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Masterman Ready written by Captain Marryat who was a British Royal Navy officer, a novelist, and an acquaintance of Charles Dickens. This book is one of many works by him. It has already Published in 1841. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as blurred or missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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It was in the month of October, 18—, that the Pacific, a large ship, was running before a heavy gale of wind in the middle of the vast Atlantic Ocean. She had but little sail, for the wind was so strong, that the canvas would have been split into pieces by the furious blasts before which she was driven through the waves, which were very high, and following her almost as fast as she darted through their boiling waters; sometimes heaving up her stern and sinking her bows down so deep into the hollow of the sea, that it appeared as if she would have dived down underneath the waves; but she was a fine vessel, and the captain was a good seaman, who did what he considered best for the safety of his vessel, and then put his trust in that Providence who is ever watchful over us.
The captain stood before the wheel, watching the men who were steering the ship; for when you are running before a heavy gale, it requires great attention to the helm: and as he looked around him and up at the heavens, he sang in a low voice the words of a sea song:
"One wide water all around us,All above us one black sky."
And so it was with them;—they were in the middle of the Atlantic, not another vessel to be seen, and the heavens were covered with black clouds, which were borne along furiously by the gale; the sea ran mountains high, and broke into large white foaming crests, while the fierce wind howled through the rigging of the vessel.
Besides the captain of the ship and the two men at the wheel, there were two other personages on deck: one was a young lad about twelve years old, and the other a weather beaten old seaman, whose grisly locks were streaming in the wind, as he paced aft and looked over the taffrail of the vessel.
The young lad, observing a heavy sea coming up to the stern of the vessel, caught hold of the old man's arm, crying out—"Won't that great wave come into us, Ready?"
"No, Master William, it will not: don't you see how the ship lifts her quarters to it?—and now it has passed underneath us. But it might happen, and then what would become of you, if I did not hold on, and hold you on also? You would be washed overboard."
"I don't like the sea much, Ready; I wish we were safe on shore again," replied the lad. "Don't the waves look as if they wished to beat the ship all to pieces?"
"Yes, they do; and they roar as if angry because they cannot bury the vessel beneath them: but I am used to them, and with a good ship like this, and a good captain and crew, I don't care for them."
"But sometimes ships do sink, and then everybody is drowned."
"Yes; and very often the very ships sink which those on board think are most safe. We can only do our best, and after that we must submit to the will of Heaven."
"What little birds are those flying about so close to the water?"
"Those are Mother Carey's chickens. You seldom see them except in a storm, or when a storm is coming on."
The birds which William referred to were the stormy petrels.
"Were you ever shipwrecked on a desolate island like Robinson Crusoe?"
"Yes, Master William, I have been shipwrecked; but I never heard of Robinson Crusoe. So many have been wrecked and undergone great hardships, and so many more have never lived to tell what they have suffered, that it's not very likely that I should have known that one man you speak of, out of so many."
"Oh! But it's all in a book which I have read. I could tell you all about it—and so I will when the ship is quiet again; but now I wish you would help me down below, for I promised mamma not to stay up long."
"Then always keep your promise like a good lad," replied the old man; "now give me your hand, and I'll answer for it that we will fetch the hatchway without a tumble; and when the weather is fine again, I'll tell you how I was wrecked, and you shall tell me all about Robinson Crusoe."
Having seen William safe to the cabin door, the old seaman returned to the deck, for it was his watch.
Masterman Ready, for such was his name, had been more than fifty years at sea, having been bound apprentice to a collier which sailed from South Shields, when he was only ten years old. His face was browned from long exposure, and there were deep furrows on his cheeks, but he was still a hale and active man. He had served many years on board of a man of war, and had been in every climate: he had many strange stories to tell, and he might be believed even when his stories were strange, for he would not tell an untruth. He could navigate a vessel, and, of course, he could read and write. The name of Ready was very well suited to him, for he was seldom at a loss; and in cases of difficulty and danger, the captain would not hesitate to ask his opinion, and frequently take his advice. He was second mate of the vessel.
The Pacific was, as we have observed, a very fine ship, and well able to contend with the most violent storm. She was of more than four hundred tons burthen, and was then making a passage out to New South Wales, with a valuable cargo of English hardware, cutlery, and other manufactures. The captain was a good navigator and seaman, and moreover a good man, of a cheerful, happy disposition, always making the best of everything, and when accidents did happen, always more inclined to laugh than to look grave. His name was Osborn. The first mate, whose name was Mackintosh, was a Scotsman, rough and ill tempered, but paying strict attention to his duty a man that Captain Osborn could trust, but whom he did not like.
Ready we have already spoken of, and it will not be necessary to say anything about the seamen on board, except that there were thirteen of them, hardly a sufficient number to man so large a vessel; but just as they were about to sail, five of the seamen, who did not like the treatment they had received from Mackintosh, the first mate, had left the ship, and Captain Osborn did not choose to wait until he could obtain others in their stead. This proved unfortunate, as the events which we shall hereafter relate will show.
Master William, whom we have introduced to the reader, was the eldest boy of a family who were passengers on board, consisting of the father, mother, and four children: his father was a Mr. Seagrave, a very well informed, clever man, who having for many years held an office under government at Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, was now returning from a leave of absence of three years. He had purchased from the government several thousand acres of land; it had since risen very much in value, and the sheep and cattle which he had put on it were proving a source of great profit. His property had been well managed by the person who had charge of it during his absence in England, and he was now taking out with him a variety of articles of every description for its improvement, and for his own use, such as furniture for his house, implements of agriculture, seeds, plants, cattle, and many other things too numerous to mention.
Mrs. Seagrave was an amiable woman, but not in very strong health. The family consisted of William, who was the eldest, a clever, steady boy, but, at the same time, full of mirth and humour; Thomas, who was six years old, a very thoughtless but good tempered boy, full of mischief, and always in a scrape; Caroline, a little girl of seven years; and Albert, a fine strong little fellow, who was not one year old: he was under the charge of a black girl, who had come from the Cape of Good Hope to Sydney, and had followed Mrs. Seagrave to England. We have now mentioned all the people on board of the Pacific: perhaps we ought not to forget two shepherd's dogs, belonging to Mr. Seagrave, and a little terrier, which was a great favourite of Captain Osborn, to whom she belonged.
It was not until the fourth day from its commencement that the gale abated, and then it gradually subsided until it was nearly a calm. The men who had been watching night after night during the gale now brought all their clothes which had been drenched by the rain and spray, and hung them up in the rigging to dry: the sails, also, which had been furled, and had been saturated by the wet, were now loosened and spread out that they might not be mildewed. The wind blew mild and soft, the sea had gone down, and the ship was running through the water at the speed of about four miles an hour. Mrs. Seagrave, wrapped up in a cloak, was seated upon one of the arm chests near the stern of the ship, her husband and children were all with her enjoying the fine weather, when Captain Osborn, who had been taking an observation of the sun with his sextant, came up to them.
"Well, Master Tommy, you are very glad that the gale is over?"
"I didn't care," replied Tommy, "only I spilt all my soup. But Juno tumbled off her chair, and rolled away with the baby, till papa picked them both up."
"It was a mercy that poor Albert was not killed," observed Mrs.Seagrave.
"And so he might have been, if Juno had not thought only of him and nothing at all about herself," replied Mr. Seagrave.
"That's very true, sir," replied Captain Osborn. "She saved the child, and, I fear, hurt herself."
"I thump my head very hard," said Juno, smiling.
"Yes, and it's lucky that you have a good thick woolly coat over it," replied Captain Osborn, laughing.
"It is 12 o'clock by the sun, sir," said Mackintosh, the first mate, to the captain.
"Then bring me up the latitude, Mr. Mackintosh, while I work out the longitude from the sights which I took this morning. In five minutes, Mr. Seagrave, I shall be ready to prick off over our place on the chart."
"Here are the dogs come up on deck," said William; "I dare say they are as glad of the fine weather as we are. Come here, Romulus! Here, Remus! Remus!"
"Well, sir," said Ready, who was standing by them with his quadrant in his hand, "I should like to ask you a question. Those dogs of yours have two very odd names which I never heard before. Who were Romulus and Remus?"
"Romulus and Remus," replied Mr. Seagrave, "were the names of two shepherds, brothers, who in ancient days founded the city of Rome, which eventually became the largest and most celebrated empire in the world. They were the first kings of Rome, and reigned together. History says that Remus affronted Romulus by leaping over a wall he had raised, and Romulus, in his anger, took away his life; but the history of early days is not to be depended upon."
"No, nor the brothers either, it appears," replied Ready; "however, it is the old story two of a trade can never agree. One sometimes hears of Rome now is that the same place?"
"Yes," replied William, "it is the remains of the old city."
"Well, one lives and learns," said Ready. "I have learnt something to-day, which everyone will to the last day of his life, if he will only ask questions. I'm an old man, and perhaps don't know much, except in the seafaring way; but I should have known much less if I did not ask for information, and was not ashamed to acknowledge my ignorance; that's the way to learn, Master William."
"Very good advice, Ready, and, William, I hope you will profit by it," said Mr. Seagrave; "never be ashamed to ask the meaning of what you do not understand."
"I always do, papa. Do I not ask you questions, Ready?"
"Yes, you do, and very clever questions for a boy of your age; and I only wish that I could answer them better than I can sometimes."
"I should like to go down now, my dear," said Mrs. Seagrave; "perhaps Ready will see the baby down safe."
"That I will, ma'am," said Ready, putting his quadrant on the capstan: "now, Juno, give me the child, and go down first; backwards, you stupid girl! How often do I tell you that? Some day or another you will come down with a run."
"And break my head," said Juno.
"Yes, or break your arm; and then who is to hold the child?"
As soon as they were all down in the cabin, the captain and Mr. Seagrave marked the position of the vessel on the chart, and found that they were one hundred and thirty miles from the Cape of Good Hope.
"If the wind holds, we shall be in tomorrow," said Mr. Seagrave to his wife. "Juno, perhaps you may see your father and mother."
Poor Juno shook her head, and a tear or two stole down her dark cheek. With a mournful face she told them, that her father and mother belonged to a Dutch boor, who had gone with them many miles into the interior: she had been parted from them when quite a little child, and had been left at Cape Town.
The next morning the Pacific arrived at the Cape and anchored in Table Bay.
"Why do they call this Table Bay, Ready?" said William.
"I suppose it's because they call that great mountain the TableMountain, Master William; you see how flat the mountain is on the top."
"Yes, it is quite as flat as a table."
"Yes, and sometimes you will see the white clouds rolling down over the top of it in a very curious manner, and that the sailors call spreading the tablecloth: it is a sign of bad weather."
"Then I hope they will not spread the tablecloth while we are here, Ready," said William, "for I shall certainly have no appetite. We have had bad weather enough already, and mamma suffers so much from it. What a pretty place it is!"
"We shall remain here two days, sir," said Captain Osborn to Mr.Seagrave, "if you and Mrs. Seagrave would like to go on shore."
"I will go down and ask Mrs. Seagrave," said her husband, who went down the ladder, followed by William.
Upon the question being put to Mrs. Seagrave, she replied that she was quite satisfied with the ship having no motion, and did not feel herself equal to going on shore; it was therefore decided that she should remain on board with the two younger children, and that, on the following day, Mr. Seagrave should take William and Tommy to see Cape Town, and return on board before night.
The next morning, Captain Osborn lowered down one of the large boats, and Mr. Seagrave, accompanied by Captain Osborn, went on shore with William and Tommy. Tommy had promised his mamma to be very good; but that he always did, and almost always forgot his promise directly he was out of sight. As soon as they landed, they went up to a gentleman's house, with whom Captain Osborn was acquainted. They stayed for a few minutes to drink a glass of lemonade, for it was very warm; and then it was proposed that they should go to the Company's Gardens and see the wild beasts which were confined there, at which William was much delighted, and Tommy clapped his hands with joy.
"What are the Company's Gardens, papa?" inquired William.
"They were made by the Dutch East India Company, at the time that the Cape of Good Hope was in their possession. They are, properly speaking, Botanical Gardens; but, at the same time, the wild animals are kept there. Formerly there were a great many, but they have not been paid attention to lately, for we have plenty of these animals in England now."
"What shall we see?" said Tommy.
"You will see lions, Tommy, a great many in a large den together," said Captain Osborn.
"Oh! I want to see a lion."
"You must not go too near them, recollect."
"No, I won't," said Tommy.
As soon as they entered the gates, Tommy escaped from Captain Osborn, and ran away in his hurry to see the lions; but Captain Osborn caught him again, and held him fast by the hand.
"Here is a pair of very strange birds," said the gentleman who accompanied them; "they are called Secretaries, on account of the feathers which hang behind their heads, as the feather of a pen does when a clerk puts it behind his ear: but they are very useful, for they are snake killers; indeed, they would, if they could, live altogether upon snakes, which they are very great enemies to, never letting one escape. They strike them with their feet, and with such force as to kill them immediately."
"Are there many snakes in this country?" inquired William.
"Yes, and very venomous snakes," replied Mr. Seagrave; "so that these birds are very useful in destroying them. You observe, William, that the Almighty, in his wisdom, has so arranged it that no animal (especially of a noxious kind) shall be multiplied to excess, but kept under by being preyed upon by some other; indeed, wherever in any country an animal exists in any quantity, there is generally found another animal which destroys it. The Secretary inhabits this country where snakes exist in numbers, that it may destroy them: in England the bird would be of little value."
"But some animals are too large or too fierce to be destroyed by others, papa; for instance, the elephant and the lion."
"Very true; but these larger animals do not breed so fast, and therefore their numbers do not increase so rapidly. For instance, a pair of elephants will not have more than one young one in the space of two years or more; while the rabbits, which are preyed upon and the food of so many other beasts as well as birds, would increase enormously, if they were not destroyed. Examine through the whole of creation, and you will find that there is an unerring hand, which invariably preserves the balance exact; and that there are no more mouths than for which food is provided, although accidental circumstances may for a time occasion a slight alteration."
They continued their walk until they came to the den of the lions. It was a large place, in closed with a strong and high wall of stone, with only one window to it for the visitors to look at them, as it was open above. This window was wide, and with strong iron bars running from the top to the bottom; but the width between the bars was such that a lion could put his paw out with ease; and they were therefore cautioned not to go too near. It was a fine sight to see eight or ten of these noble looking animals lying down in various attitudes, quite indifferent apparently to the people outside—basking in the sun, and slowly moving their tufted tails to and fro. William examined them at a respectful distance from the bars; and so did Tommy, who had his mouth open with astonishment, in which there was at first not a little fear mixed, but he soon got bolder. The gentleman who had accompanied them, and who had been long at the Cape, was relating to Mr. Seagrave and Captain Osborn some very curious anecdotes about the lion. William and they were so interested, that they did not perceive that Tommy had slipped back to the grated window of the den. Tommy looked at the lions, and then he wanted to make them move about: there was one fine full-grown young lion, about three years old, who was lying down nearest to the window; and Tommy took up a stone and threw it at him: the lion appeared not to notice it, for he did not move, although he fixed his eyes upon Tommy; so Tommy became more brave, and threw another, and then another, approaching each time nearer to the bars of the window.
All of a sudden the lion gave a tremendous roar, and sprang at Tommy, bounding against the iron bars of the cage with such force that, had they not been very strong, it must have broken them. As it was, they shook and rattled so that pieces of mortar fell from the stones. Tommy shrieked; and, fortunately for himself, fell back and tumbled head over heels, or the lion's paws would have reached him. Captain Osborn and Mr. Seagrave ran up to Tommy, and picked him up: he roared with fright as soon as he could fetch his breath, while the lion stood at the bars, lashing his tail, snarling, and showing his enormous fangs.
"Take me away—take me on board the ship!" cried Tommy, who was terribly frightened.
"What did you do, Tommy?" said Captain Osborn.
"I won't throw any more stones, Mr. Lion; I won't indeed!" cried Tommy, looking terrified towards the animal.
Mr. Seagrave scolded Tommy well for his foolish conduct, and by degrees he became more composed; but he did not recover himself until they had walked some distance away from the lion's den.
They then looked at the other animals which were to be seen, Tommy keeping a most respectful distance from every one of them. He wouldn't even go near to a Cape sheep with a broad tail.
When they had seen everything, they went back to the gentleman's house to dinner; and, after dinner, they returned on board.
The following morning the fresh water and provisions were received on board, and once more the Pacific stretched her broad canvas to the winds, and there was every prospect of a rapid voyage, as for many days she continued her passage with a fair wind and flowing sheet. But this did not continue: it fell calm, and remained so for nearly three days, during which not a breath of wind was to be seen on the wide expanse of water; all nature appeared as if in repose, except that now and then an albatross would drop down at some distance from the stern of the vessel, and, as he swam lazily along with his wings half furled, pick up the fragments of food which had been thrown over the side.
"What great bird is that, Ready?" inquired William.
"It is an albatross, the largest sea bird we have. Their wings are very long. I have seen them shot, and they have measured eleven feet from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other when the wings have been spread out."
"It is the first one that I have seen," said William.
"Because you seldom meet them north of the Cape, sir: people do say that they go to sleep on the wing, balancing themselves high up in the air."
"Papa," said William, turning to Mr. Seagrave, who stood by, "why is it that one bird can swim and another cannot? You recollect when Tommy drove the hens into the large pond, they flounced about, and their feathers became wet, and would support them no longer, and then they were drowned. Now, how does a sea bird contrive to remain so long on the water?"
"Because a sea bird, William, is provided with a sort of oil on purpose to anoint the outside of its feathers, and this oil prevents the water from penetrating them. Have you not observed the ducks on shore dressing their feathers with their bills? They were then using this oil to make their feathers waterproof."
"Don't say how odd, William; that is not an expression to use when we talk of the wonderful provisions made by the Almighty hand, who neglects not the meanest of his creatures say rather, how wonderful!"
"That's very true, sir," observed Ready; "but still you must not be too hard upon Master William, for I have heard many a grownup man make use of the same expression."
On the third day of the calm, the barometer fell so low as to induce Captain Osborn to believe that they should have a severe gale, and every preparation was made to meet it, should it come on. Nor was he mistaken: towards midnight the clouds gathered up fast, and as they gathered up in thick piles, heaped one over the other, the lightning darted through them in every direction; and as the clouds rose up, so did the wind, but at first only in heavy gusts, and then lulling again to a calm.
"Ready," said Captain Osborn, "how do you think we shall have the wind?"
"Why, Captain Osborn, to tell you the truth, I don't think it will be steady to one point long. It may at first blow hard from the north, but it's my idea it will shift soon to some other quarter, and blow still harder."
"What think you, Mackintosh?"
"We'll have plenty of it, and a long steady gale, that's my notion; and the sooner we ship the dead lights the better."
Mr. Seagrave, with William, happened to be standing by at the time of this conversation, and at the term dead lights Willie's face expressed some anxiety. Ready perceived it, and said—
"That's a foolish name they give to the shutters which go over the cabin windows to prevent the water from breaking into the cabin when a vessel sails before the wind; you know we had them on the last time that we had a gale."
"But, Ready," said Captain Osborn, "why do you think that we shall have a shift of wind?"
"Well, I don't know; perhaps I was wrong," replied the old man, "and Mr. Mackintosh is right: the wind does seem to come steady from the north—east, that's certain;" and Ready walked away to the binnacle, and looked at the compass. Mr. Seagrave and William then went below, and Mr. Mackintosh went forward to give his orders. As soon as they were all gone, Ready went up again to Captain Osborn and said:
"Captain Osborn, it's not for me to contradict Mr. Mackintosh, but that's of little consequence in a time like this: I should have held to my opinion, had it not been that the gentleman passenger and his son were standing by, but now, as the coast is clear, I tell you that we shall have something worse than a gale of wind. I have been in these latitudes before, and I am an old seaman, as you know. There's something in the air, and there has been something during the last three days of calm, which reminds me too well of what I have seen here before; and I am sure that we shall have little better than a hurricane, as far as wind goes and worse in one point, that it will last much longer than hurricanes generally do. I have been watching, and even the birds tell me so, and they are told by their nature, which is never mistaken. That calm has been nothing more than a repose of the winds previous to their being roused up to do their worst; and that is my real opinion?"
"Well, and I'm inclined to agree with you, Ready; so we must send topgallant yards down on deck, and all the small sails and lumber out of the tops. Get the trysail aft and bent, and lower down the gaff. I will go forward."
Their preparations were hardly complete before the wind had settled to a fierce gale from the north-east. The sea rose rapidly; topsail after topsail was furled; and by dusk the Pacific was flying through the water with the wind on her quarter, under reefed foresail and storm staysail. It was with difficulty that three men at the wheel could keep the helm, such were the blows which the vessel received from the heavy seas on the quarter. Not one seaman in the ship took advantage of his watch below to go to sleep that night, careless as they generally are; the storm was too dreadful. About three o'clock in the morning the wind suddenly subsided; it was but for a minute or two, and then it again burst on the vessel from another quarter of the compass, as Ready had foretold, splitting the foresail into fragments, which lashed and flogged the wind till they were torn away by it, and carried far to leeward. The heavens above were of a pitchy darkness, and the only light was from the creaming foam of the sea on every side. The shift of wind, which had been to the west-north-west, compelled them to alter the course of the vessel, for they had no chance but to scud, as they now did, under bare poles; but in consequence of the sea having taken its run from the former wind, which had been north-east, it was, as sailors call it, cross, and every minute the waves poured over the ship, sweeping all before their weight of waters. One poor man was washed overboard, and any attempt made to save him would have been unavailing. Captain Osborn was standing by the weather gunnel, holding on by one of the belaying-pins, when he said to Mackintosh:
"How long will this last, think you?"
"Longer than the ship will," replied the mate gravely.
"I should hope not," replied the captain; "still it cannot look worse. What do you think, Ready?"
"Far more fear from above than from below just now," replied Ready, pointing to the yard-arms of the ship, to each of which were little balls of electric matter attached, flaring out to a point. "Look at those two clouds, sir, rushing at each other; if I—"
Ready had not time to finish what he would have said, before a blaze of light, so dazzling that it left them all in utter darkness for some seconds afterwards, burst upon their vision, accompanied with a peal of thunder, at which the whole vessel trembled fore and aft. A crash a rushing forward and a shriek were heard, and when they had recovered their eyesight, the foremast had been rent by the lightning as if it had been a lath, and the ship was in flames: the men at the wheel, blinded by the lightning, as well as appalled, could not steer; the ship broached to away went the mainmast over the side and all was wreck, confusion, and dismay.
Fortunately the heavy seas which poured over the forecastle soon extinguished the flames, or they all must have perished; but the ship lay now helpless, and at the mercy of the waves beating violently against the wrecks of the masts which floated to leeward, but were still held fast to the vessel by their rigging. As soon as they could recover from the shock, Ready and the first mate hastened to the wheel to try to get the ship before the wind; but this they could not do, as, the foremast and mainmast being gone, the mizenmast prevented her paying off and answering to the helm. Ready, having persuaded two of the men to take the helm, made a sign to Mackintosh (for now the wind was so loud that they could not hear each other speak), and, going aft, they obtained axes, and cut away the mizen-rigging; the mizen-topmast and head of the mizenmast went over the side, and then the stump of the foremast was sufficient to get the ship before the wind again. Still there was much delay and confusion, before they could clear away the wreck of the masts; and, as soon as they could make inquiry, they found that four of the men had been killed by the lightning and the fall of the foremast, and there were now but eight remaining, besides Captain Osborn and his two mates.
Sailors are never discouraged by danger as long as they have any chance of relieving themselves by their own exertions. The loss of their shipmates, so instantaneously summoned away, the wrecked state of the vessel, the wild surges burying them beneath their angry waters, the howling of the wind, the dazzling of the lightning, and the pealing of the thunder, did not prevent them from doing what their necessity demanded. Mackintosh, the first mate, rallied the men, and contrived to fix a block and strap to the still smoking stump of the foremast; a rope was rove through the block, and the main-topgallant sail hoisted, so that the vessel might run faster before the gale, and answer her helm better than she did.
The ship was again before the wind, and comparatively safe, notwithstanding the heavy blows she now received from the pursuing waves. Night again came on, but there was no repose, and the men were worn out with exposure and fatigue.
The third day of the gale dawned, but the appearances were as alarming as ever: the continual breaking of the seas over the stern had washed away the binnacles, and it was impossible now to be certain of the course the ship had been steered, or the distance which had been run; the leaky state of the vessel proved how much she had already suffered from the violent shocks which she had received, and the certainty was apparent, that if the weather did not abate, she could not possibly withstand the force of the waves much longer.
The countenance of Captain Osborn showed great anxiety: he had a heavy responsibility on his shoulders he might lose a valuable ship, and still more valuable cargo, even if they did not all lose their lives; for they were now approaching where the sea was studded with low coral islands, upon which they might be thrown by the waves and wind, without having the slightest power to prevent it in their present disabled condition.
Ready was standing by him when Captain Osborn said—
"I don't much like this, Ready; we are now running on danger and have no help for it."
"That's true enough," replied Ready: "we have no help for it; it isGod's will, sir, and His will be done."
"Amen!" replied Captain Osborn solemnly; and then he continued, after a pause, "There were many captains who envied me when I obtained command of this fine ship, would they change with me now?"
"I should rather think not, Captain Osborn, but you never know what the day may bring forth. You sailed with this vessel, full of hope you now, not without reason, feel something approaching to despair; but who knows? It may please the Almighty to rebuke those angry winds and waves, and to-morrow we may again hope for the best; at all events you have done your duty no man can do more."
"You are right," replied Captain Osborn; "but hold hard, Ready, that sea's aboard of us."
Ready had just time to cling with both hands to the belaying-pins when the sea poured over the vessel, with a volume of water which for some time swept them off their legs: they clung on firmly, and at last recovered their feet.
"She started a timber or two with that blow, I rather think," saidReady.
"I'm afraid so; the best vessel ever built could not stand such shocks long," replied Captain Osborn; "and at present, with our weak crew, I do not see that we can get more sail upon her."
All that night the ship flew in darkness before the gale. At daybreak the wind abated, and the sea went down: the ship was, however, still kept before the wind, for she had suffered too much to venture to put her broadside to the sea. Preparations were now made for getting up jury-masts; and the worn-out seamen were busily employed, under the direction of Captain Osborn and his two mates, when Mr. Seagrave and William came upon deck.
William stared about him: he perceived, to his astonishment, that the tall masts, with all their rigging and sails, had disappeared, and that the whole deck was in a state of confusion and disorder.
"See, my child," said Mr. Seagrave, "the wreck and devastation which are here. See how the pride of man is humbled before the elements of the great Jehovah."
"Ay, Master Willy," said old Ready, "look around you, as you well may. Do you remember the verses in the Bible? If not, I remember them well, for I have often read them, and have often felt the truth of them: 'They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep'."
"But, father," said Willy, after a pause, "how shall we ever get to Sydney without masts or sails?"
"Why, William," replied Ready, "we must do what we can: we sailors are never much at a loss, and I dare say before night you will find us under some sort of sail again. We have lost our great masts, so we must put up jury-masts, as we call them; that is, little ones, and little sails upon them; and, if it pleases God, we shall see Sydney yet. How is Madam, sir?" continued Ready to Mr. Seagrave. "Is she better?"
"I fear she is very weak and ill," replied Mr. Seagrave; "nothing but fine weather will do her any good. Do you think that it will be fine now?"
"Why, sir, to tell you the truth, I fear we shall have more of it yet: I have not given my thoughts to the captain, as I might be mistaken; but still I think so I've not been fifty years at sea without learning something. I don't like the gathering of that bank there, Mr. Seagrave, and I shouldn't wonder if it were to blow again from the very same quarter, and that before dark."
"God's will be done," replied Mr. Seagrave, "but I am very fearful about my poor wife, who is worn to a shadow."
"I shouldn't think so much about that, sir, as I really never knew of people dying that way, although they suffer much. William, do you know that we have lost some of our men since you were down below?"
"No, I heard the steward say something outside about the foremast."
"We have lost five of our smartest and best men Wilson was washed overboard, Fennings and Masters struck dead with the lightning, and Jones and Emery crushed by the fall of the foremast. You are young, Master Willy, but you cannot think too early of your Maker, or call to mind what they say in the burial service, 'In the midst of life we are in death'."
"Thank you, Ready, for the lesson you have given my son," said Mr. Seagrave; "and, William, treasure it up in your memory."
"Yes, William, they are the words of an old man who has seen many and many a one who was full of youth and spirits called away before him, and who is grateful to God that he has been pleased to preserve his life, and allow him to amend his ways."
"I have been thinking," said Mr. Seagrave, after a silence of a minute or two, "that a sailor has no right to marry."
"I've always thought so, sir," replied Ready; "and I dare say many a poor deserted sailor's wife, when she has listened to the wind and rain in her lonely bed, has thought the same."
"With my permission," continued Mr. Seagrave, "my boys shall never go to sea if there is any other profession to be found for them."
"Well, Mr. Seagrave, they do say that it's no use baulking a lad if he wishes to go to sea, and that if he is determined, he must go: now I think otherwise I think a parent has a right to say no, if he pleases, upon that point; for you see, sir, a lad, at the early age at which he goes to sea, does not know his own mind. Every high-spirited boy wishes to go to sea it's quite natural; but if the most of them were to speak the truth, it is not that they so much want to go to sea, as that they want to go from school or from home, where they are under the control of their masters or their parents."
"Very true, Ready; they wish to be, as they consider they will be, independent."
"And a pretty mistake they make of it, sir. Why, there is not a greater slave in the world than a boy who goes to sea, for the first few years after his shipping: for once they are corrected on shore, they are punished ten times at sea, and they never again meet with the love and affection they have left behind them. It is a hard life, and there have been but few who have not bitterly repented it, and who would not have returned, like the prodigal son, and cast themselves at their fathers' feet, only that they have been ashamed."
"That's the truth, Ready, and it is on that account that I consider that a parent is justified in refusing his consent to his son going to sea, if he can properly provide for him in any other profession. There never will be any want of sailors, for there always will be plenty of poor lads whose friends can do no better for them; and in that case the seafaring life is a good one to choose, as it requires no other capital for their advancement than activity and courage."
Mr. Seagrave and William went down below into the cabin, where they found that there was plenty of employment; the steward had brought a basin of very hot pea-soup for the children. Tommy, who was sitting up in the bed-place with his sister, had snatched it out of Juno's left hand, for she held the baby with the other, and in so doing, had thrown it over Caroline, who was screaming, while Juno, in her hurry to assist Caroline, had slipped down on the deck with the baby, who was also crying with fright, although not hurt. Unfortunately, Juno had fallen down upon Vixen the terrier, who in return had bitten her in the leg, which had made Juno also cry out; while Mrs. Seagrave was hanging her head out of her standing bed-place, frightened out of her wits at the accident, but unable to be of any assistance. Fortunately, Mr. Seagrave came down just in time to pick up Juno and the baby, and then tried to comfort little Caroline, who after all was not much scalded, as the soup had had time to cool.
"Massa Tommy is a very naughty boy," cried Juno, rubbing her leg. Master Tommy thought it better to say nothing he was duly admonished the steward cleaned up the mess, and order was at length restored.
In the meantime, they were not idle upon deck; the carpenter was busy fixing a step for one of the spare topmasts instead of a mainmast, and the men were fitting the rigging; the ship unfortunately had sprung a leak, and four hands at the pumps interfered very much with their task. As Ready had prophesied, before night the gale blew, the sea rose again with the gale, and the leaking of the vessel increased so much, that all other labour was suspended for that at the pump. For two more days did the storm continue, during which time the crew were worn out with fatigue they could pump no longer: the ship, as she rolled, proved that she had a great deal of water in her hold when, melancholy as were their prospects already, a new disaster took place, which was attended with most serious results. Captain Osborn was on the forecastle giving some orders to the men, when the strap of the block which hoisted up the main-topgallant yard on the stump of the foremast gave way, the yard and sail came down on the deck, and struck him senseless. As long as Captain Osborn commanded them, the sailors had so high an opinion of his abilities as a seaman, and were so encouraged by his cheerful disposition, that they performed their work well and cheerfully; but now that he was, if not killed, at all events senseless and incapable of action, they no longer felt themselves under control. Mackintosh was too much disliked by the seamen to allow his words to have any weight with them. They were regardless of his injunctions or requests, and they now consulted among themselves.
"The gale is broke, my men, and we shall have fine weather now," observed Ready, going up to the sailors on the forecastle. "The wind is going down fast."
"Yes," replied one of the men, "and the ship is going down fast, that's quite as certain."
"A good spell at the pumps would do us some good now," replied Ready. "What d'ye say, my lads?"
"A glass of grog or two would do us more," replied the seaman. "What d'ye say, my boys? I don't think that the captain would refuse us, poor fellow, if he could speak."
"What do you mean to do, my lads?" inquired Mackintosh: "not get drunk, I hope?"
"Why not?" observed another of the men; "the ship must go down soon."
"Perhaps she may I will not deny it," said Mackintosh; "but that is no reason why we should not be saved: now, if you get drunk, there is no chance of any one being saved, and my life is precious to me. I'm ready to join with you in anything you please, and you may decide what is to be done; but get drunk you shall not, if I can help it, that's certain."
"And how can you help it?" replied one of the seamen, surlily.
"Because two resolute men can do a great deal I may say three, for in this instance Ready will be of my side, and I can call to my assistance the cabin passenger recollect the firearms are all in the cabin. But why should we quarrel? Say at once what you intend to do; and if you have not made up your minds, will you listen to what I propose?"
As Mackintosh's courage and determination were well known, the seamen again consulted together, and then asked him what he proposed.
"We have one good boat left, the new yawl at the booms: the others, as you know, are washed away, with the exception of the little boat astern, which is useless, as she is knocked almost to pieces. Now we cannot be very far from some of the islands, indeed I think we are among them now. Let us fit out the boat with everything we require, go about our work steadily and quietly, drink as much grog as will not hurt us, and take a good provision of it with us. The boat is complete with her masts, sails, and oars; and it's very hard if we do not save ourselves somewhere. Ready, do I give good advice or not?"
"You give very good advice, Mackintosh only what is to become of the cabin passengers, the women, and children? And are you going to leave poor Captain Osborn? Or what do you mean to do?"
"We won't leave the captain," said one of the seamen.
"No no!" exclaimed the others.
"And the passengers?"
"Very sorry for them," replied the former spokesman; "but we shall have enough to do to save our own lives."
"Well, my lads, I agree with you," said Mackintosh. "Charity begins at home. What do you say I shall it be so?"
"Yes," replied the seamen, unanimously; and Ready knew that it was in vain to expostulate. They now set about preparing the boat, and providing for their wants. Biscuits, salt pork, two or three small casks of water, and a barrel of rum were collected at the gangway; Mackintosh brought up his quadrant and a compass, some muskets, powder and shot; the carpenter, with the assistance of another man, cut away the ship's bulwarks down to the gunnel, so as to enable them to launch the boat overboard, for they could not, of course, hoist her out now that the masts were gone. In an hour everything was prepared. A long rope was made fast to the boat, which was brought to the gunnel ready for launching overboard, and the ship's broadside was brought to the wind. As this was done, Mr. Seagrave came on deck and looked around him.
He perceived the boat ready for launching, the provisions and water at the gangway, the ship brought to the wind, and rolling slowly to the heave of the sea; at last he saw Ready sitting down by Captain Osborn, who was apparently dead. "What is all this, Ready?" inquired Seagrave. "Are they going to leave the ship? Have they killed Captain Osborn?"
"No, sir, not quite so bad as that. Poor Captain Osborn was struck down by the fall of the yard, and has been insensible ever since; but, as to the other matter, I fear that is decided: you see they are launching the boat."
"But my poor wife, she will never be able to go she cannot move she is so ill!"
"I'm afraid, Mr. Seagrave, that they have no idea of taking either you, or your wife, or your children, with them."
"What! Leave us here to perish I Merciful Heaven! How cruel how barbarous!"
"It is not kind, Mr. Seagrave, but still you see it is the law of nature. When it is a question of life, it is every one for himself, for life is sweet: they are not more unkind than they would be to each other, if there were too many for the boat to hold. I've seen all this before in my time," replied Ready, gravely.
"My wife! My children!" cried Mr. Seagrave, covering his face with his hands. "But I will speak to them," continued he after a pause; "surely they will listen to the dictates of humanity; at all events Mr. Mackintosh will have some power over them. Don't you think so, Ready?"
"Well, Mr. Seagrave, if I must speak, I confess to you that there is not a harder heart among them than that of Mr. Mackintosh, and it's useless speaking to him or any one of them; and you must not be too severe upon them neither: the boat is small, and could not hold more people with the provisions which they take with them that is the fact. If they were to take you and your family into the boat, it might be the cause of all perishing together; if I thought otherwise I would try what I could do to persuade them, but it is useless."
"What must be done, then, Ready?"
"We must put our trust in a merciful God, Mr. Seagrave, who will dispose of us as he thinks fit."
"We must? What! Do not you go with them?"
"No, Mr. Seagrave. I have been thinking about it this last hour, and I have made up my mind to remain with you. They intend to take poor Captain Osborn with them, and give him a chance, and have offered to take me; but I shall stay here."
"To perish?" replied Mr. Seagrave, with surprise.
"As God pleases, Mr. Seagrave I am an old man, and it is of little consequence. I care little whether I am taken away a year or two sooner, but I do not like to see blossoms cut off in early spring: I may be of use if I remain, for I've an old head upon my shoulders, and I could not leave you all to perish when you might be saved if you only knew how to act. But here the seamen come the boat is all ready, and they will now take poor Captain Osborn with them."
The sailors came aft, and lifted up the still insensible captain. As they were going away one of them said, "Come, Ready, there's no time to lose."
"Never mind me, Williams; I shall stick to the ship," replied Ready. "I wish you success with all my heart; and, Mr. Mackintosh, I have but one promise to exact from you, and I hope you will not refuse me: which is, that if you are saved, you will not forget those you leave here on board, and take measures for their being searched for among the islands."
"Nonsense, Ready! come into the boat," replied the first mate.
"I shall stay here, Mr. Mackintosh; and I only beg that you will promise me what I ask. Acquaint Mr. Seagrave's friends with what has happened, and where it is most likely we may be found, if it please God to save us. Do you promise me that?"
"Yes, I do, if you are determined to stay; but," continued he, going up to Ready, and whispering to him, "it is madness:- come away, man!"
"Good-bye, Mr. Mackintosh," replied Ready, extending his hand. "You will keep your promise?"
After much further expostulation on the part of Mackintosh and the seamen, to which Ready gave a deaf ear, the boat was pushed off, and they made sail to the north-east.
For some time after the boat had shoved off from the ship, old Ready remained with his arms folded, watching it in silence. Mr. Seagrave stood by him; his heart was too full for utterance, for he imagined that as the boat increased her distance from the vessel, so did every ray of hope depart, and that his wife and children, himself, and the old man who was by his side were doomed to perish. His countenance was that of a man in utter despair. At last old Ready spoke.
"They think that they will be saved and that we must perish, Mr. Seagrave; they forget that there is a Power above, who will himself decide that point a power compared to which the efforts of weak man are as nought."
"True," replied Mr. Seagrave, in a low voice; "but still what chance we can have on a sinking ship, with so many helpless creatures around us, I confess I cannot imagine."
"We must do our best, and submit to His will," replied Ready, who then went aft, and shifted the helm, so as to put the ship again before the wind.
As the old man had foretold to the seamen before they quitted the vessel, the gale was now over, and the sea had gone down considerably. The ship, however, dragged but slowly through the water, and after a short time Ready lashed the wheel, and went forward. On his return to the quarter-deck, he found Mr. Seagrave had thrown himself down (apparently in a state of despair) upon the sail on which Captain Osborn had been laid after his accident.
"Mr. Seagrave, do not give way," said Ready; "if I thought our situation hopeless, I would candidly say so; but there always is hope, even at the very worst, and there always ought to be trust in that God without whose knowledge not a sparrow falls to the ground. But, Mr. Seagrave, I shall speak as a seaman, and tell you what our probabilities are. The ship is half-full of water, from her seams having opened by the straining in the gale, and the heavy blows which she received; but, now that the gale has abated, she has recovered herself very much. I have sounded the well, and find that she has not made many inches within the last two hours, and probably, as she closes her seams, will make less. If, therefore, it pleases God that the fine weather should continue, there is no fear of the vessel sinking under us for some time; and as we are now amongst the islands, it is not impossible, nay, it is very probable, that we may be able to run her ashore, and thins save our hives. I thought of all this when I refused to go in the boat, and I thought also, Mr. Seagrave, that if you were to have been deserted by me as well as by all the rest, you would have been unable yourself to take advantage of any chances which might turn up in your favour, and therefore I have remained, hoping, under God's providence, to be the means of assisting you and your family in this sore position. I think now it would be better that you should go down into the cabin, and with a cheerful face encourage poor Mrs. Seagrave with the change in the weather, and the hopes of arriving in some place of safety. If she does not know that the men have quitted the ship, do not tell her; say that the steward is with the other men, which will be true enough, and, if possible, leave her in the dark as to what has taken place. Master William can be trusted, and if you will send him here to me, I will talk to him."
"I hardly know what to think, Ready, or how sufficiently to thank you for your self-devotion, if I may so term it, in this exigency. That your advice is excellent and that I shall follow it, you may be assured; and, should we be saved from the death which at present stares us in the face, my gratitude—"
"Do not speak of that, sir; I am an old man with few wants, and whose life is of little use now. All I wish to feel is, that I am trying to do my duty in that situation into which it has pleased God to call me. What can this world offer to one who has roughed it all his life, and who has neither kith nor kin that he knows of to care about his death?"
Mr. Seagrave pressed the hand of Ready, and went down without making any reply. He found that his wife had been asleep for the last hour, and was not yet awake. The children were also quiet in their beds. Juno and William were the only two who were sitting up.
William made a sign to his father that his mother was asleep, and then said in a whisper, "I did not like to leave the cabin while you were on deck, hut the steward has not been here these two hours: he went to milk the goat for baby and has not returned. We have had no breakfast, none of us."
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