Turned Adrift, by Harry Collingwood.
This is a very fast-moving book by a master of nautical writing. You will enjoy it, and especially so if you listen to it as an audiobook.
TURNED ADRIFT, BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD.
THE SEIZURE OF THE "ZENOBIA".
The Zenobia—A1 at Lloyd's—was a beautiful little clipper barque of 376 tons register, and so exquisitely fine were her lines that her cargo-carrying capacity amounted to but a few tons more than her register tonnage; in fact, the naval architect who designed her had been instructed to ignore altogether the question of cargo capacity, and to give his whole attention to the matter of speed, and most faithfully had he carried out his instructions.
For the Zenobia had been designed and built to the order of the firm which owned the famous "Queen" line of sailing clippers trading between London and Natal; and the aim of the Company was to drive off all competitors and secure the monopoly of the passenger trade between London and the Garden Colony. And there was only one way in which that aim could be accomplished, namely, by carrying passengers to and fro in less time and greater comfort than any of the competing lines. The question of cargo did not matter so very much, for at that time—that is to say, about the year 1860—the steam service to South Africa was very different from what it is to-day. The steamers were small, slow, and infrequent; Natal was just then attracting a big influx of well-to-do people from England; passenger rates were high—as also, for that matter, was the freight on such special merchandise as was at that time being carried out to the colony—and those who took credit to themselves for their foresight believed that there was big money to be made in the sailing passenger trade. Needless to say, the competition between the different lines was exceedingly keen: but the owners of the "Queen" line were a very rich corporation; they were prepared to sink money in the effort to secure a monopoly; and the Zenobia was the latest outcome of their rather speculative policy.
At the moment when this story opens—namely, about two bells of the middle watch, on the night of 24 January, 1862—or rather in the early morning of 25 January, to be exact—the barque was somewhere about latitude 25 degrees south, and longitude 27 degrees west. I have not the precise figures by me, nor do they very greatly matter. The night was fine, clear, and starlit, with the moon, well advanced in her fourth quarter, hanging a few degrees above the eastern horizon, and shedding just enough light to touch the wave crests immediately beneath her with soft flashes of ruddy golden light. The wind was piping up fresh from the south-east, and the little clipper was roaring through it under all plain sail to her royals, with the yeast slopping in over her starboard rail at every lee roll and her lee scuppers all afloat; for quick passages were the order of the day, quick passages meant "carrying on", and Mr Stephen Bligh, the chief mate and officer of the watch, was living fully up to the traditions of the service. This was the Zenobia's second outward voyage. Her first trip had been accomplished in the unprecedentedly brief period of forty-six days; and it was now the ambition of her skipper and his two mates to beat even that brilliant record. And at the moment there seemed an excellent prospect that this laudable ambition might be achieved, for the morrow would only be our twenty-fourth day out. We had been extraordinarily lucky in the matter of crossing the line, having slid across it with a good breeze, which had run us into the south-east Trades without the loss of a moment; and those same south-east Trades—or something remarkably like them—were still piping up fresh, although we were by this time well beyond their ordinary southern limits.
Our ship's company amounted to twenty-four all told, namely, Captain John Roberts, our skipper; Mr Stephen Bligh, our chief mate; Mr Peter Johnson, our second mate; Dr John Morrison, our surgeon—ours being one of the few ships in the trade which at that time carried a doctor—the boatswain, carpenter, sailmaker, cook, two stewards, twelve men—of whom eight were A.B.'s and four only O.S.—and last, but not least—in our own estimation—two apprentices, Tom Bainbridge, in his fifth year of apprenticeship, being one, while I, Mark Temple, just turned seventeen years of age, and in the third year of my apprenticeship, was the other. There was not much love lost between Bainbridge and myself, by the way, for he was of a sullen, sulky temper, and had tried hard to bully me when I first made his acquaintance in the old Boadicea before joining the Zenobia. But our mutual ill feeling did not greatly matter, for he was in the port watch and I in the starboard, so we very rarely met except when it was a case of "all hands"; consequently we had not very much opportunity to quarrel. And in addition to the above we carried twenty cuddy passengers, of whom six were men, while the remainder consisted of nine ladies and five children. I am afraid the above details are not very interesting, but it is necessary to give them in order that the reader may fully understand what is to follow.
As I have already mentioned, this story may be said to have had its beginning about two bells in the middle watch—or about one o'clock in the morning—on a certain specified date; for until then there had been nothing out of the ordinary to distinguish the voyage from any other. But some five minutes after I had struck two bells, in accordance with the chief mate's instructions, and the lookout on the topgallant forecastle had responded with the usual cry of "All's well!" one of the forecastle hands came slouching along aft, and, ascending the poop ladder with a certain suggestion of haste and trepidation, approached the mate.
"Will ye mind steppin' for'ard a minute, sir?" he enquired. "There's a strong smell o' burnin' down in the fo'c'sle, and—"
"A strong smell of burning?" interrupted Mr Bligh. "The dickens there is! Yes, of course I'll go. Temple," turning to me, "just keep a lookout for a minute or two while I'm gone, will ye?"
"Ay, ay, sir," I replied; and the mate dashed down the poop ladder and went scurrying away forward, regardless of the drenching showers of spray that came flying in over the weather cathead with every mad plunge of the overdriven ship.
For the next five minutes I paced anxiously to and fro along the weather side of the poop, with my ears wide open for any sudden outcry that might confirm the awful suspicion of fire having broken out below; but I heard nothing save the continuous hiss and roar of the sea under the lee bow and along the bends, the heavy slop of water in over the rail with every lee roll of the ship, and the thunder and piping of the wind aloft, and I was beginning to hope that it was no worse than a false alarm, when the man who a few minutes previously had come aft to summon the mate came running—yes, positively running—along the deck again. He stumbled up the poop ladder and came to me, puffing and panting, with every sign of the most extreme agitation, and delivered his message.
"Mr Temple!" he gasped—the skipper always insisted upon the "midshipmen" apprentices being "Mistered" by the foremast hands, upon the ground that we were officers, if only in embryo—"Mr Temple, the mate says will ye please slip below and quietly call Cap'n Roberts without disturbin' the passengers. Ye are to tell him that the ship's afire in the forehold, and that Mr Bligh will be much obliged if he'll come for'ard to the fo'c'sle at once. And when ye've done that, ye're to continue your lookout on the poop until ye're relieved."
"Ay, ay, Mason, I'll do that," I answered. Then, as we turned together to leave the poop, I asked: "Is the matter serious, Mason? Has Mr Bligh actually found the seat of the fire; and is there a chance of our being able to master it?"
"Can't say, as yet," answered the man. "We ain't actually found the fire; but it's there all right."
I shivered involuntarily, although the night was warm, for I happened to know that a good deal of the cargo which we were carrying was of a highly combustible character, such as furniture, pianos, Manchester goods, and the like, to say nothing of several cases of sporting ammunition. I knew that if once the fire happened to get a good hold upon such material as that the chances were all against our being able to master it, especially in such a strong breeze as was then blowing.
And if we should be compelled to leave the ship—!
I thought of those poor helpless women and children peacefully sleeping down below, and of what their plight might be if we were driven to take to the boats out there in the heart of the South Atlantic, hundreds of miles from the nearest land.
Tiptoeing my way to the skipper's cabin, I rapped gently with my knuckles on the panel of the door, and bent my head to listen for a reply. I knew that Captain Roberts was a light sleeper, and judged that it would not take much to awake him. Nor was I mistaken, for immediately following upon my low knock came the quiet reply:
"Hillo! who is there, and what is it?"
"It is I—Temple—sir," I replied. "May I enter?"
For answer I heard the light thud of bare feet inside the cabin as the skipper sprang from his bunk; and the next instant the door quietly opened and Captain Roberts stood before me.
"What is it, Temple?" he demanded. "Anything wrong?"
"Yes, sir, I'm afraid there is," I replied in low tones. "Mr Bligh is down in the forecastle, and he has just sent a message aft to me directing me to call you and say that he is afraid fire has broken out in the fore hold, and that he will be much obliged if you will kindly go to him at once."
"Fire!" ejaculated the skipper. "In the fore hold, you say? Humph! I don't notice any smell of it here," and he started sniffing violently as he stooped for his slippers and put them on. "Who gave the alarm?"
"Mason, sir," I replied. "He came aft, just after two bells, and reported a strong smell of burning down in the forecastle. Mr Bligh went for'ard at once, leaving me to keep a lookout on the poop; and he had been gone about five minutes when Mason again came aft with a message directing me to call you."
"I see," answered the skipper. "Very well," as he emerged from his cabin and quietly closed the door behind him, "you go back to the poop and keep an eye upon the ship. I shall not be long." And with one bound, as it seemed to me, he was out on deck and running forward. As for me, I returned to my station on the poop, which I anxiously paced backward and forward in momentary expectation of hearing the call for "All hands!"
But when I came to look more closely it appeared that any such formal call would be quite superfluous, for presently a light flashed out from the windows of the small house just abaft the foremast, in which the boatswain, carpenter, sailmaker, cook, and the two stewards were berthed, and by its rather feeble beams I perceived that the fore deck was full of men crouching under the shelter of the topgallant forecastle; I presumed, therefore, that upon the first alarm of fire they had turned out and dressed, and had been sent on deck by the mate to be out of the way while the investigation below was being made. It was about this time that I noticed, with keen satisfaction, the fact that the wind was not blowing quite as strongly as it had been during the earlier part of the watch.
I was beginning to think that the skipper was remaining below rather a long time, and was drawing the most disquieting conclusions from the circumstance, when one of the crew—a man whom I recognised as Owen Lloyd, generally known among his messmates as "Welshy"—came aft and entered the little house abaft the main hatch, where Bainbridge and I had our lodging. A few seconds later a small glimmer from the open door showed that the man was lighting the lamp which illuminated our snuggery; and a minute or two afterwards Lloyd emerged again and went forward, while Bainbridge also stepped out on deck and disappeared beneath the break of the poop. He was gone some three or four minutes, then reappeared, accompanied by Mr Johnson, the second mate, whom he had evidently been directed to call, for the pair immediately proceeded forward at a trot. I decided that the matter was assuming a distinctly serious aspect. Some five minutes later Bainbridge came aft, and, ascending to the poop, remarked to me in his usual surly, offhand manner:
"You're wanted at once in the forecastle, Temple, and I'm to keep the lookout in your place."
"Right!" I replied. "How are they getting on for'ard? Have they found the fire yet?"
"Go and look for yourself, sonny, and don't waste valuable time in stopping to ask silly questions," was the ungracious reply I received; and I suppose it was the reflection that it served me right for persisting in my attempts to be civil to the lout that drove out of my head the thought which had flashed into it for an instant, that it was rather queer that the skipper should have sent for me at a moment when Bainbridge was actually on the spot and would serve his purpose quite as well. So, all unsuspectingly, I trundled away forward, and, flinging my legs over the coaming of the fore scuttle, dropped down into the forecastle, noting en passant that a dozen or more of the hands were still huddling together under the shelter of the topgallant forecastle. As I was in the very act of swinging myself down off the coaming I thought I caught the sound of a subdued chuckle emanating from somebody among this group; but before I had time to give the matter a thought, or wonder what might be the cause of such ill-timed mirth, my feet reached the deck of the forecastle, and I found myself the centre of a group of some half a dozen of the crew, with the slush lamp swinging violently with the motion of the ship, and darting its feeble rays hither and thither as it hung suspended from a smoky beam overhead. And in that same instant I caught a momentary glimpse of the forms of Captain Roberts, Mr Bligh, and Mr Johnson, bound hand and foot, and with gags in their mouths, huddled up in three of the recently vacated bunks. As for the supposed fire, there was neither sight nor smell of it.
"What the—" I began. But before I could utter another sound I felt my head dragged violently back and a big gag thrust between my jaws, while my arms and legs were at the same instant seized by powerful hands and lashed so securely that I could not have moved either of them by so much as an inch, no, not to save my life. The work was done with the speed and precision that might be expected of men accustomed to the manipulation of ropes and the tying of knots; and then I was lifted off my feet and flung with scant ceremony into one of the unoccupied bunks.
"There! that's the last one; the passengers can be left until to-morrer mornin' to be dealt with," exclaimed a voice which I recognised as that of "Welshy". "And now, lads," the voice continued, "let's go on deck and take some of the 'muslin' off her; there's no use in strainin' the hooker all to pieces, and Bainbridge says as we're quite far enough south a'ready."
Bainbridge! Could it be possible that Bainbridge was mixed up with this vile conspiracy? For conspiracy it was, clearly enough, to obtain possession of the ship without the necessity to fight for her; the bound forms of the skipper and the two mates—to say nothing of myself—proved it beyond a doubt. And a very cunningly devised scheme it was, too, ably planned and most efficiently executed—the enticement of the mate into the forecastle by the suggestion of fire; then, after just the right lapse of time, the fictitious message to the skipper through me, followed by the summons of the second mate, and, finally, the capture of my insignificant self. It was much too subtle a scheme to be evolved by the uninventive brain of the average British shellback, and I fancied that I recognised a certain Bainbridge-like neatness of touch and finish in it all. But perhaps I was prejudiced, for I never liked the fellow. Yet, if he was not in it, why was he still free, instead of being down in the forecastle, a captive, like the rest of us? I remembered now that on several occasions I had seen him fraternising with the men for'ard during the dog-watches; but I had thought nothing of it at the time beyond reflecting that to me it seemed to be rather bad form on his part, and not by any means conducive to good discipline.
As I recalled these occasions to mind, while I lay there in that close, evil-smelling bunk, I idly wondered whether he had used them for the purpose of seducing the men from their duty and allegiance and persuading them to join him in this outrageous act of unprovoked mutiny. For unprovoked it most assuredly was: the owners were most liberal providers, the food was the best obtainable, and the allowance of it far exceeded the Board of Trade scale; the men had grog as well as lime juice served out to them regularly every day; the skipper was easy-going with them to a degree; and neither of the mates could, by the wildest stretch of imagination, be termed a slave-driver, although of course both exacted a certain amount of daily work; and, finally, the afternoon watch below was never called upon except when necessity demanded it; in short, the Zenobia was as comfortable a ship as any sailor need wish to go to sea in. No; I was certain that this atrocious seizure of the ship had not originated in discontent on the part of the men, who were neither better nor worse than the average British seaman. They had been played upon by skilful hands; their baser passions had been so strongly appealed to that their better judgment had been blinded; and I felt morally convinced that there was not a man among the legitimate occupants of the forecastle who possessed the ability to do this thing.
Then, I asked myself, who was the master spirit who had contrived so effectually to blind and mislead those simple-minded men, and so powerfully to influence them that they had eventually permitted themselves to be betrayed into an act that converted them into outlaws, with every man's hand against them? And why had they done it? They had no grievance, real or imaginary, against any of their officers: that fact was patent from the manner in which the seizure of the ship had been effected; there had been none of the brutal violence, the bloodshed, which usually accompanies a mutiny upon the high seas. Then why, I mentally repeated, had the men mutinied at all?
And the answer that came to my mind was—Bainbridge! Yes, prejudice and ill feeling apart, I could think of no other individual in the ship with the will and the disposition to concoct and carry out such a scheme. To begin with, he was the only discontented person, so far as I knew, on the ship. And his discontent was of that dangerous kind which is dissatisfied not with any one particular thing, but with everything. He was poor and—as I understood—practically friendless, except for an uncle who had apprenticed him to the sea in order to get rid of him; he was restive under discipline, his character being strongly imbued with that false pride which chafes at a subordinate position. I had often heard him declare that he was born to be a leader of men, and had laughed at what seemed to me to be his inordinate conceit. He hated work as heartily as he loved trashy, sensational literature; and he displayed a quite childish love of dainty food and showy clothes. And these were not his only faults: he was an unblushing liar; he scoffed at such old-fashioned virtues as honesty and truth and godliness; he sneered at me every time that he found me on my knees offering up my morning and nightly petitions to my Maker; he was cruel when he had the chance to be so; and, in short, he seemed surcharged with gall and bitterness.
He possessed only one redeeming point, so far as I could ever discover, and that was that he was a splendid navigator. He prided himself upon his skill with the sextant, and often used to assert—in that cynical way of his that might be either jest or earnest, one could never tell which—that some day he would become a pirate king and establish himself magnificently on some fair island of the Pacific! Heavens! thought I, could it be possible that the fellow had actually been in earnest, and that this mutiny was the outcome of his evil ambition? It certainly looked very much like it.
Meanwhile, during the time that these thoughts and speculations had been running through my head, the hands on deck had been noisily engaged in shortening sail, and from the time that they took about the job, and the easier, more buoyant movements of the ship, I conjectured that they had taken in not only the royals, but also the topgallantsails, together with, probably, the flying jib and a few of the lighter staysails. Then, when the mutineers had done all that they deemed necessary in the way of shortening sail, four of them came down into the forecastle, and with the aid of a rope, the bight of which was passed round our bodies, the skipper, the mates, and I were hauled up on deck and carried into the fore house, where we found the boatswain, Chips, and Sails as securely trussed up as ourselves. And there, still gagged and bound helplessly hand and foot, we were left to our meditations until, after a very eternity, as it seemed, of extreme discomfort, first came the daylight and finally eight bells of the morning watch, when the sliding door of the house was thrust open and one of the men entered—a fellow named Adams.
After looking at us meditatively for a moment, and carefully examining our lashings to assure himself that they still held firmly, he removed the gags from our mouths—for which I, for one, was profoundly thankful—and informed us that breakfast was about to be brought to us, and that our hands would be loosed to enable us to partake of it. But he warned us that his instructions were to shoot at the slightest sign of an attempt on our part to break out of the house, or the slightest uplifting of our voices, and to give point to the statement he exhibited a fully loaded revolver, which Captain Roberts at once recognised as his own personal property.
"And pray, who gave you those instructions, Adams?" demanded the skipper.
"I ain't allowed to say," answered the man. "But I was to tell you," he continued, "that you ain't none of yer permitted to talk to any of us men, or to ask us any questions; and if you persist in doin' so you're to be gagged again."
"Very well," agreed the skipper artfully; "then we will not ask you anything that you feel you ought not to tell. But I suppose you will have no objection to tell me, without asking, what has been done with regard to the passengers?"
"The gen'lemen have been lashed up, same as yourselves, and locked away, two in a cabin; while the women folk and the kids is locked up all safe in the other cabins; so there ain't no chancet of none of 'em bein' able to slip for'ard and help yer anyways. And now, don't you ask me nothin' more, because I ain't goin' to answer yer," replied Adams, with some show of testiness.
"But I suppose you can tell us, if you choose, what your new skipper, Bainbridge, is going to do with us," I insinuated. "He is not going to keep us cooped up here until a man-o'-war comes along and captures the ship, is he?"
"Now, look 'e here, Mister Temple, don't you go for to try to pump me, or it'll be the worse for yer," expostulated Adams. "I ain't got nothin' against you, and I don't want to hurt yer if I can help it, but s'help me! I'll have to shove that there gag back into yer mouth if you don't clap a stopper on that tongue of yours. Ah, here comes cooky with the grub!" he announced, with a sigh of relief, as the "Doctor" made his appearance at the door with a well-loaded tray.
The picture which that tray presented was conclusive evidence that, whatever might be the ultimate intentions of the mutineers toward us, they did not mean to starve us to death, for the breakfast that was placed before us consisted of the best that the steward's pantry could produce. And we all did the fullest justice to it, even the skipper making a hearty meal, although I believe it was not so much because he had a good appetite as that he had a very shrewd suspicion of what lay before him, and was exceedingly doubtful as to when he would next have the opportunity to sit down to a good, well-cooked meal. As for me, I was healthily hungry, and was altogether too young and of too sanguine a temperament to feel very anxious as to what was to be the outcome of the adventure; moreover, I was unburdened by responsibility of any sort, and I therefore ate and drank until I was fully satisfied.
We were still busy with our breakfasts when an alteration in the motion of the ship apprised us all of the fact that the helm had been put up, and that we were now running off with the wind on our port quarter; and the next moment we heard a voice, which I instantly recognised as Bainbridge's, summoning the men to the braces. The yards were trimmed very nearly square, then came an order to loose, sheet home, and hoist away the topgallantsails and royals; next the men who had gone aloft to loose those sails were ordered to rig out the port studdingsail-booms and to set the royal and topgallant studdingsails on their way down; and finally the topmast and lower studdingsails were set, and the Zenobia went rolling and wallowing away to the westward under every rag that could be packed upon her.
No remark was made upon this so long as the man Adams remained with us; but when at length we had finished our breakfast, had reluctantly submitted to be trussed up again—because we could not help ourselves, and nothing could be gained by offering an unavailing resistance—and were once more shut in and left to ourselves, the skipper turned to Mr Bligh and remarked:
"Now, what does the scoundrel mean by this shift of helm, think you? We are only about four or five degrees to the southward of Rio at this moment. Can the man be such a fool as to think of running in until he sights the coast and then turning us adrift to get ashore as best we can? Because, if he does, we'll have a British man-o'-war after him in no time."
"I don't believe the boy is quite such an ass as that; indeed, I regard him as being very far from an ass—except in this one particular instance of organising this mutiny," answered Bligh. "I haven't the slightest notion of what he intends to be after, but I think we may be quite certain that Bainbridge won't give us much of a chance to report him until he has had time to get well out of the neighbourhood. What say you, Johnson? He was in your watch, and you should know him a good deal better than I do."
"If you are speaking of Bainbridge," answered the second mate, "I fully agree with you that he is very far from being a fool—quite the other way about, indeed; and from what I know of the young villain I should say that he may be depended upon to give us the smallest possible chance of reporting him quickly. My opinion is this. So far, and up to the moment of shifting her helm, the Zenobia has been following the usual ship track to the south'ard and round the Cape; hence we have been liable to fall in at any moment with other ships, which would not exactly suit Bainbridge's book. Therefore he has shifted his helm and is now running off the track far enough to avoid meeting with other ships. In my opinion he will continue so to run until he considers himself quite out of danger; but what he will do afterward, and how he will dispose of us, I'll leave it to a better guesser than myself to imagine. The only thing that I feel at all certain about is that he will not murder us; if he had intended to do that he would not have taken such elaborate pains to get us alive and uninjured into his power."
"Quite so; I fully agree with you there," returned the skipper. "The thing that I can't fathom is the young scoundrel's motive for taking the ship, and what he proposes to do with her now that he has her. By the way, Mr Temple, it was you, I think, who first named Bainbridge as the ringleader of this rascally job; what led you to fix it upon him so pat?"
"Well, sir," said I, "the fact is that after they brought us in here and left us, bound hand and foot and gagged, so that we could neither move nor talk, I endeavoured to beguile the time by asking myself who was responsible for the seizure of the ship, and then trying to find an answer to the question." And forthwith I proceeded to give a resume of the cogitations which had ultimately led to my fixing the blame for the affair upon Bainbridge's shoulders. In the course of my remarks I happened to mention that at first I had been inclined to suspect the man nicknamed "Welshy", but that I had soon come to the conclusion that the fellow had not the brains necessary to plan such a coup and carry it out to a successful conclusion in the masterly manner which had distinguished the actual operation.
"Ah! but 'Welshy' was in it, though," cut in the boatswain. "I know he was; for he and Bainbridge was for ever gettin' away together by theirselves and talkin' by the fathom. 'Welshy' is one of these here Socialist buckos who's got the notion that all hands ought to be on the same level, and that nobody ought to have more of anything than anybody else; he's a rare hand at preachin' about equality and the rights o' man, is 'Welshy', and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it turned out that 'twas he as first give Mr Bainbridge the idee of seizin' the ship. And even if he wasn't, I know that he is pretty well mixed up in it, for he was everlastin'ly yarnin' about the hardships and wrongs of sailormen, and throwin' out hints, like. I didn't take no notice of 'em at the time—in fac' Chips and I used to argufy with and laugh at him; but now, since this here mutiny job have happened, I seem to see that all his talk had a purpose, and that he was feelin' around, like, with the idee of findin' out how many of us might be depended upon to back up him and Bainbridge in the seizure of the ship."
"And it would appear that he was successful in winning over all hands except you three," remarked the skipper. "Did he ever attempt to sound either of you?"
"Ay, that he did, sir; lots o' times, now that I comes to think of it," answered the boatswain. "But nothin' what you might call definite, you understand. I s'pose he pretty soon saw that Chips and Sails and me weren't likely to have any truck wi' such an idee as mutiny and seizin' the ship, so he soon knocked off talkin' to us about it. I reckon that he used to report to Bainbridge pretty often, tellin' him what he had said, and how we had took it; and I expect it was Mr B. who told him not to say anything more to us about it."
"Yes," agreed the skipper, "I fancy you have got the hang of the thing pretty accurately, bos'n; but it was a pity that it never occurred to either of you to mention the matter to me or Mr Bligh. It would have given us a notion of what was brewing, and put us on our guard."
But Murdock, Parsons, and Simpson all vehemently protested that Lloyd's remarks were of so very general a character, and bore so striking a resemblance to the ordinary "grousing" universally met with in a ship's forecastle, which really means nothing, that it never occurred to either of them to attach any especial significance to what unfortunately had proved to be an exceptional case. A great deal more was said upon the matter before it was dropped; but the remarks were mostly of a desultory character, and as they have no particular bearing upon the thread of this story it is unnecessary to repeat them.
The Zenobia continued to run to the westward during the whole of that day before a wind that steadily softened down, hour after hour, until by two bells in the first dog-watch it was little more than a mere breathing, scarcely strong enough to keep the heavy courses filled. And we could tell by the motion of the ship that the sea as well as the wind was going down, for by the time that the above-named hour arrived we were bowing and swaying upon the fast-subsiding swell as easily and gently as though the ship had been a cradle rocked by a mother's hand.
Things had been tolerably quiet out on deck during the forenoon, but later on, when the men had turned-to after their dinner, we heard sounds outside the house which indicated a considerable amount of activity on the part of the mutineers; the booms and planks which were stowed on the roof of our prison were overhauled, and several of them were flung down on deck; then "Welshy" came in and cast loose the carpenter, ordering him to bring his chest of tools outside. This was presently followed by the sounds of sawing and hammering; later on we heard certain orders being given which indicated that the mast and yard tackles were being sent aloft; and finally there was a great commotion and laughing out on deck, intermingled with the alarmed bleatings of some sheep, which were housed in the longboat.
"Ah," ejaculated the skipper as these last-named sounds reached our ears, "I know what that means! They are clearing out the longboat preparatory to getting her over the side, and mean to turn us adrift in her. And not us only, but also the unfortunate passengers; for if they had not intended to send them as well as ourselves away, they would have kept the longboat and given us one of the quarter boats, which would have been amply big enough to have accommodated us seven—or six, if they mean to keep Chips with them."
"He won't stay, sir, you may take my word for that," observed the boatswain. "Parsons is a straight chap—as straight as they make 'em; and you'll find that he's not the sort of man to have no truck wi' mutineers—not he!"
"But they may compel him to stay," objected the skipper. "He would be a very useful sort of man for them to have with them, and they may not give him the choice of going or staying."
"Yes, that's very true," agreed Murdock. "But if they asks him to stay he'll say 'No', and likewise give 'em to understand that if they keep him by force he won't do no work for 'em. And they knows Chips, and understands that if he says a thing like that he'll stick to it, if it's only to spite 'em. No, I don't believe as they'll want to keep any man against his will, because that always means trouble, sooner or later, and Muster Bainbridge is far too 'cute to run the risk of anything of that sort. Besides, there's Joe Caton—he says as he sarved his time in a shipbuilder's yard, and is as good a ship's carpenter as you'll find goin'; he's stoppin' with 'em of his own accord, I reckon, and Bainbridge will be satisfied with him."
"Well, perhaps it may be so; we shall soon know," agreed the skipper. "But," he continued, with a sigh of anxiety, "if they mean to turn the passengers as well as ourselves adrift—and I feel assured that they do—I wish Bainbridge would let me advise him in the matter of fixing up the longboat for the reception of the women and children. They will need many little comforts that an inexperienced lad, such as he is, will never think of; and it will be bad enough for the poor souls, even if everything that is possible is done for their welfare. And the longboat alone will not be big enough to take us all with any degree of safety, to say nothing of comfort."
"We must watch for an opportunity, and give him our views upon the matter," said the chief mate. "I wonder whether—"
At that moment the sliding door of the house in which we were confined was thrust back, and Lloyd—otherwise "Welshy"—entered. And behind him, ranged up athwart the deck outside, were to be seen a number of the seamen, each with a rifle in his hand and a cutlass girt about his waist. It was evident that the mutineers had lost no time in hunting up the ship's arm chest—at that time an almost obsolete item of a ship's equipment—and providing themselves with the means of effectually suppressing anything in the nature of resistance on our part, or an attempt to recapture the ship.
"Good a'ternoon, gen'lemen," observed "Welshy", with a grin that might indicate either triumph or an attempt at ingratiation; "splendid weather for a boat trip, ain't it? I'm come to cast yer loose, and I dare say ye'll be much obliged to me—for it can't be very comfortable to sit there, hour a'ter hour, with your feet lashed together and your hands tied behind your backs; but, ye see, we agreed as it was best to take no risks, and then there'd be no call for bloodshed—I dare say you all understands what I means. Yes,"—as he proceeded to cast off the skipper's lashings—"I've come to cast ye all adrift. But let me warn ye all not to dream of attemptin' anything foolish, for we've got the ship and we means to keep her; and them rifles is all loaded with ball cartridge, and the men as carries 'em'll shoot to kill if e'er a one of 'em sees any of you doin' what you didn't ought to do. You understand, Cap'n? And you, Mr Mate? And the rest of yer?"
At these pointed questions we severally intimated that we understood, for indeed we could do nothing else. Whereupon the glowering scoundrel resumed:
"That's all right, and just as it should be. We ain't none of us got nothin' against e'er a one of yer, and we don't want to have no vi'lence, if it can be helped—and there won't be none onless you yourselves brings it about. But if you does—well, stand clear, that's all I got to say. Now, we bein' all agreed that we don't want no vi'lence nor bloodshed nor nothin' in any ways disagreeable, and also bein' agreed that we prefers to have this here ship all to our own selves, it have been decided to send you gents, and the ladies and gen'lemen aft, away in the longboat, to go just exac'ly where you bloomin' well likes. There's twenty-eight of yer, all told, includin' the women and kids; and the longboat'll just comfortably hold yer all, with provisions and water for three weeks. Our new skipper, Cap'n Bainbridge, says that in this weather, and wi' this purty little breeze, you ought to be able to make the South American coast in ten days, easy."
"Ten days!" exploded the skipper. "Yes, no doubt—if this wind holds and the fine weather lasts. But suppose that it doesn't, what then?" He pulled himself up short, panting and breathless with anger, got a pull upon himself, recovered his self-control, and then said, in a perfectly quiet and steady voice:
"Look here, Lloyd, you are a seaman of experience, and ought to understand—and do understand, I have no doubt—that to send a heavily loaded open boat away upon a ten days' voyage with only three weeks' provisions and water is—well—practically downright murder. I must see your—er—Mr Bainbridge about this, I really must; and you must arrange that I have an opportunity to do so. I cannot and will not undertake the responsibility of such a voyage as that which is proposed, nor, I am sure, will Mr Bligh or Mr Johnson. I shall simply refuse to go in the boat."
"And I too," added the chief mate.
"Ditto," tersely added Johnson.
"You'll refuse to go, eh?" snarled Lloyd. "And suppose we makes yer; suppose—"
"There is no use in supposing anything," interrupted the skipper. "You profess to be anxious to avoid anything in the nature of force or bloodshed. Very well; I tell you that there will be both if you scoundrels persist in turning us all adrift under such circumstances as you have named. No, stand back; don't attempt violence with me, my fine fellow. I am free now, and if you dare to lay your filthy hands upon me I will kill you with this," and he shook his clenched fist savagely in Lloyd's face. "Now," he continued authoritatively, "go aft and tell Bainbridge that I want to see him—that I must and will speak to him before I leave this ship."
To my great surprise the man obediently turned away, and, with a low-spoken word or two to the armed men who remained on guard outside the door, swung round the end of the house and walked aft, as we could tell by the sound of his receding footsteps.
He was absent about a quarter of an hour, during which Captain Roberts quietly cast off the chief mate's lashings, then the pair of them released Mr Johnson and the boatswain, who in turn released the sailmaker and myself, all being done under the eyes of the armed guard before the door, who looked stolidly on without protest by word or deed. We had scarcely done this when we became aware that the ship was being brought to the wind; and presently the order was given to man the braces. There were the usual "Yo-ho! yo-hip! round with her, boys!" and the like cries, which the British merchant seaman deems it necessary to indulge in when he is pulling and hauling; and presently we understood that the ship was hove-to on the starboard tack, with her head to the northward. Then the order was given to man the capstan; and the men were heaving round when Lloyd returned, and, with a grin of comprehension at finding us all released from our bonds, informed the skipper that Bainbridge was willing to see him. Whereupon Captain Roberts left us, and, escorted by "Welshy", went aft.
Meanwhile, we who were left behind in the forward house gathered from the various sounds which reached us that the longboat was now being hoisted out; and presently we heard the heavy splash of her as she was dropped into the water alongside. This was followed by an order to overhaul and unhook the yard tackles; and in the comparative silence that then ensued we occasionally caught the alternate murmur of the skipper's and Bainbridge's voices: but they were speaking in ordinary conversational tones, and the multitudinous sounds of the ship—the faint rustle of canvas aloft, the patter of reef-points, the creaking of the yards and timbers, the wash of water alongside, and the subdued hum of many voices on deck—prevented us from catching a word of what was being said. However, we gathered that Captain Roberts had been protesting against turning so many people adrift in the longboat alone, for presently we heard Bainbridge shout an order to lower away the captain's gig, which, next to the dinghy and jollyboat, was the smallest boat belonging to the ship. But she was roomy enough to accommodate ten people comfortably, without ballast, or seven with provisions and water enough to last her crew for three weeks; and I considered that if Bainbridge was indeed going to give us the gig as well as the longboat, with, of course, an adequate supply of provisions and water, we should be able to manage tolerably well in anything short of a gale.
Presently Lloyd, who appeared to be acting as Bainbridge's lieutenant, came forward again and entered the house. "Now, then, gen'lemen," he remarked, with the grin which he seemed to think it necessary to assume when addressing us, "the longboat's all ready, and the passengers is waitin' to go down into her, so you'd better come along and see to the stowin' of 'em. And Mr Bainbridge have agreed to let you have the gig also; so you ought to be as happy and comfortable as sandboys. But don't forget what I told yer about our not wantin' to have no trouble nor bloodshed. The ship's ours, and we means to keep her, so if you wants to go away with whole skins, what you've got to do is to get from alongside as quick as possible, and without makin' no trouble; for as sure as any of ye attempts to make trouble there'll be bloodshed, and don't you forget it. Mr Bligh, you and Mr Johnson be to go first and see to the stowin' of the passengers; and when the longboat's got her complement the rest of yer can foller."
"You are not taking any chances, Lloyd, are you?" laughed Mr Bligh sarcastically, as he rose to his feet. "Although all hands of you appear to be armed, you are not going to run the risk of having too many of us loose out on deck at once, for fear of what we might do, eh? Well, you are a fine, courageous lot of mutineers, I must say! You wouldn't even chance a fight with a single one of us when you started out to take the ship, but must needs entice us for'ard, one man at a time, upon the pretence that fire had broken out in the hold. Ugh! I don't envy Bainbridge his crew of bold buccaneers—not a little bit!" and with a scornful laugh he swaggered out on deck, followed by the second mate.
A minute later we heard his voice speaking to the passengers and calling upon them by name, one by one, to pass down the side, the women and children first. And it was pitiful to hear the low moaning and sobbing of some of the poor creatures as they reluctantly left the firm, spacious deck of the ship and fearfully clambered down the side ladder into the dancing longboat, which looked so small and dangerous a refuge in comparison with the bulk of the barque. The embarkation of the passengers proceeded slowly, because of the women and children among them, all of whom were frightened, while many of them were weeping bitterly, despite the best efforts of husbands, fathers, brothers, and male friends to encourage them. But at length the last passenger went down over the side and was assigned his place in the longboat, and then Lloyd again came forward and summoned those of us who remained in the house to follow him; and as we passed out on deck and started to walk aft to the gangway, the five armed seamen who had mounted guard over us followed at our heels.
As we cleared the galley, which formed part of the structure in which we had all been confined, the whole of the after part of the ship, from the fore end of the main hatchway, came into view, and we saw that the vessel was indeed, as we had supposed, hove-to on the starboard tack, with her mainyard laid almost square, the mainsail brailed up, and the remainder of her canvas set; and the fabric was full of the sound of a gentle creaking of timbers, trusses, and parrals, and the soft rustling of the white cloths overhead. She had no way on her, but was curtsying and rolling gently on a long, sluggish swell that came creeping up from the eastward. Apart from the swell, the sea was quite smooth, its surface being scarcely wrinkled into a pure, delicate blue tint by the easterly breeze, which had died down to so gentle a zephyr, that the lighter canvas and even the topsails flapped to the masts with every heave and dip of the hull. The sky was cloudless, save away down toward the west, where a great mass of vapour, broken up into small patches, blazed crimson and gold in the rays of the declining sun, and gilded and reddened the sleepy undulations beneath it.
Bainbridge, with his peaked cap thrust aggressively to the back of his head, his brass-buttoned blue serge jacket opening to display his white shirt and flowing black silk necktie, and also, incidentally, a brace of revolvers, suggestively stuck in the broad elastic belt which girt his waist, and with a smile of insolent triumph upon his dark, saturnine, but otherwise rather good-looking face, stood alone at the break of the poop, with both hands thrust deep into his trousers pockets and his white-canvas-shod feet planted wide apart, watchfully regarding the proceedings on the main deck beneath him; while the whole of the crew, with the exception of the cook and the five men who constituted our especial bodyguard, were drawn up athwart the deck and along the face of the poop structure, each man armed with a rifle, and with a sheathed cutlass girt about his waist. Captain Roberts and Mr Bligh stood together at the open lee gangway, through which and above the lee rail could be seen the tossing masts of the longboat.
As our little party approached him the skipper turned, and, after running his eye over us for a moment, said:
"Mr Temple, I shall be obliged to ask you, the carpenter, and Sails to go with Mr Johnson in the gig. The longboat is already pretty well crowded, considering that part of her complement consists of women and children. You will find that the gig already has four breakers of fresh water in her, which will serve for ballast, but you will have to provision her from the longboat, as Bainbridge absolutely refuses to give us so much as another biscuit. You will find Mr Johnson already in her. Just jump down and lend him a hand, if you please."
The gig, with her mast already stepped, was lying outside the longboat, with Mr Johnson in her, while Chips, in the longboat, was overhauling the stock of provisions in the latter and passing a certain portion into the gig according to the second mate's instructions. It was a bit of a job to get to her across the crowded longboat, but I had just stepped into her and was about to address Johnson when I stopped short, for I heard Captain Roberts's voice raised in a final appeal to the men.
"My lads," he said in a loud, clear voice, "before I quit the ship I want to give you a last chance to undo the evil that you have this day done, and to avert from yourselves the punishment that most surely awaits you if you persist in following the path into which you have been beguiled by a plausible young scoundrel—"
"Meaning me, eh, Skipper?" jeered Bainbridge, with a harsh laugh, from the poop above.
"Even now, men," continued the captain, ignoring Bainbridge's interruption, "at this last moment, it is not too late for you to withdraw from your unholy compact and return to your duty. You are not to blame for what has happened; you have simply been deceived and led astray by one who ought to have known better than to tempt you to a step which can only end in your destruction. I ask you to lay down those arms and place yourselves at my mercy; and I promise you, upon my honour as a seaman and a gentleman, that if you will do so not one of you except your ringleader shall ever hear another word about the matter—"
"Stop! Shut up! Not another word, as you value your life!" yelled Bainbridge, suddenly flying into a fury and whipping a revolver out of his belt. "So that is your little game, is it? You would bribe those men to betray me, to put me into your power! Very well! Now you jump down into that longboat at once; and if you dare to open your mouth again and speak another word of temptation to the men, I'll blow your head off," and he wound up with an oath.
But Captain Roberts was not to be deterred so easily from seizing the only opportunity that had thus far presented itself by which he might make an effort to regain the command of the ship and his ascendancy over her crew, nor was he at all the sort of man to be frightened from his duty by the flourishing of a pistol before his eyes. It was his duty to nullify this mutiny if he could, and therefore he turned to the men again.
"Lads," he said, "bethink yourselves. What sort of a future is to be yours if you persist—?"
Crack! Bainbridge's pistol barked out from the poop, and poor Captain Roberts reeled back, clutching his breast, from which the red blood was spouting, into the arms of Mr Bligh, who was standing close by him. And Bainbridge, startled perhaps at what he had done—for the skipper had always behaved like a father to him—lost the last vestige of his self-control, and became in a moment the very personification of a raving, bloodthirsty maniac. Levelling his still smoking revolver at Bligh, he commanded the latter, with a very tornado of curses, instantly to place the body of the captain in the longboat and shove off from the ship's side forthwith, unless he wished to share the skipper's fate.
Still supporting the swooning body of the captain in his arms, Bligh allowed his gaze to search in turn the face of each of the armed men who now clustered round him, and seeing nothing to justify the hope that a further appeal would meet with the least success, replied:
"All right, my lad, I'm going—worse luck for you! Here, one of you,"— to the crew—"just drop your shooting-iron for a minute, if you're not afraid of me, and lend me a hand to lower the skipper over the side, will ye?" Then, as one of the men mechanically obeyed, the mate murmured in his ear: "I'm sorry for you silly buckos, for this means the hang-man's noose for all hands of you. But there's time for you yet. If you repent before we're out of sight, all you have to do is to bear up in chase of us and run the ensign up to the fore royal-mast-head. I shall know what that means, and you'll have no reason to regret it. Now then," aloud, as the two took the skipper's body between them, "handsomely does it. Below there, boatswain, just ease the captain down, and lay him in the main sheets where the doctor can get to work upon him."
Between them they somehow contrived to get the unfortunate skipper's body down the side and into the sternsheets of the longboat, where Dr Morrison at once proceeded to examine the wound; and the moment that this was done Mr Bligh scrambled down the side ladder, made his way aft among the women and children, who were huddled together, most of them sobbing quietly with their faces buried in their hands, seized the tiller, and, thrusting it hard-over, gave the word to shove off and make sail. The order was promptly obeyed, and five minutes later the longboat, with the gig towing astern, was running off to leeward, with both standing lugs and her jib set; while those of us who were watching the barque saw her head sheets trimmed aft and her mainyard swung as she slowly gathered way and stood to the nor'ard and eastward, close-hauled on the starboard tack.
We had been under way about ten minutes when Mr Bligh hailed Mr Johnson to haul up alongside; and when we had done so he said:
"Mr Johnson, now that Captain Roberts is so seriously hurt I shall want you to come into the longboat with me, because I am the only one at present capable of navigating her, and—you understand me, I'm sure. Temple, you will have to take command of the gig, and do the best you can with her. That young scoundrel has not permitted any of us to bring our sextants with us; he has not even given us a chart, or so much as a boat compass, so we shall have to do the best we can without them. But I have been considering the situation, and have come to the conclusion that our best plan will be to make for Rio, which, according to my rough reckoning, bears about west and by no'th, true; distant, say, twelve hundred miles: and we shall have to shape our course for it, as nearly as we can, by the sun and stars. This plan has the advantage that by continuing to steer a westerly course we are bound to hit the South American coast somewhere, even if we should miss Rio; and we also stand a very good chance of falling in with and being picked up by something bound round the Horn. So much for that part of the business. Next, as we are a bit crowded here, and the boat is rather deeper than I like, you will have to take the boatswain in exchange for Mr Johnson; and—" he paused and ran his eye speculatively over the crowd in the longboat. Then, addressing them generally, he said, "I wonder whether one of you gentlemen would care to go in the gig with Mr Temple? As you can all see and feel for yourselves, we are rather uncomfortably crowded aboard here, and the boat would be all the safer if she were relieved of the weight of even one of you, while there is plenty of room in the gig, and she is just as safe as the longboat. I suppose I need not tell you that Temple is an excellent seaman and navigator, while the gig is the faster boat of the two and will probably arrive at least a couple of days ahead of us."
A pause of a few seconds' duration followed this appeal, and then a Mr Cunningham—who happened to be the only unattached male passenger among the party—arose and said:
"If you consider the change desirable I shall be very pleased to go in the gig; in fact, I am the only male passenger who has no 'encumbrance' with him in the shape of wife or child, therefore it will make no difference at all to me which boat I happen to be in."
"That being the case, we will make the exchange at once, and then you, Temple, had better make sail and get over the ground as fast as you can," said Mr Bligh.
And therewith the gig was hauled up close alongside the longboat and the transfer at once effected, Mr Johnson turning over to the bigger boat while the boatswain and Mr Cunningham joined us in the gig. The transfer was not a lengthy process, for Bainbridge had not permitted any of us to bring away any of our belongings, and at that moment the richest of us had only what he or she happened to be wearing in the way of clothing. Then, as the chief mate cast off our painter and thrust the two boats apart, he said:
"Make sail, Temple, and crack on for all you are worth. And, as soon as you get in, report the mutiny, get the British Consul to send out a tug or something, with provisions and water, to look for us; and see that he reports the matter at once to the nearest naval station within reach, so that the men-o'-war may be dispatched to seek the Zenobia, and get hold of her before she has time to do very much mischief. And don't forget that your course is west and by no'th—or, as near as may be, in the eye of the setting sun when he reaches the horizon. Goodbye, and a quick passage to you!"
"Goodbye, sir," I returned; "and the same to you! I trust that the doctor will be able to put the captain on his feet again by the time that you get in. I will remember all your instructions, and lose not a moment in carrying them out directly we arrive. Goodbye, all! Hoist away, bos'n; and, Simpson, boom out the sheet with that boathook."
The sun was by this time within ten minutes of his setting, and glowed, a great, palpitating disk of incandescent red, through a thin veil of innumerable small, closely clustering clouds that stretched in gorgeous tints of gold, crimson, and purple against a background of very pale green, right athwart the horizon ahead, their colours being brilliantly reflected in the softly rippling, slowly moving undulations that came creeping up after us, heaving us gently up on their ample breasts and then sweeping on ahead of us straight toward the sinking luminary. The wind had just strength enough in it to keep the sheet of our single lug from sagging into the water, and the gig was sliding smoothly along, with the small sound of lapping, gurgling water under her, at the rate of about three knots in the hour, leaving behind her a thin, swirling wake of small bubbles and tiny whirlpools that vanished upon the breast of the next on-coming swell. The longboat, under fore and main standing lugs and a small jib, deeply loaded as she was, was doing a knot less than ourselves, and we soon passed and slid ahead of her; while away down in the north-eastern board, broad on our starboard quarter, the topsails and upper canvas of the barque shone primrose-yellow above the ridges of the swell as she stood away from us, heading about nor'-north-east, close-hauled on the starboard tack.
There was every prospect that we were about to have a fine night, almost too fine, in fact, to suit us: for although light winds meant smooth water, which in its turn meant safety for deeply laden open boats, we had a long road before us and not too many provisions or too much water for our sustenance during our journey; and for my own part, if I could have had my choice, I would have preferred a little more wind, provided that it was fair—even although it involved a somewhat heavier sea—to help us on our way.
WE START OUR VOYAGE IN THE GIG.
The first matter to which I gave consideration, after we were fairly under way, and had parted company with the longboat, was that of food and drink; and I began by taking stock roughly of what we had, and jotting down the items in my pocket-book. To begin with, we had four five-gallon breakers of fresh water—twenty gallons in all. Then we had two sacks of cabin bread, which, by a partial count, I estimated to contain about three hundred biscuits altogether. And in addition to these we had one dozen tins of ox tongue; six small tins of potted meats; four jars of marmalade and two of jam; two bottles of pickles; four bottles of lime juice; one bottle of brandy; and two bottles of rum. When I had jotted everything down I made a few calculations, and then I spoke.
"Shipmates," I said,—"and I include you, Mr Cunningham, in the term, for this misfortune puts us all upon the same footing—you no doubt heard Mr Bligh say, a little while ago, that according to his reckoning we are somewhere about twelve hundred miles from Rio, which is our nearest port. That means a twelve days' voyage, with a fair wind all the time, blowing fresh enough to keep us going, hour after hour, at the rate of five knots. Now, those of us who have used the sea don't need to be told that such a favourable condition of affairs is so exceedingly unlikely that it is scarcely worth talking about. To begin with, we are making a bad start, for instead of doing our five knots we are doing little if anything more than half that, with every prospect of a flat calm within the next three or four hours. Therefore I think it will be wise of us to recognise, at the outset, that our voyage is a good deal more likely to take twenty days than it is to be accomplished in ten.
"Of course, in saying this I am regarding the matter from its most unfavourable point of view. I remember that we have had easterly winds without a break ever since we crossed the line, and it may be that the Trades are extending unusually far south just now, and that we are still on the southerly fringe of them. If this should prove to be the case we shall be all right, for by steering a west and by no'th course we shall be edging to the nor'ard and working our way back into the permanent trade winds. But, on the other hand, this easterly wind may not be the trade wind at all—and my own opinion is that it is not—in which case we may expect a westerly breeze—that is to say, a foul wind—at any moment; and I think we should only be acting with common prudence to take such a probability into consideration.
"Now, this brings me to the question of food and water. As you have seen, I have been taking stock of what we have, and making a few calculations, with the following result. First, with regard to the fresh water. We have just twenty gallons of it, or one hundred and sixty pints. If we could be certain of making our voyage in ten days that amount of water would afford sixteen pints per day to be equally divided between the five of us, which is a fraction over three pints per day per man, or, say, half a pint at each of three meals and another half-pint at three intervals between meals. Little enough, you will say. Very true; yet I think we must endeavour to do with less. We must try to be satisfied with four half-pints per day of twenty-four hours per man, by which means we shall be able to make our water last sixteen days, and in sixteen days many things may happen: we may end our voyage, if we have luck; or we may be picked up; or we may have rain enough to enable us to replenish our water supply. But since neither of these things may happen, we ought, in common prudence, to determine at the outset not to drink more than four half-pints per man per day; and I think we may be able to manage upon that without any very great hardship. What say you?"
"I think we can manage it, if we set our minds to do it," at once answered Mr Cunningham, and after a little further talk the boatswain, carpenter, and sailmaker also agreed to make the attempt. In the same way we arrived at a determination to be satisfied with four biscuits per day each, with a suitable proportion of tongue, potted meat, jam, and what not; and we also agreed upon the quantity of spirits which was to constitute each man's daily allowance, Cunningham being of opinion that a very small allowance of stimulant would be almost a necessity, seeing that our food was to be so restricted in quantity. And then, having settled this important question, we piped to supper, each man receiving the exact quantity of food agreed upon; and when we had finished we were all of the one opinion, namely, that although our appetites were far from being satisfied, it would be quite possible for us to sustain life under such conditions for a fortnight or three weeks without serious deterioration of either health or strength.
By the time supper was over it had fallen dark, and we had lost sight of both the longboat and the barque. It was a magnificent night, the sky a deep indigo cloudless blue, studded with myriads of stars, the water perfectly smooth, save for the long, low undulations of the swell; and the only fault that I had to find with the weather was that there was too little wind, the breeze having died down until we were making scarcely two knots in the hour. Fortunately we had no difficulty in the matter of determining our course, for it happened that Mr Cunningham wore a small compass attached to his watch chain as a charm; and after I had made the necessary allowance for variation we soon managed, with the assistance of this miniature compass and a match, to pick upon a star low down on the horizon by which we could steer a fairly straight course for at least a couple of hours, at the expiration of which it would, of course, be easy to pick another.
Then we arranged the matter of watches. There were four of us in the boat who were sailors, and my first proposal was that each of us should take a watch of three hours; but Mr Cunningham would not hear of this. He was, it appeared, a civil engineer by profession, but he had a natural love of the sea and all matters pertaining to sea life, and was quite an enthusiastic amateur yachtsman, with a sufficient knowledge of the way to handle a boat to justify me fully in entrusting him with temporary charge of the gig, at least in fine weather; and he insisted on taking his fair share of whatever work there might be to do. We therefore decided that he also should be allowed to stand a watch. I undertook to stand the first watch, from six o'clock to nine; and, this being arranged, the boatswain, carpenter, and sailmaker at once disposed themselves for sleep, two upon the thwarts and the third coiled up in the eyes of the boat, while Cunningham, who declared that he had no inclination for sleep, placed himself beside me in the sternsheets and began to chat in a low tone of voice, so that he might not disturb the others.
Naturally the subject uppermost in our minds was the mutiny, and we began to talk about it. I happened to express some surprise that Bainbridge had allowed the doctor to leave the ship, upon which Cunningham gave vent to a low chuckle of amusement.
"My dear chap," he said, "Bainbridge didn't dare to keep him. He fully intended to do so at first, and acquainted Morrison with the fact, but the doctor wouldn't have it at any price—swore that if he were not allowed to leave with the rest of us he would poison all hands within a week! After that, Bainbridge was only too glad to let him go."
We continued to chat for some time upon the subject, wondering what possible motive Bainbridge could have for proceeding to such an extreme as that of capturing the ship; by what means he had contrived to win the men over; and how he had managed to do it without exciting the slightest suspicion, and so on: and then Cunningham began to speak of himself. He was, it appeared, an orphan, twenty-eight years of age, without a single friend in the world who felt enough interest in him to care what might become of him. He had already explained, a little earlier in the evening, that he was by profession a civil engineer; and he now went on to tell me that, entirely without friends or influence as he was, he had found it so difficult to make headway in England that he had at last determined upon going out to Natal, in which colony, it being comparatively speaking a new country, he had hoped to find some scope for his professional knowledge. "But that," he added, "is all knocked on the head by that young villain, Bainbridge, who has not only prevented me from reaching Natal, but has actually turned me adrift in an open boat to fetch up who knows where, with only the clothes I stand in. And yet, not exactly that either," he corrected himself with a quiet chuckle of amusement; "for although my expensive surveying instruments and all my kit are on board the Zenobia, I contrived to get at my trunks this morning and extract therefrom a bag containing one hundred and forty sovereigns, as well as my telescope and half a dozen sticks of tobacco, all of which I carefully secreted about my person and have with me now."
"Well," returned I, "if that is the case you may call yourself lucky, for you will find a hundred and forty British sovereigns exceedingly useful when we get ashore; as for your telescope, it may prove of the utmost value to us before this trip is over. You are considerably better off than I am, for I was allowed to leave the ship with literally only the clothes that I am wearing. The remainder of my clothes, together with my sextant, nautical and other books, and some sixteen pounds odd in cash, are still in my berth aboard the barque, if that swab has not already seized them. But of course I am hoping to find a ship at Rio, aboard which I may be able to work my passage home; and once back in London the owners are bound to find me another berth."
"But supposing there shouldn't happen to be a ship at Rio in which you can work your passage home. What will you do in that case?" asked Cunningham.
"Oh," I said, "I should simply have to take the first berth I could find, irrespective of where the vessel might happen to be bound for! Or, in the last resort, I can place myself in the hands of the British Consul, and be sent home as a shipwrecked seaman."
"I see," said Cunningham thoughtfully. "But," he resumed, after a moment's silence, "there is no need for you to adopt either of these courses, you know, old chap. My hundred and forty sovereigns will be quite sufficient to see us both comfortably home from Rio, and you can repay me whenever you happen to be able."
I very heartily thanked the young civil engineer for his exceedingly generous offer, but protested that I could not possibly accept it—that, in fact, there was not the least likelihood that things would turn out so badly in Rio as to compel me to avail myself of his generosity; but nothing would satisfy my companion short of a definite promise that I would accept his help should matters result awkwardly upon our arrival. Eventually I very reluctantly yielded to his importunities and gave him the required promise, and thus began a sincere friendship between us that was only further strengthened by the long series of remarkable adventures that lay ahead of us both, although at that moment we little dreamed that anything out of the ordinary run of events was to befall either of us.
Toward the end of my watch the breeze evinced a slight tendency to freshen, and when at nine o'clock I handed over the charge of the boat to the boatswain, and Cunningham and I disposed ourselves to secure such sleep as might come to us, we were slipping along through the water at the rate of a good honest four knots in the hour.
As may be imagined, my sleep that night was of a somewhat intermittent character, for a boat's thwart is not the most comfortable bed in the world, and I was fully conscious of the responsibility that had been laid upon me to guide the gig, and the lives which had been entrusted to her, over the trackless ocean, without the aid of chart or nautical instruments of any kind save the toy compass attached to Cunningham's watch chain. I was well aware that my only hope of success lay in the keeping of the most accurate account possible of the boat's progress and direction, and, therefore, was up and looking about me at least half a dozen times during the night.
The fine weather continued all through the hours of darkness, and during the boatswain's and carpenter's watches the wind gradually freshened up, until by three o'clock, when Chips called the sailmaker to relieve him, the boat was buzzing merrily along at a speed of between six and seven knots; but after that the wind began to soften rapidly away again, until at length, when the sun swept into view above the eastern horizon, we scarcely had steerage way, and half an hour later it fell a flat calm. We accordingly lowered the sail, and, this done, I directed Simpson, the sailmaker—who was the lightest of us, and therefore the least likely to capsize the boat—to shin up to the masthead and see if he could detect any sign of the longboat or the barque, and incidentally take a good look round the entire horizon upon the off-chance of there being a sail anywhere in sight; but he reported the horizon bare in every direction except in the eastern board, where he fancied he could occasionally detect a faint something that might possibly be the sails of the longboat, although he was by no means sure even as to that, opining that what he had seen, if indeed he had seen anything at all, might be the distant fin of a prowling shark.
The mention of sharks gave me an idea, and I asked my companions whether perchance any of them happened to have any small stuff about them out of which we might contrive to make a fishing line; whereupon Chips, with a smile, requested me to vacate my seat in the sternsheets for a moment, and, opening the locker in the after thwart of the boat, produced an excellent cod line, with hooks and sinker all complete, explaining that as soon as he gathered an inkling of what Bainbridge intended on the previous day, he contrived, while engaged in knocking up a temporary pen for the sheep, to filch the said line out of the cook's galley and to secrete it, afterward seizing an opportunity to transfer it to the gig's locker when he learned that she was about to be turned over to us. There happened to be a piece of dry shrivelled bait still transfixed upon one of the hooks; we therefore dropped it over the side, paid out the line, made fast the inner end to one of the thwarts, and forthwith forgot all about it in the small bustle of getting breakfast.
But while we were still engaged upon the meal we suddenly became aware that our fishing line was being violently agitated, and upon hauling it in found that we had been fortunate enough to hook a young dolphin about two feet long. Now, raw dolphin is not exactly an appetising dish, especially to those who, like ourselves, possessed nothing keener than a really strong, healthy hunger; still, there was the fish, so much to the good as supplementary to our rather meagre breakfast allowance, and— well, in short we—at least the boatswain, carpenter, sailmaker, and myself—managed to eat nearly half of him. Cunningham had not yet arrived at the starvation-point where raw fish could be devoured with a relish, and he declined to share our banquet, for which I did not blame him; but really, after I had succeeded in so far conquering my prejudice against raw food as to nibble cautiously at my portion, I found that it was by no means so repulsive as I had imagined. And although it was certainly not at all inviting it was undoubtedly nutritious; and when at length I finished my breakfast, not only was my hunger completely satisfied, but I felt refreshed and invigorated after my meal.
Breakfast disposed of, Simpson once more shinned aloft and took another look round; but there was still nothing in sight—indeed, how should there be, seeing that there was no wind to fan anything into our ken? He could not now even discern the faint appearance to the eastward which he had imagined might indicate the position of the longboat, but that of course might be due to the fact that, like ourselves, they had lowered their now useless canvas. With not a breath of air stirring it was intensely hot, the rays of the unclouded sun beating down upon us fiercely as the breath of a furnace, and I inwardly execrated that scoundrel Bainbridge and his lawless crew as I thought of the crowded longboat and the hapless women and children—to say nothing of the wounded skipper—pent up in her, with nothing to protect them from the pitiless heat and glare.
"Well, shipmates," I said, "we shall do ourselves no good by lying here idly sweltering. This calm may last for a week, for aught that we can tell; there is not the slightest sign of a breeze springing up, so far as I can see. I propose, therefore, that instead of doing nothing we strike the mast, out oars, and go in search of a wind. There is no need," I continued, seeing signs of a protest on the faces of my companions, "for us to exert ourselves very greatly; and we can scarcely make ourselves hotter than we are, do what we will. I therefore suggest that we throw out the oars and paddle quietly ahead upon our proper course. We ought to be able to get three knots out of the boat with little exertion, and every mile of progress means so much to the good: moreover, I want you all to remember that we cannot afford to lie idly here; our stock of provisions will only last a certain time, and just picture to yourselves what our condition will be if, through suffering ourselves to be delayed by calms, these provisions—and our water— should become exhausted before we reach land or are picked up. My idea is that four of us should pull while the fifth steers, and that at the end of one hour by the watch he who steers should relieve one of us at the oars, so that every four hours each of us will get one hour's rest. Now, what say you, lads? It is Mr Cunningham's watch, therefore let him take the first spell at the yoke lines."
It was easy enough to see that the others did not like the idea of working at the oars in that blistering sun, nor was that to be wondered at; but my reminder to them of the possibilities in store for us should our provisions and water be exhausted before relief in some shape or other came to us had its effect. With many grumblings and imprecations at the inopportune calm, they set to work to strike the mast, ship the rowlocks, and get out the oars; and five minutes later, myself pulling stroke, and Cunningham in the sternsheets with the yoke lines in his hands and his compass charm on the seat beside him, we were moving quietly and easily to the westward at a speed of quite three knots.
Fortunately for us the gig was a particularly good boat of the whaleboat type, built for speed, long and flat on the floor, with beautiful lines; and apart from the low swell, which did not trouble us at all, the water was smooth as oil. When, therefore, we had once got way upon the boat it was an easy matter to keep her going without very much exertion. But hot! Only those who have been exposed in an open boat at sea in a tropical calm can in the least understand or appreciate what we suffered. The sun's rays, striking almost vertically down upon our heads, and reflected upward again from the shining surface of the water, scorched us like fire, and before the first hour had passed my face was so painful that I scarcely dared touch it. And oh, how we perspired! In less than ten minutes my singlet and drawers—which were all that I had on, having like the rest stripped off all the rest of my clothing— were as wet as though I had been overboard. And the natural result of such profuse perspiration was that we soon became intolerably thirsty. I don't know which of us was the first to suffer from this cause, but I know that I had not been at my oar more than twenty minutes when I began to feel that I would willingly give everything I possessed for a good long cooling draught of spring water. However, I clenched my teeth and said nothing, for I knew perfectly well that if the word "thirst" were once mentioned all hands would instantly begin to clamour for water, and I might have the greatest difficulty in restraining the others from making a raid upon the breakers, regardless of consequences.
But, after all, my self-restraint was of little practical value, for presently the carpenter flung the loom of his oar athwart the boat until it rested upon the gunwale, and, tossing his clenched fists above his head, cried in a husky, unnatural tone of voice:
"Great jumpin' Gehosophat, how thirsty I am! Mr Temple, I votes we knock off long enough to have a drink all round. I'm as dry as a limekiln inside; my tongue's beginnin' to rattle again' my teeth, an'—"
"The more reason why you should keep it quiet, Chips," I retorted sharply. "Thirsty! Of course you are; so are we all, for that matter: but there is no reason why we should yelp about it. And as for having a drink, you know as well as I do that, with the small quantity of water which we have in the boat, it has been necessary for us to pledge ourselves solemnly to take no more than a certain quantity daily, and we must wait for our next drink until dinner-time comes along—"
"But, Mr Temple," interrupted the sailmaker, who with the others, myself included, had now cocked his oar, "our proper 'lowance of water is 'alf a pint at each meal, and another 'alf a pint at some other time. Can't we 'ave that there hextry 'alf pint now?"
"No, you certainly cannot," I answered, as well as I was able to speak for the saliva that gathered in my mouth at the mere thought of that nectar-like half-pint of water. "If you did, you would be as thirsty as ever within the next half-hour, and then you would be sorry enough that there was no more water coming to you, except at meal times, for the rest of the day. But I'll tell you what I'll do. It is now," glancing at my watch, "within three minutes of nine o'clock. At ten we will take a spell of ten minutes, and each man shall then have the third part of half a pint of water, with a suspicion of rum in it as a pick-me-up. Then at twelve we shall dine, and each man shall have his half-pint; at three o'clock we will have another third of half a pint; at six we shall have supper; and at nine o'clock, if we find that we really require it, we will have the remaining third of half a pint. Now, that is the best I can do; it is the only thing that we dare do, and we must just make the best of it."
"Yes," agreed Cunningham, "you are quite right, Mr Temple; we must be satisfied with our strict allowance, and ask for no more. But there is one thing we may do to ease our thirst, and it is wonderfully efficacious. Let each man take off his clothes, saturate them with salt water, and put them on again soaking wet. If we do this, say, once every half-hour, we shall find ourselves marvellously refreshed, and quite able to wait for a drink until the proper time for it arrives."
"Ay," said I, "I have heard of that trick before, and a splendid one it is, too, I believe, although I have never had occasion to try it until now. Let us test it at once, lads. I remember once hearing a man say that if shipwrecked people would only keep their clothes thoroughly saturated with salt water, they could practically manage to do without drinking at all." And without further ado I stripped off my singlet and pants, wrung the perspiration out of them, plunged them over the side, and put them on again, my example being immediately followed by the others. Then, the time having arrived for Cunningham to take a spell at the oar, he exchanged places with the sailmaker, and we again proceeded.
The sensation of coolness imparted by the contact of our wet clothing with our bodies was very refreshing, and as long as it lasted we were able to pull a quick, steady stroke that put us along at the rate of about three knots with little or no fatigue. The worst of it was that it did not last long, for within ten minutes the sun had dried our clothes again, and we began to perspire once more. But we soon found a simple remedy for this by ceasing work just long enough to enable us to pour two or three buckets of water over each other, and then getting to work again; and although these frequent stoppages no doubt had the effect of retarding our progress to some extent, I do not think our actual loss of speed was very great, for the refreshment derived from these often-repeated sousings was such that we were able to put a good deal more life and vigour into our work than would otherwise have been possible. As regards the alleged abatement of thirst, although I did not experience any perceptible relief during the first half-hour of the experiment, I certainly did afterwards, and so did the others; and although at ten o'clock we each avidly took our third of half a pint of water, there were no further complaints of thirst. And here let me mention, for the benefit of any reader who may be so unfortunate as to find himself at any time in a similar predicament, that I then made the important discovery that the most effectual method of assuaging thirst with a very limited quantity of water is not to gulp it down and have done with it, but to sip it slowly, about a teaspoonful at a time, and retain each sip in the mouth at least half a minute before swallowing it. The amount of comfort—not to say enjoyment—relief, and refreshment thus obtainable is nothing short of marvellous.
But, despite every device that we could think of to obtain relief, our sufferings during that day were terrible; for although, by assiduously sousing each other with salt water at frequent intervals, we contrived to avoid the worst torments of thirst, our faces, arms, and hands—in fact all the exposed portions of our bodies, were so frightfully scorched by the sun that even before knocking-off work to take our midday meal we had begun to blister, and by nightfall our faces and arms were covered with blisters. And all through that interminable day we toiled on and on at the oars, with not a shred of cloud to be seen in any direction, the blazing sun scorching us remorselessly, and the sea all round us a polished, shining, gently undulating, colourless plain, unbroken by so much as a solitary ripple, save those created by our oar blades, the passage of the gig through the water, the occasional dash of half a dozen flying-fish out of the sea under the boat's stem, and once or twice the thin wake cut by the dorsal fin of a cruising shark.
But about three-quarters of an hour before sunset the carpenter, who was then steering the boat, shouted: "Hurrah, my bullies, there's a change of some sort comin' at last! See the edge of that there cloud liftin' over the sea line ahead? That means wind, or I'll eat my hat; ay, and p'rhaps rain too. What do you think, Mr Temple?"
With one accord we all cocked our oars, and, standing up, I took a good long look ahead, secretly welcoming, I will confess, the excuse to cease pulling for a minute or two; for my back was by this time aching frightfully, and the skin of my thumbs, just where they joined the hands, was so completely chafed away that the flesh was red, raw, and bleeding. Yes, there was the edge of a cloud, distinct enough, the white, clean-cut, sharp-edged upper portion of a big thunder cloud, unless I was greatly mistaken. And it was rising fast, too, so fast that, even as I stood gazing at it, it fully doubled its area and permitted us a glimpse of the soft, slaty-blue tint merging into the white.
"Yes," I agreed, replying to Parsons' question, "the change is coming all right, and it will not be very long before it is here. Lay in your oars, men. I think, in prospect of what that cloud promises, that we may venture to spare ourselves any further ash-flourishing to-day, for we shall have a breeze before very long, with thunder, lightning, and rain as well, unless I am greatly mistaken. And we will pipe to supper at once, so that we may be able to get our meal in peace and quietness, and have it over and done with before the breeze comes. We are likely enough to have plenty of other matters than eating and drinking to think about and attend to when that happens."
The oars were laid in, willingly enough, for the other four were in just as bad a plight as I was. Cunningham, indeed, was far worse, for, unlike ours, his hands were soft and tender, and when, after the oars had been laid in, he stretched out his hands, palms upwards, and showed them to me, they presented a positively sickening sight. But when I murmured my regret and commiseration he only smiled and expressed the conviction that they would be all right again in a week, for he was one of the pluckiest men I ever met, grit all through, straight as a die, and with not a bad spot anywhere in him; he was, in fact, everything that we are apt to think a typical Briton should be.
We lost no time in getting the meal that we called by courtesy "supper"; and within half an hour had disposed of it, and were waiting patiently for whatever was to come. But while it was still calm and light I had the mast stepped, and sent the sailmaker aloft to take a good, comprehensive look round and see whether he could discover any sign of a sail; and no sooner had he, with much pain and tribulation, climbed to the top of his precarious perch than he sang out that he could just see, in the northern board, what looked like the heads of a ship's royals. Of course he could not tell in which direction she was bound, for, like ourselves, she was becalmed, and slowly "boxing the compass," that is to say, her head was pointing first one way and then another; but while he was aloft, clinging to the boat's masthead, and watching the stranger in the hope of being able to make some further discovery concerning her, her people started to clew up and furl her royals, which circumstance Simpson duly reported. It served as a hint to us in the gig, for if the stranger had detected symptoms that her royals would presently be too much for her, it was high time for us to look after ourselves; and we accordingly proceeded forthwith to close-reef our lug, and otherwise make such preparations as were possible to enable us effectively to meet the onslaught of the threatened squall.
AT THE MERCY OF WIND AND SEA.
That a squall was indeed brewing was by this time perfectly evident; for while we had been getting our supper the cloud which had made its appearance on the western horizon had rapidly risen, and now hung, an enormous lowering mass of livid purple vapour, in the western heavens, covering an arc of the horizon of fully a hundred degrees, completely hiding the setting sun, and towering aloft until its upper edge was nearly overhead. Yet so far there was not a breath of wind, and the surface of the sea remained an unbroken, polished mirror, perfectly reflecting the hues of the overhanging cloud to the westward and the deep rich azure of the sky away down toward the east; and when Simpson again climbed the boat's mast to take a final look at the stranger, he reported her naked mastheads as standing up black, sharp, and motionless against the soft primrose tones of the northern sky.
Some ten minutes later, and just as the brief twilight of that region had begun to veil the scene, we saw a faint glimmer of lightning in the heart of the now slowly advancing cloud, and a few seconds after the low mutter of thunder reached our ears. And before the rumble of this had died away there suddenly darted from the bosom of the cloud a long, vivid, baleful, sun-bright flash that seemed to strike into the sea within a quarter of a mile of us, immediately followed by so stupendous a crash that it caused the very timbers of our boat to vibrate and tremble—or so I verily believed. And as though that flash had been a signal, the great cloud seemed suddenly to burst apart, and the next moment we were enveloped in a very deluge of rain, which fairly roared as it threshed the surface of the sea all round us.
"The bread! the bread!" I shouted. "Cover it with the tarpaulin and keep it dry. If we let it get wet it will be spoiled," and immediately we all made a dash for the two bags of biscuits and hastily enveloped them in a small sheet of tarpaulin that Chips had had the forethought to toss into the gig while she was being lowered from the davits.
"Now," said I, as soon as we had taken such precautions as were possible for the preservation of our bread, "spread out the sail, from gunwale to gunwale, right across the boat. This rain is far too precious to be wasted. That's your sort, bos'n, make a good deep sag in the middle of the sail—it will soon fill at this rate; and then we can all drink as much as we please, and put what more we can catch into the broached breaker, filling it until it overflows. Find the pannikin, one of you; there is enough for a drink round already."
The hollow sail filled with the sweet, tepid rainwater faster than we could drink it; and before the rain ceased we had each emptied the pint pannikin twice and had filled the broached breaker right up to the edge of its bung-hole. Then we had another drink all round, after which we bathed our smarting, blistered hands in the cooling liquid before emptying it into the sea. The downpour lasted for perhaps twelve minutes; then it ceased as suddenly as it had begun—as suddenly as though a tap had been turned off up aloft—and we had an opportunity once more to look around us. And, glancing instinctively to the westward in the first instance—for that was where we expected the wind to come from—the first thing we saw, in the fast-deepening twilight, was a broad belt of dark water, flecked here and there with white, about a mile distant, and advancing in our direction.
"Hurrah, lads!" I exclaimed, "here comes the breeze—a foul one it is true, but even a foul wind, so long as there is not too much of it, is better than none at all. Set the lug for a board on the port tack; since we can't go straight to our port I'll make a board to the nor'ard, which will at least be going in the right direction. Yes, bos'n," in reply to a question from that functionary, "keep the sail close-reefed; we shall have all the wind we want, and a little over, before very long, unless I am greatly mistaken."
The wind swooped down upon us in a fierce little flurry that careened the gig to her gunwale, despite the careful tending of the sheet by the boatswain; then, with all hands of us sitting well up to windward, the boat gathered way and darted off upon a course that was as nearly as might be due north-west, lying well down to it, with the spray from the short, choppy seas that the squall instantly whipped up showering in over her sharp weather bow at every plunge, and quickly drenching us to the skin. But there was worse to come, for the wind was freshening every moment and rapidly kicking up a short, steep, choppy sea, the surges of which smothered us with spray as the gig leaped viciously at them under the steadily increasing pressure of the wind upon her close-reefed lugsail; so that within a very few minutes it was taking one hand all his time to keep the boat free of water by continually baling with the bucket, although we eased the craft as much as possible by keeping the weather-leech of the sail ashiver most of the time.
"Just our luck!" growled the boatswain, as he slacked the sheet to a still fiercer puff. "If this had been a fair wind, now, we could have shown whole canvas to it, and would have been reelin' off our seven, or even eight knots as easily as possible. But, as it is, we can't make no headway agin it; and the time ain't far off, in my opinion, when we'll have to up stick and run afore it."
"We'll not do that until we are obliged," said I. "I don't feel at all like losing, in the course of two or three hours, the ground that we have made by the hardest day's work that I ever did in my life. No, Murdock, when we can't face it any longer we will lash the oars together and ride to them as a sea anchor at the full scope of our painter. They will keep the boat head-on to wind and sea, and we shall ride as comfortably that way as any other; while, although our drift will probably amount to as much as three knots every hour, we shall not lose nearly as much ground as we should by scudding before—"