Peter Trawl - The Adventures of a Whaler
by W. H. G. Kingston
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The next morning I remained at home to a later hour than usual. Just as I was going out a man came to the door, who said he was sent by Lawyer Gull, and put a paper into my hand, which he told me was a something I could not exactly make out, to quit the house within twenty-four hours. "His client, the owner of the property, wishes not to act harshly, so refrains from taking stronger measures at present," said the clerk, who, having performed his task, went away. I stopped a few minutes to talk with Mary and Nancy. Mary said quietly that if we must go we must, and that we had better look out for cheap lodgings at once. Nancy was very indignant, and declared that we had no business to turn out for such a scamp as that. Old Tom had never spoken of having a nephew; she did not believe the fellow was his nephew, and certainly, if he was, Tom would not have left his property to him. She advised me, however, to go out and try to get advice from some one who knew more about the law than she did. I accordingly set off for the Hard, where I was sure to find several friends among the watermen. I had not got far when I met Jim Pulley, looking very disconsolate.

"What is the matter, Jim," I asked.

"We've lost the wherry!" he exclaimed, nearly blubbering. "Two big fellows came down, and, asking what boat she was, told me to step ashore: and when I said I wouldn't for them, or for any one but you, they took me, crop and heels, and trundled me out of her."

"That is only what I feared," I said. "I was coming down to find some one to advise us what to do."

"Then you couldn't ask any better man than Bob Fox, he's been in prison half a score of times for smuggling and such like, so he must know a mighty deal about law," he answered.

We soon found Bob Fox, who was considered an oracle on the Hard, and a number of men gathered round while he expressed his opinion.

"Why, you see, mates, it's just this," he said, extending one of his hands to enforce his remarks; "you must either give in or go to prison when they brings anything agen you, and that, maybe, is the cheapest in the end; or, as there's always a lawyer on t'other side, you must set another lawyer on to fight him, and that's what I'd advise to be done in this here case. Now I knows a chap, one Lawyer Chalk, who's as sharp as a needle, and if any man can help young Peter and his sister to keep what is their own he'll do it. I'm ready to come down with some shiners to pay him, for, you see, these lawyer folk don't argify for nothing, and I'm sure some on you who loves justice will help Jack and Polly Trawl's children; so round goes the hat."

Suiting the action to the word, Bob, taking off his tarpaulin, threw a handful of silver into it, and his example being followed by a number of other men, he grasped me by the hand, and set off forthwith to consult Lawyer Chalk.

We quickly reached his office. Mr Chalk, a quiet-looking little man, with easy familiar manners, which won the confidence of his illiterate constituents, knowing Bob Fox well, received us graciously. His eyes glittered as he heard the money chink in Bob's pocket.

"It's all as clear as a pikestaff," he observed, when he heard what I had got to say. "They must prove first that this fellow who has turned up is Tom Swatridge's nephew; then that he is his heir-at-law, and finally that the house and boat belonged to the deceased. Now possession is nine-tenths of the law; you've got them, and you must hold them till the law turns you out."

"I couldn't, sir, if another has a better right to them than I have," I answered. "I lived on in the house and used the wherry because I was sure that old Tom would have wished me to do so, but then I didn't know that he had any relation to claim them."

"And you don't know that he has any relation now," said Mr Chalk; "that has to be proved, my lad. The law requires proof; that's the beauty of the law. The man may swear till he's black in the face that he is the deceased's nephew, but if he has no proof he'll not gain his cause."

Bob Fox was highly delighted with our visit to the lawyer.

"I told you so, lad; I told you so!" he exclaimed, rubbing his hands; "t'other chap will find he has met his match. Bless you! Old Chalk's as keen as a razor."

As I could not use the wherry, I went home feeling in much better spirits than before about our prospects. I was able even to cheer up Mary and Nancy. I told them that, by Lawyer Chalk's advice, we were not to quit the house, and that he would manage everything. No one appeared during the day. The next morning we had breakfast as usual, and as the time went by I was beginning to hope that we should be unmolested, when two rough-looking men came to the door, and, though Nancy sprang up to bar them out, in they walked. One of them then thrust a paper out to her, but she drew back her hand as if it had been a hot iron. The man again attempted to make her take it. "One of you must have it," he growled out.

"No, no! I couldn't make head or tail of it if I did," answered Nancy, still drawing back.

"Let me have it," I said, wishing to know what the men really came for.

"The sum total is, that you and the rest of you are to move away from this, and if you don't go sharp we're to turn you out!" exclaimed the bailiff, losing patience at the time I took to read the document. "It's an order of ejectment, you'll understand."

"Don't you mind what it is, Peter!" exclaimed Nancy; "Mr Chalk said we was to stay here, and stay we will for all the scraps of paper in the world!" And Nancy, seating herself in a chair, folded her arms, and cast defiant looks at the officers of the law.

They were, however, up to the emergency. Before either she or I were aware of what they were about to do, they had secured her arms to the back of the chair, and then, lifting it and her up, carried her out of the house and deposited her in the street, in spite of the incautious attempt I made to effect a rescue. The moment I got outside the house one of the bailiffs, turning round, seized me in a vice-like grasp, and the other then entering, led out Mary, who saw that resistance was hopeless. He next walked back, took the key from the door, and, having locked it, released Nancy and re-entered the house with the chair. Before Nancy could follow him he had shut himself in, while his companion, letting me go with a shove which sent me staggering across the street, walked off, I concluded to tell the lawyer who sent him and his mate that they had got possession of the house.

Nancy was standing, with her fists clenched, too much astonished at the way she had been treated to speak. Mary was in tears, trembling all over.

"Oh, Peter, what are we to do?" she asked.

"I'll go to Lawyer Chalk and hear what he says," I answered. "If the house and boat ought to be ours, he'll get them back; if not, I can't say just now what we must do. Meantime do you and Nancy go to Widow Simmons's, and wait there. She was always a friend of mother's, and will be glad to help you."

Mary agreed, but Nancy, who at length found her tongue, declared that she wasn't going to lose sight of the house, and that she would stay where she was and watch and tell the folks who passed how we had been treated. As nothing I could say would induce her to move, I accompanied Mary to the widow's, where I left her, and hastened on to Mr Chalk's. The lawyer made a long face when I told him how we had been treated.

"I told you that 'possession is nine-tenths of the law,' my lad, and now they are in and you are out," he answered. "It's a bad job—but we'll see what can be done. We must obtain at all events your clothes, and any other private property you may possess. Now go, my lad, and call upon me in a week or two; I shall see Bob Fox in the meantime."

Soon after leaving the lawyer's I met Jim Pulley. Having seen Nancy, he was fuming with indignation at our having been turned out of our home, and proposed trying to break into the house to regain possession, but I had sense enough to know that we must abide by the law, whichever way that decided I found Nancy still keeping watch before the door, and vehemently appealing to all who would stop to listen to her. It was with some difficulty that I at length persuaded her to go with me to Mrs Simmons's. The kind widow was willing to give us shelter, and as Mary had fortunately my savings in her pocket, we had sufficient to pay for our food for some days. The next morning Mary went as usual to school; Nancy left the house, saying that she was going to look for work, and I set out, hoping to find employment in a wherry with one of the men who knew me.



I found it more difficult to obtain employment with wages sufficient to support Mary and me, not to speak of Nancy, than I had expected. Jim and I tried to hire a boat, but we could not obtain one to suit us for any sum we could hope to pay. Ours, for so we still called her, had been carried off, and locked up in a shed at Portsmouth. He and I picked up a sixpence or a shilling now and then, but some days we got nothing. There was a great risk of our becoming what my father had so strongly objected to "long-shore loafers." I would not desert Jim, who had served me so faithfully, and so we tried, as far as we could, to work together. Sometimes he talked of going off to sea, but as I could not leave Mary his heart failed him at the thought of going without me. At the time appointed I called on Lawyer Chalk.

"Sorry to say we are beaten, my lad," were the words with which he greeted me. "I fought hard, but there's no doubt that Mr Gull's client is the nephew of Tom Swatridge, who died intestate, consequently his nephew is his heir. Had the old man wisely come to me I would have drawn up a will for him, securing his property to you or any one he might have desired. I am very sorry for you, but law is law, and it can't be helped. I hope that you will find employment somewhere soon. Good-day to you." And he waved me out of his office.

In consequence of his failure in my cause, Lawyer Chalk sank considerably in the estimation of Bob Fox and his friends, who declared that the next time they wanted legal advice they would try what Lawyer Gull could do for them. I should have said that a day or two before he had sent a clerk armed with due authority to accompany Nancy and Mary, who brought away our clothing and all the articles which we had purchased with our own money. Curiously enough, I did not again set eyes on Mr Eben Swatridge, who was, I understood, the son of a younger brother of old Tom, who had gone into business in London and made money. Some property having been left to the two brothers, or to the survivor of either, Eben had been compelled to make inquiries respecting his long unrecognised uncle, and had thus been induced to pay the visit to Portsea which had produced such disastrous results to Mary and me.

The house and furniture and wherry were sold, and directly afterwards he disappeared from Portsmouth. Perhaps he thought it wise to keep out of the way of Bob Fox and the other sturdy old salts who supported me. Not that one of them would have laid a finger on him, and Mary and I agreed that, far from having any ill-feeling, we should have been ready, for his uncle's sake, to have been friends if he had explained to us at the first who he was and his just rights in a quiet way. We had now a hard struggle to make the two ends meet. Mrs Simmons fell ill, and Mary, who could no longer go to school, had to attend on her, and I had to find food and, as it turned out, to pay her rent, she being no longer able to work for her own support. I did not grumble at this, for I was grateful to her for her kindness to us; but though we stinted ourselves to the utmost, we often had not a sixpence in the house to buy fit nourishment for the poor old lady. Nancy was ready to slave from morning to night, but was often unsuccessful in obtaining work, so that she made scarcely enough to support herself; she might have got a situation, but she would not leave Mary. Whenever honest Jim Pulley could save a shilling he brought it, as he said, for the widow, though I knew that besides his wish to help her he was much influenced by his regard for us. I often thought when the winter came what he and I should do then. I did not say anything to Mary about the future, but tried to keep up her spirits, for I saw that her cheek was becoming pale, and she was growing thinner and thinner every day. At last one morning, when I had got up just at daylight, and having taken a crust of bread and a drink of water for breakfast, was about to go out in search of work, Nancy came into the room, and said—

"I don't know what has come over Mary, but she has been talking and talking ever so strangely all night, and her cheek is as hot as a live cinder."

I hurried into the little back room Mary and Nancy occupied next to the widow's. A glance told me that my dear little sister was in a high fever. My heart was ready to burst, for she did not know me Mrs Simmons was too ill to get up and say what she thought of its nature.

"I must run for the doctor, Nancy," I exclaimed; "there's not a moment to lose;" and snatching up my hat I rushed out of the house, assured that Nancy would do her best in the meantime.

I had caught sight of Dr Rolt passing along the street on the previous day, so I knew that he was at home, and I felt more inclined to go to him than to Mr Jones. I ran as I had not run for a long time, and no one ventured to stop me now. The doctor was on foot, early as was the hour. He remembered mother and Mary and me the moment I mentioned my name.

"I'll come to see your little sister directly," he said.

I waited for him, fearing that he might not find the house. He was soon ready, and, considering his age, I was surprised how well he kept up with me. I eagerly ushered him into the house. He had not been long with Mary before he sent me off to the chemist to get some medicine, for which I had fortunately enough in my pocket to pay. When I came back he gave it to her himself, and said that he would send some more in the evening; but he would not tell me what he thought of her.

I will not dwell on this unhappy time. The doctor came twice every day and sometimes oftener, but Mary seemed to be getting no better. I had to go out to get work, but all I could make was not sufficient for our expenses, and I had to run into debt, besides which the widow's rent was due, and she could not pay it.

One day Jim brought me a few shillings, which he said the watermen had given him, but times were bad with most of them, and they could do but little. This enabled me to get some things absolutely necessary for Mary and food for the rest of us. The landlord called two or three times for rent, and at last said that he must put in a distress if it was not paid. The thought of what the consequence of this would be to Mary made me tremble with fear. Ill as she and Mrs Simmons were, their beds might, notwithstanding, be taken from beneath them. The widow might be carried off to the workhouse, and we should be turned into the street I begged hard for delay, and promised that I would do all I could to raise the money. The landlord replied that he would give us two days more, but would not listen to anything further I had to say. The doctor had just before called, so that I could not then tell him of our difficulty. He had not yet given me any assurance that he thought Mary would recover. Nancy could not leave the house, as she was required every moment to attend on her and Mrs Simmons. I was not likely to find Dr Rolt till the evening, so I determined to consult Jim and Bob Fox. I soon met Jim; he was ready to cry when I told him. He scratched his head and rubbed his brow, in vain trying to suggest something.

"Bob can't help us either," he said, at length. "He's got into trouble. Went away three days ago over to France in a smuggling lugger, the Smiling Lass, and she was catched last night with tubs aboard, so he's sure to want all the money he can get to pay Lawyer Chalk to keep him out of prison, if that's to be done, but I'm afeared even old Chalk will be nonplussed this time."

"I wonder whether Lawyer Chalk would lend me the money," I said.

"Might as well expect to get a hen's egg out of a block of granite," answered Jim.

On inquiry I found that all my friends from whom I had the slightest hope of assistance were away over at Ryde, Cowes, or Southampton.

"I tell you, Peter, as I knowed how much you wanted money, I'd a great mind to go aboard the Smiling Lass t'other day, when Bob axed me. It's a good job I didn't, isn't it?"

"I am very glad you didn't, not only because you would have been taken, but because you would have broken the law," I answered. "Father always set his face against smuggling."

"Yes, maybe he did," said Jim, who did not see that smuggling was wrong as clearly as I did. "But now what's to be done?"

"We'll go down to the Hard, and try to pick up a job," I answered. "A few pence will be better than nothing."

We each got a job in different boats. The one I was in took some passengers over to Ryde, and thence some others to Spithead and back, so that it was late when I got home with a shilling and a few pence in my pocket. Mary was no better. The doctor had been, and Nancy had told him of the landlord's threats, but he had made no remark.

"I'll tell you what I'll do, Nancy," I said; "I'll offer the landlord this shilling when he comes to-morrow to show that I am in earnest, and perhaps he will let us off for another day or two."

"Better hear what the doctor thinks when he comes in the morning. I don't think that he'll allow Mary and Widow Simmons to have their beds taken from under them. Cheer up, Peter! Cheer up!"

I did cheer up a little when Jim came in and brought another shilling, his day's earnings, declaring that he'd had a good dinner, and had still some coppers in his pocket to pay for the next day's breakfast. He, however, could not resist eating some bread and cheese which Nancy pressed on him before he went away.

I could scarcely close my eyes for thinking of what the morrow might bring forth. About midnight Nancy came in and told me that Mary was sleeping more calmly than she had done since she was taken ill. Hoping that this was a good sign my mind became less disquieted, and I fell asleep. The next morning the usual hour for the doctor's coming passed and he did not appear. We waited and waited, anxious to know whether Mary really was better. At last there came a knocking at the door, and in walked the landlord, with a couple of men at his heels.

"Have you the rent ready, good people?" he asked, in a gruff tone.

"No, sir; but I have two shillings, and I promise to pay as much as I can every day till you've got what you demand," I said, as fast as I could speak.

The men laughed as I said this.

"Two shillings! That won't go no way, my lad," cried the landlord. "Let me see, why this old pot and kettle and the cups and plates, and table and chairs, and everything in this room won't sell for more than half my demands, so we must have the bedsteads and bedding and a chest of drawers or so; and as the old woman in there won't ever be able to pay me more rent, she and all of you must turn out with what remains! So now, Crouch and Scroggins, do your duty."

The moment he had entered the house Nancy, passing behind me, had locked Mary's and Mrs Simmons's doors, and having put the keys in her pocket, had slipped into the scullery or little back kitchen, where we often cooked in summer. One of the men was in the act of placing one chair upon another, and his companion was approaching Mary's room, when suddenly Nancy rushed out of the back kitchen with a red-hot poker in her hand, and placing herself before it, exclaimed—

"Step an inch nearer if ye dare, ye cowards! Out on ye, Mr Grimes, to come and disturb a fever-sick girl and an old dying woman for the sake of a few filthy shillings! Peter here has offered you some, and has promised to pay you more when he can get them, and I promise too; and now let me see if one of you dare to lay a finger on any of Missus Simmons's things! Get out of this house! Get out of this house, I say!"

And she began flourishing her poker and advancing towards the intruders in a way which made them beat a rapid retreat towards the door, Mr Grimes scrambling off the first, and shouting out—

"Assault and battery! I'll make you pay for this, you young vixen!"

"I don't mind your salt and butter, nor what you call me either," cried Nancy; and she was just slamming the door behind them, when two persons appeared as if about to enter, one of whom exclaimed, in a voice which I recognised as that of Dr Rolt—

"Why, my good girl, what is all this about?"

"They said that they was a-going to take Mary's and the widow's beds and all the things away, sir, and I wouldn't let them," she answered, panting and still grasping the hot poker.

"Verily, daughter, thou hast taken a very effectual way of preventing them," said the other person, who I now saw to my great joy was Mr Silas Gray. He and the doctor at once entered the house.

"Now listen to me, damsel," he continued. "Thou hast been prompted by affectionate zeal to defend thy friends, I doubt not, but nevertheless thou hast acted illegally, and the consequences to thyself may be serious; however, I will say no more on the subject at present. Put back thy weapon into the fireplace and attend on friend Rolt, who desires to see his patients."

I saw Mr Gray and the doctor exchange smiles as Nancy, producing the keys from her pocket, unlocked the doors. He now, observing me, said—

"Tell me, my lad, how all this happened. I thought that thou wast doing well with thy wherry."

So while the doctor was seeing Mary and Mrs Simmons, I gave him an exact account of all that had happened since the day he and his family were out with Jim and me on the water. I had just finished, when the doctor came into the room.

"I can give you a favourable account of your young sister, my lad," said Dr Rolt. "Her patience and obedience, aided by Nancy's care, have been much in her favour, and she will, I trust, shortly recover. As soon as she has gained sufficient strength our friend Mr Gray wishes her to be removed to his house, and Nancy can remain here to look after the poor widow, whose days on earth are numbered."

"Oh, thank you, gentlemen; thank you!" I exclaimed, my heart swelling so that I could scarcely utter the words.

"And what about yourself, my son?" asked Mr Gray.

"Oh, Jim and I will try to rub on together, and I'll try to pay the widow's rent as I promised, if you'll speak a word, sir, to Mr Grimes and get him not to press for payment," I answered.

"Set thy mind at rest on that point. I will satisfy the demands of the widow's landlord," said Mr Gray; and he then added, "Come to my house to-morrow, and I will meantime consider what can be done to put you in the way of gaining your daily bread. I desire to show thee that I am pleased with thy conduct, but it were small kindness were I to enable thee to live in idleness."

Again thanking Mr Gray from the bottom of my heart, I said, "What I want, sir, is work. Help me to get that, and it will be all I ask."

Before going away Mr Gray saw Mary for a short time, and paid a long visit to poor Mrs Simmons, which she said did her heart good.

I had never felt so happy in my life, and could not resist going out to tell Jim Pulley.

"Ask him to set thee up with a wherry and we'll go out together again as we used to do. That will be fine, and we'll be as merry as two crickets!" he exclaimed.

"I think I ought to leave it with him," I answered. "A wherry costs a lot of money, and he has already been very generous, though I should like him to do as you propose, and I promise you, Jim, whatever he proposes, to stick by you."

"That's all I care for," answered my friend.

He accompanied me to the door, but would not come in for fear of disturbing Mary.

The next day I went to see Mr Gray, who lived in a pretty house some way out of Portsmouth. He and his daughters received me very kindly. He had, he said, been considering what he could do for me. He would obtain a wherry for me, but he considered that the life of a waterman was not suited to a lad like me, and he then said that he was a shipowner, and was about to despatch a brig in a few days to the coast of Norway for timber, and that, if I pleased, he would send me on board her as an apprentice. Also, as he considered that I was already a seaman, he would give me a trifle of pay. Remembering what my father used to say about not wishing Jack "to become a long-shore lubber," I at once replied that I would thankfully have accepted his offer, but that I could not desert Jim Pulley, who would well-nigh break his heart, if I were to go away without him.

"Nor need thee do that, my son," he answered. "I will provide a berth also for thy friend on board the Good Intent, and he and thou need not be parted. I approve of thy constancy to him and of his faithfulness to thee. A long-shore life, such as thou wouldst lead if thou wast owner of a wherry, would be dangerous if not demoralising, albeit thou might live comfortably enough."

"But, sir, what will my sister do without me when she recovers and leaves you, and where will Nancy go when the widow dies?"

"I will be chargeable for both of them. Set thy mind at rest on that point. Should I be called away—and no man knows how long he has to live—I will direct my daughters to watch over them. Thou and thy friend Jim can, in the meantime, follow thy vocation of watermen, so that thou mayest eat the fruit of thy labours, which is sweeter far to brave hearts like thine than food, bestowed in charity."

I did my best to thank Mr Gray as I ought, and hastened back to tell Mary and Nancy and Jim.

"I'd have gone with thee, Peter, even if it had been to Botany Bay, or any of them outlandish parts," exclaimed Jim, when I told him what Mr Gray had promised. "I am glad; yes, I am glad!"

We both tried at once to get employment, and did very well that afternoon and on the two following days.

When I got home on the evening of the last I found that a message had been left by Mr Gray when he visited the widow and Mary, directing Jim and me to go the next morning at nine o'clock on board the Good Intent, which had just come into the Commercial Dock. I hastened off to tell Jim at once. As may be supposed, we were up betimes, and as we got to the dock before the hour appointed we were able to examine the Good Intent at our leisure. She was a fair enough looking craft, but as she was deep in the water, having only just begun to discharge a cargo of coals brought from the north, and had a dingy appearance, from the black dust flying about, we could not judge of her properly.

As the bells of Saint Thomas's Church began to strike nine we stepped on board, and directly afterwards Mr Gray, followed by a short, broad, oldish man, who had not a bit the look of a skipper, though such I guessed he was, came out of the cabin.

"Right! Punctuality saves precious hours," said Mr Gray, with an approving nod. "These are the lads I desire to commit to thy care, Captain Finlay. Instruct them in their duties, so that they may become able seamen, and they will repay thy teaching."

"I'll act justly by the laddies, Mr Gray, but there's an auld saying that 'ye canna make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.' If they dinna keep their wits awake, or if they ha' na wits to keep awake, all the teaching in the world will na make them sailors."

"They are fair sailors already, and thou wilt find them handy enough, I hope," observed Mr Gray.

After putting a few questions, Captain Finlay told us to come aboard the next day but one with our bags, by which time the cargo would be discharged. We set off home greatly pleased, though puzzled to know how we should obtain a decent kit. With Nancy's help, I might be pretty well off, but poor Jim had scarcely a rag to his back besides the clothes he stood in. In the evening, however, a note came from Mr Gray with an order on an outfitter to give us each a complete kit suited to a cold climate. We were not slow to avail ourselves of it. The next day Dr Rolt considered Mary sufficiently well to be removed, and Mr Gray sent a closed carriage to convey her to his house. The doctor told me to be ready to accompany her, and kindly came himself. It was the first time I had ever been in a coach, and the rolling and pitching made me feel very queer. The young ladies received us as if we had been one of themselves, and Mary was carried up into a pretty, neat room, with white dimity curtains to the bed, and the fresh air blowing in at the open window.

"I'll leave her to you, now, Miss Hannah," said the doctor. "This is all she requires, with your watchful care."

After I had had a short talk with Mary alone I took my leave, and Miss Hannah told me to be sure to come back and see them before the Good Intent sailed. It was not likely I should forget to do that.

Jim and I now went to live on board the brig. We had plenty of work, cleaning out the hold and getting rid of the coal-dust, and then we scrubbed the deck, and blacked down the rigging, and painted the bulwarks and masts, till the change in the appearance of the dingy collier was like that of a scullery-maid when she puts on her Sunday best. We did not mind the hard work, though it was a good deal harder than any we had been accustomed to, but the master and the rest of the crew set us a good example. There was little grumbling, and what surprised me, no swearing, such as I had been accustomed to hear on the Hard. Captain Finlay would not allow it, and the mate supported him in checking any wrong expressions which some of the men had been in the habit of uttering.

I got leave to run up and see Mary and to bid Nancy and Mrs Simmons good-bye. Miss Hannah and her sisters seemed to be making a great deal of Mary. It was evident they liked her much, and I was not surprised at that. The widow I never expected to see again. Nancy would scarcely let me go.

"Oh, Peter, Peter! What should us do if anything was to happen to ye out on the cruel sea!" she cried, as she held my hand and rubbed her eyes with her apron.

The next day the Good Intent went out of harbour, and I began in earnest the seafaring life I was destined to lead.



Wind south-south-west. The North Foreland had been rounded; the countless craft, of all sizes and rigs, generally to be found off the mouth of the Thames, had been cleared, and the Good Intent, with studding-sails alow and aloft, was standing across the German Ocean.

Jim and I soon found our sea-legs, and were as well able to go aloft to reef topsails as the older hands. We were already well up to the ordinary duties of seamen, and could take our place at the helm with any of them.

"Mr Gray was not mistaken about thee, laddie," said the captain to me one day as I came aft to the wheel. "Go on as thou hast begun; obey God, and thou wilt prosper."

I was much pleased with this praise, for the old man was not given to throwing words away. While I steered he stood by telling me not only what to do then, but how to act under various circumstances. At other times he made me come into the cabin and gave me lessons in navigation to fit me to become a mate and master. Jim, being unable to read, and showing no aptitude for learning, had not the same advantages. We both of us lived forward with the men, some of whom were a little jealous of the favour I received, and not only played me tricks, ordered me to do all sorts of disagreeable jobs, and gave me a taste of the rope's-end on the sly, but tried hard to set Jim against me. They soon, however, found out that they were not likely to succeed, for though Jim did not mind how they treated him, he was always ready to stick up for me.

The forecastle of the Good Intent was thus not a paradise to either of us. The greater number of the men were, however, well-disposed, and it was only when they were on deck that the others dared to behave as I have described, while, as we would not complain, the mate knew nothing of what was going forward below. I remember thinking to myself, "If these sort of things can be done on board a ship, with a well-disciplined crew and a good captain and mate, how hard must be the lot of the unhappy boys serving in a craft where the captain, officers, and men are alike brutal!" Jim was always ready to oblige, and I did my best to win over my enemies by trying to show that I did not mind how they treated me, and I soon succeeded.

We were, I should have said, bound out to Bergen, on the coast of Norway, for a cargo of hides, tallow, salt fish, and spars, which we were to carry to London. The weather had hitherto been fine, a great advantage to Jim and me, as we had time to learn our duties and to get accustomed to going aloft before our nerves and muscles were put to any severe test.

But though the sea was smooth, the breeze, which had at first carried us briskly along, shifted to the northward, so that we made but slow progress. Now we stood on one tack, now on the other, the wind each time heading us. At last the grumblers began to declare that we should never make our port.

"The old craft has got a run of ill-luck, there's something worse a-going to happen," said Sam Norris, one of my chief persecutors, as during his watch below he sat with his arms folded on his chest in the fore-peak. "I seed a black cat come aboard the night afore we left the docks, and no one knows that she ever went ashore again."

Some of the men looked uncomfortable at Sam's statement, but others laughed.

"What harm could the black cat do, if she did come aboard?" I inquired. "Probably she came to look for rats, and having killed all she could find, slipped ashore again unseen by any one."

"I didn't say a she-cat. It looked like a big tom-cat; but who knows that it was really a cat at all?" said Sam.

"If it wasn't a tom-cat, what was it?" asked Bob Stout, a chum of Sam's.

"Just what neither you nor I would like to meet if we had to go down into the hold alone," said Sam, in a mysterious tone.

Just then the watch below was summoned on deck to shorten sail. Not a bit too soon either, and we were quickly swarming aloft and out on the yards.

To reef sails in smooth water is easy enough, but when the ship is pitching into the fast-rising seas and heeling over to the gale, with the wind whistling through the rigging, blocks rattling, ropes lashing about, the hard canvas trying to escape from one's grip, and blatters of rain and sleet and hail in one's face, it is no pleasant matter. We had taken two reefs in the topsails, and even then the brig had as much canvas on her as she could stand up to, and we had all come down on deck, with the exception of Jim, who had been on the foreyard, when the mate, seeing a rope foul, ordered him to clear it. Jim performed his duty, but instead of coming down as he ought to have done, remained seated on the foreyard, holding on by the lift to get accustomed to the violent motion, in which he seemed to take a pleasure. The mate, not observing this, came aft to speak to the captain, who shortly afterwards, finding that the brig was falling off from the wind, which had before been baffling, having shifted ahead, ordered her to be put about.

"Down with the helm," cried the captain.

I saw the men hauling at the braces, when, looking up, I caught sight of Jim at the yardarm. I shrieked out with terror, expecting that the next instant, as the yardarm swung round, he would be dashed to pieces on the deck, or hove off into the raging sea. The kind-hearted mate, recollecting him, came rushing forward, also believing that his destruction was certain, unless he could be caught as he fell. My heart beat, and my eyes were fixed on my friend as if they would start out of my head I wildly stretched out my hands, yet I felt that I could do nothing to save him, when he made a desperate spring, and catching hold of the backstay, came gliding down by it on deck as if nothing particular had happened, scarcely conscious, indeed, of the fearful danger he had escaped. The mate rated him in stronger language than he generally used for his carelessness, winding up by asking:

"Where do you think you would have been, boy, if you hadn't have jumped when you did or had missed your aim?"

"Praise God for His great mercy to thee, laddie, and may thou never forget it all the days of thy life," said the old captain, who had beckoned Jim aft to speak to him.

Jim, touching his hat, answered, "Ay, ay, sir!" but he was, perhaps, less aware of the danger he had been in than any one on board.

The gale increased; several heavy seas struck the old brig, making her quiver from stem to stern, and at last one heavier than the rest breaking on board, carried the starboard bulwarks forward clean away. Some of the men were below; Jim and I and others were aft, and the rest, though half-drowned, managed to secure themselves. To avoid the risk of another sea striking her in the same fashion, the brig was hove-to under a close-reefed fore-topsail. As we had plenty of sea room, and the brig was tight as a bottle, so the mate affirmed, there was no danger; still, I for one heartily wished that the weather would moderate. I had gone aft, being sent by the cook to obtain the ingredients of a plum-pudding for the cabin dinner. Not thinking of danger, on my return I ran along on the lee side of the deck, but before I reached the caboose I saw a mountain sea rolling up with a terrific roar, and I heard a voice from aft shout, "Hold on for your lives!" Letting go the basin and dish I had in my hands, I grasped frantically at the nearest object I could meet with. It was a handspike sticking in the windlass, but it proved a treacherous holdfast, for, to my horror, out it came at the instant that the foaming sea broke on board, and away I was carried amid the whirl of waters right out through the shattered bulwarks. All hope of escape abandoned me. In that dreadful moment it seemed that every incident in my life came back to my memory; but Mary was the chief object of my thoughts. I knew that I was being carried off into the hungry ocean, and, as I supposed, there was no human aid at hand to save me, when the brig gave a violent lee lurch, and before I was borne away from her side I felt myself seized by the collar of my jacket, and dragged by a powerful arm, breathless and stunned with the roar of waters in my ears, into the galley.

The cook, who had retreated within it when the sea struck the brig, had caught sight of me, and at the risk of his life had darted out, as a cat springs on her prey, and saved me. I quickly recovered my senses, but was not prepared for the torrent of abuse which my preserver, Bob Fritters, poured out on me for having come along on the lee instead of the weather side of the deck.

Two or three of the watch who had been aft and fancied that I had been carried overboard, when they found that I was safe, instead of expressing any satisfaction, joined the cook in rating me for my folly. Feeling as I suppose a half-drowned rat might do, I was glad to make my escape below, where, with the assistance of Jim, I shifted into dry clothes, while he hurried on deck to obtain a fresh supply of materials for the captain's pudding. Shortly after this the gale abated, and the brig was again put on her course.

I had been sent aloft one morning soon after daybreak to loose the fore-royal, when I saw right ahead a range of blue mountains, rising above the mist which still hung over the ocean. I knew that it must be the coast of Norway, for which we were bound.

"Land! Land!" I shouted, pointing in the direction I saw the mountains, which I guessed were not visible from the deck.

The mate soon came aloft to judge for himself. "You are right, Peter," he said. "We have made a good landfall, for if I mistake not we are just abreast of the entrance to the Bay of Jeltefiord, at the farther end of which stands Bergen, the town we are bound for."

The mate was right. The breeze freshening we stood on, and in the course of the morning we ran between lofty and rugged rocks for several miles, through the narrow Straits of Carmesundt into the bay—or fiord rather—till we came to an anchor off the picturesque old town of Bergen. It was a thriving, bustling place; the inhabitants, people from all the northern nations of Europe, mostly engaged in mercantile pursuits.

We soon discharged our cargo and began taking on board a very miscellaneous one, including a considerable quantity of spars to form the masts and yards of small vessels. The day seemed to me wonderfully long, indeed there was scarcely any night. Of course, we had plenty of hard work, as we were engaged for a large part of the twenty-four hours in hoisting in cargo. I should have thought all hands would have been too tired to think of carrying on any tricks, but it seemed that two or three of them had conceived a spite against Jim because he would not turn against me.

One of our best men, Ned Andrews, who did duty as second mate, had brought for his own use a small cask of sugar, as only molasses and pea-coffee were served out forward. One morning, as I was employed aft under the captain's directions, Andrews came up and complained that on opening his cask he found it stuffed full of dirty clouts and the sugar gone. I never saw the captain so indignant.

"A thief on board my brig!" he exclaimed; "verily, I'll make an example of him, whoever he is."

Calling the mate, he ordered him forthwith to examine all the men's chests, supposing that the thief must have stowed the sugar in his own.

"Go, Peter, and help him," he added, "for I am sure that thou, my son, art not the guilty one."

I followed the mate into the fore-peak. Having first demanded the keys from the owners of those which were locked, he examined chest after chest, making me hold up the lids while he turned out the contents or plunged his hands to the bottom. No sugar was found in any of them. He then came to my chest, which I knew was not locked, and the idea came into my head that the stolen property would be there. I showed some anxiety, I suspect, as I lifted up the lid. The mate put in his hands with a careless air, as if he had no idea of the sort. Greatly to my relief he found nothing. There was but one chest to be examined. It was Jim's.

Scarcely had I opened it when the mate, throwing off a jacket spread over the top, uttered an exclamation of surprise. There exposed to view was a large wooden bowl, procured the day before by the steward for washing up glasses and cups, and supposed to have fallen overboard, cram full of sugar.

"Bring it along aft," cried the mate. "I did not think that of Pulley."

"And I don't think it now, sir," I answered, in a confident tone, as I obeyed his order.

"What's this? Where was it found?" inquired the captain, as we reached the quarter-deck.

The mate told him.

"I'll swear Jim never put it there, sir; not he!" I exclaimed.

"Swear not at all, my son, albeit thou mayest be right," said the captain. "Send James Pulley aft."

Jim quickly came.

"Hast thou, James Pulley, been guilty of stealing thy shipmate's sugar?" asked the captain.

"No, sir, please you, I never took it, and never put it where they say it was found," answered Jim, boldly.

"Appearances are sadly against thee, James Pulley," observed the captain, with more sorrow than anger in his tone. "This matter must be investigated."

"I am sure that Jim speaks the truth, sir," I exclaimed, unable to contain myself. "Somebody else stole the sugar and put it in his chest."

The crew had gathered aft, and two or three looked thunder-clouds at me as I spoke.

"Thine assertion needs proof," observed the captain. "Was thy cask of sugar open, Andrews?"

"No, sir, tightly headed up," answered Andrews.

"Then it must have been forced open by some iron instrument," said the captain. "Bring it aft here."

The empty keg was brought.

"I thought so," remarked the captain. "An axe was used to prise it open. Did any one see an axe in the hands of James Pulley?"

There was no reply for some time. At last, Ben Grimes, one of the men who had always been most hostile to Jim and me, said, "I thinks I seed Jim Pulley going along the deck with what looked mighty like the handle of an axe sticking out from under his jacket."

"The evidence is much against thee, James Pulley," said the captain. "I must, as in duty bound, report this affair to Mr Gray on our return, and it will, of course, prevent him from bestowing any further favours on you."

"I didn't do it. I'd sooner have had my right hand cut off than have done it," cried Jim. "Let me go ashore, sir, and I'll try to gain my daily bread as I best can. I can't bear to stay aboard here to be called a thief; though Peter Trawl knows I didn't take the sugar; he'd never believe that of me; and the mate doesn't, and Andrews himself doesn't."

"I am sorry for thee, lad. Thou must prove thine innocence," said the captain, turning away.

Poor Jim was very unhappy. Though both he and I were convinced that one of the men for spite had put the sugar in his chest, we could not fix on the guilty person. I did my best to comfort him. He talked of running from the ship, but I persuaded him not to think more of doing so foolish a thing.

"Stay, and your innocence will appear in due time," I said.

As we went about the deck we heard Grimes and others whispering, "Birds of a feather flock together."

They bullied Jim and me worse than ever, and took every occasion to call him a young thief, and other bad names besides. They saw how it vexed him, and that made them abuse him worse than before. The day after this we sailed. Poor Jim declared that if he could not clear himself he would never show his face in Portsmouth. I was sure that Andrews and the other good men did not believe him to be guilty, but they could not prove his innocence; and, as he said, the others would take care to blabber about him, and, worst of all, Mr Gray would think him a thief.

An easterly breeze carried us clear of the harbour, but the wind then shifted to the southward, and then to the south-west, being very light, so that after three days we had not lost sight of the coast of Norway. There seemed every probability of our having a long passage. Some of the men said it was all owing to the black cat, and Grimes declared that we must expect ill-luck with such a psalm-singing Methodist old skipper as we had. Even Andrews prognosticated evil, but his idea was that it would be brought about by an old woman he had seen on shore, said by everyone to be a powerful witch. As, however, according to Andrews, she had the power of raising storms, and we had only to complain of calms and baffling winds, I could not see that she had had any influence over us.

At last we got so far to the westward that we lost sight of the coast of Norway, but had not made good a mile to the southward—we had rather indeed drifted to the northward. Meantime, the captain hearing from the mate how the men were grumbling, called all hands aft.

"Lads, I want ye to listen to me," he said. "Some of ye fancy that we are having these calms and baffling winds on one account, and some on another, but this I know, that He who rules the seas does not allow any other beings to interfere with His plans. Ye have heard, maybe, however, of the prophet Jonah. Once upon a time, Jonah, when ordered by God to go to a certain place and perform a certain duty, disobeyed his Master, and trying to escape from Him took passage on board a ship, fancying that he could get out of God's sight. Did he succeed? No! God had His eye on Jonah, and caused a hurricane which well-nigh sent the ship to the bottom. Not till Jonah was hove overboard did the tempest cease. Now, lads, just understand there are some aboard this brig who are disobeying Him and offending Him just as much as Jonah did, and it's not for me to say that He does not allow these calms, so unusual in this latitude, to prevail in consequence. That's all I've got to say, lads, but ye'll just think over it; and now go forward."

Whether or not the men did think over it, or exactly understood what the old man meant, I cannot say, but the next morning the carpenter came aft to the captain and said that he had had a dream which made him remember that the evening before Andrews's sugar was found to have been stolen, Ben Grimes had borrowed an axe from him, on examining which afterwards he discovered that a small piece had been broken off on one side, and that Grimes acknowledged he had done it by striking a nail in a piece of wood he was chopping up. On hearing this the captain again summoned all hands aft, and ordered Andrews to bring his sugar cask. There in the head was found a piece of iron which exactly fitted the notch in the axe which the carpenter produced.

"Now, lads, say who stole Andrews's sugar and concealed it in Pulley's chest?" asked the skipper.

"Grimes! Grimes! No doubt about it!" shouted all the men, with the exception of the individual mentioned and one other.

"You are right, lads, and Pulley is innocent," said the skipper.

"As the babe unborn," answered the men, and they all, except Grimes and his chum, following my example, gave Jim a hearty shake of the hand.

I thought that he would have blubbered outright with pleasure. Though I was sure that Jim had never touched the sugar, I was thankful that the captain and the rest were convinced of his innocence.

Before noon that day a dark bank of clouds was seen coming up from the southward. In a short time several black masses broke away from the main body, and came careering across the sky.

"Away aloft and shorten sail," cried the skipper. "Be smart, lads!"

We hurried up the rigging, for there was no time to be lost.

"Two reefs in the fore-topsail! Furl the main-topsail! Let fly topgallant sheets!"

These orders came in quick succession. The captain, aided by the mate, was meantime lowering the mainsail. He at first, I believe, intended to heave the brig to, but, before the canvas was reduced the gale struck her—over she heeled—the topgallant sails, with their masts, were carried away just as Jim and I were about mounting the rigging, he the fore and I the main, to furl them; the mainsail, only half lowered, flying out, nearly knocked the mate overboard. I had got down on the weather side of the main-topsail yard to assist the hands on it, when the straining canvas broke loose from our grasp, and at the same instant the topgallant rigging, striking the two men on the lee yardarm, hurled them off into the foaming ocean.

To lower a boat was impossible; we had not strength sufficient as it was to clear away the topgallant masts, and to hand the topsails. A grating and some spars were hove to them by the mate, who then, axe in hand, sprang aloft to assist us. None too soon, for we could do nothing but cling on to the yard till the topgallant rigging was cleared away. The men on the foreyard were more successful, and I saw Jim gallantly using his knife in a fashion which at length cleared away the wreck and enabled them to secure the sail. The mate succeeded also in his object, and we were expecting them to assist us in attempting to furl the main-topsail, when the captain, seeing that we were not likely to succeed, calling us down, ordered the helm to be put up and the yards squared away, and off we ran before the fast-increasing gale, leaving, we feared, our two shipmates, the carpenter and Grimes, to perish miserably.



The Good Intent ran on before the increasing gale. The fast-rising seas came rolling up astern, threatening every instant to poop her, for, having a full cargo, she was much deeper in the water than when we sailed from Portsmouth. We quickly lost sight of the grating and spars thrown to our hapless shipmates, and they themselves had before then disappeared.

The first thing now to be done was to get the main-topsail stowed, for, flying wildly in the wind, it seemed as if about to carry away the main-topmast. The mate, Andrews, and two other men were on the point of going aloft to try and haul it in, in spite of the danger they ran in so doing, when a report like that of thunder was heard, and the sail, split into ribbons, was torn from the bolt-ropes. The fragments, after streaming out wildly in the wind, lashed themselves round and round the yard, thus saving us the hazardous task of attempting to furl the sail.

The brig flew on, now plunging into the roaring and foaming seas, now rolling from side to side so that it was difficult to keep our feet. The fore-staysail and jib had been stowed in time, and the flying jib had been blown away, so that the fore-topsail was the only sail set.

Thus hour after hour passed. Had we been running in the opposite direction we should have been making good progress, but we were now going farther and farther from our destination, to be driven into even worse weather, and perhaps to have to make our way south round the Irish coast. To avoid this, the captain was anxious to heave the brig to, and I saw him and the mate consulting how it could be done. It was a dangerous operation, they both knew, for should she not quickly come up to the wind, a sea might strike her on the broadside and sweep over her deck, or throw her on her beam-ends.

"If we get a lull it must be done," said the captain.

"Ay, ay, sir!" answered the mate; and he ordered the men to stand ready to brace round the fore-topsail-yard as the brig came up to the wind.

Still we watched in vain for the wished-for lull. In spite of the roaring seas I felt wonderfully sleepy, and could scarcely keep my eyes open as I held on to a stanchion at the after-part of the deck. Jim was much in the same condition, for we had both been on foot since the morning watch had been called, and we had had no food all day.

The kind captain, observing the state we were in, instead of abusing us, as some skippers would have done, ordered us to go below to find something to eat and to lie down till we were wanted. We were making our way forward when he shouted out—

"Go into the cabin, laddies. There is some bread and cheese in the pantry, and ye'll be ready at hand when I call ye."

We quickly slipped below, and he again closed the companion-hatch which he had opened to let us descend. The other hatches had been battened down, for at any moment a sea might break on board, and if they had not been secured, might fill the vessel.

Not a ray of light came below, but Jim and I, groping about, found the bread and cheese we were in search of and soon satisfied our hunger. We then, thankful to get some rest, lay down on the deck of the cabin— which landsmen would call the floor—for we should have considered it presumptuous to stretch ourselves in one of the berths or even on the locker; and in spite of the rolling and pitching of the brig we were quickly fast asleep.

I seldom dreamed in those days, but, though tired as I was, my slumbers were troubled. Now I fancied that the brig was sinking, but that, somehow or other, I came to the surface, and was striking out amid the raging billows for the land; then I thought that I was again on board, and that the brig, after rushing rapidly on, struck upon a huge reef of black rocks, when, in an instant, her timbers split asunder, and we were all hurled into the seething waters. Suddenly I was awoke by the thundering, crashing sound of a tremendous blow on the side of the vessel, and I found myself hove right across the cabin, clutching fast hold of Jim, who shouted out, "Hillo, Peter, what is the matter? Are we all going to be drowned?"

Before I could answer him there came from above us—indeed, it had begun while he was speaking—a deafening mingling of terrific noises, of rending planks, of falling spars, the rush and swirl and roar of waters, amid which could be heard the faint cries of human voices.

The brig had been thrown on her beam-ends; of that there could be no doubt, for when we attempted to get on our feet we found the deck of the cabin almost perpendicular.

"Do you think the brig will go down?" shouted Jim.

The hubbub was so great that it was impossible to hear each other unless we spoke at the very top of our voices.

"We must, at all events, get on deck as soon as we can, and do our best to save ourselves," I answered.

Though I said this, I had very little hope of escaping, as I thought that the vessel might at any moment founder. Even to get on deck was no easy matter, for everything in the cabin was upside down—boxes and bales, and casks and articles of all sorts, thrown out of the lockers, mixed with the furniture which had broken adrift, were knocking about, while all the time we were in complete darkness. The dead-lights had fortunately been closed at the commencement of the gale, and the companion-hatch remained secure, so that, as yet, no water came below.

Getting on our feet we were endeavouring to grope our way to the companion-ladder when we heard two loud crashes in quick succession, and directly afterwards, the brig righting with a violent jerk, we were thrown half across the cabin, bruised and almost stunned, among the numberless things knocking violently about. After a time, on recovering our senses, we picked ourselves up and made another attempt to get on deck. I now began to hope that the brig would not go down as soon as I had expected, but still I knew that she was in a fearfully perilous condition. I was sure from the crashing sounds we had heard that both her masts were gone: that very probably also she had sprung a leak, while we were far to the northward of the usual track of vessels.

At last we found our way to the cabin door, but groped about in vain for the companion-ladder, till Jim suggested that it had been unshipped when the vessel went over. After some time we found it, but had great difficulty, in consequence of the way the brig was rolling, to get it replaced. As soon as it was so I mounted and shouted as loud as I could to some one to come and lift off the hatch.

No voice replied. Again and again I shouted, fancying that the people might have gone forward for some reason or other and had forgotten us.

"What can have happened?" cried Jim, in a tone of alarm.

I dared not answer him, for I feared the worst.

Feeling about, I discovered an axe slung just inside the companion-hatch, on which I began hammering away with all my might—but still no one came.

"Jim, I'm afraid they must all be gone," I cried out at last.

"Gone!" he exclaimed. "What, the old captain, and mate, and Andrews, and the rest?"

"I am afraid so," I answered.

Again I shouted and knocked. Still no one came.

"We must break open the hatch," I said, and I attempted to force up the top with the axe, but did not succeed.

"Let me try," cried Jim; "my arm is stronger than yours."

I got down the ladder and gave him the axe. He took my place and began working away at the part where the hatch was placed. I could hear him giving stroke after stroke, but could see nothing, for the hatch fitted so closely that not a gleam of light came through it.

Presently I heard him sing out, "I've done it," and I knew by the rush of cold damp air which came down below that he had got off the hatch.

Still all was dark, but looking up I could distinguish the cloudy sky. Not till then did I know that it was night. We had gone to sleep in broad daylight, and I had no idea of the number of hours which had passed by since then. I sprang up the companion-ladder after Jim, who had stepped out on deck.

The spectacle which met my eyes was appalling. The masts were gone, carried away a few feet from the deck—only the stumps were standing— everything had been swept clear away, the caboose, the boats, the bulwark; the brig was a complete wreck; the dark foam-topped seas were rising up high above the deck, threatening to engulf her.

The masts were still alongside hanging on by the rigging, their butt ends every now and then striking against her with so terrific a force that I feared they must before long drive a hole through the planking. As far as I could make out through the thick gloom, some spars which had apparently fallen before the masts gave way lay about the deck, kept from being washed away by the rigging attached to them having become entangled in the stanchions and the remaining portions of the shattered bulwarks.

Not one of our shipmates could we see. Again we shouted, in the faint hope that some of them might be lying concealed forward. No one answered.

"Maybe that they have gone down into the fore-peak," said Jim; "I'll go and knock on the hatch. They can't hear our shouts from where we are."

I tried to persuade Jim not to make the attempt till daylight, for a sea might break on board and wash him away.

"But do you see, Peter, we must try and get help to cut away the lower rigging, which keeps the masts battering against the sides?" he answered.

"Then I'll go with you," I said. "We'll share the same fate, whatever that may be."

"No, no, Peter! You stay by the companion-hatch; see, there are plenty of spars for me to catch hold of, and I'll take good care not to get washed away," answered Jim, beginning his journey forward.

Notwithstanding what he said, I was following him when I fancied that I heard a faint groan. I stopped to listen. It might be only the sound produced by the rubbing of two spars together or the working of the timbers. Again I heard the groan. I was now sure that it was uttered by one of our shipmates. It came from a part of the deck covered by a mass of broken spars and sails and rigging. Though I could not see as far, I knew that Jim had reached the fore-hatchway by hearing him shouting and knocking with the back of the axe.

"Are any of them there?" I cried out.

"No! Not one, I'm afeared," he answered.

"Then come and help me to see if there is any person under these spars here," I said.

Of course we had to bawl out to each other at the top of our voices on account of the clashing of the seas, the groaning and creaking of the timbers and bulk-heads, and the thundering of the masts against the sides.

Jim soon joined me. We had to be very cautious how we moved about, for besides the risk there was at any moment of a sea sweeping across the deck, we might on account of the darkness have stepped overboard. We lost no time in crawling to the spot whence I heard the groans proceeding.

On feeling about we soon discovered a man, his body pressed down on the deck by a heavy spar, and partly concealed by the canvas.

"Who are you?" cried Jim. "Speak to us,—do."

A groan was the only answer.

"Do you try and lift the spar, Jim, and I'll drag him out," I said.

Jim tried to do as I told him, but though he exerted all his strength he could not succeed in raising the spar.

"Oh, dear! Oh, dear! The poor fellow will die if we cannot get him free soon," I exclaimed, in despair.

"This will do it," cried Jim, who had been searching about, and now came with the broken end of a topgallant-yard to serve as a handspike. By its means he prised up the spar, while I as gently as I could dragged out the man by the shoulders. No sooner did I feel his jacket than I was almost sure that he was no other than our good old skipper. He was breathing heavily, and had apparently been rendered unconscious by a blow on the head. I at length got him out from under the spar.

"We must carry him below before another sea breaks on board," I said. "Come, help me, Jim."

Together we lifted the old man, and staggering along the slippery deck, reached the companion-hatch in safety. To get him down without injury was more difficult. I going first and taking his legs, and Jim holding him by the shoulders, we succeeded at last. While Jim supported him at the bottom of the ladder, I hunted about till I found a tinder-box and matches and lighted the cabin lamp. It showed us, as I had supposed, that the person I had rescued was our captain. He was pale as death, and bleeding from a wound in the head. The light also exhibited the utter confusion into which the cabin had been thrown. I managed, however, to clear a way to the state cabin, to which we carried the captain, and then getting off his wet clothes placed him between the blankets in his berth. Fortunately, there was a cask of water in the pantry, which enabled us to wash and bind up his head, so as to staunch the blood flowing from it. The operation was performed but roughly, as all the time the sound of the masts thundering like battering-rams against the side of the vessel warned us that, we must try to cut them adrift without delay. I feared that already they had done some serious damage. Even before we left the captain he seemed to have somewhat recovered his consciousness, for I heard him mutter, "Be smart, lads. Tell mate—cut away wreck."

Of course we did not let him know that besides himself we alone of all the crew were left alive. In the cabin I found another axe, and Jim and I, going on deck, began the difficult and dangerous task we had undertaken.

The lower rigging, on what had been the weather side, had entirely given way, so that we had only to cut that on the opposite side, but in leaning over to reach the shrouds at the chains we ran a fearful risk of being carried off by the sea as the vessel rolled from side to side.

We first tried to clear the mainmast. We had cut two of the shrouds, when a sea, having driven the butt end against the side with fearful force, lifted it just as the brig rolled over, and it came sweeping along the deck, nearly taking Jim and me off our legs. With the greatest difficulty we escaped.

"It shan't do that again," cried Jim; and dashing forward with axe uplifted he cut the last shroud, and the mast was carried away by the next sea.

We had still to get rid of the foremast and bowsprit, which were doing as much damage as the mainmast had done, by every now and then ramming away at the bows with a force sufficient, it seemed, to knock a hole through them at any moment. I felt anxious to return to the cabin to attend to our old captain, but the safety of the vessel required us not to delay a moment longer than could be helped in cutting away the remaining masts and bowsprit.

I observed soon after the mainmast had gone that the wind had fallen, and that there was somewhat less sea running, and in a short time the light began to increase. I do not think that otherwise we should have accomplished our task. Jim sprang forward with his axe, taking always the post of danger, and hacking away at rope after rope as he could manage to reach them.

I followed his example. Often we had to hold on for our lives as the seas washed over us. At length the work was accomplished. We gave a shout of satisfaction as, the last rope severed, we saw the mass of wreck drop clear of the brig. But our work was not done. There we were in the midst of the North Sea, without masts or canvas or boats, our bulwarks gone, the brig sorely battered, and only our two selves and our poor old captain to navigate her. To preserve his life our constant attention was required.

"We'll go below and see how the old man gets on," I said. "There's nothing more for us to do on deck that I can see at present."

"Not so sure of that, Peter," answered Jim. "You go and look after the skipper, and I'll just see how matters are forward and down in the hold."

As I felt sure that the captain ought not to be left longer alone, I hurried into the cabin. He was conscious, but still scarcely able to speak. I told him that we had cleared away the wreck of the masts, and that the weather was moderating.

"Thank God!" he murmured. Then, getting some more water, I again dressed his wounded head, and afterwards proposed lighting the cabin fire and trying to make him some broth.

"Water! I only want water," he said, in the same low voice as before.

I procured some in a mug. He drank it, and then said, "Get up jury-masts and steer west," not understanding as yet, I suppose, that the crew were lost.

"Ay, ay, sir," I answered, being unwilling to undeceive him, though I wondered how Jim and I could alone obey his orders; yet, if we were ever to reach a port, jury-masts must be got up.

As I could do nothing more just then for the captain, I was going on deck, when I met Jim at the companion-hatch, his face wearing an expression of the greatest alarm.

"Things are very bad, Peter," he exclaimed. "The water is coming in through a big hole in the bows like a mill-sluice, and I'm much afeared that before long the old craft will carry us and the captain to the bottom."

"Not if we keep our wits awake, Jim," I answered. "We must try to stop the hole. Come along."

Hurrying forward, we dived down into the fore-peak. We could now venture to leave the hatch off, so as to give light below. Sure enough the water was coming in terribly fast, but not quite so fast as Jim described, though already the men's chests and other articles were afloat.

The largest hole was, I saw, in the very centre of a bunk, so that we could easily get at it. Dragging out all the blankets from the other bunks, I rammed them into the hole.

"Hand me a board or the top of a chest—knock it off quick!" I sang out.

Jim, leaping on a chest, wrenched off the lid and gave it me.

"Now that handspike."

There was one close to him. By pressing the board against the blankets, and jamming the handspike down between it and the outer corner of the bunk, the gush of water was stopped.

"Here's another hole still more forward, I can see the water bubbling in," cried Jim, holding a lantern, which he had lit that he might look round, to the place.

We stopped it as we had the first.

"It will be a mercy if there are no other holes in the side under the cargo," he said. "We'll try the well."

We returned on deck, and Jim sounded the well.

"Six feet of water or more," he said, in a mournful tone, as he examined the rod.

"Then we must rig the pumps and try to clear her!" I exclaimed. "It will be a hard job, but it may be done, and we must not think of letting the old craft sink under our feet."

We set to work, and pumped and pumped away, the water coming up in a clear stream, till our backs and arms ached, and we felt every moment ready to drop, but we cheered each other on, resolved not to give in as long as we could stand on our legs.



"Are we gaining on the leaks, think you, Jim?" I at length gasped out, for I felt that if our efforts were producing some effect we should be encouraged to continue them, but that if not it would be wise before we were thoroughly exhausted to try and build a raft on which we might have a chance of saving our lives.

My companion made no reply, but giving a look of doubt, still pumped on, the perspiration streaming down his face and neck showing the desperate exertions he was making. I was much in the same condition, though, like Jim, I had on only my shirt and trousers. I was the first to give in, and, utterly unable to move my arms, I sank down on the deck. Jim, still not uttering a word, doggedly worked on, bringing up a stream of water which flowed out through the scuppers.

It seemed wonderful that he could go on, but after some time he also stopped, and staggered to where he had left the rod.

"I'll try," he said.

I gazed at him with intense anxiety.

"Three inches less. We're gaining on the leaks!" he exclaimed.

I sprang to my feet and seized the brake. Jim struck out with his arms "to take the turns out of the muscles," as he said, while he sat for a minute on the deck, and again went at it.

All this time the wind was falling and the sea going down. As we laboured at the pumps we looked out anxiously for the appearance of a vessel which might afford us assistance, but not a sail appeared above the horizon. We must depend on our own exertions for preserving our lives. Though a calm would enable us the better to free the brig of water and to get up jury-masts, it would lessen our chance of obtaining help. Yet while the brig was rolling and tumbling about we could do nothing but pump, and pump we did till our strength failed us, and we both sank down on the deck.

My eyes closed, and I felt that I was dropping off to sleep. How long I thus lay I could not tell, when I heard Jim sing out—

"Hurrah! We've gained six inches on the leak," and clank, clank, clank, went his pump.

I cannot say that I sprang up, but I got, somehow or other, on my feet, and, seizing the brake, laboured away more like a person in his sleep than one awake.

I saw the water flowing freely, so I knew that I was not pumping uselessly. Presently I heard Jim cry out—

"Hillo! Look there!"

Turning my eyes aft, I saw the captain holding on by the companion-hatch, and gazing in utter astonishment along the deck. His head bound up in a white cloth, a blanket over his shoulders, his face pale as death, he looked more like a ghost than a living man.

"Where are they, lads?" he exclaimed at length, in a hollow voice.

"All gone overboard, sir," answered Jim, thinking he ought to speak.

The old man, on hearing this, fell flat on the deck.

We ran and lifted him up. At first I thought he was dead, but he soon opened his eyes and whispered—

"It was a passing weakness, and I'll be better soon. Trust in God, laddies; go on pumping, and He'll save your lives," he said.

"We'll take you below first, sir. You'll be better in your berth than here," I answered.

"No, no! I'll stay on deck; the fresh air will do me good," he said; but scarcely had he uttered the words than he fell back senseless.

"We must get him below, or he'll die here," I said; so Jim and I carried him down as before, and got him into his bed.

"He wants looking after," said Jim; "so, Peter, do you tend him, and I'll go back to the pumps."

Thinking that he wanted food more than anything else, I lighted the cabin fire, and collecting some materials from the pantry for broth in a saucepan, put it on to boil.

Though I had been actively engaged, I felt able once more to work the pumps. Jim said that he was certain the water in the hold was decreasing, while, as the brig was steadier, less was coming in. This increased our hopes of keeping her afloat, but we should want rest and sleep, and when we knocked off the water might once more gain on us.

We did not forget, however, what the captain had said. When I could pump no longer I ran below, freshly dressed the old man's head, and gave him some broth, which was by this time ready. It evidently did him good. Then, taking a basin of it myself, I ran up on deck with another for Jim.

"That puts life into one," he said, as, seated on the deck with his legs stretched out, he swallowed it nearly scalding hot. A draught of water which he told me to bring, however, cooled his throat, and he again set to, I following his example.

By this time the day was far advanced, and even Jim confessed that he must soon give in, while I could scarcely stand.

The wind had continued to go down, but the sea still rolled the vessel about too much to enable us to get up jury-masts, even if we had had strength to move, before dark.

"It's no use trying to hold out longer, I must get a snooze," sighed Jim.

He looked as if he were half asleep already.

"We had better go and lie down in the cabin, so that we may be ready to help the captain," I answered; "but I'll tell you what, we'll take a look into the fore-peak first, to see how the leaks are going on there."

"Oh, they are all right," said Jim. "We shouldn't have lessened the water so much if anything had given way."

Still I persisted in going forward, and Jim followed me. Just then the vessel gave a pitch, which nearly sent me head first down the fore-hatchway. As we got below I heard the sound of a rush of water. The handspike which secured the chief leak had worked out of its place, and the blankets and boards were forced inwards. It required all our remaining strength to put them back. Had we been asleep aft the brig would have filled in a few minutes. Jim wanted to remain forward, but I persuaded him to come aft, being sure that he would sleep too soundly to hear the water coming in should the leaks break out afresh, and might be drowned before he awoke. Having done all we could to secure the handspikes, we crawled rather than walked to the cabin.

We were thankful to find that the captain was asleep, so, without loss of time, Jim crept into one of the side berths, and I lay down on the after locker. In half a minute I had forgotten what had happened and where I was. As the old captain and we two lads lay fast asleep on board the demasted brig out there in the wild North Sea, a kind Providence watched over us. We might have been run down, or, the leaks breaking out afresh, the vessel might have foundered before we awoke.

A voice which I supposed to be that of the captain aroused me. The sun was shining down through the cabin sky-light. The vessel was floating motionless. Not a sound did I hear except Jim's snoring. I tried to jump up, but found my limbs terribly stiff, every joint aching. I made my way, however, to the old man's berth.

"How are you, Captain Finlay?" I asked.

He did not reply. I stepped nearer. His eyes were closed. I thought he was dead; yet I heard his voice, I was certain of that. I stood looking at him, afraid to ascertain if what I feared was the case. A feeling of awe crept over me. I did not like to call out to Jim, yet I wanted him to come to me. At last I staggered over to the berth in which Jim was sleeping. "Jim! Jim!" I said, "I am afraid the captain is taken very bad."

Jim did not awake, so I shook him several times till he sat up, still half asleep and rubbing his eyes.

"What's the matter?" he asked. "Oh—ay, I know. We'll turn to at the pumps, Peter."

I repeated what I had said. He was on his feet in a moment. He moved at first with as much difficulty as I had done. "Come along," I said, and together we went over to the state cabin. We looked at the old man without speaking. After some time Jim mustered courage to touch his hand. To my great relief the captain opened his eyes.

"Praise God, who has preserved us during the night, my lads!" were the first words he spoke, and while we stood by his side he offered up a short prayer.

He then told us to go on deck and learn the state of the weather.

We hurried up. The sun was shining brightly; the sea was smooth as glass, unbroken by a single ripple. Jim did not forget the leak; he sounded the well.

"We must turn to at the pumps, Peter," he exclaimed. "She's made a good deal of water during the night, and it will take us not a few hours to get it out of her, but we'll not give in."

"I should think not, indeed," I answered. "But I'll go down and hear what the captain wants us to do."

Before I had got half way down the companion-ladder I heard the clank of the pump. Jim had lost no time in setting to work.

I hastened to the state-room. I was startled by the changed appearance of the captain's countenance during the short time I had been on deck. His eyes were turned towards me with a fixed look. I spoke, but he did not answer; I leant over him, no breath proceeded from his lips; I touched his brow, then I knew that the good old man was dead. Presently I closed his eyes, and with a sad heart returned on deck.

"He's gone, Jim," I cried.

"Gone! The captain gone! Then I am sorry," answered Jim, as he stopped pumping for a moment, though he still held the brake in his hands. "Then, Peter, you and I must just do our best to take the brig into port by ourselves."

"I was thinking the same, Jim," I said. "He told us to get up jury-masts and steer west, and that's just what we must do if the wind will let us."

The death of our good captain made us feel very sad, for we had learned to look upon him as our true friend. It caused us also to become more anxious even than before about ourselves. With his assistance we had had little doubt, should the weather remain fine, of reaching a port, but as we were neither of us accustomed to the use of charts, and did not know how to take an observation, we could not tell to what port we should steer our course.

We had both, however, dauntless spirits, and had been accustomed from our childhood to trust to our own resources. Our grand idea was to steer west, if we could manage to get sail on the brig, but before this could be attempted we must pump her free of water.

There was no time to mourn for our old captain, so without delay we turned to at the pumps. My arms and legs and every part of my body felt very stiff. Jim saw that I should not be able to continue long at it.

"Peter, do you go below and look out for some spars to serve as jury-masts," he said; "I'll meantime keep on. We shall soon get the water under; it's only a wonder more hasn't come in."

Jim and I never thought who was captain; if I told him to do a thing he did it, or if he gave an order I did not stop to consider whether or not he had the right to command. We worked together as if we had but one will.

It was "a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull both together."

There were plenty of spars below, and I soon selected some which I thought would serve for the masts and yards we required. I had to call Jim to help me get them up on deck.

"There'll be no use for these till we can find some canvas to spread on them," I observed.

"Nor till we get a breeze to fill the sails," said Jim. "However, we'll get them set while the calm lasts, and no doubt you'll find as many as we can carry in the sail-room."

This was right aft, down a small hatchway. While Jim went again to his pump, I hunted about and hauled out two topgallantsails and royals, a fore-staysail, a second jib, and a main-trysail. If we could set all these we should do well, supposing we got a fair breeze. It would be no easy job, however, I knew, to get up the masts. We had one advantage. The proper masts had been carried away some six or seven feet from the deck, so that we might lash the spars to them. Before setting to work I again went below to hunt for rope. I got more than I expected from different parts of the vessel, and we had also saved some of the rigging, which had been entangled in the bulwarks.

"We shall want every scrap of rope we can find!" cried Jim, panting and still pumping away.

"I'll take a spell with you," I said. "Then we'll turn to and rig the ship."

I pumped till I could pump no longer, and then, after a short rest, we commenced in earnest. We first lashed a short spar, with a tackle secured to its head, to the stump of the foremast, and then, having fitted two shrouds on a side, with a forestay and backstays, and blocks for the halliards, to the spar we had chosen for a foremast, we swayed it up my means of the short spar and tackle. We could not possibly in any other way have accomplished our object. We next lashed the spar to the stump of the mast. No time was lost in setting up the standing rigging. Our foremast being thus fixed, we surveyed it with infinite satisfaction, and then turned to and fitted the brig with a mainmast in the same fashion. This we made somewhat stronger, as we intended it to carry a mainsail should we have to haul on a wind. Our work, as may be supposed, was not especially neat—indeed, we had to knot most of the shrouds, as it was necessary to keep all the longer lengths of rope for halliards, and we had none to spare.

I cannot stop to explain how we accomplished all this; we could not have done it without employing tackles, which we brought to the windlass, and thus gained twenty times as much power as we by ourselves possessed.

We were now pretty well tired and hungry, for, except some bread and cheese and a jug of cold water, we had taken nothing all day.

It was with a feeling of awe that we went down into the cabin where the old captain lay. Jim, however, closed the door of the state-room, so that we could not see him. We then lighted the fire and cooked some dinner—or rather supper, for evening was drawing on. Anxious to be again at work, we hurried over the meal.

"I say, Peter, don't you think we ought to bury the skipper?" asked Jim, after a long silence.

"Not for some days to come," I answered; "I hope that we may get into port first, so as to lay him in a grave on shore."

"I don't think it will make much odds to him; and, to say the truth, now he's dead, I'd rather he were out of the ship," said Jim; "they say it's unlucky to have a dead man on board."

I had some difficulty in persuading Jim of the folly of such a notion, but we finally agreed that we would try to carry the captain's body to land.

Before bending sails we took a look down forward to see the condition of the leaks. The handspikes were in their places, and, except a slight moisture round the holes, we could not discover that any water was getting in. Still there was a great deal too much in the brig for safety, so we took another spell at the pumps before going on with the rigging.

Darkness found us hard at work. We were too tired and sleepy to attempt keeping a look-out, but I bethought me of hoisting a lantern at each masthead, which would save us from being run down should a breeze spring up during the night Jim thought the idea capital, and promised to get up and trim the lamps.

Fortunately, the nights were short, so that there was not much necessity for that. Our chief wish now was that the calm would continue for a few hours during the next day, that we might get the brig to rights.

"One spell more at the pumps!" cried Jim.

We seized the brakes, worked till we could work no longer, then went below, ate some food from the pantry, and lying down in the two larboard berths in the cabin, were fast asleep in a few seconds.

People talk of sleeping like tops. A hard-worked ship-boy will beat any top in the world at sleeping soundly.

For a second night the brig lay becalmed. I doubt that if even a fierce gale had sprung up it would have awakened us. The sun was shining when I opened my eyes. It might have been shining for hours for what I could tell.

I roused up Jim, and we sprang on deck, vexed at having, as we supposed, lost so much precious time. By the height of the sun above the horizon, however, we judged that it was not so late as we had at first fancied. The clock in the cabin had been unshipped when the brig went over, and the captain's watch had stopped, so that we had otherwise no means of knowing how the hours passed by. It was still perfectly calm. We looked round in all directions. Not a sail was in sight.

"We must get ready for the breeze, Jim, when it does spring up," I said. "It will come before many hours are over, I've a notion."

I had observed some light clouds just under the sun.

"May be; but we must take a spell at the pumps first," he answered—his first thought was always of them.

We turned to as before, till our arms ached, and then we ran down and got some breakfast. We knew the value of time, but we couldn't get on without eating, any more than other people.

On returning to the deck we lowered the lanterns, which had long since gone out, finished bending the sails, fitting braces, tacks, sheets, and bowlines, and were then ready to hoist away. We at once set all the sails we had ready, to see how they stood. To our satisfaction, they appeared to greater advantage than we had expected.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse