said that they were very unhappy. At last they contrived to get old Jefferies to swallow some tea, and a little substantial food, for which he seemed much the better, and in a few minutes they had the satisfaction of seeing him drop off into a sound sleep.
Harry and David returned to their meal, for they still felt somewhat hungry. They soon began to nod, and at last David's head dropped on the table.
"I shall be off too, if I don't jump on deck and look after the boat, and see how the weather is," said Harry. He found the boat secure, but the weather very dull and far from promising, though there was then but little wind. He scanned the horizon. Not a sail was in sight, and unless with a stronger breeze than then blew, none could approach for some time to come. On examining the vessel he thought that there was no danger of her sinking; indeed, except that she had lost her mast, he could not make out why she had been deserted. He judged by the way she rolled that she was slightly leaking, and had made some water. "We'll pump her out by and by, and she will be all right till we get a fair breeze to return home," he thought to himself. "Perhaps we may carry her in, and obtain salvage. That would be very fine, better than all the prize-money I am likely to make for a long time to come." Such were the ideas that floated through his mind as he returned to the cabin. A comfortable-looking bed invited him to rest, and rousing up David for a moment, he made him crawl half asleep into another. Both of them in half a second were soundly sleeping, and had the tempest again arisen, they would not probably have awakened then.
Very different would have been the case had Harry been a captain, but the cares and responsibilities of midshipmen are light, and their slumbers sound. Hours passed by, when they both started up, hearing a voice crying out, "Where am I? What has happened? Ah me! ah me!" It was old Jefferies who spoke. They went to him. He had returned to consciousness, and now remembered the loss of his grandson. They did their best to comfort the old man. They felt that they had been remotely the cause of the lad's death. "No fault of yours, young gentlemen," he answered to a remark one of them had made; "it was God's will to call the boy home. We must never murmur at what God chooses to do. He knows what's best for us. Ah, if you had heard Mr Wesley preach, as I often have, you'd understand these things better than you do, perhaps." They were glad to let him talk on, as the doing so seemed to divert his mind from his grief. He told them much about the great preacher, and among other things that he was never stopped by weather from keeping an appointment, and that though wet through, with his high boots full of water, he would deliver his message of love to an assembled congregation before he would change his garments.
While they were all asleep the fire had gone out. They relighted it, and cooked an abundance of their fish, and spread their table with it, and several other things they had discovered. They little knew how the time had gone by, and were therefore greatly surprised to find darkness again coming on. The two lads hurried on deck, followed by old Jefferies. The sky was still obscured. No land was in sight, and only two or three sails could be observed in the far distance. They watched them, but they were steering away from the ship. It was evidently too late, even if old Jefferies had been strong enough, to leave her that day. They therefore made up their minds to pass another night on board, and to leave early the next day.
"If the sky is clear we may do so," observed Harry. "But I have hunted everywhere, and can find no compass; so that unless we can see the stars, we shall be unable to steer a right course. If we venture to make the attempt, we may perhaps find ourselves far away in the Atlantic, and never be able to return."
A STORM—THE BOAT LOST—A DISCOVERY—HARRY SAVES DAVID'S LIFE—PUMPING— THE STRANGE SAIL.
Another night began on board the wreck. The boys, however, saw nothing unpleasant in the prospect. They had plenty of food and firing, their clothes were dry, old Jefferies appeared to be recovering, and they hoped he would be able to assist them in navigating the boat homeward. They agreed that they would be up by daylight, and fit the boat with a mast and sails and oars, besides loading her with as many provisions as she could carry. They felt rather chilly, so they made up a fire, and sat chatting over it quite comfortably, till they almost forgot they were out on the ocean, no land in sight, in a dismasted vessel, and all by themselves. Harry again broached the idea of carrying in the ship herself, but David doubted whether they could manage to do so. Harry then explained that they might form ury-masts out of a number of spars lashed together, and that sails might be hoisted on these, fixed in different parts of the deck.
"The rudder is in good order, so that we may just as easily find our way to the land, and into port, I hope, in the ship, as in the boat; while we shall be far more comfortable, and not much longer about it, I should think," he remarked. "I only fear lest an enemy's cruiser should see us, and either take possession of the brig, or burn her, and carry us off prisoners."
"Not much chance of that, I should hope," answered David. "We should not prove a prize of much value, after all."
"Oh, indeed! they would think it no small thing to capture a British naval officer," remarked the young mid, drawing himself up to his full height, which was not very great; "and I vote we do not give in without a fight for it."
"But I only saw two guns on deck, and I do not think that we should be able to work them, even if we can find powder and shot," said David.
"Oh, there is a store of both on board, depend on it, and if we put on a bold face, we may drive off an enemy, provided he is not a very big one," answered the midshipman.
Some time was occupied in these discussions. They then went on deck and looked about them. Though a long slow swell swept as it were occasionally across the ocean, the surface was otherwise perfectly smooth; indeed, there was not a breath of air to disturb it, but a thick mist hung over the sea, which prevented any objects from being seen even at a short distance off. This was as likely to prove advantageous to them as the contrary; and so, having taken a short walk on dock, they went below, said their prayers, found that the old man was asleep, turned in and followed his example. Harry knew perfectly well that, according to strict discipline, a watch ought to have been kept, but he and David agreed that, as there was a calm, they could not be run down, and that the wreck was not likely to drift far from where they then were, while it was clearly far pleasanter to be asleep than walking the deck. Hitherto they had not had time to examine the hold or the fore part of the vessel. This, however, they purposed doing in the morning. Happy time of youth! They slept very soundly and comfortably, looking forward with confidence to the future, and little dreaming what was to happen. When people have been deprived of their night's rest, they frequently sleep a very long time on a stretch. Harry was awaked by David, who exclaimed—
"Dear me! the ship is tumbling about fearfully; the gale must have sprung up again."
He then heard old Jefferies say, in a weak voice, "What, lads, are you there? I was afraid that you had deserted the old man."
"No, no, we would not do that," answered David. "But I am afraid that the ship must be shaken to pieces if this continues."
"If she has floated through one gale she may float through another. We must trust in God," said the old man. "Ah me! I am very feeble. If we couldn't put our faith in Him, we should be badly off indeed. I cannot help myself, much less you."
Harry was by this time fully awake, and called David to follow him on deck, to ascertain what was the matter. When David got there, he wished himself below again. The gale had returned with tenfold fury, and the helpless ship was driving before it, surrounded by high foaming and roaring seas; the mist had cleared away, but the clouds were as thick as ever, chasing each other across the sky. Nothing else was to be seen. Mountain waves and dark clouds almost pressing down on their heads—no sail in sight to bring them assistance. So violently was the ship tossed about, that they could scarcely keep their feet, even by holding on.
"Oh, the boat! the boat!" shouted David. Just before, they had seen her still afloat, secured by the hawser, when a heavy sea, rolling towards the ship, broke aboard the boat, and filled her in an instant. She rose on the top of a high foaming sea, when the thwart to which the two ropes were secured was torn out of her, and the next moment she sunk from sight. The boys looked at each other for a minute or more without speaking.
"We shall have to stick to the ship now, at all events," said Harry at last.
"I hope that the ship will stick to us, and keep afloat, then," remarked David.
"We'll sound the well presently, and see what water she has in her," said Harry. "In the meantime, let us go down into the hold, and see of what her cargo consists. Much depends on that, whether or not she keeps afloat. I want to have a look into the fore peak also; I cannot make out why the vessel should have been deserted."
The main hatch was on, and as it would have been dangerous to lift it, even if they could have done so, when any moment the deck might have been swept by a sea, they worked their way on to the fore hatch. This was not secured. They descended. It was some time before they could see about them in the close, dark, and dirty abode of the seamen. On either side were bed-places, one above another, with a few large wooden chests below them, and jackets and trousers, and various other articles, hanging up against the bulkhead. They observed nothing of consequence, and as the atmosphere was stirring, they were about to climb up again on deck, when a low groan was heard. Both were brave fellows, but it must be confessed that their hearts sunk, and their first impulse was to hurry up the ladder as fast as they could go. Again there was a groan. They looked at each other. Was it a human voice? There could be little doubt about that. Where could it come from? They stopped for a few seconds, holding on to the ladder, to recover their composure. The voice came from one of the berths; of that they were soon satisfied. Just then Harry observed a small locker close to the ladder, and putting in his hand found a candle and tinder-box. A light was soon struck; and they approached the berth whence the groans had proceeded. It is not surprising that they should have started back with horror. The dim light of the candle fell on the ghastly features of a human being, who, except that his eyes moved wildly, might have been taken for a corpse. His beard was long and tangled, and blood, which had flowed from a fearful gash across his brow, stained the blankets in which he was wrapped. His eyes were staring wildly, his mouth was open. He seemed at the point of death. Yet he was not dying of starvation, for within his reach hung a bottle of water and a bag of biscuits. Why, however, he had been deserted was a mystery which he himself seemed incapable of solving. In vain Harry and David asked him. Not a word did he speak in answer to their questions. He was, however, conscious of their presence, they thought, by the way his eyes followed them as they moved about the cabin. Had they discovered him before, they might have been of some assistance to him, but they could not now even attempt to move him into another berth. David, however, undertook to get some better food from the cabin. Harry did not feel altogether comfortable when left alone with the dying man. He looked so horrible, and the groans which he uttered were so fearful. David seemed to be absent a long time. He did not like to leave the wretched man, or he would have gone to look for him. What could have become of David? The sea every now and then washed with a loud sound across the deck. Could he have been carried away by it? How dreadful the thought! He went back to the dying man, and stood over him, hoping that he might return, to consciousness. Suddenly the man sat up, and pointing with his thin hand across the cabin, uttered a loud shriek, and sinking back was a corpse. The young midshipman was left alone in the dark fore peak of the sinking vessel. The sad thought came across him that perhaps he might be the only living person on board. Old Jefferies was apparently on the point of death, and perhaps David had been washed overboard. As he could be of no use where he was, he determined to ascertain the worst, and climbed up on deck, immediately closing the hatch again. He looked about him. David was not to be seen. Even during the time he had been below matters had grown worse—the ship was tumbling about more than ever, and the seas, which rose high above the bulwarks, seemed every instant about to engulf her. But where was David? He worked his way, not without great danger of being carried overboard, to the companion hatch, over which, stooping down, he shouted David's name. His heart sank within him. There was no answer. "David! David!" he cried again. "Oh, David, where are you?" Was his dear brave friend really gone? Just then he observed that some rigging had been washed over the starboard quarter, and he fancied that he heard a faint cry. From the temporary position of the wreck, the sea ceased just then to break aboard. Harry sprang aft, and there, clinging desperately to the rigging, now almost under water, now lifted into the air, as the stern of the ship was thrown upwards, he saw David. His friend recognised him, but seemed unable to speak. Though Harry could not swim he could climb well, and was strong and active. His immediate impulse was to fasten a rope round his own waist, the other end secured round a stanchion, and to spring towards David. "We will die together," he said to himself as he did so, "or I will save him. May we be protected!" He alighted on a spar close to David, whose arm he saw was caught by a rope, from which he could not disengage himself. To do this without the risk of his friend being washed away was no easy task. He succeeded at length, however, in doing so, and by an effort, of which he would not have thought himself capable, he scrambled up on deck again by means of the tangled mass of ropes, and tattered sails and spars, which hung overboard. Then, dreading that another sea would come and sweep them back together into the seething ocean, they tottered to the companion hatchway, down which Harry half dragged, half carried his friend, closing the hatch above him. Scarcely had he done so than a tremendous blow on the hatch, and the loud rushing sound of the water as it passed over the deck, told them that another sea had broken aboard, which would in all probability have swept them away to destruction. They fell on their knees in thankfulness as they reached the cabin, that they had been thus providentially preserved. They then went to the berth in which old Jefferies lay. He was still too weak to move, but perfectly sensible. They told him what had just occurred, and of the death of the poor seaman whom they had discovered in the fore peak. He could not conjecture why the man had been left there. The boys, however, thought that, by examining all the papers, they might elucidate the mystery. They feared, from the appearance of the poor stranger, that some foul deed had been done on board. Now, however, they were more concerned about themselves. The brig had hitherto withstood all the buffeting she had received without apparently leaking much, but would she continue to do so? Old Jefferies thought not. He had heard, he said, strange sounds as he lay in bed, which he knew well proceeded from water forcing its way into the hold, or rather from the air which was thereby forced out—groans, and sighs, and low cries.
"Some people, when they hear these sounds for the first time, think that the ship is full of ghosts and spirits, and that they are crying out that she is going down," observed the old man. "But I know better. I wish that I hadn't heard them, for they make me sad. Not for myself, though, for I am well-nigh worn out, and that poor boy's death weighs heavy on me. I daren't face his grandmother, and tell her that he is gone. But, boys, I am sorry for you. You are young and full of life, and there are many who love you on shore, and will mourn your loss."
"What, do you think that the ship is going down?" exclaimed Harry and David together, in a very natural tone of dismay.
"It would be cruel in me not to tell you so, and I hope that you are prepared to die, my boys," answered the old man. "Still I don't say but that in God's mercy you may escape. A vessel may heave in sight in time to take you off, or you may build a raft, and it may float you till you are picked up. I don't say give in, but be prepared for the worst."
The boys listened calmly to what the old man said.
"We will hope for the best, rig the pumps, and try and keep her free," answered Harry.
"Not much hope of that, I fear," said the old man. "We can but try," exclaimed David. "Let us go on deck at once, and see what we can do."
"You may be washed overboard if you go now on deck," said old Jefferies. "You must wait till the sea goes down again somewhat, and you may then pump away with a will."
The latter part of this advice the boys agreed, after waiting some time, to disregard. If the ship was sinking, the sooner the water could be pumped out of her the better. They fancied, also, that she rolled less than before. In spite of the old man's warnings, they once more, therefore, found their way on deck. The state of the wreck seemed almost hopeless, but, like brave boys as they were, they still kept to their resolution of trying to pump out the water. They fortunately found the brake of the pump, as the handle is called, and shipping it, began to work away with might and main. The water quickly came up in a clear, bright stream, which told too plainly, without their sounding the well, the large amount of water which had either leaked in or found its way below. They had left their coats and shoes in the cabin, everything that would encumber them, in case they should be washed from their hold. The waves rose up around them, the spray in dense showers dashing every instant over their heads, and almost blinding them when it struck them in the face. Still undaunted they stood at their post.
"This must tell," exclaimed David, as he watched the full stream flowing from the pump. "If we get the ship clear, all may yet be well."
"It may be coming in faster than we are pumping it out," said Harry. "Still it may keep us afloat till help comes."
"I am afraid that there is not much prospect of that," said David. "Though, to be sure, we cannot be so very far from land, or those screeching seagulls would not be hovering about us."
"They have powerful wings, and can fly a long way from land," observed Harry. "Those come probably from the west coast of Ireland."
These remarks were made at intervals and by jerks, as it were, while they stopped pumping for an instant to change their position. They were encouraged to persevere, first, by believing that their efforts were producing some effect on the amount of water in the ship, and then, by observing that the sea was again going down. During one of these intervals, when the wreck had been thrown higher up than usual, Harry exclaimed, "A sail! a sail! she is standing this way."
The glimpse was momentary, and before David could catch sight of the stranger the ship had again sunk into the trough of the sea. In vain David looked out for the ship. Still Harry asserted that he was not mistaken. After pumping for some time they were compelled to knock off from fatigue. For fear of being washed away they lashed themselves to the stump of the nearest mast, and thus secured they lay down on the wet deck to rest. Again they rose bravely to their work, but each tune they had to stop pumping they rested for a longer period, and continued pumping after it for a shorter period.
David, at last, caught sight of the vessel Harry had seen, and was also of opinion that she was approaching them. The hope of being saved, which had never died, now grew stronger and stronger. Now, as the wreck was lifted up the side of a sea, or the stranger mounted a foaming billow, her whole hull was visible, and they saw she was a long, low black schooner. Even at that distance Harry did not like her appearance. To satisfy himself he went to the companion hatch, inside of which a telescope was hung up. With it both he and David took a more exact examination of the stranger, and came to the same conclusion.
"She is not an English craft, of that I am certain," observed Harry. "She may be a privateer, but is more like those rascally pirates who infest the West Indies and African coast, and used to be found down on the Spanish main; she has a large crew, too, I see. Now, I suspect, if we were to get aboard her the fellows would make us join them or walk the plank. Still, it might be better to pretend to enter on board than to go down with this wreck. What do you say?"
"If yonder craft is of the character you fancy, I say let us stick to the wreck; but we will ask old Jefferies what he thinks about it—we wouldn't leave him on any account; at the same time, if he wishes to go, I should say that we ought to go."
"I agree with you," answered Harry. "Let us pump away till she gets nearer, and then we will go and consult Jefferies."
The schooner approached, and a nearer view only confirmed the boys in their opinion of her character. Why she came near the wreck it was difficult to say. Another look through the spy-glass showed them a number of men on board and several guns on her deck.
"I do not suppose they will trouble themselves about us unless we hail them, and then, perhaps, they might endeavour to take us off the wreck, but I am not quite certain about it," observed Harry. They were standing while speaking inside the companion hatch, with their heads just above it.
The schooner was coming up fast. Suddenly the ports nearest them were opened, wreaths of smoke burst forth, and several shots whistled close above their heads, one going through the bulwarks and ploughing up the deck. Their impulse was to jump below. They could do nothing to help themselves, but they hoped that the strangers would not continue to make a target of them.
Jefferies had heard the shots, and wondered why they had been fired. When they told him their suspicions, he advised them to keep below.
"I have my thoughts on the subject," he remarked. "Hark! they are firing again; there! another shot struck the ship. If it was not for the heavy sea running we should be worse off than we are. It is no easy matter to take aim from the deck of a craft tumbling about as the schooner must be. If it was, depend upon it there would be a score or more sent into the brig between wind and water."
"But why should the schooner's people be so anxious to make a target of the brig?" asked David.
"To sink her," answered the old man. "They think, if fallen in with, she might tell a tale they don't wish to have known. That's my notion, but I may be wrong."
"There they go again at it!" exclaimed Harry. "Two shots struck us. Don't you think, David, that we had better go on deck and show ourselves? They would scarcely try to sink the wreck if they found that there were people on board, even though they might not take us off."
"The very reason that would make them still more anxious to send us to the bottom. You had better not show yourselves," said the old man; but the lads did not hear him, for they were already on their way on deck.
MAKING A RAFT—AFLOAT ON IT—THE GRIEF AT HOME—CAPTAIN RYMER'S APPOINTMENT—THE VOYAGE.
That raging sea, which it appeared at first would prove the destruction of those on board the brig, was in reality the means of their preservation. Just as the boys got their heads above the companion hatch, another whole broadside was let fly, and though many of the shots passed over the ship, two or three struck her between wind and water. Had the sea been calmer, many more probably would have found their way through her sides, and she must instantly have gone to the bottom. Such was the fate the boys, not without good reason, now anticipated for her. Another broadside would prove sufficient.
"Had we not better show ourselves, and ask to be taken on board?" said David.
"What, boys, and be murdered!" cried the old man from below. "Stick to the ship, and don't trust those villains. There's One who will take care of you if you put faith in Him."
"Old Jefferies is right. Let us die rather than go on board the pirate," said Harry.
Once more they climbed up the companion ladder, from which they had jumped down at the last broadside. They watched the schooner. She had tacked, as if about to run down close to them, and deliver another broadside. Seeing this, they were prepared to leap back into the cabin, when suddenly she hauled her tacks aboard, and stood directly away from them. Did her crew believe that the shots they had fired would speedily effect their supposed purpose, and take the brig to the bottom, or were they only firing for practice? As soon as the schooner had got a little distance off, the boys jumped on deck and hurried to the pump. Harry first sounded the well. His face grew very serious.
"David," he said, "the water has gained fearfully on us. The shot-holes must be letting in the water fast, and I do not think that the brig can float another hour—perhaps not ten minutes."
"What are we to do, then?" asked David.
"Build a raft," answered Harry. "There are plenty of spars. I saw some carpenter's tools and large nails in the cabin, and we may break off the hatches. They will help us. We must be sharp about it, though."
Of this there could be no doubt. That they might give the old fisherman a better chance of saving his life, they agreed to get him up first. By taking an abundance of food and rest, he had greatly recovered his strength, and was now able to do as they proposed.
"If I cannot work, I may give you my advice," he observed. "I have more than once had to trust to a raft for my life."
The cat followed them on deck. The old man shook his head when he saw her.
"She knows that the cabin is no longer a safe place for her, and that she will be better off up here," he said, as the boys placed him on a heavy coil of rope near the mainmast. The ship was happily more quiet than she had before been, and the boys, having collected all the spars and planks they could find, as well as some chairs and a table from the cabin, commenced, under old Jefferies' directions, to form the proposed raft. They worked away with all their might, knowing well that a few minutes' delay would be fatal. A large raft was not required, as it had to support only three persons and their provisions. The great thing was to make it strong enough. They brought up all the small rope they could find and lashed the stoutest of the spars together, so as to form an oblong framework, with a centre spar as a keel. They further secured them with large nails. Then they placed planks and smaller spars across this, with the table, top downwards, and the chairs on their backs, secured to it. They managed to wrench off two of the cabin doors, and these, nailed down and lashed across the raft, raised the deck and increased its strength. Besides the chairs, there were some strong stools in the cabin. These they nailed down at each corner, and secured them also by lashings, with their legs up. They then passed ropes round the legs, thus forming a sort of bulwark that might save them from being washed off the raft. They had still much to do after this before the raft would be complete. They wanted a couple of chests in which to keep their provisions, a cask for water, a mast and sails, and oars, and blankets to keep them warm at night. They had been some time at work, and the water was already over the cabin floor. Any attempt to save the vessel was now hopeless. Harry, happening to look up, saw what, had he been on the watch, he would have observed long before, a large ship, under a press of sail, at no great distance. Was the wreck seen by those on board? If so, their prospect of escape was greatly improved. They hoped that they were seen, for although they were thankful that they had had time to form a raft, they knew well that at best it was a perilous means of support, that it might be upset or dashed to pieces, or that they might float about on it unseen till all their provisions and water were exhausted, and then die of starvation and thirst. They earnestly hoped, therefore, that they might be seen from the passing ship. They had reserved a short spar as a mast for the raft. To this they fastened a flag, and secured it to the mainmast. So occupied were they, indeed, in watching the stranger, that for a few minutes they forgot to go on with their raft, till recalled by old Jefferies to continue the important work. They had now to search for some chests. They had seen several in the fore peak. It was with a degree of awe, perhaps not altogether free from fear, that they again went to where the dead seaman lay. They quickly cut two chests clear of the lashings which secured them, and were emptying them of their contents, when they came upon a box or case, the size of an ordinary writing-case. It was of foreign manufacture, and secured with strong brass bands. When taking it out with other things, Harry heard a sound like the chink of money within. He shook it. There was no doubt about the matter. "We'll keep it. It may be useful, and it is our lawful prize," he observed, as he put it back into the chest. Fastening ropes to the handles of the chests, they were soon hauled on deck, and secured to the raft. Now came the important work of provisioning their ark of safety. They had already got on deck some biscuits, and salt beef and pork uncooked. They again descended for more articles which they had seen, and which, together with some blankets, they brought up. Once more they went below, and even during the short time they had been on deck, they observed that the water had considerably risen. Still they were persevering in their search for more provisions, when old Jefferies' voice summoned them hastily on deck.
"She is going down!—she is going down!" he shouted.
They rushed up, and had just time to drag him on to the raft, and to seize the oars and spars they had got ready, when the vessel's bow rose, and her stern gradually sank, till she glided away towards the bottom, literally from beneath their feet. Just before this the cat, who seemed determined to stick to the vessel to the last, made a spring on to the raft, where she stood trembling with fear and astonishment at the disappearance of her home. As soon as the water reached the raft, by means of the poles they shoved off from the wreck, and then pulled away with all their might, so as completely to clear her. The raft rocked violently, and, in spite of all their efforts, seemed dragged towards the vortex formed by the sinking vessel. In another instant the brig was no longer to be seen, and her secret, whatever it was, was buried with her. They looked anxiously around. The ship was standing in the direction the schooner had gone. They floated alone on that wild, stormy waste of waters. The old man had been placed in the middle of the raft, while the boys took their places on either side of him, endeavouring with the oars to keep the raft before the seas. Among other things placed on it were some carpenter's tools, spars, blankets, and a good supply of rope. They had thus the means of rigging a mast. They did this by nailing boards between the two front legs of the table, and lashing the mast to the middle of the boards, while they carried stays forward and on either side. The wind was so much warmer, that they supposed it must have shifted to the west, though the thick clouds which still shrouded the sky prevented them from finding out the points of the compass. By Jefferies' advice, they continued making the arrangements which have been described, though they still hoped they might be seen from the passing ship, which Harry declared to be the frigate to which he belonged—the Ariadne. At last, however, they had to abandon this hope, as the frigate continued her course, in chase, apparently, of the mysterious schooner. Unless seen by some other vessel, Harry and David felt that they must now, humanly speaking, depend on their own exertions for reaching the shore. Harry rigged a mast; they next fitted a sail, and with no small satisfaction hoisted it. By fixing an oar so as to act as a rudder astern, the raft, as soon as the sail was hoisted, behaved remarkably well, and glided over the seas with considerable ease and rapidity. Their spirits rose again, for they fully believed that they should in two or three days reach either the English or the Irish coast. They had no idea how far to the westward they had been driven. By degrees the sea went down, which was very pleasant, but so also did the wind, till it became a perfect calm. An end was thus put to their hopes of soon reaching the land. However, they were far more comfortable than they had been for some time. The afternoon sun shone out brightly, and dried their clothes; and they had plenty to eat—biscuits, and cooked meat, and cheese and butter, and figs and raisins, and several other fruits, and some bottles of wine, of which they wisely partook very sparingly. It, however, did the old man much good, and he appeared to have recovered both his strength and spirits. Although well off in many respects, they had, however, a scarcity of one article, without which they could not hope to prolong existence. That was water. They could only secure one small cask, and they saw, therefore, that they must husband the precious liquid with the greatest care.
They now floated tranquilly on the calm waters, and though they would far rather have been sailing northward, they were thus enabled to strengthen the raft, and to prepare for it encountering any more rough weather which might come on. They had made old Jefferies as comfortable as they could in the centre of the raft, and they soon had the satis faction of finding that he had fallen asleep. Having accomplished all that could be done, they began to chat away as composedly as if nothing very particular had occurred. They went on, indeed, almost with the conversation which had been interrupted when they discovered that the rock on which they were sitting was surrounded by water. Strange to say, Harry expressed no wish or intention of leaving the profession he had embraced should they reach the shore, while David was as determined as ever to enter it should he be able to obtain his father's leave. No wonder, when the long list of glorious victories won by the British navy was fresh in the memory of the nation, and naval officers in all social circles were looked upon and courted as heroes. At length old Jefferies awoke.
"Now, boys, you must take your rest," he said. "You have watched for me, and now I'll watch for you. It won't do for us all to nap together, and if I see any change I'll call you. Never fear, puss and I will look after the ship."
The boys did not require a second bidding, but stretching themselves inside the legs of the upturned table, were soon fast asleep.
We must now return for a short time to their friends on shore. Poor Mrs Merryweather was almost broken-hearted on being at length compelled to give up all hopes of ever again seeing her gallant son, and on being able to account in no other way for his and his friend's disappearance than that they had fallen over a cliff, or been washed away by the sea. She knew where to go for comfort and consolation; and her chief satisfaction, when she heard that old Mrs Jefferies had lost her husband and grandson on the same night, was to show her whence she could derive the same consolation she herself had found. It was a sore trial to the poor old woman. Mr and Mrs Morton also did their best to comfort her; indeed, had it not been for them she would have been compelled to resort to the workhouse for support. They sympathised with the old woman, not because they were aware of the service her husband had rendered those dear to them, but because, as they supposed, a like calamity had overtaken her and themselves at the same time. Still Mr Morton did not cease for a long time to have search made for them, till at length he was with a sad heart compelled to give it up in despair. Captain Rymer sympathised heartily with his neighbour's misfortune, and pretty little Mary shed many a tear for the loss of her two friends. Several months passed by, and still no news came of the lost ones. With great reluctance the two families at length went into mourning. It was a sad day, for it was an acknowledgment that hope was given up, and that the two dear lads were no longer among the living.
One morning Captain Rymer and his family were seated at breakfast; Mrs Rymer had just poured out a cup of tea, and Mary had handed it to him with a slice of toast which she had carefully buttered, when the post-bag was brought into the room. He opened it, and drew forth a long official-looking envelope.
"No other letter?" asked his wife.
"No, not one; and this is probably of no great importance either," he answered, placing it by his side, and beginning to eat the toast Mary had just given him. Captain Rymer had been actively engaged during the whole of the late war in many dangerous and arduous services, and, like other officers, felt somewhat aggrieved that his services had not been fully recognised. He had frequently applied for some civil appointment, but his requests had not been attended to, and the only results were polite answers, couched in the same official language, stating that his merits would be duly considered. At last he made up his mind that he was to be laid on the shelf, and that he should never get anything. However, when he had finished his toast, he opened the letter.