Peter Biddulph, by W.H.G. Kingston.
Peter's mother and father were barge people on the London river, the Thames. But the father dies, and Peter and his mother are destitute. She goes out to do cleaning etcetera, and Peter scavenges by the river-side. The boys who did this used to be called mudlarks. Peter's mother dies. One day a man called Mr Wells and his friends come by in a boat, and cast money for the mudlarks to dive for. Unfortunately Wells loses his valuable gold ring in doing this. He leaves his card with Peter, who finds the ring, and returns it.
Struck with this honesty Wells gives the orphan and destitute boy a home. Wells is a shipowner, and when Peter is fourteen he is given an apprenticeship on one of his ships. Peter makes his way up till he is a senior officer, but marries a girl in London, whose father owns one small vessel, and when he is dying he makes the vessel and the goodwill over to Peter. Wells's business fails, and with it go Peter's savings.
Peter and his wife and children have a sea-going life, but eventually decide to settle in Australia. Arriving there they found it hard to avoid the escaped convicts who are roaming the land and giving everybody a hard time.
All these situations are well written, and you will enjoy the book.
PETER BIDDULPH, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
THE SETTLER'S EARLY DAYS.
From my earliest days to the present time I have been gradually climbing up the ladder towards a comfortable berth on the top; and if a ratlin has given way beneath my feet, I always have had a firm hold above my head. The first step I took was off the mud on to dry ground. I can recollect nothing clearly before that time. I was born on board a river barge, and never left it, winter nor summer, till I was fully six years old. One day the barge took the mud, which is not surprising, considering that I was the only person on deck. I ran to the helm to turn her head off the shore, but it was too late—there she stuck hard and fast. My mother was below, tending my father, and he lay dying. It was the barge's last voyage, and his too. Both had seen much service. The barge never moved again, but went on rotting and rotting till the owner sold her and she was broken up.
Father died that night, and a boat came and took mother and me on shore, with father's body, and such property as we possessed—not much, I fancy,—a kettle and pot, some plates, and knives, and cups, and a few clothes,—we hadn't wanted furniture, and with these mother and I had to begin the world. She said things might have been worse, for she might have had a dozen children instead of one, and debts to pay—and she didn't owe a farthing, which was a great comfort in her affliction.
My mother was indeed, while she lived, a very good mother to me, for she taught me to distinguish right from wrong, to love the former and to hate the latter. As may be supposed, she was very poor, and I was often without a meal. I know, too, that she frequently stinted herself to give me food. She lived on the banks of the Thames somewhere below London, and I very soon found my way down to the mud, where I now and then used to pick up odds and ends, bits of iron and copper, and sometimes even coin, and chips of wood. The first my mother used to sell, and I often got enough in the week to buy us a hearty meal; the last served to boil our kettle when we had any food to cook in it. Few rich people know how the poor live; our way was a strange one. My poor mother used to work with her needle, and go out as a charwoman, and to wash, when she could get any one to wash for, but that was seldom; and toil as hard as she might, a difficult matter she had to pay the rent of the little room in which we lived. She felt sorely the struggle she had to endure with poverty, for she had seen better days—far better, I suspect,—and was not accustomed to it. She was, I have reason to believe, well educated—at all events, much above most persons in the station in life she then occupied; and, young as I was, she taught me to read, and to repeat poetry, and to sing psalms; and though I forget nearly all the events of my life at that time, I remember many of the verses she taught me; they have been a wonderful comfort to me through life. My mother had married unwisely, I have no doubt, and if she ever had any relations, they discarded her; so she was very soon reduced to the condition I have described, aided by an illness which at length terminated in her death.
I was about eight years old when I became an orphan; but my intellects were sharpened by exercise, and I was as precocious as many children double my age. As I was able to do something to gain my own livelihood, the people of the house where we lodged took compassion on me, and, instead of sending me to the workhouse, gave me the corner of a garret to sleep in. I understood the compact, and worked harder than ever.
Young as I was I felt my mother's loss most bitterly. We had been all in all to each other, and I should have broken down altogether with grief, had not my kind host roused me up and advised me to go out and try and do something to gain my livelihood. Hunger is a severe taskmaster; it makes many an idle man work.
I now became a regular mudlark, though I got employment when I could by running on errands and in assisting the boatmen on the river. I was one summer's day, with a number of other boys, wading up to my knees in the water, when a boat with several gentlemen on a pleasure excursion came down the river, and pulled into the shore near where we were. Some of the gentlemen landed, while the others who remained in the boat amused themselves by throwing halfpence into the water for us to dive after. They scattered them about in every direction, so that many coins were altogether lost; for as the boys rushed after them they drove them into the mud.
At last, as I was standing some way from the other boys, a gentleman threw a penny towards me; but it passed over my head and fell into deep water, and directly afterwards I heard him exclaim—
"Dear me! I've lost my ring—my diamond ring, too. I would not have lost it for a hundred pounds."
As he had been throwing pence in various directions, he had no notion where it had fallen, though he naturally concluded that it had come off at one of those times. As I saw that he was very much annoyed at his loss I felt sorry for him; so I went up to him, and told him that I would hunt about for his ring, and that if I found it I would gladly bring it to him, provided he would tell me where he lived.
"But don't you bargain for a reward?" asked one of his companions.
"That depends upon how far off the gentleman lives," I replied. "If near at hand this errand may be only worth a sixpence; but if far off, perhaps he won't think a shilling too much to give me."
"I'll tell you what, my man; I'll gladly give you ten shillings if you find it; but I fear there is little chance of your so doing," replied the gentleman, smiling.
"There's nothing like trying, sir," I replied; "and if you'll tell me your name and where you live, if I pick it up you shall have it again."
"Well, then, you must inquire for Mr Wells, — Street, — Square, London," said the gentleman.
"If you write it down I shall have less chance of forgetting it," I replied.
"That would be little use to you, my man," he observed; "you cannot read, I should suppose."
"But I can, though," I replied. "Give me your card, and you will see I speak the truth."
On this one of the gentlemen drew out a card from his pocket, and wrote some words on it with a pencil, while I washed my hands and dried them in my shirt-sleeves. He then handed me the card. I looked at it and saw that it was in a language I could not understand.
"Those are Latin words, and I did not say I could read any language," I observed, handing him back his card.
"You are right, my boy," said the gentleman who had lost his ring; "but here are some lines in English: let us hear if you can read them."
I looked at the lines attentively: they were at the commencement of a poem my mother had taught me; so I not only read them off fluently, but, to the great surprise of all present, went on repeating the succeeding ones.
"Bravo! bravo!" exclaimed the gentlemen, highly delighted. "You're a genius, my lad—a perfect marvel. A mudlark spout poetry! Truly the schoolmaster is abroad."
"Who taught you your learning, my boy?" asked another.
"My mother, sir," I replied, calmly, and rather surprised at their expressions, for I saw nothing wonderful in my performance.
"I should like to see this mother of yours; she must be out of the common way too," observed the same person.
"Mother is dead, sir," I answered, crying; for the very mention of her name wrung my young heart with grief.
"There is something more here than meets the eye," said Mr Wells. "My poor boy, don't cry. Come to-morrow to my house, whether you find my ring or not. In the meantime here is half a crown; your poetry deserves it."
I took the money almost mechanically; for I was thinking of my mother, and was scarcely aware of the amount of wealth I was receiving.
On seeing Mr Wells give me money, the other gentlemen did the same, and some even gave me as much as five shillings; so that I felt as if coin was raining down on me from the skies. My tears dried up, and, for a minute, I felt supremely happy; but on a sudden the thought occurred to me, that if my mother had been alive how happy it would have made her, and I burst forth into tears again.
Mr Wells on this asked me why I cried; so I told him the truth, and he believed me; though I believe, from the expression of some of the other gentlemen's faces, that they fancied I was crying to gain their compassion: at all events, they gave me no more money, and their companions returning to the boat, they shoved off and continued their course down the river.
As soon as they were gone I began to collect my thoughts, and to consider my best chance of finding the lost ring. As I heard Mr Wells say that he would not have lost it for a hundred pounds, I believed that was its value, and though I had no just conception of how much a hundred pounds was, I knew that it must be a great deal of money. I was therefore very anxious to restore it to the kind gentleman.
Here I benefited by my good mother's instruction; and I believed her spirit watched over me to keep me from evil; for it never occurred to me, as I am sorry to say it did to some of the other boys who overheard the gentleman's observation, that it would be easier if the ring was found to sell it and secure its value, than to trust to the chance of obtaining a small reward by returning it to its proper owner.
I fortunately overheard them plotting to secure the ring for themselves, and I determined to counteract their plan. Though the water was deep where the ring had fallen there was no current, as it was in a little bay in the bank of the river, and what was more, I remembered that the ground was rather harder than that surrounding it, and that it rose slightly outside.
These circumstances gave me hopes of finding the ring; so I sat down at some little distance on the bank, pretending to be counting the money I had received, but in reality watching narrowly the spot where I thought it had fallen.
I do not mean to say that I was indifferent to my good fortune, but I honestly believe I thought much more of the pleasure it would give the poor people who had charitably taken care of me in my destitution, than of the benefit I should myself derive from it.
The tide had only run off a very little when the ring was thrown in, so that I had a considerable time to wait; but though I grew very hungry, and felt that I might enjoy a plentiful meal, I would not quit my post; indeed, I was accustomed to starve, so that did not incommode me much.
Slowly the tide receded, and one after one the other boys went away. At last the bank appeared, and the intervening space was left with very little water over it. I was in hopes that none of the other boys would return to interrupt me in my search; but, to my annoyance, just as the mud was left quite clear, two of them came back, and immediately tucking up their trousers, hurried into the mud.
Now it so happened that I had carefully noted where the penny had fallen, and if I had been alone, I could have gone straight to the place. But, wishing to mislead my rivals in the search, I waded into the water at a considerable distance from the spot. Glad of a clue, the other mud-larks came over to me in a hurry, and began hunting about. Leaving them there, I went to another place, and so on till I gradually approached the spot where I thought the ring had fallen. They again followed me, and as I was stooping down I heard one of them cry out, and I thought he had found the treasure, but it was only the penny Mr Wells had thrown me. "Ho! ho!" I thought, "the ring will not have reached as far as that, but I must make haste and find it, or it will be too dark to see anything." The other boys thought the ring must be close to the penny, and kept turning up the mud in every direction round it, while I worked my way straight on to where the boat had been. I had begun to think that I must have passed it, when I saw something glitter in a little pool of water just under a large stone. I stooped down, and to my joy I found that it was the gold ring. My first impulse was to sing out, but then it struck me that I might run some chance of being robbed of my treasure, and that it would be a just punishment to the naughty boys to keep them still hunting for it; so, instead of saying anything about the matter, I pretended to be groping on as before, and at last, on getting near the shore, I exclaimed that there was no chance of any one finding it that night, and that I should go home. On getting on shore I ran as fast as my legs would carry me, eager to give my charitable friends an account of my good fortune, but with regard to the ring I said not a word. The instinctive caution I possessed taught me that it would be wiser to say nothing, even to them, about it. I told them, as was the case, that the money had been given to me by the gentlemen for repeating poetry to them.
We had a capital supper that night, the best I had ever enjoyed; and giving my wealth to my friends to keep for me, I set off the next morning, my heart beating high with satisfaction, to restore the ring to Mr Wells.
I found his house without much difficulty, although I had never been in that part of London before, but my wits were not at fault on this occasion more than on any other. A domestic opened the door, whom I at first took to be a very great lord, for I had seldom before seen a livery servant; but when he told me that his master was not at home, and he could not say when he would return, and without deigning any further answer slammed the door in my face, I guessed who he was. I accordingly sat down on the steps to wait patiently for the return of Mr Wells. As I had been thinking all night long of my good fortune, I had not slept a wink, and it was therefore not surprising that I fell very fast asleep where I sat. How long I thus remained dreaming of the events of the previous day I do not know, when I was awaked by the sound of a kind voice in my ear, and opening my eyes I saw Mr Wells standing before me.
"Ah, my little poet!" he exclaimed; "you here already!"
"Yes, sir," I answered, jumping up; "and I have found your ring, and brought it to you too."
"Have you indeed? That is more than I expected," he replied. "But come in, and you can then give me the ring, and tell me something about yourself."
So I went into his house, and he was evidently pleased when he saw the ring, which I had washed and wrapped up carefully in a bit of rag, and it looked clean and bright. He then took me into the parlour, where two ladies were sitting at breakfast, where he made me join them, all untidy as I was, at their meal; after which he desired me to give a full account of myself, and to recite some more poetry, all of which I did, apparently much to the satisfaction of the party present.
"'Twere a pity for the child to grow up neglected and uncared for, as will probably be his fate, till he becomes in no way superior to the uncultivated, ignorant men among whom he will be doomed to live," observed one of the ladies to Mr Wells, who was, I found, his wife. "Can you do anything for him?"
"I was thinking on the subject, my love," answered Mr Wells. "The question in my mind is, 'In what position shall he be placed?'"
"Oh, my dear, that is very easy," replied the lady, in an eager tone; "send him to a good school, and then make him one of your clerks."
"That might not prove a real kindness after all," said her husband; "he has already, by his own exertions and good conduct, made one step up the ladder, and I think it will be wiser to leave him to work his own way upward. He will then be less liable to slip down again. I will keep an eye on him, and give him advice when he requires it."
This I believe he said for my benefit, that I might not fancy that I had nothing further to do than to wait for the coming of good luck, as is the case too often with certain people, who then grumble and find fault with the world because their luck never comes. I do not mean to say that opportunities do not occur to some men more frequently than to others, but I believe that they visit most of us at some time or other of our lives, and that it is our own fault if we do not take advantage of them.
"But I will learn what the boy himself has to say on the subject," said Mr Wells.—"What would you like to do, my lad?"
"I want to be a sailor, sir," I answered, promptly; for such had been the earnest desire of my life; "I wish to go to some of the places the ships I see passing up and down the river visit."
"You are too young yet to go to sea, but when you are old enough you cannot perhaps do better. The sea requires people of sense more than any other, and yet some persons send the dunce of the family on board ship, and then are surprised that he does not get on. You shall now go back to the friends who have taken care of you, and who seem good people. We must find somebody to whom you may go when you wish to get some more learning, and I dare say you will find some means of earning your bread till you are old enough to go to sea.
"By-the-by, I must not forget the reward I promised you for finding my ring. I will bring it down to you to-morrow or next day, if you will in the meantime trust me."
He said this smiling, and I felt sure he would not deceive me. At the same time I told him that he had paid me before handsomely, and that I did not want any other reward. He told me that must rest with him, and that I was fairly entitled to it. He then bade me good-bye.
With a joyful heart I returned home to record to my friends all that had happened.
Mr Wells was as good as his word, and the following day I saw him on horseback, inquiring his way to the street where I lived. I went up to him, and led him to the house. He then dismounted, and giving his horse to another boy to hold, he called me in, and told my friends that he had spoken to the curate of the parish about me, and that I might go to him two hours every evening after I had done my work. He then gave me five pounds, advising me to rig myself out neatly; and he told me besides that he had spoken to some of the boatmen in the neighbourhood, who he thought were very likely to employ me if I applied to them. After a few more words of advice the good gentleman took his departure.
Now Mr Wells was a man of sound sense, and his conduct was, I have reason to know, most judicious. He saw that I was accustomed to act for myself, young as I was, and that I should have less chance of slipping off the ladder, if I mounted each ratlin by myself; and he considered that as I was of somewhat a poetical temperament, if my mind received a hot bed forcing at too early an age, I should be unfitted to struggle on in this every-day working world. Had he, as his wife recommended him, sent me to a boarding school, where I should have had everything done for me, I should probably very soon have lost that habit of dependence on my own exertions which has been the great cause of my success in life; and the routine style of education I should there have received would certainly not have compensated for the loss of the other advantage, nor would the amount of knowledge I should have gained have been in all probability in any way equal to that I obtained from my evenings' study with the good curate, Mr Hamlin.
Depend upon it, after children are shown what is right, the sooner they are taught self-reliance the better. It is the principle I have followed out with my own, and they are now independent men, and are grateful to me for it. I began with them as soon as they were weaned; before that time I did not consider I ought to interfere with my wife. I never let one of them have a meal before he had performed some task for it, nor a new frock or jacket. Sometimes I would set a week's work, and let them get through it as they liked, provided they had earned their food. I thus very early found out their characters, and the amount of perseverance and energy they possessed, and managed them accordingly. They all got through their work in the set time, but in different ways. One would set to work the moment he knew what he was to do, and toil away till it was completed; another would commence more leisurely, then go to some other occupation or amusement, and then return to his regular labours; a third would take the whole time to complete the undertaking, but it was invariably done well. I taught my own boys the advantages of industry, and they soon learned to like labour for itself. They have never been idle, and consequently have never been vicious.
For six or seven years I lived on with my old friends, spending all the day on the river assisting the boatmen to take care of their boats, and, as I grew bigger, in rowing, till I had saved enough money to get a share of a boat myself, while every evening that Mr Hamlin was able to receive me I paid him a visit. At the time I was fourteen my wish to go to sea, grew stronger than ever, and Mr Wells at once acceded to it, and told me that he would gladly find me a berth in one of his own vessels, for he was, what I forgot before to say, an extensive shipowner. He advised me to sell my share in the boat, and to invest the amount, with my subsequent savings, in the savings bank, telling me that he had such entire confidence in me that he would gladly advance the money for my outfit.
I was accordingly entered as an apprentice, and made my first voyage, in the good ship the Mary Jane, to the Brazils. The next was round Cape Horn to the coast of Chili and Peru, and on my return I made a trip up the Baltic. Indeed, for many years I was constantly at sea, during which time I visited various parts of the world.
When I was out of my apprenticeship I began to lay by half of my wages, and then to do a little trading on my own account, by which I made money. I at last worked my way from before the mast to the quarter-deck, and became third officer of a fine ship trading to the Cape. I probably should have become master of her in time, but on my return home I fell in love and married. My wife was young, pretty, and well educated according to my taste—that is to say, she had been brought up at home by a good sensible mother, who never thought of letting her learn to play on the piano, nor to dance, nor any accomplishment useless to one in the rank she appeared destined to fill. Her father was the owner and master of a small trader running between London and Ramsgate. After I married I made two more trips to the Cape, and on my return from the second I found my father-in-law on the point of death. He made me promise to remain at home to take care of his widow and daughter, and on these conditions made me over his vessel and the goodwill of his trade. For some years I followed this line with varied success, but I did not save much money, as my family increased rapidly, and my expenses were proportionably heavy. I lost a considerable part of my savings through the failure of my poor friend Mr Wells, in whose hands my money was placed; but I did not repine at this on my own account, for I considered that the lessons he had taught me were of far more value than the amount of my wealth, but I grieved deeply that he should be the sufferer. He was by this time an old man, and his creditors allowed him a comfortable income till his death.
THE VOYAGE TO AUSTRALIA.
At length my vessel wore out, and I was compelled to build a new one. She was a fine schooner of nearly sixty tons, and was a capital sea boat. I ran her for about three years, but I found that she was almost too good for the trade she was engaged in. At this time I met with an old shipmate who had made several trips to New South Wales, or, as it was then called commonly, to Botany Bay, and he gave me glowing accounts of the success of some of the free settlers who had gone out there. This made me think about the subject and set to work to collect information from all the people I met who knew anything about the country. One and all combined in asserting that it was a very fine country, and that large fortunes were to be made in one way or another, but they chiefly spoke in praise of the fine pastures for sheep which existed. From what I could pick up, however, I surmised that the sheep in general were of a very inferior quality, and that if some of the best breeds could be introduced, not only would the colony be benefited, but the person who brought them over. For some weeks I turned the subject in my mind. I had plenty of time to think about it in my passages up and down the river when obliged to bring up for the tide, and at last I broached it to my wife, and told her that my opinion was that a far better livelihood might be made in the new country than such people as ourselves could hope for in England.
"You see how it is, my dear Martha," I said, "for many years your good father toiled on in this trade, and though he lived comfortably and brought you up well, he saved no money; and had he met with any reverse like the loss of his vessel the case might have been different, and he might easily have been ruined. Now, although I have worked harder than he was able to do, and consequently have kept my head above water, with a large family and greater expenses, I also have saved little, and am sadly puzzled to know what to do with our boys, and I shall be unwilling to send our pretty girls out to service; yet if they do not marry I can never expect to leave enough to support them.
"I have been thinking of a hundred different ways of improving our fortune in England, but not one has occurred to me in which the risk of loss has not been too great. Thousands of families are exactly in our position, and the fathers must feel that not only have they no chance of rising in the world, but that when they die they must leave their daughters exposed to all the dangers of a life of dependence. For the boys I fear less; they will if they survive make their own way in life as I have done, and are more fitted to bear its ups and downs. Now, my dear wife, I know you would be ready to follow me to the end of the world, even if it were to penury or death, but I am not going to ask you to do that. I am going to propose to go to a far distant land, where I trust we shall not only gain wealth, but happiness and contentment, and see our family happily settled."
My wife, as I knew she would be, was ready to enter into my views, though, as she had never been at sea further than Ramsgate, she could not help looking with some dread at the long voyage, and she had read some rather exaggerated accounts of bush-rangers and savages in Botany Bay which were enough to frighten her. I soon, however, quieted all her fears about the voyage as well as about the savages and bush-rangers, and though I did not conceal from her that there were many difficulties to be overcome, and dangers to be encountered, I pictured the future to her in the bright colours it appeared to my own imagination. My eldest boy was at sea, but we expected his return every day, and at all events I determined to wait his arrival. The two next were accustomed to sail with me in the schooner, where I did my beat to give them all the learning I had gained from the good curate, Mr Hamlin, and had since then picked up by my own exertions. Though they were still boys, they were very useful on board, and could take the helm and work the vessel as well as any grownup man. I had eight of them, four boys and four girls, and the two youngest were still children. The elder ones were delighted at my proposal,—the boy, at the thought of making a long sea voyage, of seeing strange lands, and hunting the kangaroo; the girl, at being able to accompany me and their brothers, and having to tend a farm, and live under a bright blue sky. Whether it entered into the calculation of the eldest that she might be able to pick and choose a husband from the number of young men who were certain to be on the shore with speaking-trumpets to beg her to marry them, I do not pretend to say, but it was then the case as now,—no girl could remain in the colony without being asked to wed every day in the week till she made her choice.
Having made up our minds to go, the next thing to be thought of was the way to accomplish our objects. Without hesitation, I determined to perform the voyage in my own vessel. She was a remarkably good sea boat, and a fast sailer, and for her size was very roomy. She was called by a curious coincidence the May Flower, which was the name of the vessel which carried over the first pilgrim fathers to America; and certainly, when my vessel was named, I never contemplated attempting to cross the ocean in her. Although she was under sixty tons, I considered that properly handled she was as well calculated to double the Cape as a far larger vessel, and I felt sure from what I had heard, that if I got her out safe to the colony she would fetch a high price. If, however, she was to be swamped—as my whole family and property would have gone to the bottom at the same time—there would be no one left behind to mourn our loss. I do not mean to say that I for one moment thought we should be lost, but still I knew that it was possible, and I reconciled myself to the chance with that reflection.
The first thing I did was to haul up my vessel, and to give her a thorough repair, then to refit her rigging, and to raise her bulwarks somewhat, so as to make her snugger. As she was from the first fitted so as to be easily handled, her masts were short and very stout; and as her hull was as strong as wood and iron could make it, she was in every way suited for a long sea voyage. As I had made up my mind to attempt to carry out some sheep, I divided her hold into compartments, one as a pen, another for hay and water, a third for implements of agriculture, and a few select goods which I calculated would sell well, and provisions for ourselves. In the after part of the vessel were cabins for my wife, myself, and my daughters, while the boys with the two men who formed the crew were berthed forward.
Just as my preparations were ready my eldest son returned home from sea, and delighted he was to find that his next voyage was to be made with those he loved.
I was fortunate in disposing of my house and the heavier part of my furniture to advantage, and the remainder I stowed away on board. It is extraordinary what number of things the little vessel held. There were numerous casks of water, salted meat, potatoes, bread, rice, and many other sorts of provisions for six or seven months. I had no wish to be starved; then there was the hay for the sheep, which I got pressed into very tight packages in a way since become common, and by the time the sheep came on board there was not much space to spare, I can assure you.
When all was ready for sea, my wife and I and all my children took a last farewell of the house where we had lived, and the neighbours we had known so many years, and we then went to church to pray God for a safe passage, and as soon as service was over we returned on board, and that evening dropped down the Thames. I have not yet said a word about the sheep, for I did not take them on board till afterwards. I was acquainted with a man at Hamburg who understood sheep well, and to him I had written to buy for me the two finest merino rams he could find, and four ewes of the same breed. I calculated that I could not carry hay and water for more. We had fine summer weather and a fair wind to carry us across Channel, and when I put into Hamburg to take the sheep on board, I found that my friend had not disappointed me; he had in truth selected six magnificent animals, and I felt certain that if I could carry them safely to the colony they would fetch a pretty high price. Having filled up one water-cask, we again put to sea, and were now fairly on our voyage.
We had a beautiful run down Channel, and indeed from first to last Providence watched over us, nothing went wrong, and everything prospered far more than we could have expected. My wife and daughters turned out capital sailors, and soon learned to take their turn at the helm, to relieve my boys and our two men. Both of these were characters in their way. Old Bob Hunt had sailed with me for many years in the coasting trade, and a trusty hand he was, but he knew no more of the broad seas than the child unborn, or of geography either; and when I told him that I was thinking of going out to New Holland, he asked if I expected to make the place in a week or so, as he supposed it wasn't very far from Old Holland, where the people speak Dutch. And when I told him that the natives were as black as his shoe, and spoke a language no Christian man could understand, he would scarcely believe me.
"Never mind," he said, after a moment's thought, "no one shall say I deserted you because you were bound on a long voyage; if we were to be a year about getting there I would go with you. I shall leave behind no more kith nor kin than you do, so that's settled."
Old Bob was a capital seaman, but what is strange, he never touched liquor, nor smoked, nor over chewed tobacco. He ate, too, as little as any man I ever saw at his meals; and as for sleeping, it was difficult to find him with his eyes shut. The least noise would awake him, and if the breeze freshened up a bit he was sure to be on deck in a moment to see that all was right. He was a most invaluable hand, and worth any two other men I ever had. In spite of his age Bob was active as a monkey, and short and thin, and so occupied wonderfully little space in the small craft; which was convenient, as also for another reason, for his companion, Dick Nailor, was one of the biggest men I ever met, a perfect giant, but gentle as a lamb, and with an excellent temper. He used to say that he and Bob together only took up their fair amount of room. If Bob was never seen asleep Dick was seldom found broad awake, but he was keeping a bright look-out notwithstanding, and when roused up he was active enough, and strong as a lion. The children were very fond of him. He could take them all up in his arms and dance a hornpipe with them hanging about him, as lightly as a young lady in satin shoes.
My eldest boy, Peter, named after me, was one of the steadiest fellows I ever met. At eighteen he was second officer of a ship, and might have been entrusted with the command. I was sorry to take him away from the line he was following, and yet it was a great thing to have all my family together. He wished to come, and did not disappoint my expectation.
Mark and John, my next boys, were always together, and yet very different. Mark was one of the merriest chaps you ever saw, and up to all sorts of harmless pranks. John looked like gravity itself, but that arose from his eyes and the shape of his mouth; give him anything to laugh at and he would indeed laugh heartily. Mark was his chief object of admiration. He thought no one his equal, yet many people liked John the most. He was so humble and gentle, and never thought a thing about himself.
My eldest girl, Mary, was like her elder brother as to steadiness and discretion, just what an elder sister should be; so good-natured and kind, too, it was pleasant to see her standing all the bothering the young ones gave her without a word of complaint. It was a valuable quality in a person who was to be shut up for four or five months in a small craft with a number of youngsters. She was next to Peter in age, and then came Susan, as kind-hearted, industrious a little creature as ever lived, not very bright, but wanting to do right; and then the two boys, and then Margaret, a bright-eyed, fair child, such a little dear; then another boy, Tommy, always in a mess because he didn't know how to keep out of one; and one more girl, Sarah Ann, and there you have the whole lot of them; they, with their mother, a good woman if any one ever deserved the name, with the two men and myself, made up the complement of the human souls embarked on board the May Flower.
Then we had a dog, Steadfast, and a cat, Duchess, the only thing of much rank aboard us; two fine cocks and ten hens for laying eggs, besides a couple of dozen other fowls, to be eaten by my wife and the girls. We had a pair of pigeons, a pair of robins and sparrows, and a hen lark—her mate died just as we were going on board—belonging to Mark and John. I don't think we had much else. Yes, we had some primrose, violets, snowdrops, daisies, and other roots and small plants, which took up little space, to remind us of old England.
We sailed in the autumn, so as to arrive in the summer, and to get housed before the rains set in. We took our departure from Ashanto, and shaped a course for Rio Janeiro, in the Brazils, there to take in a further supply of water and fresh provisions. Thence I hoped to carry the trade wind across the Atlantic, and round the Cape, though I thought it possible that I might have to touch at the Cape, unless we had an unusually fast run, for water. You see our little craft couldn't carry enough for ourselves and the sheep for as long a time as we could have wished, and yet you may depend on it we wasted none. I have often thought of the story of the poor Arab who, wishing to make the caliph the most valuable present in his power, took him a skin bottle full of muddy water from the desert. He, when journeying across the desert esteemed it of more value than silver, gold, or precious stones. We, too, learned how to value fresh water, and I would not have filled up my cask with wine instead of it, had I been offered the finest in the world. We were especially favoured with fine weather and a fair wind, and we made good use of our time, for every one on board was as busy as a bee from morning till night. We had prayers regularly morning and evening out of the Prayer-book, and on a Sunday I read out of Galpin's sermons, and that the lessons it taught might not be forgotten I used to talk about them every day for the week which the Sunday began, and asked the young people questions about it. Then I set them their lessons, and Mary or Peter heard them, and they got on famously. They gave their mind to the work, do you see, and did it well.
THE RESCUED STRANGER.
We made the Desertas off Rio without having had one day on which my wife and the children couldn't be on deck with comfort. They were tried somewhat by the heat, for it was hot in our little cabin with the sun striking down on the deck all day, but they didn't mind that much. I was most anxious about the sheep. I had made up my mind that we were to do great things with them, and I dreaded any of them dying. We used to have them up on deck every day to walk about, two at a time, and they all became as tame as lambs; indeed, they lived like aldermen, and grew as sleek and fat, for we kept them well washed and clean, for I couldn't help thinking that would be conducive to their health.
It was necessary to go into Rio, but I was sorry to have to do it on one account. It is so beautiful a place that I thought my wife and daughter might think meanly of our future home after it. It is a beautiful country, with its magnificent harbour, and surrounding hills, and tropical trees and villas, and the city looks very fine till you get into it. I hoped not to be detained there more than three days, so as soon as Peter had returned from the shore where he went to order our provisions, and to learn where we could get the best water, I took my wife and Mary and the rest of the children there, that they might see what a foreign city is like.
Scarcely had we set foot on shore than we saw collected on the quay nearly two hundred black people all huddled together, men and women, young girls and boys, and little children, with hardly a rag to cover them, looking wretched and startled and wild, very little like human beings. Mary drew closer to me.
"Oh, father, what are they?" she asked.
"Those are negroes just landed from a slave ship," said I, for in those days the Brazilians had no law against slaving. "They are on their way to a shed, to be washed, fed, and dressed a little may be, and then sent up to the slave market, where they will be sold one by one, or a lot together, just as buyers may require, as a farmer sells his sheep and cattle to a butcher or a grazier, to kill or fatten."
"And those poor people have souls just as we have," exclaimed Mary. "How dreadful!"
As we walked on we passed numbers of negroes grunting under heavy loads, some working for their owners, others let out to hire like beasts of burden, but none labouring for themselves. A little further on we passed a shrine, a little house open in front, with a figure in it, and ornamented with flowers, and candles burning; and some people, women and old men, were kneeling down before it, and muttering words as quickly as their lips could move, and counting on necklaces with small and large beads, and a cross at the end; and suddenly, as soon as they had done, it seemed, up they jumped, and walked on, and other people passing just made a bow and the sign of the cross, and hurried away.
"Is that an idol, father?" asked Mary; "I didn't know these people were heathen."
I thereon told her that the figure was that of a saint, and that the people in their ignorance had got to worship the figure instead of saying prayers to the saint, though even that to our notion was very bad, as Christ had taught us to pray to God only. I saw that my dear wife, and Mary and Susan, were greatly shocked at this, but they were to see something worse, for before long we espied a great crowd moving towards us, and we got up into a porch to avoid them. Presently there came by first some men holding up a rich silken canopy, under which walked a priest in magnificent robes all gold and silver, and he had something in his hand; and as soon as the people saw him, whites and blacks alike fell down on their knees and worshipped him, or rather, as we were afterwards told, what he carried in his hands, which was the host. This is a wafer and some wine, which the people believe is turned into the real body and blood of Christ. After him came a number of people with masks on their faces, and large cloaks on, so that they could not be known, bearing on their shoulders a huge figure of the Virgin Mary, and the infant Jesus in her arms. She was dressed in robes of silk with a crown of gold on her head, and numberless jewels glittering on her shoulders. Many other figures followed—one of Christ bearing the cross, and of various saints; and there were little boys looking like girls dressed up in pink and blue silk, and gold and silver dresses all stuck out with glittering wings; and there were big boys or priests in red and white gowns swinging censers, and others ringing bells and chanting; and lastly there came regiments of soldiers with bands playing before them, and the procession went on through a number of streets, and at last into a church, when the soldiers marched away in different directions. We were told that it was a religious procession, though we could not understand how it was to advance the cause of religion; indeed, we were particularly struck by the indifference with which all the people looked on, and those especially who walked in the procession. The men in black masks and hoods who carried the figures were, we were told, doing penance for their sins, and that they believed that they were thus washing away all the sins they had committed for the year past; they, poor people, were not told by their priests that the blood of Christ can alone cleanse men from sin. We saw many other things, some of which we admired, for the city has some fine squares, and open places, and broad streets, and handsome buildings. I need not have been afraid of my wife wishing to remain in the country, for she was in a hurry to get on board again, and declared that no money would tempt her to live among people who held their fellow-creatures in slavery, and practised such wicked mummeries and idolatries.
"No," she exclaimed, "let me live where I can have a parish church, in which all pray and sing praises to God together in our own language, and hear a simple sermon which we can understand, reminding us of our duties, and admonishing us of our faults. That's what I call public worship."
"And that's what I hope we shall get, dear wife, in time, out where we are going, but I doubt whether we have much chance of it yet," said I; for I knew that people when they get away from England are too apt to grow careless about their church, and their religion also.
We quickly got on board our water, and fuel, and fresh provisions, and some green stuff, and hay for the sheep, and corn for the fowls. The two boys went on shore with their brothers and brought off a bowl of gold and silver fish, as they said, to make amends for the lark and one of the robins which had died. Once more the little May Flower was ploughing the ocean with her head to the east. People at Rio were very much astonished when they heard of the long voyage we were making.
"I would rather be in that little craft with a clear conscience, than in many a ship ten times her size which I have met at sea," I answered, and it was proved that I was right.
As we were losing sight of the coast of South America, my wife, looking back at it again, expressed her thankfulness that we were not compelled to live among its inhabitants.
"But," said I, "it's a beautiful place, Martha. So is this world a very beautiful world, but it's man that mars it. If man were free from sin, it would be next to heaven itself."
For ten days or more we had a beautiful run to the eastward. I never saw the little craft go along so fast; it was difficult to believe that, with the smooth sea we now had, we were out in mid-ocean, hundreds of miles from any land.
We were in the latitude of the Cape of Good Hope, and expected to make the land in a few days, when the weather gave signs of changing. We had hitherto been greatly favoured, and I had, with the rest, begun to believe that we should escape bad weather altogether. The sea got up, and the wind went on increasing, but we got the schooner under snug canvas in good time. As we were undermanned, it was necessary to be very careful in that respect. I told my wife and children that they must look out for a regular gale, such as they had not been accustomed to, and make everything fast in the cabins. We got the sheep slung, so as to prevent them being knocked over, and then at last battened down the hatches, intending to heave the vessel to, should the gale not abate.
I had been well accustomed to face bad weather in the Channel in my little vessel, and so had my boys; and I knew well what she would do; but when they saw the heavy seas now rolling up towards us, their young cheeks turned pale with alarm. It certainly did look as if one of those heavy, moving, dark green, watery hills rising up on every side, with the spoon-drift flying from their summits, must ere long engulf us; but the tight little craft, buoyant as a cork, with her stout masts and strong new canvas, every rope well served, and not a strand even chafed, rose up, and then sunk down the steep slopes into the wide valleys between the seas, not one breaking aboard us, though we were every now and then pretty well blinded with the showers of spray which drove across the deck. Still we could not tell what might happen, and the time was an anxious one. At last, when I found how beautifully the schooner was behaving, I determined to call my wife and daughters up, that they might witness a sight which I certainly hoped they might never have to look on again. I slid back the companion hatch and called them. My wife would not venture to move, but Mary and Susan came up. They stood for a minute or more with their eyes opening and very pale; Mary holding my arm, Susan her brother's.
"I called you girls to show you what the ocean is like sometimes, happily not very often."
Mary continued silent for some time. At last she gasped out, "Oh, father, what nothings we are!"
"That's what many a seaman feels, even on board a line-of-battle ship, when in a sea like this, though he doesn't say it," I remarked. "Yes, Mary, we are indeed nothing, but we are in the hands of God, and He it is with His wise laws governs the movement of every one of those vast mountain billows. Let but one of them in our track go out of its course, and this little craft, ay, and the biggest afloat, would be utterly overwhelmed and driven down by the tremendous weight of water which would fall over her."
Mary stood gazing, lost in wonder, and not a little fear also, and unable to speak. However, when I proposed her going below again, she was very unwilling to quit the deck. "I shall dream of this for many a night," she said.
While I was speaking, I caught sight of a sail to the eastward. I looked for her again, as we rose to the top of the next sea, and pointed her out to Peter. "Yes, father, sure enough there is a sail, and a large craft too, though she has but little canvas set: we are nearing her, I fancy."
The stranger was, however, nearing us, and as we occasionally got a glimpse of her through our glasses, we saw that she had carried away her main-topmast and mizzenmast, and that she was labouring much, running before the wind with only a close-reefed fore-topsail set. As far as we could judge she looked indeed in some distress. On she came towards us. The wind now again increased, and the seas became more dangerous. Fearing that one might break over us, I sent Mary and Susan and the boys below again, and secured the hatches over them; which done, we passed life lines fore and aft, to give us a holdfast in case of accidents. The stranger drew nearer and nearer. We now saw how deep she was in the water, and how terribly she was labouring. I watched her with double anxiety, on her account as well as on our own. In another ten minutes she would be down upon us, and from the course she was steering, it would be a miracle if we escaped destruction. Just then a signal of distress was run up, but the flag was instantly blown away, and the next minute she gave a plunge forward, and before she rose her remaining mast went over the bows, where the spars hung seemingly engaged in battering them in. Scarcely had this occurred than she broached to, and lay like a helpless log in the trough of the seas. Still she was fearfully near, and I was far from satisfied that she would not drive down upon us, and if so, inevitably with one touch send us to the bottom. Our only chance of escape was to make sail, but the alternative was a dangerous one. I was preparing to do this when we saw those on board stretching out their hands towards us imploring help. It was a piteous sight, for none could we afford, and all her own boats had, we saw, been washed away. Now, as we mounted to the summit of a sea, she began, it seemed, to climb up another watery height, but a still vaster billow came rolling on, and thundering over her deck; down she went beneath it, and the next moment, when we looked, not a trace of her was to be seen except a few planks and spars, which rose to the surface out of the vortex she formed as she sank. Yes, as we continued to gaze, between us and where she had been floated a grating, and to it clung a human form. He was alive, for he turned his head towards us, as if beseeching us to save him. It is strange that we felt more eager to do so than we had been to save all the poor beings who had just gone down before our eyes. The reason was plain; in the first instance we knew that we could not help them; there seemed a possibility that we might rescue the person now floating so close to us. He was being cast by the sea nearer and nearer to us. We got ropes ready at either end of the vessel to heave to him. Peter fastened one round his own waist. "Take care, Peter," said I.
"He may not be able to seize a rope, father, as he drives by, and I may have a chance of getting hold of him," he answered.
I couldn't deny him, but I trembled for my son's safety; still, when a right thing is to be done, when life is to be saved, we must not be too nice about calculating the loss we may suffer. Now we thought that the stranger would be driven away from us, now again he was washed towards the schooner; if our feelings of anxiety were intense, how much greater must his have been? Now he appeared on the foaming summit of a sea far above us, then he went sinking down deep into the gulf below. Truly there seemed to be a power above guiding him. I can have no doubt there was. Suddenly a sea drove him close to the schooner; I thought for a moment that it would have actually washed him on board. "Hold on," cried Peter, springing into the foaming water; and before the drowning man was carried away again he had grasped him by the shoulders, the man still holding to the raft. Thus together they were towed alongside, and Peter holding on to the man with a strength which I scarcely supposed he possessed, they were hauled up on deck. The stranger immediately fainted, and Peter was in a very little better condition for a short time; however, he soon recovered. The stranger we took below, and by rubbing his body with hot flannels, putting bags of sand made hot to his feet and hands, and pouring a little weak brandy and water down his throat, he at length, to our great satisfaction, came round. He remained in bed all that day and the next, and I wouldn't let him say anything, not even to tell us who he was, greatly to the disappointment of my wife and daughters, who were naturally curious to know.
One thought the stranger was a cabin passenger—another, an officer of the ship—another, a seaman; and Mary observed, that supposing he was a steerage passenger without a farthing in the world, it was equally our duty to take the best care we could of him.
"I hope that he isn't quite a gentleman," said Susan, "because, if he is, he'll be thinking himself above us."
"Not if he has right feeling," remarked Mary. "I cannot see why we should fancy that people are always considering whether they are above or below each other, or better or worse than one another. I know that the Bible tells us to consider each person better than ourselves, and, in another place, not to mind high things, but to condescend to men of low estate. If people obeyed that rule, there wouldn't be the disputes and quarrels there are between neighbours. I wonder if we shall find that sort of thing out in Australia."
"I am afraid that a voyage half round the world won't change people's hearts," said I; "the only difference is, that people have so much to do and think of, they have no time to attend to the private concerns of others; and so I hope that they keep on good terms at all events with their neighbours."
"Do you think, father, that a voyage quite round the world, or twice round, would change a man's heart?" asked John; "I should think it ought."
"No, John, I am very certain that it would not," remarked his mother, now first joining in the conversation; "there is but one way by which a man's heart can change, and that is through God's Holy Spirit, to be obtained through His grace by earnest prayer."
My wife knew the truth, and showed that she did, not only by her words but by her life.
"Well, sisters, to relieve your minds about the young stranger whom I hauled out of the water," said Peter; "I'm pretty certain that he is a gentleman, judging by a few words he uttered as I caught hold of him. His first object seemed to be to thank me for the risk I was running to save him. However, we shall see."
The young stranger recovered sufficiently to talk without risk before the gale was over, and he then told us that his name was Charles White, that he was fourth officer of the ship we had seen go down—a homeward bound Indiaman—that he was an orphan, with very few friends in England or anywhere else; "Indeed," he added, "had I shared the fate of my shipmates, there would have been but a small quantity of salt tears shed or crape worn for me; but I am wrong,—there is one who would have mourned for me; oh, if you knew her, such a good creature—Aunt Priscilla; she was my mother's aunt; she has never married; Miss Beamish she is called. I believe that I am the only human male-being she cares for, except two tom cats and a dog, and one of them isn't a tom; at least, it had kittens, and they are not human either. Whenever I go home, I always go and see Aunt Priscilla, and carry her all sorts of things, and feed the cats, and take the little dog out to walk; but when I went, I never intended to stay there long, because, you see, she and I are not much of companions to each other, and yet, somehow or other, what with telling her my adventures, and reading to her, and playing backgammon and such like things, we used to get on wonderfully well together. Then my coming was always a signal for her to give a series of tea-parties; they were not very large ones, because her room wouldn't hold many people at a time, and then I used to have to tell my stories to each set of guests. Aunt Priscilla was never tired of listening to them, and I found out by the way she corrected me if I made the slightest variation. I had, therefore, to be very particular the first time I told a story, so that I might not afterwards be caught tripping. Yes; dear, good Aunt Priscilla, I am sure that she will be anxious when she finds that the old tea-chest hasn't arrived at the time expected. There's one comfort, I shall be able to give her notice of my safety before she hears positively of the fate of the ship."
Though Charley White did not talk of himself, I was able to form a very fair judgment of his character from the way he spoke of the old lady, and I found afterwards that I was correct. We found him a very pleasant addition to our family party on board, and I soon got to look on him like one of my own sons; he was, besides, of great assistance to us in navigating the little schooner. The gale at length ceased, and we stood for Table Bay. I was afraid of venturing the run across the Indian Ocean without landing at Cape Town, lest we might get short of water; a want, which besides exposing us to suffering, would have caused the destruction of all our sheep. We remained but a few days at Cape Town. Charley White wrote home an account of the loss of the ship, and sent a letter to his Aunt Priscilla assuring her of his safety. I expected, and thought of it with much regret, that he would here leave us. I invited him, however, to cast in his fortunes with ours, and without hesitation, much to the satisfaction of all our party, he accepted my offer. "You know," he said, "when we get settled, I can send home for Aunt Priscilla, or go and fetch her, and I think that she would like the life. It would be much more satisfactory than her round of tea-parties, and give her something to think of besides her cats and dog, and I am sure that you would all like her."
We of course said that we had no doubt we should, though Susan remarked afterwards, that a real lady, as she supposed she was, from her giving tea-parties and having two cats and a poodle, would scarcely like to come out and live in the bush with such homely people as we were. I will tell you by and by what came of it.
The people at the Cape, when they saw the size of the May Flower and the way she was laden, were surprised at our having come so far in safety, and some chose to declare that we should never reach the end of our voyage. I replied that they did not know the qualities of the little craft; that many a big ship had gone down when small ones had floated; that it was not so much the size of a vessel as the way she was put together, and the quality of her gear, which made her safe or unsafe, and moreover, that the same Providence which had protected us hitherto was not sleeping. That was the feeling which kept me up from first to last throughout our undertaking.
We heard at the Cape some news which gave me more concern than anything else. It was, that war was again about to break out between England and France, and that as many other nations were likely to be leagued with France in arms against our country, we should have no small number of enemies among whom to run the gauntlet. My chief hope was that we should arrive at our destination before the news of the actual commencement of hostilities could reach the enemy's cruisers in the Eastern seas. One thing, however, I remembered; it was, that bad news travels fast, and I have come to the conclusion that no news is worse than that which tells of two civilised nations going to war.
Earthquakes, fires, floods, disasters at sea, are very bad; but war means that thousands of the flowers of manhood are to be cut down in their prime, or maimed, or wounded; that numbers of children are to be made orphans; wives are to become widows; and fruitful lands laid desolate. Such is war; ah! such is war.
I had made up my mind to go on to Australia, though I had many tempting offers to remain at the Cape. I daresay that we should have found a happy home there, and it is a fine colony; but I have reason to be thankful that we persevered. My children enjoyed their visit to the shore, and the fresh bread and butter, and the fruit and vegetables; but after all, they said that there was nothing like home (meaning the little schooner), and they were glad to get back to her, thus showing that they were not tired of the voyage. Our old dog, Steadfast, made himself particularly happy, frisking and scampering about in every conceivable manner, till he looked, the children said, as if he would tumble to pieces in the exuberance of his spirits. They tried to induce our cat, the Duchess, to accompany them, but she had learned to look on the schooner as her home and wouldn't go. Whenever they tried to catch her, she ran up the rigging, though on other occasions she allowed them to handle her as much as they liked. Curious as it may seem, the circumstance had a great effect on Bob Hunt and Dick Nailor, who were, like many seamen, very superstitious.
"She knows it's all right aboard here, and that we shan't come to no harm," observed Bob to his mate.
"Oh, course," answered Dick; "I never knowed a cat stick to a ship, if she could get away, which was to go down. They are wonderful wise creatures, and knows all sorts of things as is going to happen. To be sure they can scratch a bit when they fancies."
Cats will certainly stick to vessels whether they are to be wrecked or not. I remember falling in with an abandoned ship, the only living thing on board being a cat; we took her off, and the vessel soon afterwards went to pieces.
Once more we were at sea. A westerly wind, which I was afraid we might lose if we stood to the southward, induced me to run along the coast closer in than I might otherwise have ventured. The weather had hitherto been very fine, and I persuaded myself that there was no risk. I was wrong. Suddenly, the wind shifted to the southwest of west, and blowing strong, and though we hauled up immediately, before we got a good offing it blew a strong gale from the southward directly on shore, and a heavy rolling sea came tumbling in. We could not venture to heave to, and yet there was more sea and wind than the little craft could well bear. All we could do was to keep sail on her, and to steer as close to the wind as she would lie. I watched the coast with deep anxiety, and couldn't help feeling that the foaming, raging waters, which now dashed impetuously against it, might prove my grave and that of all dear to me.
Of course my son and Charley White and the two seamen saw our danger as clearly as I did, but we did not communicate our ideas to each other, and I was anxious not to alarm my dear wife and daughters. The little craft looked up bravely however, and my hopes revived; again they sank, for the gale came down stronger than ever on us, and I saw that we were driving closer and closer towards the shore. A large ship might possibly, by cutting away her masts have ridden out the gale at her anchors; we, had we made the attempt, should have foundered. My wife and Mary and Susan had one after the other appeared at the companion hatch, and with pale faces, as they saw the state of things, had gone below again. I hadn't the heart even to tell them my fears. Bob Hunt and Dick Nailor took matters very coolly.
"The Duchess don't think anything will come of it," observed Bob to Dick, pointing to the cat who was sitting on a coil of rope on the head of a water cask lashed to the weather bulwarks.
"May be not, but she may be mistaken once in a way, Bob," answered Dick, who, seeing the imminent danger in which we were placed, lost his confidence in the fore-knowledge of the cat.
From what may sound ridiculous, but was not really so, I must turn to a more serious matter. I suspected that my wife and daughters knew our danger, though I had not told them of it.
We had driven still nearer to the land, and wishing to ascertain exactly on what part of the coast we were, that I might, if possible, run the vessel on shore on some spot where we might have a chance of saving our lives I went below to examine the chart.
IN SMOOTH WATER.
The cabin was very dark, from the skylight being covered over and battened down. The schooner was however so tight and strong, that provided the hatches were on, I knew that she might almost roll over and over, and yet not fill. This gave me great confidence as long as we kept to the open sea; but driven on rocks or quicksands, with such a gale as was then blowing, there could have been no hope for the stoutest ship that ever floated on the salt ocean. As I was saying, I went into the cabin; although gloomy enough on deck, it was still darker below; for the gleam of light which came down the companion-hatch scarcely found its way beyond the foot of the ladder. I looked about me, and at first thought that my wife and daughters had, in their terror, turned into their berths; but soon, amid the creaking of the bulkheads, and the rattling of the rigging, and the roaring of the storm, a gentle, sweet voice reached my ears. It was that of my daughter Susan. She had not heard me enter. She was on her knees praying, so were her mother and sisters, all round the table in the cabin. She was lifting up her voice to our loving, merciful Father in Heaven;—to the same God who stilled the raging of the storm on Gennesaret, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still." She was praying, dear girl, for me especially, that I might be preserved, even though the vessel were dashed to pieces; but, that if it was His will, that the schooner and all on board might be saved.
I cannot tell you how much confidence the prayer of that dear child gave me; I am sure—I was then sure—that God hears such prayers. The rest of the family too had been praying; they were not prayers forced out by fear, but just such trusting, hopeful prayers as God loves to honour. I stood for a few moments till Susan ceased, and when she did, I uttered a low "Amen." The dear ones heard me, and looked up, but did not rise from their knees; indeed, the vessel was tumbling about so much, that it was with difficulty they could hold on. I told them what I was come down for, and striking a light, I took down my chart from the beckets in which it hung, and spread it out on the table. I anxiously marked down the position in which, by my calculations, I believed the schooner then was. A league or more to the eastward there was, I found, an island with a bay inside it, affording anchorage for small vessels. For a large ship it would have been utterly useless. Here, again, was an advantage which my humble little schooner possessed over a bigger craft. Giving a parting kiss to my wife and daughters, I leaped again on deck.
It was a question whether we should be able to keep off the shore till we could reach the island. I could see the surf breaking furiously on the rocks to leeward, and the gale blew as heavily as ever. A slight shift of wind might save us. If the wind held as it then did, I had no hopes for the little May Flower.
The day was drawing to a close. Every instant the danger increased. The gale, instead of breaking, raged more furiously than ever. Closer and closer the schooner drifted towards the shore. It would have been madness to carry more sail; for already her lee bulwarks were under water, and yet I dared not take any off her with the slightest hopes of being able to claw off shore. The seas came breaking on board, deluging our decks, and, had not the hatches been firmly secured, would quickly have swamped us. I was at the helm, with Charley White by my side, my boys and the two men having lashed themselves to the weather rigging. No one appeared to be terror-stricken, and yet the youngest, as well as old Bob Hunt, knew perfectly well that there was every probability of our being in a few short minutes overwhelmed among the foaming breakers under our lee. Anxiously I looked out for the island; and the wind blew fiercer and fiercer.
Suddenly there was a lull; but it was of no advantage to us, as the huge rollers were literally throwing us rapidly towards the rocks. Again the gale came down on us, but its direction was altered. It blew nearer from the westward, by several points, than it had before done. Already the schooner was heading off from the shore, but very slowly; and I was doubtful how far she would make way against the rollers, which sent her bodily back towards it. Still there was hope, and I could venture to slide back the hatch and to sing out to the dear ones below that the wind had changed. "Thank God for His mercy," was the reply from below, for I had speedily to shut the hatch again. Just afterwards I saw an opening in the land to the westward, and I knew that it must be the passage between the island and the main. There was a hillock and a peculiar rock, which prevented me from having any doubt about the matter. What a comfort to feel sure that we were steering a right course for a safe harbour! I could now venture to keep away again a little.
The entrance to the sound became more and more distinct as we advanced. The various landmarks noted in the chart, appeared one after the other, and in half an hour we ran into a beautiful little harbour, with the water as smooth as a mill-pond. Our first care, directly the anchor was dropped, was to take off the hatches and give air to our poor sheep. The boys jumped below to ascertain if they had suffered.
"All the animals are alive," they cried out; "but send us down a bucket of water." The creatures sucked it up quickly. They probably would not have held out many hours longer; but we lifted them up, two at a time, on deck, and the fresh air soon revived them. We had only just light enough to see our way into the harbour, but we hoped in the morning to get on shore and to cut some grass, which would do them more good than the fresh air.
I should have said that directly we were in smooth water my wife and daughters came on deck, and, as they gazed on the sheltering shore under which we were running, they lifted up their hands in earnest thankfulness to that merciful God who had brought us into a haven of rest.
On sounding the well, we found that, notwithstanding all the tossing we had gone through, the stout little craft had not made a drop of water. We spent two very busy days in Refuge harbour, cutting grass and wood, and filling up our water casks. All this time no natives were seen. There are indeed but few on that part of the coast. Short-sighted mortals that we are—we had been inclined to complain of our detention, but we had reason to be thankful that we had gone into Refuge harbour.
As soon as we had filled up with wood and water, we got under weigh, and stood out through the eastern end of the sound. Before, however, we had got from under the shelter of the island—a long, low sandy point intervening between us and the ocean—we saw to the southward a dark bank of clouds coming, like an army in close rank, rapidly up towards us.
The breeze was light, and the sea comparatively calm, but underneath the cloud there came a line of white foam, beyond which the whole ocean seemed a mass of tossing seas. I knew what to expect, and, going about, stood back to our snug little bay. Scarcely had we dropped our anchor and furled sails than the hurricane burst above the island, and we could see the breakers dashing furiously on the opposite shore. For nearly three days the tempest—one of the most violent ever known on that coast—continued raging. Many a big ship went down, and many a stout one was cast upon the rooks and dashed to pieces.
We waited—grateful for our escape—till the wind moderated and the sea went down, and then once again sailed for our final destination. In our small vessel we had to economise fresh water, fodder for the animals, and fuel; and it was very important that we should have a quick passage. We had, therefore, again filled up with those necessary articles, and in every corner we had stowed away all the fresh grass we could cut. This, mixed with the hay, kept the sheep in excellent condition. We had ere long to be thankful that we had not neglected to prepare for all contingencies.
We had for some time very fine weather, which confirmed Bob Hunt in his opinion that the cat, Duchess, was as wise as he had at first believed.
"She knowed it," he observed, looking sagaciously at Dick Nailor, who was sitting on the capstan with his arms folded across his broad chest, looking out ahead, "she knowed it, and she'll stick by this craft till we get safe into Port Jackson, you'll see that."
"As to that, I see that the cat is there, and that our little craft is afloat, and every prospect of remaining so!" answered Dick. It was seldom he uttered so long an expression. "You don't even say that the cat has had any hand in keeping her afloat; and to my mind, it's just this: she found the craft tight and wholesome, she was fond of us, and she saw that we didn't leave her, and so she didn't. No, no, Bob, the old Duchess had nothing to do with the matter. There's one aloft who took care of us, and if the cat had fallen overboard, or gone ashore and been left behind, it would have made no manner of difference."
"Then, I suppose you mean to say that there is no such person as the Flying Dutchman?" observed Bob; "everybody who has rounded the Cape has heard of him."
"There might have been some villain of a Dutchman who swore that he'd beat about the seas till the Day of Judgment; but depend on it, if he ever did utter such an oath, he's gone to answer for it long ago—far away from this world," said Dick Nailor, solemnly. "I've heard many, many men talk of the Flying Dutchman, but I never yet met with one who had seen him."
Neither had Bob Hunt, and so he had nothing to answer to this—indeed, talkative as he was, he always had to knock under to Dick's sturdy, matter-of-fact arguments, or to his pertinacious silence, if no argument was forthcoming.
The quaint fellow would fold his arms, sit down, and look a picture of stolidity.
I have not said much about how my children passed their time during the voyage. The boys were generally employed in sailing the vessel, or about the rigging; for my object was not only to keep the vessel in good order during the voyage, but to take her into Port Jackson looking as fresh as I could. However, the boys had time to practice writing and to study their books, and both Peter and Charles White were able to help them. The girls had plenty of work to do, as my wife had laid in a store of all sorts of things to make up. They also were not idle with regard to their books; and they had several pleasant ones to read. I found also that Charley White was very happy to help them forward in their studies, and Susan took it into her head that she should very much like to learn navigation. She, however, gave up that idea, and took to singing, as Charley, who knew something about music, thought he could help her, and it was likely to prove a more amusing study, and quite as useful to her. I may safely say that no one was idle on board; and what is more, that not a real quarrel, and scarcely a dispute of any sort occurred among the inhabitants of our little world. If one differed in opinion from another, it was always good naturedly, and all discussions were finished amicably. People in families on shore would always be able to do the same if they kept a watch over their tempers, and did not allow envy, jealousy, and pride to spring up and hold dominion in their hearts.
Our tempers were occasionally tried. When within a week's sail of the western shores of Australia the wind fell to a dead calm. The sea was smooth as glass, and the hot sun came down with fearful force on our heads, while the reflection of his rays from the glittering sea almost blinded our eyes. Long as I had ploughed the salt ocean, I had never felt the heat greater. For two or three days it was endurable, but after that every one began to complain; even Duchess looked out for a shady place, under the sail or bulwarks, to lie down in, and poor Steadfast went panting about the deck with his tongue out, the fowls hung down their heads, and the merry robins and sparrows ceased to chirp. If a chip or a feather was thrown overboard, it lay motionless alongside, though the schooner herself kept moving round, with her head towards all the points of the compass.
The heat created a violent thirst: everybody was thirsty—the men, my children, my wife and I, and the poor animals; they required water more than we did, for they got no moisture out of the packed hay. We gave them as much as we dared, and, as soon as the sun was down, had them on deck to give them fresh air.
We were not alone in our misfortunes, however, for when the sun rose, on the first morning of the calm, his rays fell on the white canvas of a ship, just rising out of the western horizon. After some time she disappeared, either because her sails had been clewed up, or that she was too far off to be seen unless the sun was shining directly on them. We had many discussions as to what she was. I need scarcely say that she caused us no little uneasiness.
Still the calm continued. Day after day the sun went down in the calm ocean, and rose again to cast a ruddy glow over its mirror-like surface, and there in the distance lay the stranger, though only sharp eyes could have detected her.
I began to be very anxious about the sheep. The success of the undertaking depended in a great measure on their being kept alive, still, we had to put them on an allowance, as we had ourselves. Little Margaret and Tommy couldn't understand why they shouldn't have as much water as they wanted, when there was plenty alongside. They could not understand that salt water was worse than no water at all; nor could the poor sheep, probably, when they were brought up on deck, and gazed out on the glittering ocean around them.
When matters had come to this pass, I began for the first time to lose heart. I was sitting with my head bowed down, resting on my hand, when my boy Peter said to me—"Father I have an idea—I have heard that fresh water may be got out of salt, and I think I can manage it, if you do not mind expending our fuel."
These words restored my spirits. We had laid in a large supply of fuel at the Cape; water was of more consequence than anything else. It would be better to break up all the spare cases, and even the bulkheads and cabin furniture, than to go without it. Peter soon explained his plan; I agreed to try it. We, after a search among the cargo, found two large camp kettles. Soldering down their lids, we bored a hole in the top of one and in the side of the other, and joined the two with a piece of piping, three feet long. The one with a hole in the top we placed on the fire. We fitted a funnel to the spout, through which we poured in water; the other kettle was fixed on a stand, and we soldered a small pipe in at the bottom. Above the outside kettle we slung a bucket full of water also, with a small pipe in it, and the top of the kettle we covered over with cloths, which, by the means of the bucket, were kept constantly wet. The kettle on the fire was filled, the fire blazed up, and, as the water boiled, we watched with anxiety the result of the process. Some drops at length fell from the lower kettle, and a jug was ready to catch them. Peter eagerly poured the water into a mug, and, putting it to his lips, with a triumphant smile passed it round to us all. It was deliciously cool and perfectly sweet. It now came pouring out quickly, and we got up an empty cask to contain it. We all knelt down and thanked God that we had obtained the means for sustaining life, should our supply of water altogether fail. It took a long time, and used up a large quantity of fuel to produce even a gallon of fresh water, yet a gallon was sufficient liquid for everybody on board for a couple of days, and we might thus give a larger share to the sheep.
You might not think so, but the gale off the Cape did not cause me as much anxiety as this long calm. I ought, I confess, to have remembered that in both instances God was watching over us. In the one, I trusted to my stout little craft and my seamanship; in the other, my seamanship was of no avail—the stoutest ship would not have prevented all on board dying a frightful death had the calm continued. Here was my human folly: on both occasions, had I thrown all my care on God, I should have saved myself from all the anxiety I had suffered. This was increased by the uncertainty I felt as to the character of the sail we saw in the distance. I was in my own mind persuaded that she was a French privateer, and if we were discovered, her boats would probably pay us a visit, even if she did not.
We were all seated languidly about on the deck, under an awning rigged to give us some shade, when Peter started up, exclaiming, "There comes the breeze." Some downy feathers, fastened by a silk thread to the after backstay, had, he thought, moved for a moment though the vane quickly dropped again. We were speedily on foot, but the first glance at the glowing, tranquil ocean, like some huge mirror on which we were resting, made me fear that my son had been mistaken. I shook my head, and a sigh escaped from several of our party, as they sank down again on their seats. Just then, however, I caught sight of a light cat's-paw skimming over the water in the distance, and Peter, springing at the same moment into the rigging and pointing westward, exclaimed, "Here it comes, father, no mistake about it now." I followed him up the rigging, and saw in the far west a wide-extending dark blue line moving quickly on towards us. Peter and I sprang back on deck, got the awning stowed, the head sails set, and the big square-sail ready for hoisting. The cat's-paws came thicker and thicker, the dark blue line increasing in width, till in a short time we were staggering away before as brisk a breeze as the little craft could desire. All languor quickly vanished, and we served out an additional supply of water to our poor sheep. My anxiety, however, did not cease, for just afterwards, as I was sweeping the horizon with my telescope, I saw, rising above it, the royals of a square-rigged ship, the same, I concluded, which I had seen at the commencement of the calm. She might be a friend, or an English ship, and be ready to supply us with any necessaries we might require: but I had taken it into my head that she was an enemy, and I could not tell to what treatment we might be subjected. Sometimes French officers behaved very kindly to passengers captured by them, but during the republican period many of those in command were brutal men, who outraged all the laws of humanity when they got the crews and passengers of an English ship into their power. I, of course, said nothing of this to my wife or children. I, however consulted with Charley White and Peter, and we agreed that it would be more prudent to alter our course to the northward for a few hours, so as to allow the ship to pass us during the night. Though we were not now visible to her, when the sun came to set in the west she would have got so far nearer to us that his rays falling on our canvas, we should be probably seen from her tops.
This plan we followed. Charley White had become even more anxious than I was, and he was constantly going aloft to watch the stranger. Half an hour before sunset, we could see half way down her topsails from the deck. Though they looked no bigger than a small pocket handkerchief, the sharp eyes of my girls caught sight of them, and seemed much surprised that we were not eager to speak with the stranger. I was very glad when darkness hid us, as I hoped, from her. We arranged, however, to keep a bright look out all night, and to furl everything, should she pass near us, so as to escape observation. Charley and Peter kept a watch together. They insisted on my turning in after my first watch was over, and in truth I could leave the vessel in their care with as much confidence as if I had her myself.
A JOYFUL DISCOVERY.
More than once I saw in my dreams a big ship closing rapidly with us and the French flag run up at the main, and a voice ordering us to heave to. We were all to be made prisoners; horrible would be the fate of those dearest to me. I started up in a cold perspiration, though the weather was hot enough as may be supposed.
There was scarcely a sound except the rippling of the water against the vessel's side, the breathing of those sleeping round me in our little cabin, and the tread of Peter's feet overhead. Charley was at the helm I guessed. He said something, and then they both burst into a merry laugh. "All's right," I thought to myself, "I know why I had that uncomfortable dream. I was over anxious. I ought, having done my best, to have thrown all my care and anxiety on God; knowing that He cares for me and those dear to me." I got out of bed, knelt down, and prayed, and when I lay down again I slept as soundly as I had ever done in my life. Awaking at daylight, I went on deck to relieve the young men. No sail was in sight. Once more we put the schooner on her proper course. I proposed touching on the western or southern coast of Australia for the sake of obtaining grass or hay for the sheep, and water and fuel. We had found the importance of having a good supply of fuel. I was no longer anxious about the stranger, but still I knew that if he was bound in the same direction that we were, owing to the uncertain winds and calms, we might very possibly again fall in with him. Still, he might after all be a friend. I would banish the subject from my mind. I did so. In the next week we had fine weather and a fair breeze, till the land, stretching away in the north, blue and indistinct, was seen on our larboard bow. We hauled up for it till we got near enough to distinguish objects on shore. I cannot say that the appearance of that part of the new country which was to be our future home was at all attractive. Backs and sand-hills, and slight elevations covered with dark green trees, were the only objects we could discern. We could obtain plenty of wood, but that we could find any water in that dry looking country seemed very doubtful, even if we could manage to land. We had all been so eagerly watching the coast, that for a long time no one had turned their eyes to the southward; Mary, happening to do so, exclaimed, "Father, there's a sail in the horizon no bigger than my hand, but I see it clearly."