The Cruise of the Dainty, Rovings in the Pacific, By William H G Kingston.
Another book of great adventure, this time in the Pacific, where, at the time, many of the Islanders were, with good reason, ill-disposed towards Europeans, having been tricked so often in various unpleasant ways, even to the point where they would be invited on board to do some bartering, only to be battened below hatches, and then sailed off to Peru to be used as slaves. Our adventurers encounter hostility in places, but on the whole their worst enemies are the weather, and also ill-intentioned crews of vessels such as those described above.
A short book, but a good read or listen, and you'll enjoy it.
THE CRUISE OF THE DAINTY, ROVINGS IN THE PACIFIC, BY WILLIAM H G KINGSTON.
"Never was bothered with a more thorough calm!" exclaimed my brother Harry, not for the first time that morning, as he and I, in spite of the sweltering heat, paced the deck of our tight little schooner the Dainty, then floating motionless on the smooth bosom of the broad Pacific. The empty sails hung idly from the yards. The dog-vanes imitated their example. Not the tiniest wavelet disturbed the shining surface of the ocean, not a cloud dimmed the intense blue of the sky, from which the sun glared forth with a power that made the pitch in the seams of the deck bubble up and stick to the soles of our feet, and though it might have failed to cook a beefsteak in a satisfactory manner, was rapidly drying some strings of fish hung up in the rigging.
The white men of the crew were gathered forward, in such shade as they could find, employed under the superintendence of Tom Platt, our mate, in manufacturing mats, sinnet, rope yarns, or in knotting and splicing; the dark-skinned natives, of whom we had several on board similarly engaged, were mostly on the other side of the deck, apparently indifferent as to whether they were in the shade or sunshine. Even my brother, the commander of the Dainty, was too impatient to think much about the broiling we were undergoing, as we walked from the taffrail to a short distance before the mainmast, where we invariably turned to face back again; while during the intervals in our conversation, from an old habit, he whistled vehemently for a breeze, not that in consequence he really expected it to come.
As we walked with our faces forward I was amused by watching old Tom, who, marline-spike in hand, was stropping a block, now inspecting the work of one man, now that of another, and then giving his attention to a lad, seated on the spars stowed under the long-boat, engaged in splicing an eye to the end of a rope.
"Is this all right, Mr Platt?" asked the lad, handing the rope to the mate, who, squirting a mouthful of tobacco juice over the bulwarks, turned it round and round to examine it critically.
"Ay, t'will do, Dick—wants scraping a bit; let's see how you'll serve it," answered old Tom, giving back the rope.
After taking a few more turns my brother stopped. "Do you think, Platt, that, we shall be long delayed by this provoking calm?" he asked.
"Can't say, Cap'en. Known such to last for the better part of a week in these latitudes," answered the mate, coming a few steps aft. "Maybe, though, we'll get a breeze to-morrow, maybe not."
"We are not likely to get it yet, at all events, from the look of the sky," said Harry. "We'll rig the awning and persuade Mary and Fanny to come on deck. They'll be better here than in the close cabin." Just as he spoke Nat Amiel, his young brother-in-law, appeared at the companion-hatch.
"Wanted to see if you were asleep, as we have been below all the morning," he exclaimed. "Well, I declare, it is hot, though it's baking enough in the cabin to satisfy a salamander."
"We'll soon have some more shade, and then ask the ladies to come on deck and enjoy it," I answered. "In the meantime hand up a couple of the folding-chairs, and I'll place some gratings for them to put their feet on."
Nat dived into the cabin, and the mate calling the men aft we quickly had an awning rigged to cover the after-part of the deck. Harry then went below to bring up his wife and her sister. They were by this time pretty well accustomed to a sea life, as three weeks had passed since we left Brisbane in Queensland. My brother Harry, who had been a lieutenant in the navy, had about four years before come out to settle in the colony, being engaged at the time to Miss Mary Amiel, the eldest daughter of an English clergyman. Agricultural pursuits had not been much to his taste, and he had therefore settled himself in Brisbane for the purpose of carrying on a mercantile business. He had made a very fair commencement, and had returned about a year before the time I am speaking of to marry his intended. On his arrival he found that Mr Amiel had died, and that his family, consisting of another daughter and a son, were left in very poor circumstances. Prompted by his generous feelings, he at once invited Fanny and Nat to return with him and his bride to the colony. This they gladly agreed to do, and the whole party forthwith took a passage on board an emigrant ship, which after a prosperous voyage reached the colony.
I had from my earliest days wished to go to sea, and my mother having consented, as I could not obtain a nomination for the Britannia, I got a berth as a midshipman on board a trader bound for China. I was unfortunate in my ship and my captain. This gave me a dislike not so much to the sea as to the merchant service, and on my return from my first voyage, finding that my brother, to whom I was much attached, had gone back to Queensland, I got leave from my mother, after representing to her the sort of life I had been leading, to go and join him, she being certain that he would be very glad to receive me.
As I had made the best use of my opportunities of becoming a seaman during my first voyage, I had no difficulty in obtaining a berth on board a ship bound to Queensland, called the Eclipse, commanded by Captain Archer, and I was thus able to work my passage out free of expense. On this occasion also I made good use of my time, by adding considerably to my knowledge of seamanship, and by studying navigation. Though I was before the mast, as I had my own sextant and books the officers allowed me to take observations with them and to keep the ship's reckoning, I had thus a right, with the experience I had had, to consider myself a fair seaman.
The Eclipse had been four days at sea, when the third mate summoned me to accompany him into the forehold to get up some casks of provisions. While searching for those he wanted, I heard a sound as if some one was gasping for breath, and then a low moan. I told the mate.
"What can that be, sir?" I asked. "It comes from forward."
"Take the lantern, and see if there is any one there," he answered.
I made my way to the spot whence I fancied the sounds proceeded, and lowering my lantern into a small hole, I saw the figure of a boy crouching down, with his head resting against a cask. He made no movement, and his eyes appeared to be closed.
"There's some one here, sir," I cried out. "He seems to be very far gone."
The mate quickly joined me. "A young stowaway!" he exclaimed. "We must have him on deck at once, or it will be beyond the doctor's skill to bring him round. I have known more than one lad lose his life in this way; and I shall get blamed for not having examined the hold before we left port."
Saying this he lifted the lad in his arms while I held the lantern, and forthwith carried him on deck. The low groans the boy uttered showed us that he was still alive, but he was pale as death and in a wretched condition. He was dressed like a respectable lad, but his face and clothes were covered with dirt.
"The captain will be in a great taking when he finds this out," said the mate; "still more so if the young fellow dies. Go aft, Ned, and call the doctor; maybe he'll be able to bring him round."
I hurried aft, and soon found the surgeon, who was in his dispensary. When I told him what he was wanted for, he at once, bringing some medicine with him, hurried forward.
"This will do him good," he said, pouring some liquid down the lad's throat. "I don't think, Mr Simmons, that you need be anxious about him."
The young stowaway almost immediately opened his eyes and stared about him. The doctor then ordered the cook to get some broth ready, while two of the women passengers brought some warm water and washed the poor lad's face and hands. The broth, which he eagerly swallowed, revived him still more, and the doctor considered that he had sufficiently recovered to be conveyed to the sick bay, the women offering to stay by his side and to give him medicine and food as he might require them.
"If he is carefully tended he may come round," said the doctor; "but had he remained another hour in the hold I feel pretty sure that he would have lost his life."
Having been the means of discovering the young stowaway, I felt a certain amount of interest in him, and, whenever I could, went in to see how he was getting on. The next day he had so far recovered as to be able to speak without difficulty. He told me that his name was Richard Tilston, though he was generally called Dick by his friends; that he had had a great longing for going to sea; and that, as his father would not let him, he had run off from school, and found his way down to the docks. Hearing that our ship was to haul out into the stream early the next day, he waited until late in the evening, when he stole on board, and had, without being discovered, got down into the hold. He had brought a bottle of water and some biscuits, together with a couple of sausages. Supposing that the ship would at once put to sea, he had not placed himself on an allowance, and in less than three days had exhausted all his provisions and water. As the sea was smooth he fancied that we were still in the river, and was therefore afraid to creep out, until he became too ill and weak to do so.
From the tone of his voice and the way he expressed himself I suspected that he was a young gentleman, but I did not like to ask questions, and waited to hear what account he would give of himself. He was, however, too ill to say much, and was in a great fright at hearing that the captain would be very angry with him for having stowed himself away. I tried to reassure him by saying I did not believe that the captain was as yet made acquainted with his being on board, and, as far as I could judge, he was a good-natured man, and would probably not say much to him.
In spite of all the doctor's care and the nursing he received from the two kind women who had taken him in charge, it was considerably more than a week before he was able to get up and move about the deck. When his clothes had been cleaned and he himself had been well washed, he looked a very respectable lad.
At last, one day, Captain Archer saw him, and inquired who he was. The third mate had to confess all about the matter, and the captain then sent for Dick, and in an angry tone asked what had induced him to come on board.
"I wanted to go to sea, sir, and didn't know any other way of managing it," answered Dick.
"You took a very bad way, and nearly lost your life in carrying out your foolish notion," said the captain. "You have been pretty severely punished by what you have gone through, or I should have given you a sound flogging; as it is, I intend to let you off, but you will understand you must make yourself useful on board and try to pay for your passage; I can have no idlers, remember, and you will get thrashed if you do not work. I will speak to the mates about you, and they'll see that you have something to do."
Poor Dick, looking very much ashamed of himself, returned forward. The mates took care that he should have something to do, and the men also, for Dick was at everybody's beck and call, and had to do all sorts of dirty and disagreeable work. When there was no other work for him he was employed by the cook to sweep out the caboose and clean the pots and pans. He now and then got his back up, when he received a rope's-ending for his pains. I did the best I could for him, but often could not save him from ill-treatment, and at last, in the bitterness of his soul, he complained that he was leading a regular dog's life, and that he heartily wished he had not come to sea.
"I won't stand it any longer," he exclaimed. "I'll jump overboard and drown myself."
"Don't even talk of doing so wicked and foolish a thing," I said. "You wished to become a sailor, now that you have the opportunity of learning your duty you do nothing but grumble and complain. You must take the rough and the smooth together. I wasn't over well off on my first voyage, though my mother had paid a premium to the owners and I was on the quarterdeck, but I saw while I remained on board that there was no use complaining, so I took things as they were, and by keeping my eyes open and my wits awake became in a short time a fair seaman."
Poor Dick said that he would try to follow my advice, but he, notwithstanding, would answer when spoken to, and consequently I was unable to save him from ill-treatment, as he had brought it down upon himself.
During a heavy gale we encountered, when near the latitude of the Cape, one of the so-called midshipmen fell overboard and was drowned. The captain knowing that I could take an observation, and hearing that I was able to keep accounts and would be useful to him, invited me to take the poor fellow's berth. This, though it gave me a good deal of work, I was very glad to do, and I thus saw much less than before of Dick. As I was well treated I soon regained my old affection for a sea life, and had half determined to return home in the ship should my brother not especially press me to remain. When, however, we arrived at Brisbane, and Harry told me of his contemplated trip, and that he should be very glad of my assistance, I kept to my former intention of remaining with him. I therefore wished Captain Archer and his ship, the Eclipse, good-bye, and took up my quarters with Harry and his family. I liked Mary and her sister, whom I had not before seen, very much, and I was glad that Harry had not taken them into the bush, for they did not appear at all suited to the rough style of life they would have had to lead there, for they were both very pretty and elegant, and had never been accustomed to hard work, though they now did their best to make themselves useful in the house, and were never idle. Their brother, Nat, was a capital little fellow—as merry as a cricket and never out of temper, even when his face and hands were bitten all over by mosquitoes, or when the pugnacious insects were buzzing round us in thousands, and that is a trial to the sweetest of tempers. We used to have music and reading in the evenings, and very pleasant evenings they were—indeed, we lived much as we should have done in the old country. Altogether, I congratulated myself that I had decided on stopping out.
My brother was, however, somewhat anxious about the state of business. "You see, Ned, there is not, I fear, much to be done at present," he said. "I have, therefore, thought of making the trip I spoke to you about. A number of vessels sail from Sydney and other places to collect cargoes of palm-oil and sandal-wood, and some few go in search of pearls. They do not all trade honestly with the natives, and several have suffered in consequence, their crews having been attacked and murdered; but I hope, by trading honestly and by being always on my guard against surprise, to make a profitable venture. I have an especial reason for wishing to sail at once, as the day before your arrival I received information from an old shipmate of mine, Tom Platt, of the existence of a small group of islands, among which pearls of large size are obtained by the natives in unusual abundance. Tom, who has been out in these seas for some years on board whalers and other craft, sailed a few months ago in a small schooner, the Zebra, from Sydney. Both master and crew were rough, lawless fellows, and Tom told me that he often wished himself clear of them, but they touched at no place where he could venture to land till they reached the islands I speak of. Here the master, for his own purposes, at first behaved better to the natives than he was accustomed to do, as he wanted to obtain some pigs, cocoanuts, and other provisions. They consequently, without hesitation, came on board in considerable numbers. Many of them were observed to wear necklaces of white beads, which the captain supposed to be made of glass, and to have been obtained from some previous trader. On examining, however, one of the strings of beads, what was his surprise to find that they were pearls! Being a cunning fellow, he kept his discovery to himself till he had obtained all he could induce the natives to part with, when, though he fancied that he had made his fortune, he formed the design of kidnapping as many people as his schooner would hold, as an effectual way of preventing other traders from having any friendly intercourse with the islanders and discovering his secret, and thereby spoiling his market. Tom Platt was the only person among the crew who suspected what the white beads really were, and he managed, unknown to the captain, to obtain a necklace, which he hid in his pocket. The very evening before the natives were to have been seized a heavy gale sprang up, and the schooner was driven out to sea. Before many days had gone by she was cast away on an uninhabited island, when all hands, with the exception of Tom Platt, were lost. He supported existence on shell-fish and a few birds he knocked down, while a small cask of water washed ashore saved him from dying of thirst. Just as it was exhausted, he was taken off by a vessel bound for this place. I met him, looking very ill and wretched, wandering about the street the very day he landed. We recognised each other, and I took him to my house, where he became so much worse that, had it not been for the careful way he was nursed, I believe he would have died. He seemed to think so himself, and was very grateful. While I was sitting with him one day, having a yarn of old times, he gave me an account of the pearl islands, and assured me that he could find them again, having carefully noted the distance the schooner had run to the reef on which she was wrecked, as also its position on the chart. He then showed me the necklace, of which he had not spoken to any one. His narrative first put our proposed venture into my head. When I told him of my idea he at once agreed to accompanying me, saying that he should be content with any wages I could afford to give him. Though a first-rate seaman, he cannot be much of a navigator, so that had you, Ned, not come out I should have been obliged to get another mate; and now that you have come, we will forthwith commence our preparations."
"The first thing to be done is to find a suitable craft," I said.
"I have had my eye on one—a schooner, the Dainty, of a hundred and twenty tons, built for a fruit-trader, which was brought out here from England by a settler only a month ago," he answered.
"Then let us go at once and have a look at her, and, if she is in good condition, secure her," I exclaimed; for, after the account Harry had given me, I had become very eager to undertake the expedition.
We started forthwith. The Dainty was even more suited for our object than we had expected. She had well fitted up cabins, like those of a yacht, with a hold large enough for all the cargo and stores we might wish to stow—was well-found and in capital condition; so Harry at once made an offer for her, which being accepted, the Dainty became his.
In the evening Harry said what he had done.
"You do not intend to leave me behind, I hope," exclaimed Mary.
"Or me either," cried Miss Fanny Amiel. "What should we poor girls do all alone by ourselves in this little bakehouse?"
"You must let me go as cabin-boy," said Nat. "I'll make myself tremendously useful."
"I'll talk it over with Mary," answered Harry, who looked not at all ill pleased at the thoughts of having his wife to accompany him of her own free will. The result of the talk was that the next morning it was settled that we were all to go, the house and business being left in charge of a trustworthy old clerk, Mr Simon Humby, who had accompanied Harry when he came out the first time from England. We were very busy for the next few days in making preparations for the voyage—the ladies in the house assisted by Nat, and Harry, and I in refitting the schooner—purchasing provisions, stores, and articles for bartering with the natives. We procured also four small brass guns, with some muskets, pistols, boarding-pikes, and cutlasses.
"We shall not, I hope, have to use them," said Harry. "But, now especially that we are to have ladies on board, we must be well prepared for defence should we be attacked."
It was easy enough to prepare the vessel for sea, but Harry expected to find some difficulty in securing an efficient crew. He of course at once applied to Tom Platt.
"I'll see about that, sir," he answered. "You mustn't be too particular as to what sort of chaps they may be, provided they are good seamen—for as to their characters, I'm not likely to be able to say much."
"Pick up the best you can find," said Harry. "They'll probably behave well enough, if kept under strict discipline."
Tom was as good as his word. In the course of a few days he had engaged ten hands—a strong crew for a vessel of the Dainty's size—six Englishmen, a New Zealander, a Sandwich Islander, and two blacks, natives of Tanna, an island of the New Hebrides Group. Tom confessed that he had more confidence in the probable good conduct of the Pacific islanders than he had in that of the white men, who, however, when they came on board, looked more decent fellows than I had expected.
Just as the schooner was ready for sea, Harry and I were one evening leaving the quay, when I saw a lad in ragged clothes, who, on catching sight of me, tried to hide himself behind a stack of planks lately landed. In spite of his forlorn and dirty condition, I recognised him as the young stowaway who had come out with me on board the Eclipse.
"Hillo, Dick Tilston, can that be you?" I exclaimed. "Come here. What have you been about?"
On being called, he approached, looking very sheepish.
"Now, don't be scolding at me," he said, taking my hand, which I held out to him. "You know how I was treated aboard the Eclipse. I couldn't stand it any longer, so when she was about to sail I slipped ashore, and hid away till she had gone. I've since been knocking about, unable to get any work, for no one will engage me without a character, as they guess that I'm a runaway, and take me for a young thief. I've sold my clothes and everything I had for food, and have got only these rags to cover me."
I knew that what Dick said was true. I asked him if he still wished to be a sailor, or would rather go up the country and seek for employment, which I was sure he would be able to obtain with my brother's recommendation.
"I would rather be a sailor than anything else, if I could serve under a good captain," he answered.
"Well, then, stop a moment, and I'll speak to my brother," I said; and I ran after Harry. I told him in a few words about Dick.
"Well, he may come with us," he said. "But he must try to make himself useful, and not fancy that he is a young gentleman to do what he likes."
I ran back to Dick. The poor fellow was delighted, and burst into tears. "I own, Ned, I've had nothing to eat all day in this land of plenty, for I could not bring myself to beg, and nobody offered me anything," he exclaimed, scarcely able for shame to get out his words.
I fortunately had a shilling in my pocket. "Here, Dick, go and get something to eat," I said, giving it to him. I thought that he would rather have some food first, before he came to talk with Harry. "Then come up to my brother's house—you can easily find it—and I will speak to him in the meantime." Dick promised to come.
While we walked home I told my brother more about Dick.
"It is very clear that the first thing we must do for him is to give him an outfit, or he'll not be presentable on board, and then I hope, from gratitude, that he will behave well," he observed.
On our way we stopped at an outfitter's, and Harry gave an order to the storekeeper to supply whatever I might select for Dick. As we walked on, he told me what things he wished me to get.
Soon after we reached home Dick presented himself at the door, looking somewhat brighter than he did when I first saw him, but rather ashamed of himself and unwilling to come in. Harry, however, came and had a few words with him, and seemed satisfied that he might be made useful on board the schooner.
As we had no place to put him up in the house, he told me to get a lodging for him for the night, and to see that he had plenty of food. "I say, Ned," he added, "just give him a hint to take a bath and get his hair cut before he puts on his clean clothes."
Accordingly, telling Dick to come with me, I took him to the outfitter's. We soon got the necessary clothing for him, and then left him at a lodging with a person who knew my brother.
That evening was to be the last on shore for many a long day. Mary and her sister were in high spirits at the thoughts of their trip, for which they had got everything ready.
The next morning Dick presented himself so changed for the better in appearance, that Harry scarcely knew him. He looked a fine, intelligent sailor lad, and at once began to make himself useful in carrying down our things to the boat: most of our heavier luggage had been sent on board the previous evening. Mr Humby came off in a shore boat.
While our own boat was being hoisted in, my brother gave his last directions.
"I'll do my best, Mr Harry, and I pray that you may have a successful voyage, and when you return find all things going on well," he said, as he shook hands with us all.
The anchor was then hove up, and sail being made, we stood out of the harbour, while Mr Humby returned on shore, waving his last adieus.
The first part of our voyage was uneventful. We had fine weather, a fair wind, and a smooth sea, and the ladies soon got accustomed to their life on board, declaring that it was even more pleasant than they had expected, though they should like occasionally to get sight of some of the beautiful islands of the Pacific, of which they had so often heard.
We left New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands on our port side, then steered to the north between the New Hebrides and the Fiji Islands, at neither of which my brother wished to touch.
Day after day we sailed on without sighting land, and at last Emily exclaimed, "What has become of the islands we have heard so much about? I thought we should not pass a day without seeing several of them. They appear on the chart to be very close together, like the constellations in the sky."
"But if you will measure off on the chart the distances they are apart, you will easily understand how it is we have sailed so far without seeing them," said Harry.
The very next day, as Fanny was looking over the starboard side, Harry pointed out to her several blue hillocks rising out of the ocean, which he told her were the northern islands of Fiji, the habitation of a dark-skinned race, once the most notorious cannibals in the Pacific.
"I am very glad to keep away from them, then," answered Fanny, "for I shouldn't at all like to run the risk of being captured and eaten."
"Not much chance of that," said Harry. "The larger number of them have given up their bad habits, and promise to become as civilised as any of the people in these seas."
"Still, I would rather not go near their shores," said Fanny.
She little thought at the time that there were many other islands in every direction, the inhabitants of which were quite as savage as those of Fiji had been.
From the first, Tom Platt had taken a fancy to Dick, who had hitherto behaved himself remarkably well.
"We'll make a seaman of the lad, if he only sticks to it," he said to me. "The rope's-endings, as he tells me he used to get aboard the Eclipse, did him a world of good, though he didn't think so."
I always treated Dick in a friendly way, though he was before the mast, and I was glad to find that he did not presume on this, but willingly did whatever he was ordered. Tom had had a hammock slung for Dick near his berth away from the men, whose conversation, he said, was not likely to do him any good.
Our life on board was very regular; Tom and I kept watch and watch, the crew being divided between us, while Harry, as captain, was on deck at all hours whenever he thought it necessary.
The calm which I described at the commencement of my narrative had continued for many hours, and when the sun sank beneath the horizon there was not the slightest sign of a coming breeze. It was my first watch, and before Harry went below he charged me to keep a careful look-out, and to call him should there be any sign of a change of weather. The schooner still floated motionless on the water; scarcely a sound was heard, except the cheeping of the main boom, and the low voices of the men forward, as they passed the watch spinning their oft-told yarns to each other.
I slowly paced the deck, enjoying the comparative coolness of the night, after the intense heat of the day. The stars in the southern hemisphere were shining brilliantly overhead, reflected in the mirror-like ocean. The watch at length were silent, and had apparently dropped off to sleep, though I could see the figure of the man on the look-out as he paced up and down or leaned over the bulwarks. Suddenly, the stillness was broken by a dull splash. I started; it seemed to me as if some one had fallen overboard, but it was only one of the monsters of the deep poking its snout for an instant above the surface, and when I looked over the side it had disappeared. Occasionally I heard similar sounds at various distances. I had some difficulty in keeping myself awake, though by continuing my walk I was able to do so; but I was not sorry when the old mate turned out, without being called, to relieve me.
"We have not got a breeze yet," I observed as he came on deck.
"No, Master Ned, and we shan't get one during my watch either; and maybe not when the sun is up again," he answered.
Tom was right. When I came on deck the next morning the sea was as calm as before. Though it appeared impossible that we could have moved our position, I was greatly surprised, on looking away to the westward, to see what I at first took to be the masts of a vessel rising above the horizon. I pointed them out to my brother who had just come on deck. He told me to go aloft with a telescope and examine them more minutely. I then discovered that they were trees growing on a small island, apparently cocoanuts, or palms of some sort. Beyond, to the south and west, were several islands of greater elevation, some blue and indistinct, but others appeared to be covered with trees like the nearer one, while between us and them extended from north to south a line of white surf distinctly marked on the blue ocean. On reporting to Harry what I had seen, he said that the surf showed the existence of a barrier reef surrounding the islands. "We may find a passage through it, but sometimes these reefs extend for miles without an opening through them. A strong current must be setting from the eastward towards it, or we should not have been drawn so far during the night, for certainly there was no appearance of an island in that direction at sundown."
We soon had convincing proof that Harry was right in his conjecture. There could be no doubt that a current was setting us towards the land, for the trees gradually rose higher and higher above the water, and at length we could see them from the deck, while the white line of surf breaking on the reef became more and more distinct. At the same time a slowly moving, at first scarcely perceptible swell, which Fanny called the breathing of the ocean, passed ever and anon under the vessel, lifting her so gently that the sails remained as motionless as before. It was difficult indeed to discover that there was any movement in the mirror-like surface of the deep, and yet we could feel the deck rise and fall under our feet. The awning was rigged, and Mary and Fanny were seated in their easy-chairs under it, Mary reading aloud while her sister worked. Nat, who had placed himself near them, cross-legged on a grating, to listen, with a marline-spike and a piece of rope, was practising the art of splicing, in which he had made fair progress. "I say, Ned, I wish you would show me how to work a Turk's head," he exclaimed.
I went to him and did as he asked me. This made Mary stop reading; and Fanny, looking out towards the island, remarked, "How near we are getting. I am so glad, for I want to see a real coral island, and that of course is one. I suppose we shall anchor when we get close to it, and be able to go on shore." Harry, who overheard her, made no reply, but looked unusually grave, and told me to bring the chart from below. Spreading it out on the companion-hatch, we again, for the third or fourth time, gave a careful look at it.
"I cannot understand the set of this current," he said. "It probably sweeps round the island. But we are being carried much closer than I like to be in so perfect a calm. If we get a breeze it will be all right, but—"
Just then the sails gave several loud flaps, as if some one had shaken them out, and the schooner rolled now to one side, now to the other. Her head had moved so as to bring the swell abeam. Once having begun, she went on making the same unpleasant movements. It was evident that the swell had increased.
"Is there no way to stop her from doing that?" asked Mary.
"Not till the wind fills her sails," answered Harry. "I hope, however, that we shall get a breeze before long."
Harry did not say this in a very cheerful tone. He soon afterwards beckoned Tom Platt to him, and I saw them talking earnestly together for some minutes. I joined them. They were discussing the probable set of the current, which was at present sweeping us at the rate of at least three knots an hour towards the reef.
"We might keep her off it, at all events, until a breeze springs up," remarked Tom.
"We'll have the boats out, then, and do our best," said my brother, and he gave the order "Out boats."
We carried two boats on the davits, but as they were too light to be of much service, we hoisted out the long-boat, which was stowed amidships. We also lowered one of the gigs. The two boats were at once made fast to the tow-line. The men gave way, and the schooner's head was kept off from the threatening reef, against which the sea was breaking with tremendous force. The men bent to their oars, for they knew the danger as well as we did.
We all watched the reef with anxious eyes. Should the vessel be driven against it, we should, in a few seconds, we well knew, be dashed to pieces; and, though we might escape in the boats before that catastrophe occurred, we should be left to make a long voyage before we could reach any civilised people. All around us were islands, most of them, we had reason to fear, inhabited by treacherous and blood-thirsty savages.
We, of course, did not express our anxiety to the ladies, who, however, I thought, began to suspect that the vessel was in danger, although they said nothing. The men had been pulling fully an hour against the current, and yet, as I looked at the reef, I could not help acknowledging to myself that the vessel was nearer than at first. The swell, at the same time, began to increase, and we could now hear the roar of the breakers as they dashed against the wall of coral which interrupted their progress.
"We'll send the other boat ahead, Platt," said my brother.
"Ay, ay, sir," answered Tom; and he and I with the two remaining men lowered her, and, jumping in, joined our shipmates in towing, leaving only my brother with Dick and Nat to take charge of the vessel. He now ordered us to pull across the current, in the hopes of thus in time getting out of it. We all pulled away with a will, making the schooner move faster through the water than she had done for many hours.
"We must manage it somehow," shouted Tom to the other boats. "Give way, lads—give way. We shall soon be clear of the current."
It was of little use urging the men, as they were already straining every nerve. My brother walked the deck, stopping every now and then, casting his eyes frequently around the horizon in the hopes of discovering signs of a coming breeze. Then he would look towards the reef, but there was nothing encouraging to be seen in that direction. Still Tom shouted every now and then, "Pull away, lads—pull away!"
"We are pulling, mate, as hard as we can," answered the men from the other boats.
If we had any doubts of it before it was now clear enough that an unusually strong current was setting us towards the reef, even faster than we could pull away from it. Whenever the men showed any signs of relaxing their efforts Harry came to the bows and cheered them on, leaving Dick to steer. It was somewhat trying work for all of us, for the hot sun was beating down on our heads, the perspiration streaming from every pore; but our lives depended upon our exertions, and pull we must to the last moment. I heard some of the men talking of going alongside the schooner and asking the captain for a glass of grog apiece.
"Don't be thinking of that, lads," cried Tom. "It would be so much precious time lost. We can pull well enough if we have the will. The grog would not give you any real strength, and you'd be as thirsty as before a few minutes afterwards. Can't one of you strike up a tune, and see if that don't help us along."
There was no response to this appeal, so Tom himself at once began shouting a no very melodious ditty. First one man joined in, then another and another, until the whole of the boats' crews were singing at the top of their voices. It appeared to me that the vessel was moving somewhat faster than before through the water, but looking towards the wall of foam that seemed no further off. Still we knew that our efforts were of use, as we thus considerably delayed the destruction which awaited our vessel should she once get within the power of the breakers. Hour after hour passed by. The swell had increased, and, combined with the current, made our task still more difficult, but Harry had too much at stake to let any consideration for our fatigue induce him to allow us to rest for a moment. "Pull on, lads, pull on," he shouted. "We shall have the breeze before long, and we'll not let the schooner be cast away."
The roar of the breakers sounded in our ears between each dip of the oars. I looked round, but no sign of a breeze could I discover. My heart sank within me as I thought of how Harry must be feeling with the dear ones under his charge in so great a peril. As I again looked towards the reef it seemed that, since we could not tow the vessel off, no power could save her. I knew that the depth of water close up to these coral reefs is generally so great that there would not be a possibility of anchoring, nor did I see any opening through which we could pass and get into smooth water.
At last Harry shouted out, "Mr Platt, in the second gig, come alongside and help trim sails." We at once obeyed him.
"What do you think we shall get out of that, Platt," he asked, pointing to a small cloud which was seen rising above the horizon.
"A stiffish breeze, to my mind, and I hope we shall get it before long," answered Tom.
We at once trimmed sails, and while we were so employed I saw several cats'-paws playing over the surface. The sails filled.
"Let the boats come alongside, and we'll hoist them in before the breeze catches us," cried Harry. "We shall do now, without their help, I hope."
This was speedily done, but scarcely had we secured the larger boat, the first gig having already been hoisted on board, than the wind filling our canvas, the vessel heeled over almost to her gunwale. But the danger was not past, we had still that fearful wall of surf under our lee. It would be no easy matter to beat off it.
The awning had been quickly unrigged, and the schooner, with as much canvas as she could bear, was tearing through the fast rising seas. We stood on, still nearing the reef. Old Tom went to the helm. The wind increasing, the vessel heeled over before it, but it would not do to shorten sail. The men were at their stations.
"We'll go about, Platt, and see if she'll do better on the other tack," said Harry. "Helm's a lee!" About she came, but scarcely had she gathered way when a more furious blast than before laid her over. I looked aloft—the top masts were bending like willow wands. I feared every instant that they would go, but it was not a moment to shorten sail. Presently the wind headed us, and we had once more to go about. We now stood on almost parallel with the reef, Tom watching for every slight variation of the wind to edge the schooner off it. All this time, though the current no longer carried us towards the reef, the heavy swell rolling in threatened to set us on it. Night was approaching. It would add greatly to the danger of our position. The ladies had hitherto remained on deck, fully aware of our peril, but showing no signs of fear. Harry, who from the moment the gale sprang up had stood holding on to the weather backstay, now watching the canvas, now the fast rising seas, urged them and Nat to go below.
"I will summon you, if necessary," he said, in a calm tone. "But we will hope for the best. Remain in the cabin, and keep your cloaks and hats ready to put on."
They went without remonstrance. I helped them down the companion-ladder.
"Is there much danger, do you think, Ned?" asked Mary. "Harry seems unusually grave."
"We must, as he says, hope for the best," I answered, though I myself knew that the danger was imminent. Should a spar go or the gale increase, there would be but scant time, before the schooner would be among the breakers, to get into the boats; and even should we escape in them, would they live in that stormy sea? I saw Mary and Fanny kneel down at the sofa as I left the cabin, and Mary drawing Nat to her side.
"Their prayers will help us," I thought, as I sprang on deck.
The wind was increasing, the foam-topped seas rolled in quick succession towards us, the sky to windward looked threatening in the extreme; that terrible wall of foam loomed higher through the gloom of night. Still, as long as the schooner's head could be kept turned away from the reef, we might hope to claw off from it. The chart had shown us that a reef existed, but its form was indistinctly marked. Hitherto we had found it running in a direct line, north and south, but it might suddenly trend to the east, and if so, without a moment's warning, we might be upon it. Harry, knowing this, had stationed two of the men with the sharpest sight forward, to look out for breakers ahead, that should they be seen, we might go about and have a chance of escaping them; but, owing to the heavy sea rolling in, there was a great risk of the schooner missing stays, and should she do so, our fate would be sealed: there, would be no time to get the boats out before she would be among the breakers. Harry now told me to go forward to assist the other men on the look-out.
"We'll not go about, if we can help it," he said. "The water is deep close up to the reef, and a miss is as good as a mile."
Not a word was spoken; the crew were at their stations ready to execute the orders they might receive. The increased roar of the ceaseless breakers showed me that we were nearer than hitherto, though the vessel was tearing along through the seas at her fastest speed, taking the water over the bows in dense showers which often prevented me from seeing ahead.
"Shall we never get to the end of this terrible reef?" I said to myself. Just then I saw close on the starboard bow the snowy wall of surf. "Luff! Luff all you can!" I shouted out, my cry being echoed by the men. The next moment we appeared to be in the very midst of the seething waters, which fell foaming down on our deck. I gave up all for lost, but again the schooner dashed on and we were free. The reef was yet, however, on our starboard side, but as I peered through the darkness I observed a gap in the wall of foam. I ran aft to Harry. He had seen it.
"We must venture through," he said. "Square away the fore-yard. Ease off the main-sheet; up with the helm."
His orders were obeyed, while he hurried aft to direct Tom how to steer. The hissing breakers rose on either hand not twenty fathoms from the vessel; the seas roared up astern; now a huge billow lifted us, and then down we glided into comparatively smooth water.
"Stand by to shorten sail!" shouted Harry. "Port the helm!"
"Port it is," cried Tom.
The headsails were handed, the schooner was rounded to, the anchor let go, and she rode in safety inside the reef. Harry, with a light heart, sprang below to assure his wife and her sister that the danger was past. We could but dimly make out the low shore on the other side of the lagoon; but what was the character of the island, or whether or not it was inhabited, we could not tell. The wind was still blowing with great force, the breakers dashing with terrific roars against the reef outside of us, so that at any moment we might be driven from our anchor. We both of us therefore intended to stay on deck during the remainder of the night, to be ready should any accident occur. We, however, went down to supper, for which we were very ready, as we had eaten nothing since the commencement of the gale. Very pleasant the cabin looked after the gloomy deck, with Mary and Fanny seated at the table, and the swinging lamp shedding a bright light around. It was difficult to believe that not many minutes before there was a fearful prospect of our vessel being dashed to pieces on the rocks. We could, however, remain below but a very short time, and had again to hurry on deck.
"I'm afraid she's dragging her anchor, sir," said Tom, who was getting a lead line ready to ascertain whether this was the case.
The lead was dropped to the bottom, the line ran out slowly, showing that his surmise was correct. More cable was paid out in the hope of bringing her up. We looked anxiously astern, fearing that she might strike on some mass of coral between us and the shore. At length, to our great relief, the line hung up and down, showing that the anchor was holding. The night passed slowly on. Seldom have I more anxiously wished for the return of day.
Daylight showed us that the reef, through an opening in which we had passed, was many miles in circumference, and that it surrounded several islands of various sizes and heights, with cocoanut, pandanus, and a few other trees and shrubs growing on them. They were not, as we had at first supposed, lagoon islands. Harry said that he believed them to be the summits of the hills of a submerged island, of which the reef marked the outer edge. We inspected the nearest through our glasses, but could not discover any signs of inhabitants, not a hut, not a canoe on the beach, not a wreath of smoke ascending beyond the trees. In the distance, as if floating on the calm surface of the water, appeared, blue and indistinct, the other islands of the group, one of the most northern of which we had seen on the previous day. The gale had ceased, though the breakers still dashed furiously on the outer side of the reef, but scarcely a ripple disturbed the placid expanse of the lagoon.
"Oh, how beautiful!" exclaimed Fanny, as she and Mary came on deck. "I should so like to take a stroll through that shady grove on the soft turf which carpets the ground."
"Do let us go, Harry," said Mary; "you are not obliged to sail immediately."
Nat also begged that he might go.
"While the swell rolls in through the passage with this light breeze we cannot safely attempt to get out, and so, as you wish it, we will pay a visit to the nearest island," answered Harry. "But I warn you that you may be disappointed."
As soon as we had breakfasted the two gigs were lowered. Harry took the two ladies in one, and I had charge of the other, having with me Nat and Dick Tilston. Just as we were about to shove off I asked Tom to hand me down Harry's fowling-piece, on the chance of getting a shot at some birds.
"May as well have a musket, too," he said, giving me one with some ammunition. "There may be no people ashore, or if there are they may be friendly, but it's as well to be prepared for t'other in these parts."
Tom seldom indulged in so long a speech. It showed that he was somewhat anxious about our going on shore on an unknown island. We gave way, eager to step on shore, my boat soon catching up Harry's. As we approached the beach we found that the surf washing over the outer reef set upon it in a way which would have made landing there disagreeable, so we pulled a short distance round to the lee side, where we discovered a little bay, or indentation in the coral rock, large enough to admit both the boats, I getting in first was in readiness to hand Mary and Fanny on shore.
"Why, what has become of the soft green turf we saw?" exclaimed Fanny, looking along under the trees.
"Perhaps we shall find it further on," remarked Mary.
"I am afraid not," said Harry; "but we will go on through the shady groves and try to reach it."
It was no easy matter to do this, for although there was grass, it grew in wiry patches out of the coral rock, in some places so thickly that we were compelled to wind in and out among them to make any progress. No flowers nor fruits were to be seen, except some cocoanuts high up above our heads, while the sun came down between the scanty foliage with no less force than on the water. Still our curiosity tempted us to proceed, but everywhere was the same wiry grass which we had taken at a distance for soft turf. At length we came to an open space, raised but slightly above the level of the sea. It was tenanted by innumerable aquatic birds—gannets, sooty terns, beautiful tropic and frigate birds, the nests of the latter constructed of rough sticks covering the boughs of the surrounding trees. While the gannets, whose eggs had been deposited on the ground without nests refused to move as we approached— only exhibiting their alarm or displeasure by loud croaks, and allowing us to catch hold of them without resistance—the frigate birds, more wary, rose from their perches, inflating their blood-red pouches to the size of large cocoanuts, as they ascended high up in the air above our heads, or flew off to sea; others circled round us screeching wildly and flapping their wings. The discordant noise, the heat, the disagreeable smell, and the roughness of the ground, made the ladies unwilling to proceed further, and they proposed returning slowly to the boats; but Dick, Nat, and I, with Jack Lizard, one of the men, pushed forward in spite of all obstacles, as I was anxious to explore more of the island.
"Do not be long away," shouted Harry; "we may have a breeze shortly, and must get aboard."
"Ay, ay!" I answered, as we hurried on, expecting to be able to get to the other side of the island and to turn back and overtake them before they reached the boats. The ground rose slightly as we advanced, showing that the island had been upheaved, since first formed by its minute architects, owing to some volcanic convulsion far down in the depths of the ocean. Masses of coral worn by time lay scattered about, amid which grew shrubs and tangled creepers, with here and there a few taller trees; but as the shrubs were not of a thorny species we pushed through them or leaped over them, Dick and Nat coming down on their noses more than once in our progress. Seeing a knoll, or rather a mass of coral, thrown up higher than the rest ahead I made for it, hoping to get from thence a more extensive view than we could from where we were. We soon climbed to the summit, which was high enough to enable us to look over the surrounding trees.
"Hillo, what are those dots out there?" exclaimed Nat, pointing towards the eastern end of the nearest island, which we had seen from the schooner.
"Dots, do you call them, young gentleman?" said Lizard; "to my mind they are canoes, well-nigh a score of them; and they are making way over the water at a pretty fast rate, too, towards us." I had not brought a telescope, but shading my eyes with my hands the better to examine the objects I was satisfied that Lizard was right, and that they were canoes. At first I did not suppose that they, or rather the people in them, had any hostile intentions; but suddenly the idea occurred to me that they had discovered the schooner, and were coming with the design of cutting her off. Should such be the case, it was important to warn my brother without delay, that we might return on board and prepare for the defence of the vessel.
"More nor likely, Mr Ned," answered Lizard when I asked him his opinion. "As the mate was a saying afore we came away, you can never trust those black fellows."
"Come on, boys, then," I cried. "We must make good use of our legs, or the canoes will be up to us before we can reach the boats."
We set off, keeping close together that we might help each other in case of any of us being hurt by falling. First Dick came down, and then Nat had two tumbles, both scratching their hands and knees; but, the moment they were on their feet, on they came again. I got an ugly fall, which would have been much worse if Lizard had not caught me, and, as it was, I cut one of my knees and hands on the sharp coral. At length we had to stop and take breath, for, having not only to run, but often to leap from rock to rock, it was very exhausting work.
"Are we going the right way?" asked Nat, looking round.
It was well he asked the question, for, on climbing a short way up a tree, I discovered that we had been keeping too much to the right, and should have arrived at the east instead of at the south side of the island, where we had landed. Correcting our mistake, we again went on, and I was very thankful when we came to the level part inhabited by the colony of birds. We dashed through them, crushing many an egg, as well as several hapless young ones, regardless of the screechings of the old birds and the furious pecks they gave at our legs. I looked out ahead, but could see nothing of Harry and the ladies. We shouted, thinking that they might not be far off; but, receiving no answer, I hoped that they had already embarked.
At last I caught sight of Harry, with Mary and Fanny seated near him, both with their sketch-books before them. At that moment a gun was fired from the schooner.
"Why, what's the matter?" exclaimed Harry.
Scarcely had he asked the question than another gun was fired.
"Old Tom thinks there's danger somewhere, and wants us aboard again."
I was unwilling to alarm Mary and Fanny, so, instead of shouting out, I waited till I could get up to my brother, when I told him quietly what we had seen.
"The sooner we are aboard the better, for the canoes appear to be coming on at a great rate," I added.
"No doubt about it," he answered; and, telling the ladies to shut up their books, he hurried with them towards the boats, bidding Lizard and Dick to run on ahead and order the men to be in readiness to shove off. We were not long in reaching the boats, and we prepared to return in the order we had left the schooner, I having Dick and Nat with me. Harry's boat got off first, and his crew gave way with a will; mine followed at some little distance. Just as we opened the eastern point of the island I got sight of the fleet of canoes coming round it, and steering directly for the schooner. Old Tom saw us coming, yet he fired again, probably in the hopes of scaring the natives and preventing them from attacking us; but this did not appear to have any effect on them, perhaps because they were ignorant of the power of firearms. Fast as we were pulling they came along faster, and it seemed doubtful if we should reach the schooner before they were up to us. As yet they were some way to the eastward, so that the course on which they were approaching the schooner formed an angle of about thirty degrees with that on which we were steering; thus, a shot fired from her, might hit them without the risk of injuring us. We had come away with only three hands in the boat besides Dick. I made him take the stroke-oar, that I might assist him, while I placed Nat at the helm. I now told Nat to edge up slightly to the eastward, so that we might keep between Harry's boat and the savages. Though we bent to our oars, the canoes were gaining on us. It was just possible that their intentions were friendly, but it would be folly to trust to them. How I wished for a breeze, that the schooner might get under weigh and come to our assistance! There was, however, not a breath of wind to fill her sails, so that we must, I saw, depend on our own exertions. Old Tom did not again fire, probably because he considered that, unless he could hit one of the canoes, the savages would fancy that the shot would do them no harm. The canoes were now so near that I could distinguish their character. Though small compared with those of Fiji and Tonga, the leading ones were double, with a platform in the centre, on which stood a number of men gesticulating violently, and flourishing spears and clubs, while others sat on either side working broad-bladed paddles almost upright at a rapid rate. I could have picked off some of the warriors, but was unwilling to commence hostilities. I looked round, and was thankful to see that Harry's boat was getting near the schooner. In a few minutes he and his companions would be on board. Before then, however, my boat would be on a line with the canoes, and a shot fired from the vessel might strike her. Just as this idea occurred to me there came a flash and a loud report, and as I looked astern to see the effect produced by the shot, I saw that the canoes were thrown into considerable confusion. The leading one had been struck, and the platform knocked to pieces. The warriors were tumbling overboard, while the other canoes, coming up, were running into the wreck and into each other. Whether any one had been killed I could not see. Dick and the rest of my crew shouted as they saw what had happened.
"Give way, lads, give way," I cried out. "We may get on board now and defend the vessel, if the savages venture to attack us."
We had got almost up to the schooner, and Harry had put the ladies on board her before the savages had recovered from their alarm, the warriors and crew of the wreck having got on board the other canoes. Notwithstanding the effect of Tom's shot, they seemed bent on attacking us, and once more came paddling on.
"We must show the savages that we are not afraid of them," cried Harry, turning his boat's head towards the canoes, and standing up with a musket in his hand. He had obtained two from the vessel. I imitated his example, and all hands raised a loud, ringing cheer, which no sooner did the savages hear than they ceased paddling, and when we, firing our muskets, dashed forward, they fairly turned tail, or rather backing away, went off in all directions. A few more musket shots fired over their heads increased their speed.
"I told you, Mr Ned, that you'd find the small arms of use," said Tom, when we got on board. "They ain't accustomed to big guns, and don't know what a round shot can do."
"It was your round shot, however, which stopped them when they were nearly up with us; and I hope that they won't forget the lesson they have learned to-day," I answered. I need not say that Mary and Fanny looked very thankful when they saw us safe on board.
We anxiously watched the savages, for we could not be certain of their intentions. They might rally and renew the attack, if not in the daytime, during the night, when we should be unable to see them till they were close upon us. Our hope therefore was that the wind would again spring up, and that we should be able to get to sea before darkness set in. In vain, however, we waited for a breeze. The canoes meantime had disappeared behind the nearest island; but we could not ascertain whether they had gone on to the further-off islands or were still in our neighbourhood. In the latter case they might come suddenly upon us, and it would be necessary to keep a very watchful look-out to avoid being taken by surprise. I volunteered to go on shore and ascertain where they were, by making my way through the wood across the island, till I reached some point whence I could obtain a view over the water on the north side; but Harry would not allow me to run the risk, for had I been discovered I should in all probability have been put to death. He, however, took one of the boats, and surveyed the whole of the channel through which we should have to pass to get to sea, that, should a breeze spring up during the night, we might get out without fear of running on the reef. By the time he returned on board evening was drawing on. He had directed Tom to fire a gun as a signal should the canoes appear, but not one was seen before it became so dark that we could scarcely distinguish the outline even of the nearest island. Mary and Fanny having recovered from their alarm, for they had naturally been much frightened, were seated in the well-lighted cabin, with Nat, at tea, when Harry and I joined them. We had left old Tom and Dick in charge of the watch on deck, consisting of Tom Tubb the New Zealander, and Jacky Pott the Sandwich Islander, with two other men. The guns were loaded, the muskets arranged against the companion-hatch, and the cable was hove short, so that we might speedily trip the anchor and make sail should the wished-for breeze spring up. We almost forgot, as we were enjoying our comfortable meal in our cozy cabin, that not far off were hordes of howling savages; that we had to find our way between coral reefs, and might have storms and other unknown dangers to encounter. Tea over, after singing a few airs to the accompaniment of her guitar, Fanny took up her work, while Mary as usual began to read. I then went on deck.
"Any chance of a breeze soon?" I asked.
"Not a breath of wind as yet, sir," answered old Tom; "and I don't think we shall get it till the morning. I only hope when it does come that we shan't have more of it than we want. I'd advise the ladies not to sit up till we are out at sea, for if they do they'll get but little sleep to-night."
I went below and told them what Tom said. Harry agreed that he was right; and when they retired to their cabins he and I returned on deck. We neither of us felt inclined to turn in. Perhaps we were as anxious as if we had been certain that the savages would attack us. The hours, as they always do on such occasions, went slowly by; and at last, unable longer to keep my eyes open, I got a cloak from below, and rolling myself up in it lay down on deck. How long I had slept I could not tell, when I heard Tom exclaim—
"I see them, sir."
"You are right; so do I," answered Harry. "Turn the hands up."
I was on my feet in an instant, and looking towards the eastern end of the island distinctly made out a number of dark objects on the surface of the water approaching the schooner. The men came tumbling up on deck.
"Silence!" cried Harry, in a low voice; "crouch down so as not to show yourselves. As the savages hope to surprise us, we must surprise them. Ned, run down and tell Mary and Fanny that we may have to fire the guns, but that they must not be alarmed, as we are sure to beat off the savages."
I quickly executed my commission, and sprang again on deck. The canoes did not appear to me to have got nearer. The savages were, perhaps, holding a consultation. As I was looking at them, I felt a breath of air on my right cheek. It was from the eastward. Again it came stronger. It was the most favourable wind we could have.
"Loose the headsails—man the windlass," cried Harry. "I shall be thankful if we can avoid injuring more of the ignorant savages."
The anchor was quickly hove up—the headsails and then the mainsail set, and the schooner glided on towards the passage through the reef. As her broadside was turned towards the canoes we could fire all our guns at them, should it be necessary. Almost immediately afterwards the moon rose, showing us clearly their position, and, what was of more consequence, enabling us with less difficulty to see our way through the passage. The canoes now came paddling on, the savages probably fearing that we should escape them.
"We must not let them attack us in the channel," said Harry, and he reluctantly gave Tom the order to fire. Our guns were discharged in quick succession, and the next instant we saw the canoes paddling away in the utmost confusion; but it was too dark to ascertain what injury had been inflicted. We had soon to haul aft the sheets, and to devote all our attention to the navigation of our vessel—old Tom going forward to look out for dangers, and Harry standing aft to direct the helmsman and conn the vessel, while the crew were at their stations; I standing by the main-sheet with others to flatten it aft or ease it off as might be necessary. Now and then I took a look astern to ascertain if the canoes were following us, but could only just make them out, showing that the savages had had enough of it, though they might have annoyed us greatly had they boldly attacked us while we were standing through the passage. In a short time the outer part of the reef was passed, and the breeze freshening we were gliding swiftly over the moonlit sea.
When morning broke, the reef-encircled islands could be indistinctly seen over the port-quarter rising out of the sparkling ocean. The wind being against us we expected to have a long beat before we could reach our destination; but Harry resolved to persevere, hoping that we might get a favourable breeze at last. Things on board went on as usual. After I had had my sleep out in the forenoon I gave Dick a lesson in navigation, which I had done regularly every day of late since I discovered that he was anxious to learn.
"I am most grateful to you, Mr Ned," he said. "If I can fit myself to be an officer I shall not be ashamed to return home, which I should have had I gained no more knowledge than I should have done under ordinary circumstances, as a ship's boy."
"Much depends on the way you work, and whether you keep to your good resolutions," I observed. "But I say, Dick, you have never told me anything about yourself; though from the first I saw that you had had a good education."
"To tell you the truth, my father is a merchant in London, and my mother moves in good society," he answered, speaking rapidly. "She was very fond of me, and I do not think that if I had been with her I could have run away; but I went off from school, where I was not happy, quite forgetting how miserable it would make her when she heard that I was missing. The thought of that has preyed on my mind more than anything else. I wrote to her, however, when I reached Brisbane, and paid the postage with the last shilling I had, so that she knows now that I am alive, though I did not like to tell her how miserable I was. I only asked her and my father to forgive me, and promised to return home when I had made my fortune, for I just then fancied if I could escape from the ship that I should be able to do that. I soon found when I did get on shore that I was miserably mistaken, and if it had not been for you I believe that I should have died. I am sure that none of my own brothers, of whom I have five older than I am, could have treated me more kindly. I have three sisters also, and when I look at Mrs Morton and Miss Fanny they remind me of them, and I think of my folly in leaving them all and running the chance of never seeing them again."
After Dick had made this confession I felt more than ever inclined to befriend him.
When I told Harry, he said that he would consider what was right to be done. "I think it best, however, that Dick should remain in his present position for a time," he added. "He is learning the details of seamanship from old Tom and the rudiments of navigation from you, and as he does not mix much with the crew he will gain no harm from them."
We were standing on that evening close hauled to the south-east when, just as the sun went down, dark clouds began to gather to windward.
"We'll shorten sail at once," said Harry. "It may not come on to blow, but it looks like it and we cannot be too cautious." He issued the order to Tom, and we soon had the schooner under snug canvas. It was fortunate that she was. Not ten minutes afterwards, just as Harry had gone below, a squall struck her.
"Luff! Luff!" shouted Tom, but before Jack Lizard, who was at the helm, could do so, over the schooner heeled, till the water rushed through the scuppers high up her deck. Lower and lower she went, until I thought she was going to capsize. Harry sprang up from below. Tom had rushed forward, and with the hands stationed there let fly the jib-sheets, and was hauling down the forestay-sail—the foresail had been stowed. Suddenly she rose, and I heard a loud crack, like the report of a musket fired close to my ear.
"We've sprung the mainmast, I fear," exclaimed Harry, and he called the men aft to lower the mainsail, while he and I sprang to the peak and throat halliards to let them go. On examining the mast we found that it was so badly sprung that it would be impossible again to set sail on it without the risk of carrying it away. It seemed a wonder that it had not gone altogether.
"We must bear up for Samoa," said Harry. "It is very provoking, but there is no place nearer where we can hope to obtain a fresh spar."
Accordingly the headsails were again hoisted, the fore-topsail was set, and the helm being put up, away we ran before the wind on a course for Upalu, the centre island of the group, in which Apia, the chief port, is situated. The wind increased, and we soon had to close-reef the fore-topsail, the only sail we could carry; then down came the rain in huge drops, or rather in sheets which wetted us as thoroughly as if we had jumped overboard, and so deluged the deck that had it not run out at the scuppers as the vessel rolled from side to side the water would have been up to our ankles in a few minutes. What with the pattering of the rain, the howling of the wind and the dashing of the sea, we could scarcely hear each other's voices. Though we had no sail set on the mainmast, and had secured it with spars lashed round the injured part, and additional stays, I frequently, as the schooner pitched into the fast rising seas, expected to see it carried away altogether. Old Tom, who seemed to have the same fear, told us to look out and stand from under, in case it should go, but the difficulty was to know in what direction it would fall, should it come down.
On we ran day after day, the gale apparently following us, though Harry said that as storms were generally circular we should in time run out of it. Each time, however, that I turned out to keep my watch, there we were, running on; the seas leaping and hissing and foaming around us; the dark clouds flying overhead; the vessel rolling and pitching in the same uncomfortable fashion as before. Harry did his best to keep up the spirits of his wife and Fanny, who behaved like heroines, though they agreed that they little expected to meet with such weather in the Pacific.
"It is as well to get it over, and we may hope to have finer for the rest of the voyage," answered Harry, to console them.
We had other dangers to encounter, of which he did not speak. Although the sea we were traversing was pretty well known by this time, there might be small islands or coral reefs improperly placed on the chart, or not laid down at all, and at any moment during the darkness of night, or even in the daytime, we might come upon one, when in an instant the vessel would have been dashed to pieces, and all on board must have perished. We had, therefore, to keep the sharpest possible look-out, for a moment's want of vigilance might cause our destruction. Once I saw the sea leaping and foaming high up above the surrounding water away on the starboard hand. I pointed out the spot to Tom.
"The end of a reef," he observed. "If we'd been a little more to the nor'ard we should likely enough have been on it, but a miss is as good as a mile. We may be thankful to have escaped."
He afterwards told me that we passed another reef to the northward while I was below, how many we escaped during the night we could not tell. Thus some of the dangers to be encountered by those navigating among coral islands will be understood. At length, one morning when I came on deck to keep my watch, I saw the stars shining brightly overhead—the wind had fallen, the sea was going down, and the schooner, with her squaresail rigged out, was running gaily along. At noon we took an observation, when we found that we were less than a hundred miles from the port of Apia, which we therefore expected to reach the next day, unless the wind should fail us.
We were more fortunate than we expected. Early the next morning the land was seen over the port bow rising in a succession of ridges to a moderate height above the sea. We had made an excellent landfall, for the harbour of Apia was almost directly ahead. Before we reached it, a large whaleboat came off and put an Englishman on board, who introduced himself as the chief pilot of the place. He carried us through a somewhat intricate passage between coral rocks to a safe anchorage not far from the shore.
We were surprised to see several tastefully-built houses among trees, a large church, stores, and other buildings, besides a number of whitewashed cottages, many of which, the pilot told us, were inhabited by natives who have learned the art of building and the use of lime from the missionaries. Through their instrumentality also, although but a few years ago the people inhabiting different parts of the island were constantly fighting with each other, warfare has entirely ceased, and all have become Christians by profession, many of them adorning the Gospel by their lives and conversation, while others have gone forth to carry its blessings to the still benighted heathen in the western islands of the Pacific.
I must be brief in my account of the events which occurred during our stay at Apia. On going on shore we were received with great kindness by several of the English and American residents, who invited Harry and his wife and her sister to take up their abode at their houses, but they preferred sleeping on board the schooner. We were fortunate in finding a mast from a vessel wrecked on the coast, which by cutting down slightly could be made to replace the mainmast we had sprung.
We had been in harbour a couple of days when a fine-looking young chief came on board, prompted by curiosity to see the vessel so unlike the whalers which generally visit the port. He was unpicturesquely dressed in shirt and trousers and we should not have taken him to be a chief, except from his handsome figure, unless he had introduced himself as Toa, the nephew of the great chief Maleatoa. He spoke English well, and seemed very intelligent. On being introduced to Mary and Fanny, he made a bow which would have become a French courtier, and appeared wonderfully struck by them. He soon drew me aside and inquired who they were. When I told him that one was married to my brother, and the other was her sister, he appeared suddenly lost in thought, but said nothing at the time. We asked him into the cabin, as we were just going to sit down to dinner. He behaved in all respects like a polished gentleman, narrowly watching us, and imitating the way he saw us eat. He told us a great deal about his country, the progress it had made during the last few years since the inhabitants had become Christians and wars had ceased; the roads that had been constructed, the houses built, the fields cultivated, and horses and cattle introduced. He described their astonishment on first seeing a large animal, a mule, which they supposed to be an enormous dog, and accordingly gave it an appropriate name. In return for the civility we had shown him on board, he invited me to accompany him on a sporting expedition into the interior.
"I will show you how we catch pigeons and kill wild hogs," he said.
Harry gave me leave to go, and I asked if Dick might accompany me, as I knew he would like it. My brother consented. On going on shore early the next morning we found the chief and several companions waiting for us. Each person carried a tame pigeon on his arm secured by a string, as also a bamboo thirty or forty feet long with a small net at the end of it. Several attendants accompanied us carrying guns and ammunition.
"We shall depend upon the provisions we find in the woods for our support," said Toa to me. "We can easily obtain all we require."
We proceeded for about four hours amid tangled bushes, across marshes, and up the slippery sides of hills, till we arrived at a district with here and there open spots, but generally covered with brushwood. The attendants set to work to clear away a large circle by cutting down the brushwood; we then retired to a spot which had been previously fixed on, where a camp was formed, and some, arbours which would shelter us for the night erected. Some of our people had in the meantime collected some wild bread-fruit, dug up some wild yams, and brought down some cocoanuts, which gave us an ample repast. Formerly the chiefs would have indulged in drinking kava, but that custom had been abandoned. Having satisfied our hunger we returned to our ambushes round the ring. Each sportsman, if so he could be called, now stuck a stick with a cross-piece on it into the ground for his pigeon, which was secured by a string forty yards in length, to perch on. After remaining a short time quiet Toa gave the signal, and the birds were simultaneously thrown into the air, when they flew up and commenced, as they had been taught, wheeling round and round. In a short time a number of wild pigeons seeing them from a distance, and supposing from their movements that they were hovering over their food, came from all directions to join them. I was much surprised at the dexterity with which as the wild birds circled among the decoy pigeons the sportsmen, rapidly raising their nets, captured them. The moment a bird was caught the net was again raised and another captured in the same manner. Toa in this way caught a dozen in as many minutes. Dick and I tried our skill, but we only knocked against the tame birds. It was a long time before I managed to catch even one; Dick was still less successful. It seemed at first very easy, but then it must be remembered that the rods were upwards of thirty feet long, and that the birds flew very rapidly. "Formerly," said Toa to us, "large parties of young men used to go out for a month together, but we have now other occupation for our time, and only now and then engage in the sport."
"This is a funny sort of fishing in the air," said Dick.
"I call it birding," I answered.
"Very right," observed Toa; "I will show you how we fish some day."
We caught several dozen pigeons during the morning. The afternoon was to be devoted to hog-shooting, at a spot a short distance off. We were divided into two parties—Dick and I accompanied Toa, while another young chief, who had arrived with a number of ugly-looking dogs, led another party.
After going some distance we arrived at a spot where the pigs had been rooting about, and away went the curs in chase. Before long their shrill yelping bark told us that the herd was found, and following the sound we discovered the chief and a companion tying the legs of a young boar, which had been caught by running it down with some of the dogs. The barking increased as we went on.
Presently Toa cried out, "Take care; get behind the trees all of you," and we saw an enormous wild boar which the dogs had been keeping at bay.
The chief advanced running from tree to tree with great rapidity, that he might get near enough to the animal to shoot it without injuring the dogs. At length the boar caught sight of him and charged. Toa fired, and apparently missed, and the brute came rushing towards me. I aimed at his fore-shoulder, hoping, if I did not kill him outright, to stop his career. In another moment he would have been into my side, for I had no time to reload, when, just as he was near me, I made a spring and caught the bough of a tree, which I could not under other circumstances have reached, and my feet struck his back as he dashed under them. Toa had now reloaded, but before he could fire the boar again charged; he, however, nimbly sprang behind a tree, and the brute rushed past, giving me an opportunity to recover my rifle. He now caught sight of Dick, at whom he made a dash. Dick not attempting to fire, nimbly sprang up a young tree. On seeing its enemy thus escaping, the boar made a dash at the tree, and attacked it with its tusks, biting at it with the greatest fury, till Toa, approaching, settled it with a ball through its head. In this way, in a short time, we killed four large hogs, each weighing at least five hundredweight. Thus it will be seen that the sport, if exciting, was not wanting in danger, and I must own that I was very glad when it was over, and we had all escaped without wounds.
We had a luxurious supper on boar's flesh and wild pigeons, and roots and fruits of various descriptions, all of which had been collected in the woods, showing the abundance of food to be obtained in that favoured region.
After supper, Toa invited me to walk out with him away from the rest, when he confided to me his deep admiration for Fanny Amiel, and inquired whether I thought she would consent to remain at Samoa and become his wife. I did not answer at once, as I was unwilling to offend him, and yet was certain that she would not consent to any such proposal. I replied that English ladies preferred marrying their own countrymen, and then not until they were certain of their good qualities and had been long acquainted. I undertook, however, to mention the subject to my brother, but observed that I could not venture to say anything about it to the lady herself, who would be much pained at having to refuse him. He seemed somewhat downcast at my reply, but soon recovered his spirits, and we returned to the camp to prepare for sleep.
As, with the exception of wild boars, there are no savage animals in Samoa, and the people of different tribes no longer tried to surprise and murder each other, no sentries were placed, and every one laid down to rest in perfect security.
Next morning we returned to Apia. The tide was high as we went down to the harbour, at which time, when there is a swell, the breakers burst with considerable force over the reefs outside. We found a number of boys and girls swimming off, some with boards, others without them, and others paddling in paopaos, or little canoes. On reaching the reef, where the waves curled up and broke into foam, the swimmers threw themselves forward with a jump, just as the sea took them, and away they glided in the midst of the white foam, shouting and yelling at the top of their voices. The chief took us off in his canoe to see the fun. When the breaker had spent itself the swimmers were left in smooth water, on which all turned again towards the sea, breasting the smaller waves, and quietly sinking down again as the larger and stronger ones passed over, or frequently dashing boldly through them.
"They will keep at that sport till the tide falls and the reef is left bare," observed our friend Toa, as we pulled on board the schooner. "When I was a lad I was very fond of it, and could beat most of my companions, keeping longer at it and going out farther than any of them."
He had brought, I should have said, a number of pigeons and some of the wild boar's flesh as a present to Harry, and which was very acceptable on board. The ladies were on deck when we got alongside, and I was much afraid that Toa might say something to Fanny which would annoy her, before I had time to tell my brother that he might give her due warning. The young chief, however, stood in a modest manner without advancing, till Mary went up to him to thank him for his present. I in the meantime managed to tell Harry what the chief had said to me.
"I am sorry for this, but we must manage to get him on shore again as politely as possible, and I will not tell her of his proposal before he has gone."
Our attention, however, was just then attracted by seeing a vessel standing in for the harbour; she approached within a mile or so, when the wind fell. She had a signal flying for a pilot, and the men who brought us in went out to her. Toa, who had an eye to business, wishing to be on board early to see what trading could be done, said that he should go out, and invited me to accompany him in his large canoe. As we got near the vessel we found three of her boats towing ahead. On boarding her the captain said he must get in at once, as she was leaking terribly, and was besides short of provisions and water. Toa, on this, offered to bring out provisions; and the pilot told him that it was dangerous, without a leading breeze, to attempt entering the harbour, especially as the tide was falling. The brig was, I found, the Caesar, an American vessel, bound from California to Sydney, and had come to Apia for the reasons the captain stated.
"If you won't take her in, I will by myself," he exclaimed. "Where's the difficulty? The boats can tow her, as there isn't a breath of wind to stop her way."
"But you cannot tell how the tide will set you, and I advise you to let the boats tow you off," answered the pilot.
The skipper, however, was obstinate, and was, I suspect, pot-valiant. He ordered the boats to continue pulling ahead, while he went to the helm himself. The pilot on this, again warning him that he was risking the safety of the vessel, stepped into his boat and pulled for the harbour. Toa, however, believing that he could leave at any moment in his canoe, remained on board, and I, of course, had to stay with him. All apparently went well for some minutes, till, just as we were at the entrance, the tide caught the vessel; the after-part struck heavily; she heeled broadside on to the reef, and the next moment, with a tremendous roar, a breaker burst over us. All was confusion on board; shrieks and cries arose from the passengers, the men swearing as they rolled and slipped about. The skipper, however, recovered in a moment his self-possession, and swore he would shoot the first man that attempted to leave the vessel; but as he had no gun or revolver in his hand, no one appeared to care for the threat. One of the crew, a New Zealander, indeed, immediately jumped overboard, when the captain threw a marline-spike at his head, but, sinking, he avoided it, and managed to reach the smooth water inside the reef, where the pilot had in the meantime anchored his boat prepared to assist those who might be able to reach her. Other boats were coming off from the shore, those which had been towing, as well as the chiefs canoe, had been cut adrift directly the vessel struck, and pulled away, or they would have been swamped in an instant.
It will be understood that owing to the heavy breakers it was impossible to get off from the vessel on the sea side, and that our only hope of safety was to pass through the foaming surf on the reef, till we reached smooth water in the inside. The vessel, lightly built, was already breaking up, and her bottom planks were appearing, floating up to the surface, while the water rushed freely in and out of her. There was therefore no time to be lost. Toa at once proposed to the skipper to tie a rope to a plank, and to swim with it to the boats inside the reef, so that the passengers and those unable to help themselves might be passed along it, and their lives saved. The rope was speedily got up.
"I will go with you," I said to Toa.
"Come along," he answered, and taking my hand he jumped with me into the foaming surf. The first great roller curled high above our heads, and broke with a terrific roar. As it did so we let go the plank and sank down, keeping our eyes turned upwards to watch when it had passed. Quickly returning to the surface, we again clutched the plank and shoved it before us. We had twice to perform the same operation before we reached the smooth water. I wanted to return, but Toa advised me to remain, as I was not accustomed to the water as he was. He quickly again made his way along the rope to the deck of the vessel. The next moment he appeared again, holding a young lady with one arm, while he dragged himself along the rope with the other, but he twice had to descend to avoid the rollers. The young lady seemed more dead than alive when he placed her in the boat, but she quickly recovered, while he, not in the slightest degree exhausted, dashed off again on board the vessel, and brought another girl in the same way through the surf. A third time he went, and on this occasion he encountered a young man, a gentleman apparently, who was endeavouring to make his way by himself along the rope. He was clutching the rope desperately, when a roller going over him tore him away from his hold. Toa, seeing what had happened, dashed after him, and seizing him brought him back to the rope. Again Toa had to dive twice with the almost senseless stranger, whom he at length placed, greatly exhausted, in the boat. The young ladies had quickly recovered, so that I was able to pay attention to the last comer, and with the assistance of the old pilot and two other men we brought him to.
"The sooner we get ashore with these people the better, and let them have a change of duds," said the old pilot. "But I do not like leaving, while there are any people remaining on board."
"Oh, pray wait," said one of the young ladies. "There is a poor woman and her child and several other people, besides the captain and crew, who, I suppose, do not require so much help."