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Sea StoriesToilers Of The Sea
Victor Hugo's "Toilers of the Sea" is a story of the Ch...
Lifeboats And Lightships
When our noble Lifeboat Institution was in its infan...
A Storm And A Rescue
All that night it blew terribly hard, and raised as wild and raging a
sea as ever I remember hearing or seeing described. During my
watch--that is, from midnight until four o'clock--the wind veered a
couple of points, but had gone back again only to blow harder; just as
though it had stepped out of its way a trifle to catch extra breath.
I was quite worn out by the time my turn came to go below; and though
the vessel was groaning like a live creature in its death agonies, and
the seas thumping against her with such shocks as kept me thinking that
she was striking hard ground, I fell asleep as soon as my head touched
the pillow, and never moved until routed out by Duckling four hours
All this time the gale had not bated a jot of its violence, and the
ship labored so heavily that I had the utmost difficulty in getting out
of the cuddy on to the poop. When I say that the decks fore and aft
were streaming wet, I convey no notion of the truth: the main deck was
simply _afloat_, and every time the ship rolled, the water on her deck
rushed in a wave against the bulwarks and shot high in the air, to
mingle sometimes with fresh and heavy inroads of the sea, both falling
back upon the deck with the boom of a gun.
I had already ascertained from Duckling that the well had been sounded
and the ship found dry; and therefore, since we were tight below, it
mattered little what water was shipped above, as the hatches were
securely battened down fore and aft, and the mast-coats unwrung. But
still she labored under the serious disadvantage of being overloaded;
and the result was, her fore parts were being incessantly swept by seas
which at times completely hid her forecastle in spray.
Shortly after breakfast, Captain Coxon sent me forward to dispatch a
couple of hands on to the jib-boom to snug the inner jib, which looked
to be rather shakily stowed. I managed to dodge the water on the
main-deck by waiting until it rolled to the starboard scuppers and then
cutting ahead as fast as I could; but just as I got upon the
forecastle, I was saluted by a green sea which carried me off my legs,
and would have swept me down on the main-deck had I not held on stoutly
with both hands to one of the fore-shrouds. The water nearly drowned
me, and kept me sneezing and coughing for ten minutes afterward. But
it did me no further mischief; for I was incased in good oilskins and
sou'-wester, which kept me as dry as a bone inside.
Two ordinary seamen got upon the jib-boom, and I bade them keep a good
hold, for the ship sometimes danced her figurehead under water and
buried her sprit-sail-yard; and when she sunk her stern, her flying
jib-boom stood up like the mizzenmast. I waited until this job of
snugging the sail was finished, and then made haste to get off the
forecastle, where the seas flew so continuously and heavily that had I
not kept a sharp lookout, I should several times have been knocked
Partly out of curiosity and partly with a wish to hearten the men, I
looked into the forecastle before going aft. There were sliding-doors
let into the entrance on either side the windlass, but one of them was
kept half open to admit air, the forescuttle above being closed. The
darkness here was made visible by an oil lamp,--in shape resembling a
tin coffee-pot with a wick in the spout,--which burned black and
smokily. The deck was up to my ankles in water, which gurgled over the
pile of swabs that lay at the open entrance. It took my eye some
moments to distinguish objects in the gloom; and then by degrees the
strange interior was revealed. A number of hammocks were swung against
the upper deck and around the forecastle were two rows of bunks, one
atop the other. Here and there were sea-chests lashed to the deck; and
these, with the huge windlass, a range of chain cable, lengths of rope,
odds and ends of pots and dishes, with here a pair of breeches hanging
from a hammock, and there a row of oilskins swinging from a
beam,--pretty well made up all the furniture that met my eye.
The whole of the crew were below. Some of the men lay smoking in their
bunks, others in their hammocks with their boots over the edge; one was
patching a coat, another greasing his boots; others were seated in a
group talking; while under the lamp were a couple of men playing at
cards upon a chest, three or four watching and holding on by the
hammocks over their heads.
A man, lying in his bunk with his face toward me, started up and sent
his legs, incased in blanket trousers and brown woolen stockings,
"Here's Mr. Royle, mates!" he called out. "Let's ask him the name of
the port the captain means to touch at for proper food, for we aren't
goin' to wait much longer."
"Don't ask me any questions of that kind, my lads," I replied promptly,
seeing a general movement of heads in the bunks and hammocks. "I'd
give you proper victuals if I had the ordering of them; and I have
spoken to Captain Coxon about you, and I am sure he will see this
matter put to rights."
I had difficulty in making my voice heard, for the striking of the seas
against the ship's bows filled the place with an overwhelming volume of
sound; and the hollow, deafening thunder was increased by the uproar of
the ship's straining timbers.
"Who the devil thinks," said a voice from a hammock, "that we're going
to let ourselves be grinded as we was last night without proper wittles
to support us? I'd rather have signed articles for a coal-barge, with
drowned rats to eat from Gravesend to Whitstable, than shipped in this
here cursed vessel, where the bread's just fit to make savages retch!"
I had not bargained for this, but had merely meant to address them
cheerily, with a few words of approval of the smart way in which they
had worked the ship in the night. Seeing that my presence would do no
good, I turned about and left the forecastle, hearing, as I came away,
one of the Dutchmen cry out:--
"Look here, Mister Rile, vill you be pleashed to ssay when we are to
hov' something to eat?--for by Gott! ve vill kill te dom pigs in the
long-boat if the skipper don't mindt--so look out!"
As ill-luck would have it, Captain Coxon was at the break of the poop,
and saw me come out of the forecastle. He waited until he had got me
alongside of him, when he asked me what I was doing among the men.
"I looked in to give them a good word for the work they did last
night," I answered.
"And who asked you to give them a good word, as you call it?"
"I have never had to wait for orders to encourage a crew."
"Mind what you are about, sir!" he exclaimed, in a voice tremulous with
rage. "I see through your game, and I'll put a stopper upon it that
you won't like."
"What game, sir? Let me have your meaning."
"An infernal mutinous game!" he roared. "Don't talk to me, sir! I
know you! I've had my eye upon you! You'll play false if you can, and
are trying to smother up your d--d rebel meanings with genteel airs!
Get away, sir!" he bellowed, stamping his foot. "Get away aft! You're
a lumping useless incumbrance! But by thunder! I'll give you two for
every one you try to give me! So stand by!"
And apparently half mad with his rage, he staggered away in the very
direction in which he had told me to go, and stood near the wheel,
glaring upon me with a white face, which looked indescribably
malevolent in the fur cap and ear-protectors that ornamented it.
I was terribly vexed by this rudeness, which I was powerless to resist,
and regretted my indiscretion in entering the forecastle after the
politic resolutions I had formed. However, Captain Coxon's ferocity
was nothing new to me; truly I believed he was not quite right in his
mind, and expected, as in former cases, that he would come round a bit
by-and-by when his insane temper had passed. Still his insinuations
were highly dangerous, not to speak of their offensiveness. It was no
joke to be charged, even by a madman, with striving to arouse the crew
to mutiny. Nevertheless I tried to console myself as best I could by
reflecting that he could not prove his charges; that I need only to
endure his insolence for a few weeks, and that there was always a law
to vindicate me and punish him, should his evil temper betray him into
any acts of cruelty against me.
The gale, at times the severest that I was ever in, lasted three days;
during which the ship drove something like eighty miles to the
northwest. The sea on the afternoon of the third day was appalling:
had the ship attempted to run, she would have been pooped and smothered
in a minute; but lying close, she rode fairly well, though there were
moments when I held my breath as she sunk in a hollow like a coal-mine,
filled with the astounding noise of boiling water,--really believing
that the immense waves which came hurtling towards us with solid,
sharp, transparent ridges, out of which the wind tore lumps of water
and flung them through the rigging of the ship, must overwhelm the
vessel before she could rise to it.
The fury of the tempest and the violence of the sea, which the boldest
could not contemplate without feeling that the ship was every moment in
more or less peril, kept the crew subdued; and they eat as best they
could the provisions, without complaint. However, it needed nothing
less than a storm to keep them quiet: for on the second day a sea
extinguished the galley fire, and until the gale abated no cooking
could be done; so that the men had to put up with cold water and
biscuit. Hence all hands were thrown upon the ship's bread for two
days; and the badness of it, therefore, was made even more apparent
than heretofore, when its wormy moldiness was in some degree qualified
by the nauseousness of bad salt pork and beef and the sickly flavor of
As I had anticipated, the captain came round a little a few hours after
his insulting attack upon me. I think his temper frightened him when
it had reference to me. Like others of his breed, he was a bit of a
cur at the bottom. My character was a trifle beyond him; and he was
ignorant enough to hate and fear what he could not understand. Be this
as it may, he made some rough attempts at a rude kind of politeness
when I went below to get some grog, and condescended to say that when I
had been to sea as long as he, I would know that the most ungrateful
rascals in the world were sailors; that every crew he had sailed with
had always taken care to invent some grievance to growl over: either
the provisions were bad, or the work too heavy, or the ship
unseaworthy; and that long ago he had made up his mind never to pay
attention to their complaints, since no sooner would one wrong be
redressed than another would be coined and shoved under his nose.
I took this opportunity of assuring him that I had never willingly
listened to the complaints of the men, and that I was always annoyed
when they spoke to me about the provisions, as I had nothing whatever
to do with that matter; and that so far from my wishing to stir up the
men into rebellion, my conduct had been uniformly influenced by the
desire to conciliate them and represent their conditions as very
tolerable, so as to repress any tendency to disaffection which they
might foment among themselves.
To this he made no reply, and soon we parted; but all the next day he
was sullen again, and never addressed me save to give an order.
On the evening of the third day the gale broke; the glass had risen
since the morning; but until the first dogwatch the wind did not bate
one iota of its violence, and the horizon still retained its stormy and
threatening aspect. The clouds then broke in the west, and the setting
sun shone forth with deep crimson light upon the wilderness of
mountainous waters. The wind fell quickly, then went round to the west
and blew freshly; but there was a remarkable softness and sweetness in
the feel and taste of it.
A couple of reefs were at once shaken out of the main-topsail, and a
sail made. By midnight the heavy sea had subsided into a deep, long,
rolling swell, still (strangely enough) coming from the south; but the
fresh westerly wind held the ship steady, and for the first time for
nearly a hundred hours we were able to move about the decks with
comparative comfort. Early the next morning the watch were set to wash
down and clear up the decks; and when I left my cabin at eight o'clock,
I found the weather bright and warm, with a blue sky shining among
heavy, white, April-looking clouds, and the ship making seven knots
under all plain sail. The decks were dry and comfortable, and the ship
had a habitable and civilized look, by reason of the row of clothes
hung by the seamen to dry on the forecastle.
It was half past nine o'clock, and I was standing near the taffrail
looking at a shoal of porpoises playing some hundreds of feet astern,
when the man who was steering asked me to look in the direction to
which he pointed--that was, a little to the right of the bowsprit--and
say if there was anything to be seen there; for he had caught sight of
something black upon the horizon twice, but could not detect it now.
I turned my eyes toward the quarter of the sea indicated, but could
discern nothing whatever; and telling him that what he had seen was
probably a wave, which, standing higher than his fellows, will
sometimes show black a long distance off, walked to the fore part of
The breeze still held good; and the vessel was slipping easily through
the water, though the southerly swell made her roll and at times shook
the wind out of the sails. The skipper had gone to lie down,--being
pretty well exhausted, I daresay; for he had kept the deck for the
greater part of three nights running. Duckling was also below. Most
of my watch were on the forecastle, sitting or lying in the sun, which
shone very warm upon the decks; the hens under the long-boat were
chattering briskly, and the cocks crowing, and the pigs grunting, with
the comfort of the warmth.
Suddenly, as the ship rose, I distinctly beheld something black out
away upon the horizon, showing just under the foot of the foresail. It
vanished instantly; but I was not satisfied, and went for the glass
which lay upon the brackets just under the companion. I then told the
man who was steering to keep her away a couple of points for a few
moments; and resting the glass against the mizzen-royal backstay,
pointed it toward the place where I had seen the black object.
For some moments nothing but sea or sky filled the field of the glass
as the ship rose and fell; but all at once there leaped into this field
the hull of a ship, deep as her main-chains in the water, which came
and went before my eye as the long seas lifted or dropped in the
foreground. I managed to keep her sufficiently long in view to
perceive that she was totally dismasted.
"It's a wreck," said I, turning to the man: "let her come to again and
luff a point. There may be living creatures aboard of her."
Knowing what sort of man Captain Coxon was, I do not think that I
should have had the hardihood to luff the ship a point out of her
course had it involved the bracing of the yards; for the songs of the
men would certainly have brought him on deck, and I might have provoked
some ugly insolence. But the ship was going free, and would head more
westerly without occasioning further change than slightly slackening
the weather-braces of the upper yards. This I did quietly; and the
dismantled hull was brought right dead on end with our flying jib-boom.
The men now caught sight of her, and began to stare and point; but did
not sing out, as they saw by the telescope in my hand that I perceived
her. The breeze unhappily began to slacken somewhat, owing perhaps to
the gathering heat of the sun; our pace fell off: and a full hour
passed before we brought the wreck near enough to see her
permanently,--for up to this she had been constantly vanishing under
the rise of the swell. She was now about two miles off, and I took a
long and steady look at her through the telescope. It was a black hull
with painted ports. The deck was flush fore and aft, and there was a
good-sized house just before where the mainmast should have been. This
house was uninjured, though the galley was split up, and to starboard
stood up in splinters like the stump of a tree struck by lightning. No
boats could be seen aboard of her. Her jib-boom was gone, and so were
all three masts,--clean cut off at the deck, as though a hand-saw had
done it; but the mizzenmast was alongside, held by the shrouds and
backstays, and the port main and fore shrouds streamed like serpents
from her chains into the water. I reckoned at once that she must be
loaded with timber, for she never could keep afloat at that depth with
any other kind of cargo in her.
She made a most mournful and piteous object in the sunlight, sluggishly
rolling to the swell which ran in transparent volumes over her sides
and foamed around the deck-house. Once when her stern rose, I read the
name _Cecilia_ in broad white letters.
I was gazing intently, in the effort to witness some indication of
living thing on board, when, to my mingled consternation and horror, I
witnessed an arm projecting through the window of the deck-house and
frantically waving what resembled a white handkerchief. As none of the
men called out, I judged the signal was not perceptible to the naked
eye; and in my excitement I shouted, "There's a living man on board of
her, my lads!" dropped the glass, and ran aft to call the captain.
I met him coming up the companion ladder. The first thing he said was,
"You're out of your course," and looked up at the sails.
"There's a wreck yonder," I cried, pointing eagerly, "with a man on
board signaling to us."
"Get me the glass," he said sulkily; and I picked it up and handed it
He looked at the wreck for some moments; and addressing the man at the
wheel, exclaimed, making a movement with his hand, "Keep her away!
Where in the devil are you steering to?"
"Good heaven!" I ejaculated: "there's a man on board--there may be
"Damnation!" he exclaimed between his teeth: "what do you mean by
interfering with me? Keep her away!" he roared out.
During this time we had drawn sufficiently near to the wreck to enable
the sharper-sighted among the hands to remark the signal, and they were
calling out that there was somebody flying a handkerchief aboard the
"Captain Coxon," said I, with as firm a voice as I could command,--for
I was nearly in as great a rage as he, and rendered insensible to all
consequences by his inhumanity,--"if you bear away and leave that man
yonder to sink with that wreck when he can be saved with very little
trouble, you will become as much a murderer as any ruffian who stabs a
When I had said this, Coxon turned black in the face with passion. His
eyes protruded, his hands and fingers worked as though he were under
some electrical process, and I saw for the first time in my life a
sight I had always laughed at as a bit of impossible novelist
description,--a mouth foaming with rage. He rushed aft, just over
Duckling's cabin, and stamped with all his might.
"Now," thought I, "they may try to murder me!" And without a word I
pulled off my coat, seized a belaying-pin, and stood ready; resolved
that happen what might, I would give the first man who should lay his
fingers on me something to remember me by while he had breath in his
The men, not quite understanding what was happening, but seeing that a
"row" was taking place, came to the forecastle and advanced by degrees
along the main-deck. Among them I noticed the cook, muttering to one
or the other who stood near.
Mr. Duckling, awakened by the violent clattering over his head, came
running up the companion-way with a bewildered, sleepy look in his
face. The captain grasped him by the arm, and pointing to me, cried
out with an oath that "that villain was breeding a mutiny on board, and
he believed wanted to murder him and Duckling."
I at once answered, "Nothing of the kind! There is a man miserably
perishing on board that sinking wreck, Mr. Duckling, and he ought to be
saved. My lads!" I cried, addressing the men on the main-deck, "is
there a sailor among you all who would have the heart to leave that man
yonder without an effort to rescue him?"
"No, sir!" shouted one of them. "We'll save the man; and if the
skipper refuses, we'll make him!"
"Luff!" I called to the man at the wheel.
"Luff at your peril!" screamed the skipper.
"Aft here, some hands," I cried, "and lay the mainyard aback. Let go
the port main-braces!"
The captain came running toward me.
"By the living God!" I cried in a fury, grasping the heavy brass
belaying-pin, "if you come within a foot of me, Captain Coxon, I'll
dash your brains out!"
My attitude, my enraged face and menacing gesture, produced the desired
effect. He stopped dead, turned a ghastly white, and looked round at
"What do you mean by this (etc.) conduct, you (etc.) mutinous
scoundrels?" roared Duckling, with a volley of foul language.
"Give him one for himself if he says too much, Mr. Royle!" sung out
some hoarse voice on the main-deck; "we'll back yer!" And then came
cries of "They're a cursed pair o' murderers!" "Who run the smack
down?" "Who lets men drown?" "Who starves honest men?" This last
exclamation was followed by a roar.
The whole of the crew were now on deck, having been aroused by our
voices. Some of them were looking on with a grin, others with an
expression of fierce curiosity. It was at once understood that I was
making a stand against the captain and chief mate; and a single glance
at them assured me that by one word I could set the whole of them on
fire to do my bidding, even to shedding blood.
In the meantime, the man at the wheel had luffed until the weather
leeches were flat and the ship scarcely moving. And at this moment,
that the skipper might know their meaning, a couple of hands jumped aft
and let go the weather main-braces. I took care to keep my eyes on
Coxon and the mate, fully prepared for any attack that one or both
might make on me. Duckling eyed me furiously but in silence, evidently
baffled by my resolute air and the position of the men. Then he said
something to the captain, who looked exhausted and white and haggard
with his useless passion. They walked over to the lee side of the
poop; and after a short conference, the captain to my surprise went
below, and Duckling came forward.
"There's no objection," he said, "to your saving the man's life, if you
want. Lower away the starboard quarter-boat,--and you go along in
her," he added to me, uttering the last words in such a thick voice
that I thought he was choking.
"Come along, some of you!" I cried out, hastily putting on my coat; and
in less than a minute I was in the boat with the rudder and thole-pins
shipped, and four hands ready to out oars as soon as we touched the
Duckling began to fumble at one end of the boat's falls.
"Don't let him lower away!" roared out one of the men in the boat.
"He'll let us go with a run. He'd like to see us drowned!"
Duckling fell back, scowling with fury; and shoving his head over as
the boat sunk quietly into the water, he discharged a volley of
execrations at us, saying that he would shoot some of us, if he swung
for it, before he was done, and especially applying a heap of abusive
terms to me.
The fellow pulling the bow oar laughed in his face; and another shouted
out, "We'll teach you to say your prayers yet, you ugly old sinner!"
We got away from the ship's side cleverly, and in a short time were
rowing fast for the wreck. The excitement under which I labored made
me reckless of the issue of this adventure. The sight of the lonely
man upon the wreck, coupled with the unmanly, brutal intention of Coxon
to leave him to his fate, had goaded me into a state of mind infuriate
enough to have done and dared anything to _compel_ Coxon to save him.
He might call it mutiny, but I called it humanity; and I was prepared
to stand or fall by my theory. The hate the crew had for their captain
and chief mate was quite strong enough to guarantee me against any foul
play on the part of Coxon; otherwise I might have prepared myself to
see the ship fill and stand away, and leave us alone on the sea with
the wreck. One of the men in the boat suggested this; but another
immediately answered, "They'd pitch the skipper overboard if he gave
such an order, and glad o' the chance. There's no love for 'em among
us, I can tell you; and by ----! there'll be bloody work done aboard
the _Grosvenor_ if things aren't mended soon, as you'll see."
They all four pulled at their oars savagely as these words were spoken;
and I never saw such sullen and ferocious expressions on men's faces as
came into theirs, as they fixed their eyes as with one accord upon the
ship. _She_, deep as she was, looked a beautiful model on the mighty
surface of the water, rolling with marvelous grace to the swell, the
strength and volume of which made me feel my littleness and weakness as
it lifted the small boat with irresistible power. There was wind
enough to keep her sails full upon her graceful, slender masts, and the
brass-work upon her deck flashed brilliantly as she rolled from side to
Strange contrast, to look from her to the broken and desolate picture
ahead! My eyes were riveted upon it now with new and intense emotion,
for by this time I could discern that the person who was waving to us
was a female,--woman or girl I could not yet make out,--and that her
hair was like a veil of gold behind her swaying arm.
"It's a woman!" I cried in my excitement; "it's no man at all. Pull
smartly, my lads! pull smartly, for God's sake!"
The men gave way stoutly, and the swell favoring us, we were soon close
to the wreck. The girl, as I now perceived she was, waved her
handkerchief wildly as we approached; but my attention was occupied in
considering how we could best board the wreck without injury to the
boat. She lay broadside to us, with her stern on our right, and was
not only rolling heavily with wallowing, squelching movements, but was
swirling the heavy mizzenmast that lay alongside through the water each
time she went over to starboard; so that it was necessary to approach
her with the greatest caution to prevent our boat from being stove in.
Another element of danger was the great flood of water which she took
in over her shattered bulwarks, first on this side, then on that,
discharging the torrent again into the sea as she rolled. This water
came from her like a cataract, and in a second would fill and sink the
boat, unless extreme care were taken to keep clear of it.
I waved my hat to the poor girl, to let her know that we saw her and
had come to save her, and steered the boat right around the wreck, that
I might observe the most practical point for boarding her.
She appeared to be a vessel of about seven hundred tons. The falling
of her masts had crushed her port bulwarks level with the deck, and
part of her starboard bulwarks was also smashed to pieces. Her wheel
was gone, and the heavy seas that had swept her deck had carried away
capstans, binnacle, hatchway gratings, pumps--everything, in short, but
the deck-house and the remnants of the galley. I particularly noticed
a strong iron boat's-davit twisted up like a corkscrew. She was full
of water, and lay as deep as her main-chains; but her bows stood high,
and her fore-chains were out of the sea. It was miraculous to see her
keep afloat as the long swell rolled over her in a cruel, foaming
succession of waves.
Though these plain details impressed themselves upon my memory, I did
not seem to notice anything, in the anxiety that possessed me to rescue
the lonely creature in the deck-house. It would have been impossible
to keep a footing upon the main-deck without a life-line or something
to hold on by; and seeing this, and forming my resolutions rapidly, I
ordered the man in the bow of the boat to throw in his oar and exchange
places with me, and head the boat for the starboard port-chains. As we
approached I stood up with one foot planted on the gunwale ready to
spring; the broken shrouds were streaming aft and alongside, so that if
I missed the jump and fell into the water there was plenty of stuff to
catch hold of.
"Gently--'vast rowing--ready to back astern smartly!" I cried as we
approached. I waited a moment: the hull rolled toward us, and the
succeeding swell threw up our boat; the deck, though all aslant, was on
a line with my feet. I sprung with all my strength, and got well upon
the deck, but fell heavily as I reached it. However, I was up again in
a moment, and ran forward out of the water.
Here was a heap of gear--stay-sail, and jib-halyards, and other ropes,
some of the ends swarming overboard. I hauled in one of these ends,
but found I could not clear the raffle; but looking round, I perceived
a couple of coils of line--spare stun'-sail tacks or halyards I took
them to be--lying close against the foot of the bowsprit. I
immediately seized the end of one of these coils, and flung it into the
boat, telling them to drop clear of the wreck astern; and when they
found they had backed as far as the length of the line permitted, I
bent on the end of the other coil, and paid that out until the boat was
some fathoms astern. I then made my end fast, and sung out to one of
the men to get on board by the starboard mizzen-chains, and to bring
the end of the line with him. After waiting a few minutes, the boat
being hidden, I saw the fellow come scrambling over the side with a red
face, his clothes and hair streaming, he having fallen overboard. He
shook himself like a dog, and crawled with the line, on his hands and
knees, a short distance forward, then hauled the line taut and made it
"Tell them to bring the boat round here," I cried, "and lay off on
their oars until we are ready. And you get hold of this line and work
yourself up to me."
Saying which, I advanced along the deck, clinging tightly with both
hands. It very providentially happened that the door of the deck-house
faced the forecastle within a few feet of where the remains of the
galley stood. There would be, therefore, less risk in opening it than
had it faced beamwise: for the water, as it broke against the sides of
the house, disparted clear of the fore and after parts; that is, the
great bulk of it ran clear, though of course a foot's depth of it as
least surged against the door.
I called out to the girl to open the door quickly, as it slid in
grooves like a panel, and was not to be stirred from the outside. The
poor creature appeared mad; and I repeated my request three times
without inducing her to leave the window. Then, not believing that she
understood me, I cried out, "Are you English?"
"Yes," she replied. "For God's sake, save us!"
"I cannot get you through that window," I exclaimed. "Rouse yourself
and open that door, and I will save you."
She now seemed to comprehend, and drew in her head. By this time the
man out of the boat had succeeded in sliding along the rope to where I
stood, though the poor devil was nearly drowned on the road; for when
about half-way, the hull took in a lump of swell which swept him right
off his legs, and he was swung hard a-starboard, holding on for his
life. However, he recovered himself smartly when the water was gone,
and came along hand over fist, snorting and cursing in wonderful style.
Meanwhile, though I kept a firm hold of the life-line, I took care to
stand where the inroads of water were not heavy, waiting impatiently
for the door to open. It shook in the grooves, tried by a feeble hand;
then a desperate effort was made, and it slid a couple of inches.
"That will do!" I shouted. "Now then, my lad, catch hold of me with
one hand, and the line with the other."
The fellow took a firm grip of my monkey-jacket, and I made for the
door. The water washed up to my knees, but I soon inserted my fingers
in the crevice of the door and thrust it open.
The house was a single compartment, though I had expected to find it
divided into two. In the centre was a table that traveled on
stanchions from the roof to the deck, On either side were a couple of
bunks. The girl stood near the door. In a bunk to the left of the
door lay an old man with white hair. Prostrate on his back, on the
deck, with his arms stretched against his ears, was the corpse of a
man, well dressed; and in a bunk on the right sat a sailor, who, when
he saw me, yelled out and snapped his fingers, making horrible grimaces.
Such, in brief, was the _coup d'oeil_ of that weird interior as it met
I seized the girl by the arm.
"You first," said I. "Come; there is no time to be lost."
But she shrunk back, pressing against the door with her hand to prevent
me from pulling her, crying in a husky voice, and looking at the old
man with the white hair, "My father first! my father first!"
"You shall all be saved, but you must obey me. Quickly now!" I
exclaimed passionately; for a heavy sea at that moment flooded the
ship, and a rush of water swamped the house through the open door and
washed the corpse on the deck up into a corner.
Grasping her firmly, I lifted her off her feet, and went staggering to
the life-rope, slinging her light body over my shoulder as I went.
Assisted by my man, I gained the bow of the wreck, and hailing the
boat, ordered it alongside.
"One of you," cried I, "stand ready to receive this lady when I give
I then told the man who was with me to jump into the forechains, which
he instantly did. The wreck lurched heavily to port. "Stand by, my
lads!" I shouted. Over she came again, with the water swooping along
the maindeck: The boat rose high, and the forechains were submerged to
the height of the man's knees. "Now!" I called, and lifted the girl
over. She was seized by the man in the chains, and pushed toward the
boat; the fellow standing in the bow of the boat caught her, and at the
same moment down sunk the boat, and the wreck rolled wearily over. But
the girl was safe.
"Hurrah, my lad!" I sung out. "Up with you,--there are others
remaining;" and I went sprawling along the line to the deck-house,
there to encounter another rush of water, which washed as high as my
thighs, and fetched me such a thump in the stomach that I thought I
must have died of suffocation.
I was glad to find that the old man had got out of his bunk, and was
standing at the door.
"Is my poor girl safe, sir?" he exclaimed, with the same huskiness of
voice that had grated so unpleasantly in the girl's tone.
"Quite safe; come along."
"Thanks be to Almighty God!" he ejaculated, and burst into tears.
I seized hold of his thin cold hands, but shifted my fingers to catch
him by the coat collar, so as to exert more power over him; and handed
him along the deck, telling my companion to lay hold of the seaman and
fetch him away smartly. We managed to escape the water, for the poor
old gentleman bestirred himself very nimbly, and I helped him over the
fore-chains; and when the boat rose, tumbled him into her without
ceremony. I saw the daughter leap toward him and clasp him in her
arms; but I was soon again scrambling on to the deck, having heard
cries from my man, accompanied with several loud curses, mingled with
"He's bitten me, sir!" cried by companion, hauling himself away from
the deck-house. "He's roaring mad."
"It can't be helped," I answered. "We must get him out."
He saw me pushing along the life-line, plucked up heart, and went with
myself through a sousing sea to the door. I caught a glimpse of a
white face glaring at me from the interior: in a second a figure shot
out, fled with incredible speed toward the bow, and leaped into the sea
just where our boat lay.
"They'll pick him up," I exclaimed. "Stop a second;" and I entered
the house and stooped over the figure of the man on the deck.
I was not familiar with death, and yet I knew it was here. I cannot
describe the signs in his face; but such as they were, they told me the
truth. I noticed a ring upon his finger, and that his clothes were
good. His hair was black, and his features well shaped, though his
face had a half-convulsed expression, as if something frightful had
appeared to him, and he had died of the sight of it.
"This wreck must be his coffin," I said. "He is a corpse. We can do
We scrambled for the last time along the life-line and got into the
fore-chains; but to our consternation, saw the boat rowing away from
the wreck. However, the fit of rage and terror that possessed me
lasted but a moment or two; for I now saw they were giving chase to the
madman, who was swimming steadily away. Two of the men rowed, and the
third hung over the bows, ready to grasp the miserable wretch. The
_Grosvenor_ stood steady, about a mile off, with her mainyards backed;
and just as the fellow over the boat's bows caught hold of the
swimmer's hair, the ensign was run up on board the ship and dipped
"Bring him along!" I shouted. "They'll be off without us if we don't
bear a hand."
They nearly capsized the boat as they dragged the lunatic, streaming
like a drowned rat, out of the water; and one of the sailors tumbled
him over on his back, and knelt upon him, while he took some turns with
the boat's painter round his body, arms and legs. The boat then came
alongside; and watching our opportunity, we jumped into her and shoved
I had now leisure to examine the persons whom we had saved.
They--father and daughter, as I judged them by the girl's exclamation
on the wreck--sat in the stern-sheets, their hands locked. The old man
seemed nearly insensible; leaning backward with his chin on his breast
and his eyes partially closed. I feared he was dying; but could do no
good until we reached the _Grosvenor_, as we had no spirits in the boat.
The girl appeared to be about twenty years of age; very fair, her hair
of golden straw color, which hung wet and streaky down her back and
over her shoulders, though a portion of it was held by a comb. She was
deadly pale, and her lips blue; and in her fine eyes was such a look of
mingled horror and rapture as she cast them around her,--first glancing
at me, then at the wreck, then at the _Grosvenor_,--that the memory of
it will last me to my death. Her dress, of some dark material, was
soaked with salt water up to her hips, and she shivered and moaned
incessantly, though the sun beat so warmly upon us that the thwarts
were hot to the hand.
The mad sailor lay at the bottom of the boat, looking straight into the
sky. He was a horrid-looking object, with his streaming hair, pasty
features, and red beard, his naked shanks and feet protruding through
his soaking, clinging trousers, which figured his shin-bones as though
they clothed a skeleton. Now and again he would give himself a wild
twirl and yelp out fiercely; but he was well-nigh spent with his swim,
and on the whole was quiet enough.
I said to the girl, "How long have you been in this dreadful position?"
"Since yesterday morning," she answered, in a choking voice painful to
hear, and gulping after each word. "We have not had a drop of water to
drink since the night before last. He is mad with thirst, for he drank
the water on the deck;" and she pointed to the man in the bottom of the
"My God!" I cried to the men, "do you hear her? They have not drunk
water for two days! For the love of God, give way!"
They bent their backs to the oars, and the boat foamed over the long
swell. The wind was astern and helped us. I did not speak again to
the poor girl; for it was cruel to make her talk, when the words
lacerated her throat as though they were pieces of burning iron.
After twenty minutes, which seemed as many hours, we reached the
vessel. The crew pressing round the gangway cheered when they saw we
had brought people from the wreck. Duckling and the skipper watched us
grimly from the poop.
"Now then, my lads," I cried, "up with this lady first. Some of you on
deck get water ready, as these people are dying of thirst."
In a few minutes, both the girl and the old man were handed over the
gangway. I cut the boat's painter adrift from the ringbolt so that we
could ship the madman without loosening his bonds, and he was hoisted
up like a bale of goods. Then four of us got out of the boat, leaving
one to drop her under the davits and hook on the falls.
At this moment a horrible scene took place.
The old man, tottering on the arms of two seamen, was being led into
the cuddy, followed by the girl, who walked unaided. The madman, in
the grasp of the big sailor named Johnson, stood near the gangway; and
as I scrambled on deck, one of the men was holding a pannikin full of
water to his face. The poor wretch was shrinking away from it, with
his eyes half out of their sockets; but suddenly tearing his arm with a
violent effort from the rope that bound him, he seized the pannikin and
bit clean through the tin; after which, throwing back his head, he
swallowed the whole draught dashed the pannikin down, his face turned
black and he fell dead on the deck.
The big sailor sprung aside with an oath, forced from him by his
terror; and from every looker-on there broke a groan. They all shrunk
away and stood staring with blanched faces. Such a piteous sight as it
was, lying doubled up, with the rope pinioning the miserable limbs, the
teeth locked, and the right arm uptossed!
"Aft here and get the quarter-boat hoisted up!" shouted Duckling,
advancing on the poop; and seeing the man dead on the deck, he added,
"Get a tarpaulin and cover him up, and let him lie on the fore-hatch."
"Shall I tell the steward to serve out grog to the men who went with
me?" I asked him.
He stared at me contemptuously, and walked away without answering.
Next: The Sailor's Wife
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