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

hatchway.



"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

blast.



"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."





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