Masterman Ready - by Captain Marryat
It was in the month of October, 18—, that the Pacific, a large ship, was running before a heavy gale of wind in the middle of the vast Atlantic Ocean. She had but little sail, for the wind was so strong, that the canvas would have been split into pieces by the furious blasts before which she was driven through the waves, which were very high, and following her almost as fast as she darted through their boiling waters; sometimes heaving up her stern and sinking her bows down so deep into the hollow of the sea, that it appeared as if she would have dived down underneath the waves; but she was a fine vessel, and the captain was a good seaman, who did what he considered best for the safety of his vessel, and then put his trust in that Providence who is ever watchful over us.
The captain stood before the wheel, watching the men who were steering the ship; for when you are running before a heavy gale, it requires great attention to the helm: and as he looked around him and up at the heavens, he sang in a low voice the words of a sea song:
"One wide water all around us, All above us one black sky."
And so it was with them;—they were in the middle of the Atlantic, not another vessel to be seen, and the heavens were covered with black clouds, which were borne along furiously by the gale; the sea ran mountains high, and broke into large white foaming crests, while the fierce wind howled through the rigging of the vessel.
Besides the captain of the ship and the two men at the wheel, there were two other personages on deck: one was a young lad about twelve years old, and the other a weather-beaten old seaman, whose grisly locks were streaming in the wind, as he paced aft and looked over the taffrail of the vessel.
The young lad, observing a heavy sea coming up to the stern of the vessel, caught hold of the old man's arm, crying out - "Won't that great wave come into us, Ready?"
"No, Master William, it will not: don't you see how the ship lifts her quarters to it?—and now it has passed underneath us. But it might happen, and then what would become of you, if I did not hold on, and hold you on also? You would be washed overboard."
"I don't like the sea much, Ready; I wish we were safe on shore again," replied the lad. "Don't the waves look as if they wished to beat the ship all to pieces?"
"Yes, they do; and they roar as if angry because they cannot bury the vessel beneath them: but I am used to them, and with a good ship like this, and a good captain and crew, I don't care for them."
"But sometimes ships do sink, and then everybody is drowned."
"Yes; and very often the very ships sink which those on board think are most safe. We can only do our best, and after that we must submit to the will of Heaven."
"What little birds are those flying about so close to the water?"
"Those are Mother Carey's chickens. You seldom see them except in a storm, or when a storm is coming on."
The birds which William referred to were the stormy petrels.
"Were you ever shipwrecked on a desolate island like Robinson Crusoe?"
"Yes, Master William, I have been shipwrecked; but I never heard of Robinson Crusoe. So many have been wrecked and undergone great hardships, and so many more have never lived to tell what they have suffered, that it's not very likely that I should have known that one man you speak of, out of so many."
"Oh! but it's all in a book which I have read. I could tell you all about it—and so I will when the ship is quiet again; but now I wish you would help me down below, for I promised mamma not to stay up long."
"Then always keep your promise like a good lad," replied the old man; "now give me your hand, and I'll answer for it that we will fetch the hatchway without a tumble; and when the weather is fine again, I'll tell you how I was wrecked, and you shall tell me all about Robinson Crusoe."
Having seen William safe to the cabin door, the old seaman returned to the deck, for it was his watch.
Masterman Ready, for such was his name, had been more than fifty years at sea, having been bound apprentice to a collier which sailed from South Shields, when he was only ten years old. His face was browned from long exposure, and there were deep furrows on his cheeks, but he was still a hale and active man. He had served many years on board of a man-of-war, and had been in every climate: he had many strange stories to tell, and he might be believed even when his stories were strange, for he would not tell an untruth. He could navigate a vessel, and, of course, he could read and write. The name of Ready was very well suited to him, for he was seldom at a loss; and in cases of difficulty and danger, the captain would not hesitate to ask his opinion, and frequently take his advice. He was second mate of the vessel.
The Pacific was, as we have observed, a very fine ship, and well able to contend with the most violent storm. She was of more than four hundred tons burthen, and was then making a passage out to New South Wales, with a valuable cargo of English hardware, cutlery, and other manufactures. The captain was a good navigator and seaman, and moreover a good man, of a cheerful, happy disposition, always making the best of everything, and when accidents did happen, always more inclined to laugh than to look grave. His name was Osborn. The first mate, whose name was Mackintosh, was a Scotsman, rough and ill-tempered, but paying strict attention to his duty - a man that Captain Osborn could trust, but whom he did not like.
Ready we have already spoken of, and it will not be necessary to say anything about the seamen on board, except that there were thirteen of them, hardly a sufficient number to man so large a vessel; but just as they were about to sail, five of the seamen, who did not like the treatment they had received from Mackintosh, the first mate, had left the ship, and Captain Osborn did not choose to wait until he could obtain others in their stead. This proved unfortunate, as the events which we shall hereafter relate will show.
Master William, whom we have introduced to the reader, was the eldest boy of a family who were passengers on board, consisting of the father, mother, and four children: his father was a Mr. Seagrave, a very well-informed, clever man, who having for many years held an office under government at Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, was now returning from a leave of absence of three years. He had purchased from the government several thousand acres of land; it had since risen very much in value, and the sheep and cattle which he had put on it were proving a source of great profit. His property had been well managed by the person who had charge of it during his absence in England, and he was now taking out with him a variety of articles of every description for its improvement, and for his own use, such as furniture for his house, implements of agriculture, seeds, plants, cattle, and many other things too numerous to mention.
Mrs. Seagrave was an amiable woman, but not in very strong health. The family consisted of William, who was the eldest, a clever, steady boy, but, at the same time, full of mirth and humour; Thomas, who was six years old, a very thoughtless but good-tempered boy, full of mischief, and always in a scrape; Caroline, a little girl of seven years; and Albert, a fine strong little fellow, who was not one year old: he was under the charge of a black girl, who had come from the Cape of Good Hope to Sydney, and had followed Mrs. Seagrave to England. We have now mentioned all the people on board of the Pacific: perhaps we ought not to forget two shepherd's dogs, belonging to Mr. Seagrave, and a little terrier, which was a great favourite of Captain Osborn, to whom she belonged.
It was not until the fourth day from its commencement that the gale abated, and then it gradually subsided until it was nearly a calm. The men who had been watching night after night during the gale now brought all their clothes which had been drenched by the rain and spray, and hung them up in the rigging to dry: the sails, also, which had been furled, and had been saturated by the wet, were now loosened and spread out that they might not be mildewed. The wind blew mild and soft, the sea had gone down, and the ship was running through the water at the speed of about four miles an hour. Mrs. Seagrave, wrapped up in a cloak, was seated upon one of the arm-chests near the stern of the ship, her husband and children were all with her enjoying the fine weather, when Captain Osborn, who had been taking an observation of the sun with his sextant, came up to them.
"Well, Master Tommy, you are very glad that the gale is over?"
"I didn't care," replied Tommy, "only I spilt all my soup. But Juno tumbled off her chair, and rolled away with the baby, till papa picked them both up."
"It was a mercy that poor Albert was not killed," observed Mrs. Seagrave.
"And so he might have been, if Juno had not thought only of him and nothing at all about herself," replied Mr. Seagrave.
"That's very true, sir," replied Captain Osborn. "She saved the child, and, I fear, hurt herself."
"I thump my head very hard," said Juno, smiling.
"Yes, and it's lucky that you have a good thick woolly coat over it," replied Captain Osborn, laughing.
"It is 12 o'clock by the sun, sir," said Mackintosh, the first mate, to the captain.
"Then bring me up the latitude, Mr. Mackintosh, while I work out the longitude from the sights which I took this morning. In five minutes, Mr. Seagrave, I shall be ready to prick off over our place on the chart."
"Here are the dogs come up on deck," said William; "I dare say they are as glad of the fine weather as we are. Come here, Romulus! Here, Remus! - Remus!"
"Well, sir," said Ready, who was standing by them with his quadrant in his hand, "I should like to ask you a question. Those dogs of yours have two very odd names which I never heard before. Who were Romulus and Remus?"
"Romulus and Remus," replied Mr. Seagrave, "were the names of two shepherds, brothers, who in ancient days founded the city of Rome, which eventually became the largest and most celebrated empire in the world. They were the first kings of Rome, and reigned together. History says that Remus affronted Romulus by leaping over a wall he had raised, and Romulus, in his anger, took away his life; but the history of early days is not to be depended upon."
"No, nor the brothers either, it appears," replied Ready; "however, it is the old story - two of a trade can never agree. One sometimes hears of Rome now - is that the same place?"
"Yes," replied William, "it is the remains of the old city."
"Well, one lives and learns," said Ready. "I have learnt something to-day, which everyone will to the last day of his life, if he will only ask questions. I'm an old man, and perhaps don't know much, except in the seafaring way; but I should have known much less if I did not ask for information, and was not ashamed to acknowledge my ignorance; that's the way to learn, Master William."
"Very good advice, Ready, - and, William, I hope you will profit by it," said Mr. Seagrave; "never be ashamed to ask the meaning of what you do not understand."
"I always do, papa. Do I not ask you questions, Ready?"
"Yes, you do, and very clever questions for a boy of your age; and I only wish that I could answer them better than I can sometimes."
"I should like to go down now, my dear," said Mrs. Seagrave; "perhaps Ready will see the baby down safe."
"That I will, ma'am," said Ready, putting his quadrant on the capstan: "now, Juno, give me the child, and go down first; - backwards, you stupid girl! how often do I tell you that? Some day or another you will come down with a run."
"And break my head," said Juno.
"Yes, or break your arm; and then who is to hold the child?"
As soon as they were all down in the cabin, the captain and Mr. Seagrave marked the position of the vessel on the chart, and found that they were one hundred and thirty miles from the Cape of Good Hope.
"If the wind holds, we shall be in to-morrow," said Mr. Seagrave to his wife. "Juno, perhaps you may see your father and mother."
Poor Juno shook her head, and a tear or two stole down her dark cheek. With a mournful face she told them, that her father and mother belonged to a Dutch boor, who had gone with them many miles into the interior: she had been parted from them when quite a little child, and had been left at Cape Town.
The next morning the Pacific arrived at the Cape and anchored in Table Bay.
"Why do they call this Table Bay, Ready?" said William.
"I suppose it's because they call that great mountain the Table Mountain, Master William; you see how flat the mountain is on the top."
"Yes, it is quite as flat as a table."
"Yes, and sometimes you will see the white clouds rolling down over the top of it in a very curious manner, and that the sailors call spreading the tablecloth: it is a sign of bad weather."
"Then I hope they will not spread the tablecloth while we are here, Ready," said William, "for I shall certainly have no appetite. We have had bad weather enough already, and mamma suffers so much from it. What a pretty place it is!"
"We shall remain here two days, sir," said Captain Osborn to Mr. Seagrave, "if you and Mrs. Seagrave would like to go on shore."
"I will go down and ask Mrs. Seagrave," said her husband, who went down the ladder, followed by William.
Upon the question being put to Mrs. Seagrave, she replied that she was quite satisfied with the ship having no motion, and did not feel herself equal to going on shore; it was therefore decided that she should remain on board with the two younger children, and that, on the following day, Mr. Seagrave should take William and Tommy to see Cape Town, and return on board before night.
The next morning, Captain Osborn lowered down one of the large boats, and Mr. Seagrave, accompanied by Captain Osborn, went on shore with William and Tommy. Tommy had promised his mamma to be very good; but that he always did, and almost always forgot his promise directly he was out of sight. As soon as they landed, they went up to a gentleman's house, with whom Captain Osborn was acquainted. They stayed for a few minutes to drink a glass of lemonade, for it was very warm; and then it was proposed that they should go to the Company's Gardens and see the wild beasts which were confined there, at which William was much delighted, and Tommy clapped his hands with joy.
"What are the Company's Gardens, papa?" inquired William.
"They were made by the Dutch East India Company, at the time that the Cape of Good Hope was in their possession. They are, properly speaking, Botanical Gardens; but, at the same time, the wild animals are kept there. Formerly there were a great many, but they have not been paid attention to lately, for we have plenty of these animals in England now."
"What shall we see?" said Tommy.
"You will see lions, Tommy, a great many in a large den together," said Captain Osborn.
"Oh! I want to see a lion."
"You must not go too near them, recollect."
"No, I won't," said Tommy.
As soon as they entered the gates, Tommy escaped from Captain Osborn, and ran away in his hurry to see the lions; but Captain Osborn caught him again, and held him fast by the hand.
"Here is a pair of very strange birds," said the gentleman who accompanied them; "they are called Secretaries, on account of the feathers which hang behind their heads, as the feather of a pen does when a clerk puts it behind his ear: but they are very useful, for they are snake-killers; indeed, they would, if they could, live altogether upon snakes, which they are very great enemies to, never letting one escape. They strike them with their feet, and with such force as to kill them immediately."
"Are there many snakes in this country?" inquired William.
"Yes, and very venomous snakes," replied Mr. Seagrave; "so that these birds are very useful in destroying them. You observe, William, that the Almighty, in his wisdom, has so arranged it that no animal (especially of a noxious kind) shall be multiplied to excess, but kept under by being preyed upon by some other; indeed, wherever in any country an animal exists in any quantity, there is generally found another animal which destroys it. The Secretary inhabits this country where snakes exist in numbers, that it may destroy them: in England the bird would be of little value."
"But some animals are too large or too fierce to be destroyed by others, papa; for instance, the elephant and the lion."
"Very true; but these larger animals do not breed so fast, and therefore their numbers do not increase so rapidly. For instance, a pair of elephants will not have more than one young one in the space of two years or more; while the rabbits, which are preyed upon and the food of so many other beasts as well as birds, would increase enormously, if they were not destroyed. Examine through the whole of creation, and you will find that there is an unerring hand, which invariably preserves the balance exact; and that there are no more mouths than for which food is provided, although accidental circumstances may for a time occasion a slight alteration."
They continued their walk until they came to the den of the lions. It was a large place, in closed with a strong and high wall of stone, with only one window to it for the visitors to look at them, as it was open above. This window was wide, and with strong iron bars running from the top to the bottom; but the width between the bars was such that a lion could put his paw out with ease; and they were therefore cautioned not to go too near. It was a fine sight to see eight or ten of these noble-looking animals lying down in various attitudes, quite indifferent apparently to the people outside—basking in the sun, and slowly moving their tufted tails to and fro. William examined them at a respectful distance from the bars; and so did Tommy, who had his mouth open with astonishment, in which there was at first not a little fear mixed, but he soon got bolder. The gentleman who had accompanied them, and who had been long at the Cape, was relating to Mr. Seagrave and Captain Osborn some very curious anecdotes about the lion. William and they were so interested, that they did not perceive that Tommy had slipped back to the grated window of the den. Tommy looked at the lions, and then he wanted to make them move about: there was one fine full-grown young lion, about three years old, who was lying down nearest to the window; and Tommy took up a stone and threw it at him: the lion appeared not to notice it, for he did not move, although he fixed his eyes upon Tommy; so Tommy became more brave, and threw another, and then another, approaching each time nearer to the bars of the window.
All of a sudden the lion gave a tremendous roar, and sprang at Tommy, bounding against the iron bars of the cage with such force that, had they not been very strong, it must have broken them. As it was, they shook and rattled so that pieces of mortar fell from the stones. Tommy shrieked; and, fortunately for himself, fell back and tumbled head over heels, or the lion's paws would have reached him. Captain Osborn and Mr. Seagrave ran up to Tommy, and picked him up: he roared with fright as soon as he could fetch his breath, while the lion stood at the bars, lashing his tail, snarling, and showing his enormous fangs.
"Take me away—take me on board the ship!" cried Tommy, who was terribly frightened.
"What did you do, Tommy?" said Captain Osborn.
"I won't throw any more stones, Mr. Lion; I won't indeed!" cried Tommy, looking terrified towards the animal.
Mr. Seagrave scolded Tommy well for his foolish conduct, and by degrees he became more composed; but he did not recover himself until they had walked some distance away from the lion's den.
They then looked at the other animals which were to be seen, Tommy keeping a most respectful distance from every one of them. He wouldn't even go near to a Cape sheep with a broad tail.
When they had seen everything, they went back to the gentleman's house to dinner; and, after dinner, they returned on board.
The following morning the fresh water and provisions were received on board, and once more the Pacific stretched her broad canvas to the winds, and there was every prospect of a rapid voyage, as for many days she continued her passage with a fair wind and flowing sheet. But this did not continue: it fell calm, and remained so for nearly three days, during which not a breath of wind was to be seen on the wide expanse of water; all nature appeared as if in repose, except that now and then an albatross would drop down at some distance from the stern of the vessel, and, as he swam lazily along with his wings half-furled, pick up the fragments of food which had been thrown over the side.
"What great bird is that, Ready?" inquired William.
"It is an albatross, the largest sea-bird we have. Their wings are very long. I have seen them shot, and they have measured eleven feet from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other when the wings have been spread out."
"It is the first one that I have seen," said William.
"Because you seldom meet them north of the Cape, sir: people do say that they go to sleep on the wing, balancing themselves high up in the air."
"Papa," said William, turning to Mr. Seagrave, who stood by, "why is it that one bird can swim and another cannot? You recollect when Tommy drove the hens into the large pond, they flounced about, and their feathers became wet, and would support them no longer, and then they were drowned. Now, how does a sea-bird contrive to remain so long on the water?"
"Because a sea-bird, William, is provided with a sort of oil on purpose to anoint the outside of its feathers, and this oil prevents the water from penetrating them. Have you not observed the ducks on shore dressing their feathers with their bills? They were then using this oil to make their feathers waterproof."
"Don't say how odd, William; that is not an expression to use when we talk of the wonderful provisions made by the Almighty hand, who neglects not the meanest of his creatures - say rather, how wonderful!"
"That's very true, sir," observed Ready; "but still you must not be too hard upon Master William, for I have heard many a grownup man make use of the same expression."
On the third day of the calm, the barometer fell so low as to induce Captain Osborn to believe that they should have a severe gale, and every preparation was made to meet it, should it come on. Nor was he mistaken: towards midnight the clouds gathered up fast, and as they gathered up in thick piles, heaped one over the other, the lightning darted through them in every direction; and as the clouds rose up, so did the wind, but at first only in heavy gusts, and then lulling again to a calm.
"Ready," said Captain Osborn, "how do you think we shall have the wind?"
"Why, Captain Osborn, to tell you the truth, I don't think it will be steady to one point long. It may at first blow hard from the north, but it's my idea it will shift soon to some other quarter, and blow still harder."
"What think you, Mackintosh?"
"We'll have plenty of it, and a long steady gale, that's my notion; and the sooner we ship the dead lights the better."
Mr. Seagrave, with William, happened to be standing by at the time of this conversation, and at the term dead lights Willie's face expressed some anxiety. Ready perceived it, and said—
"That's a foolish name they give to the shutters which go over the cabin windows to prevent the water from breaking into the cabin when a vessel sails before the wind; you know we had them on the last time that we had a gale."
"But, Ready," said Captain Osborn, "why do you think that we shall have a shift of wind?"
"Well, I don't know; perhaps I was wrong," replied the old man, "and Mr. Mackintosh is right: the wind does seem to come steady from the north-east, that's certain;" and Ready walked away to the binnacle, and looked at the compass. Mr. Seagrave and William then went below, and Mr. Mackintosh went forward to give his orders. As soon as they were all gone, Ready went up again to Captain Osborn and said:
"Captain Osborn, it's not for me to contradict Mr. Mackintosh, but that's of little consequence in a time like this: I should have held to my opinion, had it not been that the gentleman passenger and his son were standing by, but now, as the coast is clear, I tell you that we shall have something worse than a gale of wind. I have been in these latitudes before, and I am an old seaman, as you know. There's something in the air, and there has been something during the last three days of calm, which reminds me too well of what I have seen here before; and I am sure that we shall have little better than a hurricane, as far as wind goes - and worse in one point, that it will last much longer than hurricanes generally do. I have been watching, and even the birds tell me so, and they are told by their nature, which is never mistaken. That calm has been nothing more than a repose of the winds previous to their being roused up to do their worst; and that is my real opinion?"
"Well, and I'm inclined to agree with you, Ready; so we must send topgallant yards down on deck, and all the small sails and lumber out of the tops. Get the trysail aft and bent, and lower down the gaff. I will go forward."
Their preparations were hardly complete before the wind had settled to a fierce gale from the north-east. The sea rose rapidly; topsail after topsail was furled; and by dusk the Pacific was flying through the water with the wind on her quarter, under reefed foresail and storm staysail. It was with difficulty that three men at the wheel could keep the helm, such were the blows which the vessel received from the heavy seas on the quarter. Not one seaman in the ship took advantage of his watch below to go to sleep that night, careless as they generally are; the storm was too dreadful. About three o'clock in the morning the wind suddenly subsided; it was but for a minute or two, and then it again burst on the vessel from another quarter of the compass, as Ready had foretold, splitting the foresail into fragments, which lashed and flogged the wind till they were torn away by it, and carried far to leeward. The heavens above were of a pitchy darkness, and the only light was from the creaming foam of the sea on every side. The shift of wind, which had been to the west-north-west, compelled them to alter the course of the vessel, for they had no chance but to scud, as they now did, under bare poles; but in consequence of the sea having taken its run from the former wind, which had been north-east, it was, as sailors call it, cross, and every minute the waves poured over the ship, sweeping all before their weight of waters. One poor man was washed overboard, and any attempt made to save him would have been unavailing. Captain Osborn was standing by the weather gunnel, holding on by one of the belaying-pins, when he said to Mackintosh:
"How long will this last, think you?"
"Longer than the ship will," replied the mate gravely.
"I should hope not," replied the captain; "still it cannot look worse. What do you think, Ready?"
"Far more fear from above than from below just now," replied Ready, pointing to the yard-arms of the ship, to each of which were little balls of electric matter attached, flaring out to a point. "Look at those two clouds, sir, rushing at each other; if I—"
Ready had not time to finish what he would have said, before a blaze of light, so dazzling that it left them all in utter darkness for some seconds afterwards, burst upon their vision, accompanied with a peal of thunder, at which the whole vessel trembled fore and aft. A crash - a rushing forward - and a shriek were heard, and when they had recovered their eyesight, the foremast had been rent by the lightning as if it had been a lath, and the ship was in flames: the men at the wheel, blinded by the lightning, as well as appalled, could not steer; the ship broached to - away went the mainmast over the side - and all was wreck, confusion, and dismay.
Fortunately the heavy seas which poured over the forecastle soon extinguished the flames, or they all must have perished; but the ship lay now helpless, and at the mercy of the waves beating violently against the wrecks of the masts which floated to leeward, but were still held fast to the vessel by their rigging. As soon as they could recover from the shock, Ready and the first mate hastened to the wheel to try to get the ship before the wind; but this they could not do, as, the foremast and mainmast being gone, the mizenmast prevented her paying off and answering to the helm. Ready, having persuaded two of the men to take the helm, made a sign to Mackintosh (for now the wind was so loud that they could not hear each other speak), and, going aft, they obtained axes, and cut away the mizen-rigging; the mizen-topmast and head of the mizenmast went over the side, and then the stump of the foremast was sufficient to get the ship before the wind again. Still there was much delay and confusion, before they could clear away the wreck of the masts; and, as soon as they could make inquiry, they found that four of the men had been killed by the lightning and the fall of the foremast, and there were now but eight remaining, besides Captain Osborn and his two mates.
Sailors are never discouraged by danger as long as they have any chance of relieving themselves by their own exertions. The loss of their shipmates, so instantaneously summoned away, - the wrecked state of the vessel, - the wild surges burying them beneath their angry waters, - the howling of the wind, the dazzling of the lightning, and the pealing of the thunder, did not prevent them from doing what their necessity demanded. Mackintosh, the first mate, rallied the men, and contrived to fix a block and strap to the still smoking stump of the foremast; a rope was rove through the block, and the main-topgallant sail hoisted, so that the vessel might run faster before the gale, and answer her helm better than she did.
The ship was again before the wind, and comparatively safe, notwithstanding the heavy blows she now received from the pursuing waves. Night again came on, but there was no repose, and the men were worn out with exposure and fatigue.
The third day of the gale dawned, but the appearances were as alarming as ever: the continual breaking of the seas over the stern had washed away the binnacles, and it was impossible now to be certain of the course the ship had been steered, or the distance which had been run; the leaky state of the vessel proved how much she had already suffered from the violent shocks which she had received, and the certainty was apparent, that if the weather did not abate, she could not possibly withstand the force of the waves much longer.
The countenance of Captain Osborn showed great anxiety: he had a heavy responsibility on his shoulders - he might lose a valuable ship, and still more valuable cargo, even if they did not all lose their lives; for they were now approaching where the sea was studded with low coral islands, upon which they might be thrown by the waves and wind, without having the slightest power to prevent it in their present disabled condition.
Ready was standing by him when Captain Osborn said—
"I don't much like this, Ready; we are now running on danger and have no help for it."
"That's true enough," replied Ready: "we have no help for it; it is God's will, sir, and His will be done."
"Amen!" replied Captain Osborn solemnly; and then he continued, after a pause, "There were many captains who envied me when I obtained command of this fine ship, - would they change with me now?"
"I should rather think not, Captain Osborn, but you never know what the day may bring forth. You sailed with this vessel, full of hope - you now, not without reason, feel something approaching to despair; but who knows? it may please the Almighty to rebuke those angry winds and waves, and to-morrow we may again hope for the best; at all events you have done your duty - no man can do more."
"You are right," replied Captain Osborn; "but hold hard, Ready, that sea's aboard of us."
Ready had just time to cling with both hands to the belaying-pins when the sea poured over the vessel, with a volume of water which for some time swept them off their legs: they clung on firmly, and at last recovered their feet.
"She started a timber or two with that blow, I rather think," said Ready.
"I'm afraid so; the best vessel ever built could not stand such shocks long," replied Captain Osborn; "and at present, with our weak crew, I do not see that we can get more sail upon her."
All that night the ship flew in darkness before the gale. At daybreak the wind abated, and the sea went down: the ship was, however, still kept before the wind, for she had suffered too much to venture to put her broadside to the sea. Preparations were now made for getting up jury-masts; and the worn-out seamen were busily employed, under the direction of Captain Osborn and his two mates, when Mr. Seagrave and William came upon deck.
William stared about him: he perceived, to his astonishment, that the tall masts, with all their rigging and sails, had disappeared, and that the whole deck was in a state of confusion and disorder.
"See, my child," said Mr. Seagrave, "the wreck and devastation which are here. See how the pride of man is humbled before the elements of the great Jehovah."
"Ay, Master Willy," said old Ready, "look around you, as you well may. Do you remember the verses in the Bible? - if not, I remember them well, for I have often read them, and have often felt the truth of them: 'They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep'."
"But, father," said Willy, after a pause, "how shall we ever get to Sydney without masts or sails?"
"Why, William," replied Ready, "we must do what we can: we sailors are never much at a loss, and I dare say before night you will find us under some sort of sail again. We have lost our great masts, so we must put up jury-masts, as we call them; that is, little ones, and little sails upon them; and, if it pleases God, we shall see Sydney yet. How is Madam, sir?" continued Ready to Mr. Seagrave. "Is she better?"
"I fear she is very weak and ill," replied Mr. Seagrave; "nothing but fine weather will do her any good. Do you think that it will be fine now?"
"Why, sir, to tell you the truth, I fear we shall have more of it yet: I have not given my thoughts to the captain, as I might be mistaken; but still I think so - I've not been fifty years at sea without learning something. I don't like the gathering of that bank there, Mr. Seagrave, and I shouldn't wonder if it were to blow again from the very same quarter, and that before dark."
"God's will be done," replied Mr. Seagrave, "but I am very fearful about my poor wife, who is worn to a shadow."
"I shouldn't think so much about that, sir, as I really never knew of people dying that way, although they suffer much. William, do you know that we have lost some of our men since you were down below?"
"No - I heard the steward say something outside about the foremast."
"We have lost five of our smartest and best men - Wilson was washed overboard, Fennings and Masters struck dead with the lightning, and Jones and Emery crushed by the fall of the foremast. You are young, Master Willy, but you cannot think too early of your Maker, or call to mind what they say in the burial service, - 'In the midst of life we are in death'."
"Thank you, Ready, for the lesson you have given my son," said Mr. Seagrave; "and, William, treasure it up in your memory."
"Yes, William, they are the words of an old man who has seen many and many a one who was full of youth and spirits called away before him, and who is grateful to God that he has been pleased to preserve his life, and allow him to amend his ways."
"I have been thinking," said Mr. Seagrave, after a silence of a minute or two, "that a sailor has no right to marry."
"I've always thought so, sir," replied Ready; "and I dare say many a poor deserted sailor's wife, when she has listened to the wind and rain in her lonely bed, has thought the same."
"With my permission," continued Mr. Seagrave, "my boys shall never go to sea if there is any other profession to be found for them."
"Well, Mr. Seagrave, they do say that it's no use baulking a lad if he wishes to go to sea, and that if he is determined, he must go: now I think otherwise - I think a parent has a right to say no, if he pleases, upon that point; for you see, sir, a lad, at the early age at which he goes to sea, does not know his own mind. Every high-spirited boy wishes to go to sea - it's quite natural; but if the most of them were to speak the truth, it is not that they so much want to go to sea, as that they want to go from school or from home, where they are under the control of their masters or their parents."
"Very true, Ready; they wish to be, as they consider they will be, independent."
"And a pretty mistake they make of it, sir. Why, there is not a greater slave in the world than a boy who goes to sea, for the first few years after his shipping: for once they are corrected on shore, they are punished ten times at sea, and they never again meet with the love and affection they have left behind them. It is a hard life, and there have been but few who have not bitterly repented it, and who would not have returned, like the prodigal son, and cast themselves at their fathers' feet, only that they have been ashamed."
"That's the truth, Ready, and it is on that account that I consider that a parent is justified in refusing his consent to his son going to sea, if he can properly provide for him in any other profession. There never will be any want of sailors, for there always will be plenty of poor lads whose friends can do no better for them; and in that case the seafaring life is a good one to choose, as it requires no other capital for their advancement than activity and courage."
Mr. Seagrave and William went down below into the cabin, where they found that there was plenty of employment; the steward had brought a basin of very hot pea-soup for the children. Tommy, who was sitting up in the bed-place with his sister, had snatched it out of Juno's left hand, for she held the baby with the other, and in so doing, had thrown it over Caroline, who was screaming, while Juno, in her hurry to assist Caroline, had slipped down on the deck with the baby, who was also crying with fright, although not hurt. Unfortunately, Juno had fallen down upon Vixen the terrier, who in return had bitten her in the leg, which had made Juno also cry out; while Mrs. Seagrave was hanging her head out of her standing bed-place, frightened out of her wits at the accident, but unable to be of any assistance. Fortunately, Mr. Seagrave came down just in time to pick up Juno and the baby, and then tried to comfort little Caroline, who after all was not much scalded, as the soup had had time to cool.
"Massa Tommy is a very naughty boy," cried Juno, rubbing her leg. Master Tommy thought it better to say nothing - he was duly admonished - the steward cleaned up the mess, and order was at length restored.
In the meantime, they were not idle upon deck; the carpenter was busy fixing a step for one of the spare topmasts instead of a mainmast, and the men were fitting the rigging; the ship unfortunately had sprung a leak, and four hands at the pumps interfered very much with their task. As Ready had prophesied, before night the gale blew, the sea rose again with the gale, and the leaking of the vessel increased so much, that all other labour was suspended for that at the pump. For two more days did the storm continue, during which time the crew were worn out with fatigue - they could pump no longer: the ship, as she rolled, proved that she had a great deal of water in her hold - when, melancholy as were their prospects already, a new disaster took place, which was attended with most serious results. Captain Osborn was on the forecastle giving some orders to the men, when the strap of the block which hoisted up the main-topgallant yard on the stump of the foremast gave way, the yard and sail came down on the deck, and struck him senseless. As long as Captain Osborn commanded them, the sailors had so high an opinion of his abilities as a seaman, and were so encouraged by his cheerful disposition, that they performed their work well and cheerfully; but now that he was, if not killed, at all events senseless and incapable of action, they no longer felt themselves under control. Mackintosh was too much disliked by the seamen to allow his words to have any weight with them. They were regardless of his injunctions or requests, and they now consulted among themselves.
"The gale is broke, my men, and we shall have fine weather now," observed Ready, going up to the sailors on the forecastle. "The wind is going down fast."
"Yes," replied one of the men, "and the ship is going down fast, that's quite as certain."
"A good spell at the pumps would do us some good now," replied Ready. "What d'ye say, my lads?"
"A glass of grog or two would do us more," replied the seaman. "What d'ye say, my boys? I don't think that the captain would refuse us, poor fellow, if he could speak."
"What do you mean to do, my lads?" inquired Mackintosh: "not get drunk, I hope?"
"Why not?" observed another of the men; "the ship must go down soon."
"Perhaps she may - I will not deny it," said Mackintosh; "but that is no reason why we should not be saved: now, if you get drunk, there is no chance of any one being saved, and my life is precious to me. I'm ready to join with you in anything you please, and you may decide what is to be done; but get drunk you shall not, if I can help it, that's certain."
"And how can you help it?" replied one of the seamen, surlily.
"Because two resolute men can do a great deal - I may say three, for in this instance Ready will be of my side, and I can call to my assistance the cabin passenger - recollect the firearms are all in the cabin. But why should we quarrel? - Say at once what you intend to do; and if you have not made up your minds, will you listen to what I propose?"
As Mackintosh's courage and determination were well known, the seamen again consulted together, and then asked him what he proposed.
"We have one good boat left, the new yawl at the booms: the others, as you know, are washed away, with the exception of the little boat astern, which is useless, as she is knocked almost to pieces. Now we cannot be very far from some of the islands, indeed I think we are among them now. Let us fit out the boat with everything we require, go about our work steadily and quietly, drink as much grog as will not hurt us, and take a good provision of it with us. The boat is complete with her masts, sails, and oars; and it's very hard if we do not save ourselves somewhere. Ready, do I give good advice or not?"
"You give very good advice, Mackintosh - only what is to become of the cabin passengers, the women, and children? and are you going to leave poor Captain Osborn? or what do you mean to do?"
"We won't leave the captain," said one of the seamen.
"No - no!" exclaimed the others.
"And the passengers?"
"Very sorry for them," replied the former spokesman; "but we shall have enough to do to save our own lives."
"Well, my lads, I agree with you," said Mackintosh. "Charity begins at home. What do you say I - shall it be so?"
"Yes," replied the seamen, unanimously; and Ready knew that it was in vain to expostulate. They now set about preparing the boat, and providing for their wants. Biscuits, salt pork, two or three small casks of water, and a barrel of rum were collected at the gangway; Mackintosh brought up his quadrant and a compass, some muskets, powder and shot; the carpenter, with the assistance of another man, cut away the ship's bulwarks down to the gunnel, so as to enable them to launch the boat overboard, for they could not, of course, hoist her out now that the masts were gone. In an hour everything was prepared. A long rope was made fast to the boat, which was brought to the gunnel ready for launching overboard, and the ship's broadside was brought to the wind. As this was done, Mr. Seagrave came on deck and looked around him.
He perceived the boat ready for launching, the provisions and water at the gangway, the ship brought to the wind, and rolling slowly to the heave of the sea; at last he saw Ready sitting down by Captain Osborn, who was apparently dead. "What is all this, Ready?" inquired Seagrave. "Are they going to leave the ship? have they killed Captain Osborn?"
"No, sir, - not quite so bad as that. Poor Captain Osborn was struck down by the fall of the yard, and has been insensible ever since; but, as to the other matter, I fear that is decided: you see they are launching the boat."
"But my poor wife, she will never be able to go - she cannot move - she is so ill!"
"I'm afraid, Mr. Seagrave, that they have no idea of taking either you, or your wife, or your children, with them."
"What! leave us here to perish I Merciful Heaven! how cruel - how barbarous!"
"It is not kind, Mr. Seagrave, but still you see it is the law of nature. When it is a question of life, it is every one for himself, for life is sweet: they are not more unkind than they would be to each other, if there were too many for the boat to hold. I've seen all this before in my time," replied Ready, gravely.
"My wife! my children!" cried Mr. Seagrave, covering his face with his hands. "But I will speak to them," continued he after a pause; "surely they will listen to the dictates of humanity; at all events Mr. Mackintosh will have some power over them. Don't you think so, Ready?"
"Well, Mr. Seagrave, if I must speak, I confess to you that there is not a harder heart among them than that of Mr. Mackintosh, and it's useless speaking to him or any one of them; and you must not be too severe upon them neither: the boat is small, and could not hold more people with the provisions which they take with them - that is the fact. If they were to take you and your family into the boat, it might be the cause of all perishing together; if I thought otherwise I would try what I could do to persuade them, but it is useless."
"What must be done, then, Ready?"
"We must put our trust in a merciful God, Mr. Seagrave, who will dispose of us as he thinks fit."
"We must? What! do not you go with them?"
"No, Mr. Seagrave. I have been thinking about it this last hour, and I have made up my mind to remain with you. They intend to take poor Captain Osborn with them, and give him a chance, and have offered to take me; but I shall stay here."
"To perish?" replied Mr. Seagrave, with surprise.
"As God pleases, Mr. Seagrave I am an old man, and it is of little consequence. I care little whether I am taken away a year or two sooner, but I do not like to see blossoms cut off in early spring: I may be of use if I remain, for I've an old head upon my shoulders, and I could not leave you all to perish when you might be saved if you only knew how to act. But here the seamen come - the boat is all ready, and they will now take poor Captain Osborn with them."
The sailors came aft, and lifted up the still insensible captain. As they were going away one of them said, "Come, Ready, there's no time to lose."
"Never mind me, Williams; I shall stick to the ship," replied Ready. "I wish you success with all my heart; and, Mr. Mackintosh, I have but one promise to exact from you, and I hope you will not refuse me: which is, that if you are saved, you will not forget those you leave here on board, and take measures for their being searched for among the islands."
"Nonsense, Ready! come into the boat," replied the first mate.
"I shall stay here, Mr. Mackintosh; and I only beg that you will promise me what I ask. Acquaint Mr. Seagrave's friends with what has happened, and where it is most likely we may be found, if it please God to save us. Do you promise me that?"
"Yes, I do, if you are determined to stay; but," continued he, going up to Ready, and whispering to him, "it is madness:- come away, man!"
"Good-bye, Mr. Mackintosh," replied Ready, extending his hand. "You will keep your promise?"
After much further expostulation on the part of Mackintosh and the seamen, to which Ready gave a deaf ear, the boat was pushed off, and they made sail to the north-east.
For some time after the boat had shoved off from the ship, old Ready remained with his arms folded, watching it in silence. Mr. Seagrave stood by him; his heart was too full for utterance, for he imagined that as the boat increased her distance from the vessel, so did every ray of hope depart, and that his wife and children, himself, and the old man who was by his side were doomed to perish. His countenance was that of a man in utter despair. At last old Ready spoke.
"They think that they will be saved and that we must perish, Mr. Seagrave; they forget that there is a Power above, who will himself decide that point - a power compared to which the efforts of weak man are as nought."
"True," replied Mr. Seagrave, in a low voice; "but still what chance we can have on a sinking ship, with so many helpless creatures around us, I confess I cannot imagine."
"We must do our best, and submit to His will," replied Ready, who then went aft, and shifted the helm, so as to put the ship again before the wind.
As the old man had foretold to the seamen before they quitted the vessel, the gale was now over, and the sea had gone down considerably. The ship, however, dragged but slowly through the water, and after a short time Ready lashed the wheel, and went forward. On his return to the quarter-deck, he found Mr. Seagrave had thrown himself down (apparently in a state of despair) upon the sail on which Captain Osborn had been laid after his accident.
"Mr. Seagrave, do not give way," said Ready; "if I thought our situation hopeless, I would candidly say so; but there always is hope, even at the very worst, - and there always ought to be trust in that God without whose knowledge not a sparrow falls to the ground. But, Mr. Seagrave, I shall speak as a seaman, and tell you what our probabilities are. The ship is half-full of water, from her seams having opened by the straining in the gale, and the heavy blows which she received; but, now that the gale has abated, she has recovered herself very much. I have sounded the well, and find that she has not made many inches within the last two hours, and probably, as she closes her seams, will make less. If, therefore, it pleases God that the fine weather should continue, there is no fear of the vessel sinking under us for some time; and as we are now amongst the islands, it is not impossible, nay, it is very probable, that we may be able to run her ashore, and thins save our hives. I thought of all this when I refused to go in the boat, and I thought also, Mr. Seagrave, that if you were to have been deserted by me as well as by all the rest, you would have been unable yourself to take advantage of any chances which might turn up in your favour, and therefore I have remained, hoping, under God's providence, to be the means of assisting you and your family in this sore position. I think now it would be better that you should go down into the cabin, and with a cheerful face encourage poor Mrs. Seagrave with the change in the weather, and the hopes of arriving in some place of safety. If she does not know that the men have quitted the ship, do not tell her; say that the steward is with the other men, which will be true enough, and, if possible, leave her in the dark as to what has taken place. Master William can be trusted, and if you will send him here to me, I will talk to him."
"I hardly know what to think, Ready, or how sufficiently to thank you for your self-devotion, if I may so term it, in this exigency. That your advice is excellent and that I shall follow it, you may be assured; and, should we be saved from the death which at present stares us in the face, my gratitude—"
"Do not speak of that, sir; I am an old man with few wants, and whose life is of little use now. All I wish to feel is, that I am trying to do my duty in that situation into which it has pleased God to call me. What can this world offer to one who has roughed it all his life, and who has neither kith nor kin that he knows of to care about his death?"
Mr. Seagrave pressed the hand of Ready, and went down without making any reply. He found that his wife had been asleep for the last hour, and was not yet awake. The children were also quiet in their beds. Juno and William were the only two who were sitting up.
William made a sign to his father that his mother was asleep, and then said in a whisper, "I did not like to leave the cabin while you were on deck, hut the steward has not been here these two hours: he went to milk the goat for baby and has not returned. We have had no breakfast, none of us."
"William, go on deck," replied his father; "Ready wishes to speak to you."
William went on deck to Ready, who explained to him the position in which they were placed; he pointed out to him the necessity of his doing all he could to assist his father and him, and not to alarm his mother in her precarious state of health. William, who, as it may be expected, looked very grave, did, however, immediately enter into Ready's views, and proceeded to do his best. "The steward," said he, "has left with the other men, and when my mother wakes she will ask why the children have had no breakfast. What can I do?"
"I think you can milk one of the goats if I show you how, while I go and get the other things ready; I can leave the deck, for you see the ship steers herself very nicely; - and, William, I have sounded the well just before you came up, and I don't think she makes much water; and," continued he, looking round him, and up above, "we shall have fine weather, and a smooth sea before night."
By the united exertions of Ready and William the breakfast was prepared while Mrs. Seagrave still continued in a sound sleep. The motion of the ship was now very little: she only rolled very slowly from one side to the other; the sea and wind had gone down, and the sun shone brightly over their heads; the boat had been out of sight some time, and the ship did not go through the water faster than three miles an hour, for she had no other sail upon her than the main-topgallant sail hoisted up on the stump of the foremast. Ready, who had been some time down in the cabin, proposed to Mr. Seagrave that Juno and all the children should go on deck. "They cannot be expected to be quiet, sir; and, now that Madam is in such a sweet sleep, it would be a pity to wake her. After so much fatigue she may sheep for hours, and the longer the better, for you know that (in a short time, I trust) she will have to exert herself." Mr. Seagrave agreed to the good sense of this proposal, and went on deck with Juno and the children, leaving William in the cabin to watch his mother. Poor Juno was very much astonished when she came up the ladder and perceived the condition of the vessel, and the absence of the men; but Mr. Seagrave told her what had happened, and cautioned her against saying a word to Mrs. Seagrave. Juno promised that she would not; but the poor girl perceived the danger of their position, and, as she pressed little Albert to her bosom, a tear or two rolled down her cheeks. Even Tommy and Caroline could not help asking where the masts and sails were, and what had become of Captain Osborn.
"Look there, sir," said Ready, pointing out some floating sea-weed to Mr. Seagrave.
"I perceive it," said Mr. Seagrave; "but what then?"
"That by itself would not be quite proof," replied Ready, "but we sailors have other signs and tokens. Do you see those birds hovering over the waves?"
"Well, sir, those birds never go far from land, that's all: and now, sir, I'll go down for my quadrant; for, although I cannot tell the longitude just now, at all events I can find out the latitude we are in, and then by looking at the chart shall be able to give some kind of guess whereabout we are, if we see land soon.
"It is nearly noon now," observed Ready, reading off his quadrant, "the sun rises very slowly. What a happy thing a child is! Look, sir, at those little creatures playing about, and as merry now, and as unaware of danger, as if they were at home in their parlour. I often think, sir, it is a great blessing for a child to be called away early; and that it is selfish in parents to repine."
"Perhaps it is," replied Mr. Seagrave, looking mournfully at his children.
"It's twelve o'clock, sir. I'll just go down and work the latitude, and then I'll bring up the chart."
Mr. Seagrave remained on deck. He was soon in deep and solemn thought; nor was it to be wondered at - the ship a wreck and deserted - left alone on the wide water with his wife and helpless family, with but one to assist him: had that one deserted as well as the rest, what would have been his position then? Utter helplessness! And now what had they to expect? Their greatest hopes were to gain some island, and, if they succeeded, perhaps a desert island, perhaps an island inhabited by savages - to be murdered, or to perish miserably of hunger and thirst. It was not until some time after these reflections had passed through his mind, that Mr. Seagrave could recall himself to a sense of thankfulness to the Almighty for having hitherto preserved them, or could say with humility, "O Lord! thy will, not mine, be done." But, having once succeeded in repressing his murmurs, he then felt that he had courage and faith to undergo every trial which might be imposed upon him.
"Here is the chart, sir," said Ready, "and I have drawn a pencil line through our latitude: you perceive that it passes through this cluster of islands; and I think we must be among them, or very near. Now I must put something on for dinner, and then look sharp out for the land. Will you take a look round, Mr. Seagrave, especially a-head and on the bows?"
Ready went down to see what he could procure for dinner, as the seamen, when they left the ship, had collected almost all which came first to hand. He soon procured a piece of salt beef and some potatoes, which he put into the saucepan, and then returned on deck.
Mr. Seagrave was forward, looking over the bows, and Ready went there to him.
"Ready, I think I see something, but I can hardly tell what it is: it appears to be in the air, and yet it is not clouds. Look there, where I point my finger."
"You're right, sir," replied Ready, "there is something; it is not the land which you see, but it is the trees upon the land which are refracted, as they call it, so as to appear, as you say, as if they were in the air. That is an island, sir, depend upon it; but I will go down and get my glass.
"It is the land, Mr. Seagrave," said Ready, after examining it with his glass - "yes, it is so," continued he, musing; "I wish that we had seen it earlier; and yet we must be thankful."
"Why so, Ready?"
"Only, sir, as the ship forges so slowly through the water, I fear that we shall not reach it before dark, and I should have wished to have had daylight to have laid her nicely on it."
"There is very little wind now."
"Well, let us hope that there will be more," replied Ready; "if not, we must do our best. But I must now go to the helm, for we must steer right for the island; it would not do to pass it, for, Mr. Seagrave, although the ship does not leak so much as she did, yet I must now tell you that I do not think that she could be kept more than twenty-four hours above water. I thought otherwise this morning when I sounded the well; but when I went down in the hold for the beef, I perceived that we were in more danger than I had any idea of; however, there is the land, and every chance of escape; so let us thank the Lord for all his mercies."
"Amen!" replied Mr. Seagrave.
Ready went to the helm and steered a course for the land, which was not so far distant as he had imagined, for the island was very low: by degrees the wind freshened up, and they went faster through the water; and now, the trees, which had appeared as if in the air, joined on to the land, and they could make out that it was a low coral island covered with groves of cocoa-nuts. Occasionally Ready gave the helm up to Mr. Seagrave, and went forward to examine. When they were within three or four miles of it, Ready came back from the forecastle and said, "I think I see my way pretty clear, sir: you see we are to the windward of the island, and there is always deep water to the windward of these sort of isles, and reefs and shoals to leeward; we must, therefore, find some little cleft in the coral rock to dock her in, as it were, or she may fall back into deep water after she has taken the ground, for sometimes these islands run up like a wall, with forty or fifty fathom of water close to the weather-sides of them; but I see a spot where I think she may be put on shore with safety. You see those three cocoa-nut trees close together on the beach? Now, sir, I cannot well see them as I steer, so do you go forward, and if I am to steer more to the right, put out your right hand, and if to the left, the same with your left; and when the ship's head is as it ought to be, then drop the hand which you have raised."
"I understand, Ready," replied Mr. Seagrave; who then went forward and directed the steering of the vessel as they neared the island. When they were within half a mile of it, the colour of the water changed, very much to the satisfaction of Ready, who knew that the weather-side of the island would not be so steep as was usually the case: still it was an agitating moment as they ran on to beach. They were now within a cable's length, and still the ship did not ground; a little nearer, and there was a grating at her bottom - it was the breaking off of the coral-trees which grew below like forests under water - again she grated, and more harshly, then struck, and then again; at last she struck violently, as the swell lifted her further on, and then remained fast amid quiet. Ready let go the helm to ascertain the position of the ship. He looked over the stern and around the ship, and found that she was firmly fixed, fore and aft, upon a bed of coral rocks.
"All's well so far, sir," said Ready to Mr. Seagrave; "and now let us return thanks to Heaven."
As they rose to their feet again, after giving thanks to the Almighty, William came up and said, "Father, my mother was awakened by the noise under the ship's bottom, and is frightened - will you go down to her?"
"What is the matter, my dear, - and where have you all been?" exclaimed Mrs. Seagrave, when her husband went down below. "I have been so frightened - I was in a sound sleep, and I was awakened with such a dreadful noise."
"Be composed, my dear," replied Mr. Seagrave; "we have been in great danger, and are now, I trust, in safety. Tell me, are you not better for your long sleep?"
"Yes, much better - much stronger; but do tell me what has happened."
"Much took place, dearest, before you went to sleep, which was concealed from you; but now, as I expect we shall all go on shore in a short time—"
"Go on shore, my dear?"
"Yes, on shore. Now be calm, and hear what has happened, and how much we have reason to be grateful to Heaven."
Mr. Seagrave then entered into a detail of all that had passed. Mrs. Seagrave heard him without reply; and when he had finished, she threw herself in his arms and wept bitterly. Mr. Seagrave remained with his wife, using all his efforts to console her, until Juno reappeared with the children, for it was now getting late; then he returned on deck.
"Well, sir," said Ready, when Mr. Seagrave went up to him, "I have been looking well about me, and I think that we have great reason to be thankful. The ship is fast enough, and will not move until some violent gales come on and break her up; but of that there is no fear at present: the little wind that there is, is going down, and we shall have a calm before morning."
"I grant that there is no immediate danger, Ready; but how are we to get on shore? - and, when on shore, how are we to exist?"
"I have thought of that too, sir, and I must have your assistance, and even that of Master William, to get the little boat on board to repair her: her bottom is stove in, it is true, but I am carpenter enough for that, and with some well-tarred canvas I can make her sufficiently water-tight to land us all in safety. We must set to at daylight."
"And when we get on shore?"
"Why, Mr. Seagrave, where there are cocoa-nut trees in such plenty as there are on that island, there is no fear of starvation, even if we had not the ship's provisions. I expect a little difficulty with regard to water, for the island is low and small; but we cannot expect to find everything exactly as we wish."
"I am thankful to the Almighty for our preservation, Ready; but still there are feelings which I cannot get over. Here we are cast away upon a desolate island, which perhaps no ship may ever come near, so that there is little chance of our being taken off. It is a melancholy and cruel fate, Ready, and that you must acknowledge."
"Mr. Seagrave, as an old man compared to you, I may venture to say that you are ungrateful to Heaven to give way to these repinings. What is said in the book of Job? 'Shall we receive good of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?' Besides, who knows whether good may not proceed from what appears evil? I beg your pardon, Mr. Seagrave, I hope I have not offended you; but, indeed, sir, I felt that it was my duty to speak as I have done."
"You have reproved me very just]y, Ready; and I thank you for it," replied Mr. Seagrave; "I will repine no more, but make the best of it."
"And trust in God, sir, who, if he thinks fit, will restore you once more to your friends, and increase tenfold your flocks and herds."
"That quotation becomes very apt, Ready," replied Mr. Seagrave, smiling, "considering that all my prospects are in flocks and herds upon my land in New South Wales. I must put myself under your orders; for, in our present position, you are my superior - knowledge is power. Can we do anything to-night?"
"I can do a little, Mr. Seagrave; but you cannot assist me till tomorrow morning, except indeed to help me to drag these two spars aft; and then I can rig a pair of sheers, and have them all ready for hoisting up to-morrow morning to get the boat in. You see, with so little strength on board, and no masts, we shall be obliged to contrive."
Mr. Seagrave assisted Ready in getting the two spars aft, and laid on the spot which was required. "There now, Mr. Seagrave, you may go down below. William had better let loose the two dogs, and give them a little victuals, for we have quite forgot them, poor things. I shall keep watch to-night, for I have plenty to do, and plenty to think of; so, good-night, sir."
Ready remained on deck, lashing the heads of the spars, and fixing his tackles ready for the morrow. When all was done, he sat down upon one of the hen-coops aft, and remained in deep thought. At last, tired with watching and exertion, the old man fell asleep. He was awakened at daylight by the dogs, who had been set at liberty, and who, after walking about the ship and finding nobody, had then gone to sleep at the cabin door. At daybreak they had roused up, and going on deck had found old Ready asleep on the hen-coop, and were licking his face in their joy at having discovered him. "Ay," said the old man, as he got off the hen-coop, "you'll all three be useful, if I mistake not, by and by. Down, Vixen, down - poor creature, you've lost a good master, I'm afraid."
"Stop - now let me see," said Ready, talking to himself; "first - but I'll get the log board and a bit of chalk, and write them down, for my memory is not quite so good as it was."
Ready placed the logboard on the hen-coop, and then wrote on it with the chalk:— "Three dogs, two goats, and Billy the kid (I think there's five pigs); fowls (quite enough); three or four pigeons (I'm sure); the cow (she has lain down and won't get up again, I'm afraid, so we must kill her); and there's the merino ram and sheep belonging to Mr. Seagrave - plenty of live stock. Now, what's the first things we must get on shore after we are all landed - a spar and topgallant sail for a tent, a coil or two of rope, a mattress or two for Madam and the children, two axes, hammer and nails, something to eat - yes, and something to cut it with. There, that will do for the present," said old Ready, getting up. "Now, I'll just light the fire, get the water on, and, while I think of it, boil two or three pieces of beef and pork to go on shore with them; and then I'll call up Mr. Seagrave, for I reckon it will be a hard day's work."
As soon as Ready had executed his intentions, and had fed the animals, he went to the cabin and called Mr. Seagrave and William. With their assistance the sheers were raised, and secured in their place; the boat was then hooked on, but, as one person was required to bear it clear of the davits and taffrail, they could not hoist it in.
"Master William, will you run down to Juno, and tell her to come on deck to assist us - we must all work now?"
William soon returned with Juno, who was a strong girl; and, with her assistance, they succeeded in getting the boat in.
The boat was turned over, and Ready commenced his work; while Mr. Seagrave, at his request, put the pitch-pot on the galley fire, all ready for pitching the canvas when it was nailed on. It was not till dinner-time that Ready, who had worked hard, could patch up the boat; he then payed the canvas and the seams which he had caulked with pitch both inside and out.
"I think we shall do now, sir," said Ready; "we'll drag her to the gangway and launch her. It's fortunate for us that they did clear away the gunnel, as we shall have no trouble."
A rope was made fast to the boat, to hold her to the ship: she was then launched over the gunnel by the united exertions of Mr. Seagrave and Ready, and to their great satisfaction she appeared to leak very little.
"Now, sir," said Ready, "what shall we do first - take some things on shore, or some of the children?"
"What do you say, Ready?"
"I think as the water is as smooth as glass, and we can land anywhere, you and I had better go first to reconnoitre, - it is not two hundred yards to the beach, and we shall lose but little time."
"Very well, Ready, I will first run down and tell my wife."
"And, in the meanwhile, I'll put the sail into the boat, and one or two other things."
Ready put the sail in, an axe, a musket, and some cord; then they both got into the boat and pulled on shore.
When they landed, they found that they could see nothing of the interior of the island, the cocoa-nut groves were so thick; but to their right they perceived, at about a quarter of a mile off, a small sandy cove, with brushwood growing in front of the cocoa-nut trees.
"That," said Ready, pointing to it, "must be our location. Let us get into the boat again and pull to it."
In a few minutes they arrived at the cove; the water was shallow, and as clear as crystal. Beneath the boat's bottom they could see beautiful shells, and the fish darting about in every direction.
The sand extended about forty yards from the water, and then commenced the brushwood, which ran back about forty yards further, intermingled with single cocoa-nut trees, until it joined the cocoa-nut grove. They pulled the boat in and landed.
"What a lovely spot this is!" exclaimed Mr. Seagrave; "and perhaps mortal man has never yet visited it till now: those cocoa-nuts have borne their fruit year after year, have died, and others have sprung up in their stead; and here has this spot remained, perhaps for centuries, all ready for man to live in, and to enjoy whenever he should come to it."
"Providence is bountiful, Mr. Seagrave," replied Ready, "and supplies our wants when we least expect it. If you please we will walk a little way into the wood: take the gun as a precaution, sir; not that there appears to be much occasion for it - there is seldom anything wild on these small islands, except a pig or two has been put on shore by considerate Christians."
"Well, now that we are in the grove, Ready, what do you think?"
"I was looking for a place to fix a tent up for the present, sir, and I think that on that little rise would be a very good place till we can look about us and do better; but we have no time now, sir, for we have plenty of trips to make before nightfall. If you please, we'll haul the sail and other articles on to the beach, and then return on board."
As they were pulling the boat back, Ready said, "I've been thinking about what is best, Mr. Seagrave. Would Mrs. Seagrave mind your leaving her? - if not, I should say we should have Juno and William on shore first, as they can be of use."
"I do not think that she will mind being left on board with William and the children, provided that I return for her when she is to come on shore herself with the baby."
"Well then, let William remain on board, if you please, sir. I'll land you and Juno, Tommy, and the dogs, this time, for they will be a protection in case of accidents. You and Juno can be doing something while I return by myself for the other articles we shall require."
As soon as they arrived on board, Mr. Seagrave went down to cheer his wife with the account of what they had seen. While he was down below, Ready had cast off the lashings of the two spars which had formed the sheers, and dragging them forward, had launched them over the gunnel, with lines fast to them, ready for towing on shore. In a few minutes Juno and Tommy made their appearance on deck; Ready put some tools into the boat, and a couple of shovels, which he brought up when he went for the dogs, and once more they landed at the sandy cove. Tommy stared about him a great deal, but did not speak, until he saw the shells lying on the beach, when he screamed with delight, and began to pick them up as fast as he could; the dogs barked and galloped about, overjoyed at being once more on shore; and Juno smiled as she looked around her, saying to Ready, "What a nice place!"
"Now, Mr. Seagrave, I'll remain on shore with you a little. First, we'll load the musket in case of need, and then you can put it out of the way of Tommy, who fingers everything, I observe. We will take up the sail between us. Juno, you can carry the tools; and then we can come back again for the spars, and the rope, and the other things. Come, Tommy, you can carry a shovel at all events, and that will make you of some use."
Having taken all these things to the little knoll which Ready had pointed out before, they returned for the spars; and in two trips they had carried everything there, Tommy with the second shovel on his shoulder, and very proud to be employed.
"Here are two trees which will answer our purpose pretty well," said Ready, "as they are far enough apart: we must lash the spars up to them, and then throw the sail over, and bring it down to the ground at both ends; that will be a beginning, at all events; and I will bring some more canvas on shore, to set up the other tent between these other trees, and also to shut up the two ends of both of them; then we shall have a shelter for Madam, and Juno, and the younger children, and another for William, Tommy, and ourselves. Now, sir, I'll just help you to lash the spars, and then I'll leave you to finish while I go on board again."
"But how can we reach so high, Ready?"
"Why, sir, we can manage that by first lashing a spar as high as we can conveniently reach, and then standing on that while we lash the other in its proper place. I shall bring another spar on shore, that we may do the same when we set up the other tent."
Having by this plan succeeded in lashing the spar high enough, and throwing the sail over the spar, Ready and Mr. Seagrave spread it out, and found that it made a very good-sized tent.
"Now, sir, I'll return on board; in the meantime, if you can cut pegs from the brush wood to fasten the sail down to the ground, and then with the shovel cover the bottom of it with sand to keep it down, it will be close enough when it is all finished."
"I shall do very well," replied Mr. Seagrave; "Juno can help me to pull the canvas out tight when I am ready."
"Yes; and in the meantime, Juno, take a shovel, and level the inside of the tent nice and smooth, and throw out all those old cocoa-nut leaves, and look if you see any vermin lurking among them. Master Tommy, you must not run away; and you must not touch the axes, they will cut you if you do. It may be as well to say, Mr. Seagrave, that should anything happen, and you require my assistance, you had better fire off the gun, and I will come on shore to you immediately."
When Ready returned on board, he first went down into the cabin to acquaint Mrs. Seagrave and William with what they had done. Mrs. Seagrave naturally felt anxious about her husband being on shore alone, and Ready informed her that they had agreed that if anything should occur Mr. Seagrave would fire the musket. He then went down into the sail-room to get some canvas, a new topgallant sail which was there, and a palm and needles with twine. Scarcely had he got them out, and at the foot of the ladder, when the report of the musket was heard, and Mrs. Seagrave rushed out of the cabin in the greatest alarm; Ready seized another musket, jumped into the boat, and pulled on shore as fast as he could. On his arrival, quite out of breath, for as he pulled on shore he had his back towards it, and could see nothing, he found Mr. Seagrave and Juno busy with the tent, and Tommy sitting on the ground crying very lustily. It appeared that, while Mr Seagrave and Juno were employed, Tommy had crept away to where the musket was placed up on end against a cocoa-nut tree, and, after pulling it about some little while, had touched the trigger. The musket went off; and, as the muzzle was pointed upwards, the charge had brought down two large cocoa-nuts. Mr. Seagrave, who was aware what an alarm this would produce on board the vessel, had been scolding him soundly, and now Master Tommy was crying, to prove how very penitent he was.
"I had better return on board immediately, sir, and tell Mrs. Seagrave," said Ready.
"Do, pray," replir. Seagrave.
Ready then returned to the ship, and explained matters, and then recommenced his labour.
Having put into the boat the sailmaker's bag, with palm and needles, two mattresses, and blankets from the captain's state room, the saucepan with the beef and pork, and a spar which he towed astern, Ready found that he had as much as he could carry; but, as there was nobody but himself in it, he came on shore very well. Having, with the assistance of Mr. Seagrave and Juno, got all the things up to the knoll, Ready lashed the spar up for the second tent, and then leaving them to fix it up like the other, he returned again on board. He made two other trips to the ship, bringing with him more bedding, a bag of ship's biscuits, another of potatoes, plates, knives and forks, spoons, frying-pans and other cooking utensils, and a variety of other articles. He then showed Juno how to fill up the ends of the first tent with the canvas and sails he had brought on shore, so as to inclose it all round; Juno took the needle and twine, and worked very well. Ready, satisfied that she would be able to get on without them, now said: "Mr. Seagrave, we have but two hours more daylight, and it is right that Mrs. Seagrave should come on shore now; so, if you please, we'll go off and fetch her and the children. I think we shall be able to do very well for the first night; and if it pleases God to give us fine weather, we may do a great deal more to-morrow."
As soon as they arrived on board, Mr. Seagrave went down to his wife to propose her going on shore. She was much agitated, and very weak from her illness, but she behaved courageously notwithstanding, and, supported by her husband, gained the deck, William following with the baby, and his little sister Caroline carried by Ready. With some difficulty they were all at last placed in the boat and shoved off; but Mrs. Seagrave was so ill, that her husband was obliged to support her in his arms, and William took an oar. They landed very safely, and carried Mrs. Seagrave up to the tent, and laid her down on one of the mattresses. She asked for a little water.
"And I have forgotten to bring any with me: well, I am a stupid old man; but I'll go on board directly," said Ready: "to think that I should be so busy in bringing other things on shore and forget the greatest necessary in life! The fact is, I intended to look for it on the island as soon as I could, as it would save a great deal of trouble."
Ready returned on board as fast as he could, and brought on shore two kegs of fresh water, which he and William rolled up to the tent.
Juno had completely finished her task, and Mrs. Seagrave having drank some water, declared that she was much better.
"I shall not return on board any more to-night," said Ready, "I feel tired - very tired indeed."
"You must be," replied Mr. Seagrave; "do not think of doing any more."
"And I haven't touched food this day, or even quenched my thirst," replied Ready, sitting down.
"You are ill, are you not, Ready?" said William.