A Man Overboard

Sailors are men of rough habits, but their feelings are not by any

means so coarse: if they possess little prudence or worldly

consideration, they are likewise very free from selfishness; generally

speaking, too, they are much attached to one another, and will make

great sacrifices to their messmates or shipmates when opportunities


I remember once, when cruising off Terceira in the Endymion, that a

man fell overboard and was drowned. After the usual confusion, and

long search in vain, the boats were hoisted up, and the hands called

to make sail. I was officer of the forecastle and on looking about to

see if all the men were at their station, missed one of the fore-top

men. Just at that moment I observed some one curled up, and apparently

hiding himself under the bow of the barge, between the boat and the

booms. 'Hillo!' I said, 'who are you? What are you doing there, you

skulker? Why are you not at your station?'

'I am not skulking,' said the poor fellow, the furrows in whose

bronzed and weatherbeaten cheek were running down with tears. The man

we had just lost had been his messmate and friend, he told me, for ten

years. I begged his pardon, in full sincerity, for having used such

harsh words to him at such a moment, and bid him go below to his birth

for the rest of the day--'Never mind, sir, never mind,' said the kind

hearted seaman, 'it can't be helped. You meant no harm, sir. I am as

well on deck as below. Bill's gone sir, but I must do my duty.' So

saying, he drew the sleeve of his jacket twice or thrice across his

eyes, and mustering his grief within his breast, walked to his station

as if nothing had happened.

In the same ship and nearly about the same time, the people were

bathing along side in a calm at sea. It is customary on such occasions

to spread a studding-sail on the water, by means of lines from the

fore and main yard arms, for the use of those who either cannot swim,

or who are not expert in this art, so very important to all seafaring

people. Half a dozen of the ship's boys were floundering about in the

sails, and sometimes even venturing beyond the leech rope. One of the

least of these urchins, but not the least courageous of their number,

when taunted by his more skilful companions with being afraid, struck

out boldly beyond the prescribed bounds. He had not gone much further

than his own length, however, along the surface of the fathomless sea,

when his heart failed him, poor little man; and along with his

confidence away also went his power of keeping his head above the

water. So down he sank rapidly, to the speechless horror of the other

boys, who of course, could lend the drowning child no help.

The captain of the forecastle, a tall, fine-looking, hard-a-weather

fellow, was standing on the shank of the sheet anchor with his arms

across, and his well varnished canvass hat drawn so much over his eyes

that it was difficult to tell whether he was awake or merely dozing in

the sun, as he leaned his back against the fore-topmast backstay. The

seaman, however, had been attentively watching the young party all the

time, and rather fearing that mischief might ensue from their

rashness, he had grunted out a warning to them from time to time, to

which they paid no sort of attention. At last he desisted, saying they

might drown themselves if they had a mind, for never a bit would he

help them; but no sooner did the sinking figure of the adventurous

little boy catch his eye, than, diver fashion, he joined the palms of

his hands over his head, inverted his position in one instant, and

urging himself into swifter motion by a smart push with his feet

against the anchor, shot head foremost into the water. The poor lad

sunk so rapidly that he was at least a couple of fathoms under the

surface before he was arrested by the grip of the sailor, who soon

rose again, bearing the bewildered boy in his hand, and calling to the

other youngsters to take better care of their companion, chucked him

right into the belly of the sail. The fore-sheet was hanging in the

calm, nearly into the water, and by it the dripping seaman scrambled

up again to his old birth on the anchor, shook himself like a great

Newfoundland dog, and then jumping on the deck, proceeded across the

forecastle to shift himself.

At the top of the ladder he was stopped by the marine officer, who had

witnessed the whole transaction, as he sat across the gangway

hammocks, watching the swimmers, and trying to get his own consent to

undergo the labor of undressing. Said the soldier to the sailor, "That

was very well done of you, my man, and right well deserves a glass of

grog. Say so to the gun-room steward as you pass; and tell him it is

my orders to fill you out a stiff nor-wester." The soldier's offer was

kindly meant, but rather clumsily timed, at least so thought Jack: for

though he inclined his head in acknowledgment of the attention, and

instinctively touched his hat when spoken to by an officer, he made no

reply till out of the marine's hearing, when he laughed, or rather

chuckled out to the people near him, "Does the good gentleman suppose

I'll take a glass of grog for saving a boy's life."

A Gale Of Wind A Naval Menagerie facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail