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Near The Norden-fjord
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One stormy winter's evening, in the year 1579, Gerhar...

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A Man Overboard






Sailors are men of rough habits, but their feelings are not by any
means so coarse: if they possess little prudence or worldly
consideration, they are likewise very free from selfishness; generally
speaking, too, they are much attached to one another, and will make
great sacrifices to their messmates or shipmates when opportunities
occur.

I remember once, when cruising off Terceira in the Endymion, that a
man fell overboard and was drowned. After the usual confusion, and
long search in vain, the boats were hoisted up, and the hands called
to make sail. I was officer of the forecastle and on looking about to
see if all the men were at their station, missed one of the fore-top
men. Just at that moment I observed some one curled up, and apparently
hiding himself under the bow of the barge, between the boat and the
booms. 'Hillo!' I said, 'who are you? What are you doing there, you
skulker? Why are you not at your station?'

'I am not skulking,' said the poor fellow, the furrows in whose
bronzed and weatherbeaten cheek were running down with tears. The man
we had just lost had been his messmate and friend, he told me, for ten
years. I begged his pardon, in full sincerity, for having used such
harsh words to him at such a moment, and bid him go below to his birth
for the rest of the day--'Never mind, sir, never mind,' said the kind
hearted seaman, 'it can't be helped. You meant no harm, sir. I am as
well on deck as below. Bill's gone sir, but I must do my duty.' So
saying, he drew the sleeve of his jacket twice or thrice across his
eyes, and mustering his grief within his breast, walked to his station
as if nothing had happened.

In the same ship and nearly about the same time, the people were
bathing along side in a calm at sea. It is customary on such occasions
to spread a studding-sail on the water, by means of lines from the
fore and main yard arms, for the use of those who either cannot swim,
or who are not expert in this art, so very important to all seafaring
people. Half a dozen of the ship's boys were floundering about in the
sails, and sometimes even venturing beyond the leech rope. One of the
least of these urchins, but not the least courageous of their number,
when taunted by his more skilful companions with being afraid, struck
out boldly beyond the prescribed bounds. He had not gone much further
than his own length, however, along the surface of the fathomless sea,
when his heart failed him, poor little man; and along with his
confidence away also went his power of keeping his head above the
water. So down he sank rapidly, to the speechless horror of the other
boys, who of course, could lend the drowning child no help.

The captain of the forecastle, a tall, fine-looking, hard-a-weather
fellow, was standing on the shank of the sheet anchor with his arms
across, and his well varnished canvass hat drawn so much over his eyes
that it was difficult to tell whether he was awake or merely dozing in
the sun, as he leaned his back against the fore-topmast backstay. The
seaman, however, had been attentively watching the young party all the
time, and rather fearing that mischief might ensue from their
rashness, he had grunted out a warning to them from time to time, to
which they paid no sort of attention. At last he desisted, saying they
might drown themselves if they had a mind, for never a bit would he
help them; but no sooner did the sinking figure of the adventurous
little boy catch his eye, than, diver fashion, he joined the palms of
his hands over his head, inverted his position in one instant, and
urging himself into swifter motion by a smart push with his feet
against the anchor, shot head foremost into the water. The poor lad
sunk so rapidly that he was at least a couple of fathoms under the
surface before he was arrested by the grip of the sailor, who soon
rose again, bearing the bewildered boy in his hand, and calling to the
other youngsters to take better care of their companion, chucked him
right into the belly of the sail. The fore-sheet was hanging in the
calm, nearly into the water, and by it the dripping seaman scrambled
up again to his old birth on the anchor, shook himself like a great
Newfoundland dog, and then jumping on the deck, proceeded across the
forecastle to shift himself.

At the top of the ladder he was stopped by the marine officer, who had
witnessed the whole transaction, as he sat across the gangway
hammocks, watching the swimmers, and trying to get his own consent to
undergo the labor of undressing. Said the soldier to the sailor, "That
was very well done of you, my man, and right well deserves a glass of
grog. Say so to the gun-room steward as you pass; and tell him it is
my orders to fill you out a stiff nor-wester." The soldier's offer was
kindly meant, but rather clumsily timed, at least so thought Jack: for
though he inclined his head in acknowledgment of the attention, and
instinctively touched his hat when spoken to by an officer, he made no
reply till out of the marine's hearing, when he laughed, or rather
chuckled out to the people near him, "Does the good gentleman suppose
I'll take a glass of grog for saving a boy's life."





Next: An Escape Through The Cabin-windows

Previous: Seamen Wintering In Spitzbergen



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