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A Tornado At Sea

"What was my horror when I saw the quicksilver had sunk so far below
the mark, probably fixed there that morning, as to be almost shrunk in
the ball! Whatever the merchant service might know about the
instrument in those days, the African coast was the place to teach its
right use to us in the old Iris. I laid down my knife and fork as
carelessly as I could, and went straight on deck.

"Here I sought out the mate, who was forward, watching the land--and at
once took him aside to tell him the fact. 'Well, sir,' said he,
coolly, 'and what of that? A sign of wind, certainly, before very
long; but in the meantime we're sure to have it off the land.'
'That's one of the very reasons,' said I, 'for thinking this will be
from seaward--since towards evening the land'll have plenty of air
without it! But more than that, sir,' said I, 'I tell you, Mr. Finch,
I know the west coast of Africa pretty well--and so far south as this,
the glass falling so low as twenty-seven, is always the sign of a
nor'westerly blow! If you're a wise man, sir, you'll not only get your
upper spars down on deck, but you'll see your anchors clear!' Finch
had plainly got furious at my meddling again, and said he, 'Instead of
that, sir, I shall hold on everything aloft, to stand out when I get
the breeze!' 'D'ye really think, then,' said I, pointing to the
farthest-off streak of land, trending away by this time astern of us,
faint as it was, 'do you think you could ever weather that point,
with anything like a strong nor'wester, besides a current heading you
in, as you got fair hold of it again?' 'Perhaps not,' said he, wincing
a little as he glanced at it; 'but you happen always to suppose what
there's a thousand to one against, sir. Why, sir, you might as well
take the command at once. But, sir, if it did come to that, I'd
rather--I'd rather see the ship lost--I'd rather go to the bottom with
all in her, after handling her as I know well how, than I'd see the
chance given to you!' The young fellow fairly shouted this last word
into my very ear--he was in a regular furious passion. 'You'd better
let me alone, that's all I've got to say to you, sir!' growled he, as
he turned away; so I thought it no use to say more, and leaned over
the bulwarks, resolved to see it out.

"The fact was, the farther we got off the land now, the worse,
seeing that if what I dreaded should prove true, why, we were probably
in thirty or forty fathoms of water, where no anchor could hold for
ten minutes' time--if it ever caught ground. My way would have been to
get every boat out at once, and tow in till you could see the color of
some shoal or other from aloft, then take my chance there to ride out
whatever might come, to the last cable aboard of us. Accordingly, I
wasn't sorry to see that by this time the whole bight of the coast was
slowly rising off our beam betwixt the high land far astern and the
broad bluffs upon her starboard bow; which last came out already of a
sandy reddish tint, and the lower part of a clear blue, as the sun got
westward on our other side. What struck me was, that the face of the
water, which was all over wrinkles and winding lines, with here and
there a quick ripple, when I went below, had got on a sudden quite
smooth as far as you could see, as if they'd sunk down like so many
eels; a long uneasy ground-swell was beginning to heave in from
seaward, on which the ship rose; once or twice I fancied I could
observe the color different away towards the land, like the muddy
chocolate spreading out near a river-mouth at ebb-tide--then again it
was green, rather; and as for the look of the coast, I had no
knowledge of it. I thought again, certainly, of the old
quartermaster's account in the Iris, but there was neither anything
like to be seen, nor any sign of a break in the coast at all, though
high headlands enough.

"The ship might have been about twelve or fourteen miles from the
northeast point upon her starboard bow, a high rocky range of
bluffs--and rather less from the nearest of what lay away off her beam;
but after this you could mark nothing more, except it were that she
edged farther from the point, by the way its bearings shifted or got
blurred together: either she stood still, or she'd caught some eddy or
underdrift, and the mate walked about quite lively once more. The
matter was how to breathe, or bear your clothes--when all of a sudden I
heard the second mate sing out from the forecastle--'Stand by the
braces, there! Look out for the tops'l hawl-yards!'

"He came shuffling aft the next moment as fast as his foundered old
shanks could carry him, and told Mr. Finch there was a squall coming
off the land. The mate sprang up on the bulwarks, and so did
I--catching a glance from him, as much as to say, 'There's your gale
from seaward, you pretentious lubber!' The lowest streak of coast bore
at present before our starboard quarter, betwixt east and
south-east'ard, with some pretty high land running away up from it,
and a sort of dim blue haze hanging beyond, as 'twere. Just as Macleod
spoke, I could see a dusky dark vapor thickening and spreading in the
haze, till it rose black along the flat, out of the sky behind it;
whitened and then darkened again, like a heavy smoke floating up into
the air. All was confusion on deck for a minute or two--off went all
the awnings--and every hand was ready at his station, fisting the
ropes; when I looked again at the cloud, and then at the mates. 'By
George!' said I, noticing a pale wreath of it go curling up on the
pale clear sky over it, as to a puff of air, 'it is smoke! Some
niggers, as they often do, burning the bush!'

"So it was; and as soon as Finch gave in, all hands quietly coiled up
the ropes. It was scarce five minutes after, that Jacobs, who was
coiling up a rope beside me, gave me a quiet touch with one finger.
'Mr. Collins, sir,' said he, in a low voice, looking almost right up,
high over toward the ship's larboard bow, which he couldn't have done
before, for the awnings so lately above us, 'look, sir--there's an
ox-eye!' I followed his gaze, but it wasn't for a few seconds that I
found what it pointed to, in the hot far-off-like blue dimness of the
sky overhead, compared with the white glare of which to westward our
canvas aloft was but dirty gray and yellow.

"'Twas what none but a seaman would have observed, and many a seaman
wouldn't have done so--but a man-o-war's-man is used to look out at all
hours, in all latitudes--and to a man that knew its meaning, this
would have been no joke, even out of sight of land; as it was, the
thing gave me a perfect thrill of dread. High aloft in the heavens
northward, where they were freest from the sun--now standing over the
open horizon amidst a wide bright pool of light--you managed to discern
a small silvery speck, growing slowly, as it were, out of the faint
blue hollow, like a star in the daytime, till you felt as if it
looked at you, from God knows what distance away. One eye after
another amongst the mates and crew joined Jacobs' and mine, with the
same sort of dumb fellowship to be seen when a man in London streets
watches the top of a steeple; and however hard to make out at first,
ere long none of them could miss seeing it, as it got slowly larger,
sinking by degrees till the sky close about it seemed to thicken like
a dusky ring round the white, and the sunlight upon our seaward
quarter blazed out doubly strong--as if it came dazzling off a brass
bell, with the bright tongue swinging in it far off to one side, where
the hush made you think of a stroke back upon us, with some terrific
sound to boot.

"The glassy water by this time was beginning to rise under the ship
with a struggling kind of unequal heave, as if a giant you couldn't
see kept shoving it down here and there with both hands, and it came
swelling up elsewhere.

"To north-westward or thereabouts, betwixt the sun and this ill-boding
token aloft, the far line of open sea still lay shining motionless and
smooth; next time you looked, it had got even brighter than before,
seeming to leave the horizon visibly; then the streak of air just
above it had grown gray, and a long hedge of hazy vapor was creeping
as it were over from beyond--the white speck all the while travelling
down towards it slantwise from nor'ard, and spreading its dark ring
slowly out into a circle of cloud, till the keen eye of it at last
sank in, and below, as well as aloft, the whole north-western quarter
got blurred together in one gloomy mass. If there was a question at
first whether the wind mightn't come from so far nor'ard as to give
her a chance of running out to sea before it, there was none now--our
sole recourse lay either in getting nearer the land meanwhile, to let
go our anchors ere it came on, with her head to it--or we might make a
desperate trial to weather the lee-point now far astern. The fact was,
we were going to have a regular tornado, and that of the worst kind,
which wouldn't soon blow itself out; though near an hour's notice
would probably pass ere it was on.

"The three mates laid their heads gravely together over the capstan
for a minute or two, after which Finch seemed to perceive that the
first of the two ways was the safer; though, of course, the nearer we
should get to the land, the less chance there was of clearing it
afterwards, should her cables part, or the anchors drag. The two boats
still alongside, and two others dropped from the davits, were manned
at once and set to towing the Indiaman ahead, in-shore; while the
bower and sheet anchors were got out to the cat-heads ready for
letting go, cables overhauled, ranged, and clinched as quickly as
possible, and the deep-sea lead passed along to take soundings every
few minutes.

"On we crept, slow as death, and almost as still, except the jerk of
the oars from the heaving waters at her bows, and the loud flap of the
big topsails now and then, everything aloft save them and the brailed
foresail being already close furled; the clouds all the while rising
away along our larboard beam nor'west and north, over the gray bank on
the horizon, till once more you could scarce say which point the wind
would come from, unless by the huge purple heap of vapor in the midst.
The sun had got low, and he shivered his dazzling spokes of light
behind one edge of it, as if 'twere a mountain you saw over some coast
or other; indeed, you'd have thought the ship almost shut in by land
on both sides of her, which was what seemed to terrify the passengers
most, as they gathered about the poop-stairs and watched it--which
was the true land and which the clouds, 'twas hard to say--and the sea
gloomed writhing between them like a huge lake in the mountains.

"I saw Sir Charles Hyde walk out of the round-house and in again,
glancing uneasily about; his daughter was standing with another young
lady, gazing at the land; and at sight of her sweet, curious face, I'd
have given worlds to be able to do something that might save it from
the chance, possibly, of being that very night dashed amongst the
breakers on a lee shore in the dark--or at best, suppose the Almighty
favored any of us so far, perhaps landed in the wilds of Africa. Had
there been aught man could do more, why, though I never should get a
smile for it, I'd have compassed it, mate or no mate; but all was done
that could be done, and I had nothing to say. Westwood came near her,
too, apparently seeing our bad case at last to some extent, and both
trying to break it to her, and to assure her mind; so I folded my arms
again, and kept my eyes fixed hard upon the bank of cloud, as some new
weather-mark stole out in it, and the sea stretched breathlessly away
below, like new melted lead.

"The air was like to choke you--or rather there was none--as if water,
sky, and everything else wanted life, and one would fain have caught
the first rush of the tornado into his mouth--the men emptying the
dipper on deck from the cask, from sheer loathing. As for the land, it
seemed to draw nearer of itself, till every point and wrinkle in the
headland off our bow came out in a red coppery gleam--one saw the white
line of surf round it, and some blue country beyond like indigo; then
back it darkened again, and all aloft was getting livid-like over the
bare royal mast-heads.

"Suddenly, a faint air was felt to flutter from landward; it half
lifted the topsails, and a heavy earthy smell came into your
nostrils--the first of the land breeze, at last; but by this time it
was no more than a sort of mockery, while a minute after you might
catch a low, sullen, moaning sound far off through the emptiness, from
the strong surf the Atlantic sends in upon the west coast before a
squall. If ever landsmen found out what land on the wrong side is, the
passengers of the Seringapatam did, that moment; the shudder of the
topsails aloft seemed to pass into every one's shoulders, and a few
quietly walked below, as if they were safer in their cabins. I saw
Violet Hyde look round and round with a startled expression, and from
one place to another, till her eye lighted on me, and I fancied for a
moment it was like putting some question to me. I couldn't bear
it!--'twas the first time I'd felt powerless to offer anything; though
the thought ran through me again till I almost felt myself buffeting
among the breakers with her in my arms. I looked to the land, where
the smoke we had seen three-quarters of an hour ago, rose again with
the puff of air, a slight flicker of flame in it, as it wreathed off
the low ground toward the higher point--when all at once I gave a
start, for something in the shape of the whole struck me as if I'd
seen it before.

"Next moment I was thinking of old Bob Martin's particular landmarks
at the river-mouth he spoke of, and the notion of its possibly being
hereabouts glanced on me like a godsend. In the unsure dusky sight I
had of it, certainly, it wore somewhat of that look, and it lay fair
to leeward of the weather; while, as for the dead shut-in appearance
of it, old Bob had specially said you'd never think it was a river;
but then again it was more like a desperate fancy owing to our hard
case, and to run the ship straight for it would be the trick of a
Bedlamite. At any rate, a quick cry from aft turned me round, and I
saw a blue flare of lightning streak out betwixt the bank of gray haze
and the cloud that hung over it--then another, and the clouds were
beginning to rise slowly in the midst, leaving a white glare between,
as if you could see through it towards what was coming. The men could
pull no longer, but ahead of the ship there was now only about eight
or ten fathoms of water, with a soft bottom. The boats were hoisted
in, and the men had begun to clew up and hand the topsails, which were
lowered on the caps, when, just in the midst of the hubbub and
confusion, as I stood listening to every order the mate gave, the
steward came up hastily from below to tell him that the captain had
woke up, and, being much better, wanted to see him immediately. Mr.
Pinch looked surprised, but he turned at once, and hurried down the

"The sight which all of us who weren't busy gazed upon, over the
larboard bulwarks, was terrible to see; 'twas half dark, though the
sun dropping behind the haze-bank, made it glimmer and redden. The
dark heap of clouds had first lengthened out blacker and blacker, and
was rising slowly in the sky like a mighty arch, till you saw their
white edges below, and a ghastly white space behind, out of which the
mist and scud began to fly. Next minute a long sigh came into her jib
and foresail, then the black bow of cloud partly sank again, and a
blaze of lightning came out all round her, showing you every face on
deck, the inside of the round-house aft, with the Indian judge
standing in it, his hand to his eyes--and the land far away, to the
very swell rolling onto it. Then the thunder broke overhead in the
gloom, in one fearful sudden crack, that you seemed to hear through
every corner of cabins and forecastle below--and the wet back-fins of
twenty sharks or so, that had risen out of the inky surface, vanished
as suddenly.

"The Indiaman had sheered almost broadside on to the clouds, her jib
was still up, and I knew the next time the clouds rose we should
fairly have it. Flash after flash came, and clap after clap of
thunder, such as you hear before a tornado--yet the chief officer
wasn't to be seen, and the others seemed uncertain what to do first;
while everyone began to wonder and pass along questions where he could
be. In fact, he had disappeared. For my part, I thought it very
strange he stayed so long; but there wasn't a moment to lose. I jumped
down off the poop-stairs, walked forward on the quarter-deck, and said
coolly to the men nearest me, 'Run and haul down that jib yonder--set
the spanker here, aft. You'll have her taken slap on her beam: quick,
my lads!' The men did so at once. Macleod was calling out anxiously
for Mr. Finch. 'Stand by the anchors there!' I sang out, 'to let go
the starboard one, the moment she swings head to wind!' The Scotch
mate turned his head; but Rickett's face, by the next flash, showed he
saw the good of it, and there was no leisure for arguing, especially
as I spoke in a way to be heard. I walked to the wheel, and got hold
of Jacobs to take the weather helm.

"We were all standing ready, at the pitch of expecting it. Westwood,
too, having appeared again by this time beside me, I whispered to him
to run forward and look after the anchors, when someone came hastily
up the after-hatchway, with a glazed hat and pilot-coat on, stepped
straight to the binnacle, looked in behind me, then at the black bank
of cloud, then aloft. Of course I supposed it was the mate again, but
didn't trouble myself to glance at him further, when 'Hold on with the
anchors!' he sang out in a loud voice. 'Hold on there for your lives!'
Heavens! it was the captain himself!

"At this, of course, I stood aside at once; and he shouted again,
'Hoist the jib and fore-topmast-staysail--stand by to set fore-course!'
By Jove! this was the way to pay the ship head off, instead of stern
off, from the blast when it came--and to let her drive before it at no
trifle of a rate, wherever that might take her. 'Down with that
spanker, Mr. Macleod, d'ye hear?' roared Captain Williamson again;
and, certainly, I did wonder what he meant to do with the ship. But
his manner was so decided, and 'twas so natural for the captain to
strain a point to come on deck in the circumstances, that I saw he
must have some trick of seamanship above me, or some special
knowledge of the coast; and I waited in a state of the greatest
excitement for the first stroke of the tornado. He waved the second
and third mates forward to their posts,--the Indiaman sheering and
backing, like a frightened horse, to the long slight swell and the
faint flow of the land-air. The black arch to windward began to rise
again, showing a terrible white stare reaching deep in, and a blue
dart of lightning actually ran zigzag before our glaring
fore-to'-gallant-mast. Suddenly, the captain had looked at me, and we
faced each other by the gleam; and, quiet, easy-going man as he was
commonly, it just flashed across me there was something
extraordinarily wild and raised in his pale visage, strange as the
air about us made everyone appear. He gave a stride towards me,
shouting, 'Who are--' when the thunder-clap took the words out of his
tongue, and the next moment the tornado burst upon us, fierce as the
wind from a cannon's mouth.

"For one minute the Seringapatam heeled over to her starboard streak,
almost broadside on, and her spars towards the land--all on her beam
was a long ragged white gush of light and mist pouring out under the
black brow of the clouds, with a trampling, eddying roar up into the
sky. The swell plunged over her weather-side like the first break of a
dam, and as we scrambled up to the bulwarks to hold on for bare life,
we saw a roller fit to swamp us, coming on out of the sheet of foam,
when crash went mizzen-topmast and main-to'-gallant-mast; the ship
payed swiftly off by help of her head-sails, and, with a leap like a
harpooned whale, off she drove fair before the tremendous sweep of the

"The least yaw in her course, and she'd have never risen, unless every
stick went out of her. I laid my shoulder to the wheel with Jacobs,
and Captain Williamson screamed through his trumpet into the men's
ears, and waved his hands to ride down the foresheets as far as they'd
go; which kept her right before it, though the sail could be but half
set, and she rather flew than ran--the sea one breadth of white foam
back to the gushes of mist, not having power to rise higher yet. Had
the foresail been stretched, 'twould have blown off like a cloud. I
looked at the captain: he was standing in the lee of the round-house,
straight upright, though now and then peering eagerly forward, his
lips firm, one hand on a belaying-pin, the other in his breast--nothing
but determination in his manner: yet once or twice he started, and
glanced fiercely to the after-hatchway near, as if something from
below might chance to thwart him. I can't express my contrary
feelings, betwixt a sort of hope and sheer horror. We were driving
right towards the land, at thirteen or fourteen knots to the hour--yet
could there actually be some harborage hereaway, or that river the
quartermaster of the Iris had mentioned, and Captain Williamson know
of it?

"Something struck me as wonderfully strange in the whole matter, and
puzzling to desperation--still, I trusted to the captain's experience.
The coast was scarce to be seen ahead of us, lying black against an
uneven streak of glimmer, as she rushed like fury before the deafening
howl of the wind; and right away before our lee-beam I could see the
light blowing, as it were, across beyond the headland I had noticed,
where the smoke in the bush seemed to be still curling,
half-smothered, along the flat in the lee of the hills, as if in green
wood, or sheltered as yet from seaweed, though once or twice a quick
flicker burst up in it.

"All at once the gust of the tornado was seen to pour on it like a
long blast from some huge bellows, and up it flashed--the yellow flame
blazed into the smoke, spread away behind the point, and the ruddy
brown smoke blew whitening over it--when, almighty power! what did I
see as it lengthened in, but part after part of the old Bob's
landmarks creep out ink-black before the flare and the streak of sky
together--first the low line of ground, then the notch in the block,
the two rocks like steps, and the sugar-loaf shape of the headland, to
the very mop-headed knot of trees on its rise! No doubt Captain
Williamson was steering for it; but it was far too much on our
starboard bow, and in half an hour at this rate we should drive right
into the surf you saw running along to the coast ahead--so I signed to
Jacob for God's sake to edge her off as nicely as was possible.

"Captain Williamson caught my motion. 'Port! port, sirrah!' he sang
out sternly. 'Back with the helm, d'ye hear?' and pulling out a
pistol, he levelled it at me with one hand, while he held a second in
the other. 'Land! land!' shouted he, and from the lee of the
round-house it came more like a shriek than a shout. 'I'll be there
though a thousand mutineers--' His eye was like a wild beast's. That
moment the truth glanced across me--this was the green leaf, no
doubt, the Scotch mate talked so mysteriously of. The man was mad! The
land-fever was upon him, as I'd seen it before in men long off the
African coast; and he stood eyeing me with one foot hard stamped
before him. 'Twas no use trying to be heard, and the desperation of
the moment gave me a thought of the sole thing to do. I took off my
hat in the light of the binnacle, bowed, and looked him straight in
the face with a smile; when his eye wavered, he slowly lowered his
pistol, then laughed, waving his hand towards the land to leeward,
as if, but for the gale, you'd have heard him cheer. At the instant I
sprang behind him with the slack of a rope, and grappled his arms
fast, though he'd got the furious power of a madman; and during half a
minute 'twas wrestle for life with me. But the line was round him, arm
and leg, and I made it fast, throwing him heavily on the deck just as
one of the mates with some of the crew were struggling aft, by help of
the belaying-pins, against the hurricane, having caught a glimpse of
the thing by the binnacle light. They looked from me to the captain.
The ugly top-man made a sign, as much as to say, 'Knock the fellow
down;' but the whole lot hung back before the couple of pistol-barrels
I handled. The Scotch mate seemed awfully puzzled; and others of the
men, who knew from Jacobs what I was, came shoving along, evidently
aware what a case we were in.

"A word to Jacobs served to keep him steering her anxiously, so as to
head two or three points more southeast in the end, furiously as the
wheel jolted. So there we stood, the tornado sweeping sharp as a knife
from astern over the poop-deck, with a force that threw anyone back if
he let go his hold to get near me, and going up like thunder aloft in
the sky. Now and then a weaker flare of lightning glittered across the
scud; and, black as it was overhead, the horizon to windward was but
one jagged white glare, gushing full of broad shifting streaks through
the drift of foam and the spray that strove to rise. Our fore-course
still held: and I took the helm from Jacobs, that he might go and
manage to get a pull taken on the starboard brace, which would not
only slant the sail more to the blasts, but give her the better
chance to make the sole point of salvation, by helping her steerage
when most needed. Jacobs and Westwood together got this done; and all
the time I was keeping my eyes fixed anxiously, as man can fancy, on
the last gleams of the fire ashore, as her head made a fairer line
with it; but, by little and little, it went quite out, and all was
black--though I had taken its bearing by the compass--and I kept her to
that for bare life, trembling at every shiver in the foresail's edge,
lest either it or the mast should go.

"Suddenly, we began to get into a fearful swell--the Indiaman plunged
and shook in every spar left her. I could see nothing ahead, from the
wheel, and in the dark; we were getting close in with the land, and
the time was coming; but still I held south-east-by-east to the mark
of her head in the compass-box, as nearly as might and main could do
it, for the heaves that made me think once or twice she was to strike
next moment.

"If she went ashore in my hands! why, it was like to drive one mad
with fear; and I waited for Jacobs to come back, with a brain ready to
turn, almost as if I'd left the wheel to the other helmsman, and run
forward into the bows to look out. The captain lay raving and shouting
behind me, though no one else could either have heard or seen him; and
where the chief officer was all this time surprised me, unless the
madman had made away with him, or locked him in his own cabin, in
return for being shut up himself--which, in fact, proved to be the
case, cunning as it was to send for him so quietly. At length Jacobs
struggled aft to me again, and charging him, for Heaven's sake, to
steer exactly the course I gave, I drove before the full strength of
the squall along decks to the bowsprit, where I held on and peered
out. Dead ahead of us was the high line of coast in the dark--not a
mile of swell between the ship and it. By this time the low boom of
the surf came under the wind, and you saw the breakers lifting all
along--not a single opening in them! I had lost sight of my landmarks,
and my heart gulped into my mouth--what I felt 'twould be vain to
say--till I thought I did make out one short patch of sheer black in
the range of foam, scarce so far on our bow as I'd reckoned the fire
to have been; indeed, instead of that, it was rather on her weather
than her lee bow; and the more I watched it, and the nearer we drove
in that five minutes, the broader it was. 'By all that's good!'
thought I, 'if a river there is, that must be the mouth of it!' But,
by Heavens! on our present course the ship would run just right upon
the point--and, to strike the clear water, her foreyard would require
to be braced up, able or not, though the force of the tornado would
come fearfully on her quarter, then. There was the chance of taking
all the masts out of her; but let them stand ten minutes, and the
thing was done, when we opened into the lee of the points--otherwise
all was over.

"I sprang to the fore-braces and besought the men near me, for God's
sake, to drag upon the lee one--and that as if their life hung upon
it--when Westwood caught me by the arm. I merely shouted through my
hands into his ear to go aft to Jacobs and tell him to keep her head a
single point up, whatever might happen, to the last--then I pulled
with the men at the brace till it was fast, and scrambled up again to
the bowsprit heel. Jove! how she surged to it: the little canvas we
had strained like to burst; the masts trembled, and the spars aloft
bent like whip-shafts, everything below groaning again; while the
swell and the blast together made you dizzy, as you watched the white
eddies rising and boiling out of the dark--her cutwater shearing
through it and the foam, as if you were going under it. The sound of
the hurricane and the surf seemed to be growing together into one
awful roar--my very brain began to turn with the pitch I was wrought up
to--and it appeared next moment we should heave far up into the savage
hubbub of breakers. I was wearying for the crash and the wild
confusion that would follow, when all of a sudden, still catching the
fierce rush of the gale athwart her quarter into the fore-course,
which steadied her though she shuddered to it--all of a sudden, the
dark mass of the land seemed as if it were parting ahead of her, and a
gleam of pale sky opened below the dusk into my very face. I no more
knew what I was doing, by this time, nor where we were, than the spar
before me--till again, the light broadened, glimmering low betwixt the
high land and a lump of rising level on the other bow.

"I hurried aft past the confused knots of men holding on to the lee of
the bulwarks, and seized a spoke of the wheel. 'Tom,' shouted I to
Westwood, 'run and let free the spanker on the poop! Down with the
helm--down with it, Jacobs, my lad!' I sang out, 'never mind spars or
canvas!' Down went the helm--the spanker held to luff her to the
strength of the gust--and away she went up to port, the heavy swells
rolling her in, while the rush into her staysail and fore-course came
in one terrible flash of roaring wind--tearing first one and then the
other clear out of the bolt-ropes, though the loose spanker abaft was
in less danger, and the way she had from both was enough to take her
careening round the point into its lee. By heavens! there were the
streaks of soft haze low over the rising moon, under the broken
clouds, beyond a far line of dim fringy woods, she herself just
tipping the hollow behind, big and red, when right down from over the
cloud above us came a spout of rain, then a sheet of it lifting to the
blast as it howled across the point. 'Stand by to let go the larboard
anchor!' I sang through the trumpet; and Jacobs put the helm fully
down at that moment, till she was coming head to wind, when I made
forward to the mates and men. 'Let--go!' I shouted; not a look turned
against me, and away thundered the cable through the hawse-hole; she
shook to it, sheered astern, and brought up with her anchor fast. By
that time the rain was plashing down in a perfect deluge--you couldn't
see a yard from you--all was one white pour of it; although it soon
began to drive again over the headland, as the tornado gathered new
food out of it. Another anchor was let go, cable paid out, and the
ship soon began to swing the other way to the tide, pitching all the
while on the short swell.

"The gale still whistled through her spars for two or three hours,
during which it began by degrees to lull. About eleven o'clock it was
clear moonlight to leeward, the air fresh and cool: a delicious watch
it was, too. I was walking the poop by myself, two or three men
lounging sleepily about the forecastle, and Rickett below on the
quarter-deck, when I saw the chief officer himself rush up from below,
staring wildly around him, as if he thought we were in some dream or
other. I fancied at first the mate would have struck Rickett, from the
way he went on, but I kept aft where I was. The eddies ran past the
Indiaman's side, and you heard the fast ebb of the tide rushing and
rippling sweetly on her taut cables ahead, plashing about the bows and
bends. We were in old Bob Martin's river whatever that might be."

Next: My First Voyage

Previous: Among The Ice Floes

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