Charley Laurel, A Story of Adventure by Sea and Land, by W H G Kingston.
Here Kingston gives us a story of a young boy who had been handed to a British seaman, Dick, at a place in the West Indies which had just been attacked by the British. The boy's nurse, a coloured woman, had received a fatal wound. The boy is brought up by Dick on board ship, but there are all sorts of misadventures, such as being cast away on a raft, being picked up by what turns out to be a pirate ship, escaping and then being rescued by a privateer.
It is at this point that the story gets a bit serious. Dick and Charley find themselves on an island in the South Pacific, having been captured by savage tribes, and being kept apart. Charley plays a trick on his captors, which enables him to travel to where Dick is, and bring him back. They escape from the island, and are picked up by a British ship.
Charley is taken back to England, where the shipowner's family take a liking to him, and he is sent to a boarding school, where he does very well. He is then sent back to sea by the kindly shipowner, in one of his vessels. I will not tell you more than this, but there is a rather surprising end.
CHARLEY LAUREL, A STORY OF ADVENTURE BY SEA AND LAND, BY W H G KINGSTON.
A good many years ago, before, indeed, I can remember, His Majesty's Ship Laurel, a corvette of eighteen guns and a hundred and thirty men, commanded by Captain Blunt, formed one of the West India squadron.
She, with another corvette, and a brig in company, came one fine morning off a beautiful island, then in possession of the French, although, as Dick Driver, from whom I got the particulars, said, properly belonged to England, at least, it once had. Of course, therefore, it was their business to get it back again. Dick could not recollect its name, nor the exact date of the occurrences I am describing, for, being no scholar, he was a very bad hand at recollecting dates; and as he could not write his own name, of course it was not to be expected that he would keep a journal, or remember very accurately all the places he had visited.
The Laurel and her consorts, having hoisted French colours, stood along the coast, which the captain and officers of the former ship narrowly examined with their glasses.
At length the shades of evening drew on, and they came off a small town, situated on the shore of a bay, the entrance of which was guarded by a fort. The Laurel stood on, as if about to enter the bay, but the land-wind coming off the shore, she and the other two vessels stood away till they had got such a distance from the harbour that there was no chance of their being seen by the sharpest eyes, with the best of night-glasses, looking out for them.
The ships having hove-to, the commanders of the other vessels came on board the Laurel, when Captain Blunt announced his intention of attacking the town, hoping to hold possession of it till another squadron, which had been destined for the purpose, had captured a more important place on the other side of the island. The captain's plan was to send in the different boats of the squadron with a strong party of marines and blue-jackets, in three divisions, a couple of hours before daylight, as it was hoped at that time, the garrison of the fort being less on the alert than at an earlier hour, the boats might enter the bay unperceived.
The first and largest division was instructed to take possession of the town; the second was to attack the fort; and the third to cut out any vessels found in the harbour, in case the other two should be compelled to retreat, so that, at all events, there might be something to show for the night's work.
The boats' crews, and all who were fortunate enough, as they considered it, to be selected for the expedition, were soon busily employed in sharpening cutlasses, fitting fresh flints to their pistols, and making other preparations for the possible bloody work in which they were to be engaged. Dick Driver, who belonged to the cutter's crew, was among the most active. Dick was a short, strongly built, powerful fellow, with a broad, honest countenance, bright blue eyes, and fair bushy beard and whiskers,—a truer-hearted, braver seaman than Dick Driver never stepped.
"If this here cutlass of mine does its duty, we'll thrash the Mounseers, and gain the King his own again," exclaimed Dick, as he applied his weapon to the grindstone, feeling that he was a host in himself; and so he was, provided no treacherous bullet found its way through his sturdy frame, when, alas, Dick's strength and courage would have availed him nothing.
The boats at length collected round the Laurel; the oars were muffled; the officers were ordered to maintain a strict silence. It was hoped that by getting in the rear of the fort it might be taken with a rush, while the larger party entered the town, and took by surprise any troops who might be stationed within it.
The night was very dark, for clouds were in the sky, and the water was smooth.
The first lieutenant of the Laurel, who commanded the expedition, leading in the gig, away the boats pulled, keeping close together, and looking as they glided along like some huge serpent creeping on his prey. The entrance to the bay was gained without the boats being discovered. They dashed on more rapidly than before. In a few minutes they would be hard at work, the seamen slashing away with their cutlasses, and the marines firing, and pronging with their muskets and bayonets at their fellow-creatures.
Strange that men should like such work. Dick confessed he did, though he could not exactly say why.
The officers did their duty admirably; the marines were landed, and the blue-jackets were springing on shore before a shot was fired from the town.
Dick, who belonged to the first division, pushed on in that direction with his party, while the other two attended to their destined duty. The gates of the fort, however, being closed, the intended rush could not be accomplished; and it was evident from the rapid firing that some hot work was going on there. Instead also of at once entering the town, the first party found their progress impeded by a somewhat numerous body of troops, who, quartered near at hand, turned out in time to defend it. The Frenchmen fought well, Dick acknowledged, though some had neither boots nor coats on, and many were destitute of other garments. They were, however, driven back inch by inch, till some turned tail and fled; the rest soon afterwards doing the same, followed by the victors, who fired indiscriminately at every one they saw in front of them. On such an occasion many of the unfortunate inhabitants were too likely to suffer, and many who had no arms in their hands, or had thrown them down and cried out for quarter, were shot before the officers could halt their men.
Meeting with two streets forking in different directions, some in the darkness had followed one and some the other. Flames were seen also bursting in the rear from houses set on fire either intentionally or by accident; while shouts and shrieks and cries arose in all directions. Altogether, the little town, which a few minutes before had been slumbering peacefully, was now the scene of havoc, terror, and confusion.
As Dick, cutlass in hand, was making his way along the dark street, a piteous cry reached his ears, and looking down, he saw lying wounded on the ground a black woman, holding up to him a little white child.
"Oh, save him! save him! or he will be killed!" she exclaimed.
"Of course I will," answered Dick, tucking the child under his left arm; "and I'll help you into a house, where you may be safe."
He was about to perform the humane act he proposed, when there was a cry, "The French are coming on in force—fall back, men! fall back!"
Dick had only time to draw the poor woman on one side, when he was compelled, with his companions, rapidly to re-trace his steps. Not knowing where to deposit the child in safety, he kept it under his arm; and though on most occasions he would have been in the rank nearest the foe, he now, according to orders, retreated as fast as he could. Many of the other men had bundles of things they had picked up, but they were certainly not little children.
The boats were reached at last, though not until a good many of the gallant jollies and several of the blue-jackets had been shot down by a large body of French troops, who had come in from the farther side of the town. They were again, however, driven back far enough to allow the marines and sailors to embark.
Dick, unhurt, had reached the barge, still carrying his burden, for he had not the heart to throw it down, and could not find any safe place to put it in.
The fort had not been taken, but five merchantmen were captured and towed out of the harbour, in spite of the hot fire through which they had to pass.
Captain Blunt was very angry on finding that the men had brought away plunder from the town; and they were ordered to deliver it up, that it might be sent back to the inhabitants, whom, as he said, he had no intention of injuring.
Dick Driver, who among others had been seen to come aboard with a bundle, was ordered aft.
"Please, sir," said Dick, as he presented himself, holding a fine child in his arms of about four years old, "it ain't any booty, but a lawful gift. I was axed to take care of it, and I promised I would, and so I have."
"I do believe it's a little girl," exclaimed the captain, examining the delicate features and somewhat feminine appearance of the child, which had long fair locks hanging down over its shoulders.
"Lord bless you, no, sir! If it had been a she I shouldn't have known what to do with her—but it's as fine a youngster as I ever set eyes upon, barring his curls: and we will soon dock them, seeing they will be in his way, and not suited for the smart little tarpaulin I am going to make for him."
"What, my man, you don't expect to keep the child?" exclaimed the captain. "We must send him on shore with the rest of the property brought away."
"But, sir, he was given to me to look after by his dying mother," exclaimed Dick, forgetting for the moment that the child was white, and that the woman who had given it to him was as black as his shoe. "He is not like the rest of the booty, and if I may make so bold, I would like to keep him, and bring him up as one of the ship's company. We are all agreed that we will take precious good care of him, and he will be a greater favourite among us than either Quacho, or Jocko, or the old goat that went overboard in the last gale, or the pig as was killed when we were short of fresh provisions. Do, sir, let us keep him? We wouldn't part with the little chap for all the prize-money we have made this cruise."
Dick, in his anxiety to keep the child, had become desperate, and spoke with greater freedom than he would otherwise have ventured to do when addressing his captain. "If he were to be sent ashore there's no one might own him," he continued; "then what would become of the poor little chap? he might be taken to the workhouse, or just brought up nohow."
The captain, however, was not to be moved by all Dick's arguments.
"You did very rightly, my man, in saving the child's life, and you deserve a reward," he observed; "but we cannot turn the ship into a nursery, and he must run his chance of finding his friends. However, as you seem to have made a good nurse, you may take charge of him till we can send him away."
"Thank you, sir," said Dick, as he touched his hat, glad of even this short respite, and hoping that something might turn up to induce the captain to allow the child to remain on board. "We will take good care of him—that we will; and if he has to go back to his friends, we will see that he is in proper trim, so that they won't be nohow ashamed of him."
Dick, having thus delivered himself, swung his body round and hurried forward with light step, holding his young charge in his arms.
The Laurel and the other ships, with their prizes, were at this time standing away from the land. The seamen grumbled not a little at having to give up their booty: they could not understand why the merchantmen should have been cut out, and they not allowed to keep what they had picked up on shore.
An officer, who spoke French, now came from one of the prizes with some important information which he had obtained from a prisoner. It was to the effect that three heavy French frigates were hourly expected off the coast. Captain Blunt accordingly ordered a bright look-out to be kept for any strange sail. In a short time three were descried standing along shore. There could be no doubt that they were the enemy's frigates; and as the two corvettes and brig could not hope to cope with them, all sail was made to escape. The enemy soon afterwards were seen crowding all sail in chase: the prizes were ordered by signal to separate and to make the best of their way to Jamaica, while the Laurel and her consorts stood to the eastward, under all the canvas they could spread. Before nightfall they had run their powerful foes out of sight.
The next day a heavy gale sprang up, which increased to a hurricane. A signal of distress was made by the unfortunate ten-gun brig, while the other sloop was evidently in a bad plight.
During the night, the Laurel having to run before the gale, lost sight of both of them. The gale continuing longer than usual, ere it ceased she found herself in a the wide waters of the Atlantic, with all her boats washed away or stove in, her three top-masts gone, and besides other damages, a leak sprung, which kept the pumps going for the best part of each watch.
The Laurel had for some days been becalmed, and though every one on board, from the captain to the smallest powder-monkey, had been whistling for a breeze to carry her back to look after her prizes and consorts, no breeze came.
Dick had been the busiest of the busy. He now appeared, with no small pride in his countenance, leading by the hand a little boy dressed in a seaman's jacket and trowsers, his shirt-collar turned down, and a little tarpaulin hat stuck on the top of his curly head. He went boldly aft, till he reached the captain, who, with several officers, was standing on the quarterdeck.
"Touch your hat, Charley," said Dick. Charley obeyed promptly with a true sailor's manner, showing that his guardian had, according to his own ideas, commenced his education, and had at all events taught him to be obedient.
"Please, sir, this here little chap is Charley Laurel, as I brought aboard t'other night," began Dick. "Some wanted to call him one name, some another. We called him Charley, sir, after Mr Slings, the boatswain, who offered to stand godfather; and 'cause, as I may say, he belongs to all of us, we have given him the name of Laurel, after the old barky, if that's agreeable to you, sir."
"I have no objection to any name you may give him," answered the captain; "but I warn you that we shall have before many weeks to restore him to his friends, when we shall find out his proper one, and I have no doubt they will be glad to reward you for the care you have taken of him."
"I want no reward, sir, except perhaps a glass of grog to drink their healths, and small thanks we will give them if they take him from us. It will be hard to lose him as well as our other booty, especially when he takes to us so kindly. To my mind, he will be much better off with us than among them niggers, who will just spoil him with sugar-cane and letting him have his own way. Besides, sir, the black woman gave him to me, and unless you says so, we will not hand him over to them."
Dick slapped his leg as he spoke, as a clencher to his assertion, and in his eagerness was going to use a strong expression, when, recollecting that he was on the quarterdeck, and to whom he was speaking, he stopped short.
"Well, my man," said the captain, good-naturedly, not offended with Dick's freedom, "make the most of the little fellow while you have him, and we will see what to do with him by-and-by."
There is an old saying which should never be forgotten, that "Man proposes, but God disposes."
It was the hurricane season. Captain Blunt had been doing his best to get the damages the ship had received repaired. He was pacing the deck, and every now and then casting an anxious eye round the horizon, knowing well that the gallant little Laurel was ill able to withstand either a gale or an enemy, by either of which she might be assailed, although, like a true sailor, he was ready to meet the one or the other with undaunted courage.
The ocean was like a sheet of glass, and the hot sun struck down on the deck with tremendous force. Those who could, sat in the shade, those who could not, as Dick observed, "had to grin and bear it, though it was not much odds where a man got to, it was hot everywhere."
Now and then a covey of flying-fish might be seen skimming over the ocean, but they came out of the water to avoid the jaws of their persevering foes, the dolphins or bonitos, not because they liked it, or wished to exhibit their brilliant wings, but the wiser leviathans of the deep kept in the cooler regions below the surface. Gradually a thin mist filled the atmosphere; it seemed to come from nowhere, but there it was, though the heat was in no way diminished by it, but rather increased. Still the pumps had to be kept going, and the crew had to stand at them, whether in sunshine or shade, stripped to the waist, the perspiration running down from every pore. No one grumbled, though "spell ho!" was oftener than usual cried, and numerous visits were paid to the water-cask by those who generally disdained the pure liquid unless mixed with rum.
The captain's countenance wore an unwonted grave expression; the officers, too, looked serious, and their eyes were constantly turned round, now in one direction, now in the other. Presently the captain shouted with startling energy—
"All hands shorten sail! clew up! haul down! Be smart, my lads!"
The courses were quickly brailed up and furled, the fore-staysail alone being set. A dark cloud was seen away to the south-west, gathering as it approached a vast assemblage of black masses which appeared to come out of space, advancing rapidly till they formed one dense column.
The men were scarcely off the yards when a sheet of white foam came hissing over the hitherto calm surface of the ocean, followed by a deafening roar as wave after wave arose, each higher than its predecessor, and then the hurricane in all its irresistible might struck the sorely-battered ship. Over she heeled before it, the fore-staysail with a loud report flew out of the bolt-ropes ere it had done its duty of paying off the ship's head. Again and again the savage blast struck her side, pressing her still farther down, while the ever-increasing seas broke in foaming masses over her. The captain gave the order to cut away the mizzen-mast, and set another staysail. For a moment there was a lull, the ship rose, and her head feeling the wind, away she flew before the howling gale. The carpenter sounded the well. He had an alarming report to make to the captain—the water was gaining faster than ever on the ship. Dick heard it.
"To my mind the old barky will be going down," he said to himself. "I must look after Master Charley, for if she does, it won't do to have the little chap going to Davy Jones' locker. It is all very well for those as are bred to it, but, bless his young heart! I must do what I can to keep him afloat."
Dick was a man of action rather than words. He immediately filled his capacious pockets with all the provisions he could lay hands on. In the launch on deck he found a basket which had been brought on board with vegetables. There were a number of broken spars and other fragments of wood, the remains of the boats which had been carried away. He began to lash them firmly together in a mode which a seaman only could have accomplished; and in the centre of the raft he had thus formed he secured the basket, which had a lid to it. One of the officers saw him, and told him to knock off.
"Ay, ay!" he answered; but it was not a moment, he conceived, to stand on ceremony, and immediately again went on with his work. The boatswain also set his eyes on him.
"What are you about there, Dick?" he asked. "Off with you to the pumps; it will be your spell directly."
"I am building a raft for your godson, Mr Slings," answered Dick. "You would not wish the pretty little chap to be drowned if there's a chance of saving him, and please Heaven, I will try and do it, though I am as ready as any on myself to stick to the old barky to the last."
"Don't you be talking of the ship going down," exclaimed the boatswain, gruffly; "you will be making the rest chicken-hearted."
"You know as well as I do, Mr Slings, that go down she will, before many hours are over, unless old 'Harry Cane' takes himself off pretty smartly."
Dick could not resist the sailor's common joke even at that moment.
"I cannot say you nay, Dick," answered the boatswain; "but all this comes of having babies aboard; we must try and keep the ship above water, anyhow."
The raft being completed, Dick got hold of a small beaker of water, which he secured to it; he also formed a paddle, and laid alongside of it a spar of considerable length. Having finished his work, he slipped below, and brought up little Charley, with a bundle of bedding and a blanket. The child greatly objected to go to bed in the basket, and still more so to be lashed in, as Dick was doing. Dick knew that nobody would interfere with the child, but still he placed him as much out of sight as possible, just abaft the fore-mast.
"You be good boy, Charley, and don't cry out," he said, trying to soothe him. "There is a biscuit—chaw it, lad. I have to take a spell at the pumps, and will be back directly."
As soon as Dick could leave his work at the pumps, he hurried back to the child, and threw himself down to rest by his side.
The ship flew on before the gale. Every one, knowing that their lives depended on their exertions, laboured away with desperation: some were sent below to bale with buckets, which were passed up to others stationed on deck, but all their efforts, it appeared too likely, would be of no avail. Still the water gained on them. The only hope was that the hurricane might cease, and that a sail might be got under the ship's bottom. Preparations were made for doing this as soon as it was practicable, but the wind blew harder and harder. The main-mast had before been badly sprung, and during one of the fearful lurches the ill-fated ship made, down it came, crushing the launch, on which depended the only hope of saving the lives of some of them. Dick rushed forward, fearing his little charge had suffered, but Charley still lay unhurt in his basket on the raft. Suddenly there came a lull, and the hurricane ceased almost as rapidly as it had commenced: the sea, however, still tumbled and tossed about fiercely on either side, the ship lying helpless in the midst of the foaming waves. The crew laboured as gallantly as before, though their stout arms were giving way, and many knew too well that all hope was nearly gone. Some with the sharpest eyes were sent to the mast-head, to look out for any ship which might have approached before the calm came on; but as they cast their anxious eyes around the horizon, not a sail was to be seen rising out of the dark tumbling waters.
Dick had gone again to the pumps. "Spell ho!" he cried, for he had worked till he could work no longer. He had just thrown himself down by the side of the raft when a fearful cry arose.
"The ship is sinking! the ship is sinking!"
Dick seated himself on the raft, with a spar in his hand which he had prepared. Lower and lower the gallant ship sank. Many of the crew were at the pumps; some were still below, some running to the forecastle, others aft. Dick kept his post. The water rushed in at the ports—the raft floated—a surge carried it overboard, Dick urging it by a shove which sent it far away from the ship's side.
The Laurel gave one plunge forward—her stern rose in the air—and down she glided beneath the tumultuous waters. One fearful shriek arose of strong men in their agony. Some few attempted to reach the raft, but they were drawn down in the vortex caused by the sinking ship. Dick vigorously plied his paddle, and though tumbled and tossed fearfully about, he got far enough off to escape the danger of being drawn down with the rest. Had he not had Charley to look after, he would have shared the fate of his shipmates, he thought; and so he would, I am sure. Though he was himself frequently under water, and often almost washed off the little raft, the child, protected in the basket, remained nearly dry. As Dick gazed back towards where the stout ship had lately floated, he could see a few struggling forms with arms outstretched, and hear their last cries for help ere they sank for aye, till that awful day when the sea shall give up its dead; and in a few minutes he and little Charley were the only living beings of all the gallant fellows who had formed the crew of the ill-fated Laurel.
Night had come and passed away since the gallant Laurel had sunk. The sea had much gone down, and Dick, no longer compelled to hold on for his life, was able to open the basket and give Charley, who was crying out for his breakfast, some food.
"Where de ship?" inquired Charley, in his imperfect English and little innocent fashion. "Where we got to? Why not give me hot tea? Why give me wet biscuit?"
"Don't ask questions, Charley," answered Dick. "If I have a fancy for taking a cruise on this here raft, you should be content—you know I have charge of you; and if I didn't think it the best thing to be done, I wouldn't have brought you here."
"All right," said Charley. "More biscuit, please. Now I sing song to you, Dick," and the little chap struck up the stave of a ditty which Dick had taught him, evidently feeling in no way alarmed at the fearful position in which he was placed.
"I think, Charley, you should say your prayers," said Dick, who had taught the boy those he had himself learned in his childhood. "Ask God to take care of you, Charley; for I am sure if He does not no one else will, either here or anywhere else. He hears your prayers as well as big people's, so don't be afraid of asking Him for what you want; and just now I have a notion we want Him to send a ship this way to pick us up."
Charley turned round, and kneeling up in his basket, lifted his small hands towards the blue sky, and asked the kind Father he believed dwelt there to take care of him and Dick, and send a ship to pick them up.
Dick gazed affectionately at the child as he prayed.
"That's done me good," he said to himself. "I am sure He who lives up there will do what that innocent little cherub asks. What He would say if a rough wild chap like me was to pray, is a different matter; and yet I mind that mother used to tell me He will hear any one who is sorry for what they have done amiss, and trust to His Son who died for sinners. But it's a hard matter to mind all the bad things a man like me has done, and I hope He ain't so over particular with respect to poor sailors."
Dick at length, mustering courage, knelt by the side of the child, the calm sea allowing him to do so without the danger of falling off. His prayer might not have been, as he expressed it, very ship-shape; the chief expression in it was, "Lord be merciful to me a sinner, and take care of little Charley here and me, if such a one as I am is worth looking after."
At length Dick resumed his seat by the side of his charge. The sun came down with intense heat, but he managed, by turning the raft round with his paddle, and lifting the lid of the basket, to shelter Charley from its burning rays. The child sat up and looked about him, prattling away frequently in a lingo Dick could not understand: sometimes also he spoke a little English, which he seemed to have known before he came on board the Laurel, but since then he had picked up a good many words. Dick now tried to amuse him and himself by teaching him more, and as the child learned rapidly whatever he heard, he already could sing—
"Cease, rude Boreas, blustering railer, List ye landsmen all to me."
"One night it blew a hurricane, The sea was mountains rolling, When Barney Buntline turned his quid, And cried to Billy Bowlin—"
right through without a mistake.
"Oh, look dere, dere! what dat rum fis?" he suddenly exclaimed, pointing to a short distance from the raft.
Dick looked, and saw what a sailor dreads more than any human foe—the black triangular fin of a huge shark which was noiselessly gliding by, just beneath the surface, and turning its wicked eye towards Charley and himself. A blow from the monster's tail or nose might easily upset the raft, when they to a certainty would become its prey. Dick grasped his pole to do battle, should the creature come nearer, and he at once began beating the water on every side and shouting at the top of his voice. The shark, an arrant coward by nature, kept at a distance, but his dark fin could still be seen as he circled round and round the raft, waiting, Dick feared, for an opportunity to rush in and make an attack.
"He shall pay for it with one of his eyes, if he does," said Dick to himself.
"What for make all that noise?" asked Charley.
"Why do you sing out 'youngster' sometimes?" inquired Dick. "Because you have a fancy for it, I've a notion, and so I have a fancy just now to shout away. I mus'n't frighten the little chap," he muttered to himself. "It won't do to tell him what Jack Shark is looking after."
Thus Dick sat on till he thought by the position of the sun that it must be noon, when he gave Charley his dinner and cup of water—he himself eating but sparingly, for fear of diminishing his scanty store and depriving the child of food.
"I can hold out much longer than he can," he said to himself, "and I must not let him get into bad case."
Every now and then Dick stood up and gazed around the horizon, anxiously looking out for the signs of a breeze which might bring up some ship. The sun was again sinking beneath the ocean, which continued glass-like as before. At length night crept over the world of waters, and the brilliant stars shone down from the dark sky, each one reflected clearly in the mirror-like deep.
"What all those pretty things up dere?" asked Charley, waking suddenly from his first sleep; "get me some to play wid, Dick."
"Just what I can't do, boy," answered Dick. "All those are stars far away in the sky, and I have heard say they are worlds; but how they stop up is more than I can tell, except God keeps them there."
"God do many things we can't," said Charley. "But if I ask Him, would He give me some to play wid?"
"No, Charley, He gives us what we want and what is good for us, but He chooses to keep those stars where they are, for He knows that if He sent one of them down they would only do us harm. Now, Charley, don't be asking more questions; just lie down and go to sleep again," and Dick shut down the lid of the basket.
Charley's questions, however, had set his mind at work, and as he gazed up in the sky he thought more than he had ever done before of those wondrous lights which he had always seen there, and yet had troubled himself so little about. And then he was led to think of the God who made them and governs their courses, and many things he had heard in his boyhood came back to his mind.
"Mother used to say He is a kind and loving God, and go I am sure He will take care of this little chap, and me, too, for his sake."
Dick at length felt very sleepy. He had been afraid to shut his eyes, for fear of the shark, but he could no longer prevent the drowsiness creeping over him: he lashed himself therefore to the raft, to escape the risk of falling off it, and placing his head on the basket, closed his weary eyelids.
The bright beams of the great red sun rising above the horizon as they fell on his eyes awoke him, and on looking round he caught sight of the fin of the shark gliding by a few feet off. The monster's eye was turned up towards him with a wicked leer, and he believed that in another instant the savage creature would have made a grab at the raft. His pole was brought into requisition, and the rapid blows he gave with it on the water soon made the monster keep at a respectful distance. He would not shout out, for fear of waking Charley.
The boy slept on for a couple of hours longer, and when he at length awoke, seemed none the worse for what he had gone through. Dick had cut up some little bits of meat and biscuit, that he might not have to wait for breakfast after he awoke. He had on the previous day carefully dried his clothes and bedding, and given him such food as he required— the child, indeed, could not have had a better nurse.
Dick calculated that the store of provisions he had stowed away in the basket and his own pockets would last a week, and he hoped before the termination of that time to be picked up. He, in reality, in consequence of anxiety, suffered more than the child: had he been alone, he probably would not have felt so much.
The day passed away as before. Occasionally sea-birds flew overhead, and huge fish were seen swimming by, or breaking the calm surface as they poked up their noses or leaped into the air.
"Oh, Dick, Dick, what dat?" suddenly exclaimed Charley. As he spoke, a dozen flying-fish, their wings glittering in the bright sun, leaped on to the raft, some tumbling into the child's basket.
Dick quickly secured them, for though unwilling to feed the little boy with raw fish, they would, he knew, afford him an ample meal or two. Charley, however, begged to have some to play with, and was much surprised to find their beautiful wings quickly become dry, and that in a few seconds they were dead.
Dick enjoyed a better supper than he had had since the hurricane began, and he always afterwards declared that those fish had kept his body and soul, when he would otherwise have been starved—although those he reserved for a meal on the following day required a keen appetite to munch up.
Day after day Dick and his charge floated on the calm ocean. He was becoming weaker than he had ever before been in his life, and yet he would take but a few drops of water from the beaker, and would not eat a particle of the food more than was necessary to keep the life in him, so fearful was he of not having enough for Charley. Yet Dick had not been distinguished among his shipmates for any especial good qualities, except that he was looked upon as a good-natured, kind-hearted, jovial fellow, and brave as the bravest; yet so were many of the Laurel's gallant crew, now sleeping their last sleep beneath the ocean.
The faithful fellow now often found himself dropping off to sleep when he wished to be awake—and afraid that on one of these occasions Charley might get out of his basket and tumble overboard, to make such an accident impossible, he tied him down by the legs in such a way as to allow the child to sit up when inclined, and look about him.
Poor Dick, who was getting very weak, was lying down asleep with his head on the edge of the basket, when he heard Charley's voice sing out—
"See, see—what dat?"
Dick opened his eyes, and casting them in the direction the child pointed, caught sight of a large vessel under all sail running down before the wind, which she brought up with her.
"A ship, Charley, a ship!" cried Dick. "And we must do what we can to make her see us, or she may be passing by, and we shall be no better off than we are now."
He instantly took off his shirt, which he fastened by its sleeves to the pole. Holding it aloft as the ship drew near, with all his strength he waved it to and fro, shouting out in his anxiety, and not aware how low and hollow his voice sounded. Charley shouted too, with his childish treble, though their united voices could not have reached by a long way as far as the ship was from them. It seemed to Dick that she would pass at some distance: his heart sank. Presently his eye brightened.
"She has altered her course; she is standing this way," he cried out. "Charley, we shall be picked up!"
"Then I thank God—He hear my prayer. I ask ship come—ship do come," said Charley.
"You are right, boy—you are right!" cried Dick. "And I was forgetting all about that prayer of yours."
The tall ship glided rapidly over the ocean, the surface of which was now rippled with miniature wavelets as the freshening breeze swept across it.
"To my eye, she is a foreign ship of war," observed Dick. "But a friend in need is a friend indeed, and we may be thankful to be taken on board by her or any other craft. Even if a 'Mounseer' had offered to pick us up, I would not have refused."
The ship approaching was hove-to, a boat being lowered from her, which, with rapid strokes, pulled towards the raft.
THE PIRATE SHIP.
Dick and the little boy were lifted off the raft, with the basket and cask, and placed in the stern of the boat. The crew were swarthy fellows with red caps, and Dick at once saw that the uniform worn by the officers in command was neither English nor French. They appeared to be talking gibberish, but such indeed were all foreign languages to him. He asked Charley if it was the French lingo.
"Not know what they say," answered Charley.
"I suppose, however, that they will give us something to eat and drink," observed Dick. "And so, whoever they may be, we shall be better off than on the raft."
On getting alongside, Dick was hoisted on board, and one of the men carried Charley up in his arms.
Numerous questions were at once put to Dick, every one seeming anxious to know how he and the boy came to be on the raft. He replied by pointing to his lips, and showing by other signs that he was hungry and thirsty. When it was discovered that he was either too weak to speak, or that he did not understand their language, he was carried below and placed in a hammock, while the officers took charge of little Charley, who was soon at home among them. A rough-looking fellow brought Dick a mess of some sort in basin, and a horn cup filled with stiff grog. A sailor seldom refuses a glass of grog, and although water was what he then wanted, he drank the spirit off, and ate some of the food. The effect of the grog was to send him into a sound sleep, from which he did not awake till the next day. He felt by that time pretty strong, and, turning out, went on deck. He found that he was on board a flush-decked ship-rigged vessel, heavily armed, with a numerous crew of dark-skinned savage-looking fellows, most of them wearing long knives or daggers in their belts. He thought that perhaps they might be Spaniards or Portuguese, then the idea occurred to him that they were Algerines or Salee rovers, of whom he had heard. However, seeing some of them with leaden crucifixes round their necks, he came to the conclusion that they were Spaniards. Not one of them could speak a word of English, and Dick was ignorant of every language except his own.
The ship lying becalmed, the crew seemed to take it very easily, some sitting down between the guns, amusing themselves with cards or dice, while others were asleep on the deck. Going aft, and looking down the skylight, which was open, Dick saw that the officers were employed much as their men, only they were gambling with large gold pieces as stakes.
"These may be honest gentlemen, or may be not," he thought to himself. "However, if they are kind to Charley, I don't mind what they are, and I suppose for his sake they won't make me walk the plank. I wonder where the little chap can be," and he looked down the companion-hatch, though he did not venture to descend.
The officer of the watch seemed to understand what he wanted, and going to the head of the companion-ladder, shouted out, "Pedro!" and some other words, and presently a black man appeared with Charley in his arms, and handed him over to Dick.
"Much obliged to you, friend," said Dick; "he is a fine little chap, isn't he?"
The black grinned and seemed to understand him, and patted the child on the head.
"Well, Charley, my boy, have they treated you well?" asked Dick, as he took up the child and kissed him affectionately.
Charley said that the gentlemen had been kind, and had given him all sorts of things to eat, and some strong stuff to drink, which made him sleep most of the time.
Dick carried Charley to the only shady spot he could find unoccupied, and sat down with him on his knees. Charley prattled away merrily, but he soon stopped and complained of a headache, and of the strong stuff the officers had given him to drink. This made Dick suspect that they had been amusing themselves by trying to make the child tipsy.
"It was a shame in them," exclaimed Dick, indignantly. "You must stay by me, Charley. I can't trust you out of my sight."
Dick after this kept Charley by his side, and at night made him sleep in his hammock.
Several days passed by, and the ship lay without movement on the smooth ocean. A breeze at length springing up, the crew were all life and activity, with a look-out at each mast-head. Towards noon a sail was espied, and all sail was made in chase. She was a brig under English colours. On the stranger being come up with, a gun was fired across her bows; and as she did not heave-to, a shot was sent crashing into her hull. She then hauled down her colours. The boats were manned and shoved off to her. They quickly returned, laden almost to the water's edge. The ship stood on again nearer to her, when the boats towed her alongside. Her cargo, consisting of bales of merchandise, was transferred to the ship.
"I thought so," said Dick, when he saw the proceedings. "She is no better than she should be, and if it had not been for this little chap, I would rather have remained on the raft than have come aboard her. I wonder what they will do with the crew."
That matter was soon, to Dick's horror, settled. One after the other he saw the poor fellows compelled to walk to the end of a long plank, when the inner end was lifted up and they were sent overboard. The brig was set on fire, and the pirate, letting down the sheets, proceeded on her course.
Some days after this, when Dick came on deck, he saw at a short distance a small island with a few cocoa-nut trees growing on it. Several of the officers who were on deck were consulting together, every now and then casting a look at him and Charley. At last one of them called him up and made him understand that they were well-disposed towards him, and that as they understood he had been the means of saving the life of the little child, they wished to treat him kindly—that otherwise he would have shared the fate of the brig's crew, if they had not left him on the raft to perish. To show their regard, they intended to land him on the island, where he would find water and sufficient food to support life; though, if he wished it, they would take care of the child, to follow their noble profession.
"Thank you for nothing," answered Dick. "I would sooner heave the little chap overboard, to be munched up by a shark, than leave him with you; and as to quitting the ship without him, I will not do it; but if it please you to put him and me on shore, I'll go willingly enough, and trust to One better able to take care of us than you are."
Though the pirates did not understand what Dick said, they comprehended that he was perfectly willing to be left on the island. A boat was accordingly lowered, and numerous articles which the pirates had taken out of the brig, and were likely to prove useful to him, were put into her. Charley ran up and shook hands with the officers, but hastened back immediately to Dick, for he was afraid of being left behind. Poor little fellow, he felt grateful to them for their kindness, having no notion of the villains they were.
Dick, taking him in one arm, descended the ship's side into the boat, which pulled away towards the land. Numerous shoals and rocks surrounded the island, among which the boat threaded her way, and at length landed him and the boy, with the articles they had brought, on the sandy beach of a sheltered bay.
Dick had no inclination to shake hands with the crew who had so lately murdered his countrymen, and probably very many people besides, nor did he feel at his ease till he saw the boat again pulling out towards the ship. As soon as she had gone, Dick, who had held Charley in his arms, placed him on a rock, and examined the articles which had been sent with him.
"I am much obliged to the villains, at all events," he said; "but can only wish them a better calling and a happier end than most of them are likely to meet with. To be sure, they can afford to be generous, seeing that they stole the things and had more than they could use. Here are some carpenter's tools, a saw and axe, a hammer and nails, and a piece of canvas that will do for a tent; a bale of cloth, and calico, and needles, and thread; here are fish-hooks and lines, and shoes; three casks of flour and rice, and some pots, and pans, and knives; and a decent-looking fowling-piece and powder and shot. Well, if I hadn't seen what I did see, I should have taken them to be kind-hearted decent chaps, who, for some reason or other, didn't wish to keep me among them, and so had put me ashore, and wished to do their best to make me comfortable. Ah, I have a notion how it is—the skipper, or one or other of them has got a little chap like this at home, and they have done it for his sake; and savage as their hearts may be, they didn't quite like keeping him on board their wicked-doing craft. Yes, that's it; so if I have saved Charley's life, he has saved mine, though he doesn't know it, bless him!"
Dick having finished his soliloquy, cut a pole from a tree growing near, and quickly rigged up a tent, beneath which he placed Charley out of the heat of the sun. He then collected wood, of which there was an abundance on the beach, and soon had a fire burning, and next proceeded to cook some of the provisions for Charley and himself. Not far off was a spring of water, which would afford him an abundant supply of that necessary of life.
"We sha'n't be so badly off, Charley, after all," he said; "only I hope these fellows won't come back again, in case they may take it into their heads to carry you away."
"I will not leave you, Dick," answered the boy, taking his hand and beginning to cry at the thought.
"You sha'n't, Charley, you sha'n't," said Dick. "We will move away to another part of the island, where they cannot find us; may be there is water elsewhere, that's what we shall want most. There are plenty of cocoa-nuts, and I dare say other vegetables, and with the gun I shall be able to shoot birds, and with the hooks catch as many fish as we shall want. We are better off than on the raft, anyhow."
Dick having made up a bed with the cloth for Charley to sleep on, cut some grass for himself, and then prepared to pass the night.
"You say your prayers, Charley," said Dick; "and mind you thank God for bringing us ashore in safety."
Dick had a feeling that the little innocent boy could offer up his prayers more effectually than he himself could; but yet Dick did his best to pray in his own fashion, though he could seldom say more than, "I am a desperately wicked fellow; God be merciful to me, and, if He thinks fit, take care of me and make me better."
He, however, taught Charley a much longer prayer than this, suitable, as he considered, to his condition.
The rough sailor and the child having finished their devotions, lay down on their beds, and, fearless of evil, fell asleep.
Next day after breakfast Dick, leading Charley by one hand and taking his gun in the other, set out to explore the island. On reaching the top of the nearest height, which was of no great elevation, being a mass of barren rock thrown up by some convulsion of nature, he looked around him. The island was of small size, a couple of miles perhaps in length and about a quarter as broad, with deep indentations, bays, or small gulfs. The larger portion was barren, but here and there were spots overgrown with the richest vegetation of the tropics. The shores were rocky, but in no part high, while around in every direction were seen extensive reefs, some rising above the water, others only to be distinguished by the line of foam which danced above them.
"From the look of the place, ships are likely to give this a wide berth," observed Dick. "However, we can manage to live here pretty comfortably, and may be some day or other we shall get off again, but how, is more than I can tell."
On descending from the hill they reached a cocoa-nut grove. Dick looked up at the nuts, now almost ripe, with a well-satisfied eye.
"We will have some of those before long, and the milk will be good food for you, Charley," he observed. "Ah, and we shall have some cabbages, too." He pointed to some smaller palm-trees, the crown of which yields the cabbage, so prized in the tropics as one of the most delicious vegetables.
Sometimes Dick carried Charley on his shoulders, sometimes he let him run alongside him, and he thus made his progress to the farther end of the island. One part appeared very barren, low, and sandy, with wild rocks rising up on either side.
"After all, this place may be our best hunting-ground," observed Dick, on discovering that it was the habitation of wild fowl, who came there to lay their eggs and rear their young.
At length he reached the extreme end of the island. Near it was a grove of cocoa-nut and other palms, a beautiful sandy bay, and what Dick was in search of, a spring of clear water which bubbled out of the rock.
"We shall be better off here, and out of the way of those gentry if they return to the island, and I don't think they will come so far to look for us," said Dick. "We will move up the stores, and after that I will build a hut; it will be more comfortable than the tent, especially in the hurricane season, and we can't tell how long we may have to stop."
Dick having discovered that, by keeping partly inland and partly near the shore, a tolerably easy road existed from one end of the island to the other, he built a little hand-dray, in which, he conveyed the stores to the new location. It occupied several days, but, as he said, time being their own, he had no need to be in a hurry. He next put up a hut, for which the trees growing around and the planking from some unfortunate vessel dashed to pieces on the reefs afforded abundance of material, while the palm-leaves served for a thatch. He could not also be long content without a boat. Though not an expert ship-builder, he managed to knock together a contrivance in which he could venture out within the reefs in calm weather to fish with Charley.
"We live like princes, my boy," he said, "but I wish somehow I was able to look after your education; though if we had books I could not make use of them, seeing I never learned to read."
Charley replied that he was very happy without books, and he supposed when he grew up to be a big boy he should find the means of learning.
"I don't know when that may be, though," observed Dick. "We have been here now some months, and I have never yet caught sight of a sail. However, though I cannot give you learning, I can teach you religion, and I will try and recollect all I ever knew. I can remember the ten commandments, or most of them, which I learned at school, and they will do to begin with, and as we go on, may be I shall brush up more."
Dick was as good as his word, and at night frequently lay awake trying to recollect what he had known as a boy. The task was often a hard one, but his desire to benefit his charge induced him to persevere, when probably he might otherwise have abandoned the attempt.
Month after month passed away, and Dick and Charley continued to live their Robinson Crusoe style of life without interruption, and in happy ignorance of all that was going on in the world.
AT DEATH'S DOOR.
"How many years have we been here, Dick?" asked Charley. "It seems to me a great many, for I was a very little fellow when you first took charge of me, and now I am a strong big chap."
"Bring me the bundle of sticks and I will tell you," said Dick; "for I have not thought of reckoning lately, though I have kept the score as carefully as at first." Charley went and brought several sticks tied together and notched all over. Dick examined them.
"It's three years to-day, according to my reckoning, since we were put on shore. To my mind we ought to thank God, who has taken such care of us all this time. I should not mind, however, getting away soon, for your sake. It's time you should be having some book-learning. I don't want you to grow into a poor ignorant fellow like me."
"You are not ignorant, Dick," said Charley. "You taught me all I know, and I have no greater fancy for books than you have."
"But, Charley, I have another reason for wishing to get away," said Dick. "You see our clothes are pretty nearly worn out, and I have only stuff enough to make one more suit for you and one for myself, and you will grow out of yours pretty fast, as you have done the others. Then we may not always find provisions as plentiful as we have generally up to this time; birds don't come to the island as they did once, and I fancy that even the fish don't bite as freely along shore as they used to do. I have been thinking of building a larger boat, so that we may go farther off. That wreck which drove on the reef six months ago has given us plenty of stuff for timbers and planking, as well as canvas for sails, and now you are big enough to help me, I shall get on faster than when I built the small one."
Charley replied that he should be glad to do whatever Dick wished, and would try to learn carpentering. Dick accordingly set to work to build a large boat. The undertaking was, however, more difficult than he had expected, and at last he had to abandon his design, and, instead, to try and enlarge the little punt, or the coracle rather, which he had constructed some time before.
The two carpenters laboured away every day, when not engaged in shooting or fishing, or otherwise providing for their support.
Dick had husbanded his ammunition, but even that was coming to an end, and though eggs were still to be found, he could not hope longer to shoot many birds, which had become wilder in consequence of hearing the report of his gun.
Among the treasures sent on shore by the pirates was a small keg of tobacco. Dick had used it pretty freely for the first year or two, but latterly, finding that it must also come to an end, he put himself on an allowance, and only smoked a pipe occasionally when his day's work was over, and he took his seat with Charley on the bench under the porch in front of their hut. Charley had asked one day why he should not smoke too.
"A very good thing for grown men like me," answered Dick, "but very bad for little boys. When you have been at sea a dozen years or so, you may try if you like it. If it was to do you good I would share my last plug with you—you know that, Charley."
"Yes, indeed I do," was the answer, and Charley never again asked for tobacco.
They were seated, as I was saying, within the porch one evening, when Dick, whose eyes were turned towards the boat, drawn up on the beach in the little bay in front of them, observed—
"I have a fancy for taking a cruise farther out than we have been yet; we shall get bigger fish, and not lose so many lines and hooks. I am afraid we shall soon have nothing else but fish to live upon, and though they are not bad food, yet, if there was to come a spell of foul weather, such as we have had now and then, we should not be able to get even them. Now what I want is to catch a good quantity, that we may salt them down for a store, should there be nothing else to be got."
Charley was well pleased with the thoughts of a longer cruise, and early in the morning, having carried down some cocoa-nuts and boiled roots, with a few eggs and fish, which they cooked over night, they launched their curiously-built boat. She was, as Dick observed, a good one to run before a breeze, but where it came to sailing with the wind abeam, she was apt to go as fast to leeward as she did ahead. He, however, had made three oars, two of which he pulled himself, while he had taught Charley to steer with the third.
Though the wind blew off the land, it being light, Dick had no doubt he should easily be able to pull back again. Having examined the reefs from a height in the neighbourhood, and easily making his way among them, he reached the outer circle. Here he let down a big stone, to serve as an anchor, attached to a long rope; but he found the water deeper than he had expected, though, as the stone touched the bottom, he hoped that it would hold the boat.
The lines had not been long over the side before Charley hooked a big fish, larger than he had ever before seen. Dick helped him to haul it in, though, as he was so doing, it nearly broke away. Dick caught two or three, then Charley got another bite; he was again obliged to cry out for Dick's assistance. Dick saw that, from the size of the fish, skill would be required to capture it, and he continued playing it a considerable time, before he ventured to haul it up to the boat. On getting it on board he found that the hook was twisted, and some more time was employed in putting on a new one. Thus eager in and occupied with the sport, Dick did not observe that the boat was slowly drifting along the reef, away from the entrance, by which alone he could regain the shore. The wind was also increasing, though as the sea was smooth he did not discover this. At length, looking up, he observed the position of the boat, and on going to the bows, found that the cable was slack and the stone no longer at the end of it. It had been cut through. Quickly hauling in the cable and the fish-lines, and telling Charley to take the oar to steer, he began pulling hard to regain the passage through the reefs. A strong current was, however, against him, as was the wind, which had shifted slightly, and though he exerted himself to the utmost, he could make no way.
"I have been so long ashore that I have forgotten my seamanship, and have done a very lubberly thing," he said, as he tugged away. All his efforts were of no avail to urge the heavy tub-like boat against the forces opposed to her. She drifted farther and farther away from the land, and the farther she got the more she felt the influence of the breeze; while the sea also, though smooth near the land, began to tumble and toss in a way which made Dick feel more uncomfortable than he had ever before been in his life. The wind at the time blew only a moderate gale, but he could not help acknowledging that the craft he had been so proud of was very ill able to contend with the heavy sea which was rapidly getting up.
"There's no help for it, and I don't want the craft to capsize. I must run before the breeze, and may be it will shift, and we shall be able to get back again—but if not! well, I won't think of that," said Dick, to himself. "I must keep my own spirits up, for Charley's sake. It will be hard, however, for the poor little chap to lose his life after being saved from the sinking ship and those villainous pirates. For myself I don't care; I have well known ever since I came to sea that any day what happens to so many might happen to me."
The heavy boat, though flat-bottomed, behaved better than might have been expected. Dick, who had taken the helm, steered carefully, keeping right before the seas. As he had not communicated his fears to Charley, the boy was delighted with the way in which she flew over the foaming waters.
"I didn't think you were going to give me such a sail as this, Dick," he exclaimed.
"No more did I, Charley," answered Dick. "Maybe we shall not get back as soon as we wish, but the weather looks fine. I hope we may, some day or other."
Dick, however, was disappointed. The wind continued to freshen, and he was compelled to stand on, fearing the risk of making another attempt to regain the shore.
Night came on. He told Charley to take some food; but he was too much occupied himself to eat. He then, making the boy lie down near him, covered him up with a piece of canvas.
All night long he sat steering his boat and praying that the wind might not further increase. As day dawned he cast a hurried glance astern; the land was not to be seen. He had no compass, and even should the wind change, he would have difficulty in regaining so small a spot. He had not the heart to awake Charley, fearing that he would be frightened on finding himself out of sight of land. At length, however, the boy got up and gazed about him with an astonished look.
"Why, Dick, what has become of our island?" he exclaimed. "You never told me you were going to leave it!"
"I wish I had never done so," said Dick. Charley saw that his friend looked anxious.
"I don't know if we are in any danger; but if we are, remember, Dick, that God took care of us on the raft, and can just as well take care of us now. That's what you have taught me; and so I will pray to Him, and I am sure He will hear me."
"Do, Charley, do," said Dick; "and I'll mind the ship."
All that day the boat ran on. Charley insisted on bringing Dick some food, and putting it into his mouth, for he could not venture to leave the helm for an instant. Charley himself seemed perfectly happy, for after getting accustomed to the movements of the boat, the confidence he had in his friend prevented him from thinking of danger.
At length the wind began to fall, and the sea went down, and in a few hours a perfect calm came on. The boat floated without movement.
Dick determined, after he had had a few hours' sleep, to try and pull back. He slept longer than he expected, and Charley, who sat watching by his side, would not awake him. When at last he did open his eyes, it was nearly dark. A thin mist spreading over the ocean and obscuring the stars, he had no means of ascertaining in what direction to pull.
"I might be working away all night, and find that I had only gone farther from the island," he observed. "You and I, Charley, will keep watch and watch. You shall take one hour and I three; that will be about the proper proportion, seeing that I am about three times as old as you are, and want less sleep." So the night passed by.
At last the sun rose, his beams dispersed the mist, and Dick, seizing the oars, began to pull away lustily in the direction he supposed the island to be. Suddenly a crack was heard—one of his oars had gone—he took the steering oar, but that in a few minutes went also.
"It cannot be helped, Charley," he said. "We must trust to Him who knows well how to take care of us."
The boat lay motionless. Hour after hour and day after day passed away. Dick, as he had before done, gave Charley the largest portion of provisions and water, he himself taking barely enough to support life. He felt, too, very sorrowful, thinking of the fate which he feared might be in store for the poor little boy, on whom he had bestowed all the love of his big and tender heart.
As long as he had strength he stood up and gazed around, in the hopes of seeing a sail approaching. At length he sat down, and felt that he should not be able to rise any more. Charley brought him some water.
"Drink it, Dick," he said; "it will do you good; I am not thirsty."
Dick took a few drops; they revived him, and once more he rose to his feet, holding on by the mast. As he turned his eye to the northward it fell on a sail; he gave a shout of joy, though his voice sounded hollow in his own ears. "Charley," he said, "she is coming this way; pray to God she may not change her course."
So eager was he that he forgot his weakness, and continued standing up, watching the vessel, which came on, bringing up the breeze. He was now sure she would pass near where the boat lay. On and on she came.
"She is an English ship, by the cut of her sails!" he exclaimed. "Charley, my boy, we are saved. I don't think I could have held out many hours longer, and you would not have been far after me."
The stranger approached. It was evident, from the way she was steering, that they were seen; still Dick could not help shouting out as loud as his weak voice would allow. The stranger hove-to, and a boat was lowered.
"I hope they are not pirates," said Charley, "like the others."
"I hope not; but if they are we shall soon find out, and we can but ask them to put us ashore again; for depend on it they will know the whereabouts of our island."
This was said while the boat was approaching.
"What strange craft is that?" said the officer in command of the boat, examining Dick's wonderful specimen of naval architecture.
Dick explained that he and the boy had been out fishing, and been blown off the island, of which they had been the sole occupants for some years.
"We will hear more about it when we get you on board," said the officer, a fine-looking young man, in a kind voice, observing Dick's exhausted condition.
With the assistance of the crew Dick was lifted into the boat, for he had scarcely strength remaining to move, though Charley scrambled on board by himself. Dick heard from one of the crew, as the boat pulled towards the ship, that she was the Dolphin, Captain Podgers, bound round Cape Horn.
"We've two petticoats aboard—the skipper's wife and daughter, so your youngster won't want for nurses to look after him," said the man who told Dick this. "To my mind, however, he'll be best off with the young lady, for t'other's a curious one, and it will depend what humour she's in how she will treat him."
The officer helped Charley up the side, and Dick was hoisted on deck after him. When placed on his feet he sank down, unable to stand.
"He is almost starved," said the doctor, who now appeared. "Take him below, and I will attend to him. But the youngster seems in good case."
"Glad you say so, sir," murmured Dick. "I could not let him want while there was food to be had, and I hope they'll be kind to him aboard, for his parents are gentlefolks, and he wasn't brought up to the hard life he's had to lead of late." Dick said this that Charley might be treated with more consideration than might otherwise have been the case. He was not disappointed; indeed, though roughly clad, the boy had the look and air of a young gentleman.
The captain, a stout, burly man, and his wife, Mrs Podgers, a much stouter woman, already mentioned, now appeared from below, followed by a slight, fair, delicate-looking girl, who offered a strong contrast to her parents—if such could possibly be the relationship they bore to her.
"Let me look at the little fellow," said Mrs Podgers, as she waddled to the gangway, where Charley was still standing near the third mate. "He don't seem as if he had been starved; yet I was told that he and the man were a whole week in the boat without anything to eat. But bring him into the cabin, Mr Falconer; I want to hear all about it." Mrs Podgers, as she spoke, gave Charley a kiss, for which he seemed in no way grateful. He showed less objection, however, to the same treatment from the young lady, and willingly followed her into the cabin, keeping close to her, and at a distance from the stout captain and his wife. Finding, however, that Mrs Podgers did not again attempt to kiss him, he became more reconciled to her, and did good justice, while sitting next to Miss Kitty, to the ample supper placed before him.
Mrs Podgers, and more especially the young lady, listened with great interest to his account of his adventures, and he apparently made his way into the good graces of the elder personage. "Well, Kitty," she said, "as he is too young to go and live among the men forward, and seems well-behaved, if you like to look after him, he may remain in the cabin, and you can teach him to read; which if he's the son of gentlefolks he ought to know how to do, and it will be an amusement to you, my dear." Miss Kitty said she should be very happy to take care of the boy, and asked him if he wished to remain.
"Yes, with you," he answered, looking up in her face, "but you'll let me go and see Dick whenever he wants me?"
"Oh, yes, as often as you like," she answered; "and I am glad to find that you are grateful to one who seems to have devoted himself to you; for if we are not grateful to our earthly friends, we are still less likely to be grateful to our heavenly Friend."
"I know whom you mean," said Charley, nodding to her. "Dick has told me about Him; He took care of us all the time we were on the island and in the boat, and Dick has taught me to pray to Him every night and morning, and I shouldn't be happy if I didn't."
"I am very, very glad to hear of that," observed Miss Kitty, pressing the boy's hand. "We shall be friends, Charley."
Honest Dick, who had meantime been placed in a hammock, hearing that Charley was in good hands, felt satisfied about him, though still he begged the doctor to let him have a look at the boy as soon as possible, to assure himself that he was all right.
The Dolphin under all sail was making rapid progress to the southward.
I have not hitherto mentioned the fact that I was the little Charley I have been speaking of; indeed, so indistinct is my recollection of the earlier events I have described, that had it not been for Dick, I could have known very little about them. Dick soon recovered, and I was delighted when, on having made my way forward, I found myself again with him. He scanned me all over, as if to ascertain whether any harm had come to me during our long separation. I assured him that I was all right, and was loud in my praise of Miss Kitty, though I was less complimentary to Mrs Podgers and the captain.
"They are not nice people," I observed; "drink nasty rum, quarrel and fight, and then kiss and hug; then quarrel and fight again."
My description was a correct one. Mrs Podgers, indeed, had come to sea sorely against her husband's will, simply because she would, and had brought Miss Kitty, who had just come from school, with her—to save the expense of keeping her at home. Miss Kitty was evidently very unhappy, and did not at all like the life she had to lead. She was as refined in appearance, manners, and feelings, as Mrs Podgers was coarse in all three; but the captain, though fat and addicted to rum-drinking in large quantities, and somewhat sulky in his cups, was not nearly as bad as his wife. He was, moreover, greatly tried, both in the cabin by her, and on deck by his unruly crew: the latter was, indeed, about as rough a set of fellows as ever collected on board ship. The first and second mates were not unfitted, by the ready use they made of their fists, to manage them, but the third mate, Edward Falconer, who had brought Dick and me on board, differed from them greatly. He was refined in his appearance and manners, and gentle in his behaviour, though there was, at times, a look in his eye which showed that he was not lacking in spirit and daring.
The Dolphin, besides being bound on a whaling cruise, was a "Letter of Marque," by which she had the right, without being considered a pirate, to take and plunder any of the enemy's ships she might fall in with; but when Mrs Podgers, with Miss Kitty, came on board, the crew, suspecting that the captain intended to confine himself to the more pacific of the two occupations, were very indignant, and a mutinous and discontented spirit arose among them.
The captain never from the first took to me.
"I am bothered enough with women, and don't want a brat in the cabin into the bargain," he growled out one day when angry with his wife.
"Oh, but the little boy loves me so much," said Mrs Podgers, drawing me towards her. "Don't you, Charley?"
"No, I can't say I do," I answered; for Dick had charged me always to speak the truth. "But I love Miss Kitty, that I do, for she is sweet and pretty, and that's what you know you are not;" and I broke away from her and ran up to the young lady.
"Ungrateful little wretch!" exclaimed Mrs Podgers. "Then out of the cabin you shall go, and live with your equals forward."
"Yes, let him go at once," said the captain, "or you will be changing your mind."
"Not likely, after what he has said to me," exclaimed Mrs Podgers. "I would pull his ears, as he deserves, that I would."
Poor Kitty looked very much frightened, and held me close to her. "Oh, don't, Mrs Podgers, pray don't; the little boy did not intend to be naughty, and I will take care of him, and teach him better manners if you will let me."
"No, Miss, I will do no such thing," answered Mrs Podgers, her anger in no way diminished.
"Take him on deck at once, and tell the man who came with him to look after him. If he goes overboard that's his own fault, not mine. I would have been a mother to him, but I cannot stand ingratitude, and he has no claim on my sympathy and affections, as you have, Kitty my dear."
Poor Kitty gave no responsive glance to this remark, but turned away her head, and taking me by the hand led me to the companion stair, whence we went up on deck.
Mr Falconer, who was officer of the watch, stepped up as she appeared. She told him with tears in her eyes what had occurred.
"It is what might be expected," he observed; "but let me entreat you not to be anxious about the little boy. You shall see him as often as you wish, and I suspect that he will be as well off with the honest fellow who had charge of him as he would with those people in the cabin."
I did not understand at the time that there was anything peculiar in his remarks, or that Miss Kitty seemed to place far more confidence in him than she did in captain and Mrs Podgers. I only understood that I was to go back to Dick, and of that I should have been heartily glad, had not my satisfaction been mitigated by the idea that I should be thus separated from Miss Kitty, whose amiability and gentleness had greatly attracted me.
"Well, Charley, we will look after you," said Dick, when I went forward. "There's a vacant berth next to mine, and I'll put your bedding in it. But I am afraid, boy, your manners won't be improved by your new shipmates."
Dick was right, for while I was rapidly increasing my vocabulary of English words, I learned to use some of the expressions constantly issuing from the sailors' mouths, without knowing their meaning, or having any idea of their vileness.
At length, one day, when seated in the forecastle with Dick, I uttered several in succession, highly pleased with my own proficiency. Dick looked at me hard.
"Charley, do you know those are very bad words you are saying?" he exclaimed; "I didn't think you knew such."
"Why, Dick, I heard you say them yourself the other day," and I reminded him of several occasions on which he had uttered some of the words I had made use of.
"Did I, Charley? are you sure of it?" he asked, evidently considering whether I had brought a true or false accusation against him.
"Certain sure, Dick," I said.
"Well, now, I am very sorry for that, and mind, Charley, though you hear other people say what is bad, or see them do what is bad, it is no reason that you should say or do the same; and for my part, Charley, I must clap a preventer-brace on my tongue, and bowse it taut, or those sort of words will, I know, be slipping out. I mind that my good mother used to tell me that I must never take God's name in vain, and that's what I am afraid I have been doing, over and over again. Remember, Charley, if I ever hear you, I'll punish you, and I'll try and break the men of it; it's a shame that they should set such a bad example to a little chap like you, though I am afraid it will be a hard job to stop them."
Dick was as good as his word. From that day forward I never heard him utter an oath, though several times a round one rose to his lips. I at first was not so careful, but the rope's-ending he gave me made me recollect for the future. The men cried shame when they saw him beating me, and were not a little astonished when he told them that it was their fault, and that of course if they swore the little chap would swear also. After this, I really believe that several of them, rough as they were, restrained themselves when I was within hearing, though the greater number went on as before.
Both on and after crossing the line the Dolphin was frequently becalmed for several days at a time, which did not improve the captain's temper, nor that of the crew either. The voyage therefore was greatly prolonged. I was more with Miss Kitty than I had expected, for the captain and his wife very frequently, after indulging in potations long and deep, fell asleep in the cabin. On such occasions she used to make her escape on deck. She never seemed tired of watching the flying-fish skimming over the ocean, or the dolphins swimming by, or the sea-birds which passed in rapid flight overhead, or watching the magnificent frigate-bird as it soared on high, and then shot down into the ocean to grasp its finny prey.
Sometimes, however, I used to wonder what she could be looking at when Edward Falconer was by her side gazing with her over the ocean. To be sure, there were the stars glittering above, or the moon with her path of silvery light cast across the vast expanse of water, and she and he seemed never tired of gazing at it. Sometimes on such occasions she held me by her hand, and seemed always to wish to have me near her. I at first was not able to understand what she and the young mate were talking about, but in time, as I learned more English, I perhaps comprehended more than they supposed.
"I have been a wild, wayward, careless fellow, Kate," I heard Mr Falconer say one evening as he stood by Miss Kitty's side. "Instead of remaining at college, and taking advantage of the opportunities I possessed of rising in the world, I spent all my means, and then, to the grief of an excellent father, shipped on board a merchantman as a sailor before the mast. My knowledge of mathematics soon enabled me to become a better navigator than the captain himself, while I rapidly acquired a knowledge of seamanship, as from having been accustomed all my life to boating and yachting, I was at once perfectly at home. I soon became a mate, but I spent all my pay, and was glad to ship on board the Dolphin, the first vessel I could find which had a vacant berth. Had I known the character of the master and the officers with whom it was to be my lot to associate, I should certainly, as you may suppose, have avoided her. I had already found, like the prodigal son, that I had dry husks alone to eat, and bitterly mourning my folly, had, even before the ship sailed, contemplated returning home on the first opportunity and seeking my father's forgiveness, when you came on board and I began to breathe a new existence."
"You need not tell me more, Edward," said Kitty. "I cannot bear the thoughts of having prevented you from doing what you considered right, and right it was, I am sure. You must not think of me; oh, let me urge you to go home, and occupy the position which from your education and family you should properly enjoy, for surely your father will receive you thankfully, and forgive your offences. As for me—humanly speaking—I am helpless; but I am not without hope—for I know in whom I trust. Were I not confident that God watches over and takes care of all who have faith in that love which induced Him to give us the greatest gift He could bestow on perishing sinners, I should indeed be miserable."
Much more was said which I did not hear. Mr Falconer and Kitty took several turns on deck together, and I ran about near them.
Their conversation was interrupted by the sudden appearance of Mrs Podgers' head at the companion-hatch, as in an angry tone she summoned the young lady below. The mate walked aft, and I scampered forward to rejoin Dick.
The Dolphin being greatly in want of water, put into the Falkland Islands to obtain it, as well as beef, which the captain understood could be obtained for the trouble of catching the animals on whose backs it existed.
The shore of the harbour in which we lay was rocky, but beyond it was a wide expanse of partly level, and partly undulating ground, reaching far away in the distance.
Dick told me he would take me on shore to see some of the fun, he being one of the men appointed to shoot the cattle.
Mounted Spaniards, or Indians, with their bolas and lassoes, would have killed them with perfect ease; but, armed as we were, with only heavy muskets which did not always go off, the chances were very great against the desired beef being obtained. Just as we had shoved off, the captain, seeing me in the boat, ordered me back. The men, however, having already begun to give way, pretended not to hear him, and we were soon beyond hailing distance of the ship. In a short time we saw another boat following us. After we had landed, who should step out of her but Miss Kitty and Mr Falconer; he had a gun on his shoulder, but had not intended coming till he found that she wanted to have a walk on shore. Whether or not she had asked leave of Mrs Podgers, I do not know; she did not always consider that necessary when she had a fancy for doing anything.
We pushed on some way inland, and though the herbage was high, it was not thick except in places where there were large tufts of tall tussock-grass, like waving plumes growing out of the earth, while the ground itself was tolerably smooth. We went on till we reached a rocky knoll rising like an island amidst the sea of waving grass that surrounded it. We climbed to the top, that we might discover where the cattle were to be found in greatest numbers. As yet, a few only had been seen, which scampered off before a shot at them could be obtained. Three or four herds were discovered in the distance. The mate, with half the men, agreed to go in one direction and to stalk them down, while Dick and the rest went in another. Miss Kitty said she was tired, and that she would remain on the top of the rock with me till their return. The mate begged to leave with her a flask of water and some biscuits, which he had brought, I suspect, on her account. Not knowing what sort of scenery she might meet with, she had brought her sketch-book, for she was a well-educated girl, and understood music, and a number of other things besides. She laughingly observed that a few strokes would quickly picture the surrounding scenery. She amused herself with copying a huge tuft of the tussock-grass which grew near, and then made me stand and sit, now in one position, now in another, while she took my portrait. Then telling me to play about near her, and to take care not to tumble off the rock, she sat down to meditate. What her thoughts were about I cannot say, but she certainly very often looked in the direction Edward Falconer had gone.
Several shots were heard from time to time. They grew fainter and fainter, as if the cattle had headed off away from the harbour.
The day wore on. The sun was already sinking in the sky.
"I wonder when they will come back?" she said once or twice. "Can you see any one, Charley?"
I looked, but could not distinguish any objects amid the expanse of grass.
A dull booming sound of a ship's gun came from the direction of the harbour, then another and another.
"That is, I suspect, to recall the boats," said Kitty to me. "I could find my way there with you, Charley; but I don't like to leave this spot, lest those who have gone after the cattle on returning might wonder what has become of us."
We waited some time longer—the sun set—the shades of evening drew on. Kitty became very anxious. It was too late now to attempt alone to get back to the boats; and it was evident that we should have to spend the night on the knoll. As there was plenty of tall grass around, I proposed that we should build a hut for ourselves, but, as we had no means of cutting it, we could not carry out my project. Miss Kitty was, as before, casting an anxious gaze around, expecting each moment that some one would appear, when suddenly she exclaimed—
"See, see, Charley! What is that?"
I looked in the direction she pointed, when I saw a dark line of smoke rising out of the plain, curling in wreaths as it ascended towards the sky. It might have been mistaken for mist, had there not appeared below it a thin red line with sharp little forks darting upwards.
"The grass is on fire! Oh, what will become of them?" she exclaimed, seizing my hand, and gazing, with dread and horror in her countenance, at the advancing line of flame and smoke. I did not suppose that we ourselves were in danger; but on looking round I observed the numerous tufts of grass which grew on every side among the rocks.
One part of the mound was composed entirely of bare rock. I pointed it out to my companion. Though we should be almost suffocated with smoke, we might there escape the flames. We hastened to it, and kneeling down, she prayed for protection for me, and for herself, and for Edward—I heard her mention the mate's name—and for the rest.
I was not particularly frightened, because I did not see anything very terrible; only the red line of fire jumping and leaping playfully, and the wreaths of smoke, which looked very graceful as they curled round and round, till at length they formed a dark canopy which spread over the sky.
"They may have been on the other side of the fire," I heard Kitty say; "but then he would have thought of me, and, I fear, have attempted to rush through the flames to my rescue, and Dick will not have forgotten you, Charley. We must pray for them, my boy—we must pray for them."
On came the wave of flame; the whole island from one end to the other seemed on fire. Our communication with the harbour was well-nigh cut off. Though the men in charge of the boats might have seen it approaching, they could not have come to our assistance.
Happily, Kitty's dress was of a thick material, and so was mine, for the weather had been for some time cold, and Dick had made me a winter suit. Kitty saw clearly that the flames would surround the rock, and creep up its sides; and the open space on which we had taken refuge was fearfully small. I fancied that I could hear the roaring and hissing of the flames, they were already so near, when a shout reached our ears.
"They are coming! they are coming!" cried Kitty; "but oh, I fear the fire will overtake them before they can gain the rock. I see them! I see them! It is dreadfully close!" She gasped for breath. Then she rose to her feet, and waved her white handkerchief, hoping that it might be distinguished through the gloom, for she in vain tried to cry out in answer to the shout we had heard. The glare of the approaching fire fell on her figure. At that moment a man dashed up the rock—it was Edward Falconer. He could only utter, "You are safe, dearest!" and sank on the ground. Kitty stooped down and tried to raise him, pouring some water from the flask into his mouth. He speedily revived. Three other men followed him—the first was Dick; he seized me in his arms, and gave me a hug and put me down on the rock, and then he and the rest dashed back towards the flames, and began with their guns to beat and trample down the surrounding grass. The mate joined them, but the flames quickly reached the spot, and in a few minutes we were surrounded by a sea of fire. Dick sheltered me in his arms, and Edward Falconer supported Kitty in the very centre of the rock, turning their backs to the scorching flames from which they attempted to shield us. The smoke curled round our heads, and we had great difficulty in breathing. I could not help crying out from the pain of suffocation, which made Dick almost distracted. He first lifted me up above his head, that I might get more air; and when he could support me no longer, he threw a handkerchief over my face, and held me in his arms as a mother would her child.