The Island Home, the Adventures of six Young Crusoes, by Richard Archer.
This book should be a bit more of a classic than it actually is. It is thought that Ballantyne used it as the inspiration for his famous "The Coral Island", for there is good evidence for it. In the 1830s the Washington left New York, the passengers including some of the young members of the owners' families and some of their friends. Destination Canton via the Straits of Magellan. Crossing the Pacific, they land on various of the islands, such as those in the Fiji and Kingsmill Groups. Sometimes they encountered particularly nasty inhabitants. One day they were on the beach of an island, when it became necessary for the Washington to up anchors and away, leaving the shore party with the ship's boat. Murders occur among the seamen. The boys set sail in the boat, hoping to regain contact with some vessel, but never do.
The rest of the book is a story of survival, and of the good humour of the boys. The real problem with the book is the long paragraphs of description which nowadays would be much shorter or omitted altogether, but it was written in the 1850s, and it was Ballantyne's luck that he was able to write a book along the same lines but far easier to read.
Still, it's worth a quick skim, if nothing more. Your reviewer has listened to the book several times, and enjoyed it each time.
THE ISLAND HOME, THE ADVENTURES OF SIX YOUNG CRUSOES, BY RICHARD ARCHER.
"A wet sheet and a flowing sea, A breeze that follows fast, That fills the white and rustling sail, And bends the gallant mast. And bends the gallant mast, my boys, Our good ship sound and free, The hollow oak our palace is, Our heritage the sea."
It is now some twenty years ago, that the goodly ship Washington, commanded by Mr Erskine, left the port of New York, on a trading voyage to the East Indian archipelago. With a select few good seamen, the owners had also placed on board some youths of their own families and immediate connections.
Having passed through the Straits of Magellan in safety, they were then on their way to Canton, where the young men were to be settled; and meanwhile the ship was to visit any of the isles in the Pacific Ocean that lay in their path. After some little delay on the part of the captain among the numerous groups of isles, the purpose of the voyage was frustrated by the events narrated in the volume. The extreme beauty of the wild loveliness of nature that these islets exhibited, tempted the young men, accompanied by Mr Frazer, one of the officers, to land on one that presented great charms of scenery, as well as having a convenient and easily accessible landing-place, and from that point the narrative commences.
It is not necessary for the elucidation of the narrative, to name more of the crew than those whose adventures are hereafter related by one of the party. The names of these castaways were John Browne, the son of a Glasgow merchant; William Morton, and Maximilian Adeler, of New York; Richard Archer, from Connecticut, the journalist; John Livingstone, from Massachusetts; Arthur Hamilton, whose parents had settled at Tahiti; and to them was joined Eiulo, prince of Tewa, in the South-Seas.
The narrative commences from the time of the party landing, and although in some parts prolix and unequal, being evidently from an unpractised hand, it bears all the characteristics of a boyish mind, and thus to a certain extent confirms its genuineness. The sayings and doings of the young adventurers are recorded with the minuteness that to older heads seems tedious. This disposition to dwell upon, and to attach importance to things comparatively trivial, is peculiar to the youthful mind, and marks that period of freshness, joyousness, and inexperience, when every thing is new, and possesses the power to surprise and to interest.
What became of the ship and crew we are not informed; but we may conclude, that insubordination would lead to neglect and carelessness, and that the vessel was wrecked and plundered by the native; and the wretched crew murdered or detained.
The South Pacific Ocean abounds with thousands of islands, of a vast many of which we have no account; but those mentioned in these pages appear to be the Samoas, the Kingsmill, and the Feejee Groups of islands, which lie nearly under the equator, and they are described by Captain Charles Wilkes, in his narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition between the years 1838 and 1842. These islands were all visited by the different vessels engaged in the expedition; many of them appear to be of volcanic formation, others are of coral origin; they are all characterised as possessing an exceedingly fertile soil; they abound with a picturesque beauty of scenery, and luxuriant vegetation, which excites the most painful feelings when we learn, that where nature has bestowed so much bounty, the inhabitants are, it is greatly to be feared, cannibals. In some two or three islands, a solitary white man was found, one of whom, Paddy Connell, (an Irishman, of course), a short, wrinkled old man, with a beard reaching to his middle, in a rich Milesian brogue, related his adventures during a forty years' residence at Ovolan, one of the Feejees. Paddy, with one hundred wives, and forty-eight children, and a vast quantity of other live stock, expressed his content and happiness, and a determination to die on the island. In other cases, the white men expressed an earnest desire to quit the island, and were received on board the expedition, to the great grief of their wives and connections.
The Samoan Islands are of volcanic structure, with coral reefs, and the harbours are generally within these reefs; and one of them was discovered by Commodore Byron in 1765, who reported it as destitute of inhabitants. Their character is variable, and during the winter months they have long and heavy rains, and destructive hurricanes sometimes occur. The air is generally moist, and light winds and calms during the summer, render vegetation luxuriant.
The woods in the interior of these islands are very thick, and are composed of large and fine trees; there are pandanus, palms, tree ferns, and a remarkable species of banyan, whose pendant branches take root to the number of thousands, forming steps of all dimensions, uniting to the main trunk, more than eight feet above the ground, and supporting a vast system of horizontal branches, spreading like an umbrella over the tops of other trees. The bread-fruit is the most abundant of all the trees, and grows to a very large size; the cocoa-nut, the wild orange, and the lime, are all to be found. Bamboos, wild sugar-cane, wild nutmeg, besides many others, only require cultivation. Caoutchouc, gum arabic, castor beans, ginger, orris root, and coffee, will in time be added to these productions. Lemons and sweet oranges have already been planted, and promise a large product.
Swine are abundant and cattle rapidly increasing. Poultry of all kinds is very plentiful, and fish are taken in abundance.
The beneficent effects of missionary labours are very evident amongst the Samoans; they are not now subject to wars, and for crimes they have punishment.
Their habits are regular; they rise with the sun, and after a meal, bathe and oil themselves, and then go to their occupations for the day; they eat at one o'clock, and again at eight, retiring to rest about nine. The men do all the hard work, even to cookery. The women are held in much consideration, and are treated with great kindness and attention. They take care of the house and children, prepare the food for cooking, and manufacture the mats, etcetera.
Their houses are carefully constructed, generally occupying eighteen months in building; the floor is paved with small round stones, and divisions or separate apartments formed. In some villages, broad walks and paths are kept in nice order. The females generally wear a kind of robe, similar to the poncho of the South Americans; and although not what may be termed pretty, they have some degree of bashfulness, which renders them interesting in appearance; when young, they are but little darker than a brunette, or South American Spaniard.
The entire population of the group is estimated at 60,000, of whom more than one-fourth have embraced Christianity, and it is understood that more than two-thirds of the population are favouring the progress of the gospel. Many thousands attend the schools of the missionaries, and the habit of reading is fast obliterating the original religion and superstitions of the race.
Of the Kingsmill Group, we possess a very sad account; one named Drummond's Island, which is of coral formation, is about thirty miles long, and about three-quarters of a mile in width. The island is covered with cocoa-nut and pandanus trees, but not a patch of grass was seen. The character of these islanders is of the most savage kind; their ferocity led to the belief that they are cannibals; one seaman of the expedition was carried off, and all attempts to rescue him were unavailing. Clad in coats of mail, and helmets made of the skin of a horny kind of fish, with weapons of the most frightful character, formed from the teeth of some of the voracious monsters of the deep, they appeared to the number of more than five hundred, prepared for resistance; their numbers continuing to increase. The officer in command, considered it both useless and dangerous to continue on the land. Failing to procure the desired end, prior to returning, the commanding officer determined to show the power of their arms, and having shot the leader of the savages dead, by a rocket and a volley, set their town, which was close to the beach, in flames; and the houses being formed of easily combustible material, a very short time sufficed to reduce the whole to ashes. The number of houses was supposed to be about three hundred.
The people appear to be under no control whatever, and possess little of the characteristic hospitality usually found among other savage tribes.
It was observed that their treatment of each other exhibited a great want of feeling; and in many instances their practices were indicative of the lowest state of barbarism. Their young girls are freely offered for sale by their fathers and brothers, and without concealment; and to drive a bargain is the principal object of their visits to a ship.
The Kingsmill Group, which consists of fifteen islands, are all of coral formation—every one appears a continuous grove of cocoa-nut and pandanus trees—they are all densely inhabited. From one of these islands, John Kirby, a deserter from an English whaler, was taken, who had resided there three years. He stated that the natives do sometimes eat human flesh; but their general food is fish. That these islands have been peopled at a period not very remote is tolerably certain, as the natives state that only a few generations back, the people were fewer than at present, and that then there were no wars.
The islanders of this group differ from other Polynesians, and they more nearly resemble the Malays. They are of a dark copper colour, are of middle size, well-made, and slender. Their hair is fine, black, and glossy—their beards and moustaches black, and fine as the hair of their heads. The average height of the men is five feet eight inches. The women are much smaller—they have delicate features, slight figures, and are generally pretty.
The Feejee Group excel all other islands of Polynesia in their luxuriant and picturesque beauty—they produce all kinds of tropical fruits and vegetables—the bread-fruit, of which there are nine kinds, flourishes in great perfection; the banana, cocoa-nut, and chestnut, the orange, the lemon, and the guava, the pine-apple, and the nutmeg, are all to be found; and the yam, which attains the length of above four feet, is the principal food of the inhabitants; besides these, the sugar-cane and turmeric are largely cultivated, and different varieties are found growing wild. Although the Feejeeans have made considerable progress in several useful arts, they are in many respects the most barbarous and savage race now existing upon the globe. Having had considerable intercourse with white men, some effect has been produced in their political condition, but it has had no effect in mitigating the ferocity of their character. Messrs. Lythe and Hunt, missionaries at Vuna, one of the Feejees, have given a circumstantial account of a cannibal feast, for the preparation of which they were eye-witnesses. The missionaries having heard rumours that the king had sent for some men belonging to a refractory town not far from the capital, with the intention of killing them, and afterwards feasting on their bodies, they went to the old king to urge him to desist from so horrid and barbarous a repast, and warned him that a time would come when he would be punished for it. The king referred them to his son; but the savage propensities of the latter rendered it impossible for them to turn the savage from his barbarous purpose. They afterwards saw the bodies cut up and cooked. On two of these islands, however, the efforts of missionaries have been rewarded with some success; for the Reverend Mr Calvert, belonging to the Wesleyan society, assured the officers of the expedition, that in those islands heathenism was fast passing away, and that cannibalism was there extinct; but it must be observed that many of the residents on those two islands were Tongese, among whom it is well known the light of the gospel of Christ has long prevailed.
On one of those isles are five hot springs, the temperature of which is 200 degrees; the rocks in the neighbourhood is of volcanic creation— there is no smell of sulphur unless the head is held close to the water; but the water has a very strong bitter saline taste. These springs are used by the natives to boil their yams, which it does simply by putting them into the springs, and covering them with grass and leaves, and, although the water had scarcely any appearance of boiling before, rapid ebullition ensues. The yams are well done in fifteen minutes.
The population of the Feejee Group is supposed to be about 130,000. Their towns are all on the sea-shore, as the chief food is fish. The Feejeeans are very ingenious at canoe-building and carpentry, and, curious enough, the barber is a most important personage, as they take great pains and pride in dressing their hair. Their houses are from twenty to thirty feet in length, and about fifteen feet in height—all have fireplaces, as they cook their food, which is done in jars, very like an oil jar in form.
All these isles are girt by white encircling reefs, which, standing out at some distance from the shore, forms a natural harbour, so that when a vessel has once entered, it is as secure as in an artificial dock. There is generally but one entrance through the reef, and the difficulty of discovering it is well described by the Young Crusoes. Each one has its own peculiar beauty; but Ovolan exceeds all others; it is the highest, the most broken, and the most picturesque.
Having thus introduced our readers to the scene of these adventures, we proceed to give the narrative in the words of the journalist of the Young Castaways.
THE TROPICAL ISLAND.
A COCOA-PALM—VIEWS OF DESERT ISLAND LIFE.
"O had we some bright little isle of our own, In the blue summer ocean, far-off and alone."
Wandering along the shore, (taking care to keep in sight of Mr Frazer, under whose convoy, in virtue of his double-barrelled fowling-piece, we considered ourselves), we came to a low and narrow point, running out a little way into the sea, the extremity of which was adorned by a stately group of cocoa-nut trees.
The spot seemed ill adapted to support vegetation of so magnificent a growth, and nothing less hardy than the cocoa-palm could have derived nourishment from such a soil. Several of these fine trees stood almost at the water's edge, springing from a bed of sand, mingled with black basaltic pebbles, and coarse fragments of shells and coral, where their roots were washed by every rising tide: yet their appearance was thrifty and flourishing, and they were thickly covered with close-packed bunches of tassel-like, straw-coloured blossoms, and loaded with fruit in various stages of growth.
Johnny cast a wistful glance at the compact clusters of nuts, nestling beneath the graceful tufts of long leaves that crowned each straight and tapering trunk; but he had so recently learned from experience, the hopelessness of undertaking to climb a cocoa-nut tree, that he was not at present disposed to renew the attempt. Max, however, who greatly valued himself upon his agility, and professed to be able to do any thing that could be done, in the way of climbing, manifested an intention to hazard his reputation by making the doubtful experiment. After looking carefully around, he selected for the attempt, a young tree near the shore, growing at a considerable inclination from the perpendicular; and clasping it firmly, he slowly commenced climbing, or rather creeping, along the slanting trunk, while Johnny watched the operation from below, with an interest as intense as if the fate of empires depended upon the result.
Max, who evidently considered his character at stake, and who climbed for "glory," rather than for cocoa-nuts, proceeded with caution and perseverance. Once he partly lost his hold, and swung round to the under side of the trunk, but by a resolute and vigorous effort he promptly recovered his position, and finally succeeded in establishing himself quite comfortably among the enormous leaves that drooped from the top of the tree. Here he seemed disposed to rest for a while, after his arduous and triumphant exertions, and he sat, looking complacently down upon us from his elevated position, without making any attempt to secure the fruit which hung within his reach in abundant clusters.
"Hurrah!" cried Johnny, capering about and clapping his hands with glee, as soon as this much desired consummation was attained, "Now, Max, pitch down the nuts!"
Having teased Johnny, and enjoyed the impatience caused by the tantalising deliberation of his own movements, Max detached two entire clusters of nuts from the tree, which furnished us an abundant supply.
Selecting a pleasant spot beside the beach, we sat down to discuss the cocoa-nuts at our leisure, which occupied us some little time. Upon looking round, after we had finished, we discovered that our convoy had disappeared, and Johnny, whose imagination was continually haunted by visionary savages and cannibals, manifested considerable uneasiness upon finding that we were alone.
As the sun was already low in the west, and we supposed that the party engaged in getting wood had, in all probability, finished their work, we concluded to return, and to wait for Mr Frazer, and the rest of the shore party at the boats, if we should not find them already there.
As we skirted the border of the grove, on our return, Johnny every now and then cast an uneasy glance towards its darkening recesses, as though expecting to see some wild animal, or a yelling troop of tattooed islanders rush out upon us. The forest commenced about two hundred yards from the beach, from which there was a gradual ascent and was composed of a greater variety of trees than I had observed on the other islands of a similar size at which we had previously landed. Arthur called our attention to a singular and picturesque group of Tournefortias, in the midst of which, like a patriarch surrounded by his family, stood one of uncommon size, and covered with a species of fern, which gave it a striking and remarkable appearance. The group covered a little knoll, that crowned a piece of rising ground, advanced a short distance beyond the edge of the forest. It was a favourable spot for a survey of the scene around us. The sun, now hastening to his setting, was tingeing all the western ocean with a rich vermilion glow. The smooth white beach before us, upon which the long-rolling waves broke in even succession, retired in a graceful curve to the right and was broken on the left by the wooded point already mentioned.
As you looked inland, the undulating surface of the island, rising gradually from the shore, and covered with the wild and luxuriant vegetation of the tropics, delighted the eye by its beauty and variety. The noble Bread-fruit tree—its arching branches clothed with its peculiarly rich and glossy foliage; the elegantly shaped Casuarina, the luxuriant Pandanus, and the Palms, with their stately trunks, and green crests of nodding leaves, imparted to the scene a character of oriental beauty.
"Why do they call so lovely a spot as this a desert island, I wonder?" exclaimed Johnny, after gazing around him a few moments in silence.
"Did you ever hear of a desert island that wasn't a lovely spot!" answered Max. "Why, your regular desert island should combine the richest productions of the temperate, torrid, and frigid zones—a choice selection of the fruits, flowers, vegetables, and animal; of Europe, Asia, and Africa. This would by no means come up to the average standard. I doubt if you could find upon it so much as a goat or a poll-parrot much less an 'onager,' a buffalo, or a boa-constrictor, some of which at least are indispensable to a desert island of any respectability."
"Why, then, do they call such delightful places desert islands!" repeated Johnny. "I always thought a desert was a barren wilderness, where there was nothing to be seen but sand, and rocks, and Arabs."
"I believe they are more properly called desolate islands," said Arthur; "and that seems proper enough; for even this island with all its beauty, is supposed to be uninhabited, and it would be a very lonely and desolate home. Would you like to live here, Johnny, like Robinson Crusoe, or the Swiss family?"
"Not all alone, like Robinson Crusoe. O no! that would be horrible; but I think we might all of us together live here beautifully a little while, if we had plenty of provisions, and plenty of arms to defend ourselves against the savages; and then of course we should want a house to live in, too."
"Nonsense," said Max, "what should we want of provisions?—the sea is full of fish, and the forest of birds; the trees are loaded with fruit; there are oysters and other shell-fish in the bays, and no doubt there are various roots, good for food, to be had by digging for them. As to a house, we might sleep very comfortably, in such weather as this, under these Tournefortias, and never so much as think of taking cold; or we could soon build a serviceable hut, which would be proof against sun and rain, of the trunks and boughs of trees, with a thatch of palm-leaves for a roof. Then in regard to arms, of course, if it should be our fate to set up for desert islanders, we should be well supplied in that line. I never heard of any one, from Robinson Crusoe down, being cast away on a desert island, without a good store of guns, pistols, cutlasses, etcetera, etcetera. Such a thing would be contrary to all precedent, and is not for a moment to be dreamed of."
"But we haven't any arms," said Johnny, "except those old rusty cutlasses that Spot put into the yawl, and if we should be cast away, or left here, for instance, where should we get them from?"
"O, but we are not cast away yet," replied Max. "This is the way the thing always happens. When people are cast away, it is in a ship, of course."
"Why, yes; I suppose so," said Johnny, rather doubtfully. "Well—the ship is always abundantly supplied with every thing necessary to a desert island life; she is driven ashore; the castaways—the future desert islanders—by dint of wonderful good fortune, get safely to land; the rest of course are all drowned, and so disposed of; then, in due time, the ship goes to pieces, and every thing needful is washed ashore and secured by the islanders—that's the regular course of things—isn't it, Arthur!"
"Yes, I believe it is, according to the story-books, which are the standard sources of information on the subject."
"Or sometimes," pursued Max, "the ship gets comfortably wedged in between two convenient rocks, (which seem to have been designed for that special purpose), so that the castaways can go out to it on a raft, or float of some kind, and carry off every thing they want—and singularly enough, although the vessel is always on the point of going to pieces, that catastrophe never takes place, until every thing which can be of any use is secured."
"Do you suppose, Arthur," inquired Johnny, "that there are many uninhabited islands, that have never been discovered!"
"There are believed to be a great many of them," answered Arthur, "and it is supposed that new ones are constantly being formed by the labours of the coral insect. A bare ledge of coral first appears, just at the surface; it arrests floating substances, weeds, trees, etcetera; soon the sea-birds begin to resort there; by the decay of vegetable and animal matter a thin soil gradually covers the foundation of coral; a cocoa-nut is drifted upon it by the winds, or the currents of the sea; it takes root, springs up, its fruit ripens and falls, and in a few years the whole new-formed island is covered with waving groves."
"Mr Frazer says he has no doubt that these seas swarm with such islands, and that many of them have never been discovered," said Max; besides, here's poetry for it:—
"'O many are the beauteous isles, Unseen by human eye, That sleeping 'mid the Ocean smiles, In happy silence lie. The ship may pass them in the night, Nor the sailors know what lovely sight Is sleeping on the main;'
"But this poetical testimony will make Arthur doubt the fact altogether."
"Not exactly," answered Arthur, "though I am free to admit that without Mr Frazer's opinion to back it your poetical testimony would not go very far with me."
"Hark! There go Mr Frazer's two barrels," cried Max, as two reports in quick succession were heard, coming apparently from the grove, in the direction of the spring; "he has probably come across a couple of 'rare specimens,' to be added to his stuffed collection."
THE ALARM AND THE CONFLICT.
THE MUTINEERS—THE RACE FOR LIFE—THE CORAL LEDGE—A FINAL EFFORT—A BRIEF WARNING—THE STRANGE SAIL.
"Now bend the straining rowers to their oars; Fast the light shallops leave the lessening shores, No rival crews in emulous sport contend, But life and death upon the event depend."
The next moment we were startled by a quick, fierce shout, followed immediately by a long, piercing, and distressful cry, proceeding from the same quarter from which the reports of fire-arms had been heard; and before we had time to conjecture the cause or meaning of these frightful sounds, Morton bounded like a deer from the grove, about a hundred yards from the spot where we were standing, and ran swiftly towards us, crying out—"To the boats! for your lives to the boats!"
Our first thought was, that the party at the spring had been attacked and massacred by the natives. Arthur seized Johnny by one hand, and motioned to me to take the other, which I did, and without stopping to demand any explanations, we started at a rapid pace, in the direction of the yawl, Max taking the lead—Arthur and myself, dragging Johnny between us, coming next, and Morton a few paces behind us, bringing up the rear. It took but a few moments to enable us to reach the spot where the yawl lay, hauled up upon the beach. There was no one in her, or in sight, except Browne, who was comfortably stretched out near the boat sound asleep, with an open book lying beside him.
Morton aroused the sleeper by a violent shake. "Now, then," cried he, "let us get the boat into the water; the tide is down, and the yawl is heavy; we shall want all the strength we can muster."
By a united effort we got the yawl to the edge of the surf.
Browne, though not yet thoroughly awake, could not but observe our pale faces and excited appearance, and gazing from one to another in a bewildered manner, he asked what was the matter; but no one made any answer. Morton lifted Johnny into the boat and asked the rest of us to get in, except Arthur, saying that they two would push her through the surf.
"Hold!" cried Arthur, "let us not be too fast; some of the others may escape the savages, and they will naturally run this way—we must not leave them to be murdered."
"There are no savages in the case," answered Morton, "and there is no time to be lost; the men have killed the first officer, and Mr Frazer, too, I fear; and they will take the ship and commit more murders, unless we can get there before them, to warn those on board."
This was more horrible than any thing that we had anticipated; but we had no time to dwell upon it: the sound of oars rattling in the row-locks, was heard from beyond the point.
"There are the mutineers!" cried Morton; "but I think that we have the advantage of them; they must pull round yonder point, which will make at least a quarter of a mile's difference in the distance to the ship."
"There is no use in trying to get to the ship before them," said Max, "the long-boat pulls eight oars, and there are men enough to fill her."
"There is use in trying; it would be shameful not to try; if they pull most oars, ours is the lightest boat," answered Morton with vehemence.
"It us out of the question," said Browne; "see, is there any hope that we can succeed?" and he pointed to the bow of the long-boat just appearing from behind the point.
"O, but this is not right!—Browne! Max! in the name of all that is honourable, let us make the attempt," urged Morton, laying a hand in an imploring manner on the arm of each. "Shall we let them take the ship and murder our friends, without an effort to warn them of their danger? You, Arthur, are for making the attempt, I know—this delay is wrong: the time is precious."
"Yes, let us try it," said Arthur, glancing rapidly from the long-boat to the ship, "if we fail, no harm is done, except that we incur the anger of the mutineers. I, for one, am willing to take the risk."
Max sprang into the boat, and seized an oar without another word.
"You know well, that I am willing to share any danger with the rest, and that it was not the danger that made me hesitate," said Browne, laying his hand on Morton's shoulder, and looking earnestly into his face; and then, in his usual deliberate manner, he followed Max's example.
Morton, Arthur, and myself now pushed the boat into the surf and sprang in. At Arthur's request, I took the rudder; he and Morton seized the two remaining oars, and the four commenced pulling with a degree of coolness and vigour, that would not have disgraced older and more practised oarsmen. As I saw the manner in which they bent to their work, and the progress we were making, I began to think our chance of reaching the ship before the crew of the long-boat, by no means desperate.
Morton, in spite of his slender figure and youthful appearance, which his fresh, ruddy complexion, blue eyes, and brown curling locks, rendered almost effeminate, possessed extraordinary strength, and indomitable energy.
Browne, though his rather heavy frame and breadth of shoulders gave him the appearance of greater strength than he actually possessed, was undoubtedly capable, when aroused, of more powerful temporary exertion than any other of our number; though in point of activity and endurance, he would scarcely equal Morton or Arthur. Max, too, was vigorous and active, and, when stimulated by danger or emulation, was capable of powerful effort. Arthur, though of slight and delicate frame, was compact and well knit, and his coolness, judgment and resolution, enabled him to dispose of his strength to the best advantage. All were animated by that high and generous spirit which is of greater value in an emergency than any amount of mere physical strength; a spirit which often stimulates the feeble to efforts as surprising to him who puts them forth, as to those who witness them.
Browne had the bow-oar, and putting his whole force into every stroke, was pulling like a giant. Morton, who was on the same side, handled his oar with less excitement and effort but with greater precision and equal efficiency. It was plain that these two were pulling Max and Arthur round, and turning the boat from her course; and as I had not yet succeeded in shipping the rudder, which was rendered difficult by the rising and falling of the boat, and the sudden impulse she received from every stroke, I requested Browne and Morton to pull more gently. Just as I had succeeded in getting the rudder hung, the crew of the long-boat seemed to have first observed us. They had cleared the point to the southward, and we were, perhaps, a hundred yards nearer the long point, beyond which we could see the masts of the ship, and on doubling which, we should be almost within hail of her. The latter point, was probably a little more than half a mile distant from us, and towards the head of it, both boats were steering. The long-boat was pulling eight oars, and Luerson, the man who had had the difficulty with the first officer at the Kingsmill Islands, was at the helm. As soon as he observed us, he appeared to speak to the crew of his boat, and they commenced pulling with greater vigour than before. He then hailed us,—"Holloa, lads! where's Frazer? Are you going to leave him on the island!"
We pulled on in silence.
"He is looking for you now, somewhere along shore; he left us, just below the point, to find you; you had better pull back and bring him off."
"All a trick," said Morton; "don't waste any breath with them;" and we bent to the oars with new energy.
"The young scamps mean to give the alarm," I could hear Luerson mutter with an oath, as he surveyed, for a moment, the interval between the two boats, and then the distance to the point.
"There's no use of mincing matters, my lads," he cried, standing up in the stem; "we have knocked the first officer on the head, and served some of those who didn't approve of the proceeding in the same way; and now we are going to take the ship."
"We know it, and intend to prevent you," cried Morton, panting with the violence of his exertions.
"Unship your oars till we pass you, and you shall not be hurt," pursued Luerson in the same breath; "pull another stroke at them, and I will serve you like your friend, Frazer, and he lies at the spring with his throat slit!"
The ruffian's design, in this savage threat, was doubtless to terrify us into submission; or, at least, so to appal and agitate us, as to make our exertions more confused and feeble. In this last calculation he may have been partially correct, for the threat was fearful, and the danger imminent; the harsh, deep tones of his voice, with the ferocious determination of his manner, sent a thrill of horror to every heart. More than this, he could not effect; there was not a craven spirit among our number.
"Steadily!" said Arthur, in a low, collected tone; "less than five minutes will bring us within hail of the ship."
But the minutes seemed hours, amid such tremendous exertions, and such intense anxiety. The sweat streamed from the faces of the rowers; they gasped and panted for breath; the swollen veins stood out on their foreheads.
"Perhaps," cried Luerson, after a pause, "perhaps there is some one in that boat who desires to save his life; whoever drops his oar shall not be harmed; the rest die."
A scornful laugh from Morton was the only answer to this tempting offer.
Luerson now stooped for a moment and seemed to be groping for something in the bottom of the boat. When he rose, it was with a musket or fowling-piece in his hands, which he cocked, and, coming forward to the bow, levelled towards us.
"Once more," he cried, "and once for all, drop your oars, or I fire among you."
"I don't believe it is loaded," said Arthur, "or he would have used it sooner."
"I think it is Frazer's gun," said Morton, "and he fired both barrels before they murdered him; there has been no time to reload it."
The event showed the truth of these suspicions; for, upon seeing that his threat produced no effect, Luerson resumed his seat in the bows, the helm having been given to one of the men not at the oars.
We were now close upon the point, and, as I glanced from our pursuers to the ship, I began to breathe more freely. They had gained upon us; but it was inch by inch, and the goal was now at hand. The long-boat, though pulling eight oars, and those of greater length than ours, was a clumsier boat than the yawl, and at present heavily loaded; we had almost held our own with them thus far.
But now Luerson sprang up once more in the bow of the long-boat, and presented towards us the weapon with which he had a moment before threatened us; and this time it was no idle menace. A puff of smoke rose from the muzzle of the piece, and, just as the sharp report reached our ears, Browne uttered a quick exclamation of pain, and let fall his oar.
For a moment all was confusion and alarm; but Browne, who had seized his oar again almost instantly, declared that he was not hurt; that the ball had merely grazed the skin of his arm; and he attempted to recommence rowing; before, however, he had pulled half-a-dozen strokes, his right hand was covered with the blood which streamed down his arm.
I now insisted on taking his oar, and he took my place at the helm.
While this change was being effected, our pursuers gained upon us perceptibly. Every moment was precious. Luerson urged his men to greater efforts; the turning point of the struggle was now at hand, and the excitement became terrible.
"Steer close in; it will save something in distance," gasped Morton, almost choking for breath.
"Not too close," panted Arthur; "don't get us aground."
"There is no danger of that," answered Morton, "it is deep, off the point."
Almost as he spoke, a sharp, grating sound was heard, beneath the bottom of the boat, and our progress was arrested with a suddenness that threw Max and myself from our seats. We were upon a ledge of coral, which at a time of less excitement we could scarcely have failed to have observed and avoided, from the manner in which the sea broke upon it.
A shout of mingled exultation and derision, as they witnessed this disaster, greeted us from the long-boat, which was ploughing through the water, but a little way behind us, and some twenty yards further out from the shore.
"It is all up," said Morton, bitterly, dropping his oar.
"Back water! Her stern still swings free," cried Arthur, "the next swell will lift her clear."
We got as far aft as possible, to lighten the bows; a huge wave broke upon the ledge, and drenched us with spray, but the yawl still grated upon the coral.
Luerson probably deemed himself secure of a more convenient opportunity, at no distant period, to wreak his vengeance upon us: at any rate there was no time for it now; he merely menaced us with his clenched fist, as they swept by. Almost at the same moment a great sea came rolling smoothly in, and, as our oars dipped to back water, we floated free: then a few vigorous strokes carried us to a safe distance from the treacherous shoal.
"One effort more!" cried Arthur, as the mutineers disappeared behind the point; "we are not yet too late to give them a warning, though it will be but a short one."
Again we bent to the oars, and in a moment we too had doubled the point, and were in the wake of the long-boat. The ship lay directly before us, and within long hailing distance.
"Now, comrades, let us shout together, and try to make them understand their danger," said Browne, standing up in the stern.
"A dozen strokes more," said Arthur, "and we can do it with more certain success."
Luerson merely glanced back at us, as he once more heard the dash of our oars; but he took no farther notice of us: the crisis was too close at hand.
On board the ship all seemed quiet. Some of the men were gathered together on the starboard bow, apparently engaged in fishing; they did not seem to notice the approach of the boats.
"Now, then!" cried Arthur, at length, unshipping his oar, and springing to his feet, "one united effort to attract their attention—all together—now, then!" and we sent up a cry that echoed wildly across the water, and startled the idlers congregated at the bows, who came running to the side of the vessel nearest us.
"We have got their attention; now hail them," said Arthur, turning to Browne, who had a deep powerful voice; "tell them not to let the long-boat board them."
Browne put his hands to his mouth, and in tones that could have been distinctly heard twice the distance, shouted—"Look-out for the long-boat—don't let them board you—the men have killed the first officer, and want to take the ship!" From the stir and confusion that followed, it was clear that the warning was understood.
But the mutineers were now scarcely twenty yards from the vessel, towards which they were ploughing their way with unabated speed. The next moment they were under her bows; just as their oars flew into the air, we could hear a deep voice from the deck, sternly ordering them to "keep off," and I thought that I could distinguish Captain Erskine standing near the bowsprit.
The mutineers gave no heed to the order; several of them sprang into the chains, and Luerson among the rest. A fierce, though unequal struggle, at once commenced. The captain, armed with a weapon which he wielded with both hands, and which I took to be a capstan-bar, struck right and left among the boarders as they attempted to gain the deck, and one, at least of them, fell back with a heavy plunge into the water. But the captain seemed to be almost unsupported; and the mutineers had nearly all reached the deck, and were pressing upon him.
"Oh, but this is a cruel sight!" said Browne, turning away with a shudder. "Comrades, can we do nothing more?"
Morton, who had been groping beneath the sail in the bottom of the boat now dragged forth the cutlasses which Spot had insisted on placing there when we went ashore.
"Here are arms!" he exclaimed, "we are not such boys, but that we can take a part in what is going on—let us pull to the ship!"
"What say you!" cried Arthur, glancing inquiringly from one to another; "we can't, perhaps, do much, but shall we sit here and see Mr Erskine murdered, without trying to help him!"
"Friends, let us to the ship!" cried Browne, with deep emotion, "I am ready."
"And I!" gasped Max, pale with excitement, "we can but be killed."
Can we hope to turn the scale of this unequal strife? shall we do more than arrive at the scene of conflict in time to experience the vengeance of the victorious mutineers?—such were the thoughts that flew hurriedly through my mind. I was entirely unaccustomed to scenes of violence and bloodshed, and my head swam, and my heart sickened, as I gazed at the confused conflict raging on the vessel's deck, and heard the shouts and cries of the combatants. Yet I felt an inward recoil against the baseness of sitting an idle spectator of such a struggle. A glance at the lion-hearted Erskine still maintaining the unequal fight, was an appeal to every noble and generous feeling: it nerved me for the attempt, and though I trembled as I grasped an oar, it was with excitement and eagerness, not with fear.
The yawl had hardly received the first impulse in the direction of the ship, when the report of fire-arms was heard.
"Merciful heavens!" cried Morton, "the captain is down! that fiend Luerson has shot him!"
The figure which I had taken for that of Mr Erskine, was no longer to be distinguished among the combatants, some person was now dragged to the side of the ship towards us, and thrown overboard; he sunk after a feeble struggle; a triumphant shout followed, and then two men were seen running up the rigging.
"There goes poor Spot up to the foretop," said Max, pointing to one of the figures in the rigging; "he can only gain time at the best but it can't be that they'll kill him in cold blood."
"Luerson is just the man to do it," answered Morton; "the faithful fellow has stood by the captain, and that will seal his fate—look! it is as I said," and I could see some one pointing, what was doubtless Mr Frazer's fowling-piece, at the figure in the foretop. A parley seemed to follow; as the result of which, the fugitive came down and surrendered himself. The struggle now appeared to be over, and quiet was once more restored.
So rapidly had these events passed, and so stunning was their effect, that it was some moments before we could collect our thoughts, or fully realise our situation; and we sat, silent and bewildered, gazing toward the ship.
Max was the first to break silence; "And now, what's to be done?" he said, "as to going aboard, that is of course out of the question: the ship is no longer our home."
"I don't know what we can do," said Morton, "except to pull ashore, and stand the chance of being taken off by some vessel, before we starve."
"Here is something better," cried Max eagerly, pointing out to sea; and, looking in the direction indicated, we saw a large ship, with all her sails set, steering directly for us, or so nearly so, as to make it apparent that if she held on her present course, she must pass very near to us. Had we not been entirely engrossed by what was taking place immediately around us, we could not have failed to have seen her sooner, as she must have been in sight a considerable time.
"They have already seen her on board," said Morton, "and that accounts for their great hurry in getting up anchor; they don't feel like being neighbourly just now, with strange vessels."
In fact, there was every indication on board of our own ship, of haste, and eagerness to be gone. While some of the men were at the capstan, getting up the anchor, others were busy in the rigging, and sail after sail was rapidly spread to the breeze, so that by the time the anchor was at the bows, the ship began to move slowly through the water.
"They don't seem to consider us of much account anyway," said Max, "they are going without so much as saying good-bye."
"They may know more of the stranger than we do," said Arthur, "they have glasses on board; if she should be an American man-of-war, their hurry is easily explained."
"I can't help believing that they see or suspect more, in regard to her, than appears to us," said Morton, "or they would not fail to make an attempt to recover the yawl."
"It is rapidly getting dark," said Arthur, "and I think we had better put up the sail, and steer for the stranger."
"Right," said Morton, "for she may possibly tack before she sees us."
Morton and myself proceeded to step the mast, and rig the sail; meantime, Arthur got Browne's coat off, and examined and bandaged the wound on his arm, which had been bleeding all the while profusely; he pronounced it to be but a trifling hurt. A breeze from the south-east had sprung up at sunset, and we now had a free wind to fill our sail, as we steered directly out to sea to meet the stranger, which was still at too great a distance to make it probable that we had been seen by her people.
It was with a feeling of anxiety and uneasiness, that I saw the faint twilight fading away, with the suddenness usual in those latitudes, and the darkness gathering rapidly round us. Already the east was wrapped in gloom, and only a faint streak of light along the western horizon marked the spot where the sun had so recently disappeared.
"How suddenly the night has come upon us," said Arthur, who had been peering through the dusk toward the approaching vessel, in anxious silence; "O, for twenty minutes more of daylight! I fear that she is about tacking."
This announcement filled us all with dismay, and every eye was strained towards her with intense and painful interest.
Meantime, the breeze had freshened somewhat and we now had rather more of it than we desired, as our little boat was but poorly fitted to navigate the open ocean in rough weather. Johnny began to manifest some alarm, as we were tossed like a chip from wave to wave, and occasionally deluged with spray, by a sea bursting with a rude shock over our bow. I had not even in the violent storm of the preceding week, experienced such a sense of insecurity, such a feeling of helplessness, as now, when the actual danger was comparatively slight. The waves seemed tenfold larger and more threatening than when viewed from the deck of a large vessel. As we sunk into the trough of the sea, our horizon was contracted to the breadth of half-a-dozen yards, and we entirely lost sight of the land, and of both ships.
But it was evident that we were moving through the water with considerable velocity, and there was encouragement in that, for we felt confident that if the stranger should hold on her present course but a little longer, we should be on board of her before our safety would be seriously endangered by the increasing breeze.
If, however, she were really tacking, our situation would indeed be critical. A very few moments put a period to our suspense by confirming Arthur's opinion, and our worst fears; the stranger had altered her course, her yards were braced round, and she was standing further out to sea. Still, however, there would have been a possibility of reaching her, but for the failure of light, for she had not so far changed her course, but that she would have to pass a point, which we could probably gain before her. But now, it was with difficulty, and only by means of the cloud of canvass she carried, that we could distinguish her through the momently deepening gloom; and with sinking hearts we relinquished the last hopes connected with her. Soon she entirely vanished from our sight, and when we gazed anxiously around the narrow horizon that now bounded our vision, sky and water alone met our view.
A NIGHT OF GLOOM—MORTON'S NARRATIVE—VISIONARY TERRORS—AN ALARMING DISCOVERY.
"O'er the deep! o'er the deep! Where the whale, and the shark, and the sword-fish sleep."
Even in open day, the distance of a few miles would be sufficient to sink the low shores of the island; and now that night had so suddenly overtaken us, it might be quite near, without our being able to distinguish it.
We were even uncertain, and divided in opinion, as to the direction in which it lay—so completely were we bewildered. The night was one of deep and utter gloom. There was no moon; and not a single star shed its feeble light over the wilderness of agitated waters, upon which our little boat was tossing. Heavy, low-hanging clouds, covered the sky; but soon, even these could no longer be distinguished; a cold, damp mist, dense, and almost palpable to the touch, crept over the ocean, and enveloped us so closely, that it was impossible to see clearly from one end of the yawl to the other.
The wind, however, instead of freshening, as we had feared, died gradually away. For this, we had reason to be thankful; for though our situation that night seemed dismal enough, yet how much more fearful would it have been, if the rage of the elements, and danger of immediate destruction, had been added to the other circumstances of terror by which we were surrounded?
As it was, however, the sea having gone down, we supposed ourselves to be in no great or pressing peril. Though miserably uncomfortable, and somewhat agitated and anxious, we yet confidently expected that the light of morning would show us the land again.
The terrible and exciting scenes through which we had so recently passed, had completely exhausted us, and we were too much overwhelmed by the suddenness of our calamity, and the novel situation in which we now found ourselves, to be greatly disposed to talk. Johnny sobbed himself asleep in Arthur's arms; and even Max's usual spirits seemed now to have quite forsaken him. After the mast had been unstepped, and such preparations as our circumstances permitted were made, for passing the night comfortably, Morton related all that he knew of what had taken place on shore, previous to the alarm which he had given.
I repeat the narrative as nearly as possible in his own words, not perhaps altogether as he related it on that night, for the circumstances were not then favourable to a full and orderly account, but partly as I afterwards, in various conversations, gathered the particulars from him.
"You recollect," said he, "that we separated at the boats; Mr Frazer and the rest of you, going along the shore towards the point, leaving Browne declaiming Byron's Address to the Ocean, from the top of a coral block, with myself and the breakers for an audience. Shortly afterwards, I strolled off towards the interior, and left Browne lying on the sand, with his pocket Shakespeare, where we found him, when we reached the boats. I kept on inland, until the forest became so dense, and was so overgrown with tangled vines and creeping plants, that I could penetrate no farther in that direction. In endeavouring to return, I got bewildered, and at length fairly lost, having no clear notion as to the direction of the beach. The groves were so thick and dark as to shut out the light almost entirely; and I could not get a glimpse of the sun so as to fix the points of the compass. At last I came to an opening, large enough to let in the light, and show which way the shadows fell. Knowing that we had landed on the west side of the island, I could now select my course without hesitation. It was getting late in the afternoon, and I walked as fast as the nature of the ground would allow, until I unexpectedly found myself at the edge of the grove, east of the spring where the men were at work filling the breakers. The moment I came in sight of them, I perceived that something unusual was taking place. The first officer and Luerson were standing opposite each other, and the men, pausing from their work, were looking on. As I inferred, Mr Nichol had given some order, which Luerson had refused to obey. Both looked excited, but no words passed between them after I reached the place. There was a pause of nearly a minute, when Mr Nichol advanced as if to lay hands on Luerson, and the latter struck him a blow with his cooper's mallet, which he held in his hand, and knocked him down. Before he had time to rise, Atoa, the Sandwich Islander, sprang upon him, and stabbed him twice with his belt-knife. All this passed so rapidly, that no one had a chance to interfere—"
"Hark!" said Browne, interrupting the narration, "what noise is that? It sounds like the breaking of the surf upon the shore."
But the rest of us could distinguish no sound except the washing of the waves against the boat. The eye was of no assistance in deciding whether we were near the shore or not, as it was impossible to penetrate the murky darkness, a yard in any direction.
"We must be vigilant," said Arthur, "the land cannot be far-off, and we may be drifted upon it before morning."
After listening for some moments in anxious silence, we became satisfied that Browne had been mistaken, and Morton proceeded.
"Just as Atoa sprang upon Mr Nichol and stabbed him, Mr Knight, who was the first to recover his presence of mind, seized the murderer, and wrenched the knife from his hand, at the same time calling on the men to secure Luerson; but no one stirred to do so. A part seemed confused and undecided; while others appeared to me, to have been fully prepared for what had taken place. One man stepped forward near Luerson, and declared in a brutal and excited manner, that 'Nichol was a bloody tyrant, and had got what he deserved, and that no man could blame Luerson for taking his revenge, after being treated as he had been.' For a moment all was clamour and confusion; then Luerson approached Mr Knight in a threatening manner, and bade him loose Atoa, instead of which, he held his prisoner firmly with one hand, and warning Luerson off with the other, called on the men to stand by their officers. Just at this moment, Mr Frazer, with his gun on his shoulder, came out of the grove from the side toward the shore, and to him Mr Knight eagerly appealed for assistance in securing the murderers of Mr Nichol. Pointing from the bleeding corpse at his feet, to Luerson, he said—'There is the ringleader—shoot him through the head at once, and that will finish the matter—otherwise we shall all be murdered—fire, I will answer for the act?'
"Frazer seemed to comprehend the situation of things at a glance. With great presence of mind, he stepped back a pace, and bringing his gun to his shoulder, called on Luerson to throw down his weapon, and surrender himself, declaring that he would shoot the first man who lifted a hand to assist him. His manner was such as to leave no doubt of his sincerity, or his resolution. The men had no fire-arms, and were staggered by the suddenness of the thing; they stood hesitating and undecided. Mr Knight seized this as a favourable moment, and advanced upon Luerson, with the intention of securing him, and the islander was thus left free. At this moment I observed the man who had denounced Mr Nichol, and justified Luerson, stealing round behind Frazer. I called out to him at the top of my voice to warn him; but he did not seem to hear. I looked for something which might serve me for a weapon; but there was nothing, not so much as a broken bough within reach, and in another instant, the whole thing was over. As Knight grappled with Luerson, he dropped the knife which he had wrested from Atoa, his intention evidently being to secure, and not to kill him.
"Atoa immediately leaped forward and seized the knife, and had his arm already raised to stab Mr Knight in the back, when Frazer shot him dead. At almost the same instant, Luerson struck Mr Knight a tremendous blow on the head with his mallet, which felled him to the earth, stunned and lifeless. He next rushed upon Frazer, who had fairly covered him with the muzzle of his piece, and would inevitably have shot him, but just as he pulled the trigger, the man whom I had seen creeping round behind him, sprang upon him, and deranged his aim; two or three of the others, who had stood looking on, taking no part in the affair, now interposed, and by their assistance Frazer was overpowered and secured. Whether they murdered him or not, as Luerson afterwards declared, I do not know. As soon as the struggle was over, the man who had seconded Luerson so actively throughout, (the tall dark man who goes by the name of 'the Boatswain,') shouted out, 'Now, then, for the ship!' 'Yes, for the ship!' cried Luerson, 'though this has not come about just as was arranged, and has been hurried on sooner than we expected; it is as well so as any way, and must be followed up. There's no one aboard but the captain, and four or five men and boys, all told: the landsmen are all ashore, scattered over the island. We can take her without risk—and then for a merry life at the islands!'
"This revealed the designs of the mutineers, and I determined to anticipate them if possible. As I started for the beach I was observed, and they hailed me; but without paying any attention to their shouts, I ran as fast, at least, as I ever ran before, until I came out of the forest, near where you were standing."
From the words of Luerson which Morton had heard, it was clear that the mutiny had not been a sudden and unpremeditated act; and we had no doubt that it had grown out of the difficulties at the Kingsmills, between him and the unfortunate Mr Nichol.
It was quite late before we felt any disposition to sleep; but notwithstanding the excitement and the discomforts of our situation, we began at length to experience the effects of the fatigue and anxiety which we had undergone, and bestowing ourselves as conveniently as possible about the boat, which furnished but slender accommodations for such a number, we bade each other the accustomed "good night," and one by one dropped asleep.
Knowing that we could not be far from land, and aware of our liability to be drifted ashore during the night, it had been decided to maintain a watch. Arthur, Morton, and I had agreed to divide the time between us as accurately as possible, and to relieve one another in turn. The first watch fell to Arthur, the last to me, and, after exacting a promise from Morton, that he would not fail to awaken me when it was fairly my turn, I laid down upon the ceiling planks, close against the side of the boat between which, and Browne, who was next me, there was barely room to squeeze myself.
It was a dreary night. The air was damp, and even chilly. The weltering of the waves upon the outside of the thin plank against which my head was pressed, made a dismal kind of music, and suggested vividly how frail was the only barrier that separated us from the wide, dark waste of waters, below and around.
The heavy, dirge-like swell of the ocean, though soothing, in the regularity and monotony of its sluggish motion, sounded inexpressibly mournful.
The gloom of the night, and the tragic scenes of the day, seemed to give character to my dreams, for they were dark and hideous, and so terribly vivid, that I several times awoke strangely agitated.
At one time I saw Luerson, with a countenance of supernatural malignity, and the expression of a fiend, murdering poor Frazer. At another, our boat seemed drawn by some irresistible, but unseen power, to the verge of a yawning abyss, and began to descend between green-glancing walls of water, to vast depths, where undescribed sea-monsters, never seen upon the surface, glided about in an obscurity that increased their hideousness. Suddenly the feeble light that streamed down into the gulf through the green translucent sea, seemed to be cut off; the liquid walls closed above our heads; and we were whirled away, with the sound of rushing waters, and in utter darkness.
All this was vague and confused, and consisted of the usual "stuff that dreams are made of." What followed, was wonderfully vivid and real: every thing was as distinct as a picture, and it has left an indelible impression upon my mind; there was something about it far more awful than all the half-defined shapes and images of terror that preceded it.
I seemed to be all alone, in our little boat, in the midst of the sea. It was night—and what a night! not a breath of wind rippled the glassy waters. There was no moon, but the sky was cloudless, and the stars were out, in solemn and mysterious beauty. Every thing seemed preternaturally still, and I felt oppressed by a strange sense of loneliness; I looked round in vain for some familiar object, the sight of which might afford me relief. But far, far as the eye could reach, to the last verge of the horizon, where the gleaming sapphire vault closed down upon the sea, stretched one wide, desolate, unbroken expanse. I seemed to be isolated and cut off from all living things:
"Alone—alone, all, all alone! Alone on the wide, wide sea; So lonely 'twas, that God himself Scarce seemed there to be."
And there was something in this feeling, and in the universal, death-like silence, that was unutterably awful. I tried to pray—to think of God as present even there—to think of Him as "Our Father"—as caring for and loving his creatures—and thus to escape the desolating sense of loneliness that oppressed me. But it was in vain; I could not pray: there was something in the scene that mocked at faith, and seemed in harmony with the dreary creed of the atheist. The horrible idea of a godless universe came upon me, bidding me relinquish, as a fond illusion, the belief in a Heavenly Father,—
"Who sees with equal eye, as Lord of all, A hero perish, or a sparrow fall."
Language cannot express the desolation of that thought.
Then the scene changed once more. We were again on board the ship, and in the power of the enraged mutineers, about to suffer whatever their vengeance might impel them to inflict. Poor Spot was swinging, a livid corpse, at one of the yard-arms. Browne was bound to the main-mast, while Luerson and his fiendish crew were exhausting their ingenuity in torturing him. The peculiar expression of his mild, open countenance, distorted by pain, went to my heart, and the sound of that familiar and friendly voice, now hoarse and broken, and quivering with agony, thrilled me with horror. As he besought his tormentors to kill him at once, I thought that I kneeled to Luerson, and seconded the entreaty— the greatest favour that could be hoped from him. The rest of us were doomed to walk the plank. Morton was stern and silent; Max pale and sorrowful; his arm was round my neck, and he murmured that life was sweet, and that it was a hard and terrible thing to die—to die so! Arthur, calm and collected, cheered and encouraged us; and his face seemed like the face of an angel, as he spoke sweetly and solemnly, of the goodness and the love of God, and bade us put our whole trust and hope in Christ our Saviour. His earnest words and serene look, soothed and strengthened us; we also became calm and almost resigned. There was no abject fear, no useless cries, or supplications to our foes for mercy; but the solemn sense of the awfulness of death, was mingled with a sweet and sustaining faith in God, and Christ, and Immortality. Hand in hand, like brothers, we were preparing to take the fearful plunge— when I started and awoke.
Even the recollection of our real situation was insufficient to impair the deep sense of relief which I experienced. My first impulse was to thank God that these were but dreams; and if I had obeyed the next, I should have embraced heartily each of my slumbering companions; for in the first confusion of thought and feeling, my emotions were very much what they would naturally have been, had the scenes of visionary terror, in which we seemed to have just participated together, been real.
Morton was at his post, and I spoke to him, scarcely knowing or caring what I said. All I wanted, was to hear his voice, to revive the sense of companionship, and so escape the painful impressions which even yet clung to me.
He said that he had just commenced his watch, Arthur having called him but a few moments before. The night was still lowering and overcast, but there was less wind and sea than when I first laid down. I proposed to relieve him at once, but he felt no greater inclination to sleep than myself and we watched together until morning. The two or three hours immediately before dawn seemed terribly long. Just as the first grey light appeared in the east, Arthur joined us. A dense volume of vapour which rested upon the water, and contributed to the obscurity in which we were enveloped, now gathered slowly into masses, and floated upward as the day advanced, gradually clearing the prospect; and we kept looking out for the island, in the momentary expectation of seeing it loom up before us through the mist. But when, as the light increased, and the fog rolled away, the boundaries of our vision rapidly enlarged, and still no land could be seen, we began to feel seriously alarmed. A short period of intense and painful anxiety followed, during which we continued alternately gazing, and waiting for more light, and again straining our aching eyes in every direction, and still in vain.
At last it became evident that we had in some manner drifted completely away from the island. The appalling conviction could no longer be resisted. There we were, lost and helpless, on the open ocean, in our chip of a boat, without provisions for a single day, or, to speak more definitely, without a morsel of bread or a drop of water.
OUT OF SIGHT OF LAND—SLENDER RESOURCES—WHAT'S TO BE DONE?
"How rapidly, how rapidly, we ride along the sea! The morning is all sunshine, the wind is blowing free; The billows are all sparkling, and bounding in the light, Like creatures in whose sunny veins, the blood is running bright."
Morton alone still refused to relinquish the hope, that by broad daylight, we should yet be able to make out the island. He persisted in pronouncing it wholly incredible that we had made during the night, a distance sufficient to sink the land, which was but three or four miles off at the utmost, when we were overtaken by darkness; he could not understand, he said, how such a thing was possible.
Arthur accounted for it, by supposing that we had got into the track of one of the ocean currents that exist in those seas, especially among the islands, many of which run at the rate of from two to three miles an hour.
This seemed the more probable, from the fact, that we were to the west of the island, when we lost sight of it, and that the great equatorial current, which traverses the Pacific and Indian oceans, has a prevailing westerly course, though among the more extensive groups and clusters of islands, it is so often deflected hither and thither, by the obstacles which it encounters, or turned upon itself, in eddies or counter-currents, that no certain calculations can be made respecting it. Morton, however, did not consider this supposition sufficient to explain the difficulty.
"I should judge," said he, "that in a clear day, such an island might be seen fifteen or twenty miles, and we cannot have drifted so great a distance."
"It might perhaps be seen," said Arthur, "as far as that, from the mast-head of a ship, or even from her deck, but not from a small boat hardly raised above the surface of the water. At our present level, eight or ten miles would be enough to sink it completely."
At length, when it was broad day, and from the appearance of the eastern sky, the sun was just about to rise, Morton stepped the mast and climbed to the top, in the hope that from that additional elevation, slight as it was, he might catch a glimpse of land. There was by this time light enough, as he admitted, to see any thing that could be seen at all, and after making a deliberate survey of our whole horizon, he was fully convinced that we had drifted completely away from the island. "I give it up," he said, as he slid down the mast, "we are at sea, beyond all question."
Presently Max awoke. He cast a quick, surprised look around, and at first seemed greatly shocked. He speedily recovered himself, however, and after another, and closer, scrutiny of the horizon, thought that he detected an appearance like that of land in the south. For a moment there was again the flutter of excited hope, as every eye was turned eagerly in that direction; but it soon subsided. A brief examination satisfied us all, that what we saw, was but a low bank of clouds lying against the sky.
"This really begins to look serious," said I; "what are we to do?"
"It strikes me," replied Morton, "that we are pretty much relieved from the necessity of considering that question; our only part for the present seems to be a passive one."
"I can't fully persuade myself that this is real," said Max; "it half seems like an ugly dream, from which we should awake by-and-by, and draw a long breath at the relief of finding it no more than a dream."
"We are miserably provisioned for a sea voyage," said Morton; "but I believe the breaker is half full of water; without that we should indeed be badly off."
"There is not a drop in it," said Arthur, shaking his head, and he lifted the breaker and shook it lightly—it was quite empty.
He now proceeded to force open the locker, in the hope of finding them something that might be serviceable to us; but its entire contents consisted of a coil of fine rope, some pieces of rope-yarn, an empty quart-bottle, and an old and battered hatchet-head.
Meanwhile, Browne, without a trace of anxiety upon his upturned countenance, and Johnny, who nestled close beside him, continued to sleep soundly, in happy unconsciousness of our alarming situation.
"Nothing ever interferes with the soundness of Browne's sleep, or the vigour of his appetite," said Max, contemplating his placid slumbers with admiration. "I should be puzzled to decide whether sleeping, eating, or dramatic recitation, is his forte; it certainly lies between the three."
"Poor fellow!" said Morton, "from present appearances, and the state of our supplies, he will have to take it all out in sleeping, for some time to come, as it is to be presumed he'll hardly feel like spouting."
"One would think that what happened yesterday, and the condition of things as we left them last night, would be enough to disturb one's nerves somewhat; yet you see how little it affects him—and I now predict that the first thing he will say on opening his eye; will be about the means of breaking his long fast."
"I don't understand how you can go on in that strain, Max," said Arthur, looking up in a surprised manner, and shaking his head disapprovingly.
"Why, I was merely endeavouring to do my share towards keeping our spirits up; but I suppose any spirits got up under the present circumstances, must be somewhat forced, and as my motives don't seem to be properly appreciated, I will renounce the unprofitable attempt."
The sun rose in a clear sky, and gave promise of a hot day. There was, however, a cool and refreshing breeze, that scattered the spray from the foaming ridges of the waves, and occasionally showered us, not unpleasantly, with the fine liquid particles. A sea, breaking over our bow, dashed a bucket-full of water into Browne's face, and abruptly disturbed his slumbers.
"Good morning, comrades!" said he, sitting up, and looking about him with a perplexed and bewildered air. "But how is this? Ah! I recollect it all now. So then, we are really out of sight of land!"
"There is no longer any doubt of that," said Arthur, "and it is now time for us to decide what we shall do—our chance of falling in with a ship will be quite as good, and that of reaching land will of course be much better, if, instead of drifting like a log upon the water, we put up our sail, and steer in almost any direction; though I think there is a choice."
"Of course there is a choice," said Morton; "the island cannot be at any great distance; and the probability of our being able to find it again is so much greater than that of making any other land, that we ought to steer in the direction in which we have good reason to think it lies—that is, to the east."
"The wind, for the last twelve hours, has been pretty nearly south," observed Arthur, "and has probably had some effect upon our position; we had better, therefore, steer a little south of east, which, with this breeze, will be easy sailing."
To this all assented, and the sail was hoisted, and the boat's head put in the direction agreed upon, each of us, except Johnny, sailing and steering her in turn. There was quite as much wind as our little craft could sail with to advantage, and without danger. As it filled her bit of canvass, she careered before it, leaping and plunging from wave to wave, in a manner that sometimes seemed perilous. The bright sky above us, the blue sea gleaming in the light of morning, over which we sped; the dry, clear atmosphere, (now that the sun was up, and the mist dissipated), the fresh breeze, without which we must have suffered intensely from the heat; together with our rapid and bounding motion, had an exhilarating effect, in spite of the gloomy anticipations that suggested themselves.
"After all," said Max, "why need we take such a dismal view of the matter? We have a fine staunch little boat, a good breeze, and islands all around us. Besides, we are in the very track of the beche de mer, and sandal-wood traders. It would be strange indeed, if we should fail to meet some of them soon. In fact, if it were not for thinking of poor Frazer, and of the horrible events of yesterday, (which, to be sure, are enough to make one sad), I should be disposed to look upon the whole affair; as a sort of holiday adventure—something to tell of when we get home, and to talk over pleasantly together twenty years hence."
"If we had a breaker of water, and a keg of biscuit," said Morton, "and could then be assured of fair weather for a week, I might be able to take that view of it; as it is, I confess, that to me, it has any thing but the aspect of a holiday adventure."
When Johnny awoke, Arthur endeavoured to soothe his alarm, by explaining to him that we had strong hopes of being able to reach the island again, and mentioning the various circumstances which rendered such a hope reasonable. The little fellow, did not, however, seem to be as much troubled as might have been expected. He either reposed implicit confidence in the resources, or the fortunes, of his companions, or else, did not at all realise the perils to which we were exposed. But this could not last long.
That which I knew Arthur had been painfully anticipating, came at last. Johnny, who had been asking Morton a multitude of questions as to the events of the previous day, suddenly said that he was very thirsty, and asked in the most unsuspecting manner for a drink of water. When he learned that the breaker was empty, and that we had not so much as a drop of water with us, some notion of our actual situation seemed to dawn upon him, and he became, all at once, grave and silent.
Hour after hour dragged slowly on, until the sun was in the zenith, with no change for the better in our affairs. It was now clear that we must give up the hope of reaching the island which we had left, for it was certain that we had sailed farther since morning than the boat could possibly have been drifted during the night, by the wind, or the current, or both combined. Our calculations at the outset must therefore have been erroneous, and we had not been sailing in the right direction. If so, it was too late to correct the mistake; we could not regain our starting-point, in order to steer from it another course. We now held a second consultation.
Although we had but a general notion of our geographical position, we knew that we were in the neighbourhood of scattered groups of low coral islands. From the Kingsmills we were to have sailed directly for Canton, and Max, Morton, and myself, would, before now, in all probability, have commenced our employment in the American factory there, but for Captain Erskine's sudden resolution to take the responsibility of returning to the Samoan Group, with the double object of rescuing the crew of the wrecked barque, and completing his cargo, which, according to the information received from the master of the whaler, there would be no difficulty in doing. From Upolu, we had steered a north-westerly course, and it was on the fourth or fifth day after leaving it, that we had reached the island where the mutiny took place, and which Mr Erskine claimed as a discovery of his own. Its latitude and longitude had of course been calculated, but none of us learned the result, or at any rate remembered it. We knew only, that we were at no great distance from the Kingsmills, and probably to the south-west of them.
Arthur was confident, from conversations had with Mr Frazer, and from the impressions left on his mind by his last examination of the charts, that an extensive cluster of low islands, scattered over several degrees of latitude, lay just to the south-east of us.
It was accordingly determined to continue our present course as long as the wind should permit, which there was reason to fear might be but a short time, as easterly winds are the prevailing ones within the tropics, as near the line as we supposed ourselves to be.
THE SECOND WATCH—AN EVIL OMEN—THE WHITE SHARK—A BREAKFAST LOST.
"All in a hot and copper sky, The bloody sun, at noon, Right up above the mast did stand, No bigger than the moon."
During the remainder of the day the wind continued fair, and we held on our course, steering by the sun, and keeping a vigilant look-out in every direction. But the night set in, and we had yet seen no appearance of land, no speck in the distance which could be mistaken for a sail, not even a wandering sea-bird or a school of flying-fish— nothing to break the dead monotony of the briny waste we were traversing. As I sat at the helm, taking my turn in sailing the boat, and watched the sun go down, and saw the darkness gathering over the sea, a feeling nearly akin to despair took possession of me. In vain I strove to take an encouraging and hopeful view of our circumstances. The time within which relief must come, in order to be effectual, was so short, that I could not help feeling that the probabilities were strongly against us. I could not shut my eyes to the fact, that dangers, imminent and real, such as we had read and talked of, without ever half realising or dreaming that they could one day fall to our own lot, now pressed upon us, and threatened us close at hand. I knew that those fearful tales of shipwreck and starvation, were only too true— that men, lost at sea like ourselves, had pined day after day, without a morsel of food or a drop of water, until they had escaped, in stupor or delirium, all consciousness of suffering. And worse even than this—too horrible to be thought or spoken of—I knew something of the dreadful and disgusting expedients to prolong life, which have sometimes been resorted to by famishing wretches. I had read how the pangs of hunger, and the still fiercer torments of thirst, had seemed to work a dire change even in kind and generous natures, making men wolfish, so that they slew and fed upon each other. Now, all that was most revolting and inhuman, in what I had heard or read of such things, rose vividly before me, and I shuddered at the growing probability that experiences like these might be reserved for us. "Why not for us," I thought, "as well as for the many others, the records of whose terrible fate I have perused with scarcely more emotion than would be excited by a tale of imaginary suffering; and the still greater number whose story has never been recorded? We have already been conducted many steps on this fearful path, and no laws of nature will be stayed, no ordinary rules of God's dealing violated, on our behalf. No inevitable necessity requires the complexion of our future, to correspond and harmonise with that of our past lives. This feeling, which seems to assure me that such things cannot happen to us, is but one of the cheats and illusions of a shrinking and self-pitying spirit. All the memories that cluster about a happy childhood, all the sweet associations of home and kindred, afford no guarantee against the new and bitter experiences which seem about to open up upon us."
Such were the thoughts that began to disquiet my own mind. As to my companions, Morton seemed less anxious and excited than any of the others. During the evening he speculated in a cool matter-of-fact manner, upon our chances of reaching an island, or meeting a ship, before being reduced to the last extremity. He spoke of the number of traders that frequent the islands, for tortoise-shell, mother-of-pearl, sandal-wood, beche de mer, etcetera; the whalers that come in pursuit of the cachelot, or sperm-whale; the vessels that resort there for fruit, or supplies of wood and water; the vast number of islands scattered through these seas; from all which he finally concluded, that the chances were largely in our favour. If, however, we should fail of immediate relief in this shape, he thought it probable that we should have opportunities of catching fish, or sea-birds, and so prolonging life for many days. He talked the whole matter over in such a calm, sober, unexcited manner, furnishing facts and reasons for every opinion, that I felt some confidence in his conclusions.
Browne, though quite composed and self-possessed, had, from the moment when he discovered that we were out of sight of land, taken the most serious view of our situation. He seemed to have made up his mind for the worst, and was abstracted, and indisposed to converse. I knew that the anxiety which Arthur evinced, was not mainly on his own account. It did not withdraw his attention from what was passing, or diminish his interest in it. Far from being gloomy or abstracted, he was active and watchful, and spoke with heartiness and cheerfulness. His mental disquietude only appeared, in a certain softness and tremor of his voice, especially when speaking to Johnny, who, as the night drew on, asked him over and over again, at short intervals, "Don't you think, Arthur, that we shall certainly find land to-morrow?" This was truly distressing.
As to Max, his feelings rose and fell capriciously, and without any apparent cause; he was sanguine or depressed, not from a consideration of all our circumstances, and a favourable or unfavourable conclusion drawn therefrom; but according as this view or that, for the moment, impressed his mind. He rendered no reasons for his hopes or his fears. At one moment, you would judge from his manner and conversation that we were indeed out upon some "holy day excursion," with no serious danger impending over us; the next, without any thing to account for the change, he would appear miserably depressed and wretched.
Soon after sunset the moon rose—pale and dim at first, but shining out with a clearer and brighter radiance, as the darkness increased. The wind held steadily from the same quarter, and it was determined to continue through the night, the arrangement for taking charge of the sailing of the boat, in turn. Browne and Max insisted on sharing between themselves the watch for the entire night, saying that they had taken no part in that of the one previous, and that it would be useless to divide the twelve hours of darkness into more than two watches. This was finally agreed upon, the wind being so moderate that the same person could steer the yawl and manage the sail without difficulty.
Before lying down, I requested Max, who took the first turn, to awake me at the same time with Browne, a part of whose watch I intended to share. I fell asleep, looking up at the moon, and the light clouds sailing across the sky, and listening to the motion of the water beneath the boat. At first I slumbered lightly, without losing a sort of dreamy consciousness, so that I heard Max humming over to himself fragments of tunes, and odd verses of old songs, and even knew when he shifted his position in the stern, from one side to the other. At length I must have fallen into a deep sleep: I do not know how long it had lasted, (it seemed to me but a short time), when I was aroused by an exclamation, from Max, as I at first supposed; but on sitting up I saw that Browne was at the helm, while Max was sleeping at my side. On perceiving that I was awake, Browne, from whom the exclamation had proceeded, pointed to something in the water, just astern. Following the direction of his finger with my eye, I saw, just beneath the surface, a large ghastly-looking white shark, gliding stealthily along, and apparently following the boat. Browne said that he had first noticed it about half an hour before, since which time it had steadily followed us, occasionally making a leisurely circuit round the boat, and then dropping astern again. A moment ago, having fallen into a doze at the helm, and awaking with a start, he found himself leaning over the gunwale, and the shark just at his elbow. This had startled him, and caused the sudden exclamation by which I had been aroused. I shuddered at his narrow escape, and I acknowledge that the sight of this hideous and formidable creature, stealing along in our wake, and manifesting an intention to keep us company, caused me some uneasy sensations. He swam with his dorsal fin almost at the surface, and his broad nose scarcely three feet from the rudder. His colour rendered him distinctly visible.