Saved from the Sea, The Loss of the Viper, and her Crew's Saharan Adventures, by W.H.G. Kingston.
The books starts off with a young Grammar-School boy being introduced to the local tailor, who is also a bit of a linguist. Our hero, and his friend Halliday, learn Arabic with the tailor. This turns out later on to have been very fortunate. Our hero and his friend are taken on as midshipmen on a frigate, where they are well trained. They spend three years at sea, and have the chance of visiting various ports in the Eastern Mediterranean, and also of getting to Cairo.
However their next appointment is to the "Viper", a brig which is barely stable. They almost upset on one occasion, and then really do sink when off the coast of Africa. Our friends and a couple of other seamen are lucky enough to have got off on a simple raft, though all the rest of the crew perish. Hungry and thirsty they find themselves on a sandbank at a considerable distance from the mainland. And it is at this point that their adventures really begin.
The book is copiously illustrated with engravings, some of which are very nice when viewed with the pdf version of the book, but which are not always so good in the html version. Although the name of the illustrator is not given on the title page, the word "Riou" appears on most of the engravings, along with a second, longer, name, which most probably is that of the engraver.
This book makes a good audiobook, though indeed not a long one.
SAVED FROM THE SEA, THE LOSS OF THE VIPER, AND HER CREW'S SAHARAN ADVENTURES, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
THE WONDERFUL LINGUIST—I STUDY ARABIC—MY FIRST VOYAGE TO SEA—WE SAIL FOR THE COAST OF AFRICA—THE BRIG CAPSIZED—SAVED ON A RAFT.
"Never throw away a piece of string, a screw, or a nail, or neglect an opportunity, when it offers, of gaining knowledge or learning how to do a thing," my father used to say; and as I respected him, I followed his advice,—and have, through life, on many occasions had reason to be thankful that I did so.
In the town near which we resided lived a tailor, Andrew Spurling by name. He was a remarkable man, though a mere botcher at his trade; for he could never manage to make his customers' clothes fit their bodies. For fat men he invariably made tight coats, and for thin people loose ones. Few, therefore, except those who were indifferent on that point, went a second time to him for new ones. He repaired clothes, however, to perfection, and never refused to attempt renovating the most threadbare or tattered of garments. He had evidently mistaken his vocation; or rather, his friends had committed a great error when they made him a tailor. Yet perhaps he succeeded as well in it as he would have done at any handicraft. He possessed, in fact, a mind which might have raised him to a respectable, if not a high position, in the walks of literature or science. As it was, however, it was concentrated on one object—the acquisition of languages. Andrew had been sent to the grammar-school in our town, where he gained the rudiments of education, and a certain amount of Latin and Greek; and where he might, possibly, have become well-educated, had he not—his father dying insolvent—been taken from school, and, much to his grief, apprenticed to the trade he was now following.
Instead of perfecting himself in the languages of which he already knew a little, and without a friend to guide him,—having saved up money enough to buy a grammar and dictionary,—he commenced the study of another; after mastering the chief difficulties of which he began still another; and so he had gone on through life, with the most determined perseverance, gaining even more than a smattering of the tongues not only of Europe but of the Eastern world, though he could make no practical use of his acquisitions.
Apparently slight circumstances produce important results. Coming out of school one day, and while playing, as usual, in our somewhat rough fashion, my class-mate, Richard Halliday, tore my jacket from the collar downwards.
"That is too bad," I exclaimed. "A pretty figure I will make, going through the streets in this state."
"Never mind, Charlie," he answered. "Come into old Spurling's shop; he will sew it up in a trice. He always mends our things; and I will pay for it."
I at once accepted my school-fellow's offer; and we made our way to the narrow lane in which Andrew's small shop was situated. I had never before been there, though I had occasionally seen his tall, gaunt figure as he wended his way to church on Sunday; for on no other day in the week did he appear out of doors.
"Here's Charlie Blore, who wants to have his jacket mended, Mr Spurling," said Dick, introducing me.
"A grammar-school boy?" asked the tailor, looking at me.
"Yes; and in my class," answered Dick.
"Oh! then you are reading Xenophon and Horace," observed the tailor; and he quoted a passage from each author, both of which I was able to translate, greatly to his satisfaction. "You will soon be turning to other languages, I hope," he observed, not having as yet touched my jacket, which I had taken off and handed to him.
"I should like to know a good many," I answered: "French, German, and Italian."
"Very well in their way," observed Andrew; "but there are many I prefer which open up new worlds to our view: for every language we learn, we obtain further power of obtaining information and communicating our thoughts to others. Hebrew, for instance: where can we go without finding some of the ancient people? or Arabic, current over the whole Eastern world, from the Atlantic shores of Africa to the banks of the Indus? Have you ever read the 'Arabian Nights'?" asked Andrew.
"Yes, part of it," I answered.
"Then think how delightful it would be to read it in the language in which it is written, and still more to visit the scenes therein described. I began six years ago—and I wish that some great man would invite me to accompany him to Syria, or Morocco, or Egypt, or other Eastern lands; though that is not likely." And Andrew sighed. "However, my young friends, as you may have a chance of visiting those regions, take my advice: Study Arabic; you will find it of more use than Greek or Latin, which no one speaks nowadays—more's the pity. I will instruct you. Come here whenever you can. I will lend you my books, or tell you where you may purchase others. I won't say how soon you will master the language; that depends on capacity,"—and Andrew gave a self-satisfied smile; "but the sooner you begin, the better."
"But, Mr Spurling, I should like much to have my jacket mended," I observed.
"So you shall; I will do it while you take your first lesson in Arabic." And Andrew, without rising from his seat, shuffled along in a curious fashion to a bookcase hanging against the wall, from which he drew forth a well-thumbed volume. "It's as precious as gold," he observed. "Don't be daunted by the strange characters," he added, as he gave the book into my hands. "Now, you and Master Halliday stand there; while I stitch, you shall learn the first principles of the language."
Then taking my jacket on his knee, and needle and thread in hand, he commenced a lecture, from which, as Dick and I listened attentively, we really gained a considerable amount of information. It was, I afterwards discovered, in the first pages of the book, which he knew by heart; so he had not to draw his eyes from his work. I grew so interested, that I was quite sorry when my jacket was mended.
From that day onward, Dick and I became constant visitors at Andrew's shop after school-hours, and really made considerable progress in Arabic. I believe, indeed, that we should before long have advanced almost as far as our master had done,—for he had three or four languages in hand at the same time, to which he added a new one every year or so. My school-days, however, came suddenly to an end. I had always had a hankering for the navy, though I did not talk much about it. An old friend of my father, who had just been appointed to the command of a frigate destined for the Mediterranean, called before starting for Portsmouth.
"I will take one of your boys, Blore, as an offering to Neptune."
My father looked at me. "Charlie is rather too old, I fear, to enter the navy," he observed.
"Oh no! Lord Dundonald was much older," I exclaimed. "Let me go."
"He will do; I will take him," said the captain. "He must work hard and make up for lost time. He had better accompany me, and see the ship fitted out."
My father was an old soldier; and my mother being a strong-minded, active woman, directly my future captain left us all hands in the house were set to work, down to the nursery-maid, to prepare my kit; while I ran into the town to get my measure taken by Andrew Spurling, who promised to have a "nautical cut" suit ready for me by the next day. I had, in an impulse of gratitude, begged that he might make my clothes. It was fatal to my appearance as a trim midshipman; and I had to discard some, and get others altered, before I was fit to present myself on the quarter-deck.
As I was leaving his shop, Andrew took down a volume from his bookcase. "Receive this as a parting gift from one who wishes you well, and who, although his body is chained to his counter, will accompany you in spirit to those far-off Eastern lands it may be your happy destiny to visit," he said, as he handed the book to me, with a kind look which showed the sincerity of his feelings.
It was a grammar and vocabulary, with a portion of the "Arabian Nights" in Arabic. I promised to keep up the study of the language in which he had initiated me, and to add others as I might find opportunity.
The next night I set off with the captain to Portsmouth. As he had promised to make me a sailor, and I wished to become one, I soon picked up a fair amount of nautical knowledge; and by the time the ship was ready for sea, I could not only knot and splice, but had acquainted myself with every portion of her from "truck to keelson."
We had gone out to Spithead, and were expecting to sail in a few days, when who should come up the side but my old school-fellow, Dick Halliday.
"When I found that you had actually gone, I could not bear the thought of remaining behind; and I so worked upon my guardians to let me go to sea, by telling them that I should be miserable if I didn't, and fit for nothing else, that I succeeded. Moreover, at my urgent request, they, as you see, got me appointed to your frigate," he exclaimed in a tone of triumph. "I have my chest in the boat; what am I to do with it?" he asked, after I had expressed my pleasure at seeing him.
"We will soon hoist it on board," I answered.
The first lieutenant cast an angry glance at the chest, for it was unusually large; and before many hours were over, its owner, to his great dismay, saw it cut down into much smaller proportions.
We were at length at sea, running down Channel with a strong north-easterly breeze. I had the start of Halliday, and felt myself already a sailor, while he knew nothing about a ship; but I found that I had still a good deal to learn. I managed to keep well ahead of him while the ship remained in commission. Our captain, one of the best officers in the service, wished his midshipmen to see as much as possible of the places the ship visited, so as to gain all the information they could; and we, accordingly, had opportunities offered us of going on shore and making excursions into the interior. We visited Jerusalem, Cairo, Algiers, Athens, and many other places of interest. Halliday and I found our acquirements as linguists of very considerable value.
I cannot stop, however, to describe our adventures. Three years passed rapidly away, and we returned home nearly full-grown men, with a greatly increased stock of nautical and general knowledge.
We went, during our brief stay on shore, to visit Andrew Spurling; who listened eagerly to our accounts of what we had seen, and was delighted when I presented him with several really valuable volumes which I had picked up at Cairo. "You have amply repaid me, Mr Blore," he exclaimed, fondly clutching the books. "I knew you would find an immense advantage from your knowledge of the chief language of the East, and let me now advise you to study Spanish; it is spoken over a large portion of the globe, and you are sure to find a use for it."
I so far followed his advice as to send for a Spanish grammar and dictionary, which I intended to use as soon as I had leisure. My stay on shore, however, was short; for in a couple of weeks I was appointed to the Viper, a ten-gun brig destined for the coast of Africa. Her commander knew my family, and had offered to take me. And I found Halliday on board, he having been appointed to her by the Admiralty.
She was a very different craft from the fine frigate to which I had before belonged. She was of narrow beam, and carried taunt masts and square yards; indeed, we all saw that she would require careful handling to avoid being capsized. But she was a new, tidy, fast little craft, and no one on board allowed forebodings of evil to trouble his mind. The commander did not express his opinion till we were clear of the Channel, when he addressed the crew.
"You will have to be smart in shortening sail, my lads," he said, after making some other observations. "The last man off the lower deck when the hands are turned up must look out for the consequences."
They all knew what that meant,—a "black listing," "six water grog," or walking the deck with a shot in each hand during a watch. Still, though they did not like it, they knew it was for the good of all. And besides, we were continually exercised in shortening and making sail, to get the crew into proper discipline.
One day—the commander being on deck—a sudden squall struck the brig and heeled her over till the water rushed through her lee-scuppers. "All hands save ship!" he shouted. The men came springing up from below, some through the fore-hatchway, but a greater number through the main. The commander himself was standing near the companion-hatch— intended only for his own and the gun-room officers' use. Our tall, thin commander had just turned round to take his spy-glass from the beckets in which it hung, when a petty officer,—a knowing fellow, who had slipped through the gun-room passage in order to take advantage of the other men,—springing on deck, butted right into the pit of his stomach. The blow, doubling him up, sent him sprawling over on his back, with his legs in the air. But, without waiting to apologise, the seaman sprang up the rigging like lightning, and was laying out among the others on the main-topsail-yard before the commander could open his eyes to ascertain who had capsized him. He was, naturally, excessively angry, but probably did not like to shout out, "You fellow, who knocked me over, come down from aloft." And just then, indeed, all hands were really required for shortening sail. Few of the officers had seen the man upset the commander, and those who had could not say positively who he was. I had my suspicions; having caught sight of an old shipmate— Ben Blewett—running up the main rigging over the heads of several others in a way which showed he had some reason for so doing. All the efforts of the officers to discover the culprit, however, were unavailing; and I thought it wisest to say nothing about the matter. The commander could not justly have punished the man for knocking him down, as it was done unintentionally, though he might have done so for coming up the officers' passage. And so we enjoyed a hearty laugh in the berth at the whole affair.
I should have said that the caterer for our mess was a steady old mate, Reuben Boxall; a most excellent fellow, for whom I entertained a great regard. He followed the principle my father had advised me to adopt, and never threw away a piece of string—that is to say, when an opportunity occurred of acquiring knowledge he never neglected it. His chief fancy, however, was for doctoring—that is to say, the kindness of his heart made him wish to be able to relieve the sufferings of his fellow-creatures; and he could bleed, and bind up broken limbs, and dress wounds, as well as the surgeon himself, while he had a good knowledge of the use of all the drugs in the medicine-chest. Boxall had indeed a good head on his shoulders, and was respected by all.
Many of us were still laughing at the commander's capsize, some declaring that it served him right for being in such a hurry.
"Let me tell you youngsters that we must be in a hurry on board this craft," observed Boxall. "Do you know the name given to ten-gun brigs such as ours? I will tell you: 'Sea-Coffins.' And the Viper will prove our coffin, if we do not keep very wide-awake, let me warn you."
Most of the mess thought that old Boxall was trying to frighten them; but I cannot say that I was comfortable, as we had already discovered that the brig, to say the best of her, was excessively crank. The two lieutenants and the master had served chiefly on board line-of-battle ships and frigates before they got their promotion, and were inclined to sneer at the commander's caution, and I know that during their watch they carried on much longer than he would have approved of.
We were somewhere in the latitude of Madeira, when we encountered a heavy gale which severely tried the brig. Though we saved our spars by shortening sail in time, two of our boats were lost and the rest damaged, our weather-bulwarks were stove in, and we were in other respects handled very roughly.
We had got somewhat to rights, and were running down the African coast, keeping closer in-shore than usual. It was night, and the second lieutenant's watch. Boxall and I—who had the first watch—having been relieved, went into the berth to take a glass of "swizzel" and some biscuit and cheese, after which we sat talking for some minutes before turning in. The rest of the watch were below fast asleep. We were standing by our hammocks, about to undress, when we felt the brig heel over on her beam-ends.
"I advised him to shorten sail before he let the watch go below," exclaimed Boxall. "It's too late now. Stick by me, Charlie, whatever happens."
"Turn out there, and save ship!" he shouted, as we sprang on deck; and together we made our way up to the starboard hammock-nettings, on which we found several people clinging, but in the darkness could not make out who they were. The water was rushing in fast through the hatches, and the brig was evidently sinking. Shrieks and cries for help came from the lee side, to which most of those on deck had been thrown; but the greater number of the watch had, I judged, been aloft at that moment, about to shorten sail, and were already struggling in the water.
"Now, my lads, the brig is going down, and we must find something to cling to if we don't want to go down with her," sung out Boxall. "Who is there will try and make a struggle for life?"
"I will," cried a voice, which I recognised as Halliday's.
"And I," said Ben Blewett, who worked his way up to us with an axe in his hand.
The boats which had escaped the previous gale were under repair; so we could not trust to one of them. Making our way to the booms, Blewett cut several away; and, providentially, some planks had been left by the carpenters, which we got hold of, together with a few fathoms of rope. The planks and spars, under Boxall's directions, we rapidly lashed together, and Halliday and I each got hold of a small piece of board. Launching our roughly-constructed raft abaft the mainmast, we threw ourselves on it and paddled away from the wreck for our lives. The officer of the watch must have been thrown to leeward when the brig went over; neither the commander nor any of the other officers had time to make their escape from their cabins. We heard several men, however, who were forward, crying out for help; but it was impossible for us to go to their assistance, and we could only hope that they were attempting to save their lives by constructing a raft, as we had done.
Scarcely had we got clear of the brig when her masts rose as she righted, and down she went, dragging with her all those on board, as well as the men clinging to the rigging.
The dark clouds passed away, and the moon shone forth brightly on the sparkling waters, revealing to us a few floating planks and spars—all that remained of our brig. Not a human being was to be seen; every one of our shipmates had been engulfed by the hungry sea. We paddled back, and getting hold of such spars and planks as we could find, placed them crosswise under our raft to prevent it from upsetting, though it was even thus a ticklish affair. Ben had taken his seat forward, I sat astride at the other end, Boxall and Halliday occupied the middle. How far we were off the coast of Africa we could not exactly tell, but we judged that we should have fifteen or twenty leagues to paddle before we could reach it. This would take us two or three days at least; and, without food or water, how could we expect to hold out? Our prospects were indeed miserable in the extreme; still, we had reason to be thankful that we had escaped the fate which had overtaken our shipmates.
On and on we paddled, till our arms began to ache. "We are making no way, I've a notion; and as for reaching the shore, that is more than we can do," exclaimed Ben at length, as he placed under him the piece of board with which he had been paddling. "Our best chance is to be picked up by some passing vessel; and I hope one will heave in sight when a breeze gets up."
"I fear there is but little chance of that," said Halliday in a desponding tone; "a vessel may pass close by and not see us, seated as we are scarcely above the surface."
"Trust in God," exclaimed Boxall, pointing upwards. "See! the morning is breaking—the clouds overhead are already tinged with the sun's rays; a breeze, too, has sprung up: let us hope that before long one of our own cruisers or some African trader may sight us and take us on board."
Fortunately Boxall and I had had supper, and could hold out longer than our companions. Halliday said that he was not hungry; but I knew that he would be before long, when he would be singing out for food.
"When you are, sir, say so," said Ben. "I shoved a biscuit into my pocket at tea-time last night; and I have got three or four quids in my baccy-box, so that I shall not want it."
"Thank you, but I cannot take it from you," answered Halliday.
"Do you think, sir, that I could munch it up and see you starving," answered Ben. "Come, that would be a good joke. I shan't get hungry, for you must know that I have more than once been three days without putting a morsel of food between my teeth—and wasn't much the worse for it, either. I shouldn't mind a drop of grog, I will allow; but what we can't get we must do without—and, as Mr Boxall says, 'Trust in God.'"
I was thankful that we had so right-minded a man as the old mate with us; still, I could not help thinking about the fearful probability there was that we should perish. We were already in the latitude in which sharks abound; and should those foes of the seaman find us out, they would certainly attack us,—tempted, as they would be, by our feet hanging in the water. I said nothing, however, as I did not wish to impart my uncomfortable feelings to my companions—especially to Halliday, who was already downcast.
At length the sun rose, and we eagerly looked out for a sail; but not a speck could be seen above the horizon. Eastward was a haze, which Ben asserted indicated land; and Boxall, who had before been on the coast, agreed with him, though he said it was a long way off. No remark was made about the non-appearance of a vessel; we could not trust ourselves to speak on the subject.
Slowly the sun got higher in the sky, and the outline of the land, as his rays dissipated the mist, became more distinct. This encouraged us once more to attempt gaining it. Boxall and Halliday took their turn at the paddles; but as we could not venture to shift places, they were unable to make so much use of the pieces of wood as Ben and I were, who were seated at either end. As we were paddling on we caught sight of some spars floating at a little distance on one side. We made towards them, and found an oar and boat-hook.
"These may serve us as a mast and yard; we must manage to make a sail with our handkerchiefs and shirts, and then, when the sea-breeze sets in, we shall make more progress," said Boxall.
Having secured the boat-hook and oar, we soon fastened our handkerchiefs and shirts together; and the breeze setting in shortly afterwards, we went skimming along at a much greater rate than at first. It again fell calm, however, and we were left as before, scarcely moving unless we used our paddles. The heat, as may be supposed, was very great; and what would we not have given for a few pints of water! We should have infinitely preferred that precious fluid to the choicest of wines.
CAST ON A SAND-BANK—OUR SUFFERINGS FROM THIRST—A HAPPY DISCOVERY.
Boxall did his uttermost, by his cheerful conversation, to keep up our spirits; but we were little inclined to talk, and sometimes we sat for an hour together without speaking, when his remarks would arouse us. Boxall was one of those quiet, unpretending men who can dare and do great things without making a boast of it, and at the same time endure trial and suffering without complaining. He did not tell us his thoughts, but we might have supposed that he felt certain of being preserved, so calm and even cheerful did he appear.
Halliday was an excellent fellow, who had never, that I know of, done an unworthy action; but he was apt to take things as he found them, and not to look far beyond the present. When with merry companions, he was as merry and happy as any of them; but if in sedate society, he was quiet and sedate.
Ben was, like many other British seamen, indifferent to danger, of a cheerful disposition, and generous and self-sacrificing; always ready to take a glass with an old messmate whenever an opportunity offered,— though he seldom if ever got intoxicated, even on shore, and never on duty.
I may be excused if I say but little about myself. I felt our position, and could not hide from myself the fearful danger we were in, although I did not altogether despair of escaping.
We had been silent for some time, when Halliday exclaimed,—"I could stand the hunger, but this thirst is terrible. I must take a gulp of the water alongside."
"On no account, my dear fellow, as you value your life," cried Boxall; "it will only increase your thirst, and very probably bring on delirium. Numbers have died in consequence of doing as you propose. Bear it manfully. Providence may save us when we least expect it."
"You had better take a bite of my biscuit, sir," said Ben, turning round; "it will give your mouth something to do. Chew it well, though. I and four companions were once in the Pacific in a whale-boat for three days, under the line, without a drop of water to cool our tongues; and all we had to eat were some flying-fish which came aboard of their own accord—or rather, it's my belief that Heaven sent them. Three of us who stuck to the fish were taken aboard by our own ship on the fourth day; and two who would drink the salt water sprang overboard raving mad just before she hove in sight. It has been a lesson to me ever since."
"Thank you, Ben; we will profit by it," said Boxall.
We were paddling along as at first, all this time,—though, as we made but slow progress towards the shore, Boxall began to suspect that the current was carrying us to the southward. Still, we hoped that a breeze would again spring up and send us along faster; at all events, should a vessel appear in sight, our mast and sail, such as they were, would afford us a better chance of being seen than would otherwise have been the case. But hour after hour passed away, and still no sail hove in sight; indeed, while the calm lasted we could not expect to see one.
"What sort of people are we likely to meet with on yonder shore, should we ever get there?" asked Halliday. "Charlie, do you know?"
"Moors or Arabs; I don't suppose any black fellows are to be found so far north," I answered.
"I would rather land among blacks than Moors, from what I have heard of the latter," said Boxall. "However, we may, I hope, be picked up by some European vessel."
It was the first time Boxall had made any remark calculated to increase our anxiety, and his words had apparently slipped out unintentionally. I remembered having read an account of the barbarous way in which the wild Arabs of the African Desert had treated some European sailors wrecked on the coast; and I could not help reflecting that the most abject slavery might be our lot, should we fall into their hands. A discussion as to the character of the natives we were likely to meet with, should we reach the shore, occupied us for some time. Again Halliday complained of fearful thirst, when Ben succeeded at length in persuading him to munch a piece of his biscuit; but he declared that without a drop of moisture he could not get a morsel down. Just then Ben sang out that he saw some round things floating in the water a short way ahead.
"It may be sea-weed—though I have a notion it is something else," he added, as we paddled eagerly forward.
"They are oranges!" he soon shouted out; "and whether they have come from our vessel or some other, there they are."
We strained every nerve to urge on the raft, as if they would sink before we could reach the spot. How eagerly we picked them up! There were two dozen altogether. Directly Ben got hold of one he handed it to Halliday, who began sucking away at it with the greatest eagerness. They were all perfectly ripe; and even had they been green, they would have been most welcome.
"Providence has sent this fruit for our relief," said Boxall. "Let us be thankful to the Giver."
There were six apiece. We stowed them away in our pockets, for we had nowhere else to put them. They might be, we thought—as indeed they were—the means of preserving our lives. By Boxall's advice we ate only one each, reserving the others till hunger and thirst might press us more than at present. I suspect that otherwise Halliday would have consumed all of his share—as perhaps might the rest of us.
All day we were on the look-out for a sail; but the calm continuing, no vessel could approach us. We had reason, however, to be thankful that a strong wind and heavy sea did not get up, as our frail raft, on which we could with difficulty balance ourselves, would speedily have been overwhelmed. On we paddled; but, as before, we made but little progress. A light breeze springing up towards evening, we hoisted our sail; and steering as well as we could with our paddles, or rather the pieces of board which served as such, we glided on towards the still far-distant shore. Had we known more about the coast and the dangers which fringed it, we should probably have endeavoured to gain the offing, where we might possibly be seen by a vessel passing either to the north or south—which none was likely to do closer in with the shore. Still, we all agreed that if we remained at sea and no vessel should come near us for a couple of days, we must, without food and water, inevitably perish.
We were all greatly overpowered with a desire to sleep, which even the fear of falling off into the water could scarcely conquer. I know that, though I was steering, I frequently saw the stars dancing before my eyes and shining in a confused manner on the mirrorlike surface of the water, while I scarcely recollected where I was or what had happened. At last I could stand it no longer, and was compelled to tell Boxall how I felt. Though there was great risk in changing our position, he insisted on taking my place; and as he was next to me, he told me to stoop down while he crept over my head. The centre part of the raft was more secure. Halliday, who had, I found, been sleeping for some time, was being held on by Boxall, who undertook to help me in the same way. In a moment after I had got into my new position I was fast asleep; and though the wind had been increasing, and the sea was consequently rougher than before, even the tossing of the raft did not awake me.
We had been running on for some time, when suddenly I was aroused by a violent shock.
"What has happened?" I exclaimed, opening my eyes.
"We have run on a reef!" exclaimed Ben; "and it will be a job for us to get over it."
The mast had been unshipped, and fell over Ben; but being only an oar, it did not hurt him. We found ourselves on the top of a level rock, with the water quite shoal all round us.
"What is to be done now?" asked Halliday.
"We will take our sail to pieces, and resume our shirts and handkerchiefs," said Boxall calmly. "If the tide is at present at its height, the rock will be dry shortly, and we can remain and stretch our legs till we ascertain how far we are off the coast."
"But had we not better drag the raft over to the other side, into deeper water?" asked Ben; "we may then be able to continue our voyage."
"We must first ascertain where the deep water is," answered Boxall.
"I will soon learn that," said Ben, taking the boat-hook in his hand to feel his way. He went forward carefully for some distance. At last he shouted out,—"The reef is higher here than where we struck it, and I am pretty sure I see a sand-bank at no great distance. I will go ahead and let you know."
Halliday was so stiff and worn out that he was unable to move, and neither Boxall nor I liked to leave him. As Ben was strong, and a good swimmer, we felt sure that he could manage by himself.
We now refreshed ourselves with another orange; and I felt that I had still some strength left for any further exertions we might have to make.
After waiting for some time, we thought we heard Ben shouting to us.
"Yes, I am sure that is Ben's voice," said Boxall. "Come, Halliday, are you able to move?"
"I will do my best," was the answer; and getting up, we made our way over the rocks in the direction from which Ben's voice proceeded. After passing over a dry ledge we found the water again deepening; but I took Halliday's hand, and together we waded on, followed by Boxall—who was ready to give either of us assistance, should we require it. The water was growing deeper and deeper, till it almost reached our chests.
"We shall have to swim for it," I said; "but I don't think it will be far." Just then we again heard Ben's voice. "He would not call to us if there was any danger to be encountered," I observed. The next instant we all had to strike out; but we had not gone twenty fathoms when we found our feet touching the bottom, and once more we waded on.
"I see him," I cried out, as my eye caught sight of a figure standing, apparently on dry land. "It may be the coast itself which we have reached—sooner than we expected."
We had still some distance to go, but the water gradually became shallower. Halliday, overcome with fatigue, cried out that he could go no further; but Boxall, overtaking us, made him rest on his shoulder. The water being now no higher than our knees, we advanced more easily; and we soon caught sight of Ben, who had gone some distance over the sand, running to meet us. When at length we reached the dry land, we all three sank down exhausted.
"But have we really reached the coast of Africa?" eagerly asked Boxall of Ben.
"I am sorry to say we have not, sir; we are on a sand-bank ever so far from it, for not a glimpse have I been able to get of the coast—though we may perhaps see whereabouts it is when the sun rises."
This was disappointing intelligence.
"Still, we ought to be thankful that we have a spot of dry land on which to put our feet," said Boxall. "As we have been preserved hitherto, we ought not to despair, or fear that we shall be allowed to perish. At daylight, when we shall ascertain our position better than we can do now, we may be able to judge what we ought to do."
Of course, we all agreed with him, and at once made our way up to the highest part of the bank, which was covered with grass and such plants as usually grow on saline ground seldom or never covered by the sea. Exposed as it was, it afforded us space on which to rest our weary limbs. Led by Boxall, we returned thanks to Heaven for our preservation, and offered up a prayer for protection in the future; and then we stretched ourselves out on the ground. Having no fear of being attacked by savage beasts or equally savage men, in a few minutes we were all fast asleep.
The sun had risen when we awoke. We all felt ravenously hungry, and were burning with thirst. Our thirst we slightly quenched with another orange apiece; but as we gazed around the barren sand-bank, we had no hopes of satisfying our hunger. Unless we could quickly reach the land, we felt we must perish. Standing up, we looked eagerly towards the east; a mist, however, which the sun had not yet dispelled, hung over that part of the horizon. The sand-bank, we judged, was a mile or more long, but very much narrower. It had apparently been thrown up by a current which swept round it inside the reef; while the reef itself appeared to extend further than our eyes could reach to the southward, and we supposed that we were somewhere near its northern end.
Halliday and I sat down again, not feeling inclined to walk about. We asked Boxall what he proposed doing.
"We must return to our raft, and try and get her round the reef," he answered. "The weather promises still to be moderate, and I think we shall have no difficulty in doing so."
"But how are we to get on without food?" asked Halliday. "If Ben would give me another piece of biscuit I might pick up a little; but I never could stand hunger."
We looked round for Ben, but we found he had walked away, and was, as it seemed, sauntering idly along the beach. The tide had by this time gone out, and a considerable space of rocky ground was uncovered. We none of us felt inclined to move, but at the same time we knew that we must exert ourselves or perish; we wanted water more than anything else.
"We have no chance of finding it on this barren sand-bank," I observed with a sigh.
"I am not so certain of that," said Boxall. "I have heard that in the driest sand, provided the sea does not wash over it, drinkable water may be procured by digging deep down. Let us try, at all events."
Agreeing to do as he proposed, we got up and walked along till we saw some tufts of grass; they were thin, and burned brown by the sun.
"Let us try here," said Boxall. "This grass would not grow without some moisture; and possibly, by digging down, we shall find it at the roots."
We set to work with our knives, but soon found that we could throw out the sand more rapidly with our hands than with these. We worked away, eagerly scraping out the sand. The roots ran very deep. "This is a most encouraging sign," said Boxall. "Observe how much cooler the sand is here than at the top." It continued, however, to roll down almost as fast as we threw it up, and we had to enlarge the circumference of the hole. Still no appearance of water; but the roots extended even further down than we had yet gone, and we persevered. We had got down nearly three feet, when we saw that some of the particles of sand glistened more than those at the top, and were of a brighter hue.
"See—see! they are wet!" exclaimed Halliday, digging away frantically.
We now got down into the hole, and threw the sand up behind us. Halliday at length brought up a handful which was moist, and pressed it to his lips. "It is free from salt!" he cried out; and again we all plunged down, till we came to a patch of wet sand. By keeping our hands in it, a little water at length began to trickle into them, which we eagerly drank. But this process appeared a very slow one. Had we possessed a cup of any sort to sink in the sand, we might have filled it; as it was, we were compelled to wait till we could get a few drops at a time in the hollow of our hands. Slow as was the proceeding, however, we at length somewhat overcame the burning thirst from which we had been suffering.
"Why should we not try to fill our shoes?" I exclaimed, as the thought struck me.
"We might try it; but it will take a long time to fill one of them," said Boxall; "and I am afraid that the water will leak out as fast as it runs in."
"I am ready to devote mine to the purpose, at all events," I said, taking them off and working them down into the sand—though it was evident that a long time must elapse before water could flow into them.
"But what has become of Ben?" I asked; "we must let him know, as probably he is as thirsty as we were."
We looked round, and at last caught sight of him stooping down, as if picking up something at the edge of the water. We shouted to him, but he was so busily engaged that he did not hear us.
"He has found some mussels or other shell-fish," exclaimed Halliday, setting off to run; "I am desperately hungry."
"Depend on it, Ben will give us a due share of whatever he has found," said Boxall, as we followed our companion.
"Have you found any mussels?" Halliday was asking as we drew near.
"Better than mussels—oysters," answered Ben. "It's a very hard job, however, to get them off the rock. I intended to surprise you, thinking you were all still asleep, and so I waited till I could get enough for all of us."
He showed us his ample pockets already full; and, hungry as he was, I am certain that the honest fellow had not touched one of them. We retired to the dry sand, and sitting down, eagerly opened the oysters with our knives. How delicious they were! meat and drink in one, as Ben observed—for we could scarcely have swallowed any dry food just then. We found our strength greatly restored after our meal.
Having told Ben of the means we had taken to find water, we advised him to come back with us and get a drink.
"No, no, gentlemen," he said; "it will be wiser first to collect as many oysters as we can secure before the tide comes back, for we shall not then be able to get them."
So we all set to work to collect oysters, filling our pockets and then carrying them on shore, and there piling them up beyond high-water mark. We knew that we should require a large number: indeed, Boxall reminded us that we could not expect to live long upon them and keep up our strength. It was tantalising, also, to reflect that we could not carry any quantity on our intended voyage.
Boxall then proposed that we should return to our water-hole. "Though I am afraid, Charlie, we shall not find your shoes very full," he observed.
"Perhaps not; but if we take a few of the deepest of these oyster-shells, we may get water more quickly," I answered. The thought that they would be of use had just struck me.
Away we went, our pockets loaded with as many oysters as we could carry. When we got to the hole I was disappointed to find that Boxall was right, and that there was only just sufficient water in my shoes to enable Ben partly to quench his thirst. By further increasing the hole, however, and putting down our oyster-shells, we found that we could obtain a much larger quantity of the precious liquid than by means of the shoes. Still there was only just enough to quench our thirst; and even had we possessed a bottle, it would have required some hours to fill it.
The tide had already begun to rise, and we agreed that no time was to be lost in crossing the channel to our raft, as we should now have the advantage of shallow water; whereas, if we waited, we should have to carry the raft a considerable distance over the rocks to launch it.
"I won't disguise from you that I consider our expedition a dangerous one," said Boxall. "Heavy weather may come on before we reach the shore; or a current may sweep us either to the north or south on to another reef. And when we do gain the shore, we cannot tell how we shall support life, or what treatment we may receive from the inhabitants, should we fall in with any, in that desert region. We can, however, trust to One above to take care of us. Let us pray to Him for protection."
We knelt down, and Boxall offered up a heart felt, earnest prayer, in which we all joined. Then we rose from our knees, with strong hearts to encounter the dangers before us.
WE QUIT THE SAND-BANK—A SAIL! A SAIL!—SAVED—DON LOPEZ'S INDIGNATION—THE SHIP STRIKES—FIRE! FIRE!—CRUELLY DESERTED—THE WRECK BLOWS UP.
We had marked the spot where we had landed on the sand-bank, and we hoped therefore without difficulty to find our raft on the top of the reef. Before starting, we swallowed as much water as we could collect, and filled our handkerchiefs and pockets with oysters—which we took out of the shells, for otherwise we could have carried but few. It was not a time to be particular, but the oysters did feel somewhat slimy, and did not look very nice. How much we wished for a bottle in which we could carry water!—but all our ingenuity could devise no means of securing any for the future. We had an orange apiece remaining, and that was all on which we could depend for quenching our thirst till we could reach the shore; and perhaps even then we might be unable to find water.
"Cheer up, cheer up!" cried Boxall. "We have thought sufficiently over the dangers before us, now let us face them bravely." Saying this, he led the way across the channel; Halliday and I followed, and Ben brought up the rear. We were able to wade the whole distance, though in the deeper part the water was up to our shoulders. We found the raft as we had left it, for the tide, even at its height, did not reach the top of the reef. At Boxall's suggestion, we took it apart and dragged the pieces down to the edge of the water, so that when put together again it might float as the tide came in. We also lashed it together more securely and balanced it better than before, while from one of the boards we cut out two fresh paddles; thus all hands were able to urge on the raft. Judging as far as we were able—by throwing a piece of wood into the water—that the current was setting to the southward, while we wished to go round the north end of the reef, we determined to wait till the tide slackened, which it would soon do; indeed, our raft was not yet completely afloat. The water rising higher and higher, however, we at last got on the raft and sat down. And while Boxall took the boat-hook to shove off, the rest of us paddled with all our might.
"Away she goes!" cried Boxall; and we were fairly afloat.
Just at that instant Ben cried out, "A sail! a sail! away to the north-west."
We looked in the direction indicated, and clearly made out the top-gallant-sails and part of the royals of what was apparently a large ship, standing almost directly towards us. Our hearts leaped with joy. Instead of the weary paddling towards the arid coast, parched with thirst and suffering from hunger, we might soon be safe on board ship, with the prospect of returning to our friends and country.
"We shall easily cut her off, if we steer to the westward and make good way," cried Ben. "But there is no time to lose, in case she should alter her course."
"I cannot understand why she is standing in this direction," observed Boxall. "Her commander can scarcely be aware of the existence of this reef, or he would be giving it a wider berth."
The wind was against us, and the send of the sea drove us back almost as much as we went ahead; so that we made but slow progress. The ship, however, approached nearer and nearer, till we could see nearly to the foot of her courses. When at length her hull came in sight, both Boxall and Ben were of opinion that she was foreign,—either French or Spanish. Boxall thought that she was the latter; and indeed we soon clearly made out the Spanish ensign flying from her peak.
"I will get a signal ready," said Ben, taking off his shirt and fastening it to the end of the oar which had served as a mast. It was still too evident, however, that we were not seen.
"If that ship were to stand on an hour longer, or even less, she would run right on the reef not far to the southward of this," observed Boxall. "It will be a mercy if those on board see us, as we will be able to warn them of their danger. Let us, at all events, do our best to get up to her."
Cheering each other on, we paddled away as vigorously as we could.
"I think she will see us now. Let us hoist our signal," cried Ben; and taking up the oar which lay along the raft, he waved it, with his shirt at the end, as high as he could. Some minutes more passed. The ship had got so far to the southward that we were directly on her beam. Ben waved the signal frantically; and uniting our voices, we shouted as loudly as we could.
"I am afraid our voices don't reach her in the teeth of the wind," observed Boxall.
"But our signal is seen, though," cried Ben; and as he spoke the ship's head was turned towards us, while we energetically paddled on to meet her.
In a short time she was up to us, and we got alongside; ropes were hove to us (one of which Ben made fast to the raft), and several men came down the side to assist us in climbing up. Among the most active were two negroes—one a tall, powerful man, but about as ugly a mortal as I ever set eyes on; the other, a young, pleasant-looking lad, though his skin was as black as jet. The two seized me by the arms and dragged me up, though I could have scrambled on deck without their help.
"Muchas gracias," (Many thanks), I said.
"I thought you English officer," said the young black.
"So I am," I answered. "How is it that you speak English?"
"I served aboard English man-of-war, and knew that you were English officer directly I saw you," he answered.
This was said almost before I placed my feet on the deck—where we were all soon standing, looking around us. The ship was apparently a man-of-war; but there were a number of soldiers and people of all ranks, evidently passengers, walking the deck, besides the officers.
"I say, Charlie, as you speak Spanish, you had better tell the captain that he will be hard and fast on shore in a few minutes if he does not alter his course," said Boxall to me.
Followed by my companions, I accordingly stepped aft to an officer whom I took to be the commander, and told him that we had only just before left a reef which ran north and south, and that he would soon be upon it unless he steered more to the westward; also that, if he kept a sharp look-out, he would see the sand-bank behind it. He seemed very much astonished, and at once gave orders to port the helm and trim the sails so as to stand off from the dangerous neighbourhood. I observed that our raft was towing astern. "We will hoist it on board by-and-by," said the captain; "it will serve for firewood, of which we have not too large a supply."
I heard several people talking about the reef. One very consequential-looking gentleman declared that we had not spoken the truth, and that the reef must be much further off than we had said. I took no notice of this; indeed, I thought that I might possibly be mistaken, especially as I was not accustomed to hear Spanish spoken, although, thanks to honest Andrew, I was able to express myself with tolerable clearness on simple subjects. We convinced the captain, however, that my account was true, by showing him the oysters with which our pockets were filled, and which we were very glad to get rid of. Being about to throw them overboard, the young negro stopped us and begged to have them, as they would be very welcome at the mess to which he belonged. "We no get too much food here," he observed; "very different to English man-of-war."
I asked the young black his name.
"They call me Pedro aboard here; but I got many names, according to the people I live among," he answered with a laugh. "The English sailors call me Black Jack; and when I once lived with the Moors, my name was Selim; and in my own country, Quasho Tumbo Popo."
"And what is the name of the big black man who helped me up the side?" I asked.
"Him called Antonio here," answered Pedro, glancing round to ascertain that the person we were speaking of was not near. "Take care of him, massa; him no good. Once got flogging aboard man-of-war, and no love English officers, depend on that. He pretend to be great friend to you, but you see what he do."
I thanked Pedro for his caution, feeling certain from the tone in which he spoke that he was sincere.
The captain seemed really grateful for the service we had rendered him by preventing him from running on the reef. He invited us down to his cabin, and asked us if we would like to turn in and rest while our clothes were drying.
"Will you tell him that we are dying of thirst," exclaimed Halliday, "and that we should not object to have something to eat first?"
I explained that we had had no food except oysters since the previous evening, and that we should be grateful if he would order us some supper—for the Spanish dinner-hour had long passed.
"Of course," he observed; "I forgot that,"—and he immediately ordered some water and light wine to be placed on the table. He seemed amused at the quantity we drank; having, I suspect, had very little experience of the way men feel who have been exposed to hunger and thirst, as we had been, for so many hours. Some light food was then brought in, to which we did ample justice.
On my mentioning Ben to him, he observed,—"He will be taken good care of by the black Antonio; he understands your language."
The captain appeared to be a quiet, gentlemanly man; but it struck me at once that he was not the sort of person to keep a disorderly crew and a number of troops and passengers in order. He again expressed himself deeply obliged to us for the service we had rendered him; and taking a small telescope in a case from the side-cabin, begged I would accept it as a mark of his gratitude. "There are some aboard here who pretend to understand better than I do how the ship should be managed; and it was by their advice that I was steering the course I was doing when I fell in with you," he observed.
I told Boxall what the captain had said.
"A pretty sort of commander he must be, to allow civilians, even though they may be scientific men, to interfere with the navigation of the ship," he observed. "For my part, I should tell them to keep as sharp a look-out as they liked upon the spars and ship, but to let me steer the course I considered the best."
After supper we thankfully turned in—the captain politely giving his berth to Boxall, while two of the lieutenants begged that Halliday and I would occupy theirs. When we left the deck I observed that the wind had completely fallen, and I could not help wishing that we had been further off from the reef. The frigate, I should have said, had come through the Straits of Gibraltar, from Malaga or some other port on the south of Spain, and was bound out to Manilla in the Philippine Islands, carrying a number of official persons, with some settlers of lower grade. But having told the captain of the danger near him, we hoped that he would do his best to avoid it, and so ceased to let the matter trouble us.
As may be supposed, we slept soundly, worn out as we were with our exertions; and it was daylight next morning when we awoke. I apologised to those whom we had kept out of their berths; but they were very civil, and replied that they had slept on sofas, and that we evidently required all the rest we could obtain.
On going on deck we found that the calm still continued, and the ship lay on the glass-like surface, her sails idly hanging down against the masts. I observed that a hand was in the chains, heaving the lead; and on going into the mizzen-top, I made out the reef and the sand-bank behind it,—although, had I not known it was there, I might not have been certain what it was. Going forward, I found Ben, and asked him how he had fared.
"Pretty well, thank you, sir; owing to the black Antonio, who looked after me," he answered. "He is a rum sort of a chap, though; and I shouldn't wish to have many such aboard a ship with me. He is civil enough, to be sure, as far as I am concerned; but he is bitter as olives against all above him: and it's my opinion he would work you, and Mr Boxall, and Mr Halliday a mischief, if he had the power, though you never did him any harm. I see clearly enough what he is about: he wants to gain me over to side with him—and that's the reason he's so terribly civil. Depend on it, Mr Blore, there'll be a mutiny aboard before long; and when it comes there'll be murder and fighting, and we shall fare ill among the villains. I cannot say much for the discipline of this ship, either; she is more like a privateer than a man-of-war. It's a wonder she has got as far as she has without meeting with some misfortune; and I only hope that we shall touch at a port before long, where we can get clear of her."
"What you say is not pleasant; and, from certain things I have observed, I am afraid it is true," I answered. "If we don't touch anywhere, we may fall in with an English vessel; and I am sure Mr Boxall will agree with me, that we had better go on board her, even though she may be a merchant-man. But if we meet with a man-of-war, we shall be all right."
"I hope we shall, sir," said Ben. "Antonio tells me, too, that the ship was on fire two nights ago, through the carelessness of some of the men, when more than half of the crew went down on their knees and cried for help to their saints, instead of trying to put out the flames; and if he and a few others had not set to work with buckets and wet blankets, the ship, to a certainty, would have been burned."
"Well, Ben, keep your weather-eye open; and if anything of the kind occurs again, we must show them what British discipline and courage can do," I said.
Going aft, I told Boxall what I had heard; and he agreed with me that it would be well to leave the ship as soon as we could, though we ought to be thankful that we had reached her, instead of having to make our way to land on our frail raft.
We had certainly no reason to complain of want of civility from the officers of the ship; but the civilians, some of whom rejoiced in high-sounding titles, treated us with marked contempt, as beings altogether inferior to themselves. We agreed, however, to take no notice of this, and made ourselves as happy as we could. Halliday, after two or three substantial meals, recovered his spirits; and I jokingly told him that it would be wise to keep his pockets, in future, well stored with provisions, in case a similar accident might occur— though I little thought at the time that he would take my advice in earnest, and follow it.
A breeze at last sprung up, and the huge galleon began once more to glide through the water. The officers had again politely offered us their berths, but we positively refused to accept them,—saying that, as our clothes were dry, we could sleep perfectly well on sofas, or on the deck of the cabin, for that matter. The captain then begged that we would occupy the main cabin, which was only used in the daytime.
After supper, we all three walked the deck till the great men had retired to their berths. It was a lovely night; the sea was smooth, and the moon shone brightly; a light air filled the sails, while the tall ship glided calmly onward. It was indeed such a night as one might have thought it impossible any accident could happen to a ship in. While we were walking the deck, Boxall stepped up to the binnacle and glanced at the compass. On returning to us, he observed—
"It seems extraordinary that, notwithstanding the warning we gave the captain, the ship is being kept more to the eastward of south than otherwise. I should say that south or south-south-west would be a safer course."
"I have a great mind to tell the captain," I said. "I suspect that he does not believe we are so close in with the coast as is really the case. He seems a sensible man, and will, at all events, be obliged to me."
I entered the cabin, but found that the captain had gone to bed. I then went up to the raised poop, on which the officer of the watch was standing, and, in as polite a way as I could, reminded him of the dangerous reef on our larboard beam. "Or rather, I may say, on our larboard bow," I added; "and if we stand on much longer on the course we are now keeping, we shall strike on it to a certainty."
"If there is a reef where you say, we must have passed it long ago," answered the lieutenant carelessly. "My directions are to steer the course we are now on; and I am surprised that a stranger should venture to interfere with the navigation of the ship."
"I beg your pardon, Don Lopez," I answered. "I have given you what my brother officers and I consider sound advice; and we, sir, should be as sorry as you would be to see the ship cast away."
"Really, Mr Englishman, we Spaniards understand navigation as well as you do!" exclaimed the lieutenant in an angry tone. "You seem to forget that we discovered the New World, and had explored a large portion of the globe before your countrymen even pretended to be a maritime people, as you now call yourselves."
I saw that it was useless saying more, and so rejoined my companions. Boxall was becoming more and more anxious. "We shall, to a certainty, be on the reef before many hours are over, if the ship's course is not altered," he said. "I suspect that the lieutenant has mistaken east for west, and that the captain really directed him to steer south-south-west."
I again went up to the lieutenant, and, as politely as I could, inquired if he did not think it possible that some mistake might have been made as to the course to be steered, and suggesting that he should alter it to south-west. This made him very indignant, and he hinted that if I again interfered with him he should order me under arrest. Making him a polite bow, I returned to Boxall, and we continued our walk. The air, after the heat of the day, was comparatively cool and pleasant, and neither of us felt any inclination to turn in. No one interfered with us; and we were talking eagerly about the probability of falling in with an English man-of-war, or of making our way home on board a merchant-man, when we suddenly felt a shock, but not of sufficient force to throw us off our feet.
"The ship has struck!" exclaimed Boxall. "What are the fellows about? They ought to clew up everything, and she might be got off."
In spite of the manner in which the officer of the watch had treated me, I ran aft to him, and urged him to do as Boxall advised, "The reef, do you say!" he exclaimed; "that was no reef, but a sunken vessel. See! we are gliding on as smoothly as before."
Scarcely had he said this when the ship again struck, and with far greater violence than before. The tall masts quivered, and seemed ready to fall. The captain, and most of the officers and crew who were below, came rushing on deck; the lead was hove, and shallow water found on either side. The captain immediately ordered the sails to be clewed up, and the boats to be lowered, that anchors might be carried astern, to haul off the ship.
"If it's high-water her fate is sealed," observed Boxall; "but if low, she might possibly be hauled off: and she has not, I hope, received much damage."
I ran to the chains, and observed that the lead-line was up and down— the ship was evidently not moving. By this time the civilians and other passengers had come on deck, and great confusion prevailed. Everyone wanted to know what had happened, and what was to be done. Several came to me. "We must first try to heave the ship off," was my answer to all.
The capstan was manned, and the crew commenced heaving; but not an inch did the ship move. The first anchor earned out, not holding, came home, and had with great labour to be lifted; the second held, though the strain on the cable was tremendous.
Boxall had carefully sounded the water alongside.
"She is moving!" he exclaimed at length. "Hurrah! work away, my fine lads!" he could not help crying out, though the men could not understand him. The water continued to rise, the ship moved faster and faster, and there appeared every probability of our getting off.
While the crew were thus busily engaged, several soldiers and passengers came rushing up the fore-hatchway shouting out, "Fire! fire! fire!" Halliday and I, who were standing together, hurried forward, hoping that it might be a false alarm, though I could not help recollecting what Ben had told me the previous day. Though no flames were visible, I discovered, even in the gloom of night, that the atmosphere was peculiarly thick, while I could smell an odour of burning wood. More people rushing up with the same fearful shouts, the alarm soon became general. Halliday and I cried out to the men nearest us to get buckets and blankets, and that we would try to discover from whence the fire proceeded, and endeavour to put it out; but no one listened to us. Some of the soldiers and passengers were rushing about the deck like madmen; others were on their knees calling to the saints to assist them; while a number of the seamen rushed below, returned with axes, and began hacking at the shrouds and stays—as if, having made up their minds that the ship would be lost, they intended to cut away the masts. Some of the officers were endeavouring to recall the men to their duty, but others seemed to have lost their senses; while the civilians were as frantic as the rest: indeed, a panic had too evidently seized the greater part of those on board.
Finding that we could do nothing, Halliday and I made our way aft to look for Boxall, and to ask what he advised we should do—feeling that it would be wise, at all events, to keep together. On our way we met with Ben. "I find, sir, that the careless Spaniards have forgotten to hoist our raft on board, as they intended doing, and she is still alongside," he said. "Now, as I see that these fellows are not likely to help themselves, it's our business, I have a notion, to look after number one; so I will just slip down on the raft and try what I can do to improve it, if you will send me over all the planks and spars you can lay hands on."
Fortunately, just then Boxall found us out, and approved of Ben's proposal. The officers, in the meantime, were lowering the boats which remained on board, the larger ones being already in the water. We offered to assist some of them who were trying to lower the starboard quarter boat; but even those who had before been civil to us now rudely pushed us aside; and we felt sure that, even should they succeed in launching her, they would refuse to take us on board.
Ben having got on the raft, had hauled it under the main chains. There was no lack of spars—the deck was piled up with a number, not only for the use of the ship, but for other vessels on the station; and there was also the framework and rigging complete of a small vessel. We quickly took from these spars and ropes sufficient to enable Ben to complete the raft—and had just sent him down the ship's fore-royal and its yard, with a couple of oars which we found on the booms, when a number of the crew discovered what we were about, and made a rush to get on the raft. We shouted to Ben to shove off,—telling him to come back for us, or we would swim to him. Before he was clear of the vessel's side, however, a Spanish seaman sprang on the raft; and having, as he thought, secured his own safety, he showed no inclination, notwithstanding the shouts of his countrymen, of returning to the ship.
The example we had set was immediately followed by such of the crew as had retained their senses—the boatswain and two or three more of the inferior officers taking the lead.
All this time no attempt had been made to put out the fire, which, from the slow progress it made, might, I felt sure, have easily been done. But the people now showed more energy in forming the proposed raft than they had hitherto done. It seemed surprising that the undisciplined crew did not take possession of the boats; but they were somewhat kept in awe by a party of marines or soldiers drawn up on the quarter-deck; and they had, besides, been assured by their officers that they should be taken on board when all was ready. The boats, which had in the meantime kept off from the ship, under the command of the lieutenants and other officers, were called up one by one. The barge being first summoned, the governor and his family, with several other civilians, ladies and children, embarked in her, with some provisions, and a few casks of water; more order and regularity being displayed on this occasion than on any other. The barge immediately shoved off; and then most of the civilians and naval officers hurriedly embarked in the other boats. I asked the captain if he would take us into his boat; but he replied, with a shrug of his shoulders, that it was impossible, as the Spaniards would not allow foreigners to embark while their countrymen remained on board. On hearing this, Boxall proposed to the boatswain that we should assist in building the large raft; and, as a considerable number of seamen on whom he could depend had already embarked in the boats, he thankfully accepted our offer.
Before letting ourselves over the stern, where the raft was being formed, I looked out for Ben. At length I observed him, some way off, with his companion, apparently busied in finishing the small raft. Boxall agreed with me that we should be better off with him than on the larger raft, so we hoped that as soon as he could he would come back to the ship. In the meantime we set to work energetically to assist the boatswain; while two or three of the officers remained on board, and, with the few men to help them whom they could get to work, continued heaving over all the planks and spars they could find, together with some empty water-casks and hen-coops, through the ports. We had already formed a good-sized raft, when an officer, who had hitherto been labouring on deck, slipped down and joined us, together with a number of people who were afraid of being abandoned should they not secure a place upon it.
Among the last articles sent down to us had been a top-gallant-sail, which Boxall, Halliday, and I at once got ready for hoisting on a long spar set up as a mast in the fore-part of the raft, that we might, should it be necessary, get clear of the ship; for although we were anxious to save as many people as possible, we knew that all would be lost should too many get upon it.
I had gone to the after-part of the raft, to suggest to the boatswain that we should fix a rudder, when I caught sight of the captain's boat pulling away from the ship, leaving a number of the marines on the quarter-deck. They were shouting to the captain, asking him to come back for them. His reply was, "I will directly; but I go to call the other boats to take you on board." This reply evidently did not satisfy the soldiers. Several of them shouted out, "We will fire, if you do not return immediately;" but no notice was taken of this threat, and the crew of the boat gave way with redoubled energy. I was expecting, the next instant, to hear the rattle of musketry, when a fearful report, like the sound of a hundred guns going off at once, rang in my ears; the deck of the ship appeared to lift, her masts and spars trembled, and bright flames burst forth from every side. It seemed impossible that any of those remaining on deck could have survived.
MEETING ON THE RAFT—AN ATROCIOUS DEED—A DESPERATE FIGHT—SWIMMING FOR LIFE—A TERRIBLE DOOM.
The people on the raft, overwhelmed with horror at the fearful catastrophe which had occurred, were for a time unable to exert themselves, and had we not been astern of the ship a large portion of our party would probably have perished; but as it was, no one was hurt. The boats, instead of returning to our assistance, continued to pull away to the southward; they did not even stop to take on board Ben and his companion, who, by the light of the burning ship, could be seen at some distance.
As soon as those on the raft began somewhat to recover from their consternation, they rose to their feet, uttering the most fearful imprecations on the heads of those who, it was very evident, were so cruelly deserting them. The brave boatswain was the only one among the Spaniards who retained his presence of mind. He and I, with Boxall and Halliday, managed to hoist a sail; when a light breeze enabled us to get sufficiently clear of the burning wreck to avoid the masts and spars which came falling down, hissing, into the water. Several of the people shouted out, urging us to sail in chase of the boats; but even had we attempted it with a strong breeze in our favour, they would of course soon have got far ahead of us. As it was, the wind again fell, and we lay on the calm ocean unable to impel our raft either towards the shore or in any other direction, while we gazed with sad eyes at the burning ship.
I looked round for Antonio and young Pedro, but could discover neither of them on the raft. The friendly disposition the latter had exhibited towards us made me hope that he had escaped in one of the boats. Boxall said that he had seen Antonio not long before he himself had got on the raft, and that he was nearly certain he had been left on the burning wreck. Notwithstanding the bad opinion Ben had formed of him, we agreed that we should have been glad had he been with us, as he was certainly one of the most intelligent and active seamen on board. Boxall, Halliday, and I sat near the mast with the boatswain, who tried in vain to arouse his companions to exertion,—urging them to secure the raft more firmly, and to endeavour to pick up anything which might be floating by. Those who had at first obeyed him willingly, now only grumbled; and from words I heard spoken, I was afraid that, should he attempt to enforce his orders, a mutiny would break out. On mentioning my fears to Boxall,—"We must try and defend him then," he answered. "I trust that some will remain faithful, and rally round us."
The night continued calm. This was the time when, if active, we might possibly have obtained some provisions, and might certainly have improved the raft. We three did what we could, but the people would not move out of our way, and no one would lend a hand. We succeeded, however, in picking up several articles: a boat-hook, some oars, and two casks—but whether they contained water or spirits we could not be certain. Boxall said that as they floated light he believed they were spirit-casks, and suggested that it might be wiser to let them go, in case the people should get drunk with their contents; still, as there was a doubt on the subject, and we were unable at once to examine them, we secured them to the raft.
The calmness of the sea alone saved many of the people sleeping near the edge from slipping overboard, or getting their limbs jammed between the openings in the spars. It was easy, however, to foretell what would happen should a strong wind and heavy sea get up: even should the raft hold together, many of those on it must be washed away; while if all hands had exerted themselves, it might have been greatly strengthened, and made secure against the dangers it would in all probability have to encounter.
Weary with our exertions, we at length agreed to go back to the mast and rest till daylight; but on reaching the spot where we had before taken our post, near the boatswain, we found it occupied, and were compelled to content ourselves with a less secure place at some distance from him. Not trusting those around us, we agreed that one should keep awake and watch over the other two. It fell to my lot to keep the first watch; and so, while Boxall and Halliday stretched themselves lengthways on a plank, I sat by their side.
I had not been there long when some men began talking near me (probably unaware that I understood Spanish). One of the men was, I made out, the boatswain's mate, and the others were ordinary seamen. They were speaking of the boatswain, and abusing him for what they called his tyranny. Each one had some grievance to complain of.
"We have him now in our power," said the boatswain's mate; "let us revenge ourselves on him."
"But who is to take command of the raft and guide us to the shore?" asked one of the men.
"I will do that," was the answer; "I am as good a seaman as he is. And when we get to land we will build huts and live at our ease, instead of setting off, as he will certainly wish to do, to find some port where we can start for Spain, where most of you will be sent back to the galleys."
A good deal more was said to the same effect; and my immediate impression was that the men he was addressing were emancipated convicts, and capable of any atrocity. I longed to warn the boatswain at once of the plot hatching for his destruction; but I knew that if I moved I should be suspected. I hoped, however, that at all events the wretches would not attempt to carry their nefarious plan out that night, and I resolved to take the first opportunity of telling the boatswain what I had heard. Growing very sleepy, I was compelled at last to awake Halliday and get him to keep watch. I told him to arouse me should the men make any movement, or show that they were about to carry out their treacherous project.
I went to sleep with the thought on my mind of the boatswain's danger; and I suppose this caused me to awake suddenly. Starting up, I found that Halliday had dropped off to sleep by my side. The raft had drifted to some distance from the ship, which was, however, still burning, the glare falling on the figures of my companions in misfortune,—some lying down, others sleeping in sitting postures. I looked around towards the spot where the boatswain's mate and his associates had been; they were not there. I crept towards the place where I had left the boatswain; but could not distinguish him. Happening to look to the further end of the raft, I saw a hand lifted up holding a dagger, which gleamed in the light of the burning ship. I shouted to Boxall and Halliday, who sprang to their feet; while I, followed by them, rushed towards the spot where I had seen the weapon raised.
"Stop! stop!" I shouted in Spanish. "Commit no murder." My voice aroused most of the other sleeping occupants of the raft; but before my friends and I could reach the spot the dagger had descended, and we were met by the glaring eyes of the boatswain's mate and his convict associates.
"You have killed the brave boatswain," I could not help exclaiming.
"You shall share his fate, whatever that is," growled out the murderer. "Who are you, who dares to interfere with me and my friends?"
I made no answer. The man held the still reeking dagger in his hand, and I could not help fearing that, should I get within his reach, he would plunge it into me.
The people on the raft were now shouting and talking together—some arranging themselves on our side, while others appeared inclined to take part with the boatswain's mate and his vile associates.
"Where is the boatswain? where is the boatswain? Pedro Alvez!" cried out some of the petty officers. No answer came. All the officers had their swords, and Halliday and I had got hold of two of the axes which had been taken to form the raft. Boxall told me to urge the carpenter, who seemed to be the chief in rank, to cut down the mutineers at once, and either heave them overboard or lash them to the raft, as he was certain they would otherwise take an early opportunity of attacking us when unprepared, and would put us all to death. He hesitated, however, observing that most of them had their knives, and that it would be no easy matter to overcome them.
Again voices shouted, "Where is Pedro Alvez? Let him show himself."
"He went overboard and was drowned; and many more will follow him, if we are interfered with," answered some one from the end of the raft occupied by the mutineers.
This answer evidently alarmed the carpenter, who was a very different sort of man from the brave boatswain.
"We will remain quiet till we are attacked, and then, of course, we will defend ourselves," he observed in a low voice.
"Our only chance will be to keep together and be constantly on the watch," observed Boxall. "I wish he would let me have his sword; I suspect that I should make a better use of it than he will."
The carpenter declined to give up his own weapon, but promised to try and get one—as he was sure that the English officer would make good use of it.
Boxall had hitherto been able to arm himself only with a heavy piece of wood, but which his strong arm was likely to use with good effect. In a short time, however, the gunner brought him a sword.
"Tell your brother officer that I am sure he will fight well with it, and do his best to maintain order."
"Thank him," answered Boxall. "He may trust me."
Something like order was at length restored; and the mutineers held their post on the after-part of the raft, while we kept ours round the mast. Thus the remainder of the night passed away.
The sun rose at last hot and red over the calm ocean; the heat became intense, and every one was crying out for food and water. Halliday whispered to me that he had taken my advice, and had filled his pockets with biscuits and sausages—which he invited Boxall and me to partake of. We agreed that they would be nothing among so many; still we did not like to eat them in the presence of others.
"I ate as much as I wanted during the night," said Halliday; "and I think if you were to sit down behind me, you might be able to get some food into your mouth without being observed. I should like to give the carpenter some, though."
I undertook to convey a small portion to him. He was very grateful for it, and did not even ask if we had any more. I then told him of the casks. He called several men whom he could trust; who went to the side and, with our assistance, got the casks on the raft. The larger one contained spirits, the other water. On discovering this, a number of the people made a rush towards them, afraid of losing their share,—and we were compelled to keep them at bay with our weapons.
"The water and spirits shall be served out so that each shall have a due share," cried the carpenter. Some small cups were found which served as measures; and the people, awed by the bold front we exhibited, waited patiently till each person had received his proper portion. Very nearly half the cask of water was thus exhausted; and we should have acted more wisely had we waited till the people's thirst had become greater. Some of them had apparently a few biscuits and other eatable things in their pockets; but besides this, a cask of pork, which had been thrown overboard, and hauled up on the raft before it left the ship, was the only food we possessed. Our only hope of escaping starvation was by speedily reaching the shore.
"How soon shall we get there?" asked Halliday of Boxall.
"Never—unless a breeze springs up, and these fellows act like rational beings instead of madmen," he answered, in a more gloomy tone than I had ever yet heard him use. "We must not conceal from ourselves the fearful position in which we are placed. These ruffians will probably try to destroy the gunner and the other officers as they did the boatswain; and watchful as we may be, we shall scarcely be able to guard ourselves against them."
"I wish we had Ben with us," said Halliday. "A stout, brave fellow such as he is would have been of great help, and with the assistance of the better disposed we might have kept the villains at bay. I wonder what can have become of him!"
"He and his companion have probably paddled towards the shore," answered Boxall. "Self-preservation is the first thing a man thinks of; and though he might not, under other circumstances, have deserted us, he probably thought himself much better off on his light raft than he would be on this large one,—and was afraid, if he came near us, that others would attempt to gain a footing on it, and thus overload it."
"No, no; I do not think that Ben would willingly have deserted us," I observed. "I am very certain that he would have done his best to help us. He probably lost sight of our raft during the night, and could not find it again; or one of the boats might have returned, and taken him and his companion on board."
"Little chance of that," answered Boxall. "There is no excuse for their cowardly desertion of us, and they are not likely to have come back for the sake of rescuing any one."
This style of conversation, more of which I need not repeat, served to pass away the time. While the calm continued, our condition did not change for the better, as we could not move, and no sail could approach to our assistance. The Spaniards around us were talking in even a more gloomy strain,—uttering curses, not loud but deep, on the heads of those who had basely deserted them; while the mutineers sat together at the end of the raft muttering to each other, and, as we suspected, hatching mischief.
The day wore on, and the sun struck down on our unprotected heads with intense force; while the bright glare on the water affected our eyes, and compelled us to shield them with our hands,—for the sail, though hoisted, afforded us only a partial shade. The mutineers now began to cry out that they wanted more food and water.
"It is not time yet to serve it out," answered the carpenter, who had assumed the command. "If we use it up now, we shall have none for to-morrow."
"Better eat and drink while we are hungry and thirsty, and let to-morrow take care of itself," exclaimed one of the mutineers.
The carpenter took no notice of the remark, and the mutineers remained quiet for some minutes, apparently not having made up their minds how to act.
"Depend upon it, these fellows will attack us before long," observed Boxall; "we must be prepared. Tell the carpenter what I say." The latter agreed with Boxall, and spoke to the few around him whom he could trust.
Boxall now suggested that we should place the three casks and some loose planks so as to form a barricade in front of us, by which means we might better resist an attack. We were engaged doing this, when the leader of the mutineers cried out,—"What are you about? Let these things remain as they are. We want food and water: if it's not given to us, we will come and take it."
The carpenter, instead of boldly adhering to what he knew was wise, was advised by his more timid companions, and replied that he would give them a little pork and water provided they should remain quiet. I told Boxall; who desired me to warn him that he was acting very imprudently, as they would be sure to ask for more. He persisted, however; and telling the men to come for their rations, he gave each a small measure of water and a piece of pork. On this, several who had remained neutral joined them, and also insisted on receiving their rations. Being supported by the mutineers, the rest of the people very naturally cried out that they must have their share,—fearing that otherwise the mutineers would get the whole of it.
Scarcely had the distribution been made, when the mutineers again demanded another supply.
"We must be firm, or, finding that they can overawe us, they will insist on doing whatever they please," said Boxall.
The carpenter could not fail to see the wisdom of this advice, and replied that not another drop of water or particle of food would be served out till the next morning. The mutineers received the answer in sullen silence, making at the time no movement; and we began to hope that they would remain quiet. As, however, they soon again felt the gnawings of hunger, they began to talk together in low voices; and, influenced by the instincts of savage beasts, they seemed determined to take by force what they wanted.
Their leader, starting up, cried out,—"It's time to have more food; come, Mr Carpenter, give it to us at once."
"Be quiet, friends; you know that is impossible," was the mild reply.
It failed to influence them, however; and drawing their knives, with which most of them were armed, they sprang towards us. Just at that moment some one at the other end of the raft shouted out,—"A sail! a sail!" The welcome sound arrested even the savage wretches, and, sheathing their knives, they looked round in the direction in which the man was pointing. We cast our eyes towards the spot. There could be no doubt that there was a sail, but I saw at once that it must be a very small vessel, or a boat. I thought it best, however, not to tell the Spaniards this.
The mutineers sat down, looking out towards the sail. Though the prospect of relief was sufficient, one might have supposed, to arouse every one, yet so weak and dispirited were many of the Spaniards, that they scarcely moved from their positions, but sat, as before, with their heads resting on their knees. One thing was certain—that the craft, whatever she was, was standing towards us, bringing up a breeze; yet she approached very slowly.
"I suspected from the first what she was," observed Boxall. "Let me have your glass, Charlie, that I may be certain." I gave him my telescope, which I had kept slung at my back. "As I thought: it is a small raft—probably Ben's. Honest fellow, I wronged him. He calculated the direction in which we were likely to have drifted, and is coming to our assistance."
In a short time the carpenter also observed to me that it was a raft, with our countryman on it.
"We will not tell the mutineers so—let them find it out for themselves; as they may form a plan for taking possession of it, if they think that it would serve them better than this one," I observed.
How anxiously we waited the arrival of the raft! It came on very slowly, for the breeze was light. Our own sail remained hoisted, but as one of the sheets had been let go it remained partly furled round the mast, and did not move the raft. Looking through my glass, I made out Ben and another man. It was evident, then, that they had not succeeded in saving any people from the burning wreck; probably, therefore, all had perished.
The raft was soon visible to the dullest eyes of all on board. As she approached, Boxall shouted to Ben, and advised him not to approach too near—telling him of the disorderly state of those with us, and that they would certainly attempt to take from him any water or provisions he might have. Ben on this hauled down his sail, and we saw him apparently endeavouring to make his companion understand the warning he had received.
"We will do as you advise, sir," he shouted in return. "We have got food and water enough on board for three or four people; and knowing that you were likely to be short of both, we came to look for you. My mate here is the brother of the boatswain, and is a very good fellow. As you say, it will be dangerous for us to come alongside; but if Mr Boxall, Mr Halliday, and you will swim off to us, we will run in closer and take you aboard."
"No, no! don't come any nearer; we can all easily reach you," answered Boxall. He did not wish to let the Spaniard know of his brother's death, in case he might be less willing to remain faithful to us.
The mutineers, as well as the other people, suspected from this conversation what we were about to do, and also from seeing that the raft did not come nearer. It struck me that, since the poor boatswain was dead, we ought to invite the carpenter to accompany us. Boxall agreed with me; I therefore asked him in a low voice if he could swim, and was willing to try and get on board the small raft.
"I cannot swim," he answered; "and if I could, I would not desert these poor people who are trusting to me, for the mutineers would very soon put them to death. But as you are not bound to remain, I will help you to escape."